Saturday, December 30, 2017

Grocery Shopping in Dubai

I am a creature of habit when it comes to groceries. I don't enjoy cooking for my picky eaters so I don't cook very often (just being honest). So when I do make the effort, I count on my preferred brands of grocery products. I knew that this was one area where I was going to have to lower my expectations upon moving to Dubai. Clearly, the stores here are not going to carry all of the American products that I'm used to, so I prepared myself to be flexible. I also made sure to include a trip to Sam's to stock up on certain items to include in our air/sea freight to Dubai, hoping that a few things would get us through the first several months.

I had heard and read that your experience and product selection from store to store would vary. I find most things I need at our local Carrefour market, although the brands may not be my preferred ones. Another shopping center very close to our villa has a grocery store called Spinney's, and I found that I really enjoyed this store more than Carrefour because it seemed to have a better selection of my preferred staples. But most people I've talked to agree that you find yourself going to a specific store for different items, and you may need a combination of stores to get everything you need.

One of my new friends Karen (the wife of Jeff's coworker) informed me about a store near her home called Park n Shop. She told me I would love that store because they carry more American products. I looked it up and the store description made me laugh: "Supermarket selling expat comfort food." When I finally visited the Park n Shop, I was definitely happy with the additional products I found. I can see myself making that store one of our new regulars, even though it's not as convenient to drive there.

Karen also described how the process of selecting produce or meat is very different here. Many products are imported from several other countries, so a part of your product selection is choosing where the item was produced or imported from. Beef from Australia, for example, will have a different price and flavor than beef from somewhere else. I found this so interesting because I've honestly never considered the country my food comes from. (I realize I should, but I just don't!). Look closely at the meat packages and produce ad below; you will see that each is labeled with the country of origin.

One of the things I first noticed at my local Carrefour that was different from back home (at least where I'm used to shopping) was the availability of spices. You will see a huge section with barrels and barrels of various spices, all ready to scoop in whatever amount you need. I'm thinking that home cooks would really appreciate this; too bad that I'm quite inexperienced and can't take advantage of this perk like others might. Maybe one day.

Because UAE is a Muslim country, pork products are not as easily accessible here. But certain stores carry them in a separate dedicated room marked for Non-Muslims. Muslims are not allowed to enter these rooms. The rooms are usually in the back in an inconspicuous area, either labeled Non-Muslim or Non-Halal. Inside these rooms are products that contain any pork ingredients of any type or amount. You can find bacon, ham, sausage, as well as things like pepperoni pizza. And we were quite surprised to find Jello, Pop-tarts, and Lucky Charms cereal in there. Turns out that gelatin or other pork ingredients are used to make those products. I was quite surprised!

One of the other things I noticed right away about grocery shopping in Dubai was that my former habit of shopping in bulk at Sam's or Costco would not work here. There aren't many items I've found that can be bought in large quantities, and everyone I've asked about bulk shopping agrees that they miss their warehouse stores from back home. At the time of my writing this post, we've been in Dubai for almost two weeks and we have visited the grocery store at least once every other day, if not every single day. Buying in smaller quantities means more trips to the store.

Here's another (random) observation so far about grocery shopping in Dubai. The grocery bags they give you for your items are very NICE! They are bigger in size, thicker, and much stronger than the wimpy (recyclable) grocery bags you get when you shop in the States. I've found myself saving and using these grocery bags here for so many useful tasks around the villa. I feel like it's a perk but it's probably to the detriment of the environment, oops.

One of my most commonly purchased grocery items is soda. It's no secret that Jeff loves his Diet Mountain Dew (his "coffee") which is unfortunately rarely available here, so he is now drinking the regular Dew. And I love my Coke Zero which initially I was also unable to find. On my first two visits to Dubai, I ended up drinking Coca-Cola Light. I was actually very surprised at the taste because back in the States I normally can't stand the taste of Diet Coke, but I've really enjoyed the taste of Coca-Cola Light here in UAE. Since moving here in early December, I am happy to say that now I find Coca-Cola Zero everywhere here, but the packaging is red instead of black.

Most grocery items sold here have both English and Arabic writing on them, but you may still have trouble preparing your recipes even with recognized brands from the US. Why? Because most grocery items here are sold in grams or liters instead of ounces or pounds. Even the cooking/preparation instructions are written for Metric measurements instead of the Imperial system used in the US, and the cooking temperatures are given in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit. I have not mastered these conversions yet so I pull out my trusty iPhone conversion app in these situations, although I still find myself guessing half the time!

I've been compiling a list of my favorite grocery items that I haven't been able to locate here in Dubai. Do any of these surprise you?
  • Various soup/dressing mixes (I cook with these a lot!) like Hidden Valley ranch, Lipton soups, Italian season dressing (although I've found the Italian spice mix, which can be used instead)
  • Ice Breakers peppermint gum
  • Glad Press'n Seal (can we all just admit that cling wrap is for the birds??)
  • Bounty paper towels
  • Pillsbury crescent rolls
  • Cottonelle or Charmin toilet tissue
  • Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
  • "Heavy duty" pantry items -- Ziploc bags, aluminum foil, paper plates
  • Silk or Blue Diamond unsweetened vanilla flavored almond milk
  • Dryer sheets (they do not sell them here ??)
The good news is that I actually anticipated not being able to purchase most of these items here, so I ended up stocking up and they should arrive in our sea shipment next month. :-)

Overall, my impression of the grocery shopping experience in Dubai (after living here for 2 weeks) is very positive. There have been a few items I really miss but nothing that I absolutely can't live without.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Our Villa

I feel like I don't have much to say about our new villa in Dubai yet, because we're currently living in a mostly empty shell of a house with temporary furnishings. It certainly doesn't feel like home yet and likely won't until next spring after our things arrive and we have them unpacked and in their proper place.

However, I know our family and friends back home are wondering and trying to picture us in our new environment. So I will attempt to share some photos and descriptions of our current living situation, even though I think the photos do a poor job.

Our primary goal in choosing a house (villa) was to be near Jeff's office. He works in a business district called Jumeirah Lake Towers, known as JLT. There were many residential options for us near there and we first tried to lease a new townhome nearby, but there weren't any available for lease when we needed to make a decision. So we settled on another nearby neighborhood called Jumeirah Park, which is a large residential area of standalone villas. Jumeirah Park consists of multiple sections called Districts, and each of the Districts have a distinct floorplan and elevation for the villas. As in, every single villa is exactly the same on the inside and outside. It's "cookie cutter" to the extreme! We moved into a 4 bedroom/3.5 bathroom villa in the brand new District 9, and we are surrounded by other villas just like ours. Below is a photo taken from the 3rd story roof of our villa. Notice that the area is so new that the sidewalks all have sprinkler systems installed but no grass yet.

Here are some photos from the inside of our home. Right now the furnishings are quite sparse. And with the expansive rooms covered in tile, it can be difficult to have a conversation due to the loud echo all across the villa. The other thing I've mentioned before is that none of the windows came with curtains or blinds, so we had quite the privacy issue for the first couple of weeks. Within a few days, we ordered window coverings and hope to make those work for both privacy and décor, as well as for blocking the light from the multiple street lamps outside.

Each of the 4 bedrooms come with built-in wardrobes as you can see from the above photo. They are very nice and allow for quite a bit of storage, although I suspect once our things arrive from home, we'll be wondering where to put everything.

As is usual in this area of the world, each of the 4 bathrooms come equipped with a hose/sprayer by the toilets. And the master bath has the separate bidet as well. I doubt it will ever be used, although the kids have tried the sprayers and said the water was too cold for them, ha! (Update: one of the kids told me that he/she is now regularly using the sprayer!)

Most villas in this area also come with a maid's room, which is a small bedroom (more like a closet) with wardrobe and tiny bathroom near the kitchen area. Live-in nannies are very common here so the maid's room is a standard addition. I was planning to post a picture of the maid's room/bathroom but honestly the area is so small that I can't get a good angle. We plan to use the room as our laundry/utility space since it's right next to the washer/dryer hallway in between the garage and the kitchen.

And finally, the that we have both cars inside, we have been pleasantly surprised at the spacious width of the garage. It's way easier to park in there than it was in our US homes. We can fit both cars and never risk door dings!

There are several differences we've noticed in the construction of this villa as opposed to homes back where we've lived in the States.

First of all, the rooms all come with their own thermostats. That means that you have multiple A/C units servicing your villa. I think this villa comes with 9 units!

Another thing Jeff noticed was that the walls are made of cinder block instead of sheetrock. He was commenting about how challenging it will be to hang all of our wall décor when it finally arrives, ha! And because of the construction, the entire villa is much more insulated from sound than our previous houses. Gone are the days when we can hear the loud, rambunctious play in the game room above or even, say, an angry kiddo stomping up the stairs in anger...HA!

The light switches and electrical outlets are different from what I've seen before, too. Each electrical socket, even the ones on extension cords, all come with an on/off switch to activate power to each individual socket.

You will also find a water heater switch next to each water source that must be turned on to activate the hot water. (We spent our entire first night in the villa without hot water because we hadn't figured that out yet, ha!)

Probably the biggest change so far from our villa compared to our previous houses is that all of the external doors of the villa are keyed entries. If you close the door behind you when you take the trash outside, you will be locked out of the house. Each time the kids go outside to play, they have to ring the gate doorbell to be let back in the house. Even the garage entry door requires a key to get inside. As much as we come and go, even just around the neighborhood, it has been difficult to get used to needing a key to get back inside the villa each and every time. And speaking of keys, THESE were the keys we were given when we leased the villa. Yes, ALL of those keys are for our house. Every single door requires a unique key, and they weren't all labeled either. Yikes!

One of my favorite areas of the villa is the outdoor space, which has its own gated courtyard with a covered entry area. Below is an aerial view; hard to tell, but it's a spacious area. Connor can't wait to get his basketball goal set up so that he can play with friends.

Speaking of friends, we've met several of our neighbors here in Jumeirah Park already, and have even enjoyed a weekend barbeque with the family across the street. After only 2 weeks of living here, Connor and Kaitlynn are now spending hours outside most days with their new friends that live on our street. So far we've met new friends and neighbors from Egypt, Brazil, Scotland, UK, and Canada. We feel so blessed to have already been welcomed so graciously by our neighbors, and we look forward to the coming months when we can turn our villa into our family home.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Amazon and Souq

When it began to sink it that our family was making the international move to Dubai from Texas, I began mentally preparing myself and setting my expectations for living there. There aren't many things in life that I take on without googling the heck out of them -- even the simplest purchase I make usually has at least 30 minutes of "internet research" behind it! So you can imagine then how much reading and researching I did for MONTHS about Dubai, UAE, and all of the changes I should expect upon moving here. I was even lucky enough to meet a neighbor in Katy whose family also lived in Dubai years ago, and she was a tremendous resource for me in the weeks/months leading up to our move.

Everyone is unique and has their own priorities and preferences, but for me, one of the things I was most concerned about missing from home was... Amazon! Does this surprise anyone that this is at the top of my list?? Come on, aren't all Americans addicted to the 2-day Prime delivery of Amazon? I never realized how much I depended on this service until I realized I wouldn't have anything like it in Dubai. Or at least, that's what I thought.

When I googled mail service or home delivery in Dubai, web articles would discuss how mail service doesn't exist in UAE the way it does in USA, and that most people have all of their items delivered to their workplace. But in the same article, people would rave about how much they love the convenience of getting anything and everything you need delivered in Dubai. So if home delivery works easily for groceries and restaurant orders, why not for retail goods? Nothing I read in advance led me to understand how this would work, so I just set my expectation to zero on this.

In my first day of living here, I was searching for a few small appliances that I didn't find in Carrefour. I did a quick google search for "small appliances in UAE" and I quickly found this website called Living in Dubai, you become very familiar with the term "souq" which is a marketplace, similar to a mall, with a collection of shops. I was able to find both small appliances that I was shopping for -- an ice maker and a slow cooker -- on the website. And then I noticed the small print below the logo.
Wait...what?! Amazon?? I switched to another browser window and did a search on Souq/Amazon to understand what I was seeing. As it turns out, Amazon purchased a few months ago in an effort to expand its reach into the Middle Eastern market. And even cooler than that, they actually just launched their global marketplace THIS MONTH, expanding the item selection available on I couldn't believe my luck! I was able to log into the website using my Amazon credentials, place my order, obtain very low cost shipping for my two small appliances (10 AED each, which is the equivalent of $2.50 each), and arrange for delivery right to my doorstep! The delivery estimate I was given was a week away, but I actually received both items within 2 days of my order. That right there is Amazon PRIME! (Souq Prime??)

I was on an Amazon high for about 2 days from this discovery! Two days later, I submitted another order for a few Christmas gifts for the kids. Again I was given a cheaper price than what I'd seen in local stores, and all of my packages were delivered to my doorstep well ahead of the projected delivery date.

Souq even has its own app just like Amazon, and I've noticed that their product selection is expanding with each new day. I have a feeling that Souq and I will be besties in no time.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall

From the time we began telling the kids about the possibility of our move to Dubai, we tried to educate them about the city and the things it's known for. Of course, the tallest building in the world and the largest shopping mall in the world were two of the top things they first learned about Dubai. The Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall are iconic landmarks that in many ways reflect the culture and personality of the entire city. So it came as no surprise that the kids were begging to visit these places as soon as possible. I think it was our 5th day as Dubai residents when we made the trip, and the kids were beyond excited!

I took the kids on the Dubai Metro train to make our visit. They enjoyed the experience of the train and were able to see more city sights along the way. The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa are connected to each other so we exited the train and began walking towards the mall. It's a long walk from the metro stop but they were too excited to care.

When you visit the Burj Khalifa, you are given two options: visiting the observation deck on the 124/125th floors, or visiting the "Sky" observation deck on the 148th floor. We splurged on the Sky tickets which are pricey but definitely provide a greater experience overall. We had a guided tour and learned about the construction, occupation, and overall facts about the Burj Khalifa on our way up to the top.

Some of the fun facts we learned during our tour:
  • Burj means tower in Arabic.
  • Burj Khalifa is so tall that you can watch the sunset from the base of the tower, take the 2 minute elevator ride to the top, and then watch the sunset all over again. Wow!
  • Most people thing think that the spire of the tower is added to claim additional height, but it actually serves an architectural purpose by absorbing the wind and protecting the tower from the elements.
  • The shape of the building is designed to confuse the wind, not allowing it to organize around the height of the tower.
I had visited previously in September, but it was still quite the sight and even more fun to see the look on the kids' faces when we emerged on floor 148. They were stunned! Connor in particular couldn't believe his eyes. He was very cautious when he approached the windows, always putting his hand on the window for reassurance before he stepped closer. Ha! When we went outside on the observation deck, it was quite scary at first. Connor was terrified, not wanting to get close to the windows. But we were more comfortable after a few minutes and savored every moment of the incredible views from all directions.

We stayed on floor 148 for quite a while. Connor didn't want to leave, he loved it! But after 148, we took an elevator down to floor 125/124. There is another observation deck at that level along with several activities and the large gift shop. They have so many neat items at the store, including the Burj Khalifa journal and flash drive that we got the kids for gifts on our first visit. We enjoyed floors 125/124 as well, but not near as much as 148. Plus, the crowds at the lower levels were quite full and the lines for the elevators back down were super long. But since we had the Sky tickets, we were able to skip the lines and go straight down when we were ready.

On the way out of the building, there are some amazing informational displays describing in detail about the construction and features of the tower. We really enjoyed taking it all in. Such an amazing experience to share with the kids!

But a trip to the Burj Khalifa wouldn't be complete without a photo from the outside. I had to lay down on my back for the right angle to be able to get the entire tower in the photo!

Back inside the Dubai Mall, it was time for another exciting stop. Connor's all-time favorite restaurant: Texas Roadhouse. Yes, it exists in Dubai, and we're here to tell you that it is just as tasty and delicious as it is back home! Connor ordered his "medium rare" steak (and the waiter looked to me incredulously to confirm) and was beyond happy that everything about his Texas Roadhouse experience lived up to his expectations!

After lunch, we ran some errands in the mall and eventually made our way back to the train station to return home. We saw only a tiny section of the massive Dubai Mall, but the kids were amazed at the size, stores, and activities available. I'm sure we will be coming back multiple times to take it all in.

One last thing, we ran into a candy store on our way out of the mall to the train when lo and behold, Connor's all time favorite candy appeared. Mike and Ikes! This was one happy kid after one of his best days ever!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

JBR - Jumeirah Beach Residence

When Jeff had to return to work shortly after our arrival in Dubai, we rented a car for me so that the kids and I could do some exploring around the city. I can't believe I didn't get a photo of the car I was driving -- it was TINY and we felt so small driving around the big city. Quite funny at the time.

We decided to set out one of our first mornings to find something fun to do on our own. Being that I'm new to driving in Dubai as well as unfamiliar with most areas, I was relying on my previous sightseeing with Jeff to show the kids some things I thought they'd like. Dubai Marina came to mind, because this Dubai December weather is GORGEOUS and the marina area offers lots of outdoor fun. Jeff and I had previously walked through the area and really enjoyed the al fresco dining as well as the yacht and boat watching. So I decided to take the kids there, and I lured them with the promise of free WiFi at the Dubai Marina Mall, because we still hadn't gotten our home internet access turned on yet!

Have I mentioned that Dubai offers free WiFi pretty much anywhere in the city? A very nice perk for internet-starved children, ha!

So I drove in the direction of Dubai Marina, using my trusty Google Maps app on my iPhone. We made it to the Marina without an issue, but soon I realized it was going to be difficult to find parking convenient to the mall. After driving around a while with no luck, I ended up veering off my preferred path and driving a little bit further into the Marina area. Soon I realized we were no longer near the Marina Mall, but instead we were closer to the area called Jumeirah Beach Residence, or JBR as it's more commonly known. JBR is a waterfront community located on the Persian Gulf containing dozens of residential skyscrapers as well as a boardwalk and beautiful beach area with tons of retail, restaurants, and cool activities. I had never been there before, but we settled for valet parking so that we could explore.

We quickly fell in love with the area! We spotted several of our favorite restaurants, enjoyed the neat outdoor shopping mall, and the kids even found a candy store called Fuzziwigs Candy Factory that will no doubt become a favorite stop. (They offered us sample of their homemade treats and the caramel was the best I've ever tried!)

Walking through JBR, we noticed an outdoor section with several of these spinning chairs that looked fun. Well, they were even MORE fun than they looked! We ended up playing on these chairs for a long time, just laughing and spinning and taking so many pictures. Too cool! It's hard to tell from the photo but the kids are spinning in front of a mirrored #WowJBR hashtag sign.

We loved these spinning chairs so much that I looked them up online. Turns out the chairs are by Herman Miller, called the Magis Spun Chair, retailing for about $720. Would be a super cool addition to our outdoor living areas!

After playing for a while and enjoying the amazing weather, we decided it was time for lunch. It was a no-brainer where we wanted to eat: El Chico, right on the JBR main strip! The kids were so excited to try the Tex-Mex here in Dubai. We had fajitas and tons of chips, very yummy (but let's be honest, nothing beats Lupe Tortilla or Los Cucos back home)!

After we ate lunch, we walked around some more and played with the spinning chairs again (lol). Then we made a stop at the kids' newest favorite store (Fuzziwigs, for candy, of course). From there, we could see the beach and we just had to walk down there and take it all in.

The coolest sight in JBR in my opinion is the Dubai Eye, still under construction. It will be called Ain Dubai (ain meaning eye in Arabic) and when complete, it will be the world's tallest observation wheel and will even have capsules with bars and restaurants! It doesn't look so big in our photos but trust me, it's HUGE!

On the right side of the above photo, you can see a section of the incredible, inflatable obstacle course called Aqua Park on the JBR beach. The kids were super impressed and wanted to try it out, but I imagine it would be a bit chilly during this time of year. We definitely want to try it out when it's warmer. When I looked up the Aqua Park online, I found the coolest picture and just had to share. I had no idea that this was the aerial view of the park. Wow!

We didn't want to leave JBR; it was such a neat experience and there was so much more that we didn't get a chance to see. It's on the top of our list of things to do again soon. Walking back to the car, I noticed this section with two of my favorite American restaurants in the same area. I couldn't help but snap a photo and share with friends. Some comforts of home!

Even though I didn't plan to visit JBR, it turned out to be such a great place for one of our first outings in Dubai! The kids and I called it a "happy accident" and are already planning to make another trip so that we can show Jeff our fun finds.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

My Laundry Experience in Dubai (So Far)

I know what you're thinking. Is this REALLY an entire blog post about laundry?? I'm sure this is completely uninteresting to anyone besides me, but I have devoted so much time and energy to all-things-laundry here in Dubai, so yes, it deserves a dedicated post!

The villa we are leasing did not come with any appliances, so we had to purchase them all upon our arrival in Dubai. Back before we ever began looking for a home in Dubai, I had talked with several people about the differences in US appliances versus how they are made and used here in UAE. It's not recommended to bring your US appliances to use in UAE due to the electricity requirements and differences. The washer and dryer situation in particular is very different. What I learned is that most people here use a condenser type of washer which is actually a 2-in-1 machine -- it washes your clothes and then spins them dry in the same appliance. Of course, the clothes aren't ever really DRY in this type of machine. So then, you are required to take them out and hang them to dry. Dubai is such a warm and dry climate that your clothes will quickly dry this way. But I have to admit, this process did not appeal to me and I was hoping to find a better way.

My research indicated that tumble dryers were available here but most of the older homes wouldn't be able to support the vented connection. So we narrowed our villa search to the newer homes that would support a tumble dryer. This became more difficult than we imagined, and it was also quite the joke that our #1 requirement for a home was a tumble dryer connection! We noticed that the newer homes had a small hole which we assumed was the dryer vent leading to outside.

One of the homes we viewed came with the washer and tumble dryer already installed. Perfect!

Washer/dryer connections at the villa we leased. That tiny hole is what we assumed was the dryer vent to outside.

We selected the biggest washing machine at Carrefour, which was 10kg and would likely only manage 1/3 of what I was used to. For the dryer, we compared the various sizes and realized that the drum of the 7kg dryer was exactly the same as the drum for the 9kg dryer. (Weird?) So we just went with the salesman's recommendation for the 7kg "vented" dryer, since we trusted that he understood our needs.

All I could say when the appliances were delivered was, "Thank goodness for manuals in English!" The functions and buttons were so foreign to me that I had NO clue how to use them. It was not intuitive, at least not to me. I had a load of whites ready to be washed so I followed the directions for the hottest setting meant for towels -- 90 degrees (Celsius, I presume). When I pushed the start button I was shocked at what I saw on the electronic display -- 2:27, which means 2 hours and 27 minutes for the cycle to complete!

I'm thinking this wouldn't pass efficiency requirements in the US, ha! And for the record, most of the other wash settings also take between 1:45 and 2:27 to complete.

When we were grocery shopping and went to find the laundry detergent, I noticed the aisle for laundry products was set up quite differently from my usual HEB store in Katy. There was a long aisle, and 1 side had the selection of detergents, while the entire other side was dedicated to both stain fighting products and fabric softeners--a big section for each. I was surprised and said to Jeff, "This is a ton of options for fabric softener and stain fighting. I wonder if the water here requires it?" Jeff later asked a coworker who confirmed my suspicions. And then after my first load of whites was finished, I noticed that there was still a stain on one of the towels (which had been washed at the hottest setting), which led me to understand that I would indeed need the stain fighting products for simple laundry now, too!

My experience using the dryer for the first time was not much easier. I had to read the manual to understand the buttons and functions. I chuckled at the instructions for the dryer settings which included descriptions ranging from "P1: clothes are extra dry and can be put away" to "P6: clothes are damp and ready to be ironed."

(Clearly the dryer manufacturer was unfamiliar with the fact that I haven't owned an iron for over 10 years now. And the funny thing is that our package of temporary home furnishings, which was very basic and limited, actually included an iron and ironing board. I asked if we could trade those for something else but nobody appreciated my humor at the time.)

For my load of whites, I used the hottest/longest setting. Jeff and I were observing how the dryer was working for that first load. Upon further inspection, Jeff noticed that the hole we had previously thought was for the dryer to vent the heat was actually connected to the washing machine instead. Huh?? The only thing the dryer was connected to was the power source. After all the fuss about needing a vented tumble dryer, it turns out that the dryer actually just vents out underneath the machine. I was thoroughly confused but it seemed to work fine (although it definitely heats up the hallway by the dryer).

And one more thing. The dryer comes equipped with this compartment that holds a rectangular container designed to capture the water from the drying cycle. Every few loads or so, you are supposed to take out this container and empty the water. So interesting!

I was pleasantly surprised that my entire first load of towels and other whites were completely dry and could, in fact, be "put away" as the manual claimed. I will say, however, that despite using Tide detergent and Downy fabric softener, the smell of the clean laundry was just not fresh and wonderful like I've been used to back home with my Febreeze-scented high efficiency laundry detergent. I'll have to work on that to see what improvements I can make, because to me there is just nothing like that clean laundry smell.

* Disclaimer: The above is simply my own personal experience so far. I'm sure I will learn more to improve or change my experience, and I'm always open to suggestions and tips!