About the Author

My name is Kim Kash, and I'm an American from the Washington D.C. area currently living in Saudi Arabia. I am a writer and editor by trade, an enthusiastic home cook, and a yoga instructor. Join me as I travel across the planet to see what's here.

Plan Your Maryland Beach Trip with My Tourist Town Guide

An American woman moves abroad and considers the meaning of home.

Saturday
May042013

How Our Saudi Garden Grows

The front garden, looking lush a year later.


Lots of new cactus growth in the front garden

Thunder is rumbling and the sky is clouding over for more rain. More rain. By some accounts, this has been the coolest, wettest spring for 25 years in the Eastern Province. I don't know if those accounts are to be trusted. The Arab News (known to expats as "The Green Truth" because it is printed on pale green newsprint) reports that the Saudi government urges people to ignore foreign weather reporting. “Individuals shouldn't take any notice of such reports no matter how credible the sources are,” government officials say.

Night-blooming jasmine, which blooms day and night. But it's nighttime when the scent comes out.

I don't pay much attention to any weather reports, foreign or domestic. Sticking my nose out the front door works fine. Could be there are major weather pattern alterations. Or maybe, as my host country suggests, this is an insidious case of fraudulent international meteorological reporting. Either way, it's out of my hands. All I know is, my garden is loving it!

When we moved in last spring, I took full advantage of the generosity and expertise of our company's gardening staff and had major landscaping work done. Even one year later, the difference is amazing! If you flip back to last year's garden pictures, you'll see what I mean.

New lemon tree

Bug's eye view of the new fig tree.

This year I'm adding to the lushness of our little plot. In the past couple of weeks I have added lemon, lime, fig, and mango trees to the yard.

 Hibiscus


Dried hibiscus from the farmer's market.

The hibiscus bloomed its first red bloom a few days ago. Speaking of hibiscus: Yesterday I went to our community's farmer's market (local organic farmers are popping up in the Eastern Province!) A vendor was selling dried hibiscus flowers. I had no idea what to do with them, but I bought 'em. Checking on the internet, I now see that it's commonly used for tea. If you've had Celestial Seasonings' Red Zinger, then you've tried hibiscus tea. A sweet/tart simple syrup in a rosy pink color is another typical use for dried hibiscus. I found some other, weirder recipes too. Hibiscus enchiladas, anyone? Some poor sap's going to give those a try at my table soon.

Bougainvillea

The bougainvilleas are blooming hysterically in my yard and all over the compound. Truly, this is a gorgeous Saudi spring.

And that is a credible piece of news, straight from a local source.

Wednesday
Mar272013

A Home Back Home in Maryland

Our Home Back at Home

For the last several months I have been MIA from my new "real life", and ensconced back in my old Greenbelt neighborhood, in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. We bought a house there! We're not permanently moving back to the States--that's years off yet, Inshallah. But now we have a place to call home when we go back to visit family and friends.

Check out that roofline!

The house, a split level built in 1960, is a model of atomic age streamlining, with an asymmetrical roofline and smartly painted wood-panel trim. I love the look--and I love the location even more. It's on the same quiet residential block as my sister's house, as well as the homes of several other close friends. We had Sunday dinner with friends at the end of the street every week for years before we left the country, and will continue to do so whenever we come back.

Newly fabricated HVAC ducts ready to be installed

We purchased from the original owners, who lived in the house for over 50 years. It was essentially a very solid house, but it needed some updates and we wanted to add our own stamp to it. We also wanted to add air conditioning (which it lacked.)

Emergency tree removal

I arrived in Maryland right before Hurricane Sandy. Luckily, Couch Cut Tree Service was able to divert a crew to come out the day before the storm hit and remove several dead or dying trees from around the property. (I recommend them, yes.)

Builder's blueprint for "The Capri"

The original owners hung onto the builder's plans for the house, and passed them on to us. Imagine our delight to find that the name of this model is "The Capri"! I need to have cocktail napkins done up with "The Capri" in some space-agey font.

Distressingly solid construction

The biggest surprise during the renovation, though, was the discovery of a cement block wall bisecting the INTERIOR of the house. This was, of course, a wall that needed to come down....  

Safety Red cabinets, for safety

My mother-in-law and I sanded and repainted the original kitchen cabinets a glossy red--Sherwyn Williams' "Safety Red." That, along with new sink, faucet and countertop and a new set of Ikea upper cabinets, gave the kitchen a modern feel on a (relative) shoestring.

Our home within our home

We made a small apartment for ourselves in the house, so that we have a place to stay in Greenbelt during the years that we live overseas. Others will live in the main part of the house.

Two generations of Gervasi Construction

Renovations continued through the fall and winter, thanks to Frank Gervasi and Gervasi Construction, Joseph Lynch for heating and air conditioning, and also We Love to Work. The latter did the outdoor jobs, including concrete work, moving and installing a shed, and leveling and seeding a new front lawn. Both contractors are excellent; I recommend them. Meanwhile, I was making design decisions and hardware store runs on a near-daily basis. This kind of detail work drives my husband crazy, but I love it. So it worked out well that I was in the States taking care of the house, while he stayed back in Saudi Arabia, trying to earn money as fast as I was spending it.

My Rolling Valentine

I had the luxury of not having to live in the house while it was being renovated. (I don't see how that would have been possible, but I guess if I'd had to, I would have done it.) I'm lucky enough to have a dear, kind, patient friend--the fabulous Kim Rush Lynch--with a big house and a comfy guest room. She and her husband kept a roof over my head for four months. While I was there, we did our best to drink all the wine in the tri-state area. 

Kim is a retired DC Roller Girl who skates every week at Laurel Skating Center. I bought a set of skates so I could join the fun. A lot of the same people go to the rink every Thursday night, and it was fun to belong to that little weekly party on wheels!

Girl Scout presentation board on Saudi Arabia for Thinking Day

I also spent some good time with my family, and gave a presentation on Saudi Arabia to my eldest niece's Girl Scout troop. They were so curious about life in the Middle East! Many of them had misconceptions about Islam and about everyday life here--as most Americans do. But it was refreshing to hear the girls just blurt out the questions that I know others want to ask but are too polite to bring up. Why can't women drive? What do you have to wear when you go out in public? Why do women have to cover? Can you vote? Is the food any good? Do you like living there? It was fun to answer these questions posed by 10 and 11-year-old girls.

All that's left is for the grass seed to germinate

Renovation of the house finished up in early March, with new topsoil and grass seed laid, and a new, modern door and house numbers.

Happily, we found some great people to stay in the house while we're gone. So others will get to call The Capri home year-round, while we get to enjoy our little slice of the house during our trips back. 

Now I'm back in the Magic Kingdom, thrilled to have such a great house in Maryland, but ready to turn my attention back to the wider world.

Where to next?

 Greenbelt Lake, on my pedestrian commute to The Capri

Monday
Dec242012

Leaving Los Angeles

There are people I love who live in Los Angeles. But after seven days there, I'm calling it quits. Seven days of freeways and strip malls and angst and donut places and tire warehouses and freeways and mini-marts and traffic and ugly, flat, junked-up streets stretching in every direction to the horizon.

Smirking hipsters. God.

Freeways, and 12-level parking structures with squeaky concrete floors and no empty spaces. Muzak blaring from speakers in the shrubs on Santa Monica Boulevard. A homeless guy squatting at the crosswalk, chatting and laughing into his hand, like there's a cell phone embedded in his palm and his agent's on the line.

Every year I fly to Los Angeles from the East Coast, or from the Middle East, because there are people there worth the trouble. I land at LAX and I rent a car and I drive around this city that is not a city at all but just a sticky web of car washes and burrito places and breathtakingly expensive purveyors of ironic clothing and shoes and musical instruments and food, a relentless net of ugly that inches across the length and breadth of LA County, connecting Pasadena with Burbank with West Hollywood with Santa Monica with El Segundo with Redondo Beach, smothering all of these diferent cities into one homogenous, never-ending suburb.

By the end of my weeklong stay, I was starting to think like my overcommitted and wrung-out friends. My friends have it figured out. When I am in town, I go to them. They do not come to me. I understand. This time, I really understand. No, I don't want to drive across this wasteland city any more, not even once more, no. I'll sit alone in my rental place and send you text messages. 

Adios, Los Angeles. We're through.

Sunday
Oct142012

Livable, Lovable Amsterdam

Parking in Amsterdam

Whenever I visit a city, I give it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote as to whether I'd want to live there. It's a wildly unfair survey, based on whatever I happen to stumble across in my often disorganized travels. Would I live in Paris? Thumbs up. Calcutta? Thumbs down. Rome? Thumbs up. Los Angeles? Thumbs down. Bilbao? Thumbs up. Bangkok? Thumbs down. Istanbul? Thumbs up. Chicago? Thumbs up except good grief, it's cold in the winter.

Now I'm just back from a week-long stay in Amsterdam and I can easily imagine a happy life there. And I have more information than usual on which to base my opinion. 

Shutters in the old city

That's because my husband and I were traveling with another couple. The wife of this couple plans their itineraries carefully and they hit the ground with fearsome efficiency. Leave it to the library sciences type! She had everything sorted. 

Symphony orchestra preparing to rehearse three Debussy pieces

She knew the right day and time to show up for the free symphony orchestra rehearsal at Concertgebouw (Wednesdays at 12:30, September through June).

The National Maritime Museum, as seen from the deck of the three-masted Amsterdam

She knew it was a better deal to buy the Museumkaart because we'd be visiting more than three museums.... 

EYE Film Institute

She had studied the various forms of public transportation, and read up on which neighborhood to hit for the best restaurant choices (De Pijp).

De Hortus Botanicus (botanical gardens)

Our friend is considering a post-retirement business planning European trips. I hope she does it because I'd be her most loyal customer.

Amsterdam-style dog crate

For all the excellent pre-planning, some of our most pleasurable experiences were completely unscripted. That's one of the best things about travel. We set off on foot every day through the old city, and came back charmed. Completely smitten with the good cheer and small scale of the neighborhoods, the easy efficiency of the public transportation and the bike traffic, and the beauty of the clouds and light reflecting in the ever-present canals.

Gorilla in the park

For all the urban density, there were flowers spilling out everywhere, and pockets of greenery softening the edges of the old city. The gorilla, above, was one of several creatures made of rusting metal odds and ends in a very small triangular pocket park. The installation of sculptures was clearly a neighborhood's whimsical labor of love.

My husband said aloha to a ukulele in Amsterdam.

One afternoon we wandered through an indoor antiques market, and then stumbled upon the Uke Boutique, where my husband couldn't resist this baby blue Makala beauty. As George Harrison said, "Everyone should have and play a uke. You can't play and not laugh."

Airbnb Dinner Party

My husband and I rented a great flat, and I swear this is a completely unsolicited recommendation. Our friends rented a room in a shared apartment nearby. Their hosts were so charming that we invited them to dinner at our place. We shopped at the Albert Cuyp Market (the oldest open air market in Amsterdam, an easy walk from the flat), and cooked a fall vegetable stew. They brought a cheese plate that included a Dutch green cheese--made green with the addition of pesto. At least, that's my recollection of what makes the cheese green. But the cheese course comes after dinner, which included a lot of wine, and dinner comes after pre-dinner drinks. So I can't swear to the pesto thing, only that the cheese was green and it was tasty.

Look at the cheese in the second floor windows!

All told, Amsterdam is a beautiful place to spend an autumn week. It's fun to see with old friends, and now we've made some new ones! I'd like to see it in other seasons, too. Survey says: Thumbs way, way up. 

Saturday
Aug112012

Barcelona: Like Chocolate, but with Raspberries

Harpist busker. Ahhh, Barcelona.

My sister told me I would love Barcelona. She said it's like Paris, but in Spain. Which is like saying it's like chocolate, but with raspberries. The one can only be improved by the other. I had arrived prepared to barricade myself in our rented flat and refuse to leave the city, ever. 

Our street in Las Ramblas

And I did love Barcelona, though I will say that by the end of our week's stay I was ready to leave it. But it's not fair to judge such a complicated and lovely city while staying in its most touristy neighborhood in high summer. I want to go back again and stay in a place that feels more like a real neighborhood. I want to go in spring or fall, when people who actually live in Barcelona are on the streets, going about their everyday business.

Come on up, I'll show you our flat.

The stairs!

We rented a top floor apartment, which in our case was the 5th floor. This being Europe, the 5th floor is actually the 6th floor, since the 1st floor is 0. And in this building, there was half a flight up from the street level to get to 0 level, so ... you get the idea. It was a long haul! But it was worth it.

The view from the bedroom window

The benevolent robot skyscraper down the block

Chimney tower of a nearby Gaudi building, seen from our bedroom window.

The terrace, where we ate, drank, read, wrote, relaxed.

While in Barcelona, we wanted to relax, cook and eat well, read, drink great wine, and just decompress. There were some tourist things we wanted to do, but mostly, after several uninterrupted months in the Magic Kingdom, we just needed a sanity break. This was perfect.

La Boqueria

Boca is the Spanish word for mouth, and La Boqueria is a food market that dates back to the 1200s. It was just a few blocks from our place, so this is where we did all of our food shopping.

Seafood at La Boqueria

Donut peaches and cherries, home from La Boqueria and ready to be washed ... then devoured.

Tiny, sweet tomatoes

We sat around in our flat and ate a lot. We also sat around other places and ate a lot.

Lunch spot next to MACBA

We stopped eating long enough to tour the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA). This was interesting mostly for the exhibit about a groovy "Instant City" in Ibiza that was handmade by stapling together panels of vinyl or canvas and inflating them into giant wormlike passages and central domes. Museum visitors could sit in bean bag chairs at low tables and learn more about the project, as Jimi Hendrix and The Doors blasted through the sound system. 

Giant chess match

We walked through a courtyard on the way back from the museum and came upon a big chess game in progress.

La Seu, began in the 13th century; finished in the 20th.

On another outing, we went to the Barrio Gotic to see the cathedral and fragments of the aqueduct that used to bring water to the old city.

Cheerful unicorn gargoyle at La Seu

Cow gargoyle, looking like a Holstein thanks to the bird droppings.

Aqueduct fragment

Picasso facade and Le Seu

On the facing side of the plaza in front of La Seu sits Barcelona's School of Architecture, with a facade designed by Picasso. On the same block as the School of Architecture there was a great shoe store. Gothic cathedral, aqueduct, Picasso frieze, SHOES! A friend told me I had to get some La Natura Lista shoes, one of several great Spanish brands. This store had 'em, but none in my size. Life is cruel. However, they did have a pair of excellent La Natura Lista shoes in my husband's size, and he got a pair. We celebrated by going to a cafe. Of course.