Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The youngest bureaucrat

I had to go to the Center of All Bureaucracy this morning to complete Sterling's Emirates ID process (having them scan his now-obtained residency visa to link it to the ID card). I jumped the queue (because baby) and was offered assistance by an off-duty employee. She's a young woman who I've known for a couple of years now, due to the fact that she works at the Center of All Bureaucracy and has therefore been witness to several of my major life events. Or at least the ones that require reams of paperwork, such as sponsoring a nanny, renewing our residency visas, and having a baby.

This young Emirati woman took one look at Sterling and reached across the counter for him. She then proceeded to hold him in the crook of one arm as she typed and shuffled documents with the other. It was a truly impressive show of efficiency. During any lull in the process, she took the opportunity to show off Sterling to her coworkers.

When the documents were complete, she handed them, and Sterling, back over to me. I hope he enjoyed his time as an honorary bureaucrat, behind the desk at the Center of All Bureaucracy, taking part in the processing of his own documents.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

My best books of 2013 (and other distinctions)

Here are my favorite books from 2013. To make the list, I had to have read the book for the first time in 2013 so that old favorites don't clog the top spots. (I'll post a complete list of the books I read in 2013 plus some "fun" stats in a few days.)

Hostage Three (Nick Lake). If you, like me, expected this to be a half-hearted girl-falls-in-love-with-pirate-archetype-boy (and the boy not only adheres to the archetype but is also an ACTUAL pirate), then you, like me, will be oh so pleasantly surprised. I continue to be amazed at the depth and sincerity of this book. It's not for everyone, but it was definitely for me. Beautiful and moving.

A Short Stay in Hell (Steven L. Peck). This book has stayed with me. I have to keep it under control or else it will take over my mind and freak me right the heck out all over again.

Catch Me If You Can (Frank W. Abagnale). So. Much. Fun.

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter (Robert K. Massie). This might be this year's "made just for me" book - Russia + the Romanovs + mystery + cool DNA stuff = book heaven.

The Secret Race (Tyler Hamilton). Another "this book was written just for me" candidate. I loved this book's joyful, non-bitter tone, even as it tackled the tough issue of performance-enhancing drugs in the world of professional cycling.

Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein). Female besties during WW2 done right.

For Darkness Shows the Stars (Diana Peterfreund)Sometimes, you just need to read a book with an exquisite ache of sadness running through it. This book - a sci-fi re-telling of Jane Austen's Persuasion - has it.

Now for some fun distinctions.

Most unexpectedly good book: World After (it is the sequel to Angelfall, last year's winner in this category). I was disappointed by almost every sequel I read this year, so I was pleasantly surprised to read World After and find that I really liked it!

Most unexpectedly bad book: Death Comes to Pemberley. A murder mystery set in Jane Austen's world sounds sooooo delicious. But it was dumb.

Longest book: Guests of the Ayatollah. Five Days at Memorial was a close second.

Shortest book: A Short Stay in Hell.

Most-read book: 2013 marked my second reading of The Princes in the Tower and Guests of the Ayatollah, both of which I read for the first time in 2009. I also re-read The Scarlet Pimpernel. I guess I didn't go for old favorites so much this year.

Best bad book: The House at Tyneford. I hated this book with a certain glee, the intensity of which (both the hate and the glee) surprised me. It was an audiobook, so it was always just kind of there whenever my podcasts ran out. It became a fun game to just full-on hate this book as I listened to it and discovered new stupid things about it.

Worst good book: The Raven Boys. I seriously did not know whether to give this book zero stars or five stars. Hundreds of pages of good, solid reading followed by one stinker of a non-ending. Grr.

Worst book I didn't finish: Prodigy (the sequel to Legend). I don't even like Legend anymore as a result. Prodigy's lameness is so intense that it is actually retroactive.

Worst book I DID finish: The Elite. Sigh.

Worst cover: Hostage Three. And check it out, it actually has TWO worst covers! Both of these are awful.


Also, The Girl of Fire and Thorns deserves more than this abomination:

Best cover: For Darkness Shows the Stars. So pretty.


Books that remind me the most of morning sickness: Forever on the Mountain and Out of Captivity. It was hard to read about other people suffering in extreme conditions (stuck on Mt. McKinley in the first; kidnapped by FARC in the second) when I was struggling to just cope with normal everyday life.

Sequels that I hated (or at least was disappointed by): The Elite, The Fitz-Osbornes in Exile, Boundless, Finale, The Bitter Kingdom, Prodigy.

Books in which tarot cards play a major role: The Night CircusThe Raven Boys.

Number of books featuring a main character named "Mia" that I read in a row: 3 (Night Road, Lark, Winterborne).

Books whose titles I can't keep straight in my mind: Shadow and Bone, Speaking From Among the Bones, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Book of Blood and Shadow, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (though I didn't even read that last one).

Books in which a mother character struggles with serious mental illness AND in which a main character is given a nickname ending in "-bear": Hostage Three, World After.

Books featuring the line, "We are all made of stardust": Hostage Three, After Eden.

Books where a girl is assigned a secret protector who ends up falling in love with her: Lark, Winterborne, The Girl of Fire and ThornsShadowfell, and probably a dozen others that I've forgotten about already.

A book that reminded me of The Master and Margarita, but without all the heavy religious stuff: The Night Circus.

A book that reminded me of The Master and Margarita, but WITH all the heavy religious stuff: A Short Stay in Hell.

Books that would have been better if the romance element had been removed: After Eden, The Naturals.

Books written by beautiful young female authors who graduated from Yale: Shadow and Bone, The Naturals, For Darkness Shows the Stars.

Books where during a tense/traumatic moment, a character hears screaming, and then realizes it is coming from him/herself: pretty much every single one, seriously. Is this the new "in the distance, a dog barked"?

Friday, December 27, 2013

December 27th, outsourced

Of all the parodies of Jean Claude Van Damm doing the splits, this delightful one from Gaza is my favorite.

William Dalrymple (author of the delightful From the Holy Mountain) on Christians in the Middle East. [HT Jeremy]

Seven delightful words in English that have been forgotten. Some of those sound like they came straight out of Harry Potter. [HT Blair]

Movie scenes recreated in cardboard, with a baby. Delightful. [HT Kathy]

Jeremy sent me the link to these 33 delightful GIFs that are guaranteed to make you laugh. I didn't respond to his email soon enough, I guess, because he sent me another email asking, "Were you not diverted?" To which I responded, "yes, yes, excessively."

Society is so delightful sometimes.

Is "delightful" the new "cool"?

Nothing delightful about this: the Syrian war, on the Street Called Straight.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Target gender?

My new favorite store is Hamley's. Do they play their Christmas music too loud? Yes. Is it a little weird that their employees dress up like elves at Christmastime? Yes. But bless them, they had everything I needed for the girls for Christmas, with decent prices, and they gift-wrapped it all to boot.

However, I noticed that there were some areas of the store that were labeled "Boys" and others that were "Girls." I'm not a fan of this kind of label. If my daughters want to play with dinosaurs and cars (and they do), then far be it from a label on a shelf at a toy store to tell them that they can't, because they're girls. I even saw sets of blocks that were labeled "boys" and "girls." The girl blocks were pink/purple/etc. What?

I noticed the same thing on Amazon yesterday. I was looking at a portable crib (does anyone have experience with the Lotus Everywhere Crib?) and I saw this:

So "target gender" is a thing now, huh? Did we learn nothing from the Easy Bake Oven thing?

Anyway, I got everything I needed at Hamley's, like I said. Even if I did have to venture into the "Boys" section to do it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The secret room at the mall

Maybe everybody knows about this secret room at Mirdif City Centre. Maybe nobody does. But it is the best gift a mall has ever given to me.

Tucked behind a discreet sliding door (it blends in with the wall) in the women's restroom area near the food court at Mirdif City Centre is this room:


It's for nursing your baby, or changing his diaper, or having yourself a nice sit-down on a couch while your toddler plays with toys at his/her level.

It's also for going to the bathroom in the same cubicle as your child. For whatever reason (we've all been there).

Everywhere is big enough for a stroller. There are sinks in all the places you need them. There are garbage bins in all the places you need them. This room is exactly what you want when you are at the mall with a baby or small children. Christmas shopping day was today and this little oasis gave me just the breather I needed to get through it.

In the other restrooms at MCC, there are smaller nursing/changing/toilet rooms. They look like this (changing table out of frame to the left; toilet out of frame to the right):
Not as luxurious, but it gets the job done.

Mirdif City Centre is in Dubai. I don't know if they have a specific, universal goal for baby-friendly public spaces, but Sharjah does: Sharjah Baby Friendly. Considering some of the crazy places I have had to nurse babies in this world (including a maintenance shed at the Jordan River in Jordan, where I just prayed that a dude wouldn't walk in while I was there), I am so glad to have proper facilities every once in a while. The secret room at MCC is my favorite.

Friday, December 20, 2013

December 20th, outsourced

This is a little involved, but stay with it. I think it's hilarious - Paul Rudd's long-running (like YEARS long) joke on Conan. Also, how hilarious is that movie clip? [HT Bryce]

My new favorite meme: the elderly little girl. [HT Shawn]

Festive AND somewhat terrifying: an aluminum-cased anthill. [HT Jen]

I know this is a Coke ad, but I still kinda loved it. My favorite part is the subtle change in the guy's expression at 0.41 - 0.51.

I had wondered how the Four Seasons in Damascus was doing. It is (or was, when we were there, even in its not-quite-completed state) one of the most prominent buildings in central Damascus. The place I worked was about 100m down the street. Turns out they still have a spa going there while shelling happens nearby. Bizarre.

Psst - this story about a man emerging from a bunker 14 years after Y2K isn't true. But let's just pretend that it is (listen to the audio). [HT Jessie]

I know this is from a few years ago, but it's Christmas so let's take another look at those guys and their crazy made-up shopping lists.

The reality of stampedes. Chilling.

Aside from the almost unbelievable concentration of high-end luxury automobiles on the campus of the American University of Dubai, my favorite part of this post is that so many of them are parked illegally (on red-bricked sidewalk or buffer areas). [HT Mariko]

An airport security screener shows off his ninja skills by diving to catch a falling baby. Love.

The tale of the German mayor of a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.

Christmas caroling with Amy Poehler in NYC. Arrow??!? [HT Jessie]

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thesis defended!

I'm in a daze right now. When it wears off, I might have forgotten the details, so here goes.

Academic stuff first:

The defense went well. The presentation I gave this morning at the defense was the best one of all the times I've rehearsed it. I was able to answer all the questions raised by the committee to at least some degree. There were no random, totally out-there questions that caught me off guard, which was a recurring fear of mine. Basically, this was a textbook MA defense - I was well prepared, my committee was well prepared, and my thesis was tight enough to accept a few challenges here and there but ultimately stand on its own two feet.

Now for the behind-the-scenes stuff:

The girls came walking downstairs this morning, all dressed up and ready to go. Sometimes I don't give them enough credit for being aware of what is going on in my life. I had told them today was a special day for me, and why, but I was so touched that they remembered, and chose to honor the day by dressing nicely.

I had a friend of ours watch the girls and Sterling near the defense venue so I could nurse Sterling during the deliberations (after the defense/questions but before the verdict). I wanted the girls there, too, because goodness knows they've suffered enough over the last almost-three years of me being in an MA program. They deserve some manaqeesh and Perrier at the end of it. Also, I think it's important for them to see me in a different role than usual, and for my committee to know more about my family life. Healthy exposure all around.

Well, at about the 1-hour mark, as questions were winding down, I heard Sterling crying through the door of the conference room. I could tell it was his hungry cry. Poor baby! Fortunately, my committee heard it, too, and the questions wrapped up quickly. It was a strange way to end a thesis defense, but it was about time to finish up anyway. I left the room so the committee could deliberate, and took Sterling into the bathroom to nurse him.

But then, he wouldn't nurse! I could tell he was hungry, but he must have been able to sense that I was nervous and in a hurry. We were both just getting more and more upset. So I gave up and went back to the conference room to hear, somewhat anti-climactically since everyone else was already there, that I had passed.

We all hung out together for a while enjoying the refreshments. After a few group photos, it was over. Like I said, I'm still in a daze.

Now begins the process of making the few changes that were suggested (all very minor - more like tweaking the wording in a few areas) and running around collecting signatures and printing things out.

I hope I have something more profound to say after all this sinks in!

Me, my committee, and my kids. Would I have liked to be more svelte in these photos that mark this momentous occasion? Yes. But of "write a thesis, manage a household, and lose the baby weight," I could really only choose two. So you can see which two I chose. There is plenty of time for the other.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another due date

My thesis defense is tomorrow. I feel like it's another due date, that this is the second baby I will birth this semester.

I know that when the committee/supervisor process has worked correctly (and mine has), the defense itself is more of a formality than an actual test of the strength of the research. But that doesn't keep me from being nervous about it and making sure that I am super prepared.

I'm extra nervous because the tradition here is to bring refreshments to your defense to enjoy afterward with your committee and anyone else who has attended. This reminds me of living in student housing at the BY and having to do three things in a matter of days: study for/take final exams, clean your apartment for inspections, and pack up/move out. Impossible.

So I'm working on my presentation when I can. Then, when I'm rocking my baby and can't type, I'm running through the menu and food preparation schedule in my head. No big deal.

Except it IS a big deal. The biggest deal! Wish me luck.

Friday, December 13, 2013

December 13th, outsourced

I'm pretty sure South African sign language and ASL are not identical, but here is an ASL interpreter trying to decipher what that guy at Nelson Mandela's memorial was signing. [HT Andrew]

Maybe they should have just hired this little girl (possibly my favorite video this week).

Extreme see-sawing. Wow. [HT Andrew]

The Atlantic's year in photos, parts 1, 2, and 3 (a few of the photos are graphic).

I didn't watch The Sound of Music Live, but I sure did laugh and laugh reading this recap.

Here is a faux-PSA from the faux-80s, featuring Mr. T. [HT Blair]

If the increasing use of the informal 'you' forms in several languages is any indication, we are all friends now. [HT Jeremy]

YouTube's 2013 Rewind.

Take a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, why don't you?

This is the best baby-name read I've had in a while. What is with those post-1940s Adolphs? [HT Lillianne]

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Ministry strikes again

Yesterday, the girls' school informed parents that the last day of school before Winter Break would be today, not next Thursday as was originally planned. Why? Because the Ministry of Education told them so.

The Ministry established a standard school calendar two years ago, which indicated a three-week break in December/January, a two-week break in March/April, and a school year that extended into the first week of July. In my opinion, this was a less than ideal schedule (actually, I think it's insane to have school in July when it's 115+ outside, but whatever. Let's stay with "less than ideal"). Still, the Ministry wanted all the schools on this same schedule as of two years ago.

Somehow, the girls' school avoided compliance. I don't know how. I only know that I was grateful for a more manageable two-week break in December and a school year that ended in June, not July. This year, the school is up for re-accreditation, so maybe that has something to do with why the Ministry cracked down. Now, their schedule is suddenly in line with most of the other schools the neighbor kids are attending, with the apparent exception of one that seems to still have school next week.

Anyway, the point is that once again, thanks to last-minute, Ministry-mandated changes in the school schedule, I am going to have my kids running rampant at home when I was banking on peace and quiet. My thesis defense (!!!!!!!) is scheduled for Wednesday morning. I was hoping to have the days to myself to really nail down my presentation, but now it looks like I'll be cobbling it together in stolen five-minute increments while barking at the girls to go back outside to play.

Oh well.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Immunizations in the UAE

Sterling had his 2-month round of shots today. It's never fun to watch your baby get stabbed with a needle, but I confess that I feel some relief knowing that he's on his way to immunity to many horrible diseases. His unvaccinated state was a small source of worry to me since there are so many weird diseases still roaming around the UAE. I know it will take more doses of these shots to confer full immunity, but like I said, he's on his way.

The immunization schedule here is very similar to what I remember from the US. However, we opted to have Sterling get the BCG (tuberculosis) shot at 10 days, which is not on the US schedule. Today, he had Hexavalent (DTPa, Hib, HepB, IPV) and PCV shots, with an oral administration of Rotavirus.

Interestingly, vaccines are not covered by insurance here. A few years ago, Sharjah ran some kind of promotion (a weird term for it, I know, but that is kind of what it was) on vaccines and they were available for free or low cost at certain hospitals, courtesy of the Ministry of Health. Today, without the promotion, I paid 757dhs (about $200) for the doses themselves, and 200dhs (about $50) for the doctor visit to administer them.

Even more interesting was the way the whole visit proceeded. Sterling had his doctor checkup first, then the doctor wrote a prescription for the vaccinations. I went to the pharmacy to collect them and pay for them (breakdown: hexavalent -168dhs, PCV - 336dhs, and Rotavirus - 253dhs), and then returned to the doctor's office to have the nurse administer them. Very DIY.

Am I annoyed that our insurance covered neither the visit nor the vaccines themselves? Of course. But I'm so thrilled that the vaccines exist that it doesn't really matter.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An accident

A man died on campus on Sunday. He was a delivery man for one of the food outlets in the AUS student center (you can get almost any kind of food delivered here, not just pizza and Chinese). He was out on a road on campus on his motorcycle when he was hit by a car.

Depending on who you talk to - including people who swear they saw it happen and others who are in a position to know due to well connected sources - the man was killed instantly. Or he was alive for a while before paramedics showed up, late. Or he was wearing a helmet. Or he wasn't. Or it was a student who was driving the car that hit the motorcycle, or it was someone else. The only things we know for certain are that he was 31 years old, and that he was from Nepal.

The reason for all this uncertainty is severalfold.

1. News coverage of events like these is inconsistent. It is often hard to find out what "really happened" during some incident.

2. The university has yet to release any kind of official statement, unless you count the brief status update on fb where "they" (whoever was behind the keyboard at the moment) said they could not release any kind of official statement, due to:

3. Legal reasons. All kinds of information that is usually released immediately in the US and elsewhere when an incident like this occurs, remains obfuscated indefinitely here.

While I certainly understand that the university is hesitant to release any kind of official statement against the advice of the police or their lawyers or whoever, I still wish they would. We need to know more about this man who died and not treat his death like it was just another thing on just another day. At the very least, increased official attention to this tragic accident could encourage a (probably temporary, sigh) more attentive and conservative driving habits on campus by both students and faculty.

In the meantime, students are taking matters into their own hands. From the AUS fb page:

I really hope this happens. As she says, it really is the least the AUS community can do.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Cars at Carrefour

Maybe this should be a series. Today's edition:



There was also a Porsche (there is almost always a Porsche), but I was already driving so I didn't take a picture. Someday I'll catch one of the several Maseratis that show up in this parking lot from time to time.

Friday, December 06, 2013

December 6th, outsourced

17 background actors who have no idea what they're doing.

A textual analysis of The Hunger Games.

An interesting essay from a woman whose father was the longest-held hostage in US history, until last week.

Is Dubai the future of cities? Read this article and see what you think. [HT Jeremy]

Here is a fascinating post from my friend Crystal about her experience with the medical care system in the US as she was dealing with a miscarriage.

10 words to cut from your writing. But I'm sooo in love with "just" in casual writing. I hope I can keep it! [HT Jen]

On a related note, here are 8 new punctuation marks we should start using, NOW. [HT Eric D. Snider]

Now that Dubai has landed Expo 2020, here are some things we have to look forward to (not pictured: endless traffic and construction).

The challenge of being poor at America's richest colleges. [HT Andrew]

Girls CAN jump - ski jumping, at the next Olympics. [HT Missy]

This is officially the scariest article I've read since that account of the reporter who pretended to be a boat refugee going to Christmas Island: a world without antibiotics. [HT Andrew]

I know I saw a few of these a few years ago, but here is an even creepier batch of hidden-mother pictures. The eighth and tenth ones down are the best (=scariest). [HT Jen]

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Other Pioneer Day

In December of 1921, an event significant to Mormonism took place. This was an event so meaningful to those who experienced it directly or peripherally that "during the following years, its anniversary was celebrated. Stories and poems were written to immortalize it. Pageants were presented to remind the members of the goodness and mercy of God in their deliverance. This [event] became the rallying cry to induce repentance, just as the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt was by Moses and later prophets as a rallying cry."

What was this event? The escape from Aintab, Turkey, to Aleppo, Syria, of 50 Armenian Mormons, under the direction of an American missionary, Joseph Wilford Booth. When we lived in Syria, the date of these saints' arrival in Aleppo - 16 December 1921 - was referred to as the "other" Pioneer Day.

But my guess is that unless you've spent time in the Near East or sought out this story on your own, you had no idea that such a thing had happened. In honor of the 92nd anniversary of this Other Pioneer Day, let me tell you more. I will quote liberally from the only comprehensive source on this topic that I've ever found: a 1958 MA thesis entitled "A history of the missionary activities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Near East, 1884-1929," by Rao H. Lindsay.

A mission in Turkey had been established in the late 19th century, but by 1909, it had closed due to turmoil in the region, which eventually culminated in the Armenian Genocide and then World War I. In 1921, when former missionary Joseph Wilford Booth returned to the region and re-opened the area for missionary work as mission president, he found that the members had suffered horribly during the 12 years of absence. Entire branches in Turkey had been wiped out, or nearly wiped out, by several factors, including deportation, starvation, and murder. Booth learned of one member from Marash who was deported by the Turks to Iraq ("Mesopotamia" is the term used in Booth's journal) with his family, and then separated from them and death-marched to Deir ez-Zor in Syria. Once there, he was tied to other prisoners (there were 500 in all) and shot at. He was not hit, but played dead and later escaped with seven other survivors to safety among Arabs living nearby. He never saw his family again. He returned to Marash, only to die in a massacre there in 1920.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Kennedy and Somali pirates

Killing Kennedy: The End of CamelotKilling Kennedy: The End of Camelot by Bill O'Reilly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audiobook, read by the author (in his unique cadence: "What he DOESN'T know is that BOBBY Kennedy has just. done. the same. thing."

This was a great summary of all the stuff you've always wanted to know about Kennedy and his assassination: his war-time heroism, the election, Cuba, Marilyn Monroe, his relationship with Jackie, mob ties, etc. It stays pretty surface-level, though. I would guess that someone who lived through this era, or someone who is even a moderate history buff, already knows everything in this book. But I certainly didn't, so yay.


Prodigy (Legend, #2)Prodigy by Marie Lu

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF. This series is dead to me. I got 25% through (as per my Kindle), and in that space of time, I encountered THREE deal-breaking moments. I let it go the first two times, but the third made me throw in the towel. But what happens in the rest of the story??? you might be asking. The answer: don't know; don't care.

SPOILERS, if you want to know the deal-breakers. [The first was when Day said "I love you" to June. Right before that happened, I thought to myself, "if he even says 'I love you,' that's IT." Then, when the scene opened with some paper clips scattered around the room, I thought to myself, "if he even made June a ring out of those paper clips, that's IT." Finally, when June started getting all reminisce-y about Thomas and Mateis, I thought to myself, "if the author even re-writes her own book's history to make one or the both of them gay, that's IT." And it turned out that that really was it.]

Also, there wasn't nearly enough talk about the clothes, like in Legend.


World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2)World After by Susan Ee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Until about 70% of the way through, I had almost decided that the fact that I have hardly liked any sequel this whole year (see above for one example of many) meant that it was me, not them. But turns out it probably is them, because World After is a great sequel. And it gets great right around the 70% mark (before that, it was just good).

I think the reason I like this series is because I like the characters. I think Penryn is one of the more believable and relateable heroines to have been written in YA lit in recent years. And forgive me, but I love her mother, too.

I'm looking forward to the next book in this series, even if it takes another 2+ years to come out, as this one did.


Hostage ThreeHostage Three by Nick Lake

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ostensibly, this is a book about a spoiled teenage girl falling in love with the Somali pirate who hijacks the yacht she is sailing around the world in. Total eye-roll, right? Just taking the "good girl fancies pirate-archetype character" plot in a very literal, lame, completely unbelievable direction, right?

Wrong. This book really affected me, against my expectations, almost against my will. Every time I thought this book was going to go "there" - "there" being some gimmicky, over-the-top place - it stopped just short. In the end, I am left with the same kind of feelings I had when I finished The Book Thief. I'm not ready to say that this book is as good as that one, but there is certainly more to it than meets the eye. (And I mean that very literally since I happen to think this book deserves a better cover.)

I can't guarantee you'll like this book as much as I did. But even if you don't, the the worst that will have happened is that you read a really haunting, beautifully written book. As far as "teenage girl sorts herself out" books go, this one is probably my favorite.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Happy 42nd UAE National Day!

Yesterday was UAE National Day proper. National Day is Magdalena's favorite holiday. I think it's because it's the only holiday around here that is universally celebrated in a very visual way, what with the light displays and flags hanging up and UAE-themed dresses/shirts/caps/wigs:

It took me three trips to this store over the last few weeks to finally believe that yes, that is Britney Spears.

The kids dressed up to go visit the Emirati celebrations on campus last week.

They also dressed up on their unexpected day off.

And they will dress up again for the rescheduled celebration at school on Thursday.

Singing the UAE national anthem, in a photo:
and a video (she gets a little iffy on the second verse):


Of historical interest: National Day 2010 was not a very big deal. There were lights and decorations and such, but it was not a day off and there was no official logo. But when the 40th National Day happened in 2011, all of a sudden we got two days off and the decorations were kicked up a notch. That standard has been maintained ever since. Neat.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Righteous indignation

I think Magdalena will be good at writing letters to the editor someday. The other day, the neighborhood kids were playing with some tree clippings that were piled on the sidewalk, waiting to be picked up by the grounds crew. Magdalena came inside all in a huff and pounded out this letter.


"Poisonous trees that are [be]ing holding by Kaia and Miriam. But Majd isn't holding the poisonous trees to boys and girls. Dangerous to hold poisonous things like a poisonous tree. And never do it again never ever never ever never never never ever."

But later I went out and she was playing with the tree clippings, so.

(Jeremy said those particular tree clippings aren't poisonous, by the way. There are some around here that are, but not those. Good on Magdalena for being cautious, though.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

November 29th, outsourced

If you are a high school student and your English teacher is always trying to convince you that the books you're reading in class are just dripping with symbolism, read this article so you can be a smart-aleck in class.

Do periods used in text messages mean you're angry? Maybe. Or is that just - maybe [HT Andrew]

New Yorkers react to a stranger sleeping on their shoulder in the subway.

This girl from Massachusetts has an amazing voice. You won't believe which competition she's poised to win!! Sorry, couldn't resist the headline Upworthy would give this story. [HT Andrew]

Sheikh Hamdan (the UAE's equivalent of Prince William, except he's still single) waved the flag on top of the Burj Khalifa in celebration of Dubai's successful Expo 2020 bid. Woah.

Fun with public statues. I want to be friends with these people. (Wait - I WAS friends with these people.) [HT Kathy]

I'm not sure I can take all the info at face value (their data collection method is a little strange), but here is an interesting look at regional variations in Thanksgiving menus. Mushroom stuffing? Really?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The reluctant holiday

No, not Thanksgiving. Ain't nobody got time for Thanksgiving here. Gather 'round for a story of a reluctant holiday, or the holiday that almost wasn't, and actually wasn't, for some people, but not others. Or something.

It was announced around 9pm yesterday that Dubai's bid for Expo 2020 was successful. This was met by wild celebration in Dubai and around the country, including fireworks from the Burj Khalifa (what an expensive and risky "just in case!" those firework preparations must have been!). For the last few days, as we've waited to hear the results of Expo 2020 voting, there have been rumors circulating that if Dubai won, Thursday (today) would be declared a holiday. We already have a four-day weekend this weekend because National Day is on the 2nd - we get Sunday and Monday off. Thursday would make this a rockstar FIVE-day weekend.

Complicating things further was the fact that all the kids' schools National Day celebrations - assemblies, making giant flags in the football field, potluck lunch celebrations, parades, etc. - were set to take place on Thursday. It wasn't really even a school day so much as a celebration day. But still, those rumors of Thursday being a holiday were just that - rumors.

When the Expo 2020 announcement was made last night, everyone waited with bated breath to hear if school would be canceled. Personally, I really hoped that it wouldn't. I had big plans to spend all day today cooking Thanksgiving dinner and cleaning the house in preparation therefor, encumbered by only one child, not three. Plus, National Day is Magdalena's favorite holiday, and I knew her gentle spirit would be crushed to wake up and find that the school celebrations had effectively been canceled.

As of bedtime, no holiday had been announced. But at Sterling's 4am feeding, I checked online and stumbled, bleary-eyed, into a huge firestorm that had erupted on fb and Twitter between AUS and its students. Because the Sheikh of Dubai (and Vice President of the UAE) had gone ahead and called it a holiday, and the kids' schools were canceled, but AUS was staying open. This led to a lot of back-and-forth about the precise meaning of "educational institution" as it was used in the announcement about the impromptu holiday.

Meanwhile, my game plan for the day changed in an instant. I am so glad I did a lot of the cooking yesterday, because with all the kids home and going crazy with the pent-up energy they were planning on spending at their school's celebrations, I was frantically removing things from my to-do list. Not crossing them off - removing them. Fattoush salad became a vegetable platter. Cleaning the bathroom became wiping down the bathroom. Vacuuming and mopping became sweeping, and then maybe spot-checking the floor with a Dettol wipe on my foot. My neighbor had the right idea: she set up some tables and chairs outside, stocked them with sundry art supplies, and invited the neighbor kids to have at it. Brilliant.

Obviously I've made my peace with the change in plans since I'm sitting here blogging about it. If you care to read through the angry fb debates, go ahead. It's quite entertaining. Happy Thanksgiving! If you have the day off. And happy National Day! Sorry for the canceled celebrations. Finally, happy Expo 2020 day, whether or not you have the day off.













The Dolores Umbridge picture was the best. (Also the jab at AUD.)

Also, this exchange on Twitter. Whoever was running fb/Twitter for AUS yesterday had a long night.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Here's why I didn't blog yesterday

As of yesterday, my thesis is out of my hands and with my committee. So Jeremy and I decided to make yesterday our Anniversary (Observed). The actual day was on the 20th, but Jeremy - for the third year running - had a conference that day in Al Ain. Yesterday was the best we could do.

Now, don't get any wild ideas about us celebrating our 12th in style. While it was nice to get married in the middle of a semester back in the day, rather than a school break like most everyone else at the BY, that means that our anniversary always falls during, you know, the middle of the semester. Our plan for last night was to watch the newest episode of The Amazing Race while eating mint chocolate chip ice cream from Baskin Robbins. We aimed very low with our anniversary plans (don't worry, it was gladly done). And we still missed the mark.

Sterling cried and cried all the early evening. I finally took him up to the bath because it's the only thing that will sometimes calm him down. While I was bathing him, I told the girls to get ready for bed. Jeremy got caught up in finishing up some gardening outside, and by the time I was finished getting Sterling all clean, dried, and jammied, the girls were still running somewhat amok and Jeremy was elbow-deep in dirt outside. So I had a screaming baby and two girls who weren't ready for bed and no one had prepared the show on the computer, which takes time because VPN/finicky website. Not really conducive to the mood of celebration.

Finally everyone got settled down. We got the show queued up and got our ice cream ready to eat. But in all the earlier jostling trying to get Sterling rocked into calmness, the wireless router had fallen off its perch. Now the show kept stopping and starting as the internet came in and out. Instead of kicking back and watching an episode while eating ice cream, we sat in peevish silence trying to troubleshoot the internet as our ice cream melted into puddles in our mugs.

In the end, the ice cream got eaten, the show got watched, and Sterling went to sleep. It wasn't really the anniversary we deserved, but it's the one we get right now. And I didn't feel like blogging afterward.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Some favorite words

Do you have favorite words in English? I do. Here are a few.

Robust. The word robust makes everything better - and more descriptive. Just this morning as I was revising my thesis, I changed out "good representative sample" for "robust representative sample." See?

Disingenuous. This basically means "insincere," but with more...panache. It makes you sound more intelligent when you criticize someone for trying to sound more intelligent.

Penultimate. How can all that meaning - "last but one in a series of things" - be wrapped up in one word? Another favorite is Roy Blount Jr.'s made-up portmanteau of antepenultimatum: "It's when, for instance, you're absorbed in something outdoors, and you hear your mother calling, 'For the last time, come in for supper,' and you know from the tone of her voice that you really will absolutely have to come in, not this time, and not the next time she calls you, but the time after that."

Accoutrements. It means "stuff."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A storm, delayed

On Thursday morning before school, I packed a little extra food in the girls' lunchboxes. Then I gathered them around me for a mini lesson in emergency preparedness. I told them that before they got on the bus to come home that afternoon, they needed to make sure their water bottles were full, and go to the bathroom. Because - duhn duhn DUHN - it was going to rain.

A storm was supposed to blow into town right around the time that school got out. When it rains here, everything and everyone goes a bit crazy. The streets flood, and drivers either abandon their cars or endure the resulting gridlock, where it can take three hours to go three kilometers. I was worried that the girls' afternoon bus ride would take a lot longer than usual, and I wanted them to be prepared.

Well, as it turned out, the UAE Ministry of Education ordered all schools to close at 10.30am, so the girls were home well before the worst hit. I was glad I wouldn't have to worry about them being on the roads when they flooded.

The thing is, though, the storm didn't come that afternoon. It drizzled a bit, and that was all, until about 4.30 on Friday morning. Then it stormed and stormed and stormed. It was beautiful - Sterling and I sat up and watched it.

So it was a false alarm, but a very exciting one for the girls. And we got our storm after all.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The miserable trifecta

Twice in the last week, I've achieved that miserable trifecta in mom-of-three-dom: being woken up by all three of my kids in one night. All for different reasons, too! (Bad dream, cough, and infant one night; I can't remember the reasons the other night, because sleep deprivation.)

Bonus points to the person who can claim to have been woken up by more of their own children in one night (Crys? Liz?). We belong to a horrible club.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22nd, outsourced

Alfonso Cuaron's IKEA (a la Gravity).

First walk on the ice. I can't remember who sent that to me, but thank you for those 15 seconds of cute. For more cute, check out this toddler napping with his puppy. I know that last link took over the internet this week, but it deserved it. Take another look. Awwwww. [HT Jen]


This week, in map fun: Mormons in America (my childhood county is 3.76% Mormon), regional names, and concentrations of high education levels and income. [HT Andrew and Brad]

OK, the thing is, don't hate me, but I kind of can't stand Upworthy. Or at least the gimmicky CLICK MEEEE!!!! headlines they come up with. Here's more about those headlines. (See also: an Upworthy headline generator.)



How many households are like yours? For me: 2.89%. If we add in our nanny from last year, then we drop down to .02%. [HT Liz]

The original article seems to have been removed, so I hope this cached link works for you: the difference between seniors and freshmen at the BYU. [HT Lyse]


Anonymous Thank Yous. For your daily dose of warm fuzzies. [HT Sarah]

Seriously, the Danish royal family's portrait is....really weird.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It takes a village...of young Arab men

Parenting is such a communal task here. I've received all sorts of unsolicited advice from Arab moms on how to take care of baby Sterling, from covering him up from head to toe even when it's 40C outside, to eating lots of cakes and cookies to increase my milk supply (I kind of like that last one).

But I've also received parenting advice from the unlikeliest of creatures: young, unmarried Arab men.

First, the dairy aisle stockboy at the grocery store saw me putting low-fat yogurt and milk into my cart. He informed me, very kindly and earnestly, that I should be eating full-fat products because of the baby. He even pointed out to me where these full-fat products were located.

Then yesterday, I was walking with Sterling in the stroller to the little store on campus to get some orange juice. I was halfway there when a male student in a really nice car - so nice that I couldn't even tell you what kind it was - slowed down rapidly, turned around, drove back toward me, got out of the car, and told me not to go to the store because they had just sprayed for bugs (?) nearby and there were still fumes in the air there that would be harmful for me and the baby.

What could I do but say thanks and go back home? It was the most gallant thing to happen to me in a long time. So I turned around and went back home, as a symbol of my appreciation for his concern.

Maybe I should start asking these guys for their advice on how to soothe a colicky baby...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A newly minted middle child

I was going through an area of drawing/craft/creativity explosion in the girls' room to see what was worth keeping, and I came across a pile of papers on Magdalena's nightstand. As I looked through them, tears came to my eyes. And even though they aren't the finest examples of her artistical (as she calls it) ability, I will definitely be keeping them. Here's why.

Sterling is a pretty colicky baby, which just means that he cries a lot, especially in the evening. He cries if you hold him. He cries harder if you put him down. He cries even if you nurse him, or swaddle him, or put him in the football hold, or any of the other tricks you are going to tell me to try. We've tried it. He's slowly growing out of it, but for the first 6 weeks of his life, bedtime for the girls was (and still is, occasionally) a very non-peaceful occasion around here. Usually, it consists of me saying to the girls, "get ready for bed. Then go to bed. When he finally gives up crying and goes to sleep, I will come read to you/snuggle you/say good night. If you are still awake, that is." Then I go wrangle my armful of screaming baby and leave the girls all by their lonesomes. So sad.

But actually, this works out pretty well for Miriam. She just picks up her book and reads. But Majd isn't much of a solo silent reader yet. So on those evenings, she would grab some colors or a pencil and draw. That's the stack of papers I came across. The drawings of a forlorn little 5-year-old whose mama can't tuck her into bed just yet.

A Marauder's Map scribbled on an envelope. I guess this one only works for Ginny?

 A map of the bedroom.

Fanciful creatures (she loves those), including the lady from The Piano Guys' Don't You Worry Child video.
Our family. I'm the one on the far right, and that's Sterling in the wrap on my tummy.

More fanciful creatures.

There were lots more drawings that I'm not including here. So many drawings, representing the long periods of time I have to spend tending to Sterling in the evenings while the girls take care of themselves. I love these drawings, even as they make me sad. They represent a youngest child displaced, set loose from her familiar orbit and embarking on a new one that neither she nor I have figured out yet. Here's hoping we get it together soon, so that pile of papers can stop growing.


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