Friday, October 31, 2014

October 31st, outsourced

If I were to ever want to do something like Elf on the Shelf, I would look into this instead: Kindness Elves. [HT Megan]

Harassment of Americans working at the embassy in Moscow has increased lately.

Turn your princess-obsessed toddler into a feminist in eight easy steps. [HT Cait, right?]

The Undress: change clothes in public without ever getting naked. Oh man could I ever use one of these for changing in and out of swimsuits in the wilds of Oman.

Halloween in the 1970s vs. today. I continue to love these kinds of articles.

The anti-vaccine movement is forgetting the polio epidemic. "In Frankie Flood’s first-grade classroom in Syracuse, New York [in 1952], eight children out of 24 were hospitalized for polio over the course of a few days. Three of them died." Can you imagine?? [HT Lindsay]

OH MY GOSH they think they found (a piece of) Amelia Earhart's plane!! [HT Liz]

I found this list of things you're really thinking while watching figure skating to be incredibly accurate. [HT Anna]

My stomach hurt after reading this post about diet food cards from the 1970s. Blechchchchchchchchchhch + laughing will do that to you. [HT Anna]

There is a lot of snark and low-level rage in this piece about The Default Parent. But there is also a lot of truth: "What's troubling is there seems to be no meaningful escape for the default parent. They don't get a break unless they physically remove themselves completely from their families...and throw their phones in a lake. Even when they do get a weekend away, they leave a detailed spreadsheet of daily activities organized by event time with notes. They arrange carpools and playdates, and leave a wrapped present for the birthday party. The non-default parent? They just leave. Incredibly, they just kiss us goodbye, and leave."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A housekeeper, again

"Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" - what Sterling would say if he could talk.
After a nine-month hiatus, I went ahead and re-hired a housekeeper. It's a woman this time, not a man like we had for a few years. She came for the first time yesterday, and all at once I am so, so grateful to have somebody else clean the whole house at once, but also reminded of the reasons why I don't like having a housekeeper.

In February, after I graduated, I went back to cleaning my own dang house, with the girls' help, of course. But since I've gone back to work, and since Sterling is in that lovely stage of development where all the cabinets must be emptied at all times, shelves must have their contents in a constant state of disarray, and anything tidy and in order must be knocked down until no stone is left upon another, I was overwhelmed with housework. Overwhelmed. It never ended, and at times I felt like there was an endless sea of cleaning stretched out in front of me with no hope of relief, not even from podcasts.

So I hired an assistant. She'll come once a week and clean the whole house. I almost weep with joy when I think of someone else taking out alllll the trash cans in the whole house, and all the bathrooms being clean at once. And the floors, the FLOORS, the bane of my existence. I have a testimony of tile, but dear goodness do grand expanses of it take a toll on me, vacuum-and-mopping-wise.

And yes, I'm thrilled, but now I'm back to feeling awkward at having someone else in my house while I try to get out the door to work. I also have high standards when it comes to cleaning - if you are going to clean something, clean it well, am I right? Just ask my poor daughters - and there are a few areas I hope to have the courage to talk about with the new housekeeper. Sloppy cleaning work is like nails on a chalkboard for me, truly.

I hope this blog post doesn't make me sound like a horrible person. But the way I see it, she's my employee. If I were paying her to file documents or write reports or teach a class and I found her work substandard, for sure I would talk to her about it and ask for her best work.

I seem to be hot and cold on this issue. I felt so relieved when I stopped a housekeeping service back in February, but life circumstances change, and now I feel so relieved to have somebody to help me. We'll see how long it lasts this time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My week in media

Here's how I mark the passing of the days in media consumption.

Sunday: WWDTM; The Amazing Race.

Monday: Downton Abbey (aka my favorite day of the week).

Tuesday: This American Life.

Wednesday: Catch up on Stuff You Should Know and Stuff You Missed in History Class, plus other miscellaneous podcasts like Freakonomics or Radiolab.

Thursday: More catch up and also wish that the new episode of Serial would just be available already (dang time zone difference means that new episodes don't show up until overnight for me).

Friday: Serial. WHY can't I leave this show alone and let a few episodes build up so I can binge-listen?

Saturday: Movie BS with Bayer and Snider and How to Do Everything, unless it's not up yet, which it often isn't.

How do you distinguish one day from another in media consumption?

Monday, October 27, 2014

My first Good Old Days

Before I tell you about my weekend, let me emphasize that during most of our year in Syria, church every Friday was our only exposure to English speakers. And during most of our year in Syria, there were only four people at church besides Jeremy and me. Two of those four people were also in Jeremy's classes at the University of Damascus. It was a perfect storm of getting to know those two people (and a third who was in the class but not at church - hi, Hannah!) really, really well.

That was ten years ago. And last weekend, we got to go visit one of those friends in Abu Dhabi, since that's where he just moved. It was the first time in my life that I sat down and talked about the Good Old Days. I didn't even know I had Good Old Days. But apparently I do, and they were in Syria, and they were with these people who I got to know so well there.

I've been thinking about it since this weekend, and I think there are several essential elements to Good Old Days.

Awesome adventures
Awesome people
Closer proximity and/or constantly in each other's company
Clear-cut start and end to all of the above;

followed by

a distillation/separation period of, apparently, 10ish years.

But one thing is still missing, otherwise I have a few Good Old Days - my time as a student in Japan, and my freshman and sophomore years at the BYU. And that is:

Sitting around as grown-ups talking about it all.

A litmus test to determine if something is really Good Old Days is whether any and all discussion about it is borderline annoying/boring to people (such as spouses and kids) who weren't there during the Good Old Days themselves.

Our time in Syria with Sterling (and Steve and Hannah) meets all these conditions. I think this means I have my first Good Old Days!

Big Sterling meets Little Sterling

Friday, October 24, 2014

October 24th, outsourced

An A to Z of Noah Webster's finest forgotten words. [HT Kaylee]

When a woman conceals the first trimester of pregnancy, who is she trying to protect? I have Feelings about this one. I don't disagree with anything the author says in her article, but personally, I don't like being pregnant and I don't like it being anyone's business but mine for as long as possible.

This Last Week Tonight video has the usual sprinklings of profanity (f-bombs are bleeped; s-bombs are not), but I think it's worth a watch (if you can't bear it, there was a (IIRC) profanity-free This American Life episode about the same issue a few years ago: this one). Oh, the issue is native battlefield interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan risking their lives to help US troops, and then being denied entry to the US even when their lives are threatened for their trouble.

I hope to re-read this article about fathers' relationships with their daughters during their growing-up years. It has a lot to think about and discuss.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kidnapped by North Korea?

I meant to post this months ago: here is the best article I've read to date about David Sneddon, a former co-worker of mine who went missing in China in 2004. It's a long article, and you might start out thinking you won't possible read the whole thing, but you will. Because it's a heartbreaking and haunting story, and the outlandish theory it presents - that David ended up being kidnapped by North Korean agents - is one I happen to believe in. At the very least, I don't believe that his disappearance is as cut-and-dried as Chinese (and occasionally US) authorities have made it out to be.

Every time I hear about an American being detained in North Korea - Kenneth Bae, Matthew Miller, Merrill Newman, Jeffrey Fowle - I think of David. I saw the news last night that Jeffrey Fowle has been released. The headline said only that a "detained American" had been set free, and for a moment, before I clicked through, I thought it could be David. It wasn't. Not this time, at least.

David's family continues to make efforts to find out anything they can about his disappearance in China. Today, they were able to secure the support of the entire Utah congressional delegation in petitioning Secretary of State John Kerry to further the investigation into David's case.

I am heartened by this development and I hope it leads to more developments, and more answers. David, his family, and his friends deserve it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Just like mama

Isn't good childcare just the best? And isn't it so hard to find? Arranging for someone to take care of Sterling was one of the major hurdles/considerations when I was deciding whether to go back to work, and then how heavy of a schedule to take on. I know I am lucky to have that flexibility, but it didn't make finding childcare any easier when it came time to go back to work.

Anyway, I am happy to report that I'm mostly pleased with how our childcare arrangements have turned out - we have a babysitter come to the house to tend Sterling while I go to work. About half the time, Sterling cries (ok, screams) when I leave and I just have to trust that the babysitter will be able to distract him out of it sooner rather than later. Those days, I feel really bad the whole bike ride to work and I sometimes wonder what I am doing there in that classroom when my baby is crying without his mama there to comfort him.

The other half of the time, I leave and he doesn't care (ok, he doesn't notice because I am able to sneak away). Those days, I feel a little better about the choice to go back to work, and it's as fulfilling as it should be.

Fortunately, the babysitter really does have good skills at calming Sterling down. She does light tidying up or laundry folding while she's at the house, and she takes out the trash when she leaves. I was especially gratified today after work when I came home and saw that they were outside watching the street sweeper growl up and down our lane. The babysitter said they heard it from inside and she took Sterling out so he could watch it do its work.

I almost got tears in my eyes, because you know what? That is exactly what I would have been doing with Sterling at that moment if I'd been home - watching the street sweeper with my son.

Part of finding good childcare is finding someone who will take care of your baby as well as you would, if you were there with him. I was so happy today to see that happening.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Seriously, have a look at my Mormon underwear

YOU GUYS. My church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) has just released a video/article explaining - and showing - the temple garment, aka Mormon underwear (or, ugh, "magic" underwear as it is so, so unfortunately called by outsiders sometimes). I cannot even believe this happened.

But I am so glad it did. Over the years, I always got FLAMES. ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE knowing that the only decent picture of the temple garment that ever got passed around on the internets was that awful one where the people's heads are cut out of the frame and the garments are wrinkled and ill-fitting and the whole thing is just sordid and disrespectful. Now you can see what the real thing looks like, with a bonus look at the robes we wear in the temple itself. Seriously!

It's a breath of fresh air. I'm sorry that, for outsiders, the garment can't be more exciting than what is essentially a stretchy undershirt and bike-style shorts (at least that's the kind I prefer), but there it is. My garments have flapped on drying lines in the breezes of America, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and the UAE. Yes, they hold special significance for me as a reminder of covenants I have made, but they are also, on some level, underwear that I wear and wash and dry like anyone else.

Speaking of. I have actually been waiting for an opportunity to blog about this, but it seemed kind of weird. UNTIL NOW. Did you know you can have your garments custom-made? Well, you can. I just had it done. All you have to do is call customer service (check the web page where you would ordinarily order the garments) and talk to a nice lady in Utah and she will set you right up. I wish I had done this years ago. Because underwear that you wear every day should feel GOOD.

Friday, October 17, 2014

October 17th, outsourced

My friend Crystal on pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

I loved the NYT's look at what kids around the world eat for breakfast...and also this follow-up: What's Really For Breakfast? (Sometimes it's donuts and strawberries.)

What it's like to carry your Nobel Prize through airport security (in Fargo, ND, no less!).

A 12-year-old girl called out the CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods about the complete lack of female representation in their catalog.

Baby boy names in Utah. Awesome. [HT Aimee and Suzanne]

Ohhh I loved this: nine expats you'll meet abroad. So true. [HT Jill]

Bike like a pro, eat like a pig. When Jeremy is in the middle of his super-intense training, he gets like this. I remember one day in Germany he came back from an 8-hour run and even the next morning, he was STILL hungry. I was eating peanut butter on a spoon after church and he came in the kitchen, took the spoon out of my hand, and ate it right in front of me. It was like he didn't even know what he was doing. His brain saw CALORIES and had to eat.

North Face put together a pretty cool stunt in Korea - disappearing floors that required shoppers to start climbing the wall, or else! [HT Ariana]

Why do books come out in hardback before paperback?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I give in to Books

I have given up against Books. When we moved here and culled our possessions down to the few and the proud, I had thought that we wouldn't ever acquire so many books again. And we held out for a while. But the truth is that we don't have a good library for children here (aside from the one at the girls' school). We go on library binges during our summers away, but it is so important to me that the girls have plenty of reading material year-round. And that means buying books. There, I said it. My name is Bridget, and even though we live overseas and place value on our possessions relative to their weight, I WILL BUY BOOKS. (For my kids.)

Fortunately, I reached this realization right around the time that the girls came home with their school book order pamphlet. After I got over the massive wave of nostalgia I got just from looking at the thing, we dove right in. The girls circled their choices, and then I went through and filled out the order form with what I was actually willing to buy. This was more complicated than it was for me back in elementary school, since the book order had prices in pounds and Euro, and the order form had them in dirhams with a calculated surcharge. (Books are expensive here. Sigh.) Still, I was grateful for the framework of the school book order pamphlet, because it allowed each girl to show me her tastes and preferences, odd as they sometimes were. The books the girls chose for themselves were not necessarily the ones I would have chosen for them, is what I mean.

Before I sent the completed order form in, I checked all our selections against The Book Depository. You lucky Americans with your have no need of such a thing, but for us expats, The Book Depository is wonderful: really good selection, decent prices, and free shipping to all kinds of weird places, including the UAE! Be still, my heart.

About half of the girls' books were cheaper on The Book Depository. The other half will go through the school order. Regardless, our family has a few boxes full of books to look forward to in a few weeks!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

September 2014 books

Lola and the Boy Next Door (Anna and the French Kiss, #2)Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I must be getting old, because all I could think about as I read this book was how all the kids in it are dang hipsters. Plus, forgive me, but I could not stand Lola. With every new personality/fashion quirk that was revealed, I tried to grit my teeth and just go with it, but it got harder and harder until finally it came out that she talks to the moon and I was DONE.

I remember thinking Anna and the French Kiss was realistic and endearing, but this book was so implausible. Nobody acts the way these people do. Nobody.

Like No OtherLike No Other by Una LaMarche

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars.

This is a modern-day re-telling of Romeo & Juliet, though I think it might be better described as a modern-day re-telling of West Side Story (but with no dancing, unfortunately). It has been a long time since I read a book with such a genuine central teenage super-like-or-maybe-love relationship. I'll be honest - I kind of fell in love with Jaxon myself in that elevator.

This book also endeared itself to me with all the similarities between Jaxon and Devorah's relationship, and how Jeremy and I got to know each other. Not that any of us had family members beating up the other, but how we met in passing, and weren't sure we could find each other again, and how a misunderstanding happened and I couldn't stand Jeremy being out there thinking badly of me. It was precious to read a few similar events unfold in the book, although in a more dramatized (and romanticized) manner than in my own real life.

That said, I didn't always know why Devorah did the things she did. It was a confusing journey sometimes and while "but I love him!!!" can often explain away irrational behavior in teenagers, I didn't feel like it accounted for all of Devorah's actions.

THAT said, there is some seriously good stuff in here about how it can be difficult to manage the transition from a question-nothing childhood to a question-everything nascent adulthood in a conservative religion that is heavy on rules. I appreciated the book's nuanced portrayal of a very religious people, and its point that for Devorah, religion was not always scripture and worship and revelation from God. Sometimes it was family, and relationships, and familiarity, and special dinners on the Sabbath day.

My religion, like Devorah's, is known for its insular community that frowns upon romantic relationships with outsiders (though that is changing, in my opinion). I remember as a child wondering what would happen if I ever fell in love with a non-Mormon. I also remember swiftly deciding, well, I'd have to just NOT fall in love with a non-Mormon. It was that simple to me, and I think it was for Devorah, too, until she got into that elevator.

I Capture the CastleI Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you haven't read this book, I think you should. I can't believe I hadn't read it until now - it's right up my alley! Smart female characters who know their Austen, a brooding castle for a setting, and a lot of swoon potential.

Some of that potential is ruined by some heavy-handed obfuscation early on, though, and I ultimately found myself a little disappointed by the whole thing. I loved reading this book more than I loved it when the reading was over, you know?

Topaz has got to be one of my most favoritest characters ever, though. If the last third of the book could have kept up with the first two, I would probably be reading this book endlessly in one eternal round.

Now that I've read I Capture the Castle, where do books like Keeping the Castle and A Brief History of Montmaray get off, exactly?? The set-up is practically copy/paste! Perhaps it's all in the name of homage?

(Oh yeah, Imma let you finish, but this book has the best Meet Cute of all time.)

The One (The Selection, #3)The One by Kiera Cass

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I picked up this book expecting to hate-read it, and I was not disappointed. The end.

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With all the hoopla surrounding this book of late, it's difficult to give it a straight-up rating. I liked it, but did not love it. I thought it was really good, but not AMAZING. I was surprised by how non-manipulative it was, though - I expected it to really go for the tears, but it was actually rather understated.

I'm not sure that Hazel and Gus act like real teenagers - they were overly clever at times. That said, the three main poems they quoted in the book (The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, The Red Wheelbarrow, and Nothing Gold Can Stay) were all poems that I knew by heart myself at that age. So maybe we were all wittier and more brilliant as teenagers than we remember.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Downton Abbey Season 5 (no spoilers)

No, Sybil does not come back from the dead in Season 5, but I loved this picture so I am using it.
I'm watching Downton Abbey Season 5 along with the Brits. All by my lonesome, too, since Jeremy checked out after Season 3 and hasn't come back. There are things that bother me about the show, too, but I've found that Downton Abbey makes me feel cosy - like all is right in the world. I associate it strongly with our time here - Season 1 started just after we moved to the UAE. I don't always care about the intricacies of all the plot lines - I'm just happy to be tucked into bed after a long day and spending some time with interesting people having romantical problems in the (increasingly less) olden days.

No spoilers for now, though. I am writing up posts as I watch to put on the blog once the season starts in the US. See you then!

Friday, October 10, 2014

October 10th, outsourced

Wow, camping put a dent in my internet time this week. I have a grand total of four links for you today.

There is a bit of strong language in this list of horribly annoying things, but I am including it because of #9. That is THE WORST. [HT Margie]

I found this article about, uh, white people writing Nickelodeon TV shows (weird way to summarize it, but that's the gist) to be both fascinating and maddening. Who is this guy, and is it possible that he is the biggest jerk on the planet? Imma let you finish, but Clarissa Explains It All had one of the best TV shows of all time. Also, he has the awful ability to be condescending to both minorities AND women, all in the same interview! A hot mess, really. [HT Shannon Hale; please to be following her on Twitter.]

Why are America's post-partum practices so rough on new mothers? Looking back, I regret not taking it easier after the births of my babies. I swept the floor the day I came home from the hospital with Sterling. I had a friend in Tucson who had a C-section but was vacuuming her living room just a few days later. I know those things can technically wait, but as one of the women in the article sighs, "if you don't get up and do it, who will?" The Arab moms in my neighborhood were horrified to see me out and about even when Sterling was three and four weeks old. I think they had a point. [HT Elisa]

Google Street View is taking in the Empty Quarter by camel! So cool! [HT Ariana]

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Camping on Jebel Shams

The last time we camped on Jebel Shams (Sun Mountain - the highest mountain in Oman. The summit is at about 3000m; we camped at 2000m) was in 2011. Jeremy has been back a few times since to climb the mountain, but this was only our second trip there as a family. We were hoping to escape the heat and we were not disappointed - temperatures during the two nights we were there dropped down to 14C (57F) and the days were sunny and warm but not too hot.

Here are some highlights.

I finally got to use my Shewee (YES I AM GOING TO TALK ABOUT THIS. BRIEFLY). Verdict: potentially super useful, but you really have to practice with it before you intend to use it in the wild, or else you might soil the clothes you were planning on wearing for the next three days (uh, might. Just sayin').

Sterling was thrilled to assume that we just lived outside now. He loves being outside, so camping worked out really well for him. He got soooo dirty and never had to go "inside."

We (at least Jeremy and I) had two nights of pretty awful sleep. This is the thing about camping. I haven't had a good, old-fashioned, cosy night of sleep while camping since one time when we went camping in Ithaca in 2010. Plus, PLUS, my iPod Shuffle was inexplicably dead (of battery) upon arrival, which meant I got to be alone with just my thoughts for lots of hours in the middle of the night instead of having a podcast to lure me back into some semblance of sleep.

We saw yet another animal sacrifice for Eid. This one was a goat. The girls got such a cultural education on this trip.

We hiked on a path overlooking Oman's Grand Canyon to an abandoned village. It was super cool.

A massive storm blew in on the second afternoon. And of course it happened while Jeremy was up the mountain on a several-hour run and I was at the tent with the kids. It was a thrilling/terrifying time that ended in Jeremy coming back early (thank goodness!) and us frantically packing up the site in heavy wind and rain. (Sadly, this is not the first time we have had to do that.) We were lucky to find refuge at a campground/hotel nearby. It was pretty rustic, and the girls had to sleep on camp pads on the floor, so we maintained the aura of camping but enjoyed the safety of a roof over our heads.

I took this picture in our hotel room.

so much depends

a metal frame

hampered by a crooked

beside the satellite

Oman continues to be a favorite road trip destination. I read somewhere that Oman is kind of like the UAE's outdoor playground, and I can't help but agree. It was a relief to be away from the extreme temperatures for a few days, and a treat to get into some altitude and see some new sights.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Suddenly Eid al-Adha in Bahla

On our way to Jebel Shams in Oman on Saturday, we stopped in Bahla to have a look at the old fort there. We inadvertently missed the turn-off and ended up on a side road. As long as we were there, I got out to take some photos of the old city walls.

That's when a young Omani man named Abdallah drove by, then stopped and invited us to his house to celebrate Eid with his family.

Pause. Eid al-Adha was last weekend, and it is a huge Muslim holiday celebrating the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael. A central part of the festivities is the slaughter of a sheep, goat, or cow and then eating the meat and giving some to poor people. (In Damascus, the slaughter was often done in the street and if you were queasy about seeing animal blood flowing freely, it was not a good day to walk around town.) It's kind of like Muslim Christmas in that it involves getting together with family, eating lots of good food, and handing out money or gifts to the children.

Anyway - Abdallah insisted that we five random foreigners on the side of the road come with him to his home to celebrate Eid. And, choosing the crazy straw, WE TOTALLY SAID YES.

He took us to his house in town and the kids and I were immediately separated from Jeremy. He went to sit and chat with the men in the men's majlis, and the kids and I went to the women and children's majlis. It was a large room lined with floor couches and what seemed like a few dozen women and children of all ages. I found out that Abdallah is one of 12 siblings, and these people in the majlis with me were sisters or cousins or in-laws.

Over the next couple of hours, Sterling (Sultan to them) got passed around and admired among the women. We sat on the ground, dipped our hands in water to cleanse them, and then ate fruit, chicken, and rice off huge platters with our hands. We talked, sometimes in Arabic, sometimes in English, always broken-like, because Syrian Arabic doesn't go too far in Oman.

Then the children took us outside to see the animals. They had chickens, ducks, and goats. They also showed us the cow they had slaughtered for Eid. It was the only picture I dared to take - most of the women and the older girls were veiled, so it would have been rude to take pictures of them though I wanted to so badly. I settled for a great shot of Abdallah's brother and father hard at work.

I like how the cow head is observing its own carving up. We watched this process for a good long while - it was fascinating.

We hung out some more in the majlis and Abdallah's mom gave my kids each some Eid money, along with a toy for Sterling. They were thrilled. I was so touched by their generosity.

When it was time to go, we were reunited with Jeremy and sent on our way with a bag of fresh fruit. By the time we were in our car, continuing on our drive to Jebel Shams, I could hardly believe what had happened. Without any advance notice whatsoever, Abdallah had invited us to what was essentially Christmas dinner with his family, and they took it all in stride. It was an intensely cultural experience for us and the kids and it's not one we expected to have, at all.

Oh, and the best part is that Abdallah's brother goes to the University of Oregon! We're going to see if my parents can return the favor and invite him to their house for Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The ruins of Al Suleif

We just got back from a camping trip to Oman. Here is the glass-half-full version of our visit to the ruins of Al Suleif near Ibri yesterday afternoon on our way home.

It was not as hot as I suppose it could have been when we pulled up to the site of the ruins at midday. We were expecting to take in the ruins by ourselves, as quickly as possible without sacrificing awesomeness, and in the shade as much as possible.

But to our surprise, we were met by an Omani guide who would not take no for an answer when he offered to show us around the site. He was very thorough and made sure to tell us about each part of the ruins in both English and Arabic, even though we told him that just Arabic was fine. He himself was descended from one of the two main families who inhabited the village in its heyday, so he was well informed about every nook, cranny, and obscure inscription, and made sure to tell us about them all. He did not even mind that our baby was fussing from hunger, heat, and a soiled diaper - he simply carried on with the tour. The guide was even so kind as to physically take our camera from us and take unsolicited photos - of the ruins, of us - throughout the tour. He also pointed out the most auspicious times and places for us to take photos, and waited patiently until we did so before continuing with the tour. Although he expressed his willingness to extend the tour indefinitely, he very graciously cut the time short so we could tend to our baby's needs and allow him to take care of some other tourists who had just arrived.

OK, obfuscation aside, the ruins of Al Suleifa really are something to behold. We are already looking forward to a time when we can return and perhaps sneak below the guide radar and have a romp around the ruins with just our family. There is something to be said for exploring ruined villages without having every mystery of history solved for you by a guide - to walk around and wonder what this room was, and what that was used for, and have each of you pick out a room you'd choose for your very own if you had lived here in the olden days. Ruins are good for the soul, and while I honestly appreciate the guide and how he has really, really magnified his calling, I prefer to explore ruins without feeling obligated to smile and nod throughout.

Ah, but even with the mandatory tour (and mandatory pictures!), it was a fabulous pit stop on the way home and I am excited to go back another, hopefully cooler, day. Such is the power of ruins.

Two more things:

1. Whenever Sterling wears this shirt, Jeremy and I call him "45" because seriously, why is there a random number on this shirt? Well, our guide once called him 45, too! It was privately hilarious to Jeremy and me.

2. When he didn't call him 45 that one time, our guide called him Sultan, because that's how we introduce him in Oman (and the UAE sometimes). Then, Jeremy got to be called Abu Sultan and I got to be called Omm Sultan. I had forgotten that I have a proper "mother of" name in Arabic now that I have a son.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The new school

I mentioned last month that the girls go to a different school now. We had three good years at the old school and it was a very difficult - and very sad - decision to move them. So why did we do it?

The short answer is that we did it because it was the best decision for our family. That's really the only answer that matters. School shopping is not a one-size-fits-all deal - everyone has different needs, and those needs will be met by different schools. And just because a school was the right place one year, doesn't mean it's still the right place three years later.

But the long answer is that their old school in June 2014 was not the same place I enrolled them in in September 2011. You know that story about how if you put a frog in cold water and then turn it up to boiling, it won't notice and will get cooked to death? Well, that's a myth. But this experience with school was like that - change happened so gradually (and I was more out of it than usual because I'd just had a baby) that I didn't notice until the school year was almost over. And I all of a sudden realized I wasn't happy with the school I once loved. It was mostly to do with two factors: a change in leadership, and a rapid increase in enrollment, all at the same time.

My worries about the school going through a rocky transitional period were confirmed when I looked through some old papers and found school circulars from previous years. What a lovely place they told of! What a sense of family they fostered! What evidence of attention to the children's education they were! And they told a story of a completely different school than the one my kids were currently going to.

However, enrollment periods for private schools here had long passed - by the time I was serious about switching them, it was June, and the assessments are done in January/February. So it was a small miracle (actually kind of a big one) that when I called the new school, they had spots (!) in both grades (!) and time to give the assessments (!), which are quite difficult, and both the girls passed (!).

I am still sad almost every time I think of their old school and the teachers, friends, and great experiences we left behind there. But the girls are doing well and so far, we are really happy with the decision to move them.

I have a feeling that their old school will be back up to snuff in a few years. And for a while, I almost wanted to stay and work through that transition with the school, to be a part of positive change and have an influence on the direction the school was going. And as hard as it was to bail out on that opportunity and change the girls to a different school, I think we made the easier - and for us, the right - choice.


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