Sunday, November 30, 2014

Come for the ID renewal; stay for the henna!

I spent the morning at two separate branches of the Center of All Bureaucracy, getting Sterling's Emirates ID sorted. UAE National Day is on Tuesday, and I thought that by going today, I would be ahead of any holiday disruptions aside from the days off work we're all getting on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Wow, was I wrong! I walked in the first office and was greeted by an impressive spread of sweets on a long table running the length of the waiting room. There was the national anthem playing in the background. There was red/white/green/black bunting hanging from the "Now Serving Customer Number __" signs. There was an aged man standing at a podium, giving a speech about the UAE. A clerk boy came over to me and Sterling and handed us a bag of UAE swag - a pen, a fridge magnet, and a keychain. Not what I expected from a trip to a government office.

But then, THEN, I had to fulfill the rest of Sterling's ID card business at another government office across town. And that place was in full-on carnival mode: balloons, popcorn, bouncy castles, two people dressed up in oversized Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes, and a clown. A CLOWN. At the UAE's equivalent of the DMV/post office/county clerk's office!

Upstairs in the women's waiting room, they had juice and dates for the customers, and a women's majlis with free henna tattooing. So this morning, while I waited for a woman to process Sterling's ID paperwork, I had both hands henna'd. FOR FREE.

Of course, then there was the part where they wanted to take a headshot of Sterling, who, as you may recall, is 14 months old and cannot be still for a moment because it's against Toddler Code. And there was me with my wet-henna hands, unable to wrangle him to look at the camera at all. But I tried, which is why I have a nice smear of henna brown across part of my left hand's design, and why Sterling has a nice (but faint) smear of henna brown across his cheek. I mean, it was only ever extremely unlikely that he would hold still and look at the camera, but once I had henna all over my hands, it was downright impossible. I ended up going home, retrieving an old passport photo of his, and bringing it in for them to use on the ID card.

And I ate free popcorn while I waited for them to finish.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

November 2014 books

Storm Siren (Storm Siren, #1)Storm Siren by Mary Weber

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

(DNF). Boooooooorrrring. I read 44% of this book and still did not care about anything/anyone in it. Plus, look at the kind of witty repartee I had to endure:

Mysterious Loner Dude Male Protagonist: "'So you decided to stay,' Eogan says to me, without turning around."

Female Protagonist: "So you decided to speak to me now that I've stood here for ten minutes."

Lame. Also, I hate it when someone with amazing powers is tasked with saving the world and she just can't be bothered. She'd rather sneak out at night to have fun in the village, or agonize over whether a guy likes her, or fume at the injustice of it all. Hmph.

JackabyJackaby by William Ritter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Supernatural Sherlock Holmes for the middle-grade set. I'll give this to Miriam in a few years.

Friday, November 28, 2014

November 28th, outsourced

I've been avoiding the rabbit-hole that is the Serial subreddit, but this week my brother Steven sent me a link to a compelling theory (this one) and um, that may have eaten up some of my internet discretionary time. Or almost all of it. Also, it was Thanksgiving week so things were quiet on the internet. This is all to say that I only have four links for you; two of them are Serial-related and one of them is a reddit threat I already linked to above.


Charts for people obsessed with Serial. The Laura one. I just. I laugh. I can't. So much. LAUGHING.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm grateful.

Today I'm grateful that, completely by accident of birth and through no merit of my own, I have a passport that does not require me to return to a war-torn home country and fulfill a military service requirement. One of my students cannot say the same.

Again I find myself eliding details, but one of my students was waiting for a student visa to a Western country; he was taking my class in the meantime. The visa came through, hooray! But since apparently his home country, which his family fled recently to avoid the rising tide of kidnappings in their otherwise peaceful town, has to sign off on the paperwork, he had to return. And since he's turned 18 years old in his time away, upon return, he has to fulfill the one-year military service requirement.

It's unclear to me, and to his classmates (my other students), whether this will be a matter of a bribe + "wink-wink let's call his service requirement fulfilled, shall we?" and he'll be on his way, or whether this boy - boy, really - will find himself on the wrong side of a war very soon. Wrong side, because his family's politics skew towards opposition, but there is no "right" side, of course.

I find myself horrified by the prospect. His prospect. And now I have another former student to add to the list of people in a war-torn country to worry about.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

CSA in Dubai

Think of all the things Dubai is unlikely to have. Is Community Supported Agriculture on your list? It was on mine. But not anymore! Check it out!

I picked up my first box of Ripe veggies today from the neighborhood collection point. It was filled with tomatoes, part of an Indian pumpkin, zucchini, kale (!!!!!!! - that stuff is pricier than gold around here and probably more difficult to find, because at least you can get gold out of ATMs), eggplant, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, and parsley.

First order of business was making a toned-down zuppa toscana to put the kale in. I think some tomato sauce will be next, and maybe I'll make zucchini gratin instead of a cream-based green bean dish for Thanksgiving tomorrow. We'll see!

I am so thrilled to have these veggies delivered to my neighborhood. It took some major doing, and I am glad I have one of those awesome Get Stuff Done neighbors who made a million phone calls to bring this about.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Other Bridget 2014

There is a woman in Australia who shares my name. I get a lot of emails intended for her, and from them, I've pieced together a life. I've been inadvertently involved in the details of her bachelorette party, the birth of her first child, various travel itineraries, the time one of her friends went to prison and asked me to be an approved recipient of correspondence from her, and the time she left her car on the beach at low tide and when it came in, the car was swamped. We last checked in with Other Bridget in 2013. What has she been up to since then?

She got invited to a Pop-Up Store opening. I do not know what that is, but I bet Australian Other Bridget does. She was also invited to the launch of a bespoke jewelry line and something called the Georgini Couture collection.

I got copies of the blood analysis she had done at the lab (!).

I got a birthday email greeting from Camel. As in, the cigarettes.

She gave her friend Dana a "painted glass snowman" for Christmas. I know this because Dana sent Other Bridget (me) a thank-you email.

She bought some Air Jordan sneakers, which I did not know were still in production, and some North Face sunglasses.

She started taking Bikram Yoga classes!

She took a trip to Sydney in April.

She had a big part in some major PR production thing that sounded really swanky. I got all kinds of behind-the-scenes emails about it.

Her friend informed me he wouldn't make it to Other Bridget's wine tasting party. But I'm supposed to say hi to Holly for him.

She applied for life insurance.

She received a contract from a company big enough for me to recognize their name, and in that contract, Other Bridget is "the Talent." I think she's about to hit the big time!!!

She updated her car insurance for her two vehicles. I have all the details of both of them, of course. I wonder if the policy includes ocean water damage, har har.

I got free tickets to Interstellar. Well, Other Bridget paid for them, I'm sure, but they showed up in my email inbox. If only I lived within 1000 miles of that theater.

The most dramatic thing to happen to Other Bridget is that her pet dog (I know the breed, name, and tag number) was turned in to a shelter. I got an email intended for Other Bridget informing me that if I didn't contact them within 14 days, they had the right to euthanize the animal. I wrote them back, don't worry!

What a life. I'm lucky to share it!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Two things

1. The UAE is doing a polio vaccination drive in light of recent polio outbreaks in Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan. The vaccinations are free without regard to residency status or health insurance. Interesting.

2. A student here proposed to another student after a performance of Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra. Very cute, right? I am fascinated by cultural differences, so much so that I wrote a thesis about them, you may recall. Notice in the video how the dramatic engagement moment ends in...a kiss on the hand. But even that was too much for some people on facebook. There were a few comments like this:

"Huh, I wonder how her family will react when they'll see this video. if he truly loves her just go and ask her family for marriage not on the stage in front of people."

"FYI, if this keeps going on and other people start doing it then it will affect AUS's reputation and families will consider [not] enrolling their daughters in AUS. No family specially a muslim one want to hear this from their daughter: 'hi mom and dad, I just finished my semester and guess what?! I got engaged.'"

(Ah, the old "hi mom and dad, I just finished my semester and guess what?! I got engaged" phone call. BYU does not have a monopoly on it, see?)

Not to worry, conservative Muslims. The groom-to-be clarifies:
"Hey, just wanted to let you know that I flew down to Saudi and asked her parents first and only once I had convinced them did I go down on one knee to Mona. It's important not to jeopardize the relationship you have with your family before you start something as important as Marriage."

I find this all fascinating. It's this weird juxtaposition of the west and the east and it's interesting how everyone reacts.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A rant about editing

I'll have to keep this post fairly oblique, but let me state on the record that I am most likely not going to accept any more work editing MA theses. It's a shame, too, because it's good work and I've had mostly positive experiences. But the bad apples are so, so bad, and I can never see them coming.

I've had someone tell me (via someone else; way to be passive-aggressive) that after I edited a thesis s/he was helping supervise, it still had some problems, which betrays a misunderstanding of what, exactly, an editor can do. Hint: she can edit. She cannot completely restructure a thesis's ideas and content and language to be amazing, at least not when the source material is shoddy to begin with.

More recently, and the deal-breaker for possibly all thesis editing work from now on, is being treated like what I am doing is unskilled labor. I have only had this problem with theses in a certain field. In the very recent past, I had someone question what I charge per hour for what is often tedious, painstaking work that requires an intense attention to detail and the finer points of the English language. Then, when I was finished working according to their tight deadline and neglecting my family and my other TWO jobs in the process, they questioned how many hours it took me. (Hint: the longer it took me, the more problems your thesis had. Though in some cases, perhaps including this particular one, it was more formatting problems than English problems.) Then, they questioned some of the changes I made, even when I had this field's codified style guide to back me up. If you want me to do things the way your professor likes it, instead of the way the industry at large likes it, please tell me before hour one, not after hour twelve.

Now I just have to hope this person deigns to pay me. I wish people could understand that while having your thesis edited is a hoop you have to jump through (in these parts, anyway - the quality of some was so bad that this university made it a requirement for some programs), it is a hoop manned by an really edumacated person with a particular set of skills.

Anyway. I know I sound like a huge jerk, but someone else was a huge jerk to me today and I guess this is what it makes me do.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Napster nostalgia

Random thought for a Saturday night: do you remember Napster? Wasn't it just the best? It was. I remember going on a Napster spree the summer after my freshman year of college. I downloaded All the Songs, especially the obscure ones I couldn't get elsewhere - Japanese hits from when I spent the summer of 2000 there, German songs we learned in class at the BYU, Papermoon songs that, to this day, I haven't found anywhere else.

Napster was THE BEST.

Widening the shot a little, Napster brings to mind something that is lacking from all our digital media consumption these days: shareability. It is annoying to me that when I read a book on my Kindle and want others to read it, I can't just pass on a copy like I would a regular ol' paperback. If we buy a movie from iTunes and a friend wants to borrow it, they have to borrow our laptop, too (this happened last week and it was so old-fashioned I couldn't believe it).

In conclusion, I miss Napster, it was awesome, and I think it's a crying shame that digital media is so hard to share in general, and hard to pass along among friends in particular.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Today is our 13th wedding anniversary. I'm going to veer away from a traditional post about our anniversary and muse for a moment on what I wish I had done differently thirteen years ago.

Jeremy and I were engaged for only six weeks. I wouldn't change that, but I sometimes wish I had paid more attention to the planning of the wedding itself. At the time, I didn't really care/didn't have time to care, so while our wedding was lovely, I'm not sure that it was really my style. But I'm also not sure I really have a style. So maybe it was my style, in that I didn't have a style and neither did my wedding.

What am I trying to say? I guess I just mean that looking back, I wish that maybe I'd worn my hair down instead of up. I wish we'd left out all the traditional flowery language on our invitation about whose parents were giving away who to someone else's parents. I wish we'd have considered not having an awkward handshake/hug line at the reception, because who even likes those? I wish we'd eaten ice cream, or possibly ice cream cake, instead of delicious but expensive actual wedding cake.

That said, most of the details of our wedding day were just right - a small group at the ceremony and luncheon, a reception at home with real food, a honeymoon on the cheap at the Oregon Coast. And I am so grateful to my mom, who picked up the slack every time I couldn't be bothered to decide this or that thirteen years ago. I wonder if I'll get my chance to care about hair being worn up or down when it's Miriam getting married - is that how it works?

I also realize that the passage of time has an effect on these opinions. I mean, most of those women who got married in the late 80s/early 90s regret wearing those huge puffed-sleeve dresses, right? But that doesn't mean it was the wrong decision at the time. I suppose our weddings are the product of, you know, the era in which we got married.

Which for us, was thirteen years ago, today!

Have you ever thought about stylistic changes (or other, deeper changes - I don't know your life) you would make to your wedding day?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ghosts of music past

Thanks to my new accompanist job, this is what my piano looked like yesterday and today. Turns out, six- and nine-year-old daughters are good at helping collate, color-code, and plastic-sleeve-ify (thanks for the tip, Janice!) pages and pages of sheet music. I have four pieces to learn for choir, but there was a master class tonight and I accompanied four soloists there. It was quite a stretch to see the music for the first time yesterday, and perform it tonight, but it was also exhilarating. A crazy straw kind of day, for sure.

I realized tonight as I played for an audience of musicians that I have been living on fumes of the ghosts of music past for years now. I was in a youth choir in the late 1990s and the director was one of the most gifted musicians I have ever met, and likely will ever meet - Paula Reeve. She had such a way with conducting, and I can still remember the general methods she taught me as a singer and an accompanist, as well as specific phrasings for certain songs.

I have used that knowledge for years and years as I've played the piano at church. But it's hard, since I know that most of my precious, heartfelt musical nuance is lost like so many pearls before swine (why is there not a more beautiful metaphor than that one? Sorry!). A hymn is a hymn and there's something inherently perfunctory about it, no matter how much of my soul I put into it.

So tonight, as I played, I reveled in the feeling of being understood, of conversing in a language with fellow native speakers who can respond in the same tongue.

Of course, I also made mistakes, because these pieces were dang hard, and that took away a little from the magic of it all. But oh, it was still magic, you guys!

Here are the four pieces I played tonight. It was so helpful to listen to the accompaniments to get an ear for the the overall oomph of it before attempting it myself. I know YouTube is true, amen.

The Daisies.
Geduld. So lovely, so sad, so angry, almost.
Il mio bel foco.
The Vagabond. Punchy and pirate-y - super fun! I made the most mistakes on this one, though :(.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Desert Stinker

Jeremy ran a 40k race (Desert Stinker) the other weekend - 20k in the desert one evening, then a campout, then another 20k in the dunes the next morning. He got third place overall. Yeah.

They posted the professional photos today and I am smitten with this one:

Yes, my husband looks awesome, but don't you just want to dip a spoon in those creamed-butter-and-sugar dunes?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Evidence of cycling in heels

I had to drop something at Jeremy's office this morning on the way to my own, and he decided to document my high-heeled bike commute. So here is a photo and video to illustrate this post from September.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Breastfeeding 3.0

post nurse
When Sterling was born, I had 38 months of breastfeeding experience under my belt - 24 months with Miriam and another 14 with Magdalena. Over those months, I'd dealt with latch issues, sore nipples, engorgement, supply issues, mastitis, thrush, a nursing strike, and weaning, some a couple of times over. Breastfeeding had sometimes been difficult, but over those 38 months, I thought I'd learned just about all there is to know.

Then I had Sterling, and breastfeeding was a really painful struggle. I was shocked. I knew what I was doing - didn't I? Why was I having amateur-level problems? Why couldn't I just figure it out, like I had with my other two babies? Did those 38 months of experience count for nothing? There were many times in those first few weeks where I wanted to give up. It hurt so much, physically and emotionally.

I came to a few realizations that I will share with you here.

1. Breastfeeding hurts. Those people who say breastfeeding is natural and doesn't/shouldn't hurt? They are wrong. IT HURTS. Especially at first. After a while you and baby will probably get the hang of it and the pain will probably go away. But in the meantime, your nipples are basically being chewed off by a rabid animal and that is ouchy.

2. Every baby is different, so with every baby, you become a breastfeeding novice again. There is some carry-over knowledge, sure, but even those of us with months and months of experience should be prepared for beginner problems.

3. Ask for/accept help, even if it's not your first baby. When Sterling was just 10 days old, I ran into a neighbor at the grocery store who happens to be a lactation consultant. I mentioned off-hand that I was having problems nursing and she insisted on bringing over some DVDs and pamphlets for me. I said "sure" even though inwardly I was rolling my eyes because I thought I knew everything. But guess what? Those DVDs and pamphlets totally saved me! I learned some great techniques for improving the breastfeeding experience for me and Sterling and it meant the world to me. I am so grateful for my neighbor and her insistence on helping me almost against my will.

As I write this, I'm on breastfeeding month almost-14 with Sterling, bringing my total months of experience to almost-52. And I'm dealing with a (thankfully mild) case of thrush, and one side isn't producing as much as the other side so I'm all lopsided, and right after I gave away my breast pump, we figured out that Sterling is too sensitive to cow's milk to drink it, so I've upped his nursing, and so on and so forth. Breastfeeding is a new experience every time.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Naturally fair underarms

Hebah's comment the other day reminded me that a few months ago, Jeremy went to the store to get some deodorant for himself. He came home with this:

No, he was not hoping to have the finest, whitest underarms in the land. He just neglected to read the label carefully. Hahahahaha.

Friday, November 14, 2014

November 14th, outsourced

I am an instant fan of this series: Women Rejecting Marriage Proposals in Western Art History (language warning late in the post).

Here is a beautiful language family tree representation.

You will probably enjoy Life as a Fake Beauty Queen in Small-town China. (The article, not the life).

Eight things that were better in East Germany (NOT).

It is a fact that I break into snort-giggles every time I remember certain lines from this Serial parody podcast (youtube, but it's all audio, not video). My favorite line (highlight to reveal so I don't ruin the joke): "Where was *I* 15 years ago? Did *I* kill Hae? My confession: next week, on Serial."

I've always wanted to hear more about Dieter Uchtdorf's experience in Germany, so I was glad to read this article.

This article (women with children are more productive than anyone else) deserves more discussion than perhaps I can give it here. But it's interesting and Jon Stewart's analogy about after-school soccer practice totally rings true for me.

I don't even really know what is going on here but it involves pandas and it is adorable.

Dwight Schrute quotes as motivational posters. YES.

This house looks great. UNTIL PHOTO #3. [HT Liz]

I appreciate Stephen Starr's slice-of-life-in-war-torn-Syria articles. We can hear the big news from every other outlet; for those of us who used to live there, it's the more mundane war-time stories that are most interesting. This one is about car trouble during the civil war there.

In case you're feeling pretty good about the world, here is a list of awesome places that you will probably never see, due to unrest. I had the chance to go to a few of these places, but it will be years before the chance comes again, if ever. [HT Carolyn]

Thursday, November 13, 2014


I just got another job as the piano accompanist for the university choir. I had to go in and audition last week and then again today. I was so nervous. I play the piano all the time, even all the time in an accompanist capacity at church, but it was way outside of my comfort zone to march into a university music department and play for actual musicians, for a paid position. In fact, after a hectic morning and early afternoon on the day of my first audition last week, frantically trying to get my music selection in performable condition, I almost decided not to go through with it.

But I love to accompany others on the piano. In fact, it is one of the great loves of my life. And the longing to be able to accompany again in a new, challenging, and paid setting convinced me to go through with it. When the audition was over and my residual nerves had calmed down, I was proud of myself just for trying. I know that sounds lame, but it took a lot of guts for me to put myself out there after so many years away from the serious piano scene.

I love accompanying because I get to perform, but not be in the spotlight. I get to interpret the directions of the director, underscore the nuances of the singers, and help transmit their combined message to the audience. It's all the joy of hard work and (hopefully) skillful execution, all while being practically invisible. I think the best accompanists, much like the best language interpreters (another dream job of mine), go unnoticed. They are a medium for someone else's message.

For now, this job's target duration is to get the choir through to their end-of-semester concert. But there are master classes and vocal lessons to take on, too, if I want them. I am so happy to have the chance to spend some time working with music.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What can you learn from an advertisement?

What can you learn about a culture from the advertisements it produces? So much. Not every ad is meant to attract every person, of course, or represent the realities of daily life for all, but advertisements can offer a peek into at least one segment of a society. What makes a product attractive, and who is the ad seeking to attract? How is the consumer expected to use the product? Etc.

The YouTube ads I get here are sometimes in English but more often in Hindi or Arabic (this OMO ad in Hindi is strangely mesmerizing - I let it run every. single. time). The other day, I saw an ad that really caught my attention - it's for DAC cleaning products, and it's presented in an amateur-ish story (episode) format. The story surrounds a groom meeting his prospective bride, and the dealings between the two mothers.

I find this DAC series of commercials fascinating. The language, the peek at a cultural ritual (arranged marriage meetings) that is almost completely off-limits to me as a foreigner, the fact that this is an advertisement for a cleaning product meant to be used by one's maid, not one's self. There is so much here about how women here run their households, and the expectations they have of household helpers.

Again, I don't claim that this is a perfect representation of how life is for khalijis, but it definitely smacks of truth for at least certain elements of society here, and at the very least would be a good discussion starting point for topics such as social norms regarding housework, childcare, friendship, and marriage negotiations in the Gulf.

For ease of reference:

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3 part 1
Episode 3 part 2

I can't wait for the thrilling conclusion!

Shooting stars

The power went out last night, so there was no blog post from me yesterday (it's Wednesday morning for me now). Of course it was annoying that the power went out, but I took the opportunity to have a look at the stars.

With no light pollution from our immediate neighborhood, we could see so many more stars! It was beautiful. I even saw two shooting stars. I only wish the girls had been awake to enjoy the stars as well.

Monday, November 10, 2014

You're safe now.

Earlier this year, I watched Captain Phillips. The whole movie is good, but the last scene was so moving. Here it is, though out of context it's not quite as affecting.

You know who I think totally steals the show? The medic. Her voice, her mannerisms, the way she talks to the injured person, WOW. When I watched that scene, I was instantly reminded of all my (few, thankfully) major hospitalizations - tonsillectomy and childbirths, basically. That scene took me back to how it feels when you're in pain, and your body doesn't quite feel like your own, and there is someone there patting your hand and telling you it's going to be ok.

I was so impressed by that woman's performance that I looked it up a while ago and I think I remember reading that she is not an actress at all, but an actual medic. Which makes a lot of sense.

Does this scene bring back in-the-hands-of-medical-professionals feelings for any of you?

Sunday, November 09, 2014


ISIL/ISIS/IS/whatever made some threats recently against the American/Western presence in the Arabian Gulf, i.e., us. We had a letter from the girls' school today, and security around campus has been more intense lately. Certain pedestrian gates that used to be open all the time are locked in the evenings and watched over by guards. The police at the university gate stop more cars, more often, for longer. Our housing area has more guards, too, keeping watch.

It's a little unnerving, but as both the university and the school have reminded us, there have been no specific, credible threats against Sharjah in particular. It's most likely just a lot of terrorist hot air. But in the meantime, security is tightened, just in case.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

XXXL Chicken Biryani

I forgot to mention that a few weeks ago, our BFFs from Bahla came to our house for dinner! This meant that I needed to a) get a seriously halal meal on the table, and b) possibly serve it to the men and women separately. I knew that Abdallah and his family would be gracious no matter the arrangements, but I wanted to get this one right.

So we a) ordered the XXXL chicken biryani (size designation theirs) from Gazebo (the local Indian restaurant), and b) served it to the men upstairs in the majlis, and the women and children downstairs on the living room floor. It was so legit.

And the biryani was seriously XXXL. The pictures do not do it justice. It was so much food.

The pot extends into its styrofoam base, by the way, so there is even more biryani than meets the eye.

And do you know the nicest thing? After we had eaten, I slipped upstairs to put Sterling to bed, and by the time I came down, the other women had cleaned up dinner! I cannot keep up with their graciousness!

My mom was asking me about the halal bit, by the way. Halal is a system of morality in Islam, but when applied to food, it means that it is free from pork (or pork-derived products), alcohol, and that any meat was slaughtered according to certain rituals and procedures. Since we live in the UAE, the food we buy from the grocery store (and from restaurants) is halal.

Therefore, I knew that technically, if I prepared a meal from scratch for Abdallah and his family, it would be halal. But over the years, I've sensed sometimes that some Muslims sometimes maybe sort of get kind of nervous about eating food from a non-Muslim's kitchen. And maybe that feeling is justified - I do, after all, have vanilla extract from the US in my pantry. I sometimes buy bacon from Spinney's, and it sits in my fridge with all the other food in there. So while I would of course take the greatest care in preparing a halal meal for a Muslim guest, in this case, it was just easier and safer and perhaps more respectful to get takeout from an Indian restaurant, who for sure for sure would do halal right.

(I compare this to the feeling I get when I am served a beverage at a non-Mormon's house. Is it going to be tea or coffee?? What will I say if it is? Etc.)

And we ate the leftovers for every meal for about three days until lo, verily, we could eat no more biryani. The end.

Friday, November 07, 2014

November 7th, outsourced

This is a really beautiful short film about Damascus. Lovely and sad and haunting all at once.

Rabia Chaudry is blogging about Serial! She's the woman who initially brought Adnan's case to the attention of Sarah Koenig. Also, Slate is doing a podcast about Serial. Yes, a podcast about a podcast. It's worth listening to, especially if you don't have people to discuss the podcast with in person (I want to get Jeremy listening, but he's not really a podcast person).

Here's an interesting take on my fellow reverse-SADers: they look forward to the end of Daylight Savings Time! [HT Liz]


Cool slidey-pictures from before/after the Berlin Wall! [HT Ashi]

This 80s aerobic accompaniment to "Shake it Off" is the best one of these I've seen since they Lady Gaga'd Newsies. [HT Jeanelle]

This The Onion article about Ira Glass is simply the best they've ever done. Nuanced but detailed, obviously written by a fan, and oddly almost plausible - perfection. "For the Harper High episodes last year, I came up with 352 different high school student characters. Those were particularly tough to record—I barely got through them. I lost my voice for two weeks after creating that pep rally."

Ooh, you totally can say octopuses! [HT Kaylee]

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Blood and Sand and Frank Gardner and me

Seven years ago, when we were living in Amman, Jordan, I read Frank Gardner's memoir, Blood and Sand. The book deals with his journalism career in general, but centers on a 2004 incident in which he was shot six times by terrorists in Saudi Arabia while reporting there. His cameraman was killed; Gardner survived with major injuries.

When I finished the book, I did something I have done several times since, but never before then: I wrote an email to the author telling him how much I appreciated his book. This was in the old days when authors weren't as accessible as they are now with blogs, fb, and Twitter. In fact, as I recall, I couldn't even find a direct contact address for him, so I wrote the email to his publisher or agent. In any case, I never heard back from him, but I didn't expect to - I mostly hoped he had received and read a note of thanks from a reader.

Guess who I met today?

He's in town for the Sharjah International Book Festival, and he stopped by AUS to give an hour-long talk/interview/Q&A. Jeremy and I both wanted to go, but he graciously (SO GRACIOUSLY, love you, sweetie!) deferred to me. So while Jeremy was doing the school run and managing the kids, I got to sit and listen to Frank Gardner talk about his career.

Afterward, as you can see, I totally fangirled and got a photo with him after telling him how much my husband and I loved his book. In other words, I got to tell him in person what I wrote in that email seven years ago. It was awesome. Today was a good day!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Home church

On Friday, there was a meeting and a baptism before church, then church, then meetings after church. Sterling and I, and by default the girls, begged off after Sacrament Meeting and went home. But I felt bad pulling the girls out of Primary, so before I went upstairs to put Sterling down for a nap, I told them to plan a session of home church for us.

This is what Magdalena came up with.

The video (scripture video on was a bust since internet on the old computer they use was being finicky. But the rest went just fine. We even used a podium/microphone they made out of a cardboard box, a wooden dowel, and an empty toilet paper roll.

I'm still sad they missed Primary, but it was kind of fun doing our own church at home. Especially since the girls planned it. They got all the essentials, too - talks, singing, and watermelon!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

We need to talk about Serial

Serial is a spinoff podcast from This American Life. This season, the podcast's first, takes on the narrative of the 1999 murder of a Baltimore teenager. Blah blah blah, just go listen to episode 1 already, mmkay? I don't have to tell you to listen to the other episodes because once you listen to the first, you will not be able to restrain yourself from downloading the rest. You will hide from your family to listen to this podcast. You will sit in the driveway in your car to listen to this podcast. You will invent household chores to finish to listen to this podcast. And then, when you have listened to all the episodes released so far, you will write a blog post about this podcast.

My thoughts are below. Please chime in with your own.

1. The teenagers whose story is told by Serial are exactly my age, which gives me the heebie jeebies sometimes, thinking about what they were doing and what I was doing during our senior year of 1998-1999. I also totally get all the references to paging someone, and the novelty of mobile phones, and calling someone from a payphone, and the idea that a store's security system would use and re-use a VHS tape to record its CCTV.

2. This issue was addressed in episode 1 to some extent, but I am still flabbergasted that some of these kids cannot remember where they were or what they were doing the afternoon that Hae disappeared. If my recently ex-boyfriend disappeared - disappeared! - one day after school, for sure I would be thinking about where I was during that time period. Like a flashbulb memory, you know? I just can't figure out why Adnan couldn't remember whether he was at the library, at track practice, or what. I know it was just an ordinary day for those kids, but it actually wasn't - Hae disappeared that day, which, to me, seems like it should make it an absolutely extraordinary day, and therefore memorable.

3. Does it seem to anyone else like nobody in this story is telling the truth? There are problems with both Adnan and Jay's timelines. What really happened that day? Is there some kind of middle-ground truth that can be teased out of their conflicting stories? And does Serial's ability to do Jay's proposed timeline in 21 minutes (or whatever) actually prove anything? Maybe bus exiting procedure was different 15 years ago. Maybe there were more, or fewer, traffic lights. Maybe entire intersections have been redesigned or streamlined. All it would take is one anomaly to throw off the entire timeline. So I don't think that proves anything.

Two final, major issues.

4. Is Adnan guilty? I still think no. I think regular ol' high school boys do not kill their girlfriends, and there is way more going on here than meets the eye.

5. Does the show know its own ending? Sarah Koenig has said, um, not really. She says they know the overall arc, just not the way it's headed. This may be my major worry about this podcast, that it will end with some kind of "welp, isn't all truth just so nebulous!" cop-out. Because it's entirely possible - dare I say probable? - that the show will have told us this whole story but not meaningfully advanced a case for Adnan being innocent (or decisively guilty). Fingers crossed that doesn't happen.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Flashback Monday: A story about a pool on a balcony in Cairo

Here's a Flashback for you, a la Friday. This happened in 2010 while I was still writing Flashback Fridays, but I didn't tell the story at the time because a) it wasn't a flashback back then, and b) I did not have the heart to think about it.

We spent the summer of 2010 in Cairo. We lived on the sixth floor of an apartment building and off of our living room, there was a small patio. Our apartment had AC - really, really weak-sauce AC - only in the one bedroom, so when it got hot in Cairo, it got hot in our apartment. Green spaces are in short supply in Cairo, so our balcony was a nice outlet to the outdoors for those times when we couldn't go outside proper.

One week soon after we arrived there, the weather forecast showed a few days of 110F+ temperatures ahead. So I decided to buy a kiddie pool to put on the balcony. It was easier said than done. Once we set up the dang thing, we had to figure out how to put water in it. I think we bought a section of hose-like tubing to rig up to the kitchen sink, but in the end we filled the pool manually using buckets and bowls. It was such an exhausting process that when the pool was full, we mostly just left it set up on the balcony, instead of emptying it and changing the water every couple of days.

And wow, did we ever enjoy that pool. Sure, the water got a little dusty after a while, but that pool saved my sanity that summer. It kept the girls happy and cool during those sweltering afternoons, and staved off cabin fever until the cooler nighttime hours when we could go on walks outside.

Then. THEN. One night, not long before we left Cairo - in other words, after weeks and weeks of playing in that pool, and sitting in that pool, and not changing the water terribly often - maybe twice the whole summer? - I was sitting on the couch in the living room late at night. There must have been something on TV. I think it was that movie about conflict diamonds. Blood Diamond? Something like that. It's not important. I mean, conflict diamonds are important, but the fact that I was watching a movie about them was not.

Because I was sitting there on the couch, facing the balcony, and lights were on inside but not outside, so I couldn't see terribly well, but I thought I saw something moving on the balcony. I turned off the lights inside to get a better look and. And. On our balcony, in our pool, was the biggest, most disgusting street rat you have hopefully not had the misfortune of ever seeing. It was having itself a leisurely drink/soak/cool-down in our pool. Then, almost as if this little routine was something it had done many times before that night, that rat hopped out and continued on its way.

We never used the pool again. I've tried not to think about it since. The end.

Edited to add: Jeremy just told me he never knew about this until now, which tells you how much I tried to pretend it never happened.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

October 2014 books

The Emperor of All MaladiesThe Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I don't know if I will ever read another book with a title as awesome as this one. Well done, Mr. Mukherjee.

I didn't know much about cancer before I read this book, and now - at least until my retention fades - I know ALL THE THINGS. I was especially interested in the sections that dealt with early forms of chemotherapy, the treatment of breast cancer, and how the connection between smoking and lung cancer was established. Significant developments in these areas were made during the 1980s and 90s, and it was fascinating to have all those vague childhood memories (and classroom Weekly Reader articles) explained and clarified a few decades after the fact.

Bellweather RhapsodyBellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. The kids in this book (high schoolers in 1997) are just my age, and you better believe that when Bert fires up his Discman to Track 2 of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I knew it was "Tonight, Tonight" BEFORE the book told me so. The book is sprinkled with lots of moments like this, and not just in pop-culture throwaway bits. There were passages that spoke to me - or, rather they spoke to my teenage self, especially the part of me that was intensively studying music at the time. There was the one on pages 46-50 that left me speechless (I mean, you're already speechless when you're reading a book, but I actually put the book down and just gazed off into space for a while), particularly this bit:

"Viola's arm circled around her back, giving her a squeeze. 'Your best years are behind you, kiddo,' she said in a voice slicked with cheer. 'That's the way it is. Sure, you'll go on, you'll go to school. You'll learn how to write and how to teach music, and you'll probably teach but you won't write, and you certainly won't compose anything worth remembering. Then you'll marry someone and have children and you'll say you played piano once but you won't have sat down at yours in years. You'll get rid of it. You'll sell it, and you won't be happy, but you won't quite be able to put your finger on why. I'll tell you why. Because that's the way it is, Natalie. That's life when you're nothing special. And I'll tell you something else. This is a much easier lesson to learn when you're eighteen instead of forty.' Viola grinned."

Take away the abusive side of the music teacher and the beer-drinking side of Natalie and wow.

Despite the very rewarding nostalgia and spookiness of this book, I found the ending ultimately unfulfilling. I was also disappointed at the language used in the book, particularly the number of f-bombs. This is YA, first of all, and second of all, there was simply no need for it. Sometimes I read books and I get why there's cursing, but here it was such a disappointment and a distraction. Then, in the acknowledgements, the author mentions Ellen Raskin as a major inspiration. This makes the language even more inexcusable! If the author can read the treasure that is The Westing Game and come away thinking that her own book needs profanity to make it pop, WELL.

The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #1)The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

YIKES. A big fat DNF for this one. I thought it would be like The Girl of Fire and Thorns and it is, except for the completely out of NOWHERE R-rated scenes. What the heck? If this is YA, then our audience-based genre labels are officially broken.

(Seriously, is this YA?)

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of IslamNo god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My favorite part of this book came early on:

"All religions are inextricably bound to the social, spiritual, and cultural milieux from which they arose and in which they developed. It is not prophets who create religions. Prophets are, above all, reformers who redefine and reinterpret the existing beliefs and practices of their communities, providing fresh sets of symbols and metaphors with which succeeding generations can describe the nature of reality. Indeed, it is most often the prophet's successors who take upon themselves the responsibility of fashioning their master's words and deeds into unified, easily comprehensible religious systems."

Well said and bravo.

I HAD to read this book after hearing Reza Aslan respond to Bill Maher's rantings about "Muslim countries." Fortunately, No God But God is similarly level-headed. It reminded me of a Rough Stone Rolling for Islam (not Mohammed) - thorough, unflinching, but believing. Also, fascinating.

Black IceBlack Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On a macro level, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I looked forward to reading it, I stayed up late reading it, I couldn't stop thinking about it after reading it, etc. The story is gripping and exciting and scary and thrilling.

But on a micro level, it fell flat. I could not connect with the main character at all. She said and did illogical things and even when the author tried to show her thought process ("I wanted to tell him the truth, but I knew that if I did, such-and-such would happen"), I just...disagreed.

Ah, but if everyone acted rationally in this book, it would have been over in about three chapters, which would have cheated me out of two late nights reading it while shivering with fear in bed next to my sleeping husband.

In other words, this book is a total Monet - it looks good from far away, but up close, it's a big old mess.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle, #3)Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book for what it did for the main characters. For advancing the overall story? Not so much.

The truth is that I would read Maggie Stiefvater's description of an ant crossing the street, though, so I still enjoyed the time I spent reading. (And you know it would be an unbelievably creepy ant with multiple eyes and pincers and something that goes click-click when it walks. And the road would be all conflicted and rage-y but with a heart of gold.)

These characters are so real and dear (at least the nice ones are dear) to me that this is the first time I've read a burst of profanity from a character in a novel and thought well, that's how that person is. These are people who seem to exist outside of the book itself. And I continue to think of this as some bizarro The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks where the boys let Frankie into their club and go hunting for a dead Welsh king.

The World Is Bigger Now: An American Journalist's Release from Captivity in North Korea . . . A Remarkable Story of Faith, Family, and ForgivenessThe World Is Bigger Now: An American Journalist's Release from Captivity in North Korea . . . A Remarkable Story of Faith, Family, and Forgiveness by Euna Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a good access point for finding out more information about North Korea if you don't know anything about the place or haven't read any other books about it. Otherwise, it's more of the same, but with an interesting captivity narrative overlay. I think what happened to Ms. Lee is truly frightening - getting dragged across the border from China into North Korea. It's a worst nightmare come true. I am so glad her story had a happy ending.

Also, not gonna lie, my favorite part was when she got home after finally being released and the first thing she did was deep-clean her entire house. Because that is totally what I would do. She says it was a symbolic process for her that helped her get out some of her feelings and I totally get that.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

NaBloPoMo 2014

I'm going to try to post every day in November.

I think NaBloPoMo usually starts with a Halloween round-up. This year we had a ghost, a witch, and a pumpkin. Pretty straightforward.

My two favorite sights on Halloween night were:

1. The group of adolescent Arab girls approaching their first house, practicing together quietly how to say "Trick or Treat." Their costumes looked like they'd wandered into the Halloween aisle at Carrefour and picked out a few pieces each - a pumpkin headband here, some vampire teeth there. It warmed my heart.

2. The teenage boy who dressed up as a baby. It's the most daring costume I've ever seen here.

My least favorite was seeing a group of young boys trick-or-treating, not dressed up at all. LAME.

There were tons of trick-or-treaters. Maybe it's because Halloween was on a weekend this year, or maybe the holiday is catching on more.

Happy Halloween!


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