Renaissance Mom

So I have become horrible about maintaining my blog (obviously, since the last post I wrote was over a year ago). Well, since then I traveled to the UK, moved from CA to NH, came back to Bahrain, gave Dubai another try, and traveled to Oman. Oh yeah, and I had a baby- no big deal 😛

We have had a LOT of big changes in the Ball family over the past year, and I have experienced a lot of personal growth over that time. Since having a baby I have discovered I’m pretty good at being a mom. It comes naturally to me. Don’t get me wrong- it is still the most difficult thing I have every done, but I have an affinity for parenting. And couple my mothering ability with my obsession with research and I have become somewhat of a Renaissance Mom. I have an “answer” to a lot of parenting questions, and if I don’t have an answer right now, I can and will find one! Once again, don’t misunderstand me- I, like most first time (or second, third and fourth time etc) parents, have no idea what I’m doing, but I am having so much fun figuring it out, and love to help others figure out what they’re doing, too!

I have had more than one person suggest that I start a “mommy blog,” cataloguing my parenting journey, including the choices we made, what worked, what didn’t, and why. I love information, and am constantly inhaling new facts and theories. Over the past year, those facts and theories have revolved around parenting. Hey- why not share what I’ve found with other people? The most important thing to me regarding this mommy blogging journey is that mothers and fathers understand that this is a blog of support, a blog encouraging everybody’s right to choose what kind of parent they want to be. Whether you breast feed or formula feed, cloth diaper or use posies, baby wear or are strictly into strollers, this is NOT a place for anybody to feel judged or ridiculed simply because the parenting choices they have made are different from the choices J and I have made. If you are doing the work to weigh the choices, then no matter what decision you make, if it is the right decision for your family, it is the right decision. There is absolutely no “right way” to raise a child. There are pros and cons to EVERY parenting decision. Now listen, obviously, if you’re doing crack and breast feeding your baby, you are not a good parent- those are not the choices to which I am referring. What I mean is that the majority of us are just trying to keep everybody in our family unit happy, healthy and, in some cases, sane. While some choices may be the best choice for our family, it doesn’t mean it is the best for yours. And it certainly does not mean that the decision either of us made was the wrong one.

I am sick of parents beating each other up, judging each other on their parenting choices, or feeling judged by other parents- this parental competition has GOT TO STOP! Just because you aren’t into cloth diapers, doesn’t mean you need to scoff my choice to use them and say “we’ll see how long THAT lasts!” And I certainly have no right to judge somebody on their choice to formula feed their baby simply because we all know breast milk is the better choice on paper, and the last thing you need to hear is “awww, why aren’t you breast feeding? Such a shame…” I don’t know what circumstances led to your decision just like you don’t know why we chose what we did. If the baby is happy and healthy and loved, then everybody should keep their judgments to themselves.

If I do decide to write a mommy blog, I certainly hope readers do not feel judged because they made different choices than we did. I hope that they find my potential blog fun and informative and a place to feel welcome as a parent. I want to include ALL sides of parenting, include posts from people who have had different experiences and made different choices than I have. I want to learn from you and your choices. And I hope that readers know that I am absolutely no expert in the field of parenting. Just somebody who is passionate about it. Even though there are days when I am reduced to tears because being a parent is so stinkin’ hard, I enjoy my job, and I want to share that joy and passion with other parents out there.

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Dubai… Worst. Vacation. Ever.

Every 28 days, I have to leave Bahrain since I’m only here on a visitor’s visa. As my 28 days were up, this past weekend, we decided to head to Dubai for four days and three nights. It turned into a four days and three nights I could’ve done without.

To start out, both Josh and I were fighting a stomach virus the week before we left Bahrain and were still recovering from the tail end of the bug during the trip to Dubai. Our flight was early, leaving Bahrain at 7:15, but was only an hour long. It was the most turbulent flight I have ever been on and, of course, I got pretty air sick. Not a great start to the day.

After we landed, we took a car down to Abu Dhabi to Ferrari World, the world’s largest indoor theme park. They have the world’s fastest roller coaster there and, of course, Josh and I both LOVE roller coasters. Thankfully I slept a bit in the car and was feeling better after arriving at the park and having a bite to eat.

Unfortunately, not only was the park SUPER lame, but the fastest roller coaster in the in the world that for which we specifically went to Ferrari World was closed. And not just closed for an hour or so, but for the entire day. Basically we paid a lot of money for a really small car show (there were Ferrari’s strategically placed throughout the park).

During our drive back to Dubai, we hit the worst traffic I have ever sat in. Worse than SoCal, worse than Atlanta, worse than NYC, Boston or DC.  An hour and a half drive took five hours. The traffic started during the last half hour of the drive, so I guess it is more accurate to say a half an hour drive took four hours. I ended up fighting a second wind of motion sickness during the drive. Fantastic.

The best part of the trip: the hotel. When we FINALLY arrived at the hotel, we were blessed with a pleasant man checking us in. He took pity on us an upgraded us to a suite. We crashed after a very long, very stressful, very disappointing day.

Day two started well. Woke up, had breakfast, and headed to the metro station so we could go to the Mall of the Emirates for the day. Well, on Fridays the Metro doesn’t open until 1:00 pm, so we had to take a cab instead. We spent some time at the mall, walked around in awe of the size of the place, and then headed back towards the hotel. I had booked a desert safari for Friday night with SUV rides through the desert at sunset, camel rides, henna tattoos, belly dancing show and a traditional Arabian dinner in the desert, pick up and drop off at our hotel included. The company, Arabian Adventures, that I had booked with was rated the highest onTripadvisor. We received an email confirmation and I double checked with a phone call to confirm the pick up location. I’m sure that if we had actually gotten to go on the tour it would’ve been great, but they never showed up to pick us up. After waiting for them for an hour, sitting on hold with the Arabian Adventures representative and then arguing with them that yes, it was their fault that they didn’t come pick us up (apparently the car had gone to a completely different hotel that was only a mile from where we were staying and didn’t bother to call our cell phone when we weren’t in the lobby waiting for them) and insisted on a refund.

We returned to our hotel room while I pouted, cried, and threw a mild temper tantrum. Josh went to work finding something else for us to do for the evening and decided on heading to the Dubai Mall at the base of the Burj Khalifa, the World’s Tallest Building, to visit the World’s Largest Aquarium. We took lots of pictures of lots of fish.

After standing in line for a taxi, we headed back to the hotel. The icing on the cake: our cab driver tried to take us for a ride. I told him we weren’t going to pay the entire fare because he wasn’t taking us where we told him to take us despite my directions. He yelled at me. I yelled at him. He yelled back. Josh yelled at him and told him either we weren’t going to pay the entire fare, or he could take us to the police station. He said he was headed to the police station. Well, he didn’t know where the police station was either (how he got a job as a taxi driver, I’ll never know) and we drove past our hotel “on the way.” When he realized  he had passed our hotel, he tried to reconcile with us. We told him to stop the car, paid him a portion of the fair, and got out. We flagged down another cab and finally made it back to our hotel.

The next morning we decided to sleep in after the roller coaster of the day before. Unfortunately, we slept in a little too late and had to make a decision: day at the water park or dinner at the top of the Burj. We chose the water park. Big mistake. The organization of the park was very poor. Their locker system didn’t work. It was a zoo. And as soon as the sun started to go down, it was too cold for any of the big slides- standing up at the top of the towers was torture. We left the park and went to the movies. We say Olympus Has Fallen. God Bless America. After this trip, I have never been more grateful for the USA…

In addition to the misfortune we occurred while in Dubai, I did not have good experiences with the people. I was constantly ogled, pushed around (literally), and disrespected. I’ve never experienced a place where the people living there are so rude. If all of our plans had fallen apart but the people had been nice, I would probably give Dubai another chance.

Thankfully the next day we flew back to Bahrain. I will say it is much easier for me to get through customs when I’m with Josh and his handy dandy government passport and visa. They almost forgot to charge me BD5 for my visitor’s visa.

All in all, I will not be returning any time soon unless I have a REALLY good reason.

Culture Shock; it’s not what I expected

Over my first few days here, Josh took me around to the common places of the island like the Navy base, the grocery store, our gym, etc.

We live in Amwaj, the man made islands at the Northeastern corner of Bahrain that were basically built specifically for westerners. It is the only part of Bahrain where you will see women wearing bikinis (and I did, yesterday; they were sitting by the pool while I was on the treadmill).

Amwaj Islands Northeastern Corner of Bahrain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of Bahrain is VERY westernized, especially Amwaj. Every sign is in either both Arabic and English, or just English. Advertisements use photos of caucasians. Women will be dressed in anything from jeans and a stylish blouse, to full a niqab which leaves just the eyes and hands uncovered. I have not, however, seen any other red heads.

Even though the country is the most westernized of the Middle Eastern countries (so they say- I haven’t been to any others except for my brief layover in Kuwait and Bahrain is definitely more westernized than Kuwait), whenever I am out in town I am painfully aware of how different I look from the rest of the residents in Bahrain. Even though Bahrain is heavily saturated with ExPats from Europe and Australia, not to mention the large military community with service members and contractors from all over the world, red hair, blue eyes and fair skin are far and few between. In some parts of town, I regularly catch people staring at me with puzzled looks on their faces. When I catch a woman staring, she is quick to look away. But when I catch the eyes of a man staring at me, he holds my gaze with a terse look on his face and I quickly look away as though I were the one who was caught staring. Even though I am looked at as a strange and foreign creature, the looks were not offensive. The staring made me feel mildly uncomfortable, but not in danger. And let’s be honest, if any of you saw a woman dressed in a burqa walking down the street in your home town, you’d probably stare too.

Yesterday while Josh was at work, I walked down to the lagoon for lunch and to pick up a few things from the grocery store. While I was waiting for my meal, I found myself captivated by a little boy and his sister sitting with their parents a few tables over. The boy was about three and a half years old, his little sister a year younger than he. The two children were playing around the restaurant’s patio while their parents looked on and ate their lunch. They were a traditional Muslim family, the matriarch dressed in a full abaya. The little sister was CLEARLY in charge of her older brother. He would follow her around, dance for her, and obey her instructions diligently. “Sit!” she said. And by golly, he SAT! “Here!” she said. And he galloped after her. I couldn’t help but laugh at how easy going the little boy was and how strong and independent the little girl was. With her pig tails falling out and shoes untied, she was not stopping for anybody!!

I know that the culture here in the Middle East is patriarchal, and women do not have as many rights as men. But, as I wrote earlier, I have never felt objectified because of my gender, and I have witnessed women living as women, girls living as girls, laughing together, living together, enjoying each other without fear of the man standing over them.

I made it to Bahrain!

After 30 hours of travel, I made it to Bahrain for an extended visit with my husband.

For those of you who don’t know, Bahrain is an itty bitty island in the Persian Gulf, just East of Saudi Arabia (there is a bridge that connects the two countries), North West of Qatar, and across the gulf from Iran.

Bahrain in the Persian Gulf

Bahrain in the Persian Gulf

The night before I was scheduled to fly out, I made an effort to stay up all night (except for a quick two hour nap between 2:30 am and 4:30 am). I wanted to make sure I was EXHAUSTED when I finally arrived so adjusting to the 11 hour time difference wouldn’t be as difficult.

My first flight from San Diego to Washington DC went quickly- I slept through the whole flight. The longest part of the journey was the 7 hour layover in Dulles airport. It was supposed to be 6 hours, but my flight from San Diego to DC landed early. Until then, I had never been disappointed to land ahead of schedule. The second leg of my journey was an 11.5 hour  flight from DC to Kuwait. Once again, I slept through most of the flight, waking up with only an hour and a half until touch down. Thank GOODNESS because who wants to sit on an airplane for almost twelve hours?

When we landed in Kuwait, while the flight number remained the same, we all had to deplane and wait in the airport for about 45 minutes. The culture shock officially begun when I stepped off of the plane. I was painfully aware of the fact that I am a woman, and was not accompanied by a man. The gate was a room of wall to wall windows and at the entrance was airport security and metal detectors. At the Kuwait airport (and the Bahrain airport, for that matter), you are required to go through security at each gate.

Eventually, we boarded the plane and endured the very short flight to Bahrain. When I landed in Bahrain and we deplaned, I headed towards customs, with a quick pitstop at the exchange station. At the customs window, I handed the agent my passport and information card.

“Where are you coming from?” “San Diego, California.” “Why have you come to Bahrain?” “My husband is in the US Navy and is stationed here. I’m here to visit him.” “Is this your first time to Bahrain?” “Yes sir.” “We are going to have to double check your passport. Please go have a seat over there.”

I headed over to a grouping of chairs filled with questionable looking people. Apparently I also look questionable. One by one, my fellow delinquents were pulled into rooms behind closed doors and never seen again (I’m sure they were seen again, in fact I know they were as I saw one of them at LuLu’s- the Walmart of Bahrain- a few days later). After a few minutes, the customs agent pulled me back to his window, I paid my 5BD, and moved on.

Next came baggage claim. Now, people in the United States complain constantly about having to wait for their bags at baggage claim, and then not having their bags arrive at all. Well, I will forever appreciate the speed of baggage handlers in the USA after the handlers here in Bahrain were far less than expeditious. Every ten minutes or so a sprinkling of five to six bags would make their way around the conveyor belt. My two bags were, of course, two of the last few bags to make it onto the carousel since they had been put on the plane in Washington, DC, not in Kuwait like the majority of the passengers’ luggage.

After gathering my luggage, I headed through the “nothing to declare” line, and finally made my way out to the rest of the airport.

It took a total of two hours to deplane, exchange currency, go through customs, and get my luggage, but I was finally blessed with seeing my husband. While we couldn’t hug, kiss, or hold hands until we were in the privacy of the car, just seeing him was magical enough!

Bath & Body Works Mini Candles

Another wonderful Influenster freebie that I received is a Bath and Body Works Mini Candle in Pumpkin Cupcake. I will tell you I am not super fond of “food” scents, despite them being my husband’s favorites. I usually gravitate towards “clean” scents (fresh cotton, spring breeze, etc.). As a dutiful Influenster Vox Box Recipient, I gave the candle a shot. One word: YUMMM! The scent wasn’t super overwhelming, and didn’t permeate the ENTIRE house, but it did smell wonderful! The scent just drifted lightly through the living room (where I had placed the candle). 

It didn’t take long for me to burn through the candle- not because the candle doesn’t last long, but because I consistently had it lit! I love these little guys. I can’t wait to head to Bath & Body Works to pick up some other scents to enjoy.

BB&W Mini Candles

Bath & Body Works Mini Candle

Goody’s Spin Pins

Ok, so I’m not usually one to enjoy “new” hair tools. I like the tried and true accessories: elastics, bobby pins, combs. I don’t generally branch out, and hesitate to try new gadgets. However, in the most recent Influenster box I received, I was sent Goody’s Spin Pins.

Goody Spin Pins

Now, I will admit I glared skeptically at every commercial or ad that I saw for Spin Pins, deciding that I would NOT spend a cent on something that I wasn’t convinced would work. My hair is fine, curly and straight at the same time, layered, and generally difficult to work with. Receiving Spin Pins for FREE? Of course I’ll give them a try!! Well, I pulled them out of the box. My first reaction was that they are sturdier than bobby pins, but each box only has two pins in it.

Spin Pins out of the Box

Just two?

I didn’t have a mirror in front of me when I opened them up (I was sitting on the couch) but I decided to play with them anyways. I was IMMEDIATELY pleased with them! All of the following hair styles were achieved using only two spin pins, and were done without a mirror! Big shout out to my husband for taking picture after picture of the back of my head 🙂

Half Up

Spin Pins Half Up Chignon

Traditional Chignon

Traditional Chignon/Bun

Ballerina Bun

Ballerina Bun

Keep in mind that my hair is just past my shoulders right now AND it is layered, so I end up having little bits of hair pop out here and there. The hair DOES stay up tightly though, even if it doesn’t LOOK super clean or secure. I have since found that some hair wax or hair spray can easily be used to tuck in the strays.

Double Bun

Double Bun

Messy Side Bun

Messy Side Bun

I started getting creative to see how well the spin pins would hold. My messy side bun held even though the hair wasn’t spun tightly, but they didn’t hold as well. Creating two smaller buns was also cute, and, even though only one spin pin was in each bun, they still held. I did have to fool with the placement of each pin, however, to make sure they were in the “prime spot” to secure each chignon.

As you can see, there are more than just the three styles advertised on the box. I have had a LOT of fun playing with the Spin Pins and now keep a set in my car, and a set in my purse for those days I need to throw my hair up but haven’t planned on it. Bottom line: I HIGHLY recommend buying a set and checking them out. They are worth the money!

You can find more information at Goody.com, on their Facebook page, and through their Twitter feed.

Aside

Life as we know it!

I remember when I was little- maybe 5 or 6 years old- and driving a 15 minute drive was torture. It felt like FOREVER! Now, I blink and hours have gone by. Days. Months. It wasn’t long ago that we had a year and a half before we would head to Bahrain. Now, our first pack-out is next month and the second is in December. Very shortly, we will be moving again, and life as we know it will change drastically. Now, I know big change is part of the Navy life, but for some reason it still catches me by surprise, no matter how prepared for it I am. Speaking of preparation, I ordered my Bahrain living books to brush up on culture and customs of the country and cannot wait to receive them! 

In other news, I have joined a site called Influenster and am loving it. It is an opportunity to review and answer questions about different products that pertain to my interests and, once my participation level is high enough, I am sent free stuff to try and review! I just received my first VoxBox full of free goodies and am super excited about it. I’ve already found my new favorite hair accessory (Spin Pins by Goody) and my new favorite candle scent (Bath & Body Works Pumpkin Cupcake). Loooooooove!