Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Jay interview

Jay (of Serial (in)fame) gave an interview! He said he would do it, and then he did it!

I read it. And...I'm disappointed. If he's lying again, telling yet another untrue version of the events of 13 January 1999, then I'm so tired of it and I learned nothing new. If, on the other hand, he's telling the truth, it's a truth that is no longer believable.

At this point, I'm waiting for the DNA to come back. In fact, if you're interested in the Innocent Project's progress on the case, with lots of details that did not make it into the final episode of Serial, you can listen to a podcast here.

(Also, how weird is it that Jay looks almost exactly as I imagined him? Do you ever do that with people on the radio - imagine how they look? I do, and I got Jay just right.)

Monday, December 29, 2014

My best books of 2014 (and other distinctions)

Here are my favorite books from 2014. To make the list, I had to have read the book for the first time in 2014 so that old favorites don't clog the top spots. Except! This year, I made one exception (see below). I'll post a complete list of the books I read in 2014 plus some "fun" stats in a few days.

The Dream Thieves (Maggie Stiefvater). This is book 2 in The Raven Boys series, and I read it twice this year. I love this book more than The Raven Boys and more than Blue Lily, Lily Blue. It is beautiful and crazy and haunting and scary and it makes you want to give everyone except Kavinsky and possibly Greenmantle a big, meaningful hug. Or, in the case of Ronan, a big, meaningful nod of the head, from afar.

Friday, December 26, 2014

December 26th, outsourced

The cold medicine racket. There are only a few ingredients that help alleviate the symptoms of colds, but the medicine choices are so overwhelming, am I right?

This story of a woman with six kids and a bike, but no car (well, her husband has a sedan) warmed my heart all the way through. I love that she's doing it not for some in-your-face, ultra-hip reason, but because she loves it and it makes her happy. Sometimes doing hard things make us happy. (Plus, riding a bike makes us happy.) [HT Cait]

English-language "international" schools are attracting more and more locals - this is something I have observed here in the UAE (who has the highest concentration of international schools in the world), so it was interesting to read that this is a thing happening elsewhere, too.

Office workers re-creating classic works of art. Those pictures remind me of these, which I could link to every week and never get tired of them.

The carpet at the Portland Airport. Sigh.

A Utah man had to be hospitalized for chugging eggnog!

In today's awwwwww news, Costco employees and others worked together to buy all the things on a little kid's Christmas list that got left behind at the store.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from Downton Abbey

I can't wait for the last episode of Downton Abbey today (actually tomorrow because of the time zone difference)! In the meantime, I am dying laughing at Downton Abbey's Text Santa campaign. I thought it would be a small walk-on by George Clooney, but it is so, so much more. Hilarious. Merry Christmas!

[Minor Season 5 hairstyle spoilers for Mary]`

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A feast from a stranger

Here's a happy story for Christmas week.

Earlier this month when we went camping, we were driving in a convoy through a dry wadi bed toward the campsite with four or five other families (there were 30 of us in all). At one point, we got passed by a local driving his own car, accompanied by his wife and a few kids, and we paused to ask him directions. He confirmed that we were going the right way, and then invited us to dinner at his house.

Jeremy responded, "but there are 30 of us!" The Emirati's wife laughed and said, "our house is big!"

Since we were already on our way camping, we said we'd come to lunch the next day instead. "Only" 22 of us could make it, so we rumbled back down the mountain in our convoy the next afternoon and showed up at this Emirati family's house for lunch.

They had a little over 12 hours' notice that we were coming. They live in a tiny not-even-a-village at the base of a remote mountain range. There is no Carrefour there, no restaurant, no roastery, nothing. But this man killed a few lambs and had them cooked up for us, and then rustled up (we still don't know from where) an accompanying spread of rice, chicken, fruits, and cakes. It would have been impressive even if they'd had plenty of notice and fewer of us visiting. The fact that it was very last-minute and there were 22 of us - WELL.

As we ate, we laughed self-deprecatingly at how Western hospitality just cannot compare with what we were experiencing here in the UAE. We joked about what kind of spread we would be able to offer to 22 people on 12 hours' notice - bowls of cereal, or the half-bottle of Sprite sitting in the fridge, or some combination of the tomato paste and onions that always seem to stick around when you've run out of everything else. Certainly not freshly slaughtered lamb on a bed of deliciously seasoned rice and chicken.

They also introduced us to their seven children and gave us a tour of the house. It was beautiful. However, when they found out that Jeremy, as the husband/father of the family, had allowed me and the baby to drive down the mountain in the middle of the night, they almost took away his man card on the spot. They insisted that in future, I was welcome to their guest room. The lovely part is, I know that they really mean it.

And that's the story of how an Emirati family in a small village opened up their house to almost two dozen strangers and fed them a feast on barely 12 hours' notice!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

IHOP and Cheerios

1. IHOP. A few months ago, IHOP opened up in the UAE, at Dubai Mall. I know that IHOP is not that special in the US. I mean, it is, because it's a restaurant that serves breakfast all the time, but I realize that you are probably not excited about the IHOP that is nearest to you because it's always there. You know that if you want to go there, you can, anytime. Maybe there are even two IHOPs in your area, or three!

But I was so excited about this first IHOP. There is something about breakfast that is just delicious. There is something about being handed a plate full of pancakes, four different kinds of syrup, and just diving in. There is something about having french toast, (beef) bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, and (veal) sausage on your plate and not only did you not have to cook any of it, it is all hot at the same time.

So we went to IHOP on Thursday. It was the kids' first time. They loved it. And even if you do have two or three IHOPs in your area, do any of them come with a view of the Burj Khalifa?

I thought not.

2. Cheerios. If you are willing to scour enough shelves and pay enough money, you can find almost any ingredient/food in the UAE. (Almost.) But I had never, ever, not in 4.5 years here, seen plain Cheerios. You can sometimes get Fruity Cheerios (US version), and until earlier this year, you could get Egyptian-produced Multigrain Cheerios (tasty enough, but only if you haven't had the real thing in ages). You can almost always get Honey Nut Cheerios, which are also Egyptian-produced but are also not Honey Nut, just Honey Cheerios. (Except for three weeks ago, when our local grocery store randomly brought in a batch of honest-to-goodness US-produced Honey Nut Cheerios. I bought three boxes. Next time I went to the store, it was back to Egyptian Honey Cheerios. Weird.)

Breakfast cereal kind of sucks here anyway, and Jeremy and I have been in a pretty bad breakfast funk recently. So it was with great joy and surprise and amazement and disbelief that when we were in Jumeirah yesterday, we stopped in at Park & Shop and found CHEERIOS. I asked the manager and he said they just got them in last week. It is a Christmas Miracle.

I know I am opening myself up to some ridicule here. In the end it's just pancakes and breakfast cereal, I get it. But you know how I am about food. So I'm not saying I ever thought less of the UAE for not having Cheerios (or IHOP). I don't expect every store to cater to my whims. But wow, breakfast this morning was fantastic.

Friday, December 19, 2014

December 19th, outsourced

I found a few misplaced links from weeks ago that are still worth sharing. One is this article about what it's like to work at Radio Shack. (Reading that of course brought to mind this old gem from The Onion.)

I'm sure you saw this already, but it made me laugh a few weeks ago: Nativity scene finished.

The Syrian winner of Arab Idol refused to wear his country's flag, to avoid taking sides.

My girls can't wait to try out /ponystream next time we Google Hangout with the grandparents.

That escalated quickly. [HT Jessie]

The strange normality of life in the middle of Syria's war.

A relay runner accidentally stole the finish line glory from a marathon winner. I love the video so much - the befuddlement of the commentators, the cluelessness of the relay runner, the cringeyness of the whole thing. Perfection. [HT Blair]

The price of Christmas dinner at various British supermarkets.

National Geographic photo contest winners!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The last episode of Serial

I had this episode sitting on the iPod in my purse for a full five hours before I listened to it. I kept thinking that maybe I should just ask Jeremy if he would be offended if I listened to it while we were in the car this afternoon, but thought better of it. So after we got home tonight, I was perfectly happy to tackle those dreaded chores that somehow don't complete themselves while you're putting the kids to bed, because at least I could listen to Serial while I worked.

The first season of Serial is over.

First, my reaction to the podcast. I respect Sarah Koenig's ending. I really do. Her final exclamation that we didn't have the facts 15 years ago, and we don't now, and that's all we really want, really resonated with me. I could feel her frustration simmering through the entire episode, and I share it - why is everyone lying? I appreciated the Don From Lenscrafters interview, and one last, possibly record-breaking in its length string of "you know"s from Adnan. We got the obligatory update on the Innocence Project, and a lob from left field about a serial killer. (Sorry, Deirdre, but what "big picture" explains away Jay knowing where the car was?) I was afraid this episode, and thus this entire podcast, would be a meditation on the elusive nature of truth, or that Sarah Koenig's foreshadowing of an "I dunno" ending would come true, but I don't think it did.

Second, my opinion on Adnan's guilt/innocence, because the universe doesn't allow posts like this to be written without the author weighing in. I think Adnan certainly should not have been convicted with the evidence that was presented at trial 15 years ago, not to mention the evidence we have heard since then. But like Sarah Koenig, I can't definitively say that I think he's innocent. I think he probably is. I know Dana said she thinks no one is that unlucky, but we're not talking about just anybody. We're talking about a case that is compelling enough to have its own podcast. The sample is biased. This is a weird case, and therefore it's almost more likely that things for this one guy, Adnan, went horribly, unluckily wrong.

Which, ARGH, sounds like I'm trying to say I DO think he's definitively innocent. I don't. I can't make that leap. There's just...something - a disturbing buoy, we could call it? - that keeps me from 100%. But I'm almost there. I am very, very easily persuaded by those theories that say Jay did it, and framed Adnan later.

How about you?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

p and b are hard

Arabic doesn't have a 'p' sound, which often leads to my students saying p instead of b, or b instead of p, or multiple layers of all of the above. I have been called "Pridget" before, because they think it's Bridget, but then they think that maybe they just think it's b but really it's p, so they take a chance and say p instead of b.

This confusion has led to two funny things in my class lately.

1. A student wrote me an email and said he would turn in his homework "as soon as baseball." Whaaa? Wait for it. Now change the b sounds to p sounds and you'll see why he made that mistake.

2. Today I gave a quiz on count/non-count nouns. The students just had to go through a list of nouns and circle whether they were count or non-count. By the way, the distinction is this: with a count noun, you can say "a [noun]" or use the plural form - flowers, coins, necklaces. With a non-count noun, you can't - foliage, change, jewelry.

Anyway, I marked the quizzes as they handed them in, and one student was completely befuddled that he got "poetry" wrong - he had marked it as count when it is actually non-count. A different student was still working on the quiz, so this confused student and I had a hushed conversation about why he was wrong. The conversation just wasn't going anywhere - he couldn't seem to grasp how "poetry" could not take on "a poetry" and "poetries."

Finally, after class when all the quizzes were collected and we could speak in normal tones, I realized all at once that he had been saying b instead of p (and in his British accent) and thought the word was "battery." Which IS a count noun. Anyway, we had a good laugh and it was a relief to know that he wasn't so baffled after all. Just confused about p and b.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jeremy in Japan

Did I ever mention that Jeremy got to go to a conference in Japan in November of last year? Well, he did. Sterling was only about five weeks old at the time and I was still working on my thesis so sometimes I'm not sure it wasn't actually some kind of sleep deprivation-induced hallucination. But I just looked through some old emails, and it did happen.

I was a student in Kyoto during the summer of 2000, and Jeremy's conference in 2013 was not too far away in (I think) Osaka. Altogether, he was gone for about a week, and about two days of that time he spent in Kyoto. He stayed in the same guesthouse I did as an 18-year-old in 2000. He met up with my host family and my two host sisters took him around town. He ate a bunch of Japanese food I miss, saw some sights, and sent me pictures of Japanese lunchboxes because he knows I have a serious weakness for a well-formed bento box.

When he came home, my host family had loaded him up with gifts and goodies for me and the kids. What amazed me the most was that they sent me many of my favorite snacks. That's right - they remembered my favorite snacks from 13 years ago. I was moved to tears, both for the kindness/generosity factor and the pure nostalgia factor. Also the delicious factor.

I didn't serve a mission for my church, and although I'm not at all equating a secular, language/culture-based study abroad program with a mission, it is the only kind of experience in that vein (young, on my own, abroad) that I have. My memories of that time are so precious. So to have Jeremy go to that place and see those things and eat that food and meet those people was a beautiful thing for me. Of course, I only wish I could have done all those things with him!

Friday, December 12, 2014

December 12th, outsourced

Stephen Colbert as Hobbit characters. (And yes, I know Sarah Koenig was on The Colbert Report and as soon as I figure my way around Hulu's anti-VPN thing, I will watch it.) [HT Jeremy]

America's malls in 1989. I love these photographs because they are not of anything extraordinary. Just everyday life.

Life on an organic farm in Sharjah.

Last week when we got home from camping, I was dying to take a nap but Sterling had already taken his in the car. So I lay down on the floor and "took a nap" but it looked more like this.

Here is a beautiful video of AUS - the place where we live and work!

10 reasons our universe might be virtual reality. My mind broke from reading this article. [HT Kathy]

For the language/writing nerd, I bring you: the periodic table of figures of speech. If I ever teach writing, I am buying a poster of this to put on the wall. [HT Matt]

Spiderman in Cairo.

Ceausescu's children - a great read about the legacy of Romanian orphans. [HT Liz]

(Against) Mommy, the martyr. This is one of the reasons why I like my kids to see me go to work, or even come with me to work sometimes. [HT Heather]

In Serial news, there was this tweet from Sesame Street, which I thought could not be beat. But then someone replied with this tweet about who really killed Hae. YOU GUYS. It has the cell phone and everything!

This guy carves beautiful designs in underground caves. Lovely. [HT Kathy]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My other job

What does it say about me that I am in danger of loving my on-the-side job (accompanist) more than my actual, I-have-an-MA-for-this job? I don't know, but it's true. I love music. I love accompanying. I make mistakes sometimes, and I get a little wistful being surrounded by people with lovely voices when I can't make my own do much of anything, but I love being there with these musicians and talking about music, trying out music, singing/playing a piece this way and that, seeing what works.

Our concert is next week, so we were in the throes of rehearsal all this week. In addition, there was a master class tonight. I accompanied six students. Between those students and the concert, I have eleven pieces on my plate right now. And when I'm playing at the university, I get to use their fancy grand pianos. I've always been kind of meh about grand pianos. I mean, I get that they're nicer and everything, but I am really quite happy with our digital piano and couldn't be bothered with pining for anything grander.

Until now. There is so much power in a grand piano, and I really notice it now that I'm playing on one regularly. Sigh.

The solo voice students I'm accompanying come to my house to practice. It's so nice to not have to arrange for a babysitter, and I love that the kids get to hear them sing, and see Mom at work. In fact, one or the other of the girls often comes with me to choir practice. I'm teaching them how to be my page-turners, and I think they'll be ready for the concert next week.

Oh yeah, yesterday one of the voice students I hadn't met before showed up at my door to practice a song. She looked a little familiar, and I told her so. She made some comment about how she works on campus and maybe I'd seen her there, blah blah blah. But just before she left, I realized who she was - the woman who was proposed to in the video I blogged about a few weeks ago! So basically I'm famous now, too.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Five things I would totally sign up for if we lived in the US

1. Netflix. Like, the DVD version. If the university library doesn't have a movie/old TV show, and it's not on iTunes, I basically can't watch it.

2a. Amazon, in general; and

2b. Amazon Prime, in particular. You don't even know how good you have it with Amazon. Think about it: there is a place where you can find anything you need, for a good price, and they will send it to your house. It is magic. And we don't have access to that here. Amazon.ae, why do you not exist yet??

(Side rant: this is especially on my mind because of kids' socks, of all things. The girls have to wear white, non-crew socks to school. I bought ten pairs of socks from Centrepoint at the beginning of the school year and they are just the most awful socks imaginable. They are white, but after a few washes, they all shrunk to different sizes. So now instead of a tidy sock bin by the front door, there is a frazzled heap of single socks that were discarded in the frantic search for a somewhat matching pair. Meanwhile, there are these socks lurking on Amazon, mocking me with their effortless quality and low price. Hmph.)

3. Stitch Fix. Every couple of months, I get to scheming about how I could maybe make this work with my overseas address, but...no.

4. Online grocery shopping. This is related to Amazon Prime, I guess. I would love to reach the point where I only have to go to the store to get milk, produce, and local ingredients that are probably super hard to find in the US, JUST SAYIN'.

5. THE LIBRARY. What I said about Netflix and DVDs above? It applies to books, too. If the university library doesn't have it, and it's not available as a library book for Kindle, I have to agonize over whether or not to pay $10ish to read a book. That's fine for a book that I love and will re-read or whose author I really want to support, but for the everyday one-off? No way.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

The best kids' water bottle for school (and elsewhere)

My kids have gone through a lot of water bottles, and this year, we finally found the best one for school. It's the Nalgene Kids On the Fly (OTF).

I don't want to spend too much time on the deficiencies of other water bottles we've tried unsuccessfully, except to say that this one (from Camelbak) was our second favorite - the only problem is that curious kids eventually chew through the spout and then it leaks. The Nalgene OTF is great because:

- it's just the right size. It holds enough water to get them through the day, but not so much that it takes up their entire backpack.

- they can fill it through the drinking spout. This is a weird advantage that I didn't think of myself, but I noticed it when I saw how my kids actually like to fill up their water bottles. Hint: they sometimes cannot be bothered to screw off the entire cap. Especially at school when there's a line of kids at the water cooler and they're over eager to get back to playing at recess.

- IT DOES NOT LEAK. Praise the heavens.

- the top closure is fun and easy for the kids to pop open, which is great, but I was afraid it would wear out the tension and lead to leakage. BUT: it also has a reinforced metal clip thing that keeps it closed, so no matter how often they pop the top for fun, you always know it's closed tight if the metal clip is in place.

- it has a loop integrated into the design, which means you can clip it on a backpack if you want to.

- it has a free-flowing water spout with no valve - so great for older kids who aren't so prone to spills.

It took a couple of years for us to find a good kids' water bottle for school. If you're looking for one, too, I hope this helps! And I just re-read this and it totally reads like a sponsored post. It's not. I just thought I'd share in case anyone else has been as frustrated with school water bottles as I have been.

Friday, December 05, 2014

December 5th, outsourced

Pianograms! - neat visualizations of note frequency in songs. [HT Andrew]

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl. Haunting. [HT Ashi]

How I drank urine and bat blood to survive - great story with a happy ending! [HT Jeremy]

The Economist has a handy chart of the world's longest commercial flights. I've flown the third- and sixth-longest by mileage (DXB-LAX and DXB-SFO), but I wish they'd do a chart by duration instead. Nobody gets off a plane and says wow, that flight was 13,037 kilometers!

Those remains really are Richard III's...and they reveal that somewhere in there, someone's father was not who they thought. I have seen this reported so many varying ways, I'm not sure what the exact conclusion is. Some articles are saying this affects the current royal family, but it doesn't, right? Because Richard III is from a totally different branch, right? Who's up on their English royal dynasties?

Here are some great family photo fails.

Maybe this will get its own blog post, but on Monday, an American teacher was stabbed to death in a bathroom at a mall in Abu Dhabi, by a woman wearing abaya and niqab, no less. Fortunately, they caught the murderer yesterday. The Abu Dhabi police have put out the surveillance video as well as video of their arrest of the suspect. They also set the video to the soundtrack of - wait for it - The Dark Knight. Very strange all around. [Content advisory for the video - they included still photos of the crime scene that don't show the body or anything but are still pretty horrific.] Edited to add: I'm pretty sure that's a veiled female SWAT agent at 5:30 which, if I were to ever use a certain term that starts with a b and ends with double s, IT WOULD BE NOW.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Putting camping on hold

I love camping, but I am so mad at it right now. We just got back from a trip to the mountains in Fujairah. It was great, and I was reminded of many amazing campouts we've had with the girls all over the US, the UAE, and Oman. There is something soul-stirring about sleeping outside in the mountains or on the beach or in a forest, with my husband and kids snuggled up close. It reminds me that the world is big and beautiful and we are small but together.

Enter Sterling. Objectively, I know camping will get better and better as he grows up. But that didn't make it any easier last night when Sterling slept from 9-11pm and then called it good enough. Eleven pm! I've done the 4am thing while camping plenty of times, but 11pm is not even close to morning. We were in the mountains with a few other families, and rather than disturb everyone with our fussy baby, a little after midnight I drove Sterling back down the mountain and back home for five hours of truly lovely sleep, then back up the mountain this morning to rejoin the family. It was ridiculous. But it was making the best of a frustrating situation.

The most honest conversations sometimes happen at night. Last night around midnight, Jeremy and I spoke in hushed, defeated tones about how we can't go camping again until Sterling sleeps through the night. We vowed to keep each other strong, to remind each other that someday soon when one of us says "hey, why don't we go camping?" the other person is there to take a stand and say "oh honey no."


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