Monday, September 30, 2013

Sterling's birth story (condensed version)

Here is a brief outline of how labor went, for those who are dying to know. Though I suspect if you are the kind of person who is dying to know a birth story, you would rather read the epic version. I will post that soon, when I've worked out the feelings inside of me that caused me to start crying when my poor unsuspecting neighbor asked how it went. Also, I haven't looked at Jeremy's labor notes yet, so some details or the timeline might get shifted around when I write down the real thing.

Thursday, 26 September (due date).
Afternoon - acupuncture appointment in hopes of jump-starting labor.
9p - literally as soon as my head hit the pillow to go to bed, I start having contractions every 10-20 minutes, strong enough to wake me up. These contractions continue until...

Friday, 27 September
4a - ...contractions peter out. I'm left with disappointed hopes and a really poor night's sleep.
Morning - I play hooky from church for the second week in a row. But I tune into my ward's sacrament meeting online and cook up four (4) freezer meals as I watch in hopes that someday, I really will have this baby. I have a few more contractions but nothing much.
Afternoon  - I climb into the loft bed in the guest room for a nap.
2.45p - my water breaks.
3.30p - we arrive at the hospital (I was GBS+ for this pregnancy so I had to go in as soon as my water broke).
Shortly before the above - the first non-mild contraction hits, right as we are driving over some rumble-strip bumps heading into a traffic circle.


More labor.

Still more labor.

11.30p (ish? maybe?) - I start to push, after/while arguing about what position in which to do it. This was the biggest one of a few cultural/medical clashes I had with the nurses and doctor (nothing too traumatic, don't worry).

Saturday, 28 September
12.20a - born!

He was born on my brother Blair's birthday, just barely. I am 3/3 on labor "starting" (except for Miriam when it didn't and I had to be induced) with my water breaking, 3/3 with that water breaking while I am in bed. All three of my labors have involved the Sabbath; Miriam and Magdalena were born on Sunday afternoons and Sterling was in progress all Friday afternoon. What can I say? I have righteous babies. The boys in our family are all born on the 28th (June for Jeremy and September for Sterling - ooh, that's kind of neat!). The girls proceed in orderly fashion from 3 Aug (Magdalena) to 4 Sep (Miriam) to 5 Oct (me). That's just how we roll.

More details another day. I have a piranha to feed.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

He was born yesterday

Sterling Sultan Palmer
Born 28 September 2013 at 00.20.
4 kilos (8 lbs. 13 oz.)
53.5 cm (21 inches)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Happy due date to me! Yay.

The girls and I drew this chart on the whiteboard as a visual representation of the uncertainty that is waiting for a baby to be born. They came downstairs this morning and realized that today was the due date (circled in yellow), but I told them that as far as I could tell, Sasha 3.0 wasn't going to be born today.

A few minutes later, Miriam ran into the kitchen to tell me, "I guess one of your babies was born early [Miriam], one was born on time [Magdalena], and one will be late!"

She's right, of course, and the way that she said it has put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

We'll see how long that smile lasts.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Baby Miriam got her first fever when she was a few months old. Late at night, I went to the store to get some Tylenol. It was the first time I had ever bought medicine for a baby, and I found the offerings on the shelf very confusing. There were all kinds of bottle sizes and flavors and formulations, but I ended up buying something called "Children's Tylenol" because Miriam was, after all, a child.

When I got home, I opened the package and checked to see how much medicine to give Miriam. To my disappointment, the package simply directed me to "ask a doctor." What the? It was the middle of the night. Miriam was irritable and feverish and I was beyond tired. I wanted to give her medicine to help her, not dig up the pediatrician's after-hours number and spend 30 minutes on hold waiting for a nurse. But that's what I did. It took a long time, but I finally got the instructions I needed.

But then, THEN, when I tried to administer the dose of medicine, Miriam coughed and vomited it up because it was so much fluid for an infant. It took a long time over another 30 minutes to administer the medicine in small enough portions that she wouldn't gag on it.

It was only later that I realized that what I should have bought at the store that night was Infants' Tylenol, which is a completely separate product. Infants' Tylenol is highly concentrated, which means that the dose for a baby Miriam's age would have been something like 0.8mL rather than something like 5mL for the Children's Tylenol. That would have been a lot easier to administer.

Anyway, no harm done, and it was all part of the learning curve for a new mom. Over the years, however, I have remained irritated that most medications for children do not come with dosing information for babies under two years old. It's always that maddening "ask a doctor." If these drug manufacturers would stop to think about it, they might realize that a sleep-deprived parent dealing with a fussy, sick child at 3am is not inclined to call the doctor (IF they have one; IF they can even dig up the emergency number, etc.). Oh no. They are inclined to just guess at the dose, based on the amounts given for other ages. Yep.

Those of you who listen to This American Life may know where I'm going with this - TAL's latest episode was all about Tylenol and how easy it is to accidentally overdose, especially for children and especially because of those horrible "ask a doctor" labels. I was sad to hear stories like this, which could so easily happen to any new parent who, like me in 2005, had no idea of there being different Tylenol formulations for different ages of children.

Still, I thought I was up to speed on the confusing drug labels on children's/infants' medicine. I've been a parent long enough now that I know all the secret dosing amounts they don't dare print on the package itself.

However, I learned something new from the podcast - in 2011, Tylenol eliminated the Infants' formulation of its medicine. You can now only buy Children's Tylenol. I had no idea this had happened, but it explains why I was so confused this summer when I was stocking up on American medicine to take back home (liquid pain reliever medicines here taste horrendous and it's just easier to buy a few bottles in the US and keep them on hand, to the point that my kids actually ask before taking medicine, "this is the American kind, right?").

I thought I was buying the same old Infants' Tylenol (in the convenient concentrated formula that makes it easier to administer to a baby, in this case Sasha 3.0) and Children's Tylenol. But after listening to the podcast, I took another look. Here's what I have:
The one on the right is Costco brand, but you can see that one is called Children's, and one is called Infants'. However, they are the same formulation - 160mg of drug per 5mL, for both. This means I could have saved myself the trouble and just bought the Children's Tylenol - it was probably cheaper than the specially labeled Infants'. Even the dosing information is the same:
Except that the Infants' version (same liquid as the Children's, just in a pack labeled "Infants'") dosing only goes up to age 3...and completely eliminates dosing information for age 2 and under. So frustrating.

Just to make sure, I checked the ibuprofen I bought in the US. Same differentiation in the package designation (Children's vs. Infants'):
But look again! Ibuprofen has maintained two separate formulations, with the Infants' version being far more concentrated at 50mg per 1.25mL as opposed to the Children's 100mg at 5mL. At least the dosing information is a little more complete, with instructions on the Infants' box going all the way down to 6 months:

I'm glad I listened to that podcast, because it alerted me to the fact that the dosage for Infants' Tylenol will now be much higher than I was used to with my older kids. If I had stumbled upon this unawares in the middle of the night a few months hence, I would have been very confused, indeed.

To sum up: there is now only ONE Tylenol for children/infants, and good luck getting all that extra liquid down the throat of your tiny infant, especially if s/he is gag-prone like Miriam was. But ibuprofen still has two different formulations - keep them straight!

Oh, and for two long years, you will need to ask a doctor for dosing information for Tylenol. Ridiculous! Just put it on the package already, seriously. In my opinion, that would have been a better safety reform than eliminating the Infants' formula altogether.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Guest room, re-done

A few days after our housekeeper moved out, we re-organized the guest room. The thing about the guest room is, we don't actually have guests that often. Maybe once or twice a year? Plane tickets from the US are expensive, or something. So while it was nice to have a room with a bed in it that could be used when people needed to stay with us, it also was only ever, well, a room with a bed in it.

We decided that it would make far more sense for us to take the bed out of the room, so we could use the guest room as an actual part of our house that actually contributed to our living space. But then what to do about the occasional guest? It's so nice to be able to offer visitors their own quarters, complete with a private bathroom, even if for the other 99% of the time it's superfluous. Sometimes we take Friday afternoon naps in there, and another bathroom on the ground floor comes in handy, but otherwise, the guest room was a seriously underutilized space.

The solution, of course, was to get a loft bed from IKEA. That way, we would have a bed in the guest room for guests, and a useful, practical living space for ourselves the rest of the time.

Here is how our guest room looked when we first moved in.

Just like I said: a room with a bed in it.

From a similar angle, here is the guest room with the new loft bed:

And looking from the bathroom door:

We now have a place to keep our bikes inside, instead of letting them bake into oblivion outside on the patio. We keep our water storage in there. And we still have a nice, comfy bed for Friday afternoon naps. The loft bed is a double, too, so we've actually increased our guest capacity.

Now, who wants to come visit?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A soundtrack for Sasha 3.0

I am aware that a blog post about compiling playlists to listen to during labor is not going to be everyone's thing. But I wrote one of these last time around and ended up adding Now We Are Free from Gladiator as a result (on the recommendation of Crys) and that pretty much was the playlist. I listened to it over and over again and to this day, when I hear it, I am reminded of Magdalena's birth and feeling the strongest I ever have.

There's no predicting what The Song will be for me this time, but I have a much more extensive list of possibilities. In contrast to my Sasha 2.0 playlist, I am allowing for songs with lyrics this time. We'll see if I go there during labor or not.

Finally, before I get to the actual songs, I want to explain why I do this. I love music. It's an important part of my life. I may not be up on the latest bands or songs or trends, and I may have a tendency to stick with what I like for years and years without branching out, but again, I really do love music. I tried listening to music during labor last time as a means of relaxation and, yes, pain reduction, and it worked. Music has a powerful emotional effect on me, and that's just what I need when I'm in a lot of pain during what is ostensibly (and eventually and hopefully) a beautiful and formative experience.

First, the songs without lyrics. Can you tell I love to poach soundtracks from movies, often British ones? I'm not necessarily including the entire soundtrack on the playlist - I went through and picked out the songs that I love the most, or the ones that are better suited to be on a labor playlist (no huge, quiet gaps in the music and it has movement and momentum in general).

Dear Frankie (soundtrack)
The Painted Veil (soundtrack)
The Man From Snowy River (soundtrack)
Downton Abbey (soundtrack)
Pride & Prejudice (2005 version; soundtrack)
Now We Are Free (Gladiator)
North & South (soundtrack)
The Virgin Queen (soundtrack)
Lost (soundtrack, just LAX and Moving On)
The Last of the Mohicans (soundtrack)
Emma (2009 version; soundtrack - Martin Phipps is my soundtrack hero)
She Walks in Beauty (from the Vanity Fair soundtrack)
The Piano Guys (selections from - Peponi and Titanium, among others)

As for music with lyrics:

Titanium (a few covers. I cannot resist that song in pretty much any incarnation)
Prettiest Eyes (Beautiful South)
Reign of Love (Coldplay; I'm considering adding Paradise)
The Corrs (a bunch of songs - love them!)
My Immortal (Evanescence - I have wonderful associations with this song; don't judge)
Songbird (Fleetwood Mac)
Jewel (a few songs)
Paper Moon (a few songs, some in German - that will be interesting)
Sarah Brightman (Dust in the Wind and some others)
Smashing Pumpkins (The Tale of Dusty & Pistol Pete and Galapagos)
Fields of Gold (live acoustic, by Sting)
Yanni (mostly Truth of Touch stuff)

There you have it: a soundtrack for Sasha 3.0.

Friday, September 20, 2013

September 20th, outsourced

IKEA has flat-pack refugee shelters, and they're sending them to Syria.

The Onion has some of the best Syria coverage out there. Here is a look at how they get inside the mind of Bashar Al-Assad.

Girl names that used to be boy names. I knew almost all of these since my mom is fond of telling me about them. Remember on Downton Abbey when a dude showed up and his name was Evelyn? Yeah. [HT Kathy]

In case you're wondering, no, The Atlantic will not be using periods when it writes about the agents of SHIELD.

Amazon has made a dynamic list of products that attract hilarious, fake reviews! Huzzah! [HT Shannon]

I think my baby name problems just got solved: here is a list of bizarre Puritan names. Now to decide between Job-raked-out-of-the-ashes and Diffidence. [HT Jessie and Andrew, who sent me the link within minutes of each other]

I WANT. Not because I feel compelled to monitor my child's every heartbeat, but because imagine the data! So cool. [HT Ashi]

To this mom who kept her cool during a grocery store meltdown by her kid: I salute you. [HT Suzanne]

I thoroughly enjoyed this list of state song titles, reimagined as if they all had the apathy of Idaho's "And Here We Have Idaho." [HT Eric D. Snider]

A man dying while trying to save his camel from drowning in the Gulf is something that happened here the other day.

A peek into the life of a night-shift worker. Fascinating.

Another update on the story of the climber in Zion National Park who fell off a cliff and survived. [HT Margaret]

Rita Hayworth does Stayin' Alive. [HT my grandpa. Really]

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Yesterday was grocery shopping day. I went ahead and did it, even though I really didn't feel like going out in public during the daytime. I've become a somewhat nocturnal creature. I want to do a lot of walking but a) it's really hot during the daytime, and b) I don't like waddling around in broad daylight. So I go walking at night. I've got a playlist for Sasha 3.0 on my iPod Shuffle, so I listen to that and try to form positive associations with the music as I get some fresh air and exercise.

I used the same strategy in Middlebury - listening to the music I planned on using during labor and forming positive associations with the songs by enjoying my gorgeous surroundings. Granted, in Middlebury it was more rolling fields and village greens, but I find that the AUS campus isn't too shabby, either. It's more of a grand, Taj Mahal feeling than a bucolic calm, but it works.

Anyway, the grocery store. I don't know if I can do that again. I got soooo many stares. Plus, it's getting really hard to reach into the cart far enough to put things in or take them out. Luckily, the employees were über aware of me and my girth, and they anticipated the precise difficulties I would have. At the produce weighing station, the guy insisted on taking over my cart and unloading/weighing/loading everything himself. At the check-out, a bagger came rushing over to load my groceries on the conveyor belt. As I walked out to the parking lot, a random employee taking a smoke break volunteered to help me put my things in the car. It was very kind. And it reminded me just how much space I take up these days.

I don't want to go anywhere. I don't want to see anyone. I don't want anyone to see me. I just want to have. this. baby.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Toward SAHMdom

Have I mentioned yet that I am ever so slightly terrified of being a SAHM again? Well, I am. Yes, I am still finishing up my MA, and yes, I still have my WAHM job, but as of today, when the classes I would normally be teaching started up for this semester, I am without a standing engagement to go outside the home and work for money.

It occurs to me that in contrast to my life from 2005- 2010, my life here in Sharjah, save for the first few months, has been defined by roles other than me being a mom. Or at least, my role as a mom has been complemented by other roles. Does that make sense? There are people here who know me only as their teacher, or only as an MA student. I no longer have my kids with me at all times. I wear makeup sometimes and I own nice work clothing and high heels. That's never been the case anywhere else we've lived.

But this morning, the girls left for school, and I didn't follow them out the door to work. It was a strange feeling. And it's a feeling that will only get stranger when I'm covered in spit-up and horrifically sleep-deprived.

Part of me is afraid to relinquish that professional, put-together self for a little while. Even more unsettling is the thought of someone who knew me as a teacher or MA student seeing me in my role as a mother. Is that ridiculous? I don't mean the calm, put-together mother of two girls who are capable of taking care of themselves in public. Plenty of my students and professors have seen me in that state. I mean the mother whose post-partum body is still not her own, and her nice clothes don't fit her so she's wearing the same shirt you saw her in last time. She's tired and distracted and as you talk about important things with her, she is bouncing around on the balls of her feet to keep her baby from crying.

I know that is reality, and that I should be proud to show even the ugly side of that important work to others, because goodness knows it gets sanitized too much already. But that stage of life is hard. And it will be even harder for me to navigate it in relation to the other roles I've played here.

Here's hoping this transition to being a mom of three who primarily stays at home will go smoothly.

And yes, the girls started school! Happy day.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chummie (bedwetting alarm) review

This is a review of the Chummie bedwetting alarm. Yes, I am really writing a review of this product! I felt a bit ashamed at first to be seeking one out for a certain recently-turned-5-year-old. Then I saw all the reviews on Amazon from parents of 8-, 10-, and 12-year-olds, and I didn't feel so dumb.

The truth is, Magdalena has never been able to stay dry at night. I know you all just got ready with your helpful suggestions about how to fix this, but I promise you that we had tried everything over the past 2+ years. And nothing worked. Our best efforts were hampered by the fact that both Jeremy and I work so neither of us could dedicate ourselves to long periods of frequent, pee-based night-wakings. Also, we could not afford to have Magdalena's bedding be The One Load of Laundry that could be washed and hung out to dry each day.

So I took the opportunity of our summer in America to finally get this done, since I wouldn't have to wake up early to go to work and I would have access to an American washer and (!) dryer and, of course, Amazon, where I could buy this product. I had thought that maybe bedwetting alarms didn't exist anymore - I vaguely remember them from my childhood, do you? They were metal-based and gave off a tinny screech if they got wet.

Well, bedwetting alarms still do exist, but as you can see from the image above, these are not the ones you remember from your own childhood. The Chummie we got for Magdalena was so cute that she was eager to try it out. We've had it for about six weeks now. Here are the pros and cons of our experience.

Pros: Chummie is cute and compact. The sensor works very well and it's easy to program and attach to the pajamas. There are several alarm sounds/volumes to choose from, including - thank goodness! - a silent vibrate/flash mode that we use since the girls share a room. Chummie came with a few accoutrements that, while nice, are not necessary, such as a sticker chart and some brand-specific cleansing wipes for the sensor (you can just wash the thing off in a regular sink, no big deal). Most importantly, Chummie works. In the beginning, when Magdalena was still getting used to it, she had a few halfway accidents before getting out of bed in response to the alarm. In the past week or two, however, she's been 100% dry every morning. Sometimes this is because Chummie woke her up in the night and she went to use the toilet. Other times, she's just legitimately slept through the night without wetting the bed, which is a minor miracle, considering all we've been through with her.

Cons: The alarm unit itself only weighs 1oz, but with 2 AAA batteries in there, it's a bit heavier. So you'll want to make sure your kid's pajamas are a bit sturdy around the neckline. I said above that the sensor is easy to attach, but that's only after you find the right tape (we ended up using some athletic tape that wasn't harmful to the sensor but was strong enough to adhere to the underwear). Every once in a while, Magdalena complains that she doesn't like the way the cord feels against her skin. But it hasn't been a deal-breaker for her (and you could always leave the cord on the outside of the pajamas if you really needed to). That's about it!

Final word: Magdalena is thrilled to not have to wear "special panties" (pull-up diaper things that, thankfully, are pretty cheap here) anymore, and I am thrilled to have a 5-year-old who can finally stay dry at night. We are very happy with Chummie and I would recommend it to anyone who has tried everything else out there without success.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


I'm 38.5 weeks. Are we at the point yet where if I don't blog for a few days, then everyone assumes I've gone into labor? I think so.

Really, it's not as bad as it could be, being massively, almost-due pregnant. I'm trying to remind myself that to a point - 41 weeks or so, which is technically a week overdue - the longer he stays in, the better. Miriam was born 11 days early after an lengthy induction since my water leaked but I never went into labor. She had horrible jaundice and had to be re-admitted when she was just a few days old. She was very lethargic and had trouble nursing for the first little while. It was almost as if she, oh I don't know, wasn't ready to be born.

Contrast that with Magdalena, born on her due date, who was my little chub baby at 8lbs 7oz. She came into the world READY. Ready to nurse, ready to grow, ready to be here. It was hard to wait all 40 weeks, but it was so much easier in the end to have a baby who came when she was ready.

So even though I'm technically at the "any day now" stage, I'm trying to keep myself content with being pregnant for a little longer. Only about 2.5 weeks longer, in fact - much like in the US, standard practice here is to look into induction methods after 41 weeks. As part of my bid to increase my patience and acceptance of a timeline that is not fully my own, I am trying to smile while putting up with:

- increasingly bad sleep. Waking up three times to go pee is normal. Waking up to a series of contractions (whether real or false) is normal. Waking up to heave myself and my pillows into a different position on the bed is normal.

- heartburn. Pretty much, I get heartburn from drinking water now.

- joint pain. My hips hurt so bad when I first get up from sitting or lying down and I have to hobble around like an old woman for a few minutes.

- weight gain/skin stretching. The human body is amazing, but seriously, how much bigger can my belly get and how long until my skin gives up stretching over it?

- clothes that don't fit me. I am never comfortable in what I'm wearing anymore. Never. If I were to find something comfortable, it would probably be so heinous-looking that those around me would avert their eyes in horror.

- uncertainty regarding my short-term thesis timeline. I will defend this semester for sure, but should I jump in to heavy-duty analysis right now? Or am I going to have this baby tomorrow so any serious thinking I do today will be wasted?

- well-meaning inquiries from friends and neighbors who haven't seen me for a while. Sometimes a "how are you doing?" query can come across like thinly veiled "woah, I thought you would have had that baby already!". It's a Catch-22 because part of me wants to say, "yep, I'm due any day now!" But the other part of me realizes that in 2 weeks, I might see that person again, and I might still have not had this baby. Sigh.

One thing I am pretty sure I am not going to have to deal with anymore as a pregnant woman is church, aka my least favorite place to be (in a social sense) after about 30 weeks. I've reached the tipping point where I would be happier to return to church in a few weeks with a tiny infant wrapped to the outside of my body than to continue to attend in my current huge state. Look, church is three hours long, and I have trouble sitting still for 10 minutes, even, but anyway I work in the Primary class with almost 40 children who sometimes act like rabid squirrels so I'm on my feet a lot, expending energy I don't have, and it's just too much. Plus, the comments. Nobody wants to see me cry, but that's what's going to happen if I show up at church pregnant, still. I might go on Friday. I might not. Whatever I decide, I'll return all the earlier after the baby is born.

Which, by the way (are you listening, Universe??), can be any time. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, September 13, 2013

September 13th, outsourced

So there's this bridge that has an abnormally low clearance, and there are lots of signs saying so on the road leading to it, but lots of trucks still crash into it. Riveting. [HT Andrew]

Can you imagine watching one of Shakespeare's plays being performed in its original English pronunciation? So cool.

The two-cow analogy series, as applied to the Middle East. [HT Suzanne]

Two amazing survival stories from Zion National Park. First, some climbers got caught in a flash flood. Second, a climber fell off a 100-foot cliff as his wife and friends looked on. [HT Margaret, the wife of the guy who fell off the cliff]

What DOES the fox say? [HT Liz]

Most of the world's tallest buildings in the world are cheating. (But not the Burj Khalifa. Not really, anyway.)

I haven't observed all of these smart language mistakes in person, but this was a very interesting read about childhood language development. [HT Susanne]

Here are the top 20 books you only pretend to have read. Seriously, you guys haven't actually read Pride and Prejudice?? [HT Jen]

I'm sure you've all seen this video of a man waking up from surgery and seeing his wife again, for the first time. I really hope it's real, because it is adorable (s-bomb warning about halfway through).

So, um, Putin had an op-ed in the NYTimes. Yeah. But here is your requisite grain of salt.

That dialect survey from last week, last year, five years ago, and ten years ago is never going away: more on that odd "coming with" construction.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

American summer in review

Now that I have almost recovered from the trauma of not being allowed - and then being allowed - to board the flight home from the US, I've had some time to think about our summer.

Last year, Jeremy and the girls stayed for almost two months; I stayed for six weeks. This year, the girls and I were there for almost exactly a month; Jeremy joined us for the last three weeks.

Somehow, two months last year was just a bit too long, even after a two-year absence. And yet, one month this year was too short. This summer, I felt like we were racing around trying to fit everything in, without a lot of time for leisurely evening walks to the park with Grandpa or whatever.

Still, we were quite efficient with our time this summer and even though it took some racing, I think we DID fit everything in. This includes the overnight hike at Ramona Falls with the girls that Jeremy and the Walker grandparents did the penultimate night before we flew out. It was an ambitious plan, but successful.

For me, some of the shine was taken off this American summer's activities because of my delicate condition. I was so paranoid of going into labor in the US that I sat out of a lot of the fun bike rides, hikes, dune climbs, etc. that I normally would have participated in. Then again, it was nice to have other people take my kids to do those things.

One thing we did better this year was shopping. Jeremy signed up for an Amazon Prime membership trial (free 2-day shipping), and before we even arrived in America we were having things shipped to my parents' house. This cut down on a lot of running around town for shopping purposes. I hardly even had to go to Target...which was kind of a disappointment.

So what is the sweet spot when it comes to the length of time to spend in the US? It looks like somewhere between a month and two months - maybe six weeks? Furthermore, the fun factor is increased when back-and-forth travel between the grandparents is minimized. We did an open-jaw (DXB-LAX-SLC, then PDX-SEA-DXB) in 2012 that helped in this regard, but open-jaws come with their own annoyances.

Speaking of itinerary-based annoyances, I think the jury is still out on our choice to have SEA as our terminal flying destination and then driving down to Portland. It certainly saved us money, and the direct flight was a dream, but the inconvenience of having a 3-hour drive tacked on either end of a 14.5-hour flight was more than I expected. I think this is a decision we'll have to re-make every year, depending on the fare difference.

Anyway, more than you probably ever needed to know about visiting the Motherland during the summer, I'm sure. These notes are more for my own reference for the next time we visit the US, I suppose.

Two lessons from our American summer:
 Reed's Dairy (in IF) makes a good Playdough-flavored (?) ice cream.

And Costco sells really, really big pizza slices.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ice cream and social studies

We picked up the girls' school textbooks last week, and I just couldn't help myself: I took a quick peek at the Year 1 and Year 3 social studies books, the Year 2 version of which I enjoyed so much last year.

As I flipped through the pages of the Year 1 book, I noticed a chapter about People & Places. Since the book is published in Jordan, I thought, "hmm, I wonder if we've been to any of these places?" Just then, I flipped to a page about neighborhoods and saw this:

You guys, that place is called Gerard and it is the best ice cream shop ever, in the whole world! If that is the Abdoun branch (and I think that it is), then we were regulars there in 2006 and 2007.

The table looks a little different, and the angle is different, but those are the same benches for sure. That's almost-1-year-old Miriam there with me and our Jordanian friends (the one on the left is named Majd, by the way).

Anyway, Gerard is awesome (Kinder Bueno ice cream, anyone? How about Andes Mint?), and so is this social studies textbook. How often do you get to open up a schoolbook to a picture of a non-famous, non-landmark, and say, "yeah, I've been there"?

Monday, September 09, 2013

My mysterious washing machine

It's been a week since our housekeeper left, so I'm getting re-acquainted with our washing machine. All at once I'm reminded of what a mystery that thing was when we first moved in. And I was lucky to have had experience with Euro washers before, in Russia, Syria, and Jordan! Over the last three years, I've helped a few neighbors figure the thing out (we all have the same one) since it a) is counterintuitive; and b) only comes with instructions in Italian.

Imagine you've moved into a new house, and you go check out the washer, and it looks like this:

Take a closer look at the main instrument panels and see if you think you could figure it out, at the risk of ruining your clothing or flooding the laundry room if you make a mistake:

The key to figuring out this washing machine ends up being that the 0 - 180 labels on that central dial do not refer to water temperature. Instead, they refer to minutes of drying time, if you choose the dryer setting. Which one is the dryer setting, you ask? Well, #17, asciugatura, of course!

Since I never use the dryer setting on our washer (it is horribly time-inefficient, as you can probably tell by the fact that it includes a 3-hour timed setting. It would also be ridiculous to use the dryer setting when you live in a climate like this one, especially considering that it absolutely bakes the clothes. They come out damp and steamy, eww), I never turn this dial.

Instead, I focus on the list of available wash cycles on the far left, numbered 1-19. After three years, I've figured out most of them. You've got your cotton cycles at different temperatures, your synthetics cycles at different temperatures, and the same for wool (thank you, yes, well I did take Spanish in seventh grade!). Cycle 13 is the cold cycle for delicates, and 15-19 are for other cold washes or drying or spinning or rinsing only.

You'll notice I skipped cycle 14. That's because I didn't notice it until the other day. A friend of mine mentioned that she had a quick wash cycle on her Euro washer, which was intriguing to me because you guys, a regular cycle on this thing takes at least two hours, sometimes more like three. Pretty much, I can manage one load of laundry a day and that's it.

But I'm pretty sure cycle 14 is a quick wash - rapido, right?? I tried it out and it takes about 40 minutes instead of 2+ hours, so yeah, that was a great discovery.

Those two buttons to the right of the start button - I have no idea what they do. I think one might be a setting for a small load, and maybe one is for...I don't know. I just leave them alone and so far, everything has turned out fine.

I realize this was a long post about a washing machine, but sometimes people in the US don't believe me when I tell them my washer takes 3 hours to run a cycle, or that I effectively don't have a dryer, or that this thing is seriously tiny. It's all true, folks. And as a result, laundry is almost always on the back of my mind, since if I haven't started a load that day, I need to; if I haven't hung it out, I need to; if I haven't taken it in by nightfall, I need to; etc. It never goes away. But at least I know how to work the machine.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

No-sew baby wrap success!

Last week, I took the girls with me to the tailor district of Sharjah to pick out some fabric for a no-sew baby wrap. I used a sling with my first two babies, but, like most of my other baby gear, it has long since been given away (a post about the kindness of my neighbors in donating baby gear is forthcoming). I was excited to see Birth Faith's post about a no-sew baby wrap, and I figured I'd be able to score some cheap fabric around here, no problem.

I was right. Not only did the girls and I have a blast exploring the fabric stores, we found some nice, serviceable, blue stretchy cotton to use for the wrap. I got four yards (it was interesting to find out that the fabric stores here still deal in yards, not meters) for 80dhs, which is a little over $20. For that price and amount of fabric, I made two wraps.

I had help, of course.

My big belly prevented me from trying the wrap out myself, but Magdalena was a willing model. Obviously the real baby will sit a little lower, but this was the best we could do with a hard plastic doll.

I'm so excited to try out the wrap for real in a few weeks, and I'm thrilled to have made something myself that would have cost much, much more to buy. Also, a trip to the tailor district is always a pleasure. Really! The girls each have a few bolts of fabric in mind to make something out of, once we figure out what that "something" is. I can't wait to find out.

Friday, September 06, 2013

September 6th, outsourced

Here's a close look at one of the adoptions gone wrong between Russia and the US.

The Gulf explained in 20 maps. So cool! [HT Jeremy]

Incredible tourist sites, trapped in countries that are almost un-visitable by tourists.

The trouble with bright girls. [HT Bryce]

Downton Abbey Season 4 trailer!!!!!!!!

Can you guess the language, based only on a spoken sample? Fun game. I got 600 my first (and only) time. I thought Dari was Kurdish. Silly me! [HT Andrew]

That same dialect survey from years ago has popped up in a new fun form - a quiz to see where your dialect is from. My origin is Washington/Oregon (see map, above). Seems legit. [HT Andrew]

The effect of the unrest in Egypt on Americans trying to study abroad there. I know there are bigger issues going on, but you have to feel for these students who have to make other plans, very suddenly. [HT Andrew]

Poll: the majority of Americans are in favor of sending Congress to Syria. From The Onion, of course. [HT Elisa]

Why are you not dead yet? I think I would actually still be alive (mom, correct me if I'm wrong), but Miriam is not dead yet because during a severe bout of Norovirus she was able to go to a hospital and get hooked up to an IV for a week when her body would not accept fluids. [HT Jessie]

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Glucose hell

I believe that a post about the gestational diabetes glucose screening is obligatory for any pregnant blogger. So here is mine - written on 18 June 2013, when I was 25ish weeks along.

I have only the vaguest memories of the gestational diabetes glucose screenings from my previous pregnancies. I think with both Miriam (in Damascus) and Magdalena (in Tucson), it was some variation on the same old "drink this really sweet drink and we'll take your blood/urine in an hour" theme.

Here in Sharjah, though, they break out the big guns right away. Instead of the standard glucose screening, with further testing for those who don't pass, they go straight to the tolerance test for everyone. You have to fast for 12 hours beforehand, and you have to drink more sweet stuff, and it's more concentrated, and you have your blood/urine taken three times over two hours instead of just one time over one hour. This would be nausea-inducing enough without being pregnant. When you're pregnant, it's downright icky.

By the way, I'm not exactly sure why they skip right to the more intensive test, though I do know that there is a gestational diabetes awareness campaign going on in Sharjah. My guess is that it's a problem, but that some women are not getting tested for it or do not understand the implications of being diagnosed with it.

I had the test this morning and it pretty much shot my whole day. The fasting was hard (my nausea tends to get worse if I don't eat), and the drink was just awful. The room temperature, syrupy Mirinda-flavored glucose solution tasted good for about the first three sips. The other three cupfuls were increasingly disgusting. I still feel woozy and ill, almost as if I, oh I don't know, drank an entire liter of flat pop in five minutes on a completely empty stomach and then sat there for two hours being poked with a needle. Weird.

I can complain about it with a bad attitude because I passed, thank goodness. Of course I'm grateful that doctors here care enough about the health of pregnant women to make sure they get the treatment they need if they have gestational diabetes. I just wish someone out there would care enough to find a different way to test for it.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


I like to bake my own bread here in the UAE. There are three recipes I alternate making:

Artisan bread in 5 (thanks, Carolyn!)

The basic bread recipe from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (difficulty level: "if you can stir, you can make this bread." Love it).

Our Best Bites' Multigrain Bread.

I don't have a stand mixer, so that last recipe especially takes a little more elbow grease than I'd like. But it's delicious, so the end result is worth it.

Here's the thing, though: I don't think yeast works how these recipes think it works, at least not here in the UAE. I follow the directions in the recipes exactly, and my bread always, always fails to rise the way the recipe says it should. I know there are other variables that could influence this, but I am pretty confident that the yeast is the rogue element. The bread I make tastes delicious but its shape is always rectangular instead of square or (can you imagine?) square with that nice, puffy round top. This makes for awkwardly sized sandwiches and toast.

This summer, I bought some yeast in the US to see if it would make a difference. Yesterday, I made bread (the OBB recipe, above) with it for the first time.

The results were promising at first. On the second rise, in the pans, the bread actually puffed up above the rim of the pan, which is a first. I was hopeful that I would at last achieve that beautifully rounded top.

But after a few minutes in the oven, I checked the bread and it had fallen flat. Hmph. Still, it's more progress than I've made before. With the OBB recipe, I once had to let the loaves rise in the pans for three hours before they even approached the top of the pans. Yes, I'm using fresh yeast, and instant/regular according to the directions.

I'll try the other recipes, too, and see how they end up. For now, I've resigned myself to great-tasting but oddly shaped bread.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Teaching while pregnant in the UAE

I apologize again for the amount of pregnancy-related content here on the blog lately, but we have a lot of material to get through and (hopefully!) not a lot of time.

I often get asked how it was to be working/teaching while pregnant in Sharjah. This is actually the second pregnancy I've spent as a teacher in the Middle East, the first being when I taught at Amideast in Damascus while pregnant with Miriam.

For some reason, I was more self-conscious about my pregnancy this time around, here in Sharjah. Gulf Arabs can be plenty conservative, and it is a good bet that on the whole, my students here come from more traditional backgrounds (religiously and socially) than my students in Damascus. Also, the setting I work in now is more professional than the one in Damascus - a university rather than an after-school, private English program. This university is supportive of pregnant women (maternity leave is a full semester, paid), but this is still a very conservative part of the world, especially when it comes to gender roles.

In any case, my students' reactions to my pregnancy were very mixed. The only thing they seemed to agree on was that they were happy for me. Really. When I announced it to my classes, they were on the whole very excited, and even more thrilled to know that I was having a boy.

Over time, other attitudes emerged, including:

Why aren't you going back to the US to have the baby? I think this question stems from two preconceptions: a different understanding of citizenship, and a different understanding of the role of my mother in helping me raise my infants. I had several students express amazement that my child could still be a US citizen, even if he's born here (this, despite the fact that none of my non-Emirati students have Emirati citizenship, even if they were born here. Hmm). It's easy for Jeremy and me because we are both citizens who were both born in the US and were residents there for more than five years after the age of 15. Passing on US citizenship while abroad isn't so easy if you and your spouse don't meet requirements such as the above. But also, some of my students seemed flabbergasted that I would be willing to give birth away from my mother! I mean, she's going to come and help out at some point, but the American model of grandma-provided newborn care apparently falls short of Gulf standards. Interesting.

Why are you still working? Sigh. I didn't know what to say to this one. This was a favorite of my Saudi girl students, and I don't understand it well enough to dissect it. One of my Saudi girls even said to me, on several occasions, "oh, I just don't even like looking at you, I just hurt for you, I want you to be at home resting!" So I definitely made some students uncomfortable by being pregnant and still working in public.

Now that we have established you are pregnant, let us never mention it again. This was my favorite, actually. It was so great that for some of my students, after the initial announcement, it was just business as usual. I loved being treated as my normal self, instead of as a pregnant woman. The exception to this was my one student (in all my time teaching here) who is a wife and mother herself. We always had good chats after class.

I also had the singular experience of humiliating myself in front of a former student. I ran into him at the mall after I was already showing. We talked for a few minutes, but he didn't say anything about my condition. I felt like maybe he was hesitant to be the first to bring it up, so I said something dumb like, "do you notice that I've gained some weight here?" as I indicated my midsection. He blushed so red and avoided looking in the entire cardinal direction in which I was standing, he was so embarrassed. We said goodbye, and it was only later that I realized that this young Emirati kid was all of probably 18 years old and his former teacher basically said to him (if not in as many words), "look at my body, a specific portion of which I am highlighting for your perusal." Ugh. I know so much better than that.

Just like I used to find comfort in finding other females at restaurants or the movie theater in Damascus (because then I knew it was an OK place for me to be), I was glad to have one of my (Arab) co-workers be pregnant and teaching at the same time as me. It was just a nice validation any time I needed one. That said, I'm glad to be off for the fall semester so I don't have to be a living example for young college students of just how big a pregnant woman can get.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The curse of the boy names

Here we go, with this pregnancy's post about names!

Why is it that I could easily, at this very moment, come up with half a dozen viable names for baby girls - even ones that Jeremy and I would agree on - but we can hardly scrape up ONE such name for a boy, let alone two?

To be fair, Jeremy and I haven't even had The Name Talk yet. Instead, we have a Google Doc entitled "a judgement-free zone to share name possibilities." Over the past few months, we've each contributed a few names to the list, but in keeping with the "judgement-free" theme, we have yet to get together to talk about them and really hammer out some possibilities.

I've invested in the newest edition of The Baby Name Wizard's book. I've exhausted the name-generating capabilities of Nymbler. I've asked my Emirati students (and a Kuwaiti co-worker) for name ideas. And yet. This child remains unnamed.

It occurs to me that perhaps we are asking too much of the universe. We want a name that works well in Arabic and English (either as a word or as a name). Either in that name or in the middle name, we would like to continue our tradition of some kind of geographical/cultural tribute, as with Damascus and Sonora (the girls' middle names). There is also a handed-down middle name from Jeremy's side of the family that needs to be considered.

And yes, there are plenty of names that work in English and Arabic, but honestly, I don't like most of them, or I am tired of them because they are commonly used by Arabs and Westerners around here who move between both worlds.

And yes, it seems like it should be easy to find a geographical tribute name that is awesome - just look at a map, right? But, the thing is, have you looked at a map of this region? There's really not much to go on. I have imposed a rule (that perhaps I need to relax) that any such name must be completely pronounceable in English, which rules out the obvious picks like Khalifa because it would drive me batty to hear it pronounced with a hard "k" all the time.

Oh, also, it can't start with an M. We did not purposely choose two M names for our girls, but if we chose an M name for this boy, that would be on purpose, by default, no matter what.

Yeah, gee, we're not asking for much, are we?

Does anyone have some words of wisdom to share? Or, dare I say it, suggestions??


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