Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March 2015 books

This Shattered World (Starbound, #2)This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant at times, mostly just good. It's different, at least - the characters and the story never quite went where I expected them to go. I liked Jubilee and Flynn, though they were never Lilac and Tarver (good thing those two show up in the book later - at first their scenes seemed totally gratuitously cameo-y, but it did not take long for me to really enjoy having them around again). Also, this was another stellar (ha ha) audiobook performance. Some day I need to read this and These Broken Stars in print to see if they hold up.

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and WarIt's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

THIS BOOK. SO GOOD. THIS WOMAN. SO AMAZING. Here are the things the author did so well:

1. Explaining why photojournalists risk their lives to take pictures. I - and I think the majority of people out there - tend to jump to the "it's not worth it" conclusion, but I think Ms. Aaddario made a good case for the work she does. I definitely gained a new appreciation for what journalists and photojournalists go through to inform and influence.

2. Talking us through what it's like as a woman in this business. She wasn't preachy or in-your-face about it, but she was very frank about when it's awesome because you can access female subjects in conservative areas, and when it sucks because you are underestimated or shut out of stories or groped.

3. Weaving a compelling love story into her memoir. This came out of nowhere for me, but this book would make a smashing good movie someday, and it would be totally swoon-y.

4. Describing the impact of motherhood on her career. Not that she and I have much in common, but her thoughts on how hard it is to find balance and navigate the professional world when your equilibrium has shifted to include a tiny helpless person really resonated with me.

5. Pictures. There are so many of them in this book, and they are sprinkled throughout in appropriate moments, rather than being corralled into a center insert.

Definitely one of the best memoirs I've ever read. This woman is a rock-star photojournalist, wife, and mother, and I'm a better person for having read her book!

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's EliteWithout You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. On the whole, a very accessible, always interesting account of an outsider's time in North Korea. However, I did not like the author very much, which in a memoir is a big deal. She was deceptive and pandering and reckless and - most offensively - pretentious. Every time she called that man in Brooklyn - who could not even be bothered to self-censor his emails to her in freaking NORTH KOREA - her "lover," I wanted to chuck my Kindle across the room. BOYFRIEND. JUST SAY BOYFRIEND.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It's a very unusual story and as I read I was often lost in recollections of the very first English class I taught in Damascus. I was the first Westerner my students had ever met, and they loved telling me all about my own country. It was hard sometimes to listen to them tell me about how cruel my own government was to my own people, when all I would have to do to refute them would be to tell them to ask their parents about Hama. So yes, this book really resonated with me, even if I was also sometimes troubled by it.

I think we English teachers abroad sometimes think we can know our students because we spend hours with them every day in a classroom, and read their thoughts in essays, and observe them with each other. But over the years I've come to believe that our students are still essentially unknowable. As their teachers, and as cultural outsiders, we can never really know their world, not completely. The author of this book is sometimes clear about the ambiguous nature of her relationship with her students, but other times she is too sure of their inner thoughts and emotions. She's sure that they're becoming frustrated by the limitations of their internet, or she's sure they're becoming disillusioned by this or that aspect of NK dogma. And I just think we can never really know.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Probably more like 3.5 stars, but I'm bumping it up because hooray, I can pass this on to Miriam now that I'm done reading it! She was drawn in by the cover and kept asking me about the story. She hasn't read a lot of (perhaps any) science fiction, so I started to explain hovercrafts and robots. Then she said, "oh, so it's like Star Wars?" Yes. Yes it is, Miriam. Exactly like that.

I can't wait to see how she likes it!

My main complaint is that this book suffers from that syndrome where there is something really important the main character should be doing, but for reasons of Plot, she stands around thinking about it instead. JUST FIX THE DANG ANDROID, CINDER.

The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I give this one a very robust MEH. If you read the description and think you might like this book, go for it!!! If not, don't!!!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Smart phone decisions

I finally got a smart phone. My old dumb phone was about to die and rather than spend money on a new dumb phone, I decided to spend money on a new smart phone.

My first decision was which kind to get: iPhone, Android, or Windows? I went for Android, because I use Google for so many things.

The next decision was which actual phone to get. I asked about the HTC One, but they only had the two newest models and they were too expensive. So I was going to settle for a Samsung. But then, the super helpful store employee from Afghanistan (did YOU buy your smart phone from a guy from Afghanistan?) leveled with me. He was basically like, look, if you don't care about brand that much, you can get a lot more phone for your dirham if you buy an off-brand. And that is how I came home with a lovely phone from the Chinese brand ZTE, with more camera, memory, and other cool stuff than the equivalent Samsung, for much, much less money.

(The first thing I did when I got home was Google ZTE, though, to make sure it wasn't a total piece of junk. Turns out it's legit...enough. The only weird things I've noticed is that "frog" was misspelled under the ringtones as "forg," and you can draw Chinese characters on the keyboard to input them into text messages. Which is actually kind of cool.)

Finally, I had to decide whether to keep using the phone on a pre-pay basis, or spring for a data plan. Data plans are not that expensive here - Jeremy had one when we first moved here for 100dhs/month - around $27.50/month. But pre-pay is just so much cheaper that I couldn't convince myself to get a data plan. So I use WiFi to do whatever at home or other places where I can connect securely, and turn off data so it doesn't use up my credit anywhere else.

And now I'm a happy lady and I feel so fancy with a smart phone. Especially since you can't help but feel fancy when the selfie beautify function is turned on. Mmmm, plastic-y.

Friday, March 27, 2015

March 27th, outsourced

I am intrigued by this Kickstarter for a product called Germavoid. I am a fan of the pinky-finger-door-opening move myself.

When is cheese not cheese? Musings on how food names in foreign languages can gross us out unnecessarily.

University course catalog cover accidentally becomes perfect metaphor for America.

I am so delighted by the fact that the Wisconsin basketball team is delighted by the stenographer recording press interviews. Delightful.

You WILL want to read this amazing story about the search for Richard III's remains, and then the search for his descendants, and one of the descendants ended up building his coffin coffin for him (!!!!!!!). So fascinating.

Jon Ronson on internet shaming. (Admit it: you totally read this in his voice in your mind. I did.)

We need to talk about the fact that apparently you DON'T have to have been born in the US to be President??? Was I the only one who was not previously aware of the nuances of "natural-born citizen"?? One of the first things Americans say to me when they meet Sterling is that "oh, well, he can never be President!" But he can, because at birth, he was entitled to citizenship on the merits of Jeremy and me. Apparently?? I feel like I've been lied to all my life.

I do not at all know the backstory of this video of Hugh Jackman applying to be a teacher. But that probably makes it funnier. I find it hilarious.

Wow, so many good links this week: have a look at these images of Swedish men making the most of generous paternity leave policies. Some of these picture brought me to tears, probably because they remind me of Jeremy.

Why is American figure skating losing the cold war?

This is an old article that I think I even linked to a while ago, but it is relevant: the crash of EgyptAir 990.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A special visitor

This might be of interest to you: Jimmy Carter visited campus the other day. Sterling and I were running errands in the main building, then we went to the park for an hour. When I got home, facebook was alight with photos of Jimmy Carter in and around...the main building. We'd just missed him.

We get notable visitors every once in a while. Most we don't know about until they've already left, unless they're here to give a speech or attend a public event. Will Smith came here with one of his kids a few years ago. We also get a lot of diplomats, journalists, and authors.

Here is Mr. (Former President?) Carter with His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi. My first thought when I saw this photo was that someone should have handed him (Mr. Carter) some sunglasses. I'm sure HH is used to it but the main plaza in direct sunlight is so dazzling that it seems to burn your retinas. Then again, maybe protocol doesn't let dignitaries wear sunglasses at official receptions.

It was fun to have a special visitor on campus, even if I didn't see him in person. Apparently he spent some time in the library talking to random students who were at the study terminals on the ground floor. Can you imagine?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Triathlon success!

I ran in a triathlon last weekend and I've been dying to blog about it. I was waiting for them to post the professional photos, but they're still not out, so I'm going to post about it anyway.

Notice I said I "ran in" a triathlon, not that I did one all by myself. This was the Sharjah University City super-sprint triathlon, and you can do it by yourself or in a team of three - one person each for the swim (400m), bike (10k), and run (2.5k). I originally wanted to do it all by myself, but the truth is that I can hardly swim.

So I scrounged up a team of two of my neighbors to do the swimming and biking. We were kind of the AUS B-team, since there is a regular AUS women's team that has done the triathlon each year - they actually hold the course record for this event. Since the A-team is a group of awesome people, we all had a good time being faux-but-a-little-bit-genuinely competitive. The runner for the other team works in my same department, and ever since we found out the other was signed up, it was like we couldn't look each other in the eye - we were both just scoping out the other for signs of weakness. "Is she limping? She looks tired. I wonder if the heavy teaching load is keeping her from training." Etc. It was all in good fun.

The morning of the event came. When you are running a triathlon when you still have a nursing baby, sometimes you nurse that baby during the pre-race briefing. Also, when you are running a triathlon but your husband is, too, sometimes your daughters babysit your son in the stroller while you do your best to warm up and keep a clear eye for your cycling teammate to come in to the transition zone. In the end, she showed up much sooner than I expected, so I had to throw a juicebox and snack into Magdalena's hands for Sterling and then take off running to the sounds of Sterling being upset at my leaving.

All our friendly rivalry with the other team came down to this 2.5k-long moment. I was so, so lucky to be put in prime position by my cycling teammate. I was probably 200m back from the other AUS runner when I started, and we were the leaders. All I had to do was roll her in and the race would be mine (and my team's). And even though I was so nervous I felt like I was going to puke right there while running...I did! I passed her and held her off at the finish. Our final times were only 17 seconds apart. As I came across the finish line, I could hear applause and cheering from the spectators...followed by squawks of annoyance from Sterling once he noticed that I was there but not taking care of him at that exact moment. (The NERVE of me, honestly.)

However, we didn't get the record (and neither, obviously, did they, even though they're the ones who hold it). So there's still something to shoot for next year.

I remember a year ago when Jeremy did this same triathlon. I had barely started working out again after having Sterling, so I was bigger than my normal size and exhausted from sleep deprivation and still adjusting to being a mom of three. I was there watching all these fit people and feeling sad that I wasn't participating. So I made a goal to do the triathlon this year. And now I did! It's just icing on the cake that my team won. I am super happy of myself.

In lieu of fancy official photos - which I reserve the right to humble-post when they come in - here are some photos from Jeremy's phone.

Sterling is still wondering why Mama just ran away from him and then showed up again a while later.

(There are only two of us on the podium because our swimming teammate couldn't stay for the awards ceremony.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Words I grew up saying differently

I can think of only a few conscious changes I've made to my own speech habits, at least on the word level.

1. Aunt. I grew up saying it like "ant." After I started teaching English in Russia in 2002, I got tired of having to clarify which word I meant (aunt or ant, since I pronounced them the same). You'd think this wouldn't come up that much, but somehow it did, so I consciously decided to start saying it aunt, to rhyme with "gaunt." And that's how I say it still. So if you talk to my siblings and me about my mother's sister, we will pronounce the word "aunt" differently from each other.

2. Soda. I grew up saying "pop." But as we've moved around the US and the world over the years, I've noticed that "pop" is less and less understood by others. So I say soda, even though it makes me die a little bit inside.

3. College. I almost never use this word anymore. People here do not understand it. So I no longer went to college, I went to university.

I was thinking about Jeremy and how he grew up in SE Idaho, so he sometimes flattens out the "ee" vowel in worlds like "field," to sound like "fild." He never did it very strongly, and while I really do try to respect the fact that there are many regional varieties of English in America, that particular tic of pronunciation grates on me. For years now, Jeremy has changed his pronunciation to be the more standard one ("feeld" instead of "fild"). I don't know how conscious of a thing this is for him. I do know that he sometimes over-corrects, and gives the "ee" vowel to something that actually should have the "ih" vowel - like saying "keeln" instead of "kiln," if that were ever a word he said (I couldn't think of a real example).

Have you ever consciously changed your pronunciation or word choice?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Global Day 2015

 Let's do this.

 Admiring fountains in Tunisia.

 Checking out this year's Obscure (to us) Landmark in Iraq. Last year it was the Martyr Monument. This appears to be the Monument to the Unknown Soldier.

 Lebanon did their snacks right!

 More Iraq. Really neat display.

 People coming in the front gates.

 Pakistan was a ghost town last year, so I was surprised to see that it was the most beautiful booth (in my opinion) this year! Plus, henna:

There was a United States booth again. They were blasting Uptown Funk and wearing cowboy hats. It was interesting.


1. Italy had free pizza in their booth...from Pizza Hut!
2. For some reason, many booths did not have clear country names on the outside. But it turned out to be a fun guessing game to go into a booth and try to guess from the surroundings where you were.
3. Something I learned this year is that certain cultural clubs (the people ostensibly in charge of putting together a booth for a country) are given funding by that country's government. That's why these booths aren't all completely amateur student constructions held together with duct tape. As you can see, many are very complex. And now I know how that's possible - with outside money. I'd always wondered!

Friday, March 20, 2015

March 20th, outsourced

This post would have gone up sooner except I got caught up playing Google Feud. Good fun, even if I really am not that good at it. It's hard to get inside Autocomplete's brain. [HT Jen]

I found this post about expats vs. immigrants (white people are expats; everyone else are immigrants or migrants) so thought-provoking. I do think there's more going on here - "expat" sometimes implies that the person can never gain citizenship, which is the situation here in the UAE. But yeah, thought-provoking.

I enjoyed reading through this list of commonly misused phrases. They missed "here, here" (I think it should be "hear, hear," right?), and I wish they would have addressed perq vs. perk. And didn't we decide that "could care less" is OK since it means "meh, I COULD care less, but...meh"?

This list of mom worries for each successive kid made me laugh. [HT Kat, maybe?]

I saw this a few places, and I found it to be an interesting read: A stay-at-home parent is not a "luxury."

I am in love with this series, the latest installment of which is different perceptions of beauty in North and South Korea. [HT Ashi]

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Family photo outtakes

When my mom was in town, she took some pictures of our family. Taking family photos is seriously the worst. Here are some of the ones that we will NOT be hanging on the wall.

Miriam unfortunately does this body language a lot with her sister: DO NOT TOUCH ME.

 This one is my favorite.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I'm a real girl!

I had a conference all last weekend, but it was just in Dubai so I only went during the days. (It was this conference, and let it be known that a) I saw a woman with a baby the same age Sterling was a year ago and she said she'd had nothing but smiles from the organizers; and b) the awesome check-in volunteer people asked me where my baby was this year.)

Conferences are so fun. I texted Jeremy the morning of the first day that it was so great to be sitting there learning with like-minded people from all over the region, and he texted back that it was like I'm a real girl! And it was. I am. I took the metro there and everything.

I presented thesis-related research on Saturday and the session went well. Then I came home, and...well. Jeremy ran a 100K race on Friday (race report forthcoming), and we basically tag-teamed childcare on his way in the house and my way out on Saturday morning. So when I walked in the door on Saturday afternoon, the house was a disaster area and the kids were running wild while he lay on the floor in pain and soreness and inability to walk. That popped my "I'm a real girl!" bubble pretty fast as I whipped the house into shape and cleaned and fed the kids.

Yes, conferences are fun, but there are a few things I am mystified by. Such as, audience mobile phones ringing in the middle of someone's presentation. Multiple times. And it takes the audience member longer than five seconds to turn it off, as the ring volume slowly increases. Seriously? Also, audience members taking super low-quality, oddly-angled mobile phone pictures of incomplete PowerPoint slides. Maybe it's the new way to take notes? Also, commenters who think it's their presentation, too.

It was a busy weekend but it was great to be a real girl! As evidenced by this photo taken by Magdalena.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Roses and a pillowcase

Today was the last teaching day of Business English. At break time, I took a moment to start grading some quizzes, and when I looked up again, the ladies had set out a full spread of cake, juice, coffee, and sandwiches, complete with incense burner and mood music. It was amazing.

They had me cut the cake and then I took about two dozen co-selfies with them. They also presented me with a gigantic bouquet of roses, as in, it's bigger than the bouquet I carried when I got married. They were spray-dusted with golden glitter, which doesn't come through in the photo but which was very much appreciated.

One of the students crochets and embroiders and she made me a pillowcase. Whatever awesome thing your students have ever given you, YOU LOSE, because this is the best:

I actually think my name being misspelled makes this better. It is beautiful, and so heartfelt, and really unique to this class and the rapport we had. I'm touched they would call themselves my daughters when some of them are near my age or a little older.

I have enjoyed teaching these women so much, and I hope to tell more stories about them over time. Like how one woman's husband just got back from a tour of duty in Iraq "fighting Daesh" according to the jokes of her classmates, and how another woman's husband is a detective "like Sherlock Holmes," and another woman has had six c-sections but only four living babies, and how another woman ordered a birthday cake for her husband, but when it arrived from the bakery, it had a childish illustration of an airplane on it but they needed a cake for the party so they just kept it even though it didn't really suit an adult man.

We learned what "foxy" means, and how there are seriously so many ways to say "bathroom" (toilet, loo, WC, ladies' room, restroom, washroom) and what is even up with that, and how to pronounce "water bottle" like an American, and how in the US you can't just walk into class and announce that you're on your period and teacher, can you give me a break?

So yeah, stories like that. Someday!

Friday, March 13, 2015

March 13th, outsourced

In case you ever wondered: this is what will happen when QEII dies.

24 things you learn to love when you live in Dubai.

The saga of a broken German door that became a memefest. Ah, the Germans.

Last Buzzfeed - it's a good one: 27 DIYs for book lovers! I'm not even into DIY but I wanted some of these. [HT Kathy]

Meet the Monuments Men risking everything to save Syria's treasures from ISIS. WOW.

The country (Philippines) training people to leave - such an interesting look into the process by which women train to become maids in other countries. [HT Susanne]

I can't stop thinking about this story of a high school track star with MS. As her body heat increases during races, she loses feeling in her legs and literally collapses at each finish line. Amazing story.

In case you've ever wondered about that huge abandoned airplane in Omm al Qawain. (I have.)

I enjoyed this satirical take on the viral news story about the female news presenter who told off a rude guest - but she was wearing hijab (it looked like a courtesy hijab) and speaking Arabic, so it was big news for the West. Or something. Anyway, satire is funny.

A few confessions to those who've left the church. This really resonated with me.

There are more photos on the contest website, but check out these finalists of the Smithsonian photo competition!

Duchess Kate visited the set of Downton Abbey, so now our lives are complete.

Children and animals, together in gorgeous photos taken in Russia.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The big screen hassle

A friend of ours inherited some dying projectors from his department at work and he passed one on to us. Every once in a while, we pull it out and enjoy watching a movie on the "big screen" (= the white wall in their bedroom).

The other day I was getting it all set up, though, and I realized what a hassle it was:
- projector plugged into power strip because outlets are sparse and inconveniently located behind beds in that room.
- computer plugged into power strip, with adapter for the UK outlet.
- external speakers charged up, because power strip only has room for the projector and the computer.
- speakers connected to computer.
- computer connected to projector.
- projector on bathroom stool to make it the right height, but this is a balancing act because if it's not just so, it will jiggle lose any one of the cables or power cords and disrupt the entire operation.
- hardwire computer to ethernet cable because that thing is a dinosaur and wireless doesn't work.
- connect to VPN.
- get on Netflix.

So when it was all said and done, I realized that some people watch movies on a big screen all the time, and it's called a flat screen TV. Sigh. At least our girls will remember what a big deal it was to watch a movie on a screen bigger than a computer monitor.

(And hopefully not how frazzled it made mom.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

All the Hats

Today I'm tired of wearing All the Hats. I know it may be a case of grass is greener, but what would it be like to just be one thing? Which, I know, moms never really are, but still. To either have a career and have the entire family rally behind you, or to be a mom, and rally your own dang self but do all the mom things wholeheartedly.

Instead, I'm up at 2am with the baby and then up at 6.40 to get the girls off to school and then out the door to go to work. Then I come home and plan a lesson and plan a dinner and brace myself for the school run and afterschool onslaught of chaos.

Wearing so many hats is really hard. Individually, I love all of them. I do. I love all the things I'm doing and I'm happy to be doing them. It just sometimes gets to be a bit much. And not just one kind of much, but a dizzying array of muches.

Write a final exam for next week. Learn that accompaniment well enough to record by tomorrow. The floor needs to be mopped. Groceries need to be shopped. Kid A is feeling a little sensitive today and needs extra loves. And x deadline for y loathsome, oft-put-off phone call to the bank in the US - motto for a UAE expat, "Where it's never a convenient time to call, literally, because of the time zone and working week difference!" - is looming. My to-do list is a bizarre hopscotch of tasks, each more whiplash-inducing than the last.

Anyway, I wrote this post in my head while I was complaining to myself about the amount of time I spent on food prep, cooking, and cleanup today, while performing said cleanup. Now that the downstairs is tidied and the kids are tucked in bed and I'm putting my hats on the shelf for the night, one by one, I'm feeling better. I'm glad to be doing so many fulfilling things. Really!

It's just hard sometimes, don't you think?

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Jobs and nationalities

Here in the UAE, certain nationalities (or groups of nationalities) tend to fill certain roles in society. By law, nannies can only come from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia. Gardeners are Pakistani. Housekeepers from certain agencies are Indian. Taxi drivers come from all over the world, with emphasis on Nepal, Pakistan, India, and non-GCC Arab countries.

Emiratis tend to work in less visible jobs, tucked away in government offices or in white-collar companies. We have met two Emirati women clerks at the big Carrefour in Mirdif City Center, but that is rare. You would certainly never see an Emirati driving a taxi or cleaning a house for pay. It's just not done.

This very clear division of labor makes for an interesting, sometimes stratified society. It's easy to fall into the "this kind of person does this kind of job" trap. It's something that I get very used to here, and then all my paradigms do a major shift whenever we visit the US. Wow, an American serving me food at a restaurant?? So exotic.

Here are a few examples of the kind of thing that happens here. Our old nanny Carol said she was in line at the grocery store and someone asked her if she was a Filipina. She said she was. Do you know what they meant by that question? They were actually asking her if she cleaned houses because they wanted to hire her. But they used the shorthand of Filipina to mean "woman of the nationality that cleans houses."

When out and about, American friends of mine who are of Southeast Asian or Latino ancestry are sometimes mistaken as their own children's nannies. It's just assumed that when a brown woman is out with small children, she is their nanny, not their mother.

All this is introduction to this video, which I love. It was filmed in Bahrain, where, like here, you can pull up to a store or restaurant, honk your horn, and the probably Southeast Asian clerk will come out and take your order. Because there is such a clear line between nationalities that do that kind of job, and those that don't, I think it's sometimes easy for all of us to forget - even as an egalitarian American! - to turn on the common courtesy toward our fellow human beings. In the video, a Bahraini spends a day working as a grocery store clerk and finds that many of his compatriots refuse to be served by him.

So if you're interested in seeing a GCC national break down some nationality-based employment barriers, have a look at the video. It has really made me think.

Friday, March 06, 2015

March 6th, outsourced

You needed to hear Mary Poppins singing death metal style, right? [HT Jen]

Awesome tips on how to get rid of clutter and live abundantly. "Discard all the old eggshells and severed doll’s head and menstrual blood and dirt you keep in a shoebox under your bed. Why do you even save those things?" [HT Sarah]

Our Crown Prince quietly donated funds to save a sick baby's life. Did yours?

I cannot believe it has taken this long for us to have a tumblr about those illustrations on the front of old sewing patterns. [HT Andrew]

Working from home, with a toddler. AMEN.

You heard about ISIS destroying irreplaceable historical art pieces in Iraq, right? Only the Pan-Arabian Enquirer could make me laugh (and cry a little bit) about it. Sigh.

Would you call 911 on another parent? I appreciated the article's point that one of the reasons we don't think our neighborhoods are safe anymore is because we aren't willing to look out for one another's kids anymore - instead, we just call 911 on them. Sad.

This bit of comedy was funny enough for me to ignore the egregious misspelling of Oregon. So true.

My mom went through this relative finder and pointed out to us siblings a few gems such as the fact that we are eighth cousins five times removed from Emily Dickinson, and 11th cousins four times removed from John Wayne. Genealogy, woohoo! [HT Yvonne]

OK, warning on this one - it might cause flames on the side of your face. But while some people are saying we shouldn't allow someone like this to speak his mind (it's one of the Delhi rapists from 2012), I think it's important for us to know that attitudes like this exist. It's so problematic, and I would guess that it's more widespread than we'd like to believe. In the meantime, I can hardly imagine a punishment bad enough for this man. Yikes.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Sterling's Non-names

When I was growing up, if someone called me by the wrong name, it was usually one of these three:

1. Brittany
2. Heather
3. Gretchen

Brittany I get, because it's a Bri- name that's a lot more common than my actual name. Heather and Gretchen are a little more difficult to understand. Gretchen does have a consonant cluster in the middle, and maybe Heather just evokes the same feeling as Bridget?

Well, Sterling has acquired his own Non-names. Over the past 17 months of his life, three totally different people from different countries have called him Preston. And then today, someone called him Tristan.

I am especially fascinated by Preston. There is the st cluster there, like in Sterling, but otherwise, I think people mistake it for his actual name because it evokes similar ideas - vaguely British, maybe it's even a town/area there, two syllables, emphasis on the first.

I haven't noticed that the girls have any Non-names yet. I'll have to keep a clearer ear. I probably wouldn't have noticed the Preston thing except that it kept happening (three times).

What's your Non-name?

Wednesday, March 04, 2015


There was a horrible accident just off campus on Monday afternoon that left an AUS professor dead. The professor and his (72-year-old!) cycling companion were hit by a car, and both died instantly.

This news is horrifying to those of us in the AUS community for the obvious reasons, but also because of the spotlight it shines on the problem of bike/pedestrian safety in this country. Jeremy sometimes rides his bike in the area where this accident happened; I never have, but only because I'm skittish about biking off-campus. I don't trust cars around here when I'm IN a car, let alone when I'm relatively unprotected on a bike.

That said, I do ride my bike six days a week on campus. It's how I get to work, it's how I run errands, it's how the girls get to ballet class on Saturdays, sometimes on their own. And hardly one of those six days a week goes by without me witnessing some truly egregious behavior on the part of motorists toward cyclists or pedestrians. They don't know how to treat us (yes, this has become an us vs. them thing).

We are lucky to have marked crosswalks, most of which are incorporated into raised speed bumps. But cars still find ways to NOT stop for pedestrians/cyclists. It's appalling. In 2013, Miriam was hit by a golf-cart-ish maintenance car while riding her bike within 100m of our house. The front part of her bike was mangled, but she, aside from a few bruises, was fine. However, it took her more than a year to work up the courage to ride confidently again. I don't blame her.

It's shameful that people drive the way they do around pedestrians and cyclists. It is not that hard to SLOW DOWN, and keep an eye out for other people on the road. Seriously, not that hard. I know that even bike-friendly cities like Portland still struggle with motorist vs. cyclist safety issues. So we have a long way to go in this country, where in certain cities it is still illegal for women to ride bikes. I hope bicycle safety awareness on the part of motorists can change soon.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Downton Abbey 5.Christmas Special (Season Finale) SPOILERS

I'm grateful for the beautiful scenes we're being given - the house being closed up (so many sheets!), the lovely dining car on the train, Brancaster Castle - all that green! It's a nice change of pace.


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