Wednesday, 29 July 2009

On holiday

It's Wednesday already, my how the week flies when you stay in bed until the day warms a bit, have a leisurely breakfast while reading the latest book, check the mails, roll into the shower and go off to catch up with others and those jobs that need doing, like getting my hair done yesterday. I've decided that I like being on holiday, even in winter bound Christchurch.

I've got heaps I've got to do while I'm home, number one to sort out the stuff I didn't get sorted before I left. I've had a major throw out and have packed up some things to take back with me. Another job I need to do is to go to the airport and negotiate with the airlines for a cheaper excess baggage fee. I'm not sure how I'll go given I have a bike box, not sure what I'll do with that on my Melbourne stopover, and a bag that Emirates will allow me to fill with 30kg and AirNZ only 20. The time I went to Qatar it was an issue that Shirley helped me out with and I was only slightly over.

I've also caught up with Pene, a close friend of Raukura's and an avid reader of my blog. It's great to know there are readers although with the counter ticking over daily the hits are adding up. Pene and I are going to meet for coffee next week, can't wait to meet her in person. If the call we had this morning is anything to go by, I'm sure we'll get on very well.

I also caught up with my Facebook this morning. It's great to have the time to follow the leads and read further. Fancy there being another UFO sighting in Istanbul, thanks for sharing that Hayden. It's interesting to check out the vids, very like the UFOs of the 70s. As a good friend of mine would say, Google it and you will know if it's true. I also followed a discussion lead about fear from Paulo Choelho's site and one of the contributors added this gem, so true:

Fear stems from uncertainty as well as lack of knowledge........We like our lives to be as structured as possible, to have confidence and certainty with which we create our expectations/dreams. Thus, what would happen if we would became carefree once in a while, ‘go with the flow’ and not have any expectations at all? Not to sit and thoroughly self-analyse which would create more doubts about one’s abilities........It can be so liberating to do something that you truly desire, to become momentarily selfish and not think about what anyone else says. Fear cripples us emotionally; it is a culprit of so many missed opportunities. I comfort myself with the thought that whatever happens, be it positive or negative, it is all part of our map of life. Even if it seem like there could’t be any silver linings in the clouds, there will be. It all fits into the bigger picture of YOUR LIFE. You cannot change the past, but worrying about the future, you are destroying your present.

Thanks Anna.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Saturday in the cold lands

So much for snow, she writes as she eats marmite on Burgen bread for breakfast, great layers of New Zealand Sanitarium marmite, not that awful English stuff, all grey and slimy, with the winter sun shining brightly through the window warming her through. Add to that a pot, yes an old fashioned pot, of tea to top up her cup from at regular intervals, bliss.

Nick and Courtney headed off to the mountains this morning, minus my camera I just noticed, to go snow boarding. Undeterred by yesterday's death by avalanche and equipped with Tim's gear most of which used to be Kieran's gear, they were very excited at 6.30 to see that it was fine and frosty not the expected cold southerly. I got a text to say they had arrived safely, the bonus of sons having lovely girlfriends is that they now keep in touch a little more.

I offered them my camera as Nick takes great photos and I wanted to get some snow ones to add here. Although I love the snow and enjoy skiing when I get the chance, I'm basically lazy and don't enjoy being cold so sitting in the sun is more my pace today. I will hopefully get out on my new revamped mountain bike today when it's a bit warmer.

Tim's remodelled it for me, made it lighter and therefore faster (yeah right, it's still me on the pedals) and generally made it unbreakable. This was necessary in his eyes because I of course always get him or Muzz to fix my bike and they're both unavailable to me in Al Ain. Mind you I could just wait until either come to visit and hear the exasperated censure "you let it get THAT loose. Didn't you HEAR that grinding sound, it'll have to be replaced now!".

In fact the conversation via Skype about even getting my bike over to me is worth relaying.

Me: Hey Tim. There's some great riding over here. Think I might bring my bike back.

Tim: Silence and a glance at Sarah just out of picture.

Me: Isn't that a great idea? It's warm enough for me to ride year round over here (me renowned for not riding 7 months of the Christchurch year because it's too cold)

Tim: Silence (by now, I am quite bright really, I smelled a rat)

Me: Is there a problem with that Tim?

Tim: Did you hear about.............some gossip not about biking, bikes, mountains or any related topic, people or place.

Me: So, where's my bike then? (I had HIM sussed, I know he loves to swap parts around on the various bikes he has contact with, take the time he had borrowed my peddles, a bit of a surprise when I was all kited out for a ride and he was in Canada).

Tim: (sensing I was not going to be deterred) Hello, are you there still? This is a bad line, I'm having trouble hearing you. Did you say something about a bike? Which one, I've got several? (Very true he has a stable of bikes worth a small fortune, most of which he didn't pay a fortune for. Sponsorship and an understanding wife are wonderful things).

Me: Actually I was talking about my bike, my Scott mountain bike; yellow, black and white in colour; small frame, much like myself; lots of fancy bits. Can't quite remember the model but you know the one?

Tim: Well (a pause and clearing of throat) well actually, I kinda gave some of it to others to use, you weren't using it after all. (He then launched into justifications that could have won him a gold at the justification Olympics, just like his mum aye. He certainly learned how to justify from an expert).

Me: OK, so where are the parts of my bike then? (Me quietly using the dangerous 'OK' at the start of the sentence. Most who know me know to watch for that especially if it's said quietly).

Tim: Well. Sarah's got the (some important parts) and her mother's got (some other important parts) and so the list went on. It would cost heaps and be a lot of trouble to get it all back together.

Me: OK (that again very quietly) so I left a perfectly good mountain bike, suitable for purpose in going condition, lightly ridden by one careful lady owner with no rough mates and it's going to cost heaps for me to have it back in going condition? Please explain?

Tim: Well (he thought fast, I could see the brain whirring on the fuzzy screen) I knew it would need some modifications for riding in the desert, in the hot temperature. You know that I've ridden in New Mexico so know the conditions really well. I'll need to change the (more technical terms and part names) and give you some (more of the previous) just so you don't have to do so much maintenance (words I did appreciate, I was getting sucked into forgiveness).

Me: OK then ( a bit softer, Tim is after all my charming first born) so what do you have to do? (Read, how much will it cost me?)

Tim: If I did (more technical terms and part names) it might be cheaper.

Me: Well, could you please do whatever you think needs doing so I can bring it back with me in August? (Yes, I said please and gave him an open cheque. I am a slow learner).

Tim: I'll get it ready for you.

Me: (Gratefully) Thanks son, I really appreciate that.

End of conversation. Can't believe I was so grateful at the end of the conversation, I could see Tim sigh a sigh of relief and change the subject. I can imagine the conversation with Sarah who just might have said "I told you so" after the call.

The story ends well, Tim has fixed my bike to competition standards that this soon to be nana cannot possibly break. Even without basic maintenance. I'm looking forward to getting out riding, exploring the paths along the wadi's in town and getting some hill work in Oman. Next job, buying a 4wd and finding some fellow cyclists to get out and about with.
A picture of said bike ready to be boxed for the long plane journey. Thanks son, much appreciated.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Catching up

It's been great catching up with family and friends and their news over the past week or so. And there's lots of news. Tim and Sarah are having a baby, my first grandchild so very exciting; Nick's managing a new construction while Courtney is stepping into her new career; Kier and Sassy have a new home; Rose is getting married; Donna's enjoying a new job; Megan's broken her ankle; Annie's rehearsing for a show; Shirley's on the mend; Pat's thinking about her next writing project; Roger and Evan are just the same; Keri's loving her new job, enjoying the challenge of setting up a new centre; so things are all go over here.

I've not got used to the cold as yet. I still have moments of shivering chills, mostly when I venture outside first thing or late in the day. I can usually stay in bed until the day warms up a little or at least until the fire warms the house a bit but for the next few days I'm out and about early catching up on appointments and visits. Will have to add another layer.

PS I got a lovely surprise in today's post, an inspirational book from Lyn and Kerry. Thanks so much guys, loved the card too. We will get to catch up, maybe you can come and visit me to warm up.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

A foggy day

On Saturday we went to Lyttelton for breakfast, a quiet drive through the tunnel and out to the port. It was freezing in Christchurch, the fog low over the city thick and cloying. Lyttelton wasn't much brighter. Breakfast was yummy and I had yet another wonderful coffee, how I've missed a good espresso.

On the way home we drove along the Port Hills on the high road. What a treat. The sun shone, the sky a brilliant winter blue and the view over the city to the mountains absolutely stunning. There are times I wish I had a much better camera and today was one of those. My camera didn't really do justice to the view over the fog bound city to the Southern Alps.

The first photo is of the Lyttelton side of Banks Peninsular looking down into Rapaki, one for you Raukura. On a clear day, the view is of Lyttelton, Rapaki and Diamond Harbour, a stunning sea view. The other photos are of Christchurch city under the blanket of fog, the Southern Alps rising clear though the cloud while the city remains hidden.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Winter Canterbury

It got to 2C in Oxford today. Winter Canterbury is bleak, bleaker this year than I've ever seen it but the people, while complaining daily, still go out and about as they do at other times of the year. Sarah and I walked Sam around Hagley Park today, braving the bone chilling cold. Sam loved it, with his light fluffy winter coat a bit of outside exercise was just what he needed.

There were others out, children and mums attending school holiday entertainment; tourists punting down the Avon through the botanic gardens; colleagues gossiping while walking in their lunch hours; men, and the odd woman, running puffing in the freezing air; kids frolicking in the old leaves; golfers doing what golfers do; and dog owners walking their friends, nodding to others as they pass.

We finished our walk at Vic's Cafe with a lentil pie, a yummy lentil pie and a double espresso. Good comfort food for the expectant mum and the grandma in waiting. I drove out to Oxford in the afternoon and caught up with the olds. It was a lovely surprise to see my niece Kate, her wee sister Sophie, her cousin Kelsey and mum Helen. It's been a while and Kate's much taller than me now, not hard I hear you say.
There's things that I'm enjoying about being home. Catching up with family is wonderful, catching up with friends is a bonus. I've had heaps of calls, lots of lovely conversations with those I'm close to. Can't wait to catch up with others tomorrow, after the usual sleep in that is.

The photos are of Sam looking happy, the winter walkers and punting on the Avon. Note the pink blossom on the tree in the background, spring is coming.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

On holiday

It's been great being home, being on holiday after a long semester. I'm over the jet lag but have a cold. Helen calls this 'plane flu' and while I agree being shut up in a metal tube with hundreds of people does stretch your immune system, I suspect I caught this cold in Al Ain. Getting very cold on the plane didn't help. Why are those blankets soooo thin and small?

It's very cold here, a sudden step into winter. The mountains are covered in snow and very beautiful. I went out country today but was enjoying flying through the countryside in the Alfa too much to stop and take photos. I also knew my camera wasn't up to the task of capturing the majesty of the ring of snowy mountains in front of me so I satisfied myself by soaking in the view from the warmth of the car. I intend to go into the mountains in the next few weeks and get some photos that sum up the season.

The kids from Aussie and Auckland are here the weekend after next, I can't wait to see them. They all want to check out the snow while they're here. I'm looking forward to getting some family photos, I'm sure the kids are looking forward to that too.

I got the best news on my last day in Al Ain. I've got a promotion, a new job within my company. I'm looking forward to working with a new team, doing something a little different in the next semester. For now I'm enjoying sleeping in and having some down time for the first time in years.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

26.5 hours

After a very, very long flight I'm back in Godzown. It's a bit chilly, brrrrrr. Flying over the Southern Alps was amazing, the snow gleaming white in the bright sunshine. I hogged the window, my face pressed against it looking at all the familiar sights. the glorious mountains, the West Coast, my old house in Rimu, the lakes and the tracks I walked. I wished I hadn't decided to pack my camera in my case so I could capture the moments.

The flight was eventful, as mine often are. A lady from Lebanon and her two sons had taken my seat, and the seats of two from Dunedin, by accident. No worries, with two small children the window seats seemed like a good place for them to be. Poor lady started vomiting about an hour into the flight. I ended up amusing the boys aged 3 and 6, made the flight go quickly at any rate. I learnt a few more Arabic words and enjoyed a cuddle from a cute 3 year old while watching Cars and Finding Nemo.

The trip was also very, very long and tedious, 26.5 hours from Al Ain to here. Imagine the audacity after hours, almost a day of travel to get to Sydney and be bomb tested and searched. I'm afraid they got the sharp edge of my tongue, the very sarcastic edge. I'm not even sure if they knew just how cross I was, they got the icey coldness I reserve for idiots. Idiots often miss the tone.

It was fine in Christchurch, fine but very chilly. After a few days rest, I'll be out and about catching up with others. For now, I'm just enjoying being here chillin at home and catching up on family news. There's plenty of that.

Friday, 10 July 2009

On the road again

Well, in the air again. I fly from Dubai tomorrow to Sydney via somewhere, Bangkok I think. From Sydney it's on to Christchurch for a much needed rest. We were working out who had the longest trip today. I thought it was me at 28 hours door to door, but alas for Mary-Anne her trip home to Canada is 34 hours.

So the blog may be quiet for a time while I get settled. Can't wait to catch up with my family and friends. See you all soon.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Desert scenes

I've been wanting to get into the desert to get some mood photos for a while. Just outside Al Ain, on the way to the camel track are these wonderful dunes. Kathryn and I struck the right light on Saturday evening. I'm sure the locals thought we were loco, standing on the dunes in the hot wind taking photos of each other.

We drove on and visited the camel track, getting some good shots there too. We got asked out for a chai with a local who lived close by, well at least we thought that was what he was offering. I really must brush up on my Arabic, the sooner the better.

We both got some great shots, only three are included here: Belle of the desert, mountains of sand and the wind blown dunes.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Sheikh Zayed's Palace

Post number 300, who'd have thought I'd have so much to say.......

After visiting the fort we drove to Sheikh Zayed's Palace, yes drove. Although this is within 5 minutes walk of my house as well, it was too hot to walk, meltingly hot, in the very high 40s. I visited last with Sue and her cousin, minus my camera so I had lost time to make up for.

Like the fort, the palace has a peace that defies the outside bustle of Al Ain. Well to be truthful there is very little bustle on these hot afternoons. People are too sensible and stay inside sleeping off the heat. Not us, so much to see and so little time. It was Kathryn's last day in the UAE and Sue's last for a few weeks so we made the most of it.

The palace has been restored to the reflect the time it was occupied by Sheikh Zayed, restored with period furniture and entering the rooms we felt the presence of the people who sat and talked, drank ghawa and ate dates in these rooms. The majalis rooms are impressive. We sat in the place where the Sheikh and his ruling council would have sat and made the decisions that shaped the future of Al Ain and of the UAE.

The photos are the girls on the stairs to the Sheikh's private majalis, the view through the gypsum tiles that keep the corridors cool and private, one of the upper balconies and the stairs to the children's wing.

Al Jahli Fort

Al Jahli Fort is about 5 minutes walk from my place and yet I hadn't visited it until last weekend.
There's no excuse really, people had told me it was a must see. Anne told me about the Wilfred Thesiger exhibition, that it was a treat. How right she was. It brought tears to my eyes when I saw how wonderful his photographs were, photographs capturing the beauty of this place a generation or so ago. The beauty of the desert and most importantly of the people.
Sue, Kathryn and I were enthralled, we stayed quite a while revisiting our favorites, soaking in the stillness and silence. Some of his quotes were included. This one touched me:
"It was very still, with the silence we have driven from our world"
Wilfred Thesiger

A change of pace

I'm enjoying the change of pace and more variety in my work this week. We're doing professional development, a menu based PD where we get to choose what we engage in. Yesterday I had a session on coaching and mentoring, something I really enjoy and will follow up on. Today I signed up for an ICT session on making a web page.

Former colleagues may be snorting with laughter about now, yes ok so I'm not usually that well behaved in this sort of PD. I'm hoping today will be more challenging than previous ones, I suspect I'm going to be the dummy actually. I like attending PD, I always learn something and usually meet someone new I connect with. I hope today will be no exception and like yesterday, the new learning will be useful.

Right now I'm procrastinating. I've got plenty to do, ironing so I've got something to wear today, packing, cleaning the fridge. All the exciting jobs really. Mostly I'm procrastinating so I wear out the time I had to go to the gym. I'm feeling really lazy, getting into holiday mode, so exercise is low on the list of priorities and I'm not good at morning exercise anyway, maybe this afternoon.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

On top of the world

Kathryn took this one of me on the top of the world, well actually just walking through the small pass above the oasis. My trusty camera was ready for action and I got caught by another photographer as I got to the top. It was a wonderful day out in excellent company.

The Oasis

More photos from the Oman trip as promised. We had quite a weekend of photographing, socialising and seeing the sights in and around Al Ain.

The photos are of the oasis mosque, courtesy of Stephen as he was tall enough to get the moon in as well; Kathryn and I enjoying feeding our souls in the quiet and very beautiful surroundings (courtesy of Karen) and the group waiting for us, very patiently, to finish feeding our souls.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

This weeks trip

Kathryn and Sue arrived on Friday to stay before they had to head to Dubai to fly to the colder lands, Kathryn to Frankfurt and Sue to Birmingham. I had been deciding whether or not I'd go on the Natural History group trip. Luckily Kathryn jumped at the chance to go exploring so off we went, picking up Stephen on the way.
Once again Brigitte provided us with a ride and an informative commentary on our journey. We were venturing into an oasis and she shared why these were situated where they were, dotted over the landscape. My assumption, and I suspect the assumption of others, was that an oasis was where the water is. Not so, it's more about the soil type, about which soils are most fertile for the date palms and crops. Water can be brought in via the falaj system, fertile soil cannot be moved. Makes perfect sense really.
Aflaj (sing. falaj) are the main source of irrigation water in Oman beside wells. They are utilized in agriculture as well as for domestic use since ancient times. Similar systems are present in neighboring Arabian countries and in Persia where it is considered by literature the origin of falaj or Qanat irrigation system. The Falaj is a system of tapping underground water which is led by man-made subterranean channels to villages where it is used for irrigation and domestic purpose. Thanks to NIZWA for the information.

There was a larger group of us this week, a different group. We met Sylvan who is a mud restoration specialist and is working on one the nearby forts. We met up with Karen and others from yoga, a relaxed and sociable group to wander with. There were no big climbs this week but we did get to swim.
The photos are of a pass through the foothills in the early evening light; Kathryn walking along the falaj and the group treking up the side of the oasis. More photos to come, of course as usual I took plenty.

Friday, 3 July 2009

The beginning of the end

Well for this semester anyway. We had our last day at school today, a day for farewelling friends and talking about our upcoming holiday destinations. Two of us are heading back to NZ, one to Canada, one to Aussie and others to Oman, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and many staying at home in the UAE to weather out the summer heat. And hot it is. Although the website said 48C, I suspect it was a little hotter than that. Compare that with the 4C Christchurch is on at the moment, well I could do with a short winter.

One more week of work, next week I've got professional development and I'll be busy packing and buying those last minute gifts. My suitcase will have very little in it apart from gifts, what else can I take? My clothes are summer ones and as I'm coming back I don't need to pack up my flat. After last year's struggles with weight going home, this is a bonus. It also makes leaving more relaxing.

I'm hoping while I'm away that my washing machine will get some much needed repairs and some of the other small annoying things will be fixed. Once again I have a few water issues, seems to be the story of my time in the Middle East. Will add them to the maintenance list.

It's been a long semester and I'm looking forward to the next one. Looking forward to the Eid breaks where I'll be able to see more of this area. I've got trips to Egypt, Jordan and possibly Turkey in the pipeline.

So it's only 8 more sleeps until I'm flying through the air in a long metal tube with lots of other people. Long haul flying, not my favourite pass time but a means to an end.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

50C in Abu Dhabi

It was a little warm in AD yesterday, 50C plus and humid enough to soak us. You see Sue, Kathryn and I went out and about in AD just after midday for a few hours. It was meltingly hot. We visited the Emirates Palace Hotel, wandered around in the air conditioning while occasionally venturing outside to take photos. The biggest problem was that everything fogged up, my glasses the main culprit. Could have caused a nasty accident.

Kathryn is stopping over with Sue and I on her way to a study tour of Germany and the UK. She was such a trooper yesterday, from the cold of NZ to the humidity of Singapore to the intense heat of AD all in less than a week. I'm not sure I would have coped so well. Such a trooper to put up with our driving too. Her comment: You won't be able to do THAT back in NZ. What, cutting across three lanes at well over the speed limit and stopping suddenly in the lane with the hazards on so we could plan our route? How could THAT be a problem, mmmmm wait, maybe Sue and I have acclimatised in more ways than one.

We finished our wandering at the cultural village after much needed refreshments. I managed to buy some interesting souvenirs, although I suspect the heat was affecting me when I looked at the haul this morning in the cold light of morning. Oh well, I'm sure the kids will just have it confirmed that I am slightly eccentric. They'll nod and smile in that way they have when they regard someone who should be committed, well I hope they wait until I get the photo before the men in white coats come to take me away. What photo? Don't worry, it will be added here so watch this space......

These photos are of the Emirates Palace Hotel and the dates growing in the cultural village. Note how they are tied in bunches around the palm. Kathryn, who worked in the date industry in the Middle East in the '70s, told me that they were tied to ensure even weight distribution so the palm doesn't fall over. Makes perfect sense as many of the customs and practices here do.