A Night at The Ritz

Last week I was invited once again to the Ritz Carlton, this time to experience their new Flavours of Sardinia promotion at Azzuro Restaurant. Having experienced the amazing service and beautiful atmosphere of the Ritz several times before, it was an offer I couldn’t turn down.

From the moment my friend and I pulled up to the front gate of the Ritz we both felt like royalty. The valet parked our car, saving us from walking through the brutally cold wind, and after a quick security check, we entered the breathtaking lobby.

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We were escorted to Azzuro and were greeted warmly by the restaurant staff. We chose a seat near the pool for a romantic, luxurious view that simply cannot be beat.

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Within seconds of being seated, we were served Italian spring water as well as a selection of fresh Italian breads along with olive tapenade and olive oil.

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While enjoying the breads (The sundried tomato was amazing! We even asked for seconds.), the chef came to our table to greet us and describe the evening’s menu offerings. I was admittedly nervous because my brain had not made the obvious connection between Sardinia and seafood–and I am firmly anti-seafood. But I decided that since this was a special experience that I’d be a grownup and try the Chef’s creations.

We settled in with our Passion cocktails and waited for our five course meal to begin.

Our first course was a salmon mousse with raw salmon and fig chutney. I’ve already admitted that I’m not a seafood fan, but considering that I don’t like salmon, I found the mousse to be surprisingly tasty when coupled with the fig chutney. My guest absolutely raved about it, however, so if you’re a fan of salmon, the mousse comes highly recommended.

Next we were served a mixed seafood soup. The soup itself was a rich tomato sauce which was incredibly warming and comforting considering the chilly turn of Riyadh’s weather. The portion seafood, a mix of fish, shrimp, muscles, and more, was generous, and again…although I claim to not like seafood, I loved the soup. I was so into eating it that I forgot to take a picture, of course.

After the soup course we were presented with a generous helping of linguine with artichokes and a special kind of caviar. I absolutely loved this dish! I’d always imagined caviar to be briny or salty or disturbingly crunchy, but this was delicious. I ate nearly the entire plate, even though we had two courses left to go.

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The main course was a slow-cooked rack of lamb with vegetables. This was hands down our favorite dish of the evening. The lamb was tender and flavorful and the vegetables were perfectly crunchy and delicious. Again, I nearly cleaned my plate! The only thing that kept me from doing so was the knowledge that dessert was on the way.

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Lastly for dessert we were served canolis (complete with gold, folks, because this is the Ritz) with orange marmalade and chocolate ice cream. Needless to say the dessert was incredibly decadent and another favorite of the night.

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My evening spent tasting my way through Sardinia was overall amazing and it will undoubtedly remain the most luxurious dining experience I’ve ever had. If you’re looking for a place in Riyadh to celebrate a special occasion, for a romantic night out, or of you’re just in the mood to splurge and treat yourself, Azzuro at The Ritz  is the place to be.

Small moments

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I’m sitting in what to me is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places in Riyadh, Acoustic Tea Lounge and Art Gallery. There’s soft acoustic music playing. There are fresh flowers on the tables. There is incredible local artwork covering the walls. It’s freezing outside–in the low 50s–and I’m so happy.

Little moments and comfortable places like this make me forget that this place I’m living in is so different than the one I come from. So I’m thinking a lot about little moments and how much they make life here not only bearable, but marvelous. And so I thought I should share that with all of you.

I’m off to enjoy a hot beverage and the company of my old friend, followed by dinner with my special someone and picking up the keys to my new place.

Remember to  soak up and appreciate the little things. Notice the small moments that make you remember how wonderful life can be. 

Willing to bend

During one of our weekly delves into the depths of our most complex thoughts, my friend B and I talked about the changes we’ve seen in ourselves since living in Saudi Arabia. And as we discussed these changes and our happiness with them, a lightbulb moment happened. We are both content with our lives and where we are living because we have both been willing to change.

This conversation led me to think of all of the people I’ve connected with while in Saudi. It made me realize that in most cases, the people who have been most resistant to life here are the ones who are most unhappy. And those who have been willing to bend, to change, to accept, and adjust are the happiest. And if I think even harder about it, this remains true for the people I know and love all over the world.

When it was my turn to list for my friends all the things I was thankful for at Thanksgiving dinner Thursday night, I gave the usual generic answer: friends, family, health, etc. But really I’m most grateful that I’ve been through the worst of times and that through it all I have learned how to bend.

Life doesn’t work out for any of us in the way we planned it to. And it’s those of us who embrace that fact–those who have bent instead of letting life break us–who are happiest.

Might as well face it…

…I’m afraid of love.

Did I just date myself with an 80s song reference? Oh well.

Love terrifies me.

Love is scary because I know by now that it doesn’t last forever. It ebbs and flows in even the most secure and stable relationships, and I am not yet emotionally equipped to handle the natural ups and downs without the fear that love will leave and leave forever. I don’t yet know how to feel comfortable with love, or even the slightest hint of love, because I am so afraid of the hurt that comes when love is no longer around.

I don’t want to be afraid of love. It’s one of Life’s most incredible gifts. So I’m working, slowly and steadily, on fixing myself. On trusting. On being open. On accepting. On giving. On love.

That one time I made myself homeless

I have reached the point in my adult life where I am pretty comfortable with who I am and what I’m about.  The good, the bad, and the naggy. So I’m pretty comfortable with revealing to the world that I am a terrible decision maker, as is evidenced by the fact that I got myself, for all intents and purposes, stuck living in Saudi Arabia. I don’t think things through. I get fantastic ideas and execute them immediately unless someone in my life forces me to put the breaks on. Despite knowing this about myself I cannot seem to fix it. But I embrace this part of myself and it has helped me to be really good about admitting when when I’m wrong. And I am currently camping out in the Land of Wrong.

Because of this chaming quality of mine, I’m currently kind of homeless. I know it sounds shocking, and I’ll go ahead and let you know before continuing any further that I am OK and safe and well fed despite this most recent self-inflicted pickle. Now onto the details.

Several months ago, despite there being noting wrong with the apartment I was living in, I made the decision to move. My best friend had a family hookup on a brand new building that was cheaper but much further away from the city. I weighed the pros and cons as best as I thought I could, gave notice to my landlord, and began to prepare for my move. I collected boxes. I packed all of my things. I disassembled my furniture. I had my guy arrange for movers to come and colect my things. My belongings were delivered to the new place. My keys were handed in to my old place. I was home free. Almost.

The new place wasn’t quite ready. Since it was new construction, electricity had not yet been hooked up. The water was not yet working. Odds and ends needed fixing. Air conditioners needed to be purchased. But I was excited to have a new place that would be in MY name and totally free from all things concerning my ex husband. I packed a bag and camped out in a hotel to await my place.

I spent several sweaty days arranging furniture and boxes and sweeping up piles upon piles of construction dust and debris. And finally, just as I was about to sign papers and officially move in, buyers remorse started to creep in. It was new construction and I would be the only occupant. There was a mosque across the street with men coming and going all day. Men who would see me, a single woman, coming and going daily. It was so far from my daughter…what would I do in an emergency? Could I really afford the extra transportation costs?

These fears were increased and compounded by friends and my ex husband when he came to check the new place out. “It’s up to you. It’s your place,” he said. “You can do what you want, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I wouldn’t be comfortable sending our daughter here to stay.” And that did it.

I slept on the decision for a few stressful days in my hotel room. Costs were adding up, there was pressure to make a decision on whether or not I was keeping the apartment, and between my ex husband, my guy, and my endless hours of Internet searching, the frantic hunt for a place for me to live was in full swing. I looked at place after place, none of which met the holy trinity of Riyadh living: cost, location, and livability. There are a LOT of shitty places here, you guys. A lot.

Finally I found a place I liked. The catch was that it wouldn’t be ready to move into for a month. But considering it was holy trinity qualified, I put a deposit down, paid an exorbitant amount of money to a moving and storage company to collect and store my things, and decided to wait.

After two weeks of hotel living and refusing offers from every friend who offered me a place to stay, my savings was all but depleted. I swallowed my pride and accepted the offer from my friend/co-worker to crash in her living room. We have the same schedule, I’d get a free ride to work every morning, it was a convenient location. She doesn’t have a husband or kids so I’d get privacy and much needed quiet after a day spend around hundreds of children. And I would be allowed to have company. It was such an amazing blessing.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve called my friend’s living room floor home. We’ve shared meals and laughs and grocery bills and bathroom space and I think it’s going alright. I’ve never had a roommate as an adult other than my ex husband, so it’s a whole new world. And while it’s not a world I would like to live in long term (I seem to be living in a lot of those kinds of worlds these days), it’s working for now.

Going through this has of course taught me a few lessons.

1. I need a lot less space and things than I think I do. I’ve survived with one bag of clothes for like a month.

2. Fast food is evil. I’ve gained 10 pounds. I really miss my kitchen.

3. Money comes and goes. And it’s usually not as big a deal as you think it is.

4. Privacy is a blessing. I became so accustomed to living alone these past several years that I’d forgotten about that.

5. It’s ok to rely on others.

I definitely couldn’t have navigated this without the help of the incredibly loving people I have in my life. Offers for a place to live. Hours of driving around the city trying to find me a place. Invitations to countless dinners. And hugs…hugs and comfort and encouragement when I’ve been able to do nothing but cry about it.

So yes. My terrible decision making skills have landed me in a tough spot. But life is still amazing and lessons have been learned and in a few short weeks I’ll be homeless no more! Even if I’ve created the mess myself, I won’t let it get me down.

The Dating Game

Post-divorce life has been quite the unexpected journey. A journey that I never imagined I’d be taking in Saudi Arabia of all places. To be completely honest with you, I never really considered what it would be like to be a divorced woman in any country because it’s not the kind of thing a girl dreams about growing up. But I thought I knew for sure that the traditional Western version of moving on after divorce…healing, dating, falling in love, and getting remarried…was all but impossible for me here. I was wrong, but I’ll get back to that later.

I met my husband just after I turned 20 years old and was determined almost immediately to marry him. That’s what you do, right? I had no idea that you can love someone and also let them go because they’re clearly not right for you. I thought love meant having to fight to keep that love. I also had no idea that there are different levels to love and that the love I experienced for my husband was the most shallow and insecure kind of love.

My young love led to young marriage and young parenthood and I never had the chance to experience what it was like to play the field, to experience different kinds of relationships or different kinds of men. So naturally once I was over my marriage I dove straight into everything I thought I missed out on.

Apparently one can have a typical Western experience of healing, dating, and falling in love (lather, rinse, repeat) after divorce. It is of course a much more discreet experience here in the land of the religious police, but an exciting experience nonetheless.

It feels so strange that I was the first among my friends to have married and had children and divorced. Now I’m here talking about dates and breakups and butterflies and feelings I’m afraid to admit to while I watch my friends navigate marital issues and have more babies all the while rolling their eyes at my seemingly childish experiences. Because women in their 30s aren’t supposed to be living the kind of life I’m living. Believe me, the dating world is not a place I want to be living in long term as a woman in her 30s. But it’s where I’m at.

As silly and regressive as my antics may seem to others, the experiences I’ve had with men in the past year have taught me so much about relationships and about myself. As a married woman who believed her fate was sealed I never imagined that I could feel GOOD with a man. I didn’t know I could be treated well, or that I even deserved to be treated well. I didn’t know I could be desired. I didn’t realize that I could be valued and respected and appreciated and protected. I didn’t know about certain things that come along with relationships…like support and encouragement and listening and that compromise can work both ways. Learning these things has been exciting and eye opening. And I really don’t care if the process of learning sometimes makes me look like a giddy doe-eyed teenager again.

I don’t want to be someone’s date or someone’s girlfriend forever. I do hope that marriage one day is in the cards for me again. But for now I’ll play the crazy fun hand I’m holding.

The Reintroduction

My name is Mandi and I am, among many other things, a blogger. I swore off blogging some few months ago, but like most bloggers who at some point swear off blogging for good, I couldn’t stay away. The previous version of this blog may not have felt like home anymore, but I still have so much to say and so many things about my life I’d like to share. So here I am with my reintroduction.

For nearly six years, I have called Riyadh, Saudi Arabia home. Riyadh and I haven’t always gotten along. We’ve spent years hating one another, but I’ve slowly learned how to love my life here because I’ve come to believe that as long as I’m blessed with breath in my lungs I should do whatever it takes to love my life. It won’t last forever and I plan to enjoy it while it lasts.

I’m the mother of a vibrant, witty, intelligent almost-eleven-year-old girl. Her father is of Palestinian/Lebanese origin with Saudi nationality, so combined with my mixed European heritage, she’s an international mix of sorts who manages to thrive and fit in while standing out wherever her parents happen to take her. She lives mostly with her dad and we spend time doing girly stuff whenever we can.

Her father and I are the most functional divorced couple either of us have ever known, but it hasn’t always been that way. We spent years fighting tooth and nail over our relationship, our living arrangements, and our parenting styles. Truthfully, I’m the one who fought. I fought because not many things here in Saudi have ever gone my way. I haven’t had a say in much of how my life in Saudi would go. My parenting life in particular. But I slowly realized that fighting doesn’t get me anywhere beneficial and that quietly letting go of control is what would ultimately lead me to having the most control over my own life. Letting go of control is also what allowed him to loosen his grip in return. And now I’m happy and we’re functioning.

I never thought that “divorced” would be a word that would define me. And maybe it sounds a bit like accepting defeat to those who have never been through divorce, but for me, embracing this word and all that the process of divorce has taught me is a victory. This word is a reminder that I have been through something equal parts terrible and beautiful. Divorce tore me to pieces and gave me the opportunity to gather up those pieces and put them back together in the way that I wanted to rather than in the way a relationship required me to. I found myself in the process of losing my marriage. And as twisted as it may sound, I am grateful that it happened.

So…that’s me and this is where I’m at right now. And I’m ready to share again, I think. A little bit. I’m ready to share as much as I can to help others—women in particular—to remember that, yes, sometimes words define us. And sometimes situations and circumstances define us. But we have the power to choose exactly how they do so.

Welcome back.