Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's been a while, but we've actually got some adventure to share.

As you've no doubt noticed, there's been a bit of a lull in the adventuring of the Frank family. After the first year of excitement, we made finding a routine our goal for that second year. Well, it looks like we'll be ramping up the adventure over the next few months. My contract comes to an end in June and we've decided that it's time to make our way back east. The experiences we've had here have been absolutely incredible and we've grown in ways we could have never anticipated, but all adventures come to an end and we're determined to go out on a high note.

This week Liam tested for his black belt in Karate. The test started at 6 am and went until almost noon. As you can see from some of the pictures, his training has really paid off. We're going to take a little break from Karate for the remainder of our time here, but, for those keeping track Liam's at a black belt in Karate and Kobudo, Lucy has her Brown 3, Miranda has her Purple Belt and James is at Yellow and I stalled out at Green. We've really enjoyed the Karate club here and the experiences it has given to all of us.


Does my son intimidate me? A little.
It was our third National Day in Abu Dhabi and it just seems to get bigger every year. We took advantage of the four day weekend by spending some time in Fujairah camping on the beach. We travelled with a number of families and had a great time. The water was gorgeous the weather perfect. However, unbeknownst to us, the particular beach that we chose happened to be the party beach which meant a whole lot of Arabic karaoke all through the night. On the plus side, because I couldn't sleep, I was awake to watch one of the most incredible sunrises I've ever seen. The kids played, barely pausing to eat. Exotic fish were seen and a lucky few even  spotted sea turtles. The jelly fish stings were plentiful, but didn't keep people out of the water. Liam stayed a second night with friends while the rest of us hurried home to watch the fireworks. This was the first time we were able to see the National Day fireworks since we arrived. Not likely to see anything like it again. It's going to be hard to give up the apartment and its view, but we're grateful for the time we've had here. 

You're only supposed to see fish like this in an aquarium.


Our campsite.

This almost captures how pretty it was. They call it 'Snoopy Island' for obvious reasons.
Lots to explore.

It seems the only time I get in picture is when someone wants to make fun of me.

I will miss the camels.
Yup, that's a camel staring at us from that truck.
Over the next few months, we're determined to visit the rest of the Emirates and take in a few of the sites that we haven't seen yet. We'll need to pace ourselves if we want to survive these next few months. We're still not sure where we'll end up or what we'll end up doing after we leave, but where would be the fun in a certain future?     

Monday, November 19, 2012

For those two or three people that were wondering where we've been

Well, I thought that someone else would take up the torch of this blog. I pride myself on the degree to which my children are literate. They are all very good readers and writers and I was sure that one of them would have jumped at the chance to give their spin on our family adventures here in Abu Dhabi. Alas, twas not meant to be. It has been a few months since my last posting. In that time, our lives here have only become more routine. After two years in this place, I have to admit that we’re quite comfortable with our surroundings and are rarely surprised at what we see. I don’t even bother to turn my head at a passing Ferrari any more. Speaking of Ferraris, one of our little adventures over the summer was a day at Ferrari World on Yas Island. If you haven’t heard of Ferrari World, I can’t really blame you. After spending the day there, I’m not quite sure what the market is for the world’s largest indoor theme park. It was basically one big Ferrari commercial, but the thing about Ferrari is that they’ve never really needed commercials. Not many people buy one after seeing an advert on TV. Anyway, the whole time we were there, I felt like we were being pitched on how great Ferraris are, but it felt like a bit of a vain pitch, because I’m never going to be that product’s demographic. It was pretty spectacular--indoor water flume, world’s fastest roller coaster, and a few other nifty attractions. It was fun to visit, but I don’t know that we need to go back, not unless I want to feel really bad about my current ride.

Not sure if the Ferrari camel has a name

After a long hot summer, we all got back into a nice routine with school and work. The apartment has been great. Sure, it would have been nice to move in here at the beginning, but after the cockroaches and the bustling lifestyle of our last abode, we can really appreciate what we have here. 

At the end of September, I started my coursework in my doctoral program. Two months of no rest and very little free time. It’s hard to describe, but in some ways it has kept me sane. I love what I’m learning and though I feel a little slow on the uptake, it’s been totally worth the stress and the late nights. Julie and the kids have been incredibly understanding about how lame their dad is in the evenings and on Saturdays. I’m in between semesters right now, but the work is ongoing. I feel like I’ve got a lot to catch up on in the education field, but there is some time to do it, and I’ve got an incredible support system backing me up.

A couple of weeks ago, Mom and Mike came to visit for a week. I was in the midst of a lot of work and wasn’t able to spend quite the time with them that I would have liked, but they made it perfectly clear that they really didn’t come to see me. The kids had a great time with their grandparents, and what time Julie and I had with them was great. We got to spend some time in Dubai and made a valiant attempt to put Abu Dhabi in the Guiness Book of World records for sandcastle building. There was some great food and some great visiting time and we were glad they came.
A few of our castles at sunset
These sunglasses are just about the right size
We’re not quite sure what the future holds, but our goal is to try and make the most of the time and opportunities here. Hopefully there will be lots of adventures to document in the not too distant future.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Where we are and what we've been up to.

We finally conceded our apartment to the cockroaches. Threw up the white flag, made a calculated retreat. Surrender is another word we could use. Usually, I like to stand my ground especially when the opponents are so tiny. But I have to admit to being overwhelmed by their numbers. I am a man who likes to hold his ground. It’s a matter of pride. Some might call it integrity. I starting to see that waging that war as long as I did was foolishness more than anything. Defeat is a word with such negative connotations, but it’s not always bad. Defeat teaches humility. It teaches prudence. It gives you perspective. And, in rare circumstances, defeat can even give you a little more square footage and a better view. Would that all my losses were so profitable.

Our new views. It's refreshing to see the water.

I hate the process of moving, but I also hate stating the obvious. Everyone hates the process of moving, but we all love the promise of being settled. That’s what I’m reveling in right now—the promise of being settled. We’re still a few weeks out from things having their place. It didn’t help that our bookcase couldn’t make it into the elevators of the new place, so we’re still tripping over discretely placed piles of young adult literature and picture books. Libraries tend to grow quickly in this home. Books multiply like tribbles around here, which makes our relationship with Ikea more one-sided than I would like it to be.

It’s hot outside and it’s Ramadan, which means there’s not a lot to do outside. Ramadan is a holy time in Islam where, for a month, Muslims fast everyday from sun up to sundown. They do this so to better understand and feel for the poor. No restaurants are opened during the day, and, except for small children, there is no eating in public until after the sun goes down. It makes for very quiet days and very lively nights. It’s a good thing my kids are fine with indoor type activities. I’ve raised a brood of geeks and bookworms and it does come in handy sometimes (though they haven't watched enough Star Trek to get the above tribbles reference. I'll have to remedy that).
Wii Summer Olympics is something you can do inside that's almost active.

So is piano practice.

They do see the sunlight everyday as we walk from our new place to karate. I miss the convenience of having the dojo in our building, but I do enjoy being followed by my own army of martial arts experts. No one has messed with me since I started going out with them. Who would dare?

Turns out that stop motion film making is also a perfectly acceptable indoor activity.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Texas, week 2

If I have learned anything on my second week in Texas, it’s that I really don’t know what to do with myself without an agenda. I make all of these plans and then lack the resolve to see anything through. I won’t say that I moped about. I had a great visit with Doug and Sarah and their kids, but without Liam or the rest of my family, I drifted about a little aimlessly. I did a little bit of shopping (the novelty of Costco having worn off by the second visit), watched a little bit of TV, did a little bit of reading and did my best to evenly distribute the weight amongst my various pieces of luggage. I spent enough time on Skype that there won’t be much time catching up when I get back home. I’m most grateful to Skype for giving me the opportunity to hear my wife tell me daily that she missed me. Sometimes I worry that I create more problems by being around and it’s nice to know my absence is felt.

However, by the end of the second week, the novelty of seeing their Dad on Skype had pretty much worn off which meant they felt free to fight and carry on as if I were actually in the room with them. It is not an easy thing to try and instruct and discipline one’s children over video chat. It’s too easy to moderate my voice by turning down the volume and escape my gaze by stepping out of frame.  Any threat to take away toys is met with skepticism, for obvious reasons.

I regained my footing a little when I picked up Liam on Saturday morning from EFY. It had been nearly a week since I had talked to him. I don’t know if I’ve ever gone more than two or three days without talking to him. Of course, I told him that he could call me if he needed anything, but I didn’t want to be one of those hovering parents. The campus where it took place was only about twenty minutes from my sister’s and I wouldn’t have been the only parent to drop in to make sure everything was OK, but sometimes being a parent is about stepping back and closing your eyes.

The EFY high lasted long enough for him to give me an overview over breakfast at IHOP. As What I learned about Liam’s EFY experience:
First words upon seeing me: “It was awesome!”
How much longer he would’ve been happy to stay there: “About a month.”
Newly acquired skills: “I’m definitely more comfortable talking to girls now.”
Why he didn’t call me once: “Too busy.”
How it changed him: “Definitely going to spend more time in my scriptures.”

As soon as we got back to Sarah’s Liam pretty much crashed for a couple of hours. Awesomeness does take its toll.

Aunt Sarah helped get Liam set up on Facebook before EFY and by the time he was home he already had a number of friend requests. Anyone who spends a lot of time with Liam knows that he tends to play things pretty close to the vest. He’s very diplomatic when it comes to expressing himself emotionally. It was refreshing to see him express himself so enthusiastically.

Saturday afternoon was the “worst barbeque in Texas.” We all went to an authentic pit style BBQ restaurant in a converted gas station. The food was great and the atmosphere was everything you could hope for.

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This is what BBQ should look like.
Sunday was church, and there is always some comfort in its familiarity no matter where you are. We had a moment of panic when Liam thought he lost his scriptures. It wasn’t the physical thing that worried him. Liam is not one to get too attached to artifacts. What was tragic about his loss was all of the notes and markings he had made in his scriptures over the week at EFY. He worried about losing knowledge not stuff. We did find them, but I was glad for their momentary loss and what it told me about Liam’s experience.

Liam's mad Lego skills were not wasted in Texas.
Monday was Liam and I and roller coasters at Six Flags. About eight hours of continuous roller coaster riding in the blazing sun does not do wonders for one’s stomach, but it was a lot of fun. Liam hadn’t been on a roller coaster since Space Mountain about seven years ago and I wasn’t sure how he would take to some of the epic contraptions at Six Flags. Well, he took to it just fine.
Liam just before getting soaked.

Soaked Liam.

The Goliath,  a favorite of ours.
For some reason, I decided to go to a midnight showing of Spider Man with Liam and Doug. Probably not the most prudent of decisions, but I wanted to see at least one movie at the Alamo Drafthouse before I left, and I was glad I did. The movie itself was fun enough, but the theatre was great even if I didn’t get to take advantage of the Draft part of the experience. The quality of the projections, the food and beverage selection and the theater’s attention to maintaining a quiet and focused experience made for as good a movie going experience as I have ever had. I’ve written about watching movies in Abu Dhabi, and this was pretty much its antithesis.
Yup, it's 2:30 AM, the morning of our departure.
It was hard to say good-bye to Sarah and her kids. We were so well taken care of over the two weeks we were there. No doubt we were a major inconvenience and disruptions to their routine, but we were never made to feel anything other than welcome.
Liam's got a fan club.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

San Antonio Week 1

Our trip to San Antonio was uneventful. The seats weren't exactly comfortable and the movies on the flight weren't exactly engaging, but we made it in one piece without losing anything. It was my first time in Texas and we were excited to see just how the Roberts lived.

Liam swears he's having fun.
After a day to get acclimatized, we took a trip downtown to see the Alamo and do the river walk. It was quite the walk and Sarah's three oldest were troopers in the heat.

Liam's got a fan in San Antonio!
Best Tacos in San Antonio.
Yup, this is the actual site of the famous musical water glass scene from Miss Congeniality.
"Could someone show me the way to the basement?"
On Friday, on the recommendation of Doug, Liam and I drove about an hour outside of San Antonio and rented some tubes for a lazy stroll down the Guadelupe. It was definitely an experience only Texas could give us. Even though it was a Friday, there were a number of groups out on the river. Most were a little more prepared than Liam and I. It was fairly common for us to pass a flotilla of guys and girls centered around a tube just for the cooler full of beer. At times, it felt like Liam and I were the only ones heading anywhere, everyone else seemed more than content to just let the river move them on down or not. It really didn't matter.

On Saturday, I got on the road at around 6:00 AM to Gainesville.

When I told people about my drive from San Antonio to Gainesville and back (about 1700 km each way for those who keep track of those types of things), I would get lots of "Why would you do something like that?" looks. I have to say, it was kind of nice. I like to drive and it was kind of neat to see this part of the country in all its greenness. I pretty much timed the drive perfectly with the audio book I had picked for the trip (a little over thirty hours on the road). There was the little matter of hurricane Debbie which didn't disrupt things too much apart from cutting out the campus tour portion of orientation. I really enjoyed getting to know the members of my Ed.E. cohort. It's a diverse group with a lot of talent. I think I'm going to learn a lot working with them. While in Gainesville, they did a pretty good job laying out the program and it looks like I've basically given up even the idea of free time for the next three plus years, but it'll be worth it.

This is my group for the next three years. Pretty good looking, huh?
Before leaving town, I had to pick up some Gators paraphernalia. There was a shirt that read, "In Gainesville we root for two teams: Florida and Whoever's Playing LSU." Out of respect for my brother in law, I resisted picking it up (it took some considerable willpower).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Be careful what you ask for...

Well, it feels like I've fallen into the habit of starting my blog posts with phrases like, "Things are feeling pretty routine..." or "Not much to write about this week..." As a writer, it can be a little difficult to try and make the tedious and routine readable and engaging. Looking back on in, I believe I was complaining a little about how unexciting our lives have seemed to become. Now that I have something of not to write about, I can't help but feel that I didn't appreciate how nice it was to have a little bit of undisrupted routine in my life. There is comfort in tedium, but I think we're conditioned to dismiss it in favor of uncertain adventures.

For the last couple of weeks we have been very busy trying to get ready for the end of school. We haven't wanted to deal with the lingering stress of summer school like we did last summer. We wanted to enjoy our summer which meant we had to put a little work into things in advance of summer (there's probably a lesson in that somewhere).

In addition to the stresses of school, there are the stresses of moving. We have a good sized apartment, but we have no storage rooms or closets or unused corners in which to pile boxes or packed suitcases and the suitcases and boxes are most definitely piling up. In addition to the packing, there's the stress of sifting through all those things that you don't want to move. Two years later, and we're still unloading much of the furniture and other odds and ends we had mistakenly purchased at the beginning of our sojourn. It would be nice to sell some of the stuff, but, after having gone through the experience of owning it, I don't think I could bring myself to charge people for the experience.

This is what we got rid of this time (and I don't think we're quite done yet).

Then there's been the stress of my trip to Texas and Florida. I'm starting my doctoral program this summer and there's been a little bit of anxiety associated with that whole experience. Given the choice between traveling half way around the world and staying home with a good book, I'd probably enthusiastically declare my desire for world exploration and then retire to a bookish life under my covers. I'm always glad to have those adventures, but I'm not so good at enjoying them before or as they're happening. Most of the pleasures I enjoy in life are retrospective.

Oh, and then on the day we were to take off for Florida, I got in my first Abu Dhabi traffic accident. There are advantages to driving an SUV, but the ability to easily see small cars pulling up on your left is not one of them. I completely missed a car in my blind spot as I pulled out onto the street

Ironically, the accident was one of the least stressful moments of the last few weeks. Once I confirmed that the other driver was OK,  everything kind of fell effortlessly into place.

The other driver's English wasn't great. He kept saying, "No problem, no problem." And if it weren't for his incredibly calm demeanor, I would've said he didn't understand what he was saying to me. There was not the least bit of bluster or fist shaking that usually accompanies the post accident adrenaline spike. He had completely accepted what happened and the only thing left to do was call the police. Every accident, no matter how small, has to be reported and no body repairs can be done on a vehicle without a police report. When the accident officer arrived, there was almost a calming ritual to the experience. He began by shaking each of our hands and greeting us. He then took pictures of the damage to the vehicles and explained what I needed to do next. There was more hand shaking and then we parted ways. I've had beach days with more stress.

Julie's reaction to my accident was unexpected. After she made sure I was safe, she told me she was glad it happened. "Maybe, this will teach to to take a little more care as you're driving around on the other side of the world." She obviously felt this was a lesson I needed to learn before I spent too much time on my own.

Obviously, I didn't get much rest that night. Liam and I caught a taxi to the airport at around 11:30 in the evening and everything played out the way it was supposed to. Traveling with Liam is one of the most uneventful experiences of my life. He's a pretty low key traveler. He doesn't complain and makes the most of any given situation. Apart from how long it took to get from Abu Dhabi to London and the general discomfort of the economy seats, the trip couldn't have gone much better.

And yes, I took the liability coverage when the rental place pitched it.
This is Liam at the outset of a great adventure. I wouldn't say he was indifferent.

This was supposed to go up at the beginning of June

It's getting so I can judge a week's eventfulness by the number of pictures I take. These past few weeks I haven't taken any pictures at all. Everything is starting to feel a little routine which probably means that it's about time for a change. It looks like we'll be changing our living accommodations soon. It's a little overwhelming to try and navigate the housing market here, but I think we've settled on an area close to some people we know and relatively close to a karate dojo. Hopefully things will work out. We'll be sure to keep you posted.

There have been a few advancements in Karate. Just to keep everyone up to speed, Liam is at his Brown 2 in both Karate and Kobudo (that puts him two tests away from his black belt in each of those). Lucy is now a brown belt, Miranda has her purple belt, and James his yellow. It's been a great lesson in persistence and accomplishment. There was also a piano recital for Liam and Lucy. Their teacher will be moving back to China this summer, which will be keenly felt. They've both grown considerably under her care.

In just a few weeks Liam and I will embark on some serious father-son bonding time. It's a long flight from Abu Dhabi to Texas, but I think our relationship can handle that kind of unbuffered intensity. Liam will be off to his first EFY. I wish I had some experience with these kinds of things, I feel like I'm kind of throwing hi,off the deep end. How do you counsel someone through their teenage years when you were so miserable at the experience? I really have no advice to give him on girls or friends or hobbies or goals. I can't help but look back on my youthful experiences with regret and embarrassment. I guess I am a wealth of knowledge of what not to do and how not to be.

We're coming to the end of our school year. With the changes and challenges of this semester, it feels like it's been a long time coming. Not too long ago, the college I work at decided that there would be a shift from laptops to iPads for each student. You might imagine that this can have pretty drastic implications both on infrastructure and teaching. I've been involved on an iPad implementation committee which has made things busier at a time when they should be slowed down. It's not the change as much as the pace of change that can be a little overwhelming. I'm used to major changes going through several committees before being slowly rolled out. That's not quite how things play out here. It can be taxing, but, if you're up for it,it can also be very exciting.

I took Liam and Lucy to see Snow White and the Huntsman last week. It was one of those movies that would have been improved by the absence of dialogue--the design, cinematography and special effects were of the highest calibre, but the plot and dialogue were painfully cliched. However, it did give us occasion to discuss why The Avengers was so satisfying and this was not. It's fun to have conversations like this with Liam and Lucy now that they're getting to an age where their critical thinking skills are starting to blossom (and what better use of critical thinking skills is there than to extol the virtues of comic book movies?).

I've been reading a lot lately and ideas and motivation. Drive by Daniel Pink is an interesting book on what motivates people. Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson makes some great observations on the role of networking and collaboration in the birth of innovative ideas. It's good to think about why people do things, but you can go a little crazy if you think about it too much. We've also been watching Friday Night Lights and even though it's about football, football is the least important element of the show. As my kids get a little older, sometimes it hits a little too close to home, so I can't watch too many episodes too close together, but it is always worthwhile.

Speaking of my aging kids, Lucy turned twelve this week. I'm sure most fathers of twelve year olds completely understand how I'm feeling when I say, "Ack!" Any day now I keep expecting her to call me out for the fraud I am. "You don't know anything about parenting, do you? You totally lucked out with your kids." she'll say. And she'll be right.

Yup, I think it's time for a change

Is this drastic enough?

Friday, May 18, 2012

A belated post and an update

April 20, 2012

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Everybody but Liam making a funny face. (Liam's making a teenage face)

To say that we are still recovering from our visit with grandparents would be a bit of an understatement. We pack a month of excitement into a mere seven days. You've got to pay on one end or the other. The kids have been getting caught up with school, contrary to popular opinion homeschooling is not all fun and games even if the students get to attend class in their pajamas. Work has been full for me. One of the exciting things about working in this environment it that it's constantly changing. Flexibility is helpful in maintaining one's sanity. Change does tend to be a little wearing, but it's a lot better than a rut.

Easter kind of came and went without much fanfare. We had prepared by buying a bag of mini-egg peanut butter cups (yes, you can get anything here), but we ended up buying them a little too early and the temptation proved too much to resist. We replaced the bag after Easter and had a little hunt around the apartment (one of the downsides of middle-east living is the lack of post holiday candy discounts). Last Saturday was our ward Easter party. It was a beautiful day and the kids had a lot of fun. Julie got a much needed respite while I took the kids for the copious quantities of food and fun. It was a combined ward activity so it was great to see a few faces we haven't seen in a while. The people in our ward are here for all kinds of reasons and I've really enjoyed the opportunity to socialize with such a diverse group of people.

Also, last week we had the opportunity to watch Hugo together as a family. Some good friends of ours had given us the movie Hugo. We had read the book but the 3D turned us off from seeing the movie in the theatre. It turned out to be a wonderful little film with some nice performances and beautiful cinematography.

What was a little surprising was what Lucy loved most about the movie. Her favorite parts of the movies were the brief scenes where they showed clips from classic silent films. I guess it's time to bust out the Chaplin and the Keaton films. That'll be a lot of fun. I always get a kick out of how much the kids enjoy the Errol Flynn Robin Hood. I,ve always been a firm believer in not showing my kids anything I wouldn't sit down and watch with them. Hence, not a single Barbie film in our entire collection. There's so much good and appropriate entertainment out there that there should never be a reason to waste our time with feature length toy commercials (Cars 2 I'm talking to you!)

Julie finished reading Down the Mysterly River to the kids this week. I had read it a few months before and can't help but believe that most readers of this blog would really enjoyed the adventures of the boy detective and his good friends. McTavish the cat is easily one of my favorite characters in literature. There's mystery, adventure and goodness. What more could you ask for in a story?

May 18, 2012

Well, It's been weeks since I've written and even longer since I last posted. We've been incredibly busy--it seems like we never stop, but there's been little of note happening in our lives. We have been focusing on school and there have been a number of projects at work that have been interesting, but we're not being as adventurous as perhaps we could be. It's bee almost two years since we arrived and we've seen surprisingly little of the country. Apart from Dubai, we really haven't visited any of the other Emirates. Our hope is to get out a little more this summer since we're not going anywhere. It's amazing how unadventurous one can be in such an exotic place.

A good chunk of our kitchen not in our kitchen.
We continue to struggle with cockroaches. Julie continues to be a trooper, but I think that she's starting to get a little worn down by the whole experience. It's pretty difficult to empty one's kitchen of every pot, pan and can of food without experiencing a little stress. Did I mention that she home schools too? She's an amazing lady, who, I think would relish the opportunity to be a little less amazing.

Karate Master in action

"Did you just take my picture? How dare you!"

Liam's karate continues to improve. As with any skill, the better he gets at it, the harder he has to work to see noticeable improvement. He is dedicated and consistent in ways make me want to be better. Lucy continues to knit with great enthusiasm and skill. It seems like her hands are always knitting whether she's watching something on TV or reading a book. Miranda is a whirlwind of creativity. If she,s not writing a new play or creating an artistic masterpiece from discarded scraps of fabric, she's dancing. She doesn't know how to move without bounding. It's quite inspiring. James is improving his skills with Lego. He's getting to be quite the builder and we're grateful for his talents, even if the debris from his creations making walking in his room a little treacherous.

Of course, I took the kids to see The Avengers when it opened. Julie was generous enough to let us go without her. (I did make it up to her by taking her the following week. It was very generous of me sitting through that movie a second time if I do say so myself) The kids loved it, but they had been primed to,and the shwarma gag only made us feel like we're a little ahead of the curve. I think I've done a fairly good job of raising my kid to appreciate the finer elements of geek culture. Unfortunately, they know absolutely nothing about sports. I need to remedy that so they can at least bluff their way through small talk in the future.