Monday, March 31, 2014

March 2014 books

Life After TheftLife After Theft by Aprilynne Pike

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Easy, breezy, cute, forgettable fun. As far as Dead Girl Sorts Herself Out books go, this was miles better than If I Stay but not as affecting as Before I Fall.

The Tyrant's DaughterThe Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The main character in this book is a girl named Laila. She is the daughter of a coup-deposed dictator of a Middle Eastern country, seeking refuge in the United States. I have taught some real-life variation of this character almost every semester here. I have always wondered what it was really like for these young adults to be out of place, away from home, rich, and entirely out of favor with The Regime (or in favor with a regime that is out of favor with the rest of the world). Last year, I had a student give a presentation about Tunisia's exiled Ben Ali, focusing on how she grew up with one of his daughters. She was so eager to tell her side of the story, because it's certainly not the one we read in the newspapers. I devoured this book as a peek inside what life is like for some of my students. I would recommend this to young readers looking for an accessible introduction to the complexities of life for political exiles/expats.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6)The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Audiobook. This book suffered from Eau de SPOILER "It was all a dream! Just a dream!" - all these extraordinary things in Flavia's life can be explained away by the fact that the grown-ups around her belong to a spy ring END SPOILER, but I still liked (not loved) it. ANOTHER SPOILER Was anyone else terrified that they were setting up Dogger to be the bad guy? I broke out in cold sweats any time I thought about the possibility. In the end, I was glad it was Lina even though that was the obvious choice. END SPOILER

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Second reading 10 March 2014. I read the book in physical (Kindle) format this time and I think I liked it all the more for knowing when the story would come screeching to a halt, just short of a major cliff(hanger). Make that love. For the first half of the book, I kept pausing to savor a certain turn of phrase or snippet of dialogue. For the second half, I was too busy blazing through the pages to bother. Instead of being outraged by that last line, this time I just laughed gleefully. I love that last line and the character who says it.

I appreciated this moment:

""You're the only one who doesn't seem fazed by this," he said after a moment. "It's not that I'm accustomed to it, but I've run across some unusual things before and I guess I just...but Ronan and Adam and Noah all seem...nonplussed."

OK, awesome, right? First correct use of "nonplussed" I've read in a book in probably two years. But it continues:

"Blue pretended she knew what nonplussed meant."

So great.

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2)The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. This book was a little darker than its predecessor, thanks mainly to the introduction of a new character (Kavinsky). He's one of the more fleshed-out jerks I've ever had the displeasure of seeing portrayed in literature. I loved the experience of reading this book (except for the Kavinsky-heavy chapters) and I can't wait to see what happens next!

Also, I already knew this from The Scorpio Races but WOW, can this woman ever write a really creepy animal attack scene.

Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One FamilyGlobal Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family by Melissa Bradford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great book for me to read at this time in my life. I felt like I was talking to and learning from an older sister who's done this whole living abroad thing up and down and is giving me tips for raising kids and thriving overseas. I am surprised at how much I learned from her, considering that she has lived in very different countries than me (1st world vs. 2nd), but some things about living abroad are the same anywhere. This book did make me miss the days of living in Russia where we could blend in and integrate more into the culture. When you are blonde-haired and blue-eyed living in the Middle East, that puts up a wall between you and the locals before you even open your mouth. Sometimes it's hard to have that automatic distance there, and I found myself feeling jealous of how the author was able to fit in so well in Norway, France, and Germany.

Speaking of Germany: the Munich chapters. Woah. I was entranced by them and I think I will forever remember her visual of folding laundry by a window in Norway during a certain difficult period in her life.

Friday, March 28, 2014

March 28th, outsourced

Dresses made out of paper! For a 4-year-old! [HT Crys]

Babies need pets. Specifically dogs.

The last case of polio in India. [HT Suzanne]

Maids prepare for UAE military service (satire alert).

The end of Upworthy-style headlines??!?!?

You know how you only ever see photos of famous landmarks up close, out-of-context? Here are some alternate views.

Funny workplace notes. I can't get enough of these. [HT Jeremy]

This kid's dad creates mini action movies, starring him! [HT Jeremy]

The only way this The Office Time Machine could be cooler is if it were The Simpsons instead. Amazing work. [HT Jen]

McSweeney's description of a faux advertisement. And then of course, someone goes out and makes said advertisement for real (and I think it, in turn, is an advertisement for the company who made it).

Don't be alarmed, but the Sand Tiger Shark eats its siblings in embryo. My kids LOVED this video. It's that perfect mix of "ewwwww!!!!/coooooool!!!!!" [HT Crys]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The most beautiful castle

Magdalena and Miriam and I enjoy the view from the top of the Keep at Krak des Chevaliers near Homs, Syria, in 2010.

In the summer of 2010, we visited Krak des Chevaliers near Homs, Syria. It's a 12th-century Crusader castle and it is glorious to behold. Four-year-old Miriam instantly dubbed it "The Most Beautiful Castle." She asked about its history and we explained to her what castles were for - a stronghold in a time of war, a place to store food and water, a fortress where the good guys try to stand their ground against the bad guys (or vice versa). I checked Miriam's blog to see what I wrote about our visit at the time and found these brief remarks:

"Miriam's fever had just barely broken but she really wanted to visit and explore places so we went ahead and did it. We had trouble with some bad attitude at first but after she got into it she was fine. She was full of questions about what everything was for. She also wondered about why there was a war, and why there aren't bad guys anymore."

Today, there is a war in Syria again, and there are bad guys again. There always were bad guys, of course, but that's not the kind of thing you casually mention to your 4-year-old when she asks. Krak des Chevaliers itself is being used as a defensive stronghold again, alternately by FSA and regime forces. The castle has been damaged and rebuilt many times over the centuries, I'm sure. This is just more of the same. The thought is almost comforting. Almost.

I think of British explorer Gertrude Bell visiting this place more than 100 years ago, in 1905. Back then, Krak des Chevaliers was inhabited by local families, though still very obviously a castle. From The Desert and the Sown, Bell's account of her journeys through the Levant:

"The castle is the 'Kerak of the Knights' of Crusader chronicles. It belonged to the Hospitallers, and the Grand Master of the Order made it his residence. The Egyptian Sultan Malek ed Daher took it from them, restored it, and set his exultant inscription over the main gate. It is one of the most perfect of the many fortresses which bear witness to the strange jumble of noble ardour, fanaticism, ambition and crime that combined to make the history of the Crusades."

Here is Bell's view of the Gothic windows of the banquet hall (p. 205), "the tracery of which was blocked with stones to guard those who dwelt within against the cold":

And ours in 2005:

Ours in 2010:

And now (source: BBC News article):

1905: Gertrude Bell's view from horseback:

Our view in 2005:

A Syrian soldier's view in 2014:

Some years after Gertrude Bell left the castle, it was re-converted into a proper tourist attraction, albeit one without interpretive signs, fences guarding against precipitous drop-offs, or exorbitant admission fees (I think it cost about $3 to get in). Now it has been converted back into a functioning fortress. Who knows what it will be used for in the years to come? Happier things, I hope. It is, after all, The Most Beautiful Castle.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Be careful what you pray for

I think the sleep-deprivation part of motherhood is meant to be lost in the amnesia we experience with pregnancy discomfort and labor pain. Right? But it's never been that way for me. I have never really recovered from the sleep deprivation I experienced with Miriam, and I certainly haven't forgotten it. She's eight now. Magdalena was a little better but it was still rough going. The fact is, I am the mother of two confirmed non-sleepers. Unfortunately, Sterling is a third.

It wasn't always this way. When he was one, two, and three months old, I was working on my thesis and then thesis revisions after the defense. I prayed many times a day to ask God to help Sterling to sleep so I could do good work on my thesis. I knew that if I didn't get that thesis done last semester, it would probably never get done. And guess what? God answered my prayers. As a tiny infant, Sterling regularly slept from 8pm until 4am without waking, sometimes even until 5 or 6am. After those nights, Jeremy and I would wake up and, after a moment of panic that Sterling was only quiet because he was dead in his crib (all parents have those moments after a good night's sleep), we would just stare at each other in wonder that we had produced a child who appeared to enjoy his beauty rest.

The thing is, I said God answered my prayers, but he answered them a little too specifically. Or I was wording them too specifically. After I turned in my finalized thesis - like, almost to the day - Sterling stopped sleeping so well (because "so I could do good work on my thesis" was no longer necessary, see?). He is now just as bad of a sleeper as his sisters ever were. I tend to get irrational about babies and sleep, probably due to frayed nerves (because sleep deprivation) and a touch of post-traumatic stress disorder from babies one and two. So I did what anyone seeking clarity would do: I created a spreadsheet. Green is a nursing session. Pink is sleep. Orange is roughly "he is in his crib and should be sleeping but he is crying instead and mom or dad had to go help him."

I've filled it in for almost a month now. It has really helped me see what is going on with Sterling's sleep. Is it really as bad as I think it is? Did he really wake up three times last night? Was there really a period there where he didn't take a single nap longer than 45 minutes? Could that really have happened? Yep. It's on the chart.

As for averages, Sterling gets about 10 hours of sleep a night, and then 2.7 hours of nap during the day. This is acceptable, I suppose, but it's the night wakings that are slowly (ok, quickly) crushing my spirit.

The moral of the story is, don't be too specific with your prayers, because God will answer them.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What does (your) child's play look like?

It was with great interest that I read The Atlantic's "The Overprotected Kid," which I heard about from Jessie. The blurb:

A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.

The TL;DR of it is that parents (like me) who were allowed to roam free in their own childhoods are now keeping a much closer eye on the play activities of their children and discouraging risky and/or unsupervised behavior. This, even though stranger abductions are thisclose to being a non-danger, and so-called improvements in playground equipment safety (such as rubber matting or woodchips instead of asphalt) have not lead to any appreciable decrease in playground injuries. The "new kind of playground" mentioned in the article is basically a junkyard that kids are encouraged to play in.

I am in absolute agreement with this article, even though I tend to hyperventilate at the thought of the possibility of my kids playing with 2x4s and rusty nails while the group of 10-year-old boys nearby lights a fire in a metal garbage can. Eek! Also, it's great that statistics show that kids don't get seriously injured at the playground that often, but that is cold comfort for the mom of the kid who was partially paralyzed after falling off a slide (referenced in the article). In my own experience, on paper I believe children, including mine, should play with sticks and pretend they're swords, etc., but then someone gets poked in the eye and it's not so fun anymore.

All that said, in real, everyday life, I encourage my girls to play outside on their own, unsupervised by me. During breaks from school, and often on Saturdays, I send the girls outside and sometimes only see them when they come inside for food, drink, and the bathroom (I see a lot of other people's kids in my bathroom, too). I glance out the window from time to time and see a lean-to made out of yard clippings and tree limbs propped against a house there; a picnic blanket and pillows here (complete with 5-year-olds pretending to be babies wrapped up, "sleeping,"); our bin of scarves and hats and dress-ups overturned on the grass; and groups of children industriously coloring in the white dotted line down the center of the street with fluorescent pink sidewalk chalk. The rule for my kids is that they can't be running around outside alone. That's it. If they have a playmate, I try to let them do as they please.

They don't even really have playdates. If they want to play with someone, they start knocking on neighbors' doors. Or they go outside and start an activity that will attract other kids.

This system (or lack thereof) is not without its downsides. When kids are just playing in the neighborhood, it can be hard to police who made this mess on someone's patio, or who is commandeering the 3-year-olds' scooters, or who dared someone else to drink irrigation water mixed with dirt. And there is the issue of me noticing a different kid in my bathroom every hour, though I haven't had as much trouble with that since I drew an imaginary radius around our home and told the girls and their playmates that anyone who lived inside of said radius had to go use their own toilet, at their own home.

I hope all of the above means my girls are getting at least a taste of good, old-fashioned, outdoor, unstructured, unsupervised play.

What does your child's play look like? Is it playdate-dominated? Park-based? Supervised? Would you let your kid play on junkyard mattress trampolines?

Here is what our street looked like one early evening in January (it gets dark early here - this was probably around 6pm).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

First conference presentation

I presented at the conference on Saturday as planned, without baby, as planned. We took the metro in. I got off at my stop and Jeremy and the kids continued on a few stops farther to do some errands. I gave Jeremy a bottle as his last line of defense against a starving Sterling and an unforeseen delay on the metro on his way back to me. Jeremy did end up trying it with Sterling but he was, to use Jeremy's word, "offended." Fortunately, we were reunited before things got desperate.

This was my first conference presentation. This conference is the real deal - the biggest one in my field in this region. My presentation was a tweaked version of some research I did for my MA (The Power of YouTube - about using YouTube videos in class), and it was lots of fun to present. I had a full house in my session (60ish people) and everyone was really good about participating when I asked them to. Because a major part of my 45-minute presentation was viewing excerpts from YouTube videos and evaluating their appropriateness for a particular (the attendees') teaching context.

So of course, I had to include a "bad" example - a video that might seem like a good idea but actually wasn't. Obviously I couldn't show a horrifically inappropriate video at the conference, so I had to choose something more subtle to make my point. I chose Saudis in Audis. Personally, I think that video is hilarious and I quote from it regularly. I think it's clever and smart and well produced. However, if I were to show that to students here, I would be taking a big risk. Some, perhaps most, would also find it funny, especially if their language skills were good enough to understand the level of satiric humor going on here. But there is a big chance that many students, especially Saudi ones, would take one look at the faux-dishdashes and keffiyahs and absolutely bristle.

Sure enough, when I showed it during my session, there were a lot of laughs while it played but when it was over, almost every person in there said there is no way they would ever show that in their classroom (mostly in the Arab world, or teaching Arabs in the UK or Australia). So it fulfilled its purpose of being a good example of a bad video for certain teaching contexts. (It's worth noting, however, that the one Saudi woman in the room said she thought it was hilarious.)

Anyway, the session went well and even though I looked forward to it for a long time, I am so glad it's over!

Monday, March 17, 2014

My friendly neighborhood grocery store

Yesterday when I did the grocery shopping at the neighborhood store, I was reminded of how an entire community is witnessing Sterling's growing up years (months, so far). I almost always have him with me when I go to that store. At first, he was in the wrap, tucked against me and usually asleep. Then he was forward-facing in the Bjorn, grasping for his own hold on the shopping cart handle. Yesterday, for the first time, he sat in the cart's little child seat, padded by a blanket to hold him up, since he can't quite manage it himself.

It didn't occur to me that so many of the store employees would notice Sterling's graduation to the cart child seat, but wow, he was greeted with smiles in every department. The produce guys couldn't get enough of him and gave him plenty of grins and coos and hand-holds. I wonder if they are happy to finally see this child out of his mother's arms, where his chubby cheeks are more accessible for pinches (yes, they still do that here).

The best part is, these witnesses of Sterling's babyhood are so accommodating. Shopping with a baby strapped to you (or perched precariously in the child seat) is really difficult, especially since shopping carts in this country have four pivoting wheels instead of two, like I remember in America (right?). It takes all of your core strength to push and turn that thing, which is hard when a lot of your core strength is busy supporting the weight of the baby strapped to you. At this neighborhood store, however, the employees rush to assist me. They unload the produce from my cart, weigh it for me, and put it back in. They move obstacles out of my way or clear an aisle for me. When it comes time to check out, they come unload my cart for me and then bag the items for me. More than anything, more than proximity or good prices or the manageable size of this particular store, it is the employee service that makes me want to commit to shopping there and only there.

And I appreciate their smiles for Sterling, too!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Global Day 2014 @ AUS

Global Day continues to be one of my favorite things about living here. It's an annual two-day festival celebrating all the different cultures and nationalities at the American University of Sharjah. Each country (mainly through the respective cultural club) designs a pavilion and then stocks it with activities, decorations, and friendly people wanting to teach others about the culture. Some of the pavilions sell trinkets, clothes, or treats from home, and many of them offer henna (to the girls' delight). Global Day 2014 was especially stellar, not least because I finally remembered to pick up some US-themed apparel when I was there this summer.

Heading out. The thing about being American here is, you can't really go all-out with national pride. So Jeremy left the flag bandana and affected swagger at home.

A Bahraini well.

 A Yemeni cityscape.

Some Iraqi...I do not know what these are. (A quick Google search just told me it's the Martyr Monument.)


 Tunisia! This girl is our next-door neighbor.

Morocco! Those divans in the background are to die for.

I remembered Palestine's pavilion being a cheery thing in years past - all Dome of the Rock and painting activities for kids. This year, it was: THE WALL.
I was kind of shocked they went so edgy. Then I talked to a neighbor and she said they had a similar theme last year, complete with a checkpoint staffed by a faux-soldier holding a faux-gun, so I must have missed that.

 Emirati girls dancing.

Musicians and magicians in India.

For the first time ever (in my admittedly imperfect memory), there was a USA pavilion! Wow. There was a red carpet and photos of Vegas and maybe the Statue of Liberty? I can't remember.


Oh yeah, it rained. Global Day is two days out of 365 and it rained on both of them.

There were many more pavilions, obviously, and I was struck by how ripped-from-the-headlines these countries are. Over here, you have a nation invading the Crimea. There, an Emirati policeman was killed in an explosion. This country is embroiled in civil war. This one is under military rule. This one is doing just fine, thank you. Such a range of emotions and opinions to be had.

Happy Global Day 2014!

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14th, outsourced

I thoroughly enjoyed this safety instructions dance from a flight attendant. Those kicks! That enthusiasm in the face of a few completely unimpressed passengers!

The new film Noah will not be shown in the UAE because it violates Islams prohibition of visual depiction of prophets.

I vaguely knew that the internet is supported by physical cables that run under the ocean, mostly because I remember one of them being severed a few years ago and cutting off a few countries from the web. But to see it in a visual - wow.

STFUParents does wacko baby names!

The Lilly Ann workout. Sterling does this one many times a day. [HT Sarah]

This guy lost a bet with his brother so he had to dance at a public intersection in Provo. [HT...someone]

I was delighted by Ken Jennings' interview with the creator of Jeopardy!

These 51 baby names are now banned in Saudi Arabia. I scanned the list and as for Saudis specifically, I've only had one student with one of the names. I wonder how he feels to be blacklisted.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The youngest conference attendee

The biggest regional conference in my field (TESOL Arabia) is going on right now in Dubai. I am presenting there on Saturday. Today, I headed over to catch a few sessions.

And I took baby Sterling with me.

I know, I know, maybe you're thinking I'm one of THOSE PEOPLE. I thought long and hard and seriously about it before I did it. I came to the conclusion that Sterling is still a nursing infant unaccustomed to being away from me, and I told myself I would take him out of any session if he made more of a disturbance than, say, a mobile phone buzzing during a presentation. The choice seemed to be go with Sterling, or not go at all, which technically made me bringing my baby to a conference the more professional option, not the unprofessional one.

And it was all smiles and sunshine at first - everyone I met through the picking-up-packet process was kind as could be, kidding me about Sterling being the youngest attendee, etc. But then I walked through one credential checkpoint and an employee of the hotel where the conference is hosted pulled me aside and said that children were not allowed to enter.

I may have actually looked from side to side to confirm that he was talking to ME. The one holding the tiny baby-in-arms. He was. And he was serious. He very nicely asked me to wait so he could call the conference organizer to speak with me about the no-kids policy.

She (the organizer) informed me that 1. this was a professional conference, not a crèche; and 2. it was for paying participants only, which Sterling technically was not. She felt that if she let me in with my baby, other people would wonder why they couldn't bring their kids with them, and so on. She said she didn't know where to draw the line, so she was drawing it at zero. I suggested that maybe she could draw the line at, say, nursing babies? Maybe? We went back and forth on this issue for a few minutes. I totally understood where she was coming from. And fortunately, she understood where I was coming from and eventually let me in, somewhat reluctantly.

As I walked into the venue proper, an attendee at a nearby stall who had seen the whole thing go down surreptitiously offered me a spare credential so that if anyone else gave me trouble, Sterling was now officially a "paying participant."

Not only that, but completely by chance I ran into a friend at the first session who took Sterling out in the hall for me so I could attend for an hour or so without worrying about him making noise. What a blessing.

What do you think about all this? Was I wrong to bring Sterling in the first place? What is the proper policy for situations like this? On the one hand, I see the organizer's point that it's an event for adults and it simply wouldn't do to have small children running amok. However, I am a legitimate participant in this conference and by shutting my baby out, you shut me out. I'm so sure this woman is tired of being the poster mom for people like me, but: Licia Ronzulli brings her baby to work at the EU Parliament. Just sayin'.

Do we as a society lose something when we expect mothers and their nursing infants to stay tucked away, out of sight, absent from the professional activities of their field?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Spelling homework FAIL

Little Magdalena has nine or ten spelling words each week and a test on them each Thursday. At the beginning of the week, she is supposed to practice writing the spelling words by putting them each in a sentence. She is allowed to put multiple spelling words in a sentence. It's pretty straightforward homework and usually she gets the job done.

On Sunday after school, she asked me if she could put all nine of her spelling words in one sentence. We have sometimes made a game of trying to fit as many words into one sentence as possible, so I thought that was what she was up to. However, she must have wanted to get on the other side of spelling homework real quick-like, because later when I checked her work, this is the sentence I found:

"Children are just a littl[e] help just straight with great and there lane were."

I love how she started out trying and then fizzled into "there lane were."

We'll be re-doing this week's spelling homework, I think.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

This is what church can be like

I had a really fantastic time at church on Friday. That has happened all of a handful of times since we moved here in 2010. I love being a Mormon, and I always appreciate church on some level, but it is often hard work, depending on your calling (=volunteer position at church). Until recently, I was in charge of the Primary (children's) class and it was two hours (out of three) of being ON. Depending on who did and did not show up, I sometimes ran the thing by myself as a kind of all-in-one teacher, music leader, and accompanist. When church was over, I needed to decompress in order to gear myself up for doing it all over again the next week. It wasn't unrewarding work, but make no mistake: it was work. Church for me was not a restful, worshipful experience. I spent more time filling the lamps of others (usually small, irreverent, misbehaving others) than I did sitting back and letting the light of the gospel and the testimonies of my co-congregants fill my own. What spiritually sustaining moments I had were snatched from a sentence or two of a talk heard there, a beautiful moment in Primary here, and my own study during the week.

My callings now are to play the piano in Sacrament Meeting (the first hour) and Relief Society (the women's meeting during third hour). I know God loves me because these callings are like a "well done thou good and faithful servant" reward to me after years of toil in the Primary. I love playing the piano at church and even though I am currently playing two out of the three hours, and even though I just got out of heavy-duty service in the Primary, I proclaim to you now that I would gladly play during the second hour in Primary, too, and thank you for it. Everyone has their own language of worship and mine is music.

On Friday, then, I played the piano during first hour. I timed Sterling's nursing session just right so that it came between hymns and neither he nor I was rushed. He slept in my arms during second hour and I actually got to sit and listen to a well-prepared Sunday School lesson and the insightful comments of my fellow attendees. During the third hour, Sterling sat in the empty arms of a woman whose own 5-month-old baby is away from her in her home country, leaving my very full arms free to play the piano. The lesson was a thoughtful one about Faith in Jesus Christ, taught by a darn fine woman with no nonsense about her.

When church was over, I was tired, hungry, a little dehydrated, and ready to go home, yes, but I was also edified, uplifted, unfrazzled, and content with my spiritual experience that day. I know not every Sabbath will be like this last one, but this Friday was enough to remind me why I go to church, and it will keep me going there for a while yet.

Friday, March 07, 2014

March 7th, outsourced

Ignore the chip-on-your-shoulder tone (basically, all the text except the identifying captions) and take a look at these photos/pictures of women breastfeeding their children in public in the olden days (including a Mormon chapel - the 1871 picture). [HT Jeanelle]

This NYT article about Mormons, women, and missions was pitch-perfect.

"Part of Your World" in Google Translate. [HT Ariana]

What's your Travolta-ified name? I am now Brodie Palmzer. [HT Jen. And seriously, what even happened with that? Who cannot name Idina Menzel OFF THE TOP OF THEIR HEAD these days?]

Woman becomes Glasgow's 87th-most-popular tourist attraction on TripAdvisor.

Corpus Libris - completing the dust jacket cover photos of books. This is a great antidote to all those headless book cover photos you see these days. [HT Jen]

What languages sound like to foreigners.

I kept seeing this speed-reading app news bite show up on fb but I thought there was no way it was for real. Then I tried the demo. You guys, it's kinda for real.

Somebody (this adorable toddler) has spent a LOT of time at mom's choir practice in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. [HT Jessie]

National Geographic on the status of the walled Old City of Damascus these days.

I'm going to put a warning on this one. It's not graphic but it is extremely sad and you will not be able to un-remember it. This is why I have recurring nightmares about Syria. Because it's not a "there" to me. It's a "here." What if the war in Syria were happening in the West?

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Sports Day

The girls had Sports Day today at school. In my day (or in America - sometimes I'm not sure if things are different for my girls because they go to a British school or because they go to school 25 years after I did), they called it Field Day. This was my first time to go watch because on previous Sports Days, I've been at work. So I was really excited to go.

But not as excited as the girls! They could hardly sleep last night. I was worried that it would be a little warm to be outside doing intense sports, but this morning it ended up being very foggy and cool.

As excited as the girls were for Sports Day, they were even more excited to see me (and Sterling there). I was greeted by smiles like this every time they caught a glimpse of me.

 Sterling's Sports Day. The wrap is still going strong.

After a while, I went off-label and flipped Sterling around to face forward in the wrap. This was his view. He was mobbed by the girls' friends everywhere we went. "He's soooo cuuuuuuuuute!" etc.

I enjoyed spending time at the girls' school and watching them work hard and have fun at Sports Day! The results (which House won) will be announced on Sunday!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Jeremy was on TV in Oman

Jeremy was in Oman for a conference on Sunday and Monday at Sultan Qaboos University. He presented on Sunday morning and then attended a book fair in the evening, where he somehow ended up being interviewed on live television, in Arabic.

They even put makeup on him beforehand! The topic of the interview was the importance of reading. Jeremy estimates that he was on air for about ten minutes. We still aren't sure exactly how this whole thing ended up happening - it was very last-minute for him.

But hey, now he can cross "appearing on live TV in Oman" off his list of things he never thought he would do in life.

PS - as he waited in the gate area at the airport for his flight from Sharjah to Muscat, he saw a dude board a flight to Saudi Arabia holding a live falcon. Awesome.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The new Part of Your World

Perhaps you've heard of a certain song from Frozen called "Let It Go"? It is THE favorite among neighborhood kids here. They (including my two girls) congregate in the lane in front of our house and belt it out at the top of their little lungs. I got tired of hearing them fumble over the lyrics so I decided to just buy the soundtrack already so they could learn it properly. Now they congregate in the lane in front of our house and belt it out at the top of their lungs, WITH the accompaniment of our iPod + speakers. You're welcome, neighbors!

The popularity of "Let It Go" among the kiddie set reminds me so much of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. I was about Miriam's age (8) when that movie came out, and I remember my mom taking me to see it in the theater, and then obsessively listening to and memorizing the soundtrack over the next few months. To this day, I love that song. It's so easy to fall into singing it; a simple "Look at this stuff. Isn't it neat?" will do.

It's clear to me that "Let It Go" is this generation's "Part of Your World." Do you agree? It's not as easy to sing (the vocals of that bridge section with the "frozen fractals" always gets a little wonky in our house), but the emotions are the same.

I know there are a million "Let It Go" videos out there, but this one is my current favorite. Enjoy.


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