Zufelt Family Feb 2015

Zufelt Family Feb 2015

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Halawa Food Experiment of the Day

I've seen this on occasion around but never in force like here. Halawa seems to come in all varieties so of course I decided halawa with chocolate was a good way to test it out.

Not having a clue what it was puts one at a disadvantage for sure. (I once served mango sticky rice as a dinner rice dish to guests in Singapore. Later I learned it only shows up on menus at a restaurant in the dessert section. Oops. My kids should have been saying, "THANK YOU MOM!") the halawa packages show it spread on bread and also cut into slices and served like a cake with tea. The whole thing was under $5 USD and about the size of a hockey puck in cake form. Mine was the size of a 8 oz cream cheese block. 

I expected to spread it on bread so took a knife and a loaf of bread to the table. Nope. It is a big chunk and way too dry to spread. The taste is very nutty and consistency of those orange fluffy marshmallow like peanut candy. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Abaya Shopping

Vanessa and I decided to venture out again and try to upgrade our abayas. We had some trouble finding the Mustafa style dollar store shop the weekend before but eventually got and it was supposed to be across the street and two doors down. We found it just where it was supposed to be and started browsing the shop.

Obviously everything is all black, long sleeves, to the floor so really you are looking only at fabric choice, embroidery, zippers vs snaps and you can have them put in pockets. I was lucky to be short. There was a wide selection of size 54 but Vanessa is tall and needs a 58. I think we found two in the whole shop. Luckily the guy can make anything you want so we both ordered new ones made with pretty stitching down the front and at the sleeves. They should be ready in two weeks.

The listed price was 280 SAR for the one on the rack but when he rang us up with all the accessories and ad ons we had made the bill was 170 SAR. Lesson gleaned? This is a negotiating country! I didn't realize an abaya shop would do that. Next time I'll ask at other shops too. 

So how do you get a custom order? You have to give the guy your measurements. And how does a male shop owner get a woman's measurements in Saudi Arabia? I didn't know either but he sure as heck doesn't take them himself! Lucky for us while we were there four of our neighbors who are veteran Saudi dwellers happened into the same shop as us and showed us the ropes. One fun gal is Muslim and wears the full cover including hair cover all the time even when she's in our compound. She was a blessing for sure. She took everyone's measurements for us and told the guy what we wanted. He would try to add length or shorten sleeves as he saw fit for and she'd ask us how we actually wanted it to fit and then tell him to make it how we wanted. Things I hadn't even thought of. My abaya is wide and has four to five extra inches of fabric on either side of my body. I hadn't even noticed. He was going to take off three inches. I was so glad we ran into the friends and she was able to help us. I'm hopeful when we show up next week we will get what we thought we were getting.

After we had that all squared away then I asked where I could get a full body length zipper to put in my current abaya because it won't stay closed with the three buttons it has. It flaps open all the way to my waist which is a major problem. If I wear even capris then my legs show when the wind blows the abaya around and it makes me nervous to climb in and out of a car.

We walked down the road and went into a shop or two but they only had fancy fabric. They told us where to go and we walked the other direction and my girlfriend got her butt cheek grabbed as we passed a man. Pervert. Proof the abaya doesn't exactly solve the issue. In any case they had loads of super long zippers but not a single one in black. Tons of white ones though. The shop owner was real nice though and helped me find more buttons to match the ones I already have and some cord that isn't black to match but would coordinate with the deep red so I can create button hole loops.

Another successful adventure complete.

First Sick Doctor Visit

Ashlyn has had a fever since Sunday. Normally three to four days of fever wouldn't phase me and we would just wait it out. Only problem was she seemed to be feeling worse and worse each day. I could tell on day two that she was achy because she whimpered when she had to move her limbs or if I had to carry her somewhere. So today, Wednesday morning, I decided to brave the new experience of visiting the doctor. Buoyed up with confidence and advice from others I went on my own and tried it out.

Overall I think it was pretty smooth. I did have trouble finding the Paediatric spot and how to check in but found someone to ask. Can I just say for the millionth time that speaking English is such a blessing. Even if everyone doesn't speak English someone always does in hospitals, airports and markets. So I found the female registration desk and paid 100 SAR ($26) up front for a paediatric consult and asked where to sit and wait.

I took a seat on the chairs. I thought it interesting that the women's waiting rikm was empty at first but then I noticed almost every single woman was accompanied by a man. Hmmm. I waited in the general area - which was just the hallway lined with chairs between the doctor office doors.

We sat for about 45 minutes or so waiting. My receipt said a doctor name and the door was open with no doctor. After about 30 minutes the lady doctor returned to her office and had a patient come in. While we waited our turn on the chairs a Saudi woman in full face cover abaya sent her teenaged son who was in an arm cast off and he returned with two snack sized bags of chips. He gave one to his little sister who was in a stroller and about the same age as Ashlyn. I wasn't paying close attention until she told him to go give one to Ashlyn. She took it hesitantly and I smiled at the woman and told her thank you. She nodded in return and I could see a smile in her eye even if her face was covered. Ashlyn enjoyed the puffy BBQ chips well enough but the taste and texture were a little foreign to her and eventually she wanted the pretzels I had brought. We got those out and she decided in her own to share with "my new friend" sitting in the stroller. The little girl looked at the pretzel and twisted it left and right. It was obviously not something she had before and she looked skeptical. Finally she ate it but her end reaction was akin to Ashlyn and the Saudi chips.

We were called into the doctors office and found out the doctor was a tall woman in a white abaya and beautiful head scarf with a bright yellow floral pattern (all medical women seem to have this dress). Her name was Dr Maha at Mousawat Hospital. She spoke great English and was quite personable. She wasn't overly concerned about what was going on and that made me happy since I did think it was time for a doctor to see Ashlyn but really it was sort of a dry run test of "How To" do the medical thing in Saudi. She noted her weight was low and asked about vitamin testing and I confirmed she'd need fully cleared in Singapore for all those concerns. She pointed out I was small so my kids might be too so I told her of my 4 kids I've got 3 little ones.

The end diagnosis was an upper respiratory infection. We walked out with 4 medications of course, just like Singapore. The pharmacy (the female line anyway) was ten steps down the hall so I got everything there for 45 SAR ($12 USD). The pharmacy gal put the sticker labels covering the English instruction and information side so I could read the Arabic. So helpful. Note to self - ask for sticker on other side next time.

Some good news is we have done the mix your own augmentin dozens of times the exact same bottle and the Panadol variety fever reducer is familiar also but next time I'll skip it because it's really just a Tylenol match and I like what I've got at the house. Glad to have a cough syrup for under 6 yr old again so that one made me smile. And nose drops. That's kiddie torture.

One thing that made me laugh was that I was advised, sweetly and gently, by the doctor to potty train. Yep. After we settle here in our routine it's on the agenda. Too much transition for August or September to add potty training to the list. She already lived without daddy since April, lost Gina in June, lived out of suitcases for 8-10 weeks moving houses every week, moved counties and houses, got her dad back in her life again and started her own school. As bad as I want it done it's enough to do for a little girl right now. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Culture Perspective

Cleaning out my email inbox I found this Facebook exchange/discussion from July 2013. Seeing it again today made me ponder how our new location plays into the equation because I’m still in a cheap labor, caste system economy but living in a expat compound that counters that economy. Cultures are fascinating to me.

I think it may put me in the bad wife category that MY MAID reminded me that my wedding anniversary is in two days. I completely forgot. The good news? Brian appeared to be just as surprised as me when he saw it coming up on the calendar next week. We are pitiful. But still happily in love.

This is the reply from Angela Clayton that really puts life in perspective. Angela wrote: "I was reading in The Rational Optimist about this phenomenon. Asian cultures were built on the assumption of cheap labor but western cultures (specifically an offshoot of England) were built on using innovation and technology to eliminate the reliance on cheap labor. In the US or Australia, everything is built to be easier to do because you do it all yourself. In Asia it is the opposite. Low cost labor is cheaper than automation. Now that we are back in the states with no maid after two years of a live in, it is incredibly easy here. Costco is a far more efficient cook. Walmart is my domestic helper. And I have carpet that doesn't require daily mopping to look good. My washing machine is much bigger here and I can dry things in the dryer without having to empty the water out. I can put my dry cleaning on the porch in a bag and it will be picked up and returned to me. I have cold water and ice built right into the refrigerator door, and I have a second fridge to store even more things. Foods here in the US last a lot longer so I can shop less often. These conveniences make life far easier than having maid did."

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cross Eyed Madison

Crazy day here at our house as you can see. This is a pic of Madison with her party favor after her bowling birthday bash today. She is a fun girl to have around!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ashlyn's Fun

Today Ashlyn has me giggling over and over. The best few things after preschool pick up were:

Walking into the house and it smelling like something was burning. Just as I left I preheated the oven and hadn't used it in two days. The birthday cheesecake for Madison had apparently leaked juiciness out the bottom. I opened the oven and smoke poured out. She wouldn't stop asking questions. "What dat coming out?" "Why do you open da window mommy?" "You make the smoke mommy?" "Why you doing that?" (As I fan the fire alarm to ensure it doesn't go off.

Then the storage space on my phone is getting tight so I tried to empty it by deleting some apps. I have a Muslim prayer app I never used because I downloaded three and the send in one worked pretty well for my needs. When I opened the app for the first time it started doing the prayer call chant. She perked up, "The guy in OUR HOUSE! Time for prayers!" Then proceeded to chant her jibber jabber rhythmic chant right along with the app call to prayer.

And here she is waiting for me to scrub the oily cheesecake residue off the bottom of the drip pan and walking around the kitchen with slippers on her feet and oven mits on her feet.

Madison Mae is Eight!

The birthday was a good one. She chose cheesecake and I found awesome firecracker style candles. Her dinner request was French toast, hash browns, orange juice and scrambled eggs. I brought pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to her class along with Ashlyn (who has her own curb appeal in every elementary school classroom). Last night we took her to Chili's for a celebration dinner.

She got the board game Clue (English - Arabic version), Barbie doll and a hair highlighting kit that uses chalk. She's very excited over everything and we played Clue together this afternoon. She's very happy to be eight years old!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An Old Friend Came to Dinner on Saturday Noght

We are finding that we eat out more here than ever in our lives. For us that means once a week. And I've gained some weight. Life here is funky and hard and sometimes depressing and nearly always stressful. There isn't much to do as far as entertainment and going out at all is cumbersome. We have to schedule a driver and be mindful of they shift changes and when we should be home so they can go home or else for hire out how to get dispatch to change the driver and have a new one pick us up. Going out to eat to a place that feels familiar helps take the edge off and we officially deemed it worth the expense of food to maintain our mental health. 

When we moved to Singapore one of our big adjustment mechanisms also revolved around food. Everything was crazy expensive and there was one particular food the kids were heart broken to have to give up. They loved a Pasta-roni boxed noodle meal called Shells and White Cheddar. I told them chances were soon to bone that we would get them so we packed four precious boxes into our luggage. Then we lived in a high rise furnished/serviced apartment that was connected to Great World Mall with a grocery store inside. They had shells and white cheddar! But I was used to paying $1.15/box USD and these were $8/box USD. That made my two dollar dinner a crazy expensive meal and it still had no actual nutritional value. After about 3 weeks of shopping and standing in my kitchen with barely any food to feed my poor children I made a mental commitment to myself. I would buy whatever I needed to fees my family. Whatever the cost. And in six months we would reassess the situation. My family had truely been hungry AFTER nearly every meal because I was trying to scrimp and save and keep expenses down. I didn't buy enough food. I didn't make enough food. That mental release was just what I needed and helped our transition.

Here I sit. Four or five weeks into the Saudi adjustment. And I declare, WE WILL GO OUT TO EAT!! Maybe even a lot for a while. It will help us all. 

There are many western food chains here and we love it after the lack of anything nearby in Singapore. The Woodlands was very isolated. So far in Saudi we have dined from Little Caesar's Pizza, Dairy Queen, Chili's and Applebee's. I have seen McDonald's, Subway, Dunkin Donuts and now I will keep my eyes out for more options because I know they are everywhere. And we will try new and local stuff too.

Last thought? God put shells and white cheddar boxes noodles there for us for a reason. My children genuinely needed them. They were only there for three months and I never saw them again in over three years. It's what I call a tender mercy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Quote of the Day

Phone call:
"Hello Ma'am. This is So-And-So from Such-And-Such. I am calling regarding a note from Mr. Brian. I have tried to contact him and I think that he is too busy to pick up my call. This leaves me no choice but to talk to you. Is that okay?"

Seriously? I'm American. Yeah. You can talk to me about the size of the microwave in the house.

Side Note: We asked for a bigger one because it's so small a dinner plate fits but the splatter cover on top doesn't. We're feeding a family of 6. It's a bit undersized for this crowd. When the guy arrived he said, "Oh my God! That is ridiculous. And you have a big family. No, no, no. I brought the biggest one I can buy for you." We're all set with a nice microwave now.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Silent Expat Secret

It's just a part of the deal. You will be new and scared. You will be helped. You will learn the ropes and grow stronger and more confident. Eventually you become an all wise and experienced resident expert (usually within a year or less). Then you must pay it back. No one ever commits to the deal out loud it's just how it works. It can be fun to share the new tricks you have figured out with someone new who is grateful. All in all it's fulfilling to be helpful and focused on serving other families like you were blessed when you arrived. I believe we come preprogrammed to want to connect with people, lighten anothers burden and serve each other.

I was in a very happy, stable place in Singapore. I knew the ropes. I was a "helper" after more than three years there. As I contemplated the move to Saudi there were two things I thought of a lot. One was that panic feeling of "what if" and "where do I go if I need" stuff. The other was "they will help me" because I had a knowledge as firm as a mountain that the women in my new community would see me, grab me, love me and help me. They would reach out and make sure I had been to a grocery store. They would know where to go to get an abaya altered. They would tell me where to go to buy turtle food and who can cut a white girls hair. And even call me when cottage cheese was at the store for the first time in 6 weeks so I could call a driver and go over before it sold out.

I still wish I was the know it all. But I'm accepting my place as the newbie right now and feeling grateful for the women that stop when they see me on the sidewalk around the compound and remember my name. Next year I can join their ranks and help someone new to Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


It is 7am and the temp is already 34 deg C or 94 deg F. Funny thing is even though it's hot I am dealing with it okay now. Forcast for the day is 106 F and we will be fine. I think it's because the humidity aeems to have dropped a lot from three weeks ago when the heat index was up to 144 F with actual temps in the low 120s. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mom Dieting?

When I came to dinner tonight someone had switched out the regular sized plate for a small bowl. Brian thinks someone is trying to put me on a diet.

Heeley Tennis Fun

While Ben had his actual lesson tonight the kids and Brian used the next court over to tossed balls to Jacob and Madison. 

They both wore Heeley shoes with wheels on the bottom like roller skates and Madison seems a bit distracted with kicking her racket. It was funny to watch but they had a blast.

 Ben is making progress in his lessons and seems fairly good with his swing. 

And Ashlyn happily shagged balls.

Friday, September 5, 2014


Ben read from a Spanish book tonight and slaughtered the pronunciation. Jacob realizing it wasn't what he was used to asked, "Is that a Kindle?"

Brian said, "No. This is from before electrons were invented."

Earlier when Jacob was in my room relaxing I asked if he was tired. "Yeah. I am sooo tired from today. I watched the guys unload ALL the boxes from the Wooters shipment and it was tiring."Just imagine how tired the guys who actually lifted all those boxes and a 500 pound piano must feel if Jacob was that tired from just watching.

Worst Printer Ever

We got our igamas this week. That is the resident pass that allows us to live here in Saudi Arabia. I am not sure I have ever had such a awful picture as this. In second place is definatly my Singapore American School pass.  My head was squashed like a pancake. This Saudi one though has me with the worst case of acne I have ever had.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Broccoli Ban

Broccoli may have to be banned from the house while we are here in Saudi Arabia. This lovely thing cost me $6.19 USD. This cheesy potato chowder recipe better be amazing because it just got very expensive to make!

Violin Lessons Via Skype

Madison had her first violin lesson via Skype today. It was awesome! The teacher is dynamic and fun. She had games to improve her form and sent me links for tips and lyrics for the Suzuki method to help her get the tunes stuck in her head.

There wasn't anything technically wrong with Ms. Helen in Singapore but I just had no idea what was going on because I was not allowed in the room with them during lessons and she wasn't responsive when I asked questions. I think this new plan is going to work out fantastically!

Here is how we I originally set up the iPad  wedged into the camera tripod to support it because Brian said the webcam wasn't working and I needed something I could point and aim down to let the teacher see her fingering and position.

It was awesome. But after seeing my sweet set up Brian decided to save the iPad from imminent death after a fall and figured out how to fix the webcam before the lesson began so we were legit with the teacher on the big screen. I think the only bummer is the timing puts her lesson at 5:30-6:30 pm on Thursday night which is our end of the week "Friday night" here in Saudi. So I guess we're giving up date night for violin.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Growing Too Fast

Ashlyn is growing up too fast and I miss the squishy little bodies and babies in my arms. Tonight she was happy and I wanted to cuddle with her so after we brushed her teeth I threw her in my bed to lay for a bit until she relaxed. She pooped her head up immediately and said she needed her doll Harry and binkies. So her little feet pitter pattered down the hallway. After a long while she returned running again. I hoisted her up into my bed with no binkies at all but Harry clutched tight. When she laid down she began pulling binkie after binkie out of Harry's pants. She had six in there. She's too cute for words. 

Abaya Good and Bad this Week

I wasn't looking forward to wearing an abaya. I knew it wouldn't be the end of the world but what I was most dreading was covering my head. Now that I don't need to do that I'm pretty okay with it. In fact I often forget I'm wearing it at all. I was in the kids school the other day for 20 minutes before I noticed I was the only one still dressed in all black. The head scarf on my neck does make me particularly hot, but these wild 110 degree F/44 degree C days should be over in a month or so.

The abaya has been a two edged sword so far.

The Bad
We hadn't gone anywhere or done anything since we moved here and were heading to the mall shopping one day. I thought, "I've done the ironing and I have a few nice shirts ready to go. I feel like looking nicer than old gym clothes today. I'll dress up." I got on some earrings and cute shorts. Then I realized it was a total waste of my ironing to wear it that day. We were heading into public which means I would have to be covered the entire day. I would just sweat and wrinkle it all up. So I threw on a t-shirt and long pants and off we went. The abaya has completely destroyed any internal drive to try to look good or pick out a nice outfit. And if you know me, that desire was often low anyway.

The Good
We had been told the kids will love some of the local food here called shwarmas. Fresh off the boat newbies that we are we decided to give it a go. We called the driver and went to the only place we had noticed where we could probably get some because it had in enormous letters on the side of the building that said "SHWARMA." Pretty safe bet. We went in the family entrance and it was pretty apparent it was a much nicer place than we had bargained for. Luckily Brian was still in a nice button up shirt and slacks from work. The kids were in t-shirts and such but kids sort of get a pass all the time anyway. I however had a neon orange running shirt and super old shorts I had nabbed from someone's salvation army donation box 10 years ago...BUT I also had an abaya. So no one was the wiser I was woefully underdressed for a fancy pants restaurant like that. Plus, families eat in booths and draw a curtain so you are fully isolated from the world. Score one for the abaya!

Burkas, Abayas, Hijabs and My Learning Curve

First things first. When people asked about us moving to the Middle East they wonder if I will have to wear a burka. Turns out I didn't know much about Islamic dress code. For the sake of a quick conversation I just say "Yes except the face part." But the truth is I don't have to wear a burka (burqa). A burqa is a full body, head to toe, wrist to wrist covering, generally in black. The face is even fully covered with a thick cloth that works like a one way mirror where the woman can see out but you cannot see in. I do NOT have to wear that.

I wear an abaya. It is basically an all black, very long, flowy dress. It covers from the neck to the floor and to my wrists. It should not reveal the form of a woman so they are all very loose. The abaya the company gave me at the airport when I arrived has a small amount of pretty deep red embroidery on it and a few sequins. I must also carry with me a black head scarf at all times which I drape over my shoulders. I am told that I live in a more liberal part of Saudi so I don't need to cover my hair but if the religious police ever approach me and ask me to cover I need to be ready. It doesn't happen often but it does happen. Mine doesn't close properly in front so below the knee my leg shows. I need to get a zipper to make it properly or maybe a few more buttons but for now I just wear long pants until I can find a tailor or a fabric store.

Other pieces of the Islamic wardrobe are the hijab which we saw day in and day out in Singapore. I had many friends who wore this. In fact many people work the abaya in Singapore but in beautiful colors and patterns.

I told Brian last spring as we anticipated coming here that I could process the idea of covering up much more easily if they would just let me wear pretty prints and colors because the Singaporean women had some gorgeous things I would have loved to buy. In retrospect it's probably best for me to have an all black abaya selection. Otherwise I would amass a whole wardrobe of "pretty" abayas and hijabs that I would never be able to use anywhere else.

From .com to .sg to .fr

I saw this ning that my blog "suffix" if you can call it that has changed again. When I blogged from the US my address was zufeltzoo.BlogSpot.com. After a while we moved to Singapore and maybe a year after we arrived there my blog address shifted itself to zufeltzoo.BlogSpot.sg. Well, this morning I logged in and was surprised to see we are now .fr and I'm wondering if I'm in France? I find it incredibly interesting how the internet and computer algorithms that send targeted marketing ads to you and all of that work. Big Brother is everywhere now.