Friday, February 28, 2014

February 28th, outsourced

Here's another enthralling compilation of (mostly Russian) dashcam and surveillance videos showing amazing near-brushes with death. [HT Jeremy]

A novice spectator of figure skating gives his thoughts on all the ladies' performances.

In other figure skating news, here is an excellent summary of why some people think Sotnikova's gold medal was rigged.

Just who IS Andy's mom (in Toy Story)? This theory is intriguing. [HT Andrew]

How not to name your baby. [HT Lyse]

Downton Abbey's season finale, on Facebook. [HT Andrew]

Language anachronisms from Downton Abbey, presented in a non-curmudgeonly way. [HT Cait, I swear you posted this on fb but when I went back to check it wasn't on your wall.]

This video of a 10-year-old girl trying a ski jump for the first time is the new Happy Of Myself. [HT James]

What we mean when we say "hello." If I meet someone from PDX I often give them the "where did you go to high school?" line because it's an easy way to figure out where exactly they're from in an area that has strange city boundaries. [HT Susanne]

Thursday, February 27, 2014

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

Stuff edition here.

I was out of the super-hands-on parenting groove for a good few years since there was more than a five-year gap between Magdalena and Sterling. During that time, I became un-acquainted with the white noise of parenting, that never-ending background hum of diapers and bowel/bladder intricacies and doing everything with one hand because you have a baby in the other. It was jarring to go back to it all with Sterling, almost like going back in time.

Because one thing about your kids is that they match you to a certain cohort of other parents. As you start having children and hanging out with other parents for child-play reasons, it matters less how old you are and more how old your kids are. And while having a baby has probably (ok, definitely) aged me physically, it has somehow also made me younger because I now belong to a newer, fresher cohort of parents. The other day I was at the health clinic with Magdalena and an early-20s woman came in with her only child, a 1-year-old girl. The woman and I chatted for a moment and I thought about how nice she seemed, but how we would probably never run in the same playground circles since my girls go to the playground by themselves now. Then I remembered that I was holding an infant in my arms, and realized that I would probably be seeing this woman a LOT, starting in a few months.

I might as well be 24 again, on my own with Miriam. Sterling is like an only child during the day, and I confess that I sometimes have unpleasant memories of being the sole entertainer for an irrational, tiny human being. I look forward to the time of day when the girls come home from school and give him their energy and attention. I'm convinced that Sterling looks forward to it, too.

If you go to my neighborhood park in a few months, once Sterling is ambulatory, keep an eye out for me. I'll be hanging out with the 20-somethings.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

February 2014 books

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book gave me Feelings. Some are good. Some are not. By the way, there are minor SPOILERS below. I can't write a thing about this book without spoiling a few things past the third chapter.

The Good:
Relationships. This book does them right. Todd and Ben. Todd and Cillian. Todd and Manchee. Todd and Viola. I was invested in each and every one of these relationships.

Originality. This is a very weird concept (you can hear everyone's thoughts and dreams out loud) that, for the most part, is executed well. I like the spookiness of the Spackle, too.

Manchee. Love that dog. And the other animals, too.

The kindness of strangers. I enjoyed reading about human beings unselfishly caring for other human beings.

Creepy/spooky/suspenseful. This book is all of the above and there will be times that you feel like you must read ALL THE THINGS.

However, The Bad:
Violence against women. I understand why the author did what he did with the women in this book, but it was just too much, in my opinion.

Unnecessarily mysterious. Oh, there was this horrible thing that happened in the past, knowledge of which will help you navigate your future and possibly lead you to make informed decisions that will increase your chances of survival? Nope, sorry, can't tell you just now. But I'll look real conflicted about it for a while and then spill the beans when the bad guys are approaching and standing around to talk will result in my untimely death.

Death death death death. Too much death.

Bad dream. You know how in bad dreams, you keep escaping from some horror and think you're safe, only to figure out that you're STILL in danger and must keep running? This book has that going on, in a big way. If a character in this book ever said anything like, "we made it! We're safe!" I immediately knew they were in imminent danger.

So...three stars? I'm starting the next book in the series but I'm not committed to finishing it. [Note: didn't finish it.]

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Better than book #1 (which was pretty dang good)??? YES! Some books I love against my better judgement - you know, there's that one part that's dumb, or that one character I could have done without, or that one story element that doesn't work. This book I just plain LOVE. No qualms or qualifications whatsoever.

I thought it would take a while to love a YA book as much as I did These Broken Stars, but here I am, gushing about Siege and Storm. Now I'm left with a horrible case of TEABS. Sigh.

A House in the SkyA House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel like fancy book reviews and book descriptions are always wanting to call memoirs "searing." Maybe this book's reviews and descriptions do that, too; I haven't checked.

But if ever a memoir could be called "searing," this is it. I was not expecting this to be such a difficult read. I at once could not bear to read on, and could not bear to put it down.

I have a thing for narratives of captivity, stretching back to childhood when my favorite book was Calico Captive (which is based on a true story, by the way). More recently, I've been interested in them because they tend to take place in the region in which I live (the Middle East). I've read enough of them by now to recognize the survival tactics the hostages have in common. Lindhout's version is unique in that she is a woman. Also - much as I felt when I began Between a Rock and a Hard Place - I assumed this would be a one-off book by a person who was interesting only because of the horror she experienced. However, just like Between a Rock and a Hard Place, I found that this is a very interesting person with interesting things to say who also experienced something horrible.

So yeah, great book, intense, hard to put down, life-affirming, thought-provoking...and searing.

Skellig (Skellig, #1)Skellig by David Almond

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this because my daughter's Year 3 class is about to start reading it. It was good, but not drop-dead, Printz Award amazing, in my opinion. I think the kids will like it, though, because it's kinda non-threateningly spooky. And Miriam will relate because the main character's mom just had a baby.

Across a Star-Swept Sea (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #2)Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the book this could have been. As I began reading and realized it was a re-imagining of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I had to suppress a squeal of glee. I happen to love The Scarlet Pimpernel, but I have always thought that it wasn't quite good enough for the ideas it had. So I was hoping that Peterfreund would take it up a notch.

And the elements are all there. Peterfreund has indeed improved upon the original material, but the execution is off. I felt like I was reading a second or third draft. A very good second or third draft, but one that could have used some polishing and tightening before being released to the reading public. There were way too many awkward detours into the inner thoughts of the main characters. And wow, there are a LOT of main characters. There are a lot of shifting loyalties to keep track of, and some fairly intricate issues of gene science stuff. Again, if this book had gone through one or two more edits, I think I would have called this book complicated but brilliant. Instead, it's mostly just complicated.

In any case, it's still enjoyable and worth reading. For Darkness Shows the Stars was more my cup of tea, though.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 4 Finale (SPOILERS)

Before this episode started, I was sweating thinking of all the material it had to cover:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A new book on the shelf (it's my thesis)

Guess what I picked up at the Library Archives today?


After admiring the cover for a while, I flipped right to the Acknowledgements. I didn't write that page until the day before I turned in the final copy of the thesis. All the time before that, it was a blank page save for "Text of Acknowledgements." I put it off because I thought it would be so hard to write. How do you properly thank (OK, "acknowledge") the people who have made a year's worth of work possible?

Turns out, the words flowed easily right from my brain to the page, almost of their own accord. I thought I might go back to edit it once more before turning it in, but it ended up staying as it was.

I love reading book/thesis acknowledgements, and in case you do, too, here is mine.

Friday, February 21, 2014

February 21st, outsourced

"Let It Go" according to Google Translate.

Torvill and Dean skated in Sarajevo again to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their legendary "Bolero" routine.

This post from Times & Seasons about modesty (in the Mormon context) wins. [HT Sarah]

The National gives us more context for that UAE law that would make breastfeeding mandatory.

I hope this becomes a real thing: a bed you just zip up instead of having to make! Adult sizes, please. [HT Katie]

Here is a heartwarming story of an anonymous Emirati who helped reunited an injured, hospitalized toddler with her family who had to leave the country due to visa issues.

Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist. [HT Bryce]

I was up with Sterling in the middle of the night and clicked on this link from someone, but I can't remember who. But thank you, anonymous person. I am getting so many laughs out of Dad Can't Stop Laughing At Kids Slipping on Ice.

The case against fancy figure skating outfits.

Star Wars at the Olympics! [HT Kaylee]

Faces of Figure Skating. Two words: Yegveniy Plushenko. Yikes! [HT Julee]

What does a Norwegian boy at a bus stop have to do with kids in Syria? Watch. (Ooh, that was a very Upworthy-style teaser.)

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Your enjoyment of this post probably depends on 1. you having watched the old-school The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on PBS as a kid, and 2. your affinity for that "where have I seen this actor/actress before?" game. I love that game and I love playing it as long as possible before resorting to imdb to confirm.

Anyway, YOU GUYS. My childhood and my adulthood TV viewing habits just collided in an awesome way. The girls were watching The Silver Chair (Wonderworks or whoever produced The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince Caspian, and The Silver Chair in addition to TLTWATW) and I sat with them for a while. And I saw this:

As Magdalena would say, "Recognize???" I'll give you a moment.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Unwanted audio ads

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.
A few people have told me that they have heard audio ads when visiting this blog. This makes my heart cry and I don't know why it's happening. Please answer the question above so I can get a better idea of how widespread this problem is. If you have any suggestions for what might be causing this, let me know in the comments or by direct email. Thanks.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ice dancing 2014

Despite the NBC Olympics website's best efforts (can we please just put everything on YouTube already instead of these buggy proprietary players?), I managed to catch a great deal of the ice dancing competition over the last two days. I continue to be surprised by how much I enjoy it, at least the performances of the really good skaters. I used to like the pairs competition but this year all I really care about is the ice dancing. I was reminded of how boring ice dancing can be/used to be when I saw a few of the less-skilled dancers perform. But when you get to the cream of the crop, WOW. Enchanting.

My favorites are still Davis/White and Virtue/Moir. I mentioned four years ago that White sometimes seemed to be skating along with a huge smile pasted on his face as if to say, "I am ice dancing!" while Moir seemed more intense. White has fixed that - both couples are such a joy to watch. I think Virtue/Moir are still the better skaters, but not by much. I don't think I'm alone in that opinion, either - the commentators on the version I watched seemed to think the same.

Other thoughts on what I saw of the ice dancing competition:

TWO Michael Jackson programs? TWO?

One of the two (the non-US couple) included tasteful (???) pelvic thrusts as part of the choreography.

Techno Swan Lake was kind of awesome.

White's hair is like the third member of that team.

The Shibutanis have done so much to dispel the ick factor of them being brother and sister. I'm hardly squicked out by it anymore.

But still, except for them, these people are crazy for not kissing at the end of each routine. How is it possible to invade your dancing partner's critical distance so many times and not kiss?

Now enjoy this replay of Virtue/Moir's performance from Vancouver four years ago. So lovely.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The freedom of the manto hijab

I have no idea if I'm spelling this correctly, but in Syria if I ever saw it in English, it was "manto hijab." I think the word might be "manteaux," meaning a knee-length trench-coat thing. In any case, it was my dream style of hijab when we lived in Syria. As in, if I ever went muhajjiba, that is the style I would totally wear: clean, white/navy/black fitted hijab with manto and pants. It is a common look for veiled women in Syria, though the manto is sometimes ankle-length instead of knee-length. Here is an example (though I think this one is Turkish, it gives you the idea):

A few weeks ago I was at H&M and they had a killer sale on what were, essentially, manto coats: knee-length, belted trench coats in navy, black, and tan. Even though we live in a place where I need to wear a coat - nay, could probably kind of want to wear a coat, I guess - maybe three times a year, I totally bought one. It was a thing of great beauty. And then it was cold a lot this winter so I actually did get to wear it.

My point is that when I wore the manto coat, even without hijab (obviously), I felt Sometimes as a woman I feel so on display here, but with the manto, I knew for a fact that no one can see my butt or my thighs or my undershirt if I bend over to put something in the grocery cart, etc. It is an amazing feeling.

I'm sure it wouldn't be so amazing in summer when all the manto would be concealing is my horrifically sweaty shirt clinging to my suffering body, but in the crisp, cool winter days here, it was awesome. I had forgotten the powers of a butt-covering shirt. They are seriously legion.

Plus: so cute!

Friday, February 14, 2014

February 14th, outsourced

This study says that teens knowing about their own family history is an indicator of social and emotional health. [HT Josie]

The Baby Name Wizard asks that pesky question: creative spelling, or mistake?

Here's more about the baby whose premature birth (and subsequent hospital bills) was blamed for cutting benefits at AOL. [HT Nancy]

GoPro (those small invincible sport cameras) goes amateur. [HT Jeremy]

Speaking of GoPro, I am fairly certain that's what these two insane guys are using to film themselves climbing the second-tallest building in the world. Illegally. Without harnesses. And oh yeah, the building isn't finished yet and at one point they climb higher than the building itself, on a crane looking down at it. If that high-five near the end doesn't give you the heebie-jeebies, well.

Fart Winter Olympics. If you don't at least crack a smile at this, you are not allowed to read this blog anymore. [HT Jeanelle]

Polio is back.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tourists of everyday life

My parents and niece are on their way to the airport, going home. They were here for 3.5 weeks, seeing the sights and traveling around the UAE and Oman with us. However, since it was such a long visit, they've been tourists not only of the tourist stuff, but tourists of our everyday lives.

While they were here, my parents and niece got to know the ordinary and the mundane of living here. They went with us on kids' doctor visits and trips to the grocery store and my niece even got to spend a day with the girls at school. It was so wonderful to have them see their grandkids in their own element instead of jet-lagged and disoriented in the US.

Now the house seems empty and especially devoid of available arms to hold Sterling for me. I shed a few tears as the taxi drove them away. I seem to be feeling this goodbye especially keenly since our last one was so chaotic and uncertain. We looked forward to their visit for so long, and it was so fun while they were here, and now it's over.

Starting tomorrow, our everyday life will just be everyday life, with no tourists looking on to make things interesting.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Sochi Olympics!

Hooray for the Olympics! Thoughts:

1. How annoying is it that the only for reals legit way to watch coverage of the Olympics is through NBC's website? And even that only with a paid cable subscription? I would be all over a one-time-fee subscription to Olympics coverage. But that option does not exist.

2. And then, THEN, the coverage that is on NBC's website is super hard to navigate. I had this same problem four years ago - accidental spoilers, trouble loading videos, difficulty tracking down the specific video I wanted to see. Magdalena and I spent a good while this morning trying to find a simple run-through of the major ice dancing routines and were ultimately unsuccessful.

3. Speaking of, I have not forgotten my surprise love for ice-dancing. I can still remember Virtue and Moir's amazing routines from four years ago.

4. I made a point of catching Lipnitskaya's team short program skate. She's good, technically, but I was left unmoved by her performance. We'll see what she brings later on.

I plan on watching more than figure skating. Once I figure out the website, anyway. How about you?

Friday, February 07, 2014

February 7th, outsourced

Remember when cutesy answering machine greetings were a thing? Yeah.

Twenty weird things about attending BYU. [HT Jeanelle]

Do you ever have those times where you wonder how on earth you and some other person/people belong to the same country/church/etc.? This furor over the Coke commercial is one of those times. (Content warning: stupid people using f-bombs.)

Inside the Google Fiber commercial filmed in Provo, Utah.

Downton Abbey valentines! [HT Elisa]

How many pleasant days a year are there where you live (in the US)? My hometown gets 59. [HT Andrew]

Speaking of weather: mesmerizing AND educational - wind patterns around the globe. [HT Kathy]

Fathers and mothers work the same number of hours, but they experience that time differently. [HT Bryce]

Would you nurse a stranger's baby? [HT Liz]

My SIL in NYC sent me this run-down of the slush puddles in the city. [HT Kristi]

Here is a run-down of all the figure skating drama to expect in Sochi. I hope I hope I hope The Atlantic does GIF guides this year like they did for gymnastics two years ago!

Speaking of Sochi: I'm sure you've heard of the various, um, quirks of hotels and such there. I feel strangely bad for laughing at these. Sochi is a city that is probably trying its best and its feelings are probably being sorely hurt from being turned into a laughingstock. That said, I cannot stop laughing at these, even the ones that are old news from living in a few developing countries myself: here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

How to write a thesis with a newborn

I can't imagine this is a very common occurrence, but I'm writing this anyway: how to write a thesis with a newborn.

1. Give yourself a maternity leave. You need time to settle in to being a new mom. If you don't block out time to do so, you will end up feeling guilty or anxious about not working on your thesis. I took two weeks off, which was enough time to catch my breath but not so long that I lost my momentum.

2. Set up your work space in a convenient area. Every morning, I brought my computer and research materials downstairs to the kitchen table so I could sneak over and get some work in during any spare moment. It was also easier that way for me to keep an eye on baby as I worked. If the computer is allllll the way upstairs in some cozy den with a door that shuts, well, you may never touch the computer during the course of the day.

3. Figure out your baby's fussy patterns and schedule your prime writing time accordingly. A colleague of mine used to stay up most of the night working on papers while her newborn slept. For me, mid-morning into early afternoon was the sweet spot.

4. Schedule a quitting time, too. No matter how much or how little progress I had made on the thesis, by the time the girls came home from school at 2.45p, I called it a day. I knew I would only frustrate them, the baby, and myself by trying to get meaningful work done in the presence of three needy children.

5. Work every moment you can. If you wait for the stars to align just so - baby's sleeping, mama's fed, house is tidy, thought processes are clear - you will never type a word. It was hard for me to get in the writing groove when I was not feeling it AT ALL, but I trained myself to be able to work in whatever small increments of peace I could get. Pre-baby, I would wait for large blocks of time to get real work done, but that system did not work with a newborn. PS: you will not get any naps.

6. Do it NOW. You might be tempted to think, "oh, I'll wait until baby's a little older. It will be easier then." Wrong. It will be easier now. Newborns are sleepy and don't need much intensive one-on-one interaction. Therefore, you can put the baby in a wrap or sling or near you in a bassinet and s/he will be happy and calmed with no need for endless games of peekaboo. Sterling is four months old now and writing a thesis at this point would be much, much harder than it was two months ago.

And that's how you write a thesis with a newborn.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Oman with a baby

In the tradition of Miriam and Magdalena, Sterling hates the car. It is a stretch for us to even drive the 15 minutes to church without him fussing, and we not-so-fondly refer to his carseat as the Torture Chamber. It has been a source of anxiety for me these past months, knowing that my parents were coming to visit and knowing that we wanted to go to Oman, but not knowing how we would get through the car ride with Sterling. Oman is high on charm and adventure, but it is also high on driving time.

I was so relieved when we figured out a small, partial workaround, courtesy of Jeremy’s brain: Everyone Else (Grandma, Grandpa, niece, Jeremy, and the girls) left early Thursday morning, driving all the way down to Wadi Shab. That was the longest stretch of driving the whole trip, and Wadi Shab is not something one does with a 4-month-old. Sterling and I, meanwhile, flew from Sharjah to Muscat on a cheap one-way Air Arabia flight on Friday morning. Everyone Else picked us up at the airport and the trip continued from there. There was still some car fussing, but for the most part it worked out and I was able to end my streak of “no really, you guys go ahead and do Some Awesome Thing. I’ll be at home with the baby.”

Oman 2014 highlights:

Meeting Brooke (and her husband Max) at church in Muscat. On some level, I knew they were living in Oman, but it was so fun to not remember until they came up to me and introduced themselves IRL.

A peaceful Sabbath afternoon drive to Nizwa, chatting with Jeremy and listening to The Lower Lights as Sterling slept.

 Seeing a wasp (on the outside, thankfully…but actually, burrowing its way into the thatch wall, yikes), a few dozen mosquitoes, and a gecko within one minute of entering our “hotel” room (a thatched hut chalet thing).

Hanging out at the “hotel” “playground” in Nizwa with Magdalena and Sterling so Jeremy could catch a nap. I was trying to teach Magdalena a clapping-hands-rhyme thing (what do they even call those?) and we were laughing so hard that she peed her pants a little.

Nizwa Souq. We accidentally started out in the non-tourist section. I have not smelled that particular stink of fish/spices/rot since…Qatar, maybe? Also, the Nizwa souq – the definition of the back of beyond – had some apples for sale that were from the US.

Jebel Akhdar terraced village hike. We always think maybe we’ll do a different hike somewhere else. And then we always come do this same old glorious one.

Beehive tombs at Al Ayn (Oman).

The worst stretch of driving for Sterling was between Ibri and Al Ain (UAE). After that, he fell asleep and stayed asleep until we were home. I’m so glad he wasn’t screaming during the endless procession of stressful roundabouts in Al Ain. Seriously, better to be WITHOUT roundabouts than to misapply them as Al Ain does.

Traveling with Sterling was a little less spur-of-the-moment adventuresome and a little more “everyone take 15 while I nurse the baby. Again.” But I’m glad we went! Now let me never have to nurse/change a diaper in the car ever again. Amen.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Things That Simply Aren't Done

(That Craig Walker Does)

My mother, father, and niece are visiting us from the US. We just got back from a lovely trip to Oman (Sterling's first trip to a foreign country! Other than the one in which he was born!), which I will post about another day.

My dad has been shocking everyone's sensibilities lately. Craig Walker is an anomaly even in the US, but here it is even easier for him to make waves. In this country, as in any other country, there are certain things in certain contexts that aren't done by certain people. (For example, many times in this country, it is strange or atypical that I don't have a nanny.) Craig Walker is meeting those challenges head-on. For example, since he has been here, my dad has:

1. ridden on his bike to a local restaurant to pick up our takeaway meal. Simply Not Done.

2. ridden on his bike to the Sharjah Airport to pick up our rental car. Simply Not Done.

3. returned a stray cart in the grocery store parking lot to its proper place. Simply Not Done. He probably gave the parking lot attendant a heart attack. I could practically hear the whispers: who IS that man?

Speaking of the rental car (#2), how is this for turning a common problem here on its head: during the extensive rental car arrangements, my dad had the hardest time understanding the (Indian) accent of the rental car employee. He would have to ask the poor man to repeat everything he said multiple times, or he would hand the phone to me to figure out what was being said. At one point, the rental car guy called us back about some issue or other and although I answered the phone, I almost immediately offered to pass the call off to my father.

But the rental car guy begged, "no no no no no! Your father doesn't understand me! I'll just talk to you!" So the joke was kind of on us.


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