Sunday, June 30, 2013

Flavia de Luce and the Romanovs

You already heard my opinions about MWF Seeking BFF and Cleaning House.

The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns, #2)The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How fun is it to read a book (The Girl of Fire and Thorns), love it, and find out that it has a sequel...that's already been released?? So fun. I liked this book even more than the first one. But now I really do have to wait for the next one. These covers are still awful, by the way. In my opinion.

Speaking from Among the Bones (Flavia de Luce, #5 )Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flavia de Luce is growing up. She's not quite as precocious in this one and she's not quite as invisible to the townspeople. So while this isn't the cutesy-cleverest Flavia de Luce yet, it was still a delightful read. Flavia is growing up, but so are the mysteries she solves, and that's a good thing.

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy, #1)Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a pretty solid, spooky thriller/mystery that I really enjoyed, even if later on I noticed a few weaknesses that bring its rating down a notch. For example, this was one of those times where the author's mind's eye (as it were) worked differently than mine. There were a lot of scenes that I had to re-read because I couldn't quite place the movement of the characters properly because of the way things were described. But that also could have been because I was pretty much devouring this book at high speed and sometimes you miss things when you JUST CAN'T WAIT TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!!!!

If you're looking for a book that has that eerie-slow-chill-mystery thing going on, maybe with some humor and romance thrown in the mix, this is a great pick. It's Imaginary Girls without the pesky drugs and alcohol, and City of Bones without being so fanciful.

The Romanovs: The Final ChapterThe Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My biggest complaint about this book is something that can't be helped: it was published in 1996 (my version says 1995). A few threads of the central mystery (the fate of the remains of Anastasia/Marie and Alexis, for example) remain unsolved in this book, which was so frustrating. When you read a book all about what happened to the Romanovs, you want to find out, you know, ALL ABOUT what happened to the Romanovs. I guess my next stop will be Wikipedia to see what developments there have been in the almost 20 years since this book was written.

Otherwise, I really liked this book. You should be aware before you start that "The Final Chapter" refers not to the Romanovs' experience inside Ipatiev House, but the search for what happened to them, years later. There is also a section of the book about various Romanov imposters over the years, and another about present-day Romanovs and their pretensions to the nonexistent Russian monarchy.

I can't speak to how generally enthralling this book would be to an uninterested party. I have been interested in this story since I was a kid (thank you, Unsolved Mysteries), and living in Russia only intensified that interest. I can totally see someone reading this book and giving it a meh, but to me it was quite fascinating. I would recommend it to anyone who already has an interest in the demise of the Romanovs. Familiarity with insane Russian politics helps, too.

The Elite (The Selection, #2)The Elite by Kiera Cass

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can't remember the last time I disliked a sequel so much! Maybe Insurgent? Sad. There was hardly any story to speak of, and the heroine was so frustrating to read about. Plus, I hate it when characters in a book are stupid or make dumb decisions just for the sake of the plot. In this book, [SPOILERS ahead; highlight to reveal], the Prince casually loans American a super-old, super-important, politically sensitive book from his super-top-secret library, like it's no biggie. STUPID. Then America keeps it in her room, oh-so-cleverly hidden among her piano books. She keeps it there even after rebels repeatedly break into the palace and rifle through everyone's rooms, looking for...wait for it...BOOKS, specifically. And it never occurs to America to, you know, put the book back in the super-top-secret library. Nah, it will be fine with the piano books. And then she reads excerpts from it on national television, just cuz??? But of course she's surprised when this decision has major consequences and she blames it on, essentially, "I'm just a girl and I was upset, ok???" STUPID. END SPOILERS.

Sigh. It's too bad, because the first one was fun enough to overlook its weaknesses. This one, not so much.

Friday, June 28, 2013

June 28th, outsourced

I don't know about you, but honestly, my first thought after watching that suddenly ubiquitous "Evolution of the Swimsuit" video was, "wow, that was a great advertisement for this woman's swimsuit design business!" Look, I happen to like the take-away quote, "modesty is not about covering up our bodies because they're bad. It's about revealing our dignity." But there are so many problems with this video, not the least of which is misinterpreting that Princeton research study. Read more here and here. [HT Jessie on the second link]

Here in the UAE there has been a lot of talk about a SARS-like novel coronavirus making the rounds in the region. In Saudi Arabia, the virus is affecting more men than women. Why?

Ooooh, more awesome National Geographic photo contest entrants!

The UAE is one of the hardest places in the world to gain citizenship. On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to just plain be born there, the US is one of the easiest places to gain citizenship. Take The Atlantic's citizenship quiz and see if you measure up to what you have (assuming what you have is US citizenship). My score was 38. Dang Supreme Court Justices.

Foreign Policy's annual Postcards from Hell gallery.

Tipping should be eliminated. I agree. [HT Andrew]

Two teen-aged residents of the UAE are to be deported because they were caught kissing.

A kid from Gaza won the most recent Arab Idol. This is a Big Deal.

Speaking of: do you want to see a bunch of young, talented Arabs (including the above-mentioned Arab Idol winner) singing songs from Les Mis? I thought so. Overproduced and cheesy? Yes. Stirring nonetheless? Absolutely.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: Cleaning House, by Kay Wills Wyma

How appropriate that when I started listening to the audiobook of Cleaning House, I was taking advantage of my kids' having gone to the pool to properly clean up the living room. It was one of those times where it was just so much easier to do it myself rather than have them do it when they got home.

In my defense, this particular clean-up job came on the heels of the severe end-of-school paper/artwork vomit that had spewed forth from their backpacks for a week straight. If they cleaned up, I knew they would argue for keeping each shred or scrap of their work. If I cleaned up, I would be able to sift through and keep only the very best, without having to defend each decision to each girl.

But the subtitle of Cleaning House is A Mom's Twelve-month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement. And wow, did I ever want to learn more about that. I am absolutely guilty of "enabling" (the author's term) my kids' occasional attitudes of entitlement. You know, those times where you ask your kid to do x task and she says, "but that's all the way upstaaaaairs! And I don't want to go alllll the way up there and come allllll the way back downstaaaaairs!" The unstated subtext, of course, is, "Mom, you go do it for me."

Ooooooooh, that attitude really gets me. It is a surefire way to me losing my patience almost immediately. And yet, in situations less egregious or obvious than the one above, I give in. I'm pretty sure we all do. Because we're running late and we need to get going, or because standing your ground takes so much energy and you're exhausted, or because you know the kid is just grumpy from a long day or a late night. There's always a reason to give in.

Kay Wills Wyma would have us buck up and treat our kids like the capable human beings they are. This book covers her successes and failures at teaching her kids to tidy their rooms, cook and clean up after meals, do gardening work, clean bathrooms, do laundry, grocery shop and run other errands, and more. This is not an earth-shattering book with careful theories to take notes on and lots of erudite research to sift through. It's just a book about (and written by) a mom who decided to change the way she ran her home. It is clear, honest, insightful, and very relatable, even if the ages of her kids (3-17ish) or the size of her family (five children) don't quite match up with mine.

Furthermore, the lessons she learns are applicable to almost any household situation. There is nothing in this book that a working mom or student mom can't do as well as a SAHM, though some modifications might be required. But actually, modifications of what? Like I said, there is no checklist or method to follow - the book is more about an attitude shift toward the work that needs to be done in the home, rather than a detailed instruction list for how to (as is stated in the title) end youth entitlement.

And my attitude has definitely shifted. I am already asking my kids to do more around the house and take more responsibility for their actions and possessions. Yes, our housekeeper still does all the heavy cleaning but there is plenty left over for the kids to do. For example, I am making a more conscious effort to teach basic cooking skills to Miriam and ask both girls to "help" me in the kitchen even though (who's with me??) it makes more of a mess and takes longer. That alone is a huge step forward for me. In some ways, I feel like we've been running on survival mode for the past 2+ years with me studying for my MA and working part-time. In these busy times, it's usually, "I need to cook dinner right now, and I only have 25 minutes to do it." That doesn't allow for much homey gather-around-the-kitchen-counter learning time for the girls and me. But this book has opened my eyes to smaller ways of teaching, and I'm taking advantage of less-busy times to show the girls how to contribute more and be less reliant on me.

I have other ideas of things to teach them over the next few months and I am - this is so weird - actually excited about it. This book has given me just the kick-start and the energy I needed to really make a change in the expectations I have of my children.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hygiene kits for Syrian refugees

(How have I not posted about this? Oh yeah, I was waiting for Jeremy to send me the pictures he took. I still am waiting, in fact. No worries: in the meantime, I am ripping one off a fb friend's wall.)

A few weeks ago, the charitable works branch of our church got together with UNHCR to provide help to Syrian refugees. In this particular case, this help took the form of hygiene kits that will be distributed to the refugees. The work took place on a Saturday morning. Jeremy was able to go; I wasn't. The venue was a huge UNHCR warehouse in Jebel Ali (Dubai).

Those are some church friends in the foreground. Jeremy is doing some heavy lifting in the background. As Jeremy explained it to me, there were boxes full of one individual item - toothbrushes, say, or shampoo. The volunteers' job that day was to take one item from each box and put it in another box that would eventually form a completed hygiene kit as it made its way down the line. Then, they stacked the boxes in palettes to be ready for shipping.

I think I heard there were about 140 volunteers there. Some were from our congregation. Others were from different Mormon congregations in the UAE. Others still probably weren't Mormon at all (the UNHCR employees, for example). About 5000 hygiene kits were assembled, and they were labeled only as coming from "LDS Charities." It's possible that a Syrian would know that acronym (really - remember that time a random guy in the Damascus Old City saw Jeremy wearing a BYU shirt and called out, "JOSEPH SMITH!!!"??), but not at all likely. The point is not to raise visibility of the church in Syrian refugee camps. The point is to provide them with hygiene kits.

I'm glad Jeremy could contribute to this project, even if I couldn't. I've helped put together hygiene kits before, mostly as a kid for church service projects, mostly intended for unfamiliar, far-flung regions of conflict, but this is the first time said service has had a personal connection.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

America 2013

We weren't planning on going to the US this year. When we moved here, we tentatively planned to visit the US only every other year. But we also planned to be flexible.

A few months ago, we were trying out the idea of certain summer plans, and a big component of them was going somewhere where we could hike and bike and spend a lot of time outdoors in beautiful surroundings. Originally, Germany or Austria or Slovakia was going to be the venue for this travel. Then one Saturday morning, I got to thinking about it and realized that we could hike and bike and spend a lot of time outdoors in beautiful the US. FOR FREE (except the plane ticket*). And see family in the bargain. So we changed tacks and went to Germany/Austria for Spring Break, thus freeing up our summer for another epic American adventure.

This change in plans was facilitated by the fact that I had left my weekly DXB-SEA fare alert in place. It's always good to keep an eye on fares for routes you plan on traveling so you know a good one when you see one. Well, during the same week that we were reconsidering our plans not to go to the US, fares dipped as low as we'd ever seen them in two years of tracking them. It was a perfect storm.

So, yeah. We are going to the US this summer! We leave in a few weeks. This time, I will take the kids ahead of Jeremy (he's teaching during summer term) instead of having a two-week-long Me Party like I did last year. We won't be there for quite as long as last year, but it should be enough time so that we don't wear out our welcome. We are also experimenting with flying only to Seattle (a direct flight on Emirates) and having some long-suffering soul from my family come pick us up there, instead of paying the extra $x to fly four people from Seattle to Portland (and back). We'll see how that goes. On the one hand, it's nice to get off the plane and be at your final destination city. On the other hand, direct flights can be worth their weight in gold (whatever that know what I mean).

I'm not looking forward to the long-haul travel and the brutal time zone adjustments, or shifting along in childhood bedrooms. But both sides of the family did such a fantastic job of showing us a great time last year that we are all looking forward to another action-packed summer in the US. Action-packed or, you know, me lying on the couch gorging on library books I can't get here (though working on my thesis is more likely) while the kids forage for blueberries or raspberries in the grandparents' backyard. Ahhh, SUMMER!

*FAQ: I thought Jeremy's work paid for the family's plane tickets every year! A: Kind of. There is a fund we can draw from to purchase plane tickets to wherever we want. However, if we don't use it, it gets deposited in our bank account. So yes, the tickets are paid for, but also, they're kind of not. See?

Friday, June 21, 2013

June 21st, outsourced

I could have sworn I linked to something like this a year or two ago, but here is a new collection of photos showing a week's worth of food in different places.

Yes, that may have been a dumb answer, but you know what? It was a dumb question: In slight defense of Miss Utah, USA.

Considering how often we go camping in the wild, this is a product that could change my life. For starters, I would no longer need 360 degree privacy coverage when I need to pee (men can get away with 90 or less). Do you know how easy it is to find 360 degrees of privacy in the desert? Yeah. Not very.

It was only a matter of time before Feminist Taylor Swift got herself a Twitter account. [HT Liz]

The complicated copyright history of "Happy Birthday to You." On a related note, I am shocked to learn that "Good Morning to [You]" is an actual song. I thought that was something my mom made up when I was a kid in order to maximize wake-up annoyance.

WATERMELON. OREOS. Somebody in the US please buy these for me before someone decides it was a bad idea and they take them off the shelves.

Now THIS is a use of Pinterest I could really get behind: My imaginary well-dressed daughter. It's Catalog Living, but with kids' clothing. The girl is named Quinoa. Perfect.

Early monsoon rains flood northern India.

An interactive pollution map of Los Angeles. One of the first times I went there as a kid (to visit grandparents), I asked my mom, "why does it hurt to breathe here?" That was when I learned the word smog.

I posted on fb yesterday about taking the kids to McDonald's on an ice cream run. I wanted to try a McFloat (yes, they have those here - Coke, Fanta, or Sprite). I asked them to substitute Diet Coke for the Coke. No biggie, right? Well, they wouldn't give it to me. "There is no protocol for that," they told me. I'm totally over it (not), but at least telling that story on fb led my friend Liz to share with me this video about McDonald's snobbery (fairly mild but not for kids; there's an s-bomb toward the end).

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Miriam and Harry Potter

Miriam has started reading the Harry Potter books, which means half the time I walk into the living room these days, I am greeted by this sight:

And it is marvelous in my eyes. I love that she is reading independently and enjoying it. I taught her to read three years ago and it was sometimes (often?) a very difficult struggle involving tears, not necessarily all from her. Moments like this - and I'm not saying this to be trite - make it all worthwhile. Really.

One observation and one issue:

Observation. Some of the vocabulary in the HP books is beyond her level, and every once in a while when she's telling me about what she's reading, I find out that she is pronouncing things incorrectly in her head as she reads. I totally remember this happening to me when I was a kid (or, um, an adult - see here and here). For example, she said "Hermione" as "HER-mee-own," (didn't we all?). "Dementors" was something like "DE-mentators." She got all the way to the last chapter of HP2 before she finally asked what "Slytherin's HEAR" was - Slytherin's "heir," that is. So adorable.

Issue. She is reading these faster than I anticipated when I suggested she start. Right now, she's about halfway through HP3. If she holds her same pace as HP1 and HP2, she will finish it in two or three more days. Then I'll have to decide if I want to let her read HP4 (and 5 and 6 and 7) on her own. In my opinion, those books are where the series gets darker and more mature. She's 7 years old and I know that's old enough for some kids, but Miriam is sensitive to scary media so she's not as used to it as some kids might be. Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Living under surveillance

All this recent talk of PRISM has brought back memories of having our conversations and activities monitored when we lived in Russia. I also believe we were monitored in Syria, but to a lesser extent.

I've already talked a little about what it was like to be spied on in Russia. In Syria, we were never sure if anyone was watching or listening in, but it was a safe bet to assume that at least sometimes, they were. Especially at church (held at a residential apartment), which made those times we sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" as the opening hymn more than just reaaaallly awkward. When we traveled through Syria in the summer of 2010, we had a minder following us for part of the time, to the extent that a taxi driver in Lattakia remarked on their presence.

In both of these situations, we took great comfort in knowing for ourselves that we weren't involved in any subversive activities and that we were, in fact, really boring people. However, when you know someone is listening (or could be listening, and in the end, the distinction doesn't really matter) to you at all times and following you around a lot, it absolutely has an effect on the way you live your daily life. Here's what it's like to live under surveillance.

You watch what you say, at all times. I know, duh, right? But think about it: in some ways, it's as if you're living your life in an airport security line. No jokes about bombs. No jokes about terrorists. No casual remarks that could be taken the wrong way. Except you're inside your own home (or talking on your own phone) and the forbidden topics are spying, or the host government, or inside knowledge about friends and family. One of the basic rules of spying and spy recruitment is that if you can find out someone's weaknesses or secrets, or the weaknesses and secrets of someone's family members, you can exploit them for your own gain. Have you ever talked with your mom about your husband's secret alcohol problem? Have you confided in your sister about an affair you considered, or had? Do you talk with your husband about your coworker who you think is gay but who you also think doesn't want anyone to know he's gay? These are all extreme examples, but they are also huge no-no's if you're under surveillance, at least in certain countries and contexts.

On a related note, the prayers you say out loud with others become necessarily rote and benign. I realize this is not a habit that everyone has, but praying out loud with Jeremy while we lived in Russia was kind of a joke. It was meaningful and we took it as seriously as we could, of course, but we could also never really pray out loud together about serious issues. Because that's the kind of stuff you don't want your minder to be privy to.

You absolutely pretend you don't know anyone is listening. This is kind of a weird phenomena - for some reason, it always just seemed impolite to admit that we knew someone was listening or watching or following. And in return, "they" continued to be fairly discreet about the manner in which they listened, watched, and followed. We heard stories (some first-hand, some second-hand) about people who did not respect this unwritten rule and who had all kinds of annoying or actually unpleasant things happen, like messily searched rooms or - really - pee all over the toilet seat. It has been more than ten years since I heard that last story and I still can't get over it.

You try to get dressed away from any mirrors. Another weird one. Look, to this day I don't know if there were any cameras in our apartment in Moscow. I only know that one entire wall of our apartment was covered in a huge mirror. We covered it up with a nice, 60s-era Russian bedspread almost immediately. The "what if...?" factor just made us too squeamish.

You are careful about who you associate with. This goes two ways: on the one hand, you don't want to be connected with any troublemakers. On the other hand, sometimes YOU (as an American) would be considered the troublemaker for someone else, and your friendship with them could cause serious problems for that person or their family. There were times when we kept our distance from friends because it was just easier that way for both of us.

Finally, you get used to it. Really! Staying away from certain conversation topics really does become second nature. In fact, I remember having to make a conscious effort to get un-used to it when we moved back to the US.

Though as it turns out, perhaps I shouldn't have tried so hard. Ha ha, just kidding! Because PRISM only applied to non-citizens overseas...right?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Election wasteland

The UAE may not be a democracy, but the principles of voting for a candidate you believe in are alive and well in AUS's student council elections, which were held last month. I never had my camera with me during the height of the activity (which was as intense as anything I ever saw at the BYU), but I did capture this shot of a post-election wasteland.

I think it used to say "VOTE."

As far as I can determine, the way the elections are set up here is that people interested in running for the various offices put together a mini-political party of sorts. Then they develop a common platform as well as advertising, which is usually represented by a particular color. This time around, we had the purple and red candidates. The campaign posters usually feature a glamour-shots-ish photo of the candidate with his/her name and the position s/he is seeking, followed by the party slogan. The purple party had a great slogan that was ruined by an unfortunate typo. It was something like "We will: Lead. Advocate. Lister." That unfortunate typo was reproduced on all the 50 million posters around campus. Oh well.

From the AUS blog, here is a photo of a common election setup around campus (and a more detailed post about the process):

In the end, there could only be one student body president, etc., but the unsuccessful candidates took it all in stride. Everyone seems to have a lot of fun with the elections, setting up booths and handing out freebies and doing everything they can to encourage people to vote. It's a hectic week on campus but it's also fun to see what the students come up with each year.

Friday, June 14, 2013

June 14th, outsourced

From Russia: giant sinkholes and yet another amazing dashcam video compilation of incredible near-misses. Or non-misses that people walked away from. That first one - !!!! Or the one at 1:10!!!! [HT Jeremy]

I know this is a sideshow to the main issue, but I had to laugh at one designer's makeover of those horribly 90s PRISM slides. [HT Michael]

Would you like to watch three minutes of a 2-year-old making trick shots? I thought so.

In 1961, a married woman applied to grad school at Harvard. She got a letter in response that said, in part, "could you kindly write us a page or two at your earliest convenience indicating specifically how you might plan to combine a professional life in city planning with your responsibilities to your husband and a possible future family?" Here is her response 52 years later. [HT Kaylee]

America in color, 1939-1943. It's amazing how a color photo can make a difference. [HT Suzanne]

What happens to women who are denied abortions?

Beard memes and the proper hijab narrative. I find these fascinating. [HT Erin]

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sheikh sighting

Yesterday I left the house to do some errands and ran smack into the entourage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed al Qassimi. He's the one in the yellow/golden robe.

He was attending the opening of an art exhibit at AUS. The truth is, I actually see HH the Sheikh quite a bit. I don't know what's average for a person who lives in Sharjah, but I feel like I see him maybe once a month, sometimes more often. This is partially because he's at AUS a lot, and partially because my office happens to have this view:

That rotunda area is where most of the fancy receptions are. I always know we're in for a visit from HH the Sheikh when I have to pass through security on my way into work. He has separate male and female security detail personnel so I don't have to suffer the indignity of being searched by a man. As soon as I get to my office, I can sit back and watch the dignitaries file in from five stories up.

I'll get to shake the Sheikh's hand when I graduate, so I'm looking forward to that. It's nice to have the leader of our emirate be a very visible personality, at least on campus. When we lived in Moscow, to get to work at the embassy we'd have to pass by the Russian White House (the seat of parliament). In Russia, anyone who's anyone in the government (or who has enough money) can put a blue light on top of their car and basically halt traffic to get to where they need to go. These people and their considerable vehicular entourages caused traffic jams near the White House, and therefore the embassy, all. the. time. It was such a pain.

Maybe that happens with dignitaries here, too, but I've never encountered it. Our traffic jams usually have much more boring causes. What a pleasure it is to be able to enjoy the presence of the Sheikh from time to time, and know that he doesn't feel the need to shut down half the city to make an appearance anywhere.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Review: MWF Seeking BFF

I just finished reading this book:

(MWF Seeking BFF, by Rachel Bertsche)

and I have major logorrhea about it. You can't read this book and then just say "hmm, ok, moving on." No. You think about the author and whether you could be friends with her. You think about all the times you've moved to a new place and how you made friends there. You analyze the way she went about making friends and whether you have done/would do the same. And then you are compelled to talk about this stuff with whoever will listen. Guess what? That means you (and Jeremy, but he's already heard all this).

As you can tell from the title, this is one of those year-long "project" books where the author does something for a year and then gets a book deal for his/her troubles. In this case, the project is the author trying to make new friends in a new city (Chicago). This 28-year-old, newly married woman wants someone - a BFF - she can call or text (or someone who will call or text her) saying, "what are we doing today?" or "pedicures in 30 minutes." So she goes on 52 "girl-dates" (plus one gay man-date) over the period of a year, each one with someone new who could turn out to be that BFF she wants so badly.

On the face of it, this is a problem we can all identify with, which might explain why this book was so effortlessly easy to read. It's not as short as you might think and yet I found myself happily reading along through all 350 pages - after I got past the first 10 pages, that is. I almost put it down a few times at the very beginning. Because you see, this woman is very, very different from me. It can hardly be overstated how different she is from me. Before I sat down to write this post I promised myself I wouldn't bring up the e- or i-words but I CANNOT HELP MYSELF. Rachel Bertsche is an extrovert in the extreme (in my opinion). As an introvert, reading this book was like unto watching a train wreck, in slow motion. I was horrified, and yet I could not look away. Just reading about all the effort the author put into seeking out, meeting, socializing with, and then following up with complete strangers almost gave me hives. The cooking classes, the improv classes, the yoga classes, the twice-a-day meetups, the drinks, the dinners, the constantly driving across town, the neverending BRUNCHES. It exhausted me. It was like a glimpse into my own personal hell. I could not have handled her regime for long.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Camping in Musandam

The other day I remarked to Jeremy that to really enjoy a travel outing in this region, you have to do it twice: the first time to figure out all the pitfalls and idiosyncrasies and special needs of the route/destination, and the second time to actually enjoy the trip to the fullest extent. We have been very lucky with some of our first-time-through trips to camp in the wilderness here, but more often than not, the stress/confusion vs. enjoyment ratio is slightly off-balance until the second time around.

The occasion for this remark was our recent camping venture into the mountains in Musandam, (Little) Oman, near Khassab. It was a fun trip, but it would have been more fun if we had done it all before and therefore avoided many, many wrong turns. Travel by car in this region is confusing even on city streets due to poor/confusing signage and non-intuitive road patterns. When you get out into the wilds and find yourself making, at best, an educated guess about which dirt track to take up the mountain, it's even more frustrating.

Fortunately, we still had ourselves a great time, especially since we had another family with us to share the experience. We drove up to the almost-top of Jebel al-Harim (the highest point in Musandam) to camp in the relative cool (80ish degrees at night) of 1600 meters elevation. We set up camp in the ruins of an old stone house.

Nearby were some graves. The people who used to live in the house, maybe?

First thing in the morning, the girls and I and the mom of the other family went on a hike to try to reach a viewpoint over the other side of the mountain. However, we ended up turning around before we got there because it was getting very hot and I was afraid we wouldn't be able to make it back. We'll have to go again during the cooler months in order to see what we can see.

What had been a stressful, seemingly never-ending drive up the mountain in the near-dark the night before, was a very pleasant descent through the mountains in the warm sun of the morning.

We passed through the village of Al See, which is perched on a plateau in the middle of the mountain range.

One of the highlights of this trip for the kids were the goats. So many goats. Everywhere. it got to the point where we were all joking that the goats ran this country and we were their guests.

Since it was too hot to pretty much even exit the car at sea level, we made for a nearby beach that is the only beach in the fjords that is accessible by car (Khawr al-Najd). Check it out:

Gorgeous, right? Well, only from a distance, it turns out. We got our overheated selves down there and found a reeking, filthy mud beach infested by GOATS. It was just too much, even for our somewhat relaxed beach standards for this region. We headed back up and over to a beach just beyond Khassab - clear, cool water, clean sand, and plenty of seashells for the finding.

When it was even a little too hot to be swimming, we packed up and headed home. Now we are armed with lots of information for next time - which roads to take, the location of a nice acacia grove to camp in when it's cooler, a hike to look forward to, and the knowledge that Khawr al-Najd is great for the view, not so much for the swimming. I'd call this trip a success. 

Friday, June 07, 2013

June 7th, outsourced

Lines (the kind you wait in...or not) really are amazing, aren't they? [HT Sarah]

Mormon myth-busting. [HT Shannon]

I found this article about wedding photography (something I have minimal interest in) to be very worth the read. It speaks to our larger tendency as a society to document EVERYTHING. Jeremy and I are sometimes guilty of this since we live far away from our extended family, and we want them to be able to experience our girls growing up, too. But there is really something to be said for just experiencing an event in the moment, not through a camera lens, and it's something Jeremy and I are doing more often. Yes, this means there are more posts on the girls' blogs that say something like, "sorry, we did this, but no pictures because we were just enjoying it," but I'm happier that way (even if our families are sadder, sorry!). More to the point of the article, some of those professional photos really were ruined! [HT Crys]

An article about a common Middle Eastern spice recently prompted an all-out internet war. I saw the same thing happen a few years ago to a lesser degree on Smitten Kitchen's recipe for "Israeli Salad" (= Palestinian/Lebanese fattoush, but honestly, it doesn't matter what you call it, that salad is DELICIOUS).

This is for you, Jeremy: it's not about the nail, OK? [HT Tyler]

In map nerd news, here is a map of Pangea with modern political borders. [HT Erin]

In linguist nerd news, here are phonetic descriptions of annoying noises teenagers make. [HT Andrew]

In map AND linguist nerd news, here are lovely new visualizations of Vaux and Golder's American dialect survey from a few years back. The new maps are prettier and show the major data trends better, but some of the oddball pronunciations don't show up well as the old ones (like my dialect soul mate in Portland who also pronounces "crayon" as "crown." Solidarity!!!). See here for more about the history behind these maps. [HT Yvonne and Kristi, within minutes of each other]

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Three loves

Apropos of nothing, here are some things that I just love.

Speedo swimsuits. Never in my kids' lives has any swimsuit made it through one child's use and still been in a condition to be handed down to the next (or someone else). I submit Exhibit A on this subject, here. However, when we were in the US last summer, I picked up Speedo swimsuits for the girls at Costco and they are still going strong, almost a year later. They're not faded or stretched or pilled or filled with sand in between the layers from playing hard at the beach. These swimsuits have lasted through wadi water, Gulf water, sprinkler water, swimming pool water, and school swimming lessons where they spend the better part of the day balled up, soaking wet with chlorine water, inside of a plastic bag. And they still look fantastic. Plus, I think they were maybe $12 at Costco? Amazing.

I am not a big makeup girl, so take this "love" with a grain of salt, meaning I've tried very few products out there so it's possible this is nothing special. However, of the lip-color products I've tried (including, um, tinted chapstick, some lip gloss from H&M, some lip gloss from Victoria's Secret, and a lip stain from...Cover Girl? Maybe?), this one is THE BEST:
Revlon Just Bitten Kissable Balm Stain (whew! How is that for a product name??). As a teacher, I need a lip color that will not wear off even after hours of teaching. When I am in front of a class, I need to know FOR SURE that my lips don't have weird streaks of color wearing off and my teeth don't have lipstick on them. Also, I need to not have to re-apply between classes. As myself (Bridget), I need a lip color that does all of the above and is not so sticky or gooey that it catches my long hair if I turn my head too fast or if, heaven forbid, I go outside and it is windy. Plus, the color can't be too dramatic. I have never worn real lipstick in my whole life because it's just too much for me. Basically, I just want my lips' natural color to be enhanced in a low-maintenance way. These lip balm/stains/whatever they are are PERFECT. I once put some of this stuff on before a 15-hour flight from Seattle to Dubai. When I got off the plane, after sleeping, eating, caring for kids, and surviving being crammed into a small space for so long, it still looked almost flawless. Needless to say, it holds up to teaching pretty well, too.

The Face Shop. Do you guys have this in the US? When I first saw this store at our local Matajer, I took note of the funny name and didn't give another thought to it. Then Jeremy gave me a gift box from there and I loved every. single. product. that was included in it. So much. Again, I'm not a big makeup girl but The Face Shop is heavy on skin care, too, so they have lots of nice, normal products that anyone can use. Because I don't know about you, but Sephora is so overwhelming to me. I hear everyone rave about it but when I go in there I don't even know who I am anymore. The selection is so extensive (and exPensive) and just generally out of my league. The Face Shop, at least the one by us, is about the size of my living room and everything is clearly labeled (but sometimes only in Korean, oops).

Plus, don't you want your skin to look like his??

What do you love these days?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

First data collection outing

Yesterday, I made my first thesis research-related visit to a university in the UAE. I conducted some interviews and administered some questionnaires. It was nerve-wracking and thrilling and a relief to get done, all at once. Now I feel more prepared for the visits I will make to other universities in the weeks to come, for further data collection.

Of course, all that data collection yesterday meant I spent the bulk of today transcribing and double-checking and entering numbers from the student questionnaires onto a spreadsheet. Do you know what is really challenging? Transcribing interviews with Scottish and Irish people, who made up the bulk of my instructor interviews yesterday. My 115 WPM, 99% accuracy mad typing skillz were no match for their accents. Their lovely, lovely accents that I adore under normal circumstances. But 16 pages and 10,000 words later, I think I got it all down, even if there are a few breaks in the text where "????" is the best guess I could come up with. (To be fair, I also came across a few moments where I think they didn't understand my accent.)

The best part of yesterday was getting out once again and visiting a new place that I wouldn't normally have cause to, and meeting neat people who I normally wouldn't know existed, like when I got to go to the central Sharjah police station or the Sharjah Police Academy, also for MA research. I met some really interesting people at the university yesterday, including three women who, among them, had over 60 years of teaching experience in the UAE. SIXTY YEARS. Almost during the interviews they persuaded me to change tack, abandon my actual interview questions, and beg, "just tell me about your life here in 1978, because, woah."

The student side of data collection is going well so far, too, though I hope to get them to open up a little more to me on future visits. However, I am looking forward to more WTH answers on questionnaires like the one I got yesterday:

Short-answer question on student questionnaire: "In your opinion, what does your teacher think about your culture?"
Student answer: "Sometimes."

OK, then!

Monday, June 03, 2013

A tent in the middle of the street

The other day we were trying to get to our new church villa. We were driving along, minding our own business, when suddenly:

Tent in the middle of the road. For perspective, this picture was taken from the vantage point of us driving up the wrong side of the road. We should be on the other side of that divider, but, tent.

Notice there are no warning signs or detour signs or cops directing traffic or signs saying when the tent will be removed. It's just there, for the foreseeable future, until so-and-so gets married and the party is over (or whatever).

It was strange enough that I took a picture and I'm blogging about it, obviously, but at the same time, stuff like this is so normal here. If you need to put up a tent that blocks an entire road, meh, go for it. We'll all figure out how to get where we're going. Even if we have to drive on the wrong side of the road to do it.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The best scenes in period drama

Do you ever find that certain movies have certain scenes that are so well done they just get to you? In this post, I'm going to highlight a few scenes like that from period dramas. But this is by no means an exhaustive treatment of this subject. There are more scenes out there than just these and they appear in more genres than just period movies.

The reason I'm thinking about this topic is because I recently re-watched the BBC's 2009 version of Emma, and the beautiful dance scene therein. When that scene came to an end, I watched it again. And then again, for good measure. Because it's soooo good. The timing, the music, the way they set up Harriet's snubbing and rescue, and, of course, Mr. Knightley and Emma's dance - did you know you could say so much with your eyes? Here is the scene I'm talking about, split into two YouTube videos (the end of the first overlaps a little with the beginning of the second).

Speaking of dance scenes, how about this gorgeously shot dance scene from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice?

I can't decide what it is about this one that I love so much. For sure, like I said, it's because this is just gorgeous. Notice how the first few minutes are all one take, even with complex dialogue and dancing. Lovely. Then it gets even better, somehow, and they're dancing all alone in the room. All the dance scenes in this movie are well done, in my opinion, but this one is my favorite. (Really long takes and dancing alone in a room seem to be trademarks of Joe Wright, and he does them well, in my opinion.)

But. BUT. There is also this scene in that movie and it is...well, just watch it.

In non-dance scene goodness, we have the classic "Look back. Look back at me" scene from North & South.

The music is divine, the mood is bleak, there's snow, and it's sad that she's leaving, and there's so much they want to say. And then, THEN, she doesn't look back. No matter how much you will her to on repeat viewings. Perfection. And yes, I like this scene more than the train station scene. You have to earn that scene, people. And you do that by having your heart ripped out during the "look back" scene.

I could go on. And I might, in a future post. What awesome movie scenes could you watch on infinite repeat?


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