Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Breakfast cereal in the UAE

It's been a while since I did any reconnaissance work at the grocery store. How about we talk about breakfast cereal for the last day of NaBloPoMo?

Except for my very early childhood (where I can remember eating homemade bran muffins for breakfast), cereal has been the standard first meal of the day. I guess you could almost say I was addicted to the stuff - if I didn't have a bowl of some kind of flaked or squared or circled grain in a bowl with milk, it was like my day hadn't started yet.

There are a lot of food situations in foreign countries that I've adapted to with considerable aplomb. Weaning myself off breakfast cereal hasn't been one of them. In Russia, we ate weird European mueslis but it was close enough. In Syria, the pickings were very, very slim, and it says a lot about my dedication to breakfast cereal that we choked down ghastly Egyptian cornflakes each morning while we lived there. In Jordan, we reaped a bountiful harvest of expired Lucky Charms boxes that lasted us for a few months. Those were good times.

Here in the UAE, there is more breakfast cereal selection than I've ever seen in my entire existence abroad. There may even be more than in the US. And yet. It's a shame that a lot of it is stuff like this:
 Have you ever seen such a large collection of unabashedly sugary cereals? I submit that you have not, because AYE CARAMBA. It was bad enough when we first moved here, but ever since I read What to Eat, I can't look at these things without experiencing a wave of horror at what is considered to be a breakfast food (or a food, period).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Maps, mines, and Bear Grylls

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography WonksMaphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just what you'd expect from a book about maps by Ken Jennings: pure, nerdy brilliance. I especially enjoyed how he related the concept of imprinting to humans and the places we grow up in (page 15). Plus, you know he's a great writer since he can make even his super-smart self come across as being totally humble and relatable.

33 Men Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners33 Men Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners by Jonathan Franklin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I feel like I missed out on the whole "Los 33" Chilean Miner thing because the time period in which it took place happened to span exactly the time period in which we were moving our lives over to the UAE. So when the miners were rescued, it was kind of a "huh?" moment for me, rather than a huge big emotional deal. That made me sad, so I sought out this book. I thought it might be fantastic like Alive and Miracle in the Andes (and the situations are shockingly similar, even down to the length of the separate ordeals).

However, I kind of wish I'd just read the Wikipedia article instead. The book didn't really have any additional insight and it certainly wasn't written any better. Oh well.

Mud, Sweat and TearsMud, Sweat and Tears by Bear Grylls

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Uh, yes, I did read this book. In fact, I was the one who requested the AUS library to acquire it (you're welcome, Sharjah), but Jeremy got to it before me. I enjoy watching Man vs. Wild if someone else has it on. I enjoy BG's tweets on Twitter. I enjoyed reading this book. He seems like a really genuine guy who has had some amazing adventures and wrote a decent book about it that sounds like his voice in your head when you read it. No complaints. If I were an adolescent or teenaged boy, I think I would have DEVOURED this book. In fact, there should be a Bear Grylls merit badge that could be earned just from reading it (he is Chief Scout, after all).

Monday, November 28, 2011

UAE National Day is approaching

I think some people out there assume that the United States has a monopoly on overt, gaudy displays of flag-based country worship. NOT SO. UAE National Day is on December 2nd, and it's the 40th anniversary so everything is extra decked out. My kids' new favorite car game is seeing who can spot the most flags out their window as we drive through town. Take a look (and keep in mind that I snapped most of these photos while driving, thanks):

A villa on the Sharjah/Ajman border.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Raising Daniel

Yesterday I wrote about my experience growing up with a disabled older brother. My mom read that post and sent me the following, re: raising a disabled child. Keep in mind that she did all this almost entirely without the support network that the internet can give these days. It must have been very lonely at times.

No parent can be prepared for the bombshell of learning their child is severely disabled.   You can only accept and move forward by learning all you can, finding all the helps you can, and depending upon our loving Heavenly Father for guidance.  Normalizing the experience is beneficial to the child and to the family.  I've seen in a few families where perhaps out of guilt or unrealistic expectations, a parent throws every possible family resource toward the one child, leaving the others on the fringe.  Of course we should do our best for the disabled child, but neglecting the others is a mistake.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Growing up with Daniel

I've mentioned elsewhere that my older brother Daniel was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. Growing up with a disabled sibling was all I ever knew, so it was my normal.

But a few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend whose second child has been diagnosed with Joubert Syndrome. She is understandably worried about her future as a mother of a special needs child, and the effect this diagnosis will have on family dynamics with her other child. She asked me how it felt to grow up in the shadow of a CdLS brother.

What's amazing to me is that I don't know that I had ever really thought of how it felt. Like I said, it was all I knew. But looking back, I realize that it did not adversely affect me, at least not on the whole (just don't ask me to tell you about the time Daniel sat behind me in Primary and made me cry by poking pushpins into my back). I think I had a positive experience as a CdLS sibling for two reasons:

1. My personality. Where it gets tricky is when I try to discern whether my personality was innately particularly well adapted to dealing with a high-needs older brother, or if my personality developed the way it did to cope with said situation. It's anyone's guess, really. In any case, I didn't seem to mind being hauled around with my mom and brother to doctor appointments and special schools. In fact, I believe I learned to read in the library at one of those special needs schools.

2. My mom. I don't know how she did it, but she managed to not let Daniel's problems cast a shadow over the rest of our family. Our world did not revolve around his disability, even though I knew that it cost her a lot of time and effort to fight for every victory she achieved on his behalf, like getting him through high school in the public school system. I think it would have been easier for her to say the rest of us kids couldn't do this or that because of Daniel and his situation, but I can't recall a time that she ever took that out.

I do think that Daniel and I had a more turbulent brother/sister relationship than normal. For most of my childhood, Daniel seemed to hate and resent me, and it was sometimes hard to flourish in that atmosphere. It was the weirdest thing, though - in 1995, when our family dog ran into the street and got hit by a car, and Daniel saw me crying about it, he was nice to me for an entire year. To this day, I have no explanation for that fluke year of peace in our relationship, but whatever. After that, we went back to our uneasy semi-truce. It is a fact that even when I drove to high school, Daniel refused to ride in my car and took the bus instead.

Anyway, all of this is to say that Daniel goes to a retreat house for disabled adults every once in a while. It's called Martha's Place, and they just put out a new video describing their services. My mom and Daniel are featured in it a few times. It's worth a watch for that reason, and also because these are good people providing an awesome service to families of special needs children who are now grown. Take a look.

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 25th, outsourced

NERD ALERT: I'm re-reading The Master and Margarita, mostly in English but with the Russian by my side, available for constant comparison. That's why I'm fascinated with this discussion about which English translation is better. Apparently I am reading the much-mocked Glenny (though to be honest, I think it has some quirky, old-timey charm about it). I think next time I'll go with the Ginsberg. /NERD ALERT

OK, maybe the nerd alert isn't quite over yet: check out this guide to your favorite map projections.

Here are some more amazing pictures of the stuff going down in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

I will never take a bendy straw for granted again.

OK, I get that what the pepper-spraying cop did was a disproportional response at best. But here's some context for you.

I don't know that I have ever seen such an incredible collection of photographs! I'm so glad I'm not the one who has to decide which one is best. And remind me to never travel to Sindh, Pakistan, EVER (see picture #8).

It had been a while since I'd watched Hamish and Andy practicing their ghosting, or their three-step hiding game. So I watched it again. [HT a few years ago, Scotty]

I can't stop giggling at this article from The Onion: "Area Father Praised For Helping Raise Family."

Wait, so they're Amish, and it's hair attacks, and the guy's name is Mullet...? I can't...the words just...whaaaaaaa? [HT BCC]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy (un) Thanksgiving!

It doesn't really seem like Thanksgiving this year. Jeremy and I both have work, the girls both have school, and in addition, I'm invigilating (don't be alarmed - that's what they call 'proctoring' here) a midterm this afternoon, after which I have class until 8pm. Happy Thanksgiving to me!

I'm not really complaining. After all, we got a week off earlier this month for a holiday we don't celebrate, and we enjoyed our time. It's only when it comes around to the American holidays that I feel like pouting because it's business as usual in the UAE at large. The best deal we ever had was at the embassy in Moscow. There, they gave us the Russian holidays AND the American holidays.

Anyway, we're having Thanksgiving dinner with friends on Saturday afternoon. I can't wait!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Middle School

Through two flukes of circumstance, I only attended Middle School for one year. First, the year that I started seventh grade was the same year the school district switched over to the 6/7/8 middle school model, from the previous 7/8/9 junior high version. That meant that the fifth-graders and sixth-graders graduated from elementary school at the same time that year (it was 1994). In any case, I would have already had a reduced 2-year sentence to middle school (grades 7 and 8), except that I also ended up skipping the eighth grade. So that's how I only attended Middle School for one year.

And to be honest, I don't know that I've ever spent more than a few moments put together thinking about my time in seventh grade. If you look through my Flashback Fridays, even, there aren't many (if any) stories from that period. Middle School was hardly a blip on the radar for me and I never thought to cast my mind back to my time there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Maybe it was the Basques

My friend Nancy called my attention to the fact that a jewelry store in Provo was robbed on Monday. In fact, it's the very same jewelry store where Jeremy and I got our engagement/wedding rings.

I read through the article and one part really caught my attention. It's the part where the men were "described as being about 5 feet 10 inches tall with olive complexions, and they spoke in a language the clerks didn't recognize." Now, I understand that the only witnesses were tied up and gagged at the time, but how obscure does a language have to be for you to not recognize it? I am honestly wondering. I am not poking fun here. I remember a few weeks ago at IKEA there was a lady in front of me in line speaking a language that I could not have placed on the globe to save my life. I could not have told you if it was a Romance language, or Germanic, or Slavic, or anything. I finally decided it was Basque so I wouldn't have to think about it anymore (Basque is famously a language isolate, meaning it doesn't seem to be related to any other language now extant on earth).

So maybe the robbers were Basque, too. Who knows? The bigger issue here is (as Jeremy pointed out) that the article ends with a police officer's assessment that the crime "does not sound random. This sounds like they planned it." Well, yeah.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Brain dump re: diglossia

I think one of the most cited linguistic texts ever is Ferguson's 1959 treatise on a phenomenon called diglossia. It's been on my mind lately because I have a midterm in my Bilingual Education class on Tuesday and I'm trying to wrap my head around everything we've learned in the last few months. From what I understand via the legends surrounding this particular professor, we are all going to fail the midterm. All of us. And then we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off...and beg for a curve.

One of the texts for this class has been Ofelia Garcia's Bilingual Education for the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. My classmates complain about the book a lot because the text style is not the most lucid out there. Also, the author really has a chip on her shoulder about oppressed language minorities and those dang pasty United Statesian monolinguals imposing their bigoted ignorance on all the cute little Mexican kids and blah blah blah. It may get my blood boiling every once in a while, but at least it is engaging, you know? I quite liked having a textbook with ATTITUDE and SASS. Anyway, about two weeks ago, we switched to Baker's Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, which is much more vanilla. Oh well.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

10-year marriage review

Ten years ago today, Jeremy and I got married. Let's take a look at how that's going for us, shall we?

I married Jeremy for a lot of reasons, including because he always made me laugh. Status: he still always makes me laugh. With some of the exact same jokes as ten years ago, even!

Another reason I married Jeremy is because I knew he came with a lifetime of international adventure guarantee. Status: Yep, we've had a lot of international adventures, and I couldn't be happier. (Note: a lot of people have assumed that Jeremy sprung the whole international living thing on me after we were married. Fact: that is not true. I went into this with my eyes wide open, people.)

I loved Jeremy because he was a nerdy linguist like me. Status: he is still a nerdy linguist (and I still love him). A nerdy linguist with approximately four more degrees than when I first met him, no less. (He technically has two master's degrees. Linguists do not get any nerdier than that.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I've been considering buying a Kindle for a few months now. It would really fit with our lifestyle: when your possessions are valued by their weight, books take up more than their share of poundage (but only just). And it would be nice to be able to access e-books that I can't get here in the form of regular books. Still, every time I get to seriously thinking about it, I decide I'm not going to buy one.

But then. For some reason I was on Amazon and I typed in the name of one of my Linguistics textbooks. It came up as being available in Kindle format and the price was $10. TEN DOLLARS. Do you know how much I paid for the huge, hulking, physical book at the AUS bookstore here? Well, it was more than ten dollars. All of a sudden, the Kindle is a lot more attractive to me.

However, one of my main complaints about the Kindle is that while it supports our lifestyle of living abroad where English books are not always available, as well as acquiring books that don't weigh anything, I don't like that it encourages purchasing books (aside from textbooks, anyway). I am not one of those people who, you know, buys books. I get them from the library, or I borrow them, or I (ok, ok) buy them at the library clearance sale for 50 cents. But I almost never go to a bookstore and pay upwards of $15 on a book, even though I love books forever and ever and they are very dear to my heart. So if I bought a Kindle, then I'd have to buy books. And I don't know if I'm down with that.

Does anyone who has a Kindle feel like convincing me either way? Does the availability of cheap(er) textbooks make it worth it?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 18th, outsourced

OK, so maybe this is more of an advertisement than a news article, but the Gulf News recently ran a piece about rental properties in the tallest building in the world. It's worth a gander to see what life on the other side is like. Also: what happens when you flush a toilet in the Burj Khalifa? [HT on that second article, Andrew]

For some reason, this one lady gets any SMS messages intended for any person named Leila that are misdirected by the senders. She started a blog to document the weird, one-sided conversations she has with hundreds of strangers.

This is the most coherent, lucid, nuanced article about - for sad lack of a better term - Mormon Mommy Bloggers that I've ever read. The author really gets it, you know? [HT Lyse]

I had a few good laughs looking through this collection of LIFE magazine's worst covers ever. Seriously, some of them are SO BAD. [HT Kathy]

Of these 11 Sounds That Your Kids Have Probably Never Heard, I can personally remember seven. How about you? [HT BCC]

I know where I'll be getting the bulk of my information about the 2012 presidential candidates.

I mentioned a few Amazon review bombs before. Here is a new one to add to the list (check out the user-submitted photos). [HT Jeremy]

So, um, Jeremy and I are still rabid fans of Out of the Wild: Venezuela and it's possible that we make an effort to check up on the cast members' lives from time to time (via Twitter, FB, Google searches, etc.). This video (featuring Ryan and Nick) may not be interesting to you unless you've seen the show, but then again...maybe it will. [HT Jeremy]

Let it be known that Arab teenage boys like Twilight, too

The new Twilight movie opens in the UAE today. I know this because almost every one of my students informed me of that fact as s/he walked in the classroom door this morning. Most of them are going to see it sometime this weekend, and that includes the boys. In fact, the boys were more excited about it than the girls. One of my students is going to see it with his two brothers. Another is going with a group of male friends. It's not like there are a lot of co-ed activities going on among Arab youth in the UAE or anything, so it's not unexpected that the men are going with other men instead of being dragged along by significant others. But I have to admit I was surprised to learn that it wasn't just hordes of teenage girls who were interested in Breaking Dawn.

As long as we're on the subject, did I tell the story on my blog a month ago about when I was asking my students about their weekend activities? One of my (female) students said she went to see a movie. I asked her which one. She said she didn't remember the name, but that it was the movie with "that very handsome actor." I told her that there were a lot of handsome actors. She said, "no, miss, the REALLY REALLY very handsome actor." Can you guess who she meant? The movie was Abduction, and the actor was - wait for it - Taylor Lautner. The funny thing is that most of the girls in the class knew exactly who she meant after the first "very handsome actor" bit.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I don't think I will go see Breaking Dawn in the theater. I can't even get through the trailer. Something about it really bothers me. I'm sure I will see it on video but in the meantime I bet my students will be able to fill the whole class period on Sunday morning with descriptions of how good/bad it was...and how handsome Taylor Lautner is, I guess.

ps - you are free to share whatever sentiments you have about the Twilight series in the comments. There is no judgement here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hazardous working conditions

It's really amazing how much work I can get done in a single quiet morning when I'm home by myself. This happens on exactly one day a week, and I milk it for all it's worth. This morning, I plowed through a whole bunch of writing assignments for my Writing & Research Methods class, AND calculated a workload estimate for a master's thesis I'm editing (this semester's editing season has started already! I can't believe it). I was a machine.

Then the kids got home from school and things came screeching to a halt. I've been working on my only remaining active writing assignment (which is due tomorrow) for five hours now, and I've only just barely punched out a reasonable draft that I can work with. I was working for four hours on and off, of course, hacking out a sentence here and there between trips to the kitchen to get the girls a snack and trips to the bedroom to get a new pair of panties for the 3-year-old and trips to the playroom to break up squabbles. It's a miracle I've written down even one coherent thought, really.

Sometimes I get to thinking about trying to be a mom + grad student (or a mom + anything, really), and I realized that a lot of men would never stand for such working conditions:

She's a very cute workplace productivity hazard, but she definitely takes her toll. And I love that my "office" (= a corner of the living room) is constantly strewn with kid projects and toys and trails of sand from outside.

So what I finally did, to get a stretch of unbroken work time, was send the girls outside with a fun-size leftover-Halloween-candy Twix each, telling them it was a piece of meat and they were pioneer girls who had been walking on the Oregon Trail all day. They immediately grabbed some play dishes and headed out to the back alley to cook it up.
OK, OK, so I gave them each TWO Twix bars. I'm that desperate to get some writing done, all right??

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rest, at last

As per Matthew's suggestion (in my post about hacking up NyQuil pills), I got myself to the pharmacy last night and procured some Toplexil. The description of its intended use said it was for dry, itchy coughs that persist especially at nighttime. Folks, that is ME. So I took some last night and had the best night's sleep since November 4th (before the onset of The Cough).

The night before, I had tried the Dextrolag I got from the doctor. It was ok, I guess. The taste of it was appalling, though. They love their medicinal syrups here, which works for me since I hate taking pills, but the color, aroma, and flavor of Dextrolag is exactly like that ghastly pink soap you only find in freeway rest area bathrooms.

So not only is Toplexil more effective for my purposes, but it tastes about a million times better. Like crème caramel, in fact. I found myself thinking about how good it tasted today and then I was immediately worried that I would slowly turn into Lily Bart from The House of Mirth. If you hear me arguing with myself about whether or not to have another sip of tincture of laudanum (or whatever it was), BE CONCERNED.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

The yellows, rescued

On Friday, Magdalena spent a long time after church separating all the yellow pieces of construction paper from the pile, and then drawing a picture on each and every one of them. It was her magnum opus. As she worked, she stretched out each picture on the living room floor to show it off.

She enjoyed looking at her pictures and enhancing them with more coloring on Saturday.

Later that night, I was tidying up and somehow I grabbed her stack of papers and took it out with some other items to the neighborhood recycling bin. As I dumped it in the bin, I realized what I had just thrown away, but I thought it wasn't a big deal. The girls produce so much paper artwork that we couldn't possibly keep it all. I usually take photos of the best stuff and then recycle it (go ahead, judge me).

Well, yesterday after school, Magdalena started asking for "the yellows." I hedged and said that I had put them "somewhere," but under her persistent badgering and increasingly specific questioning, I finally had to cave and admit to her that I'd recycled them. She instantly burst into tears.

So - you guessed it - I grabbed a stepstool and the three of us headed out to the recycling bin (it's the size of a dumpster) at the end of our street. We were all relieved to see that the truck hadn't come yet. I fished around for a while and moved aside some larger bags of recycling items (THANK GOODNESS IT WAS NOT THE GARBAGE BIN) and spotted a pile of yellow papers at the very bottom. Miriam fetched a stick for me but I still couldn't quite maneuver them into my reach.

At that moment, some AUS operations employees passed by. I threw all shame and caution to the wind and asked them to - yes, really - help me fish out some papers from the recycling bin. The guy who volunteered to help was taller than I am and he was able to get at the stack of papers without too much additional trouble.

When he handed them to Magdalena, she clutched them to her chest and embraced them fervently. We all said thank you to the man who saved the day and then headed home to play with "the yellows," rescued, from the recycling bin.

Another entry in the "worst night's sleep" list

So it turned out I did come down with a case of The Cough, and I still have it. It is slowly driving me insane.

Things came to a head late last night when I gave up trying to suppress my own freaking coughs while I attempted to sleep. Sometime around midnight, I went rooting around our medicine box looking for any spare pills of anything that might hold a shred of a promise of relief for me. Certain cough suppressants are controlled substances in this country, which means that unlike most other medicines (even stuff like antibiotics), you must have a prescription to purchase them - and then insurance doesn't cover it. I knew I wouldn't be able to go to the health clinic to get a prescription until the next morning.

I dug up two pills of generic brand NyQuil and noted happily that the ingredients included a cough suppressant. Unfortunately, I often choke on pills even as small as normal ibuprofen tablets, so I knew there was no way I was going to get the NyQuil softgels down.

So if you walked into my kitchen a little past midnight last night, you would have found me using a sharp knife to hack maniacally at a NyQuil softgel, trying to get at the sweet, suppressanty goodness inside. The end result was this:

Thankfully, I fell into a restless sleep soon after.

HOWEVER. A few hours later, I was woken up by the chirping of the smoke alarm in our hallway (did I mention I was sleeping on the couch at this point, to avoid disturbing Jeremy with my coughing? Well, I was). Our smoke alarms don't run out of batteries without putting up a fight - they chirp loudly every minute or so to let us know what's happening. Why the smoke alarm decided to run out of batteries last night, of all nights, and at that particular hour of night, of all particular hours, I have no idea. But it almost put me over the edge.

I was disoriented by the effects of the NyQuil but I dragged a stool over to the smoke alarm and tried to disconnect the battery. I was terrified that I would accidentally press the test button and set off the alarm. That didn't happen. I successfully removed the battery, but then the smoke alarm started chirping faster than before, in a continuous beeping pattern. So I re-connected the battery and resorted to desperate measures, namely, waking up Jeremy.

He took care of it, I went back to "sleep" (= that horrible NyQuil-induced haze) and woke up a couple of hours later, ready (or not) for a full day's work.

BLAH. Let's hope tonight is better. I went to the health clinic as soon as I got a break and the doctor prescribed me something called Dextrolag. Sounds promising...?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Before & After: the garden

When we moved in to our house, our backyard was a pile of sand and our front garden was...well, also a pile of sand. Fortunately, Jeremy has developed quite the green thumb over the past 14 months, and he's put it to good use transforming our outdoor spaces.

Here's what our backyard used to look like:

Friday, November 11, 2011

11/11/11, Outsourced

In case you missed it, I had some photographs featured in a Foreign Policy Photo Essay (A Grand Tour).

I don't know why this video is so funny. It just IS. [HT Eric D. Snider]

Who first used the term 'Arab Spring'?

Turns out, moms feel guilty a lot about untidy houses and neglecting their children. Well, DUH. A few hours after I read that article, we had some people over for dinner. The first thing one of our (male) guests said to me was, "Wow, your house is so clean!" I told him that was the nicest compliment he could have given me (besides "your children are so un-neglected!" I suppose).

Here's the latest flash mob, this time in the Dubai Airport. Jeremy and I are both suspicious of the amount of smiley-dancey people there. They must have been shipped in for the occasion, because there sure aren't that many around town naturally. [HT Mariko]

I swear, years before this article was ever written, I used to tell Jeremy how celebrity cartoon voice-over work didn't used to be a thing, until Robin Williams did the genie in Aladdin. Of course I was right. [HT Jeremy]

How does the world look when you map its languages using Twitter? Pretty dang AWESOME.

The rest of the links today have to do with Republican candidates for President. First, we have Romney looking at a fellow passenger on an airplane "blankly." Now, let's talk about this for a brief moment. On the one hand, I get that this lady was offended when Romney didn't take detailed notes of her health care reform plan. Romney chose to run for President and that means his leisure time is kind of public property. On the other hand, dude, we've all been there: sometimes you just want to sit in your seat and be quiet and still and not talk to your fellow passengers, OK?!!?!?

As for Huntsman, first we have his appearance on The Colbert Report. Then we have an article dissecting how much Chinese he speaks (answer, according to that article: not much). Then we have another article talking about those allegations and wondering if it really matters. I read all of the above and had my indignation all ready to bash out a reply about the improper use of the term fluency, and how proficiency is a better word, and register, and context, and blah blah blah. And then I read THIS article, and now I don't need to write a single word in reply because that article is amazing and everyone in the entire United States should read it forever and ever and commit it to memory. Amen. [HT Jeremy and Ashi]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Like family

This morning, we dropped our kids off at a friend's house, and we won't pick them up until tomorrow. You see, our tenth wedding anniversary is coming up in a week or two and since it's right in the middle of the semester, we won't have a chance to properly celebrate. So Jeremy and I are having a free 24-hour vacation together, at home, for now, and during the break between semesters maybe we'll go somewhere more exciting.

(Perhaps I should have mentioned at the beginning of this post - or five days ago - that we've been off work all this week in honor of Eid al-Adha. Real life starts again on Sunday.)

The girls went to the friend's house without looking back, and Jeremy and I debated for a minute about what we wanted to do for breakfast/lunch. Should we go out to eat? I was only interested in a breakfast-all-day type restaurant. Specifically, I wanted Lucille's in Cairo to suddenly be transported to Dubai. Lucille's is the kind of restaurant where you can spend $30 on breakfast and it's totally worth it. There's no Lucille's here, though, so we ended up going to Spinney's in Mirdif and spending what would have been our restaurant budget on sundry delicacies and groceries: real shortening (which I haven't seen since I moved here), A&W root beer, fancy Greek yogurt, and those dreamy Dutch strawberries that cost  $10/lb. Then we went home and made deluxe omelettes with pepperoni purchased in Spinney's infidel pork room.

The point of this post is not food, though. The point is that living 24+ hours of plane travel away from any and all family members means that we rely more on friends to fill some of those roles. The role of watching our kids for us, for example. Normally that's something that Grandma and Grandpa would do, or your SIL across town. But nobody here has Grandmas and Grandpas around, or SILs across town. So we rely on our friends.

Even though it's sometimes hard to live far away from family, I find that I enjoy the increased sense of community it brings to our neighborhood and church congregation. Everyone watches out for everyone else, because by definition, we all know how it feels to not have Grandma or Grandpa to turn to when we need help. We're all in the same boat. So while you may feel sorry for us - and believe me, we sometimes feel sorry for ourselves, like on lazy weekends when it would be nice if the kids could just go play with the cousins for a while - living all the way over here, away from family, please know that we have our support network. Even if it doesn't look like the traditional one.

Now, back to my strawberries and yogurt...

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

On nannies

Nannies are very much a part of the family landscape here in the UAE, more so than anywhere else I've lived. I grew up in the United States, where nannies (at least in the socioeconomic circles I ran in) were almost unheard of. Where they existed, they were for the very rich, or it was just a precious term for the 13-year-old who came over on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to help with the kids.

So it was quite an adjustment to move here and have to reorient myself around an entirely new nanny paradigm. Here, nannies are the norm. They are almost exclusively live-in nannies - in fact, many (if not most) of the larger apartments and villas have a designated maid/nanny room built in to the floorplan. This room is at worst as small as a closet and at best a real bedroom. I heard that some regulation has decreed that all such rooms are supposed to have their own bathroom. Ours does, though I've heard of some that don't (and of the occasional apartment/villa that has no such room at all).
Our "nanny room" when we first moved in. It's a bit more jazzed up now.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Empty Quarter 2.0

We went camping in the Empty Quarter again earlier this week, this time without any freaky thunderstorms swooping in to put a damper on our fun.

Also increasing the fun factor was that we went with two other families, for a total of six adults and six kids.

However, the trip wasn't quite as epic as it could have been since both Jeremy and I were battling colds. Jeremy was on the tail end of his, while I was in full panic that I had a nascent case of The Cough. I spent most of the four-hour drive into the literal middle of nowhere assessing the relative scratchiness of my throat and whether it was increasing or decreasing (it was increasing).

But the Empty Quarter has a lot to distract you, even from sickness.

We camped in the same general area as last time and I believe the kids were out of the car for approximately 0.25 seconds before the shoes were off and they were out exploring.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A Grand Tour

For about five minutes, I entertained the idea of saving this until Outsourced Friday. Then I realized there was no way I'd be able to wait that long. I've already been sitting on this for two days and now I'm delaying my post about the camping trip we just took to the Empty Quarter to talk about it.

You know how sometimes...ok, A LOT of times, I link to those gorgeous photo essays on Foreign Policy for Outsourced Fridays? Well, take a look at this particular gorgeous photo essay:
(iGoogle gadget blurb)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The busiest part of my week

I've been in the wife/teacher/mom/student/grad assistant routine for almost two months now, and it has come to my attention that there is one part of my week that just kills me. I love everything I'm doing, but it's all a bit much. That part of the week is Thursday + Friday morning. Allow me to explain.

On Thursdays, I wake up at 6.25 and get myself ready for the day until 6.40, at which time I get Miriam ready for the day. She goes off to school on the school bus and then I get Magdalena ready for the day. I take her to school and then go right to my classroom to teach two classes, one from 8-9 and one from 9-10. From 10-11, I get errands done on campus or work on my grad assistant stuff. From 11-12.45, I have office hours (look at me, all grown up!). Then I go pick up Magdalena at school and go home to be a mom for a while. This means that, among other things, I clean up the mess generated by the morning get-ready routine...and possibly some things left over from the day before. Wednesday night is toward the end of the week so I'm often so exhausted that I let things slide.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

A true friend

When I was a freshman at the BYU, I lived in Heritage Halls. Our 6-girl apartment adjoined another 6-girl apartment. Basically, we shared a back-door exit and the dividing door between us and them ended up being open more often than it was closed. As a result, at times it seemed more like I had 11 roommates rather than just five. And would you believe me if I told you that I remain good friends with most of those 11 girls (now women)? It's true, though I can hardly believe it myself. But the ties you form during that first year at college are strong. Thanks to the internet, we can keep them that way.

What does this have to do with anything? I'll tell you. A while ago, I complained on my blog about the unavailability (later revealed to be more of a scarcity) of black beans in this country, nay, REGION. A few weeks later - last Sunday, to be exact - Jeremy received a large package in his office mailbox. It was an unusual enough occurrence that he gave me a call in my office to tell me about it. I at once could not, and yet absolutely could, believe it when he said it appeared to be a mass shipment of dry black beans from my old roommate Jen in Boston.

I opened up the package when I got home and sure enough:

Now, I happen to think that I have a lot of amazing friends who have done a lot of amazing things, some of them for my benefit. For example, another one of those freshman year roommates once met me at a park near the freeway in South Bend, Indiana on our way Out West to feed us lunch and have her kids play with my kids. Who even does that?? (Answer: Liz.) But I have to say that Jen shipping black beans across the world just so I wouldn't have to go without is possibly the most outlandishly generous thing anyone has ever done for me.

It's so generous, in fact, that I can't resist publicly calling her out and saying, THANK YOU. From the bottom of my black-bean-loving heart.

Friday, November 04, 2011

November 4th, outsourced

Somehow I missed sharing this last week: Hacked, from The Atlantic. What's really funny is that it was published the day after I got an email from my brother saying he was robbed in Spain and needed me to wire him money. I remember the days when you chose a password that humans couldn't guess. Now we choose passwords that computers can't guess.

Does your interior designer friend have her own gorgeous textiles business? No? Well, mine does. Check out the beauty that is Caitlin Wilson Textiles.

The only prior knowledge of Sandra Lee that I have comes from that terrible Kwanzaa cake video (also the one with Mario Lopez and the "$400 cake," but I can't find it). So I was able to take this video (The Best Four Minutes of Sandra Lee's Ridiculous Halloween Special) entirely in stride. Especially the part about having my own craft store...? [HT GFY]

To add to all the confusion surrounding the Emirates IDs, apparently you're supposed to show up for your (passport-sized) photograph session wearing national dress. My favorite comment from the article is the Mexican asking if he needs to wear his sombrero. [HT Andrew]

I wish I could be a teenager again so I could pull this dummy trick-or-treater prank on people for Halloween. [HT Andrew]

I was getting tired of all those recent inapplicable (to me) articles about how cheap wines are just as good as expensive ones, so I appreciated that this one was about maple syrup instead.

Foreign languages, translation, AND baby names. I'm in heaven.

In Mormons in the News news, anti-Mormonism is bigotry too. Also, maybe we are Christian (The Economist thinks so) (and I'm also thrilled to learn from that article that Glenn Beck is "fading"). All I have to say to the writer of this anti-Mormon letter is...well, nothing. I have no words. There ARE no words.

Finally, I bring you a link to my friend Crystal's blog. She went into labor with her fourth child almost three months early and ended up in the hospital. Her baby was born almost a week ago, at 29 weeks. Some people shut down and disconnect when something scary like this happens, but Crystal has remained very open about her experience and has documented it day-by-day on her blog. And I think the blogging universe is better for it.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Henna controversy

Yesterday was Henna Day at AUS, so hordes of ladies took over the Women's Lounge in the student center and got their henna on. Of course I couldn't resist taking the girls. They caused quite a stir among the crowd of student ladies and they even let us jump the (sizeable) queue.

Having your small children get henna is fun but also stressful. Miriam is a pro at sitting still and not smearing it, but Magdalena still has a lot to learn. She sat still enough for the application but then managed to smear an edge of her flower design as she got off the chair. The henna artist re-did it and there were no major mishaps after that (key word: major). The girls have never made it long enough to see it dry all the way - I end up getting tired of stressing out about it staining their clothes and make them wash it off early. But even with a shortened soaking-in period, the designs always last at least a week.

And they are gorgeous!
These small flower designs are about all Magdalena can handle at this age.

Miriam loves getting the big-girl designs.

In the above pictures, the henna is still drying and so it's very dark. When you scrape off the paste, it's a much lighter orangish/brownish color.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Cough

Image source
A commonly held opinion among expats in the UAE is that sicknesses here are abnormally varied and hideous. The people who live here come from all over the world, and they don't stay put. It's a very mobile society that is always going to one country to visit and then coming back to work and so on. Thus, the sicknesses that get passed around also come from all over the world, and are also very mobile. We get the best, strongest, most virulent strains of the cold and flu you could imagine. It's even worse than Egypt.

The latest sickness to rear its head I have dubbed simply, The Cough. There's not a large runny nose component, not even a general feeling of malaise. It's just a cough. But oh, WHAT a cough. Both my girls have had it and it's the ghastliest thing you've ever heard. It comes from deep in the chest and it is so tight that it hurts just to listen to. No medicine can touch it. You get it, and then you suffer for the next 2-3 weeks while you wait for it to pass.

Since the powers of dextramethorphan are useless against The Cough, we've been doing a lot of the honey + lemon juice remedy (and ginger, if only Miriam could stomach it), and that thing where you put the Vick's Vapo Rub on their feet instead of their chest. That's all I've got in my arsenal. It's hard to be so helpless in the face of sickness, but that's just how colds roll in the UAE.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween 2011 @ Sharjah

We had another fun Halloween in the UAE this year. I felt like the UAE got a little more into it this year. For starters, while there were still super expensive pumpkins available, there were also these gems for only 15 dhs ($4) each! I couldn't believe my I took a picture.


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