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.