Expat Holiday Season #2

 

Christmas and New Year 2015

Holiday Season #2 away from home… A year ago, I didn’t really expect that I’d be spending another Christmas and New Years in Saudi Arabia… But here I am. And it’s not so bad at all again.

This Christmas, I think what I appreciated the most, was the response from some of my patients and colleagues. Even though many of them do not celebrate Christmas, many of my patients who spoke English, wished me a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season. I had several conversations with patients who shared with me how they celebrate with their children (from a non-religious perspective), and how they really appreciate the joy and cheerfulness of the season and of their nurses who are celebrating the special day.

Despite being far from home, again I was surrounded by people I love and care deeply for… my Saudi family… the group of amazing friends I’ve been blessed to get to know over the past year…

I think being completely removed from the commercialism of the holiday season in North America actually gives us a much more natural and real holiday experience! There is absolutely no evidence that Christmas is near in Saudi Arabia… Starbucks doesn’t sell Christmas drinks… the shops aren’t filled with overwhelming rows of toys and candy canes and all sorts of goodies (not more than they usually are anyways)… there’s no tacky holiday music playing in the shops/malls… and life is generally just proceeding as is usually does. We have to look so hard to find simple decorations and ways to celebrate.

But we, being deprived of all the typical Christmas atmosphere, appreciate the little bits we do have and manage to commercialize our Christmases pretty well actually. The terribly tacky plastic Christmas trees that pop up in some remote little corner in a grocery store… the thin little string of lights someone manages to rummage up and string around their room…

And then there’s the compound Christmas markets… where everyone visiting the compound was in full holiday spirit and I LOVED walking around the booths finding saudi versions of Christmas cards… (comical camels with tinsel and lights)… fridge magnets… camel tree ornaments, etc.

And there are always plenty of events to celebrate the season…

The US Marines held an ugly Christmas sweater party…  (which I don’t have any pics of unfortuantely due to no cellphones at embassy rules…)

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And of course… Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a red and green run… so we ran in full holiday spirit… red/green clothing if we could find it… jingle bells on our shoes… even got the crew (the running lemons and associates) together for a Christmas tree red/green run photo…

Another pre-Christmas party… With more excitement over finding Christmas decorations in play…

And then finally… It was Christmas weekend and Christmas eve at work… it was Thursday afternoon… and when our shift ended, we all tucked ourselves into a back room where we set up a massive international cuisine potluck and a secret santa gift exchange… it was so amazing to be able to celebrate with all my beautiful colleagues from around the world… New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, the UK, Spain, Canada, America…

When we finally finished work for the day, and for the week, Amelia and I set off to a friends compound to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning together with the people we love most in Saudi. It was a super chill evening of hurried present wrapping, tucking presents under the tree, and finally getting cozy on couches to fill our bellies with cheesy pizza and watch the ultimate Christmas movie… Home Alone (can you believe I’d actually never seen it yet?!!!)

I fell asleep feeling so content… Listening to the rain patter on the roof… Making it seem so much cozier and winterier… So that it hardly even seemed like we were in Saudi Arabia.

I was bounced out of bed by my excited bestie for Merry Christmas morning hugs… Wearing the reindeer onesie I got her so we could be twinsies in our onesies on Christmas morning 🙂  I baked scones with cream and jam for breakfast… And together we all opened all the presents we’d set under the tree.  My heart was so happy. I couldn’t ask for better people to spend a Christmas away from home with. So blessed!!

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a big Christmas lunch with the same fabulous “family” we shared Christmas with last year… We all contributed to a massive feast with all the usual Christmas fixings (aside from ham :S)… Christmas cupcakes… A whole lot more presents to open thanks to Secret Santa… And time spent just hanging out, catching up, and singing Karoke…

And finally… A Boxing Day dinner with my flat mate and a couple other dear friends… (I feel like all I did was eat Christmas weekend!!! But isn’t that just like Christmas in North America?! :S) And I must say… It sure felt cold enough to be Christmas too!!! The pool might look lovely… But really it’s frigid!! (And frigid does mean less than 10 degrees mid-winter in Saudi!!)

And then… About a week after Christmas… It was New Years Eve… I rang in the New Year with singing and joy, confetti, and a whole lot of happiness and laughter with my flat mate!!! Way different, much more peaceful vibes for my New Years celebration this year… But my heart was so content to spend it in a meaningful way!!

And to start off the New Year… I ended up waking up relatively early and going for a run with a couple friends… In the cool morning air around the Diplomatic Quarters… Finishing at Pancake House for coffee and omelets and pancakes. All in good company. And starting off our New Years resolutions right on the first of January yet too??!! (Don’t think I actually made any fitness resolutions but if I did… What a great way to start!!!!)

I love you, You love me

Back in August/September/October 2015

Family. I love my family. All of them. But my nieces hold a very special and very big place in my heart.

 

I absolutely loved every minute of the hours and hours of time I got to spend with them in the nearly 3 months i was home. A day felt incomplete if it didn’t include a stop at my sisters house for baby cuddles and big girl snuggles…

I spent a lot of time babysitting the two little girls so my sister could run errands/get out of the house. So i spent so many hours playing on the trampoline with the oldest of my nieces or running around outside… or just being goofy and silly at my sisters house… chasing her… adoring her…

Teaching her to play piano and then watching her show her “baby” how to play too…

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Taught her how to snapchat too and use the “filters”

How about this “selfie”??

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Walks through the greenhouse with her and my brothers and “gwampa”…

But one of my favourite memories was just sitting in the sunshine on the couch cuddling the wee one while she slept and singing with her big sister… “i love you, you love me, we’re a happy family. with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too?”

I definitely look back on those precious moments with the girls with so much love but also a significant sense of loss now that I’m back in Riyadh and so far away from them again!!

Anyways… before I get too much more homesick… enjoy the love 🙂

xx

The Last Few days… at Home.

Its not often in our adult lives that we are gifted with 3 months vacation. Mine was definitely unplanned. 6 weeks max was the original plan. But someone had other plans for my life and those 6 weeks turned into 3 of the most beautiful months of my life. 3 months of family and friendship and a whole lot of love to rejuvenate my soul!

But… It had to come to an end eventually. I bit the bullet and made my decision to move back to Saudi… Contract was signed… Flights booked. And suddenly I had only one week left at home.

My family doubted that I would actually get on that plane… But I’d booked a stopover to see my best friend in Minneapolis… Also a strategy to ensure that I actually would leave. Because it made it easier to pretend I was just going on a little trip to Minneapolis and forget about the Riyadh part after that.

Anyways. It’s hard to describe what happens in that last week… A lot of tears. But part of me kind of switches into Riyadh mode and I just try to turn things off a little and get into leaving phase…

I tried to cram in as much time with the family as possible… But it’s never enough time when you’re leaving.

My most favourite memories of this week definitely evolve around my nieces… Especially my last afternoon with them when my sister and I took the girls for a walk by the river to go crunching through the fallen leaves. Addison and I were throwing leaves around and being generally silly… So cute to see her try to copy me by holding leaves by her face… Initially sticking the end of the leaves in her ears…

I had the loveliest dinner date with my sister… As much as I adore my nieces, it was so nice to have dinner with just my sister without precious kiddos interrupting our conversation constantly!

Thanksgiving Day was shortly before I left also… maybe a little more than a week. I was so thankful that this year I was actually home for it… with my family… because I think family is the most important thing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day! That and all the ham and turkey and pumpkin pie 😛

A couple days before I left… Canadian elections were held… so my mom, dad, brother and I all went out together to vote and exercise a freedom that not everyone has in the world… and that people have worked so hard to get!

Enjoyed a few last fabulous bottles of wine…

Last few drives in my car…

All these simple things that I love but won’t be able to do for a good long while again…

And a few last family dinners… the best one… my sister (who is an amazing cook/baker by the way…) made a gorgeous pumpkin spice cheesecake… and we all sat around eating and drinking and talking and laughing… I miss those moments!!!

And then suddenly… definitely before I was ready… it was time for me to head off to the airport again… abandoning my family… again :S I think they understand it… at least I certainly hope they do!!

Relatively early in the morning… I headed off to the airport with mother dearest and baby bro… I’d already said all my goodbyes to the girls and my sister the night before. Goodbyes at the airport are so awkward… I can’t stand to say them… but I kind of just want to say it and get it over with so that I can go get a coffee past security and go hide in a little corner and cry… or snuggle up to a very life sized and Canadian looking bear!

And then… I was up in the air and flying away from my home yet again… Minneapolis bound for a day or so with my bestie… and then back to Saudi!

See you soon Saudi… Adventures await!!!! See you later Vancouver… and dearest family…

Fall Days… So Idyllic

I love typical fall days. I don’t care if they’re over-instagrammed or over hash-tagged or considered “typical white girl” activites and such… I love the gentle bite the air has in the fall… the crispy leaves that crackle when I walk on them… all the vivid colours on display… watching the leaves change color… the sky more blue than usual… the misty mornings… walks by the river with a girlfriend while we drink a pumpkin-spice latte from Starbucks and our boots crunch through the leaves… or… apple picking at the Apple Barn with my sister and nieces.

I didn’t get fall last year as I was living in Saudi Arabia throughout the entire fall of 2014. And fall in Saudi Arabia reminds me of spring at home. Really. It’s bizarre. It cools down. The air is fresher. And everything blooms!!! There’s fresh flowers blooming everywhere and the gardeners plant petunias and pansy’s and marigolds and verbena and all the flowers my daddy sells in the springtime at home!! The grass is new and bright green and the trees grow new leaves… That’s nothing like fall at home!

So I really appreciated having extra time at home during the fall this year! And I did every typical fall activity I could!!!

A river walk in the sunshine with Pumpkin-spice lattes with a good friend from nursing school…

Word & Deed baseball tournament… I helped babysit the kids with my sister (hand/eye coordination when it comes to a ball and bat is absolutely shit! :S) But we helped cheer on everyone we love!

And one of my favourite days of the whole time I was home… a trip to the Apple Barn with my sister and nieces to take the girls apple picking! The Apple Barn is actually an apple orchard, petting zoo, pumpkin patch, and playground for kiddos… it’s a lot of fun with little ones!!!

We started our visit to the orchard with a hay wagon ride through the orchard…

We spent a little time apple picking (but it’s so much more convenient to go pick up a bag or three of apples from the apple barn shop than pick them all… plus my niece wasn’t terribly interested in picking apples.)

She was a lot more keen to bounce around on the kangaroo cushion (as were my sister and I :P)

We stopped at the petting zoo to see the bunnies and goats and even a donkey and a turkey!!

Climbed on the pumpkin truck… and the old red tractor… sipping on apple cider slushies. I really can’t think of a more idyllic way to spend a random mid-week fall day!

There’s one more fall day that was really special to me… but that was the day before I moved to Saudi Arabia… so I’ll save that for another post…

Looking back now… I’m sitting here on my couch in Saudi Arabia thinking… and wondering… why am I back in Saudi Arabia and not with these people I love more than anything in the world?? But I had a purpose… a reason for returning… and that’s coming up in a post soon…

So that’s all for right now…

A.

Mother Natures Glory

British Columbia, my home, is mother natures playground! It’s my happy place. Obviously I’m biased, but it truly is one of the most gorgeous places in the world to live. Being away from it from a year has really taught to me to appreciate the beauty of home so much more than I ever did before.

Every place is beautiful in its own way. But BC is particularly beautiful for its natural beauty. It’s tagline is “beautiful British Columbia” for a reason. The colours everywhere are unbelievably vivid and vibrant… Rich greens, shades of blue, deep Browns of rich earth and millions of trees… The darker purple shadow of the mountains… Puffy white clouds or streaks of white in otherwise clear blue skies…

There are mountains to hike and climb and explore… (upcoming post on some hikes I did at home…)

Lakes… So many lakes… Big and small… Sunny summer lake days spent on the beach, or floating… Or doing water sports like wakeboarding…

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And then there’s the ocean too…

I had planned to do something active outdoors every single day… like a run or a hike… din’t quite pan out that way but I did run down the road 500m to my sisters house on a daily basis 😛

Regardless… I had some incredible outdoorsy days where I just fell in love with my home all over again.

There were many river walks with my sister and nieces. One which resulted in me slipping on a little mud down by the river and ending up with a very wet and muddy behind. My little niece Addison doesn’t easily forget that one! “Ammie walk wiwer? Ammie get wet?!” Too cute!!

I had a few solo river runs also, along my favorite trail along the Vedder river. Those runs are good for the soul. In the sunshine… along the windy trail… through the woods… over the occasional garter snake that decides to scare the pants off me and dart out across the trail just as I’m running by!  

And then there were a few bike rides with the baby brother. One of the best bike rides was actually on a rather grey day where it started to rain as we went along… It hadn’t rained at home in quite a long time (months in fact) and I hadn’t experienced a proper rainfall in many months more than that even!! So it was just so lovely to feel the raindrops on my skin… fresh and cool and cleansing…

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And then… There were misty morning drives home from work… Calm, sunlit, serene views…

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Looking back now several months later over all the pictures, I’m just awed by the beauty that surrounds me every day at home! So much peaceful and serene beauty… I’m a happier person at home not just because I’m with my family… but constantly being surrounded by these vivid but calming colours and naturally gorgeous scenes… it makes one happy and so at peace internally!

I feel like I should be a tourism ad for beautiful British Columbia… but really… I hope you get an opportunity to visit this beautiful place someday and find out why I call it my “happy place.”

Oregon Coast Part 3: Lighthouse on the Last Day

Mid August 2015

Our last day on the Oregon Coast was stormy… grey… and gorgeous! There is nothing quite like the ocean when it is moody!

We visited one of the most popular lighthouses on the Oregon coast… Yaquina Headlight… on a beautiful shoreline protrusion called Cape Foulweather. This day was just a little stormy… I can’t imagine how potentially terrifying but totally awe inspiring a major storm would be viewed from this point!

  
  
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Dad and the baby bro got a lighthouse tour…

Mom and I walked down onto this amazing balsite rock beach.. the whole beach was round little black rocks that are essentially little drops of lava that cooled as it hit the cold ocean water once upon a time, turning into a little ball of molten rock.

There were heaps of tidepools along the beach… filled with anemones and crabs and little fish…


While we were standing up high on the cape… we saw grey wales surfaces off in the distance away from the shoreline. It was incredible!


 Nature amazes me!! Really!! Especially after a year of being exposed to almost nothing but rocks and dust and dry cliffs and sand dunes or very cultivated trees and grass… it’s amazing to see nature as it is… not enhanced by humans… vibrant and full of life!!!

We had a special dinner out on our last night in oregon, along the marina in newport. We saw fishermen cutting up big tuna and other fish… There were disgustingly smelly and noisy sea lions… Barking like dogs with bad colds and plugged noses… But yet so intriguing to watch… And the marina lit up at night was pretty lovely to walk along… Good way to end the trip!

On our return back to Canada… it was still windy and stormy on the drive back. We drove along miles of windswept coastline where the trees were flattened against the cliffs and hilly shoreline they clung to… where beaches were ever moving and constantly changing as the wind blew the sand along them and waves washed the sand in and out and up and down along the coast. We stopped at a couple beaches on the way back…  Beach number one stays nameless. Cuz I don’t know what it was called 😕

 

Beach number 2 was Manhattan Beach, I think…
  
  

Otherwise… the drive was pretty uneventful. I’m very proud to say that I finally finished reading Shatarum… and if you haven’t read it yet you most definitely should!! Proceed with caution though: it will make you want to visit India. Or travel. Anywhere! I’d been trying to get more than a couple pages into Shantarum for months (and not because it was boring but because I never had time to read it…), but now on vacation, I got to fully immerse myself in the story and luxuriate in a fabulous, imaginative, mind transporting book!

I did have a lot of thinking time on the drive back… trying to decide what to do with my life next. Should I stay or should I go??!!! That was the big question that weighed on my mind. Probably not a good question to have weighing on my mind when I was homesick for my nieces after only 6 days, and had been absolutely surrounded by the love of my family and the happiness of being together with them so closely for 6 days! A very anguished post came out of that. Which will actually never hit the blog. Anyways. No closer to a decision at present :S

But I have decided that I absolutely love Oregon and would most definitely consider it as a future home!!!! And if you’ve never been to the Oregon coast yet, I highly recommend a roadtrip! You can even go all the way down through California if you like!!!

Hope you’ve enjoyed the pics!

xx

Annemarie

Oregon Coast Part 2: Dunes and Devil’s Churn

Mid August 2015

Part 2 of our trip had us spending a couple nights in Waldport Oregon, further down the coast and nearer to the coastal sand dunes of Oregon.

Waldport was a pretty unremarkable seaside town, but it was a great place to stop and spend a couple nights. On our first night we went on a walk to the beach and ended up nearly sliding our way down a very steep and sandy hill…

We found a nature’s teeter-totter, made out of driftwood, that ended with me falling off onto a sharp piece of diftwood and piercing my ear quite unintentionally. What a bloody mess. Really. But such a good laugh and worth the pain!

Relaxing family time spent reading books… cooking dinner together… just relaxing outside in the fresh air…

Day number 4 of the trip, we drove a couple hours drive further south along some incredibly windswept coastline into the dune land near Florence, Oregon.

Beautiful white sand dunes… blue skies… and the faintly blue ocean out in the distance after a strip of dusty green scrub brush…

Rented a 4 person Razor so dad and little brother and I could all be together and went screaming up and down the dunes! Oh it made me miss Saudi a little! Although Saudi definitely doesn’t have these gorgeous ocean views out in the sand dunes! It was a lot of fun… but I must say, this sand is harder to drive in than Saudi sand! Or maybe the Razor I drove in Saudi had a little more power? :S Great fun though!!!

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Next stop was for lunch. Hecita Bay beach… Homemade Burgers on the beach, a couple games of frisbee that definitely ended when I launched the frisbee way up in a tree… And hours spent running up and down the beach… Playing in the waves… Baby bro and I found a sandbar that took us way out away from the shoreline out into the water near where the big waves were breaking before rushing over our shallow spot… Some of the waves were so much larger than we anticipated and before long our clothes were absolutely drenched. And our feet were SO numb… That water must have been imported directly from the Arctic Ocean!!! 😁 great fun tho… So many laughs with the little guy!
  
    


On our way back… we made a pitstop at Devil’s Churn… which ended up being hours of watching the waves crash on the rocks and shower the tide pools with fresh water and liven up all the little beings making the tide pools their home.

The water was ferocious in that area… smashing into the rocks with thunderous roar, sending massive spray up and out onto any unsuspecting individual too close to the edge… giving new meaning to the word churning as the water rushed into a narrow inlet between the rocks, seething and swooshing over the dark black basalt rocks in a rush of white water…

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Some of the waves that crashed into the rocks were larger than others… and it was a bit of a guessing game to know whether it would be a large enough wave with the right angle to hit you with it’s spray… my brother and I got soaked at one point as we tried to pose for a picture with the water just behind us, as instead it rushed over us! But we didn’t get nearly as wet as one couple who posed for a picture and got drenched by the largest wave we’d seen all afternoon… and when they ran away from the water, and stopped again for another picture, an even bigger wave soaked them yet again! Oh the gorgeous unpredictability of nature!


  
 Next up: lighthouses!