Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Jay interview

Jay (of Serial (in)fame) gave an interview! He said he would do it, and then he did it!

I read it. And...I'm disappointed. If he's lying again, telling yet another untrue version of the events of 13 January 1999, then I'm so tired of it and I learned nothing new. If, on the other hand, he's telling the truth, it's a truth that is no longer believable.

At this point, I'm waiting for the DNA to come back. In fact, if you're interested in the Innocent Project's progress on the case, with lots of details that did not make it into the final episode of Serial, you can listen to a podcast here.

(Also, how weird is it that Jay looks almost exactly as I imagined him? Do you ever do that with people on the radio - imagine how they look? I do, and I got Jay just right.)

Monday, December 29, 2014

My best books of 2014 (and other distinctions)

Here are my favorite books from 2014. To make the list, I had to have read the book for the first time in 2014 so that old favorites don't clog the top spots. Except! This year, I made one exception (see below). I'll post a complete list of the books I read in 2014 plus some "fun" stats in a few days.

The Dream Thieves (Maggie Stiefvater). This is book 2 in The Raven Boys series, and I read it twice this year. I love this book more than The Raven Boys and more than Blue Lily, Lily Blue. It is beautiful and crazy and haunting and scary and it makes you want to give everyone except Kavinsky and possibly Greenmantle a big, meaningful hug. Or, in the case of Ronan, a big, meaningful nod of the head, from afar.

Friday, December 26, 2014

December 26th, outsourced

The cold medicine racket. There are only a few ingredients that help alleviate the symptoms of colds, but the medicine choices are so overwhelming, am I right?

This story of a woman with six kids and a bike, but no car (well, her husband has a sedan) warmed my heart all the way through. I love that she's doing it not for some in-your-face, ultra-hip reason, but because she loves it and it makes her happy. Sometimes doing hard things make us happy. (Plus, riding a bike makes us happy.) [HT Cait]

English-language "international" schools are attracting more and more locals - this is something I have observed here in the UAE (who has the highest concentration of international schools in the world), so it was interesting to read that this is a thing happening elsewhere, too.

Office workers re-creating classic works of art. Those pictures remind me of these, which I could link to every week and never get tired of them.

The carpet at the Portland Airport. Sigh.

A Utah man had to be hospitalized for chugging eggnog!

In today's awwwwww news, Costco employees and others worked together to buy all the things on a little kid's Christmas list that got left behind at the store.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from Downton Abbey

I can't wait for the last episode of Downton Abbey today (actually tomorrow because of the time zone difference)! In the meantime, I am dying laughing at Downton Abbey's Text Santa campaign. I thought it would be a small walk-on by George Clooney, but it is so, so much more. Hilarious. Merry Christmas!

[Minor Season 5 hairstyle spoilers for Mary]`

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A feast from a stranger

Here's a happy story for Christmas week.

Earlier this month when we went camping, we were driving in a convoy through a dry wadi bed toward the campsite with four or five other families (there were 30 of us in all). At one point, we got passed by a local driving his own car, accompanied by his wife and a few kids, and we paused to ask him directions. He confirmed that we were going the right way, and then invited us to dinner at his house.

Jeremy responded, "but there are 30 of us!" The Emirati's wife laughed and said, "our house is big!"

Since we were already on our way camping, we said we'd come to lunch the next day instead. "Only" 22 of us could make it, so we rumbled back down the mountain in our convoy the next afternoon and showed up at this Emirati family's house for lunch.

They had a little over 12 hours' notice that we were coming. They live in a tiny not-even-a-village at the base of a remote mountain range. There is no Carrefour there, no restaurant, no roastery, nothing. But this man killed a few lambs and had them cooked up for us, and then rustled up (we still don't know from where) an accompanying spread of rice, chicken, fruits, and cakes. It would have been impressive even if they'd had plenty of notice and fewer of us visiting. The fact that it was very last-minute and there were 22 of us - WELL.

As we ate, we laughed self-deprecatingly at how Western hospitality just cannot compare with what we were experiencing here in the UAE. We joked about what kind of spread we would be able to offer to 22 people on 12 hours' notice - bowls of cereal, or the half-bottle of Sprite sitting in the fridge, or some combination of the tomato paste and onions that always seem to stick around when you've run out of everything else. Certainly not freshly slaughtered lamb on a bed of deliciously seasoned rice and chicken.

They also introduced us to their seven children and gave us a tour of the house. It was beautiful. However, when they found out that Jeremy, as the husband/father of the family, had allowed me and the baby to drive down the mountain in the middle of the night, they almost took away his man card on the spot. They insisted that in future, I was welcome to their guest room. The lovely part is, I know that they really mean it.

And that's the story of how an Emirati family in a small village opened up their house to almost two dozen strangers and fed them a feast on barely 12 hours' notice!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

IHOP and Cheerios

1. IHOP. A few months ago, IHOP opened up in the UAE, at Dubai Mall. I know that IHOP is not that special in the US. I mean, it is, because it's a restaurant that serves breakfast all the time, but I realize that you are probably not excited about the IHOP that is nearest to you because it's always there. You know that if you want to go there, you can, anytime. Maybe there are even two IHOPs in your area, or three!

But I was so excited about this first IHOP. There is something about breakfast that is just delicious. There is something about being handed a plate full of pancakes, four different kinds of syrup, and just diving in. There is something about having french toast, (beef) bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, and (veal) sausage on your plate and not only did you not have to cook any of it, it is all hot at the same time.

So we went to IHOP on Thursday. It was the kids' first time. They loved it. And even if you do have two or three IHOPs in your area, do any of them come with a view of the Burj Khalifa?

I thought not.

2. Cheerios. If you are willing to scour enough shelves and pay enough money, you can find almost any ingredient/food in the UAE. (Almost.) But I had never, ever, not in 4.5 years here, seen plain Cheerios. You can sometimes get Fruity Cheerios (US version), and until earlier this year, you could get Egyptian-produced Multigrain Cheerios (tasty enough, but only if you haven't had the real thing in ages). You can almost always get Honey Nut Cheerios, which are also Egyptian-produced but are also not Honey Nut, just Honey Cheerios. (Except for three weeks ago, when our local grocery store randomly brought in a batch of honest-to-goodness US-produced Honey Nut Cheerios. I bought three boxes. Next time I went to the store, it was back to Egyptian Honey Cheerios. Weird.)

Breakfast cereal kind of sucks here anyway, and Jeremy and I have been in a pretty bad breakfast funk recently. So it was with great joy and surprise and amazement and disbelief that when we were in Jumeirah yesterday, we stopped in at Park & Shop and found CHEERIOS. I asked the manager and he said they just got them in last week. It is a Christmas Miracle.

I know I am opening myself up to some ridicule here. In the end it's just pancakes and breakfast cereal, I get it. But you know how I am about food. So I'm not saying I ever thought less of the UAE for not having Cheerios (or IHOP). I don't expect every store to cater to my whims. But wow, breakfast this morning was fantastic.

Friday, December 19, 2014

December 19th, outsourced

I found a few misplaced links from weeks ago that are still worth sharing. One is this article about what it's like to work at Radio Shack. (Reading that of course brought to mind this old gem from The Onion.)

I'm sure you saw this already, but it made me laugh a few weeks ago: Nativity scene finished.

The Syrian winner of Arab Idol refused to wear his country's flag, to avoid taking sides.

My girls can't wait to try out /ponystream next time we Google Hangout with the grandparents.

That escalated quickly. [HT Jessie]

The strange normality of life in the middle of Syria's war.

A relay runner accidentally stole the finish line glory from a marathon winner. I love the video so much - the befuddlement of the commentators, the cluelessness of the relay runner, the cringeyness of the whole thing. Perfection. [HT Blair]

The price of Christmas dinner at various British supermarkets.

National Geographic photo contest winners!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The last episode of Serial

I had this episode sitting on the iPod in my purse for a full five hours before I listened to it. I kept thinking that maybe I should just ask Jeremy if he would be offended if I listened to it while we were in the car this afternoon, but thought better of it. So after we got home tonight, I was perfectly happy to tackle those dreaded chores that somehow don't complete themselves while you're putting the kids to bed, because at least I could listen to Serial while I worked.

The first season of Serial is over.

First, my reaction to the podcast. I respect Sarah Koenig's ending. I really do. Her final exclamation that we didn't have the facts 15 years ago, and we don't now, and that's all we really want, really resonated with me. I could feel her frustration simmering through the entire episode, and I share it - why is everyone lying? I appreciated the Don From Lenscrafters interview, and one last, possibly record-breaking in its length string of "you know"s from Adnan. We got the obligatory update on the Innocence Project, and a lob from left field about a serial killer. (Sorry, Deirdre, but what "big picture" explains away Jay knowing where the car was?) I was afraid this episode, and thus this entire podcast, would be a meditation on the elusive nature of truth, or that Sarah Koenig's foreshadowing of an "I dunno" ending would come true, but I don't think it did.

Second, my opinion on Adnan's guilt/innocence, because the universe doesn't allow posts like this to be written without the author weighing in. I think Adnan certainly should not have been convicted with the evidence that was presented at trial 15 years ago, not to mention the evidence we have heard since then. But like Sarah Koenig, I can't definitively say that I think he's innocent. I think he probably is. I know Dana said she thinks no one is that unlucky, but we're not talking about just anybody. We're talking about a case that is compelling enough to have its own podcast. The sample is biased. This is a weird case, and therefore it's almost more likely that things for this one guy, Adnan, went horribly, unluckily wrong.

Which, ARGH, sounds like I'm trying to say I DO think he's definitively innocent. I don't. I can't make that leap. There's just...something - a disturbing buoy, we could call it? - that keeps me from 100%. But I'm almost there. I am very, very easily persuaded by those theories that say Jay did it, and framed Adnan later.

How about you?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

p and b are hard

Arabic doesn't have a 'p' sound, which often leads to my students saying p instead of b, or b instead of p, or multiple layers of all of the above. I have been called "Pridget" before, because they think it's Bridget, but then they think that maybe they just think it's b but really it's p, so they take a chance and say p instead of b.

This confusion has led to two funny things in my class lately.

1. A student wrote me an email and said he would turn in his homework "as soon as baseball." Whaaa? Wait for it. Now change the b sounds to p sounds and you'll see why he made that mistake.

2. Today I gave a quiz on count/non-count nouns. The students just had to go through a list of nouns and circle whether they were count or non-count. By the way, the distinction is this: with a count noun, you can say "a [noun]" or use the plural form - flowers, coins, necklaces. With a non-count noun, you can't - foliage, change, jewelry.

Anyway, I marked the quizzes as they handed them in, and one student was completely befuddled that he got "poetry" wrong - he had marked it as count when it is actually non-count. A different student was still working on the quiz, so this confused student and I had a hushed conversation about why he was wrong. The conversation just wasn't going anywhere - he couldn't seem to grasp how "poetry" could not take on "a poetry" and "poetries."

Finally, after class when all the quizzes were collected and we could speak in normal tones, I realized all at once that he had been saying b instead of p (and in his British accent) and thought the word was "battery." Which IS a count noun. Anyway, we had a good laugh and it was a relief to know that he wasn't so baffled after all. Just confused about p and b.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jeremy in Japan

Did I ever mention that Jeremy got to go to a conference in Japan in November of last year? Well, he did. Sterling was only about five weeks old at the time and I was still working on my thesis so sometimes I'm not sure it wasn't actually some kind of sleep deprivation-induced hallucination. But I just looked through some old emails, and it did happen.

I was a student in Kyoto during the summer of 2000, and Jeremy's conference in 2013 was not too far away in (I think) Osaka. Altogether, he was gone for about a week, and about two days of that time he spent in Kyoto. He stayed in the same guesthouse I did as an 18-year-old in 2000. He met up with my host family and my two host sisters took him around town. He ate a bunch of Japanese food I miss, saw some sights, and sent me pictures of Japanese lunchboxes because he knows I have a serious weakness for a well-formed bento box.

When he came home, my host family had loaded him up with gifts and goodies for me and the kids. What amazed me the most was that they sent me many of my favorite snacks. That's right - they remembered my favorite snacks from 13 years ago. I was moved to tears, both for the kindness/generosity factor and the pure nostalgia factor. Also the delicious factor.

I didn't serve a mission for my church, and although I'm not at all equating a secular, language/culture-based study abroad program with a mission, it is the only kind of experience in that vein (young, on my own, abroad) that I have. My memories of that time are so precious. So to have Jeremy go to that place and see those things and eat that food and meet those people was a beautiful thing for me. Of course, I only wish I could have done all those things with him!

Friday, December 12, 2014

December 12th, outsourced

Stephen Colbert as Hobbit characters. (And yes, I know Sarah Koenig was on The Colbert Report and as soon as I figure my way around Hulu's anti-VPN thing, I will watch it.) [HT Jeremy]

America's malls in 1989. I love these photographs because they are not of anything extraordinary. Just everyday life.

Life on an organic farm in Sharjah.

Last week when we got home from camping, I was dying to take a nap but Sterling had already taken his in the car. So I lay down on the floor and "took a nap" but it looked more like this.

Here is a beautiful video of AUS - the place where we live and work!

10 reasons our universe might be virtual reality. My mind broke from reading this article. [HT Kathy]

For the language/writing nerd, I bring you: the periodic table of figures of speech. If I ever teach writing, I am buying a poster of this to put on the wall. [HT Matt]

Spiderman in Cairo.

Ceausescu's children - a great read about the legacy of Romanian orphans. [HT Liz]

(Against) Mommy, the martyr. This is one of the reasons why I like my kids to see me go to work, or even come with me to work sometimes. [HT Heather]

In Serial news, there was this tweet from Sesame Street, which I thought could not be beat. But then someone replied with this tweet about who really killed Hae. YOU GUYS. It has the cell phone and everything!

This guy carves beautiful designs in underground caves. Lovely. [HT Kathy]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My other job

What does it say about me that I am in danger of loving my on-the-side job (accompanist) more than my actual, I-have-an-MA-for-this job? I don't know, but it's true. I love music. I love accompanying. I make mistakes sometimes, and I get a little wistful being surrounded by people with lovely voices when I can't make my own do much of anything, but I love being there with these musicians and talking about music, trying out music, singing/playing a piece this way and that, seeing what works.

Our concert is next week, so we were in the throes of rehearsal all this week. In addition, there was a master class tonight. I accompanied six students. Between those students and the concert, I have eleven pieces on my plate right now. And when I'm playing at the university, I get to use their fancy grand pianos. I've always been kind of meh about grand pianos. I mean, I get that they're nicer and everything, but I am really quite happy with our digital piano and couldn't be bothered with pining for anything grander.

Until now. There is so much power in a grand piano, and I really notice it now that I'm playing on one regularly. Sigh.

The solo voice students I'm accompanying come to my house to practice. It's so nice to not have to arrange for a babysitter, and I love that the kids get to hear them sing, and see Mom at work. In fact, one or the other of the girls often comes with me to choir practice. I'm teaching them how to be my page-turners, and I think they'll be ready for the concert next week.

Oh yeah, yesterday one of the voice students I hadn't met before showed up at my door to practice a song. She looked a little familiar, and I told her so. She made some comment about how she works on campus and maybe I'd seen her there, blah blah blah. But just before she left, I realized who she was - the woman who was proposed to in the video I blogged about a few weeks ago! So basically I'm famous now, too.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Five things I would totally sign up for if we lived in the US

1. Netflix. Like, the DVD version. If the university library doesn't have a movie/old TV show, and it's not on iTunes, I basically can't watch it.

2a. Amazon, in general; and

2b. Amazon Prime, in particular. You don't even know how good you have it with Amazon. Think about it: there is a place where you can find anything you need, for a good price, and they will send it to your house. It is magic. And we don't have access to that here. Amazon.ae, why do you not exist yet??

(Side rant: this is especially on my mind because of kids' socks, of all things. The girls have to wear white, non-crew socks to school. I bought ten pairs of socks from Centrepoint at the beginning of the school year and they are just the most awful socks imaginable. They are white, but after a few washes, they all shrunk to different sizes. So now instead of a tidy sock bin by the front door, there is a frazzled heap of single socks that were discarded in the frantic search for a somewhat matching pair. Meanwhile, there are these socks lurking on Amazon, mocking me with their effortless quality and low price. Hmph.)

3. Stitch Fix. Every couple of months, I get to scheming about how I could maybe make this work with my overseas address, but...no.

4. Online grocery shopping. This is related to Amazon Prime, I guess. I would love to reach the point where I only have to go to the store to get milk, produce, and local ingredients that are probably super hard to find in the US, JUST SAYIN'.

5. THE LIBRARY. What I said about Netflix and DVDs above? It applies to books, too. If the university library doesn't have it, and it's not available as a library book for Kindle, I have to agonize over whether or not to pay $10ish to read a book. That's fine for a book that I love and will re-read or whose author I really want to support, but for the everyday one-off? No way.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The best kids' water bottle for school (and elsewhere)

My kids have gone through a lot of water bottles, and this year, we finally found the best one for school. It's the Nalgene Kids On the Fly (OTF).

I don't want to spend too much time on the deficiencies of other water bottles we've tried unsuccessfully, except to say that this one (from Camelbak) was our second favorite - the only problem is that curious kids eventually chew through the spout and then it leaks. The Nalgene OTF is great because:

- it's just the right size. It holds enough water to get them through the day, but not so much that it takes up their entire backpack.

- they can fill it through the drinking spout. This is a weird advantage that I didn't think of myself, but I noticed it when I saw how my kids actually like to fill up their water bottles. Hint: they sometimes cannot be bothered to screw off the entire cap. Especially at school when there's a line of kids at the water cooler and they're over eager to get back to playing at recess.

- IT DOES NOT LEAK. Praise the heavens.

- the top closure is fun and easy for the kids to pop open, which is great, but I was afraid it would wear out the tension and lead to leakage. BUT: it also has a reinforced metal clip thing that keeps it closed, so no matter how often they pop the top for fun, you always know it's closed tight if the metal clip is in place.

- it has a loop integrated into the design, which means you can clip it on a backpack if you want to.

- it has a free-flowing water spout with no valve - so great for older kids who aren't so prone to spills.

It took a couple of years for us to find a good kids' water bottle for school. If you're looking for one, too, I hope this helps! And I just re-read this and it totally reads like a sponsored post. It's not. I just thought I'd share in case anyone else has been as frustrated with school water bottles as I have been.

Friday, December 05, 2014

December 5th, outsourced

Pianograms! - neat visualizations of note frequency in songs. [HT Andrew]

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl. Haunting. [HT Ashi]

How I drank urine and bat blood to survive - great story with a happy ending! [HT Jeremy]

The Economist has a handy chart of the world's longest commercial flights. I've flown the third- and sixth-longest by mileage (DXB-LAX and DXB-SFO), but I wish they'd do a chart by duration instead. Nobody gets off a plane and says wow, that flight was 13,037 kilometers!

Those remains really are Richard III's...and they reveal that somewhere in there, someone's father was not who they thought. I have seen this reported so many varying ways, I'm not sure what the exact conclusion is. Some articles are saying this affects the current royal family, but it doesn't, right? Because Richard III is from a totally different branch, right? Who's up on their English royal dynasties?

Here are some great family photo fails.

Maybe this will get its own blog post, but on Monday, an American teacher was stabbed to death in a bathroom at a mall in Abu Dhabi, by a woman wearing abaya and niqab, no less. Fortunately, they caught the murderer yesterday. The Abu Dhabi police have put out the surveillance video as well as video of their arrest of the suspect. They also set the video to the soundtrack of - wait for it - The Dark Knight. Very strange all around. [Content advisory for the video - they included still photos of the crime scene that don't show the body or anything but are still pretty horrific.] Edited to add: I'm pretty sure that's a veiled female SWAT agent at 5:30 which, if I were to ever use a certain term that starts with a b and ends with double s, IT WOULD BE NOW.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Putting camping on hold

I love camping, but I am so mad at it right now. We just got back from a trip to the mountains in Fujairah. It was great, and I was reminded of many amazing campouts we've had with the girls all over the US, the UAE, and Oman. There is something soul-stirring about sleeping outside in the mountains or on the beach or in a forest, with my husband and kids snuggled up close. It reminds me that the world is big and beautiful and we are small but together.

Enter Sterling. Objectively, I know camping will get better and better as he grows up. But that didn't make it any easier last night when Sterling slept from 9-11pm and then called it good enough. Eleven pm! I've done the 4am thing while camping plenty of times, but 11pm is not even close to morning. We were in the mountains with a few other families, and rather than disturb everyone with our fussy baby, a little after midnight I drove Sterling back down the mountain and back home for five hours of truly lovely sleep, then back up the mountain this morning to rejoin the family. It was ridiculous. But it was making the best of a frustrating situation.

The most honest conversations sometimes happen at night. Last night around midnight, Jeremy and I spoke in hushed, defeated tones about how we can't go camping again until Sterling sleeps through the night. We vowed to keep each other strong, to remind each other that someday soon when one of us says "hey, why don't we go camping?" the other person is there to take a stand and say "oh honey no."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Come for the ID renewal; stay for the henna!

I spent the morning at two separate branches of the Center of All Bureaucracy, getting Sterling's Emirates ID sorted. UAE National Day is on Tuesday, and I thought that by going today, I would be ahead of any holiday disruptions aside from the days off work we're all getting on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Wow, was I wrong! I walked in the first office and was greeted by an impressive spread of sweets on a long table running the length of the waiting room. There was the national anthem playing in the background. There was red/white/green/black bunting hanging from the "Now Serving Customer Number __" signs. There was an aged man standing at a podium, giving a speech about the UAE. A clerk boy came over to me and Sterling and handed us a bag of UAE swag - a pen, a fridge magnet, and a keychain. Not what I expected from a trip to a government office.

But then, THEN, I had to fulfill the rest of Sterling's ID card business at another government office across town. And that place was in full-on carnival mode: balloons, popcorn, bouncy castles, two people dressed up in oversized Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes, and a clown. A CLOWN. At the UAE's equivalent of the DMV/post office/county clerk's office!

Upstairs in the women's waiting room, they had juice and dates for the customers, and a women's majlis with free henna tattooing. So this morning, while I waited for a woman to process Sterling's ID paperwork, I had both hands henna'd. FOR FREE.

Of course, then there was the part where they wanted to take a headshot of Sterling, who, as you may recall, is 14 months old and cannot be still for a moment because it's against Toddler Code. And there was me with my wet-henna hands, unable to wrangle him to look at the camera at all. But I tried, which is why I have a nice smear of henna brown across part of my left hand's design, and why Sterling has a nice (but faint) smear of henna brown across his cheek. I mean, it was only ever extremely unlikely that he would hold still and look at the camera, but once I had henna all over my hands, it was downright impossible. I ended up going home, retrieving an old passport photo of his, and bringing it in for them to use on the ID card.

And I ate free popcorn while I waited for them to finish.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

November 2014 books

Storm Siren (Storm Siren, #1)Storm Siren by Mary Weber

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

(DNF). Boooooooorrrring. I read 44% of this book and still did not care about anything/anyone in it. Plus, look at the kind of witty repartee I had to endure:

Mysterious Loner Dude Male Protagonist: "'So you decided to stay,' Eogan says to me, without turning around."

Female Protagonist: "So you decided to speak to me now that I've stood here for ten minutes."

Lame. Also, I hate it when someone with amazing powers is tasked with saving the world and she just can't be bothered. She'd rather sneak out at night to have fun in the village, or agonize over whether a guy likes her, or fume at the injustice of it all. Hmph.

JackabyJackaby by William Ritter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Supernatural Sherlock Holmes for the middle-grade set. I'll give this to Miriam in a few years.

Friday, November 28, 2014

November 28th, outsourced

I've been avoiding the rabbit-hole that is the Serial subreddit, but this week my brother Steven sent me a link to a compelling theory (this one) and um, that may have eaten up some of my internet discretionary time. Or almost all of it. Also, it was Thanksgiving week so things were quiet on the internet. This is all to say that I only have four links for you; two of them are Serial-related and one of them is a reddit threat I already linked to above.


Charts for people obsessed with Serial. The Laura one. I just. I laugh. I can't. So much. LAUGHING.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm grateful.

Today I'm grateful that, completely by accident of birth and through no merit of my own, I have a passport that does not require me to return to a war-torn home country and fulfill a military service requirement. One of my students cannot say the same.

Again I find myself eliding details, but one of my students was waiting for a student visa to a Western country; he was taking my class in the meantime. The visa came through, hooray! But since apparently his home country, which his family fled recently to avoid the rising tide of kidnappings in their otherwise peaceful town, has to sign off on the paperwork, he had to return. And since he's turned 18 years old in his time away, upon return, he has to fulfill the one-year military service requirement.

It's unclear to me, and to his classmates (my other students), whether this will be a matter of a bribe + "wink-wink let's call his service requirement fulfilled, shall we?" and he'll be on his way, or whether this boy - boy, really - will find himself on the wrong side of a war very soon. Wrong side, because his family's politics skew towards opposition, but there is no "right" side, of course.

I find myself horrified by the prospect. His prospect. And now I have another former student to add to the list of people in a war-torn country to worry about.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

CSA in Dubai

Think of all the things Dubai is unlikely to have. Is Community Supported Agriculture on your list? It was on mine. But not anymore! Check it out!

I picked up my first box of Ripe veggies today from the neighborhood collection point. It was filled with tomatoes, part of an Indian pumpkin, zucchini, kale (!!!!!!! - that stuff is pricier than gold around here and probably more difficult to find, because at least you can get gold out of ATMs), eggplant, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, and parsley.

First order of business was making a toned-down zuppa toscana to put the kale in. I think some tomato sauce will be next, and maybe I'll make zucchini gratin instead of a cream-based green bean dish for Thanksgiving tomorrow. We'll see!

I am so thrilled to have these veggies delivered to my neighborhood. It took some major doing, and I am glad I have one of those awesome Get Stuff Done neighbors who made a million phone calls to bring this about.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Other Bridget 2014

There is a woman in Australia who shares my name. I get a lot of emails intended for her, and from them, I've pieced together a life. I've been inadvertently involved in the details of her bachelorette party, the birth of her first child, various travel itineraries, the time one of her friends went to prison and asked me to be an approved recipient of correspondence from her, and the time she left her car on the beach at low tide and when it came in, the car was swamped. We last checked in with Other Bridget in 2013. What has she been up to since then?

She got invited to a Pop-Up Store opening. I do not know what that is, but I bet Australian Other Bridget does. She was also invited to the launch of a bespoke jewelry line and something called the Georgini Couture collection.

I got copies of the blood analysis she had done at the lab (!).

I got a birthday email greeting from Camel. As in, the cigarettes.

She gave her friend Dana a "painted glass snowman" for Christmas. I know this because Dana sent Other Bridget (me) a thank-you email.

She bought some Air Jordan sneakers, which I did not know were still in production, and some North Face sunglasses.

She started taking Bikram Yoga classes!

She took a trip to Sydney in April.

She had a big part in some major PR production thing that sounded really swanky. I got all kinds of behind-the-scenes emails about it.

Her friend informed me he wouldn't make it to Other Bridget's wine tasting party. But I'm supposed to say hi to Holly for him.

She applied for life insurance.

She received a contract from a company big enough for me to recognize their name, and in that contract, Other Bridget is "the Talent." I think she's about to hit the big time!!!

She updated her car insurance for her two vehicles. I have all the details of both of them, of course. I wonder if the policy includes ocean water damage, har har.

I got free tickets to Interstellar. Well, Other Bridget paid for them, I'm sure, but they showed up in my email inbox. If only I lived within 1000 miles of that theater.

The most dramatic thing to happen to Other Bridget is that her pet dog (I know the breed, name, and tag number) was turned in to a shelter. I got an email intended for Other Bridget informing me that if I didn't contact them within 14 days, they had the right to euthanize the animal. I wrote them back, don't worry!

What a life. I'm lucky to share it!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Two things

1. The UAE is doing a polio vaccination drive in light of recent polio outbreaks in Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan. The vaccinations are free without regard to residency status or health insurance. Interesting.

2. A student here proposed to another student after a performance of Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra. Very cute, right? I am fascinated by cultural differences, so much so that I wrote a thesis about them, you may recall. Notice in the video how the dramatic engagement moment ends in...a kiss on the hand. But even that was too much for some people on facebook. There were a few comments like this:

"Huh, I wonder how her family will react when they'll see this video. if he truly loves her just go and ask her family for marriage not on the stage in front of people."

"FYI, if this keeps going on and other people start doing it then it will affect AUS's reputation and families will consider [not] enrolling their daughters in AUS. No family specially a muslim one want to hear this from their daughter: 'hi mom and dad, I just finished my semester and guess what?! I got engaged.'"

(Ah, the old "hi mom and dad, I just finished my semester and guess what?! I got engaged" phone call. BYU does not have a monopoly on it, see?)

Not to worry, conservative Muslims. The groom-to-be clarifies:
"Hey, just wanted to let you know that I flew down to Saudi and asked her parents first and only once I had convinced them did I go down on one knee to Mona. It's important not to jeopardize the relationship you have with your family before you start something as important as Marriage."

I find this all fascinating. It's this weird juxtaposition of the west and the east and it's interesting how everyone reacts.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A rant about editing

I'll have to keep this post fairly oblique, but let me state on the record that I am most likely not going to accept any more work editing MA theses. It's a shame, too, because it's good work and I've had mostly positive experiences. But the bad apples are so, so bad, and I can never see them coming.

I've had someone tell me (via someone else; way to be passive-aggressive) that after I edited a thesis s/he was helping supervise, it still had some problems, which betrays a misunderstanding of what, exactly, an editor can do. Hint: she can edit. She cannot completely restructure a thesis's ideas and content and language to be amazing, at least not when the source material is shoddy to begin with.

More recently, and the deal-breaker for possibly all thesis editing work from now on, is being treated like what I am doing is unskilled labor. I have only had this problem with theses in a certain field. In the very recent past, I had someone question what I charge per hour for what is often tedious, painstaking work that requires an intense attention to detail and the finer points of the English language. Then, when I was finished working according to their tight deadline and neglecting my family and my other TWO jobs in the process, they questioned how many hours it took me. (Hint: the longer it took me, the more problems your thesis had. Though in some cases, perhaps including this particular one, it was more formatting problems than English problems.) Then, they questioned some of the changes I made, even when I had this field's codified style guide to back me up. If you want me to do things the way your professor likes it, instead of the way the industry at large likes it, please tell me before hour one, not after hour twelve.

Now I just have to hope this person deigns to pay me. I wish people could understand that while having your thesis edited is a hoop you have to jump through (in these parts, anyway - the quality of some was so bad that this university made it a requirement for some programs), it is a hoop manned by an really edumacated person with a particular set of skills.

Anyway. I know I sound like a huge jerk, but someone else was a huge jerk to me today and I guess this is what it makes me do.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Napster nostalgia

Random thought for a Saturday night: do you remember Napster? Wasn't it just the best? It was. I remember going on a Napster spree the summer after my freshman year of college. I downloaded All the Songs, especially the obscure ones I couldn't get elsewhere - Japanese hits from when I spent the summer of 2000 there, German songs we learned in class at the BYU, Papermoon songs that, to this day, I haven't found anywhere else.

Napster was THE BEST.

Widening the shot a little, Napster brings to mind something that is lacking from all our digital media consumption these days: shareability. It is annoying to me that when I read a book on my Kindle and want others to read it, I can't just pass on a copy like I would a regular ol' paperback. If we buy a movie from iTunes and a friend wants to borrow it, they have to borrow our laptop, too (this happened last week and it was so old-fashioned I couldn't believe it).

In conclusion, I miss Napster, it was awesome, and I think it's a crying shame that digital media is so hard to share in general, and hard to pass along among friends in particular.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Today is our 13th wedding anniversary. I'm going to veer away from a traditional post about our anniversary and muse for a moment on what I wish I had done differently thirteen years ago.

Jeremy and I were engaged for only six weeks. I wouldn't change that, but I sometimes wish I had paid more attention to the planning of the wedding itself. At the time, I didn't really care/didn't have time to care, so while our wedding was lovely, I'm not sure that it was really my style. But I'm also not sure I really have a style. So maybe it was my style, in that I didn't have a style and neither did my wedding.

What am I trying to say? I guess I just mean that looking back, I wish that maybe I'd worn my hair down instead of up. I wish we'd left out all the traditional flowery language on our invitation about whose parents were giving away who to someone else's parents. I wish we'd have considered not having an awkward handshake/hug line at the reception, because who even likes those? I wish we'd eaten ice cream, or possibly ice cream cake, instead of delicious but expensive actual wedding cake.

That said, most of the details of our wedding day were just right - a small group at the ceremony and luncheon, a reception at home with real food, a honeymoon on the cheap at the Oregon Coast. And I am so grateful to my mom, who picked up the slack every time I couldn't be bothered to decide this or that thirteen years ago. I wonder if I'll get my chance to care about hair being worn up or down when it's Miriam getting married - is that how it works?

I also realize that the passage of time has an effect on these opinions. I mean, most of those women who got married in the late 80s/early 90s regret wearing those huge puffed-sleeve dresses, right? But that doesn't mean it was the wrong decision at the time. I suppose our weddings are the product of, you know, the era in which we got married.

Which for us, was thirteen years ago, today!

Have you ever thought about stylistic changes (or other, deeper changes - I don't know your life) you would make to your wedding day?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ghosts of music past

Thanks to my new accompanist job, this is what my piano looked like yesterday and today. Turns out, six- and nine-year-old daughters are good at helping collate, color-code, and plastic-sleeve-ify (thanks for the tip, Janice!) pages and pages of sheet music. I have four pieces to learn for choir, but there was a master class tonight and I accompanied four soloists there. It was quite a stretch to see the music for the first time yesterday, and perform it tonight, but it was also exhilarating. A crazy straw kind of day, for sure.

I realized tonight as I played for an audience of musicians that I have been living on fumes of the ghosts of music past for years now. I was in a youth choir in the late 1990s and the director was one of the most gifted musicians I have ever met, and likely will ever meet - Paula Reeve. She had such a way with conducting, and I can still remember the general methods she taught me as a singer and an accompanist, as well as specific phrasings for certain songs.

I have used that knowledge for years and years as I've played the piano at church. But it's hard, since I know that most of my precious, heartfelt musical nuance is lost like so many pearls before swine (why is there not a more beautiful metaphor than that one? Sorry!). A hymn is a hymn and there's something inherently perfunctory about it, no matter how much of my soul I put into it.

So tonight, as I played, I reveled in the feeling of being understood, of conversing in a language with fellow native speakers who can respond in the same tongue.

Of course, I also made mistakes, because these pieces were dang hard, and that took away a little from the magic of it all. But oh, it was still magic, you guys!

Here are the four pieces I played tonight. It was so helpful to listen to the accompaniments to get an ear for the the overall oomph of it before attempting it myself. I know YouTube is true, amen.

The Daisies.
Geduld. So lovely, so sad, so angry, almost.
Il mio bel foco.
The Vagabond. Punchy and pirate-y - super fun! I made the most mistakes on this one, though :(.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Desert Stinker

Jeremy ran a 40k race (Desert Stinker) the other weekend - 20k in the desert one evening, then a campout, then another 20k in the dunes the next morning. He got third place overall. Yeah.

They posted the professional photos today and I am smitten with this one:

Yes, my husband looks awesome, but don't you just want to dip a spoon in those creamed-butter-and-sugar dunes?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Evidence of cycling in heels

I had to drop something at Jeremy's office this morning on the way to my own, and he decided to document my high-heeled bike commute. So here is a photo and video to illustrate this post from September.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Breastfeeding 3.0

post nurse
When Sterling was born, I had 38 months of breastfeeding experience under my belt - 24 months with Miriam and another 14 with Magdalena. Over those months, I'd dealt with latch issues, sore nipples, engorgement, supply issues, mastitis, thrush, a nursing strike, and weaning, some a couple of times over. Breastfeeding had sometimes been difficult, but over those 38 months, I thought I'd learned just about all there is to know.

Then I had Sterling, and breastfeeding was a really painful struggle. I was shocked. I knew what I was doing - didn't I? Why was I having amateur-level problems? Why couldn't I just figure it out, like I had with my other two babies? Did those 38 months of experience count for nothing? There were many times in those first few weeks where I wanted to give up. It hurt so much, physically and emotionally.

I came to a few realizations that I will share with you here.

1. Breastfeeding hurts. Those people who say breastfeeding is natural and doesn't/shouldn't hurt? They are wrong. IT HURTS. Especially at first. After a while you and baby will probably get the hang of it and the pain will probably go away. But in the meantime, your nipples are basically being chewed off by a rabid animal and that is ouchy.

2. Every baby is different, so with every baby, you become a breastfeeding novice again. There is some carry-over knowledge, sure, but even those of us with months and months of experience should be prepared for beginner problems.

3. Ask for/accept help, even if it's not your first baby. When Sterling was just 10 days old, I ran into a neighbor at the grocery store who happens to be a lactation consultant. I mentioned off-hand that I was having problems nursing and she insisted on bringing over some DVDs and pamphlets for me. I said "sure" even though inwardly I was rolling my eyes because I thought I knew everything. But guess what? Those DVDs and pamphlets totally saved me! I learned some great techniques for improving the breastfeeding experience for me and Sterling and it meant the world to me. I am so grateful for my neighbor and her insistence on helping me almost against my will.

As I write this, I'm on breastfeeding month almost-14 with Sterling, bringing my total months of experience to almost-52. And I'm dealing with a (thankfully mild) case of thrush, and one side isn't producing as much as the other side so I'm all lopsided, and right after I gave away my breast pump, we figured out that Sterling is too sensitive to cow's milk to drink it, so I've upped his nursing, and so on and so forth. Breastfeeding is a new experience every time.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Naturally fair underarms

Hebah's comment the other day reminded me that a few months ago, Jeremy went to the store to get some deodorant for himself. He came home with this:

No, he was not hoping to have the finest, whitest underarms in the land. He just neglected to read the label carefully. Hahahahaha.

Friday, November 14, 2014

November 14th, outsourced

I am an instant fan of this series: Women Rejecting Marriage Proposals in Western Art History (language warning late in the post).

Here is a beautiful language family tree representation.

You will probably enjoy Life as a Fake Beauty Queen in Small-town China. (The article, not the life).

Eight things that were better in East Germany (NOT).

It is a fact that I break into snort-giggles every time I remember certain lines from this Serial parody podcast (youtube, but it's all audio, not video). My favorite line (highlight to reveal so I don't ruin the joke): "Where was *I* 15 years ago? Did *I* kill Hae? My confession: next week, on Serial."

I've always wanted to hear more about Dieter Uchtdorf's experience in Germany, so I was glad to read this article.

This article (women with children are more productive than anyone else) deserves more discussion than perhaps I can give it here. But it's interesting and Jon Stewart's analogy about after-school soccer practice totally rings true for me.

I don't even really know what is going on here but it involves pandas and it is adorable.

Dwight Schrute quotes as motivational posters. YES.

This house looks great. UNTIL PHOTO #3. [HT Liz]

I appreciate Stephen Starr's slice-of-life-in-war-torn-Syria articles. We can hear the big news from every other outlet; for those of us who used to live there, it's the more mundane war-time stories that are most interesting. This one is about car trouble during the civil war there.

In case you're feeling pretty good about the world, here is a list of awesome places that you will probably never see, due to unrest. I had the chance to go to a few of these places, but it will be years before the chance comes again, if ever. [HT Carolyn]

Thursday, November 13, 2014


I just got another job as the piano accompanist for the university choir. I had to go in and audition last week and then again today. I was so nervous. I play the piano all the time, even all the time in an accompanist capacity at church, but it was way outside of my comfort zone to march into a university music department and play for actual musicians, for a paid position. In fact, after a hectic morning and early afternoon on the day of my first audition last week, frantically trying to get my music selection in performable condition, I almost decided not to go through with it.

But I love to accompany others on the piano. In fact, it is one of the great loves of my life. And the longing to be able to accompany again in a new, challenging, and paid setting convinced me to go through with it. When the audition was over and my residual nerves had calmed down, I was proud of myself just for trying. I know that sounds lame, but it took a lot of guts for me to put myself out there after so many years away from the serious piano scene.

I love accompanying because I get to perform, but not be in the spotlight. I get to interpret the directions of the director, underscore the nuances of the singers, and help transmit their combined message to the audience. It's all the joy of hard work and (hopefully) skillful execution, all while being practically invisible. I think the best accompanists, much like the best language interpreters (another dream job of mine), go unnoticed. They are a medium for someone else's message.

For now, this job's target duration is to get the choir through to their end-of-semester concert. But there are master classes and vocal lessons to take on, too, if I want them. I am so happy to have the chance to spend some time working with music.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What can you learn from an advertisement?

What can you learn about a culture from the advertisements it produces? So much. Not every ad is meant to attract every person, of course, or represent the realities of daily life for all, but advertisements can offer a peek into at least one segment of a society. What makes a product attractive, and who is the ad seeking to attract? How is the consumer expected to use the product? Etc.

The YouTube ads I get here are sometimes in English but more often in Hindi or Arabic (this OMO ad in Hindi is strangely mesmerizing - I let it run every. single. time). The other day, I saw an ad that really caught my attention - it's for DAC cleaning products, and it's presented in an amateur-ish story (episode) format. The story surrounds a groom meeting his prospective bride, and the dealings between the two mothers.

I find this DAC series of commercials fascinating. The language, the peek at a cultural ritual (arranged marriage meetings) that is almost completely off-limits to me as a foreigner, the fact that this is an advertisement for a cleaning product meant to be used by one's maid, not one's self. There is so much here about how women here run their households, and the expectations they have of household helpers.

Again, I don't claim that this is a perfect representation of how life is for khalijis, but it definitely smacks of truth for at least certain elements of society here, and at the very least would be a good discussion starting point for topics such as social norms regarding housework, childcare, friendship, and marriage negotiations in the Gulf.

For ease of reference:

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3 part 1
Episode 3 part 2

I can't wait for the thrilling conclusion!

Shooting stars

The power went out last night, so there was no blog post from me yesterday (it's Wednesday morning for me now). Of course it was annoying that the power went out, but I took the opportunity to have a look at the stars.

With no light pollution from our immediate neighborhood, we could see so many more stars! It was beautiful. I even saw two shooting stars. I only wish the girls had been awake to enjoy the stars as well.

Monday, November 10, 2014

You're safe now.

Earlier this year, I watched Captain Phillips. The whole movie is good, but the last scene was so moving. Here it is, though out of context it's not quite as affecting.

You know who I think totally steals the show? The medic. Her voice, her mannerisms, the way she talks to the injured person, WOW. When I watched that scene, I was instantly reminded of all my (few, thankfully) major hospitalizations - tonsillectomy and childbirths, basically. That scene took me back to how it feels when you're in pain, and your body doesn't quite feel like your own, and there is someone there patting your hand and telling you it's going to be ok.

I was so impressed by that woman's performance that I looked it up a while ago and I think I remember reading that she is not an actress at all, but an actual medic. Which makes a lot of sense.

Does this scene bring back in-the-hands-of-medical-professionals feelings for any of you?

Sunday, November 09, 2014


ISIL/ISIS/IS/whatever made some threats recently against the American/Western presence in the Arabian Gulf, i.e., us. We had a letter from the girls' school today, and security around campus has been more intense lately. Certain pedestrian gates that used to be open all the time are locked in the evenings and watched over by guards. The police at the university gate stop more cars, more often, for longer. Our housing area has more guards, too, keeping watch.

It's a little unnerving, but as both the university and the school have reminded us, there have been no specific, credible threats against Sharjah in particular. It's most likely just a lot of terrorist hot air. But in the meantime, security is tightened, just in case.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

XXXL Chicken Biryani

I forgot to mention that a few weeks ago, our BFFs from Bahla came to our house for dinner! This meant that I needed to a) get a seriously halal meal on the table, and b) possibly serve it to the men and women separately. I knew that Abdallah and his family would be gracious no matter the arrangements, but I wanted to get this one right.

So we a) ordered the XXXL chicken biryani (size designation theirs) from Gazebo (the local Indian restaurant), and b) served it to the men upstairs in the majlis, and the women and children downstairs on the living room floor. It was so legit.

And the biryani was seriously XXXL. The pictures do not do it justice. It was so much food.

The pot extends into its styrofoam base, by the way, so there is even more biryani than meets the eye.

And do you know the nicest thing? After we had eaten, I slipped upstairs to put Sterling to bed, and by the time I came down, the other women had cleaned up dinner! I cannot keep up with their graciousness!

My mom was asking me about the halal bit, by the way. Halal is a system of morality in Islam, but when applied to food, it means that it is free from pork (or pork-derived products), alcohol, and that any meat was slaughtered according to certain rituals and procedures. Since we live in the UAE, the food we buy from the grocery store (and from restaurants) is halal.

Therefore, I knew that technically, if I prepared a meal from scratch for Abdallah and his family, it would be halal. But over the years, I've sensed sometimes that some Muslims sometimes maybe sort of get kind of nervous about eating food from a non-Muslim's kitchen. And maybe that feeling is justified - I do, after all, have vanilla extract from the US in my pantry. I sometimes buy bacon from Spinney's, and it sits in my fridge with all the other food in there. So while I would of course take the greatest care in preparing a halal meal for a Muslim guest, in this case, it was just easier and safer and perhaps more respectful to get takeout from an Indian restaurant, who for sure for sure would do halal right.

(I compare this to the feeling I get when I am served a beverage at a non-Mormon's house. Is it going to be tea or coffee?? What will I say if it is? Etc.)

And we ate the leftovers for every meal for about three days until lo, verily, we could eat no more biryani. The end.

Friday, November 07, 2014

November 7th, outsourced

This is a really beautiful short film about Damascus. Lovely and sad and haunting all at once.

Rabia Chaudry is blogging about Serial! She's the woman who initially brought Adnan's case to the attention of Sarah Koenig. Also, Slate is doing a podcast about Serial. Yes, a podcast about a podcast. It's worth listening to, especially if you don't have people to discuss the podcast with in person (I want to get Jeremy listening, but he's not really a podcast person).

Here's an interesting take on my fellow reverse-SADers: they look forward to the end of Daylight Savings Time! [HT Liz]


Cool slidey-pictures from before/after the Berlin Wall! [HT Ashi]

This 80s aerobic accompaniment to "Shake it Off" is the best one of these I've seen since they Lady Gaga'd Newsies. [HT Jeanelle]

This The Onion article about Ira Glass is simply the best they've ever done. Nuanced but detailed, obviously written by a fan, and oddly almost plausible - perfection. "For the Harper High episodes last year, I came up with 352 different high school student characters. Those were particularly tough to record—I barely got through them. I lost my voice for two weeks after creating that pep rally."

Ooh, you totally can say octopuses! [HT Kaylee]

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Blood and Sand and Frank Gardner and me

Seven years ago, when we were living in Amman, Jordan, I read Frank Gardner's memoir, Blood and Sand. The book deals with his journalism career in general, but centers on a 2004 incident in which he was shot six times by terrorists in Saudi Arabia while reporting there. His cameraman was killed; Gardner survived with major injuries.

When I finished the book, I did something I have done several times since, but never before then: I wrote an email to the author telling him how much I appreciated his book. This was in the old days when authors weren't as accessible as they are now with blogs, fb, and Twitter. In fact, as I recall, I couldn't even find a direct contact address for him, so I wrote the email to his publisher or agent. In any case, I never heard back from him, but I didn't expect to - I mostly hoped he had received and read a note of thanks from a reader.

Guess who I met today?

He's in town for the Sharjah International Book Festival, and he stopped by AUS to give an hour-long talk/interview/Q&A. Jeremy and I both wanted to go, but he graciously (SO GRACIOUSLY, love you, sweetie!) deferred to me. So while Jeremy was doing the school run and managing the kids, I got to sit and listen to Frank Gardner talk about his career.

Afterward, as you can see, I totally fangirled and got a photo with him after telling him how much my husband and I loved his book. In other words, I got to tell him in person what I wrote in that email seven years ago. It was awesome. Today was a good day!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Home church

On Friday, there was a meeting and a baptism before church, then church, then meetings after church. Sterling and I, and by default the girls, begged off after Sacrament Meeting and went home. But I felt bad pulling the girls out of Primary, so before I went upstairs to put Sterling down for a nap, I told them to plan a session of home church for us.

This is what Magdalena came up with.

The video (scripture video on lds.org) was a bust since internet on the old computer they use was being finicky. But the rest went just fine. We even used a podium/microphone they made out of a cardboard box, a wooden dowel, and an empty toilet paper roll.

I'm still sad they missed Primary, but it was kind of fun doing our own church at home. Especially since the girls planned it. They got all the essentials, too - talks, singing, and watermelon!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

We need to talk about Serial

Serial is a spinoff podcast from This American Life. This season, the podcast's first, takes on the narrative of the 1999 murder of a Baltimore teenager. Blah blah blah, just go listen to episode 1 already, mmkay? I don't have to tell you to listen to the other episodes because once you listen to the first, you will not be able to restrain yourself from downloading the rest. You will hide from your family to listen to this podcast. You will sit in the driveway in your car to listen to this podcast. You will invent household chores to finish to listen to this podcast. And then, when you have listened to all the episodes released so far, you will write a blog post about this podcast.

My thoughts are below. Please chime in with your own.

1. The teenagers whose story is told by Serial are exactly my age, which gives me the heebie jeebies sometimes, thinking about what they were doing and what I was doing during our senior year of 1998-1999. I also totally get all the references to paging someone, and the novelty of mobile phones, and calling someone from a payphone, and the idea that a store's security system would use and re-use a VHS tape to record its CCTV.

2. This issue was addressed in episode 1 to some extent, but I am still flabbergasted that some of these kids cannot remember where they were or what they were doing the afternoon that Hae disappeared. If my recently ex-boyfriend disappeared - disappeared! - one day after school, for sure I would be thinking about where I was during that time period. Like a flashbulb memory, you know? I just can't figure out why Adnan couldn't remember whether he was at the library, at track practice, or what. I know it was just an ordinary day for those kids, but it actually wasn't - Hae disappeared that day, which, to me, seems like it should make it an absolutely extraordinary day, and therefore memorable.

3. Does it seem to anyone else like nobody in this story is telling the truth? There are problems with both Adnan and Jay's timelines. What really happened that day? Is there some kind of middle-ground truth that can be teased out of their conflicting stories? And does Serial's ability to do Jay's proposed timeline in 21 minutes (or whatever) actually prove anything? Maybe bus exiting procedure was different 15 years ago. Maybe there were more, or fewer, traffic lights. Maybe entire intersections have been redesigned or streamlined. All it would take is one anomaly to throw off the entire timeline. So I don't think that proves anything.

Two final, major issues.

4. Is Adnan guilty? I still think no. I think regular ol' high school boys do not kill their girlfriends, and there is way more going on here than meets the eye.

5. Does the show know its own ending? Sarah Koenig has said, um, not really. She says they know the overall arc, just not the way it's headed. This may be my major worry about this podcast, that it will end with some kind of "welp, isn't all truth just so nebulous!" cop-out. Because it's entirely possible - dare I say probable? - that the show will have told us this whole story but not meaningfully advanced a case for Adnan being innocent (or decisively guilty). Fingers crossed that doesn't happen.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Flashback Monday: A story about a pool on a balcony in Cairo

Here's a Flashback for you, a la Friday. This happened in 2010 while I was still writing Flashback Fridays, but I didn't tell the story at the time because a) it wasn't a flashback back then, and b) I did not have the heart to think about it.

We spent the summer of 2010 in Cairo. We lived on the sixth floor of an apartment building and off of our living room, there was a small patio. Our apartment had AC - really, really weak-sauce AC - only in the one bedroom, so when it got hot in Cairo, it got hot in our apartment. Green spaces are in short supply in Cairo, so our balcony was a nice outlet to the outdoors for those times when we couldn't go outside proper.

One week soon after we arrived there, the weather forecast showed a few days of 110F+ temperatures ahead. So I decided to buy a kiddie pool to put on the balcony. It was easier said than done. Once we set up the dang thing, we had to figure out how to put water in it. I think we bought a section of hose-like tubing to rig up to the kitchen sink, but in the end we filled the pool manually using buckets and bowls. It was such an exhausting process that when the pool was full, we mostly just left it set up on the balcony, instead of emptying it and changing the water every couple of days.

And wow, did we ever enjoy that pool. Sure, the water got a little dusty after a while, but that pool saved my sanity that summer. It kept the girls happy and cool during those sweltering afternoons, and staved off cabin fever until the cooler nighttime hours when we could go on walks outside.

Then. THEN. One night, not long before we left Cairo - in other words, after weeks and weeks of playing in that pool, and sitting in that pool, and not changing the water terribly often - maybe twice the whole summer? - I was sitting on the couch in the living room late at night. There must have been something on TV. I think it was that movie about conflict diamonds. Blood Diamond? Something like that. It's not important. I mean, conflict diamonds are important, but the fact that I was watching a movie about them was not.

Because I was sitting there on the couch, facing the balcony, and lights were on inside but not outside, so I couldn't see terribly well, but I thought I saw something moving on the balcony. I turned off the lights inside to get a better look and. And. On our balcony, in our pool, was the biggest, most disgusting street rat you have hopefully not had the misfortune of ever seeing. It was having itself a leisurely drink/soak/cool-down in our pool. Then, almost as if this little routine was something it had done many times before that night, that rat hopped out and continued on its way.

We never used the pool again. I've tried not to think about it since. The end.

Edited to add: Jeremy just told me he never knew about this until now, which tells you how much I tried to pretend it never happened.


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