The Duncan Adventures
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Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Ramadan 2014, Expat Style.


This week we welcomed the start of the Eid-Al-Fitr celebrations where people rejoyce celebrating with banquets and parties and some well earned days off work. These celebrations signify the end of Ramadan 2014. 

For those who don't follow Islam, Ramadan can be a strange and bewildering time. Most Non-Muslims are intimidated by the very thought of leading such a restricted life for 30 days. Many of these families will take the opportunity to use their annual vacation and head to the airport in ridiculous numbers to get out of town and ignore it altogether. 

This year I didn't have a choice whether I was going to be in town or not as we had already taken our vacation early due to family commitments. I wasn't exactly thrilled at the thought of it but I had a simple choice - drag it out and be miserable like last year or embrace and enjoy it. Thankfully I chose the latter and in all honesty I have really enjoyed the past month!! So I wanted to share with you how I spent my Ramadan as a Non-Muslim in Oman.

First, let me rewind a little to the previous year - I was newly pregnant, extremely sick in the intense summer heat and most of my friends had skipped town for the month. My negative outlook on the month of Ramadan manifested from being sick, bored and lonely. In all honesty I did not understand the culture and the fasting. This made the month drag past so slowly and it really was no fun at all. This is why I knew that I had to change my mindset for this year.



This year I have so many more Muslim friends and acquaintances that celebrate the holy month and their excitement and enthusiasm had rubbed off on me. I was excited for them like I would be excited for our own Christmas celebrations. During our Christmas party I was in awe of one of my Muslim girlfriends joining in with us, not because she believes in Christmas but because she wanted to join something that made us happy. At that point I knew that I wanted to to understand her celebrations like she does with mine. I began to educate myself as to why things happen the way that they do in Muslim culture and this was huge turning point for me to understand and more willing to accept.

Having to refrain from eating and drinking in public places can be very difficult in the intense heat, especially as Ramadan landed in the peak of the summer with the mercury hitting over 40 degrees, so to avoid dehydration we spent most of our time indoors whether it be at home, in friends homes or at the Mall. The difference from last year to this year is that I was prepared. I knew what to expect and to plan activities to keep us occupied.


Here are a few examples of things that kept me busy for the past month:


  • Going to delicious Iftar meals at the Shangri La and the Grand Hyatt
  • Experimented cooking with some new recipes and perfecting some old ones
  • Started a project to learn HTML coding. As a Blogger I often need to alter my blogs HTML code and it really intimidates me so I took a course to feel more confident.
  • A great trip camping at Jebel Shams
  • Bought a new camera for blogging so watched lots and lots of tutorials to try and learn some new skills.
  • Colin celebrated his birthday and we threw a big birthday party for our friends
  • We hosted a dinner party for friends
  • I made a point of taking quiet time to read an actual book instead of just newspapers and iBooks. I read 'The Fault in our Stars' by John Green.
  • Baby groups with Spencer and lots of reading and play time

My favorite part of Ramadan is Iftar! (The breaking of fast at sun down). The happy, celebratory vibe around the evening dinner table is infectious! I was lucky enough to spend these meal times with my family, friends and lots of new friends. We ate lots of food, we chatted, we laughed and then ate even more food! I'm actually quite sad that I have to wait until next year for more Iftar, no other meal times have the same kind of atmosphere.


A rare moment of quiet time in the Duncan house

Throughout the day instead of going out to eat we have been eating and drinking at home and taking the time to prepare and cook our own meals. It is quite amazing how much money we have saved in a month just by stopping the lunching, brunching and take away coffees!

Trying to perfect 'Millionaire Shortbread' - Mmmmm!


For me, by taking on some new projects and setting myself goals it helped the days to pass by in a flash and I didn't dwell too much on the negatives. It was actually quite nice to make the time to chill out instead of dash around town all the time running errands.


Spencer and I have been reading more books together




During the Holy Month women must take extra care to cover themselves and respect the culture. Thankfully women in Oman are not forced to cover themselves by wearing any kind of Abaya, Burka, head scarf or face veil. This allows us freedom to chose what we wear but during Ramadan it can be tricky to find clothes that are culturally appropriate yet cool enough in the scorching temperatures.

Below are a few examples of my Ramadan clothing choices. As you can see, I am still modestly covered but incorporating my own style at the same time.


My Ramadan Style




Now that Ramadan is finished for another year the Expats start flying back into town in the masses, we can get back to our caffeine fix during sunlight hours and generally things just go back to the chilled way of life. Although it will be nice to get back into normal daily life again I wish that we could keep the happy and charitable community spirit of Ramadan all year round!

As much as I managed to embrace the culture this year there is one thing that I really struggle without - Starbucks! Ohhh soya latte in the morning I have missed you!

To my Expat friends, If you find yourself in the country for the next Ramadan there is no need to be afraid! Try to keep and open mind and embrace the culture and everything else will fall into place.


Wishing you all a happy and blessed Eid Mubarak from my family to yours.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Last Minute Jebel Shams Adventure

If I am perfectly honest with you, dear reader, I hate camping. I really do. It scares the beejesus out of me and it's never been something I have enjoyed. Do you remember camping as a kid there would always be one that makes it to 10pm and then has to come indoors? Yep, that was me! My hatred of camping is not because I am scared of the dirt or the cold, it is because when I was a young impressionable little soul I heard some scary stories and I can't shake them from my thoughts. So... I have only slept in a tent once before in my life.

For the past week my friends have been planning a camping trip to get out of town for a change of scenery and in search of some cooler weather. Even though I wanted to join in the fun I had talked myself out of it so many times that I just declined.

On the morning of their trip my friend, Erin, turned up at my house to borrow a cool box. With a quick "are you sure that you don't want to come?!" and Colin chiming in with a "Please go, Me and Spencer will have a boys night" combined with my weak, hungover state and a brief moment of madness I they had convinced me and I found myself agreeing.

The downside - they were all meeting up in half an hour and I wasn't no where near organised from the party the night before. I was still in my PJ's had the previous nights make up on. 

Our destination was to be the famous 'Jebel Shams'. Somewhere that I am embarrassed to say that I have never been before. 


In our convoy up the steep, dusty mountain roads

Heading out of town on the Nizwa road the first 1.5 hours is on easy driving black top road. Easy peasy. Once you get get through Nizwa and onto Bahla - you may know the name 'Bahla' from the folk tales in Oman of black magic, or Jinn, and all sorts of crazy goings on - the road starts to get narrower and windier until you hit the dust tracks.

On the way you pass by the old village of Ghul built into the surrounding hillside. How beautiful!! It is quite amazing to think that the people who lived in these simple stone houses only moved out around 30 years ago.



Jebel Shams is part of the Al Hajar mountain range and is famous for being the highest peak being around 3,000m above sea level. In English Jebel Shams means "mountain of sun". It is located 240km (149 miles) from Muscat, it is a good 2-3 hour drive making it far away enough that it is lovely to get out of town but not too far that it is a huge expedition.

We were heading for the South Summit, close to the Jebel Shams Resort, A 4x4 car isn't essential to make it up this trail but I wouldn't feel comfortable driving anything else. The dirt road is well built but still, it is still a dirt road. A few saloon cars were making the journey but were painfully slow. We flicked into 4 wheel drive and off we went up the hillside.


Pajero Power en route


Our final destination that was to be the camp site was a lovely flat ledge on the side of Wadi Al Nakhur Gorge, otherwise known as the Grand Canyon of Arabia. I had heard that the Arab world had it's own "Grand Canyon" but I did not expect it to be this amazing! The views are spectacular!

You need a head for heights around here as we were up above 2,050 meters above sea level. Yikes! As we arrived mid afternoon the temperature was a lovely 36 degrees, that made quite a change from the sweaty 44 degrees we had experienced just an hour previously before we started the steep incline. 

Oman is well known as a geologists paradise where they travel from all around the world to study the rock formations, from here you can see why!

To give you an idea of just how huge this canyon is, look at the below picture and try to spot the village on the wadi floor.


The Grand Canyon of Arabia


Having a staring competition with a goat


Making memories with some amazing friends

I couldn't resist taking a selfie with a mountain goat. I would be lying if I said I only took one picture... My phone is now full of them.


As we set up camp for the night Joey & Myself were assigned the task of collecting the firewood to make the camp fire. My pot of noodles weren't going to be any good without boiling water from the fire. Many of these trees can be deceiving, they look dry and brittle but inside they are very much alive and what would already have fallen was mostly eaten by goats.

Between us our efforts were pretty lousy but luckily for us - and the others - we could head back along the track to the resort as they sold wood for campfires. It wasn't cheap but it was worth it to have a decent campfire. Next time I know to bring fire wood!




This photo of a hungry goat is my favorite by far!

"Would you like a vanilla cupcake?"


After I fed my new friend and took some pictures I soon regretted it as all his little - and the not so little, some of these fellas have huge horns - were in hot pursuit also looking for cupcakes and other tasty treats.

Do you ever get the feeling that you are being watched?


Camping 101 - No campfire is complete without marshmallows on a stick! One of the other guys brought a wok to stir fry chicken and vegetables. I am definitely learning some tricks for future camping expeditions!



All was well and I managed to get 3 hours of sleep in the tent before the rain started. Rain? Yes rain! Whoooo. Even though it was the middle of the night and I was shattered a spot of rain is still a novelty, especially in the summer months in the Middle East. Then I remembered that my car windows were open. Crap. Off I pottered with my PJ's on in the pitch black darkness over the rocky ground to close the bloomin' car windows.

So it was back to sleep for a short while the curious goats rumaged through the campsite looking for food. Not long after sunrise the screaming started... It turns out the hungry goats wern't the problem, a HUGE spider had decided to come and visit us in our tent.


Does anyone know if this is a camel spider or not?!


Thankfully I survived the night and despite my hatred of camping I had a great time! I am so glad that I spent a night out of my comfort zone and finally got to see Jebel Shams for myself. For me, one night camping was long enough and I surewas glad to get home for a hot shower and my own bed.

So that brings my total in my life time to two nights in a tent...

Have you been to Jebel Shams? If not, I would highly recommend a visit.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A very grand Iftar at The Grand Hyatt


Last night I had the privilege of being invited by Qatar Airways to attend an Iftar dinner all in the name of everything social media. The event took place at one of my favorite hotels in town, The Grand Hyatt Muscat.

Just incase you aren't clued up on what "Iftar" means then please let me explain - Iftar is the Arabic word for 'breakfast' and is the meal eaten when Muslims break their fast at sundown during the holy month of Ramadan. Iftar is usually a meal eaten with family and friends and is a time for bringing people together. As a Non-Muslim being invited to join such an event is an honor.


If you follow me on Instagram - find me here - then you will have seen some of my pictures already. You may also have noticed that in the past 3 weeks of Ramadan I have been to 4 Iftars already. This is my favourite thing about Ramadan for sure! The food is amazing but I also love the spirit of it and it's a time to be social together.


Recently I read a very funny blog post by Hey Fat Su called "How to dress to eat". Fat Su explains what clothing you should wear for optimum food indulgence without any fashion mishaps. She has made these mistakes so you don't have to! Iftar is a time of eating, well in my case gorging myself, so I was going to make the most of it and had to dress appropriately. On her advice I made some wise clothing choices.

This was my outfit for the evening

The Iftar tent at the Hyatt was so beautiful and dream like with the light, floaty fabrics and the ornate lamp shade leaving shadows around the room.


Goodie bags!! Whoooo!


It is traditional to break the fast with dates. There were plenty available but I chose some dried apricots instead which made a nice change. And then it was on to the real business!

The selection of different foods was extensive for all tastes and appetites. It ranged from soups and salads to fish and lamb dishes. I took Nicole's great recommendation and tried some of the Lebanese Tabouleh. 

You see the chap in the below picture? Well I'm thinking of asking him to be my best friend... He made the most amazing schwarmas and that is high praise from me - I am quite the schwarma expert don't you know!


When I looked back through my pictures it seems that I have spent more time taking pictures of the deserts than the rest of the foods. It's obvious to tell which course is my favorite!




Mr Official Camera Man appeared on front of us to take the group photos right after my third plate of food.. Moving at the pace of a slug and trying to suck my stomach in I obliged to the pictures. Why do I eat so much food?! There were pictures aplenty so I shall update the Blog, Instagram, Facebook when I see them myself- Providing I don't look like a dough ball who just ate 3 plates of food, of course.

No social media event is the same without a group selfie!
                      Can you spot any of the local Blogerati in the picture??



Meeting the guys from Qatar Airways and hearing all about their upcoming projects was a pleasure. Did you know that Qatar Airways flies from Muscat to over 125 destinations?! I certainly didn't!


It was a wonderful evening with delicious food and great company. Thank you so much to the Grand Hyatt for their hospitality and to for Qatar Airways for inviting me to be part of the event.




PS- Qatar Airways... Any time you want to give me free flights to Miami that would be lovely. Thanks! :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Date Night - Rumba Lattina


It is not often these days that Colin & Myself manage to have a date night alone. Never mind going to an actual nice place to eat instead of junk food and asleep by 10pm. Last night we made the effort to spend some time together and headed to 'Rumba Lattina' the new Latin American restaurant at 'The Cave'. 

If you don't already know of 'The Cave' it is a new development just off the Qurum Heights road and perched on the side of the cliff overlooking Darsait. It is built with steel and concrete but great efforts have been made to camouflage the building into the surrounding landscape. I believe that there will 8 different restaurants over 3 floors and will have the capacity to seat 1,600 guests at any one time.



We had heard many positive things about Rumba Lattina so jumped at the chance for a nice meal together. 

My initial reaction of the building and location was very impressive. I expected a restaurant in a cave to be something gimmicky and tacky but this place was something very different. It had a fun, holiday feel and something very different for Oman.


Rumba Lattina is spilt into three sections - first is the outdoor seating area with palm trees, lights and soon to be shisha area. As you come in the front door past the greeting area is the main dining section with lots of seating and towards the back is the drinks bar. The bar acts as a divider between the third section which is the club area. There is a large TV screen, pool tables, dance floor, smoking room, VIP area and DJ booth.

I love the fact that Muscat has a new hang out to dance and have a good time with friends without being hidden away. When the new Colombian DJ arrives this may just be the new place to be seen in Muscat!

Before our food we headed to the bar area where the Venezualan bar tender, Johnny, was at the ready to mix us up some mocktails. After a long time studying the drinks menu I couldn't decide so I told Johnny what flavors I liked - definitely no coconut for me- and in minutes he whipped up the most amazing cocktail made just for me. 



Johnny entertained us by skillfully throwing bottles in the air and juggling fruit. 


It is clear to see that there has been a lot of thought put into the decor with lots of authentic touches, mostly imported specially from Latin America. 

The atmosphere is warm, friendly and fun. It is very easy to forget that you are in Oman at all. 

From the front of house staff to the chefs in the kitchen all the staff are from Latin America which gives it a real authentic feel.



For starters I began with a Peruvian dish of "Aguachile" - butterfly shrimps marinaded in a serrano green chilli & lime garnished with cucumber & red onion. Price 3.9 rials. Great quality shrimps and a huge portion for an appetizer!

Colin went for the Mexican "Caldo De Queso" which is a cheese broth with potatoes, bell peppers, corn & fresh mozzarella cheese. Price 3.5 rials. He really enjoyed the soup and was impressed with himself for trying something new.




For main course I chose a Brazilian dish of "Seafood Fettucini" which was an assortment of seafood with octopus, shrimp, fish, mussels, cachaca chipolte sauce tossed through fettuicine. Cost 8.4 rials. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish. The portion was huge and the flavors were great, unlike anything else I have eaten in Muscat for a long time.

Colin chose the Venezuelan "Pabellon Venezolano" - twice cooked shreaded beef served with seasoned rice, black beans and tajada. Cost 7.4 rials. I would have taken a picture of his meal but before I got the camera he had already tucked in and making very appreciative noises.

Seafood Fettucini


After the main courses we were suitably stuffed but we couldn't resist sampling some of the desserts, of course it would be rude not to!

Once again Colin and his new found enthusiasm for food chose something different to his usual preference with a desert of poached pears. By this point I forgot what the official names were and the prices - I was in a completely satisfied food daze. He was most impressed with the pears and literally ate until he couldn't take another bite.

I chose the chocolate brownie with lime ice cream on the sizzling skillet. The brownie was so chocolatey and tasty! I REALLY enjoyed it!

Sizzling hot chocolate brownie

Some advice from me to you - go with a good appetite and a stretchy waist band. The portions are large and you won't want to stop eating! The prices are all very reasonable for the large portions and quality of the food served.

The rumors are that after Ramadan & Eid they can then apply for their liquor licence. A Columbian DJ, exotic cocktails and a great atmosphere is sure to be a winning combination. Other establishments in Muscat should be following this lead!

You can visit the website page for The Cave here, hopefully they are working on a more detailed website to showcase all the different places to eat.

We had a great date night together and enjoyed taking some time out together as Husband and Wife again rather than always Mummy & Daddy. I very much look forward to the next date night. Hint, Hint Colin!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Spencer's 5 Month Update


Our little champ is already 5 months old, oh how time flies!! He is no longer a teeney tiny newborn, he is a strong little unit with a whole personality of his own and two teeth. Yes, you read that correctly - TWO teeth!

I have been meaning to do this update for a long time now. Actually I've missed out every other month so lets start a fresh from now as I know that he has Nanny, Grandad's, Aunts, Uncles and many people who love him that want updated with his progress - so here we go...


My grumpy little teether finally fallen asleep on the rocking chair


Weight:
Spencer weighs 8.2kg, that's a whopping 18lbs. Yep, that is a whole stone and 4lbs. Convert it anyway you want - this guy is a heavy chunk of baby cuteness! The Baby Bjorn carrier has been packed away as I can no longer carry him like that.

Health:
He is a healthy lad with no obvious problems. Teething has been a big problem for him the past month but that is all normal for his age. His bottom two teeth have cut through the gum at the same time and I am praying that gives him some relief. I've tried Calpol, Panadol, Ashton & Parsons teething sachets, ice toys, chewy toys - can you suggest anything else?



Development:
Spencer can already stand and he will bear all his weight on his legs and with me only holding onto his hands for balance. Rolling has been mastered so we can't leave him unattended on any bed or change table anymore. He is desperate to be able to sit up on his own and often tryies to pull himself up from lying by holding onto your hands or the sides of his cot.

Sleep:
I have always felt very fortunate that this little lad loves his sleep and has slept through the night (more than 6 hours at a time) since 10 weeks. I put a lot of this down to the fact that he was in his room from a very young age, if he cries I will go to him but I won't pick him up unless he really needs me to. How do I say that without sounding like a horrible mum? I do believe in sleep training from a young age where possible. He generally takes a 40 minute nap in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.

For bedtime he will go down to sleep at 7.30pm and then have a dream feed at 11pm. Hopefully from there he will sleep right through until 6.30am or later.

By month 4 he decided that he no longer likes to sleep on his back and will always put himself onto his front or his side. I was terrified of this at first but now he is very strong and able to roll himself back over if he needs to instead of burying his face in the mattress.


For sleeping time he puts himself on his front and has started to stick his bum up up in the air


Social:
This is one smiley, happy boy who loves to meet new people and stare right into their eyes! He has an infectious gummy smile that makes people laugh.

Since he was a little baby I have introduced him to lots of new people and encouraged them to hold him so he isn't as clingy with me. Clingy babies are cute when you want a cuddle but it isn't practical for the Mum to be the only person that the baby wants to see.

Spencer loves when the gardener Raoul shows him around the garden


Diet:
In a day Spencer will have around 5 bottles of milk. We started to introduce 'Ella's Kitchen' organic pouches for breakfast and for his evening meal. Not so much to fill him up but more to get him to try new foods early on. I plan to make his meals for him at home but first I want to see what foods he likes. So far he loves apples, butternut squash, carrot and prune but has a strong dislike for blueberries.

Giraffe on the menu tonight - He is now old enough to hold and properly chew 'Sophie'


Routine:
This little guy loves a routine and some structure in his day, he must get that from me!

We found our routine naturally by following the signs he gave us when he was tired and hungry. In a day I know that he will always get up from 6.30am onwards, through the day he will have two naps and will go down for bed for 7.30pm. It is not strict and to the minute but by sticking to this loosely (give or take 15-30 minutes) helps me to have a happy and well rested little boy.

Such a smiley happy boy


Clothes: All his 3-6 month clothes are getting a big snug and is now wearing some 6-9 month clothes already. I have plenty of new clothes ready to be unpacked for him. For diapers he is in a size 4.

All ready for bed and listening to a story


Likes: Spencer is an active little boy! He loves to jump in his Fisher Price Jumperoo and has really got the hang of it. He LOVES to stand up and can bear all his weight on his legs only holding onto my hands for balance - Lying down is not an option for this boy unless he is sleeping. He loves to look at himself in the mirror thinking that it is another baby, we call him "the boy in the mirror".

Dislikes: One thing Spencer hates is being held like a baby! He will not tolerate it and instead he has to be up and standing. Loud noises upset him as does a double fright -This is when the door bell rings and makes him jump and before he has recovered from that shock the dog barks loudly in response to the doorbell. Cue the tears!

Spencer loves to look at "the boy in the mirror"



I cannot believe that next month Spencer will already be 6 months old. To celebrate we might treat him to a new baby walker to zoom about the house and put those strong legs to good use.

For the next month I am hoping that the poor little soul can have a little rest from teething now that the first two are through.




Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Future Fanatic, Spencer Loves Football


With the final games of the World Cup 2014 fast approaching I wanted to share with you my future football fanatic. As the World Cup games have progressed it seems that Spencer is quite fascinated by the sport. I've tried to deny it and tell myself that he just likes the colors and fast movement but sadly for me, being his non-sport loving Mumma, it appears that he actually likes the game. Darn it!

The below photo was taken two months ago but it is just too cute not to share! Spencer is dressed in the baby version of his Daddy's favorite team, Manchester United.



On yer head son!




Spencer & Nathan watching football together

The good thing about boys being football mad is that they can do it together and the Mum's can leave them to it. Maybe I can go shopping or get my nails done.... If only the World Cup was every year!

You can check out Spencer's blog by clicking here.



(Find all your Fanatics sports gear by clicking here)

Social Media Icons, Come Find Me!


I'm guilty of spending far too many time online and stalking through other peoples social media accounts checking what they have updated on Instagram and who pinned what where on Pinterest.

I'm giving you, Dear Reader, the chance to do the same with my crazy life. You might have noticed that I have updated my social media icons on the right hand side, I have also posted the links below so you can come join me online.

Instead of searching for my name, please come check out 'The Duncan Adventures' on Facebook and give us some likes :)

You can now follow me on: