Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29th, outsourced

Every once in a while The Consumerist highlights an "expectations vs. reality" mismatch based on product packaging representations. This is one of my favorites. [HT Scotty]

This article about why American kids are so spoiled toes the preachy line of "everyone else is doing it better than us" and stays on the right side...mostly. [HT Andrew]

There was an honest-to-goodness tie for third place (and the final spot on the team) in the women's 100m at the US Olympic Trials this week. WOW.

Add to the list of benefits of bilingualism: less biased decision making. [HT Matt]

The juxtaposition of the longest burp in the world and the fastest 200m race in the world on this week's episode of How to do Everything was BRILLIANT. Skip to a little less than halfway through the episode to hear it, right after the Ira Glass segment. I was chopping vegetables when that part came on and I had to just pause and soak in the beauty of it. (The entire interview with the burper is worth a listen.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why I hated Men Who Hate Women

A little over two years ago, I checked out The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (original Swedish title: Men Who Hate Women) from the library. The beginning was promising but it wasn't long before I realized this was NOT a book for me. I wish I had known the original title before I decided to read it. Everybody has their certain thing(s) they can't handle in books (or movies). Apparently my thing that I can't handle in books is the horribly brutal sexual abuse of women. And The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was full of it. So I stopped reading it and tried to forget what I had read.

So I have to admit that I was shocked when this book became so HUGE. Everyone loved it, everyone raved about it. Everyone couldn't wait to read the next book, and then the next. In the meantime, I wondered if we were all talking about the same book. I was disturbed enough that there existed a person in the world (the author, a male) who could think up these horribly creative ways of demeaning women and take the time to write it all down in prose, on the published page. The fact that people around the world were eating it up like it was no big deal was even more disturbing to me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

YA binge, Austen, Africa, and Hitler

Silence (Hush, Hush, #3)Silence by Becca Fitzpatrick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Honestly, I didn't like this one as much as the first two. There wasn't enough snark and parody of the genre. Instead, it kind of gave itself to the genre, and that made it less enjoyable. However, I still had fun reading it.

Crossed (Matched, #2)Crossed by Ally Condie

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

No offense to this book - it was lovely and earnest, just like the first - but it's not for me. I don't like Ky, so.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The beauty of summer

My mom always said that someone else always said that the two happiest days of the year are the first day of school and the last day of school. I think I agree. Both girls are out of school now and the days are glorious. We stay up late watching movies together or reading or just playing. We wake up whenever. The girls do whatever they want in the morning if mom and dad aren't awake yet, which is nice. Though I do find some surprises when I finally get myself downstairs - elaborate play setups or random home video DVDs playing or interesting breakfast concoctions (like "chocolate milk cereal") on the table.

The days are hot hot hot, so we stay inside and do projects, or Jeremy does some research, or maybe he plays a computer game instead, and I do some work for the class I'm taking or maybe I read a book instead.

If we walk to the library to exchange this week's materials for a new set, we have to treat it like a major outing. Sunhats, sunglasses, water bottle, everything ready to go before we step out the door into the 110ish heat and humidity. Once outside, our endurance clock starts and we just go go go until we get to our AC'd destination. Then we repeat the same on the way back home. It's quite an adventure.

In the evening, sometimes we go swimming. I love swimming in the evening and watching the sun go down and the stars come out. When we first moved here we went swimming almost every night because we had nothing else to do. I was reading A Short History of Nearly Everything at the time and I remember floating on my back in the water and looking up at the stars, thinking about the organization of the universe and how our own small family related to it in this new place. Going swimming at night almost two years later still reminds me of those early days when we were disoriented and new and had no idea of all the places we'd go and things we'd do here.

Ah, nostalgia. Ah, summer.

Friday, June 22, 2012

June 22nd, outsourced

Here's a thoughtful look at American children who accompany their deported parent(s) to Mexico and have trouble adjusting.

When your kid behaves well on an airplane, luck/whim/chance has just as much to do with it as your own time-consuming preparations. So true. [HT Suzanne]

So much common sense in this Mormon-slanted article about naming babies. [HT Jennifer]

In Russia, every other janitor and taxi driver had a PhD. Here's more stories of really educated people working jobs that are technically below their skill level.

I'm not done reading it yet, but I want to share this article too badly to delay it until next week: Why Women Still Can't Have it All. I keep coming across a sentence or a paragraph to excerpt for you here to entice you to read it, but there are too many. I lost the author for a few paragraphs in the beginning when I found out that she left her "position of power" (as a director at the State Department) not to devote herself to being a SAHM for her two children...but to resume her career as a tenured professor at Princeton where she "[teaches] a full course load; [writes] regular print and online columns on foreign policy; [gives] 40 to 50 speeches a year; [appears] regularly on TV and radio; and [is] working on a new academic book." WELL. OK, so she's not exactly an everywoman but she doesn't claim to be, either. Anyway. Read the article and then we can discuss it. Oh, just one quote:
"Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Movies my kids love, and don't love

It's a mystery to me which movies my kids ask to watch over and over and which of my beloved old favorites they reject out of hand after one (or not even one) viewing.

For example, The Little Mermaid. One of my childhood favorites. Miriam had a fling with it when she was two years old but neither of them will sit through it now. Sad.

See also: Up. Obviously, I didn't see this one until I was an adult, but I thought it was really good. Too bad it bores Miriam and terrifies Magdalena.

Miriam loved Wall-E beyond all reason but again, Magdalena has a strange aversion to it.

Fortunately, they both like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, which are more favorites from my childhood.

And they love, LOVE, Cars. They could watch that movie five times a day and never be tired of it.

They also love White Fang, and I am so glad because that movie is a treasure.

More recent hits include Tangled (which we call "Rapunzel") and The Muppets.

Lately, they've also been hooked on "Laura & Mary," aka the new-ish Little House on the Prairie miniseries/movie thing. I've sat down to re-watch it with them a few times and I have to say that it has really grown on me. My favorite thing about this production is that it captures the childlike wonder of the books. The camera angles are low, from a child's point of view, and the events unfold in a way that matches a child's interpretation. The Ingalls family rolls through a remote prairie town, for example, and all the townsfolk stare them down with unfamiliar, unfriendly eyes. In real life I'm sure they were just strangers so they seemed unfamiliar and unfriendly to Laura and Mary.

Or the part where Laura finds the blue bead near the Indian camp. The movie makes it out like that bead is the most amazing, beautiful thing that Laura has ever seen. But it's just a bead, you know? But it also really IS the most amazing, beautiful thing that Laura has ever seen. The movie really stays true to the kids' vision of how things were, and I love that. It makes it so fun for my girls to watch.

What are your kids watching or not watching these days?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

If you want this choice position

Well, the day of "it's not beyond the realm of possibility that someday we could employ" a live-in housekeeper/nanny has arrived.  It crept up on us slowly and both Jeremy and I came to the realization that a nanny might be good for our family at around the same time, in the last month or two. Last November was when I wrote the above post, in which my feelings were mainly that nannies were great for other families, but not ours...yet. By the beginning of 2012, Jeremy and I sometimes talked about hiring a nanny, but it was always couched in "only ifs," like "only if she's a native Arabic speaker" (which we've come to realize is not very possible here), or "only if it's someone who we already know." So it remained very hypothetical.

During the spring semester, however, I realized that a nanny could really make our lives so much better. I know that sounds idealistic, but I think it's true, or at least potentially true. I was teaching two classes and taking two MA classes, all while trying to maintain some semblance of being a good wife and mom and household manager. I felt like superwoman, only not as capable and I failed a lot more, like my duties were cut out for a superwoman and she was not me. Unfortunately.

I took a hard look at all the things I was trying to do, and do well, all at once, and considered if any of the less important tasks could be loaded off my shoulders, to free up energy and mental resources and time for the more important roles. But who would take these responsibilities for me? I have a husband, of course, but he has his own heavy time commitments with his job. We have a houseboy come clean once a week, but I was still doing all the daily clean-ups and dishes and sweeping and tidying, and overseeing the girls' efforts at the same, even if I wasn't technically scrubbing toilets or mopping floors. And then there's laundry, which deserves its own category anywhere, but especially here with my Euro washer that takes 3 hours for a cycle and then hanging everything up to dry outside in a timely manner so it doesn't get musty, and then doing more ironing than I would if I were using a dryer since stuff wrinkles more when you hang it outside. I'm exhausted just thinking about last semester and how frustratingly inadequate I felt at at least one of my life roles at any given time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

At the bottom of my garden...

Magdalena's KG1 end-of-year concert was called "At the Bottom of my Garden." British much? One of the main songs was this one ("Wiggly Woo"):

Even if you stripped away the tune and the accent of the lady singing it, I think you'd be able to tell that this song is British-y. It was adorable to hear Magdalena sing it, and the other songs from the concert. All the little kids were dressed up as garden creatures (there is a class of insects called "minibeasts," did you know that? Is that British or is it everywhere and I had just never heard it?). Magdalena was the sun. Check it out.
I guess it was the natural casting choice, considering the color of her hair. The real challenge beforehand was finding the yellow shirt and pants for the costume (I was only responsible for the shirt and pants - the school did the rest). I found the shirt easily enough at H&M - in a two-pack, for something like 25 dhs, no less - but yellow pants? Hard to find. I looked in a few different stores and just as I was leaving Splash/Centrepointe (can't remember which one or even if that's how you spell Centrepointe), I saw these neon yellow girls' bicycle shorts, size 12. For 8 dhs. I bought them and they fit! Well enough, anyway!

The entire concert was so well done. Each of the kids got a chance to sing in a small group, and they did some songs in Arabic, too. The entire thing was over and done with in 20 minutes, which is just the right length for this age. Magdalena had such a great experience in KG1 and this concert was one of the highlights of her little life up to this point.

It's one of the highlights of my life as a mom, too, I admit.

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 15th, outsourced

Have you ever wondered why we used to say "the Ukraine" instead of just "Ukraine"? Or had you possibly not realized that we don't say "the Ukraine" anymore? Either way, read this. (Also, the article is correct that there is no definite article - "the" - in Russian/Ukrainian, but you can tell if Russians are saying "the Ukraine" or "Ukraine" depending on which preposition they assign to that country. "Na" will offend Ukrainians. They prefer "v". I know this from personal experience.)

This site's Soviet Bus Stops photos were awesome. [HT Anna]

Those people who busted out their indignation when Vogue ran an adulatory profile of Asma Al-Assad in March 2011 can calm down, because the editor of Vogue has retracted it.

June 12 was World Day Against Child Labor. A lot of these photos are very hard to look at.

Seven people who need to get out of the freaking way. [HT Eric D. Snider]

What a charming topic: what kind of must-know advice do guide books offer visitors to the United States? Among other things, be on time and don't make noise while you eat.

Christopher Clark is in the UK again. I love this time of year. (I should note that I don't know this guy and I am not a big theater buff but I just like reading about his summer adventures every year.)

The idea of a salt maze for slugs is hilarious to me.

Finally, enjoy this article from the BBC about Mitt Romney's British heritage. I especially liked the inclusion at the end of a) a British family with the last name Romney who is not actually related to him but enjoys buying Romney bumper stickers, and b) two random people who are Mitt Romney's closest British relatives. The article was nothing if not thorough, I suppose.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Favorites that I never read/watched again

Can something really be a "favorite" if you don't watch it or read it over and over again? I wonder. I got to thinking of Madame Bovary the other day. It's technically one of my most favorite books ever. However. I have only read it once, or possibly twice. If it was twice, it was in quick succession after the first time. In any case, that was almost 14 years ago, and I haven't read it again since. So can it still be a favorite? I think so. Though I think I should read it again to re-evaluate its position on my favorites list.

Or how about, say, Life is Beautiful. I braved the crowds at the BYU International Cinema to see this movie sometime in 1999ish. And I loved it. I remember it really well, I laugh at the memory of some scenes, and I tear up at the thought of others. And yet I haven't made a point of watching it ever again. So did I really love it, or maybe just kind of like it?

Do you have any books or movies like this, that you thought you loved but that you don't care to read/watch again? It seems that the habit of repeat readings/viewings sets certain books and movies in a higher (or maybe just different) category than those that we merely really like, or really enjoy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Grocery store fatigue

Is anyone else feeling this? I have gone grocery shopping once a week, every week, for the entire time we've lived here (almost two years), save for the couple of weeks we spent in Turkey. And I'm tired of it. "Grocery shopping" encompasses so much more than just purchasing food. I plan the meals, making sure to incorporate ingredients into multiple meals so that I'm not left with half a kilo of zucchini with no purpose. I check on miscellaneous household items and baking goods to see if we need to buy more to replace the supply. I think of all the things I need to buy to assemble two children's lunchbox meals, every day, five days a week. Then I factor in snacks or special occasions or nights when we'll be out, or nights when I need a prepare-ahead meal, and all the little preference idiosyncrasies of each member of the family. All of that = a simple grocery list.

Then I go to the store, and brave the crowds, and push around a huge shopping cart and fill it with all the things on my list. Heaven forbid I forget anything and have to backtrack a few aisles. This is so anathema to me, in fact, that I hardly ever do it. If it's forgotten, and I've moved on more than an aisle, TOO BAD.

The way the store is laid out somehow always means that I get to produce last, when I have the least energy to sort out the good pieces from the moldy and bag it and take it to the scale and have the lady put the sticker on it. That was almost my breaking point today, when I remembered that Jeremy said he wanted some mangoes and I got to the mango section and YES, there was a mango SECTION:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Euro 2012

Jeremy and I went to watch the England/France match at a pub/club/bar in Sharjah. Sharjah is technically a dry emirate, so I don't know how this one place manages to serve beer, but it does. I didn't care what they served as long as the game wasn't shown inside a horribly cigarette-smoky room. It wasn't!
The game was shown on four televisions/projector screens around the room, so we didn't have any trouble following the action. What was more troubling was trying to figure out how things work in a pub. It was a true cultural immersion, but the culture in question was British, not Emirati. I suspect we were the only Americans there, or two of only a few. Most of the patrons were young British men, though there were a few women and older people - probably the parents of those young British men, since you can't drive until you're 18 here. In any case, we spent a lot of the first half wondering how to finagle ourselves a drink. I observed the people next to us and then had Jeremy copy what they did - he walked to the bar, requested a drink (Sprite and Coke, if you must know), and then sat down. In a little while, the guy brought it to us in cute little half-pint glasses and we paid him right then and there.

Fortunately, watching the game itself required no such careful imitation. It was great fun to watch England, well, tie with France, in the company of jovial, very slightly drunk Britishers.

Are you watching the Euro?

Friday, June 08, 2012

June 8th, outsourced

Photos from the aftermath of an A-bomb test detonation in 1955. [HT Kathy]

In (late) Eurovision news, here are the seven worst songs of Eurovision, and a run-down of the most fabulously terrible costumes.

Yes, why does bedtime come at the end of the day when we're almost too exhausted to parent? [HT someone, don't remember who, sorry]

These cookies win. Everything.

Cool photos of Dubai. Yeah, I live here. [HT Scotty]

An unmarried man and woman were arrested for kissing in public in Dubai. Yeah, I live here.

I SO enjoyed this column about the ineffective ways Hollywood tries to put a stop to movie pirating. And I quote: "WE DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO HERE ARE SOME RANDOM RULES THEY ARE DUMB DO NOT BREAK THEM WE ARE IN CHARGE WE ARE THE BOSS!!!"

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Dedicated to running

My friend Eevi is doing an awesome job of training for a marathon, and it reminded me of my younger days when I used to run/train seriously. I've just never gotten back into the groove after having kids, which makes Eevi's dedication all the more admirable to me.

I got to thinking about the weird times I went running when it would have been more sane to not go. We went on a family vacation to Alaska when I was 14 and even though we were on the road in an RV or in strange, unfamiliar surroundings or going from place to place in ferries, I squeezed in a run almost every day. I went on some great runs in Denali National Park, and around town in Skagway. That's kind of normal. But I also remember one night when we pulled off the side of some random highway in Alaska to sleep for the night and I "went on a run" (I use the term loosely) by doing laps around the RV on the gravel shoulder of the road.

I remember going running on a high school track in Boise, Idaho really late at night in freezing temperatures, for some reason.

I also used to go running more than once a day, for some reason.

My best, weirdest run was when I was maybe 16 or 17 and for some reason, I decided to go running at 11 o'clock at night. I had good parents, so of course they did not let me go alone. As a compromise (bless my parents), my dad said I could go on a run and he would circle around the neighborhood in the car to make sure I was OK. Picture it: a young woman running late at night followed at low, creepy speed by a dark car driven by an older man. At one point, a lady driving by us saw me and immediately stopped, rolled down her window, and yelled over in a genuinely concerned voice, "Are you OK??" I told her the guy following me was my dad and she was so relieved. I'm sure it was still kind of weird, though.

Running beyond all reason here, now, would mean going out in 100+-degree temperatures and unbearable humidity. I'm looking forward to being in the US next month so I can go on my first summertime run in two years.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Three haggles

We went to Friday Market (open 24/7) toward (in?) Fujairah yesterday, to pick up a rug and a majlis. Or at least, in hopes of picking up a rug and a majlis. (A majlis is an Arab-style floor couch.)
Friday market is in the middle of nowhere. You're driving through some low mountains and then you turn a corner and it's there. You can get plants, souvenirs, carpets, toys, and all kinds of fresh, locally grown fruit there. It's open any day, any time of day.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Funny things said by Magdalena

Funny things said by Magdalena, fresh from the Google Doc.

"It's the washing bus!!" - It was a street sweeper. She just couldn't remember the word.

Someone at church said, "Heavenly Father." Magdalena, who was half-listening, half-coloring, perked right up and said, "Harry Potter??"

"Going backwards are hard." This is another U-shaped development curve thing, because she's over-generalizing the rule that plurals require "are." Of course, in this case, "backwards" is not a plural.

A worker at a restaurant gave Magdalena a hard mint candy. As she put it in her mouth, I told her not to swallow it right away so she wouldn't choke on it. About a minute later, I noticed she didn't have the candy anymore. She said, "Mama, I licked it in my heart." I think that means she swallowed it.

She consistently calls Festival City, "Vegetable City."

She is constantly chiding me for not "sharing my candle." Candle = Kindle, and she looooooves to get into that thing when I'm not looking.

One night, she was telling us how she had so many nickles. So many nickles, on her face and arms. All three of us were totally puzzled until we figured out that she meant freckles.

My favorite recent Magdalena-ism is from her PE Day, which was yesterday. The PE coaches (who are all soooo British, by the way) had the kids doing relays like different animals, such as crawling like a lion, jumping like a kangaroo, etc. One of the relays was to run as fast as a cheetah. This morning, Magdalena was telling me how she ran as fast as a "cheater." Miriam and I were trying to tell her she meant "cheetah," but she was adamant that the animal is called a "cheater." My theory is that she is always hearing these Brits (her teacher, her PE coaches, etc.) pronounce words without the final "r" sound that she hears at home (water, heater, letter, etc.). So she took it upon herself to tack an "r" at the end of "cheetah," too.

Funny girl.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

My new office

As you may recall, our housing here in Sharjah is completely furnished by the university. However, when we moved here almost two years ago, we rearranged the furniture distribution from its default setup. Originally, the two non-master bedrooms upstairs had one desk and one bed each. We turned one of the rooms into an office for Jeremy and put two beds in the other for the girls' room. The extra desk we moved downstairs to the living room, for my "office." It was a big desk, bigger than I needed, but it was free and nice (and did I mention free?) and so we forced it to fit in the living room even though it made the furniture arrangement down there more awkward than it might have otherwise been.

Friday, June 01, 2012

June 1st, outsourced

OK, so the first time I watched this live lip-dub proposal (via Andrew Heiss) (and I would call it more of a live music video proposal), it had something like 350 views and the comments all happened to mention (like the description) that the whole thing involved a Honda CRV. So I honestly thought maybe it was a commercial for a Honda CRV, and that prevented me from enjoying it. But now, after 11 million views, I guess it's real so I'm free to like it. I love that it's like 500 Days of Summer in real life!

How long has it been since you thought about those Choose Your Own Adventure books from childhood?? Well, they're back.

Here is a 29-year-old's tale of trying to get a job.


If you've ever wanted to spend three and a half minutes watching a slinky on a treadmill, here you go.

The Golden Gate Bridge is 75! Here are some lovely photos.

CAPTCHA (those codes you type in to verify you're a human) fun, slightly irreverent: here and here.


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