Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Adventures in learning Arabic

Somewhere out there is a post I'm going to write about the differences between all the languages I've studied. But this is not that post. This post is about Arabic.

OK, mostly about Arabic. I cannot resist an aside here about which is the harder language, Arabic or Japanese. In my personal experience, Japanese is the easier language, grammatically speaking (please, really, do not get me started on Japanese orthography because then it blows Arabic to bits). Where you run into trouble when trying to carry on a conversation is in the semantics, with all the in- and out-grouping and vague personal pronouns and unintuitive constructions. But still, you can beat your way through the language and you may offend people left and right but at least you can communicate.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Book review catch-up, again

Here are some books I've read since the last time I caught you up on my reading material.

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. This was only mildly interesting to me, certainly less so than Outliers. I think that means I've spent too much time reading and editing Jeremy's thesis and dissertation. An anecdote, a survey, and a statistic do not always paint an accurate picture of some quirk of life. I was constantly questioning the research and conclusions in this book.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mission impossible

I've been putting off the weekly grocery shopping trip for a few days now. But this morning, we were really down to the dregs, so I made my list and loaded up Magdalena in the car. Just for fun (famous last words), I thought I'd try shopping at the Carrefour in Sharjah instead of the one in Ajman. This, despite the fact that multiple people have told me to never, ever attempt to go to the Carrefour in Sharjah. They all told me it was impossible to get to and that the traffic on said impossible route was nearly always bad.

But I thought it would be a good chance to get to know the roads of Sharjah better. I find that I only make the same wrong turn(s) three times. After three times of misunderstanding the poorly worded sign, or being in the wrong lane at the crucial moment, or not being brave enough to elbow my way through a tricky driving maneuver, I generally figure it out and do ok. And the sooner I get to that point, the better, right?

But holy cow, people, DO NOT EVER ATTEMPT TO GO TO THE CARREFOUR IN SHARJAH. After nearly 45 minutes of traffic-impeded driving, we were mere meters from the front of the store. I could see it right there. I carefully studied the directional sign that had a squiggly line with arrows to tell me the way to the entrance. And then I watched helplessly as we zoomed right past past said entrance. It was a tiny slot in the right curbside and I missed it. An extremely elaborate U-turn would have been required to have another go.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

O Christmas tree

In Dubai Festival City there's a store called Ace Hardware. Now, I know what you're thinking - there's a store called Ace Hardware in the US, too. But the Ace Hardware in the US does not seem to be the same kind of store that it is in Dubai.

At the Ace Hardware in Dubai, it's more like REI, Fred Meyer, Michael's, Home Depot, and GI Joe's all in one. PLUS you can find (fake) Christmas trees there.

And that's how you find a Christmas tree in Dubai. You go to Ace Hardware and pick out the tree and trimmings you want. Or you comparison shop between Ace and IKEA and end up getting the tree at Ace (99 dhs!) and the trimmings at IKEA. That's what we did.




At first I was feeling sad that we didn't get to go on the traditional (in my family at least) go-chop-down-a-Christmas-tree outing, but then I realized that the girls were having just as much fun wandering up and down the Christmas aisles at Ace Hardware. And even if I feel a little bit sad that we're not sitting on the back of a wagon with our newly chopped Christmas tree, sipping hot chocolate, I'm not about to make the girls feel like they're missing out. No way.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Flashback Friday: Engagement pictures

I happen to really like the somewhat-exclusive-to-Mormonism practice of including a photo of the engaged couple with the wedding announcements. It just makes so much sense in a situation where anyone invited to the reception is likely to personally know either the bride or the groom but not both.

Back when Jeremy and I had our engagement photos taken, it wasn't like these days where every other person has a reasonably nice camera. We paid a friend of Jeremy's a paltry sum to take us to the grounds of the mental institution in Provo (true story) and snap a few photos. Then we chose the best ones to send out with our wedding invitations. We ended up having two favorites, so some invitations included one and some included the other.

Here are the two we chose:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

This way to Thanksgiving

Today was a regular work day and it was 80-something degrees outside so it didn't quite feel like Thanksgiving.

But it sure tasted like Thanksgiving! We got together with a bunch of American friends and everyone brought their best and favorite Thanksgiving dishes (you better believe I brought stuffing). So all the food was fabulously delicious.

Halfway through the evening, we noticed that Magdalena was not wearing panties. Classy.

Miriam made a traditional (? - it was traditional when I was in elementary school) Thanksgiving hat at KG2 with the hand-trace cutouts and feathers, etc. I'm glad someone is on the ball because I haven't even begun to think about where I can even buy construction paper here. (Though we do have glue.) (But actually we brought that with us from the US.)

The pumpkin dessert I made was, in my opinion, very tasty. However, I messed up the top layer so it didn't look so good. But this turned out to be a stroke of unintentional genius because since it looked so funky, hardly anybody ate it. Which means there's more left over for me to enjoy for the next few days. Note to self: employ this tactic more often at future potlucks.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yesterday, King Faisal Rd Spinneys, 4pm

I found my precious canned pumpkin yesterday at the King Faisal Road Spinneys at 4pm. I was walking down an aisle that I did not expect it to be in, turned my head, and saw it. It was here:
among the chutneys and sauerkraut and random Indian powdered energy drinks and spices and coconut-derived products. (Seriously, zoom in on that picture and I promise you will never see a stranger conglomeration of products on a grocery shelf anywhere.)

I grabbed the one can that was there and held onto it for dear life because guess who else was wandering around Spinneys? Half a dozen other frazzled foreigners looking for obscure Thanksgiving dinner ingredients. There was a lady looking for cranberry sauce, one looking for those crispy fried onions, and one unlucky woman who had the unenviable task of describing canned yams to a hapless Spinneys employee.

"I'm looking for canned yams."

"Hams?"

"No, YAMS. It's an orange sweet potato."

"Canned oranges?"

"No, YAMS..."

I knew it was just a matter of time until one of them started asking for canned pumpkin.

I tracked down an employee who was not already monopolized by one of my fellow foreigners and asked him if they had any more canned pumpkin (to stock up, you know). He said they did, and walked me right over to the appropriate shelf (not where I had found my can, by the way). And the canned pumpkin spot was empty.

I can't believe I stumbled across the last can of pumpkin by chance on a mistaken shelf. It's a Thanksgiving miracle! Now, that dessert I'm going to make with it had better be dang good.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A review of places we've lived

Sometimes when people hear how much we've moved around, they ask me what my favorite place is. I would need a good ten minutes to do justice to that question and I'm still not sure I'd have an answer at the end of it. Read this blog post and you'll see why. Every place has its pros and cons, and on any given day - or during any given life period - different pros and cons can carry more weight than others.

Portland, Oregon. I spent my formative years here, from 1984ish to 1999. What I liked: Yeah, pretty much everything, EVEN THE RAIN. Beach, mountains, forests, trails, etc. What I didn't like: Nothing comes to mind, honestly, which isn't fair since I grew up there - Portland was my "normal" so it set the baseline for my expectations.

Monday, November 22, 2010

MISSING

For Thanksgiving this Thursday I am planning on making stuffing and this pumpkin dessert I've never made but can't stop dreaming about. However:

MISSING
Canned pumpkin. At this point I would even take the plain canned pumpkin instead of the pumpkin pie kind. I'm that desperate. And yes, I know you can make your own from an actual pumpkin but remember? Pumpkins cost $30 here.

PLACES I'VE LOOKED
Sharjah Co-op. It wasn't there. Not even close.
Carrefour. I got really excited when I saw strawberry, apple, and some kind of currant pie filling. But no pumpkin.
Spinneys. More weird British pie fillings. No pumpkin pie filling.

LAST SEEN WITH
Here's what else I can't find, of all things: sage, the spice. The spice section here literally progresses like so: parsley, rosemary, thyme. It messes up the song AND leaves me without what I need. Maybe if they cleared out a few of the five million kinds of cumin in stock they'd have room for my precious essential stuffing spice.

ACCOMPLICES WHOSE WHEREABOUTS HAVE BEEN ASCERTAINED
I did manage to find evaporated milk (Spinneys), yellow cake mix (Sharjah Co-op), and the other spices I needed (Carrefour). Though really with these recipes it's all or nothing.

PLAN OF ACTION
The rumor at the Sahara Centre Spinneys is that the King Faisal Spinneys has the pumpkin stuff. And my neighbor has sage. Let's see if I can pull this together in time for Thursday!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Anatomy of an errand FAIL

I set out this afternoon on foot with Magdalena in the stroller intent on accomplishing four errands. Let's see how it went down.

1. Pick up Miriam from school. Done. No complications. Now I had Magdalena in the stroller and Miriam on her bike.

2. Get my signature on a financial document notarized. We walked from Miriam's school to the bank. I talked to one lady who told me to go to the next lady. The next lady told me to go to the guy one cubicle over. That guy told me to go to the Health Center since the doctors there are the ones with special rubber stamps for notarific purposes. The whole time, both girls wailed loudly for chocolates since they always get chocolates at the bank but of course today, there weren't any. Objective FAIL. As a bonus fail, I went to get money out of the ATM on our way out and I could not for the life of me recall my PIN. (I have since remembered it.)

3. Obtain a campus registration sticker for our car. I had collected the necessary documents ahead of time so I was sure I had this one in the bag. Not so. We got up to the traffic office and it was closed. Apparently they close every day between 12-2, and I was there right about 1ish. I chose not to wait around. FAIL.

Back to 2. I decided to go to the Health Center even though I had really enjoyed not spending an hour there every day like we did a few weeks ago with the various sicknesses we had going on. We waited for a while and it looked like they'd be able to do what I needed but not before the girls tore each other to pieces in a coloring page-related dispute. So we bailed. FAIL, again.

4. Return library books. The way Miriam told it, the walk from the Health Center to where her bike was parked on a rack was a veritable death march BUT WE MADE IT. And we returned the library books. Success!

Appendix A. Later in the afternoon, we got to Miriam's first ballet lesson on time. Another WIN.

Appendix B. Magdalena pooped her pants within 5 minutes of our arrival at the ballet studio. This might have been a fail except that all the bathrooms around here have these magical spray nozzle things by the toilets (often instead of toilet paper, which isn't so fun for that situation, but for a poopy panties situation it's brilliant). So she was sitting pretty within about 20 minutes, albeit without pants. We'll call this a WIN.

Altogether, not a bad show, don't you think?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

HP7

To celebrate our (ninth!) anniversary today, Jeremy and I went out on a very special date: we went to see Harry Potter 7 at the theater.

I hereby declare UAE movie theater audiences (at least the one in Ajman today) to be the worst ever in my personal experience. First there was the listening-to-music-out-loud-on-the-cell-phone thing, but that was only during the previews, so whatever.

Then there were the cell phones ringing. And the cell phones beeping loudly to announce the arrival of text messages. And then the continued ringing of phones and then the answering of said phones and carrying on conversations on said phones at normal voice volume. During the movie. I don't understand it. Why did you pay 30 dirhams to talk on your cell phone with Harry Potter 7 on as background noise?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Flashback Friday: Random acts of kindness in Beirut

Have you ever stopped to think about the nicest things people have ever done for you? Depending on the circumstances it doesn't even have to be something amazing to have made a big impact on you.

I'm thinking about this subject because last week at our semiannual regional church meeting, we ran into a friend we hadn't seen in years. The last time we saw him was in Beirut, Lebanon, back in 2005. He has since moved to Dubai. When I saw him again last week, I remembered how he was part of a tapestry of kindness shown to us every time we visited Beirut. Let me tell you about it.

We showed up at church one Sunday (yes, church is on Sunday in Beirut, which means if you timed it right you could attend church in the Middle East three times in one week), totally out of the blue. We didn't know anyone there. Nobody there knew us. We were just two random Americans living in neighboring Syria who happened to stop in at church in Beirut.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Auto-correct and predictive text adventures

Jeremy stayed home from church with sick Magdalena a few Fridays ago while I went with Miriam. I periodically checked my phone for messages during the service just because Magdalena had been running a high fever and I wanted to make sure Jeremy hadn't texted me about her taking a turn for the worse. Or there was the possibility that he couldn't find the Tylenol, or couldn't remember the dosage (these foreign bottles of acetaminophen don't always put the dosage right on the label), or didn't know when her last dose had been administered, etc. I was on edge during almost all of church hoping not to hear from him via text message because no news was good news.

About five minutes before the end of church, however, I received a text message from Jeremy, the entirety of which I reproduce here:

weevil

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

At world's end

Wow, did Oman ever feel like the edge of the earth. We spent most of our time on the coast between Musqat and Sur, away from any cities bigger than a small village. There's the Hajar Mountains looming behind you and the Arabian Sea leading into the Indian Ocean as far as the eye can see in front of you. I've been to a lot of far-flung places but I think this area of Oman has to be one of the most remote. It was truly the back of beyond.

Now for a few details and pictures of our trip.

Remember how I said that obstacles like the UAE-Oman border crossing could very well throw a wrench in our trip plans? Well, we came very close to turning around (or being turned around) a few times. First, we failed to get an exit stamp on our way out of the UAE. But we didn't realize our mistake until we got all the way to the Oman side and waited in line for forever. So we had to drive back to the UAE, get the precious exit stamp, and turn back around. The funny thing was that none of the officials we encountered along the way were at all surprised by what we were doing, which tells me that this kind of "mistake" happens A LOT. So in our defense, UAE, you might want to think about putting up some signs telling people that they have to stop at the nondescript hut on the hillside at the barely marked border station and pick up an exit stamp.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Oman

I've decided that everything sounds more adventurous and macho when you tack on "in Oman" at the end.

All of these examples come from the last couple of days.

We filled our car up with gas...IN OMAN.

We camped in the mountains...IN OMAN.

Magdalena learned to go "potty" in the great outdoors...IN OMAN.

We got lost driving around late at night in some town in the boondocks...IN OMAN.

The girls (and OK, us too) wore the same clothes for three days straight...IN OMAN.

We went swimming in a giant sinkhole...IN OMAN.

We had a cookout on the beach...IN OMAN.

We drove off-road through a wadi...IN OMAN.

You get the idea. More details tomorrow.

Monday, November 15, 2010

We have a library!

Someone asked me if we had a library here and the answer is THANK THE HEAVENS, YES. It's one of the perks of being attached to a university, I suppose. Going without fresh (free) reading material has always been one of the great hardships of living overseas. In Cairo, there was The Book Spot, which sold (and bought) used books in English and even delivered to your door. So it was almost like a small, mostly inexpensive library. But that's the closest I've ever come to being able to read something besides the classics while I'm abroad. Classics, because those are available for free online at Gutenberg.org. And month after month of nothing but classics - even if it is Dickens and Hardy and Tolstoy - gets old.

So yes, there is a library here and it is gorgeous. That's it on the left.
The inside is beautiful as well, with wide spiral staircases and an open central area that cuts through all the floors straight up to the ceiling. And there are lots of signs reminding people to speak quietly, with a few rooms where talking is prohibited altogether.

But what matters, of course, is the selection of books. As expected (since it's a university library), it is quite heavy on the non-fiction side of things. Which is fine. I happen to enjoy non-fiction. And until my last trip to the library, I thought the only fiction in the library was restricted to three or four shelves I found on the second floor. But it turns out that there is a lot more fiction sprinkled throughout the library. You just have to look a little harder for it.

Of the books I look for in the library catalog, I generally successfully find about 1 in 3. If it's a new book, the odds are more like 1 in 6. But that's not bad - I'm talking about any book I plug into the catalog on a whim. What I usually end up doing if they don't have the exact book I want is going to where it would be on the shelf and seeing what books surround its hypothetical place. And then I read one of those instead.

So my reading choices of late are slightly more eclectic than usual, but I don't know that that's a bad thing. With a robust American public library at my fingertips I may never have picked up a lonely book like Killer Angels or Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. And that would have been sad because I enjoyed (and am enjoying) those books very much.

Of course, that doesn't mean I'm not making a list of all the books I can't get here so I can raid the public library when we go to visit family in the US. Any titles I should consider adding?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

O man.

If all goes as planned (hahahahahahahaha) we will be leaving momentarily to go to Oman. Well, I should say that no matter what, we will be leaving momentarily. Whether or not we end up in Oman is not entirely up to us, depending on border crossings, etc.

It's Eid al-Adha around here (Festival of Sacrifice) so Jeremy has the week off from work. That's all the excuse we need to go check out our next-door neighbor, Oman.

I am not sure whether I'll be able to get on the internet for the next few days but never fear, I scheduled a couple of blog posts to fulfill my NaBloPoMo obligation.

And as I was writing this, Miriam spilled yogurt all down the front of the clothes I was intending her to wear for the next few days. So I better go.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Still potty training

I spoke too soon. Since her miracle unchi on the potty at IKEA, Magdalena has yet to repeat said feat. I've been cleaning up yucky messes once or twice a day, every day. Let me tell you, it doesn't take long for that to get old and the worst part is that it's grosser than changing a diaper. She had all these accidents despite my CONSTANT VIGILANCE. One day I was monitoring her very closely because I could read the signs that a BM was on its way. But for one moment I ran upstairs to get something and I wasn't even halfway up before I heard Magdalena tell me she'd had an accident in her panties. So frustrating.

This morning, however, we had a small success. Magdalena went upstairs to get dressed and when I went up to check on her there was a little surprise on the (tile! thank goodness it's tile!) bedroom floor. BUT. She finished on the potty. So there was much rejoicing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Flashback Friday: TPing @ the BYU

Do the kids still toilet paper each other these days? Back when I was a teenager, it was the preferred method of showing mischievous affection. Mostly we did it to our unsuspecting friends' houses in the dark of night, but I also remember a few brave raids made in broad daylight. Looking back, it seems like a terrible waste of perfectly good bathroom tissue but at the time it was such great fun.

The last time I ever TPed someone was my freshman year at the BYU. But of course since we didn't live in proper stand-alone dwellings, we had to get creative. I don't quite remember which came first, the hill or my roommates' room. But both were TPed by my friends and me one day in late 1999.

We ran up and down the hill next to our Heritage Halls dorm (Carroll Hall, if you care to know) strewing TP all over the place. (In the 11 years since we did this, the hill has been re-landscaped. There's a creek there with ducks and everything now.)

My roommates Natalie and Cassie - with whom I still keep in touch, if you can believe it!

Of course we cleaned it up!

Heritage Halls has 6-person apartments, split into three bedrooms. Three or four of us TPed the remaining two roommates' room while they were out. Then we took pictures of it. Then we pretended to be all surprised and puzzled when they came home and saw the mess. Then we developed the photos and surreptitiously put them on our fridge to deepen the mystery. Eventually we told them it was us and I'm sure they were disappointed it wasn't some cute boys. But said cute boys being in their bedroom would have been against the Honor Code, so it was for the best.


But really, do the kids toilet paper each other anymore?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thursday brief

Here's a brief post to kick off the (Arabian) weekend.

Even the bathroom mascots are more modest in the UAE than they are anywhere else. That's an abaya-length cartoon dress she's got there.

AND

I cannot stop watching this video. Can you?

Casteller from Mike Randolph on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Return of sickness

With November came sickness. As usual. Two years ago, it lasted the whole month. Last year, it was the dreaded swine flu. This year, we seem to have drawn the mystery bag.

Miriam has a cough that won't quit. It isn't phlegmy or accompanied by any other symptoms. And the weird thing is that it usually only kicks in at night. I've taken her into the doctor every few days to try to pinpoint what, exactly, is going on. In the meantime, it's awkward because she gives the occasional hack in public and it's all I can do to restrain myself from explaining, "she's not sick, she's just got this cough..." which probably doesn't sound so reassuring.

Magdalena, on the other hand, started her sickness adventure with a fever late last week. At about 3.45 on Thursday afternoon, she told me, "Mama, my mouth hurts so bad." That is a sentence I never really wanted (or expected, come to think of it) to hear from my 2.25-year-old. The clinic closes at 4.30 on Thursdays for the weekend so I had to make a snap judgment - take her in or let it go? I took a quick look inside her mouth with a flashlight to check for obvious signs of strep throat. I didn't see any so I decided it was probably nothing.

All through Thursday night, Friday, Saturday, and early Sunday morning, I regretted that decision not to take her in to the clinic. I ended up taking her in first thing Sunday morning. Isn't that always how it goes? Kids always get sick right when the doctor's office closes or as soon as the weekend hits. Anyway, it ended up not mattering that I didn't take her in because what she has is not strep throat but something like gingivostomatitis - little cold sore things all over her mouth and gums. It's related to HFMD. There's nothing you can do about it but wait it out.

I took both girls into the clinic yesterday afternoon to check their progress and it went something like this: hold one screaming girl on my lap for the doctor to examine while the other paws and clings and sobs at my leg. Reverse and repeat. I almost joined in the crying myself I was so exhausted and stressed.

Meanwhile, Jeremy and I have been spending a lot of quality time with our girls during the hours of midnight and 5 am, which makes for tired days. The lack of sleep has taken a toll on Jeremy and he is on the verge of developing a cold. But not just any cold: A MAN COLD.

Aaaaand that's the reason I wrote this whole post, so I could share the above video. I love it I love it I love it.

Here's to a healthier month from here on out.

(PS - the one line in the clip that's difficult to catch is "you've not heard of LemSip?" which is like TheraFlu. And at the end he asks to watch cbeebies, which is like British Sesame Street.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Grass?

You may remember me complaining about the fact that there was no grass in our backyard when we moved in. Not complaining, really, but remarking, or commenting on it, let's say. The university people told us that we were in the grass-installing queue and it would happen when it happened. I made a mental note to count on at least a year of having a giant sandbox for a backyard.

But then, on Saturday morning, we woke up to this:
 A huge pile of sand outside our backyard door.

Today (Tuesday) it has progressed to this:
Men shoveling sand into our backyard through the backyard door.

This can only mean one thing: GRASS IS COMING. First they put in the sand, then they put in the sprinklers, then they put in the grass. I had hoped they would get it all done before Eid next week (a national holiday, for five days) so as not to lose momentum, but it looks like that's not going to happen.

After all, remember the streetlights? The fixtures are all in place and yet, they do not turn on at night. Somebody somewhere needs to flick a switch or sign a paper or report a problem and it's just not happening. Sigh.

Between lighted streets at night and grass in my backyard, though, I'll take the grass any day. As such, I am shamelessly feeding the worker guys. I even had Magdalena help me serve it to them to butter them up even more. Though that backfired a little when she tried to steal the pita bread back.

Now I'm hiding out on the staircase writing this blog post so it's not so awkward with these dudes in my backyard. It was just weird when it was me on one side of the sliding glass door and them on the other. I know I could close the curtains but I think that would be even more awkward. So I'll just pretend I'm not here for a little while.

And I hope I hope I hope that one of these mornings the girls and I wake up, come downstairs, and see beautiful green grass in our backyard.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Driving in Dubai

I honestly never saw myself as one of those people who drives a car in foreign countries. I thought that maybe it was one of those things that American moms don't do (though I did know an American lady in Moscow who had some serious skill in a Subaru Outback). Then in Jordan, I met a woman at church who had four kids and a minivan and she drove it around Amman herself. In Egypt, I met still more moms with kids who drove in that crazy city.

And now here I am in the UAE, driving around with my kids. I didn't think I would be capable of it but it turns out it's one of those things that you just dive right into and DO.

So far, the things that I love about driving in and around Dubai are the flexibility and the unpredictability. With the very great exception of speeding, the driving rules around here are very flexible. (On speeding - there are speed cameras all over the place and the best part is that you don't get your ticket in the mail. It just shows up as a fine the next year you go in to renew your registration. Lovely.) If there's no one around in a traffic circle, feel free to drift into a more comfortable lane for taking the turn. Stop signs can sometimes be yield signs if you feel like it. Road shoulders can be their own lanes. Empty fields can be parking lots. Heck, lanes of traffic can be parking lots if you really need it.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Prayers for Megan

A little boy I used to babysit when I was a teenager grew up and got married. After a few years, his wife became pregnant with their first baby. When the time came, she went into the hospital to deliver. During the course of labor (after an entirely normal pregnancy), she was diagnosed with leukemia. Immediately after the birth of her baby girl, she was taken in to get the care she needed.

This happened back in July. I have been following their story via Facebook and the website they set up. It has been so full of ups and downs but for a while there, it seemed to be mostly ups.

Now, however, Ryan and Megan (and their baby Rylee) are in the middle of a very big down. You can read their story here (click on The Story for the beginning; Journal for the blog entries). Please pray for them.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Halloween dregs

Behold the remainder of the girls' Halloween candy haul:
A nasty braided marshmallow rope, three suckers, a stray bubble gum, two cappucino-flavored candies, two other mystery coffee candies, some random hard candies, an eyeball gumball, a chocolate Euro, and two Werther's Original that are gone now since this photo alerted me to their existence.

What do you have left?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Flashback Friday: Anorexia

Have I ever told you about the period of my life when I was anorexic?

It's difficult for me to say when, exactly, it began. When I was a freshman in high school, I stopped drinking pop because I had heard it leached calcium from your bones and made you more susceptible to injuries that way. I was running cross-country and track and the last thing I wanted was to be sidelined by injury, so giving up pop was not that big of a deal.

Then I decided to stop eating candy, but only during the cross-country and track seasons. Soon, however, "candy" was redefined as "junk food," which, to me, meant any food that derived more than 30% of its calories from fat. And I didn't eat any of it. Not a single bite, not even butter on my English muffins.

Then I decided to stop eating meat. I had already given up ground beef a couple of years earlier so it wasn't so hard to cut it out altogether.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

My feelings on shopping at Carrefour

1. Sheer wonder. Part of me just can't get over the first time I went to a Carrefour. We had been in Syria for about eight months. While we were visiting Beirut for fun, a friend took us with him grocery shopping. We walked into this huge, brilliant, gleaming store and the sign out front said CARREFOUR. It was magical. Inside, we found such treasures as tortilla chips, granola bars, and rice cakes. It was truly exotic. There were mounds of produce heaped up right next to aisle after aisle of dairy products. Then of course came a wide selection of any food you could think of from just about any country. Coming from Syria where grocery stores still operate on the small neighborhood scale, Carrefour was at once behemoth and something of a Middle Eastern miracle for me.

Even now, all these years later, every time I walk into a Carrefour I get a rush of that first sense of wonder and awe I felt back in Beirut. Every time.

2. Guilt. Here's the weird thing, though: I also feel guilty. The part of me that is not busy being amazed feels a bit sheepish for having it so easy. It's as if you shouldn't be able to live in a foreign country AND be able to buy lentils, bananas, charcoal, sunscreen, and batteries all at the same store. It should require three separate trips, minimum, probably more.

The guilt was worse when we lived in places like Amman or Cairo where the small local grocery store model was still operating in the shadow of the giants like Carrefour, Spinneys, and Metro. It never felt good going past three or four corner stores just to get to a big Western market.

Here, though, there is no such dilemma. We have a branch of the Sharjah Co-op on campus, about a three-minute walk from our house (note: this is a bad thing when it's 9.30 at night and you get a hankering for some Milka chocolate). There's another, bigger Sharjah Co-op nearby and then my precious Carrefour a little farther away, along with Hyper Panda and Spinneys. So no matter where I go, I'm either shopping at a big Arab hypermarket or a big Western hypermarket.

It's equal parts wonder-inducing and guilt-dispelling.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Potty training is not for wimps

Whose idea was it to schedule potty training for the same time frame as NaBloPoMo? Oh, wait, that was me. I finally ran out of reasonable excuses to put off potty training Magdalena. I like to think I would have done it back in May or June sometime but with all the upheaval of moving to Egypt and then back to Ithaca and then driving across the country and then moving (for reals) to the UAE, I thought, I don't know, that there was the possibility she'd regress.

Then we were busy settling in and I didn't want to introduce too much change into her life all at once.

Then my parents were visiting and it still wasn't the right time.

But then: we ran out of diapers. And I didn't want to buy any more. So it was time.

The thing is, I HATE potty training. I've been a mom now for a little over five years. During this time, I've figured out that the mothering tasks I fulfill most miserably are the ones that involve a fundamental disconnect between the reasonings of a rational adult and the willful stubbornness of a small child. Potty training specifically really gets to me. It took a good 10 days with Miriam and the whole time I was so frustrated that I couldn't just reason her through it. We did what all the books say - gave her lots of drinks of water, sat her on the potty as often as she'd let us, and offered rewards for performance. What we ended up with more often than not was this:

That's Miriam near the end of a 40-minute potty session that had yet to produce any results. The bowl of warm water was a last, desperate attempt to produce some dang pee-pee already. If I recall correctly, it didn't work.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Being a Mormon in Sharjah

Church here is awesome for so many more reasons than just the usual. I came here knowing that there was a local Mormon congregation (made up entirely of expats, mind) but I expected it to be weak, transient, and struggling. Instead, what I found was a thriving, mostly Filipino ward featuring many big families with lots of children who have been here for years, and will stay for years. I was blown away. It's fantastic. And with the vast majority of the ward being Filipino - well, I said it already on an earlier blog post: they run a tight ship.

I don't know that I've ever seen certain volunteer positions fulfilled with such gusto. We have bi-weekly hymn practice in the ladies' meeting just like (almost) everywhere else I've been, but here in Sharjah she's got handouts and posters and research notes and you can tell she spent a long time preparing for her 3-minute lesson.

The choir director didn't just send out a half-hearted appeal for singers over the podium one Friday. She went up to individuals, took them by the hand, and said, "Will you join the choir?" How could I say no?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Halloween, UAE style

Yesterday was the first time I've been overseas for Halloween since having kids. And I think we had pretty much the best possible setup here, as far as Trick-or-Treating and general Halloween frivolity goes. We live in a semi-Western "neighborhood" where the homes are close enough to walk to, vehicle traffic is light, and there are tons of little kids around. The university sent out an email flyer explaining the concept of Halloween (in both English and Arabic) to all residents, and also gave us a sign to put on our door if we wanted trick-or-treaters to come (we did).

Costumes were a breeze since both girls wanted to be princess/fairies and we already had some old dress-ups lying around. So no scouring the aisles of some obscure 5-dirham store (dollar-ish store) in Ajman looking for costume accessories. Phew. I am not one of those really creative costume people so this was a huge relief.

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