Saturday, December 31, 2011

CANDY (oh, and Happy New Year)

If I don't wake up tomorrow morning, it's probably because I will have entered a candy-induced coma. I haven't had candy since 27 December 2010. I've spent the last year stockpiling some favorites in preparation for 2012. Here's what I've got on hand for tonight after midnight:
Toffifee is readily available at any store here. If you haven't ever had Toffifee, you haven't lived. Try it, it's good. Good & Plenty came in a package from my mom sometime in September. The Chocoa was a gift from a friend for Christmas. The peanut butter cups are only available at Carrefour around Christmas time, so I bought a bag a few weeks ago and then hid it from Jeremy. The toff-chocs or whatever were actually supposed to be for a friend (she was looking for Da'im but IKEA was out), but she ended up not needing them so I gladly kept them. The mentos are from Turkey. Yes, Turkey - I've never seen those flavors before so I bought them in Goreme and then put them out of sight in my underwear drawer for lo, these five months. The only thing I'm missing is York peppermint patties. I know they have them at the Hershey store in Dubai Mall, so a trip there may be in my (imminent) future.

I'm going to keep the "sweets on Friday only" rule for 2012, and I'm sure I'll remember pretty quickly how candy really only tastes good at the moment you're eating it, but hoo boy, am I going to have fun tonight!!!!!

Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30th, outsourced

Image via
If you are someone who enjoys being inspired, you will like this video.

If you are someone who enjoys amazing piano music, you will like this video.

Have you ever wondered what the Disney Princesses would look like in real life? [HT Elena]

The Arab Spring, in videos. Not all of them are touchy-feely inspiring, by the way, so take care what you watch.

The only person I understand less than Bashar al-Assad these days is Asma al-Assad. [HT Suzanne]

A few weeks ago we saw the honorable mentions. Now we have the winners of the National Geographic photo contest.

Remember last week when I confessed an interest in women giving birth in a country other than their own? Well, a few days later, I found this blog, all about just that.

Advisory: if you are Sudanese, and you happen to be in Abu Dhabi, and you happen to give birth to quadruplets, be aware that the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi may cover your hospital bill. Awesome.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Books 2011: Favorites and others

As promised, here are my ten favorite books of 2011. To make the list, I had to have read the book for the first time in 2011 - otherwise the list would be crowded with old favorites I re-read. Links are to my Goodreads reviews. Sorry for the huge spacing. I have no idea why it came out that way. Just pretend it increases the drama.


ColumbineColumbine by Dave Cullen


The best kind of books make you feel like they were written personally for you. Columbine is one of those, and I think it has special worth to anyone who was a high schooler in 1999.









The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve ItThe Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It by Neal Bascomb


This is another book that was just my style. I could hardly stand the suspense, even though I already knew the eventual ending. The journey was just so dang fun. Warning: you WILL find yourself on YouTube after reading this book, looking up all the races.












Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner


Yet another deeply personal book. If you have spent more than a few years in grad school, or are married to someone who has, then this book might be worth a read. If you are looking for grand, dramatic plots...not so much.














Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth


This was probably my favorite (first-time) YA read of the year. The good news is, I hear there's a second book coming out in 2012.
















Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in ArabiaBaghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz


Jolly, endearing, and informative. There's nothing not to like.
















Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card


It's about time I joined the rest of the human race and read this book. Even though I had heard so much hype about it, it lived up to all the praise.
















The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright


A flawless account of, well, Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11. Even if you've already read the 9/11 Commission Report, this book has more to say and does it better.
















What to EatWhat to Eat by Marion Nestle


Who knew a book about food and nutrition could be so riveting and easy to read?
















Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand


I hesitated including this one because it was really hard to read at times. But it really was an amazing story, well told.
















Hush, Hush (Hush, Hush, #1)Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick


No one is more surprised than me that I liked this book. I stand by my original review: "Hush doesn't take itself seriously. It knows exactly what it is. It is very self-aware and hits all its marks. It reminded me so much of those Hardy Boys books where the mystery is kind of cheesy and obvious and the bad guys are always bursting into monologue before killing anyone and the hero/ine makes foolish, unrealistic decisions in order to advance the plot, but it's done in kind of a "wink, wink" way so all is forgiven."


Now for some other distinctions.


Most unexpectedly good book: Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick. See above.

Most unexpectedly bad book: The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, by Wendy McClure. So promising. SO AWFUL.

Longest book: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1276 pages).

Shortest book: Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by Jon Krakauer (77 pages).

Most-read book: 2011 marked my third reading of The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas), A Pair of Blue Eyes (Thomas Hardy), and Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte).

Best bad book: Probably The Luxe (Anna Godbersen) or Shadow Hills (Anastasia Hopcus). Because I enjoyed them even as I mocked them.

Worst good book: By the formula established above, Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand; see above) has to be the worst good book I read all year. It was brilliant, and yet exhausting to read.

Worst book I didn't finish: The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett). Unfortunately in this case, "didn't finish" still means "I read 200 pages." Ugh.

Worst book I did finish: To avoid mentioning The Wilder Life twice, I'll give Life: An Exploded Diagram (Mal Peet) the honors here.

Worst cover: If by "worst" I mean "most embarrassing," then it's Abandon (Meg Cabot), a hundred times over. But I actually think the Hush, Hush and Crescendo covers are the most visually unappealing.

Best covers: Columbine and Spoiled (Heather Cocks). Aaaaand that's probably the only time ever that those two books will be placed next to each other in any kind of space.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spectacle

Today when I dropped her off at school, Magdalena begged me to let her ride her scooter home later that day. So when it was time to pick her up, Miriam (who is on winter break right now) got on her scooter and together we walked to the school. I was carrying Magdalena's scooter and also holding the leash of our foster dog. Did I mention we have another foster dog this year? Her name is Judy.
She's a rescued street dog, just like Snowflake was, so her leash-walking skills are very poor. She zigzags all over the place and cuts you off like nobody's business. We were quite a spectacle walking to the school - a girl, a scooter, a mom, another scooter, and a dog. But that was nothing compared to the spectacle we were a few minutes later when, not 100 meters into the walk home, Magdalena decided she was too tired to ride her scooter. Then we were a girl, a scooter, a mom, a girl, a scooter, a backpack, and a dog. And one of the girls was crying.

There was really no choice but to just press on. Magdalena cried the whole way home and wanted me to carry her, which was physically impossible since I had Judy's leash in one hand and Magdalena's scooter in the other. It was the longest 800-meter walk home EVER and we made quite the spectacle of ourselves. The best part was when Judy zigzagged right in front of sad Magdalena and tripped her. Sigh.

But it turns out Magdalena really was tired, because a little later, this happened:
I submit that to fall asleep on the floor in the middle of playing, you have to be pretty dang tired. The end.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cultural osmosis

I've been abroad - entirely in the Middle Eastern region - for close to 16 months straight now. In the last few weeks, I've started to feel more and more out of touch with American culture. I'm reading all the same news sources, talking with all the same friends, checking all the same blogs. And yet. I'm missing that certain something, that general, baseline knowledge of culture that is not acquired in any deliberate sense but is picked up almost through osmosis, just from being around Americans and listening and watching.

It's getting to the point where if I catch a glimpse of the United States on the news or a TV show, it already seems just a little bit foreign to me. Just a little. Like oooh, the sidewalk curbs aren't painted black and white there! It's almost like that time we went to Jordan for four months and when we came back, everyone in the US was saying "absolutely!" instead of "yes." It was sudden, inexplicable, and it happened while we were gone. Now that we've been "gone" for over a year, these little changes are racking up and I can't keep up with them all. I don't know who Tim Tebow is. I don't know what the rank and file really think about all this Occupy stuff, or about the Republican presidential candidates, for that matter. It's been ages since I heard anyone complain about gas prices in person. Today, just for the sake of forging a common bond with my fellow Americans, just to be in the know, I looked up the price of gas.

I felt a pang of...something (I'm not sure what) when I caught a glimpse of the most recent Good Housekeeping cover the other day. It was so AMERICAN, and ever so slightly so other. It was as if for the first time in my life I was able to take a step back from my own native culture and regard it from afar. All at once I could see what the world's perception of American culture is, which is difficult to do when you're immersed in it. And I have to say, I liked a lot of what I saw. America gets a lot of grief from other countries, but there is something so spunky and carefree and young and earnest about it, too.

America reminds me of these young Emiratis I teach, in a way. They're full of energy and relatively new to the world and until they learn otherwise (and they will), they believe there is nothing they can't achieve.

And that's how you know I've been in the Middle East too long, when I start comparing the US to Emirati youth. I'll stop now. My point is that I feel like I'm drifting away from essential cultural knowledge when it comes to the US. Who can fill me in on the minutiae I'm missing that I can't pick up from news and blogs and talking with other similarly disconnected expatriates?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Books 2011

I'm going to present my 2011 book data a little differently this year. Instead of putting the favorites in with the masses like I did in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010, I'm going to give you the (loosely and probably inconsistently) categorized list of everything I read this year and do the favorites along with some fun distinctions in a few days. Here you go!

(An asterisk means I didn't finish the book.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Please enjoy my favorite Christmas song rendition ever.

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 23rd, outsourced

I've written about $800 strollers before, but this one takes it up a notch.

My students showed me this video that made the rounds in the Middle East (and beyond...?) a few years ago and it at once terrified me and impressed me. My Saudi students, on the other hand, were totally blasé about it - "oh, speed skating in sandals on the freeway? That was SO four years ago."

In really weird cloud news, we have tsunamis and UFOs. [HT Jeremy and Kathy]

Falling is the new cone-ing, which was the new planking, I guess? It's good for a laugh, anyway.

2011 was The Year of the Mormon. It used to be that months would go by without any kind of Mormon-related article in the newspaper. Not so anymore.

WHAT ON EARTH. [HT a bunch of people on FB]

Finally, here's a collection of the best media errors of 2011.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The greatest adventure

(Before reading this post, please note that I am currently on a grad school exemption from PregnancyWatch and adjust your conclusions accordingly.)

Is it totally weird that I am jealous of American women who give birth in foreign countries? Because I totally am. I've had a lot of great adventures in foreign countries, some of them even health- or hospital- or kid- or kid-in-hospital-related. But I've never had THE great adventure.

I feel so robbed that Miriam wasn't born in Syria. She was due in mid-September, and Jeremy's PhD program at the U of A started at the beginning of September, so it wasn't too hard to do the math and see that it wouldn't work to birth her in Damascus. Still, we thought through a few scenarios. None of them were possible, so we ended up just staying in Syria as long as possible and then moving to Arizona, where Miriam was born a month later. To this day, when people ask me where she was born, I have to think twice before answering, "Tucson." Miriam herself has told others that she was born in Syria. She also told me the other day that she is part Syrian. (Wishful thinking on her part to help her fit in more with the Arab kid crowd here, I think.)

And now the University of Sharjah just opened up their brand new hospital down the road, and it has a fabulous maternity ward (or so I've heard) and it seems like the majority of my friends are pregnant and I just get to thinking about what an adventure they're about to have. It's like a club that I don't belong to.

One more thing: I wonder sometimes if this strange jealousy I have is because I had such a terrible experience giving birth to Miriam in Tucson, and there will always, always be that question in my mind: how beautiful could it have been in Syria?

I guess I'll never know, and so the jealousy continues to eat away at me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Avoidance behavior

I have five major assignments to turn in before the end of the semester in January. One is the bilingual program I described the other day. A couple of them are papers that I have worked on to varying degrees. When I'm not working on all this stuff, I'm exhibiting avoidance behaviors, which lately have taken the form of watching clips of the latest season of The Amazing Race on YouTube.

This surprises me, because I never thought I would like that show. Over the years, people have told me that I should watch it but the only episodes I ever caught glimpses of never sparked my interest. It seemed like it was just a bunch of people arguing with each other.

Until I had a bunch of research papers looming - then TAR was somehow riveting. I am really enjoying it, even though so many of the scenes remind me too much of stuff I've lived in real life. I hate hate hate that feeling of getting off a train after a night of crappy sleep and being hungry and you have to go to the bathroom but you don't have time because you have to get somewhere before a certain time but you have no idea where to go or where to even begin to find your way. It's stressful enough when you don't have a million dollars on the line.

Nobody give any spoilers for this season, please. I understand that it's already ended (?) and we'll see if I can get through the rest of the episodes without finding out who wins. As far as avoidance behaviors go, The Amazing Race is pretty dang enjoyable.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Arabic/English bilingual education plan

It's time to turn a homework assignment into a blog post. This particular assignment was to design a bilingual English/Arabic education plan that a) develops proficiency in English and Arabic while b) preserving the national and cultural identity of the students.

You see, the fun thing about Arabic is that it's not just one language. It's one standard formal/media language that is learned almost as a foreign language even in schools in Arab countries, plus that country's dialect (this is called diglossia, remember?). Some dialects of Arabic are mutually unintelligible. That's why I sometimes go crazy with jealousy when I hear of someone moving to, say, Russia, and teaching their kids, say, Russian. It's so uncomplicated for them! Here, our kids play with Tunisians and Egyptians and Palestinians and Emiratis and for all intents and purposes, those kids all speak entirely different languages. It's maddening, from a language-learning point of view, because all that unstructured play time with native speakers of Arabic does very little to reinforce and promote the formal Arabic they learn in school.

So it was with particular relish that I set about completing my assignment to design a bilingual Arabic/English education program. The very first thing I did was decide to include an Arabic dialect component, rather than putting MSA (the formal stuff) on an unimpeachable pedestal. Because dangit, I want my kid to be able to play in Arabic, not just read poetry or listen to the news. In my bilingual education plan, MSA has its place in literacy and literature classes only. English gets literacy, science, and math (and yes, I know that this may cause students to harbor unrealized attitudes that assign English a more prestigious position in the language hierarchy because science and math are allocated to it, but the truth is that scientific and mathematical research is conducted in English these days). Arabic dialect gets social studies. Everybody's happy.

To that end, Jeremy and I recently engaged the services of an Arabic teacher for our girls. We're Levantine Arabic snobs so we found a young Syrian woman to come over and play with the kids (and a couple of neighbor girls) in Arabic. They don't do drills or write sentences or have any kind of systematic approach to learning Arabic - Miriam and Magdalena get that (via MSA) in school. The point is for them to use real-life, every day Arabic dialect to play and communicate on a child's level.

That's the solution we've found until a bilingual education program like the one I designed for my assignment exists in real life. And believe me, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, December 16, 2011

December 16th, outsourced

If this SMS exchange about Snuggies is fake, I DON'T WANT TO KNOW.

Sometimes a cappella song and dance routines creep me out, but I have to admit that this particular performance by Vocal Point had me mesmerized.

Personally, I never unpack into hotel drawers. You?

People Are Awesome. I showed this video to both of the classes I teach and they loved it beyond all reason. So do I, actually. [HT Jeremy's cousin on FB]

If any of your less-informed friends try to pass off Gingrich's "Palestinians are fake" line as genuine, here's an article you should read so you can be prepared to correct them in a polite and informed manner.

This article in the WSJ about Christmas card photos features some friends of mine from Portland. I saw their Christmas card before it appeared in the article and it is lovely.

Reading about the logistics of Santa visiting every Christian kid in the world on Christmas Eve kind of broke my brain.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"The end of the semester" lasts a whole month

I can tell from the pile on my desk that the end of the semester is here.

I think the box of tissues gives it a little more heft and panache, don't you think? There's a second round of sickness going on these days so it's just as well the tissues are in my "to do" heap, just in case.

"The end of the semester" is going to last almost a whole month, though, so I have to ready myself for a race of endurance, not speed. I'm already trying to decide what book I'm going to read on January 13th to celebrate the end. Because on that day, unlike now, there will really, really be nothing else that I'm supposed to be reading or critiquing or teaching or analyzing. Until next semester starts, anyway.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let this be a lesson for you

I'm going to be very, very oblique on the details of this incident, for obvious reasons. You see, I recently sent an email to the wrong person, causing me a lot of embarrassment, anguish, and and a constant refrain of "I am so STUPID!!!!" to echo through my head for the better part of a day. Those feelings (and even the refrain) have since subsided, but all I have to do is open up my inbox to feel the shame and humiliation come rushing back.

Basically, I needed to send an email to a group of people. I found a previous email exchange among that group of people and clicked on Reply All and then smugly and smartly edited the Subject line to what the new email was about. "How smart I am to change the Subject line," I thought, "I just hate it when people Reply All to old emails but leave the same old irrelevant subject."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rear window

Our 4-year-old neighbor broke his leg a few weeks ago and now spends a good deal of his time sitting in his wheelchair, broken leg propped up, looking out the window. Yesterday evening, the girls were outside playing and our front door was open. I walked from the living room to the kitchen, passing momentarily in front of the open doorway. Almost immediately, I heard a "Briiiiiiiiidgeeeeeeeeeet!"

It was our 4-year-old neighbor. He'd been watching. And he wanted to say hello to me.

The whole situation was so eerily reminiscent of Rear Window/Bart of Darkness that I had to laugh.

He gets his cast off in a couple more weeks. I'll have to make sure I don't do anything to arouse his suspicion before then.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I think parenting is harder for introverts

Not long after the realization that I am an introvert changed my life, I discovered something else: I think parenting is harder for introverts. Think about it. Introverts may enjoy spending time with others (I do), but we need time to recharge in solitude after sustained social encounters. And what is parenting if not one long, continuous, sustained social encounter? (With a tiny person who is often irrational, non-verbal, immune to compromise, and deaf to cues that usually signal the need for the interaction to end soon, no less.)

I was reminded of this negative aspect of introversion on Friday. We spent more than six hours at church, first in the regular three-hour service and then enjoying (and partly orchestrating) a congregational Christmas party. It was very festive and I certainly enjoyed myself, but by the time we got home I just wanted to be in a dark, quiet room by myself so I could recuperate from all the interaction that can be so draining for introverts.

Friday, December 09, 2011

December 9th, outsourced

OK, I actually hate Wheel of Fortune, which maybe is why I laughed at these poor, inept contestants.

Hooray, a spoiler-free review of Downton Abbey Season 2, from Ken Jennings of all people. OF COURSE it's good.

WHY DO WE STILL HAVE PENNIES???????

Literary genre translations from McSweeney's.

Have you ever wanted to explore the demographics of word usage on Twitter? Well, here you go!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie was my Friday treat this week, and it was GOOD.

And that's all I have for you this week. I spent three whole mornings in UAE government ministries this week (Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday, Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, and the SDNR on Wednesdsay) so I wasn't able to click on all the good stuff out there.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

BYU-Idaho's official position on skinny jeans

YOU GUYS. I thought the glory days of self-righteous arguments about the immodesty of one-strap backpacks were over. Turns out, they're alive and well, at least at BYU-Idaho, but they've moved on to skinny jeans. Behold.

That article at once fills me with indignation and glee. Indignation, because who the HECK FIRE does that guy think he is, treating Miss Rachel Vermillion like that? It must have been humiliating.

And then glee, because I am thoroughly enjoying the firestorm that has erupted around this incident, but only because most people (even the Mormons!) are saying that Miss Vermillion should have been able to take her test. I'm glad to know there are still right-minded individuals out there.

Gosh, there is so much more to say:

- Pants show the shape of your legs, pretty much no matter what. Sorry, that's how it is.
- I can't believe I have now experienced James 1:6 being applied to skinny jeans. Again, I have a love/hate relationship with this (love, because it is just so crazy, and hate, for the same reason).
- I am really trying to hold back on judging the male employee but he sure seems like a jerk. I would love to hear his side of the story, like maybe he had a quota for the number of women he had to turn away and it was getting late? Ha ha.
- In my days at the BYU, we mostly heard complaints from the men about being turned away from the Testing Center for too much facial hair. I guess times have changed.
- I swear I heard a story once about when jeans were not allowed at the BYU (yes, really) and a woman wearing them was denied entry to the Testing Center. So she took off her jeans and buttoned up her long coat and went in to take her test like that. If true, that is AWESOME.

Sorry if this post didn't make sense to anyone who is not a Mormon. I have class in 20 minutes so I didn't have time to explain, but I really wanted to get this particular piece of hilarity out there.

PS - here is "the official position of BYU-Idaho on skinny jeans." I can't believe that phrase even exists!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

My quest is almost over

For almost a year now, I've been attempting to capture that most elusive prey, the Certificate of Degree Equivalency from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Abu Dhabi. Basically, I need the UAE to recognize that I came by my BA honestly, and certify said fact to the American University of Sharjah, so I can continue to study for my master's degree. AUS has kindly granted two or three extensions for me to keep working on the process, because like I said, it's taken me almost a year. SO FAR - I'm not even done.

Anyway, this post is not about that whole process. If you're relieved to hear that, sorry, because a post about that whole process is coming, soon. Today, I'm going to tell you about an unexpected hiccup in the process, a mere blip on the radar of the hunt for the Certificate of Degree Equivalency, a single morning in the year of my quest.

The Ministry of Higher Education in Abu Dhabi said that there was an additional, unexpected hoop for me to jump through, and that was a visit to the bowels of the Sharjah Directorate of Naturalisation and Residency. Why? Well, to prove that this is my first period of residency in the UAE, of course! I'm sure it's really obvious why I would need that information in order to get a master's degree here, so I won't even bother explaining. Ahem.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Dubai's version of swimming pool deaths

I read the Gulf News online a few times a week, and the headlines there don't refresh in any systematic way. Sometimes old stories stay up there for a week or two and are then replaced with a slew of new stuff all at once (in its physical form, it's a daily paper, so I'm not sure why the online version is so irregular). I thought that's what was going on when I kept seeing all these headlines about little kids falling to their deaths from high-rise buildings. I honestly believed it was all one article about one kid who fell out of a window a few weeks ago.

Sadly, I realized today that all these headlines have referred to different children falling out of different windows. There have been FIVE such deaths in the last month, in addition to the double window-fall-death that happened in September.

I guess this is Dubai's version of swimming pool deaths (which I don't hear much about, by the way, though it does happen occasionally). So sad. When we lived in Cairo in a sixth-floor apartment with a balcony, the girls weren't allowed on it unless Jeremy or I was RIGHT. THERE. Even then, I always got the heebie jeebies if they got too close to the railings. At times I felt like I was being too vigilant, but now I'm glad I was. So sad.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The winter charade

Winter is almost here. For many of you, that means below-freezing temperatures, snow, and maybe even some school cancellations. Others of you have been dealing with that stuff for weeks now.

For those of us in the UAE, winter means that we all participate in the charade that it is cold now. We do this by wearing sweaters and occasionally scarves and sometimes even a coat (!), especially in the mornings. This morning, Magdalena rode her bike to school wearing short sleeves and shorts. Somehow, it felt wrong to have her do that in December, so I put a jacket on her for show. Never mind that it was probably about 80 degrees outside, or close to it.

Still, I eat up this season of reduced temperatures. I've paid careful attention to all four seasons and I don't think it's as bad as some people would have had us believe before we moved here. We heard all kinds of horror stories, such as the legend that there are only two seasons here: summer, and really really hot summer.

The truth is that it's very nice weather here (in my opinion) for a good seven months. From about 15 October to 15 May, the weather does not adversely affect the business of your daily life (read: it's not so hot that you physically cannot walk around outside). And really, that's about as much as you can ask of a place. Consider: the non-brutal-wintery season of Ithaca lasted a similar length.

So I'm happy to have my seven months of gorgeous weather, even if it doesn't come with all the visual cues (or even the very low temperatures) of deep winter. And now if you see me wearing a sweater when it's 80 degrees outside, you'll know why.

Friday, December 02, 2011

December 2nd, outsourced

It's possible that I'm as irrationally, fantastically upset about people who complain about babies crying on airplanes as those people are about...well, babies crying on airplanes. Here's a perspective from The Economist (and I'd like to highlight FP's lovely use of the term "uncontrollable rogue states of travel" to describe said crying babies).

I loved this: a Google Earth puzzle. I only got 5/25 correct but the fun was in the journey, not the score.

Arizona state senator: Herman Cain has not sexually harassed me, even though I am attractive. REALLY. [HT Eric D. Snider]

If you're looking for some Christmas gifts for your children, here are five great toys! [HT a bunch of my friends on FB]

This article really resonated with me - it's almost like she's articulating the feelings about the Breaking Dawn movie that I couldn't express on my own.

"Mormon disco ball" is now the first item on my Christmas list. Thank you, video. [HT Andrew]

I saw this Nicolas Cage Serbian biology textbook cover on its own, completely without context, about a week ago. I think the background story actually makes it LESS funny, but whatever.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

NaBloPoMo is over

Another November, another NaBloPoMo done. I made it through all thirty days, but I came pretty close to not posting on two or three of them. I pre-posted (had Blogger automatically publish a post) on two days while we were camping in the Empty Quarter. I also almost consider the post I wrote about Bilingual Education to be cheating, since it was more to help me study than to contribute meaningful content to the blog.

So really, I think NaBloPoMo was easier than ever for me this year, even with my sometimes loaded schedule. Living in a foreign country provides endless fodder for blog posts, I guess. There's always something I can say about this crazy place called the UAE.

The truth is that I love NaBloPoMo more for what I get than what I give. I love reading blog updates from many friends who don't post regularly during the rest of the year. I also get to read my parents' blogs, which is nice because I get to hear stories I've never heard before. I don't think there was ever a day where I lacked for something good to read on my Google Reader queue. Thanks, everyone.

Here's to next year!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Breakfast cereal in the UAE

It's been a while since I did any reconnaissance work at the grocery store. How about we talk about breakfast cereal for the last day of NaBloPoMo?

Except for my very early childhood (where I can remember eating homemade bran muffins for breakfast), cereal has been the standard first meal of the day. I guess you could almost say I was addicted to the stuff - if I didn't have a bowl of some kind of flaked or squared or circled grain in a bowl with milk, it was like my day hadn't started yet.

There are a lot of food situations in foreign countries that I've adapted to with considerable aplomb. Weaning myself off breakfast cereal hasn't been one of them. In Russia, we ate weird European mueslis but it was close enough. In Syria, the pickings were very, very slim, and it says a lot about my dedication to breakfast cereal that we choked down ghastly Egyptian cornflakes each morning while we lived there. In Jordan, we reaped a bountiful harvest of expired Lucky Charms boxes that lasted us for a few months. Those were good times.

Here in the UAE, there is more breakfast cereal selection than I've ever seen in my entire existence abroad. There may even be more than in the US. And yet. It's a shame that a lot of it is stuff like this:
 Have you ever seen such a large collection of unabashedly sugary cereals? I submit that you have not, because AYE CARAMBA. It was bad enough when we first moved here, but ever since I read What to Eat, I can't look at these things without experiencing a wave of horror at what is considered to be a breakfast food (or a food, period).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Maps, mines, and Bear Grylls


Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography WonksMaphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just what you'd expect from a book about maps by Ken Jennings: pure, nerdy brilliance. I especially enjoyed how he related the concept of imprinting to humans and the places we grow up in (page 15). Plus, you know he's a great writer since he can make even his super-smart self come across as being totally humble and relatable.



33 Men Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners33 Men Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners by Jonathan Franklin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I feel like I missed out on the whole "Los 33" Chilean Miner thing because the time period in which it took place happened to span exactly the time period in which we were moving our lives over to the UAE. So when the miners were rescued, it was kind of a "huh?" moment for me, rather than a huge big emotional deal. That made me sad, so I sought out this book. I thought it might be fantastic like Alive and Miracle in the Andes (and the situations are shockingly similar, even down to the length of the separate ordeals).

However, I kind of wish I'd just read the Wikipedia article instead. The book didn't really have any additional insight and it certainly wasn't written any better. Oh well.


Mud, Sweat and TearsMud, Sweat and Tears by Bear Grylls

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Uh, yes, I did read this book. In fact, I was the one who requested the AUS library to acquire it (you're welcome, Sharjah), but Jeremy got to it before me. I enjoy watching Man vs. Wild if someone else has it on. I enjoy BG's tweets on Twitter. I enjoyed reading this book. He seems like a really genuine guy who has had some amazing adventures and wrote a decent book about it that sounds like his voice in your head when you read it. No complaints. If I were an adolescent or teenaged boy, I think I would have DEVOURED this book. In fact, there should be a Bear Grylls merit badge that could be earned just from reading it (he is Chief Scout, after all).

Monday, November 28, 2011

UAE National Day is approaching

I think some people out there assume that the United States has a monopoly on overt, gaudy displays of flag-based country worship. NOT SO. UAE National Day is on December 2nd, and it's the 40th anniversary so everything is extra decked out. My kids' new favorite car game is seeing who can spot the most flags out their window as we drive through town. Take a look (and keep in mind that I snapped most of these photos while driving, thanks):

A villa on the Sharjah/Ajman border.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Raising Daniel

Yesterday I wrote about my experience growing up with a disabled older brother. My mom read that post and sent me the following, re: raising a disabled child. Keep in mind that she did all this almost entirely without the support network that the internet can give these days. It must have been very lonely at times.

No parent can be prepared for the bombshell of learning their child is severely disabled.   You can only accept and move forward by learning all you can, finding all the helps you can, and depending upon our loving Heavenly Father for guidance.  Normalizing the experience is beneficial to the child and to the family.  I've seen in a few families where perhaps out of guilt or unrealistic expectations, a parent throws every possible family resource toward the one child, leaving the others on the fringe.  Of course we should do our best for the disabled child, but neglecting the others is a mistake.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Growing up with Daniel

I've mentioned elsewhere that my older brother Daniel was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. Growing up with a disabled sibling was all I ever knew, so it was my normal.

But a few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend whose second child has been diagnosed with Joubert Syndrome. She is understandably worried about her future as a mother of a special needs child, and the effect this diagnosis will have on family dynamics with her other child. She asked me how it felt to grow up in the shadow of a CdLS brother.

What's amazing to me is that I don't know that I had ever really thought of how it felt. Like I said, it was all I knew. But looking back, I realize that it did not adversely affect me, at least not on the whole (just don't ask me to tell you about the time Daniel sat behind me in Primary and made me cry by poking pushpins into my back). I think I had a positive experience as a CdLS sibling for two reasons:

1. My personality. Where it gets tricky is when I try to discern whether my personality was innately particularly well adapted to dealing with a high-needs older brother, or if my personality developed the way it did to cope with said situation. It's anyone's guess, really. In any case, I didn't seem to mind being hauled around with my mom and brother to doctor appointments and special schools. In fact, I believe I learned to read in the library at one of those special needs schools.

2. My mom. I don't know how she did it, but she managed to not let Daniel's problems cast a shadow over the rest of our family. Our world did not revolve around his disability, even though I knew that it cost her a lot of time and effort to fight for every victory she achieved on his behalf, like getting him through high school in the public school system. I think it would have been easier for her to say the rest of us kids couldn't do this or that because of Daniel and his situation, but I can't recall a time that she ever took that out.

I do think that Daniel and I had a more turbulent brother/sister relationship than normal. For most of my childhood, Daniel seemed to hate and resent me, and it was sometimes hard to flourish in that atmosphere. It was the weirdest thing, though - in 1995, when our family dog ran into the street and got hit by a car, and Daniel saw me crying about it, he was nice to me for an entire year. To this day, I have no explanation for that fluke year of peace in our relationship, but whatever. After that, we went back to our uneasy semi-truce. It is a fact that even when I drove to high school, Daniel refused to ride in my car and took the bus instead.

Anyway, all of this is to say that Daniel goes to a retreat house for disabled adults every once in a while. It's called Martha's Place, and they just put out a new video describing their services. My mom and Daniel are featured in it a few times. It's worth a watch for that reason, and also because these are good people providing an awesome service to families of special needs children who are now grown. Take a look.

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 25th, outsourced

NERD ALERT: I'm re-reading The Master and Margarita, mostly in English but with the Russian by my side, available for constant comparison. That's why I'm fascinated with this discussion about which English translation is better. Apparently I am reading the much-mocked Glenny (though to be honest, I think it has some quirky, old-timey charm about it). I think next time I'll go with the Ginsberg. /NERD ALERT

OK, maybe the nerd alert isn't quite over yet: check out this guide to your favorite map projections.

Here are some more amazing pictures of the stuff going down in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

I will never take a bendy straw for granted again.

OK, I get that what the pepper-spraying cop did was a disproportional response at best. But here's some context for you.

I don't know that I have ever seen such an incredible collection of photographs! I'm so glad I'm not the one who has to decide which one is best. And remind me to never travel to Sindh, Pakistan, EVER (see picture #8).

It had been a while since I'd watched Hamish and Andy practicing their ghosting, or their three-step hiding game. So I watched it again. [HT a few years ago, Scotty]

I can't stop giggling at this article from The Onion: "Area Father Praised For Helping Raise Family."

Wait, so they're Amish, and it's hair attacks, and the guy's name is Mullet...? I can't...the words just...whaaaaaaa? [HT BCC]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy (un) Thanksgiving!

It doesn't really seem like Thanksgiving this year. Jeremy and I both have work, the girls both have school, and in addition, I'm invigilating (don't be alarmed - that's what they call 'proctoring' here) a midterm this afternoon, after which I have class until 8pm. Happy Thanksgiving to me!

I'm not really complaining. After all, we got a week off earlier this month for a holiday we don't celebrate, and we enjoyed our time. It's only when it comes around to the American holidays that I feel like pouting because it's business as usual in the UAE at large. The best deal we ever had was at the embassy in Moscow. There, they gave us the Russian holidays AND the American holidays.

Anyway, we're having Thanksgiving dinner with friends on Saturday afternoon. I can't wait!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Middle School

Through two flukes of circumstance, I only attended Middle School for one year. First, the year that I started seventh grade was the same year the school district switched over to the 6/7/8 middle school model, from the previous 7/8/9 junior high version. That meant that the fifth-graders and sixth-graders graduated from elementary school at the same time that year (it was 1994). In any case, I would have already had a reduced 2-year sentence to middle school (grades 7 and 8), except that I also ended up skipping the eighth grade. So that's how I only attended Middle School for one year.

And to be honest, I don't know that I've ever spent more than a few moments put together thinking about my time in seventh grade. If you look through my Flashback Fridays, even, there aren't many (if any) stories from that period. Middle School was hardly a blip on the radar for me and I never thought to cast my mind back to my time there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Maybe it was the Basques

My friend Nancy called my attention to the fact that a jewelry store in Provo was robbed on Monday. In fact, it's the very same jewelry store where Jeremy and I got our engagement/wedding rings.

I read through the article and one part really caught my attention. It's the part where the men were "described as being about 5 feet 10 inches tall with olive complexions, and they spoke in a language the clerks didn't recognize." Now, I understand that the only witnesses were tied up and gagged at the time, but how obscure does a language have to be for you to not recognize it? I am honestly wondering. I am not poking fun here. I remember a few weeks ago at IKEA there was a lady in front of me in line speaking a language that I could not have placed on the globe to save my life. I could not have told you if it was a Romance language, or Germanic, or Slavic, or anything. I finally decided it was Basque so I wouldn't have to think about it anymore (Basque is famously a language isolate, meaning it doesn't seem to be related to any other language now extant on earth).

So maybe the robbers were Basque, too. Who knows? The bigger issue here is (as Jeremy pointed out) that the article ends with a police officer's assessment that the crime "does not sound random. This sounds like they planned it." Well, yeah.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Brain dump re: diglossia

I think one of the most cited linguistic texts ever is Ferguson's 1959 treatise on a phenomenon called diglossia. It's been on my mind lately because I have a midterm in my Bilingual Education class on Tuesday and I'm trying to wrap my head around everything we've learned in the last few months. From what I understand via the legends surrounding this particular professor, we are all going to fail the midterm. All of us. And then we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off...and beg for a curve.

One of the texts for this class has been Ofelia Garcia's Bilingual Education for the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. My classmates complain about the book a lot because the text style is not the most lucid out there. Also, the author really has a chip on her shoulder about oppressed language minorities and those dang pasty United Statesian monolinguals imposing their bigoted ignorance on all the cute little Mexican kids and blah blah blah. It may get my blood boiling every once in a while, but at least it is engaging, you know? I quite liked having a textbook with ATTITUDE and SASS. Anyway, about two weeks ago, we switched to Baker's Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, which is much more vanilla. Oh well.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

10-year marriage review

Ten years ago today, Jeremy and I got married. Let's take a look at how that's going for us, shall we?

I married Jeremy for a lot of reasons, including because he always made me laugh. Status: he still always makes me laugh. With some of the exact same jokes as ten years ago, even!

Another reason I married Jeremy is because I knew he came with a lifetime of international adventure guarantee. Status: Yep, we've had a lot of international adventures, and I couldn't be happier. (Note: a lot of people have assumed that Jeremy sprung the whole international living thing on me after we were married. Fact: that is not true. I went into this with my eyes wide open, people.)

I loved Jeremy because he was a nerdy linguist like me. Status: he is still a nerdy linguist (and I still love him). A nerdy linguist with approximately four more degrees than when I first met him, no less. (He technically has two master's degrees. Linguists do not get any nerdier than that.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Kindle?

I've been considering buying a Kindle for a few months now. It would really fit with our lifestyle: when your possessions are valued by their weight, books take up more than their share of poundage (but only just). And it would be nice to be able to access e-books that I can't get here in the form of regular books. Still, every time I get to seriously thinking about it, I decide I'm not going to buy one.

But then. For some reason I was on Amazon and I typed in the name of one of my Linguistics textbooks. It came up as being available in Kindle format and the price was $10. TEN DOLLARS. Do you know how much I paid for the huge, hulking, physical book at the AUS bookstore here? Well, it was more than ten dollars. All of a sudden, the Kindle is a lot more attractive to me.

However, one of my main complaints about the Kindle is that while it supports our lifestyle of living abroad where English books are not always available, as well as acquiring books that don't weigh anything, I don't like that it encourages purchasing books (aside from textbooks, anyway). I am not one of those people who, you know, buys books. I get them from the library, or I borrow them, or I (ok, ok) buy them at the library clearance sale for 50 cents. But I almost never go to a bookstore and pay upwards of $15 on a book, even though I love books forever and ever and they are very dear to my heart. So if I bought a Kindle, then I'd have to buy books. And I don't know if I'm down with that.

Does anyone who has a Kindle feel like convincing me either way? Does the availability of cheap(er) textbooks make it worth it?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 18th, outsourced

OK, so maybe this is more of an advertisement than a news article, but the Gulf News recently ran a piece about rental properties in the tallest building in the world. It's worth a gander to see what life on the other side is like. Also: what happens when you flush a toilet in the Burj Khalifa? [HT on that second article, Andrew]

For some reason, this one lady gets any SMS messages intended for any person named Leila that are misdirected by the senders. She started a blog to document the weird, one-sided conversations she has with hundreds of strangers.

This is the most coherent, lucid, nuanced article about - for sad lack of a better term - Mormon Mommy Bloggers that I've ever read. The author really gets it, you know? [HT Lyse]

I had a few good laughs looking through this collection of LIFE magazine's worst covers ever. Seriously, some of them are SO BAD. [HT Kathy]

Of these 11 Sounds That Your Kids Have Probably Never Heard, I can personally remember seven. How about you? [HT BCC]

I know where I'll be getting the bulk of my information about the 2012 presidential candidates.

I mentioned a few Amazon review bombs before. Here is a new one to add to the list (check out the user-submitted photos). [HT Jeremy]

So, um, Jeremy and I are still rabid fans of Out of the Wild: Venezuela and it's possible that we make an effort to check up on the cast members' lives from time to time (via Twitter, FB, Google searches, etc.). This video (featuring Ryan and Nick) may not be interesting to you unless you've seen the show, but then again...maybe it will. [HT Jeremy]

Let it be known that Arab teenage boys like Twilight, too

The new Twilight movie opens in the UAE today. I know this because almost every one of my students informed me of that fact as s/he walked in the classroom door this morning. Most of them are going to see it sometime this weekend, and that includes the boys. In fact, the boys were more excited about it than the girls. One of my students is going to see it with his two brothers. Another is going with a group of male friends. It's not like there are a lot of co-ed activities going on among Arab youth in the UAE or anything, so it's not unexpected that the men are going with other men instead of being dragged along by significant others. But I have to admit I was surprised to learn that it wasn't just hordes of teenage girls who were interested in Breaking Dawn.

As long as we're on the subject, did I tell the story on my blog a month ago about when I was asking my students about their weekend activities? One of my (female) students said she went to see a movie. I asked her which one. She said she didn't remember the name, but that it was the movie with "that very handsome actor." I told her that there were a lot of handsome actors. She said, "no, miss, the REALLY REALLY very handsome actor." Can you guess who she meant? The movie was Abduction, and the actor was - wait for it - Taylor Lautner. The funny thing is that most of the girls in the class knew exactly who she meant after the first "very handsome actor" bit.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I don't think I will go see Breaking Dawn in the theater. I can't even get through the trailer. Something about it really bothers me. I'm sure I will see it on video but in the meantime I bet my students will be able to fill the whole class period on Sunday morning with descriptions of how good/bad it was...and how handsome Taylor Lautner is, I guess.

ps - you are free to share whatever sentiments you have about the Twilight series in the comments. There is no judgement here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hazardous working conditions

It's really amazing how much work I can get done in a single quiet morning when I'm home by myself. This happens on exactly one day a week, and I milk it for all it's worth. This morning, I plowed through a whole bunch of writing assignments for my Writing & Research Methods class, AND calculated a workload estimate for a master's thesis I'm editing (this semester's editing season has started already! I can't believe it). I was a machine.

Then the kids got home from school and things came screeching to a halt. I've been working on my only remaining active writing assignment (which is due tomorrow) for five hours now, and I've only just barely punched out a reasonable draft that I can work with. I was working for four hours on and off, of course, hacking out a sentence here and there between trips to the kitchen to get the girls a snack and trips to the bedroom to get a new pair of panties for the 3-year-old and trips to the playroom to break up squabbles. It's a miracle I've written down even one coherent thought, really.

Sometimes I get to thinking about trying to be a mom + grad student (or a mom + anything, really), and I realized that a lot of men would never stand for such working conditions:

She's a very cute workplace productivity hazard, but she definitely takes her toll. And I love that my "office" (= a corner of the living room) is constantly strewn with kid projects and toys and trails of sand from outside.

So what I finally did, to get a stretch of unbroken work time, was send the girls outside with a fun-size leftover-Halloween-candy Twix each, telling them it was a piece of meat and they were pioneer girls who had been walking on the Oregon Trail all day. They immediately grabbed some play dishes and headed out to the back alley to cook it up.
OK, OK, so I gave them each TWO Twix bars. I'm that desperate to get some writing done, all right??

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rest, at last

As per Matthew's suggestion (in my post about hacking up NyQuil pills), I got myself to the pharmacy last night and procured some Toplexil. The description of its intended use said it was for dry, itchy coughs that persist especially at nighttime. Folks, that is ME. So I took some last night and had the best night's sleep since November 4th (before the onset of The Cough).

The night before, I had tried the Dextrolag I got from the doctor. It was ok, I guess. The taste of it was appalling, though. They love their medicinal syrups here, which works for me since I hate taking pills, but the color, aroma, and flavor of Dextrolag is exactly like that ghastly pink soap you only find in freeway rest area bathrooms.

So not only is Toplexil more effective for my purposes, but it tastes about a million times better. Like crème caramel, in fact. I found myself thinking about how good it tasted today and then I was immediately worried that I would slowly turn into Lily Bart from The House of Mirth. If you hear me arguing with myself about whether or not to have another sip of tincture of laudanum (or whatever it was), BE CONCERNED.

Goodnight!

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