Saturday, November 30, 2013

Righteous indignation

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 29, 2013

November 29th, outsourced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The reluctant holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Here's why I didn't blog yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Some favorite words

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

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

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

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

Accoutrements. It means "stuff."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A storm, delayed

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The miserable trifecta

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22nd, outsourced

Alfonso Cuaron's IKEA (a la Gravity).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

It takes a village...of young Arab men

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A newly minted middle child

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

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

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

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

 A map of the bedroom.

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

More fanciful creatures.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Amazing Race in the UAE

The current season of The Amazing Race just spent two legs (episodes) in the UAE. It was so fun to watch. The episodes just aired last week and this week, but they were filmed during the summer. As we watched, we couldn't help remarking, out loud, many times, how hot it must have been for the teams. It's hard enough to just BE outside in August in the UAE, let alone think through clues and perform challenges.

TAR has been to Dubai before (maybe even twice?), and it was the scene of Mika's epic refusal to go down a waterslide, not even for (a chance at) a million dollars. TAR has also been to Oman (again, maybe a couple of times), and in both the UAE and Oman, racers have struggled with driving and directions on these crazy roads. It's very validating for me.

In the episode this week, the racers went to Wadi Adventure. You guys, we were just there last week for Jeremy's extreme 10K. The wave pool he is standing in front of in the photo in this post was the same place where Nicky and Kim did their swimming task. And the rapids they went through on the boat were part of the race course for Jeremy. So cool.

In conclusion, here are my favorite teams from previous seasons of The Amazing Race.
Jet and Cord. Magdalena loves these guys, to the point that she once volunteered that she wished they were her dad (not sure how that would work).

Charla and Mirna. Fun fact: both of these women were born in Aleppo, Syria.

Zev and Justin FOREVER.

I'm glad this show doesn't cast super-contentious, verbally abusive dating couples who secretly hate each other anymore. That team type got so old in those early seasons.

Anyway. I can't tell from here how many people are actually watching this show and Jeremy and I have no one to talk about it with. So that's where this post comes from. Thanks for your indulgence.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rain in Sharjah

It rained yesterday, and the neighborhood kids went berserk. With good reason, too. Check out the park down the street:

The area in that bottom picture was pretty hazardous. One by one, the kids succumbed to the concealed curb that lurked beneath the water, banging up their knees and shins and falling face flat into the puddle. The mom in this photo is wading out to rescue her offspring.

Also, since our power was out, and since when there's no power there's no water, my filthy kids came home and couldn't take a bath. I guess I didn't really think that one through.

The water had subsided by this afternoon. We enjoyed the rain and we hope we get more!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Having a child now is different from five years ago (stuff edition)

A few people (Cait, Jennifer, and Eevi, at least) have asked how having a kid now is different than it was 5+ years ago when Magdalena was born. Today I'll write about the "stuff" that's different - baby gear, etc. Another time I'll write about how parenting itself is different for me.

There is no way I have even encountered all the differences out there, by the way. This is what I've come across so far.

The wrap. I used a sling with my other two kids. I remember wraps being out there, but I had no idea of them being as simple as I have now realized they are. They certainly weren't as common as they are now.

Onesies (the plain, Gerber kind) only have two snaps at the crotch now, instead of three. Considering that I spend what feels like a third of my life undoing or doing up snaps on baby clothes, this is a great innovation. Because seriously, what is with all the snaps?!?

The Woombie. Of course I bought a new one for this baby. And wow, is it ever an improved product. The neckline is more durable and it's a snap closure (see above - never. ending. snaps.) instead of velcro now. Plus, they added a second zipper so you can zip up from the bottom for nighttime diaper changes instead of taking the baby all the way out. Brilliant. I love Woombie more than ever.

Diapers have a fancy-schmancy wetness indicator stripe on them now. At least the ones I get here do. Again, I vaguely remember some diapers having this feature five years ago, but this is the first time my kid has worn such fine nappies.

Swaddling blankets finally exist. For Sterling, my friend Yvonne and my MIL each gave me some large, thin (muslin?), square blankets meant for swaddling. The best I could get back in the day (at least store-bought) were those tiny Carter's receiving blankets.

Strollers are fancier than ever. Around here, I don't see the combo-strollers so much, where the carseat snaps into the frame. Maybe that's because a lot of people don't put their babies in carseats here. Instead, it's all about Quinnies and Bugaboos and I know not what else.

Galactagogues. There are actual products out there now for helping to increase or sustain milk production. A friend of my neighbor makes Mommy Moosli. I can't wait to try it when my order comes.

I'm sure there are more. In fact, I know there are. When I was in the US, I took a brief trip down the baby gear aisle at Target and it was full of new things I hadn't seen before. It's nice to have little things that make life with a baby easier, even if I do feel a little bit like a first-time mom all over again.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Locked out

The kids and I walked home from Magdalena's gymnastics class this morning and found ourselves locked out of the house. I immediately found myself feeling like the setup to a brain teaser: "You're locked out of the house with two kids and an infant. You have a burp cloth and a Kindle. The 8-year-old has to go to the bathroom. What do you do?"

The sensible thing to do would have been to call campus security to let me into my house (at an unknown cost), or camp out at a neighbor's house until Jeremy got home. But I am not sensible, apparently, because I talked myself out of doing either of those things.

Instead, I told myself that Jeremy would be home soon enough. In the meantime, I tried boosting Magdalena through the opening in our back garden wall, so we could at least try the sliding glass door. We tried both windows in front. When none of that worked, we spent our time tidying up the front patio while we waited. We even hosed off the scooters and jogging stroller. We were sitting pretty.

Then all at once, everyone was thirsty and hungry and hot and needing to pee. I nursed Sterling, and he soiled his diaper. So I took his diaper off and wet the burp cloth to use as a wipe (I may never use it as a burp cloth again). When I took his clean little diaperless self back onto my lap, he soiled himself again, all over me. "Sitting pretty" had turned into me sitting in front of my house on a poo-stained patio with a naked baby, sopping wet pants from hosing myself off, an 8-year-old about to wet HER pants, and a 5-year-old in a leotard.

So we put the hose on very low on the ramp part of our patio and the girls played makeshift Slip 'n Slide in their clothes until Jeremy got home and rescued us. In total, we were outside for about 80 minutes, the first hour of which was pretty uneventful and the last 20 minutes of which I could have done without. But all is well that ends well, I suppose.

Friday, November 15, 2013

November 15th, outsourced

Here is a slideshow of much-loved lovies. Awwwwww. [HT Kathy]

Good teachers embrace their students' cultural backgrounds.

How to interact with introverts. [HT Liz]

My über-talented internet friend (who is also the SIL of a real-life friend) just had her book published. You should buy it (or enter to win it).

Ride the Moscow metro for 30 squats!

Before and after photos (via sliders) of the typhoon damage in the Philippines. [HT Cait]

This smacks ever-so-slightly of Elf on the Shelf, but I love it anyway: Dinovember. [This link has been all over the place, but Bryce had it first]

This is a long read, so maybe keep it open in a tab and read a little when you have a few moments: foreigners on things they could not believe about America until they experienced it themselves. [HT Eric D. Snider]

Are you a hangry person? Magdalena is. Learn the signs of a hangry person (featuring one of the best SNL clips ever, in my opinion). [HT Elisa]

This article about why you should use the bathroom BEFORE boarding a private jet has a few brief moments of irreverent language, but if you are of age, you should read it anyway. Because it is hilarious. And instructive. [HT Scotty]

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thesis Draft Excerpt: Categories of cultural conflict

One of the most interesting things to come out of my research is how Western instructors and their Arab students are both concerned about cultural conflict in the classroom, but their specific worries differ. When I asked, via questionnaire and interview, about the kinds of culture-based conflicts that are happening in the classroom, the overwhelming response from instructors was that they were having problems with specific materials - offensive lyrics in music, offensive scenes in videos, textbook units focused on dating/alcohol, etc. One of the instructors I interviewed gave her opinion that

there’s quite a lot of stuff I really do want to use…on YouTube, and TED Talks, and all of that kind of stuff, [but] it has to be so cleverly vetted because within any one group that you teach…there was always the one or two [students] you could see were uncomfortable. So again, as a resource to actually teach something, I don’t use music. I just don’t. And 70% of [the students] would probably love it, but I don’t. It’s just not worth it.

This theme - and specific instances of the conflicts it can cause in class - was repeated again and again by instructors.

But guess what? The students, when asked the same thing, hardly mentioned controversial materials as being a problem. I think there was one instance reported, in all the questionnaires and all the interviews with students. One. Yes, the students reported conflict, but their most-cited category was boy/girl issues. Examples of this kind of conflict ranged from a male teacher insisting on shaking a female student's hand, to girls feeling uncomfortable being made to give presentations in from of their male classmates. Here is one typical example, where a teacher

asked students to put mobile phones away. One student put her mobile phone in a side pocket of her purse. The instructor (male) came over and unzipped her purse. She was very shocked that he would do that. He then started to look through it a little, looking for the phone. She said no, she can do that herself, and she put her phone inside. Later, she heard that people were saying she had slapped his hand away, which embarrassed her since females should not touch males in this way.

I point out in my thesis that the above example would also be considered a conflict in a US/UK classroom, but not because of the male/female dynamic. It would be because of the breach of privacy, don't you think? But when this student told me about what happened, the big issue was the end part, where word got around that the girl had touched the male teacher.

The instructors mentioned dealing with sensitive boy/girl issues as well, though not as much as the students. I thought this instructor said it pretty well in her interview:

[Y]ou’ve got the girls on the one side, the guys on the other, which I dislike intensely, but there you go. And I think many of them do as well, but again, who’s going to break that one down? [It] is there to protect against murmuring rumors or whatever and that’s fine. [At another campus], they have them doing group work together. I have never gone there. I’m just not willing to do it. Because again, we’re in the Northern Emirates. And the girl who says “yes,” bless her little heart, is the one who’s going to get talked about.

So it appears that we instructors are hyper-aware of culturally inappropriate material in our classrooms here in the UAE. And maybe we're succeeding at not letting too much of it get through (or perhaps the students don't care as much as we think they do), because the students themselves hardly report having problems with it.

The bigger issue for both parties seems to be the boy/girl dynamic. Many of the students in our classrooms are in mixed-gender groups for the first time. I loved this interview I had with two male students. Don't get whiplash as you watch their opinions flip back and forth with each exchange.
Student S: Cultural issues are more important for females because they are more sensitive. They cannot do stuff like the males. For example, male or female teachers can shake hands with anyone. But female students cannot touch the male teacher.
Student D: It doesn’t matter. Teachers can do anything they want to improve their students’ knowledge. They shouldn’t divide them [by gender].
Student S: I do like it when the Western teachers do something like dividing us into mixed groups. An Arab teacher would divide us into separate male and female groups. But a Western teacher, even if the teacher knows our culture, she will do this [form mixed groups] to make energy and change.
Student D: And the Arab girls don’t care. Maybe a few are very Islamic and they care, but the others don’t care.
Student S: Yeah, after three or four weeks, it’s normal, and they don’t care if they are in mixed groups.
Student D: But not always!

Take heart, Western instructors! Putting Muslim students in mixed-gender groups is just fine. Except when it isn't.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Two nights ago, Miriam was doodling pensively on the whiteboard when she turned to me and asked, "Mama, what color is Sunday to you?"

I asked her what she meant.

She replied, "well, when you think of Sunday, what color is it?"

I guess I am a nerd because my heart instantly thrilled to the thought that my daughter was possibly describing a form of synesthesia. Simply put, synesthesia is when you experience one sense in two ways, like tasting colors. From what Miriam told me, it sounds like days of the week are certain colors to her. Here's what she described:

Sunday - yellow or light blue
Monday - pink
Tuesday - red
Wednesday - dark blue
Thursday - orange
Friday - "Friday is hard to describe. It's not really any color, but if I had to say, I would say green."
Saturday - white

I realize that it's entirely possible that Miriam might have just sat down one day and decided that the days of the week are a certain color. Eight-year-old girls do that kind of thing sometimes. But until further notice, this is synesthesia and it's the coolest thing ever.

I think many of us have some form of synesthesia, even if we don't know it. When I heard about synesthesia a few years ago, I realized that I do something weird when I think of the progression of the months of the year. To me, in my mind, a year looks like this:

Is that what a year looks like to you? Do you have another synesthesia-like thing that you do?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pre-church social butterfly

I had a one-hour meeting before our regular three-hour church meeting on Friday. Jeremy was out of town, so I sent the girls into the chapel room on their own with some paper and pens and told them to save me a seat and color/draw while I was in the meeting.

When I saw them again, just before church started, they were in their places, coloring/drawing/writing quietly. I was so glad they had behaved and, I'll confess, a little surprised that they had stayed in place the whole time.

Well, today, these pictures (taken on Friday) showed up on Facebook.
Looks like Magdalena was kickin' it with the Filipinas before church started. I love it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thesis Draft Excerpt: Likert headaches

It's all well and good to collect data for a thesis. But when you sit down to write the thing, you have to figure out the best way to present it all. You can't just throw some charts in there, highlight some percentages, and call it good.

I used a lot of Likert-type scale statements in my questionnaires. Those are the ubiquitous "Strongly agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree" things you've probably come across quite a bit in surveys over the years.

Today, I'm trying to wrangle a few related Likert-type scale statements into a meaningful representation of their significance, whether visually or in words. Here's a peek inside of my Likert headache.

Instructors (Western, native speakers of English) were presented with these statements:
I understand the cultures of my students.
I make an effort to understand the cultures of my students.
In my opinion, my students feel I understand their culture.
In my opinion, my students feel I make an effort to understand their culture.

Students (Muslim Arabs) got these statements:
I feel that my teacher understands my culture.
I feel that my teacher makes an effort to understand my culture.

When I was designing my research instruments, there was a slight element of throwing more than one angle of a question at my subjects and seeing what stuck. Or what came out of it. Now I have the results and I'm not sure how to parse them. I know I want to get at any discrepancies between what the instructors perceive and what the reality is. Which means that I should compare the statements like so:

"I understand the cultures of my students" AND "I feel that my teacher understands my culture."

Right? But where does that leave "In my opinion, my students feel I understand their culture"? Is there some kind of bizarre three-way bar chart I can use to show all of this? Or is one of those statements superfluous? If so, which one?

The other natural grouping is "I make an effort to understand the cultures of my students" AND "I feel that my teacher makes an effort to understand my culture." That leaves "In my opinion, my students feel I make an effort to understand their culture" a lonely orphan.

Anyway, I'm just working through this and I've brought you along on the journey. No need to solve my problem. Unless you CAN, of course.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Wrap

Before Sterling was born, I blogged about making a no-sew baby wrap. I mentioned here that I am basically writing the rest of my thesis while wearing my baby. I'm not the only one who can wear him, either:

Yes, the wrap is a wonderful thing. I absolutely recommend getting/making one if you have a baby and you find yourself still needing to accomplish things during the day. Weird, I know. I have done just about any household chore you could imagine while wearing Sterling. It is so liberating to know that if he's fussy and won't settle on his own, I can just pop him in the wrap and carry on with life.

I've noticed that when I wear him in public, I get a lot of odd/fascinated looks, and a lot of people will actually approach me to comment on it. Here are some of the reactions I've received while out and about:

- what is that?
- how do you do that?
- where did you get that?
- is he comfortable in that?
- how does he sleep while you're moving around so much?
- can he breathe in that?

These comments are offered sometimes in a positive tone of admiration, but sometimes in a negative tone of chastisement. I try not to worry about the latter. The fact is that Sterling would let me know - loudly - if he were at all uncomfortable. The wrap looks tight, but the material is stretchy so it has more give than you'd think. And he sleeps quite well while I'm moving around - babies like to be in motion. That's why we rock them and swing them and bounce them.

The wrap is currently the most helpful piece of baby gear that I own. I promise I take time to just hold my baby and enjoy his baby-ness, but as most of you already know, life goes on even when you have an infant. I am so grateful to have something that helps me get done the things I need to do, whether it's cooking dinner, writing my thesis, shopping for groceries, or just soothing a fussy baby.

One final note: don't be put off - as I was, initially - at the perceived difficulty of tying the wrap. I've only ever used the one tie: Pocket Wrap Cross Carry. Even if I never use another tie, the wrap will already have been so useful that it wouldn't matter. And remember that you do not need to buy a "product" - you can just make your own wrap, as I did, following the instructions here. It doesn't get any easier, I promise, and your new-mom self will thank you when the time comes.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Before and after

There was another Wadi Adventure Race today. Jeremy placed 30th out of 300ish, compared to 54th out of 160ish. At the last race in April, Jeremy was just beginning to get serious about exercise, with the help of the university's Wellness Program. Take a look at him now!

Friday, November 08, 2013

November 8th, outsourced

The internet was all kinds of awesome this week. Brace yourselves.

When KFC opened in Damascus, it was a big deal - the first US fast food chain to ever make it into the country. Now it has closed.

BUT: the Christian village of Seidnayya in Syria has managed to build a huge statue of Jesus on the mountain. [HT Suzanne]

The US needs to get rid of Daylight Savings (yeah!!!) and have just two time zones, one hour apart (????).

The man behind Oregon's infamous exploding whale has died. If you did not already know about the exploding whale, please proceed directly to YouTube.

This woman is so artistically talented that I can hardly fault her for turning her napping newborn into artwork.

I don't really understand the photographic science behind these photos. I only know that they are terrifying. [HT Erin]

The eternal tide of laundry. Preach. [HT Andrew]

I REALLY hope you heard the news about the two planes that crashed into each other mid-air, but all eleven occupants were skydivers so nobody was killed. Yeah. CHECK. IT. OUT. As I said on fb the other day, those people basically fell out of a plane. The fact that they had parachutes strapped to their backs had to have been irrelevant for those first few moments.

So much to digest in this article about Cafeteria Mormonism. [HT Andrew]

I cannot determine my dominant emotion re: Anti-Rape Wear. Is it...awesome? Empowering? Ridiculous? About time? I'm not sure. I just know that I'm fascinated. [HT Ellie]

I don't know how a personal essay about Orson Scott Card, homophobia, and Ender's Game turned into something so incredibly affecting that I had chills by the time I was finished reading it, but there you go. [HT Jessie]

This is random, but it is a fact that every once in a while I reminisce about that awesome Jane Austen Fight Club video from 2010, and mourn the fact that it was removed from YouTube because it used copyrighted music. Or something. But the original version (as far as I can tell) has been restored here. Watch it all you want.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Thesis Draft Excerpt: Controversial materials/topics in class

Check it out: when I asked students (via questionnaire) if they were OK with their teachers using materials and topics in class that went against their religious values, they said, heck no.

But then, when I asked if they were OK discussing sex in class - pretty much THE big no-no, you would think - they said, meh.

Are they just messing with me?

One student scribbled in the margins of the paper questionnaire that he agreed with this statement because "it might be usefull [sic] for life." So there's that.

Otherwise, I can't really make sense of this. Maybe since it was an anonymous questionnaire, the students were all, here's our chance to request more class materials/topics related to sex??

PS - my supervisor said no fancy-pants diverging stacked bar charts. :( Those took longer to make, so I guess I'm thanking him for saving me some time, even if they were so pretty.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Guest Post: A Mormon Mom Gets a Tummy-tuck

I have only ever had two guest posts on this blog: my BIL Scott's mission (mis)adventure in a Russian hospital, and my mom's perspective on raising a special-needs child. So it's kind of a big deal to feature the third guest post today, and it's one I've been looking forward to for months.

Mikael is a dear friend of mine from childhood. I won't gush about her too much. Just know that she is one of the most genuine people you will ever meet, if you have that privilege. She lives in rural Washington with her husband and four children, ages 7, 5, 5 (yes, twins), and 1. Mikael has written extensively about her experience getting a tummy-tuck on her private blog, and I asked her to write this post on my blog so her story could reach a wider audience. I am so glad she agreed.

I said before that Mikael is a genuine person. There is not a drop of guile in her. I know that she would never judge other moms for their opinions on post-childbirth bodies, whatever they are. So please feel free to comment on this post, but please also respect the decisions Mikael has made in her own personal life.


I had just given birth naturally to my identical twin boys at 38 ½ weeks after an intense two hours of pushing in the OR. Sweat was dripping from my forehead, I was out of breath and had a serious case of the “after birth” shakes. I had never imagined my body being put through such an ordeal. I looked over to see the nurses handling my beautiful babies.  Once they wheeled me from the OR to my room, and after I nursed my new babies, they asked if I wanted them weighed. Um, ya! They gently placed them on the scale:

Baby A: 7 lbs 10 oz
Baby B: 7 lbs 7 oz

There was a gasp in the room from everyone. The look on my doctor’s face explained it all. Shock. I would forever be known at St. Vincent Hospital as the rock-star mom who birthed super large twins naturally, tandem breastfed them moments later, and took them home the very next day.

Hours later, after everyone left and I was alone in my room I undressed and hobbled to the shower. I glanced down at the body that was no longer “me”. I was torn apart, stretched out and left with skin and scars that brought tears to my eyes. The nearly 16 pounds of babies that I had carried for the last 9 months ripped me to shreds. Those two babies, that I had prayed so hard for nine months to carry to term, had left their marks on my body in more ways than one. I stood in the shower, hunched over, feeling the water run down all the new wrinkles, bulges and folds that weren’t there before. I will bounce back, I thought, everyone bounces back, right?  But the more I looked at myself the more I realized I was now a disfigured mutant that looked like the moon might have resided inside of me at one time! Bouncing back might not happen this time around like it did with my first baby. Who bounces back from housing the moon in their belly? Spanx would become my best friend. I was changed forever!

I bet you are thinking, “Oh, don’t be so dramatic!” But before you jump to judgments and conclusions or your own solutions you have to know where I have come from.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Thesis Draft Excerpt: cultural give-and-take in the classroom

That email from my supervisor yesterday was indeed my thesis draft come back to me for revisions. So while I'm working on that, here is a flat-out copy/paste of a section of my thesis where I am talking about specific instances of cultural conflict that occurred in the classroom, as reported by Western instructors and Muslim students in the questionnaire short-answers or in the interviews. I found this little anecdote to be quite interesting.

            One anecdote shared during a student interview illustrates the cultural give-and-take that is going on in the classroom. Student S spoke at length about a classroom activity that at first alarmed him as being outside the proper bounds of his culture, but that he later learned to appreciate in his own way (his words have been edited slightly for clarity):
Last semester, when there were one or two weeks left, [my teacher] wanted to do some exciting experience. She told us she would write our names on papers, and we would choose the papers and give that person a gift [Secret Santa exchange]. This was the first time doing this for all of us in the class.
I chose a girl name. So I was like, “Oh my gosh! What should I do?” So I asked my friends, “What should I give to her?” They told me to give her flowers or something like that. But I thought maybe I wanted to give her a mug. But I said, “I don’t know anything about girls!”
I waited until the last day to prepare something. I woke up at ten, went to the supermarket, and bought some flowers and chocolates to give to the girl in class. It was a new experience. It was positive, in the end. It was my first time buying a gift for a girl!
[Interviewer Bridget]: What if you told your parents about that activity?
[Student S]: I did tell them. I said it was like a homework assignment. I told my mother I brought flowers to a girl and she said, “What???” But I explained to her that I don’t really know the girl and I brought it like a gift because I had to.
The experience of this Palestinian student illustrates a cultural conflict averted. The Western NES instructor’s idea for a Secret Santa activity was possibly ill-advised, seemingly flouting several aspects of Muslim culture and tradition, namely that it is associated with a Christian holiday, and it requires gift-giving between the sexes. However, students like S took the activity, made it a learning experience, and were all the happier for it.
It is possible that other students in the same class, or other students another time in another class, could be offended at such an activity, and a serious cultural conflict could arise. Student S himself appends at the end of his account that “it would be more awkward for a girl to give to a boy,” allowing for the possibility of his positive experience having been a very negative one for some of his classmates. Indeed, data collected from the instructors and students in this study show plenty of similar instances of cultural conflict that did not turn out so well. But Student S’s way of dealing with an unfamiliar cultural experience in class brings to mind the words of Instructor E when she explained that her students are

curious about the world. So they wouldn’t have thanked me if I had diluted the content. That wasn’t why they were there. They wouldn’t have thanked me if I didn’t match them up with other nationalities to do pair work, [etc.]. That was all part of what they signed up for. So you can be overly sensitive and actually end up not doing much good either!

That last quote from Instructor E is one of my favorite things that has come out of this research. Just FYI.

Monday, November 04, 2013

U-turn or not U-turn?

I have an email from my supervisor sitting in my inbox, but I haven't read it yet so I don't know if it's my thesis come back to me. So I'm not cheating by posting today. Here is a picture I took in Dubai the other day.

No U-turns. But also, U-turns.

(The hand-drawn sign is directions to a wake. So I guess the U-turn is OK if you're going to the wake.)

We made a U-turn there. The sign is there for a reason: that spot is a place where you kind of need to do a U-turn because of the weird road design. There's plenty of space for it, too!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Blessing & Baptism

Friday was a big day for the Palmer family. Sterling was blessed (kind of like a christening, but without the baptism component) and Miriam was baptized (kind of like a christening, but without the infant component).

Mormon babies are generally blessed sometime within the first few months of life, and they wear white for the ceremony. A few weeks ago, we took Sterling to a tailor shop so he could be measured for a bespoke kandura. The tailors didn't know quite how to measure a 2-week-old baby, but they managed. The finished product fit perfectly.
Have you ever seen anything cuter in your entire life? I submit that you have not. The blessing went very well (meaning he did not cry throughout) and we were so happy that our families could watch it by tuning in to the online broadcast of our church meeting from across the world.

Mormon children are generally baptized sometime after they turn eight years old. Miriam turned eight back in September. We waited a while to have her baptized, in part because we were hoping they would finish building the font at our church villa (Mormons are baptized by immersion, so you need a good-sized body of water). Our old villa had a pool that we used for baptisms - or, in a pinch, like the morning they showed up to do a baptism and found the pool covered in algae, the jacuzzi tub upstairs (!) - but our new villa does not. So a few members of the congregation have been working on constructing an above-ground font of sorts.

Anyway, it was almost done by the time Friday came around, but not quite. That left us with a few options: drive to Abu Dhabi to have the baptism in the font at the chapel there, use a friend-of-a-friend's swimming pool at a private villa in Dubai, or postpone the baptism until the font in Sharjah was finished. We chose to go to Dubai.

(Note: two things were NOT options. First, we can't use a semi-private or a public swimming pool because of the religion-based attention it would attract. Not a good thing in this part of the world. Second, we technically could have used the waters of the Gulf, as is done in other parts of the Middle East - I think Egypt uses the Red Sea, for example - but that is also a little touchy around here. You just never know who could see you and take offense.)

So off to Dubai we went on Friday morning. The amazing thing is that we did not even know the people whose beautiful home we took over for an hour. But they were so gracious about offering it to us and provided everything we could need, including their gorgeous pool. Here is where Miriam was baptized:

Jeremy wore his own bespoke kandura for the occasion, and Miriam wore a dress from her Grandma Palmer. Magdalena is wearing white just cuz - except that I just remembered that we bought that dress in Vermont right after she was born, for Miriam to wear on the day that Magdalena was blessed, so I guess it's come full circle.

If this is the only Mormon kid baptism you've read about, FYI, it is slightly atypical. But it's also completely typical, in that they wore white and it took place in a body of water, so. That's all that really matters (see jacuzzi incident, above). The exact nature of the white clothes may differ, the form of the body of water may vary, but the ordinance is the same.

Pro tip: consider NOT scheduling your child's baptism for the day after Halloween. It was a chaotic "night before," and don't tell anyone, but there may have been very, very slight traces of a dark mark still on Miriam's forearm when she was baptized, despite all our scrubbing in the bath the previous evening. Thankfully, all the colored hairspray had washed out, no problem.

It was a very special day for all of us, and I hope Miriam can always remember sharing her baptism day with Sterling's blessing day.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Halloween, UAE, 2013

The turnout for Halloween trick-or-treating this year was the most we've ever seen here. We actually ran out of candy! Usually we have tons left over.

The thing is, though, some kids around here don't really get Halloween. It's kind of a weird holiday, I know, and because of its macabre nature, many Muslim families do not allow their children to participate (heck, many families of lots of religions do not allow their children to participate, now that I think about it). As I sat on the patio, handing out the candy, there were many, many children (and pushing-teenagedom "children") who came up to me and held out plastic shopping bags, not even saying Trick-or-Treat. It's as if they got the message that there was a strange American holiday where your neighbors gave out candy, but they missed the part about dressing up in a costume. It's an understandable mistake.

For example, a little Arab girl came skipping up all by herself. She wasn't dressed up. I asked her where her costume was (look at me, all curmudgeonly, sitting on my porch, practically kicking kids off my lawn). She said, "oh, I'm just on my way to a friend's house and I thought I'd trick-or-treat on the way." OK, then!

Here's what the Palmer girls came up with. True to form, they vacillated on what they wanted to be right up until it was time to get ready. We came up with Magdalena the ghost:

and Miriam the Bellatrix Lestrange, complete with historically accurate 12-inch wand (we looked it up).

Friday, November 01, 2013

NaBloPoMo 2013

It has come to my attention that holy cow, it is November today. So, NaBloPoMo??

Here's the thing. If I say I'm going to do it, or even that I will TRY to do it, I WILL do it, every single day. So I need to not say that. If I'm going to be sitting at my computer, writing something, it needs to be my thesis.

Therefore, here's the deal. I turned in my thesis to my supervisor yesterday. As long as it is with him, I will do NaBloPoMo. When the thesis comes back to me and I need to do revisions, I will not do NaBloPoMo. But if I send it in to my committee this month and it's out of my hands again, I will go back to NaBloPoMo.

This year it will be a NaBloPoMo/NaTheWriMo hybrid. Tally ho!

November 1st, outsourced

The most UNpopular baby names from the olden days.

I can't explain to you why I found this so funny: Who said it? Kanye West or a rice cooker instruction manual?

Bizarre natural remedies from the 1700s. Ew.

This marching band halftime performance is AMAZING. [HT Jaclyn]

I know the point of satire is that it's based on reality, but seriously, I can almost, almost believe that they're opening up a Gold-class VIP lane from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

Honest slogans. Cap'n Crunch is the natural enemy of the roof of my mouth.

Don't read this if you don't want to hear about how there actually was never a mass panic about the radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. :( [HT Eric D. Snider]

Here's an awesome way to announce that you're having a baby! [HT Liz]

Real-life female heroes, princessified. [HT Jen]

Indulge me for 24 seconds and watch my friend Ashley's daughter finding joy in Sterling's passport picture. Thanks!


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