Saturday, February 28, 2015

February 2015 books

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and AlexandraThe Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Heartbreaking. I have read my share of Romanov books, most notably Nicholas and Alexandra, but Rappaport has stripped away the politics and posturing and supporting characters and left us with a tender portrait of a loving family. She never loses the father/mother/daughters/son thread, but carries it all the way through to the family's bitter end.

Really well done book, and different from any biography of the Romanovs I've read before. I grant that politics are very relevant to the Romanovs' story, but just once it was nice to read about a family whose fate was tied to Russia's, but not slog through the minutiae of said fact.

Plus, this book made more clear than ever that if you could go back in time and change one teensy little thing, making the Romanovs have a son instead of four daughters could have absolutely changed the way world events unfolded in the early 20th century.

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a word, this book is pathetic. Not in the Adnan-said-to-Jay sense, but in the "related to emotions" sense. (Maybe the kids these days would say this book has "all the feels"?) I liked it, but now that it's over, I feel manipulated and used.

I can even pinpoint the moment when this book derailed for me: in the chapter that talks about the boiling frog. First of all, the thing about the frog not jumping out of water brought slowly to a boil is not even true. Second of all, the way it was used was not subtle at all, like the author was hitting me over the head with a sledgehammer made of pathos.

Then came the scene with the girl in Vienna and again, it was like PATHOS PATHOS PATHOS.

I don't know, there are far, far worse books out there, but I was drawn in by the Wait Until Dark + Guernsey Potato Peel Pie premise and interesting characters, so I expected more than heavy-handed tugs on the heartstrings brought on by Bad Things happening just for the sake of it.

But I still would recommend it. Like I said, I liked it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

February 27th, outsourced

I so, so much enjoyed this interview with a young girl who also happens to be an expert on presidential history.

Our Crown Prince (of Dubai) ran the Spartan Race last weekend. Did yours?

The time everyone "corrected" the world's smartest woman. [HT Josh] I have been turning over this riddle in my mind for almost a week now, and I allllmost get it. But then it slips away again. Kind of like...

...the color of this dress. I see it as white and gold. I can see it as blue and black if I look from a different angle, but then that slips away again, too. (Explained.) (And the actual dress is blue and black.)

If critics wrote about the male Best Director nominees the same way they write about Selma director Ava Duvernay.

So, a friend of mine redecorated another friend of mine's living room, and it made Good Housekeeping. As it does.

Popular baby names PSA. [HT Suzanne, I think?]

How a fourth-grade class Twitter account rekindled my faith in humanity. [HT Jessie]

I don't even care that this is an obvious publicity ploy. I still think there is value in the fact that three guys wore 33-lb, 9-month pregnant bodysuits (complete with breasts) for a month, just to see what it was like. [HT Sarah]

Shannon Hale articulates the argument in favor of boys reading books "for girls" so well. There are no girl books or boy books, ok? There are just books. This is why I gave my nephew The Princess in Black for Christmas.

The other thing that happened in America while I was asleep (besides the dress color palaver) is that two llamas went on the rampage in Arizona. My kids loved this video.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

California, UAE

Every time I go to Jumeirah (and to a lesser extent, Mirdif), I feel like I'm in California. There's the beach right there, and palm trees, and people are wearing shorts, and many of those people have blond hair, and the buildings are all low-slung and casual-cool.

Plus, there's Park 'n Shop, which I took the kids to today. Park 'n Shop is the place where we bought Cheerios a few months ago. Their main advertising angle is that they sell all your old favorites from your US or UK motherland (they have a radio commercial where a couple doesn't want to relocate to Dubai from the UK until they find out that Park 'n Shop sells Weetabix or something). So to be in Jumeirah, and then to be inside Park 'n Shop - well, it was like being in America for 30 minutes.

We loaded up on Cheerios. With us in the cereal aisle were two other parties of Western expats, also buying - wait for it - Cheerios! It was fun to share the joy with them...and also, not gonna lie, passive aggressively fight over/be polite about the last box. (Fortunately, an employee brought out a bunch more boxes before things got ugly, ha ha.) Down the aisle a little farther, in the candy area, I could hear a group of pre-teens exclaiming about some favorite treats they found. Then there were my own girls squealing about the Gushers on the endcap (I treated them each to a box. I got two for myself).

As we drove away from California, UAE, I told the girls that it felt like we'd just been to America. Magdalena piped up that "yeah, but it didn't take 17 hours to get there!" True.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The colored abaya slippery slope

The class I'm teaching now is Business English, and it's a class filled entirely with Emirati (from Sharjah) women. The dynamics are totally different from the classes I've taught at AUS before, and I find I quite like it.

In regular AUS classes, at least at the foundation level that I usually teach (freshmen, most of whom went to sex-segregated secondary schools), the young men and young women are often still ill at ease with each other. The first presentation of the semester is always a challenge, especially for the girls. To get up in front of a class is hard enough; to do so in front of boys when you're not even used to learning in the same room with them can be so daunting.

So to have all women in the class makes for an easier, more comfortable atmosphere. All of these women are veiled - in fact, probably 90% of them wear niqab (the veil where only the eyes show). A few even have the sheer black face cover that they put on whenever they leave the classroom. Inside the classroom, though, they feel comfortable unveiling their faces since the windows are opaque and their teacher (me) is female. This means that when they come into class in the morning, there are a few minutes where everyone is busily removing layers of black fabric from their faces and draping them carefully across the backs of their chairs.

For the first few weeks of class, the women all wore only black abayas and veils. Picture it: the first day of class and I have to learn the names of 24 women based on faces only - no hair color, hairstyle, or clothing style to set anyone apart from anyone else! Most of me loves being able to focus only on these women's expressive faces and not be distracted by the attributes I just listed, but the rest of me is aware that I will call a few wrong names more often as a result.

Anyway, last week, one woman wore an abaya with a few color highlights, and it's like that opened a door. Ever since then, more and more of the women are wearing black + color abayas. I actually asked them about it today - I feel comfortable doing that since it's an all-female class.

They told me that for the first few weeks, they were still scoping things out like their classmates, the AUS environment (they are not regular AUS students; most are married with several children), and me, their teacher. But as they felt more comfortable in the class, they felt more comfortable easing away from the ultra conservative, all-black abayas. One student joked that it was the liberal university atmosphere rubbing off on them, and that soon they wouldn't wear abayas at all!

It's true that you can see almost any style of dress on women at AUS - well, within reason. You'll probably never see bare leg above the knee, but you might see a bare shoulder once in a while. For these women, who come from the more rural areas of Sharjah, I can imagine that it's a bit of a shock to see "so much" skin. And I'm sure that student was just joking when she basically said that colored abayas were at the top of a slippery slope toward t-shirts and leggings. But in any case, it's been nice to see the colors come out and let these women's personalities shine through a little more.

(And by the way, I learned all of their names within the first class period, and now I can even tell who's who when they're wearing niqab. Like a boss.)


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