Friday, December 31, 2010

Flashback Friday: Happy New Year!

Refried Flashback Friday in honor of New Year's Eve. Originally published 1 January 2010.

Happy 2011! Here are some generic memories of New Year's Eve as experienced in my childhood.

When I was very young, my parents would make me go to bed at the usual time, with the promise that they'd wake me up when midnight came. I remember a year or two where I woke up to hear them tell me it was midnight and then went back to sleep. Other years, I got out of bed with the rest of my siblings and went upstairs to sleepily enjoy a lime sherbet float. This dessert is inexplicable to me. It was lime sherbet served in 7-Up or Sprite. In the entire rest of my life, I've only ever encountered one other person who had the guts to serve sherbet floats in public. I don't know if it's a Mormon thing, or an 80s thing, or what.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: Books I loved, and read

Here is my favorite post of the year: 2010 Books. I love writing this post and remembering all the good (and horrible) books I read (or didn't finish reading - those are marked with an asterisk). The rules: to make the top ten list of favorites, I had to have read the book for the first time in 2010. I've given credit for recommendations where possible but since I started using Goodreads last year, that distinction has become a bit murky. I can't always remember whose page I saw it on and sometimes it was a long chain of clicks that led me to a certain title. Links lead to blog posts or my Goodreads review (where it was too long to include in this post).

Finally, here are the links for the book lists from 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Now, the best and brightest of 2010. I was interested to notice that this year was more muted than past years in terms of favorites. I didn't have any huge standouts like I have before. I was pretty sure about four or five books but there were 15 good, solid contenders for the last few spots on the top ten list. Make of that what you will.

My Favorite Ten Books of 2010, in no particular order:

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart). I think several people read this on my recommendation a few months back and as far as I know, none of them really loved it like I did. Someone please read this and love it so we can gush about it together, mmmkay?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Foster dog

Did I mention we've been fostering a dog for the last two weeks? There's a kennel outside of town that also takes in street animals. Over the Christmas holidays, the kennel part of the operation more than fills up, so they ask families to "foster" a rescued animal for three weeks to free up some space.

We took home Snowflake. That's what Miriam named her. Snowflake is half Saluki, half something else, like most street dogs around here. She is a very nice dog and we have loved having her in our home. And it made me realize something: the dog I had as a kid must have been the stupidest dog ever.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick

Not having been born in North Korea is something new to add to my list of things I am grateful for. Who knew? North Korea has been like a little black box to me. I feel like I've come at these stories of what life is like there from different points of view over the years. The standard spooky and indistinct newspaper articles, or maybe they just seemed indistinct because I was too young to fully understand them. Then, in high school, there was the sizeable South Korean population, some with recent ties to the country. I learned first-hand how offensive it could be to ask a Korean, "are you from North or South Korea?" Later, in college, the Koreas came up again in the context of Japanese history classes (aka, Why Koreans Hate Us So Much).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Flashback Friday: Christmas in Damascus

Refried Flashback Friday, originally published 20 December 2008.

We spent Christmas 2004 in Damascus, Syria. Jeremy's brother and sister were in town visiting for a couple of weeks and we had been traveling together in Turkey and northern Syria just before Christmas, and would leave for Jordan and Egypt just after Christmas. Christmas Eve, however, we spent in Damascus. It was a Friday, so we had the day off from work and school. We went to church with our tiny (six total people on a good day) congregation at the humanitarian volunteers' apartment. The volunteers, called missionaries in most other countries where they're actually allowed to preach, were a retired couple who always did their best to bring the comforts of home to a country as foreign as Syria. Part of that effort included constructing a makeshift Christmas tree out of colored lights and a bedsheet. The star on top was cut out of the packaging for Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Twilight, revisited

It's been a couple of years since I've read the Twilight books.

It's still so dang sunny and bright here.

I just felt like I could really use a good read that would take me somewhere a bit bleaker and more comfortably familiar than Sharjah.

Besides, all I've read lately are biographies about interesting British women who are now dead.

So I went ahead and busted out Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn and read them ALL.

It was interesting to re-read them as a finished whole. And I realized a few things (FYI, these things include spoilers).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Childhood baby name favorites


When I was a kid I used to read the old baby name book my parents had on the bookshelf. As in, sit down and read every single page. At one point I went through the whole book and typed up a list on the computer of all my favorite boy and girl names. Now, lest the above-mentioned fact make you think I was older than about 10, let me tell you that my family had a computer in our home almost as far back as I can remember. So this wasn't as recent as it sounds. I swear.

In sixth grade, I wrote a story and I saved for last the very best part: naming all the characters. I turned to my trusty little names list (which I had updated and culled from time to time) and started plugging them in to the story with wild abandon. I wish I wish I had that story (or the original name list!) now so I could give you a really juicy blog post. Instead, I'll dredge up a few of the old favorite names I remember for no other reason than because it will be fun and it's the week before Christmas and I'm not entirely sure anyone out there is reading blogs these days anyway. Jeremy gets all of a half-day on Thursday off so things haven't slowed down here quite so much in honor of the season.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Seen at Dubai Festival City

You never know what you'll see when you head out and about here. Here's a sampling of our Saturday night in Dubai Festival City.

First, there were the fabulous Christmas tree displays. I would be impressed by this decor even if this weren't a Muslim country.

At one end of the mall:

At the other:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Double Dream Hands!

It's not quite a flashmob, but Double Dream Hands has now been performed in public at a high school pep assembly.



AWESOME.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In case you need a laugh

Sometimes you just need a funny video to laugh at. It would be cruel not to share these.


Double Dream Hands. I love love love this video. Everything about it. The outfit, the enthusiasm, the cheesy dance moves. My favorite part is when his head moves around all crazy at the end. I've re-watched that part about a dozen times and I still can't do it myself. I saw this on my friend Lili's FB page and I am forever indebted to her. Now I just need to check YouTube every day for the video of the flashmob doing this dance that is sure to surface anytime. I can't wait!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Flashback Friday: Casino Royale, Alaska style

Refried Flashback Friday: Casino Royale, Alaska style. Originally published 21 November 2008.
This is my older brother Daniel. There's so much I could say about him, but for today, I'll keep it to just what you need to know to appreciate the story I'm going to tell about him for this week's Flashback Friday.

Daniel was born with Cornelia de Lange syndrome. I've lived with Daniel my whole life (he is three years old than me) but I still don't know the easy, short answer to give someone who asks what, exactly, that means. I guess in many superficial ways, it's a lot like Down syndrome, in that there are varying degrees of severity and functionality out there, and everyone with CdLS is a little bit different. I think Daniel is relatively high-functioning, but he still has a lot of health problems.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Three more things for Thursday

I've had these thoughts jumbling around in my head for a few days now so it's time they were in a blog post.


1. Walking with Dinosaurs. We found this DVD at the library and it is such a treat. It's like one of those nature/wildlife shows with a charismatic and slightly foolhardy host, but the wildlife in question happen to be dinosaurs. I put it on for the girls to watch and ended up staying to watch it myself. I love that it takes itself entirely seriously, and the digital effects are really quite good. There seem to be several titles in this series, some with the host Nigel Marven and some without. My girls love dinosaurs and they LOVE these DVDs. In fact, they love them so much that they even wanted to watch the "Making Of" special features. Hooray!

2. Fabric softener. I am now the proud owner of Downy Dream Garden fabric softener, thanks to comments on this post. And friends, I couldn't be happier. I look forward to doing laundry now because it smells so nice. It's not THE scent I've been looking for all these years but at least I am now convinced it was fabric softener I was smelling, not detergent. So the search continues, but I am content in the meantime. I can't believe I haven't been using softener all this time. It's especially nice because we hang out our clothes to dry (on a private patio, mind, so we don't break the law) and the softener keeps our clothes from turning into something resembling the smell and texture of musty cardboard. Thank you!

3. Photo session giveaway. Remember when my friend Mikael took our family photos back in September? She did a fabulous job and now she is offering a free photo shoot giveaway on her blog. All you have to do to earn entries is vote for her brother here. If you live anywhere remotely near Portland, Oregon area, please consider entering!

I think that about does it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(Literal) School shopping

Open season to choose (and apply at) a school for Miriam is just around the corner (her current school only goes up to KG2). I've set up a Google Doc to keep all the facts and numbers straight. I even added a column for "Notes/Hearsay" because you get so very much of the latter from other parents whenever the conversation turns even remotely toward a school-related topic. I actually don't mind, because it's one thing to look at a school's website and maybe tour its grounds. It's quite another to hear praise or criticism from an experienced, caring parent.

This blog post will deal with Round One of the process, which is simply a fact-finding mission to decide which schools to visit in person. The results of those visits will be Round Two. After that, I should be able to pare down the number of schools to two or three so that we don't run up exorbitant application fees.

I want to keep this nice and anonymous, so I'm redacting the names of the schools. Sorry.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book envy

We went to Kinokuniya Book World the other day. It's a massive book store with all the love and care of the written word that you'd find in a place like Powell's, only without the attractive sense of disorder. Despite my great love of books, a trip to the bookstore - especially one as magnificent as Kinokuniya - almost always leaves me feeling demoralized. I always see about 16,000 books I'd like to read and of course there is no chance of purchasing them all. Not only would the cost be prohibitive, but we spent several agonizing hours paring down our book collection back in May and the last thing we need to do is build it up again. It's even more heartbreaking visiting an English-language bookstore here in the Middle East because the consolation of finding a specific book at the library instead is far from a sure thing.

Sigh. If only.

The other downside of going to a bookstore is that (here, at least) they have all the pretty UK covers on the books. It's enough to make me want to re-purchase books I already own. There were gorgeous Chronicles of Narnia sets that put our ragged used Amazon copies to shame. I also saw a set of Little House on the Prairie books that were illustrated in color. Beautiful. Then there was your requisite stack of Twilight books, but look at the covers!

Aren't they lovely?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Flashback Friday: I want to believe

Refried Flashback Friday: I Want to Believe, originally published November 15, 2008. Consider yourself lucky to get this all in one post. If I were writing this today I would stretch it out into three.

You know how sometimes when you're a kid, grownups don't take you seriously? You tell them something strange or amazing that happened and they pat you condescendingly on the head and say, "sweetie, that's not possible. I'm sure you just imagined it." Well, what if it really did happen? And what if you had proof, because your little sister was there with you and she saw/heard/experienced it, too?!? Today I bring you three stories from my personal Twilight Zone file - strange and unsettling incidents that were dismissed by my parents but witnessed or also experienced by my little sister. To this day, one of them defies explanation, but who am I to question a corroborated fact?

We'll start out with the relatively mundane. In the summer of 1994, when I was 12, my family visited Utah for pretty much the first time since having five kids. (This blows a giant hole in the oft-repeated myth that all Mormons go there on pilgrimage every summer.) We stayed in my great aunt and uncle's house in Utah Valley, a huge, three-story, gorgeous house with lots of bedrooms.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Detour

Sharjah is so unlike anywhere I've ever lived that it's even fascinating when you get lost. One moment you're driving on a well paved road bordered by gleaming skyscrapers crowned with helicopter landing pads. A single wrong turn later, you're thrust into a dense network of packed-dirt alleyways lined with scrappy storefronts and teeming with laborers from places as far-flung as Turkmenistan, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.

I was reminded of this the other night when I set out to have a look at a jogging stroller listed on dubizzle. It was early evening and the roads were dark and congested. I was heading for an area of town I'd never visited before. I was also in a hurry. But really, what could go wrong?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

In search of...

I swear I am being absolutely serious when I say that I have been on a laundry detergent-related quest since 2005. Once in 2005, I was in someone's laundry room and I caught a whiff of the most heavenly laundry detergent I have ever smelled. It was cleanliness, freshness, tidiness, and ease all wrapped up in one lovely scent - a chemistry team coup, in other words.

The problem is, I never got a chance to look for the source of the fragrance. I assumed it was laundry soap because I smelled it in the laundry room. I have since sensed the same smell (only in the Middle East) in the general aura of people wearing clothing that must have at some point been laundered.

But I'm starting to doubt that the scent I've been after for almost six years is available in laundry detergent form. That's because every time I have to buy detergent, I make sure to smell all of the available brands. Sometimes I get my hopes up and buy a certain brand, convinced it's The One. But it never is. I still haven't found my dream detergent.

I've tried:

Persil
I thought this was the one. It wasn't. And now it just reminds me of morning sickness since I it's what I was using when I was pregnant with Miriam. I can't buy it anymore. In fact, even just looking at the box makes me queasy.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Stroller dilemma

We're teetering on the edge of buying another stroller - a jogging stroller. For all I laugh at people who spend $800 on strollers, I can see the joy of being really happy with a stroller that is classy and utilitarian all at once. Let's see if we ever struck that magic balance with any of the strollers we've owned.

Ghetto umbrella stroller. Purchased in Tucson in 2005. This thing was a piece of junk but isn't that the idea of umbrella strollers?

Single jogging stroller. Purchased in Tucson used on Craigslist for around $80 in 2006. We got tons of use out of this thing and then sold it in 2009 for $50. It was a champ and hardly looked worse for the wear.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Not too thrilled about H&M's return policy.

I was really excited to find out that there are H&M stores here. It pretty much erases the sadness of not having Old Navy and Target for children's clothing. The other day, I was at the H&M at the Dubai Mall. I had both girls with me. We had already done a few errands and even the promise of a gander at the gigantic aquarium was not enough to sustain their little attention spans through one more shopping trip.

So I bought a dress from H&M - my first non-kids purchase there - not entirely positively absolutely sure that I really wanted it.

Mind you, I did go through the hassle of trying it on, which is a hassle regardless because it messes up your hair and the lighting in those rooms always makes you look garish. But the specific hassle I'm referring to is when you have your two kids in there with you and one is messing up your yes/maybe/no piles while the other keeps trying to throw the door wide open at the exact moment when you are wearing naught but your skivvies.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Flashback Friday: Shut the door!

Refried Flashback Friday: Shut the door! Originally published November 8, 2008. If you read the comments on the original post, you will notice that I accidentally conflated two childhood incidents in this flashback. The "shut the door!" part specifically didn't belong to this anecdote. But close enough.

I'm hesitant to tell today's story because by telling it, I'm admitting that it happened, and if there is any justice in the world, my little sister Teresa is in for some very embarrassing karma. But since it's Teresa and not me, I'll go ahead and risk it.

Between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, my family went on what remains my most favorite family vacation ever: a trip to Alaska. We flew to Anchorage and then rented an RV to drive around the state. After a week or so, we turned in the RV and got around by ferry. The trip held several distinctions for my 14-year-old self, including the awesomeness of visiting a town called Homer Spit (and sending my fellow Simpsons fan Kristen a postcard from there), the novelty of seeing Russian onion-dome churches on the island of Sitka, and the heartbreak of accidentally leaving behind an entire box of peanut butter Twix on a ferry.


My brothers and sister and I at a glacier in Alaska. My oldest brother was on a mission in Austria at the time.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

NaBloPoMo is over!

I am too exhausted from both NaBloPoMo and a trip to Dubai Mall today to write a round-up post. And Jeremy still owes me a guest post which somehow never made it into the NaBloPoMo rotation. Let this serve as his reminder.

Happy National Day to the UAE!

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