Thursday, June 04, 2015

This blog has moved

It's time to move away from Blogger. All the old posts of this blog and my Jordan and Syria blogs, as well as new posts from this day forward, can be found at Bridget of Arabia.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Apartment hunting, Finnish style

It has been years since Jeremy and I have been in charge of finding our own place to live. We were handed this villa on a silver platter when we moved to the UAE five years ago, and despite some things that we don't like about our free house, it was a relief to not have to worry about finding it in the first place.

Not so with Finland. The apartment hunt is in full force right now, even though most listings show an available move-in date that is too early for us. But I keep looking because the more I look, the more I know exactly what we're looking for. And then when a suitable place gets listed, we can pounce on it right away.

The website we're using to peruse listings is Here are some of the things I've learned about Finnish apartments.

1. Even tiny apartments have saunas. We will probably be in a 80-90sqm apartment - that's 860-960 square feet. There are a lot of things I would do with a spare corner or closet-sized area in a smallish apartment, and put in a sauna is not high on the list. But these places almost all have them - probably 80%! And since we will probably only have two bedrooms, I keep joking with people who say they're going to come visit us that they'll have to sleep in the sauna. But the joke is, they literally will have to because it will be the only free space available.

2. Almost all the apartments have balconies. And these are not token, tiny balconies that allow enough room to step outside and turn around - no. They are often glassed-in, with quality flooring. I don't think they're counted in the area of the house, but some of them should because they offer a chance for additional living space.

3. High-speed internet is wired into the apartment and included in the rent. Almost always.

4. Water is dang expensive. Charges are estimated up front and then your payment is adjusted if you use more or less. We will be paying at least 100€ per month for water, according to the rates listed. I'm hoping I'm misunderstanding something but I actually asked an agent and she seemed to confirm that.

5. We could live in an old wooden house. Jeremy is not a fan of this possibility, but I confess I find it appealing. They are all over the center of the city, especially toward the port area, and they date from the turn of the century. The interiors have been updated, of course, but there are still cool things like brick walls and old fireplaces. Here's a pink one:

6. Most of the places have washing machine hookups, but many also have communal laundry facilities on site. And guess what? You sign up for the time you want to use them! I think that is the best! Because one of the worst things about gearing yourself up to do laundry and trekking it all down to the machines is then finding them all in use. UGH.

7. Turku's municipal websites are so helpful. If I find a place we'd hypothetically be interested in (if it were available during our move-in period), then I head over to Turku's map system and start looking at things like nearby schools, bus routes, bus stops, parks, etc., all of which I can set to show up as layers on the map.

8. There are almost no bathtubs. I think in all the dozens of listings I've looked at, I've only seen one bathtub. Those telephone-shower things are the norm.

9. Finally, the most confusing thing about apartment hunting online is that in Finnish real estate listings, a living room is counted as a room. So a "3-room" apartment only has two BEDrooms. Or, even more confusingly (and disappointingly), it could only have one bedroom, but have a dining room and a living room. I find this annoying because when I am wondering about how many rooms an apartment has, I am specifically wondering about bedrooms. Oh well.

I'm anxiously awaiting the next few weeks as apartments in our time frame start showing up! For now, it's lots of fun looking at listings with no thought of commitment, but the stakes are about to get higher.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Weaned? Or: CAFFEINE.

So Sterling is weaned, maybe? When I went to Finland at the end of April and didn't nurse him for three days, I thought that would be the end of it. But when I got back, he picked up again with no problem and I was so engorged that I was happy to let him do it. (Side note: dealing with engorgement issues in a foreign country right before a job interview just to get my bra to fit is not something I ever envisioned myself doing. Life is surprising sometimes.)

Then he got a stuffy nose. That's how Magdalena ended up weaning herself - she couldn't be bothered to nurse with a blocked nose. Sterling put up more of an effort but for the past few days he hasn't minded missing or skimping on his brekkie nurse - the only feeding we still had.

Well, with all the moving preparations and the stresses and business of everyday life, I have been feeling so run down and exhausted. On Thursday, it occurred to me that since I wasn't really nursing Sterling anymore, I could have - dun dun DUN - caffeine! So I picked myself up a Coke Zero on the way to work and it was AMAZING. 200mLs in and I felt like I could conquer the world. I played the piano like a boss and was chipper in class even though my students were like zzzzz. I didn't even care that it was blazing hot outside when I rode my bike home. I got stuff DONE and I felt good doing it.

It had been a long time since I'd been able to rely on a small drink of Coke for a little pick-me-up, and let me tell you, I'm so glad I had a day of caffeine to put the spring back in my step. I feel like my energy meter has been reset.

And happy weaning, maybe, to Sterling!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

May 2015 books

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Second reading 30 April 2015. Not as good as I expected the second time around. The implausibilities were so much more...implausible. I'd probably give it four stars now, but as a first-time read, five stars still stands.

A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to PowerA Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power by Paul Fischer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. The only way I could have loved this book more (like a 5-star rating) is if I were a film buff, especially an Asian film buff. Since I'm not, the first half was a little slow-moving for me.

It was great to read the whole story behind this incredible sequence of events, which in newspaper articles about North Korea is usually allotted a standard, once-sentence "by the way" treatment. It is a CRAZY story.

North Korea continues to just be the worst, though.

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not entirely sure this one will hold up to a second reading, but hot dang was it a great read the first time around.

It started out a little clunky and silly, but by about a third of the way in, I was hooked. I loved the Gladiator/ancient Egypt vibe, the incredibly high stakes, and all the interesting characters with their conflicting (and often hidden) motivations.

Some people have truly awesome imaginations, and Tahir is one of those people. This is a very rich world she has created. Plus, "Blood Shrike" has got to be one of the best government titles ever.

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a jumble of Graceling, The Thief, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. But Selena (so help me I can't even with the names in this book and this is how I pronounced it in my mind SO THIS IS HOW I WILL SPELL IT.) (THAT GOES FOR YOU, TOO, CALE.) isn't as formidable as Katsa, or as endearing as Eugenides, or as sharp as Hermione, and the book suffers for it.

And Dorian, bless him, is supposed to be the charming rake, but he is no Thorne or Sturmhond.

But dad gummit, if it wasn't fun to read this book despite all of that. So yes, I will be reading the rest of the series (I hear there is a scene where the heroine burns all her ball gowns. CANNOT. WAIT.).

The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Second reading May 2015: Delicious, delicious book. I loved it even more the second time around. This was the book that made me give The Raven Boys a chance when it came out, and I'm so glad I did. And now I can see aspects of certain Raven Boys characters in The Scorpio Races.

Plus, Sean Kendrick is the original Mysterious Loner Dude, am I right? Except better somehow. And obviously not literally the original since this book is from 2011, but the term was invented for him to eventually fulfill to the max, FOR SURE.

Also, I cannot stop laughing at this line: "Dory is what Mum used to call a 'strong-looking woman,' which meant that, from the back, she looked like a man, and, from the front, you preferred the back." I put the book down and just giggled to myself for a few minutes at that one. And then I read it to Jeremy and cackled some more. Classic Maggie Stiefvater.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Spring 2015 repertoire, ranked

This semester for my accompanist job, I learned 27 pieces. Twenty-seven! Tomorrow is Juries, where each of the seven applied voice students sings two songs for a panel of professors. One song is chosen by the student; the other is selected by the panel. So tomorrow I will be bringing ALL THE MUSIC with me and be ready to play whatever.

Here are the songs ranked in order of how much I enjoyed playing them. This is NOT a ranking of how well the students/choir sang them, or how difficult they were for me to learn. It's just my gut ranking of how I feel when I think about or remember playing them.

Will There Really Be a Morning? THE BEST.

Don't Rain on My Parade. Super fun once you get past some quirky rhythms and tricky passages.

Sure on this Shining Night. I love that the accompaniment is a counterpoint for the voice performance.

Amor. Once I got past the hate, I found...LOVE. However, this piece has left me with a lasting fear of sixths.

Deep River

Voi che Sapete. This piece is single-handedly responsible for giving me some kind of freakish tendonitis in my left hand/arm that I am, even as I type, treating with ice in preparation for tomorrow. Also, SIXTHS. But lovely and a fun romp if you can get through the tricky bits.

I Dreamed a Dream

Ole Muie Rendera. More fun to sing than play, but I just jammed along on the piano as best I could.

Als Luise Die Briefe...THE original break-up song!! (The title is "as Louise burned the letter from her unfaithful lover.") So dramatic to play!

An die Musik. Ah, bouncy Schubert.

Was ist Sylvia? See above.

Vittoria Mio Core. I thought I had this piece down and then the professor was like, um, it's supposed to be played twice as fast. DANGIT. Also, it has an unfortunately difficult last line - the stakes are very high at that point, you know? You can't end on a wrong note!

Ave Verum. Clear, predictable Mozart. Bless him.

They All Laughed. Magdalena: "Mama, that is a really weird song." Yes it is, sweetie. Yes it is. But it is fairly fun to play!

Anything You Can Do. Hard to follow along with the performers but always a crowd-pleaser.

Sebben Crudele. Another Italian aria in the "play this as fast as you can and then double it" category.

Light of a Clear Blue Morning. Fact: I still randomly break into the "liiiiiiiight of a clear blue" refrain.

Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento. Yawn.

Lullaby (from The Consul). SO WEIRD, seriously!

French song whose name I can't remember

Razzle Dazzle. Richard Gere = eww.

Tu Lo Sai. Yawn again.

Long Time Ago. Lots of potential, but the accompaniment is all over the place. Also, there is no correct tempo for this piece. No matter what, it drags, or else sounds rushed.

Give Me Jesus

Let It Be. I could play this in my sleep.

Take Care of this House. This song and the one below are the only songs I really didn't like this semester.

All the Pretty Little Horses.

What a wonderful semester of music it has been!

Friday, May 29, 2015

May 29th, outsourced

I know it's The Daily Mail, but their use of caps was absolutely justified in this context: "Man who blamed his permanently blocked nose on hay fever sneezes out toy dart which had been stuck there for 44 YEARS."

In the category of "welp, I guess my kids are screwed": delayed umbilical cord clamping may benefit children years later. [HT Andrew]

I could watch this video demonstration of how to make LEGO gummy candies on an endless loop. [HT Andrew]


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Road works graveyard

I passed this construction sign graveyard on the way to the girls' school today. For some reason, it made me smile. Very representative of life around here!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Baby comparisons

The girls and I were looking at their baby pictures the other day and I was struck by how different I looked after each of the kids' births.

Shellshocked, with Miriam:

I AM AWESOME natural birth high, with Magdalena:

I am still awesome and so is natural birth but I am so glad it's over, with Sterling:

Then there are the babies themselves. Here are all three kids at age 5 months:

And again at 20 months (Sterling's current age).

The girls don't actually look that much alike at all, either as babies or nowadays, and some days I see more of one sister in Sterling and some days the other. I don't think Magdalena looks like either Jeremy or me. Sterling is a copy of his dad and people tell me all the time that Miriam is a copy of me.

Funny that we family members can all look alike somehow and yet so different!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The cost of stitches in the UAE

I was going through some papers today and found the itemized list of charges for Magdalena's stitches and Sterling's non-stitches from January. I found it interesting and thought you might, too. You can click on the images to make them bigger.

The statement above is for Magdalena's visit. She split her chin at the playground and ended up needing something like eight stitches. Some of the charges listed have discounts applied; I believe that's because we are from AUS - this is a university hospital and we get a similar (30%) discount at the dental hospital, so I'm assuming that's what it is. Our insurance pays the resulting 80% and we pay 20%.

We were charged 210dhs ($57) for the consultation with the doctor. Various supplies (dressings, chuck pads, stitches, needles, etc.) cost a total of 46dhs ($12). Then there were some medicines (acetaminophen, lidocaine, and some antibiotic) for 59dhs ($16).

The biggest charge was for the act of the doctor suturing the wound - it took 20-30 minutes and we were charged 770dhs ($209). Altogether, Magdalena's stitches cost almost $300 and we paid a little over $50.

On to Sterling's visit two days later. He tripped and fell while holding salad tongs and they cut through his eyelid and around his tear duct.
Again we have the consultation fee of 210dhs ($57). Then supplies for a stunning almost-5dhs ($1.36). The dressing/taping of the wound by a nurse (not the doctor) cost 70dhs ($19). After insurance, we paid about $15 total.

So that's what stitches (and near-stitches) will cost you in the UAE, at least in Sharjah at this one hospital. By far the most expensive thing was the doctor stitching up Magdalena's chin. It was interesting to see how cheap the supplies were - I feel like I'm always reading about insanely high prices for things like thermometer covers on US insurance bills. As you can see here, a thermometer probe cover will run you about 13 cents!

Friday, May 22, 2015

May 22nd, outsourced

Photos of the plastic surgery scene in South Korea.

I haven't watched the documentary yet, but the horrifying story of an ill-fated excursion of schoolchildren to Mt. Hood in the 80s was one I heard a lot during my childhood.

I saw this all over the place and it warmed my heart every time - that photo of a professor holding the fussy baby of one of his students. Awww.

Yet another installment in the our-adjunct-faculty-system-is-broken series of articles. I found this one particularly interesting. [HT Ashi]

Hottest heads of state: young US presidents edition. [HT Liz]

Oh my gosh, I read number one on this list of things that will break any mom's sanity and I totally agreed already. Also: "Clean outfit worn for only 12 minutes and placed in the hamper on actual dirty clothes."

Good books from the last five years. I've read a few of these and agree for the most part. However, I thought The Lifeboat was awful. [HT Kathy]

At Afghan weddings, his side, her side, and 600 strangers. This article will be my new conversation topic with every Afghan I meet from now on. [HT Kristi]

A sportsball player let his toddler daughter join in a press conference. Adorable.

In the morbidly funny category, we have an honest-to-goodness job application to join Al Qaeda. Come for the article; stay for the comments! I laughed so hard I cried. [HT Blair]

Thursday, May 21, 2015


They say ISIS has entered the ancient town of Palmyra (Tadmor) in Syria. The Roman ruins there are extensive and dramatic - a well-preserved town and temple down below, a brooding citadel above, and a chain of crumbling watchtowers [edited - they're tombs] stretching into the desert. It's in the middle of nowhere now, but it was once a hub of trade and battle. If you've heard of the warrior queen Zenobia from the third century, Palmyra was her kingdom.

Here are some photos of Palmyra from happier days when we were there in 2004 and 2005.

Our sweet ride from Damascus to Palmyra - a "Happy Jerney" bus. It's about a five-hour drive through some seriously empty desert.

Empty, except for the Bagdad Cafe. There are some pit toilets out back and Ugarit Cola and Jexy for sale in a small indoor space.

The view from the citadel, looking down at the ruins of the city. I told you they were extensive! The cardo maximus at Palmyra is glorious to behold.


Sunset at the citadel.

From the ruins, looking up at the citadel.

The cardo maximus.

Amphitheater. (Photo credit my dad.)

Ruins/citadel by day. (Photo credit my dad.)

Bedu woman in Palmyra (photo credit my dad).

I love the activity of this photo - these guys peddled horse and camel rides to tourists, and I think in this photo they were just messing around racing each other. (Photo credit my dad.)

I hope the people and treasures in Palmyra are keeping safe tonight.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Steven and Kristi

Abra (water taxi) selfie in Bur Dubai this morning.

My brother Steven and his wife Kristi came to visit us for a week. They left this afternoon and now we are lonely and sad.

Highlights of their stay included:

1. Lots of discussions about candy, such as candy discoveries they made at the store, the relative merits of various Twix and Kit-Kat varieties, and how Skittles do not even taste the same anymore.

2. In-depth analysis of the songs of Evita. I think Jeremy hated us all a little bit that night at dinner when we three kept bursting into song in fits and starts, highlighting sections of the musical we liked the most.

3. Me coming down with a cold about an hour after Steven did. So whatever he was suffering, I knew that's what I was in for in an hour. It was eerie.

4. Wanting to play Settlers of Catan together one night, but then we were sick and also a few months ago I moved the box somewhere Sterling couldn't reach it...and then last night I could not find it. I'm sure it will turn up when we move.

5. Eating the American goodies they brought us. Kristi went to the store in NYC and bought us Gushers, mint Oreos, Goldfish crackers, and other delicacies. They have all already been consumed.

6. Watching Sterling bond with them. He took a shine to them the moment they walked in the door - it was as if he knew they were his people. Even though he never was able to pronounce their names - he called them "guys." I'm sure he means it as a compliment.

The best part was that when we said goodbye, we all knew it was only for about two more months! It had been almost two years since I saw them last, so it's nice to say goodbye for only a short time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Trains in Finland

I spent a lot of time on trains and buses while I was in Finland:

Helsinki airport - Turku (two separate buses)
Turku - Vaasa (three separate trains; more on that later)
Vaasa - Helsinki (two separate trains)

Since I had several appointments to keep in a short amount of time, these train rides were scheduled with little margin for error. I was especially worried about the trains from Vaasa to Helsinki - if I missed a connection, or if the train was delayed, I would have missed my flight home.

Luckily, everything ran spectacularly on time except for one train ride. And happily, it was the one train ride where I had a time cushion (Turku to Vaasa). The only thing that suffered from the two-hour eventual delay was some kick-back time in a hotel room by myself in Vaasa. Here is the story of the delay - it was a crazy experience taken up by a notch due to the fact that I don't speak Finnish.

First train: Turku - Tampere. Fifteen minutes in, the train came to a stop and the conductor made a lengthy announcement in Finnish over the intercom. I did not understand a word of what he said (except for "Tampere"), but when he said it, all my fellow passengers groaned collectively so I knew it was bad news. A nice young woman took me under her wing and explained that the track was broken, so we'd have to get off at an earlier stop and take a bus the rest of the way to the Tampere train station.

At that stop, I hustled off the train with 120+ of my Finnish co-passengers and we sorted ourselves into two buses: one for those with connections in Tampere, and one for those finishing their journey there. I and 59 others had connections - the reason I know the number is because we filled the bus to the exact seat. To this day I don't know if this was some kind of spectacular planning on the part of the Finnish railway authorities, but it certainly struck me as being providentially efficient that the bus fit us perfectly. There were lots of announcements and negotiations and discussion, all in Finnish throughout all of this - I just smiled and nodded and ran when they did, and sat down on a bus when they did.

Once we pulled up in Tampere, those of us trying to catch a connection to Seinäjoki ran to the terminal, found the track number, and then ran to catch the train. Personally, I was in heels, lugging a rolly suitcase. (Side note: heels while out and about are so impractical in Finland - aside from the obvious cold temperatures and unsuitability for walking long distances, the heels got stuck in the holes of all the scrape-your-boots-off grates outside building entrances! It was awful! Here in the UAE we are very spoiled to wear pretty much whatever we want without regard for weather. Anyway.)

The original train had left more than an hour previous, but we made this later train. Phew!

My original helper was getting off in Seinäjoki, so I found a new friend to follow to Vaasa, still from that first train in Turku. She didn't speak English, so we mostly just made eye contact and smiled at each other. Of course we had long missed the original connection, but there was (thankfully) a later train that we both got on. I think it had even waited a few minutes for us.

Finally, around 9 o'clock that night, we arrived in Vaasa, I got to my hotel room and took off those awful high heels. I decided to take it all as an adventure rather than an inconvenience, even as I sincerely hoped that was all the train-delay I'd experience in Finland. I really really didn't want to miss my flight the next day.

That next day in Vaasa, by the way, I dressed up but wore flats as I walked the 2km to my appointment. Around the corner from the building, I changed into my heels. Win.

In general, the trains in Finland were fantastic. The longer-distance regional trains all had Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi! It was like living in the future! I even video-chatted with Jeremy and the kids while riding one. The smaller city-to-city trains were a little more rustic - more like what I remember trains in Russia being (but the nice trains in Russia), with no Wi-Fi. So instead I sat back and read O Pioneers as the fields flew by my window.

And then once I transferred to a train with Wi-Fi that last morning on the way to Helsinki, I logged into my email and saw a job offer and knew that whether I accepted it or not, I had just entered Tomorrow, When Our World Changed territory. In a train, in Seinäjoki.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Concerts this week and last

The university choir/voice concerts were last week! I wasn't nearly as nervous as last semester, though Amor in particular was a battle. I won two of the nights (opening and closing nights), but I think it bested me the middle night. Oh well. Jeremy was in the audience that night and he said he couldn't even tell I made mistakes. Good husband.

Magdalena was my page-turner this semester. She did a great job, and I'm not sure what she enjoyed more - being on stage with the lights and attention, or hanging out in the green room with the students in between numbers. I was on stage more often than her (not all my pieces needed page-turning), and I'd peek in on her once in a while to see her busy at the whiteboard, surrounded by students, playing hangman or pictionary.

On closing night, the students gave flowers to the director, me - and Magdalena! Her own mini bouquet! It was adorable.

This week, I'm busy with the university dance concert. I'll play two songs to start off the show - Don't Rain on My Parade, and Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better). I'm excited for both, but especially the duet since it is going to be sung by two Emirati girls who are good friends. It should be very cute.

After that, I only have juries (voice final exams) to worry about - two songs per student, seven students, most of which we've been working on throughout this semester anyway. It will be a very music-filled few weeks!

Edited to add a few more photos I found on AUS social media feeds.

Friday, May 15, 2015

May 15th, outsourced

A woman got lost in the wilderness while running a trail race and sustained herself by consuming her own breastmilk. All kinds of crazy and awesome. It also led me to think about how long such a cycle could be perpetuated - how long could you live on your own breastmilk? Sorry if this is gross to anyone. But if it is, get over it. IT'S JUST BREASTMILK.

The Arab battle for US skies. My brother and his wife are here visiting thanks to a killer Emirates sale - two tickets, JFK to DXB direct, $600 each. That is a steal.

Here's your time-waster for today: what is your today name? Miriam's today name is Olive, but, so weirdly, her 1890s name is Magdalena. What are the odds?? [HT Jen]

John Oliver on paid family leave. Brilliant as usual.

Perhaps you have seen this video of people flying with jetpacks around Dubai. We live in the future, man. [HT Matt]

Oman from the sky! One of my favorite places in the whole world! [HT Jeremy]

Oh this is a very sad "apartment" listing, complete with acceptable hours for bathroom usage and everything.

Congrats, you have an all-male panel! [HT Andrew]

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What to do about school?

Here's what's running around in my mind right now: what to do about school for the girls this fall.

Our options, in summary:

1. Enroll them in an all-Finnish school. This would be the neighborhood school closest to our house where all the kids in our area would be attending. They could probably walk or ride their bikes. The system there will give them mother-tongue support for the first year, but it will still be a very difficult transition for them and for us. But this option is probably the fast-track to assimilation, if the slightly rougher one.

2. Enroll them in a bilingual school. Turku happens to have a language magnet school, and there are tracks in English/Finnish, German/Finnish, and Russian/Finnish (we'd go for the English/Finnish for the girls, but maybe we'd get creative with Sterling in a few years, mwahahahaha). As a linguist with interest and MA experience in bilingual education programs, this school is like a magical wonderland to me. However, the application period is long past, and even if they did let us apply now, the assessment interview for the girls would be in Finnish. Which they do not speak yet. But they DO speak English, which seems like an asset for the program. I'm in contact with the principal to see if I can woo her to my side, though it's not looking good.

3. Enroll them in the international school. We are lucky to have this option even if it is currently not my favorite. The international school is an English-medium public school but has plenty of (mostly?) Finnish students, plus random foreigners like us. It is reportedly a very good school, but my main concern is that my kids would not learn Finnish very quickly. However, this would be a much gentler landing for them. This is also the hands-down winner should we only be in Turku for a year - but we won't know if that's the case or not until said year is almost over. Does anyone have a crystal ball? Also, this school is located in an area of town where we will probably not be living, which means they couldn't walk or ride bikes there.

The good thing is that the girls are guaranteed a spot at option 1 or 3. My favorite choice is 2, though. We could do a compromise - the international school for the first year for a softer landing and to hedge our bets against leaving after a year, and then try to get them in to option 2 for the next year if we're staying.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Last month I went on a trip by myself to Finland. Yes! I flew Norwegian Air from Dubai to Stockholm. I had a long enough stopover there to take a train into the city and join a walking tour. It was fantastic and cold and I was so tired thanks to DXB's penchant for red-eye outgoing flights. I took the following pictures:
At Sergels Torg in central Stockholm, waiting for the walking tour to start. So tired.

Yes, I took three pictures in Stockholm and one of them was of a fruit stand. I could not believe the berries they had out, and for such low prices!

In front of the building where they hand out some of the Nobel Prizes. We saw some other stuff too, but I didn't feel like taking lame tourist mobile phone photos.

Then I flew from Stockholm to Helsinki. Then I took a bus to Turku and in the already unnaturally extended daylight that evening, I walked myself to a hotel and slept for ten hours straight without waking up. I have not done that in literally years.

The Kauppahalli.

The River Aura.

The cathedral on campus at the University of Turku.

On the way home, I connected through Oslo but there wasn't enough time to go into the city. However, I did walk on the tarmac to get to the plane, so technically, have I "been" to Oslo?

The only things I brought home with me were some licorice chocolate bars for me and the girls (drooool, they were so good), and a job offer from the University of Turku.

That's right! We're moving to Finland. I promise I will share more details soon, but we are in the thick of getting residence permits, etc. lined up and so there's a lot we just don't know right now. The basics:

1. We are so happy here in the UAE and Sharjah in general and at AUS specifically, but this is a good chance for me to do something with my career. Jeremy has been granted a one-year leave from AUS (this is not at all uncommon - professors do it all the time for research, etc.). Everyone is asking us if we are going to come back after one year. We intend to, but if I love my job and we love Finland and it's better for our family, then we intend to stay there, you know what I mean?

2. We will still visit the US this summer, which means we will probably move from Sharjah after school gets out, visit the US, and then move to Turku. My main stressor right now is waiting for the residence permit approval. We can't go to Finland until that is granted, and even though I have all the necessary documents, it's one of those bureaucratic processes that can't be rushed. Grr.

3. We plan to send the girls to Finnish public school, and I promise it is with our eyes wide open that this will likely be a really, really hard thing for them for at least three or four months, and probably longer. That said, we watched the "Everything is Awesome" video (from The Lego Movie) in Finnish the other day and Magdalena was singing along, in Finnish, with the chorus, by the second verse. So.

4. I will be teaching classes like Academic English, Academic Writing, and possibly other topics, too.

That's all for now!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Signs and posters

Seen lately.

I was surprised to see Annie's mac 'n cheese at Spinney's. I was also surprised to see that it costs 17.50dhs per box ($4.76). PER BOX. Does it cost that much in the US and I'm just out of touch? I mean, I spent close to $10 on a (big) box of Cheerios a few months ago, but still.

Student elections were last week. Enjoy the posters! I always do, every year.

This is not a sign or poster, but is in fact a flavor of chips called Labneh and Mint! Do you have Labneh and Mint potato chips? (Labneh is like yogurt.)

Friday, May 08, 2015

May 8th, outsourced

From Reddit: the hardest words to pronounce in English. The list is skewed toward second-language speakers of English. Very interesting.

Henna crowns for cancer patients. Lovely. [HT Kathy]

Ken Craig went on the Whole 30 diet and lost "11 lbs, my tendency towards snacking, my sense of humor, and my will to live."

Discover AUS! This is where I live, work, and studied.

I love this series: how Western media would cover Baltimore if it were a foreign country. [HT Crys]

You need to know that some kindred spirit uploaded the entire Anne of Green Gables (+ Avonlea) movie to YouTube.

Those guys from Buzzfeed tried on pregnancy bellies for a day to see what it was like. I died a little inside when the doctor said women gain 25-30 pounds during pregnancy, though. Um.

My friend's husband wrote a book about improving our relationships with technology!

The movie trailer that spoils everything, from Studio C.

As soon as you have 14 minutes to spare, sit down and watch the heck out of this mini-documentary about the most insane amusement park ever. DO IT. IT IS CRAZY.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Arabian Nights

AUS recently put on Mary Zimmerman's production of Arabian Nights, based on the Thousand Nights and One Night stories. It was dramatic and musical and funny and so well done. I went to (almost) all the performances because I was the pianist, but I was sitting in the balcony area so my view wasn't the best. The night Miriam and Magdalena attended, I had already "seen" the play five or six times. So from my perch, I watched them watching the play. I loved seeing them giggle at the silly parts and be entranced by the dramatic parts.

It was also a lovely cultural experience. I continue to be amazed at the students here. Can you imagine the difficulties of pulling together a cast of a few dozen people from so many different countries, backgrounds, religions, and native languages? It ended up being beautiful - each person brought a particular flavor to their role.

For example, have you ever wanted to see a veiled woman playing an American cowboy spurned lover, complete with accent, hat, and rubber chicken?

Other highlights:
 Scheherazade and the Sultan.

 These two were the best, even if I can't remember their character names.

 The set. It was even more stunning in real life and I wish they could have left it like that - it's actually just the rotunda central area in a regular old building (the arts building - or "old business building" as it's sometimes STILL called). The audience was practically on stage with the actors, which made it even more fun for the girls when they attended.

It didn't involve these particular characters, but there was one story - it might actually have been a story within a story within a story, there were a few of those - that centered on a fart. You'd better believe the girls enjoyed that.

I'm so glad for awesome cultural events like this! And it was fun to be a part of it each night.


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