Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Festive for Sale

Ho ho ho-ly sh**, it's hot out here!
It is December is Doha, and as we gear up for the holidays here, I have to say that this is the most un-Christmas-y I have ever felt. Not in a bah-humbug way, but in a more general, not feeling like 'tis the season kind of way.
First, there was the issue of a Christmas tree. I don't know what we were thinking when we packed our boxes to come here, as we did not bring ONE  decoration with us. Not one. No dingle balls for the tree, no decorative manger with a wee little Jesus, no lights, no beads or pine bows, no wreath, and most notably... NO TREE. I must have been in some kind of post pregnancy fog or something.

As per usual, I start to fret about the availability of trees (real or artificial) here in Doha, where Christmas is not a big event in the stores. So about two weeks ago, I get wind that a few stores are indeed selling artificial Christmas trees, but it's slim pickin's, and the prices were on the high side. Off we go one Thursday evening (our 'Friday') in search of a new tree.
We find two possibilities. The first, is in a home store rightly named 'The One' (, and they actually have a decent variety of artificial trees, but one look at the price tag and my night is ruined. The tree we liked... a mere 3700 Qatari Riyals! That is about $1000 USD (give or take). WHAT? Here's the crazy part - we both stood there and considered spending that much on a just okay looking tree. It wasn't dipped in gold, or so real looking you might mistakenly water it. It didn't walk or talk or do tricks.  No, it definitely looked fake, and was a bit bare, if you want to know the truth. I told Colin we needed to walk away and discuss this. Obviously, we had lost our minds.
Clearly, the sand was once again clouding our better judgement. I could fly to Canada one way for that price. An expression I heard my husband use last week sums this up perfectly: paying that much for a Christmas tree is just a little bit "Qatarded". (I know, funny right?) So, we walk around the mall a bit to talk about our options.

And there it is looming in the distance. Carrefour ( Carrefour is like a European version of Walmart, but in Doha, this store really isn't European-like at all. It is often over crowded and poorly staffed, and since it is a combination of home goods and groceries, you always seem to get a faint 'raw meat' smell in the air when you are shopping. I secretly think it is the store where all other stores send their products that no one else will buy. I try and avoid our Carrefour whenever I can.
I know they probably have trees in there, so we agree to check. Yep, five different styles of artificial trees - including one white and one black one. Who would want a black tree? But there is one the same size and fullness as our tree in The One, and guess what? It is 497QAR (about $140USD).
Funny thing is, I would scoff at paying 140 bucks for a tree like this one back home, but now, it appears a steal of a deal. Did we load it in the cart and wheel it home immediately? No, no we did not.
We actually debated. Yes, we went back and forth between the two stores, trying to decide if the uglier tree was worth the big price break. Or, if the nicer tree was really THAT much nicer. Foolishness.

After too much time had passed, Ella had had enough of our inabilitiy to decide and started to complain, so we finally settled on the cheaper tree. (If we hadn't, I don't think I would have been able to write about it, for fear you all would think I'd lost my mind!).

It is now up, decorated, and looking pretty nice, I think. All the decorations are new, so no old favorites or family keepsakes this year. Trying to find a tree topper proved to be an extraordinary challenge, as well.
We have since put some lights up outside, decorated inside, and even gotten some good Christmas music all ready to go. I have dragged out my Christmas cookbooks, looked into where we can get a good turkey (don't get me started on the price of the turkey), sent all our cards in the mail, and found out what time the English Christmas Eve service is at our church.

We have been to a few Christmas parties already, and we did get quite the kick out of Santa arriving on a camel. That was a sight we had never seen before!

A final thought on the tree thing... after we made our purchase, I stumbled upon this website: God Bless the Dutch - fresh Christmas trees shipped to my door in Doha, from Holland, for a mere 1000QAR (about $275USD). Haha! I guess you can get anything here if you are willing to pay the price.

OUR BIG NEWS: We are having company for Christmas this year! Who would want to come to the sandy desert for the holidays, you ask? The Janz`s from Calgary, that`s who! We are really looking forward to their arrival -  nothing like great friends to make us feel a little more festive. Can't wait till they get here next week!

Here's hoping that Santa finds us all here in our new home. No chimney this year, but we'll leave the patio door open just a crack. Ho ho ho!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Paris in November

This is long overdue but...

I think it is safe to say that all three of us fell in love with Paris on day one. What a fabulous city. I think we would have found it fabulous any time we visited, but, visiting now, after living in Qatar for a while, made it especially nice.

First thing we noticed was the weather. We arrived on a rainy, cloudy day, which couldn't have been better for us. Strange right? But after being rain & cloud-deprived for so long, that cranky looking sky with its random sprinkling of mist was a down right treat. Ella kept looking around, like 'what is this wet stuff that is falling on us?'... hard to believe she hasn't really experienced rain yet!

One of the most attractive things about the city (like many old cities) was its buildings. The history is amazing and looking at the details in each one we passed was just awesome. No two the same.

My quick 'favorite things about Paris list' to sum it all up (in no particular order, as they were all great):

Ella and one of many baguettes...

1. The bread - the bread deserves to be in a seperate category and not just lumped in with 'food'. It also deserves to be mentioned first, as many of you know, I am a bread fan (understatement, really). Parisians love their bread, and it is everywhere. We had bread with every meal (Ella included) and felt compelled to buy fresh baguette from street bakeries as we walked around, just to fit in, as everyone else was walking and munching on their fresh baguettes.

2. The food & wine - both more than great, and we slowly ate and drank our way across the city at every meal. Good thing we were walking everywhere to offset the calories a bit! (If you read this May, I apologize... it couldn't be helped!)

3. The dogs - Being an animal lover in Qatar has been difficult at times, as no longer can we bring our dogs with us when we go many places. When you do see dogs in the city, they are often stray and looking very hungry (tug at heart strings here). So, seeing big Retrievers tucked in under their owners chairs at cafes and little pomeranians obediently walking through stores next to their families was a welcome sight. Bonus: Ella has learned to say "woof" when she sees a puppy, so there were lots of excited woofs as we explored.

4. The chocolate - Stores and stores devoted solely to chocolate and delicious things covered in chocolate. And I thought the Qatari's had a sweet tooth!

5. The history - Everywhere we went there were magnificent old buildings, statues and monuments. So much to take in, so little time.

7. The small cars - Five years in Texas got me somewhat accustomed to seeing 'big rigs' everywhere. Then, our ten months here, where almost every vehicle is a large desert-ready SUV, I had begun to forget about the smaller vehicles. Paris was crammed with Smart cars, hatch-backs, and scooters. Loved, loved, loved this.
6. The Frenchness - The fashionable slightly-disheveled-but-oh-so-put-together appearance of the  people carrying their baguettes, morning papers, and puffing away on a cigarette was very cool. We both agreed that the smoking just didn't seems as offensive here, oddly enough. I mean, we were aware of it, and tried to steer Ella away from all smokers at all times, but so many people doing it made it seem much more acceptable and commonplace. Weird, I know, coming from a smoke-hater.

8. The markets/shopping - This was the kind of shopping I have missed. Little shops all lined together, each selling a curious assortment of things that bring a warmth to my heart. Colin indulged me repreatedly while I wandered through as many boutiques as I could, trying my rusty french out on shop keepers, and buying the odd knick knack here and there.

9. The ART - Paris certainly got my creative juices flowing. Studios and galleries everywhere, it seemed. Our day in Montemarte was amazingly inspirational. Artists at every turn, painting their hearts out! Never mind the museums filled with Monet, Manet, Renoir, van Gogh and countless other historical artists. You could wander through the museums for days on end and still not see everything.

10. The winding streets - Old cobblestone streets snaking around the city in every direction... filled with businesses, churches, people bundled up for winter weather, scents of baking bread.... ahhh.

So there you have it, our Paris adventure in a nut shell.  It was a glorious eight days and we do plan on returning again some day, fingers crossed.

Vive la France!