Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring Break

Usually we hang around town for Spring Break (or have misadventures in the Empty Quarter), but this year, we decided to go to Germany. Here is what our "Spring" Break in Germany looked like upon arrival.

Yeah. Good thing Jeremy and I love the cold. It is such a treat to the eyes and to the body to be in different surroundings with a drastically different climate. Even if it is, well, freezing. Literally.

The girls are having to dredge up memories of living in Ithaca to remember how to cope with these weather conditions, since that's the last time we experienced natural cold and wet (so not counting Ski Dubai) like this. I had forgotten what a chore it is to prepare small children to go out of doors when it's so cold - layers, coat, hat, boots, mittens, scarf, everything zipped up and wrapped properly. In the UAE, it's more like "put on your flip-flops and let's go."

My favorite quotes from the girls so far:

"Porcupones!!!!!" - Majd, on seeing pine cones on the ground during a hike through a snowy forest.

"Mama, sometimes I look out the window and it reminds me of Christmas." - Miriam.

Me too, Miriam. Me too.

Speaking of religious holidays, it is an extra special free bonus for us to be spending Easter in a country that not only celebrates it, but gives a four-day weekend holiday to go with it. So Happy Easter!

Friday, March 29, 2013

March 29th, outsourced

Not many links today. It was a busy week heading in to Spring Break and actually I'm somewhere in Germany as you're reading this.

My friend Liz sent me this link (Hi. In the past two years you have allowed me to kill 70,000 people) and I can't stop thinking about it. On the one hand, it's not that simple. On the other hand...isn't it?

Watch this anti-rape ad and see how it surprises you. [HT Kathy]

Illegal. [HT Lisa]

A generational shift in understanding life with Down Syndrome.

It wouldn't be Outsourced Friday without at least one frivolous link. So here are 25 astonishingly useless tips found in magazines. Some of those are seriously SO BAD. And British, I suspect.

OK, OK, two frivolous links. Was the destruction of the Death Star an inside job? [HT Matt]

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mountain climbers, pirates, the French, and the Montmoravians

Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering's Most Controversial and Mysterious DisastersForever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering's Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters by James M. Tabor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two things could have bumped this rating up to a five:

1. If I had known about this disaster before I read the book, and had a pre-existing understanding of all the who-blamed-who and non-rescue drama.

2. If I had read a physical copy of the book instead of listening to the audiobook.

I mention the first because it was jarring to be thrown into the midst of a controversy where I wasn't previously aware that one existed. To a certain degree, the book seems to assume that I already know who Joe Wilcox is and that I already assume he's the bad guy. The book is also very clear from the beginning about how many and which people die on the mountain.

As for the second, well, this was a very long book, which made for a very, very long audiobook, unrelieved by pictures or maps or charts. Near the end, Forever on the Mountain started to remind me of that guy at a party who corners you and talks your ear off: "but did I tell you about THIS conspiracy theory????" In print, I don't think it would have come off that way.

BUT. Good book. Probably a great one if you are already familiar with this mountaineering accident or, even better, if you remember when it actually happened.


Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody ReignEmpire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign by Stephan Talty

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


3.5 stars. Very good. The last few chapters are the most interesting - the invasion of Panama by pirates, followed by a horrifically devastating earthquake.




The Scarlet PimpernelThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


2nd reading, March 2013. Even better the second time because you already know the twists and surprises...and that this book is kind of a let-down in the end. Having realistic expectations this time made it an even better read!




A Brief History of Montmaray (The Montmaray Journals, #1)A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoroughly enjoyable. At (different) times, the story reminded me of Indiana Jones (Last Crusade), Gone With the Wind, Sense & Sensibility (but set on a remote island in the 1930s) and Flavia de Luce.

At other times, I was annoyed with the book's slavish devotion to the journal format. Sophia writes everything down, not just the interesting stuff, you know? Just like a real journal would be.

But a fun adventure in the end.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

American Girls

To follow up on Magdalena's Global Day attire:

I think we did quite nicely.

In this picture, Miriam is dressed up as her favorite book character to celebrate her school's Book Day. In case you can't tell (ahem), she's Mary Ingalls, circa Little House in the Big Woods. Her choice. The deliberations were pretty intense between Mary or Laura, but she finally decided on Mary the night before Book Day. And the night before Book Day, this was the best costume we could put together.

The thing is, she goes to a British-curriculum international school located in the Middle East, so I was afraid her character choice would fall flat, i.e., no one would know who the heck Mary Ingalls was. It sounds like maybe that happened a little bit, but it also sounds like people dressed up as book characters from all kinds of books, British and otherwise, obscure and otherwise, so she fit right in. The point was not to choose the most recognizable book character (though apparently there were plenty of Harrys and Hermiones), but your favorite book character.

She's already thinking about who she might dress up as next year. The frontrunner at the moment is Mary Lennox, or maybe Laura Ingalls.

After I took the above picture, I mentioned to Miriam and Magdalena that they were both American Girls. Miriam was American Girl from the olden days (to me, LHOP is the apotheosis of "the olden days"), and Magdalena was American Girl from 2013. They thought that was the neatest thing ever and giggled about it all the way until it was time to go to school.

I think it's kind of the neatest thing ever, too.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Global Village, without pictures

How sad is it that I took the girls to Global Village tonight and didn't even take any pictures?

Even sadder is that I just searched my blog and I've never even blogged about Global Village.

Slightly less sad is that I just checked my Jordan blog and yep, I blogged about Global Village when it was in Amman (it travels around for the summer and then sets up camp in Dubai from October - March).

Anyway, we went there tonight and the girls each had 10 dhs to spend. We went to many, many country pavilions. The girls kept their eyes open for something they wanted. Majd finally decided on some fancy headbands in the China pavilion, but Miriam was still undecided.

UNTIL. We were on our way to Thailand to see if there was anything there that she liked when we passed an ice cream stand. The price of a bowlful? 10 dhs. SOLD. I can't decide if Miriam seeing the wonders of the world for sale at Global Village and then buying some ice cream is a crying shame...

or completely brilliant.

Friday, March 22, 2013

March 22nd, outsourced

Veronica Mars, TV's realest depiction of rape, is going to be a movie.

The mystery company importing Americana to the Middle East. Maybe this article was only fascinating to me, but it was SO fascinating. My students' number one favorite restaurant is The Cheesecake Factory. Number two is PF Chang's. Really. [HT Brad]

The other day I heard that women will (probably) pray in General Conference for the first time, which was fantastic news, and it helped cleanse my palate from reading about this skeezy modesty-rant picture a guy took at BYU-I. HOW DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING? Did we learn nothing from the skinny jeans controversy?? [HT Andrew (prayers) and Lyse (modesty)]

On a women's-bodies-issues-related note, here are some 1950s beauty pageant judging standards. Like pieces of meat, those women were.

Read my friend Liz's blog post about the Stuebenville rape trial and what it says about rape culture in America. If you don't believe there is a rape culture in America, watch this mainstream US media (CNN) news report about the case and find out that you're wrong. We have a problem. A big one.

ANYWAY. A nice video about a blind, 4-year-old boy stepping off a curb by himself for the first time would be great right about now. Here you go.

I saw this article (about the pressure for moms to over-celebrate obscure holidays for their kids' sake) linked to in a lot of places this week. It made me feel better about not doing a thing for St. Patrick's Day on Sunday. I am so glad for those of you that did, really, you are awesome.

The word "whom" is almost dead, aren't you glad? I always try to tell my students not to try to use it (because when used incorrectly, "whom" is horribly pretentious...actually, kind of even when it IS used correctly), but they told me it's sometimes on the TOEFL. :(

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Classroom controversy

My students' "a successful person I admire" presentations are going on this week. I've written about them before here and here. It's usually one of my favorite weeks of the semester, because I get to sit back and learn more about what and who are important in the lives of my students.

Yesterday morning, though, things took a turn for the - odd? offensive? controversial? - when I found out 10 minutes before class that one of my students (a Sudanese boy) was planning to give his "a successful person I admire" presentation on none other than Bashar al-Assad. YIKES. In the very short time I had to figure out what to do, these two questions were running through my head:

1. Can I do anything about this? Yes. As the teacher, I could postpone his presentation and ask him to choose a new subject. But:

2. Should I do anything about this? Of course, this was the harder question.

To help those of you in America understand the situation, I'm trying to think of a comparable public figure that would be equally as divisive for a student to give a presentation about in the US. Maybe Robert E. Lee, but somehow more relevant to the present day? It's not at all a perfect analogy and I'm sure someone will think of a better one. Thanks in advance.

Or think of it this way. The war in Syria, led by Bashar al-Assad against his own countrymen, isn't a war that happened a long time ago, a war that's settled and done with a victor declared. This is a war that's happening right now, to these students' families and homes, and they talk about hearing gunshots and shelling in the background when they skype with their relatives there, or they held out as long as they could in their hometowns but finally moved here to the UAE, or they went back to visit last summer but their parents sent them away because when they got sick they were too scared to send them to a hospital for fear of their being kidnapped. This is very much a relevant event in my students' lives, and as the steward of the classroom, I did not know that I could stand there and let one of them talk about the figurehead of what has now been proven to be a horribly cruel regime (70,000 Syrians have been killed at last count).

So I took the advice of my boss (which I solicited immediately after finding out the subject of my student's presentation), and just before class started, I had a brief chat with the one Syrian student I have in that section. I told her what was going to happen. I told her that it made me uncomfortable, but that my main concern was for her. She was surprised at first that one of her classmates would choose that topic, and then I was surprised when she told me she was fine with it.

Her nonchalant attitude toward this sticky situation made a little more sense when hers was the first hand up during the Q&A session after the presentation - she was just saving her outrage for when it mattered. She asked the student to defend his choice of Bashar al-Assad as a successful person, which the student wasn't really able to do. Her questions really seemed to take the wind out of his sails, like maybe he'd done this just on a lark and was re-thinking his decision now that someone - a Syrian - actually had the guts to put him on the spot.

(As for his actual presentation, by the way, it was pretty innocuous. In fact, if that student had given the same presentation in, say, the early 2000s, it would have been fine. I would have agreed with it, in fact. It was all about how Bashar opened up Syria to mobile phones and the internet and seemed to be moving toward a reduction of political oppression compared to the rule of his father, possibly as a result of the time he had spent as a medical student in the UK. Smarter people than my student have said the same, but guess what? They don't say stuff like that anymore.)

So it all ended well, but the events of yesterday's class were another example of "things an MA doesn't teach you how to deal with" I can add to the list. Any thoughts on how you would have handled the situation? Think of the larger issues at work here. Should teachers keep major political conflict out of the classroom, especially if the "bad guy" is being shown as a "good guy"? Does your answer change depending on what country you're teaching in? Discuss.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dubai metro

On Thursday, I went to a conference in Dubai. That sounds like a really grown-up thing to do, but the reality is that I was sent as a representative for my MA program, not as an actual attendee. Still, it was fun to sit in the AUS booth and talk to people about something I'm interested in.

The conference was at a hotel in the Deira neighborhood of Dubai, and the last thing I wanted was to be trying to drive home from Deira to Sharjah at 5.30 on a Thursday (American Friday) afternoon. So I took the metro there and back. It was my first time on the Dubai metro, would you believe it? Actually, I can totally believe it. The nearest station is a 15-minute drive away from our house and we don't commute to Dubai on a regular basis, and we own a car, and metro fare x family of 4 + cheap gas means that driving is surprisingly economical here.

Well, this was by far the nicest metro I've ever been on (out of DC, NYC, Portland, Boston, Tokyo, Kyoto, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Vienna, Istanbul, Prague, and Cairo). OF COURSE. This is the UAE we're talking about. The stations were ultra-modern and gleaming and - surprisingly, to me, though I should have known better - totally well used!

There was a VIP car at the front of the train (again, OF COURSE, this is the UAE), where for a little extra money per ticket, you can sit in a forward-facing leather seat with a panoramic view through an expansive window (for most of the metro line, the tracks are raised a few stories above-ground, so the view is actually really nice). There is also a women/children-only car, which is where I sat. The last thing I needed was flashbacks to being groped in Cairo. And in light of the recent pushing-onto-the-tracks accidents in NYC, I particularly noted the fact that the platforms here are glassed-in, meaning that you can't access the tracks even if you wanted to. Just interesting.

But be warned: as nice as this metro is, fish are NOT allowed.

Total travel time for me was about 40 minutes - 15 driving to the park & ride station, and 25 on the metro itself, after which I walked through a sandy field in high heels to get to the hotel. Keeping it classy. I think I could have driven in fewer than 40 minutes on the way there, but I feel confident I beat the traffic on the way back. Deira is a beast. Total cost was 7 dhs ($1.90) - it was a one-zone ride and I only bought a two-trip ticket.

And now I've had experience riding the metro. Hooray!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

PLANE TICKETS

AKA, what's been consuming my internet activity lately.

Shopping for and buying plane tickets is one of my least favorite tasks. It's so stressful! Will the fares go up? Will they go down? SHOULD I BUY RIGHT NOW?!??!! Ugh. Kayak.com makes the process easier and I have had several fare alerts set up for months/years now. It's nice to have an idea of what a "good" fare is so that when you see something low, you know it's low, and you can buy it.

Anyway, we played the airfare game with some spring break tickets recently, and yesterday, we lost (the fares shot way up). We moped for a good part of the day.

This morning, I called Emirates to see if that magically low fare we'd lost was somehow still available even though it didn't show on their (or Kayak's) website. Of course it wasn't. The agent tried all kinds of things, like splitting us onto two different flights and fiddling with the dates, to no avail. I'm sure she could tell how disappointed I was, because she told me to keep checking back. She said the fares could still come down if there were cancellations.

Well, a few hours later, I checked again...and the magically low fare was back. You'd better believe I snatched it up. Hooray! Spring break is back on.

All this airfare drama is in addition to what we went through a week ago when a different magically low fare to a different place (summer destination) showed up and we pre-booked it. For some destinations, Emirates allows you to reserve a flight without initially paying for it. That booking is then cancelled in 24 hours unless you've paid. At about 22.5 hours, I logged in to pay for our great tickets and the system wouldn't accept our credit card (sometimes our US-issued card gives us trouble on airline websites). After a few frantic phone calls to Emirates (me) and the credit card company (Jeremy), I changed out of my pajamas and back into clothes and drove like the dickens to the physical Emirates office in the Dubai airport to pay for the tickets in person before the booking (and the magical price) expired. STRESS. But it all turned out OK.

So, who else loathes plane-ticket shopping? At least I don't have to go through a government agency to do it, I guess, and at least I'm not required to fly a US-based airline. We've had to deal with both of those in the past, and it just complicates the process.

Anyway, yay for completed travel arrangements, THE END.

Friday, March 15, 2013

March 15th, outsourced

“I don’t think that we should be telling women anything. I think we should be telling men not to rape women and start the conversation there.”

Don't want (registered) sex offenders in your neighborhood? Build a tiny park.

I saw this article about living with less linked to in a few places, and it reminded me of the time we sold almost everything we owned and how liberating that was.

I saw this in a few places, too: serving convenience foods for dinner doesn't save time. (I think the article ends up saying it actually might save you 10 or 20 minutes, but you get the point.) Interesting food for thought.

More obituaries need to read like this one: "Harry took fashion cues from no one. His signature every day look was all his: a plain pocketed T-shirt designed by the fashion house Fruit of the Loom, his black-label elastic waist shorts worn above the navel and sold exclusively at the Sam's on Highway 49, and a pair of old school Wallabees (who can even remember where he got those?) that were always paired with a grass-stained MSU baseball cap." [HT Jen]

Diabulimia: skipping insulin to lose weight. [HT Ashi]

I wish I wish this map of which countries America does/doesn't like (and vice versa) could have included more countries!!! Still, pretty neat.

Seriously, no, THIS is the most useless infomercial product ever. I mean, if it were self-chilling or something, then maybe, but it's not. Fushies are just pillows for your feet. Lame.

This (I think fake) product, on the other hand, seems not to exist but actually could be useful. [HT Kathy]

I KNEW IT: babies can be mean-spirited. [HT Kathy]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Global Day strikes again

It's Global Day season again, hooray! I love this time of year, and it's a big deal on campus. Magdalena's class has been celebrating Global Day all week, spending time talking about each class member's nationality and native language and giving them a chance to wear their "national costume."

I ask you: what is America's "national costume"? It is SO EASY for most other countries. They all have some cute, all-inclusive folk tradition, or (especially in the Middle East) traditional clothes that are very much still worn on a daily basis. And then there's me, struggling every year for the past three years to come up with something for my kid to wear. Two years ago, Miriam wore a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a Western-y twirly skirt. Last year, Magdalena wore red/white/blue striped clothes. This year, thanks to Grandma Palmer being on the ball during the 4th of July last summer, Magdalena will be wearing a shirt that says "I ❤ USA," some jeans, and the cowboy boots that Miriam wore two years ago.

Anyway. Tomorrow is the potluck lunch at her school and everyone is supposed to bring in a traditional food. I struggle with this, too. This year, I'm thinking outside the box, and instead of bringing something that tastes like America, I'm bringing something that looks like it. Namely, fruit pizza with strawberries and blueberries.


I think I've finally conquered Global Day. Just in time for it to be over.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Jeremy Bourne

On Saturday, we attended a community gathering at the youth center on campus. There were activities for the whole family - a climbing wall, make-your-own candy necklaces, flour-balloon friends (that had a cute British name but which I can't remember), Xbox, table tennis, etc. A friend of ours from the University of Arizona (who now lives in Oman) was up visiting us just for the day, and she came with us to the gathering to kill time before her flight back to Muscat later that afternoon.

Well, us adults ended up playing Guitar Hero for a few songs...or a few more...and by the time the game was over, our friend looked down and noticed that her purse was missing! A purse which, I should add, contained her passport and plane ticket for later that day.

Honestly, I didn't panic at first. Sharjah in general and campus specifically are not big on petty crime. Besides, Jeremy and I knew almost every single person in attendance at that gathering, and we figured that some kid (or adult, really) had accidentally walked off with the purse, mistaking it for their own. So we looked and asked around a bit. I got excited when I saw a completely unattended purse in the corner of another room, so I picked it up and brought it to our friend to ask if it was hers. It wasn't, which means I had just done to someone else what we thought someone else had just done to our friend.

(I put the purse back in its place, of course....and it sat there unstolen, unattended, for the next two hours. Like I said, this place is generally free of petty crime.) (And other types of crime, when I think about it.)

As we continued to look for the purse in every corner of the youth center, we found out from the youth center staff that the area where the purse was taken could be seen on a security camera. Awesome! - we would be able to see who had taken the purse, whether it had been on purpose or accidentally. The problem was, the youth center staff didn't have the authority (or ability) to rewind the tape to the time frame we needed. So our friend and I got to work trying to contact the security guy in Dubai on a Saturday afternoon to come rewind the tape so we could hopefully recover the purse before her flight left.

Jeremy, meanwhile, took the search up a notch. You see, since this gathering was held at an official center on campus that is usually only open to children and youth, there was a sign-in sheet by the entrance where we had all (or almost all) scrawled our names and house numbers to varying degrees of legibility. Jeremy took this sheet and immediately started working the room, asking anyone if they'd accidentally taken a purse and crossing off the names one by one.

But some of the people who had signed in had already left, so Jeremy found a phone in the corner of the room and started calling. And calling. And calling. It wasn't the easiest conversation to have with people - "did you or your children, uh, accidentally maybe steal someone's purse?" - but most people were very helpful even if they ultimately had not seen/taken the purse.

UNTIL. He called one lady who said something like, "oh yeah, I think my daughter's friend might have grabbed someone else's bag!" Jackpot!!!! We were so glad to have found the purse and our friend immediately stopped cancelling her credit cards. The lady brought the purse back and handed it over, but only after opening it to remove the miscellaneous toys her daughter's friend had put inside. In other words, exactly what we suspected had happened at the beginning, WAS what had happened - some little girl walked off with a bag that she thought was hers but wasn't.

The most impressive part of this story to me is how Jeremy had the idea to talk to everyone who had signed in. I don't know if I ever would have thought of that. On the walk home, our friend and I were kidding Jeremy about having learned that tactic on Law & Order or something, but it turns out he was thinking, "what would Jason Bourne do?" As it turned out, that was the right question to ask.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What I learned from watching Jab Tak Hai Jaan

One of my students lent me the DVD of his favorite movie, an Indian film from 2012 called Jab Tak Hai Jaan (Until I Breathe This Life). I watched it at first because I felt obligated to - I couldn't just return the DVD without having given it a try - and then because I was fascinated by it.

I haven't seen a lot of Indian movies. Bride & Prejudice, maybe, and the Indian-ish Slumdog Millionaire? And, uh, Bend It Like Beckham? Yeah. So I learned a lot from JTHJ and I feel comfortable making sweeping generalizations about India and Indian cinema based on the one film. Ha ha. Wouldn't it be fun to read an outsider's opinion of America after watching one (1) American movie? A Walk to Remember, maybe, or The Notebook?

I mention those two movies because they thrive on romance and sentiment and tragedy and angst and generally seek to manipulate your emotions. But you guys, we Americans have nothing on JTHJ. I was actually brought to tears only once, but it could easily have been half a dozen times over the THREE HOURS (not including intermission) of the movie. The male Emirati student who lent me the DVD confessed to crying a few times. This movie didn't miss a single close-up of teary eyes, or a single swell of the violins during a sad moment, or a single twist that could keep our lovers apart for a little longer.

What else?

-It appears they allow kissing in Indian movies now. A few years ago, I don't think that was the case. Still, "kissing" here means a literal touching of the lips and that's it. The camera practically runs away from the scene after contact is made. Instead, there's a lot of passionate hugging. I said that to Jeremy and he looked at me weird, but what I mean is that they embrace for a long time and we get lots of close-ups of each person's face in the meantime.

Friday, March 08, 2013

March 8th, outsourced

A year ago, we saw a similar set of pictures. Now here are the 2-year comparison pictures from scenes of the earthquake in Japan.

Disney needs an introverted heroine. I loved the article's mention of Mary Lennox in 1993's The Secret Garden.

A woman talks about her time ghostwriting the Sweet Valley High books back in the day.

I hope you all listened to This American Life's episode about coincidences. Here are some more coincidence stories, with photos.


I plan to visit Dubai's Miracle Garden the next chance I get! Lovely. [HT Sarah]

It took me a minute to figure out what was going on here: Couples. [HT Scotty]


March 4th was Grammar Day!!!! Really. I enjoyed this tribute.


The Economist muses on American education reform.

The woman who wrote this article (about her experience surviving and then recovering from being raped by a stranger in her home) is the sister of a blog-friend and I've been following her story for a year. Everything I read about her is amazing.

"A gypsy woman cannot be the face of Russia." (Though to be fair, as one commenter pointed out, if every news outlet starting writing articles about the nasty things internet commenters say about public figures, well, yeah.)

You guys, the truth is, I wanted to link to this next page and only this next page for Outsourced Friday. I know sometimes this weekly mix of links causes figurative whiplash as we move from SVH ghostwriters to systematized discrimination against ethnic minorities in Russia (for example). But the point of Outsourced Friday is just to see what's out there and what's interesting on the internet, not make judgments about what is more or less important. So bear with me as I include in this week's Outsourced post one of the most moving accounts of the conflict in Syria I've read. It's a group of photos of "The Most Important Thing" Syrian refugees took from their homes when they fled. It's about more than the pictures, though - be sure to read the captions, too.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The journey of a recipe

One of my favorite foods as a kid was something my mom called "Spanish Spaghetti." I have no idea where she got the recipe. After I got married and started making it myself, Jeremy said that maybe it was never a real recipe, just spaghetti with a lot of yummy stuff in it.

Either way, Spanish Spaghetti is good. I've adapted it a few times over the years, and my version is a little different from the one my mom makes. It goes something like this (sorry for the informal measurements and directions. This is not a recipe blog):

One box pasta. My mom always literally used spaghetti to make Spanish Spaghetti, but when I started making this for my own little kids I used penne or rigatoni or, if you can find it, something smaller like radiatore or mini shells or even macaroni-sized pasta. It's easier for kids to eat. "Box" = 500g here, whatever that is in the US (I can't remember).

Some bacon. Here in the UAE I sometimes use Turkish sujuk sausage because the effect is the same without the hassle of finding/buying bacon. You could probably even use cut-up pepperoni or kielbasa.

One green pepper, chopped.

One onion, chopped.

One can of diced tomatoes, or the equivalent fresh.

Two cups-ish? Maybe one cup? of cheese, any kind. Colby jack is good if you can get it.

Black olives, sliced.

Cook the pasta. While it's cooking, prepare the rest of your ingredients. Cook the bacon however you want (on the stove or in the oven). Use a little bit of the grease to saute the onions and green peppers until they're nice and fragrant. When the pasta is done, combine it plus all the other ingredients in a 9x13 (or slightly larger, if you have one, or else leave out some of the pasta) dish and stir it all together until it's well mixed. Then cover the dish with foil and put it in the oven at 350 for 30-45 minutes. You just want it to be all hot and melty. And you can use the time it's in the oven to wash the dishes, set the table, and call everyone to dinner 3+ times until they actually come. That's my kind of recipe.

The reason I am telling you all this is because tonight, my housekeeper (she loves this dish) cooked up two big pans of Spanish Spaghetti (Bridget style) to take to her Filipina friend's wedding supper. It blows my mind that a recipe that possibly originated in my mom's kitchen years ago is now being served in the UAE to a bunch of Filipinas celebrating a wedding. Who knows where it will go from there?

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A soundtrack for a thesis

I've only been working on the thing for about a month, but my thesis (proposal, at this point) is already developing its own soundtrack, courtesy of Pandora. I needed a song that would get me more energized about sitting down and writing, so I chose Glee's cover of Edge of Glory and made it a station. (FYI, I've never seen an episode of Glee, but their covers are divine.) And a soundtrack for a thesis was born.

It's been interesting to see what Pandora throws at me on that station...and even more interesting to see what kind of music makes me the most productive. Apparently, I like to write to fairly mindless pop with a good beat. Think Cher Lloyd's Want U Back, or Maroon 5's Payphone, or Demi Lovato's...anything. Today while writing, I decided that maybe it was better to NOT peek at the Pandora tab every few minutes. Because sometimes you don't want to know what song it is that's energizing you so much. Plus, every time Pandora wants me to branch out just a little, to more soulful songs or more thoughtful lyrics, I click madly on the thumbs-down without even thinking about it. That'll teach Pandora to mess with my Demi Lovato.

Then again, thesis (proposal) writing has now become a venue - much like spinning - where I can rock out to songs that I wouldn't be caught dead listening to in public. Yessssss!!!!

As long as I'm on the subject of disclosing to the public the embarrassing songs I listen to, let me get this out in the open: Barry Manilow's "Mandy." GREAT song. I can't tell if it's so-bad-it's-good, or just GOOD. For years, I've only known the "you came and you brought me a turkey, on my vacation away" version from The Simpsons. It's nice to hear the original. That's right: nice. I ENJOY listening to it. While I write.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

More culturally appropriate social studies

Miriam has had some exams this week, so some of her textbooks have been at home to use during revision. My favorite is her social studies textbook. The chapter we went through together yesterday afternoon is all about customs, traditions, and where people live all around the world. And it continues to present the material in a way that is relevant and appropriate for a kid living in the UAE, regardless of nationality.

The book talks about cities, towns, villages, and...the desert, all as equally acceptable habitats for different people. It profiles a kid each living in Dubai, Asyut, and a family living as nomads in the Jordanian desert. Again, it's not presented as "this is something outlandish in a country far away that you may never see but you should know about it just for the sake of it," but as "now you know more about those people you see living in tents in the wilderness" - or even, "ahhh, so that's what you call Grandpa."

It explains what a tribe is, and why it's important to certain cultures. It talks about traditions and customs and even styles of dress, with pictures. In the section about warm-weather climates and the clothing people wear in such places, it assumes long, loose clothes with some kind of head covering as the norm. I know that is counter-intuitive for those of us who grew up in sartorially less conservative places like the US.

There's even a small section on food, and of course they talk about mansaf - a picture of it, a description of it, and a reference to the fact that you are supposed to eat it with a certain three fingers of your right hand (the book is published in Jordan, which is why I say "of course").

I'm probably having more fun than Miriam learning Grade 2 social studies. She can appreciate it on a student level, but I'm so pleased as a parent that it's teaching her interesting things in a relevant way.

Now, if only someone would write a practice-decimals/fractions-using-currency textbook that features UAE dirhams. This year, Miriam's poor teacher (or some other Grade 2 teacher) painstakingly cropped together photocopied images of the different coin denominations into a handmade packet of decimal/fraction practice, because no ready-made materials were available. That said, sometimes I worry that Miriam will never learn 1/100, 1/20, or 1/10 (pennies, nickels, and dimes) as they relate to currency because the dirham's smallest division is 1/4. Ah, the advantages of the American dollar.

Monday, March 04, 2013

MA course reflections

I finished my MA coursework last semester, except for one class that I'm taking this semester (Practicum), which is more like student teaching + reflection. Last night a classmate asked me what my favorite course in the MA program has been, and it got me thinking about that honor as well as other distinctions. Here are all the classes I've taken (six core courses and three electives).

ELT 511 - Linguistics for ESL Teachers
ELT 510 - Research Methods and Academic Writing
ELT 523 - Bilingual Education (elective)
ELT 694 - English for Specific Purposes (elective)
ELT 501 - Advanced English Grammar (elective)
ELT 551 - Language Testing and Assessment

Favorite course: Advanced English Grammar. I KNOW. I am as surprised as you are.

Most difficult course (workload): Curriculum Design. SO MUCH WORK.

Most difficult course (depth and breadth of subject matter): Bilingual Education. SO HARD.

Easiest course: Linguistics for ESL Teachers. I have a whole undergrad degree in Linguistics, so. But it wasn't inherently an easy class. People without English language/Linguistics backgrounds have told me that this was a very difficult course for them.

Favorite experience(s): I have two of these. Getting better acquainted with the Sharjah Police Academy in English for Specific Purposes and Curriculum Design, and then designing and carrying out my very own child language experiment in Language Acquisition.

I am eternally grateful for: that one time in Research Methods & Academic Writing when the professor had us free-write for a while and I came up with what eventually became my thesis topic (intercultural competence).

Most fun research paper: my YouTube video project for Methods and Materials.

Largest class: Bilingual Education. I can't remember how many of us there were but it was somewhere around 15.

Smallest class: Language Acquisition, Curriculum Design, and Grammar each had only five students. Nice.

Course that has had the most relevance to my everyday life: Bilingual Education. Really. It helped me investigate schools for Miriam and it comes up all the time with my neighbors/friends and their bilingual kid challenges.

Courses that have had the most relevance to my teaching (so far): Probably Curriculum Design and Advanced English Grammar.

Worst class schedule: Research Methods & Academic Writing. Thursday evenings, 5 - 8p. Remember, Thursdays here are like Fridays in the US. Not fun.

Best class schedule: English for Specific Purposes. It was a summer course so we met six hours a week, on Saturdays and Tuesdays. I took that class when the girls and Jeremy were in the US so my time was all my own.

What else? My professors have been American, American/Yemeni, Moroccan, Egyptian, British, and Jordanian. My classmates have been (as well as I can remember) Emirati, Egyptian, Palestinian, Jordanian, Omani, American, Polish, Lebanese, Syrian, Pakistani, Iranian, Kuwaiti, Pakistani/Yemeni, Jordanian, Afghani, and maybe others I can't remember.

I've had a great experience with this MA. Aside from Practicum, I'm working on my thesis proposal, which for now involves reading, reading, and more reading. There are stacks of articles all around the house. I am slowly working my way through them...and then my thesis supervisor hands me another stack. Onward!

Friday, March 01, 2013

March 1st, outsourced

In goats-sounding-like-people news, we have an introductory video...and then some truly brilliant insertions into Bon Jovi and Justin Bieber. [HT Jen and Jeremy]

So cool! A little girl recreating classic paintings. [HT Jen]

I can't get this article (about babies napping in sub-zero temperatures) out of my head. I go from envy to disbelief back to envy again. [HT Nancy]

The 30 most Portland things ever to have happened in Portland. [HT Suzanne]

OK, stay with me here: somebody put together a video of Downton Abbey singing a One Direction song. [HT Suzanne]

Julian Felllowes explains a little more about that horrible last episode of Season 3. Sigh.

38 maps you never knew you needed. [HT Ashi]

This is a really long article that reads like a train wreck of failed healthcare experiences in America. Lots of things to think about.

Syria in 1940.

If you want to read a whole bunch of visa (like border-crossing visas, not Visa visas) horror stories, The Economist has got you covered (see the comments).

The Economist also has an interesting article about bilingual people/nations and which languages they choose to text in.

Nacho Libre, pedestrian crosswalk edition.

Passersby thwart (attempted) bank robbery in UAE. I can't decide which is my favorite part - that the robbers threw stones at the bank employees as they made their escape, or that two civilians chased them down via car at 200 kph.

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