Monday, February 28, 2011

The Help, Room, cells, professors, etc.

Another book review round-up, for your consideration, coming right up.

The Ends of the Earth, by Robert D. Kaplan. Kaplan is a master of the fascinating travelogue where you learn a lot along the way, and The Ends of the Earth follows that formula. On Goodreads, I gave this book three out of five stars. Really, that rating is in comparison to everything else Kaplan has ever written (that I've read). A less biased review would be four stars. I felt that The Ends of the Earth has been rendered ever so slightly irrelevant by the passage of time, whereas Kaplan's other works seem to stand up pretty well even after a decade or more.

It was also uneven at times - the parts about Africa were great. Egypt - meh. Central Asia - brilliant. Iran - meh. Southeast Asia - brilliant again.

Friday, February 25, 2011

February 25th, outsourced

I guess I didn't dink around on the internet enough this week, because I don't have a lot of links for you.

Here is an interesting podcast in which a mentor/colleague/friend of Jeremy's is interviewed about the situation in Egypt.

On a related note, here is an article showing some of the funniest signs deployed during the Egypt protests (and discussing the larger role of humor during the protests in general).

I was loving this article by Eric D. Snider about A Streetcar Named Desire even BEFORE he mentioned the episode of The Simpsons that parodies it.

Sometimes I can play the music I hear in movies and TV shows on the piano by ear. Sometimes I have trouble figuring it out. So I was really excited when I found this YouTube user who figured out and then transcribed a lot of beautiful songs from BBC miniseries, etc.

Finally, here's how to pass through a door.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Literal) School shopping: the plot thickens

If you need to catch up on the proceedings so far, here is Round 1 and here is Round 2.

There have been a few unexpected developments in the school search since I last wrote about it. First, the darkhorse candidate, School V, is now out of the running. Previously, I had heard nothing but good things about this school. Then I talked to a few more people and what they told me was enough to change my mind about applying there. It was nothing salacious or shocking, but they were very negative comments from people whose opinions I respect.

Second, School S - the current frontrunner because it is where most US/UK parents in our neighborhood send their kids - is dragging its feet on the application we submitted almost two months ago. I call every other week or so and they always tell me I should find out in about two weeks if there's a spot for Miriam. It's frustrating.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our own international English

Ever since we moved here I've noticed little British-isms creeping into our speech. There are so many Brits here, and many other residents who speak English as a second language have learned the British variant, including Miriam's Iraqi schoolteacher and not a few of her classmates. What ends up happening is that to avoid confusion when speaking in English with persons of indeterminate nationality, we often use the British word/term first. It's just easier that way, even though I feel weird doing it.

(Before you decide I'm being pretentious, please know that it's not Jeremy and me sitting in our living room chatting away in an affected British accent. It's only when we're dealing with someone else's sketchy English skills and we know we might only get one shot to get our message across.)

So instead of dropping someone off, we just drop them. No 'off' needed. And when we pick them up, we don't. We collect them. (I actually love the mental image conjured by this term.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Year of No Candy

I don't think I've mentioned here yet that I made a goal to not eat any candy in 2011. Jeremy went without ice cream for all of 2010 so I thought no candy would a nice gesture on my part this year. Jeremy is not participating in my pledge, just as I did not participate in the Year of No Ice Cream.

One of the reasons I picked on candy specifically is because for some reason, when I get to the Middle East, I go candy CRAZY. It's all well and good to enjoy a timely Toffifay now and then, but in all honesty, I could eat the entire pack in one day, no problem. Which means it WAS a problem. So I swore it off entirely.

(Here is where I should mention that I am not doing this to lose weight. I'm doing it just to see if I can. I went four years in high school without eating candy and although we all know how THAT turned out, I want to make sure I still have some willpower left in my life.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 18th, outsourced

In case you missed the special episodes of Jeopardy! where Ken Jennings played against a computer, you can find the first one here (and click on the links therein for the subsequent episodes).

After you've watched it (or if you don't mind semi-spoilers), read this really entertaining live chat with Ken Jennings about the match.

Aaaand also here is my favorite Ken Jennings moment ever from his long run of Jeopardy! wins.

ANYWAY. I'm not a naturally talented cook, but I can follow directions well. That's why I love the recipes at Our Best Bites - they teach me general cooking skills and techniques and produce a delicious meal along the way. I also love how the recipes don't usually include really specific, hard-to-substitute ingredients. That makes it easier to follow along even here in the UAE.

Remember Chandra Levy? You probably do, since they recently convicted a man in her killing. But before that, when everyone had kind of forgotten about her, there was this amazing series in The Washington Post about what was at the time a very cold case.

Have you ever had that weird feeling that you've become your mother? My friend Kristen wrote about it beautifully in what remains one of my favorite blog posts from any blog, ever.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lara Logan

This morning, when I heard about what had happened to CBS reporter Lara Logan in Cairo, my heart sank. Independent of any of the surrounding circumstances, this was a terrible thing to happen to anybody, anywhere. That the attack was perpetrated on a white woman, in the Middle East, was horrifying on a more personal level.

What happened to her is my personal nightmare scenario come true, on a grand scale. And I would wager that it is the personal nightmare scenario for many, many other foreign women living in the Middle East.

For all of you who just rolled your eyes and thought, "boo hoo, so the blonde American girl is afraid of the Arab boogeyman," let me tell you why it can sometimes be unnerving to be an obviously foreign woman in the Middle East. Even when you're not a reporter. Even when you're trying to keep a low profile.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Qatar miscellany

Here are a few last tidbits about our trip to Doha, which came to a reluctant end on Friday.

-One day when we were walking on the Corniche, we passed a jumpsuited municipal employee cleaning up litter at the park. He was talking on a cell phone, and it was a nicer cell phone than the one I currently own. Hmm.

-Farther along the Corniche, there was (Jeremy tells me it's called) a half-pipe and all the kids were using it as a slide. It was so freakishly slippery and so much fun for the girls.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mama's first day of school

I had Miriam take this picture of me today, on my first day of school. I am now officially pursuing a master's degree in TESOL.

I have wanted to go to graduate school almost ever since I finished up my bachelor's degree in December 2001. The closest I came was in 2005 when I was admitted and given a three-year full scholarship to law school at the University of Arizona. I deferred for a year when Miriam was born but ultimately declined my spot because I am not one of those superwomen who can juggle multiple tiny children and full-time school, at least not with a husband who was pursuing his PhD at the same time. I felt confident in my decision to not go to law school but I always, always felt a lingering sadness about it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ding dong, Mubarak's gone

I stayed up until midnight in Doha (1am Sharjah time) on Thursday night waiting for Hosni Mubarak to come on TV and make the speech that everyone was hoping would be the one where he finally relinquished power.

Jeremy and the girls were already in their beds, asleep, though since we were in a hotel room, we were all just a few feet away from each other. I was huddled on my half of the bed, curled around my laptop with one earphone in, trying to stay awake long enough for Mubarak's speech (once it did begin) to make some kind of sense. That never happened. I finally gave up and went to sleep.

Then yesterday, on the flight home from Doha to Sharjah, the Egyptian man sitting next to Jeremy told us that Mubarak had stepped down. All at once, I could not - and absolutely could - believe it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

February 11th, outsourced

Here's what I've enjoyed reading/watching this week, online.

Portlandia. What is this show? I've seen a few clips of it online and it is HILARIOUS. My favorites are the bathroom is for paying customers only, bicycle rights, and is it local?

I laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed at these critiques of the outfits at the US National Figure Skating Championships - Ladies & Pairs, and Men & Ice Dancers.

This guy figured out how to cheat the scratch & win lottery. Fascinating.

Coming at you from way back in 2008 is an article from The Atlantic, "The Things He Carried." I read this from time to time because it's funny AND it makes you think.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Usually when we go traveling, I get blogorrhea and have so much to say about a place that it can hardly be interesting.

Not so with Qatar. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe because I can't quite figure this place out. Parts of Doha are as bustling and run-down as any other Middle Eastern city that I've been in (well, not quite as run-down. This IS the Gulf, after all), and there's the usual mix of native Qataris, a vast subpopulation of Indians/Pakistanis/Nepalese/Filipinos that actually run the infrastructure here, and the remaining balance of white people who are either wide-eyed tourists or seasoned expats.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Nice hotels are still too good for me

If we weren't classy enough for the Boston Marriott, we certainly aren't classy enough for the Doha Moevenpick. And yet, here we are, thanks to Jeremy presenting at a conference (the reason for every nice hotel we've ever stayed in, now that I think about it).

I'm not sure we're fooling anybody, though. We don't dress well enough to fit in with the other people milling around the lobby, for one thing. For another, we brought with us some milk and cereal and other food so we don't have to eat out three times a day. I'm sure that was a dead giveaway that we are not fancy folk.

Monday, February 07, 2011

In Qatar

It's as if my greatest wish when I was eight years old and obsessed with the bizarre flag and u-lessness of Qatar has come true: we are in Doha for a few days. So far, Doha seems a lot like Dubai Lite, though of course I tend to see new places in terms of those I already know. Here in Doha, there are gorgeous, crazily designed buildings strung along a beautiful corniche. Natives in abayas and kandura pretend to be oblivious to the gobs of foreigners from all corners of the earth milling around them in fastidiously manicured public spaces. It's sunny even though it's February. The malls are over-the-top. All of the above exist to a slightly lesser degree than in Dubai.

Friday, February 04, 2011

February 4th, outsourced

If you're looking for a Flashback Friday fix, you can check out the main directory here.

Today, however, I'd like to break 2.5 years of tradition and post something else on a Friday. I'm thinking of doing this every Friday from here on out, actually. It might be nice to have a sort of weekly depository post where I can link to interesting articles or funny videos or blog posts that made me think. I haven't though of a catchy name yet, but let's see how it goes this week.

Consider watching Downton Abbey (you can do so free, online, here). If you think you will like it, you will probably love it. If you think you won't like it, you still might. After you're done watching - but not before, because there are spoilers - read this article.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


I hear that there are more snowstorms moving through the US. As someone who appreciates cold weather, I can't help but feel a little bit jealous. Especially when we are currently dealing with a blizzard's warmer, grittier cousin: a sandstorm. It's really the first major one we've had since we moved here, so I'm not about to complain.

But in some ways, I consider sand to be my personal nemesis. It gets everywhere. It's hard to clean up completely. It attacks you at the most awkward moments, like when you're at the beach and you've washed off your feet for the last time but somehow there's always one more stretch of sand to walk through that undoes all your efforts.

You sweep it away, and it comes back.

It can blow through your screen doors and windows.

It somehow manages to get tracked all through the house, no matter what kind of mat you put down at the front door.

Our patio was clean yesterday. Today, I took the girls out to clean it again because it looked like this:

Lucky for us, we have a squeegee. And you know what? I haven't carried out a good squeegee-ing since Jordan in 2007. It felt good to go native for a few minutes and squeegee the dickens out of the patio. Never mind that it's been half covered in sand again as I write this, two hours later.

By the way, I can't help but feel guilty for blogging about anything besides Egypt when things are still so tense there. It was the same way in November when Megan Smith passed away. I felt like a traitor every day I wrote about something else and pretended to have gotten over her death. So just know that I'm not "over" Egypt. I don't know how the situation there is going to get better, but I know the people will find a way, somehow. And my thoughts are still with them, even if my blog posts aren't.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Al-Qaeda, some fiction, and a memoir

Here are some books I've read lately.

Prince Caspian, by CS Lewis. I read this one with Miriam. It didn't hold her attention nearly as well as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Mine neither, come to think of it. It seemed like there was a lot of camping and talking going on and not a lot of action. I don't remember thinking that the first few times I read this so maybe it was just a particularly tedious book to read aloud for some reason.


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