Saturday, December 28, 2013

11 Months Old

It's amazing to me. The time has flown. Just one more month and this little monkey will be a year old. Many times during this holiday season I've fondly remembered last year's Christmas... my massive belly, the excitement, the growing anticipation, waiting for our bundle to enter the world.

Had to snap this picture quick! 

Oh, personality. It's wonderful to watch Isabelle grow and change, and to see the similarities and differences between her and Kaiya. This girl does not like to be confined in any way! She rips hats off her head in a matter of seconds, complains when we try to put pants or sleepers on her, and don't even bother with socks or shoes. She's going to have some serious layering to get used to once we move back to Canada!

This month we have been enjoying Izzy's growing sense of humour. We used to work so hard just to get a few giggles out of her. But now, all we have to do is hide around a corner, or show her a silly face, and she's in fits. She is also endlessly exploring. Now that she has finally mastered a proper crawl, no corner of our villa is safe. Of course, her favourite things are Christmas tree ornaments, various wires and cables, and electrical outlets. Toys somehow never hold the same appeal, do they?

Izzy has also been growing so much this month. She seems so much slimmer and longer. And after many toothless months, one week ago she suddenly popped her two bottom teeth. And just like that, three more on the top are almost through.

The sister love continues to abound. Kaiya is endlessly fascinating to her little sister, and as Izzy grows, I find them playing together more and more. It's sweet to see Kaiya take on a big sister role. You can be sure that if Isabelle ever gets crying in the car, you'll hear Kaiya singing "You are my sunshine." Ad nauseum. But it works, with Isabelle often calming to the sound of her sister singing.

Next month will be bittersweet, as we celebrate both our girls' birthdays... and our chunky monkey's first, far from the family we are missing. But plans are already underway to make both of their days memorable. I know it'll be good.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Sweet Season ... and a trip to Fuwairit

It's the start of the sweet season here in Qatar. Each December, it takes me by surprise. All of a sudden, classes at the college finish, and then finally there is once again space to breathe. There is still work to be done, but the lack of 7:30am classes allows me the time to drive Kaiya to school, and to simply feel a bit more human again. I love December here. The perfect, sunny weather. The lack of Christmas hooplah. Time to spend with friends and each other and to chill out a bit. It's fantastic.

We still have a week and a half of work/school left, with all of us finishing on December 17th. But we've already shifted gears. Today, Kaiya and I decorated our -small- Christmas tree and worked on Christmas greetings together. And then we all went out this afternoon to Souq Waqif and the Corniche to enjoy the perfect "no temperature" weather... the kind where you can walk out in jeans and a t-shirt and still feel like you're inside.

Last month was tough, very much a "put our heads down and work" kind of month. There wasn't a lot of time for fun. But at the beginning of November, knowing the stress that was ahead, we joined friends at a perfect spot in Fuwairit for a day at the beach. Our friends had gone for the morning, but because of Izzy's nap, we chose to go later, overlapping with them just for an hour or so. When they left, we got to reap the benefits of their perfect spot. I can't disclose the exact location... it's too small and too good. So we'll just stick with the general location of "Fuwairit." 

Beach days are a lot of work and a lot of mess. We wanted to be able to stay over both lunch and dinner, so we packed a full cooler, as well as umbrellas, mats, and sand toys. But the work was so very much worth it. Both Kaiya and Izzy love the water, and it was incredibly relaxing to just bob around, smell the salty sea, and enjoy the beautiful colour of the water.

We love Fuwairit for its deeper water. The beaches in Al Wakra are great for their shallow tides, but sometimes you want to get right in and swim. Fuwairit is great for that. There were also a ton of little fish swimming around us. Kaiya kept diving under water to watch them. "Mom, can we stay here till I catch one??"

It was Isabelle's first time at the beach, and she loved it! Both Jeff and I held her for a while in the water, but she also spent a good chunk of time just sitting there, at the shore, splashing in the waves. Water baby #2.

We stayed right until the sunset, lingering as long as we could, enjoying all the changing colours.

And so it goes. Every day, each winter, I have to remind myself how good this is, and how grey and cold and dreary winters are back home. Hitting the beach in November! Taking long walks in the sun all December! While other aspects of Qatar may frustrate me, the winter weather is something of a wonder. Not to be taken for granted, that is for sure.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ten Months Old!

Isabelle is ten months old today. Jeff and I are exhausted, but happier than we've been most of the month. Our horrible November is over. Work was very stressful for Jeff this November, which turned into stress for all of us. But it's done now, though I have developed the habit of asking Jeff at the end of each day, "Any bombshells today?" It's become a bit of a joke between us.

We're going to enjoy a blissfully FREE weekend this weekend, starting with me going to bed early. Like now. And no, it's not even 9pm yet. 

But first... our fair-haired darling is 10 months old today, and you deserve to see a picture or two of her sweetness. She's more and more social every day, and Jeff is convinced her first word is "daddy." She often stretches her arm out to him, babbling "dadadada." But more and more it's becoming, "dyuhdeee." Wonderful to hear.

Look at those curvy little lips!

Her favourite place to play is the play area upstairs. Tonight, she decided to go exploring...

And that's all I've got in me tonight, folks. G'night!!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Barzan Olympic Park Revisited

Look at those clouds in the sky! Seeing what a cloudy and cool-ish day yesterday was, we knew we wanted to take advantage of the outdoors, so we headed back to Barzan. The last time (and first time) we were there it was incredibly hot and humid, with barely a soul around. We wanted to see what it was like on a more average day.

Entrance fees: 10 riyal/person (unusual to pay for a park in Qatar)

We decided to check out the "bicycles." At the last second, Kaiya decided she didn't want to go on alone, so I hopped on with her. 

Bikes: 5 riyal/person

Kaiya insisted on steering. It made for a crazy ride filled with me constantly squealing: "Keep your eyes on the road!!" Aren't we not supposed to have to worry about this till she's sixteen!? Thankfully, she only ran us off the road once.

We spent some time running around the playground. That was fun, even if I felt a little self-conscious. I was definitely the only parent running.

Isabelle got to try a swing for the first time. My goodness! Could a baby be happier??! She smiled and giggled the whole time she was in the swing.

And lo and behold, there is a train that does a track around the park! Kaiya was super excited when she saw it start up, so we hopped on.

Train: 5 riyal/person

We finished the day off with the very free fountains. Kaiya got soaked once again, but we were prepared with a towel and change of clothes this time. Izzy loved getting close to the action too.

Barzan is a little strange. It has a surreal feel to it. Everything looks a little too perfect, and there are tons of security guards and cleaning staff. Every little piece of litter is quickly swept away. It was a fun day, but I think for the most part, we're going to stick to the free parks, like Dahl al Hammam, the Sheraton Park on the Corniche, and MIA park. This one felt a little too sterile for us. But give it a go, and let me know what you think.

Honestly? The best part of the day was finding a new shawarma place on the drive home, close to the AJs, where lots of our college friends live. Twenty-three riyal for dinner. Now you're talking!

Four more weeks till the holidays. Oh, yes. The countdown is definitely ON. 

Friday, November 08, 2013

Contrasts and Contradictions

Ah, it's such a slippery slope. It started with an email from a friend, a short update on life and her family's recent move. "When you come back to Canada, you should really move to this part of the city. It's so great!" Next thing I knew, my fingers were typing in the address and soon I was looking at detailed interior pictures of a house in my old town. "Oh, it's perfect...." Open-concept main floor, sweet hardwood floors. A decent backyard with a park a stone's throw away. Room to build on a sunroom or garage. Heck, both. A tree-lined street begging for relaxed strolls, the words, "cottage-inspired." Oh, look, it's so cozy. There was thick, bold green grass covering the front yard, and grey, yes, grey clouds in the sky. I could actually smell autumn in the air, feel the crispness in my lungs, and then...

I looked up.

And I was standing in a classroom. Young men in starchy white thobes were shuffling in. The sun was bright, the day was beige. And there were palm trees outside. Where the heck did the palm trees come from?

It happened so fast. I literally had to shake my head. But strangely, even as my vision shifted, and I took in what was before me, all the little sensations remained. I felt fall that whole day. I kept expecting crunchy leaves, and I had to continually remind myself that the cold of my nose was due to the damn A/C and not the chilled November air.

Qatar and I have come to an understanding. Every weekday morning, as I hook up my nano in the truck, we both know that it is not so much my love of music or podcasts that causes me to do so. No, it is the need I have to have something to focus all my attention on so that I can ignore the cars honking all around me, the people making five lanes where there should be three, the folks using slip roads and side shoulders as get-ahead-and-cut-everyone-else-off lanes.

Qatar understands that my renewed interest in meditation and red wine -and not necessarily in that order- are borne not so much out of a desire for inner peace or tipsy nights as they are out of a simple need for survival. For sanity. There are simply too many contradictions in this fine country for a thinking person to even begin to deal with or comprehend. And this blog is not the space to begin. This very. public. blog.

Will I end up a Buddhist monk ... or a rambling drunkard? We shall see. Something tells me the two don't mix.

But I think I'll be avoiding for a little while...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It's just about time for some trick-or-treating!

It's just about Halloween, and we're getting ready to do our Qatar-tradition of crashing one of my college's compounds (full of Canadian families) for some good old-fashioned trick or treating.

Kaiya is waffling between wearing the same scraggly princess dress she wore last year, or dawning the "PJ Rex" pyjamas Auntie Rose bought her. You could say we're pretty low-key about costumes around here. I get that she loves dinosaurs, but I'm not sure wearing pyjamas qualifies as looking like a T-Rex.

It still cracks me up, trick-or-treating in shorts and a t-shirt. Back home, we'd often have to pile a jacket on top of our costumes. Here, I find it a treat to saunter with bare arms down dusty streets, bumping into colleagues and their children, passing by folk sitting outside, enjoying the weather and a nice cool drink. Makes the tradition even more fun, in my opinion.

In celebration of Halloween, I thought you might enjoy Kaiya's latest artistic pursuits. It seems Halloween is inspiring her, as evidenced by her new fascination with drawing witches.

(I love that her witches are mathematically-inclined)

This one comes with a story... a story that deserves interpretation. "Once there was a wicked witch with her cat. She got a plan to control the universe and earth."

I love seeing how she spells things these days. Yoonuvrs = universe. Priceless

A happy Halloween to you!

Monday, October 28, 2013

She's 9 Months Old

Ahhhh, beautiful baby girl. Delightful giggles, soaring through the sky.
Big, fat belly, waiting for our kisses.
You are so aware of everyone around you. 
Flirting, craning your neck to look for us, basking in our attention.
Sweet baby bird, opening your mouth wide for each new taste of food.
My lovely chubba-bubba, leaning in, twirling my hair in your fingers.
You continue to call us in further, bringing us deeper in love with you. 

Just last night, I shared our story anew with a good friend. Our story of longing, of waiting. Emotions that had been forgotten in the flurry of transitions of the past two months stirred once again. It was so good to remember the journey, the pain in the waiting, in the not knowing. Because now you are here. With your startling blue eyes, and your surprising blond hair, and your infectious giggle.

And we are all so very happy.

Happy nine months, baby girl.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Geocaching in Qatar

Desert life making you antsy? Tired of the sweltering heat? Sick of hanging out in over-A/C-ed shopping malls? The walls of your villa making you stir crazy? Yep. That's where we were at just a couple short weeks ago. So, remembering an almost-year-old conversation with some former Kiwi neighbours, we decided to give geocaching a try.

We had heard of geocaching years ago. I mean, YEARS ago! And by what we heard, it sounded like a perfect Epp-styled adventure. If you've never heard of geocaching, it's basically a treasure hunt, where you use GPS coordinates to find a cache. The cache is usually a small container that includes a log, where you record who you are and when you found it, and some little bit of "treasure." You can take the treasure as long as you replace it with something of equal value. There are over 2 million caches all over the world. Everywhere! If you're interested in learning more, just go to the site: You can learn all about geocaching there, and find caches in your area. A perfect activity to get you out there and exploring.

And that's just what we needed to do a couple of weekends ago. We had no plans, and Jeff and Kaiya were both sick enough to cut out the option of swimming, and it was too hot to do anything else, and we were tired of the villa, and God knows I wasn't about to step into a shopping mall. So very last minute and impromptu, I hopped on the internet, found a good beginner cache, and we got outta there.

It was a great day. We found our adventuring spirit again, and explored a part of Qatar we never would have gone to otherwise. On our way, we passed Al Dosari animal reserve, where from the road we could see camels, ostriches, and oryx. In order to get to the cache, we had to offroad it for a bit. It was bumpy, uncertain going for a while. Suddenly, Jeff stopped, pointing out a large lizard. We all saw it, but unfortunately it ducked away into a hole before Jeff could snap a shot. After a while, we started to notice large mounds of dirt with these deep holes dug into them, spotting the desert. And when we were lucky, we saw the lizard the hole belonged to. A new find for us, and very exciting. In the distance, we also saw a large herd of goats roaming freely. And then, as I got out of the car to find the cache, I walked past a bush, and was startled by a bird flying out of its nest. And there in the nest, one lone egg.

Desert life can feel so hot, dry, barren. But when you look closely, there is still life all around. It was amazing to us how much life we encountered that day.

Hey, desert baby.

I still sometimes pinch myself and think, "Is this really my life??"

The cache was located near this archaeological site.

The goats are there, off in the distance.

I really recommend geocaching as a way to get out and explore. There are caches all over Qatar, and according to our former neighbours, there are some amazing sights, including a camel graveyard, petroglyphs, even a "Great Wall of Qatar." Things you definitely wouldn't see just driving up and down the Shamal. It's wonderful to have some new destinations and adventures to look forward to.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Eight Sweet Months

This month, we saw for sure that we have yet another fish in our family. She gets so excited even just as we approach the water, kicking her legs and squealing.

Look at that serious little face, watching momma.

Yes, sometimes it's more fun to just EAT the floaty.

And this weekend we bought baby gates. No, our girl is not yet crawling, but who needs to crawl when you can simply strong arm your way across the entire main floor? Her chubby little arms pull the rest of her body along, from living room to dining room, along the mats in the hall. She is so busy exploring, smashing things against the ground to see what sounds they'll make, checking out all the different textures of our floors... laminate, marble, and rug, and -God help us- eating anything she finds along the way.

This month she has also learned to clap. And you can be sure that anytime Isabelle is crying, a simple clapping song or chant will get her smiling again. She has also learned to say bye-bye, sticking out her arm, opening and closing her little fist. And every night, while Jeff reads bedtime stories to Kaiya, Izzy and I lie on the big master bed and roll. I lie beside her and watch as she tumbles over and over, from one side of the bed to the next, smiling and giggling all the way.

Yes, we've got a happy one.

Ohhhh darling Epp face

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Doha Traffic Woes

Stick your head in the sand. Just do it. It's often a more viable option than having to deal with the traffic in Qatar. Our first year, we were dead determined to explore all the many corners of our new home, and so we did, often paying the price by spending hours sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As the year wore on, we found ourselves picking and choosing our destinations more carefully, considering factors such as day of the week, time of the day, and our own general levels of irritability.

le traffic FOU de Doha
Ya, we never even bother going to this part of the city anymore.
By year two, our limits became more defined, especially with my growing pregnant belly, and then a newborn baby. We avoided traffic most evenings, thinking twice and three times before going out for dinner. And when we did go, sometimes to Souq Waqif, we often regretted the decision, first fighting traffic, then parking, then our own annoyance as hungry tummies demanded to be fed. I still have terrible memories of waiting, with Nathan and Rose and Kaiya, and merely-weeks-old Isabelle, at the Spring Festival at Souq Waqif, while Jeff desperately tried to make his way back with the Pathfinder from our far-flung parking spot. Our texts became more urgent as baby came closer to feeding time. "They keep blocking more roads! The light has changed 5 times and I've only moved up 4 spaces!" He finally found us and we vowed to NEVER do that again. (Well, at least not till the Souq's parking garage is constructed).

And now, year three, the traffic madness continues. Over the summer, we tried to mostly ignore Doha News reports on our Facebook feeds, warning of road construction covering an ever-increasing number of streets, including the whole of Doha's much loved Corniche. All part of Doha's booming population, and the push to get ready for 2022.

Vehicles are seen in a traffic jam at Doha's corniche February 15, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous
Oh, beloved, crazy-busy Corniche. Taken from:

But when we came back, it was not to be ignored. Our neighbour told stories of her daughter's bus time being put back by one full hour to accommodate the road madness. "They want to pick her up at 5:20 in the morning! What am I to do?" I silently muttered my thanks for the fact that Kaiya's school is a short back-roads drive away. The closer we came to the start of school, the thicker the mass of cars became as expats returned to dizzy Doha after their summer adventures. And then, this week, it all came crashing in. "Carmageddon," as Doha News titled it. A 15-minute drive to work suddenly took 45 minutes. Three lane roads became parking lots, with the more aggressive using right shoulders and slip roads to try bypassing the worst of the crowd. My bumper almost kissed the one in front of me a number of times as I continued nudging forward, trying not to let the skippers merge back in.

I am increasingly thankful for the new mall that has opened nearby. Ironically, the one with the Tim Horton's in it. It's literally a two-minute drive away, without even the need to hop across the Shamal. And go figure, an even bigger mall is set to open right next to it. I keep joking that soon our driving will be limited to work, the Lulu Hypermart just down the street, and those two malls. Wait... who am I kidding? Our driving IS already mostly limited to those places. With two small children, it's not worth the aggravation of going much farther.

Thankfully we still have Friday mornings. Friday, the holy day, day for worship and family. Ahhhh... Friday mornings. They continue to be a thing of beauty. Friday mornings, filled with memories of my first daring ventures onto Doha roads, learning to navigate the many roundabouts. Friday mornings, offering the promise of carefree driving ... easy stops at coffee shops and blissfully empty roads. Where shall we go today? We are thankful that one day a week, at least until about 4pm, Doha driving is still fairly tame. Otherwise, this adventuring family might actually go insane. 

And as a total aside, I saw this video in Ezdan Mall the other day (ya it really is only two minutes away. Think the security guards already know my name!) I was really impressed. Perhaps changes are slowly on their way.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Seasons of Qatar

It's surreal to go from the blissful temperatures and hues of our Canadian summer into the hot, soupy mess that is winter in Qatar. Well, no, it's not actually winter. It's summer. But in my Northern mind, it may as well be winter, for all the time we spend indoors. We sit indoors, looking out at the shimmering desert heat through tinted windows. When we venture outside, usually for a quick dash to the car, we are blinded by the blasting sun, reflecting off the beige upon beige. The sun, that was a dear friend back in Canada, here feels oppressive, a giant, glowering orange ball of fire, dipping into the dust at sunset.  

Admittedly, this glowering ball was Canadian...

The heat is thick. Thick and wet. And when there is a breeze, it brings no comfort, no cooling effect. It just brings more of the same. Like standing on the wrong side of an air conditioner, as a friend once said.

Years upon years spent in Canada have made me anticipate the coming of the seasons. Hot and humid Niagara summers leading to cooling temperatures, long pants and sweaters. And then the darkening of the skies and the summoning of winter. Leaves dropping, temperatures freezing, early nights spent indoors, warming ourselves with candles and tea. The long, dark winter that I often struggled to endure. But then, finally, spring. With its rains, unpredictable temperatures, and lengthening days. Slowly leading back again to the hot, sun-filled summer.

Even though we're into our third year here, I still struggle with the rhythm of Qatar's seasons. Just as Canadians are turning their thoughts ever indoors, Qatar blossoms. Temperatures cool and the parks and beaches come alive. We go out as much as we can, enjoying the dunes, Souq Waqif and the Corniche, and our many favourite parks. As Canadians moan about yet another cloudy day, yet another blast of snow, we bask in the sun. It feels limitless, endless. But end it does, and by the end of April, just as Canadians are firing up their barbecues, we are spending less and less time outside, becoming creatures of our darkened villas once more.

It is strange to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder and a lack of vitamin D in a country that revels in so very much SUN.

I remember our first year, the panic I felt when March came. "We must spend as much time outside as we possibly can!" I had no idea what to expect, how hot it would get, how fast. And while each year varies a bit, you can be sure that from May through to October, the 40+ degree weather will make you think twice before planning an outdoor adventure.

And so we learn the rhythms of our new seasons. Cooped up children play outdoors once the sun has dipped past the roofs of villas. They run and scream on the streets, cheeks bright red. Dinnertime is often followed by evening swims in too-warm pools. And hot day times are spent indoors, playing and reading and creating, with occasional trips to one of the many mall play areas.

And we come prepared. On my "to buy in Canada" shopping list this summer were many items, including cream of tartar. The guy in the Superstore told me it was in the soup aisle. Haha. He really did. When I finally found it at Bulk Barn (oh to have one of those in Qatar...), I bought enough to last a year of playdough-making. And then I bought books, and little games, and a variety of colouring books. Simple tools can go a long way in helping cagey kids (and their parents).

Playdough cookies and noodles

But most of all, we thank God that there's a reprieve. For while winter in Canada can often stretch from November into late March, each scorcher of a Qatari summer is broken up straight through the middle with two blessed months in cooler Canadian temperatures. We've learned to deal with 40 degree heat. But 50? That's just a bit much.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Seven Months, So Many Changes

Summer vacation is now just a wonderful memory, and we are back in Qatar, readjusting to life in our desert home. This transition has been tough, with all of us dealing with colds and hacking coughs, never mind a baby with jet lag. Our first two nights, the air conditioners weren't working in the girls' rooms, and so crib was pulled into the master, while Kaiya shared our (thankfully huge) bed. Although the a/c is back on, Kaiya somehow still hasn't found her way back to her bed. We'll work on that.

We also have the major transition of momma bear heading back to work. Isabelle has been handling it wonderfully; momma bear not so much. I'm okay, but I'm realizing, and quickly, that I'm just not going to be able to be all things to all people. Though admittedly, that's what I usually strive to be. I haven't been responding to emails for a few days already, always the first sign that I'm getting overloaded. The first month back is a tricky time for teachers, and I'm looking forward to us finding the groove in our routine. Soon, I hope.

Isabelle just keeps growing and changing. Her biggest development this past month has been sitting. And she is now so content to just sit! Sit and play with whatever toys are within the reach of her grabby little hands. One of the first things we did when we came back to Qatar was buy those click-together foam mats (everyone buys them here... very hard tiled/marble floors necessitates it for babies). We now have a large, cushy play area right in our massive front hall, in the middle of everything, and it's already become a favourite hangout. Izzy sits, with pillows surrounding her, while Kaiya and I make playdough creations just out of her reach.

Izzy is also making a lot of funny new sounds. She does this "la-loo-la-loo" that makes it look like her tongue is far too big for her mouth. And just the other day, she started sucking in her breath like crazy, making us think she was choking on her food or having trouble breathing. But then she smiled. And giggled. Turns out that's just her new way of showing excitement.

Now if we can just get Izzy to realize that 9-11pm is not meant to be playtime with dad, we'll be just fine. Kind of tough explaining jet lag to a baby. Thankfully, she seems to have sorted the rest of her night out. Or perhaps I speak too soon...

Thank you, Auntie Rose, for the stacking cups. They are Izzy's favourite toy right now!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Just before we head off...

Tonight at about 11:30pm, we'll be on a plane headed back to our other lives, in the desert sun of Qatar. My heart is full, but there are bags to pack and rooms to clean. So for now, a few thank yous...

Thank you to Dave for always picking us up from the airport. And thank you to Karen for sending us off again.

Thank you to Sue and Brent for letting us have your home for the summer. The location was perfect.

Thank you to Nathan and Rose for letting us use your car. And sorry about the crash. :/

Thank you to my cheerleaders, to the people who listened to my doubts and anxieties and then went on to challenge them. Thank you for the way you listened, the questions you asked, the ways you helped to shift and change my perspectives. Your words made me excited once again for the adventure.

Thank you to my parents. You encourage us to think of our futures and keep pressing on down this road even though I know you miss your granddaughters so very much.

Thank you to countless family and friends who have fed us, and more importantly, made time for us. I enjoyed listening to you so much this summer. Thank you for sharing your lives. I drank it all in. I remembered the fabric we are still a part of. I felt your joys and your pains, and I added mine. And together we remembered... we're all so very normal. And yes, the kids are gonna be okay.

This goodbye is a difficult one. But the memories have been packed away, and I know they'll see us through the tougher times. We'll see you again in ten months.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Oh, Canada

Canada. You knocked it out of the park this summer. I mean, really, I'm left kind of speechless. 10 weeks of glorious freedom for me and the girls, 8 weeks for Jeff. Coming into this season, I knew it would be one like no other... longer than most summers, filled with the comings and goings of family and friends. Adding to our joy was  being able to share the gift of our Izzy, ready to steal the hearts of everyone she would meet.  And making it even better was a space of our own, right on our old street, steps away from many of our favourite places. I knew it would be a summer to remember.

And it has been. We've been blown away by goodness this summer. Last week, as I thought over what a great time it has been, I hastily scrawled this quick list, proof of how we have feasted our senses on many wonders these past weeks. And now I humbly share this list with you, dear readers, in all its unedited, stream-of-consciousness form.

Canada, What I have enjoyed:

-blue blue skies
-clouds of a gazillion varieties
-super green grass
-farmland in the Cornwall area
-rolling hills
-lakes and rivers
-colourful sunsets in vast skies
-the smiles of my daughters, especially Kaiya on new adventures
-stores filled with amazing bounty
-trees, especially with leaves rustling in breezes
-sunlight streaming into windows, onto hardwood floors
-curtains swaying in the wind
-orderly traffic

-birds chirping
-music from downtown events
-sounds of home renovations
-drunken laughter in the middle of the night
-pouring rain
-firetrucks and ambulances and cop cars
-whirring fans
-good conversations with close friends
-crackling fire

-fresh cut grass
-freshness after rain
-backyard BBQs
-smoky fires
-bacon frying
-fresh produce in the grocery store
-ripe peaches

-good coffee with endless cream
-oatmeal with blueberries
-goat cheese on crackers
-ham and other variations of pork
-other people's homemade food
-backyard BBQs
-amazing produce, esp. fruit: berries, peaches, nectarines, organic apples
-great brunch in Hamilton

-breezes and winds, free of sand and dust
-cool temperatures
-the warmth of a sweater
-dirt and earth as I pull weeds
-gravel under bare feet
-dewy grass under bare feet
-hot tub water
-hugs from friends and family
-kisses from my mom and dad

Yes, you could say it's been a good summer. Thank you.

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Parent's Barn, Part II

There is a rocking chair, your rocking chair, passed down, one generation or more. It startles me as I move toward our piles of belongings. There it sits, at the edge, idle ... alone. I always admired its simplicity and elegance, its smallness. No arm rests. Just a tall, spindled back and a simple, comfortable cushion.

It invites the memories. The ones of long ago: heartfelt mealtime graces, hilariously inappropriate dinner conversations, horrible cat allergies, delicate, dainty tea cups, and your proud smile, always loving and embracing your wacky kids. It also invites the more recent ones, the ones filled with worry and concern, as we watched disease slowly take over, robbing your mind of memory, taking the restful retirement that should have been yours.

Your home has been sold. It has a beautiful new front door, interlocking bricks, strong new pillars. The interior has been gutted. The home that held you as you raised your children, as you struggled through loss, pride ever intact. It is no longer yours. No longer ours.

But this chair. This chair is here.


I never got to say goodbye.

I was not there to stand alongside children and grandchildren, to hear tributes at your funeral, listen to beautiful word and song. I was not there in Thunder Bay when your children buried your ashes, and my daughter picked flowers to soothe her father, aunt and uncles, tenderly setting them around your grave. I have been the ear at the end of the line, waiting anxiously for news, grieving quietly hundreds, thousands of miles away.

But how do I come to the end? How do we say goodbye?

And so I sit, sit in this chair, in the dark and dank of my parents' barn, and I rock. And I remember. Silently, mindfully, a few moments with you. Thank you, Marg, for your open heart, your unwavering faith, and your fierce love for your children and grandchildren. Thank you for all the care through the years. For your determined optimism and your helping hand. Thank you for listening and always trying to understand. You are missed.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hooray for Half a Year!

Our travelling girl. For the first few months of her life, Isabelle would cry and scream bloody murder each time we put her in her car seat. She hated it, and it made even the shortest of trips unbearable. We simply avoided going anywhere with her as much as we could, and we waited, hoping this would pass. "Little girl, you're an Epp. You're gonna have to figure this one out," was a constant murmur in our home.

And figure it out she did. Enough to make two 7-hour flights to Canada and now a meandering road trip to Cornwall. She's downright pleasant, playing with her toys, telling us babbling stories, and then drifting off to sleep, thumb in mouth.

So we've decided she can stay.


Taking a break along our road-tripping route in Port Hope

It has been a wonderful month of gloriously long, warm Canadian days. And now, as I sit on a second-floor porch thirty minutes Northeast of Cornwall, sipping some tea and pecking out these thoughts, I'm finally really relaxing and sinking in. All I can see on either side of me is trees and fields. The sky is overcast, big, heavy clouds, and there are hens cackling nearby, and cows.... COWS.... in the field next door.


And our girl is growing, growing! No longer content to sleep through the night, she feeds every four to five hours. This should bother me, but I'm taken in by her sweet snuggles, the way she pulls my hair and smiles into my eyes. We are spoiling each other with love. It's been a month of rolling, playing, chewing.... on my shoulder, my arm, my chin. Her contentedness has been deepening, and she is happy just to know we are near. A lap to sit on, shoulder to suck on, big sister to laugh with.

Just a few more weeks and we'll be returning to our other life, the one filled with sun, heat and sand. Beige upon beige. Beach trips and ventures to dunes. But for now, all of us will keep relishing the greens and blues and the vast, quiet space. Just a little longer. And for today, we will celebrate six months of baby-bliss with her first taste of watermelon. Happy half-year, Isabelle!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Parent's Barn

I shuffle into the darkness, the familiar dusty smells, with blazing sunlight, clear blue skies and the smell of fresh cut grass lingering behind me. Slowly I work my way over to the pile. All our life's possessions folded neatly into labeled boxes and bins. I peel open some of the closest and smile wistfully at the contents. A white blanket that once graced our bed, a carefully wrapped bowl, some random checkered pot holders. Items I felt must be kept. I glance to the left and stare at the rug that once lay on our beautifully refinished living room floor, now left rolled in a heap, collecting dust and God knows what else.

A life put on hold.

And then, amongst the piles I see remnants of dreams I fiercely held, never letting go. A booster seat. Padding from a high chair. A dismantled crib. I remember the hoarse whispers... "I'm sorry. I am willing to let go of many things. But this, these things, I will not let go. No matter how impractical or improbable. I will not let go." And so, they were stored.

And I smile.

No, no. This life has not been put on hold. This life is being lived.

Can I live and live fully, each moment, whether it be here or there? Can I awaken myself to all the beauty that abounds, to the richness and wonder, and yes, to the heartache too, not wishing away a second, a moment of time? Be it difficult and mind-bending, can I fully call this place home while still embracing and loving the other that is home too? Can I give grace to the relationships that struggle with the distance and love all those who may not always know how best to love and understand me?

This is my journey. For this life is not on hold. Though pieces of me may lie here, in my parent's barn, a life once lived, that past is weaving and weaving itself beautifully into my present and even my future. I hold on and also let go, waiting to see what may be, and thankfully bowing my head for each remembered blessing.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Baby Izzy, 5 Months Old

What a wonderful month. Our contented baby is ever more content, sharing smiles with everyone she meets... so long as mom is in sight. So much is changing and so fast. She grabs for toys, stares at her hands in amazement, and regularly snacks on her toes. She flips from tummy to back, and as of Tuesday, from back to tummy.

Naps are a little scattered and unpredictable, as is her bedtime routine. But what matters most, and remains unchanged is the wonder of her sleeping through each and every night. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: God bless sleeping babies!

Daddy joins us tonight, and I know he'll say how different she is. Just two weeks and oh so different. We can't wait to have him here to join in on all her quiet giggles.

Little baby dinosaur

Thursday, June 27, 2013

We are enjoying...

Two weeks in and we are enjoying. Enjoying the relaxed, slow-me-down pace of Niagara. Of slow car trips without honking. No tailing, no passing on the right shoulder, or on on-ramps. My peripheral vision is getting lazy again. I bite my tongue when locals complain about the traffic. Well, all except for the annoying string of 4th Avenue lights.

We are enjoying the buzzing green. Green is all around us. Rolling hills in Pelham, the large "meadow" of my parents. And dripping rain. Rain with the promise of greener greens. We crank windows open, eagerly watching clouds roll in, waiting for the first drops to splatter against the screen.

We do not tire of rain.

We also do not tire of bacon.

We are enjoying a slow summer. The promise of eight more weeks of lazy mornings, special visits, meandering walks. The gift of an old two-wheeler promises new experiences and adventures as well. How will my daughters grow?

I was told this week that I paint a romantic picture of Qatar. And I thought, "Shhh!! Don't reveal my secret!" For my skill at romanticizing has become so honed that even in the midst of mind-numbing, child-screaming chaos, I see the romance. Let's call it embracing the moment. And let's remember: I'm not in the 50 degree summer, and I won't be here for the drawn-out, grey winter. Romanticizing is easy when life is already pretty darn good.

I am realizing the balance. For the sacrifices we make, we can enjoy better what we have. A carefree summer in our home country. Travel to places we never dreamed we'd see. Exposure to a huge blend of cultures. A fantastic international experience for our daughters. Rich, inspiring visits with friends from home. Life may sometimes be challenging, but it is certainly never dull. Our Qatari experience has so far been a steep learning curve, but surprise, surprise, our time in Canada has been unpeeling the layers and revealing to me that there are no regrets. I am glad for the path we are on.

And for now? I'll keep enjoying the sand-free air and the colourful landscapes. And I'll keep pouring on the blueberries and piling on the bacon. And enjoying the fact that the LCBO is a short walk away.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

First Day in Canada

So many vivid mental pictures of today. Waking up to rain, pouring rain, and such green grass. "Let's run in the meadow, mom. Let's have a picnic in the rain, mom!" Putting on jeans and sweaters and racing in the cold rain, remembering that in Canada, flip flops are not always the most appropriate choice of footwear. Kaiya running in the wind and rain, arms splayed out, whooping and hollering, "I love Canada!" Looking for bird nests, stomping on mushrooms.

When is the last time I wore a sweater?

Eating fresh blueberries and ... pickles for breakfast. Her favourite pickles. Exclaiming over big, fat bunches of asparagus and freshly fried-up bacon. Loading up the blackforest ham.

Snacking on strawberries and even more blueberries while watching the sky clear. The sky... the huge expanse of sky, with clouds of every shape, every shade of grey. Puffs and wisps and cotton balls and streaks of cloud. And then the sun, and oh the blue of the sky. Spotting a bright red cardinal so sharply contrasted against the green of the grass, the green of the large tree shading my parent's front yard.

Wind without sand.

Playing skip rope, dancing to made-up songs, and running imaginary races with invisible dragons. Listening to birds chirp, collecting pine cones, performing impromptu dramas for audiences of two.

Windows open, cool breezes flowing, babes deep asleep by eight.

27 hours of travel? So far away. And so very worth it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Random Ramblings

**Mostly written last week. You could say I've been distracted with getting ready to go to Canada.**

Ah, June. June in Qatar. Not the best of times, really.

I remember how desperate  I was last year to get out of the country. It was a mix of factors... horrible class, repressing heat, first trimester hormones, etc. etc. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the first day of summer holidays finally arrived.

This year ain't so bad. Mat leave has been good for my soul. But I do find I'm getting more antsy as the heat rises, and as my daily interactions continue to be mostly confined to gurgles and goos. The landscape has been pretty bleak these days, too. Dust and sand just seem to be clinging to the air, and everything is a dull gray. Outdoor activities are limited to swimming and evening walks (not so bad, really, but we miss the parks).

I've been feeling the tensions of the people around me. Living here, we really are left to the whims of our employers. Contracts for September have yet to be signed, and many details of contracts have yet to be given. Some friends who depend on their employers for housing are being moved, but they don't yet know when or where. Stressful when you're trying to make plans for the summer. And of course, it's report card season again. I thought we would be escaping that stress by leaving June 12th, but it turns out that is the date Jeff's marks are due. So I'll be seeing my husband again on June 28th. :)

I found out today at a school meeting that there are families who stay here over the summer. I know this, really I do. I mean, those of us in the field of education, with the freedom to leave all summer, are really in the minority. But -GASP- the thought of having to be here all summer and find ways to occupy the kids in 50 degree heat..... let's just say I'm so thankful we're able to get the heck out of dodge.


I'm embarrassed to say how much I've been frequenting the Tim Horton's at the new mall. It seems I like their coffee more than I remember. With the mall being literally a two-minute drive away, I find that even on days where nothing else happens, I still manage a quick stop at the Timmie's, where I smile and ask for my medium with two cream, no sugar. But I find the mall itself comforting. It's not fully functioning yet, with only half the stores open, which is kind of odd really. But it makes for a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. When Jeff saw it, he said it felt a bit lame, by Qatari standards. Nothing fancy, nothing over-the-top. A pretty basic design. And the other day, a friend mentioned that it felt very "North American." "People are walking around in t-shirts and flip flops!!" Yes, exactly why I like it. An unpretentious feeling of home. Jeff asked me the other day, "So how often do you think you'll go to Tim Horton's in Canada?" I answered, "Oh, probably only a couple of times." Funny, the things we hold on to when we're far away from home.


Mr. Akhtar let Kaiya take Terry the Tiger home the other day. Terry usually sits on Mr. Akhtar's desk. When I asked Kaiya if Terry could talk, she informed me that he only talks to Mr. Akhtar. But then she loudly proclaimed, "But he doesn't really talk, mom. It's just pretend!"

Terry had quite a good stay at our house. I don't think tigers usually eat rice, but he seemed to really enjoy ours.

We're getting ready to say goodbye to Mr. Akhtar. It's no fun doing this with a teacher who all the parents agree is "exceptional." How do you help your daughter with such a transition, especially when he is moving back to the UK? Geez. Sometimes I really need to take a deep breath and remember that she's only five. That so far, she has handled every transition in her little life far better than I have.


In less than 24 hours we'll be in the air! No wonder my thoughts are feeling so jumbled. See you on the other side...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

4-Month Musings

It's been a real mix of a day.

I've been enjoying this little one tremendously..

Wearing a 6-month-sized sleeper from Auntie Dagmar. Big baby? :)

Trying to mentally prepare myself for 17 hours of transit time with this little one

She talks so much these days. And she's so proud of herself, smiling big smiles as she blows bubbles, drool collecting on her chin and then spilling over. Always spilling over. Each diaper change is rewarded with incessant chatter and large, toothless smiles. Big sister has mastered the art of inducing smiles, and is constantly leaning in, using the squeakiest voice imaginable, "Did you poop in your diaper? Did you poop in your diaper? Oh yeeeeeesssss, you diiiiiiiiid. You pooooooooped, didn't you?"

Giggles are a finer art. We dance, we kiss, we tickle and laugh, we squeak and squeal... anything to capture the elusive giggle. It's a rare treasure. Much more common is the large, open-mouthed grin. We enjoy hundreds of those a day, never tiring.

We've been watching her grow and change. Rolling over, reaching for toys, finding endless fascination with her hands. And trying to sneak her thumb in while she's breastfeeding, sneaky little monkey. This sweet bundle is getting ready to steal the hearts of friends and family back in Canada.


But today was also a quiet day, as I remembered the awful tragedy of the Villaggio Fire. Words escape me each time I try to write about it, but my mind is full of images of that day. And tears still spill as I think of the 19 lives lost, particularly the 13 children. I cannot fathom the grief of their parents. I simply pray for peace for all of the families involved, and for resolution and justice. And for the courage and strength to keep placing one foot in front of the other with each new day.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Little Drive, a Little Perspective

Saturday. It was time to get moving and get lost. It had been too long, and my gypsy gene was getting restless. Newborn babies do after all have a way of disrupting the explorer in you. Particularly babies who scream the moment they're placed in a car seat. But it was time. The news had been getting under my skin... both here and back in Canada. Particularly on my mind was a newly-widowed mother of a beautiful two-year old girl. A woman who could have been any of us. The memory of the press conferences... her voice, her face, and her words ... still linger in my mind.

It was too hot to really be outside. No matter. It was far too windy to go to the beach. We didn't care. We just got in the truck and drove. And it worked. We found our sweet spot again. All four of us together. Good tunes blaring. Kaiya writing and doodling in a book on her lap. Jeff daydreaming. Me reading a travel guide on a future destination. And Izzy - God bless her - not crying.

Sweet thing. If she has my hand to grab and hold on to, she falls asleep.

First stop was Simaisma. We'd been wanting to check out the family beach for some time. And it was confirmed... too hot and too windy for the beach. Not a soul in sight. If the tide hadn't been out five miles, we would have considered stopping. Regardless, we decided we liked Simaisma. Quaint town, nothing over-the-top about it. A nice "Olympic" park, similar to Barzan Olympic park, as well as a park with lots of green space right across the street from the family beach.

Directions? Take the Shamal to the Simaisma cut off. Drive till you hit the water.

After driving past the beach, we found this crazy-bumpy road. So we drove down it.

And we found some sweet views. The water was so very green, and the fishing boats were begging to be photographed. While Jeff and Kaiya got out to explore, I hung back with Izzy, putting together our picnic meal.

It was so windy here that at one point Jeff's shirt almost blew up and over his head!

Next stop: Fuwayrit. We knew we were pushing the Izzy-limit here, since it was another 50 minutes out. But we were enjoying the drive so much that we decided to give it a go. And Izzy - God bless her - didn't cry.

Fuwayrit is definitely bikini-beach. After all the modesty of the family beaches we've been frequenting, I was kind of shocked by all the skin. Kaiya and I scooted out for a bit to feel the water and watch the kiteboarders. The wind was so strong, the sand was literally whipping against our skin, stinging.

We continued on to the rocky hills. If you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, you must explore this area. It's small, but it's fun, as you slowly inch your way along, carefully navigating the rocky terrain.

This is where we're going to go next time we want a beach day. At this point along the coast, there are all these semi-private pockets, where you can park and have your own spot of sand. It's a great area for camping too, as evidenced by all the campfire remains we found.

We stopped for a half hour or so. Enough for all of us to have a chance feeling the water on our toes.

Kaiya was fully enjoying the adventure.

Lots of nooks to explore

Enjoying sun, sand, surf... and WIND!

I'm much more of a homebody now than I've ever been. But ultimately, getting out and exploring is what keeps me sane. There's something soothing about us all together, hitting the road, singing along with our favourite songs, finding strength and joy again just being together.