Friday, March 30, 2012

What we do when we're waiting

This has been for the most part an anticipatory week. We have been anticipating the coming break and, of course, the arrival of grandparents. Are we 100% ready for their arrival?

The highlight of the week was seeing a production of "A Midsummer's Night Dream" by The Globe Theatre Company. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because of the opportunities we have just a few minutes from our home.It was my first time to the Abu Dhabi theatre which lies at the end of a long promontory in the shadow of one of the tallest flagpoles in the world. I wanted to get to the theatre early because It was an open seating affair, which is how it should be with the Globe. I thought I planned things out carefully. We parked at the mall, which is a little more than a kilometer from the theatre. That way we were guaranteed a spot and would avoid the mad crush of traffic departing the show. I needn't have put so much thought into the affair. It seemed the closer we got, the more empty parking spaces we found. Even though my daughters weren't wearing the most comfortable of shoes, they never complained or criticized me. They simply laughed.Julie prepped our children for the play by reading the story from E. Nesbit's Wonderful Stories of Shakespeare, so they were primed for the plot and could focus on the language and performance of the play. It was a great performance, the best production of that play that I've ever seen, but what was just as satisfying for me was watching my kids enjoying the play. When it was all done, Lucy complained at the soreness of her cheeks from laughing so hard. We were out a little late on a school night and paid for it with an added quantity of grumpiness the following day, but it was more than worth it.
Liam conducting the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
The biggest thing to happen was Liam turning fourteen this past week. On Saturday he had some friends over for video games and pizza (you don't have birthday parties when you're fourteen--you just kind of hang out). I remember fourteen being a kind of monumental year for me. I also remember it being an incredibly confusing and insecurity-inducing time. At fourteen I think I was pretty aware of what a geek I was and that was at a time before the Internet when it wasn't cool to be a geek. When I look at my son and the confidence and competence he exudes, I can't help but but see the contrast between the two of us. I genuinely enjoy his company and look up to him. He may still be trying to figure out what he wants to do, but he knows who he is and in this world of distraction that is a becoming a rare thing indeed.

Liam is now a brown belt 3--Three more test until his black belt!
In other news, I officially became the best husband
in the world when I surprised my wife with a dryer.
There were tears, literally.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Media Review Edition

James Receiving his Yellow Belt
I enjoy working here, but a few months ago I came to the realization that professionally I had kind of plateaued. For a middle aged guy with a Master's in Teaching English as a second language, I wasn't going to find a better gig that what I have now. On the one hand it made me grateful for the opportunity I had, on the other, it caused me to view most future professional paths as inevitable steps back, and that was a little discouraging to me. As I talked with people, it seemed that if I wanted to open up new opportunities, I would need to go back to school. This wasn't a new revelation. I had resisted going back to school for years because I honestly couldn't think of anything that I wanted to study at the doctoral level and I had met too many people with PhDs that ended up spending so much time and effort in their field that they became almost sick of the thing that was once their passion. It wasn't until I started looking at the field of Education Technology and curriculum design that I started getting excited about school again. After a number of discussions and a fair bit of research, I decided that the best program for me was being taught at the University of Florida. (Their education program was just ranked 34 in US News and World Report)

 I was a little intimidated at the application process and did not relish the prospect of taking the GRE (it has been over 20 years since my last real math class, and despite all they tell you in school, apart from basic addition, subtraction and multiplication, you really don't use much of the rest of the stuff in day to day life unless you're my brother-in-law Doug). But the program was something I wanted enough that I was willing to overcome present anxieties and insecurities. Well, after months of hard work and hand-wringing, I just found out that I was accepted into the program for this fall. It's basically going to consume my life for the next 4 years, but the potential upside is too great to be anything other than excited. It's what's called a blended form of study which means I'll be doing a large chunk of it online with some time each summer in Gainesville. And, even though I don't follow the sport, I am excited to go to a school with a football team worth rooting for. Go Gators!

 In other news, all that good stuff I said about Downton Abbey, I'm on the verge of taking it all back. We just wrapped up season two and where the first season was about being both noble and petty towards the insignificant (sentiments I can relate to because I'm surrounded by so much insignificance), the second season devolved into melodrama that completely crowded out the insignificant. War, debilitating injury, scandalous affairs, mortal Spanish flu outbreaks and, of course, murder. It's all too much and were it not so well acted, I would turn my back on the thing completely. It used to be engrossing the way a good book could be, inviting you into a fully realized world. Now it engrosses me the way an extra large serving of ice cream does, a heady rush of flavor and sugar followed by a tinge of regret and nausea. Proceed at your own caution.

For almost a year my kids have been awaiting the return of the Voice. A lot of people have written about the differences between this show and American Idol. I never followed American Idol because I felt that at its core it was mean spirited and degrading.  Even when the judges were trying to be kind to the contestants, I often felt like there was a level of condescension that was unmerited. Though I don't always agree with some of the decisions the coaches on the voice make(especially this season), I feel that there's a real generosity towards the performers that is uncommon in popular media today. It's easy to be snarky and critical of those around you, but it takes real work to find the good in another and nurture that goodness to excellence. Now, if only we could find some way to persuade Christina of the merits of modest fashions, the show would be just about perfect.

This is Woola. Never has their been a more loyal companion
to man!
Last week, I took Liam and Lucy to see John Carter, the only condition was that the had to read "A Princess of Mars" to prepare themselves. I have to say that it was the most fun I've had at the movies in a while. It's silly, but it's so committed to its silliness that it achieves a level of genuine earnestness. This is the movie experience I hoped for from both the Star Wars prequels and Avatar. Though both of those were visually spectacular, they lack heart and humor. The kids loved it. I think I primed them well for it. The only problem now is dealing with their inevitable disappointment over the fact that we won't be seeing any sequels due the high price tag and poor marketing. Fortunately, we have the books to take us back to Barsoom for more adventures. Liam's on the second one now and Lucy just finished the fourth. When you have such good readers for kids you don't have to depend on the whims of Hollywood to make great entertainment.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The hardest part of getting knocked off that horse is the getting back on

"Portrait of a Mid-Life Crisis"

It's been a few weeks and I wish I could say that those weeks were uneventful. However, such has not been the case. There have been changes in my job and a visit to the emergency room for me. There have been Karate advancements all around and the kids have been working hard at school. 

I have a small confession to make. For the last few months I have been hiding the fact that I've been doing Karate. It was something I always wanted to do and after watching the kids have so much fun with it over the last year, I finally drummed up the courage to give it a go. Things went pretty smoothly for the first few months. After a brutal introduction, I began to show a little progress and I was pretty happy with myself when I earned my yellow belt (for those keeping score, that puts me on par with James). I wanted to move up a couple of more levels before I let people know what I was doing. I'm a little cagey when it comes to trying new things and letting other people know. Any new announced endeavour that's not accomplished is fodder for mockery. But after a fateful class, a slight fracture to my elbow and seven stitches above my left eye, I couldn't keep that secret anymore. I didn't earn the injury in any real exciting fashion. Basically I did a jump, kick, and landed with a little less stability than I would have liked, relying too much on a brick wall and my head to help me regain my balance. Let the mocking begin.

Science is everywhere

The Great Volvo Ocean Race Comes to Abu Dhabi

Yes, I did manage to get one of those balls on that floating green.

The kids all seem well. We've had a bit of a cold spell here over the past couple of weeks which basically means it was mildly uncomfortable going out in shorts and a t-shirt after dark. However, some of the residents here have bundled up like they're on the ski slopes. It's an interesting sight to pass someone in a dish-dash (those long white robes the men wear) wearing a winter coat and scarf and earmuffs to keep the cold out.

It's time to go back to Karate, but I'm finding it a little difficult to regain the lost momentum. Before the incident, I had never missed a day. There were a lot of days I felt too tired or sore to go, but I went because I enjoyed it and felt myself improving bit by bit, but I've lost some of my flexibility and forgotten my combos and a good chunk of my kata. I've not been active enough in my life to have any experience with these kinds of setbacks; however, I don't think I have much choice when it comes to renewing my commitments. I can't handle the disappointed look my kids give me when I tell them I'm not up to it. Those looks are positively withering.

In other news: I don't know if the cockroaches are getting worse or if they're just getting more comfortable with us. Most times, the kids take them in stride. There's very little screaming and helpless hopping around. They've become so commonplace that they barely elicit a reaction anymore. Lucy and Miranda aren't big on actually squashing the little intruders, but they don't bother to let them be a bother. Julie's no fan of their presence, the kitchen's small enough without having to share the limited cupboard space, but most days she's able to shrug them off too. We've all come to terms with the fact that cockroaches are simply a consequence of the climate. If you're talking to someone who's lived here and they haven't had any experiences with cockroaches, it's only because the cockroaches weren't comfortable enough to come out in the day. They're there.They're everywhere and the sooner you come to terms with that fact, the happier you'll be.

When you're in a foreign country on a three year contract, it's hard to fully commit to the place (especially when you have to share it with so many six legged friends). You find yourself buying things to make do instead of buying things you really want. Why invest in furniture that you're going to have to get rid of in the near future?

Having bought a household of things we really don't like that much makes it seem a little frivolous to want to replace things that are perfectly serviceable even if they are ugly and uncoordinated. I am no fan of stuff, but I do believe that if you are going to be weighed down by possessions, they should be possessions you actually enjoy. We need to be practical and make provision for the future, but even more important than our plans for tomorrow is living fully in the moment. I don't know how much longer we're going to be here but I do know that I want to do a better job of making the now just a little more pleasant.

We're all tired and looking forward to having a week off with Grandpa and Grandma at the end of the month. We just got word that they're visas came through, so it's pretty much a done deal. We've been doing our best to prepare them for their middle east experience. We'll see soon enough how well we've done at that.