Book reviews! There's a lot, and some of them are long. Sorry.
The star ratings refer to what I gave each book on Goodreads.
City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare. 2.5 out of 5 stars. Not as good as the original trilogy that precedes it, and I didn't even love those books. Still, there is something smart and effortless about Clare's writing that makes her books fun to read, if a bit forgettable. I kind of get the feeling she tosses these books off in a series of weekend afternoons. I would love to see her really apply herself to a book - I think the results would be brilliant.
I still can't quite believe it: I'm in a hotel room, by myself, for two whole days. It's a Bridgetcation!
For a long time now, I've been feeling like I'm barely keeping my head above water when it comes to sanity at home. My patience/love/empathy/selflessness/wipingtinybums/emptyingthedishwashereveryday/etc. reserves were running dry. Aside from the time I spent in class, I hardly had two hours of kid-free waking hours to rub together. Combine that with Jeremy's most stressful semester yet + a couple of weeks here and there when he was out of town (which really, really gets to me) and you had one tired Bridget who was starting to feel like an empty shell of herself.
Because motherhood is exhausting, did you know?
Jeremy talked about sending me to a hotel by myself to recuperate for a couple of days and this week, everything clicked into place and it became a reality. When I checked in yesterday afternoon, it took me a good couple of hours to calm myself and get down to the business of doing NOTHING. Or whatever I wanted, anyway.
I channel-surfed the MBC stations (2, 4, Action, and Max), tuning into Oprah for a few minutes for old times' sake (old times = every period of my life I've spent in the Middle East, because Oprah is good television here). I contemplated ordering in room service for dinner, and then decided against it because it runs counter to everything my parents ever taught me. I finished reading one book and then started another one. I went to bed late with no expectation of having to wake up early in the morning. Truly, that is one of life's great pleasures.
Today, I slept in and then went downstairs to the lobby to eat a huge breakfast at a leisurely pace. I got a free massage. I walked out on the beach. I took a nap. I read some more. I've got The Age of Innocence and all eight hours of Bleak House ready to go if I want to watch them.
I still have 18 hours before my Bridgetcation ends, and I'm already feeling mostly recharged. This is a very good thing.
The funny thing is that I feel foolish explaining this to anyone aside from Jeremy, who of course understands me perfectly. But the way I see it, everybody has their way to detox and recharge. Some women have scheduled, frequent, short breaks from life. Some women meet up with girlfriends for fun, out-of-town trips. Some women just want to be by themselves for a while. That last one is the group I belong to, but if you think it's weird, I understand.
So, is staying at a hotel by yourself for two days your idea of a personal hell, or do you totally get what I'm talking about?
First, here's a video I forgot to put in to yesterday's post about Jeremy's birthday. It's a song and interview with Miriam and Magdalena about Dad. Nothing spectacularly cute or hilarious happened, but it's worth a viewing.
Now then. I was at H&M yesterday and noticed for NOT the first time that the models in the posters around the store are always wearing these mysterious white bodysuit cover-up things. I finally worked up the courage to snap a clandestine photo or two. Take a look:
What do you think? Is the lady in the lower picture, farthest left poster really wearing a pink cover-up over a bikini over a white bodysuit? Is the lady in the yellow striped dress showing off her beautifully covered up leg?
Or is this some UAE flesh sensitivity as implemented by the local managers of H&M by means of Photoshop?
Poor Jeremy. His birthday is June 28th. The last time we celebrated his birthday at home, in normal, non-travel surroundings, was 2003. ISH. I'm not even sure about that. It might have been more like 2001, which would mean that Jeremy has been shortchanged on the birthday celebrations during the entirety of our marriage.
I mean, we always celebrate it, but sometimes "celebrate" means "order ice cream sundaes from McDonald's and have them delivered to our door," as we did last year in Cairo.
This year, with our Summer at Home going on, we decided to have an actual party (yesterday). Behold, the extent of my party decorating skills:
I know, let the fun begin, right?
(ALTHOUGH. One really exciting thing about having a party at our house was that it prompted us to finally hang up some pictures. The beauty you see behind the party table is an IKEA special. I like to pretend that there is a window on that wall, and that is the view we see outside of it. Sigh.)
In my defense, I acquired a bunch of balloons and planned to blow them up, but they were so tough that I could only manage two. They floated around the party lamely until someone took pity on them and managed to blow up some more to keep them company.
As an introvert, I experienced a lot of anxiety leading up to the party regarding my role as its planner. I don't know how an extrovert thinks, so I had trouble figuring out how spaces, snack layouts, activities, and seating areas should flow. I ended up just doing whatever (as in, it's possible that some snack items were presented unceremoniously in mixing bowls. The horror! I didn't think to bust out my fancy silver tray, dangit!) and I think it worked out fine. We designated a 10-year-old as the Fun Manager and she ran a rocking, never-ending game of Star Singer or whatever it's called, so that was brilliant. Another friend brought along some henna, and by the end of the party, every kid in the house was henna'd - along with a few adults, too.
After everyone left and I had a chance to calm down and assess how things went, I realized I had a lot of chips and snacks still left in the kitchen that I should have been more vigilant about refilling empty (mixing) bowls with. Oh well.
I'm glad Jeremy got a proper birthday party for once, and with friends like ours, who are willing to overlook some inept hostessing, I think we could manage to do this every year.
I have always enjoyed descriptions of delicious food in literature, so I enjoyed reading this article. I would add Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia to the list of books that paint loving portraits of sumptuously arrayed dinner tables. (PS, don't bother with Wendy McClure's book, referred to in the article.)
Here are some gorgeous information graphics about alphabets.
I came across this post, about an extremely frugal father, and it reminded me of my own dad. Here are some things about my dad that - even as a kid, mind you - I could tell were a bit cheapskate-y.
For a great stretch of my formative years, my dad used the same lunch sack to take to work every single day. In a related characteristic of frugality, my dad took a lunch to work every single day.
Our family drove a huge red and white "shoebox on wheels" van for a long time beyond the point when it was socially acceptable (if it ever was socially acceptable). I remember riding in that van as a child on some lonely stretch of highway in California (?) when the odometer turned over to 100,000 miles and my parents gave a little "hooray!" from the front seat. Man, that van was HIDEOUS.
We watched The Adjustment Bureau last night. Whatever else I may say in this blog post, please believe that I really enjoyed it. I did. While watching it, I realized that I had never had a good look at Matt Damon before. I've only ever seen him in the Bourne movies (where he never stands still for two moments put together) and in True Grit (where it took me half the movie to recognize him behind all that facial hair). Anyway, the movie was good, but it reminded me that movies across all genres use the same devices to establish facts about their characters that would otherwise be cumbersome and time-consuming to explain. And some of these devices really get on my nerves.
For starters, there's Girl Drops Boy's Cell Phone into Some Form of Liquid. The Adjustment Bureau used this device, and so did Charly. Along with dozens of other movies, I'm sure. The point is that the boy is too repressed by his business obligations, and he just needs to live, and the girl can help him do that...by ruining an expensive electronic device. Nobody ever do this to me in real life, mmmkay? It will not endear you to me or cause me to re-evaluate my priorities. It will cause me to hate you and send you the bill for my new cell phone.
Then there's Girl With Artsy, Non-Mainstream Interest. In The Adjustment Bureau, she's a brilliant modern dancer. OF COURSE she is. That's how we know she doesn't live by society's rules and is a free spirit at heart who is totally worth falling in love with. Sometimes they skew this one to a quirky interest instead of an artsy one, like maybe she collects ketchup labels from small-town diners or something, but since there are literally six thousand movies that use this device, I will refrain from listing any more.
I've already discussedGirl Who Wears Her Hair Down No Matter How Inappropriate the Situation, seen in (for example) GI Joe and parts of Salt. It's gotten to the point where this can really distract me during a movie. In real life, if a woman is a spy and she's about to embark on a physically challenging, crucially important mission, does she leave her long hair hanging down to be possibly ensnared in rappelling gear or blown about by the wind, thereby obstructing her vision? I submit to you that she does not. In the movies, of course, the woman lets her hair down to convey that although she has considerable physical prowess that rivals any man's, she's still a gorgeous lady who will be worth looking at throughout the movie.
The last one I'll complain about today is Girl Who Decides She's In Love With A Man Other Than the One She's Getting Married To Tomorrow Morning. This device is guaranteed to kick the romance factor up a notch, but I just can't buy it. A girl cancelling her wedding because she doesn't want to get married at all, or wants to postpone it? Sure. But deciding that the feelings she has for another man are deep and sincere enough to jump right into a relationship with him on the morning of her wedding to someone else? I'm telling you, Spiderman 2 (for example), it's just weird.
I was taking Miriam's Last Day of School picture by the front door on Thursday when Magdalena popped her head in the shot at the moment the shutter clicked. I look at this picture now and it seems to tell the story of their lives. Miriam in the foreground, doing important, big-girl things with all the poise and confidence of a 5.5-year-old; Magdalena in the background, checking in to see what's going on and taking mental notes so that she can emulate her big sister as soon as possible.
That's homemade pie crust, by the way. The story behind this beauty is that - well, you may recall that I'm not eating candy at all these days, and other treats only on Fridays. Jeremy recently decided to join me in this effort, which is great for the solidarity effect. But. Having Jeremy along for the ride means that he encourages me to push the envelope a little. Like last Thursday night, when we were hanging out and I mentioned how I could hardly wait until Friday to make Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie. He said, "why don't you make it tonight, and we'll eat it after midnight?"
I wonder if a single week of Outsourced has gone by in which I don't link to something from The Atlantic. This week's nod: Who Invented the Oreo?
This issue is peripheral to the conflict in Syria at large (I cannot believe I just had to write "conflict in Syria"), but it's worth reading. The Syrian Twitter/FB/Blogosphere was all up in arms this week when it was revealed that Gay Girl in Damascus was actually Straight Guy in Scotland.
If you ever get to feeling like you don't like your job, or that you have to do too many difficult, dangerous things in the line of work duty, watch this video and be cured of those sentiments. FOREVER.
Sometimes little hotbeds of Mormondom spring up organically in places outside of the Mormon Corridor - Boston, New York City, or even Ithaca. There is one such community in Washington, DC, and the story of the neighbor's confusion was amusing to me. Though the "dressed pretty skanky at Halloween" line gave me pause.
I loved this Wordplay Wednesday from Ken Jennings. It was the perfect blend of challenging and yet eminently solvable that is hard to find sometimes.
One of the oddities about traditional shopping in the Middle East is that similar shops tend to be grouped together. In Damascus, we lived near an area we jokingly referred to as "the tire district" because there was a good stretch of storefronts all in a row that sold tires and did auto repair. If you needed a tire changed or your car fixed, that is where you went.
In the souqs and bazaars, you will often find different stalls grouped together by category - the fabric area, the soap area, the shoe area, etc. It's not like there's one store selling all of the one thing - there are separate owners and premises for each shop. They're all just right next to each other. I remember thinking that this went against the American way of spreading out competition, but it sure is nice, as a buyer, to be able to comparison shop with such ease rather than having to drive across town to check out a rival store.
In Sharjah, there is a souq set aside just for plants. It's right across Corniche Road from the Fish Souq, which makes for an interesting battle of smells. We went there yesterday to gather up some plants for our backyard now that the grass is finally grown in.
This is the best picture I could get while holding Magdalena right next to the busy road - this is the Plant Souq looking the other direction from the previous picture. As you can see, it's packed to bursting with plants and gardening accessories of all kinds. You can get seeds, soil, pots, trellises, and any kind of plant from very small to good-sized trees. It's just like your local Lowe's garden section, except not quite, because it's really just a line of tin shacks strung along the street.
We ended up getting some bougainvillea, jasmine, a plumeria tree, and some spindly green ground cover stuff. I wanted what I've always known as Wandering Jew for ground cover but honestly, thinking of the potential extreme awkwardness and misunderstanding would most likely result from asking for Wandering Jew from a dude at the Plant Souq made me reconsider. I did send out a feeler in the form of "do you have any...purple plants?" with no result. (Jeremy spotted some later on, so we may have to make a return trip.)
So far, we've planted the tree and the two jasmines. Try to restrain your amazement. Ha ha. Obviously it is still a work in progress. But before you look down your nose at it too much, keep in mind the Before:
SUCH a difference. We are so happy our backyard is coming along...
...just in time for a long, hot summer. Oh well. At least it will be nice to look at through our back patio door.
Have you ever though about what a loaded question this is:
Where are you from?
Someone asked Magdalena that question the other day and I realized I hadn't taught her what to say. Then I realized I didn't know what to teach her to say.
It's not so hard when it's a non-American asking the question. Then she can just say "USA" and be done with it. But if anyone wants particulars, poor Magdalena is either stateless or from too many places at once. She has an equal claim on Arizona, New York, and the UAE, because she has lived in each for about the same amount of time (the UAE will soon exceed those others but I don't think I'll ever be able to teach my kids to say they're from the UAE, with a straight face, because that's just too funny). If we care about where she was born, well, that throws Vermont into the mix. She also spent a good chunk of time in each of Provo, Utah and Cairo, Egypt, so there's that, too. I think I'll teach her to say she's from the USA, but that she lives in Sharjah. That should be simple enough for a 2.5-year-old to handle.
Then again, I'm still working on what to say as my own answer to this question. With every place we move, the answer just gets more and more complicated. By the time we moved to Ithaca, the answer was something like, "we moved here from Arizona by way of a summer in Provo but I'm from Oregon and Jeremy's from Idaho and we met at the BYU." Only the truly interested or persistent got the bonus answer that involved Russia, Syria, Jordan, Vermont, etc.
Here, like I mentioned, we can often get away with just "I'm from America." It's nice. Other times, I couch my answer in terms of "we moved here from Upstate New York." Sometimes I can even tailor my response to what I already know about the person who's asking - "oh, you're from Washington? I grew up in Oregon!" and then I can leave everywhere else out of it.
The good thing about living in a place like the UAE is that we are by no means the only freakish specimens of statelessness. You can hardly meet someone new here without hearing a "where are you from?" story like, "well, I'm Pakistani/Yemeni but I was born and raised in the UAE and have never been to either Pakistan OR Yemen." Or you meet someone who is clearly Arab and you get all excited because maybe they're from somewhere you've lived but when you ask, they give a bland answer like, "Canada." It seems rude to follow up with, "yeah, but where are you REALLY from?" (...and yet, I've totally done that.)
I had to laugh a couple of weeks ago when I met a family of three outside Miriam's school. They were looking at the school for their son and they needed help figuring out which entrance to use. I showed them the way and then, by way of conversation, asked where they were from. They were obviously Arab, the woman was wearing hijab, and they spoke English with an accent. And yet the man's answer to my question was "oh, we're from the University of Sharjah."
Well, that's one way to answer!
So, give me a short answer and a long answer or something in between: Where are you from?
Until today, the only major, painful medical event in my life that I accomplished without the aid of drugs was childbirth.
Well, speaking of childbirth, you know how one of the things they say to make you feel better about choosing an epidural is, "don't worry, sweetie, nobody would ask you to get, say, dental work done without anesthesia!"
Today, I had dental work done without anesthesia. It happened like this.
I went in for a routine cleaning and checkup. The dentist did a great job even if she did chat with her assistant the whole time in Hindi. They could have been commenting on the odd features of my mouth, for all I know. At the end of the cleaning and exam, the dentist said, "you have some decay in this tooth," and then showed it to me in the mirror.
Then she said, "I will fill it," and she she got ready to do just that.
Then I said, "Are you going to give me drugs? Like novocaine?" Because although I've had fillings done before, it's always been in the US. To clarify my point, I told her, "In the US, they ALWAYS give novocaine." She shrugged and told me it wasn't really necessary.
"Well, will it hurt?" I asked her.
"Maybe. You will feel it, but it might not hurt."
It sounded like quite the thrill ride. I would have said something tough like "BRING IT ON!" but I already had a number of dental instruments in my mouth at that point, so I just went with the flow in silence.
And it wasn't that bad. I broke into a cold sweat and was in a lot of fear for most of the procedure, waiting for it to get really, really painful. It never did.
So now I've gone through two medical procedures (for lack of a better unifying term to use with childbirth) without anesthesia. Now that I think about it, I think I've heard of people opting out of novocaine (or whatever) during some dental procedures, am I right? How common is this? When I told the dentist that in the US they "always" give novocaine, I was really just relating my experience. Maybe it's fairly common these days.
In any case, it was nice to pay the bill ($75 for the exam, cleaning, and filling) without having drool dripping out of my mouth, that's for sure.
Final exams are over. Campus is quieting down as some students leave for home, even as others hunker down and gear up for summer term. The internet is running noticeably faster these days with the reduced student population no longer hogging the bandwidth. Gardening and maintenance crews are hard at work in University City, sprucing things up just in time for graduation ceremonies later this week.
Yes, summer is here. Even disregarding all of the above, I know this because two weeks ago it was 117 degrees outside.
I guess the internet was kind of lame this week, because I don't have that much for you. I hope I am able to make it up to you in quality.
I have to say, when I read this article about how Settlers of Catan is the new Monopoly, I repeatedly checked the article's date of publication to make sure I wasn't taking for recent an article that was really eight years old. Because Settlers was HUGE in Utah circa 2003, and has remained in the cultural lexicon of many, many people I know ever since then. I was shocked to find out Settlers hadn't hit its zenith and gone into decline - it's apparently still on the way up. What's next, breaking news about a little-known game called Ticket to Ride, or Apples to Apples??
Anyone who knew about this video and did not personally email it to me begging me to watch it is fired. Sometimes I grow weary of "cute baby" videos because I have my own kids to coo over, thanks, but this one is seriously SO CUTE.
In the creepy/cute category of babies is this video.
There is a volcano erupting in Chile right now and this series of pictures (especially the first one) makes me so glad I am far, far away from it. YIKES.
There was quite the uproar in the YA lit community re: this WSJ article, about the sometimes disturbing content of books meant for young adults. I remember being shocked as a kid when a book I read had an s-word in it. Things have, uh, changed since then. Like, a lot.
I don't know that I agree with it absolutely 100%, but I appreciated this author's response to the above article. Her experience reminds me of my own. I also liked how she pointed out that you should really do research before you walk into a bookstore to pick out a book for your kid. You can't just pick one and then avert your eyes, wincing, as you hope for the best, people.
I don't even care if this video was staged (and I don't think it was). It really made me laugh.
Recently, I was listening to this podcast discussion of the status of R-rated movies in Mormondom. Depending on who you ask, Mormons either are, or are not, "allowed" to see R-rated movies (see also: caffeine and two-piece bathing suits). Personally, I was brought up in a home where we didn't watch them, but by no means was this the absolute norm among my friends, even my Mormon ones. I think Orson Scott Card gives an excellent run-down of the R-rated movie debate among Mormons in this article.
The R-rated movie discussion has been hashed out in so many forums over the years that I am not going to get into that in this post. My own personal opinion, if you must know, is that it's not my business what movies anyone else (aside from my children) does or does not choose to watch. As for myself, there are plenty of PG-13 movies I stay away from because I tend to be sensitive to certain kinds of objectionable content in media, so you can guess how many R-rated movies I see.
I found this gem at the grocery store yesterday and I could not resist bringing it home. I vaguely remember drinking an aloe vera-flavored beverage (complete with aloe vera chunks) when I was in Japan but I guess I'm not that brave anymore. Yeah, it's going to take me another day or two to work up the courage to try this. Any guesses on what it's going to taste like? The Japanese drink tasted weird, kind of like plain freshness, if I remember correctly. It will be interesting to see how this version measures up.
Meanwhile, AYE CARAMBA, thesis editing season is in full swing. I keep thinking I'm done and then another one shows up in my inbox. Today I spent two more hours and 47 pages steeped in the minutiae of Timon & Pumbaa in English and Arabic. Now I think it's time to call it a night.
I'm going to write about something that I've almost never heard openly discussed, and hope that I manage to do so tastefully, non-offensively, and maybe even a bit jovially. Ready? Let's dive in.
Come on, admit it - at one time or another, you have found it difficult to distinguish between people you don't know well who are of the same race (and that race is different from your own). To put it indelicately, and more specifically, say you are, oh I don't know, a blonde American woman who moves to the UAE and meets a whole slew of Filipinos at church, all at once. This woman was me, and it was harder to learn all those Filipinos' names than it would have been for me to learn the names of a bunch of white-bread people in Provo, Utah (or wherever).
Anyway, no, really, this IS the most ridiculous sport EVER. I've got to start giving credit to my BIL Scott who sends a lot of these wacky video links to me. Though I don't know that "thank" is quite the word for this one in particular. I was at once bored out of my mind and yet, somehow, riveted.
Here's an interesting discussion about the possible phenomenon of "accidental" sexual harassment of hotel staff by hotel guests. I can see how that kind of thing happens. I think my SIL Katie was walked in on multiple times in various stages of undress in her hotel room in Moscow because of some strange idiosyncrasy of the Russian Do Not Disturb sign having its red and green sides reversed (she is welcome to elaborate in the comments if she wishes).
Why do we love YA fiction? Let's count the ways. (Spoiler alert if you haven't read all the books in the Twilight, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games series, as well as Ender's Game.)
The United States of Science. I'm actually trying to decide which state's qualification I'm least impressed by. I think it might be Missouri. There had to be something better than that.
There's this part in Tangled where Flynn finds himself using a frying pan to fight a horse that has a knife.
I've been having a lot of "you should know that this is the strangest thing I've ever done" moments recently. I have a burgeoning side business going in editing the master's theses of AUS students in the Arabic/English translation and interpretation program. It is sometimes tedious work, but at least the subject matter has been interesting.
I edited one thesis about newspaper article translation issues from the can of worms that is MEMRI. Wow, did I ever get an earful (computer screenful?) about ulterior motives at play in both the selection of articles to be translated by MEMRI into English and then the manner in which said translations were carried out.
Abandon, by Meg Cabot. Oh man I hated this book. I only picked it up (well, downloaded it - audiobook) because when I was a little girl, my favorite character in Greek mythology was Persephone. I thought it would be fun to read a re-imagining of the old classic story.
NOT SO. Let me enumerate the ways I hated this book. There may be spoilers ahead, but it doesn't matter because YOU SHOULD NOT READ THIS BOOK.