Saturday, December 31, 2011

Holiday Baking, Pie Edition

Pie is an extremely important holiday tradition in my family.  For Christmas, we have pie for breakfast, which growing up my siblings and I understood to be a tradition passed down from my father's family.  Then we mentioned this tradition to my aunt, who stated that they did no such thing.  So apparently my father just likes eating pie for breakfast, and told us it was tradition as an excuse.  Or possibly we finished baking the pies too late to eat them on Christmas Eve one year, and moved them to breakfast.  Either way, it is an excellent tradition.

This year, we had cherry, apple, and cranberry-apple pies (a cherry and apple are above).  I add brown sugar and cinnamon to my pie crust, which may interfere with the flakiness, but is much tastier that they standard flour, butter, water combination.  My husband and I did a repeat of the cherry pie for New Years, and will be testing it shortly.  And yes, cherry pie must have a cute little cat on it, and no, it is not at all easy to sculpt whiskers out of pie dough!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

193 Interviews . . . Transcribed!!!!

Which means, I am done with transcription. At least temporarily. Of course, I finished at my parents' house, and the celebratory mead was at my house. Then when I finally got to celebrate with it, it was sickeningly sweet. But I am done, and my foot pedal and intense earphones are packed away. Now there's just a dissertation chapter or two to write with all that data :-)

Holiday Baking Part 2

So this is posting a few days late, but since it is one of the best parts, I didn't want readers to miss out :-)

As I mentioned in the first post, Sandtarts are a traditional favorite in my family, as they were the cookies my father made growing up, and thus the ones he introduced us to when we were young and he was in charge of holiday baking.  They are like sugar cookies with a lemon flavor, and we hang them on our tree, as in the picture below (where the flash sadly blew out my careful striping of sprinkles on the tree cookie).

The recipe for these delightful cookies used to be the Joy of Cooking, but for some reason they removed it.  So here it is (and as much as I like chewy cookies, these are best rolled thin).

Beat until soft:
     3/4 cup butter
Add gradually and blend until creamy:
     1 1/4 cups sifted white sugar
Beat in:
     1 egg
     1 egg yolk
     1 teaspoon vanilla
     1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
Sift before measuring:
     3 cups all-purpose flour
Resift with:
     1/4 teaspoon salt
Stir the flour gradually into the butter mixture until well blended.  The last of the flour may have to be kneaded in by hand.  Chill the dough several hours.
Preheat oven to 400.
Roll the dough until very thin.  Cut into shapes and place on greased cookie sheets.  
Brush the tops of the cookies with:
     The white of an egg
Sprinkle generously with sugar.
Bake about 8 minutes. 

That's all for now, as I am writing these overdue posts between interview analysis.  But stay tuned for the pies!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The new baby tractor gets into the Christmas spirit

Of course, this would be even funnier had I managed to capture myself, my brother, and my husband all taking picture with our iphones as my father drove it over.  But it's not every day you see a tractor full of presents!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Baking, Part 1

Baking is one of my favorite holiday traditions, in addition to one of my favorite adolescent activities, and more recently a way of convincing non-Americans that American baked goods do not in fact suck like the nastiness you can buy at the big chain grocery store.

The two cookies that make Christmas for me are Sand Tarts and Oatmeal cookies, which we've made ever since I was little.  The Oatmeal cookies are taken from the Quaker Oats recipe (which makes this Quaker a little grumpy as seeing that box also brings back memories of being teased about funny clothing, television, and horses as a child (um, we're not Amish)).  However, sometime during the Craisin Craze in the 90's, I decided that craisins would be a good substitute for raisins, and they have remained my favorite cookie ever since.

In addition to the staple cookies, I usually make a chip cookie and a spice cookie of some sort.  This year, my father requested Black Forest Cookies, which are basically chocolate chip cookies with dried unsweetened tart cherries (mail order in these parts).  Very tasty, although I would probably use an equal chocolate to cherry ratio, rather than slightly more chocolate.

Finally, my husband picked a ginger cookie recipe off the internet, and we finished off today's baking with that.  They're tasty, although I prefer a spicier cookie.

In addition to baking, I finished two transcriptions! Only five more to go! What a successful day!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Back to transcription!

I put an exclamation point in the title hoping it would make me excited for transcription.  It didn't work.  I have a mere ten more interviews to go, and am hoping to do one a day.  So far this has worked, except for the days when I've been grading finals, which seems reasonable.  Then I will be done, and can celebrate with the honey mead that has been mocking me from the fridge all semester.

Of course, refreshing my inbox every thirty seconds, and staring it trying to conjure up an email from a search committee also limits my productivity.  So far, I can only say that I am adept at conjuring up emails urging me to take advantage of last minute Christmas sales.

My legs hurt from a half-hour of split high-cutting last night, as well being consistently occupied by one of two lap-addicted cats.  On the other hand, the rest of dance class was spent choreographing to Christmas Carols for upcoming shows, which are turning out well.  

In addition to finishing transcription, I am hoping to finish a chapter of my dissertation over break.  This is the hardest, but also the most interesting chapter in my dissertation.  We'll see how it goes.

I may also do some baking updates, as now that I am back in the US, I have access to all my traditional American baking goods and ingredients.  Stay tuned for pies and cookies!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Five interviews and a Sri Lankan-Jewish-Korean wedding

That was my conference weekend.  Followed by a Skype interview today, which means I had exactly six hours (3.5 of which were spent teaching dancing) in which I was excited to be done interviewing, followed by the stress of knowing that in the next two weeks I will know whether or not I make it to various other stages of this process.

The wedding (my husband's cousin, although he is only two of those traditions) was excellent.  Especially as it was held in a library that looked like the Beast's in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.  If only I hadn't been too exhausted for socialization.

Finally, here is an amusing and appalling story from the plane ride to this conference (since I am blonde, I can get away with reading Arabic on planes):

Woman sitting behind me: Are you originally a native speaker of English?
Me: Yes [Originally?]
Woman: But you're reading a book in a language that's not English
Me: It's a book of short stories by Ibrahim Aslan, an excellent Egyptian author [Haven't you heard of multilingualism, you idiot?]
Woman: Oh, I've always wanted to see the pyramids.
Me: Yes, they're amazing [Don't be mean to ignorant people, don't be mean to ignorant people . . . ]
Man from two rows down: Oh, you must be going to Area Studies Conference!
Me: Yes, I am [Thank you for saving me from this conversation!]

As it happens, here is a similar story from the last time I flew to this conference, and was grading homework on the plane:

Man passing down the aisle: What kind of funny language is that?
Me: Arabic [which has a much less funny orthographic system than English]
Man: Well, it sure isn't English!
Me: No, it's not [you moron]
Woman sitting behind me, as they man moves on: The ignorance of some people knows no bounds.  Are you going to Area Studies Conference?

Sometimes, I have the patience for these types of people, and will calmly explain that no, I do not speak hieroglyphics as a result of living in Egypt.  However, when I am stressed, short on sleep, and on my third plane ride in a two week period, it is all I can do to keep it short and civil.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Random Khawatir

1) When my Facebook feed looks something like following (and it has since last January) I feel somewhere between depressed, annoyed, and angry:

    Urgent medical supplies needed in Tahrir, call xxxxx

    My dog just barfed up turkey.  Ewwwww!!!

    Protesters pouring into the square, the battle rages on.

    We want a coup! The people and the people are one hand!

    My team won!  Off to get shit-faced.

2) Writing cover letters for a month straight makes writing my dissertation positively exciting.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same about transcription, which I have not yet resumed.

3) A textbook is a textbook.  It is not a curriculum, nor should it be expected to be one.  Complaining about the textbook is easy to do, and annoying when used as an excuse for poor teaching.  

4) Why are meals advertised as all white meat, when dark meat is so much tastier? For that matter, why does anyone choose the white meat part of the turkey?

5) I have a new kilt!  Pictures to follow soon.

6) Why are tank suit blouses so enormous? How can I wear a 00 suit blouse when the jacket is a 4 or a 6? More importantly, what do people who are actually 00 wear? Or do they just swim in the blouse? (Based on a sample size of three blouses, at two different stores).


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dreaming my dissertation

Today, I spent a good fifteen minutes searching for a particular section of my dissertation.  I remembered the exact words I'd used and edited, but no amount of command F could bring up this particular part.  I read the whole chapter through looking for it.  In the end, I think I may have dreamed writing this section.  Luckily the memory was so vivid that I could immediately write it again.  I am not sure what this means, but I am choosing to interpret it at an indicator of the importance of sleep, since I apparently compose and edit quite well during this activity :-)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I'm waiting to hear from the school I phone interviewed with if I made it to the next stage (at this point, probably not because they were moving fast).
I'm waiting to hear from the schools I submitted other applications to if I made it to any stage.
I'm waiting to hear from Prestigious Journal if the decision on my R&R that was to be made soon two months ago is made.
I'm waiting to submit my job applications due at the end of this month on the chance of hearing good news from above journal and finishing another dissertation chapter.
I'm waiting to get feedback on the dissertation chapters I've submitted.
I'm waiting to hear if I got accepted at Major Conference.

A9-9abr Gameel.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Books that changed my life: Jade, Feminism, and Identity Categories

I have mentioned before that Sally Watson was a defining author of my childhood.  The moment I picked Jade off the library shelf is firmly engrained in my memory, because of what followed.  I remember looking down at the book, the description of which is:
Always a rebel against the conventions of the eighteenth century which require her to be a meek and obedient young lady, a sixteen-year-old girl joins the pirate crew that captures the ship she is traveling on.
Always on the lookout for historical fiction that involved girls going on adventures, I thought this sounded pretty good.  Not only was the heroine female, there were also female pirates!  Little did I know that this book (and the rest of the books by Sally Watson that I went on to find through interlibrary loan) would change my life*.  For the first time in my life, I had found a heroine that was as frustrated with identity categories as I was (and am).  For example:
People began to seem a great deal more complicated than they had.  Hypocrite and victim, brave and weak, were inadequate categories after all.
This book was also my first introduction to the type of feminism I believe in today, although I didn't realize it at the time.  I just knew that I passionately agreed with it.  For example, a description of her fencing teacher:
Here she wasn't merely a female named Melanie, but a human being called Jade.  Monsieur Maupin had no use for irrelevant categories such as male and female.
 And a conversation with the man she later marries:
"Well, I never did suppose you were the chivalrous sort." "No!" He curled his lip.  "Rotten stuff! If you want to help a friend, that's one thing.  Or someone who's helpless and can't help himself.  But why should anyone be babied and pampered just because she happens to be a girl? A human's a human.  Ought to be treated that way."
Rights for slaves and Indians** also feature prominently.  However, lest anyone worry that this is a book where a rich white girl saves the poor slaves, here is her slave's response to being "freed."
Domino [looked] pleased but neither astonished nor grateful.  Why should she be grateful for what she had considered to be her natural and inalienable right all along?
Finally, some advice for reformers everywhere, again from the fencing teacher:
"Remember to always demand more of yourself than anyone else', he warned her.  "Otherwise you become merely a tiresome rebellious young girl who wants that the whole world should change to suit her whim.  The world is full of such as these; most of them grow up at last, but are not particularly admirable, enfin.  They are against everything, for nothing."
This book was originally published in 1969.  The copy I re-read this weekend was the one re-issued in 2002 by Image Cascade.  What I found particularly intriguing this time around, particularly in like of all the identity theory I'm dealing with for my dissertation, was how relevant this book still is to me today.  While the named problems Jade fights (such as slavery and property rights for women) are in the past (probably the only reason the book was published) her ideals of equal treatment for all, pity as the ultimate insult for the oppressed, "drinking your own brew" when you take a stand, and breaking down any and all identity categories hold up rather well today.

*For example, her books are what led me to both Dancing and Arabic.
**Amerindians/Native Americans, yes, there is some problematic terminology/representations.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Harley Davidson in Arabic

So a friend asked me to help a friend who needed someone to look at slides in Arabic and see if the font displayed correctly/the translation was okay, etc.  I said sure I could look at them.  As it turns out, they were slides to train motorcycle club officers, and thus I have now learned a lot of terminology (in English and Arabic) about organizing motorcycle rides.

I'm not sure exactly who this is being distributed to, but it raises interesting sociolinguistic issues.  The English presentation was very informal and full of slang.  The Arabic presentation was in full-blown Modern Standard Arabic, which is definitely not the language of motorcycle clubs (which I'd imagine is actually English in most places, at least for motorcycle related things).  So the words made sense, at least when the translator hadn't tried to literally translate English slang, but . . .

I was also thoroughly unimpressed with the translator's grammar, which required considerable correcting. Then again, the people who attend this training are probably not spending a lot of time sitting around making sure ism and khabr kaana are in the correct cases.

Then there were the instructions about respecting the lanes on the highways, and not passing out of turn.  All I can say is if you're riding in an Arab country--hah! Don't you know that your motorcycle is supposed to go wherever it fits with an inch to spare?

I'd imagine that this presentation is going to the Gulf, as that's the only place I can imagine that would have people rich enough to buy Harleys that don't speak English at a high level.  From a linguistic and cultural standpoint, it would definitely be fascinating to watch this presentation in real life.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Peeking out from under cover letters

So most of the jobs I am applying to were posted the second week in September, with a deadline five short weeks later.  Five weeks would be okay, but most of my recommenders want to see my application materials to help them write their letters, which means that in order to give them a reasonable time to write the letters, I basically had to produce all of my materials (teaching philosophy, research/teaching/special cover letters, etc.) right away.  Thus, the last two weeks have been pretty miserable, as I crammed this in on top of finishing my second dissertation chapter, data processing, teaching, and fellowship obligations.  I emailed everything off tonight, finished the two hours of grading I'd put off due to these letters, and will be catching up on data entry, laundry, blog reading, and everything else I didn't do these last two weeks this weekend.  Hopefully, future jobs ads will require the same set of materials that this set does, so things won't be quite so miserable, but who knows?

Monday, September 12, 2011

First day of dance class!

Scottish Highland classes started today.  I'm teaching one day a week, and this was my day to teach.  I will have four classes this year: Primaries (dancers under 7), Beginners, a Stamina/Strength/Core/Stretching training class, and finally ending with Novice/Intermediate level dancers (a competitive level up from beginner).  Day 1 is over, and I am exhausted.  The training class is pretty exhausting on it's own, but I also have to do a lot of demonstrating in the other classes.  Not to mention teaching 3-8 year olds is like herding cats.  At least my cats follow freeze-dried salmon treats.  Any ideas on what the 6 year old equivalent of freeze-dried salmon is?  Nevertheless, I'm satisfied.  I love Highland, and I love teaching dancing, especially after a day of disserating.  Some people might see hobbies as a distraction, but I truly believe that I am a better academic because I dance, and a better dancer/ teacher because I'm an academic.  They are complementary, rather than contradictory, and I am trying my best to work out my life such that I never have to give up one for the other (something of a geographical challenge).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Library Memories

Today, I finally got my library card for the local library (a different system than the last time I was in University Town, as I lived in a different spot).  The library is only open for a few hours on Sunday, and it was packed, absolutely teeming with children and their parents as well as elderly couples.  The parking lot was full, something almost unheard of for this excessively car-friendly part of the country unless there is a football game.

My library growing up was never packed (well, unless you count it's bookmobile days, when five was a crowd), but I did spend a great deal of time there as a child.  Getting my first library card was one of the happiest days of my life, although there was some difficulty afterwards when I wanted to check out fourteen books for a four-week period, and the librarian didn't believe I would read them all.  (As usual, not only did I read all of them, but also all the books my brothers checked out).  Then I ran out of books in the fiction section of the library, and had to beg my mother to go to the district library instead of the local one.

In these days of Amazon and my Kindle, the well-worn pages of library books tend to look a little dingy, and I am snarkily judgmental of exhibits like "we are all multicultural!".  But still, if I believed in Heaven, I believe it would look just like a public library.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Unexpected benefits of the job market

When I think about the path my dissertation has taken so far, I imagine myself walking in the woods.  I saw an interesting trail, and walked down it, at each fork in the road taking the one that looked most interesting.  Somewhere along the line, I entered an environment very different than the one I started out in, in the sense of moving from a deciduous mountain range to rainforest.  Then, I saw some bright and interesting birds, started chasing them, and inadvertently wandered off a cliff, where I'm now desperately grabbing at the roots of assorted trees to keep from falling.  In short, I feel as though I've wandered to a place where my background in deciduous forests is no longer of use, but I haven't figured out the rainforest yet, including how to survive in it.

This, however, is not the type of thing that one can write in a job application.  The focus has to be on what I can do.  Which, as I was pleased to discover in looking at my CV and the course list of one of the jobs I'm applying to, is a lot.  Yes, I can teach a good chunk of your courses.  I do have experience that looks really good when you list it all together.

So yes, I still have to deal with the shittiness to come of well, we don't actually want all that stuff you can do or think this person can do it better.  But at the moment, as I struggle with all of the things I feel like I don't know well enough in the rainforest, it's nice to know that my travels have led to me knowing something!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pants, Accomplished

Shortly before the beginning of the school year, I realized I had only two pairs of dress pants.  Since I teach three days a week and tend to avoid jeans to look older and the climate around here only permits skirts for about two months of the academic year, this was a problem.  The bigger problem is that I hate shopping for clothing, and especially pants, which really have to fit in a particular way to look good on me.  Thus, I tend to go shopping for pants only every 5-6 years, when the pants I bought not the last time, but the time before have worn out leaving me with only two pairs.

Luckily for me, in the time since I last went shopping, my mother discovered Chicos, a store that caters to larger* (but not really large) women in their 50s-60s.  We are similar shapes, so she bought me a few pairs of jeans.  I loved them.  So, when my husband and I were wandering around the tiny town where we went to a dance competition this weekend** and I saw a Chicos store, I figured this would be my opportunity to get dress pants. I got off to a false start, somehow choosing a bunch of slim leg pants (this information was on a tag buried in the pants).  These not only looked terrible on my pear shape, but were actually too tight in the calves (thanks Highland Dancing).  However, armed with the knowledge that I needed to look for the tag with the leg shape, I found three pairs of pants that fit just like my jeans, which means, happily, that I am done pants shopping for another 5-6 years!  Now, if I can just find a pair of teacherly black sandals, the torturous Fall shopping will be complete!

So, for any pear-shaped readers, I highly recommend Chicos flare leg or trouser leg pants.  It is kind of annoying to have to figure out your size at yet another store, especially when there is no correlation with sizes at other stores, but the pants are really fantastic.

*I am not really in the larger category, but as a size 8 wear the second smallest size in the store (a 0--the sizing is bizarre, but the fit is great so I deal)

**I got third! And won the choreography competition! And my husband competed in the Daddy Pas de Basques! It was exciting!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pet "Sympathy" Cards

My dance teacher's  husband died recently (Allah yar7amu) and the visitation was today.  I stopped to get a card at the grocery store (sadly it was also dorm move-in day, apparently, so the place was crazy).  Cards are organized by category, but I couldn't find a "death" or "funeral" section.  Hmm, what else would this be called, I wondered.  Condolences? I couldn't find that either.  Finally, I realized that since I definitely wasn't looking for a birthday, anniversary, holiday, wedding, baby, thank you, or blank card, it must be the "sympathy" section.  Granted, I am at the point in life where I go to more weddings than funerals, but this seemed a little overly euphemistic to me.  As I looked through the cards, trying in vain to find one that wasn't full of nauseatingly maudlin verse, I noticed one with paw prints on it.  I pulled it out.  It was, indeed, a sympathy card for the loss of one's pet.  In fact, there was a whole section of pet sympathy cards.  Now, I love my cats dearly, and will be beyond distraught when they die.  But a pet sympathy card? Really?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Frustration or Inspiration?

I study a fairly popular topic, with a fairly popular theoretical framework, but in a context that is not usually addressed in the literature. Needless to say, when the research/theory I'm reading mentions my context, I get pretty excited. Then there are moments like today, when a prominent researcher, whose work I really generally enjoy reading and find helpful, mentions my context in two different ways. The first time, she lost all nuance, and made an offensive generalization when comparing my topic (and worse, a particular identity category of mine)to the one more traditionally studied in this particular theoretical framework. Then she turned to my context, and cited research on a topic of much obsession with little substance about which she clearly had no knowledge. Grumbling into the book, I immediately demoted her from favorite researcher to failed theoretician. Why doesn't anyone give my context the attention it deserves! Why do they ignore it/say unnuanced things about it! It's important to this framework too and you need to see that!

Then I remembered that I am writing my dissertation on this topic for exactly this reason. :-) I should be inspired, not frustrated!

Monday, August 22, 2011


Today, I was supposed to meet someone to try on a used dance jacket that I think will fit me, but wanted to try on first.  She was passing through a town about two hours away (closer than going to her) so I agreed to meet there.  Because we only have one car, I had to drop my husband off at training, so I arrived half an hour early.  Forty-five minutes after our appointment, she still wasn't there, so I called.  She texted me that she was coming through tomorrow, not today.  Whoops.  I was annoyed at myself, because usually I'm pretty good about remembering dates and stuff.  I get home, and check my email--sure enough we're confirmed for August 22, which is today, unless all of my electronic devices are wrong (but I even checked the paper calendar too!).  So now I'm annoyed at her for making me lose five precious hours of my life and not sure what to do.  I also got sunburned from sitting in my car that long with the window open.  Do I ask for a discount on the jacket? Ask her to go out of her way to meet me closer? Oh, I'll never get those five hours back!

As I was driving back, I got a call on my cell phone: Are you coming to the curriculum meeting? What meeting? I asked, thinking, gosh did I get two things wrong on the same day? I'm really losing it.  This time, there was in fact a meeting, but the organizer forgot to tell me about it.  Which is annoying, because I had some things I wanted to make sure happened, so now I will just have to hope that other people made sure they happened.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Long Distance Vanquished (at least temporarily . . . )

My husband got a job in University Town! Given the current economy, particularly in University State, I feel that this is nothing short of miraculous.  It is a job he is interested in, and I think will be exceptionally good at.  Of particular interest to me of course, is the fact that we will not have to do long distance, which we have done before, and which quite frankly sucks (especially internationally).  In fact, this will be the first time that we are living together in the United States.  Yippeeee!!!!!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Glories of Grammar: The Dual

Because I espouse communicative teaching methods and teaching Arabic dialects, and also object to calling formal language "correct" or "proper" people often assume I am "against" grammar.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as I actually love grammar, especially discussing and learning about grammar.  I simply have a different definition of grammar and conception of how it should be taught.  As an example of the glories of grammar, I offer one of my favorite parts of Formal Arabic grammar, dual agreement.

In Arabic, there is a singular noun for one item, a dual noun for two items, and a plural noun for three or more items*.  So, we have:

one cat: qiTTa
two cats: qiTTatan
three + cats: qiTaT

In formal Arabic (although not in the dialects), adjectives, verbs, demonstratives and relative pronouns must all agree with dual nouns.  The lovely part about this is that they all get the same ending (aani or ayni depending on the case) so then you can compose an entire sentence where every word rhymes*, such as the following:

هتان القطتان الكبيرتان اللتان تلعبان مجنونتان
haataani al-qiTTataani al-kabiiirataani allataani tal3abaani majnuunataani
these      the-two cats    the-big              that         play           crazy
(these two large cats that are playing are crazy)

How exciting is that!?

*actually 3-10 items, as at 11 it goes back to the singular if you are using the numbers

*My husband thinks this is why Formal Arabic is ridiculous.  In return, I have been thinking of the longest possible dual sentence to recite.

Technology and the Research Process Part 6: Final Formatting

Once I've finished my main draft, I export the document from Scrivener to Mellel* to do the bibliography.  When I copy the source from Bookends into Scrivener it gets places between curly brackets {}.  In Mellel, I tell it to convert these to citations, and tell Bookends to scan the document, which puts the citations in the proper format and automatically generates a bibliography from them.  The technicalities of how this works depend on the word processor and bibliography software you are using, but you should be able to do this so long as your bibliography software support your word processing software (and they all support Word for example).  I still have to read through the bibliography to check for mistakes, but this is much easier for me than typing it all in by hand.

Once this is done, I convert it to a format that works for whoever I'm sending it to (my advisor, a journal, etc) and sent it off.  When I do revisions, I typically just do them in Mellel or Word**, with reference to my notes in Slipbox or new sources, rather than going back to Scrivener.

So, this concludes my series on technology and the research process.  I hope it will be helpful to those who like technology and use a similar research process to me.  I'd guess it would work well if you are an organized person who thinks in a non-linear fashion.  If you are just one of these, you might find parts helpful.  If you are neither, this whole process probably sounds dreadful.  Regardless, as I stated in the beginning, technology is a tool not a method.  You have to find the tools that fit your method, whether it is the programs I describe here, a word processor, index cards, or pen and paper.

I am also happy to answer questions about any of the programs and processes described here or to take recommendations on how I could improve my own process, so don't hesitate to ask/advise!

*The main reason I use Mellel is because it has very nice right to left support, in particular for mixing Arabic and English within a document.  Word for the Mac doesn't support right to left languages (even though everything else on the Mac does.  I'm convinced the only reason there's no support in Word is to prevent businesses in the Middle from buying Macs instead of PCs, although please correct me if you know otherwise).  If you don't need RTL support, you're probably better off sticking with Word so as to prevent formatting issues when sending your documents to people/journals.  

**I did eventually break down and buy Word for the PC part of my computer because I was so sick of having 2-3 different copies of all of my teaching activities, which I typically have to print off computers that are not mine.  But since it is on a different system, it doesn't play well with the rest of my programs so I only use if for final editing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Technology and the Research Process Part 5: Writing

I write in Scrivener, which works very well for me because although I always produce a very linear product, I am a very non-linear writer.  Basically, I have an outline in my head (which I usually write down on paper at some point) and then I work on whichever part of that outline I feel like.  For this reason, I was always completely baffled in college when my friends would say things like "I've got 18 pages out of 25 for this paper, how many do you have?" First of all, I would have no idea, and secondly, the number of pages I had seemed completely irrelevant to whether or not I had an actual paper.  Writing in a regular word processor was always difficult because I would either have to save sections as separate documents or constantly be scrolling up and down.  For me, Scrivener solves this problem, as it seems to be designed for people like me who can't write first to last.

In the screen shot below, you can see that I have a research and a draft folder, and each one is divided into the same sections (and subsections that you can't see :-)*).  Thus, I can work on whatever section I feel like without scrolling all over the place.

As you can see, Scrivener allows you to split the screen, which makes it really easy to write directly from your notes.  Before I start writing though, I also organize my notes in Scrivener in the order I want to use.  In the screen shot, you can see on the right a little index card that has a summary of the note (I usually autogenerate this since my notes are short).  It also has a label, which will show up color-coded in the shots below.**

When I first import my notes from Slipbox, I organize them using the corkboard, which looks like little index cards and thus feels like my old method.  I can organize them in freeform mode, which lets me move them anywhere, as in the shot below:

Or I can organize them in a more structured mode, where they stay in rows, as in the shot below:

In either mode, you can stack them into groups, which is also very convenient.  The colors in the corner show you theThe only thing that I dislike about this is that I have a small laptop screen (13") so sometimes I have too many cards for my screen real estate.  Someday I hope to have a larger screen.

Once I have the notes organized, I get down to the actual writing, using the split screen.  For this, I put the cards in group mode, which you can see here in full screen:

When I am writing in the split screen mode as in the first screen shot, I just scroll down through the bottom screen of notes, while typing into the top screen of draft.  A particularly wonderful aspect of the integration between Bookend and Slipbox is that you can see that even when I import the slips to Scrivener, there is a link to the source.  When I need to add it in my draft, I click then link in my note, which transfers me to the source in Bookends.  I copy the source citation in Bookends and paste it into my draft text in Scrivener.

So, this is how I use technology to write.  I don't know of any other program like Scrivener, which is designed for the Mac but also has a Windows beta.  Scrivener can also do much, much more than I have described here.  So, if you are thinking this sounds cool, but I wish I could do X, Scrivener probably can do it, I just don't use it.

*Yes, this really is my dissertation, which even though you can't see much kind of makes me feel like I'm posing in my bikini on the internet, but it was too difficult to make a fake one

**This is probably unnecessary, but I have synesthesia, so color-coding makes me feel good.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Technology and the Research Process Part 4: Literature Database

After I save my notes in text form, I put them in SlipBox, which basically is like a digital index card box.  Here is a screenshot:

Here you can see my note (a piece of the notes from the article) in the main box, my keywords in the next box, my source (conveniently linked with Bookends) in the third box, and the type of source in the last box.  The numbers on the side are slip scents, which theoretically link this note to other similar notes based on the text or keywords or something (I don't use this much, but it might be helpful someday).

When I want to read or write about a particular topic, I use the search function, pictured below with a keyword search, which is what I usually use.

If I am planning to write about a particular topic, I go through and flag the notes I want and then export them as text files to write in Scrivener, which will be the topic of my next post.

It is worth noting that in fact I am usually reading and writing at the same time, as I am doing currently for my dissertation.  If I read something and know exactly where I want it to go in my dissertation, then I will just copy it into that spot and put it in Slipbox afterwards.  Sometimes this feels like a lot of extra work, since I won't see the payoffs from this database process for a few years, if at all.  But for now, I'm hoping that a little extra work in the short term will pay off in the log term.  If anyone has suggestions about the likelihood of this, I'm happy to hear them.  Hanshof!

I don't know of any other program quite as amazing as Slipbox*,  which is unfortunately Mac only, but there are other programs that I think could work.  Evernote allows you to tag notes, and you could use this for keywords and sources, or just put the source in the title.  I use Evernote for pretty much everything else in my life, and didn't want my research mixed in with my recipes and taxes, so that's one of the main reasons I don't use it for research.  A lot of Mac users swear by a program called Devonthink which does some sort of artificial intelligence analysis of your documents as well to make connections between them.  I was never really able to get into it though, and it's expensive.

*I was so delighted when I finally discovered this program that I raved about it for days to my husband.  Since his response every time I complained about not finding the perfect database software was "why can't you just type everything into a Word document?" he didn't find this discovery quite as exciting as I did :-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pronunciation "Corrections"

I spent this morning being a guide for a visually impaired FLTA.  He's Arabic-speaking, so we chatted in a mix of Arabic and English.  At the end of the morning, he asked if I would mind if he corrected my Arabic.  "Of course not!" I replied, "I really like it when people correct me in fact."  "Okay," he said, "you sometimes say qaaf instead of kaaf*, like in 7ukuuma."  "You mean I say kaaf instead of qaaf?" I queried, confused as to why I would be making a more difficult sound instead of an easier one.  "No, no" he replied, "don't worry, it's not your fault, it is something all Egyptians do, they say 7uquuma instead of 7ukuuma, or qaaZim instead of kaaZim.  You just listened too well to them and now you are making the same mistakes they do."  Grinning to myself, I managed to pronounce both 7ukuuma and kaaZim to his satisfaction before we parted ways, which sounded pretty funny to me.

What I found particularly interesting about this exchange, aside from the sociolinguistics, is that he is right that Egyptians pronounce things this way and that I have picked it up.  Yet, if you asked me to describe the differences between Egyptian and Levantine dialects, this is something that would never occur to me, even though I clearly started doing it at some point myself.  In other words, it is something that I learned but was not aware I was learning it.

In some second language acquisition theories, this would be considered the difference between explicit and implicit knowledge.  Explicit knowledge is the ability to explain the "rule" behind a linguistic phenomenon.  Implicit knowledge is the ability to use the phenomenon correctly.  You can have explicit knowledge without implicit, as in the case of language learners who know that nouns and adjectives need to agree in gender but don't produce matching pairs in speech.  You can also have implicit knowledge without explicit, as in the case of native speakers who can use the language correctly but are at a loss as to how explain grammar rules when asked.  Generally, adult language learners rely more on explicit learning, although this can become automatic over time.  Some argue that adult learners are not capable of implicit knowledge, although I feel as though examples like the one above demonstrate that this is clearly not the case.  Nevertheless, it is rare enough that I am always surprised when something that I have learned implicitly is brought to my attention, as happened today.  I never learned the rule for that, I think, how did that happen?

*Arabic has a voiceless velar stop, kaaf, which is similar to English k.  There is also a voiceless uvular stop, qaaf, which is made farther back in the throat than k and is typically difficult for English speakers to learn and distinguish at first.

Technology and the Research Process Part 3: Note-taking

Based on my research process, my goal with notes is to get what I read into text form.  Back in the day when I learned the index card method, there were different types of cards you could make, including quote, summary, and list.  These are the types I mostly use today, either quoting directly from the source, summarizing a point, or making a list of ideas.

For my field, I primarily read journal articles and books.  The journal articles are nearly always in PDF form, and in the rare instances that I have to copy them at the library I scan them afterwards and OCR them in PDFPen.  If I am sure I want a book and it is available digitally, I buy the Kindle version.  If I am not sure I want it or it is not available digitally, I buy the paper copy or check it out from the library.  Thus, my reading content basically consists of PDFs, digital books, and paper books, for which I use slightly different technological tools.

To take notes on PDFs, I use iAnnotate on my iPad.  I can highlight or write notes and then email the annotations to myself, which gets them on my computer in a text form.  This is pretty amazing, and the only thing I wish iAnnotate would add is a stand alone note possibility because sometimes I don't want the note to be anchored to a particular place in the text (if it summarizes several pages for example).  iAnnotate also always you to take notes in other ways that I don't use, such as underlining or drawing.

Digital Books
I read these on my Kindle.  Similar to iAnnotate, when I write a note or highlight, it saves it in a text file which I can transfer to my computer.  I also wish that it would allow stand alone notes.  It is worth noting that you can convert PDFs to annotate on the Kindle, but the PDFs I read often have charts or figures that do not turn out well.

This is the annoying one because I have to actually type up all of my quotes by hand.  I type them straight into TextEdit, which is the basic text editor on Macs.  If I'm out and about and don't want to take my computer, I type them into PlainText or Simplenote on my iPad, both of which sync with my computer.

Obviously, one does not need a Kindle or an iPad to take notes on PDFs or digital books.  If you open a PDF on your computer, you can copy the text into a text file (although it doesn't always look nice).  Skim is a PDF reader for the make that allows you to export your annotations as text, and I'm sure there are ones for other platforms as well that I am not aware of.  To annotate digital books on your computer, there are applications like Adobe Digital Editions and Mobipocket, although I am not sure to what extent these let you export your annotations.

Once I have the text on my computer, I save it as a text file on my computer in a folder called Notes.  The purpose of this is to have all of my notes in text format to export/copy to new programs in the future, as technology changes, and I'm sure I will not be using the programs I use now all of my life.

Technology and the Research Process Part 2: Gathering Sources

As I stated in my last post, my first use of technology in the research process is in gathering sources.  I usually do this by looking up articles I've found in other articles, on list serves, or in academic databases.  To capture these sources, I use Zotero, an open source Firefox extension.  Now, when I go to a site where Zotero recognizes sources, I see a tiny symbol in the address bar.  For example, if I click on a book on Amazon or Google books, I see the little book in the picture below:

Clicking on that book saves the source to my Zotero library.  If I am on a page where Zotero recognizes more than one source (such as a journal website or database) I see a folder instead, as in the following picture:

When I click on the folder, I see a checklist of sources (in this case articles) and can choose which ones I want to save, as in the following picture:

To me, this pretty much feels like magic.  Even better, Zotero saves my university's proxy server, and automatically directs me through it when I am off campus.  So if I see a link to a journal article on a website and click on it, Zotero will redirect me to that journal via my library access to it.  This allows me to download the PDF right away if I want it, rather than going back to my library website to log into the journal, find the article again, and download it.  

Once I capture my sources in Zotero, I export them to Bookends, another Bibliography software for the Mac.  I feel sort of silly using two bibliography softwares that should theoretically do the same thing.  However, Zotero is much better at capturing sources than Bookends.  In Bookends, I cannot get my proxy server to work and it doesn't recognize sources in LLBA search results, which is the database I use most frequently.

When my source is in Bookends, I attach the PDF (if I have it), and add it to any necessary collections of sources (like the article I'm putting it in).  In Bookends, I can see my list of sources, the PDF, my groups of sources, and my notes as cards all at once, as in the sample below (it looks better in real life).

  In Zotero, I can have all of these, but I can't see them at the same time.  Also, I prefer a standalone application, because sometimes having the extension at the bottom of my Firefox screen is really annoying (like if I want to do something else on the internet at the same time).  There is a Zotero standalone application in alpha, but it looks similar to the extension.  Finally, Bookends integrates with SlipBox and Mellel, which I will discuss in following posts.

There are many other things that Zotero and Bookends can do.  I will discuss the actual bibliography generation later, but there are many other features as well.  I don't use them, but they are likely useful for other people with different research processes.  There are also many other bibliography software programs, including Mendeley, Sente, Papers, and of course EndNote.  They all do pretty much the same thing in slightly different ways, so I think the choice comes down to personal preference, specific things one might need, and cost.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Technology and the Research Process

Spanish Prof  asked on her blog about computer software to use in the research process.  Searching for and trying out new software is one of my favorite ways of procrastinating  improving my scholarly abilities.  Over the past two-three years and lots of software trials, I have found what works (mostly) for me, and so this is a description of the process I am currently using, both to write my dissertation and also to build up a literature database that will last me throughout my career (isa).

One of the things I found frustrating in my searches for research software is that people would often write about a particular piece of software that they found helpful without explaining clearly how it fit into their research process.  Technology is a tool, not a method after all, and my interest was in tools to enhance my research process, which has for the most part been fixed since I was introduced to the index card method around 5th or 6th grade (age 10-11).  I think this is a fairly common method though, so hopefully this description will be helpful to others.

Basically, my method goes like this:

  1. Read information
  2. Take notes on index cards, with one thought per card (mostly) and the source at the top
  3. Sort the cards according to the parts of my paper (for an argument, summary, etc, usually this is by topic)
  4. Arrange the cards within each section in the order I want them
  5. Write the section with support from the cards

I used this method for every research paper I wrote from Middle School through my Masters Thesis.  However, when I started my PhD, and in particular my dissertation, I decided that I wanted to make this process digital.  There were several reasons for this.  First, I figured I would have a LOT of cards for my dissertation, and a computer should be able to search for a specific card a lot faster than I could.  Also, I move a lot and it would be one less thing to move.  Furthermore, I often found myself wanting to have a card in more than one category, and then I'd either have to copy it, or remember to move it.  A computer would make this easier.  Finally, I really dislike typing in sources, and I also thought that the computer should be able to do this for me.  

So now, my research process looks like this (software in parentheses*):
  1. Put source in research software (Zotero, Bookends)
  2. Read information and take notes in text form (iAnnotate, Kindle, TextEdit)
  3. Copy/paste notes onto "cards" and assign tags to each card (Slipbox)
  4. Sort the cards by tag(s) according to the parts of my paper (for an argument, summary, etc, usually this is by topic) and export the ones I want (Slipbox)  
  5. Arrange the cards within each section in the order I want them (Scrivener)
  6. Write the section according to the cards (Scrivener, copying in bibliographic information from Bookends)
  7. Final formatting (Mellel, Word)

I will explain the details of how I use each piece of software for its task in subsequent posts, but so far this process has the advantages I want.  It also allows me to build up a literature database in Slipbox.  So, in the future, if I want to look for things I've already read on a particular topic, I can just see what comes up under that tag.  The idea is that while it takes longer to read a particular article, this will save me time in the future.  The degree to which this is true I'll let you know in a few years :-)

Questions/Recommendations welcome!

Here are links to the parts:

*I've been a Mac user for the last 20-some years, so this reflects that.  When I explain each piece of software, I will try to provide cross-platform alternatives to the best of my knowledge

Monday, August 8, 2011

FLTA Tour Guide

My university hosts one of the orientations for Fulbright TAs, and I agreed to help with some activities.  The first one was giving a campus tour today.  We were supposed to wear a university t-shirt and take the FLTAs to six different sites on campus.  Despite the fact that I am going into my 5th year at this university, I apparently do not own a university t-shirt, nor even a shirt in the appropriate color.  I had also been to only one of the tour sites (the library) so I had to get up extra early to figure out where the rest were (my campus is very large).  Apparently graduate students who spend two years doing research abroad are not the best tour guides.

On the other hand, having some practical experience of these matters, I did manage to point out easily overlooked but ridiculous/fascinating aspects of American campuses that were new to the FLTAs and they were eager to take pictures of, such as pedestrian cross-walk buttons, numbered bus stops, recycling containers, and squirrels.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Identity Theory, Wikipedia Wanderings, and Foot Pedal Cramps

Since coming back from Nationals, and with no more travel on the horizon, I have pretty much settled into the following schedule:

     Morning: Work on dissertation (usually writing, but occasionally reading)
     Afternoon: Summer RA work (redesigning the third year Arabic curriculum)
     Evening: Transcription

If I have dance class or am meeting friends, one of these gets skipped (usually the RA work or transcription).  This is more hours than I care to work in a day, but so far it is working out, primarily because I know that I only have to do it for a month and everything is going well within these categories.

My dissertation is going well because a new theory book came out in the nick of time, and so I have the theoretical framework (the identity approach to SLA*) that was causing me so much difficulty tamed (or at least I think I do, we'll see what my advisor says when I send this chapter in).  Even better, in addition to using this theory to approach my research and provide useful insights into the context, I can also demonstrate how my research can problematize and improve this theory.

The RA work is also going pretty well, and is a good thing to do in the afternoon because I am too tired to think deeply about identity theory, but still alert enough to make good teaching activities.  Also, I know that any time I put in now will save me planning time during the semester (when I will also have fellowship commitments, teaching, job applications, etc).  Finally, searching for quality authentic materials is fairly interesting, even if I occasionally open Wikipedia Arabiyya to get articles on Egyptian newspapers for students to compare and somehow spend fifteen minutes reading about different types of leopards.

I can push through the transcription (an activity I truly dislike as readers of this blog know) because I usually dance or workout beforehand and this gives me a new burst of energy.  I also have a glass of wine which makes the tedium slightly more bearable.  But most importantly, I know that if I do this through August, I will be done transcribing, which will require a party of truly epic proportions (my husband is already bribing me with fancy honey mead).  Then I can have my evenings back for watching mosalsalaat, reading, and playing with my cats.  So hopefully this will work, especially as I am starting to wake up with leg cramps from my foot pedal*.

So here's hoping for a long, but promising August!

*Obviously this theory has been around for a while, but it is gathered together in a very clear fashion in this book.  If you are thinking what kind of SLA theory is this, I can only assure you that it is the best kind :-)

*You would think that Highland Dancing, which involves jumping high on the ball of the foot for 2-3 minutes at a time while doing all sorts of other fancy moves would give you strong enough leg muscles to prevent this, especially when it makes your calves so large you can't wear boots that go above the ankle or non boot-leg pants.  But no, apparently operating a foot pedal involves different muscles.  I just hope it counts as cross-training.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fighting Monolingualism

A belief that I have held from a very young age is that monolingualism is a bad thing.  Growing up in a very monolingual environment, the usual response to me saying how important I thought language learning was "But everyone speaks English!".  My initial attempts to learn foreign languages were also unsuccessful, as evidenced by the following conversation that occurred several times throughout my childhood (apparently I had hopes that the answers would magically change). 

Young Shedding: Mama, Pa, you should speak to me in a language other than English so I grow up bilingual!
Mama and Pa: We don't know any languages other than English
Young Shedding: Well, where are our ancestors from? I'll learn that language!
Mama and Pa: Um, England. 

You can imagine how delighted I was when I got to university, and discovered via Intro to Linguistics that monolingualism is actually not the norm for most of the world, and it is actually countries like the US that are abnormal rather than me. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ice Dipping Away the Pain

I first discovered ice dipping about a year ago, via The Tendonitis Expert, in one of my many quests to cure my tendonitis while constantly dancing, moving, and sprinting for airplanes I was about to miss.  I was not new to ice treatments, and was already icing my tendon with an ice pack for twenty minutes after activities likely to irritate it.  Despite this, I'd wake up the next morning and barely be able to walk, let alone dance.  Ice dipping (along with eccentric calf drops and massage) is what finally got the pain to a manageable point.  Basically, I dump 10-15 frozen water bottles in a large bucket that comes up to my knee and fill it with water.  I dip my leg in for 30-60 second and remove it.  I wait about 5-10 minutes and come back, and repeat over about a two hour period or until the water melts in the bottles or I have to go to bed or whatever.  Theoretically, this works because the ice draws the blood out and then new blood rushes in when you take it out, over and over, which is what your tendons need to heal.  It is especially affective with a tendon like the achilles that has a poor blood supply.  Whether this is true or not, I have no idea, but it works like nothing I had ever experienced.  After one week of ice dipping last summer, I could dance again.  I now mostly use it as a preventative measure (and have learned the hard way that I need to not skip it, although a day or two without is fine). 

My cats, of course, enjoy drinking from the bucket and seem to have developed quite the taste for ice water. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Politics in the Language Classroom

My assignment for the rest of the summer is revising my university's third year Arabic curriculum, which I will be teaching the in Fall.  Unlike Spanish Prof, I am not particularly into politics, and the idea of incorporating politics into the classroom is not something I find particularly exciting.  On the other hand, these are the topics from the textbook that we will cover in the Fall:

1) Journalism in the Arab world
2) The Role of the University

3) Modern Arabic Literature*
4) Pioneers of the Arab Feminist Movement

Add to this:
1) The Arab Spring
2) 9/11 and the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan
2) Most students who study Arabic in the United States are majoring in something like Political Science or International Relations
3) One of the first questions Americans are usually asked when studying abroad in the Arab world is What do you think of Obama/Bush/Israel/Palestine/the war on Iraq/Afghanistan etc?

Essentially, I simply cannot envision a decent upper level class that doesn't involve politics. 

Then there's religion.  For example, the following speaking activity from the textbook:

"What is the position of religion towards women? Discuss the opinions of different religions (Islam and Christianity and Judaisim and any other religions you know about)--on women's rights and their duties and position in society.  Remember and use the new words and expressions."

Which I'd tend to want to change to something like: "How is religion appealed to in support different attitudes towards women and their duties and position in society?" since I've seen religious justifications for just about everything.  

In the past, when dealing with controversial topics at lower levels, I've assigned different opinions rather than letting students choose their own, to make it more about using the language to express ideas rather than using the language to express your ideas and antagonize your classmates.  Also, I don't think it's ever a bad idea to have to think through an idea you disagree with. 

Then there's my opinion, which I don't have to state in the classroom, but will be pretty obvious to anyone who pays attention to the texts I choose.  On the one hand, there are certain stereotypes I (and clearly the authors of the textbook) want to combat (like Arab women are poor, oppressed victims) and this is where a chapter on the Feminist movement comes in.  On the other hand, I don't want to ignore gender-based problems in the Arab world--I would just like students to think a little bit more critically about them than the dreaded "East-West" "male-female" "powerful-oppressed" dichotomies allow.  All of that in a 3.5 week unit? rabbina yustor!

So, any ideas on this rambling post? How political would you make the class? What would you do to make students think a bit more critically?

*This tends to be fairly political

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thirty Thirty Thirty!!!!

Yes, today is my 30th birthday.  When you know, I should feel old, but instead I feel rather excited because 30 seems more exciting than 28 or 29.  Also, thus far, my life has improved with every year, and I look forward to it continuing to do so for a very long time, inshallah.  I would never want to return to 20, or even 25.  Ever.  So really, the only disadvantage as far as I can see is that I'll have to spend the next ten years being a red age instead of a blue one when I prefer blue to red.  Then again, that's just reason to look forward to my 50's when I'll be back to blue!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hip Tension

Two years ago, if you asked me about being tense, this was a feeling I would associate primarily with my shoulders.  Doing some internet browsing on alignment in dance, I happened across some articles on hip tension, which suggested using a tennis ball, or some other sort of hard rubber ball to relieve tension in the muscles surrounding the pelvis (likely at this site or this site, but I don't quite remember).  Since I was already using this technique to relieve shoulder tension (by lying on top of the tennis ball on tight spots) I figured I'd just move the ball down to my butt to check for hip tension.  I did, and wow.  Hip tension galore.  I moved the ball around a bit, and discovered tender spot after tender spot.  I removed the ball from my left side, where my hip suddenly felt much closer to the floor, and my leg longer.  I tried the right.  More tension.  Hmm, I thought, perhaps I should be doing this more often.  After a few weeks of rolling around on balls of various hardness, my pelvis felt completely realigned, like magic. 

I remembered this feeling, and how magical it felt, when I finished up teaching the class as my dance teacher rushed to the hospital.  Highland is a pretty athletic form of dance, and I could tell the other dancers were pretty sore, so I figured we'd finish with some ball work.  We'd been working on alignment, so I had them work on finding tight spots in the muscles around the hip (the sides as well as the butt).  We worked three spots on the right, and then I had them compare sides.  "Woah, this feels totally different" one said.  "Mom, we need to get squishy balls for our butts!" another cried.  When they stood up, after just that little bit, I could tell in their first position alignment as well, which was pretty exciting. 

Like ballet, Highland dancing requires turnout, or dancing with your knees as far to the side as possible, so it's hardly surprising that highland dancers have tight hip muscles.  However, it's worth pointing out that my husband, who rarely engages in any sort of exercise, is also a pretty big fan of these ball hip releases (in my excitement at first discovering them, I made him do it too). 

So, yes, this is a blog post urging you to try lying down with a tennis ball under your butt--you may be pleasantly surprised at the tension-relieving affects!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Teaching Dance

My dance teacher has been dealing with a family illness, so I filled in for her yesterday and today, and will perhaps be doing the same tomorrow.  It's meant at little more time dancing and a little less dissertating, but when have I ever complained about that? :-)

One of my dreams is to someday have my own highland (and possibly dabkeh) studio.  I've been a certified Highland teacher for years, but I move too often to make setting up my own studio feasible--it's hardly fair to get a group interested in Highland, and then desert them when there is not another teacher in the area.  I'm also a judge for highland dancing, but you can't judge when you are still competing.  Again, I'm hesitant to start judging because I move so often that it makes it difficult to let anyone know what city they'd have to fly me out of six months from now, which makes it difficult to commit to a judging job.  Also, I can always show up and dance at a competition, but I can't just show up and judge.  So basically, I'm afraid that if I started judging now, I'd end up cut off from Highland because I'd move somewhere and not be able to judge and have no students. 

So instead, I've become an old lady competitor, the nearly 30-year old dancing in the 16 and over category.  It's still fun, and my legs can still manage (albeit with increased pain) and I'm still improving my technique.  But, on days like today, when practicing makes my calves burn and I can teach instead, I long for my future imagined studio!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hair Stories

My hair is an unusual shade of strawberry blonde.  I don't find it particularly remarkable, as I look at it every day and my brothers have the same color hair.  In fact, sometimes I find it quite annoying, as in Arab countries (as well as parts of the US and many places I travel), people stare at me and little kids grab my braid, which makes me want to dye my hair a less remarkable shade if only I could solve the eyebrow/eyelash problem.  Nevertheless, random strangers (in the US and elsewhere) often stop me to compliment me on my hair, and sometimes to even ask if it is a natural color.  I think this is a little weird, as I cannot imagine walking up to a random stranger and complimenting them on anything, but generally I just say "thank you" or "yes, it's natural, my brothers have the same color too" and move on. 

Sometimes, however, someone's interest in my hair results in a truly bizarre discussion that leaves me speechless.  Until this weekend, the most bizarre conversation I'd had was the following.

A new salon opened in my home county, and I decided to check it out over the summer while I was home from college.  I got the cut, and as the stylist was blow drying my hair, another stylist walked by, paused right behind my chair and proclaimed in a loud voice:
              "God's color."  I was taken aback, and so was my stylist. 
              "What?" (God has strawberry blonde hair? What on earth?). 
              "Your hair, it's God's color" she continued, "I could never get that color out of a bottle, only God can make it."
             "Thanks" (I guess? What on earth is an appropriate response to this?) 

However, this pales in comparison the the conversation I had Friday night.  I was flying from Summer Town back to University Town, and the TSA agent checking my ID before security gave me a long stare (keep in mind there was a long line behind me).
              "You have beautiful hair."
              "My hair used to be that color, but now look at it." (He pats his bald and white head)  "You can still see it in my eyebrows, though, look (points at his eyebrows, which have the faintest hint of orange).  "Do you see it?"
              "Yes." (There is a line, why are we discussing this?).
              "It's really a great color"
              "Um, yeah."  (Can I please have my ID back and go through security?)
He holds my ID out and gives me a piercing look.  Lowering his voice, he glances around and proclaims in a low voice:
              "You know, we're the minority now"
Uhhhh . . . and I grab my ID and hustle towards the conveyer belt as quickly as I can.  Should I have called him out on this? Probably, but with what? Not to mention the fact, that holding up the line even longer hardly seemed like a good idea.   At least I now have an even stranger story than the God's color one. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Blog Improvements

So, I finally got around to my blog improvements.  They are:

  • A blogroll of some of the blogs I read that are academic and primarily in English (let me know if I'm missing anything good!)
  • Re-reading all of my old posts to see if there was anything I wanted to remove given that I'm planning to become less anonymous (there wasn't much, actually, although this was interesting for other reasons)
  • So, now that I am finished my intensive teaching, prepare to hear lots and lots about 7ubay 7ayaati: Arabic and Scottish Highland Dancing!


We have only the final left.  5alla9na et-tadrees wa 5ala9t wana 5al9aana.  And I know I'm really tired because it is taking all the concentration I have to write separate sentences in separate languages with no interference.  ma7taga 2ahwa.  But tomorrow we will be done, and Friday I will fly back to University Town, and see my husband and 2u6een, and stay in one place for a glorious ten months, bizn illah! Yippee!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday Video

Friday morning of the fourth week of an intensive summer session is a rough one.  So, we watched this video to finish class, which never fails to amuse me:

As a side note, I actually think some of the other parodies are funnier, but this one is easier to teach. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grammar and Plans: a Brief Update

So I'm planning several improvements to this blog that take a little time to put into effect.  Time I haven't found, and thus haven't been blogging but bokra inshallah :-)

So instead, I'm going to discuss grammar.  As one learns in language pedagogy class, the grammar translation method is not an effective way of learning to speak language.  Basically, explicit grammar knowledge (something like feminine nouns must take feminine adjectives) does not translate into using this knowledge implicitly and automatically in speech.  Rather one needs to practice speaking while monitoring ones speech/having someone else monitor it for this type of agreement until it becomes automatic. 

Thus, in teaching grammar, I rarely do traditional mechanical drills since the programs I teach in have a skills based approach.  Nevertheless, in my heart of hearts, I love mechanical drills because I think they are great fun to do, like logic or mathematics.  So, imagine my delight when we started today in class on the one grammar point that can be justifiably taught in a mechanical way because it is nearly always used in the context of explicit, rather than implicit knowledge, even by native speakers of the language (i3raab for those of you in the know).  Yay!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Planning and Planning

One of my friends is defending her dissertation at 6:30 AM (yes, you read that correctly) due to the difficulties of scheduling a summer defense when faculty do not have to be around.  Her committee is almost identical to mine, and I most certainly do not want to defend at 6:30 am, so I decided I should make a month by month plan to see if I could actually finish a first draft by December 31, which would put me on track to defend in May.

The good news is that this is theoretically possible, but it would be nice if I had some time while teaching to work on my dissertation.  Given that teaching an intensive summer course in Summer town requires about 10 hours of work a day, and I need breaks to dance and eat, this seems unlikely.  I also can't really bring myself to complain about the 10 hours of work a day, because I love this program.  I get to teach in 3amiyya! I also have a great group of students.  We did mid-term evaluations.  Their complaint? We don't make them correct all of their homework in the summer like they do in the academic year.  So, despite the fact that they are in class for 4-5 hours a day and have 4-5 hours of homework a night, they still want more because correcting their homework makes them learn.  How cool is that? Or is it crazy? mish 3arfa.

However, my dissertation plan means that I really need to squeeze in, somewhere, an hour a day of dissertation time.  Preferably at a time when my brain is actually functioning as opposed to late at night when I finish prepping grading and can only really handle reading a few blog posts before bed.  Or I could just put it all off till I finish this class (a mere three weeks away) but that's one of those slippery slopes . . .

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dabkeh and Dress Up

As my contribution to the cultural events program this summer, I taught a dabkeh class today.  Dabkeh is probably my second most beloved type of dance (after my folk dancing of course) so this was quite fun.  We started with the traditional circle movements and then moved onto choreography, which is more complicated, but also more fun.  To bring things back down, we ended with modern party dabkeh (my terminology) improvising to a song frequently played at 7aflat (unlike the more traditional music I was using).  For those of you not familiar with the wonders of dabkeh, here is a group doing a choreography to one of the songs I used today with a different choreography.  If you are still curious, I invite you to explore the wonders of Youtube.

After dabkeh class, I was talking to some of my students about learning language/dance, and they revealed that they thought I was about 23.  My jaw dropped, as not only will I be 30 in a month, but I have been working very hard to dress up and wear make up in order to look older, which are not things I typically do.  Apparently, these efforts have been in vain.  So, do I continue the effort, or return to my normal state of affairs? Decisions, decisions.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Today was marvelous.  Primarily because I no longer have a cold, and one of the few redeeming values of having a miserable cold in 100 weather is that feeling normal again feels awesome.  We also finished the first week of classes, and wine, cheese, chocolate, film, and friends constitute the agenda for tonight.  Normally I am not a film sort of person, but the student I'm subletting from studies film, and he has quite the collection.  The only drawback is that he has a small picture consisting of shots from the shower murder scene in Psycho hanging next to the shower.  So, I get a bit scared getting into the shower and have had several dreams in which I wake up just before being murdered in the shower.  All from these pictures, since I haven't seen the actual movie, being completely unable to watch any sort of horror movie.

Class is going well, although I was pretty much on autopilot while sick.  Luckily nothing terrible happened--there is nothing quite so challenging as trying to lean over a group to hear what they're saying while at the same time trying not to breathe/drip snot on them.  In desperation, I even took cold medicine, which I normally avoid because I dislike medicine.  However, since the last time I took cold medicine I was in baladelba7th, I was just reminded how pathetic over the counter medicine is here compared to there.  There, you take the medicine, you feel great.  You know when it's time to take it again because that's when you start feeling crappy, right on that four hour mark.  Here, I couldn't even tell the difference.  I just felt crappy all the time.  The night stuff didn't even put me to sleep, so I just lay in bed awake and miserable.

This weekend, I should really get back to working on my dissertation, which pretty much fell by the wayside between the first week of classes and being sick.  But first, nabeez wi shokolata!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why I hate AC

It is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) here in Summer Town and predicted to be so for the next week or so.  Yet for some unknown reason, our office building has the AC set at 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 Celsius).  I realize that not everyone like the heat as much as I do (90 + ahlan wa sahlan).  But I now have a cold, even though it is 100 degrees out, and I blame this entirely on the temperature change.  I am also subject to odd looks from the Starbucks cashiers/customers when I am the only person ordering a hot drink because I am freezing in my office.  Needless to say, extra motivation to sleep when you need to be grading homework drills is not needed.  Nor is feeling crappy and sniffling while teaching.

Actually, there are many other reasons why I hate AC.  I grew up in a hot and humid climate without it (our house was old) and got used to using fans and open windows and sleeping on the porch to cool off instead.  AC makes the air feel stuffy to me*, and I just want to open all the windows, or turn on the fan, or just be able to smell the air.

To make things worse, the apartment I'm subletting doesn't really have windows I can open.  Stuffy AC is definitely better than no circulation, so I have to use it here too.  I have it set at the much more reasonable temperature of 85, but it is still annoying.

Okay, back to sniffling and grading.

*Heat also makes the air stuffy, but I hate being cold.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

And the job market begins!

Yes, I just found the first ad for a t-t job I could apply for in the Fall for Fall 2012 in my inbox this morning.  Isn't this a little early? It's kind of freaking me out, even though the application is due at a normal time (October).  It's also for a program that I applied to for my PhD program, got into, and then went elsewhere.  I wonder if they remember this type of thing, and if it counts for or against you.  Specifically, do I acknowledge or avoid this in my cover letter? This is actually a really pertinent question for me, because there are not all that many programs that do what I do at the graduate level.  So, applying to positions that involve teaching graduate students in my specialization (as opposed to introductory or loghatelba7th courses only) would almost have to be a position at one of the five programs that I was accepted to and went elsewhere.  I haven't given a lot of thought to this previously as what are the chances of one of these five schools having a position open in a given year? Apparently, larger than I thought.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Random notes from Lesson Planning

  • I love lesson planning because there is a weekly plan with particular slots I have to fill.  Perhaps I should take a lesson from this for my dissertation.  If only I understood Bourdieu like I understand af3al at-tafDeel and weak verbs.  
  • Google docs, I love your collaborative opportunities, particularly the chat function for those viewing a doc.  But why on earth do you not support right to left tables, when you support right to left text? Do you know how tired I am of writing a document in one program, saving it as pdf or word to print off another computer, and having two or three times as many documents as I need on my computer? My hard drive beseeches you.  
  • Microsoft, my swearing vocabulary is not high enough in any language to express my thoughts about you and your complete lack of RTL support for Macs.  Let's just say that if you were a leather sofa, I would not only let my cats loose on you, I would sharpen their claws.  
  • One of the reasons I love language teaching is that I get to spend hours browsing YouTube, blogs, and the rest of the net searching for authentic materials and it counts as work!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Start of the Summer Session

Well, I've moved yet again, this time to Summer Town, where I'll be teaching for the first summer session at Swanky New Program.  This is a new program for me, but well, let's just say the loghatelba7th teaching world one is a small one, so I have a pretty solid core of friends in Summer Town.  Actually more than in University Town, but hey, I love my language more than my field.

I'm subletting an apartment from another grad student.  However, this grad student clearly has an interest in interior decorating, because the apartment is really nicely painted/furnished/etc.  Like perhaps my apartment would be if I didn't have to consider the moving potential of every purchase.  However, this apartment appears to lack any sort of coffee maker, which I of course didn't discover until I returned from shopping.  This will have to be remedied.  On the plus side, one of my best friends just moved into the apartment above this one, and so we are currently working on our syllabuses while sharing wine and cheese.  3azeem.

We had teacher orientation today, which as usual had it's highs and lows.  Highs included a presentation on strategies to give students with different learning styles that went beyond the standard inanities of this type of presentation and watching the some of the new videos (which are in a dialect that I like the sound of, but find it hard to take seriously--ah, the acquisition of language attitudes!) Lows included the learning styles person telling us we should make sure to assess students in written and oral forms (um, it's a language class, what else would you do?) and a mind-numbing discussion on how many absences a student has to have to fail, and what counts as an absence, and what about tardiness, etc.

Overall though, it's shaping up to be a fulfilling session in terms of teaching and learning.  Isa, it will be!