anniversary number three.

This year, Mr. Mostafa’s and my third wedding anniversary fell on the third day of Eid Al-Fitr. A few days before the anniversary, Mr. Mostafa handed me a pink gift box and told me to open it. Inside was a folded piece of paper. I unfolded the paper and discovered that he had made a booking at the Four Seasons here in Riyadh, located in the Kingdom Tower.

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It was difficult for me to wait a few days to check into our room for some much-appreciated relaxation and room service. When I walked into the room, I jumped around (“like a monkey,” as Mr. Mostafa describes it…he says he knows I’m really happy about something when he sees me “jump like a monkey”), excited at everything. And there was so much to be excited about! Even though Lavender came with us, he had arranged for the room to be decorated all romantical (rose petals everywhere, man).

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The kid done good. But beyond that…the beautiful view! We were on the 40th floor.

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That’s the east side of Riyadh, by the way. We all thought the view was incredible.

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Then there was the huge, ridiculously comfy bed!

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Ooooh la la! Of course, since the room was also set up to host Miss Lavender, the romance was negated somewhat.

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There were actual roses, too! Not just petals!

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And magnificent chocolate cake.

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Lavender, however, found most appetizing the leg of the table with an ice bucket and a bottle of sparkling grape juice.

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We took turns taking baths (while the other person was on Lavender duty). I spent a whole lot of time reading in a bubble bath. Yesssss.

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We lounged around the room in fluffy, soft bathrobes.

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We ordered lots and lots of room service food.

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And we may have taken home a few of these adorable little jars of jam.

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We watched The Daily Show and The Colbert Report (two shows we don’t get on our TV at home). We took nice long naps in the big, comfy bed.

Like I said, Lavender was with us, so it wasn’t quite the interlude that it might have been sans kids, but you know what? We all had an awesome time. It was wonderful, and I wouldn’t have changed anything. Not for the world. I love every moment with this guy, and even more, I love the family that we’ve become. Namely, a family who loves to chill in the Four Seasons.

eid fun.

The Eid al-Fitr holiday, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, is actually a three-day public holiday here in Saudi Arabia. People exchange presents, visit extended family members, and enjoy Eid parties. Most places are closed on the first day of Eid, but shops and restaurants start to reopen on the second day.

Our Eid started off relatively low-key. We woke up for fajr, and then Mr. Mostafa went to the masjid for Eid prayers. Soon after he left, I started doing some random cleaning around the apartment while Lavender continued to sleep in bed. It was a calming morning–the sun was rising outside, and as much as I love Ramadan, I was thrilled that I would be heading downstairs in a few minutes to eat a big, yummy Eid breakfast with my in-laws, with no concern for fasting.

Suddenly, I heard Lavender screaming in the bedroom, and I sprinted to her. It looked like she was still sleeping, but tears were streaming down her face as she kicked and screamed like someone was attacking her. I’d read about night terrors before, but I’d never seen a child having one, and I panicked. I scooped her up and began to comfort her, although she continued to cry for a few minutes.

For the rest of the day, she was a bit fussy and a lot clingy. When we went downstairs to eat Eid breakfast and exchange presents, she got scared of one of her presents, a large Hello Kitty bouncy ball. For lunch, we went out to Copper Chandni for Indian food, and I think she had fun (luckily, she seems to enjoy Indian food as much as her parents do), but she was more demanding than usual. If she could talk, I’m sure her proclamations would have sounded something like, “Give me parathas now, minions!”

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In the evening, we got dressed up and went to Mr. Mostafa’s grandmother’s house to visit family members.

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Once we got there, Miss Lavender was uncharacteristically standoffish. She didn’t want anyone to hold her except for me or Baba; the only way she could be lured out of our laps was if someone was holding an iPhone with an interesting YouTube song playing (this song is currently among her favorites; it’s about a little boy trying to get the attention of his family members. She also enjoys pretty much anything on the Super Simple Songs channel, and she’s into some vintage Sesame Street as well, in both English and Arabic, foisted on her by her parents, both of whom were avid Sesame Street fans in their youths and respective languages). At one point, her auntie attempted to swing her in the air, an activity that usually leaves her shrieking with glee. This time, though, she burst into tears and screamed in terror.

She was just not havin’ it.

Things got better as Eid went on. After the little one demonstrated that she was in no mood for more family gatherings (we tried to tell her that everyone just wants to hold and play with her because she’s adorable, but alas, she did not seem receptive to our explanations), we decided that the three of us would go for a picnic in King Abdullah Park, which is lovely, full of grass, and has a very cool fountain show.

So, with the help of my mother-in-law, we packed a picnic, which included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, gahwa, tea, water, dates, and a couple of Kit Kats. Once we got to the super-crowded park, we staked out a section of the grass, spread out our picnic blanket, set up our picnic chairs (which sit directly on the ground and look kind of like this, and which we bought from a vendor outside the park), parked Lavender’s stroller next to our blanket, and relaxed. We broke out the finjals (disposable and shabby chic) and sipped gahwa while we chatted and observed the bustle around us.

Lavender, meanwhile, was conked out in her stroller, and she got in a good nap. So the whole family was relaxing, it seems.

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There was a huge stage set up in the park, as well, where traditional Saudi dances and songs were being performed by artists from all around Saudi Arabia. We sat behind the stage area, because it was incredibly crowded around the stage. But it was so nice to hear the music being played and the cheering going on behind us.

I broke out my new camera (I bid farewell to my DLSR a few weeks ago and I haven’t regretted it yet; a good compact camera is so much better for street photography, especially here in Saudi Arabia) and snapped some pictures of the families surrounding us on the grass, also picnicking and enjoying the Eid.

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King Abdullah Park is right next to the Faisal bin Fahad soccer (okay, okay, football) stadium, so our picnic spot also put us in an amazing location to watch the fireworks show that takes place at 11:15 each night of Eid, with the fireworks being shot off from the stadium. Lavender was awake by the time the fireworks started, and at first, she was upset by the noise. But she snuggled in my lap, I covered her ears with my hands, and within a few minutes, she was watching, amazed. I couldn’t take pictures of the fireworks because my hands were otherwise occupied, but we all had a great time, and our evening was so fantastic that Mr. Mostafa and I have decided that a picnic at King Abdullah Park on at least one night of Eid al-Fitr is now a Hunter-Mostafa family tradition.

Happy Eid to all!

ramadan benefits.

They say that it takes thirty consecutive days of doing something in order for it to stick as a habit. Thus, Ramadan is a perfect time to start working toward establishing those new, good habits that you’ve been meaning to get around to.

I took on several habits this Ramadan, but one area of my life that I think is really changing because of Ramadan is my food habits. Perhaps it’s because I’m growing up (eh, who am I kidding? Probably not), or because I have so much baby weight to lose that I finally decided that it’s about time I start listening to the signals my body is sending. But for whatever reason, I have a feeling I’m emerging from this Ramadan just a bit healthier.

First of all, you have to know that I have always been a sugar addict. I love sugar. Everything tastes better with more sugar. And if by chance I come across some food that I deem “too sweet,” Mr. Mostafa looks at me with pure shock on his face. Whenever I bake, I have to tone down the sweetness if I want my in-laws to actually eat what I make, because Saudis tend to not things as tremendously sweet as we Americans do. If it tastes sweet enough to me, chances are my Saudi in-laws are going to take a few polite bites and never touch the dish again.

Yes, I’ve been told repeatedly that sugar is bad for me, sugar is addictive, sugar is the devil. But I never really noticed how sugar affects my body until this Ramadan.

For the first few days of fasting this year, I would come down with a splitting headache after iftar. This has always been characteristic of my Ramadan fasting days, and I could never figure out why. Then on the third day of Ramadan this year, for some reason I chose to drink water with my iftar meal, instead of the ubiquitous Vimto, a fruit cordial drink that is a staple of the Saudi incarnation of Ramadan.

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And miraculously, no Vimto meant no headache!

I theorized that this was because the Vimto is chock full of sugar, so when I drink it during the fast breaking (i.e., on an empty stomach), it gives me a blood sugar spike, causing a headache. From then on, I only drank water with iftar, and I avoided consuming heavily sweet desserts afterward. And you know what? Zero headaches. The one time during Ramadan when I broke my “no super-sweet foods” rule was when I went out to Maya La Chocolaterie with friends one night and wolfed down a raspberry fondant. And by the time Mr. Mostafa picked me up, my head was splitting.

Another positive effect on my dietary habits this Ramadan has been my withdrawal from caffeine. When it’s not Ramadan, I drink a cup of tea with milk every morning. And when I go out to eat, I usually have a Pepsi as a treat. This is a far cry from my days of drinking two Route 44 Diet Dr. Peppers per day, but it’s still not really a good thing. So since observing how sugar has the potential to give me headaches, I’ve been trying to immediately order water instead of soda whenever I go out to eat. (And when I go to the States in a few months, I’ll order only lemon-berry slushes from Sonic, instead of sodas. Still quite a bit of sugar, but that’s my compromise for now.) I’ll really tackle the tea habit later; on that front, for now, I’m just working on cutting back on the number of sugar cubes that I drop into in each cup and limiting myself to one cup per day. (We’ll see how long that lasts.)

Finally, out of the six Ramadans I have spent fasting thus far, this year’s is only the second in which I haven’t gained weight. I know that it seems like losing weight is a given during Ramadan; after all, when it’s in the summer or even early fall, you’re going totally without food and drink for the majority of the 24 hours in a day. But that has not been the case for me. During the first Ramadan I fasted, I was working full-time and was also a full-time graduate student; I was often too tired to wake up for suhoor, and I was exhausted all the time. I ate only what would not make me sick (protip: don’t eat pizza for iftar. Been there, done that, threw it all up). I lost weight on that one. But during successive Ramadans, I actually gained weight, because I made sure to always eat suhoor, and my routine was such that I didn’t need to wake up or go to bed so early, and thus I was able to stay up later and eat more. And I was able to eat whatever I wanted. And I did.

This Ramadan, I haven’t lost weight, but I haven’t gained weight, either, and I consider that a win. If nothing else, that will be helpful now that I’m about to start eating more healthily and exercising more regularly after Ramadan. As will consuming less sugar.

Really, I am going to eat more healthily and exercise more regularly. I am going to eat more healthily and exercise more regularly. I am going to eat more healthily and exercise more regularly.

I have a plan. I swear.