Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ken's parents have arrived!

Ken's parents arrived in Doha late Saturday night and we look forward to spending lots of time together over the next 3 weeks.  Ken's dad is looking forward to attending the annual Doha International Tennis Tournament this week and getting close to the courts to watch some big names in tennis.  ExxonMobil is one of the primary sponsors so we have complimentary tickets for several of the nights. 

Speaking of tennis, Ken tried to play some tennis against his dad this morning and even at 75 years of age, his dad still has it!!  Ken came home a sweaty mess while Mr. Doan looked like he just went for a stroll in the park!  Way to go Mr. Doan!!!

But his parents almost didn't make it out of the airport!  The Doha airport is currently under construction ... when you exit the airplane you walk down a set of stairs onto the tarmac and board a shuttle bus.  The first stop is for arrivals ... people staying in Doha.  The second stop is for transfers ... people travelling through Doha to their final destination.  Qatar Airways even tags your carry on bags in Houston yellow if you're transferring and blue if you're staying in Doha (I may have that backwards, but you understand right?).  Well apparently Qatar Airways in Houston tagged their carry on bags with the wrong color!  So when they tried to get off the shuttle bus to arrive and stay in Doha, they wouldn't let them off the shuttle.  They rode the shuttle to the transfer terminal where Mr. and Mrs. Doan explained again that they needed the other stop.  So they got a full tour of the airport! 

Meanwhile Ken was getting a bit worried.  The rest of their flight arrived in immigration and there was no sign of Mr. and Mrs. Doan.  Ken had paid for an additional service operator to escort them on the shuttle and through immigration, but they didn't know where Mr. and Mrs. Doan were at!!  Somehow Mr. and Mrs. Doan boarded the shuttle without ever seeing the escort service operator!

A crazy mix up, but it all ended well.  They arrived all smiles and we look forward to a great 3 weeks together!!  I'm sure there will be plenty of pictures to follow, but none tonight! 

Merry Christmas! Home School Day...

We had a lovely, quiet Christmas this year.  The boys woke up early as usual and we wasted no time tearing through presents.  We got them a wii this year, so you can guess how we spent the rest of our Christmas day.  As nice as it was, we very much missed being around our families and all the craziness of family gatherings over the holidays.  Thankfully we have Skype and FaceTime, so we could wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

After all of 3 days playing with their new toys, the boys decided they were bored and ready to head back to school.  They begged me to have a "Home School Day."  So we set up the dining room chairs and rode our pretend school bus promptly at 7:30am on Saturday morning.  We set up a schedule with 10 activities each lasting ~30 minutes plus a snack break and a lunch break.  We had PE, reading, recess, science, art, writing, free choice, math, music, and computers.  We didn't finish until after 3pm!!  I WAS EXHAUSTED!!!!  How do teachers do this everyday?  The boys absolutely loved it!!! 

I'm still deciding if the success is good news or bad news.  I love that they enjoy school so much and that they would rather be productive and learn something over play mindless video games forever.  But the bad news is that they had so much fun, they wanted to do it again the very next day!!!  Was I ever so grateful to receive a text from a friend inviting us over to play the following day!  Saved me from organizing another home school day right away!

Crazy kids!!! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gingerbread houses

It's Christmas Eve!!  This morning, we made gingerbread houses with friends Kathy & Kasia and their kiddos George, Quentin, and Vivian.  What a great time!!  Kathy made the gingerbread and it was delicious!!!  Stiff enough to build a house, but still soft enough to enjoy.  So yummy!!! 

The kids had a great time "gluing" candy onto their houses!  Of course I think they ate more than they put on the house, but that's the fun of making ginger bread houses right?
Finished product ... Great job boys!

Backside of the Doan house

Vivian, Quentin, George, Jaden & Nicholas ... happy kids all on a sugar high!!

We came home, had a bite to eat for dinner and the boys had a major sugar crash!  We watched the Grinch that Stole Christmas and Mickey's Christmas Carol and I thought for sure the boys were going to take a nap. 

Instead, they got their second wind and decided to build a reading cave/fort under the stairs ... inspired by the one George had at his house.  Great idea!!!  A secret hideout with pillows, blankets, and a pile of books.  Genius!!

Jaden and Nicholas' Reading Cave

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tea with Santa

Since there are no Christmas decorations or Santa Claus' around town or in the malls here, I made a reservation to have tea with Santa at the Sharq hotel (owned by the Ritz Carlton).  We nibbled on sweets, drank hot chocolate and tea, and waited for Santa's arrival.
In front of the Christmas tree at the Sharq Hotel

Santa arrived and each child got a Santa teddy bear and a photo with Santa.


Then we went back to our tables and Santa walked around ringing his bell and waving at the children.  The looks on Jaden and Nicholas' faces said it all - they were disappointed.  They thought they would sit with Santa and have tea with him at our table.  They were hoping for more interaction with Santa, not waving as he walked by. 

The chairs were ENORMOUS!

Playing in the giant chairs waiting for more interaction from Santa
Nicholas loves hot chocolate!  I think he drank 3 cups!!
Since the reservation cost a small fortune, I wanted to make the most out of the event.  So we went to Santa and I got the kids to talk to him - about the reindeer, the North Pole, what they want for Christmas.  Clearly Santa was not accustomed to so much conversation!!!  I wanted to strangle Santa!!!  Yes, I really did just say that I wanted to strangle Santa!!  Here's why:

#1 - He asked the boys how long they have been in Doha!!  A common question here for sure, but NOT A QUESTION SANTA SHOULD ASK!!!  Santa should know this right?  Afterall, Santa delivered presents to the boys in Doha last Christmas, but in Houston the Christmas before that!!  Santa knows where to find the children, so he knows how long we've been places right?!  I quickly changed the course of the conversation before the boys figured out Santa's error.

#2 - He invited the boys to come see the reindeer tonight at MIDNIGHT when they deliver the toys!!!  So many things wrong with this one - first of all encouraging children to stay up until midnight??  And why would they be delivering toys already?  It was still 2 days before Christmas!  I corrected the situation by explaining the reindeer were coming to pick Santa up to take him back to the North Pole to get ready for the delivery on Christmas Eve.

#3 - As a result of #2, all we heard for the rest of the evening was "Can we stay up until midnight?"  So I pretended to get an email from Santa saying there was a change in plans and the reindeer were coming to pick him up at 8:15, shortly after bedtime.  We went up to the 3rd floor rooftop patio and looked in the sky to see if we could see the reindeer.  Thankfully we saw a twinkling star that Jaden was convinced looked red like Rudolph's nose and was certain that was the sleigh coming to get Santa.  Of course smarty pants Nicholas responds with "I don't think so Jaden.  It's not even moving."  I tried to explain that it was still a long way off ... Jaden believed, Nicholas was still skeptic.

#4 - Our conversation with Santa ended with the boys asking about his favorite kind of cookie so we could leave him some at our house.  Mind you, we've already made chocolate chip and sugar cookies to leave for Santa, so I jumped in before Santa answered to say "chocolate chip are your favorite right?"  Thinking this would give Santa the "correct" answer.  Clearly Santa DID NOT clue in!!!  He says, "chocolate chip are okay, but can you add almonds?  I really like almond cookies."  REALLY??!!!  Now we have to make more cookies!!  I don't have time for that!!!  Praying the boys forget.  Or maybe I could just sprinkle almond slivers on top of the cookies.  Think that will work? 

 At least Santa redeemed himself in my book before we left.  As we were leaving the tea with Santa, we stopped in the lobby to listen to the carolers.  They sang a handful of Christmas carols and had lovely voices!! 

After the carols were finished, the boys wanted to say good bye to Santa and Santa asked to get a picture with the boys in the lobby.  They had a photographer at the event and they snapped several pictures of the boys with Santa in the lobby.  They looked so handsome in their bow ties!!! 

I kept telling the boys they were Santa's favorite kids!!  Of all the children at the tea, Santa only asked to get a picture with Jaden and Nicholas in the lobby.  So they must be his favorites!!  Of course the boys loved hearing this!!!  So in the end the boys had a fabulous time at the tea with Santa. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Singing Sand Dunes

At the last minute, we decided to go to the "Singing Sand Dunes" after church on Friday.  I'm so glad we did!  We had a blast!!!  The singing sand dunes is a special place in the desert where the conditions are just right for sound to be produced from the sand dunes naturally.  It is one of only a handful of places in the world where this happens. 

According to the information we were sent in an email ...
Noise from singing sand dunes, which have been reported in the Middle East for over 1500 years, have been described as “roaring, booming, squeaking, singing or musical."  Qataris used to attribute these sounds to evil Djinns; similarly, Marco Polo, when he heard the sounds 700 years ago, blamed the sounds on evil spirits.

There is still some controversy over how exactly the sand dunes produce the sound. However, it is certain that for the sound to be heard the sand needs to be put into motion. When the singing is heard, the sounds’ vibrations can sometimes be felt reverberating through your body.

For singing to take place, the sand must also be extremely dry – even the presence of 0.1% moisture will reduce the effectiveness of the singing.

When we first arrived, there were already hundreds of other expats climbing up and sliding down the dune.  We had a blast climbing up and sliding down ourselves as the sun slowly set behind the dune.  It was a rather windy day and the boys didn't like being at the very top of the dune (sand was flung in our faces by the wind at the top), but we were protected from the wind climbing up and sliding down the dune.  It was both fun and exhausting!  Quite the exercise climbing up a giant pile of super soft, fine, desert sand!  We saw lots of friends - from our compound and from our church.  It was a superb evening!

Upon arriving at the singing sand dunes, we headed straight up!  That little ant with her arm in the air is me starting the hike up!

Didn't take long for Ken to pass me up... and the kids were way in front of him!  That's Jaden's dark backside on the right and Nicholas' dark backside on the left!  :-)

Ken finally caught up with the boys near the top.  Jaden and Nicholas wouldn't climb any higher because of the wind blowing sand in their faces at the top. 

I made it to the top!

In the wind at the top...

View at the top

View looking down from the top.  The blue dot in the middle was Nicholas sliding back down.  You can see all the cars at the base of the dune.

Picture with Jaden

and Nicholas

and Ken

Nicholas on his belly in the super soft sand

Boys playing in the sand at the bottom of the dune, protected from the wind

They even had Santa sitting in a tent, so the boys got their first sighting of Santa this year.  We are officially teetering the fence on believing in Santa.  Several of Jaden's friends in Grade 1 are from Denmark and have told Jaden that Santa isn't real.  Thankfully Jaden is rather gullible and isn't convinced his friends are correct, so he still believes, but it is definitely more hesitant that before. 

Waiting for Santa

Merry Christmas!!

After the sun went down, they lit a giant bonfire and passed out words to several Christmas carols.  As we sat around the warmth of the fire (yes it was chilly after the sun went down!), we sang Christmas carols surrounded by friends from around the world.  We were sitting with friends from Australia, the UK, and Malaysia.  All singing Christmas carols around the fire!

Sun setting behind the dune

Sun setting behind the dune

Singing Christmas carols around a giant bonfire
Sitting with friends Sean & Natasha and Anthony & Prue to sing carols
Now for the question I'm sure you're asking yourself ... did we hear the dune sing??  Not sure.  We could definitely feel the vibration of sound in the sand as we came back down and maybe hear a little hum, but with so many people and loud music playing through the speakers, it's hard to say for sure.  I definitely didn't hear any "booming or roaring" from the dunes!  Regardless, it was a fantastic time in the desert!!!

Random Picture Update

I was trying to get some work done on the laptop the other day and when I looked up, this is what I saw!  Not sure if they were coming to attack me or protect me.  Funny boys!!

Jaden and Nicholas strike a "strong man" pose on the front porch.

So about 4 years ago, our dear friend Maria, gave the boys these pajamas for Christmas.  At the time, they were entirely too big, but the boys loved them and wore them all Christmas season.  That first Christmas, they were rolled up and safety pinned in order to keep them up.  Each year since, we roll and pin them a little less.  This year, the beloved snowman pajamas finally fit!!!  I look forward to watching them continue to wear them in the future even as they grow out of them.  And yes, that is a hot chocolate mustache on Nicholas.  As the weather turns cold here (low 70s), hot chocolate becomes a family favorite! 

Trying to get a decent picture of the boys in front of the Christmas tree proves to be a challenge this year!  Here's attempt number one ... wearing the beloved snowman pajamas...
We started off well with just Jaden
We even got a decent picture of just Nicholas ...
But put them together and it's near impossible to get them both to look at the camera and smile!
At this point, we started to lose control of the "photo shoot."  I have NO IDEA what they are doing here!

And once the giggles set in, forget it!  It's all just a blur!

All dressed up for the RasGas gala (Ken's work)
In front of the Christmas tree at the St. Regis hotel.  From this angle, we look really tall!!  Thank you bell boy at the St. Regis!

Boys have a blast creating different tracks with the marble run set Co Mai gave them for Christmas!!  A great toy!!!!

 We're back in front of the Christmas tree, trying once again to get a good picture of the boys ...
Nicholas was NOT in a good mood!  But this captures his pout perfectly!
Clearly Nicholas was NOT interested in this photo shoot.  Dozens of pictures, and this is the best we could get!!
Several hours later, and we're back in front of the tree!  This time Nicholas is in a much better mood!!!  I think we finally got one we can use of our annual photo book.  Now I just need to find the time to put the book together!!