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.

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