Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Seventeen Years!

 I know what we were feeling, but what were we thinking?
On December 16th Julie and I celebrated our seventeenth anniversary. Truth be told, it wasn't much of a celebration; dinner at a Mexican restaurant and some last minute Christmas shopping. It was nice to spend time together and to not feel the need to prove our love to one another with extravagant gifts or overwrought overtures of love and devotion. There's real comfort in not depending grand gestures to make a case for your love like a lawyer in front of a skeptical jury.

There is no special significance to a seventeenth anniversary, but I wanted to write a little about my wife and why I married her. Now, it didn't hurt things that she was incredibly talented and drop dead gorgeous and had a sense of humour evolved enough to keep up with my machine gun repartee, but the reason I asked her to marry me was that when I was with her I wanted to be better than I was. It really was that simple. I aspired a little higher and something of her faith in other people rubbed off on me. In her company I was less cynical, less jaded and more like the kind of people I admired and wanted to emulate. There was no coercion on her part, only unconditional love, and I learned from her that nothing is more empowering than to feel loved without reservation. Her love has given me the freedom to fail (again and again and again) without fear of recrimination or condemnation. I am still a work in progress. There's a long ways left for me to go, but even though there have been moments of tedium and stagnation, there has been progress. 

I feel indebted to her for every hug my children give me and every smile they share. I am a far from perfect father and despite everything I do they still embrace who I am. Julie does not hide or excuse my faults, but rather she contextualizes them. She helps them to see the efforts I am making instead of focusing on my stumbles or neglect. And because they trust her, they believe me to be what I am trying to be.

Her goodness and love of life and beauty are most reflected in the countenances of our children. There is a rich diversity of personalities in our family, and yet generosity and love of people and life are traits our children all hold in common. She has been willing to go without so that our children could have what they needed (she has been less willing to go without so I could have what I wanted, but I see that as a good thing). Because she is incapable of playing the martyr, our children have seen her sacrifices for the acts of love that they are, and they have worked to emulate that love to one another and to those outside of our family.

Over the last seventeen years, my goals have been simple: make her laugh from time to time and keep things interesting. Though she may no longer be laughing at the punchlines of my jokes, she still finds some humour in my delivery or maybe she gets a kick out of the fact that I still think I can get a laugh with some of jokes I tell. I never set conditions for why she laughed, only that she laughed. And as far a as keeping things interesting, well, we live in downtown Abu Dhabi. I don't know how things could be more interesting.

She has embraced each new adventure with faith and optimism. To say that our life hasn't gone exactly as planned would be a bit of an understatement. In any given moment, so many of our decisions have seemed random or chaotic, but when taken as a whole, there is a clear pattern of opportunity and growth in our family. We like who we are and we would not be the same with some of the stress and chaos and change. Her willingness to embrace that change has shown us how to grow from our challenges instead of surrendering to them.

Our marriage is not without its moments of long-suffering, miscommunications, and outright disagreements, but even in those moments, there is the confidence that we're no more than a good night's sleep (or maybe two) away from a resolution. It's true that there have been days that have been long and difficult and we have had more than our share of uncertainty and doubt, but as we inevitably come together to face whatever challenge lies before us, we find that between us we've got mettle enough to take on whatever comes our way. 
Fortunately, she's always smiled enough
for the both of us.
Life in Abu Dhabi. A little bit of green and a whole lot of glass, steel
and concrete.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Impossible Missions (Dec 8-15)

 I can’t be exactly sure, but things feel a lot more Christmasy this go around. It seems like I hear more music of a holiday variety and am seeing a lot more red and green themed decorations. It could be that I was so overwhelmed with life last year that I simply didn’t get a chance to step back and enjoy the time. Well, we’ve gotten pretty used to life here in Abu Dhabi which makes it a lot easier to savor those moments of Christmas cheer. The kids have been dutifully counting down with the help of their Star Wars advent calendar and Christmas tunes are on pretty heavy rotation on the iPod. Even the weather’s feeling a little cool which adds to the ambiance (and when I say cool, what I really mean is absolutely perfect).

Of course we had the ward Christmas party this week. Lucy did a bang-up job as the narrator and Miranda played Mary with a touching serenity. James was a cow of utmost bovinity. There were lots of carols, some great food and many good friends.

As part of the school break, the kids started a daily two week early morning regimen of Karate classes (thanks Grandpa and Grandma Frank). We’re not quite sure if this gift was primarily for the Kids or Julie, but everyone seems to be enjoying it. With all of the recent advancements, James has become quite determined to earn his yellow belt. He has been practicing lots and, if I do say so myself, his form is quite impressive.

This week, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol opened in the UAE. Being an action junkie and huge fan of the director, I, of course, dragged Julie to see it opening day. Julie made it quite clear to me that I couldn’t count it as an anniversary event though. It was a tremendous movie, one of the best shot and paced action movies that I’ve seen for some time, and the footage in Dubai was a lot of fun.
Hey, we've been there! Well not exactly there, but
we've definitely been in the general vicinity.

I remember watching the original Ghostbusters at the Oxford theatre in Halifax when it first opened, and there was a line said by the Rick Moranis character to the effect of, “I’ve got some fresh Nova Scotia lobster in the kitchen.” At the mention of Nova Scotia, the audience went wild. Our existence was being acknowledged by a Hollywood blockbuster and it felt great. But it was really a passing reference and the cheers soon subsided and we were able to enjoy the rest of the film without any difficulty.

Well, in Mission Impossible, Dubai gets more than a passing reference. From the moment Tom Cruise said the word “Dubai” until they left the UAE 40 minutes later, the crowd was cheering and clapping non-stop. I wondered how they could follow the movie with all of the noise, and then I realized I was one of the few members of the audience who was dependent on the soundtrack to get plot details. For almost everyone else, they had the Arabic subtitles to get them through. Now, once they left Dubai, I thought things might calm down a bit, and if they had gone to almost any country in the world, it might have happened, but the exigencies of the plot necessitated they go to Mumbai. Have I mentioned the how many people from India live here? Well, there were a lot of Indians in the audience too, so the cheering continued basically until the end credits. It was basically the most horrible movie watching experience of my life, but one I’m kinda glad I had.

In keeping with the season, the kids built Gingerbread houses (sans Gingerbread)

Who needs gingerbread with trimmings like these?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A little bit of Patriotism

Liam got new nunchucks. 
Well, if I've learned anything from this entire blogging experience, it's that whining in a public forum works! My last post was laced with self-pity and self-doubt because of the dearth of comments over the last few months, and voila, a veritable plethora of responses. Most of them seemed to mock me, but even a bad review means that someone's read what you've written!

An art project at the local gallery. Because we all needed poster sized prints of our heads.

The big event of the last couple of weeks was National Day. For those of you not closely following the news of the region, the UAE celebrated its 40th birthday with parades, and fireworks and displays of all sorts. Being the 40th, festivities were spread over three days instead of the usual one. It's hard to describe the fervour and pride the people here feel in their country. There's really nothing like it. Try imagining the 4th of July combined with New Years Day, with a dash of Halloween mixed in and then multiply the intensity of it by a factor of ten and you get a sense of the energy that pervades the air.

To celebrate we donned our red, white, green and black and strolled the streets. We also travelled out to Sadyaat Island to visit the UAE pavillion they had brought back from the World Expo in China last year. It was a great portrait of the country's history and culture all housed in a pretty incredible building. Then off to the light show at the Grand Mosque.

The gallery at night.

So begins the party.

Yes, that is a video projector mounted to the roof of that SUV.


As you can see, pretty spectacular.

Miranda tested for her green belt this week which proved to be a great excuse for a date for Julie and I (amazing how those things slip by with everything else going on). We were also able to attend a Christmas recital for Liam yesterday. It was gratifying to see the level of some of the players at his music institute. We feel very fortunate to live so close to such a quality institution. Carolyn, his teacher in Nova Scotia, is about as irreplaceable as they come, and although we haven't been able to replicate that music experience, we have found a teacher that's able to push Liam and Lucy to both excel in their playing.

A little picnic before the recital. Sometimes I don't know what world  or time we're living in.

I'm always so happy when I actually get into one of these shots.

It was a little windy.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

On the Vulnerability of the Blogging Experience

A different perspective of Abu Dhabi

You can see our building from here. Really.
This is what rain looks like here. It doesn't last long. 

It’s been a few weeks since I last contributed to this blog. I have to admit to a certain funk that overcame me after that last few posts went commentless. It kind of makes me feel like no one’s bothering to read about our adventures. I don’t know if it’s possible to find anyone more insecure than a blogger whose only traffic is self-generated by page refreshes checking for comments. And even that traffic has diminished as I’ve all but given up on the hope of an audience. However, last week, Julie got a brief note from a friend of our who said she was up late into the night catching up no all that we were doing, and I realized that even an audience of one is still an audience. I’ve got a fair bit to catch up on, so if you feel the need to skim, I’ll understand.
Every two years the college hosts a major event called the Festival of Thinkers. They bring major figures in various fields from all over the world to meet together and give presentations on their work. Roaming the streets of Abu Dhabi during these few days are leaders of industry, pioneers in education, founders of international charities, astronauts and Nobel laureates. For the most part, the event had little impact on my day to day activities in the classroom, but on one day I was able to volunteer to escort a group of ‘Thinkers’ to Sharjah where they sat on a panel to discuss the causes and consequences of global poverty. These people came from diverse backgrounds but each charity they worked in was born out of a common desire to make a lasting impact. The drive to Sharjah was a little over two hours and during that time I was privileged to speak with and listen to these people. One man worked to help exploited and trafficked children in Vietnam, another co-founded a charity to help blind children in Tibet and India. There was a woman who established a tele-conferencing mentorship program for orphans in South Africa and a woman who worked to get kids off the street in Chicago. 
The stories I heard were such a contrast to the opulence we experience on an almost daily basis. I was reminded of how much of my current station and success is the product of something as arbitrary as my passport. My educational, vocational and social opportunities were all made possible not by how hard I’ve worked or any particular talents I might possess, but by the fact that I was born in Canada. A few years ago, we Canadians were extremely inconvenienced by the fact that to get into the US we actually had to procure a passport. The Americans weren’t asking us for visas, they weren’t asking us to make travel arrangements to visit their country months or even weeks ahead. As long as we had a valid passport we could visit their country (as well as a host of others around the world) whenever the whim struck us.
It is easy to take for granted what we have or even lose sight of our wealth. Surrounded by the gold and Ferraris and five star hotels, sometimes I’m tempted to dwell on what I don’t have, yet we are so rich. I feel like there’s so much more I could and should be doing with what we have. The least I could do is link to these charities. So much of their discussions revolved around fundraising and the difficulties in this financial climate of securing the resources necessary to continue the work they’re doing. So if you’re looking for a worthy cause to support this Christmas, you could do a whole lot worse than any of these charities.




Work continues to go well. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the opportunities to learn new things and grow in new ways. I recently finished a short course in Photoshop that was being offered on my lunch break for the last few weeks, and though I’m far from an expert, I did get some of the basics down and learned the all important lesson that if you want to do good work it’s going to take a lot of time and attention to detail.
Karate continues to play a pretty significant role in our daily lives. Liam and Lucy recently tested for their purple and blue belts respectively (Miranda is, with a little practice, only a few weeks away from a test herself). Both Liam and Lucy passed with solid grades. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how they’ve been pushed to excel in this and the confidence it’s given them. These accomplishments are not easily won and they deserve some recognition for it.
Miranda checking out the new dojo
Miranda with her personal instructor

Well we’ve secured a new Lego Advent Calendar, the decorations are up and the playlists on our iPods are all holiday themed. Last year, it felt like Christmas kind of snuck up on us and caught us a little unawares. This year, Julie has made it priority #1 to experience a little holiday cheer every day in the coming month. Setting up the tree on Thanksgiving put us off to a good start. We live in a good sized apartment, but it’s still an apartment, so we’ll keep it fairly simple on the gift side of things. But the toys under the tree have such little to do with holiday cheer that they’ll not be missed that much.
Speaking of toys, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but most Legos here are prohibitively expensive which is why we used one of our precious check in baggage allotment to ship a rubbermaid bin full of the stuff. However, we have been able to get our Lego fix with mini figures. I really shouldn’t be getting so much joy from such tiny toys, but, as Julie will tell you, there are still a number of areas in my life where I could stand to do a little more maturing. I'm just glad that I’ve got four good excuses to expand our collection.

And some pictures from our very eventful day yesterday:

A picnic at Safa Park in Dubai

Dubai from the park.

Getting lost in the maze!

No this way!

Are you sure I can get there from here?

We found the way out!

At the walk for hope on Yas Island. This is where the city hosts the F1 Race.

Miranda trying not to smile.

The sign says 1 KM left to go (four km behind us).

She can be a little sassy when she wants to.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Where did October go?

The view from the rooftop pool of our health club.

We still find ourselves saddled with more than a few items of furniture that we don't particularly care for, but we have much of what we need. A few weeks ago I was up early on a Saturday morning and was passed by at least a dozen buses filled with workers being brought into the city to work construction or clean the streets and park in the hot sun. They have very few possessions and most live in pretty crowded conditions. Being confronted with a population that has so little can really make you feel bad about whinging (Great Word! it's how the Brits and Aussies talk about complaining) in the slightest. We're making do, but in reality we're more than making do, we're thriving.

I have to admit that the part of town we live in has just the right amount of bustle--not so much as to overwhelm, but just enough to enliven. Every now and again we toy with the idea of making our break from the city in order to approximate a suburban lifestyle, but the pull of all the amenities, conveniences and activities is just a little too strong.

This is basically Liam minus the green skin and shell.
Karate and Kobudo continues to go well. James is really enjoying it, and the fact that they keep letting him come back is a testament to the patience and kindness of the senseis. For the past few months, there was a sign at our dojo indicating that they were looking for a new location. The building they were in is pretty old for the city, maybe twenty five or thirty years old, and it's slated to come down so as to make room for something new. We were a little worried that the dojo might be moved more than a short walk away which would put the onus on me to get them to their lessons, but it turns out the location they found was in our very building. The kids are excited and I'm relieved. Speaking of Karate, Liam recently tested and passed his green stripe belt in kobudo. Basically what that means is that he is getting quite good with nun-chucks and the bo staff, and that he's now allowed to play with marshall arts daggers called sais (for those who aren't sure what sais are, they're the weapon favoured by the teenage mutant ninja turtle Rafael). They are fortunately a blunted instrument, but they're pretty heavy and every time he starts twirling them about I fear a little for his toes. It's pretty cool to watch him. If he wasn't enjoying it so much, I might worry that I was trying to relive my childhood through his.

The new play sets at one of our favourite parks.

It can be very tiring.

I've written about the Corniche before, a long strip of waterfront with beautiful beaches, fountains, and a fantastic bike and walking path. It's about a fifteen minute walk from our apartment and is one of my favourite things about Abu Dhabi. On Thursday we participated in the 1st Annual Walk for Hope. It was great to get out with the family. James was hoping for more of a race, but the rest of us were more than happy about the forced saunter, and the weather was, as always in late October, absolutely perfect.

It has been a few weeks since my last post and we have been busy. It's just hard to identify what we've been busy at. Work continues to be both interesting and challenging for me. I am finding that I'm both becoming more efficient and feeling like I'm actually getting less done. I don't think that it's supposed to work like that.

I've been reading a lot more education related books and feeling more excited by my profession than I have in a long while. Like with most jobs, it's easy to get into a bit of a rut and to become so focused on the day to day that you never get a chance to step back and look at the big picture. These books have forced me to look at some specific things I am doing in the classroom and forcing me to evaluate the effectiveness of certain teaching habits I've held for a very long time. I'm not a bad teacher, in fact there are some things I do quite well. It's just that the things I've always been confident about as a teacher may not actually be the things that matter in the long run.

For anyone looking to justify hours and hours of video game playing, you might want to read Jane McGonigall's Reality is Broken. It turns out that all that during all that time I spent saving virtual worlds I was actually developing certain skills and habits that could help me save the real one. She's a little optimistic about the hopes and dreams of your typical World of Warcraft player, but she makes some interesting points about why we play games and how we might apply the reward systems built into the best games into real life scenarios. It's another book that's got me thinking about how I can better motivate and support the students I work with. And it turns the many hours I spent playing Portal and Super Mario into training for better world citizenship.