Friday, November 30, 2012

November 30th, outsourced

Let's just get this right out there: if this elevator prank happened to me, I would either die of fright, or come very close to it. I don't even find this ha-ha funny. I find it horrifying! [HT Andrew]

To cleanse our palates from the above: here is one-pound fish man. There was a guy by the Tushinskaya metro station in Moscow who had a catchy tune about black pepper, but the one-pound fish guy is not too shabby.

OK, hear me out: I was doing some research on YouTube for my Law Enforcement English for Women class and I came across BRITISH Law & Order. It really exists. Here is a snarky promo for it. I WOULD TOTALLY WATCH THIS SHOW.

Pictures of Hitler in disguise (so Allied troops would know what he looked like if he was trying to evade capture). [HT Scotty]

At first I was amazed that Amazon's warehouses look like this. But now that I think about it: OF COURSE they do. They sell everything. [HT Scotty]

My friend Hani wrote this week about his conversations with his mother in Gaza.

(The following link has some graphic photos and content.) Until further notice, Maria Santos Gorrostieta is the bravest woman ever. God rest her soul. [HT Liz]

(In case you don't want to click through to the above, which tells the whole story, you can click here for a shorter, less graphic version.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Three fat books and a skinny one

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a WomanCatherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four stars, but only just.

I was puzzled even as I was fascinated by this book, especially the first half. Where was the discussion of sources, the synthesis of different accounts of this woman's life? Instead, I found an amazingly smooth, utterly readable account of Sophia/Catherine that was informative even as its origins were entirely opaque. There is only one point in the book where a major source and its provenance are openly discussed, and alternative interpretations given. Otherwise, we just take everything at Massie's word.

But it's a very good word, really. The first half of the book is a stellar re-telling of Catherine's life. Once she (spoiler alert! ha ha) becomes empress, the story slows down a bit and moves forward a decade or more in jumps and starts. There is an entire chapter on the French Revolution, for example, that has very little to do with Catherine herself - the focus moves entirely away from her.

I'm making it sound like I liked it less than I did. Very good, just a little puzzling at times, that's all. I would have liked less conjecture accepted as fact and more open discussion of who said what and why. That's just more my style.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Khaliji hijab bumps

The ladies here love to exaggerate the shape of their head under the hijab by poofing their hair with gigantic flower clips. The stylist in this series of photographs has a hijab bump. I see bigger ones around campus every day. This is helpful to know so that when you go to a store that sells hair accessories and you see those huge flower clips, you know what they're for. In fact, you will hardly ever see the flower clips themselves out in public, because as far as I know, their main purpose is to be concealed under the hijab. You can see a tutorial for the Gulf (khaliji) hijab style here to get a better idea of what I'm talking about.

Today we were at The Discounts (some super awesome dollar-store type places in Ajman) looking for UAE National Day swag and I saw some of the biggest flower clips I've ever seen. Magdalena agreed, reluctantly, to model them for me so you can get an idea of their scope.

 I promise you, this is one clip. ONE.

Magdalena is not impressed.

So now you know what's hiding out under those hijab bumps. In case you were wondering.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two things teeth

1. We found a great pediatric dentist for the girls in Dubai. At first, I was taking them to the minimalist, cheap, no-frills dentist in Sharjah but they weren't having it (that is to say, they were terrified of going to the dentist). So I found a nice, cushy dentist for them, a sweet Iraqi American lady who knows how to work with kids. She's amazing. Magdalena had a small cavity earlier this month and the dentist filled it in about eight minutes total, without using anesthetic, and Magdalena sat still during the whole thing. Here she is inspecting the dentist's work.

2. Miriam lost her sixth tooth today. When I was a kid, I remember wiggling my loose teeth all the time with my tongue or finger, so the whole process (slightly loose to lost and out of my mouth) was over in a few days. Not so with Miriam. She barely wiggles her loose teeth so they hang on by a thread for weeks and weeks. The usual pattern is that after it gets to be too hard for her to eat, she works up enough courage to have Dad pull the tooth out. Or, as was the case today, she just yanked it out herself, while watching Dad's softball game. Whatever works!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The best books about birth

I sometimes get emails from friends and family asking me to recommend books about childbirth. Here is my short list of books worth picking up.

A Midwife's StoryA Midwife's Story by Penny Armstrong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lovely book with a very genuine and earnest voice. I'm not sure I would be entirely comfortable reading this book if I were a die-hard hospital birther, but on the other hand I think it has the potential to change some minds, or soften some viewpoints, and that's a good thing. This book's peek at the lives of both a midwife and the Amish is fascinating.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard TimesThe Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is like a less tidy version of Baby Catcher. The stories in The Midwife aren't quite as pat and refined as Baby Catcher's, which they shouldn't be, considering the differences in time and place (post-war East End London vs. modern-day California). But the writing in The Midwife is slightly clunkier, too, which makes the birthing and medical scenes abrupt and visceral.

The stories in this book are at once inspiring, heartbreaking, nauseating, disturbing, and entertaining. But prepare to be shocked - midwifery and medicine among the very poor in 1950s London was a messy business and the author tells it like it is (was).

(Just a note - I somehow ended up with the large-type edition of this book, which broke up the reading experience somewhat. I'll have to read the regular edition someday and see if I like it better. But obviously I liked it quite a bit as it was.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Getting sick is no longer the end of the world

Speaking from my experience as both a SAHM and a go-to-work mom, I can definitively say that getting sick is so much more terrifying when you're a SAHM. I remember the days when both my girls were very young and the mere thought of waking up with a scratchy throat filled me with panic, because (and I know you've heard this before) moms don't get to take a day off work. All that stuff you have to do every day when you're a mom? You still have to do it when you're sick. And those people you're dealing with, those tiny, cute people? They don't care if you feel like you got hit by a truck and they will continue to make unreasonable demands.

Contrast this with going in to work, assuming you don't take the day off. Yeah, you still have to do stuff but at least you're surrounded by people who possess the powers of reasoning.

The point is, I'm sick, and this actual conversation happened via phone between Jeremy and me this afternoon:

Jeremy: How are you feeling?
Me: Pretty awful.
Jeremy: Why don't you stay home from class tonight, then?
Me: Because I will get more "rest" sitting in class than I will being at home.

TRUE. Being sick doesn't scare me at all when I'm heading in to teach a class at 8am or sitting through one of my own in the afternoon/evenings. It scares me when it's just me and the girls, mano a mano, plus a whole pile of housework to do and dinner to be cooked.

Which reminds me of another benefit of having a nanny - I can let all that housekeeping stuff really and truly slide, and just rest if I need to. Plus, tonight I was all set to plow my way through making a high-effort dinner when Carol (the nanny) reminded me that I had made two pizzas last week and one of them was still in the freezer, ready to be popped in the oven. Bless you forever, Carol. Bless you and your superior memory.

In conclusion, it's not fair that I'm sick because I was already sick this season. I get sick once in the fall and once in the spring, like clockwork, but this is round two for Fall 2012 and I'm not happy about it. I was sick in early October and feeling pretty smug about it because I got it out of the way so soon. Hmph.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tips for the Primary Presentation

Once a year, the children of our local church congregation (the Primary class) put on a - show? presentation? program? concert? play? - for the rest of us. It's mostly speaking parts about what they've learned in the last year, interspersed with the songs they've been practicing for the last year. This is my favorite day of church ever. It's so unpredictable. Think about it: you get to sit there and watch what happens when they give a 3-year-old a microphone and a captive audience. You just never know what could happen. Which kid will pick his nose the whole time, in front of everyone (there's always one)? Which kid will sing tunelessly at the top of his lungs? Which kid will yell into the microphone? Which kid will recite his part perfectly and in such a heartfelt manner that it brings tears to your eyes? You can see why it's my favorite Friday of the whole year.

Or at least it used to be, before I was in charge of the dang thing. It's not quite so ha-ha funny when I'm the one who's supposed to be putting forth at least marginal effort toward making sure so-and-so doesn't pick his nose the whole time. This is my second year in charge. Here are a few things I've learned about writing/planning a Primary Presentation. Before you read it, keep in mind that it's too late for suggestions from you, at least for this year's presentation, because our last practice is finished and the real thing is this Friday. Note to self: write this post earlier next year (assuming I am not fired after this week's performance).

1. If you're going to have the kids write their own parts, maybe just don't. I thought it would be great if I wrote a sort of skeleton script with a sentence or two of pre-scripted background and then a prompt for the kids to fill in themselves. However, that led to a lot of extra hassle and work because not all the kids (or kids' parents) followed through. Then the teachers and I had to do it, and re-type it in the script, and re-print it out practically every week, etc. etc. etc. In the end it worked out OK, but I will think long and hard before doing that again. That said, sometimes you get awesome stuff from the kids' own little hearts, like one girl saying that one of the good things about agency is "the blessings of the mind." Not sure what that is, exactly, but the girl says it like she means it, so.

2. If you're working with a standard Mormon chapel this probably isn't a problem for you, but in our re-purposed residential villa, my mind has been running in circles trying to figure out how to make sure all the kids fit in the space in front of the congregation, and make sure everyone can see them, and make sure they are in order so that they can present nice and civilized-like without stumbling all over each other. Please note that achieving all this is IMPOSSIBLE. Next year I might just have the kids appear in the script in order of age so that they will also sit in order of age. That way, the big kids won't be in the way of the little kids. At least in theory. Sigh.

3. Some kids just can. not. sit. still. No. matter. what.

4. I try not to make a big deal of the tiniest kids actually saying their part during the practices. The fact is, some kids will get up and say their part perfectly every week in practice and then choke on the day of the actual performance. Or, as Miriam did when she was 5, they will never once say their part during practice and then perform brilliantly on the actual day. Whatever. Most of us are just happy to see our kid up there. And let's be honest with ourselves: even when our kids say their parts, the truth is we can't always understand the actual words they uttered.

I can't wait for Friday! I also can't wait for be over, you know what I mean?

Friday, November 23, 2012

November 23rd, outsourced

Are they still talking about the Petraeus affair? Until Colbert laid it all out for me, I didn't realize how soap-opera-like it all was.

These hosts of an ESPN show purposely crammed their segment full of quotes from The Princess Bride. Very cute.

Videos you've probably seen, oh, EVERYWHERE ELSE by now: Other things that security cameras see, and Dumb Ways to Die.

McKayla Maroney and her Not Impressed face...with the President. [HT Jessie]

31 kids who are too clever for their own good.

I didn't know AC/DC was from Australia until a few months ago. That's (partially) because "regional dialects tend to get lost in song" - all singers basically sound American. [HT Scotty]

If you're not too full of caring about war these days, what with Gaza and Syria, think about That Other War.

Seeing these old photographs in color makes more of a difference than you'd think - this stuff really happened in color!

In the UAE, I don't need permission from Jeremy to leave the country. However, he gets a text message whenever I go through passport control. (Interestingly, when the kids go through passport control, I get the text message.) I'm not sure why that didn't come up in this article about the same thing happening in Saudi - are the women being prevented from leaving, or are the husbands just being informed?

In case you need to get that "Dumb Ways to Die" song out of your head, here is William Shatner singing about deep-fried turkeys. Mmmmmm. [HT Yvonne]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Just like last year, I was proctoring a midterm exam until after 5pm on Thanksgiving. Festive? No. But Thanksgiving dinner sure was nice when it finally came. Today, I'm grateful for friends to celebrate holidays with when we are far away from family. Happy Thanksgiving!
Our friend (and Thanksgiving hostess) Candy helping Magdalena glue her "thankful leaf" on the "thankful tree."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My post-death list of DVDs to watch

Jeremy and I have this idea that after we die, we'll be able to check out the DVDs of our lives as well as any other event that ever happened on earth. For example, there was this one time while we were dating that we went hiking in the mountains near Provo fairly soon after a fire there had disrupted wildlife habitats, pushing more wild animals into areas usually only frequented by humans. After a few hours, we were almost to our destination when ahead of us on the trail, from behind some bushes, came the sounds of a really large animal. We turned around and ran back down the mountain and although it was the right thing to do, we have wondered ever since: what was behind that bush? Was it a mountain lion, like we thought? Or was it a deer or even just a pack of energetic squirrels? The DVD of that hike (from a different perspective, obviously) is high up on our list of scenes from our own lives to check out after we die, so we can finally KNOW.

On the list of events at large to watch on DVD:
- seriously, what happened to Amelia Earhart?
- what really happened to those campers in Russia in 1959?
- how about the Tunguska event?
- what did "CROATOAN" mean, anyway?

Etc. You get the idea. The possible survival of Anastasia Nikolaevna used to be on my list, but I'm pretty sure that they've since proved that she was buried in a mass grave in Siberia along with her family. I'm glad that's cleared up.

What's on your list of things to check out on DVD after you die?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Anniversary the 11th

We're sitting next to each other watching a Bad Lip Reading of Twilight:

It does not get any better than this. Except maybe on Saturday, aka Jeremy & Bridget's Anniversary (Observed). Here's hoping.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The best movie soundtrack

I'm not referencing my iTunes library as I write this so it's possible I'm missing something obvious, but is Top Gun the best movie soundtrack or what??
It is a fact that listening to the soundtrack for Top Gun will make you more excited to do whatever it is you have to do. I have used Top Gun to get me fired up for driving on the crazy roads in Oman, when working really hard in spinning class, and to give me courage for a dentist appointment. Plus, if I ever become a figure skater, the Top Gun anthem will be the music for my long program. OH YEAH.

I listened to Top Gun a lot as a kid - like A LOT. That's how I know ALL the lyrics to ALL the songs, even the ones that didn't make sense to six-year-old me. Actually, I can sing along phonetically to the entirety of Take My Breath Away but I guess I don't know the "words" per se - does anyone? "Never hesitating to become a favorite was"? "Haunted by the notion somewhere there's a love that inflames"?

What's your favorite movie soundtrack? Besides Top Gun, of course.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The nanny life

I'm sure the duties of a nanny vary from family to family. Here's a little more about our nanny situation.

The nanny herself. She's from the Philippines, she's the mother of three grown children, and she has a college degree in finance. A young, childless, semi-English speaker was not a deal-breaker for us when we were thinking of desirable qualities in a nanny, but now that we have Carol, I am so grateful for what she is. I like having an experienced mom around who can take care of the kids even when they're sick. Also, it's so nice to be able to speak normal English to/around her. Plus, she can help the girls with their homework.

Her duties. It's hard to choose a favorite thing that our nanny does for us, but aside from the general housecleaning/laundry she does, I love that Carol gets up in the morning to help get the kids ready for school. When I was doing it all by myself, it was lonely to be the only adult awake, slicing apples and filling bowls with cereal and zipping up backpacks while trying to get myself ready, too. It's much more cheerful and efficient with Carol around. And yes, she packs my kids' lunches. That was a hard task for me to give up on an emotional level, but I've come to terms with it and I'm grateful for it every day.

Another favorite thing is when I come home from class at 8pm and the downstairs is tidied up, clean, dinner put away, lights dimmed, quiet. Upstairs, the girls have taken a bath and brushed their teeth and are tucked in bed with jammies on, ready for a story. It is the best feeling in the world.

Also a good feeling: those days when I have to leave for a meeting and Jeremy is working late and Carol is there to fill in the childcare gap. I used to have to trek them over to a babysitter's house, or trek over the babysitter to our house, or drag the girls to campus. It is so nice to be able to just have them stay at home so they're not always being pulled to and fro.

Her days off. She has every Friday off, but every once in a while she leaves on Thursday night after the girls are in bed. Sometimes I wonder if she's bored with us because we don't host as many social events as her previous employers, but I like to imagine she's relieved at the lighter workload. I'm glad she has a day off every week for her sake, but also for ours. It's a nice chance for us to just hang out and be ourselves, as a family.

Her pay. We pay her well. Could we have hired a nanny for a lot less, like half as much? Yes. But I wanted to pay a good living wage to Carol, who is a widow with three grown children to care about and lend money to :). Also, as stated above, she is experienced, educated, and she speaks English well, all of which up the asking price, as it were.

Challenges. I love the "nanny life," but that doesn't mean everything is perfect. Every once in a while, I wish Carol would do things differently. The key is choosing your "battles" - what do you care enough about to mention? For example, when I was in charge of the laundry, I had a very particular way of folding our undergarments (weird, I know, but Jen might know what I'm talking about). Carol doesn't do it that way, but I've decided not to care. Even trying to teach helpful details can come across as nit-picky and it's not a big enough deal to bring up. On the other hand, after a few weeks of her working for us, I noticed she was using hot water (90C) to wash all the clothes. That was important enough (to me) to bring to her attention.

If you have any questions, please ask!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How we stay in touch

How do you stay in touch with family members who live very, very far away? Well, we're not exceptionally good at it, but here are the ways we help our kids remember who their grandparents, cousins, and aunts/uncles are.

1. Blogs. The girls each have a blog. Most of their cousins have blogs. It is so nice to be able to log in and see pictures from our family members in the US whenever we want.

2. Videochat. That's what we call it in our house - maybe there's a better name for it? Technically, we use Google Hangout, via our Gmail accounts. We don't do this as often as I would like to. Our kids (and some of the cousins) are still at the age where it holds their attention, but after a while they just start typing crazily on the keyboard and making faces at the camera and running around the room. Still, it's good to see each other, even if not much meaningful conversation goes on.

My favorite recent videochat experience was on Wednesday morning when we videochatted with Grandma Walker (my mom) as well as my brother and his wife and three kids (maybe only two were present, though - I couldn't really tell through the chaos of excited kids) and beloved dog. I had the videochat going on my laptop so when Miriam's bus came, I followed her out the door and all the cousins got to see her get on the bus. Priceless.

3. Spying on us at church. I think it's mostly only my family who does this. The services we attend in Sharjah are broadcast over the web to isolated pockets of Mormons who don't have access to a regular congregation. My parents know the URL and watch the beginning of our meetings sometimes - they can see us walk in and greet friends and play the piano or whatever.

4. Cards/packages in the mail. This doesn't happen that often, since mail from the US to the UAE is both expensive and slow. But every once in a while, we get an envelope "package" with stickers or small, lightweight, thin crafts for the girls to do. Jeremy's mom and sister Sarah are the ones who usually put these together. It's always a happy day when we get a letter from the US.

5. Weekly emails. My family recently started this one - each week my parents start a general mass email to me and my siblings (and a few of the older grandchildren) talking about anything, everything, or nothing - just whatever. Then everyone pitches in over the week until a new one starts. For me, it's all nicely stacked up in one conversation in Gmail. It's a nice way to hear news from my siblings without anyone feeling like they have to start their own email just to share a small piece of news or a good experience from the week.

My friend Anna (an American living in Germany) posted a great keep-in-touch strategy on her blog that I would love to try: videos of grandparents reading a story. What a great idea!

Even though we don't see each other in person every year, the above strategies keep us from feeling like strangers when we do see each other.

Friday, November 16, 2012

November 16th, outsourced

Why doesn't James Bond ever go to really dangerous countries?

You guys, I remember when this WAS the internet: an AOL commercial from 1995.

This (Agnes DeMille/Aaron Copeland + Gangnam Style) is even weirder than that time someone did a mashup of the themes from The X-Files and Downton Abbey.

Five men rescued four people from a fire at a villa in Ras al Khaimah last week.

Eastern/Western perspectives on learning. I recall hearing this idea years ago and it really stuck with me, to the point that I never (or seldom) tell my kids to their face that they're smart or intelligent. I want them to know that learning is hard work.

Track Romney's Facebook de-likes in real time. [HT Crys]

Hahahaha, describing a spaceship using only the first thousand words. [HT Andrew]

Six real-life horror movies. [HT someone...can't remember who, sorry]

Jeremy and I actually lost sleep for laughing so hard at this late at night the other day. [HT Scotty]

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Syria in ruins

I know everyone's busy being worried about Gaza (or being worried about Israel? Not sure) at the moment, but here are some recent pictures from Syria that will make you cry. Just so you're warned.

Just before my Twitter feed (heavy on Syrian/Arab news sources) was overwhelmed by the developments in Gaza, I saw reports that the Baramkeh campus of Damascus University was being evacuated. I also saw reports that shelling is hitting the Omayyad Mosque/Old City in Damascus.

In better news, I got an email from a former student of mine in Damascus, letting me know that he's ok. I was almost sure that this particular guy was either (a) fronting up some unit of the FSA, or (b) dead as a result of (a), so it was nice to hear that he's alive and well-ish and trying to finish up university (!). Two days after I got that email, I saw that his area of Damascus was hit by a car bomb. He wrote me again to let me know he was still ok. What made me laugh/cry was that within the same email message, he complained about the damage and casualties of the car bomb...and also the ophthalmology exam he was going to have to take the next day. Talk about adjusting your normal.

I have a few Syrians in the classes I'm teaching this semester. Nobody ever told me I'd have to teach college study skills to students whose homeland is being ripped to shreds, students who skype their relatives in Syria and the gunfire in the background is audible. These are students who sometimes look stressed and tired in class to the point where they put their heads down on their desks, and I don't know if they stayed up late playing video games or if they stayed up late worrying about the safety of their family members. I try to check in with them regularly to see how they're doing. I hope they know that I care, even if I don't know quite what I'm doing, either. Like I said, no one ever taught me how to deal with this.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Islamic calendar

I don't know if you've ever noticed (especially if you live outside the Muslim world), but the dates of Muslim holidays such as Ramadan, Eid al-Adha, and the Prophet's birthday shift each year. When we were in Syria, Ramadan was in October. In 2013, it will be in July. That's because Islamic holidays follow the Islamic calendar, which is based on the moon instead of the sun. Each lunar year is about ten days shorter than a solar year. So the days of the Islamic lunar year do not correspond to the seasons - Ramadan will be in winter some years and in summer other years. This is especially interesting for Ramadan since the period of fasting is for daylight hours, and there are a lot more daylight hours in summer than in winter.

Another interesting wrinkle of the Islamic calendar is that (to put it in layman's terms) we don't even know the exact dates of the holidays until shortly beforehand, at which time a dude in Saudi Arabia announces that he's seen the requisite sliver of the moon which fixes the holiday's date. Allow me to explain, as per Wikipedia: "Traditionally, the first day of each month is the day (beginning at sunset) of the first sighting of the hilal (crescent moon) shortly after sunset. If the hilal is not observed immediately after the 29th day of a month (either because clouds block its view or because the western sky is still too bright when the moon sets), then the day that begins at that sunset is the 30th. Such a sighting has to be made by one or more trustworthy men testifying before a committee of Muslim leaders." I remember in Syria that there was often disagreement about whether the sighting had been made or not, which meant that sometimes our holidays there came a day after the holiday in Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

McDonald's magic

Recently, a new teacher joined our Primary (the children's organization) at church. He's a Filipino in his 20s (ish), and he works in the UAE at McDonald's. When he told the kids that he worked at McDonald's, he instantly became the most popular adult in the room. The "woooooooowwwwww!" from the awe-struck children was almost audible.

Imagine if a 20s (ish) man worked at McDonald's in the US. I don't think the impression would be quite so magical. Well, maybe it still would be, for the kids. But here, at least according to anecdotal research, McDonald's is a real job that provides a work visa and housing and benefits and possibly even free transportation to and from work. McDonald's employees here are generally (but not always) chipper and really excited about working there, and serving you. It's almost unnerving. Same goes for places like Cinnabon or Burger King or any other restaurant that's kind of meh, in-between employment in the US. Here, it's a real job and it's a great deal for people looking to come here for work.

Anyway, just part of the paradigm here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Help me decide on a thesis topic

If all goes according to plan, I will be working on my thesis next semester. I'm considering three different areas of research, each with its own pros and cons. Read about them below, and then vote to indicate which one you think I should go for. Talk me through this.

Thesis Topic A: TOEFL Repeaters. Many students seeking to gain entrance to English-speaking universities take the TOEFL many, a LOT of times (if they don't get a high enough score the first time, or tenth time. Really). What kinds of patterns or generalizations can we extract from these scores? The actual research question would be more focused, but you get the idea.
Pros: Cold, hard data - no touchy-feely questionnaires or live human interaction/interviews required. There is something so beautiful about a quantitative study. Plus, one of my professors has done research on this topic and I think I could get some great direction from her, or piggy-back on a study she is carrying out.
Cons: My heart isn't in this topic. I am interested in it, but I'm not passionate about it. I'm not sure that's a strong enough foundation on which to build a relationship with something as starkly straightforward as TOEFL scores.

Thesis Topic B: The Power of YouTube. I told you about this already. Basically, how can teachers use YouTube in the classroom to increase motivation? To tidy the research paper up for a thesis topic, I would be more specific about what kind of video and what kind of motivation.
Pros: You guys, that research paper was so fun it practically wrote itself. Plus, I have two classes of my own to experiment on (and plenty of videos to choose from). The topic is attractive and I think the results could help a lot of teachers. It's also very hip.
Cons: The word "motivation" can quickly turn into research quicksand. Sooooo much has been written about motivation that I would definitely have to put in my due diligence when it came to reading/writing about it. Also, I worry that even after a lot of thought and effort, this topic could still come across as fluffy. It may be hard to find a clear focus.

Thesis Topic C: Intercultural Competence. Wait, don't go! It's more interesting than it sounds. The nature of English language teaching – spanning nationalities, ethnicities, and countries – means that students and teachers may often come from different sociocultural backgrounds, where styles of learning and culturally acceptable teaching methods vary. Teachers who are fully qualified to teach English may still feel anxiety in the classroom when confronted with students whose cultures and learning practices are very different from their own. What kinds of challenges do non-Arab teachers in the Gulf experience? Are they given training? How do the experiences of teachers with ethnorelative outlooks compare to those who are ethnocentric? Etc.
Pros: This is something I am deeply interested in, for obvious reasons: basically, WELCOME TO MY LIFE. This is the thesis I would write for 20-year-old Bridget tutoring Korean kids in Russia, and 22-23-year-old Bridget teaching English to Syrian teenagers, and everyone else out there who has to work through their culture shock to teach people who are very different from them. I think it's a relevant topic and it also has the possibility of being highly useful for teacher training programs.
Cons: I think this is the most work-intensive topic of the three. It would likely require student AND teacher surveys, plus a teacher focus group. Just the thought of coordinating with all those people within the pressured timetable of a thesis gives me pause. Also, "culture" is another kind of research quicksand.

I am interested in your opinion, even if it's "I choose Thesis Topic A because it's neat." So make your choice and then leave a comment (if you wish) with any additional thoughts.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The bathroom incident

This post may be too much for some of you. It's almost too much for me. But it's NaBloPoMo so I'm posting stuff that would otherwise not make the cut. You're welcome, in advance.


I usually try to save major (ahem) bathroom trips for home, but this morning at work I just couldn't wait. So I  gave in and went to the ladies' bathroom. There are two stalls in there. It's nice that there's more than one so you don't have to just stand there awkwardly and wait (ooh, foreshadowing), but on the other hand, two stalls doesn't allow for a lot of anonymity. There's you, and there's them. This morning, I was lucky (or so I thought) to be the only one in there at the time I entered.

Anyway, right after I went in and, uh, sat down, I heard the cleaning lady come in the restroom and start to clean out the stall next door. Fine. It was less embarrassing than it could have been because all of her mopping and sweeping and toilet-paper-changing provided some nice background noise. I was sure that after she finished the one stall and then realized the other was occupied, she would leave the bathroom and come back later.

BUT NO. To my very, very great horror, she finished cleaning out the stall next to me (it took her about one minute, lest you get any ideas) (too late for this post, I guess), and then, as far as I could tell from my limited audio and visual clues, just stood there. In the bathroom. The tiny, two-occupancy bathroom. Right. outside. my stall. Where I was trying (key word TRYING) to finish my business. It was soooooo uncomfortable and awkward and shameful and quiet, so quiet.

Obviously I wasn't operating under ideal conditions, so I decided to abort. As I finished up, I told myself that maybe my mind was playing tricks on me and that I just hadn't heard her leave. I even allowed myself a smile at how foolish I was for thinking she could be right outside the stall, just standing there and waiting for me to finish. Because seriously, how weird would that be??

And then I opened the door and saw that that's exactly what she was doing. We practically brushed by each other in the small space as I went to wash my hands and she went to clean out the stall.

WHAT THE HECK, people? I ask you. She broke all the rules of bathroom behavior. She broke rules of bathroom behavior that I didn't even know existed. Awful awful awful I will never forget this day.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I am a Japanese

I am enchanted by a footnote I stumbled across on page 296 of The Grammar Book. The context is a discussion about the definite (the) and indefinite (a/an) articles in English:

"Generally, the adjective form of a nationality is used with the definite article to function as the generic collective nouns in pattern 3 (e.g., The Germans). If the adjective ends in n or i, then a regular plural ending is added: the Canadians, the Israelis, the Saudis. If the adjective ends in a sibilant sound (e.g., s, z, (t)ch, dge, sh), no plural ending is added: the English, the Chinese, the Welsh, the Dutch. If the adjective ends in -ish, usually the stem minus the suffix is used with a plural ending to form the generic collective noun: Polish/the Poles, Swedish/the Swedes, Finnish/the Finns. However, "English" appears to be an exception to the -ish pattern in that we say "English/the English;" i.e., the sibilant pattern applies here."

I can't stop thinking about this footnote and all the questions it answers, as well as raises. Why isn't the generic plural (when speaking of "human groups that have a religious political, national, linguistic, social, or occupation/professional" affiliation) always the standard "the + noun+s" (p. 284)? In other words, why don't we say, when speaking of the people who live in Japan, "The Japaneses don't care for the American accent"? After all, we would insert "Germans" into that sentence just fine.

And what the heck are we doing with Polish/Swedish/Finnish etc.? Wow, deleting a suffix and then adding the plural ending to the stem. Way to be simple, English language.

I'm guessing "Spanish" is another exception to the last rule mentioned in the footnote, because we certainly don't say "The Spans."

So yeah, English gets a bit wonky when it comes to nationality adjectives. This isn't treated in the footnote, but as a student of language, I've wondered for a long time at the inconsistency of English. We can say he's a German, he's German, he speaks German, but we can't say he's a Japanese; only he's Japanese and he speaks Japanese are acceptable. Then there's he's an Arab, he's Arab, but not he speaks Arab.

Anyway, I'm far from done thinking about this but I'll have to put it on the shelf for a while. If any of you have trouble going to sleep tonight, maybe I've just given you a great alternative to counting sheep!

PS - the post title is from when I was a kid and we had Japanese exchange students every once in a while. A few years after a girl named Ai Yamashita stayed with us, she sent us a letter. Its opening lines were (my brother and I committed them to memory because they made us laugh): "Do you remember me? I am a Japanese. I am Ai Yamashita!!!!!!"

Friday, November 09, 2012

November 9th, outsourced

Jeremy and I checked the place where we lived in Moscow and although the building we were in is too new to be exactly included on this map of The Great Purge, there was one person taken away from an address quite nearby. [HT Jeremy]

I LOVED this: Why great sign language interpreters are so animated. Here's a highlight reel of Ms. Lydia Callis, my new favorite person to watch on YouTube.

Within the space of about two hours, I heard about this video of horrible Utah names from four different people (Jessie was first). So much to say. I'm not even going to start. Except, SHAHRZAUD.

Even though the NYC Marathon was technically cancelled, a whole bunch of people went out and ran a marathon there anyway.

For the now-finished Election Day: 10 amazing facts, and the "Redskins Rule," which, if I'm not mistaken, was proved wrong this election. Maybe they'll just tweak the rule slightly like they did in 2000. Lame. [HT Josh]

One of the authors of my favorite cookbook (Our Best Bites) had a scary run-in with an almost-drowning recently. It (and she) reminded me of this article about what drowning really looks like. It's possible I've even posted it here on Outsourced Friday before, but it's worth another read.

In honor of Skyfall, which has been in theaters here for a few weeks but which I still haven't seen: 007 by the numbers.

Finally, here's an article from the NYT about young, competitive endurance runners.

Thursday, November 08, 2012


Funny Captcha
I was trying to comment on my brother's blog just now. Unfortunately, he has enabled that horrible CAPTCHA word-verification feature on the comments. For some reason, the image of the CAPTCHA letters/numbers didn't load, and since I didn't feel like re-loading the page, I just clicked on the option to have an "audio CAPTCHA" read to me.

YOU GUYS. Have you ever heard one of these audio CAPTCHAs???

I'll stick to the visual ones from now on, thanks. Because, SCARY.

This brings me to my point: would y'all consider taking those word verifications off of your blog comments? If you have purposely enabled them, why? I sometimes get spam comments, too, but Blogger automatically takes care of most of them for me. I've turned on moderation for comments on posts older than 14 days, which takes care of the rest. The thing is, even though the literal, stated point of a CAPTCHA is to tell Computers and Humans Apart, I often have to go through two or three or four rounds of CAPTCHA images to pass the test. Anyone else? Those things are dang hard.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Fall 2012: Normal

Every once in a while, you have to re-invent your normal, especially if you've made a big change in your life. This semester, I'm taking three MA courses instead of two - and two is considered a full load. Everything else has remained more or less the same - Jeremy is teaching and doing research and professoring, I'm teaching two classes and putting in hours as a Graduate Assistant for my department, and both girls are in school. With the increase in my MA workload, we made some changes to the way we do things around the Palmer house.

1. We hired a live-in housekeeper/nanny. Sometimes, it's like there are two of me in the house, getting twice as much done. Isn't that what every mother needs? Having a housekeeper/nanny frees up so much more time for me to study and work without running myself ragged, as was the previous modus operandi. This is the single biggest (and I would add best) change we made to our routine this semester, and so far, it has paid off. I promise to write more about the nanny life soon.

2. No more ballet classes for the girls. This one actually makes me a little bit sad...until I remember those exhausting afternoons of driving 45 minutes (round-trip) through seven traffic-y Sharjah roundabouts - after prepping dinner, of course, and having everything ready for me to bolt to class as soon as we got home. During their ballet classes, I would try to finish up readings for class even as I desperately wished to lie down flat on the floor if necessary and just close. my. eyes. Fortunately, not taking ballet was a decision I was able to make with the girls, instead of for them. They both understand that I am extra busy this semester. Next semester, we'll revisit the idea of ballet and go from there.

3. The two nights a week I don't have class are sacred. On those evenings, children, I can help you with your homework or take you to the park or maybe we'll go swimming or read books or work in the garden or just hang out. I promise.

4. The two mornings a week I don't teach are sacred. I've had trouble in the past declining invitations to join social activities on Monday/Wednesday mornings because technically, I'm not "working" those mornings. However, that is when I get the bulk of my studying and writing done for school. If I take a morning off, that's 4-5 hours of work that I have to fit in somewhere else. And guess what? It will probably "fit in" super late at night. This semester, I'm guarding those mornings more carefully.

5. Dinner is at 4 o'clock. I used to put dinner on the table and then leave for class. This semester, we decided to all eat together early. It's worked out really well and I love eating dinner with my family when the food is hot, instead of coming home to cold leftovers.

The good news is, this semester is temporary. In mid-January it will come to an end. At that point, I will only have a Practicum course (kind of like student teaching) and my thesis, and then I'm DONE. So all this shuffling of priorities and stripping our schedules down to the basics will have been worth it. I hope.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Year 2 social studies

Miriam brought home her social studies textbook yesterday, which is the first time I've been able to get a good look at it. In my MA classes, we talk a lot about course materials being appropriate for their audience, whether culturally or otherwise. For example, a colleague of mine who teaches at a middle school here told me how her students are puzzled by their (American) textbooks' discussions of people like Harriet Tubman - good to know, but really, not that relevant or engaging to an Arab living in the UAE.

I was pleased to see that Miriam's social studies textbook is not ridiculously focused on the far-off, irrelevant societal particulars of, say, the UK, or even the US. What I mean is, the book is meant for an English/Arabic-speaking audience based in the Middle East (the books are published in Jordan). So in a way, this post is an extension of My Child's Childhood, in that I am amazed to see how she is learning about the world just like I did as a kid, but from a totally different perspective (half a planet away).

 I can tell you one thing: I wasn't learning about the capital of Sudan at age 7.

 I'm glad she knows the capital of the US!

Monday, November 05, 2012

Why I will not be voting

Gather around, my friends, for a sad story of self-imposed disenfranchisement.

Why I will not be voting for anyone in 2012:

1. On October 18th, I checked the rules for regular ballot submission for American citizens living abroad and found out that the deadline to send them was the 16th. D'oh! HOWEVER:

2. That same day, I looked into filling out an Emergency Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (their term) at our local embassy/consulate. That's what we did in Damascus in 2004 and it worked out really well for us. I read through the rules and from what I could tell at the time, we qualified. So we kicked back for a few days until the next time we headed into Dubai, at which time we planned to swing by the consulate and fill out our EFWAB. (And can I just say here that I love that it's a voting EMERGENCY? It makes it seem like we'll be filling it out under duress, all sweaty- and nervous-like.)

3. Then, the morning we were planning to go to the consulate, we found out that Oregon doesn't support (no longer supports? It did in 2004) the EFWAB so we were really and truly out of luck. No voting for us in 2012. SAD FACE. Except:

4. I was having a hard time coming to terms with voting for either of these guys anyway. I'm sorry for the 98% of my friends who I just offended, on both sides. I will never know for sure what I would have marked on my overseas absentee ballot (whether EMERGENCY or otherwise), but the plan was to write in Jon Huntsman.

5. In conclusion, I feel pretty bad about not voting this year, and thus neglecting my civic duty. I'm consoling myself with #4, above, and also by reminding myself that Oregon is in no way a swing state. As for all the local elections...well, we are non-resident residents of Oregon (that is a technical term), ok?

You can go ahead and shame me in the comments. Just know that I'm feeling ashamed all on my own, too.

In the meantime, please enjoy:


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Halloween 2012 @ Sharjah, UAE

(Halloween 2010. Halloween 2011.)

This year, Halloween was right in the middle of Eid break, which meant that the already sparse trick-or-treating opportunities were even sparser due to a lot of our neighbors being out of town. And yet, somehow this was the most fun Halloween so far for the kids. Bonus: they didn't bring home that much candy.

Miriam's school had "dress-up day," which meant Halloween costumes for those who celebrate it and non-uniform clothes for those who don't. Miriam chose Rapunzel to wear to school.

Magdalena was a cat, again. She wore her costume (sans facepaint whiskers and nose) all day long, after having laid it out on her bed days beforehand, so it would be ready.

 Miriam was a ghost in the evening.

We invited some kids from off campus to join us for trick-or-treating, since AUS is one of the premiere Halloween neighborhoods in Sharjah. (Just to be clear, this is very faint praise.)

Literally five minutes before we stepped out the door, Jeremy put on this "costume." I love it. Next year, I want to dress up, preferably as some kind of tandem costume with Jeremy. It's been a few...many...years since I've dressed up for Halloween and I think it's time to do it again. I'll start taking costume suggestions now.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Man Food

We were in Jumeirah (an expat-heavy neighborhood of Dubai - seriously, it's like California over there and I catch myself staring at all the blonde people wearing shorts) on Thursday and since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped at a store called Park & Shop. It's a grocery store that caters to Westerners and the shelves are glorious to behold. You could make a serious hobby of cataloging all the Western delicacies that are available at different stores (and for different prices) in the UAE. More and more often, I find myself feeling relieved that we live in Sharjah where Western stuff isn't easily available. My grocery budget (and my willpower) couldn't handle it.

That said, it's fun to take home a few tastes of America every once in a while. At Park & Shop, we spotted OreIda potato products.

Jeremy and I are the original OreIda (I'm from Ore, he's from Ida).

Jeremy saw Hamburger Helper at Park & Shop and he bought two boxes to take home. I have no idea how much they cost, but any amount would be too much, in my opinion. I don't like that stuff. Jeremy knows it. He cooked up a batch when we got home. The girls and I ate something else and he had his Hamburger Helper all to himself.

He offered some to Carol (our nanny) and she took one whiff (and possibly a small taste) and said no thanks. She tried to buffer her refusal by qualifying it but she couldn't find the right words. "It's too has too doesn't..." I totally understand, Carol. Jeremy just laughed and told her it's ok, it's Man Food. Those were the words she was looking for! Her face brightened and she said yes! It's Man Food! And that's why the rest of us didn't eat it.

Friday, November 02, 2012

November 2nd, outsourced

I wrote last week's Outsourced post a few days early since we were traveling, so we have a lot of links to get through today. I hope I remember to give credit where it is due! Let me know if I miss you.

Seven famous people who missed the Titanic.

I love this: scenes from WWII photoshopped onto today's streets. Don't you ever wonder about your surroundings and what happened there 10, 20, 30, 100+ years ago? I do.

This story about two kids who almost drowned in a hotel swimming pool - and the two maids who DID drown, trying to save them - is just sad all around. This Gulf News account is clearer than some other articles I read but I still don't really understand how this could have happened.

Yeah, sometimes you totally should judge a book by its cover. Yet another reason why I love my Kindle - it is no respecter of covers.

I'm so glad these two young hikers are safe! [HT Kathy]

I love Jeremy because he sends me weird links like this (weird exercise equipment) while I'm sleeping so I have something to laugh at in the morning.

In Hurricane Sandy news: some popular photos that were actually fake; and should the NY Marathon go on?

In Syria news: one couple's humanitarian mission in refugee camps in Jordan; and an article in FP written by an AUB professor about his recent visit to Syria.

Aside from giving me Witness flashbacks, this article about grain silo accidents terrified me.

A father's case against breastfeeding. I really like what he's saying, but I can't get past the part where he's excited about having his sleep interrupted.

Oh, Japan. [HT Katie]

Finally, The Guide to Trading Candy. I love black licorice, by the way. [HT Kristen]

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Oman 2012.2: The new

We went to a few new places in Oman, too!

Muscat proper/Muttrah Souq
There is so much to see in northern Oman that until this trip, we had never spent time in Muscat proper. We were always just passing through town, or filthy from days in the wild, or it was too much of a pain (or too hot) to find a place outside of town to camp. This time, after church, we stuck around for a change and went to see the Muttrah Souq.

The thing about souqs is, we've seen a lot of them. Don't get me wrong: the Muttrah Souq was suitably awesome. But it was also semi-closed because of the Eid holiday. We weren't exactly blown away by its majesty, is what I'm trying to say. After a few minutes wandering its passages, we headed out into the side streets toward the Corniche.


Related Posts with Thumbnails