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Traveling While Female…

Hi there blogosphere….

I seem to have taken an inadvertent hiatus from blogging for a while … it’s the kind of thing like forgetting to write your grandmother: the longer you wait, the more it becomes A THING and the more it becomes A THING the harder it is to write.

So today, I am metaphorically writing my grandmother (may she rest in peace) and alerting you to my column in The National today.

In the column I’m wondering about how we female-type people travel alone without fear — or rather, how we manage our fears and anxieties while still exploring the world.  And by “explore the world” I mean everything from climbing Everest to going out to dinner alone in the neighborhood.   How can it be that after so many centuries, a woman alone still presents such a target/threat/opportunity/challenge to men–and why is it that so many men persist in believing that a woman alone is pining for his company?  See: fish, bicycle, necessity thereof.

Enjoy. And if you have your own travel tips (or horror stories) feel free to share them in the comments.

PS I love you, grandmother.

Continue Reading · on March 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Feminism, Gender, NYC, Politics, The National, Travel, UAE

UAE Bans Super Size Soda…you’re welcome

The other day The National ran an article about various health-care reforms being suggested by the UAE government.  Among those reforms are—wait for it—a proposed restriction on portion sizes for fizzy drinks.  Yes. That’s right: Mayor Bloomberg’s despised soda ban may be about to take hold here in the UAE.  Now, I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I’ll just say that last summer, I wrote this column for The National, in which I said, among other things:

The fact that so many people suck down giant-sized soft drinks may be a significant factor in some of the health problems that have become prevalent in the UAE in recent years. In those supersized soft drinks, you will find more than 75 grams of sugar and up to 400 calories. And before diet soft drinkers pat themselves on the back, scientists have shown that artificial sweeteners lead to elevated glucose levels, which the liver then converts to body fat.

If New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has his way, however, “soda belly” might become a thing of the past – and I think that the UAE might consider following his lead. Mr Bloomberg has proposed a ban on selling more than 16-ounce (0.45 litres) cups of soft drinks, which most nutritionists would consider as two servings. Cinemas, sports arenas and restaurants are among those that would be affected by the ban. While it’s true that you could buy two cups of soft drinks for yourself to get around the rule, I’m betting most people won’t. After all, when you’re carrying the tub of popcorn plus the packet of liquorice, it’s hard to juggle two cups.

New Yorkers, who always love a fight, are furious about Mr Bloomberg’s proposal, just as they were when he proposed a ban on smoking in public places (the bill passed); on the use of transfats in restaurants (the bill passed); and his law requiring fast-food chain restaurants to post the calorie count of their menu items (that bill passed too).


Okay, I suppose it’s possible that the Sheikhs aren’t reading my column but I’m still going to take some credit for their decision.  True, in the States, various courts have said that such a ban is unconstitutional but I’m not sure that can happen here. Here, what the government wants, the government gets. That means you’re probably not going to be able to get a Big Gulp here for very much longer.  And that, I think, is a very good thing.





Continue Reading · on December 11, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, health, NYC, Politics, The National, UAE

In the suburbs no one can hear you scream

I live in the suburbs now.  From the maelstrom of Union Square in Manhattan to the slightly more sedate “urban” experience of highrise in downtown Abu Dhabi was one shift. But in a weird way the shift from one cityscape to another wasn’t as big a shift as the move from city to the ‘burbs.  It’s so quiet here . . . and when I walk around at night I’m always slightly on edge because my footsteps echo in the emptiness.  But the thing I miss most, weirdly, is hearing the call to prayer, which had become the regular punctuation for my day, when I lived “in town,” as we say now.

In The National today, I wrote about my sense of suburban displacement. You can read the article here and don’t be afraid to share it around: show The National a little social media love (and me, too, while you’re at it).  Thanks.  Would love to hear your thoughts in comments.


I took this photo of the Grand Mosque last winter during an unusual rainy day

Continue Reading · on November 22, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, NYC, religion, The National, Travel, UAE

if your dinner guests don’t behave, does that make you an ineffective hostess? (from the archives)

One story: this semester, I teach two sections of the same class. One class meets at 930AM and has sixteen students, all of whom are native English speakers.  The students are lively (probably stoked on the morning coffee); they seem to keep up with the reading. The second section meets at 2PM and has twenty-six students, seven of whom are non-native English speakers. It’s a less talkative class and I don’t think all the students are keeping up with the reading.  On the mid-term I gave last week, the morning class earned far more As; the afternoon class had a higher number of Cs.

Clearly I am an ineffective teacher, if I compare my afternoon with my morning test scores.

Another story: Liam’s first grade class was team-taught by a special ed teacher and a general ed teacher; the students in the class were a combination of kids who needed various types of extra help and kids who didn’t need extra help.  One student that year had some significant behavior problems and subsequently went to a school that could better serve his emotional and developmental needs. One of the two teachers was brand-new to the school and brand-new to the team-teaching concept.  And, horror of horrors, in mid-year, it happened that the brother of one of the teachers was shot and killed in the Virginia Tech massacre.

Let’s just say that there wasn’t a lot of learning happening in that classroom, as the teachers struggled to figure out their partnership and their students, and then had to deal with an unimaginable tragedy.

If there had been testing done that year, I’m going to bet the scores would’ve been abysmal.

A third story: Have any of you ever had a dinner party? A real dinner party, where you carefully  invite the guests, plan the menu, spring for the fifteen-dollar bottle of wine as opposed to the Two Buck Chuck? And then the party for whatever reason fizzles?  But other times, people stop by, you order pizza or whip up some kind of soup, the Two Buck Chuck goes down easy and you have a wonderful night of laughter and conversation?

Teaching reminds me a bit of throwing a party (if you were dumb enough to throw a party two, three, five times a week). You can do all the planning and organizing and prep work in the world, but if the guests aren’t willing, you can’t force them to have fun. We’ve all been at those parties, right, where the hostess smiles maniacally and insists that you have another locally sourced organically grown whipped kudzu foam canapé, and all you can think is “jesus, for this I got off the couch?”

There’s talk afoot these days that “all” we need to do to fix public education is find effective teachers and get rid of the ineffective teachers.  So simple, right? We don’t need to worry about poverty, over-crowding, inadequate classroom supplies, or anything else. We just need better classroom managers!  At least, that seems to be the theory espoused by Michelle Rhee (glam edu-gal about town, unofficial star of “Waiting for Superman,” and free-floating reformer). In this week’s New York magazine, Rhee–ex-chancellor of the D.C. public schools–spends a lot of time talking about effective teaching, and she seems willing to let Eli Broad bankroll her ideas (click here for a less-flattering portrait of Broad than what Rhee says).

New York City has fallen with this effective teacher idea, too, with its “teacher data reports” that measure (or attempt to measure) the teacher’s value-added score. The value-added score gets compiled through some incredibly arcane formula that even its supporters admit might be both too complicated and…um…inaccurate.  So, for instance, a wonderful new teacher interviewed by Michael Winerip in The New York Times last week,  got a score that placed her in the 7th percentile—but that score could be actually as low as zero, or as high as the 52nd percentile.  And even that higher number doesn’t do justice to the glowing reports this teacher regular gets from her peers, her principal, and her students, many of whom go on to the city’s most competitive high schools.

So your dinner party flops because one couple has had a huge fight in the cab on the way over, another guest heard some disturbing news at the doctor’s office earlier and is distracted, your husband drinks too much and tells bad jokes, the scintillating new friends from your job prove to be insufferable snobs. Does that make you an ineffective hostess? Continue Reading →

Continue Reading · on August 26, 2013 in Education, NaBloPoMo, NYC, Politics

A day in the life…Or, life in an unfair state

This post, which I’m re-posting while I travel this week, reminds me that even though my kids still resemble the Bicker McBickersons, things have gotten better since the time I wrote this post. And of course now that I’ve said that, I’m sure I’ll go into the next room and see that they’ve taken knives to one another.  I’ve just violated the first rule of parenting: never talk about what is going well!

It’s another 3H Sunday in Manhattan: hazy, hot, humid. The kind of hot where the old gum melts on the sidewalks and re-sticks to your shoes. Two boys, one mom.  Let’s watch the whole scintillating day unfold, shall we?

7:03 I am asleep, happily, albeit unconsciously, enjoying the entire bed: Husband is on a business trip in Amsterdam and London.

You be the knight and I’ll be the marauder. Just go in mommy’s room and get her scarf for a cape.
You go get it.
No, you.
Why do I have to get everything?
Fine. Then I won’t play with you at all.

I am awake.

8:04 Whole Foods for muffins and Odwalla Mango Tango. (We go mostly because there is no half-and-half for my coffee and I refuse to drink lowfat 1% milk in my coffee. I have very few vices left; half-and-half is one of them. Which is a pretty goddam lame vice, if you ask me. I’m thinking about taking up meth.)

I want that muffin. He took the muffin I wanted!
Me (attempting reasonable tones): All those muffins look pretty much the same to me, actually. What about this one?
Fine. But it’s not fair.
When are we going to Petco for more fish?
Me: Later today. It’s not open yet.

He’s not even finishing that muffin. And it’s the one I wanted. Going to waste.
Me (attempting reasonable tones): Well, he’s done with it, so why don’t you eat the rest? Then you get more muffin than everyone.
Fine. But it’s not fair.
When are we going to Petco for more fish?

8:45 Liam hunkers down in front of the laptop that’s been repurposed for his use; Caleb dumps out every single lego bin.
Me (attempting reasonable tones): Why’d you dump them out?
Well, some guys went exploring into these bins and have never been seen again till now. So I have to find them and put them back together with their ship.
Me: Okay. But eventually all those pieces have to go back in the bins.
Fine. But you have to help me. Or else it’s not fair.  And when are we going to Petco for more fish?

I check my email to see if someone has forgotten to tell me about the wonderful beach house I’ve just inherited. No one has. I don’t seem to have inherited a nanny, either.

9:15 I pull out the laundry still in the dryer from yesterday, put in another load.

OW! He kicked me. For no reason!
You said I was stupid!
I did not!
Me (attempting reasonable tones): Maybe you two should play in separate rooms so you don’t bother each other.
No! I love Liam! I want to sit right here!  (Emphatic patting of ground next to his brother)
When are we going to Petco for more fish?
Me (tone in the vicinity of reasonable): At some point today, we will go to Petco, unless you ask me again. In that case, we will not go at all. Everybody clear on that?

Email again: still no beach house.  Not even a cabin on a creek. And no nanny.

I hate this computer! It’s so slow!
Me (reasonable tones wobbling): What’s the matter?
The game I want isn’t loading. It’s taking forever.
Me: Sounds like it’s the site, not your computer. That game always has problems, you know that.
It’s the computer!  It’s not fair!
Me: Would it be better not to have your own computer? You could share mine, when I’m not using it.

10:00 There is quiet talk and giggling from the boys’ room. I check to make sure that the laughter isn’t due to one of them about to make a blood sacrifice of the other and in fact they are playing some diabolical card game together. I put away the laundry; contemplate the Times Week in Review. The news is all bad; the world seems intent on taking itself to hell in a handbag.  I rummage in the cupboards. There is no chocolate. Why didn’t I buy chocolate at Whole Foods?

I’m hungry. I want a doughnut.
Me: (reasonable tones restored by bickering break):  Maybe after lunch. Not now. If you want a snack you can have a yogurt.
With honey?
Me: Yes, with honey.
Fine. But I really wanted a doughnut.

I’m hungry too. What’s for lunch? Can I have something with bacon?
Me: No, we’re out of bacon.
WHY? Then I want soup.
Me: I’m afraid we’re out of soup, too. I have to go to the store tomorrow.
Fine. But it’s not fair. We never have anything that I like.

I contemplate reminding him about the recent trip to Whole Foods but decide that I’m being asked a rhetorical question and don’t answer. Hot dogs are consumed, followed by jello. I realize, again, that “white trash” is an accurate description of my children’s diet. I wonder if it’s time for a drink, remember that I don’t usually drink, think that maybe it’s time to re-think that idea.

Me (aiming for cheerful): So let’s go to the pirate ship sprinkler park with your new MaxLiquidators.
Bor-ring. That’s for little kids.
Me (determinedly cheerful): Not really…and I think it would be good to have some running around time.
I hate that sprinkler park. I want to go to the one by Chelsea Pier.
Well I hate that one. Plus I don’t want to ride the bus.
Fine. Then I’m not going.
Can we go to Petco after? Wait, no, I didn’t mean that, I just forgot, never mind!

Me (wondering if it would violate any laws if I just left them in the apartment for the rest of the afternoon): Let’s take our scooters and go the pirate ship playground. It’s closer and maybe we’ll see the ice cream truck on the way. (Note: yes, this is bribery. Generally speaking, parenting books don’t approve of bribes. Generally speaking? Parenting books suck).

You said we’d get ice cream.
Me: If we saw the ice cream truck
Well where is it?
Me: I’m not in charge of the truck, sweetie. Maybe it’s not in this neighborhood today.
Fine. But it’s not fair.

We manage two hours at the playground. The boys are, in fact, the oldest kids there this afternoon, and with their (not very aggressive) water guns, I realize that they look VERY big and boy-ish compared to the toddlers waddling through the sprinklers. Caleb accidentally knocks into a little boy who has staggered in front of him. Caleb looks stricken, apologizes (unprompted, I might add), the mother rushes to her child (who is giggling), glares at Caleb and at me, then picks up her darling precious progeny to make sure Caleb hasn’t broken his ribs and maybe given him a black eye into the bargain. I decide I hate this woman.

2:35 The sky has turned steel-gray and the wind has picked up. The much promised rain is coming. We pack up to leave the sprinkler park that they didn’t want to come to.
Why do we have to leave?
Yeah. It just got fun now that the little kids have gone. (You’ll note that they have decided to collaborate. Oh goody.)
Can I bring home these water ballons? (Each water balloon looks like a watermelon.)
Why not? It’s not fair.
Can we get ice cream?

I’m too tired. I can’t ride my scooter. Can you carry me?
Hurry up Caleb! Iit’s going to rain and I don’t want to get wet! (Liam’s hair is still dripping from the sprinkler park)
Caaaaarrry me.

3:00 Home. The rain has just started.
Can we go to Petco and get more fish?
Me (the very paragon of reason): It’s just started to pour. Let’s wait until it stops raining. And please don’t ask again.
It’s not raining that hard. (Raindrops the size of peas hurl against the windows)
I hate waiting. Waiting stinks.

I want to snuggle with Liam.
I’m reading.

I smile and think that maybe I don’t have to post their pictures on craigslist to see if anyone would like to rent them for a long weekend.


Me (my tone now on the remote outskirts of “reasonable”): Separate. Yourselves. Now.

My facebook friends, god love them, tell me that it’s absolutely okay to make myself a gin-and-tonic.  I do so. It helps.

(Small pitiful voice):  Can I come out now?

I contemplate “not until next week,” and remember that Caleb is in my bedroom, so this would be counter-productive.  He is allowed out to roam, possibly to kill again.

Instead, Lego figures are assembled and a rousing battle begins; many things are blown up and elaborate weapons and guard towers are erected. Silence in the other room as Liam contemplates re-building his Yu-gee-oh decks for the standing card game he has during lunch at camp.

4:45 Early supper, featuring a variety of frozen items from Trader Joe’s, plus a tiny bowl of corn (Liam); and, for Caleb, six grapes, two baby carrots, and corn chips dipped in ketchup (dee-lish, eh?)

Me (cheerful, the G&T having done its job): Who wants to go to Petco?
Them: Not now! We’re playing Yu-gee-oh. Maybe in a little while. Or maybe tomorrow?

I begin writing this post, eat the herbed summer succotash I made for myself (upside of Husband being away: eating whatever I want for dinner, including succotash on crackers).

Can we go to Petco now?
And maybe get ice cream?

Me (reason restored; bedtime is only a few short hours away): That’s a great idea.

And when we walk through Union Square, a sweet post-storm breeze is blowing, there is a magician doing card tricks, and a guy playing a sequined digideroo (and assorted home-made percussive things).  We hold hands and tell jokes, and all is right with the world.


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Continue Reading · on August 21, 2013 in Children, growing up, Kids, NYC, Parenting

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