Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29, outsourced

Did you watch The Wedding? Well, DID YOU? I caught about five minutes of it after church, and it was the part where the actual wedding was already over. Oh well. You can catch up here.

(In related news, I wish I could unreservedly recommend this truly hilarious commentary on Lifetime's William & Kate movie, but I can't. Maybe you should read it anyway, though. Just know that it has a couple of irreverent moments.)

Ten unforgettable web memes. It's crazy how quickly these things became normal. I mean, who hasn't heard Chuck Norris facts?

Here's a lovely interview with one Ginny Weasley. I know she has a real name, but pretty much half of her life has been spent as Ginny Weasley, ok? Also, behold the HP7.2 trailer. Squee.

This post highlighting a few misfires in Procter & Gamble's woman-centered advertising made me laugh. Yeah, I totally hand-feed Jeremy his dinner every evening.

If you feel like looking at a whole bunch of photos featuring street food from around the world, well, by all means.

Chernobyl happened 25 years ago. These pictures tell so much of the story without saying a word.

Read this post on the new-ish Modern Mormon Men blog and laugh, as I did.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I'm a MOM

More than anything else - more than Miriam's first day of school, more than reading the same books I did when I was a kid, more than ballet class and swimming lessons and teaching her to ride a bike, this has made me feel like a MOM:

It's Miriam's first loose tooth! Bet you can't guess which one it is, ha ha.

What makes you feel like a mom?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I've got a secret

Or rather, Magdalena has a secret, and it is this: that although she has been potty trained for almost six months, up until a few days ago she still wore a diaper to bed at night. Shhhh!

We originally tried to night-train her along with the regular potty training, but after a few nights in a row changing wet sheets, we scrapped that plan. Our kids don't sleep well enough at night to allow for that kind of additional disturbance on any kind of a regular basis. So we put her in a diaper at night and called it good. Somehow, almost six months passed, and we had made no progress toward having her night-trained. Even worse, she was starting to have lots of little accidents during the day. And when you don't have a dryer and your washer runs a 3-hour cycle, sometimes that means the 2.5-year-old runs out of clean panties and has to wear her 5.5-year-old sister's panties. (Luckily, their bums are almost the same size. Phew!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tomorrow, when our world changed

One year ago, on the weekend that has just ended, we went camping. It was the first night of the season in New York for state park camping. We found a great site at Treman State Park. We set up the tent, gathered some firewood, read books around the campfire, and cooked up some dinner. That night was literally freezing cold. All four of us slept in a huddled bunch under multiple sleeping bags and blankets to keep warm. In the morning, we ate breakfast cookies, went hiking, packed up camp, and went home.

That family camping trip was such a wonderful experience, one of those rare times where you don't need to wait until afterward to recognize its wonderfulness - you realize it even as you're experiencing it. To this day, all my memories of our little camp in the woods seem to be cast in a soft, cosy glow, the perfect embodiment of everything we loved about Ithaca and how hard we'd worked to get there.

The next day, Jeremy received a job offer from the American University of Sharjah. In a moment, everything changed.

Monday, April 25, 2011

9 tips for driving in the UAE

1. If you are brave enough to drive in the left lane on a freeway, however briefly, prepare to be bullied by people driving really nice cars. They will come out of nowhere (because they are driving approximately 200 kph), ride right on your bumper, and flash their lights at you until you move over. In other words, stay out of the left lane unless you really, really, REALLY need to use it.

2. Consider that if you come to a complete stop at a stop sign, you may be hit (or nearly hit) from behind by people who do not expect you to do so. Because stop signs are just guidelines here.

3. When traffic on a multi-lane expressway comes screeching to an unexpected halt (I'm talking to you, Emirates Road), punch your hazard lights button to warn the cars behind you. I picked up this little tactic in Europe but it is alive and well here in the UAE.

4. It turns out that you can use your signal in a roundabout to alert drivers to your exit intentions. I usually see this done by cars that aren't exiting when they're in an outside lane of the roundabout, or are exiting when they're in an inside lane. The blinking yellow signal works like an "FYI, I am about to be in your way." Beware these people...or adopt their ways and join them.

5. Realize that speed bumps can appear at anytime, on any road, in any form, without any warning. Constant vigilance is essential. One strategy is to always keep a car in sight in front of you, so you can look for the sudden appearance of brake lights (this works well at night when visibility is poor).

6. If you encounter a construction detour, you're on your own. The detour sign may lead you to believe that there will be arrows guiding you on an alternate route. This is a lie. (Or the arrows will be inaccurate/unclear.)

7. Get the maximum number of legally tintable windows on your car tinted to the maximum legal level. Keep a spare blanket in the car to cover up car seats so they don't get hot in the sun and burn your kids when you get back in. And don't get leather seats. Ouch.

8. Gas stations are full service, and often have very clean bathrooms and full-blown restaurants inside. Also, they call regular unleaded gasoline "Special" here. And it costs something like $1.50/gallon, mwahahahahahahaha.

9. The shopping center parking lot car washer guys charge 15 dirhams in Ajman, 20 dirhams in Sharjah, and 25+ dirhams in Dubai. Choose wisely.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter in the UAE

Happy Easter! Jeremy had work today. Miriam had school today. I had class today. It was business as usual.

I'm not really complaining. We get every Friday off, after all, and the skewed calendar kept me more aware of the peripheral Easter-season holidays like Good Friday, since we spent three hours at church that day. And the almost complete absence of Easter Bunny festivities in this country meant that we focused a lot more on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Still, I wish we had a Damascus-style Old City to go to, so we could participate in some Christian Easter festivities like we did in 2005. Honestly, Easter has never felt as Christ-centered as it did there.

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22, outsourced

From the Baby Name Wizard.
My favorite blog post of the year may very well be Bloggity Blog's roundup of Rexburg, Idaho baby names from 2010. (Let it be known that my SIL Sarah, who lives in Idaho Falls, hand-typed me the list and emailed it to me so I could laugh at the outtakes.) I would like to publicly state that the worst name on the list, in my opinion, is Tayzlee.

Prince William and Kate are getting married in a week. Meanwhile, a jelly bean resembling Kate has been found and, of course, put up for sale to the highest bidder. (You have to admit, it does look like her.)

I have a weird fondness for a good prank, as long as it's carried out without malice. This one made me laugh and laugh, and it was played on a telemarketer, so it's totally ok, right?

In case you were wondering, here is a table of the most common hymns found in mainline Protestant hymnals these days. Where is "Joseph Smith's First Prayer," I ASK YOU??? (Just kidding.)

This is what the wildfires in Texas look like. In other news, there are wildfires in Texas right now? I need to read US-based news sources more often instead of giggling at college campus modesty discussions in The National.

By Common Consent called this "the most interesting thing to happen in the Church Office Building in years." I cannot help but agree, and so will you after you watch the video.

I watched this video compiled by a dude taking pictures of the stars on a mountain in Spain and the thought that came to mind was, "There is a God." Amazing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One-strap backpacks all over again

The English-language newspapers here are so full of gems of amusement that I really should start keeping track, in order to share them with you. There was one last week that made me smile. The same storm system that hit us while we were camping went on to blast Al Ain the next day. The wind blew down a tent market and downed power lines and other infrastructure across the city. There was a quote in the article from a member of the police forces that said something like, "We are doing our best to respond to residents' needs and take care of the problems they call in, but we are very overwhelmed and so far we have unfortunately been able to respond to only 90% of incidents." Seriously, this past week I've smiled every time I've thought about this poor beleaguered police captain striving for 100% achievement and falling just short. Dude, 90% is AWESOME.

That was in the Gulf News. Today I read a great letter to the editor in The National, about the lack of modesty on the UAE's college campuses. Here's an excerpt:

"The modest garment of a Muslim woman covers from head to toe, leaving the face, hands and wrists showing. But some girls have corrupted the meaning of modesty to suit themselves. When walking on campus, I see open abayas, tight T-shirts and jeans, and sheer leggings that clearly outline body shape. Some young women have boys' haircuts and wear outfits that make it difficult to distinguish their gender. The most troubling part in this daily drama is that some students fail to cover their chests with their abayas."

Wow, did that ever take me back to my days at the BYU. Change a few of the finer details, put in Mormon for Muslim, and there you go: it's one-strap backpacks all over again!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Behind the veil

The other day on campus during a class break, I stepped into the women's restroom to use the facilities. When I went to the sink to wash my hands, there was another girl there. I didn't recognize her as an acquaintance so I was really surprised when she started talking to me very familiarly, as if we knew each other.

After hearing her voice, I quickly realized that we did know each other - she was one of my classmates, in the very class we were currently enjoying a break from. The reason I hadn't recognized her standing next to me at the sink is because I had never seen her face before.

You see, she wears niqab, an Islamic head covering that leaves only the eyes uncovered. When paired with an abaya, as it usually is, the result is a woman clothed in a long swath of anonymous, shape-concealing black, with only the eyes to give any hint of an individual's identity.

I happen to like the veil in most of its many iterations, as long as a woman is wearing it by her own choice. It seems so liberating to me. The girl whose face I saw for the first time standing at the bathroom sink is the only one in my class who wears niqab specifically (though there are others who wear hijab). When she speaks, there is nothing to look at besides her eyes. There is nothing to hear but the ideas she is sharing. There are no judgments to make except the ones based on the words coming out of her mouth (which you can't even see). You really, honestly, fully, hear her, as a person - not as a collection of clothing choices or fashion mistakes or hairstyle decisions. You just look at her, and listen.

I wonder sometimes what it's like for professors here who have more than one niqab'd student in the same class. I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say that it must be hard to tell such students apart, at least at first, and at least from a distance.

I was glad to see my classmate's face at last, and it was interesting to see what she really looked like compared to the idea I had formed of her based on our previous conversations and her comments in class. Would I have taken her words differently had I known what she looked like ahead of time? Does a person's face really influence what opinions we form about their ideas? I think so, at least a little bit. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. We depend on so much more than just words to communicate a sense of ourselves.

But in a way, it was nice to have a chance to hear someone before seeing them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Trapped in a parking lot

Last night we attended the Heritage Days festival in the historical area of Sharjah. For traffic pattern and road layout reasons, we spend a lot of our social time in Dubai, so it was nice to enjoy "our" emirate for a while. I had forgotten how few westerners there are in Sharjah - I think we were the only ones at the festival. There are times in the UAE when it's possible to forget that you're in the Middle East. This was not one of those times.

For starters, we found parking in a massive sand lot. There were no marked spaces and only a half-hearted attempt at orderliness. You just parked wherever you had a decent expectation of not being boxed in - you had to find a space tight enough that no one would be able to wedge in around you, but not leave so much room that someone could start another row and block your exit.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Attack of the laundry

Attack of the laundry...but not in the way you'd think. I have the usual ongoing struggle of maintaining a victory over my laundry by not letting it pile up dirty, or pile up clean but unfolded, or pile up clean, folded, but not put away.

Recently, however, my laundry is out to get me in a more terrifying, insect-based way.

It started with all the moths in the neighborhood deciding that me leaving my laundry out on the drying rack overnight was an invitation for them to take up residence in every seam and crevice of our clothing they could find. I wasn't totally surprised by this since I remembered that my friend Nancy had mentioned the same thing happening to her in Egypt. I did my best to get the laundry in each day by dusk, but it didn't always happen. The next morning, I paid for my negligence by having to shake each item of laundry sharply enough that it would snap, to get the moths off (you know how stubborn they are). Each time, I hoped I wasn't gripping the piece of clothing right where the moth had chosen to snuggle in.

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 15th, outsourced

I thought everyone knew about Awkward Family Photos, but apparently that is not the case. So, check out Awkward Family Photos. YOU'RE WELCOME.

Have you ever wanted to engage and bait a scammer? This guy did, and it was exhilarating to read.

A group of Oregon legislators slipped lyrics from "Never Gonna Give You Up" into their speeches, and then cut the result into a video. Now someone just needs to clean it up with auto-tune.

I loved reading this story about how the famous "blue marble" photograph of the earth came to be. Did you know the identity of the photographer is disputed? At first I thought, how is it possible that two people could clearly remember taking the same photo? Then I realized that Jeremy and I do that all the time, so much so that when our photos were featured in a book we had to have them credited to "Jeremy and Bridget Palmer."

Best ruling reasoning ever, re the Facebook ongoing litigation battle: "The Winklevosses are not the first parties bested by a competitor who then seek to gain through litigation what they were unable to achieve in the marketplace."

Behold, a photographic tour of world desk jobs. I was really hoping the Egyptian Mujamma would make it in there.

Zoomable before/after pictures of the Japan tsunami. So sad.

Finally, here are some beautiful and interesting maps of US population change.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The joy of cooking in Arabia

I was going to save this for tomorrow's Outsourced post, but it's too good to wait: The Joy of Not Cooking, by Megan McCardle. She talks about how we are cooking less and less even as we spend more on our (bigger) kitchens and kitchen gadgets. The most interesting part of the article is the accompanying video, where McCardle demonstrates what it was like to bake a cake the old-fashioned way.

The labor intensiveness of cooking has been on my mind lately. Last week, I made, from scratch, flour tortillas, pie crust, and pizza crust. I also made pizza sauce from scratch, including mixing up the Italian seasoning. I also made my own cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups, as well as combining my own poultry seasoning.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Adventures in the Empty Quarter

OR: How I Came to Flee a Thunderstorm Running Over Sand Dunes While Holding My 2-year-old.

So, yes, we went camping in the Rub Al-Khali, the "Empty Quarter." There is a strip of oasis centered on Liwa that borders the Empty Quarter to the north. From there on out, through Saudi Arabia, it's all vast emptiness.

I've zoomed in and approximated our camping position with the blue circle.

Monday, April 11, 2011


If I learned anything from watching (an edited version of!) 127 Hours, it's that you should always tell people when you're heading off into the wilds.

Well, we're heading off into the wilds, but only for one night.

Here's where we're going:
See you later!

(Bonus points if anyone can figure out where that is, just from the Google Earth snapshot.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Global Day

The American University of Sharjah held their annual Global Day festival last week. I'm a sucker for celebrations of amazing diversity of national origin, where people dress up and decorate booths and sing and dance. Global Day was no disappointment.

Miriam's school had a mini-Global Day. Each member of her class dressed up in their traditional garb. It was really hard for me to come up with something truly American. Except for an American/Pakistani girl, Miriam is the only USA-ian in her class. I solicited ideas on Facebook and eventually sent Miriam to school wearing cowboy boots along with her normal outfit. One of the teachers found a cowboy hat and I think the effect was quite nice. This is what they had made for me when I went to pick her up:

Friday, April 08, 2011

April 8th, outsourced

For a little while I had a Weird Books feature going on this blog (see here, here, and here). But in the end, I didn't have enough material to work with. Enter Awful Library Books. A recent favorite: High School Guide to Commies.

Ariana pointed out in the comments of a recent post that an Egyptian man is making a movie about the sexual harassment that Egyptian women face in their own country. Just looking at the picture accompanying the article induced shivers of revulsion, and unfortunately, pangs of first-hand memories.

The Onion reports that the CIA's 'Facebook' program dramatically cut the agency's costs. Mwahahahahahahahaha.

I read this article about what to do when your pilot gets sucked out the plane window. There. are. no. words. I do, however, love that by the end of the article it was totally unclear whether or not the pilot survived (read the comments to find out).

I kind of really want to watch this new reality show about extreme couponing. Then again, I kind of don't.

OK, here's a doozy. Perhaps you have already seen the video where a UCLA student named Alexandra Wallace ranted about Asians talking on their cell phones in the library (among other issues she has with them). I don't know what horrifies me the most about that video: the vitriol spewing forth from her mouth, or the cleavage spewing forth from her tank top (ok ok, it's the vitriol). What I really want to say about this video is that it has spawned at least two really clever responses. This one is a song a guy wrote in response to the rant. It is cute, if a little too heavy on the mild sexual innuendo. This one, I LOVE. It's a "persona poem" - the guy is talking as if he were Alexandra Wallace (you must understand that before you watch the video). I swear I don't usually watch YouTube videos where someone just talks passionately into the camera. You may be tempted to turn this off in the first few seconds. Don't. Dude has some good things to say.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

My favorite childhood books

When I was growing up, my mom took us kids to the library during the summer on a very regular basis. It might have been every week. It was at least every two weeks, because that's what the lending period was. There was a drugstore across the parking lot from the library and my mom usually let us pick out a treat on the way home. I almost always chose sugar-coated lemon drops. Then I took them home and ate them, one after another, until my mouth was sore and I couldn't even taste them anymore. As I ate, I read. I chose whatever books I wanted, and they were usually juvenile or YA literature (the only restriction I distinctly recall was that I was not allowed to check out Sweet Valley High books. Sweet Valley Kids - or whatever the younger, tamer variety of that series was called - was OK).

I caught a whiff of lemon-flavored candy this morning and it brought with it so many memories of reading really good books. Here are some of my childhood favorites.

The Baby-Sitters Club series, by Ann M. Martin. I loved these books and I can still remember details about the characters that are totally irrelevant to my - or anyone's - life. Like how Claudia Kishi's Japanese grandma pronounced iron as "i-ron." Stacey was my favorite because she was supposed to be everyone's favorite, but in reality I think I secretly liked Kristy the best. A darned fine girl with no nonsense about her.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Myths and realities of having a maid

I believe I've mentioned previously that we have a house...cleaner...guy. I still don't know what to call him. "Maid" seems out-of-date and feminine. "Housekeeper" seems to imply a live-in situation. "House cleaner guy" works just fine. He's a guy, and he cleans our house.

It's actually been three guys. The first one (Anbu) got married a few months ago and went back to India. His replacement had a full schedule already but took the job on a temporary basis. Now the replacement's replacement is in place. I will refer to them here as Anbu 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0, because sometimes we do that and also for privacy's sake.

Monday, April 04, 2011

What do the contents of my purse say about me?

The General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was held over the weekend. One of the speakers told a story about a lost purse. The people who found it went through it looking for identification, but along the way, they learned some neat things about the owner. You can watch Elder Quentin L. Cook tell the story from 3:48 - 6:10 in the video below.

It got me thinking. What do the contents of my purse say about me? If someone found my misplaced purse in a totally innocuous context and had to go through it to determine who I was, what else would they learn along the way?

They'd see that Magdalena didn't finish eating her peanut butter and honey sandwich. Actually, I guess they would assume it was my unfinished sandwich. Fair enough. Honey is disgusting to me, after all, so I doubt I could get through much more of the sandwich than this.

Friday, April 01, 2011

April 1st, outsourced

Remember those book mailers we used to get and pore over in elementary school? This site has compiled a few examples and looking at them, I was almost overcome with nostalgia. Many of them are before my time but a few (February 1991, in particular) brought me right back to third grade.

I actually have kind of always hated the Peanuts comic strip. Not anymore.

Did you turn off your lights during Earth Hour last week? Here are some brilliant photographs of places around the world that did.

Not to cut into your ration of 20 NYT articles per month (though apparently you can get around the paywall by doing this), but here is one about how companies are not only cutting down the size of packaging, they're doing so in a devious and deceitful manner. Hmph.

The saying, "I know, right?" seems to fill some sort of gap in the English language. It's hard to explain exactly what it means, but you understand its function when you hear it...don't you?

Also from Language Log, a seriously interesting discussion on whether Sarah Palin's use of the word "squirmish" in a recent comment about Libya was a malapropism or a perserveration. They make a good case for it being the latter.

Finally, the 10 most segregated urban areas in America. The final slide blew me away.


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