Saturday, December 26, 2009

Schuster Family Christmas…

The last week has been wonderful. In Doha as I was packing and getting ready to come home for a very fast two week vacation with my family I was starting to worry that the trip would be too short, or too long – or too boring (if everyone else had plans and I was stuck at home.) Week one of my trip home has now come and gone, and I can tell you this trip will be too busy, and too short! It started off on the best foot possible. My flight from Doha arrived on time and I had a pleasant layover between flights. I was not worried about my flight to Columbus until I realized there were a lot of people waiting standby for my flight and many were commenting about the flight getting out before the storm. Thankfully I was oblivious to the winter storm that was about to hit the DC area – and was just happy my flight left on time! I landed and was surprised to see not only my mom, but also Sarah and Augie, waiting for me. Augie of course was as cute as can be, but a little fussy. The only snag in the trip home was that my luggage did not arrive in Columbus until the next day.

The next several days consisted of family time with a lot of Augie. He is the best nephew ever! He did a really good job of sleeping, eating, and looking at things. I was also impressed that at 2.5 months he is waving! It is true, if you wave at him and say “Hi Augie”- then wait a little bit, he will wave back. I love it!!!!! I am so glad I was able to spend this time with him, he is going to grow so quickly and be so big the next time I see him.

Christmas was packed with activity. The day before Uncle Mark and I made the homemade lasagna that we would serve on Christmas day. The next day I finished last minute Christmas prep (not gift buying, but clothing essentials for Christmas Eve outfit) and came home to start the celebrations. I love my family Christmas traditions. While we do not do everything the same every year, there are some staples, like a nice dinner, church, and family time. This year because of dialysis schedules and logistical needs, we decided to go to the 5 pm family service at church. Oh my goodness! It was a great service, but it was loud and most of the kids stopped paying attention about five minutes into the service. When they called all the kids up to hear a story, some of them took the opportunity to explore the front of the church and to catch up with their other 4-7 year old friends who they had not seen in a while. It was very cute to watch, but also painfully long and disjointed. The highlight of the service was the sermon, which as always was beautiful, and the candlelight portion of the service when we get to sing Silent Night.

Following church we headed home for a wonderful dinner of pork tenderloin, veggies and rice. (I ate a lot of pork this vacation – at least once a day… I don’t even like pork, but since I can’t have it in Doha, I have been getting as much as I can here). While eating dinner Uncle Mark and I were talking about how we needed some excitement this Christmas. Oh how we wished we had never spoken. Within seconds of Uncle Mark saying he could bring some excitement, Papa started choking. Mom started the Heimlich, but could not get whatever it was out. Thankfully Josh was quick thinking, and jumped in and saved Papa! We got our Christmas excitement and I am glad it all ended up ok. We finished the evening with Mike, Sarah and Augie opening gifts since they would have to spend the next day with Mike’s family (boo – I am going to try and find an orphan to marry). Augie kind of loved his camel – he did not look too happy in the picture, but I think on the inside he was dancing with joy. Christmas day was relaxing and wonderful. We woke up late, enjoyed some time together, had a great meal (yeah Uncle Mark!), then everyone opened their gift.

I have a little less than one week left at home, and I am hoping it is relaxing. I would love to spend more time with Augie, and possibly go shopping for some books to bring back to Doha. (Half Price Books here I come!). This break will be just what I need to go back to Doha refreshed and ready for work.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Inky the sinky kitty…

If you had asked me a few weeks ago if I would get a cat I would have told you I wanted one, but I would rationalize myself out of getting one. Since then my friends Timika and Rory got two cats, Blinky and Inky. Blinky is a little kitten who was born with no eyes. She is too little for surgery right now, so the holes where her eyes would have been are not sewn shut. They got Inky to be her friend and companion, thinking Blinky might need some help. When they got home they realized Blinky did not need any help, and was clearly the main cat in that house. Inky and Blinky did not get along very well and fought a lot. It is normal for kittens to fight, but Blinky could not defend herself very well, and Inky’s claws were getting in her eye holes. As a result Timika and Rory had a kitten they could not keep.

I had met both Inky and Blinky, and they are both wonderful cats. When Timika said she needed to find another home for Inky I volunteered. I was excited to have a pet, because living alone sucks! (I wish I still lived with my college roommates – they were the best!) I prepared my apartment, put away the non-kitten friendly chemicals, decorations, and food items, and I bought a litter box, kitten food and some toys. The only catch was that 4 days after I got Inky from Timika and Rory, I would be heading back to the US for Christmas. I talked with Timika and Justin and they agreed they would come to my place to feed Inky. They both already had a cat (Blinky at Timika and Rory’s and Justin was watching a friends cat) so they would not be able to keep him in there place.

With everything sorted out and ready, Inky moved in. This kitten is so loving and will curl up with you and purr during the day… at night when you would want him to curl up and be calm, he decides it is time to play. For the first two nights I had him he woke me up at least every two hours to play. He did not understand me when I told him I wanted to sleep – and shutting him out of my room only led to really loud, and sad, meowing. The third night was an improvement. I forced him to play a lot before I went to bed and then I turned off all the lights and left him asleep on the couch. I think when he woke up to play he didn’t think I was there and just played with his toys… I am not sure why it worked, but it did, and I was happy to sleep.

The other thing I am still getting used to is how bad he smells. This cat has the worst breath ever. I know it is from the wet food he eats – and I know he needs the food so he can gain the weight he needs, but oh my lord is it bad. There are times when he tries to cuddle up to me, or sit on my shoulder, but I have to push him away because I cannot take the bad breath. When I get to the US I am going to look for cat breath mints. I want to love him, but when he breathes on me, it gets a little hard. The good news is, most of the time he is not breathing on me, and he is really cute and fun to play with.

I love that I now have a great kitten (although to be honest, he is not a great as my first cat Rupert Sampson Bean, or my second cat Finnebar Nehemiah Sprout – there was something special about them), but I am nervous I am becoming the “Cat Lady”.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The day it rained in Doha…

This past weekend was amazing. The weekend was full and in addition to the various activities, it rained!

The weekend started Thursday night with going to the Doha Horse races. QF took 600 faculty and staff (and family) to enjoy a night at the races. I signed up to go, but was not sure who else would be going. Thankfully, Wil and his girlfriend Hailey were also going, and they let me tag along. I have never been to a horse race and was not sure to expect in a country where gambling was not a part of the race. It was a lot of fun and really well put together. I also learned it was free, so I can go back the next time they have a race! (and if you come to visit me when a race is on we can make a weekend of Camel and Horse racing!)

Friday was a more practical day. I did laundry and grocery shopping during the day. At night I went with Timika and Rory (yeah – I did spend the weekend as the third wheel) to see a pantomime of Cinderella. This was the first pantomime I have been too, and it took me a while to get used to being able to talk during the play. The play was really funny, and really British. One of the men playing a step sister looked just like Mimi from the Drew Cary show – it was unbelievable. There also was a really cute little girl in the chorus who was taking everything so seriously and had this determined look on her face the whole time. The play was put on by the Doha players, and I will defiantly be checking out their next performance!

Saturday morning I did the typical thing and proctored the ACT. I saw several students who have been making the rounds of the standardized tests. I even got to check back in with the student who freaked out the week before (she was doing well and like the ACT much better than the SAT II). Working the test made it an early morning, - and having everything really disorganized while at the test made it a long day… but thankfully it ended and I was able to go enjoy the rest of the day.

I have been wanting to buy some pashminas and scarves for my family, so I ventured out to the souqs solo. I got there a little before they opened so I walked around and now feel like I know the area a little bit better – but still not well. I thought I was going to buy 6 or so pashminas – but I kept seeing things I liked, or thought someone else would like, so I ended up buying close to 20. Thankfully they are much cheaper than in the US, so they will make great gifts for family and friends.

I caped off my weekend with a Christmas movie night with Julie, Jon, Justin and Justin (I know – there are too many J names in Doha!). We watched Elf and it was the most amazing thing ever. While most people get excited when it snows while watching a Christmas movie, I was just as excited when it started to Thunderstorm! It was a genuine thunderstorm with lightning, thunder, and lots of rain. Not only did I get to watch the best Christmas moving ever, I finally got rain in Doha. The only problem was when it came time to drive home. Doha has been built-up really quickly without a lot of quality planning. As a result, there are roads, but not drainage system – and no planning to make the roads somewhat level. Driving back I was very grateful I had a small SUV and could drive through the deep puddles – I saw a few cars that were not as lucky and stuck in the middle of a roundabout. I am also grateful that I was not on call, as there were several leaks that had to be handled that night (thank you Justin, and I am sorry you had to miss the end of the movie night).

The rain continued into Sunday and made the week start off on a really positive note!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fabric shopping and tailoring measurement…

One thing that has been on my list since moving to Doha has been going shopping for fabric and having a “custom” garment made. I have now checked that off my list – but it will likely happen many times again.

I am so grateful for Timika because she shared her knowledge and time to help me navigate the fabric and tailoring world. We ventured into the souq area and expected it to be crazy packed as it always is. We lucked because it was relatively mild and we were able to enjoy ourselves. She took me to her favorite fabric shop and explained that you find something you kind of like and they bring you similar things until you find the one you want. Then the challenge is negotiating the price. I went in with the thought that I would get fabric for a Christmas or New Years Eve dress, and fabric for a few pairs of pants and a shirt. I started looking in the first section and was put off by the patterns – which were loud and made me want to vomit a little in my mouth (floral with animal print on the same fabric). There was one fabric that might have worked for the dress, but was not just right. Timika came in with her experience and asked the man working near us to start pulling similar fabrics. I save a few that were great, and I think I picked one that will work with the design I wanted… I will find out in a week when I pick it up. After getting the fabric for the dress I started looking for pants. We hit the jackpot and I found 3 fabrics I wanted to get made into pants! I don’t own a single pair of work pants that fit, so this is a big step. I was ok stopping there, but I still kind of wanted to get fabric for a shirt. As I was looking for shirt fabric I decided instead to have a salwar kameez made. This is a traditional Indian outfit that pairs different patterns and colors together in a way that just works. I ended up picking a more subtle combination, but still a little more color and pattern than I am used to – but I think I will love it. At that point I had to stop buying fabric. While the prices are good, it still adds up when you buy enough from 7 garments.

After shopping we walked around a little bit and ended up at the “new old souq” and sat outside and had some amazing ice cream. This is the first time I have been to that souq where it is calm and not packed. The weather was even a little chilly (70s) and it was amazing to just sit relax and talk. I lucked out this year because Timika is an amazing person to have as the other female RHD. We work well together; and even better, we get along as friends.

The next day I took on the task of going to the tailor to have the items made. Timika recommended two, but since I really wanted the dress in time to fly home, she said one might be able to do it in a week. She warned me that the assistant who sometimes takes measurements has a tendency to linger when measuring your chest area, but said if you just tell him to stop or make a point to laugh about it he will move on. I went in and he was the only one there. I explained what I wanted. This was a challenge, and I am still not sure he knows what exactly I was looking for. I really hope it turns out right, but if it doesn’t, then I will just have it altered into a different style. After explaining everything I asked him if he could also alter a pair of pants I already owned that were too big. He said no problem and asked me to change into them so he could take measurements and pin.

At this point take a minute to recall a very specific Friends episode – to help you I have included the dialogue…

Chandler: Joey's tailor...took advantage of me.

Ross: What?

Joey: No way! I've been going to the guy for 12 years.

Chandler: Oh come on! He said he was going to do my inseam, and he ran his hand up my leg, and then, there was definite...

Ross: What?

Chandler: Cupping.

Joey: That's how they do pants! Ross, will you tell him? Isn't that how they measure pants?

Ross: Yes, yes it is. In prison!

Yeah – I wish that is what it was like. Yes he lingered a little long when measuring my chest, but the shock came when he put his hand inside my pants to measure my inseam and pin the pants. Just incase you are wondering, that is not how it is done, and you defiantly do not have his hand where his was. I pulled his hand out once, and he had the nerve to do it again twice. By that point I was just ready to get the measurements taken and leave. I will not be going back – I will go to Timika’s other tailor. The measurements were finally done and I went to see if things could be done in time. The dress will be done on the 17th! The rest will not be done until I get back L but that is ok, it will give me something to look forward to!

All said, I am so glad I got to go fabric shopping and can not wiat to see the final process!!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The stress of the standardized test…

To fill time and make some extra “fun” money I proctor standardized tests every few weeks. This is actually kind of fun because most of the people I like in Doha do this too! We will work the test than grab lunch together and talk about the silly things students did. I know we should not take the plight of the high school student so light heartedly, but sometimes it is humorous to hear their questions and responses to things that looking back seems so straightforward.

Today I actually had to write down some of the things students did and asked me about. To set the stage I should tell you I was proctoring the SAT II subject tests. Typically I have had about 12 students in the room for these tests, but today I have 37. Since things are a little different for the SAT II, having more students does add some time to the start of the test. As I start reading the directions I get to the part that says, “please refer to your test booklet and copy the information from section 8, 9, and 10 onto your answer sheet.” I then add that they will need to do this for each test they take. They then turn the page and start filling out information for the first test they are taking – and I repeat again that they will need to write the information for 8, 9 and 10 again. Directly after saying this I get the first question. “Do we need to write the information for 8, 9, and 10 again.” “Yes, you will write the information for 8, 9, and 10 for each test you take. If you are taking 1 test you will write it on the front and on that test. If you are taking 3 tests you will write it on the front and on each of the 3 tests.” I move on to other directions and think I am about to start timing the test. The script prompts me to ask if there are any questions before we start. A hand pops up… “Do we need to write the information for 8, 9 and 10.” “Yes, you will write the information for 8, 9 and 10 for each test you take. Any more questions… no, ok – you may now begin. You have an hour to complete this test.” The test ends, we take a short break, and I begin reading the directions for the start of test two. “Please turn the page and begin filling out the information for the subject test you will be taking. Please fill in the information from your test booklet for 8, 9, and 10 onto your answer sheet…” I finish reading and three hands go up… “Do we have to fill out the information for 8, 9 and 10 again?” (in my head I really want to say no – you don’t, fill in whatever information you want, it won’t matter at all when they score your test… instead) “Yes, please fill out the information for 8, 9, and 10 for each test you take. When your answer sheet is scored each test is scored separately, this information will make sure they are scoring you for the correct version of the test.” I have no idea if this is true, but I figure it will shut them up. I was wrong, before starting test three, I get the question again. All they got from me was a laugh and a short yes.

Backtracking a little, after starting the first test I am sitting at the front of the room filling in the seating chart information. All of a sudden the “Back to School” song from Billy Madison starts running through my head. From those of you who are thing “Awesome, I would love Adam Sandler’s voice running through my head singing the same silly song over and over again” – no, it is not awesome. At first I was ok with it and thought it was a fun song to have – I even remembered some funny parts of the movie. About 40 minutes in when I announced that there was 20 minutes remaining, I wanted to bang my head against a wall. Thankfully the song was interrupted by questions from students.

During the break between the first and second test I heard the call to prayer. It sounded like it was coming from inside the room. I found this very odd because it was not time for the call to prayer, and it sounded too clear. That is when I realized it was one of the students cell phones. I asked him to turn it off, and then I had to ask him if his ring tone was the call to prayer. His response was, “yes, no one gets made when they are interrupted by the call to prayer.” Smart kid, I was not made at him for having his cell phone on. Also during this break as student asked me how I would score his test. I proceeded to explain that I did not score the test; I just gave it to them. He then asked me if I was comparing him to everyone else and if that would affect his score when I scored his test. Since he clearly did not understand that I did not score his test, I just said yes. He responded with, “good, I will get a better score.”

We then started the second test. As it started one student called me over to answer her question. At the top of her page were the words no calculator and two images of calculators with lines through it. She then asked me if she could use her calculator. I said no. She then asked again and explained she needed it to do the question. I said that it was not allowed for this test section. She then asked me if I would tell her how to do the question. I did know how to do the question, and no math was involved, but I told her I would not be able to tell her how to do the question. The rest of test number two went off easily. At the end as I was collecting tests from students who would not be staying to take a third test, one girl asked me, “So these tests are not the tests I need to take to get into school?” After asking her some questions, my response was no – she needed to take the SAT, not SAT II. She had no idea, and she really did not know what she was doing when she took the test. This was a student who I genuinely felt bad for. Another student getting ready to leave asked me if I worked “here” (meaning Education City). I responded with yes. He asked where and found out I work in Residence Life. “Oh, so you don’t work in admissions?” “No” “Will you get a job in admissions because now you know me and will let me in.” “No, I like my job, but I am sure you will be able to find the right school for you.” “Oh…”

While most of the questions I got during this test were somewhat amusing (some I can’t even remember, but they were good) one interaction was not at all amusing. As the third test started I noticed that one student looked very upset and was not writing. I went over to her and she started freaking out. I took her to the hallway where she proceeded to speed talk about this test determining her life, and how she was not ready for it and she did not want to take it. I had to calm her down and eventually told her she could just not take it. The first two would be scored and the third would not since she had not written anything down. She was concerned that she would not get into school. After talking to her more it turns out the schools she wants to go to do not even require the SAT II, and would be ok with her not having that score. She calmed down and decided to turn in her forms and go home. About 10 minutes later she knocks on the door and asks to talk to me again. She asked me if I was sure she could just walk away and then asked me if she was the only person who was stressed about college. I reassured her that everybody has some anxiety about college and taking the tests to get in. She asked a lot more questions and eventually walked away with a smile. I hope she realizes she does not have to put so much stock in one test that happens on one day – there is so much more that matters.

The reality is, working these tests (SAT, ACT, and SAT II) reminds me that it is really stressful being a high school student. When you consider where they are in their life, the experiences they have to maneuver, and the capacities they have to cope – of course it would be stressful. Now, if I took where I am in my life now, with the capabilities I have now – no it would not be stressful. Sometimes it is good to get a reminder that stress does exist for others even when you would not consider the situation stressful. It was not that long ago that I was taking these tests, but I somehow managed to forget that part of the experience. If you are reading this and have a child, sibling, or someone close who is in high school and is talking about “stress” don’t laugh or think they are exaggerating. For them life is stressful. We are asking 16 and 17 year olds to take a test that we tell them will determine their ability to get into a school that will determine their ability to accomplish “their” (or their parent’s) goals and have a “good life”. That is a lot of importance to put on one test – and yes it would be natural to feel a lot of stress.