Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Let's toast to 2009 being even better than 2008!
Happy New Year!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Gone Again

I realize that I just got back from Cyprus. I also realize that during that time I left you, my wonderful Devoted Readers, high, dry, and blog-less for almost an entire week. Since my return from my Cypriot sojourn, however, I have tried to make it up to you with tales of my adventures, stories of Christmas past, and a few random visits into my insane thinking process.

So I hope you won’t hold it against me then when I disappear for another week or two. Hubby and I are going to Japan for the holidays. We’ll be visiting Osaka, Tokyo, and numerous points in between.

I really want to go to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Park and leave behind a paper crane. Hubby wants to try as many different types of sushi as he can. And I also want to try the Fugu because eating something that could kill me would make a great blog entry! (Yup, I’m committing possible death by food just to provide myself with blog fodder and you with something interesting to read. That’s dedication!)

I’m going to try to pop in once or twice with updates about the trip so stay tuned for lots of Japanese fun complete with sushi, sake, and your favorite sassy hostess! (*cough* That would be me.) I’ll be back in two weeks – blog you then.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

'Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Clement Clarke Moore
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of midday to objects below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,

And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

"Now Dasher! Now Dancer! 
Now, Prancer and Vixen!

On Comet! On, Cupid!
 On Donner and Blitzen!


To the top of the porch!
 To the top of the wall!


Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!"


As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes--how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!


His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!


His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,


And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.



The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.


A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.


He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.


But I heard him exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Monday, December 22, 2008

Networking

Preparing for, speaking at, and attending conferences are just a few of the things Hubby does as part of his job. The side benefit of these “business” trips is that I often get to tag along and visit new cities and countries while he “works.” I always attend the part of the meeting where he speaks, and then spend the rest of my time exploring.

As a former Customer Service Guru I have never had cause to attend a conference for my own purposes. I have never been the one to stand at the front of the room and be heard. And I’ve never been the one wearing the good badge. As a wife my conference passes were either blank (there’s an ego boost for you) or simply stated “spouse.”

I recently came across an opportunity to turn the tables and attend a conference where I would be the attendee and Hubby would be the “spouse.” The annual BlogHer Conference will be taking place in Chicago next July around the time I was thinking of heading to the States for home leave.

Rightly or wrongly, blogging has become a big part of my life over the past three years. I appreciate having this wonderful, electronic outlet for my creativity. My random thoughts may end up in the Internet ether but at least they’re out there for people to read and comment upon. The fact that there is a conference out there for people like me was intriguing from almost the first moment I heard about it. Sure many of the participants and attendees are “professional bloggers” rather than “personal bloggers” like me, but my heart still races at the thought that I might meet people – in person - who feel the same way about blogging as I do.

This is the fifth year this conference has been held and the second time it has called Chicago its home. I have to admit that location plays a big part in my contemplation of this conference: Chicago is only one flight away from Toronto and we have friends who live there whom I can visit at the same time.. The cost is a little steep but Hubby has been incredibly supportive and said that if this is something I’m interested in we can make it work.

Last year’s conference in San Francisco included talks about such things as “Blogging with a Global Perspective,” “Women Without Children and the Blogosphere,” “Pursing your Passion Never Gets Old,” and “Book to Blog Redux.” It also had great breakout groups for writing workshops and women who blog about similar things (travel bloggers, mommy bloggers, etc).

I love the idea of this conference but am not sure if I’ll know anyone there, if people there will want to know me, if I’ll get anything out of it, and most importantly, if it will be worth the money I’ll have to pay to attend. Have any of you ever attended? What did you think of it? Do you plan to this year? Should I? Help!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

‘Tis the Season

I have a confession: I am a huge Christmas freak. I have no problem with malls that play Christmas music in October. The rush of Christmas shoppers in December is simply an excuse to be happy and spread cheer among those grumpy Gus’s who left things to the last moment. And the only thing I love more than opening gifts is spending hours wrapping those that I am giving to friends and family. Yup, I’m that girl – the one who doesn’t realize that she’s being obnoxious by singing carols 24/7 or at very best doesn’t seem to care.

It isn’t entirely my fault you know. My father is the biggest Christmas kid on the planet. He still believes in Santa and it was literally a crime in our house growing up to talk about what you bought for people before the unwrapping extravaganza on Christmas morning.

Christmas in our house was a wondrous adventure every year. On Christmas Eve, we would set out a plate of three peanut butter cookies (my father’s least favourite), and a glass of Irish whiskey (my father’s favourite) for Santa. I didn’t realize that most people left milk out for Santa until I was well into my teens.

Around five or six in the morning, my brothers and I would wake-up, run downstairs and tear open the stockings that bore our names and the Santa sacks beside them. We’d giggle over the fact that Santa always left a Clementine orange, champagne truffle people, chocolate coins, and cash in our stockings year after year. Then we would debate who received the best box of Lego.

Around eight, we’d pack up our things and run upstairs to wake up my parents. Each of us would perch ourselves our my parents big bed (I always sat near my mother’s feet), and one by one we’d open our stockings again and exclaim at the lovely presents Santa brought us. My parent’s Santa sacks were filled with Santa’s adult gifts like a bottle of Port for mum or Glenmorangie or my dad.

When we returned from Christmas mass, the gluttony of the day would begin. First, a proper Irish breakfast including blood pudding, white pudding, sausage, bacon, freshly squeezed orange juice, and all the trimmings. After our heart attack inducing meal, my mother would start working on the turkey, while my brothers and I would gather all the snacks we had made the day before – spinach dip, herb dip, cocktail shrimp – and carry them to the basement. There we would remain a state mandated distance from the piles of gifts surrounding the Christmas tree we had cut down and trimmed weeks before.

Upstairs, my father would light the candle in the front window that told people they were welcome in our home for the holidays. Then he would add the baby Jesus to the crèche.


By mid-afternoon, the basement would be a minor disaster area of wrapping paper and ribbon. Earlier we would have elected someone to play Santa and hand gifts out to each person in turn. One by one, we would open the gifts from each family member and then wait for our turn to come around again. My eldest brother would wrap his gifts in eco-friendly newspaper and my other brother would “trick wrap” gifts in off size boxes and multiple layers of paper.

Over next few hours, my mother would disappear upstairs every so often to check on dinner while the rest of us put a puzzle together or played whatever game we had received in our stockings

At some point during the day, my mother and I set the dining room table with the good Irish linen, Waterford crystal, china, and good silver. It didn’t matter that my glass would be filled with orange pop – I still got to drink out of the adult glasses on this one day each year. (And no, we are not going to take this time to discuss the one time I accidentally broke a glass and how the two pieces sat behind my spot at the kitchen table the next twenty years. Nope, no need to discuss that at all.)

Christmas dinner was always an extravagant feast for the senses. We would start with one of my father’s amazing homemade soups – oxtail remains my all time favourite. Then the main event: turkey with every single homemade from scratch trimming imaginable. To this day, I have never made Christmas dinner myself because I would never be able to create anything as mouthwatering as those meals with their multiple types of stuffing, cranberry sauce, veggies, and moist turkey.

During dinner, we would all pull on Christmas crackers and read the inevitably lame jokes aloud. It was a house rule that you had to wear your paper crown all during dinner, which is why all my family Christmas photos have us sporting goofy pastel crowns and sheepish grins.

The final step of the evening was dessert. As the youngest member of the family, it was my job to carry in the flaming Christmas pudding and place it on the table in the darkened dining room. Once the fire was extinguished, we would bring out the trifle, custard, and orange pudding. (I did warn you about the gluttony.)

That was Christmas every year until I married Hubby and moved to the States. I haven’t celebrated Christmas with my family since then and I miss it desperately. My mother insists that Christmas is no longer like that since we are all so far flung now. With my brother only a short drive away, traditions have evolved and moved to his home instead.

I miss the perfect Christmases of my childhood but Hubby and I now have new traditions and since we are so far away from home, we make a point to make each year special. Santa, it turns out, knows his way all over the world and has never failed to visit us. And as long as you believe in him, he can make almost any Christmas dream come true.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Boiling Water

Since Four Foods is taking a well-deserved Christmas vacation, I won’t be participating in my usual weekly series of questions. But I didn’t want to abandon my readers to a whole week without any food related dish.

Last month, I avoided telling the story of the most embarrassing meal I ever cooked. The fact that this story could also go into the “foods you burn” category didn’t encourage my honesty either. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the real blame for the story of my worst meal lies with not only my innate laziness but also with the makers of convenience food for trying to find even easier ways to prepare easy food.

It isn’t exactly a secret that I am addicted to KD, Kraft Dinner, Kraft Mac and Cheese. Call it what you will, but at the end of the day this plastic food is a darn yummy taste of home. Everyone knows how to make this childhood favourite: boil water, add pasta, drain when cooked, add butter, milk, “cheese,” and serve. There are variations of that standard recipe that include leaving out the butter and milk, using cream, or even adding vegetables in an attempt to make this meal healthy.

Then the wise people at Kraft figured out that boiling water and later draining the pasta was far too much work for the average lazy chef. That’s when they added this alternative method of preparation: add water and pasta to a bowl and microwave for five minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Not only did you no longer have to drain the pasta, but you could also cut an entire seven minutes off your cooking time!

By now, you should have all figured out that I am one of the laziest people on the planet, so naturally when I read this alternative preparation method, I jumped aboard. The math was simple: Bowl + Water + Pasta + Five Minutes On High = LUNCH.

Then, one day my autopilot went wonky. I threw everything in the plastic bowl, set the microwave and headed down the basement of my parent’s home to watch some television. About three minutes later Murphy, our black lab, bounded into the basement and nosed my hand repeatedly.

“Yes, you’re cute. Go away,” I said patting his furry head. But he persisted.

Annoyed that Murphy was disrupting me, I grumbled at him and headed back upstairs to let him out into the garden. Halfway there I smelled smoke. A lot of smoke.

I ran into the kitchen and saw that the microwave was all but on fire. I hit “stop,” opened the door and was greeted with the noxious fumes that only melted plastic can emit. After I let the dog out, I opened all the windows, turned the fan on, and attempted to get rid of all the evidence of my kitchen disaster.

Mid clean up it hit me: I had messed up the equation. Here’s what I had done in my haste to consume Kraft Dinner goodness: Bowl + Pasta + Five Minutes on High = Lunch. Do you see the problem?

I forgot to add the water. Consequently, all the microwave had to cook was the pasta (blackened to a char after only a handful of minutes) and plastic bowl made from a thousand different toxic smelling polymers.

I would like to tell you that I learned my lesson. That is, after this incident, now I always remember to add the water when boiling water and would never cook KD this way again. Moreover, maybe this would have induced me to stop eating the world’s most plastic food as a result. Sadly, none of those lessons ever stuck with me.

To this day, I love Kraft Mac and Cheese. And worst of all, I pulled off that plastic melting catastrophe not once but two more times. What can I say? I’m more than a part-time chef – I’m also a full-time screw-up!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fifty Random Thoughts

Yesterday, I said that I was going to start catching up on all of the memes I hadn’t done in the last month. Thanks to Betty I never really got that far back into my meme history because she posted this great list of questions on her blog and I found myself unable to resist!

Since I decided to give up tagging for the time being, feel free to join in if you find yourself as intrigued and amused as I was.

1. Do you like cheese? Yes

2. Have you ever smoked? It was yucky.

3. Do you own a gun? No

4. Do you like listening to Christmas music? Who doesn’t?

5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? I hate bad news.

6. What do you think of hot dogs? Love ‘em!

7. Favorite Christmas song for all time? Don’t make me pick my favourite child. I love them all equally. Well, not that one about Figgie Pudding – but the rest of them are all wonderful!

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Hubby recently got me addicted to coffee again.

9. Can you do push ups? That’s not even funny.

10. Who is your favorite Grey's Anatomy Character? Izzie

11. What's your favorite piece of jewelry? The necklace I bought last year in Namibia.

12. Favorite hobby? Blogging

13. Do you eat "exotic" foods? Frequently.

14. Do you have ADD? What’s your point?

15. What one trait do you hate about yourself? My complete lack of willpower.

16. Middle Name? The Great and Wise

17. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment? I should be food shopping instead of blogging. I need to finish the laundry so I can pack. Good god I’m hungry!

18. Name 3 things you bought yesterday? Tinned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, and bell peppers.

19. Name 3 drinks you regularly drink? Water, Coke Zero, and Crystal Light.

20. Current worry right now? I can’t narrow it down to just one. I’m a professional worrier.

21. Current hate? The annoying fly that keeps landing on me.

22. Favorite place to be? Anywhere with my sweetie.

23. How will you bring in the New Year? Doing something in Tokyo.

24. Where would you like to go? Somewhere in South America.

25. Name three people who will complete this? I’m not sure….

26. Do you own flip-flops? Not a single pair.

27. What shirt are you wearing? Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.

28. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? I’ve never tried it.

29. Can you whistle? Nope.

30. Favorite color? Blue.

31. Would you be a pirate? Aye, me matey!

32. What songs do you sing in the shower? Broadway show tunes.

33. Favorite girl's name? Rhiannon Eileen

34. Favorite boy's name? Kierán Marcus (I know it should be spelled Ciarán but I prefer the other spelling.)

35. What's in your pocket right now? Nada.

36. Last thing that made you laugh? xkcd

37. Best bed sheets as a child? Floral.

38. Worst injury you've ever had? I still have the scar from when I took a tumble in Junior Kindergarten.

39. Do you love where you live? Love is a strong word…

40. How many TVs do you have in your house? One.

41. Who is your loudest friend? The Empress M back in Delhi!

42. How many dogs do you have? None.

43. Does someone have a crush on you? I doubt it.

44. Do you get embarrassed easily? Surprisingly, yes.

45. What is your favorite book? I refuse to pick just one.

46. What is your favorite candy? I’m craving a Mint Aero at the moment.

47. Do you know all the words to the Fresh Prince theme song? Yes, I do. And if you were in my living room with me, you could hear me sing it right now!

48. What song do you want played at your funeral? Seasons of Love from Rent.

49. What were you doing 12 AM last night? Reading in bed.

50. What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up?
“I’m comfy.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Meme and I Don’t Mean Me

Generally speaking, I love meme’s since they give me fun things to blog about and allow me to share the love with my fellow bloggers. However, since I have the memory God gave a peanut, I often forget when I have been tagged, or worse, write myself a note to remember and then delete the note. So if any of you have tagged me recently, I apologize for not meme’ing back and promise to do so as soon as I’m nudged a time or twelve.

A few weeks ago, Oh2122 tagged me for a fun meme. I wasn’t able to hold up my end of the meme bargain at the time due to my impending trip to Cyprus but am here now to dish out some weird and wonderful thoughts about yours truly.

First the rules:
1. Link to your tagger and list all these rules in your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by including links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

1. My first fact is that I won’t be tagging anyone in particular today since I know that everyone is far too busy with holiday preparations to participate properly. If you’re reading this consider yourself tagged.

2. As I thought about today’s post, I realized that I want to find the patient zero of meme’s. One of these days I’m going to start following the trail of a random meme or award to find out who originated it.

3. Some women wear sexy négligés to bed. My favourite nightie is one I’ve had for almost twenty years. The comfy white cotton is practically see-through after all these years but I believe it once had Tweety Bird on it.

4. I haven’t cooked anything in my oven since moving to Egypt because it requires a match to light the burner. I halved my cooking repertoire simply because I’m scared of blowing up my building.

5. I love playing Scrabble on Facebook but not in real life due to my complete and utter inability to spell.

6. Since the rules state I should share something completely random, I thought that this might fit the bill.: Although I deny being a packrat, I still have my wedding dress, my high school uniform, and even my first training bra!

7. Hubby left on a business trip today and I miss him. Stupid consulting job! *pout*

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Love Market

In a moment of gushiness last week, I asked Hubby if he loved me as much today as he did all those years ago when we first met. Sitting in an Irish pub in Cyprus, nibbling on my incredibly tasty Greek salad, and sipping a pint of beer, he looked into my eyes and said, “At least as much.” I realize that I read too many trashy romances but I had really been hoping for something heartfelt and sweet like, “More and more every day.”

That’s when I realized that while I may love Hubby “more every day,” there are also those days when I love him a little less. After discussing this phenomenon and realizing its inherent truth, we dubbed the rise and fall of our love for one another “The Love Stock Market.”

Before you deem me heartless and unadoring of my wonderful spouse allow me to explain. The day of our conversation, I was definitely on a love high – we were in an amazingly beautiful country, staying at a fabulous hotel, and had forced ourselves away from such reality hawkers as the news, Internet, and cell phones. Life and love were at an all time peak.

The week before this, Hubby had worked late several nights, I received some emails that made me grouchy, and life in general seemed destined to bring my normally chipper spirits to a dull simmer. How in love with love could I be in a city choked with so much pollution that stars can’t even shine?

In times like that, our Love Market takes a dip. Lest any bargain hunting H-Bucks get the wrong impression, I don’t sell my Love futures – I simply leave them with a safe holding company that trades in happy vacation-filled, purse-lined memories.

Hubby’s love for me, it should be noted, is also traded on the Love Market. But unlike my affections that trade on the whims of PMS and chocolate éclairs, his is more stable and dependant upon my not being on a PMS tirade about the lack of éclairs in my life or his dreadful baggy jeans. He’s cute that way.

In the end, our THL (Typ0 Hubby Love Index) fluctuates fairly regularly but is a pretty stable market for its key investors. We have our ups and our downs but we love each other at least as much today as we did all those years ago when he first knocked on my door.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snapshots

We saw many great sites during our time in Cyprus but I don’t want to bore you all with a moment-by-moment trip-tic of our six days in paradise. Instead, I thought I’d share a few final highlights.

I took this photo while we walked down the pedestrian mall in Lefkosia. I just like the juxtaposition of the new and the old. It didn’t hurt there was a fantastic jewelry shop (where I didn’t buy anything) right below the window on the right.

Further proof of my weirdness: When I saw this uneven cobblestone-like flooring at Kourion, my first thought was that it would make a cool grid for a really great game of hopscotch. Hubby pointed out that if people actually did that most would end up with broken bones. I replied with the verdict that whomever had the least number of injuries won. Who wants to go first?

This old ruin in Pafos was really nice. Sadly, to get there you had to walk through a serious gauntlet of tourist hungry restaurant touts.

Due to the amount of driving around we did, we were forced to fill our gas tank one or two times. Regular unleaded cost us about $1.10/liter or $4.40/gallon.

I’m going to be honest: we drank a lot of alcohol in Cyprus. Bur our favourite places to imbibe were numerous pubs to be found in almost every town. During our last night in Cyprus, we drove to Larnaka and each enjoyed a double pint. That’s right, we each drank a litre of beer (well, I drank cider but you get the idea.) The main reason for our delight is that you can’t get really good beer (or any cider) in Cairo. So we were going to enjoy ourselves while we could.

And obviously, we did.

The best part of the trip was Christmas! Living in a Muslim country, I don’t get a lot of piped in Christmas music or randomly posted Christmas trees. I adore Christmas and found myself glaring at Bah Humbug-ers who complained about the constant carols and holiday spirit.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Last Divided Capital

Hubby is somewhat obsessed with Turkish Cyprus (TRNC). So much so, that we not only walked across the border between the two parts of this divided island, but the following day, we drove back to Lefkosia so that we could drive across the border and enjoy the seaside. To properly demonstrate the extent of his newfound obsession, I should include a photo of him at this very moment as he is currently looking into Turkish property options in Cyprus.

Cypriots are proud of their Greek heritage. But their Turkish counterparts are even prouder. While we were still almost 20 kilometers away from Lefkosia we could see the not so understated Turkish and TRNC flags that had been embedded into the mountains before us.

The Turkish love continued on the other side of the border where we encountered more flags than we could count. Also popular were statues of the Turkish ruler Ataturk – flanked by the two flags.

We crossed the border on two different days and in two different ways. The first time we walked across. This UN guarded crossing was located at the end of a long pedestrian mall (where Hubby bought himself a new pair of shoes). The old town we discovered on the far side of the long corridor didn’t have much to recommend it. This could have been the result of December not being a high tourist season but the entire old quarter felt somewhat run down.

Our stamped sheets of paper (for some reason border officials did not stamp anyone’s passports at either crossing) in hand, we wandered the streets enjoying the medieval fort and the familiar minarets that dotted the skyline.

The following day, we drove back to Lefkosia so that we could drive across the border. This required our paying additional insurance on the car (about $20 for rental vehicles), and having those same pieces of paper stamped for a second time. After the very modern look of Greek Cyprus with its numerous McDonald’s and far too many Pizza Hut outlets, TRNC was quite a switch where the only major international brand we could see was HSBC.

The differences between the two sides of this coin went further than simply consumerism. It’s hard to explain but the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus simply felt less developed. Hubby and I both agreed that driving along mountain-lined roads was very reminiscent of Turkey itself. As opposed to Cyprus proper which felt very British. (As I said, it is rather hard to explain.)

I had skipped out on breakfast that morning and was more than eager to find somewhere good to eat when we finally reached the seaside tourist town of Kyrenia (or Girne in Turkish). My low blood sugar (read: Typ0 grumpiness) that day meant that I once again failed to buy a single souvenir although we did enjoy a wonderful stroll despite the light drizzle.

We bumped into several people munching on local pastries and others looking into the windows of the numerous jewelry shops. Further down the road, several men were gathered on the stone wall fishing and teaching their sons the art of the perfect cast. No one seemed to be catching much other than a cold but they all seemed to enjoy the camaraderie of the moment. Hand in hand with my sweetie, that was something I could definitely understand.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ruins with a View

I realize that I’m about to go out of chronological order but since I’m your cyber tour guide today, it seemed like my prerogative. (Cue Bobby Brown soundtrack.) In any case, on Wednesday morning we celebrated Hubby’s birthday by popping open a bottle of Champagne to enjoy with our room service breakfast. After we sobered up enough for Hubby to drive, we checked out of our hotel and drove to Ancient Kourion.

The first thing you notice about Kourion (once you’ve found it in spite of the lack of accurate signage), is that it is stunningly beautiful. To be exiled to this haven of serenity was no great punishment in any age. Sure, I wouldn’t have wanted to walk around the archeological site in the heat of a July sun but on that sunny day in December it seemed like a slice of heaven.

Our first stop was the amphitheatre. Sadly it is fairly obviously a reconstruction of the real thing but that only annoyed me because I was a theatre geek in school. I tried comparing Kourion to the Theater of Pergamon in Bergama, Turkey, pointing out the correct seating arrangements in traditional Greek amphitheatres but Hubby just patted my head and told me to go recite some of Sappho’s lesser known works.

Despite my need to be an ancient Greek Drama Queen, Hubby enjoyed the amphitheatre and took plenty of photos of the area. He quite correctly pointed out that although the theatre is supposedly still used in modern times, most spectators would probably enjoy the beautiful views more than whatever play was being performed. As we looked down on the town at the foot of the hill we looked at each other with the same thought, “I could live here.”

After a short walk up the hill, I wandered through what was marked as an “early Christian Basilica” which dated back to the 5th century AD. Prior to Christianity, the site was also hometo a shrine to Apollo. No matter which god was worshipped here, the parishioners surely suffered the same fate as the theatre goers down the hill – the view was certainly far more of a religious experience than anything a priest would have said.

The mosaics that remain on this portion of Kourion are only outdone by those over by the House of the Gladiators. I looked and found no proof that Russell Crowe had ever lived there. Despite being saddened that I couldn’t throw things at the Australian actor, I was incredibly impressed with the preserved tile floors. These appeared to be a gladiator hall of fame. Most of us could do worse than find our mosaic likenesses still around two millennia after our heyday.

While local artisans worked on my likeness (guaranteed to be in perfect condition in 2000 years), Hubby wandered off to look at the Roman baths. Although the photos all looked like display miniatures, he swears they were really full sized.

After our morning of boozing it up and wandering through the past, Hubby and I enjoyed some beef döners for lunch and headed back to the airport and the reality that awaited us in Cairo. Luckily, we still had a few days of vacation left to enjoy upon our return. And luckily for you, I still have more Cypriot tales to tell.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Four Foods On Friday 59

Fresh from not cooking for the better part of a week, I was excited to see this week’s Four Foods questions since at least two of them deal with room service food. My favourite thing to do when Hubby and I stay in a hotel is to order breakfast in bed at least once – pastries and bread for him, pancakes with maple syrup for me.

1. What’s your favorite kind of roll?
A roll in the hay, of course. *blush* Oh you meant the bread type! My bad. In that case, my favourite type of roll is a croissant.

2. Got a tip for keeping your cabinets or pantry organized?
I need some good tips since our cabinets are always a disorganized disaster!

3. What’s your favorite kind of pastry?
When Hubby knows I’m down in the dumps, I can instantly be made happy again with either a chocolate éclair or an apple danish.

4. Share any original recipe.
This award winning cake goes really well with my icing recipe from a few weeks ago. (The fact I was 13 when I won the aforementioned award has no bearing on the fact that it has won important culinary awards.) If you can find them, purple carrots have a slightly sweeter flavour than traditional orange ones and are a nice twist on this recipe.

Ingredients
5 medium carrots

1 cup sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1½ teaspoon mace

½ teaspoon salt

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tin (8oz) crushed pineapple, undrained

1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Shred the carrots using the disk shredder of your food processor.
3. Swap out the shredding disk for the cutting blade and add the sugar, oil, eggs, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt to the bowl. Pulse several times then mix for about 30 seconds.
4. Add the flour and process for an additional 15 seconds.
5. Add pineapple, and pulse to mix. If you don’t like pineapple, take the leap and add at least half of the tin – It will help keep the cake moist but ensure that it won’t taste of pineapple.
6. Place batter in a greased and floured 9-inch square baking tin.
7. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool and remove from pan, frost with cream cheese frosting. Keep refrigerated.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Year ‘Round Island

The last few months have been rather hard on Hubby. Not only did he start a new job this fall – he started a job he has never really done before. The new job, combined with commitments he has made to his old job, eventually snowballed to the point where my sweetie was more than a little stressed out. I’m pretty sure that I heard him mumbling equations in his sleep one night!

He may be the “doctor” but I was the one with the much-needed prescription for this problem: we needed to get the heck out of Dodge. Ever the realist, Hubby pointed out that the Eid break wasn’t that long and our bank account wasn’t that plump. The compromise we eventually reached was to take a long weekend away somewhere outside of Egypt, no more than hour away, and I had to find everything from the rental car to our hotel on deal.

After much debate and a little research, we agreed that Cyprus was the only location that made sense. Since it was technically an “off-season” the hotel we stayed at was a fraction of the price it would normally be during the summer. Sure, most of the restaurants and pools were closed due to it being winter, but we weren’t visiting the island to hang out at a hotel the whole time.

What we did do was drive. Or rather, Hubby drove while I napped in the passenger seat. Luckily, Hubby loves driving and doesn’t mind the fact that I always fall asleep within moments of sitting in a moving car. (Sadly, this trick doesn’t work on airplanes where I often struggle to get even a few minutes of shuteye during 8-hour flights.) We drove from one end of the island to the other several times as Hubby developed a rather odd fixation with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and insisted on driving to Lefkosia on two separate occasions. (Stay tuned for a blog about these trips early next week.)

I feel that this is a good time to share my biggest problem with Cyprus: no one there can be trusted to give directions. Ever. Thanks to the directions we printed from the website of our first hotel, it took us two hours to get somewhere that turned out to be maybe 30 minutes from the airport. Left and right are not bywords to whispered like curses – they’re useful directions!

Several days later, we had the pleasure of having a detailed map, which we intended to use to find a tourist hotspot. We eventually realized that none of the streets in Lemesos are labeled. We struggled to find a single clearly marked street. The approximate distance from wherever we stood to the airport in Larnaka was no problem – there was no shortage of major city signs. But once you reached a city, finding your way around the rabbit warrens became a scene worthy of Monty Python.

From those rare car moments when I was awake, I can safely say that Cyprus is beautiful. With no shortage of historical sites to visit, fabulous Greek salads to eat, and beautiful vistas to enjoy, Cyprus is a place that I definitely see myself visiting again.

We’re Back

After just a handful of days in paradise, Hubby and I are now back breathing in the thick pollution-filled air of Cairo. We had a fantastic time doing little more than driving around, getting ridiculously lost, drinking Champagne for breakfast and simply relaxing. Stay tuned for more of stories and photos of Cyprus.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Few Days Off

Hubby and I are leaving for Cyprus in a few hours on a much needed Internet-free, cell phone-free holiday. Hubby has worked himself into a frenzy over the last few months and may actually be more in need of a vacation than even I am. Over the next handful of days, we are going to relax, drive around aimlessly, and generally enjoy being alone together without work, or blogging, or life to interrupt us.

After a month of constant blogging, I am being forced to leave my laptop behind and abandon my Devoted Readers for a week. While the pressure of not logging into my computer and reading all of your blogs every day is going to drive me crazy, I comfort myself with the knowledge that when I return I will have wonderful tales to share with you.

A new pin in the map means that by this evening I will be on country number 28 and Hubby will be marking off number 35. So please forgive my silence and rest assured that I will tell you wonderful tales of this island country just as soon as the vacation glow has worn off.

See you next week!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Four Foods On Friday 58

I hope that everyone has recovered from their turkey-induced comas and is ready for another great round of Four Foods questions from Valerie. This week I was forced to confess to one of my dirty little expat secrets: my maid. I love having a maid to do all those things I’m not good at – like cleaning. But when I’m forced to admit that she even does the things simple things like dishes, I realize that my overseas laziness has reached all new heights.

1. Does your family usually eat meals in the kitchen or somewhere else?
Growing up we ate all of our meals at the kitchen table as a family. I think that’s why I now almost always eat in the living room in front of the TV. Let’s call it delayed teenage rebellion.

2. Who usually does the dishes in your house?
After filling the dishwasher for years growing up, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that person who now does my dishes is my housekeeper. *blush*

3. What’s your favorite small appliance or tool in the kitchen?
I’m going to have vote for my food processor. When Hubby and I were first married, I registered for and received a classic Cuisinart Food Processor. It was a thing of beauty with a motor that considered heavy pasta dough as easy to spin as a batch of salsa. Since moving abroad I’ve bought two other food processors but neither is as good as my Cuisinart that is sitting in storage back in the States.

4. This one’s for my son. Share a recipe for chili.
In an attempt to make this dish even healthier, we tried this chili with soy meat - three types of beans and soy meat. I don’t recommend that.

Healthy Turkey Chili
Ingredients
Olive Oil
1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
3 to 4 Serrano peppers, chopped
1lb of ground turkey
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (14-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14-ounce) can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup coarsely chopped chocolate
2 cups red wine
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Directions
Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add onion and sauté over medium-high heat until translucent. Add the turkey and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Add the peppers, seasonings, beans, tomatoes, chocolate, and wine. Stir and bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and let simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Garnish with the cilantro and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Rant Time

The other day, I ate lunch in a Western restaurant that turned out to be unnaturally popular with the local tourist trade. I sat and sipped my Diet Coke, while hoards of Americans, Germans, and other random Europeans who chose to fly all the way to Egypt sat and ate American food.

But I’m not here to berate people for their choice of cuisine - after all, I was about to have chicken fingers delivered to my table. No, I am here to rant about men and women who chose to fly all the way to a conservative country and then chose not to show enough respect to their hosts to dress accordingly. During my brief lunch, I counted more tank tops, shorts, capris, mini dresses, and spaghetti straps than I had seen in the preceding three months put together. Did these people not read a single guidebook before coming?

When I told people that they could dress as they would at home, only more conservatively, I must not have been explicit enough. Shorts that barely cover your butt are NOT conservative. And sleeves that require either a strapless or clear strapped bra also fall into the not conservative department.

For those of you who think I’m being harsh – I’m sorry but I’m not. These ill-dressed men and women are going to go to the Khan Khalili and complain about being harassed and overcharged. They’re going to go home and talk about the horrible people who were rude to them. And what they’re not going to mention is that they failed to show Egypt enough respect to not dress as if they were at a Fourth of July picnic at the beach.

I was once asked if I was Amish (true story) so maybe it’s easier for me to say that wearing longer skirts and pants isn’t a problem. But respect shouldn’t be something that people think is difficult. Next time you decide to fly half way around the world to explore a new culture, try fitting in with that culture just a little. You never know, instead of being verbally assaulted and groped, maybe you’ll be welcomed like an old friend and offered the best deals.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Happiness is…

I know I said that I was going to take a few days off after NaBloPoMo but evidently posting everyday has become a bit of a bad habit. In any case, over the past week two of my favorite bloggers have posted cool photographic collages. Never one to buck a trend I immediately started trying to create my own collage of happiness. That’s where the trouble started.

First I had trouble thinking of enough things that made me happy. When I asked Hubby for some suggestions his rather pouty response was, “Don’t I make you happy?” When I pointed out that I had represented him not once, not twice, but three times in my collage he still wasn’t appeased and refused to come up with any suggestions other than Kraft Dinner.

I Googled words that made me happy like “amazing kitchen” and “Gerber daisies.” Then wandered through my own iphoto collection to find shots of things that represented everything from family to the various countries I have called home. My random happiness hunting even resulted in my finding a new purse to dream and obsess about.

Then came the hard part – the collage. I understood that there was a way to use Picasa to build my square of joy but I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. In the end I built this collage myself using Swift Publisher and had so much fun I actually designed two of them!

I present to you my Happiness Collage: inspired by my fellow bloggers and created with the bliss I absorbed through osmosis from the world around me.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Woo Hoo!

Today is not only Sunday, November 30th. Today is also the final day of the torture known as NaBloPoMo. I am proud to have successfully posted every day this month without needing to back post or pre-post in order to reach my quota of 30 posts in 30 days. Heck, one day I posted twice, which means that I actually posted 31 times in 30 days and typed a total of 12,786 words. Wow, I’m tired.

You Devoted Readers who visit and read every day probably noticed that while “the quality of mercy is not strained” my posts during the last two weeks were. My bout of Blog Fatigue™ isn’t something I’m proud of but it is the reason that bloggers don’t post every day. Non-bloggers out there may recognize it as the reason God created weekends. Simply put, everyone needs a day off.

As I mentioned in my first post this month, in three years of blogging, I have never posted every day for an entire month. The reason for this is despite having lots to blog about thanks to my wonderful Devoted Readers, I find myself struggling to fill this space with something meaningful. I don’t want to simply post for the sake of posting, despite what some of my previous entries may indicate. Heck, I’ve even deleted some previously written (but unpublished) posts because, in retrospect, I didn’t think they were good enough.

But I don’t want to be known as a quitter, so I kept writing. I may not have written 31 Blogitzer Award winning posts but I’m fairly proud of at least a few of this month’s posts. That said, I plan to enjoy what will likely be a fairly quiet month in December. Of course, the silence next month won’t simply be my recovering from NaBloPoMo – I will be traveling, which means two new pins for the map. (Stay tuned in the coming weeks for details on these new wandering adventures.)

So here’s to making it all the way to the end! Congrats to my fellow NaBloPo’ers! We did it! Thank you also to my wonderful part-time editor, Hubby, and especially to all of my wonderful Devoted Readers and commenters. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adjusting Myself

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.


Moving to any new country as an expat is a lot like the Serenity Prayer – you have to accept the craziness that is inherent in your new home. Try to participate in the local culture, and maybe help change things for the better. But you also have to have the wisdom to recognize when the craziness is so ingrained in the culture that no amount of hours spent volunteering for the best cause or railing at the gods will fix anything.

Egypt is the third foreign country I have lived in for a significant period of time. (The US doesn’t count because it’s basically just a big southern Canadian province.) Prior to arriving in any new country, Hubby and I always purchase books on the local culture, language, and touristy hotspots. We spend hours online researching neighborhoods, local restaurants, and expat haunts in preparation for the everydayness that is sure to confront us once we get past the “ohhhing and awwwing stage.”

When Bluefish asked how I was adjusting to life in Egypt I realized that “adjusting” was more than figuring out how Cairo worked -- it was about figuring out how this expat thing works. By virtue of the fact that Hubby’s job keeps us on the move, I have been (more or less) able to adjust to life on two different continents and three very different societies. Thus, adjusting is more than figuring out who has the best take away pizza, it is learning how to say “please and thank you” in the local language, it is also about learning how to cope with seemingly simple tasks in a place where making dinner requires a visit to more than five different shops.

I like to think that I have learned to adjust myself to my surroundings fairly quickly and efficiently. I know that the “ohhing and awwwing” phase is followed very quickly by the “get me the hell out of here” stage. Luckily, eventually the adjustment phase kicks in and you realize that you’re stuck in that place for however long your spouse’s job/contract lasts and that it is up to you to make the best of it. These stages are cyclical and are usually revisited multiple times per move.

Adjusting to Egypt has meant getting used to occasional blasts of verbal abuse rained down on me by local men, learning the language so I can abuse them in return, and eventually learning to block it all out. After only three months, I barely notice the catcalls that so aggravated me when we first arrived.

I haven’t been here long enough to make a difference to anyone other than my dry cleaner who is currently erecting a statue to me and my ironing phobia. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not trying: I’ve joined all my usual groups and associations. I’m trying to “get out there,” meet people, and find causes that are meaningful to me.

We are now several months into our new Egyptian lives and are quite content with many aspects of life here. Thanks to some dogged determination and a lot of nesting, we survived our initial “I hate it here” moments. And I have learned to fine-tune my actions and reactions to suit Egypt’s many changing faces. So long as we call Cairo “home,” I will learn to adapt to Her moods and hope that she will learn to eventually accept me.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Four Foods On Friday 57

This week’s Four Foods posed an array of questions to get us thinking about a variety of subjects. But the first question sparked a debate in the Typ0/Hubby household. You see I grew up in Canada so I call it “pop” but California boy, Hubby, calls it “soda.” How do you refer to carbonated bevies?

1. What’s your favorite carbonated beverage?
Since I’m addicted to pop but am supposed to stick to the “diet” varieties my latest soda addiction is Coke Zero: all the yumminess of Coke and none of the calories.

2. What’s your favorite spicy food?
I love spicy food! Hubby has a slightly higher tolerance for heat than I do but we both like to test the bounds of our taste buds. I don’t like hot for the sake hot, though. Flavour is too important to waste on drowning your meal in hot sauce, habanera peppers, or chili powder.

Long story short: I like just about all spicy foods. Heck, we even make our pasta salad spicy!

3. How do you handle hot dishes? Oven mitt, potholder, towel?
Strictly speaking I prefer to let Hubby remove any hot trays from the oven. But if he isn’t available I use a potholder. I find that my dexterity is inhibited when I use oven mitts.

4. Ice cream. How do you like yours?
If I’m stuck with vanilla I’ll drown it in chocolate sauce, marachino cherries, and chocolate shavings. But I’m a big fan of pure ice cream yumminess. Give me a pint of Heavenly Hash or Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie and I’m a happy girl.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Numb

Last night, Black Beard and Adelpha joined Hubby and I for a pleasant evening of Mexican food and drinking. We chatted and drank well into the night. Shortly after they headed home, Adelpha sent me a message to turn on CNN. It seemed the world was once again being held hostage by the evil actions of a few men.

We watched the Taj Hotel seemingly being enveloped by flames. We listened as one of our other favorite hotels – the Oberoi – also tried to survive the siege of terror.

Hubby and I looked at each other and fell back in time to the Indian train bombings two years ago, to the bombing in Nairobi in 1998, to 9/11. We started at the television fearful for our friends in the region and terrified for those people still trapped inside the two hotels.

On this day of Thanksgiving and celebration let all our thoughts and prayers are with people of Mumbai.