Monday, December 25, 2006

Faux pas at Trader Joe's

I went to Trader Joe's last night to pick out a few small Christmas gifts for my family. While waiting in line to check out, I overheard the clerk talking with her current customer about the evils of Starbucks. Apparently, Starbucks is buying out Coffee People, which is a great blow to fans of independent businesses. She and the customer went on and on about what a tragedy it was.

When it was my turn, the first thing the checker said to me was that she liked my shirt. It was more than just a casual compliment - I could tell she was really being sincere. Before she could ask, I decided to tell her where I got it, just to see what her reaction was.

So I told her I bought it at Costco. She kind of did a double-take and then started talking about how it looked vintage and there's this one store where you can buy vintage clothes and books by the pound and how people buy books there and then resell them for a profit. I think she was trying to change the subject. And I felt wicked for having bought a shirt at an Establishment Store. You don't admit to sins like that when you're at Trader Joe's. And maybe I should be a more militant consumer, but honestly, the only store my principles forbid me from shopping at is Wal*Mart.

So it may have been a faux pas, but at least it was intentional.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The wisdom of a child

We were having dinner at my brother's house with his wife and two kids. The vegetable on offer was edamame (soybeans). My nephew, age 3, loves them, and so does Miriam. But my niece, age 5, hates them. But she was served a few of them anyway, even as she protested.

As we ate, my niece piped up and said:

"Mom, there are two reasons I don't like these [the edamame].

"The first one is that when I pop them out, they go on my shirt and make a mess."

I thought that was an interesting reason not to like them, but we all offered sympathy anyway.

Then, she said:

"And the second reason is because they're gross."

Who can argue with that?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Addiction

Jeremy and I have succumbed to the addiction that is Lost, Season 1.

A friend of ours lent us the DVD set one week ago. We were skeptical at first, but decided to give it a try and watch the first episode. When it ended, we were physically unable to restrain ourselves from watching the second episode. And so on, until before we knew it we'd watched a few hours' worth of episodes in one sitting.


The thing is, we are not TV watchers. We don't have cable and the two or three channels that we get via our old-fashioned bunny ears my dad rigged up remain unwatched except for the Olympics or other special events. So I was surprised to find that we, non-TV-watchers, really enjoyed Lost. According to the friend who lent us the DVDs, that is a common sentiment. Those who don't really get into TV are fans of the show, while those who are big TV-watchers don't really like it.

Perhaps that's because each episode of Lost is basically the opposite of an episode of any given normal TV show. Each episode creates more mystery and suspense, and only resolves previous questions insofar as the answer raises more questions.

The only thing that bothers me, and I am just now getting to be able to look past it, is that the actor who plays Sayid (an Iraqi character on the show) is Indian. Did they think we just wouldn't notice? Because we do.

We're holding off on acquiring (through any means necessary) Season 2 because there are actually things we would like to accomplish this Christmas break. And then we'll need to wait for Season 3 to be released on DVD, because there is no way we can handle the commercials and waiting weeks or months between episodes. No way.

And that's how I know we're addicted.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I'm sorry

It seems I owe Tucson an apology.

We took Miriam to the park the other day on the way to bringing back some library books. After all was said and done, we were missing a library DVD. The only thing that could have happened was that it fell out of the car at some point while we were loading or unloading Miriam at the park.

I spent a few days mourning the loss of the DVD (and the money we'd have to pay to replace it), and then finally went in to the library to make restitution. Briefly, I had entertained the idea that some honest soul might have found the DVD and returned it to the library, but honestly, I was convinced that the average Tucson resident would probably sell the DVD on craigslist or ebay.

So imagine my surprise when I got to the library and told my tale, only to have the librarian tell me that the DVD had been returned! Happy, happy day - the less money spent on replacing "Baby Santa's Musical Box," the better.

I'm sorry, Tucson. It was only my past experiences with you - the theft of Jeremy's bike and the bikes, some of them more than one, of almost all of our acquaintances - that led me to believe that the lost DVD would not find its way back to the library. Thanks for proving me wrong on this one.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Here comes the sun! Oh no!

You know, for living in Tucson, little Miriam Damascus sure does hate the sun a lot. She cannot stand to have the sun in her eyes for even one instant. I think I know where it all began:



The occasion was her blessing (christening, you might call it). We had her all decked out in her blessing dress and decided to go outside to take some pictures. It was November 13, 2005, a beautifully mild, sunny day. But this is the face she made as soon as we got outside. To me, this expression is saying, "All right, who is the IDIOT who decided to have me face the sun??? I will never get over this as long as I live!"

And she hasn't. We really need to get some of those suction-cup pull-down shades for our car windows because if the sun passes in her line of vision for even a moment, she loses it for the rest of the car ride. It's ridiculous. She could be in a perfectly good mood, happily playing, and then I make a left turn and the glare of the sun passes across her face briefly. That's it. She is an angry crying toddler for the rest of the car ride.

It's even worse in the jogging stroller because she can't decide what she wants. If I pull down the sun canopy so the sun isn't in her eyes, she fusses because I've blocked out her view. If I put it up, she's upset because the sun is shining in her face. Sigh. Posted by Picasa

Special delivery

Amazon, or UPS, or whoever, really needs to work on their package-delivering skills.

Jeremy was at home alone last night - Miriam and I were at a church activity. Suddenly, the doorbell rang, followed by a loud thump on the doorstep. He wasn't expecting any visitors, and so he ran to the door to check out the situation. As he approached, worried, he looked out the window and saw nothing, but could only hear the screech of tires and roar of an engine as a large vehicle sped away down our street.

For all he knew, it could have been some crazed murderer dumping a dead body on our doorstep (and then ringing the doorbell to alert us to its presence).

Turns out, a package had been delivered. A large package that made a loud thump when the delivery guy threw it (or set it down roughly) at our door. At eight o'clock at night.

I'm just glad Jeremy had the sense not to open it. It was his Christmas present!

Next time, I hope Amazon/UPS/USPS sticks to delivering packages in broad daylight, and maybe sticking around until we open the door so we know what's going on.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The things you hear...

I was at Fry's on Thursday to fill a prescription for my strep throat. I ended up walking there with Miriam in the stroller since Jeremy had the car at a soccer game he was refereeing. Note to self: never walk to the store when you have strep throat. Especially not when Tucson is experiencing near-record cold temperatures.

We had to wait in the pharmacy waiting area for quite a while. When I first showed up, there were three women already seated, chatting with each other. I could tell they were not previously acquainted, but I couldn't quite figure out the subject of their conversation. One woman was talking about lotion and needles and rashes and all kinds of weird stuff. Finally, she lifted up her pantleg to reveal a large tattoo on her calf. She pointed at various parts of it as she continued her tale and I realized that they were conversing about tattoos.

The conversation continued for a while and during the course of it, all three women lifted up their pant legs and showed off their tattoos. One of the women had extensive tattooing all over her leg as far as the eye could decently see. They were all quite animated on the subject. The only thing I could add was during the part where they were talking about a product called Aquaphor. The first woman mentioned that she put Aquaphor on her infected tattoo (eww!) and that it's the same stuff you can use on babies' bums. They all looked at me, since I had Miriam right there with me, and I was able to confirm that yes, in fact, Aquaphor is used on babies' bums. That was where my tattoo-related expertise came to an end.

Their prescriptions came up and one by one, they left the waiting area. But more interesting people showed up to take their places, including an extremely large, obese man wearing a long, black, leather raincoat and Coke-bottle eyeglasses. There was also an extremely nervous young man on who spoke loudly on a cell phone almost the whole time he was there. From what I could hear of his conversation, he was talking with the police and wanted to be removed from his home. He was wondering if a policeman could pick him up, take him to his house, gather his things, and then take him...somewhere.

After a truly bizarre 45 minutes spent in the waiting room, Jeremy came to pick us up on the way home from refereeing. So at least I didn't have to walk home in the cold.

Alien transcript


This morning I turned on the computer and connected it to the printer. There must have been a print job from last night waiting to be completed, because it printed out a piece of paper without receiving any command from me. The picture above is what it printed.

I have no idea what it is. Either it's a bizaare mistake made by the printer's internal workings (and the printer has gone insane), or Jeremy has a lot of explaining to do. For starters, where did he take these classes???
 Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 01, 2006

An open letter to Baby Einstein



Dear Baby Einstein,

My recent convalescence has forced me to rely on a selection of your DVDs to entertain my daughter while I lie on the couch, feverish and in almost constant pain. As such, I now consider myself to be a minor authority on your video products and I thought I could offer you some feedback, mostly the helpful kind, but also some of the ranting kind.

1. First, allow me to thank you for making your products available at the local library for free. The cost of each individual DVD at an actual store is around $15, a little over $10 if you buy the massive, 21-DVD set at Costco. Charging customers the same amount for a 30-minute DVD featuring mainly toys and the children of your founder (both of which, I assume, worked for free) as a major Hollywood, big-budget release seems a little pretentious. But I can only assume that you do so because people will still buy it, so good on you.

2. Is it really necessary to disallow the viewer to skip to the menu upon insertion of the disc? Must we sit through the stupid caterpillar intro and anti-piracy message every single time we watch the DVD? The anti-piracy message, maybe, I can understand. Maybe. But the caterpillar intro has got to go, especially since it repeats itself when you select Play Movie. Maybe I'm being petty and impatient, but when I've got my toddler and her minuscule attention span all situated and ready to go, the last thing I need is an additional 60 seconds of waiting time. Every single time I put the DVD in.

3. On a related note, the voice-over done by your founder, Julie Clark, that plays over the anti-piracy announcement AND over the second caterpillar intro comes across as being smarmy. Especially when she says, "Enjoy the show!" Just so you know.

4. Please, please move your constant promotions for the new "Little Einstein" program to the Special Features menu under a heading like "Shameless Little Einstein plug." It does not belong at both the beginning and end of the main feature. Or, if it does belong, it is only at the end.

5. You're lying to everyone, including yourselves, when you say that Baby Einstein DVDs offer "boundless opportunities for you and your little one to interact with each other!" Deep down, we all know that we put in these DVDs so that we can get a 30-minute BREAK from interacting with our little one so we can go to the bathroom or get a drink or brush our teeth or whatever else we've been unable to do all day long.

6. On the back of the DVD case, you point out that each video is "set to music specially reorchestrated for little ears." I admire your efforts, but I wish you would just leave the music in its original format. The synthesized versions grate on the ears and have an uncanny ability to get stuck in one's head. I think my toddler can handle the sound of real violins and pianos, thank you very much.

7. Finally, and this is totally irrational, but it bothers me that your founder uses her own kids in these videos. I know it's her right and everything, having started the company and all, but for some reason that I can't explain, this is upsetting to me.

Thanks for letting me get these things off my chest. They've been building up over the past few days as I've been forced to watch your DVDs from my sickbed on the couch. To end on a positive note, I will tell you that if I had to choose a favorite DVD, it would probably be Baby MacDonald: A Day on the Farm. I think that's Miriam's favorite, too. The other ones, she is only mildly interested in. But Baby MacDonald usually holds her attention for almost the entire DVD. For those 30 minutes of freedom, I thank you.

Sincerely,

Bridget

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Revenge?

I've got some kind of nasty strep throat thing going on these past few days that makes it extremely painful to swallow. This morning, after a fruitless trip to the local Urgent Care center ("The quick culture came back negative for strep, but we should have a complete result on the long culture in 48 hours." 48 hours?? Do they have any idea how much it hurts to even breathe right now??), I sent Jeremy to the store to buy me some SlimFast meal shakes to get me through the day. I figured the shakes would go down easy and still give me good nutrition.

Well, he came home with a six-pack of something called "Fortify," Kroger (store) brand, strawberry-flavored. At first, I thought it was just the ghetto version of SlimFast, but then I read this on the package: "To help gain or maintain healthy weight. 350 calories per serving." In other words, almost the exact opposite of what I wanted. The last thing I need is to beef up on protein shakes during my convalescence.

I have to wonder if he's getting back at me for something...an experience we had in Moscow comes to mind.

We had been in the country a whole three weeks, and married for a whole two months, when Jeremy was seized with a terrible episode of food poisoning in the middle of the night. Somehow, I managed to get us a taxi in the freezing January night, persuade the taxi driver not to smoke since Jeremy was already in danger of puking without the help of nasty cigarette fumes, and get him to the local urgent care center. They put him on an IV and discharged him the next day with a few prescriptions (the prescription for a suppository said to take "one per rectum." Seriously!) and some special instructions. These instructions stipulated that Jeremy was only to drink bottled water, strictly the non-carbonated kind (Russia is one of those countries where they like to drink carbonated water).

As soon as we got home, I had Jeremy write down "carbonated," in Russian, on a small piece of paper. Armed with this vital piece of information, I went to our local grocery store to buy the gentlest, most non-carbonated bottle of water I could find.

The word for "carbonated" in Russian is "газированная." I scoured the shelves of bottled water and finally found one that said "сильногазированная." I didn't quite know what "сильно" meant, but I assumed it meant that the water was not carbonated.

I bought a huge jug of the water and brought it home. As soon as Jeremy took a look at it, he started laughing. "Сильно," it turns out, means "strongly." I had just bought a big jug of heavily carbonated water for my sick husband. He's never let me live that one down, not in the almost five years that have passed since.

But at least we're even now. Right, Jeremy?

Like a good neighbor: part the second

Mr. Green (our neighbor and the subject - victim? - of the last post) and his mother showed up at our doorstep this morning. The mom did most of the talking and wanted to hear the whole story of what happened, from start to finish. She had been in Mexico over Thanksgiving weekend, along with Mr. Green's older, more responsible brother, and thus was not involved in what had happened at the house on Saturday.

Jeremy told her the story and when he was done, she thanked us for doing what we did. So I was glad she saw the situation the same way we did.

If I had been the one telling the story, with Mr. Green standing right there, I would have left out one part. I also left this part out of the last blog post. The cops had some reason to believe that drugs were somehow involved. Jeremy mentioned this in his retelling of the situation to Mr. Green's mom, but did it in an unsure and tentative manner rather than stating it as a fact. I had hoped that Mr. Green would tell his mom about that part on his own, rather than making his neighbors do it. But I guess she will find out as much from the police later. At least, the way Jeremy passed on the information, Mr. Green will have to do the majority of the explaining himself.

I don't know whether to be relieved that the break-in was not a random event that could have happened to our house just as easily, or to be concerned that, although not random, the break-in was somehow related to drugs. Really, is one better than the other?? I'm not sure what to think of it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Like a good neighbor

Getting the mail can be a dangerous undertaking in this, the 18th-most-dangerous city in America. Early this afternoon, I stepped out the door with Miriam to get the mail and say hello to the horses and cows. I didn't get very far, though - sitting on our neighbor's doorstep (our doors face each other) was a surly-looking stranger. I wasn't about to leave the house alone with that guy hanging out right outside, even if Jeremy was just inside (sleeping - it was an early morning with a sick Miriam). So I turned right around, went back in the house, and locked the door.

About an hour later, the guy was still sitting outside. I had seen him walk around the back of our neighbor's house and I was getting suspicious. I sent Jeremy out to see what was going on. He spoke to Mr. Surly and found out that his name was actually Professor Plum (it wasn't, but that's what I'll call him here). He was there to visit our neighbor Mr. Green (he volunteered the name himself) but he wasn't answering the door. Plum claimed that Green must be sleeping and couldn't hear him knocking. We gave him Green's brother's cell phone number and left him to his business. I was relieved that he seemed legitimate, after all.

Another hour or two later, we left to go to a church function. Plum was still sitting outside, waiting for Green to wake up, or whatever. I was a teensy bit nervous about leaving the house so obviously in front of him, but I knew all the doors were locked and also that we'd be back very soon.

Indeed, we were back within 30 minutes. Plum was no longer sitting on Green's doorstep, but his car was still there. We went inside and I started to fix a snack for Miriam. Jeremy worked on putting away some things in our carport storage closet.

I heard a few loud bangs that seemed to shake the very foundation of our house. At first I thought it was just Jeremy slamming the storage closet door, because sometimes it sticks. But a few minutes later, when Jeremy was inside, we heard the banging again. Jeremy stepped out our back patio door and we both immediately heard shouting, grunting, and more extremely heavy bangs coming from Green's back patio door. To me, it sounded like someone was beating somebody else up. To Jeremy, it sounded like someone was trying to break into Pablo's house. I looked at him and said, "I think we should call the police."

So we did. While Jeremy was on the phone with them, I looked out our window to get Plum's license plate number. While I was doing this, Plum himself reappeared from the back and got in his car to drive away. Obviously, he was involved in the ruckus we had just heard in the backyard.

Jeremy ran out to see which way the car turned out of our street. He didn't make it in time to see, but a few moments later, the police arrived.

I was worried that poor Mr. Green was hurt in his house. But the police did their work and said they thought it was as Jeremy said, that Plum was just trying to break in the house. There was damage to both the front and back entry areas. After they were done asking us questions, we went inside and unfortunately, I don't know the resolution to the situation. The cops stayed around for a couple of hours investigating things and then they left.

Now that several hours have passed, I find myself second-guessing the situation and wondering if maybe we just caused problems for our neighbors and a friend of theirs. But we did what seemed right at the time - I really thought someone was getting beat up in our neighbor's backyard, and calling the police was the wisest option available. And besides, if it wasn't what it appeared to be, our neighbors need to tell their friends not to lurk on their doorstep all day and then break into their house.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ungrammatical germs

We were at Costco last night. Ostensibly, we went there to buy some new luggage and frozen stir fry, but we came out with no luggage and lots more than just stir fry. Costco has a tendency to do that to you. But when they're handing out coupons for $20 off absurdly overpriced printer toner cartridges, who am I to say no?

While we were waiting in line, I was looking at their cold remedy aisle. They were selling that product called Airborne in bulk packages. The packaging had a picture of the developer of Airborne next to a quote that said this:

"I created Airborne because, as a teacher dealing with young children I was sick of catching colds in the classroom."

Now, call me nitpicky, but shouldn't there be a comma after "children"? Yes, there should. I'm not one to point out strangers' random grammatical errors (well, maybe a little...), but when a person mass-markets a product and charges lots of money for it, and furthermore chooses to advertise the fact that they are a teacher (it was stamped all over the packaging), I think they should be really careful about making mistakes in their product slogan. Anyone should be careful, but especially someone who chooses to identify herself as a teacher of our little ones.

Needless to say, I won't be buying any Airborne soon. It's amazing the advertising damage a comma - or the lack of one - can do.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

One man's treasure...

Jeremy and I each just spent ten minutes digging through the trash. Not the tidy little wastebasket next to the computer desk, or even the slightly soggier kitchen trash underneath the sink. Nope - we were digging through the disgusting big green barrel that acts as a dumping ground for all of the trash of the house, and that we roll to the curb once a week for collection. Yuck.

We were looking for a DVD case. A DVD we had checked out from the library is due today, and although the DVD was sitting on top of the DVD player, I couldn't find its case anywhere. It's times like these that I wish Miriam could talk so she could tell me what she did with it!

I looked everywhere in the house she could reach, and a few places she couldn't. I tried to think like her, and even got down on my knees to see if I spotted any places worthy to hide a DVD case in. No success.

Finally, I had an epiphany and realized that she must have put it in the trash. The office trash can is the only one she really has access to, and I remembered emptying it carelessly earlier this week without even a cursory glance at its contents.

So that's why we were digging through the trash barrel. Of course, this would be the week we chose to finally clean up our backyard of some various debris that collected during our absence this summer. So not only was the trash barrel full of regular household waste, there were also rusty nails and prickly, dry, dead bush fragments with sharp thorns.

I was unsuccessful in pulling out the bag with the office trash in it. Fortunately, Jeremy persevered (but with lots of muttering under his breath) and managed to extract the trash bag in question. And lo and behold, we looked inside and there was the DVD case.

The sad thing is that this particular DVD case (and the disc that goes inside of it) would probably have been better off remaining in the trash. I remember liking "Clueless" back when it came out, but maybe that's because I was a 14-year-old girl and didn't really understand the movie. I thought watching it again would be a pleasant trip down memory lane, but instead it was a series of "are they really talking about what I think they're talking about?" and "I don't remember them cussing so much!" moments that culminated in me turning off the movie.

But back to the library it will go, despite Miriam's best efforts to prevent it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Never mind

I was at Fry's the other day and noticed that the checker scanning my groceries had a nametag that said "Nazib." I thought maybe the name was Arabic, but you never know around here - there are some pretty crazy Spanish names, too. So I asked him.

"Where did you get your name?"

He kind of cringed and said, "Well, it's a long story. It's my dad's name."

"Oh really? Where is it from?"

"Um...Syria."

"Wow, I used to live in Damascus!"

But before I could say anything else, he said:

"That's in Jordan, right?"

And with that, he answered all the questions I was just about to ask.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Then again...


Perhaps all this business with Powell's has put me in a good mood. In any case, I want to focus on the reverse side of the
no sidewalks problem. Tucson has a fantastic bike path system. Specifically, the Rillito Park pathway and Mountain Avenue are two examples of bike path genius.

We have a bike trailer now and several times this week we've taken it out for a spin on the Rillito. This is a paved, multi-lane bike path that runs along a dry river bed for miles and miles and miles. It is uninterrupted by city streets because, first of all, it is bordered by the river bed, and second of all, the path runs under any intersecting roads.

Another great thing about this path is that it is not closed off from the businesses that back up to it on the north side. There are small access paths that lead to the post office, the mall, apartment complexes, parks, or whatever else is nearby. This is a nice break from the clueless building design I see sometimes where a shopping complex appears to be conveniently located to your residence but in fact is rendered almost inaccessible by a circumference of cinderblock wall or the lack of crosswalks or sidewalks. With the Rillito Park pathway, however, I can actually do errands on foot or on a bike.

This evening, we rode our bikes to campus. We rode all the way on Mountain Avenue, which has spacious bike lanes for both directions of traffic. It even has sternly worded signs along the way warning cars not to trespass in the bike lanes.

So it appears that if Tucson does not treasure its pedestrians, at least it treasures its cyclists. For now, I'll have to be satisfied with that.
 Posted by Picasa

Powell's Books comes through

In a shockingly short amount of time, I had a response to my Powell's nastygram. At first, they offered to just give us free shipping on our next book order. I was prepared to be satisfied - it would be strictly fair of them to give us that. But then Powells.com's customer service manager, a woman named Beth, took the time to write a letter explaining the situation - why things happened the way they did. She improved their offer to not only free shipping on a future book order, but a free copy of a guitar book similar to the one we wanted and enough credit to bump the $22 gift certificate to a no-longer-awkward $30.

This is the Powell's I remember. And I think it's safe to say that we can all be friends again. Thank you, Beth!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Powell's Nastygram

The Powell's Books store in downtown Portland is really an amazing place. I even remember going there when I was little and being amused that there were different colors for each section and floor. I also remember that the area of town Powell's was in smelled vaguely like wine - there must be a reason for that but my childhood mind didn't bother filing it away.

Anyway, my parents gave Jeremy a Powells.com gift certificate for his birthday in the amount of $50, which, if you know my family, is a really big deal (Hi, Mom!). Unfortunately, we had a mildly aggravating experience with it and I ended up writing the nastygram you see below. In the interest of fairness, I promise I'll recant it if they make it up to me somehow. In the meantime, boo to them.

Hello,

My husband recently ordered three books from Powells.com using a $50.00 gift certificate given to him for his 30th birthday. I know $50 might not seem like a big deal to you, but for us, it was a rare treat to have $50 to spend at a bookstore. He thought carefully about his selections and made sure to order items that, together, would use up the $50 and also qualify for free shipping.

After he placed his order, he received notice that two of the three items were not available after all, and would not even be placed on backorder. He was given no warning that this would happen, and no chance to cancel his order and retain his $50 gift certificate in its entirety.

Although the one available item was shipped, graciously, free of charge, the gift certificate was essentially wasted. He is now left with an awkward $22 gift certificate that will not qualify him for free shipping on a future order.

We are very dissatisfied with our powells.com experience and in the future will patronize Amazon.com as we have never had a negative experience with them. This makes me sad because I am a native of Portland and have always been proud of Powell's. I hope this kind of shoddy customer service is limited to your website and not your store.

Bridget Palmer

ps - In case you're wondering, the book they did have was a set of The Chronicles of Narnia. The ones they didn't were Sergeant Nibley, PhD, and a book of classical songs for guitar.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who can resist?

Our long-awaited bike trailer did, in fact, arrive this afternoon. We took it out for a spin and it is fantastic.

Included in the packaging was one of those notices that often come with internet-order products. This is what is says, all formatting as in the original, except for the bold parts, which I added to show you my favorite parts:

"PLEASE DO NOT RETURN THIS PRODUCT TO THE STORE! We will be happy to correct any problems that you may Have, or to answer any of your questions regarding the Purchase of this product. Please contact us at our Toll-Free Customer Service Number ###-###-####. Press "1" for customer service and then "2" to speak to a representative. You may also email us at www.pacific-cycle.com. Thank you."

I enjoyed the seemingly random capitalization of "have" and "purchase." And while I commend them for telling us in advance how to navigate through their automated phone menu, I'm not sure why the numbers have to be in quotation marks. I also appreciate that we can email them at a non-email address. Thank YOU, Pacific Cycle!

While we're on the subject of absurd capitalization, allow me to share with you an announcement that ran in my church's weekly bulletin recently. The occasion was...well, I'm not sure. I was able to figure out that it had something to do with our church's food storage program, but that's about it. This is the blurb in its entirety, again with original formatting preserved (no bold parts this time because I couldn't choose my favorites!):

"Cook Apple Slices with your Regular Oats for breakfast, serve Potato Pearls with shredded cheese, make a variety of desserts by adding Kool-Aid flavors to Vanilla Pudding, mix extra salsa and cheese to hot Refried Beans for dip or for nachos, and who can resist a big bowl of Spaghetti with marinara sauce, wake up with a cold glass of Fruit Drink or enjoy anytime, and use White Beans for soups, stews, or baked beans with brown sugar and bacon."

If the person who wrote this is a native German speaker, and that's why they capitalized a lot of nouns, then forgive me for mocking their efforts. I see this a lot in casual writing, though - capital letters inexplicably strewn throughout an email or announcement in places where they just don't belong.

But really, who can resist a big bowl of Spaghetti with marinara sauce???

Friday, October 27, 2006

It's the most wonderful time...of the year

October and November are my favorite months of the year most anywhere in the world. Except for possibly March in Damascus.

Here in Tucson, these months are my salvation. It's only now that the weather is finally cooling down. The sun is still shining strong, but there's a crisp chill in the air that takes the edge off the heat. In other words, you can finally exercise outdoors again during daylight hours. Even now, we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a bike trailer for little Miriam Damascus so that we can go on family bike rides on the Rillito path near our home.

If it weren't for Tucson's delicious winters, I don't think anyone would stay for the summer. I certainly wouldn't. (Well, technically I don't, so far. We were in Jordan for this one.)

It's almost like childbirth - in the middle of labor, in the heat of summer, you swear you will never go through this again. But then the monsoons come, time passes, the weather cools down, your memory fades, and you talk yourself into one more time.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Library Frogger

The local branch of the library is about a mile and a half from our house. Whenever possible, we like to walk/jog/bike to do our errands to save on gas and get some exercise. One and a half miles is completely within our jogging range for errands. And yet, I can hardly bring myself to walk to the library because the way is so hazardous.

I don't know what Tucson has against sidewalks, or at least contiguous ones. Maybe it's the same damage they have with streetlights - there just aren't any. If you're lucky, you have a gravel shoulder to walk on. If not, it's just a foot of pothole-y asphalt just beyond the white line.

Perhaps the greater mystery to me is that when there are sidewalks, they are just fragments. They start and stop without rhyme or reason and even jump to different sides of the road. If I want to jog to the library with Miriam in the jogging stroller, the first 3/4 mile would be on a gravel shoulder of a two-lane road. That's OK, because it's a jogging stroller and it can handle rugged terrain. The road isn't that busy with traffic, anyway.

The remaining 3/4 mile, however, is on a five-lane, major North/South thoroughfare. If I were to attempt to take advantage of all the sidewalk available, it would go something like this:

1. Sidewalk.
2. Uneven dirt shoulder.
3. Cross busy road without a crosswalk or signal to sidewalk fragment.
4. Sidewalk ends, but it picks up again shortly on this side of the road so I walk on the narrow asphalt shoulder.
5. Cross busy road, again without crosswalk or signal to sidewalk fragment.
6. Sidewalk ends, but again picks up shortly on this side of the road, so I walk on the narrow asphalt shoulder.
7. Cross busy road AGAIN. The stretch of sidewalk on the other side is not very long, but there is no shoulder to speak of anymore on this side of the road. No crosswalk or signal.
8. There is now sidewalk available on the other side of the road, but I'll stick it out on this side because there's a wide dirt shoulder.
9. Finally, sidewalk reappears and continues until my destination.
10. Repeat on the way home.

If I want to push Miriam's stroller in safety, I have to cross the busy road three times without the benefit of a signal or even a crosswalk. I'll admit that usually I end up just jogging extra fast during those times without a sidewalk so I can avoid having to play frogger on the busy road multiple times.

I would love to walk to the library every time I go. We go there fairly often, and so it would be a great source of exercise. But I just can't bring myself to put my daughter (and me) in mortal danger every time we make the trip. So I end up driving there and back. And it makes me sad.

And so whenever I hear people clucking their tongues at us Americans, saying we never walk anywhere, I want to say this: Give me a contiguous sidewalk, and I will walk.

Now, about those streetlights...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Awkwardness

Every Thursday, we take Miriam to Storytime at the local library. There are usually a dozen or so moms there with their babies. It's a fun way to spend an hour even if Miriam prefers walking around and exploring the room to sitting in my lap and singing/reading along with the group.

There are two Korean women who attend regularly. I mention that they are Korean because they actually are - I don't mean that they are of Korean descent (though of course that's true, too), I mean that they are actually Korean and probably moved here only very recently. One of them has a son named Nicholas. The other has a son named Justine.

Yes, you read that right. Whenever anybody asks what her son's name is, she says "Justine." The asker always repeats it carefully, uncertainly, as if they're hoping they didn't hear her right. But she repeats it, "Justine."

You know what I think is going on here? I think her native Korean language habits don't allow for our lazy American way of laxing the vowels in unstressed syllables. So she pronounces the 'i' in the male name "Justin" tensely, turning it into the female "Justine."

I'm working up the courage to tell her next week that she is pronouncing her son's name incorrectly. Nobody is doing her a favor by keeping quiet about it. Unless of course, her son's name actually is Justine, in which case I will embarrass myself and her tremendously. But for the little guy's sake, I think that's a risk I'm willing to take.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Before and after

We've been painting our bedroom and bathroom recently, which explains my general absence from the real world lately. While taping around door frames, laying out dropcloths, applying primer to the walls, and then a coat of paint, and then another coat of paint, I got to thinking: this is something I might actually enjoy doing if it weren't for the fact that I'm doing it on borrowed time. Whose time am I borrowing? My own, permanently on loan from 13-month-old Miriam Damascus.

The only time I can paint is when she's napping, which is not often or for a very long stretch at a time. And I feel like such a martyr using up my only free time of the day to paint, aware that I'll have to stop, mid-roll, the second she wakes up. I can't even listen to music while I paint, either out loud (because it will wake her up), or on headphones (because I won't be able to hear her). At the end of the day, when she's finally in bed, I hardly feel human enough to go back there and paint again until it's time to go to bed myself. But I do it anyway because when else will it get done?

But before kids - what a joy that would be, just painting away with no regard for the schedule or sleep whims of a tiny person. Time to think, time to listen to music, time to zone out, whatever.

Of course, there are other things that seem that way now, post-kid. I used to hate transatlantic plane flights. Have my feelings changed? A little. Now I hate them even more because I have to entertain a toddler whose energy reserves know no bounds, the whole time, all without offending/accidentally flashing while nursing/getting dirty the passenger sitting RIGHT NEXT TO ME.

It makes me think wistfully of all the long flights I took before having Miriam D. Can you imagine 10 hours of straight free time, with meals served right to your seat and a movie screen right in front of you? What luxury! That's what I think
now, anyway, but I vividly recall getting so restless and bored on a flight back from Moscow in 2002 that I thought I was actually going to explode.

People always tell you your life will change when you have a baby. And so you think you prepare yourself for it, but nobody can ever tell you what it will really be like. They certainly don't tell you that you will start longing to take a flight over the ocean, sans offspring. But even if they did, I don't think I would have believed them. Would you?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sooner or later...



I'm starting to feel like I live inside the movie "The Others." Not because of any ghoulish goings-on, but because I am constantly opening and closing doors. If I don't close the door behind me before I open another one, weird things start to happen. I find tiny little shreds of toilet paper everywhere, for example, or the DVD remote control ends up in my purse. Today, I found a Lowe's gift card in the toilet.

Miriam is a little explorer these days, and so any door left open is an invitation to wreak havoc in that room. We have to be especially careful with the bathroom. She goes almost wild with glee at the sight of a full, unprotected roll of teepee. I feel bad for the guests who come over - I wonder if they're offended at having to use a sloppily re-wound roll whose end has been picked to shreds with tiny fingers.

I've started to check each trash can before I empty it to make sure I'm not inadvertently throwing away one of Miriam's toys or, heaven forbid, the aforementioned remote control.

Now, if Miriam starts drawing pictures of imaginary friends who live in the house, that's when I'll get worried.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Say what?

Last night I went to rent a video at our local Blockbuster (we are currently taking advantage of a blockbuster.com free trial and it includes a few in-store free rentals). I brought our selection up to the counter and the female, teenaged employee took one look at it and said, "Oh, that movie is bad."

"Oh, really?" I said. "Maybe I should get a different one, then."

"No, no," she corrected herself. "It's BAD." And then, apparently to clarify: "Like, tight."

Before I could confirm that this movie was, in fact, worth watching, she asked if I had ever seen "The Fast and the Furious." I said no.

"That's a bad one, too," she said. "Trippin'."

Well, we watched the movie last night and I would agree that it was bad. Though I'm not sure we agree on just what "bad" means.

I'm not interested, I tell you!

I admit I'm a little paranoid in Tucson sometimes. It's not as safe as other places I've lived, and it certainly doesn't compare to Damascus or Amman when it comes to basic street safety. As a result, I find myself feeling suspicious of almost any stranger I pass on the road, or anyone loitering outside of the library or grocery store (that all have security guards posted outside, by the way).

Everyone here has steel security doors and bars on their windows, which is hard to get used to since I grew up in a place where those things aren't necessary. There are also these police helicopters that sometimes hover over our area of town at night, scanning the roads with a huge spotlight looking for who knows what kind of criminal. That kind of thing doesn't happen so much in the area of town in which we live now, but it was an almost everyday occurence when we lived in an apartment next to I-10.

Today, while Miriam was taking a nap, a stranger came to our (metal security) door. He rang the doorbell a couple of times, but I didn't answer it since I didn't recognize him. An hour later, after Miriam woke up, I took her out to go get the mail.

At this point, I neglected to do two things that I usually do. First, I didn't lock the door behind me. The mailbox is just at the end of our lane, but I've heard enough stories of bad guys getting into unlocked houses to convince me it's necessary. Second, I didn't bring my cell phone with me.

All was well until I approached our mailbox and realized that the guy who rang my doorbell well over an hour ago was now standing at the end of our lane, just hanging out. I walked slowly to see if maybe he had some business he was attending to, but it appeared that he was just standing there. We got our mail, crossed the street to visit with the cows, and then slowly, I started back to our house. The guy was still there and my paranoid self was now really wondering what he was doing.

At this point, I was mad at myself for a) not locking the door behind me, lest this guy's accomplice was getting in the house even at this moment, and b) not bringing my phone with me so I could complain to the police.

Then he approached me, and said he was selling vacations to earn money for college, or something. He held out his little ID certificate, as if it was something any bad guy couldn't make on his home computer. When he was finished with his initial pitch, I told him I wasn't interested. He persisted, and I kept repeating that I wasn't interested.

He was getting kind of aggressive and finally I just started walking back to the house. I checked behind me to make sure he wasn't following me. When I got there, I closed and locked the security door halfway to, yes, make for a quick escape if I found a bad guy in my house.

Then I called my mom (Jeremy was in class) so I could be talking on the phone with someone just in case something happened. With her on the line, I searched the whole house for a bad guy and fortunately, I didn't find anyone. Even so, I was glad to know that if something had happened, at least my mom could have called the police for me. And also, the bad guy would know that someone knew of my existence.

Laugh at me if you will. Maybe I am too paranoid.

I do wonder if these salesmen ever actually make any sales. In my book, pressuring and bullying does not make me want to look favorably upon your product. Even if it is to raise money for college.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A disturbing trend

Has anyone else noticed the increase of unskilled and reckless drivers on the roads these days? I really think there are more out there now than there used to be.

The scary thing is that they're not just unskilled, not only reckless: they are aggressively so.

And heaven forbid you should ever defend yourself against their sloppy technique. If you're brave enough to do so, you're likely to find yourself honked at or the recipient of a certain hand gesture.

Two recent events come to mind. Once, a car in the oncoming traffic turned left in front of us suddenly and we had to brake sharply to avoid hitting them. Jeremy honked briefly at them and was treated to an obnoxious return honk from them and a hand gesture out the window. Perhaps he had a suicide wish and was angry at us for slowing down and not crashing into his car. We can't be sure.

The second event was far more terrifying to me since it occurred while we were driving upwards of 75 miles an hour. We were on the I-10 heading up to IKEA in Tempe, and in the left lane since I was in the process of passing a car. A pickup truck approached very, very quickly from behind. I would guess he was traveling closer to 100 miles an hour. Anyway, while I was still in the left lane, still passing the car in the right lane, he remained very close on my tail. In any case, there certainly weren't three seconds of passing distance between us. Probably more like a millisecond.

I flashed my brake lights at him, but he didn't back off. I resisted speeding up just to humor him but completed my pass of the other car as normal. As I moved back into the right lane, the truck was already passing me. We were literally sharing the left lane for a few moments as he raced to get past me (I hate it when cars do that!). I honked briefly at him and I couldn't believe it when, in return, he swerved at me. Going 100 miles an hour. On the freeway. It was just a little fake-out swerve, but still. I slowed down a little to let him get plenty ahead of me because I didn't want to be anywhere near such an aggressively stupid driver.

Who are these people, and what is their damage with life?

On a similar note, I do wish that American cars had the ability to honk in different ways. Sometimes you just want a friendly chirp to let a car know you're there, other times you need to let them know in no uncertain terms that you think they're driving like an idiot. Cars in the Middle East often have a myriad of horn tones for every occasion. Where do I sign up for that?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Many happy returns...

...to the doctor's office, apparently.

Today is my 25th birthday. I tell you that not to garner any congratulations, but to set the scene for the following story.

I got a phone call around lunch time. It was an automated, recorded message from my insurance company, reminding me to go in for my annual checkup.

That was it. No "Happy Birthday! And by the way, schedule your checkup." Just a terse "it's about time you saw your doctor."

I wouldn't even care except that I suspect their system is set up to call people on their birthdays as a way of ensuring they reach everyone once a year. If that's the case, the least they could do is tack on a friendly birthday greeting to their soulless reminder system.

Another birthday-related anecdote: A card from this same insurance company came in the mail for Miriam today. It was a birthday card. The problem is, Miriam's birthday was a month ago.

Strike two.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I need to get out more




I didn't realize until today how much I look forward to the weekly grocery store ads. Every Wednesday, the Tucson classified rag The Buyer's Edge comes with the weekly ads for Safeway, Albertson's, Fry's, a terrible place called, unimaginatively, Food City, and sometimes Walgreen's or CVS. The ads boast each store's best deals for the week.

My store of choice is Fry's. When we first moved to Tucson, I was a little wary of the place since the only Fry's we have in Oregon is an electronics store. But when I finally got around to going inside, I realized it was just like my favorite grocery store ever, Macey's. Anyone who has ever spent time in Utah knows about the pure grocery goodness that is Macey's.

Anyway, Miriam and I got the mail as usual today, crossing the street to visit with the cows as has become our custom. Miriam can even make a really cute mooing noise. Upon returning to the house, I went through the grocery store ads. I only look at Albertson's, Safeway, and Fry's. And only a really spectacular deal will get me to patronize either of the first two. (Albertson's is way too pricey and they're one of those pretentious, dimly lit grocery stores that are all the rage these days. Safeway is an abomination here in Tucson. Once I went there to pick up a few things and they were out of bananas. How does that even happen??)

It was then that I realized that there was no Fry's ad. I don't know if it got left out accidentally, or if there just isn't one this week. But now I have no idea what's on sale and what's not at our neighborhood Fry's.

They say you don't know how much you love something until it's gone and boy, did I discover that today. I can only hope the Fry's weekly ad will come in tomorrow's mail. Until then, I'll be thinking of ways to fill the void, and also of ways to make my life less lame.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Seen at Lowe's

We were at Lowe's today buying some plywood and as we walked out, I noticed a man wearing a t-shirt that said, on the back: OSAMA BOMB-A-RAMA, accompanied by a graphical representation of the statement.

I haven't yet decided how I feel about the existence of such a shirt, or the fact that I share not only a nationality, not only a hometown, but apparently some shopping habits with the person wearing it. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

What are the odds?

Miriam and I just got back from a trip up to Portland, Oregon to visit my family and help celebrate her first birthday. On the plane ride back, we waited until the last moment to board so that Miriam could have every opportunity to stretch her little active legs before I confined her to her status as a lap infant on the airplane.

When we finally boarded the plane, I found that our seat was a center seat (ugh) between a woman and a man, not traveling together. The man almost looked Middle Eastern to me. As I sat down and arranged myself and Miriam in our tiny space, I wondered how I could broach the subject and ask where he's from. I spoke a little bit in Arabic to Miriam out of habit, as I sometimes do, wondering if he would notice, but he either didn't hear, or he wasn't Arab and so he didn't care.

Then Miriam noticed him and decided to get acquainted. She can be quite the charmer when she wants to be. And that turned out to be our conversation catalyst - as she smiled at the man, he asked how old she was. I told him, and then decided to just go for it - I asked where he was from.

"Syria," he replied, in an almost weary voice. I said, "Anjud?????", completely incredulous. He was shocked to hear me say something in Arabic - they always are - and his attitude changed immediately. He told me that he gets tired of being asked that question and having to explain all about it. We talked on and off for the rest of the flight about Syria and his family and my family. I only wish Jeremy could have been there to talk to him, too. It made me miss Damascus and the wonderful times we had there.

I used to think stuff like that only happened to Jeremy. He's always meeting Arabs in random places, no matter where he goes. But recently, I've met Jordanians, Lebanese, and even Saudi Arabians around town. The Saudis I actually met at Babies R Us, which must have been awkward for them since they were two male, unmarried college students studying English at the university. I'm not exactly sure what they were doing there.

I gave the nice man my blog address, telling him his wife would probably enjoy My Adventures in Syria (she's American). So if you're reading this, I hope you had a good trip in Phoenix and are back with your family in Texas!

Defining the Blog

Well, here goes. I'm still not convinced it won't be pretentious, but I'll give blogging from America a shot.

I decided to put up a "What I'm..." sidebar because I think it's fun. Most of the items listed there are courtesy of the Tucson-Pima Public Library, which is a fantastic institution with a remarkable reservation system.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

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