Sunday, November 29, 2009

Coming home...

Dashing through the sky,
in a big ole jumbo jet.
O'er the globe we fly,
so I can see my pets!

Hang on, girls...Mommy is on her way home!

Friday, November 27, 2009

I’m not talking Fords or football…

There was a bit of confusion on my Facebook page yesterday when I mentioned I was going to the Falcon Hospital. Given what happened on my last trip to visit CGMan, it is understandable that my friends would think he once again tried to kill me had an accident. Fear not, my friends, we actually went to a hospital that treats falcons.

When the hospital started, they only treated the falcons of the Royal family. It didn’t take long for them to branch out to other falconers in the area. In the beginning, they treated sick and injured birds, but over the years they have taught the owners of falcons the value of preventative medicine. Which is really what every vet wants, right?

The first stop on our tour was the museum. In it, we learned the different types of falcons and the prey they are capable of taking down. We also learned that falcons are not indigenous to this area. Thousands of years ago, the Bedouin would catch the falcon as it migrated south to Africa for the winter. For 14 days, the bird never left the arm of a human, so they would become like family. After that, the bird was taught to hunt. The Bedouins treated the falcons as family, sharing meals with her and never caging her. During the summer it was too hot in the desert for the falcon, so they would release them as the falcons were migrating back north.

Today, falcons are an endangered species, so cannot be caught from the wild. All falcons used in falconry are bred and raised in captivity. While falcons are very strong and extremely fast and can take down a small gazelle, they are fragile birds and are susceptible to stress. Therefore, they are never caged, but always treated as family. Falconers often travel to other countries with their birds for sporting competitions. To streamline and be able to control the falcons, they are now all tagged and micro chipped. Because the falcons are never caged, when they travel, they have a seat on the airplane. And they have their very own passport.

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It is stamped upon arrival in any country and also has visas. This is a way to keep track of the falcons.

The falcon (and danged if I can remember the name of the particular one) is the National Bird of the UAE.

As you can see, falcons are very special here.

 

After the history lesson, we went into the actual hospital.

 

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Here are some patients, patiently waiting their turn to be seen. They all have hoods on and are tethered to the perch. This keeps them safe. The reason for the hood is that these birds do not know one another, and if the hood is off, she will see lunch sitting right beside her and attack. While they have a sense of smell, their sight is really what is helping them hunt.

You might have noticed that I have called them all “her”. This is because in the world of falcons, the females are alpha. They are bigger by a third and faster by almost half. Therefore, most of the falcons used in the sport are females.

All of these birds are in for preventative care, such as having their talons trimmed or vaccinations and such. We were fortunate to be able to see a falcon get her nails and beak trimmed. First they give her some anesthetic. Here is an interesting note, the falcon when it comes to, is sharp and ready to go. They don’t have the groggy, dizzy like other animals (and people) do. It was amazing to watch her wake up and be so alert.

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Most of the vet techs are trained in the U.S. and then get their falcon experience pretty much on the job.

After she woke up and had her hood put back on, it was time for us to hold the falcons.

 

 

 

Me! Me! Me! Pick me!

 

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Everybody was lucky enough to hold the falcon. She is heavier than you would think. The females weigh between 1.5 and 3 kilos (for us Americans – that means 3 to 6.5 pounds). She is solid, let me tell you.

Because CGMan was the biggest fella in the room, he was chosen for a special demonstration.

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He got to feed her!

She was given a small quail (already nicely cleaned, thankyouverymuch) and made lunch of it very  quickly, bones and all.

 

 

 

 

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This hospital has won prestigious awards from all over the world for their research and conservation efforts on behalf of the falcon. The doctor that gave us the tour recently discovered a new disease in falcons. It was awesome.

At the falcon hospital, they also board the birds if the owners have to go away or during molting season. Now this is really interesting. The falcon takes six months to change it’s feathers. During that time, they do not hunt. This is also during the summer months when it’s too hot for them to be out. Some owners will take their birds to molt at the Falcon Hospital for six months.

When they do this, it is organized because the birds all have to be put in together at the same time, so they can become a unit. The birds are tethered to where they can see one another, but not be able to reach one another to fight. After a week or so, they are comfortable with each other and become as a family. They then live together in this “flight aviary” (of which there are two on the premises) until they are done molting.

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  This is a really big tent. It has several perches and two watering holes. The doctor tells us that falcons don’t necessarily need to drink a lot of water because they get their fluid from the meat, but some falcons like to take a bath every day. They are free to do as they choose while in here. Some fly laps for an hour or more. At each end is an enclosed alcove that is air conditioned. This way, the birds are never too hot or subjected to the extreme summer temperatures.

Once the birds are in here, no other birds can be introduced, because they are not “family” and would become prey. If one of these birds should get sick or injured, it could not be re-introduced. Once it’s gone, it is no longer part of the family.  So these birds live together for 6 months or so, get all new feathers and then go home for the cooler months.

So there you have our trip to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. I hope you enjoyed it, because man oh man, I sure did.

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It is my fervent desire that this will be the only hospital we see on this trip. We still have the Dune Bashing adventure yet, so hopefully I didn’t just jinx myself.

P.S. I learned way more about falcons than I chose to bore you with, so if you have any questions, please ask. If I know the answer I’ll be glad to share it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I am so very thankful…

It’s almost too much for words, all that I am thankful for. Let me just hit the high points:

I am thankful for the love of my family, (parents, siblings, children and future grandchildren) as stretched to the far corners as we are. 

I am thankful for my husband who works so hard (and far away) so I can be a stay-at-home wife. It allows me to be available for the rest of the family whenever and wherever they may need me.

I am thankful that cancer is no longer an issue in our family. ORMom and CGMan had a tough year, but they made it through. They stronger than anyone I know.

I am thankful for my dogs. If it weren’t for them, I would have nothing to make me laugh at least once a day.

I am thankful, too, for all of you. You take time out of your day to stop in and see what’s going on in Dawn’s world. I enjoy having you.

No matter how or where you spend it, I hope your Thanksgiving is a special day.

*cue the Christmas music!*

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday…

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(For the curious; he secured the camera to a metal brace and then ran it out on a string. He took the picture with remote control. And now that I look at it from that angle? What was I thinking??)

 

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Another reason we were not to escape the basket after landing; he wanted to get a picture of our scared smiling faces.

Monday, November 23, 2009

State of mind…

state of mind- noun
   -
a temporary psychological state

Yes, my friends, I have entered that temporary psychological state known as “Christmas Season”.  I can’t help it, I just get so excited with the holidays.

I know this year I pushed the envelope by putting up my tree the day after Halloween. But truly, there were extenuating circumstances.  I wasn’t then in the Christmas state of mind. I was merely being pragmatic for my return to Austin on the first of December. I wanted to be ready. Ready for Christmas.

But now? Now that it is officially the holiday season? I am one with Christmas! Let the baking begin!

Actually, the baking won’t truly begin until I get home to my nice, big kitchen with the double wall ovens. It’s a little hard to think about the batches and batches of Christmas cookies when looking at this little propane heated ovenette.

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But know this…even while I’m in Abu Dhabi, I am thinking about Christmas cookies.

And for the curious, yes, the stores here are now being decorated for the Christian holiday known as Christmas. I’ve mentioned before that the population of Abu Dhabi is more than 70% non-Arab. Of those, over half are non-Muslim. Being good businessmen, they cater to their biggest clientele, the expatriate Christmas shopper.

I found it quite interesting to see the Muslim ladies walking through the mall that was being decorated with 100 foot Christmas trees. When I’m out next, I’ll get a picture or two.

Until then, I’ll be looking at cookie recipes and listening to Christmas music on my iPod.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Who says size doesn’t matter? (Edited)

 

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When the shrimps are as big as the steaks, I would say size matters!

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These bad boys are about 1/3 of a pound. EACH.

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Oh, don’t even think about trying to escape! You are so going on the barbie!

For those of you dying to know, they were about $5 each. As I post this, they are still in the bowl. Dinner isn’t for a couple of hours yet, but I wanted to share my exciting grocery store find with you. I’ll let you know how they turned out.

So what are you having for dinner?

Edited to add:

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These were so very good! I can’t wait to make them again. I’ll peel them, then wrap in bacon and grill. mmmMMM.  Deeelish!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Goat, it’s what’s for dinner.

The Central Market in Al Ain is the local livestock market. I have often referred to it as the “camel market” because it is that, along with a sheep market, a goat market and a cattle market.

When we came to the camel market earlier this year, it was in the process of moving from the old location to this new “Central Market” which would house everything. There wasn’t a lot to see. Mostly camel stalls with the few goat stalls on the other side of the road. But now, a few months later, it is a bustling livestock souk (which means marketplace).

It was so interesting to see a black clad lady picking out a couple of goats. The market vendors will even put them in the back seat of your car, or the rear of the SUV. Honestly, I wish I had thought to get a picture of that. However, I am very cautious of aiming my camera at the ladies. It is improper to photograph them, so sometimes I miss a good shot because I don’t want to offend.

Here is a picture of what she had to choose from:

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Don’t ask me what kind tastes better or how you would choose. I have no idea what it looks like before it gets to my plate with curry and white rice.

After seeing our fill of goats going off with their new cooks families, we wandered over to the camel section. Because really, that’s what I came to see.

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I don’t know what it is about them I find so attractive. They stink. They spit. They’re loud. But when they turn their heads to smile at you with their big camel lips and coquettish eyes, I just want to take one home.

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Most of them look pretty relaxed. They must know that they are the racing or breeding camels and not the dinner camels.

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When they lay down like that, for some reason it reminds me of Phoebe. IMG_2354

How something so bulky can curl up into something so small, I just don’t know.

 

 

 

 

 

Watching them load the camels for the trip home is always interesting because sometimes the camel just doesn’t want to go.

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This camel was the last one in and really didn’t want to get squeezed in. He kept backing up and braying (I said they were loud), but a few swats to the butt, he finally wedged himself in and lay down with the rest of them. Again, how they can make themselves so small, I just don’t know.

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    This one was hoping to catch the next truck.

 

 

 

 

 

These last two were quite sweet. They kept leaning toward me as if to get a little kiss, but it could have meant they wanted to bite my face off. No, I joke, they’re really not mean. In fact, camels are affectionate and inquisitive, but they tend to be emotional. They can remember when they have been wronged or mistreated. And that’s when they’ll bite. They’re different than horses, in that while they like the human company, they prefer to have other camels around them.

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As we were leaving, we spotted this momma with her newborn. If I had had a just a little more spending money….someone would have had a camel for Christmas!

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Stay tuned for more Abu Dhabi adventures. Next week we are going Dune Bashing. Yeah, I’m still wondering about those pajamas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Up, up and awayyyy…in my beautiful balloon!

I don’t think about my bucket list very often. I have one, I mean we all have one, right? Things we want to do before we die. Mine is rather vague. I don’t really have a set list. Here’s usually how it goes: an opportunity will present itself and I ask myself, “Self? think this may be our only chance to do this? Should we give it a go, so we can say we did it before we die?” And usually my self will say, “Hell, yeah!”

An opportunity presented itself this past weekend. A group from CGMan’s work put together a trip to the desert to ride a hot air balloon at sunrise. Self and I didn’t debate long at all. We and another couple loaded up and headed out. We went a day ahead so we could be there first thing in the morning.

It was a beautiful, clear morning and watching them blow up the balloons was amazing.

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Then we had a couple of lessons on how to jump in the basket when it was time. We had to do it quickly because when the balloon is ready to go, it’s ready to go.

We all jumped in our basket and lifted off before the other balloon.

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We went to an altitude of 4,000 meters to watch the sunrise.

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After that, we lowered a bit to catch some wind and drift across the desert. We didn’t see any camels, but we did see some desert gazelles. They were fun to watch and amazingly fast. They didn’t care for our noisy balloons.

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And they are noisy! When the pilot wasn’t blowing the flame up into the balloon, it was very quiet and serene. Unfortunately, you can’t do that long because the balloon starts to sink. When he pulls the lever for the fire, it’s very loud. And hot. I was standing right next to him.

We sailed over the desert for a little while.

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Then it was time to land. Let me just say, the landing is not as pretty as the lift off. During the flight we practiced our landing positions. We were also instructed not to try to escape the basket after landing. He would let us know when we could safely leave the basket.

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Then he warned us it would be rough. I had a hint when we practiced the landing position for the second time. Hands on the rope, squat and press your back against the back of the basket. Our backs were to the landing, so when he had us “assume the position” we did not see that we were going to hit the sand, tip over and then drag for about 50 meters. On our backs.

Being next to him, I could see that he was steering and letting the hot air out of the balloon, all the while the wind was pulling us across the desert floor, and letting us know, “Not to worry (in his Polish accent) this is norrrrmal.”  I could not help but flash back to my last vacation and wondered if the hospitals in Abu Dhabi would provide pajamas. What is it with us and our “extreme vacations”?

But safely we did land and had to wait in the basket, on our backs, for all the air to leave the balloon, lest we catch some wind and be dragged further. I didn’t mind, because I was quite comfortable. Couples were encouraged to “spoon”, if you will, for landing, so with CGMan behind me, I was now very comfortably on top of him, while he was on his back. After only a minute or two, we were allowed to get out of the basket.

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We were in the top quadrant. I feel bad for the folks on the bottom, they got sand down their shirts.

I can now add crash landing a hot air balloon to my list of things I’ve done before I die. I only have one thing to say about it:

It. was. awesome.

Join us next time for:

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a trip to the camel market!

(There’s your camel, Meg)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You can pick your friends…

Dear man in the middle seat,

I’m judging by the grey in your hair that you are at least a few years older than me. Which at the very least, means you’re older than five. I shouldn’t have to remind a gentleman in your stage of life that it is gross to pick your nose. And really, really uncouth to continue to pick your nose for most of the hour flight to Houston.

I’m sure you thought you were being stealthy,  and maybe the flight attendant didn’t notice, but I, in the seat next to the nose picking hand, noticed each and every drill. I mean really, if there were that much in your nose, don’t you think a tissue would have been a little more beneficial?

Thank gawd for the man on the other side of you. He obviously didn’t notice the continual booger boring, for he engaged you in enough conversation for you to finally stop with the endless probing. Although, I did have to cringe when you shook his hand while exiting the plane. I’m sorry, nice man in the aisle seat. Way to take one for the team.

And people wonder why I stick my head in a book and make no eye contact when I fly.

Sincerely,
Woman in the window seat