Thursday, January 30, 2014

January 2014 books

One Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse ShootingOne Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting by Marie Monville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. WOW. My mom mentioned this book in passing in an email. I picked it up (well, checked it out via Kindle) almost in passing, to read in between the arrival of more anticipated books.

But WOW. I don't think a book has ever touched me the way this book has. I am absolutely not a touchy-feely-book person. I don't like it when books seek to manipulate my emotions. I also don't generally go for religious books aside from the scriptures themselves, whether that religion is pseudo (think Mitch Albom dreck, in my opinion) or for real.

This book wears EMOTION and RELIGION and JESUS on its sleeve, and I embraced almost every minute of it. I would recommend that anyone who is human read at least the first half of this book, even better the first 3/4 (and then finish it off if you can manage). I have never wept such genuine tears while reading a book. This woman speaks a different religious language than I do (lots more "Jesus with skin on" and such), and she prays in a different way than I do, but the workings of God in her life as described in this book transcended syntax and word choice and spoke directly to my soul and spirit.

I think I will be uplifted anytime I think of this woman's story, and I am so glad that she wrote this unlikely book. What a fantastic way to start the year!

The Sea RunnersThe Sea Runners by Ivan Doig

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I appreciated many things about this book. I thought the setting was very rich and well drawn, and I liked having my own memories of the terrain (Alaska, and then lots of Oregon-like coast) to draw on as I read. I liked the concept of these four unlikely companions making an unlikely journey.

However, Doig's writing style never really grew on me. Sometimes, I only understood what was going on in spite of the words on the page, rather than because of them. I also feel like more than half the book was very spare prose describing what it is like to paddle a canoe down the length of the west coast of North America. That's the trouble with long-journey books like these: there are only so many ways you can say, "welp, it was hard, and it took a long time."

Furthermore, I docked an entire star because SPOILER [he killed off Melander AND Braaf. It's like when I was a kid writing stories and I wasn't sure how to make it more awesome, so I would just have someone die and figure that would do it. NO IT DOES NOT.] END SPOILER

The LifeboatThe Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


As I read (listened to) more and more of this book, I thought it was alternately a thriller-at-sea, an Agatha Christie-type mystery-at-sea, a legal drama, or a book whose entire storyline is turned on its head by a shocking revelation in the last chapter ("SHE was the murderer the whole time???" etc.). Now that I'm finished, I realize that it was kinda just a story. There is a central conflict, but gosh darn it if it's not clear what that central conflict is - nay, WAS - until the book is almost over.

I have so many unanswered questions. What caused the ship to sink? What did Henry give Mr. Hardy to take Grace on the lifeboat? What was in that box? Did Mr. Hardy survive? What was all that nonsense about the Marconi not working? Was Henry telling the truth when he said he sent the telegram? Don't try to tell me these points don't matter - when you harp on them as many times as the narrator did during the course of this book, they DO matter, regardless of the intent of the author.

Add this to the list of "I should have picked out a related Wikipedia article and read that instead" books. The Lusitania one will do nicely, I think.

Control (Control, #1)Control by Lydia Kang

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It was OK. Too many weird fever/hallucination dreams. You know that scene in Dumbo where all the elephants get drunk (?)? It's like that. I was going to give a content warning, too, except I just realized it's nothing that's not in The Count of Monte Cristo, too.

This book also suffers from a serious case of insta-love.

These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Ahem. Here is a rare example of a time when the audiobook made me love a book more than if I had read it on paper. What a BRILLIANT performance by the three readers of this book. The authors should be so proud of what those actors did with their book. This is the first audiobook I can ever recall where I was meant to be doing chores or folding laundry while listening but instead I was just standing there, really hearing the story.

These Broken Stars is a little bit Robinson Crusoe, a little bit LOST, a little bit Anne of Green Gables (the two main characters' relationship reminded me of Anne and Gilbert's). I doubt I will enjoy another YA as much as this one, at least not this year.

Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue MissionGhost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission by Hampton Sides

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you wish you could read Unbroken again, for the first time, then Ghost Soldiers is a great option. Unbroken focused on one person; Ghost Soldiers is about the soldiers who participated in the Bataan Death March and the later liberation of a POW camp where many of them ended up.

I can't help but compare this book to Escape From Davao, an epic DNF from last year about a similar subject. I read 3/4 of that book and could hardly make heads or tails of it. Ghost Soldiers, on the other hand, is written with real flair and lively imagery - it's a quick, engrossing, uplifting read. There are a few squirmy parts where some of the savagery the inmates experienced is related in detail, and I also felt sadness more than jubilation thinking of all the Japanese guards who had to die at the hands of the Rangers, but overall there were plenty of examples of the triumph of the human spirit (to use a cliche).

Can I just get this on the record? Filipinos are really something.

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)Allegiant by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hmmmmmmm. I do not know how to review this book. I know I didn't like it. It was just kind of lazy. Things were always unrealistically clicking into the perfect place. Stuff like: there's a city under extensive surveillance, but this ONE night when the rebels are sneaking into town to do some major undercover stuff, guess what? It's snowing, and the cameras will be obscured. Nice. Or Four illegally disables the security system at the compound but when caught, he gets a slap on the wrist and they even let him back in the security command room again. What?

But I do think the ending was rather brave.

Sometimes after finishing a book series, I like to think back to the first installment and consider if I could have ever imagined where the story ended up. In the case of the Divergent series, I never would have guessed that the conclusion would hinge so much on Four's mother/father issues. That came out of left field (or Insurgent, as the case may be).

There were some poignant scenes that alllllmost moved me, and some boyfriend/girlfriend relationship talks that were astonishingly realistic even though I was annoyed by them, and the good will built up by Divergent was not entirely smashed to smithereens by Allegiant. But it was tested. And ultimately it failed.

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the WestEscape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great companion book to Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. As I began to read, I wondered if I should continue. I was very affected by the descriptions of the horrible conditions of Camp 14. Ultimately, I'm glad I pressed on. This is a remarkable (to use the title's word) story and the author is very skilled at putting it in context. I could hardly put it down.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


I know many women have strange, very realistic dreams when they're pregnant. I don't. But: I have strange, very realistic dreams when I am sleep-deprived. Like these days. Sometimes they are so scary that I have to wake up Jeremy and take moment to have him talk me back into reality. Other times, I'm so glad that Sterling wakes up to eat so I can get some cuddles and love after a nightmare. A few weeks ago, I had the worst dream I can remember ever having. That one from when I was nine years old where all my family members were dressed up as ghosts on a pirate ship has finally been knocked off its "worst nightmare ever" perch.

These dreams are the kind of horrible where when I wake up and realize it was just a dream, I am so incredibly glad that I almost shiver from relief.

There are a few recurring themes. I often find myself dreaming that we are back in Syria. The other night, I dreamed that Jeremy joined the FSA and I had to get the kids out of the country by myself. We went in a caravan with our neighbors through the partially destroyed city, but in the chaos, Miriam and Magdalena were left behind with another family. So awful.

I also often dream about my children and other people's children dying in easily preventable ways - drowning or suffocating, etc. due to careless parents. Again, just awful.

When I find myself up early in the morning with Sterling, the sleep deprivation makes me a little irrational. Jeremy and a friend climbed Jebel Shams in Oman on Sunday. I heard from them via text on Saturday night that they had reached base camp (for lack of a better word). Then I heard nothing. Nothing at all. By Monday morning, I was so worried. Before 5am (Sterling and I were awake because he had woken up to eat and then spat it up all over me), I had made a list of everyone I was going to contact to search for my missing husband who was probably lying on a ledge at 3000m, horribly injured and cold and in need of assistance.

Turns out, cell phone reception was just spotty. He sent me a text before lunch on Monday telling me that everything was fine. He and his friend had a good laugh at this silly paranoid wife and her increasingly frantic texts (which possibly culminated in "if I do not hear from you by noon today I am calling someone to go find you." Noon, because even if one of them was injured, the other would have been able to walk down to a village by then. I thought it all through. At 4am).

Anyway. Sterling slept from 8 - 5.30 last night, so now I feel like I can conquer the world. And maybe stop having bad dreams.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


I'm so glad I went through with graduation. It was so exciting to be surrounded by other graduates and have a few moments to really savor the accomplishment of earning my MA, all to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, all inside the sumptuous City Hall. As I walked down the main staircase aisle to the stage, I could not help but smile because I was reminded of my girls' KG2 graduations. It was a strange thought to have at a big moment, but also very fitting, in a way.

I didn't go into detail in my previous post about the arrangements I was making to leave early, because the very fact that I wanted to do so was presenting a security concern (the Sheikh attends the ceremony). But now that it's over, here's how it was supposed to go: I was granted a special dispensation by the organizers to show up not as early as they were asking the graduates to be present (thus nursing Sterling at the last possible moment), walk/receive the diploma/handshake from the Sheikh, and then continue walking right off the stage into the wings, where a door would be open for me to make my way to the lobby and outside. At the graduation rehearsal, we went through the proposed procedure and made sure all the security people knew who I was and that I would be leaving early, and that I was allowed to.

What actually happened was this: I received my diploma and handshake from the Sheikh, and then I headed toward my secret escape door...and it was locked. LOCKED! I stood there in shock for a few moments and then knocked on the door to see if anyone was on the other side. No answer. I looked back the way I came to see if there was another route, but it would have involved walking back across the stage, which obviously wasn't happening.

So I picked my way through the pitch black of backstage, stepping on all kinds of prop detritus and feeling my way behind the structure of the risers holding the seated graduates. I was hoping and praying that there was another way to get out on the other side, and also that there were no hidden security agents back there who would be alarmed by my presence.

I got lucky on both counts. I emerged on the other side of backstage, surprising the people stationed there. One of them asked if I needed to use the toilet, but just then another one recognized me and ushered me out to the lobby. Phew!

Jeremy and Sterling were waiting for me there, having watched me graduate on a TV screen hanging on the wall. It had been long enough that he was just getting fussy for his next meal (Sterling, not Jeremy, ha ha). I was so grateful that I had been able to arrange an early exit, and also that said early exit had been executed successfully.

The other unexpected thing at graduation was that I was announced as having received an MA in Architecture. It was some mix-up with the reader. No big deal.

I had my parents take photos of me in my graduation gown the day before the ceremony, to avoid the huge crowds that would be on campus and at City Hall. I thought it would be less hectic that way. It probably was, though it was still plenty hectic. The security guard kept harassing us to move the car. Sterling was fussy. And I could not for the LIFE of me figure out how to put the stupid MA hood on. Maybe I don't deserve the degree after all. My dad suggested just taking the photos without the hood on, to which I may have responded, in a fit of pique, "I don't want to look like I just got a BA! I got an MA! That's the whole point!"

At the last moment, my mom and I figured out how to attach the hood, but the security guard was still on our case. So Jeremy moved the car and then hobbled back to us (he ran a marathon that morning), and we got some pictures taken. It was a big ol' hassle. Just a hassle before the fact, that's all.

Happy Graduation!

Friday, January 24, 2014

January 24th, outsourced

Those of you who follow (or followed) figure skating will be interested in this run-down of nine figure skating scandals from years past.

That dialect survey will never die. And it was the NYT's most popular article for 2013 despite having been present on their website for only 11 days of 2013.

Life as a female journalist. [HT Andrew]

I'm never sure if non-academics can access The Chronicle, but just in case: The Odds are Never in Your Favor (on the post-PhD job market). [HT Andrew]

I'm sure you've seen this going around: a contemporary dance tutorial. I thought it was hilarious (if slightly irreverent). Jeremy wasn't a fan. [HT Katie]

Would you like to see a world map of vaccine-preventable outbreaks? Just in case that article about being a female journalist didn't outrage you enough, you know?

Let It Go in 25 languages!!!!!! Love. [HT Andrew - you were on fire this week!]

Oh my gosh, before I even read this, I had been thinking that Do You Want to Build a Snowman was so pretty and it was underused in Frozen. Of course someone more talented was out there, remedying the situation. Lovely! [HT yep, Andrew]

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Graduation as a cultural experience

I picked up my graduation gown/cap/tassel/whatever else the other day. As I did so, I found myself feeling rather conflicted about actually going through with attending graduation. From a few months out, graduation seemed like a no-brainer, a chance to make up for the fact that Jeremy and I have never been to our own graduations for any of our degrees.

Now that the ceremony is looming, however, I feel like the thesis defense was the crowning jewel of my MA, and graduation is more of an afterthought. A not entirely convenient afterthought, as it turns out. I have this baby, see, and he's not allowed into University City City Hall (say that three times fast, it's fun!) (also, this is an event in the UAE that does not allow children! Very rare), but he's nursing, which means I was facing the prospect of celebrating my graduation while hoping that my baby was not screaming for milk in my absence. I balked, and thought that maybe I should forego the ceremony after all.

My mom (who is here visiting, along with my dad and niece) talked me back into it, though. It's not just a graduation. It's a cultural experience. Who even gets to go to a graduation - their OWN graduation - in a totally foreign country? (Uh, a few hundred other students at this university, actually.) I'll get to shake the Sheikh's hand. I've already got the gown. My parents are here. Etc.

So I've decided to try to make it work. I've been talking with the necessary people to see if I can arrange to not be away from my nursing baby for five hours, but still experience the graduation ceremony. The ceremony is on Saturday. I'm hoping for the best!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The uncle from America

We enjoyed this most recent weekend with Jeremy's younger brother, Scott. This is the third time he has visited us, thanks to the business he sometimes has in the region.

We don't get visitors very often. That plane ticket to fly across the sea costs a pretty penny, and it keeps most people away. So it's fun to see how excited the girls get about visitors, especially Uncle Scott since he's been here "so many" (3) times. Scott is this guy from America who comes to see us, suitcase bursting with favorite foods from the US and care packages from Grandma. When he is here, we do fun things. He is dad-like enough to be familiar, but different enough to be fresh and full of new, silly games to play.

On this trip, Scott arrived late at night. The next morning, the girls were begging me to be allowed to go in his room and wake him up. I told them they had to wait until 9.15. So the both of them perched in front of the clock in our living room and stared at it as the minutes ticked by. They were that excited to see him.

Also, Magdalena made him this out of her precious craft flotsam and put it on his door to welcome him:

Come and visit us. Perhaps you, like Scott, will become a rock star in the eyes of two little girls.

Friday, January 17, 2014

January 17th, outsourced

Google Play went all Baby Name Voyager, unscientific-style, on music!

What it really takes to live a life of luxury. I find that the people who make the Emirates so beautiful are sometimes visible, sometimes not. On campus, we see the people who polish the classroom floors and keep up the campus landscaping. Other places, not so much.

A Pride & Prejudice engagement. Awwwww! [HT Scotty]

Has anyone ever been to a 4DX theater? It sounds kind of cool, but also kind of awful (I do not want to be punched in the back while watching a movie).

The Pope says go on, breastfeed in the Sistine Chapel! If anyone ever gives you crap about breastfeeding outside of the mother's lounge at church, send them to that link.

I wonder if this is a record of some sort: the GCC version of The Wolf of Wall Street had 45 whole minutes cut out by the censors.

Brace yourselves: this is a story of a really GOOD thing to happen with a stranger on an airplane. So sweet. Sniff. [HT Ashi]

If you, like me, were a kid fangirl of Part of Your World back in the day (and maybe still are), then you, like me, may enjoy seeing this behind-the-scenes footage of Jodi Benson figuring out how to sing it.

How to tell if you are in a Bronte novel. [HT Sarah]

40 more maps that explain the world. This post rightly points out that maps were The Thing in 2013. I hope they continue to be! [HT Dave]

I loved the tone (and content) of When the President Sits Down Next to You at a Cafe.

If you are watching Season 4 of Downton Abbey but NOT reading the Fug Girls recaps, I urge you to remedy the situation immediately.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mother confusion

In all my years in the Middle East, I had never seen happen what I saw last week: a small child ran up to his mother, a woman wearing full abaya and niqab.

BUT. It wasn't his mother! His mother was a different woman wearing full abaya and niqab, nearby. The woman the kid mistook for his mother gently shepherded him in the right direction.

I always thought this must happen all the time. As a friend pointed out on fb, this happens all the time even when mothers and fathers aren't covered head-to-toe. I myself remember many years ago pulling on the pants leg of a man at Costco to get his attention. I thought it was my dad. It wasn't. Adults sometimes look the same from the waist down when you're a kid and can only really see that far up.

But I assumed this mother-confusion with abaya/niqab was more common, because only the eyes are showing. Who knows if it actually is - I'm just glad I saw it happen in person for once!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

You keep using that word.

In 2013 more than I recall in previous years, I came across the word "nonplussed" in articles and books.

What do you think that word means? Here are your choices:

1. so surprised and confused that one is unsure how to react

2. not surprised or confused

The standard ("correct") definition is #1, and I knew that, but in 2013 I started to think maybe I was wrong because I kept seeing it used in accordance with definition #2.

So I double-checked the definition and saw that #2 is now listed as "nonstandard, informal North American English."

Still, I was really bothered, not because people were using it "incorrectly" - descriptivism compels me to admit that when people start using a word in a certain way, even if that way is prescriptively incorrect, it becomes correct - but because there was no need for this awful word! Every time I saw it, it confused me. You might say, heh heh, that I was nonplussed by the word nonplussed. Why do we need this word? Why are we using it in our published, edited books and articles? Now that it means both its actual definition, as well as that definition's exact opposite, it has become useless. When I see it in your book, or your article, I no longer know what meaning you are trying to convey.

Do you mean the person was shocked? Or do you mean they maintained a completely deadpan mien in the face of some horrible news? It's anybody's guess at this point.

And heck yeah, I went to the corpus (COCA) to provide you with some examples. Here's an example from Good Housekeeping, where it's used incorrectly nonstandard-ly:

"When I showed them Michael Jackson's Thriller video, my jaded children were nonplussed."

Allow your brain to recover from the annoying double-take it had to do when it came across "nonplussed." Then realize that in this context, the writer means that they were completely unimpressed. The corpus is full of examples like these.

But more troubling are examples like these, where I have no idea what the word is supposed to mean:

"Most would consider The Beatles as relevant today as ever, but there were more than a few contestants who seem nonplussed by the choice."

"Amir paused. He looked quite nonplussed, which, despite the exacerbating circumstances, pleased me inordinately."

"The woman appeared nonplussed by Aliss's outburst."

Were these people shocked, or unimpressed? We will never know.

Nonplussed. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Downton Abbey 4.2 (SPOILERS)

I watched Downton Abbey Season 4 along with the Brits last fall, so the episode numbers are not quite the same. Apparently, I should have posted this next bit with last week's post, because PBS lumped Episodes 1 and 2 (British version) together. So here is a continuation of thoughts on last week's episode, followed by new ruminations on this week's episode.

Friday, January 10, 2014

January 10th, outsourced

It's not often that news out of Syria warms my heart, but this story of a Syrian band giving "flash" street performances did.

Ah, reporters doing ridiculous things on air will never get old: fainting in the snow edition. [HT Andrew]

How to make Hollywood less sexist in two easy steps. [HT BCC]

You've probably seen this already: crazy T-Rex illusion. Our brains and eyes are weird.

Local girlfriend overdoses on lotion.

What you get when 30 people draw a world map from memory. Sorry, British Isles!

Paper is not dead. Mwahahahaha. [HT Ariana]

Laura Ingalls Wilder is not impressed by your Polar Vortex.

Jeremy and I have been giggling all week at this Arab-American college student who pranked the local news.

Is this survey about how Muslim women "should" dress all over the place where you live? It's all over the place here.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Mommy Moosli Review

When I heard about Mommy Moosli - a muesli cereal that contains five galactagogues (ingredients that boost milk production in nursing mothers) - I couldn't wait to try some. I have always been able to nurse my babies well enough, but my supply has not always been, shall we say, bounteous. I was excited to hear about a product that might help in that regard.

I purchased two bags of Mommy Moosli in November and consumed them over the past six weeks or so. Here is my review.

Taste. The flavor I bought was Organic Dark Chocolate & Ginger. I'm not a big fan of ginger, and ginger AND chocolate seemed kind of weird to me, but you guys - it was delicious. I am actually salivating just thinking about it now. I usually ate the muesli mixed with milk or plain yogurt, and I always looked forward to it.

That said, one of the ingredients of this cereal is fenugreek. The fenugreek granules were sometimes a little crunchy, especially compared to the other components of the muesli. However, this isn't your average cereal, so I was willing to make allowances for the fenugreek since the whole point was to increase milk supply.

Price. I paid $10 for each bag. That may seem to be a little steep, but again, this is a specialty product (and organic to boot). I hoarded it all for myself so my kids wouldn't get into it and it lasted for many breakfasts.

Effectiveness. I didn't notice a huge boost to my milk supply, but I don't think that's the intended effect. I ate it more in an effort to maintain my supply and maybe help out a bit during Sterling's occasional nursing binges. If I ate it every day over an extended period, I think the benefits would be amplified.

Final verdict: A delicious product for a fair price that helps maintain a baseline milk supply and gives a production boost during baby's growth spurts. I would definitely buy it again, and I hope my SIL isn't reading this so I can send some to her when she has her baby later this year!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

If at first you don't succeed

I thought writing a thesis with a newborn would be the only hard part of the process. Now I'm in the gathering signatures/printing/paying stage...and it is also hard.

This morning, I received word that my thesis had been approved by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and to please come collect the approval certificate to hand over to the Archives Department of the library. So I got Sterling and myself and the necessary documents/forms/copies of my thesis all ready to go, which is a process that should not rightfully be able to be described in a sentence as short as this one. Sterling was tired-fussy, but I assumed he'd fall asleep in the stroller. Babies who are tired either cry, or fall asleep.

Unfortunately, Sterling chose to cry.

He cried on the way to the ATM. He cried at the ORGS while I collected my approval documents. He cried in the elevator up to the second floor of the library, where I was trying to get to the Archives Department.

And then, ladies and gentlemen, he cried in the "SHHHH! QUIET ROOM. NO TALKING. NO WHISPERING. NO MOBILE PHONES" closed-glass room of the library, off of which the Archives Department is located. I could not pick him up out of the stroller because my one free non-pushing arm was full of three copies of my thesis and its paperwork accoutrements. The door to the Archives was inexplicably locked, so I stood there with my baby screaming away in his stroller, knocking and knocking in vain on the door as head after head popped up over the study carrels in the QUIET ROOM to see how on earth there came to be such a ruckus there.

It was just too ridiculous. So I left. On my way out of the library, I ran into the Archives lady coming back in, and she took charge of the situation. I picked Sterling up and the librarian handled the documents and the stroller. We headed back up to her office and got 'r done.

Well, I still have to go back to the Main Building to pay the fees, then back to the library to hand over the receipt, but we are done for now because, fussy baby. I walked home with crying Sterling...

...and he fell asleep about 20 paces from the front door.

We'll try, try again later today. I didn't put on real clothes this morning for nothing!

Stuff I watched in 2013

Movies I saw in the theater in 2013:

Les Miserables. That's it.

I watched these shows in their entirety:

Downton Abbey Season 3
Sherlock Season 2
Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls
The Amazing Race Seasons 22 & 23

Kind of a tame year for visual media consumption. There are about a dozen movies I'm hoping to see once my post-baby-bedtime attention span improves (and the movies show up on iTunes).

Monday, January 06, 2014

Downton Abbey 4.1 (SPOILERS)

Would you mind very much if I posted about Downton Abbey Season 4 after each episode? Jeremy and I (assuming he deigns to watch this season) don't have anyone else to discuss this show with. These won't be recaps, just points of discussion or interest or rage for each episode. Chime in with your favorites or rants.

Ah, it is so good to be back and hanging out with these people! We've known them for three years now (I think more like 10 years in the actual show). On to particulars of Episode 1.

I just want to say that seeing Mary almost catatonic with grief was devastating. Mary can cut you down with a glance even when she's feeling chipper, so I don't blame those around her for pretty much avoiding eye contact (that scene on the stairs with Edith was especially affecting). It was so sad to see acerbic, witty Mary turned into acerbic, sad/angry Mary.

So then oh, what a payoff when she snapped out of it in the end! Did anyone else tear up when Carson gave her a hug at the end of the episode? Or was that just this hormone-riddled, sleep-deprived new mother?

It was almost as devastating to see our favorite busybody, Mrs. Crawley, so inert and deflated. I hope taking in the man from the workhouse ends up being a project she can really sink her teeth into.

Edith has really come into her own and is currently the best-dressed woman on this show. That red outfit - to die for! But then that outfit with the v-neck necklace thing that draped down the back! So pretty! Not sure about Mr. Rochester and his ambitions to become German. Seems legit...NOT.

I hope O'Brien doesn't stay away for long. I do love seeing what schemes that woman is up to.

The kitchen maids/footmen are all still in love with the wrong people, as per Mrs. Patmore last season. And why, WHY is Edna back? Did I not make it clear last season how much I disliked her? On the other hand, Rose is growing on me. Good for her.

I wonder if Jos Sedley from Vanity Fair is mad that Hugh Bonneville got a huge upgrade from being Mr. Rushworth in Mansfield Park to being Lord Grantham, and he's still playing an oddball. I did enjoy the butler wars, though. Also, is Downton Abbey going to be like the Harry Potter movies - a place for every British actor who's anybody to show up for a scene or two? Not that I'd mind.

As far as soap opera factor goes, this first episode was pretty tame - no jilted brides or secret pregnancies or long-lost cousins back from the dead. I wonder what they will spring on us later this season!

Finally, I enjoyed the re-working of the soundtrack. It's still recognizable, but there are some new things going on with the main themes. I loved the use of the Matthew & Mary theme music (I think the track is titled Such Good Luck), though now it's just...Mary. Sniff.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

2013 Stats

Here are some blog stats for your review/entertainment (2012 stats here).

Bridget of Arabia 2013 Stats

Total posts: 246

Total number of comments: 1754
  • Average number of comments per post: 7
  • Number of posts with no comments: don't know; don't care.
  • Highest number of comments on one post: 46
Number of subscribers: I have no earthly idea. Let us all mourn Google Reader. Amen.

Most-discussed posts:
  • bridget of arabia
  • my adventures in tucson
  • arabic
  • zidane
  • woombie reviews
  • airplane clip art
  • zinedine zidane religion
  • bridget palmer blog
  • h and m
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2013 Visitor Overview
  • Visits: 64,361
  • Absolutely unique visitors: 24,800
  • Pageviews: 113,124
  • Average visit duration: 1 min 57 sec
Top Referring Sites
About 44% of visits to this blog comes from referring sites. That means that the visitor clicked on a link somewhere (facebook, another blog, etc.) and ended up here. This is as opposed to simply typing the address in the address bar the old-fashioned way. So if your blog is listed below, it doesn't mean that you personally were clicking away madly at links to Bridget of Arabia - it just means some of your visitors were.
  • Magdalena's private blog
Top Countries/Cities

  • United States (68% of total blog visits)
  • United Arab Emirates (10%)
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Germany
  • "not set" - ???
  • India
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Pakistan

Top States

  • Utah
  • California
  • Arizona
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Indiana
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Massachusetts
Thanks for indulging me, and thanks to Google Analytics!

Friday, January 03, 2014

January 3rd, outsourced

Admit it - whenever you hear "thesis defense," you kind of think of a scenario like this. [HT Lucia]

A thesis, in a sentence. [HT Missy]

This guy took $25k of the promotional budget for a movie and went to the Philippines. Well done.

Bangladesh is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world, and drownings are the top accident-based killer of kids.

We have some Canadian friends here, and their affection for the world "tuque" (meaning a hat, like a wool hat that covers your ears and maybe has a pom-pom on top - wow, Americans need to figure out a word for that!) is hard to resist. This article about other Canadianisms is interesting, and then the comments are interesting for the incredibly wide brush with which they paint us Americans!

Babies riding on Roombas is what our family has been laughing at this week. (I just love envisioning the moment that some dad - you know it was a dad - realized that a Bumbo is the same diameter as a Roomba.) [HT Jeremy]

A techno-panic timeline. [HT Andrew]

2013 was the year we broke the internet. Maybe this makes me a jerk, but it is a fact that if I see a contrived, CLICK MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!! headline pop up on fb or wherever, I will often Google the key words to find the original source of the news rather than give the third-party website the satisfaction of my click.

New Year 2014, around the world. In Dubai, well, we know how to do fireworks: Palm Jumeirah (world-record-breaking show) and Burj Khalifa.

This correction about a Middle Earth-related story is awesome. [HT Andrew]

National Geographic is following this man's retracing of ancient migration routes. [HT Kathy]

Thursday, January 02, 2014

In love with The Lower Lights

Now that Christmas music listening season is over, I've found myself feeling a void in my life. I didn't feel quite like jumping into all the old standbys today, not just yet. I needed to ease into it. And I thought, why not take a look at The Lower Lights' regular, non-Christmas music?

You see, last year, we bought The Lower Lights' first Christmas album (Come Let Us Adore Him) and it was just beautiful. So this year, we bought their Sing Noel and I loved it even more. I listened to it at the expense of almost all our other Christmas music. So I had high hopes for their non-Christmas music...

...and they were not disappointed! I am in love with these two albums already - A Hymn Revival 1, and A Hymn Revival 2. You guys, just have a little listen of We Are All Enlisted and tell me you don't break into the goofiest grin. I sure did. I'm so happy to have some great new music to listen to. Many of the songs come from the Mormon tradition, but these are not your staid 4-part harmonies.

I found this embedded player on their website. I hope it works so you can sample some of the beauty, and then go buy it for yourself.

(Forgive me if this music is already insanely popular in the US and I am just horribly out of touch.)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Books 2013 + Book Stats

My favorite books of 2013 are here.

Here are some interesting (?) stats about the books I read in 2013 (complete list below). There are probably some very pretty infographics hiding in here, but oh well.

The books I read in 2013 were:

62% fiction.

38% non-fiction (obviously).

Furthermore, 70% of the fiction was Young Adult/Juvenile.

Overall, 44% of the books I read were Young Adult/Juvenile.

4% of the books (only three!) I read in 2013 were non-first-time reads.

8% of 2013's reading list were books that Jeremy has also read, whether it was this year or previously.

I read 20% of the books in their physical, hard-copy format.

I read 58% of the books in Kindle format. A further 6% were some kind of weird format that I could only read using an app (Overdrive) on my computer.

17% of the books I read this year were audiobooks.

(If the percentages don't seem to tally quite right, that's because a few books I had in both Kindle and hard copy formats.)

86% of the books were checked out from the library. The rest I either own/bought or (more likely) were borrowed from a friend or family member. The library percentage includes books I checked out from the library in the Kindle (or Overdrive) format.

The longest stretch between completion of a book was seventeen days at the end of February/beginning of March between The Raven Boys and Forever on the Mountain.

My longest stretch of YA books was in November/December with five in a row (though one, Prodigy, was a DNF): The Naturals, After Eden, Hostage Three, World After, and Prodigy.

My most productive period of reading was just before we left the UAE/en route to the US. I finished a book on July 13th and 16th, and two books on the 14th (one was an audiobook).

Hooray for reading! Here is the complete list of the 71 books I read this year - that includes the five books I read enough of to include on my list but ultimately marked as DNF (did not finish, indicated with an asterisk below).

Young Adult/Juvenile Fiction
The Naturals (Jennifer Lynn Barnes)
After Eden (Helen Douglas)
Hostage Three (Nick Lake)
World After (Susan Ee)
*Prodigy (Marie Lu)
Shadowfell (Juliet Marillier)
*The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (Holly Black)
Hemlock (Kathleen Peacock)
The Bitter Kingdom (Rae Carson)
Through the Ever Night (Veronica Rossi)
Shadow and Bone (Leigh Bardugo)
Belle Epoque (Elizabeth Ross)
Keeping the Castle (Patrice Kindl)
Requiem (Lauren Oliver)
The Elite (Kiera Cass)
Unspoken (Sarah Rees Brennan)
The Crown of Embers (Rae Carson)
For Darkness Shows the Stars (Diana Peterfreund)
The Selection (Kiera Cass)
*The FitzOsbornes in Exile (Michelle Cooper)
The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson)
The Raven Boys (Maggie Stiefvater)
The Book of Blood and Shadow (Robin Wasserman)
Lark (Erica Cope)
Winterborne (Augusta Blythe)
A Brief History of Montmaray (Michelle Cooper)
Steel (Carrie Vaughn)
Summer of My German Soldier (Bette Greene)
Finale (Becca Fitzpatrick)
Boundless (Cynthia Hand)
Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)

The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay (Hooman Majd)
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot (Bill O'Reilly)
Catch Me If You Can (Frank W. Abagnale)
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates (Wes Moore)
Nicholas and Alexandra (Robert K. Massie)
MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search For A New Best Friend (Rachel Bertsche)
Out of Captivity: Surviving 1,967 Days in the Colombian Jungle (Marc Gonsalves)
Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz (Eva Mozes Kor)

Investigative Non-Fiction (is there such a thing as Investigative Fiction? I'm making these categories up as I go, people)
Five Days at Memorial (Sheri Fink)
The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear (Seth Mnookin)
Because I Said So! (Ken Jennings)
The Romanovs: The Final Chapter (Robert K. Massie)
The Secret Race (Tyler Hamilton)
The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why (Amanda Ripley)
No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden (Mark Owen)
Forever on the Mountain (James M. Tabor)

Historical Non-Fiction
*Escape From Davao (John D. Lukacs)
A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East (James Barr)
The Princes in the Tower (Alison Weir)
Empire of Blue Water (Stephan Talty)
Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam (Mark Bowden)
The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking (Brendan I. Koerner)
To Marry an English Lord: Or How Anglomania Really Got Started (Gail MacColl)

Regular Ol' Fiction
A Short Stay in Hell (Steven L. Peck)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Seth Grahame-Smith)
Death Comes to Pemberley (P.D. James)
Daddy-Long-Legs (Jean Webster)
The House at Tyneford (Natasha Solomons)
Georgiana Darcy's Diary (Anna Elliott)
Speaking from Among the Bones (Alan Bradley)
*The Dressmaker (Kate Alcott)
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Emmuska Orczy)
Night Road (Kristin Hannah)
Edenbrooke (Julianne Donaldson)
The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat (Bee Wilson)
The Gift of Giving Life: Rediscovering the Divine Nature of Pregnancy and Birth (Felice Austin)
Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World (Nataly Kelly)
Cleaning House (Kay Wills Wyma)

Here is a chart showing my reading progress through the year.


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