Monday, September 01, 2014

Reluctant mom taxi

The girls started Year 2 and Year 4 yesterday, at a different school than the previous three years. Another change for this year is that, for now at least, I am driving them instead of having them take the bus.

This is the part where I am a bad mom (maybe) because I am not a fan of driving my kids to and from school every day. I think it's borderline ridiculous, at least when other options exist, like walking/biking (as I did in elementary school) or taking the bus (as I did for middle and high school until I could drive). My mom never drove me to school. If I recall correctly, nobody else's mom drove them to school, either.

But the bus service at the new school costs more than the old one did, and it doesn't even come with a lovely female bus attendant to keep things in order. There's a chance we'll switch to the bus in a few weeks, but it's a slim one.

In the perpetual meantime, I'm trying to look on the bright side. Driving my kids to school means I get some time with them at the beginning of their day, and some time with them in the afternoon to debrief. I will see their teachers on a more regular basis. They can stay after for activities without missing the bus. And, of course, we'll be saving a bunch of money. (Just don't bring up the cost of my time.)

Since I'm a novice, I'm still trying to figure out the best way to do things. I've known for years now that Sharjah has some seriously weird road patterns, but now I've discovered that one of the traffic black holes is located right outside the gate of the primary school. It's literally a can't-get-there-from here spot, unless I go a further 20 minutes out of my 10-minute way. So I have to park outside the gate of the secondary school and trek across campus on foot to get to the girls' classrooms. This could be a lovely walk in December, but for now it is a dash through the fires of hell - hotter, though, since I'm clutching a sweaty baby in my arms.

I'm keeping my eyes open to see what norms emerge after this first week or two of school is over. Maybe it will eventually be acceptable to give a cheery goodbye to the girls at the gate (even the secondary one), instead of walking them all the way over to the morning line-up area.

Do you drive your kids to school? What is my problem, anyway?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August 2014 books

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the WorldBanana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Basically, bananas run the world. Who knew? I liked that the author was willing to keep things interesting even at the cost of uneven chapter lengths and sudden transitions. If a banana-related topic was veering into boring territory, he was not afraid to move on.

Good thing most banana-related topics are interesting! Also, I learned the following from this book, and I consider it to be the most mind-blowing fact I've learned from a book this year (at least):

"The Philippines also grow several close banana relatives. Manila hemp, woven from the fibers of the Abaca plant - a cousin - is the raw material for the strong, thick rope used to secure boats and ships to docks. Our most familiar application of the fiber also derives from the substance's strength: it is the key ingredient in our Manila envelopes."

I had never spared a thought to why we call Manila envelopes, well, MANILA envelopes. Wow.

Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of AmericaCandyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A candy memoir! I couldn't decide where the author was at his best - childhood memories of candy, discussions of the candy trade, or describing his visits to candy factories. How about all of the above? I loved that he portrayed the people he met with (candy company presidents and factory workers) favorably. I think authors of books like this are sometimes tempted to get snarky at the expense of their interviewees.

Like my friend Amanda said, I don't think I would be friends with this guy in real life, but certainly this is someone who understands candy and therefore understands ME.

Hattie Ever After (Hattie, #2)Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three stars for me; probably four stars for the target audience of people 20 years younger than me.

By the way, the whole book I was so distracted that she kept spelling it "lead" instead of "lede," but it turns out that the second spelling was invented after the time period of this book so as not to be confused with other senses of the first. Huh.

City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments, #5)City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I said of one of the previous books in this series that it was effortless and smart. This one, not so much. It was mostly people agonizing about their love lives. The villain was squicky-creepy rather than straight-up evil, and the only people (in the loose sense of the word) I really care about at this point are Simon and Isabelle, not even as a couple, just as themselves.

So, yeah. It's been a year or two since I read the previous book. I picked this one up in a weak moment between library holds. I think I'll wait another year or two (for another weak moment, perhaps) before picking up book 6.

Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices, #3)Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a book about its own characters, and if you don't care about them, WELL. The main conflict/bad guy of the entire series is vanquished at about the 75% mark. The remainder of the book is just sitting down and having angst-ridden fireside chats with the characters, in old-timey English. It was a big ol' pile of meh for me.

A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at SeaA Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Richard Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty dang riveting. I was glad I watched the movie first, since it helped me to visualize some of the more technical aspects of the ship and lifeboat (like pirate cages and the truly awful conditions in the lifeboat).

The Eye of Minds (The Mortality Doctrine, #1)The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

I really liked The Maze Runner by the same author, but I seem to recall a lot of people complaining that it was juvenile, simplistic, and poorly written. I still don't agree with that assessment of The Maze Runner, but it was certainly true for this book. I'll recommend it to the next 10-year-old boy who asks me for a book to read, but for me and my house, it's a DNF.

The Friendship DollThe Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WHAT a treasure. It's the perfect book to read to my daughters. I can't wait to start!

Friday, August 29, 2014

August 29th, outsourced

What your junk drawer reveals about you.

The wettest place on earth. Two words: LIVING BRIDGES. [HT Ashi]

Back to School: the 1970s vs. today.

Back to School: The Onion.

A man lived in the woods of Maine for 30 years and did not have contact with other human beings (until he was caught stealing food) and I wasn't informed (until now)??!??! [HT Liz]

Here's what happens when you Like everything you see on Facebook. [HT Andrew]

My favorite link this week: tracking state-to-state mobility in the US. I was clicking through a few states and wishing I could see where people from a certain state ended up, too, and YOU CAN (here). The influx of Californians into Oregon isn't as dramatic as I expected it to be (though I suppose there could be plenty of Californians in Oregon who weren't born in CA and therefore would not show up as such on the chart). [HT Kathy]

In defense of the Knee Defender. I'm team Knee Defender myself. I routinely do not recline my airplane seat, out of courtesy for the person behind me. It provides so little additional comfort for me, and causes great discomfort for the other person. I had never thought of it as the airlines double-selling that space, but it's kind of true, isn't it?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dusty playground

Since most of our neighborhood travels during the summer (and due to the fact that it's 120F during the day), the playground down the street gets woefully neglected during these months. Every year when we come back, it's covered in a thick layer of dust. There's no immediate hope of rain to wash it off, either, since it never rains earlier than November-ish.

It's almost like a standoff - between the playground and the neighborhood kids; between the kids themselves. Who will go down that slide first? Who will sacrifice their clothes and bare feet to the coating of dust? Who is willing to risk the wrath of whoever does their laundry?

Every year, I think that I'll have the girls put on their swimsuits, grab a few buckets and sponges, and give the playground a good scrubbing (or at least rinsing). This year, I think we may actually have done so except for Magdalena's broken arm.

In any case, we were at the playground tonight (see 120F during the day, above) (and yes, it seems so unwholesome to be playing at the playground when it's dark outside, but it is fairly normal here) and someone had already plowed a path through the dust. No need for the bucket-and-sponge treatment this year!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A highly scientific analysis of Milka chocolate varieties

I was inspired by the book Candyfreak to write brief reviews of all the Milka chocolate bar varieties that I tried in Germany. Consider this my candy magnum opus.

Milka Chips Ahoy. I don't like Chips Ahoy, so this was just meh for me. My kids liked it, though!

Milka and Oreo. This is one of my favorites! The Oreo bits are suspended in creamy filling so it's like having a bar of chocolate, a glass of milk, and a stack of Oreos, all in one. I do prefer mushy, milk-saturated Oreos, though, so the crunchy texture sometimes made me sad.

Milka Strawberry Yoghurt. Another one of my favorites, though I think I prefer Ritter Sport's rendition of the same (they put little crunchy bits in theirs). The Milka yogurt is more creamy than tangy, but deliiiiiiicious.

Milka and Daim. I prefer my Daim unencumbered by a Milka bar. This combination cheapens both of its elements.

Milka Whole Hazelnuts. This is Jeremy's favorite. It is very good, but apparently I prefer the novelty fillings rather than the classics.

Milka Cream-Crème (Sahne-Crème in German). Like a regular Milka bar, but silkier, almost like mousse. Really good.

Milka Alpine Milk Cream. This is the grown-up version of those Kinder milky chocolate bars. It's nice for those times when you feel like chocolate, but not too much, you know? Bonus: illusion of chocolate being good for you because milk.

Milka Yoghurt. Again, I prefer Ritter Sport's version because it is tangier, but there is always a place for this milder cousin.

Milka Grape Nut. I do not need fruit bits in my chocolate, GOOD DAY SIR.

Milka Caramel Cream. Another gem. Not too caramel-y, not too creamy, not too chocolatey. Just the right balance of all three. Bliss. You used to be able to buy this one in the UAE, but I haven't seen it in years.

Milka Toffee Ganznuss (whole nut - hazelnut). This is my favorite when I'm feeling sophisticated - a single hazelnut on top of toffee (caramel?) and cream, surrounded by chocolate.

Milka Choco + Cakes. This is a Milka bar with cream and a biscuit/wafer/graham cracker thing inside. It tasted like a S'more to me, especially since I ate it when it was all melty. I can see this becoming a favorite, were I allowed the honor of further acquaintance.

Milka Raspberry and Cream. I found this one in Romania - I'd never seen it in Germany. And it is vile. It tastes like raspberry jam inside of chocolate - like those awful cherry cordial chocolates that no one ever eats in the big box of See's. I think I would like it if they incorporated the raspberry into the cream, or made it a straight-up yoghurt flavor like the strawberry.

Looking through the other varieties of Milka available, I am ashamed at how many there are that I didn't try. It was a case of having the old favorite standbys, and always going back to those instead of trying new ones. I promise to give them more of a chance next time.


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