Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sharjah Heritage Days

Every April, Sharjah throws a big ol' two-week-long cultural party in the old city: Heritage Days. Jeremy can only handle it once every two years, but I take the girls every year. It's nothing amazing or in-your-face exciting, but I enjoy strolling around the old city and seeing it mocked-up to how it looked in the olden days, with increasingly elderly Emiratis sitting around, plying trades from the days of yore.

At Heritage Days, you can get henna done, watch a special kind of cow (the one with the big hump over the shoulders) assist in drawing water from a well, see an old-style garden, sample traditional food, and watch Emirati men and women cook dumplings, sew fishnets, weave baskets, salt fish, and dance. There are a few old houses opened up for you to walk through, which makes you really appreciate modern AC. There is even an old-style playground that is more than a little rickety, but sturdy enough for the kids to play on for a few weeks once a year.

The best year was probably 2012, when the girls and I stumbled across an empty lot filled with bouncy castles. For 15dhs each, the girls got to bounce to their hearts' content for a whole hour. They still haven't forgotten that year, even though it was rather less like a traditional Emirati activity. I guess it was just a fluke, because they haven't appeared again.

I'm glad we have the chance to visit Heritage Days each year. It's a good reminder of the essence of this place that we live.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 2014 books

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and LongingMastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A memoir written through the lens of food nostalgia, AND it takes place in Russia? Yes, please! Ms. Von Bremzen understands the power of food and memories and I enjoyed every chapter (one per decade since the Revolution) of this book. It was especially interesting to read her scathing criticism of Putin's Moscow, since that's where my husband and I lived in 2002 (the author herself didn't visit it until 2011, and maybe things were a little different by then).

I enjoyed this book on much the same level as Moscow Stories - it was a great peek inside the Black Box of the USSR. Through its food, of course.

DangerousDangerous by Shannon Hale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The more you understand that this book is not about "one-handed girl goes to astronaut camp," the more you will like it. The synopsis I had read incorrectly (or incompletely) characterized it as such ("one-handed girl goes to astronaut camp") and as a result, I thought this book was a hot mess until I realized what the actual plot was, and said actual plot got going. Seriously, I kept thinking, "Shannon Hale, you are better than this!"

Good news: she is! This is a super adventurous, suspenseful book with a lovely main character and cleverly drawn secondary characters. Due to the misunderstanding I mentioned earlier, I think I would like this book even more on a second reading. Sci-fi is new territory for Hale, and I'm already looking forward to more!

One quibble: SPOILER [the scene in the Lair with Wilder where they discuss the fact that he has, uh, protection ready and waiting seemed out of place in the overall tone and content of the book. Everything was a really fun romp, with realistic confusing emotions and subtle life lessons, even, but that scene read a little heavy-handed. And it made Wilder out to be more of a jerk than I think he is, which is especially interesting when you consider that most of his other jerky deeds are excused after the fact when we find out the context, but this one happened for real and I felt like Maisie never dealt with it.

Also: Dragon. WHY?!?!?!? Sniff.] END SPOILER

Women and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman BelievesWomen and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman Believes by Sheri L. Dew

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew from the start this wouldn't be a hard-hitting treatise on the subject of female ordination (the publisher is Deseret Book), but I've been an admirer of Sheri Dew since my university days and I knew I would appreciate her take on the topic.

And I did. She doesn't get to the really good stuff until the final two chapters, though. The beginning was interesting but not deeply relevant. I mostly found this book worthwhile as a framing device and resource for my own study of the topic.

A few main points:

Mormon women, in their unordained state, participate in our church in ways that require ordination in other churches.

We don’t really know why women don’t have the priesthood.

Women perform priesthood ordinances in the temple.

Be careful to separate the Priesthood from the imperfect men who hold it. She doesn't like the conflation of the power of the Priesthood and the people who hold it - rote sayings like "we'd like to thank the Priesthood for passing the Sacrament," etc.

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I knew the movie would be too much for me, so I read the book instead. I can't believe I hadn't heard of this book before - why weren't we required to read it in high school? I suppose it's just as well, since that could have made us not like the book on principle. A heart-wrenching story, well told.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Indian Fusion Elsa

The girls have been using old blankets and scarves and blue dresses they already own to pretend-play Elsa (and Anna) from Frozen. Then they found out that there are store-bought dresses that are designed to look like the real thing! We were looking on Amazon and many of these dresses are very expensive. Scarves and blankets are fine, but for fun, and a potentially great cultural experience, we decided to try to have one made by a tailor.

So two Saturdays ago found the four of us (Sterling tagged along) in the tailor district of downtown Sharjah, right next to the Heritage Area (old city). I went to the same tailor I used to hem up our curtains a few months ago. It's two Indian guys in a tiny corner shop. They don't really speak English. I don't speak Hindi at all. The girls had brought along a storybook of Frozen they got from Grandma Palmer, and they showed the tailor the marked page that best showed Elsa's dress. Through lots of gestures and telegraphic speech, we asked the tailor if he could make a dress like that. Through more gestures and more telegraphic speech, he told us that he thought he could.

But first! He came with us to the fabric store around the corner. Miriam got to choose the fabrics she wanted for each part of the dress, with the tailor and the fabric store guys conferring to make sure each choice was suitable for its function. At one point, three grown Indian men were poring over the Frozen storybook page, trying to get a better idea of what Elsa's dress was like. It was a funny sight. I did have my camera, but I felt weird about taking a picture, so I didn't. And do you know? - they had never even heard of Frozen! I guess its reach is not infinite after all.

With the fabric picked out and paid for, we headed back around the corner to the tailor's shop to figure out the details of the dress. It was a little ridiculous. Miriam would explain to me what it should be like, and then I would translate that into basic English + hand gestures, and then the tailor would show me with the fabric and a simple drawing how he understood my message. We were all kind of flustered at that point, and I eventually told the tailor to do his best with his imagination. I had a hunch that we weren't quite going to end up with an exact copy of Elsa's dress. It's a cartoon creation, after all, and not meant to exist in real life, at least not in every detail. My hunch was confirmed when, after all the negotiations and explanations, the tailor asked, "what about the pantaloons?" and looked at us expectantly. (Pantaloons are a standard part of female Indian dress - you have the tunic/dress and then the pantaloons underneath. So why wouldn't Elsa's dress have pantaloons underneath, right?)

Yesterday, we picked up the dress. Before we walked into the tailor's shop, I had a talk with the girls and explained that I wasn't sure what the dress would look like. I said it probably wouldn't look exactly like the dress in the movie, but that they still needed to smile and say thank you, because we were grateful for the tailor's efforts even if it wasn't exactly what we wanted.

And I was right - it isn't exactly like Elsa's dress in the movie. But it is beautiful! Miriam and Magdalena are in love with it (Miriam has first wearing privileges since she's the one who the tailor measured).

It's definitely Indian-inspired. Our own little Indian Fusion Elsa.

The total cost ended up being cheaper than the dresses on Amazon (though probably not as cheap as you could find at Costco), but with the added hassle/adventure of doing all the planning/designing/picking out fabric ourselves. I am so happy we got a beautiful dress and a wonderful cultural experience all in one!

Friday, April 25, 2014

April 25th, outsourced

Sad Desk Lunch. I actually love Sad Desk Lunch. [HT Jeremy]

The Pirate Economy. There were no ships taken hostage by pirates in 2013! Yay!

33 painfully true facts about everyday life. [HT Elisa]

MRI scans of fruits and vegetables! Can you guess them? [HT Crys]

Last year, a man died (by drowning) at a Tough Mudder run in West Virginia. The incident and its aftermath were recorded by racers wearing cameras, and there is a now a lawsuit being brought by the man's mother against the race and its rescue diver.

Listen to some excerpts from Shakespeare's works as they probably sounded back in the day.

Interesting old photos! I agree with Jessie that "horsemanning" needs to be a thing again. [HT Jessie]

So, there's this theory called "Ronbledore" that has it that Dumbledore is actually a time-traveling Ron Weasley. Here are some made-up "excerpts" from the Harry Potter books that support this theory. I know they're weird. But they really made me laugh. But it was also 4am and I was up with Sterling. Just whatever.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Questions checklist for international schools

Three years ago when I was shopping around for a school for Miriam, I didn't really know what I was doing. I didn't even have experience (as a parent) with the public school system in my native country, let alone the complex international school system in a foreign one. I did my best, and I'm happy with where we ended up, but I've learned a lot since then. If I were shopping around for an international school today, these are the questions I would arm myself with when visiting a campus.

Who are your teachers? The staff of some schools skews toward young teachers fresh out of university; others have more career teachers with accompanying families. Both are fine. It just depends which you prefer (and it might say something about the benefits and relocation package offered by the school to its employees). Also in this category: what is typical teacher turnover? What nationality do the teachers tend to be? What qualifications or experience must they have? Etc.

Who are your students? In my own research three years ago, I came across schools where if I had sent Miriam there, she would have been the ONLY non-Muslim, or the ONLY American, or the ONLY blond-haired child, etc. Of course none of those are deal-breakers all on their own, but you should ask this question so that you aren't surprised on the first day of school that your child is the only non-Muslim (or whatever) there!

Can I see your library? What are the lending privileges? In many foreign countries, your child's school library may be the only library you have access to. So try to find a good one if that is important to you! Some school libraries may give borrowing privileges to younger siblings, or allow students to check out more books with a parent card.

How big is your school? Do you have multiple classes per grade level? What is the highest grade level offered? Are more grades being added each year?

What kind of curriculum do you have? At English-medium international schools, it tends to be one of the Big Three (US, UK, or Australian). You can also ask the school what kind of re-entry your child would have in a school in their home country - does the curriculum transfer straight across? How about exams at higher levels (IB, AP, GCSE, etc.) - are they offered and/or accepted in the home country?

What are your admissions requirements for students? This is a tricky one. Some schools require read/write literacy in English before a child can enter Year 2. But there are a million exceptions - if an older sibling has already been accepted to the school; if the child is of a certain age (you can't send a 10-year-old to Year 2); if what the heck, you can sign the tuition check so come on in; etc. You should also ask the school if certain nationalities (as determined by passport) are excluded from admission.

Are the children ever segregated by gender? Some schools segregate after a certain age. Some have co-ed classes but segregate for PE swimming sessions. Some have entirely different campuses for girls and boys.

What is the classroom atmosphere? Do teachers keep students in line by yelling, or ringing a huge cowbell, or by shaming troublemakers (all of which I've heard of here)? Make sure you find an atmosphere in which your child will be comfortable.

Does the school have an online presence? This may be a simple website, or it may include a more extensive parent/school communication system with homework postings, announcements, calendar, etc.

What are the school fees? There is tuition, of course, but don't forget about uniforms, books, transportation, registration, and activity fees. If your employer is sponsoring tuition, find out if that includes all the extras (it probably doesn't).

One last important factor in choosing an international school is how you feel about it overall. I remember walking into the girls' school for the first time three years ago and more than any other school I had visited, that school felt like home to me. A school could sound really good to you on paper, and have all the right answers to the above questions, but still not be a good match for your family. Make sure you let your intuition have input in this decision as well!

Did I miss anything?

Monday, April 21, 2014

The hardest holiday

Easter is the hardest holiday to celebrate around here. It faces the uphill battle of 1) being a Christian holiday in a Muslim country, that is 2) held on the Western Christian Sabbath (Sunday), which is a work day here. I forgot it even was Easter until about the day before. Yesterday - Easter itself - I made a last-minute trip to Spinney's in Mirdif to get something special for the girls for the holiday. The selection was very poor, though - hollow chocolate rabbits missing most of the foil covering; über-expensive dark chocolate eggs; smashed-in boxes of truffles. From that miserable pile, I salvaged two Lindt chocolate hens wrapped in shiny, colored foil - one for each girl. I gave the hens to the girls after school. Because Easter is a school day here. I felt like Ma Ingalls in the wilderness, handing over a single stick of peppermint candy to Mary and Laura for Christmas.

Fortunately, a neighbor held an Easter activity afternoon with egg-and-spoon races and even an Easter Egg hunt. Later, as a family, we watched a few Easter videos on Sterling had a doctor appointment in the evening. To spend more time as a family (really), all five of us went, together. We received our most sincere Easter greetings of the day from the Muslim receptionist who wished us Happy Eid (holiday) and talked with me about how it can be hard to be apart from our extended families on such holidays.

It wasn't until we moved here that I realized how much I drew upon the public consciousness of certain holidays in my own celebrating of them. It's easy to remember that Easter is approaching when the dollar section of Target is overflowing with that plastic green grass, plastic eggs, and wicker baskets. Last year we were in Germany for Easter, and public awareness of the holiday was in overdrive - the whole country shut down for a few days of celebration, town squares were decorated with Easter eggs, etc. Furthermore, if you celebrate the religious aspect of Easter, you can count on Easter Sunday being a day off from work, a day to dress up in your finest and take pictures of the family. We did have an Easter program at church on Friday, which was nice. But it wasn't Easter itself, so I didn't think to take nice pictures or sit down with the kids to talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I think in future years, we should consider holding our own religious Easter observance on Good Friday, our Sabbath. Then I can not worry that we're missing Easter when Sunday itself comes around with all of its busy work/school-day distractions.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

From fear to love

For the first five months of his life, Sterling was somewhat terrified of Magdalena. She was loud and unpredictable and her idea of playing with a newborn was getting right in his face with a rough game of pat-a-cake. Looking through photos of the two of them from that time period, a certain trend emerges.

"not so sure about this i am nervous"

"uh oh, the nice calm sister was holding me and then SHE showed up i am nervous"

"which one is holding me i can't tell from this angle i am nervous"

"the calm one is here but so is the other one i am nervous"

Magdalena made him nervous. As you can see. Miriam was the preferred sister for quiet sitting. Magdalena was feared.

UNTIL. At about five months old, a switch flipped. It's the switch that flips in every baby, and all of sudden they love games of surprises and tickles and happy noises: peek-a-boo, creep mouse, this little piggy, and, yes, in-your-face pat-a-cake. In other words, that loud, unpredictable 5-year-old with uncontainable energy and enthusiasm just became the perfect playmate.

These days, Sterling only has to look at Magdalena and he bursts out into wiggly smiles and anticipatory giggles. He knows he can never be quite sure what kind of game she'll come up with to play with him. And that's just how he likes it.

"[at ease]"

Friday, April 18, 2014

April 18th, outsourced

I love the idea of these faux-old-fashioned maps, customized to a particular road trip or journey or community!

Wheel of Fortune FAIL. [HT Blair]

The CNN pregnancy test, for when you want to know that they don't know. [HT Andrew]

Babies cry at night as part of an elaborate plot to keep Mom tired so she doesn't want to procreate again anytime soon. Sounds about right. [HT Andrew]

Warning: you won't be able to unsee these examples from a Nicolas Cage-themed art exhibition that was held last weekend in San Francisco.

I posted a link to the prototype for this zip-up bed linens product a few months ago. It has a Kickstarter now! The price point is a little higher than I can personally manage (and also, we have freak Middle Eastern-sized mattresses), but I LOVE the idea!

Babies in Ridiculous Poses. The fact that many of these are composites was news to me! I am relieved to know that professional photographers, at least, are not shoving babies into jars of candy. [HT Missy]

I know this is technically a commercial, but it is charming: An & Ria's First Flight. You cannot convince me she doesn't say "Hot diggity!" at 2:22. [HT Josie]

Missing Child Found Safe Inside Claw Machine is Safe, Probably Bummed to be Rescued.

The private lives of public toilets. I read this article and then immediately wanted to anonymously send a copy to my department's cleaning lady re: The Bathroom Incident. [HT Andrew]

I think these are the same few photographs that make the rounds every year, but I, for one, was happy/FREAKED OUT to see them again: Vintage Easter Bunny Photos. [HT Jessie]

A map of all the places where nobody lives! Yes, it uses census data, but it does not rely on counties so it really is showing you were nobody lives. [HT Jen]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The US, from the outside

Magdalena's Year 1 concert was yesterday. The theme was "Around the World," with dances and short presentations about seven different countries: India, China, South Africa, UAE, UK, USA, and Spain. It was so fascinating to see the school's/students'/teachers' interpretation of US culture - it's a British curriculum school with very few American students and only two or three American teachers.

The recitations by the children included such tidbits as:

- The US is the home of such restaurants as McDonald's, TGI Fridays, and Chili's. [They also named a few main items of American cuisine - you can see them on the far left drawing - but I didn't catch what they were.]

- George Washington was the first president of the United States.

- And this little boy recited the entire Pledge of Allegiance!

In addition, the costumes (as you can see) were bell-bottomed jumpsuits. The music for the dance was "Moves Like Jagger."

I loved getting an outsider's view of my own culture. And I suddenly feel shamed into wanting to teach my kids the Pledge of Allegiance! It was all I could do not to start reciting it along with the little boy.

(Magdalena's part was about Spain. She did a great job. Yes, that is a sandwich instead of a flamenco fan.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The laundry room as a nursery

Since Miriam was born, our family has lived in ten houses/apartments and we've never once had a proper nursery. The baby (whoever it has been at the time) has always slept in whatever room worked best. Sometimes it was in the wooden IKEA crib/toddler bed that Jeremy's parents gave us. Sometimes it was in the cheapest-possible portacrib we bought in 2007 before we went to Jordan. Sometimes it was in our room; sometimes it was in another room. In our particular living situations, it just hasn't make sense to dedicate an entire room + furniture + decor to the smallest member of the household.

These days, Sterling sleeps in the portacrib we bought in 2007, which has been dragged around the US (coast to coast and in between), Jordan, Syria, and the UAE. And the "nursery" is the laundry room.

It's the perfect location. Nobody uses the laundry room at night, so it's an available space that was otherwise underutilized for 12+ hours of the day. It's the next door over from our own room, which makes my nighttime trips there convenient. It has a door that shuts. It does not have any windows that could allow light and outside noise to disturb baby during the night or in the early morning. And it is just his size.

During the day, I move the portacrib to a corner of our bedroom for naps, and the laundry room becomes the laundry room again.

So it's not a fancy nursery. But it works for us.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Another haircut

I had to laugh with glee/sympathy when I saw this photo of the Duchess of Cambridge with baby Prince George.

THIS IS MY LIFE. More than any of my other babies (all two of them), Sterling loves hair. He grabs my hair or his sisters' hair any chance he gets. He has been known to lunge at Magdalena's hair just to grab a fistful (Miriam learned her lesson already and doesn't let her hair get near him). Then he pulls.

This was a big problem because once again, until last week, my hair was super, super long. I haven't had it cut since August of 2012, at which time I had it trimmed down to just past my shoulders. Now, 20 months later, it was this long:

I continue to believe that there is serious rationale behind the MomChop because I could not function with such long hair while taking care of a grab-happy baby. I always had to put it up. Always. Even while sleeping, because I'm still getting up with Sterling a few times a night.

So I got a haircut from a Lebanese dude in Deira and he did a great job. I told him to do what he wanted, but that I needed to keep some length for my husband's sake. He said, "oh, is he Emirati?" I guess that's a common request around here. What the stylist wanted ended up being, in his words, "funky layers." I like it! Especially when they dried it and styled it all nice for me, which I will probably never do again!

Don't worry, it still looks good even when I just air-dry it and have done with it. I'm happy. Sterling's probably sad. But he still has Magdalena's hair to grab.

Friday, April 11, 2014

April 11th, outsourced

Ken Jennings did another AMA on Reddit.

Why do we sometimes say "probly" instead of "probably"? [HT Kathy]

THIS is how you do an April Fool's joke. The setup is so great: a particular professor requires students whose mobile phones ring during class to take the call on speakerphone. [HT Jeremy]

The most poignant vending machine "Out of Order" sign you will ever see. So touching.

Um, another vending machine sign (weird to have two all at once).

This political cartoon just came true in real life. [HT Eric D. Snider]

This is indeed the most terrifying car recall ("some models vulnerable to spider attack"). [HT Jessie]

I've enjoyed following baby Prince George's shenanigans in NZ.

Smithsonian photo contest finalists!!!

Movies as businesses, with business cards. [HT Ashi]

Why haven't they just located the dang black box already (of MH370)?? Here's why. [HT Ashi]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Salalah as Nephi's Bountiful

One of the reasons we made a point of visiting a place as remote as Salalah is that it (or its surroundings) is generally considered to be a major place of interest mentioned in The Book of Mormon: Bountiful. It’s the place Lehi and Sariah and their friends and extended family arrived after a very long sojourn through the (Saudi Arabian/Yemeni) wilderness. Nephi mentions arriving at a place with fruit and honey, bordered by an ocean, with timber available to build a ship. Over the years, beginning with the illustrious Hugh Nibley in the 1950s, continuing with renewed, on-site research in the 1970s by the Hiltons, and kept up recently by Warren Aston, Bountiful has been identified as probably being near Salalah.

There have been three major determinations of an exact (-ish) site. The Hiltons identified the central port of Al Baleed as Bountiful. However, this seems to have been a "this is the best we can do" determination, because they were unable to access some of the more remote areas of interest due to some internal strife that was then going on in Oman. Here is Al Baleed (it's the place where the Museum of the Frankincense Land is):

Another site that has been proposed (and mostly debunked, according to more recent research) is Khor Roori, to the east of Al Baleed and Salalah proper. I didn't get pictures of the site itself, but here is a view of the area from the mountains above:

The current strongest contender for the site of Nephi's Bountiful is Khor Kharfot, to the west of Salalah, toward Yemen (indeed, almost at the border). While we were in Salalah, we called the Yemeni man who has worked with Mormon researchers in the area and who knows all the exact places to take people. We own neither a 4x4 nor a boat in Oman, both of which are necessary to reach the sites. This nice Yemeni man owns both of the above and knows his stuff, but unfortunately, his expert-guided excursion cost too much for us to consider. (When Jeremy got off the phone with him and asked me to guess how much it would cost, I thought for a moment and then gave him my best guess of a that's-pretty-steep-but-we're-here-only-once-so-let's-do-it number. The actual price was a full five times that price. Sad face.)

We drove out toward that area in our rental Yaris, on our own, and consoled ourselves with the idea that we were at least in the general proximity of Bountiful, and even if it wasn't this. exact. spot., it was around here somewhere.

This was my first experience touring around Book of Mormon sites. And it was pretty awesome. I swear you only ever hear the following sentiment expressed by people who HAVE been to the Holy Land, etc. "It doesn't really matter if you go to THE PLACE where these stories from the scriptures happened. You can still know they're true and have those strong feelings about them."

But I'm here to add the less popular postscript that if you can possibly make it to THE PLACE, that's pretty dang cool, too.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

My awesome MIL

You might think your MIL is pretty great. And maybe she is. But did your MIL custom hand-sew (well, on a sewing machine, but using her own hands) you a beautiful purse using Downton Abbey fabric?

I thought not.

I am touched by every aspect of this gesture. Grandmas have a lot to keep up on. They've got their own kids, their kids' spouses, their kids' kids, etc. But my MIL took the time to remember that I like Downton Abbey, recall my taste in colors/fabrics, think of something I could use, and then put it all together to create this purse as a graduation gift.

Which she then paid a pretty penny to ship halfway across the world. WITH a card that possibly brought tears to my eyes.

Janice, this DIL thanks you!

Monday, April 07, 2014

A cultural experience...with my own culture.

When we were in Salalah last week, we stopped to eat lunch in Raysut. The only thing in Raysut is the Port of Salalah (as seen in Captain Phillips). That, and a restaurant called The Oasis Club. My impression after one visit is that the clientele of The Oasis Club consists almost exclusively of people who are there because of the port - sailors, in other words.

The restaurant was decked out with all kinds of sailing-based memorabilia from all around the world: flags, plaques, signed photos of ships, framed currency, etc. There was so much of it that after a while, they had to start using the ceiling to display it all.

While we were there, one large table nearby was occupied by a party of what sounded like American sailors (I suppose they could have been Canadian, too). They were swearing up a storm (the stereotype is true!!!) until one of them noticed our kids and told the offenders to hush (he may have actually said "shut up," but we appreciated the gesture).

Jeremy and I were almost in awe of them. These were ostensibly our countrymen, people who, nationality-wise, we had more in common with than just about anyone else in the southern half of Oman. But I suddenly felt like a Japanese person seeing blonde hair and blue eyes for the first time, or an Egyptian kid wanting to follow the foreigners around at a playground. They were just so interesting, and so Other! Imagine, a person whose job is to sail around the world and stop in at places like that restaurant, no big deal!

These sailors were especially exotic because of their interesting profession, but I find that when I meet new Americans in general, I get a little bit too excited. They're a rare animal around here. Where are they from? What are they doing here? What news do they bring from the Motherland?

When we left The Oasis Club, I remarked to Jeremy that we had just had a cultural experience as genuine as any of the ones we'd had in the souq, or at the fort, or wandering around town among Omanis, other Arabs, and guest workers. It just so happens that this one was with our own culture.

(And the food was great, by the way. The menu had almost anything you could think of and we all ate sooo much.)

Saturday, April 05, 2014

My thoughts on Ordain Women

Today, a group of women from my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) will gather on Temple Square in Salt Lake City to request access to the male-only Priesthood session of the church-wide, semi-annual General Conference session. They tried this at the last Conference in October and were denied admission. They are trying it again today, despite having been asked by Church Public Affairs to refrain from doing so.

I want to share with you my feelings about Ordain Women and the larger issues of gender (in)equality in the church. I've thought about doing so for some time. I don't spend time on OW's website or fb page, but from time to time I happen to see truly awful attacks on OW supporters (or even non-OW people who are nonetheless in favor of greater gender equality in the church). I think many members of the church misunderstand "those people" - people who think small changes could be made in church cultural practices that would allow greater participation and autonomy by women, that would in turn benefit men and women in the church. I want to come out to you as one of "those people." In making you familiar with The Other, I hope to show you that the woman faithfully hoping for greater gender equality at church - whether she's actively agitating or not - might not be some hard-core, raging feminist you don't know but have made a lot of assumptions about. She might be someone you've known all your life who sits next to you in Relief Society every week. Like me!

I consider myself a faithful, orthodox Mormon. I have served in leadership callings in the church. I attend church every week and I treasure my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ. Here is what I believe.

This church operates on the principle of continuing revelation.

The question is not, "should LDS women hold the priesthood," but "if Thomas S. Monson were to receive revelation that LDS women should hold the priesthood, would you accept it?" My answer to that last question is yes.

There is precedent for female ordination, in Joseph Smith's day, in our own modern-day temples, and in the ancient church.

(That said, I believe there is something inherently male about the existing priesthood; I think if females were to be ordained, it would not be to the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthoods.)

I appreciate even small gestures like having a woman pray in General Conference, or hanging pictures of the female auxiliary presidencies in the Conference Center. They may not mean much on their own, but they are indicative of a greater awareness of gender inequality and a greater willingness to address it.

I wear pants to church sometimes and it is officially Not a Big Deal in my ward. In fact, more often than not, I am told that I "look really nice today, sister!" Last time I did it, the Bishop who had just been released told me he liked my pants.

Speaking of, I have an awesome ward. As president of the children's Primary organization, I had complete autonomy over my duties. I could do what I wanted, I had the budget I wanted, I had the support and personnel I wanted, I ran the show like I wanted, I had a voice in ward-level meetings, and my local leadership buffered me against the rare attempt to meddle by our regional leaders (Stake; and honestly I felt loved and supported by them, too). In fact, it's only in reading of other women's experiences leading church organizations that I've realized it could be any other way.

Regarding OW's attempt to get into the Priesthood session specifically, the meeting itself is not the point (at least not in my opinion). I think it was a fantastic symbolic gesture six months ago. This time around, I'm not so sure, especially since they've been asked not to (by church PR, not by the First Presidency directly, I might add).

There are lots of callings women could serve well in that we are currently excluded from for what I believe to be cultural, not doctrinal, reasons. There are various clerkships and roles in auxiliary presidencies that are traditionally (or even by the handbook) not open to women. I think that could change. The reverse is true, too. I can think of a few men in my ward who would have done a better job of running the Primary than I did, for example.

I personally do not feel the need to agitate for greater gender equality in the church. I leave that mantle to others, including the faithful members of Ordain Women. Even though I am not on board with every aspect of their platform, I do not feel they are hogging the limelight, silencing others' voices, or speaking for me without my consent.

I don't know what will happen today at Temple Square, but I want to say, in closing, that I am excited to be a member of the church at this time of small changes, and potential for greater changes. I love how the conversation around women and ordination has enriched my study of the Gospel and deepened my understanding of my own life roles.

I hope this post is not divisive. I admit that I am out of touch with so-called "mainstream" cultural Mormonism, or at least the version of cultural Mormonism that exists in North America. I am blessed to speak from the position of love and inclusion that exists in my current ward. I tend to think we Mormons can reason together about these things in a spirit of kindness. I hope I'm not wrong.

Friday, April 04, 2014

April 4th, outsourced

A playground in NZ removed safety rules; fun and injuries ensued. [HT Jeremy]

Beautiful aerial photos! Some of these would make a nice fabric print. [HT Susanne]

Afghanistan's girl skaters. I hope this is real. [HT Crys]

Speaking of Jessie, in case you missed it: NAMES 2013!!!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Salalah sundries

Ostensibly, the time to visit Salalah, Oman is during the khareef – a monsoon season from June to September that renders the desert city and its surroundings lush and green. It also leaves the city inundated with outsiders, wanting to see and experience the khareef. People who have visited Salalah during the khareef have told us how every inch of spare field, beach, and road shoulder is packed with campers and picnickers, enjoying the cool temperatures. And every employee while we were there mentioned how crazy crowded it gets during the khareef – traffic, tons of people, inflated prices, and every attraction you’d want to see is swarmed by the teeming masses.

To avoid the crowds, we decided to visit Salalah in the off-season. To avoid the 15-hour+ drive from Sharjah along a mostly two-way, two-lane road, we decided to fly. There is a direct flight from Sharjah, which made it easy.

Of course, in visiting Salalah during the off-season, we also missed the khareef. We could imagine the green-potential of every wadi and mountain we visited, even though most of our surroundings were the same old brown we have at home.

HOWEVER. This same old brown was punctuated by lots of banana and coconut palm plantations, as well as frankincense trees. Frankincense grows well here and it is the reason Salalah was ever a center of trade. Also: cows. There were full-on Omani cattle ranches in the hills here. It was crazy to see cows in stone-wall-hemmed pens, with an Omani villa in the background serving as hacienda.

A few highlights from our trip (we're home now):

Sterling's second flight (his first was to Muscat a few months ago). The flight attendants carried him around for a while and even took him inside the cockpit to visit the pilot.

Good thing the tooth fairy knows where Salalah is!

Salalah Gardens Mall. We needed groceries, ok? And there is a Carrefour here. Don't judge. I wonder if this mall is in a conservative neighborhood. I felt extremely underdressed in a short-sleeved t-shirt and jeans - every other (admittedly Omani) woman there was in full-on abaya + niqab. Interesting.

Omani dresses for the girls. An Omani man sitting at an outdoor restaurant asked Magdalena where she's from and she answered without hesitating, "UAE!" That caused a lot of laughs from the crowd.

Sterling and his kumma (Omani hat). He was passed around among the vendors at the souq and by this time, he was all funned out.

Signing the guest book at Taqa Fort. I checked on our way out and Magdalena had written, "I like it."

This is the ruler's bedroom at the fort. I love the design and colors here - very Indian-influenced, or maybe Zanzibar-influenced?

Wadi Darbat. Couldn't swim in it because poisonous snails.

Fresh coconuts, every day, 200 baisa (55 cents) each. Just a dude with a roadside stall and a machete. After you drink it, he cuts it open so you can eat the meat, too.

Miriam and the frankincense tree.

The ruins of the ancient port city of Al Balid, which was supported by the frankincense trade. That stuff made the world go 'round for a few years there.

This picture looks fake but it isn't. There were camels grazing in some kind of estuary near the ocean and the colors were just so.

The beach.

Fat baby legs dusted with Indian Ocean sand. Mmmm.

We had a great time in Salalah. Maybe someday we'll brave the hustle and bustle and go for the khareef, but I sure did enjoy the laid-back vibe of Salalah during the off-season.


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