Saturday, December 29, 2007


Here are three things that I recently found out about the human race. I wish I hadn’t.

1. On our driving trip from Tucson up to Idaho, we stopped at the Tempe IKEA for lunch. We parked in the family-friendly parking section up front, and went inside to grab some food from the bistro. We ate it outside on the grass next to the family-friendly parking section so that Miriam could have maximum opportunity to stretch her legs. While we were there, we saw no fewer than three vehicles pull up and park in the family-friendly section – and then a lone adult with no child inside got out and walked into the store.

It’s possible that, in some corner of my mind, I knew, or at least suspected, that such people existed. But I certainly never thought they’d be the kind of person who would shop at IKEA.

2. While in Idaho, we took advantage of free grandparental babysitting to go see I Am Legend. It’s rated PG-13, and for good reason – it is a freaky movie about zombies. So you can imagine how disappointed I was that a mom and dad near the front of the theater thought it was a good idea to bring their 3-year-old with them to see the movie. At one point, the poor kid was crying (probably from terror), and his mom actually told him to shut up.

If your toddler is crying in a dark theater while watching a really scary movie, it’s not his problem, it’s yours.

3. At the same movie, the girl next to me talked through almost the entire show. She wasn’t on her cell phone, or even having an unrelated conversation with her date. She was giving all of us a running commentary on the events of the movie. “Is he going crazy?” “Ooh, he’s hanging upside-down.” “So the puppy grew up to be that dog.” I finally had to lean over and tell her to be quiet. I’ve never had to do that before.

I hope someday I can recover from my newfound knowledge and life can go on as normal.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Book review: In the Presence of My Enemies

I can't even remember where I heard about this book. I think some website must have recommended it to me after I enjoyed Terry Waite's Taken on Trust so much.

In any case, it was a good recommendation. In the Presence of My Enemies is not nearly so cerebral as Taken on Trust, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It was written by Gracia Burnham, the only hostage (of Abu Sayyaf) who survived the botched rescue attempt by the Philippine army. She had managed to survive sixteen previous such rescue attempts until that day, and the intense gun battles that inevitably ensued.

The book is made special by the fact that she and her husband were missionaries at the time of their capture. So the question this book answers is not so much, "How do two people survive a year of captivity in the Philippine jungle?" but "How do two people, whose lives are focused on service, self-sacrifice, and worship, survive and even thrive during a year of captivity in the Philippine jungle?"

My only damage with the book was its sometimes callous treatment of Islam. However, I also realize that spending a year as a hostage to an Islamic extremist could definitely color one's view of that religion. I only wish she had taken more care to frame the "doctrinal" remarks made by her captors in the proper context - as the beliefs of a radical offshoot rather than the mainstream. Then again, perhaps I am just extra sensitive to this topic because I am a Mormon, and we Mormons always seem to be getting similar treatment in amazing stories like this one. I only ask for others what I wish I received myself.

(Speaking of Mormons, one of the native Filipina hostages who was later forced to convert to Islam and marry one of her captors is briefly mentioned as being Mormon. I wish I knew more of her story!)

The strengths of the book are myriad: Mrs. Burnham tells a fascinating story in a spellbinding way. She gets the autobiographical background out of the way early in the book (admit it, we all wish books like this would do that more often) and even then, includes only what is generally relevant to the story to come.

Having read them in such close proximity to each other, it's inevitable that I would feel tempted to compare Taken on Trust and In the Presence of My Enemies. And while they are both hostage experiences, they are very, very different stories and very, very different books. Fortunately, each author chose a style and presentation that best suited his or her story.

With Taken on Trust, I found myself asking what book I would take with me into solitary confinement.

With In the Presence of My Enemies, I am now considering what one toiletry item I couldn't do without if I had to live in the jungle for a year. I'm still working on whittling down my long list...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A special toy from a special store

In preparation for the "big trip" we've been warning Miriam about for the last few days ("warning," because it involves many hours of driving), I decided to buy her a special toy to use for the first time in the car. This toy, whatever it ended up being, would need to meet four requirements.

1. no small pieces or other attachments that could come apart and litter the car during the trip;

2. no potential for problems that would require parental intervention from the front seat;

3. no annoying voices; and

4. something exciting that we wouldn't usually get for Miriam.

I had pretty much decided to get her one of those storybooks that reads itself to you. Generally, I am against that kind of toy, but in this case, it would fulfill requirement #4.

So we went to Toys R Us, of all places, because I had seen an ad for a good sale on such items there. Otherwise, we avoid that place like the den of iniquity that it is.

I found the talking storybook aisle (yes, there is one) without too much difficulty, but I realized very quickly that I would not be making any purchases from it. You see, every single book was a "branded" item, meaning it featured Dora, Nemo, a Disney Princess, Thomas the Train, Elmo, etc., ad nauseam. I would have had no problem buying any of these books if they were about a young, explorer-type girl, or a fish, or a princess, or a choo-choo train, or a lovable (?) stuffed animal. But I refuse to buy into the brandification of my kid (except when it comes to Hello Kitty band-aids, because Miriam won't accept any other kind, and that was started by Grandma, anyway). Besides, the Elmo one at least would have been in flagrant violation of rule #3.

In the end, we bought one of those magic color pads. There were Nemo coloring pads and Disney Princess coloring pads, but I chose the one that was just normal. It met all the requirements (except for the pesky marker cap and rule #1) and Miriam had a grand old time with it in the car.

Monday, December 17, 2007

20 Questions, Toddler-style

Miriam came into our room at 1 o'clock this morning, asking for a story. As usual, for the short trip from her room to our room, she had brought with her her blankie, teddy, and other sleepytime lovies.

"Sleepytime lovey," in Miriam's case, does not always mean something soft and cuddly. She often insists on taking her sunglasses to bed, or a few matchbox cars.

So early this morning, when Jeremy got up and put Miriam back in her own bed, Miriam started crying and saying she needed something. Apparently, she had left one of her special bedtime objects in our room.

But we couldn't understand what she was asking for. Jeremy decided to narrow it down a little bit.

"Do you want your car?"


(Repeat with several other objects)

"OK, is it big or small?"


"What color is it?"


"Where did you leave it?"

"On the floor!"

Jeremy came back in our room and told me that Miriam was crying for something small and red, that was probably on the floor. Immediately, I realized that she wanted the Christmas matryoshka doll that she had taken with her to bed that night. Jeremy found it on the floor almost underneath our bed, and once he gave it to Miriam, she was able to calm down.

These kinds of toddler mysteries are hard to solve, especially in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The king of cheese

Miriam attended her first American birthday party on Saturday. She was previously a guest at Natalie's birthday party in Amman, and then later in the summer, Natalie's sister Tina's party.

But the neighborhood-kids-in-the-kitchen birthday parties she attended in Jordan could not compare with what she experienced on Saturday. That's because this party (for a 3-year-old friend) was at Chuck E. Cheese.

I'll admit that I was nervous when I received the invitation. The boy's mother is a good, trusted friend of mine, so it's not that I felt the need to question her judgment. But I haven't been inside of a Chuck E. Cheese "restaurant" in at least 17 years, maybe longer. I had all these flashbacks of animatronic animals who were missing major portions of their bodies lurching around unnaturally while singing "Happy Birthday Boy or Girl." Then I remembered that that was from an episode of The Simpsons, and so there was probably nothing to worry about.

But it turns out that I wasn't that far off. There were animatronic animals lurching about on a stage positioned uncomfortably close to the dining area. And the animatronic Chuck E. Cheese himself was missing the back of his head (though he didn't catch on fire like he did on The Simpsons).

The toys were also pretty much as I remembered them, complete with abrasive sound effects and lots of flashing lights. There was no ball pit, though - have those been outlawed in America?

In the end, I think Miriam had a great, if occasionally overstimulating, time. I was the one who had a problem overcoming the unwholesome juxtaposition of "playing on germy toys" with "eating pizza immediately afterward."

And it was definitely worth it for this picture we took at Chuck E. Cheese's Sketch Booth:

My friends, you will never see a worse picture of Miriam Damascus. The saddest part is that you can tell she's trying so hard. (In case you're wondering, I'm looking up at the screen to see if the camera had taken the picture yet. Apparently, it hadn't. I don't know how I missed the beep amid all the chaotic background noise.)

After all the games she played, Miriam had a whopping 12 tickets. She traded them in for a cheap plastic ring. It is currently her favorite possession.

Thank you, Chuck E. Cheese.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Which is worse...

...having your wallet stolen, or having the contents of your wallet announced to the world?

From the December 7 edition of the BYU Police Beat:

A 26-year-old male reported his wallet stolen after using it at the Creamery on Ninth East. His driver's license, an American Express card, two debit cards, two credit cards and two Victoria's Secret gift cards were in the wallet when it was stolen.

(Emphasis mine.)

I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now, and I still haven't come up with a good reason why a male BYU student would have two Victoria's Secret gift cards in his wallet. If he's married, maybe he would have one and it would be for his wife. But what kind of a guy, at BYU at least, has two female friends who he buys lingerie for?

Does anyone else have a better idea of what could be going on here?

(Also, just FYI, the BYU Police Beat section is reliably entertaining reading. In fact, it's almost as good as the Letters to the Editor.)

Friday, December 07, 2007

A clever title, but not much more

Remember Birth, the book that changed (and bettered) my life?

Well, I just finished reading its antithesis, a book called Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood, by Naomi Wolf.

Birth was an uplifting, unbiased, informative look at historical and modern birthing experiences and methods in America. Misconceptions is a nagging, negative, judgmental book that would have me believe that the entire obstetrical world, city planners, and my husband himself have banded together in a mission to keep me from achieving my potential.

Her main theme seems to be, "Why didn't anyone tell me it would be this difficult/soul-sucking/painful/life-changing/tiring/career-ending/, marriage-ruining?" I have heard women voice this complaint before, mostly on Oprah (I only watch it when I'm in the Middle East, I promise). And let's face it, there are times when I feel elements of this question creeping up in my own life. But to make it your battle cry, as the author of this book has done, seems disingenuous.

The obstetrical profession in particular gets scathing treatment from Ms. Wolf. I don't doubt that there are bad OBs out there, but she would have us believe that 99% of them are evil and intent on ruining our birth experiences. And even though it is clear that several years have passed between the publishing of her book and the experience of being pregnant with her first child that she relates in the first few chapters, her conversations with her OB were apparently tape-recorded. Surely that's the only way she could have used full, quoted conversations throughout the book -- complete with facial expressions.

City planners also get blasted for not providing us mothers with fenced-in play structures, complete with snack bars and heated out-buildings for the cold season. If only this world were perfect in other ways, too...

Husbands get an especially bad treatment in this book. They are portrayed as being nothing but lazy, unsympathetic career-squashers. Then again, maybe that is an accurate representation of the author's circle of friends.

Within all of these areas, Ms. Wolf makes several good points. Why are some OBs so terrified of home births, and why aren't hospitals more forthcoming with C-section and maternal/infant mortality rates? Why are other countries so far ahead of us, in many ways, when it comes to making life in a city more child-friendly? She also accurately describes the "Solomon's Sword" hanging over women forced to choose between raising their child and maintaining any semblance of a career outside the home.

So you see, I did finish the book. Sprinkled among the histrionics were some very interesting anecdotes about birthing and mothering in America. But the author's tone and defensive, judgmental stance was, for me, extremely off-putting.

If you're interested in reading a whiny book about everything that's wrong with the pregnancy and birthing process in America today, Misconceptions is the book for you. If, however, you are looking to reaffirm your belief in woman's ability to overcome many challenges in giving birth to babies and raising families, skip it. Birth is much better.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fit for solitary confinement

I recently finished reading Taken on Trust, Terry Waite's self-written account of being held hostage by Islamic Jihad for nearly five years in civil-war torn Beirut.

Waite, a hostage negotiator who had experienced success in Libya, Iran, and Lebanon itself, was kidnapped after a meeting with hostage-takers in Beirut in January 1987. For four years, he was kept in solitary confinement and forced to wear a blindfold whenever any of his hostage-takers entered his room. During that time, he was chained to a radiator for 23 hours. For 50 minutes, he was allowed to walk "freely" around his room. The remaining ten minutes were for a single, supervised bathroom visit.

I give you this information because it provides the background for what was, to me, the most interesting part of the book. The descriptions of how he was taken, the ingenious methods his captors used to move him from location to location, his daily diet, and health troubles were all fascinating. But I was absolutely intrigued by his description of what it was like to, alternately, have no reading material at all, and when he did have some, what it was and what it was like to read in solitary confinement.

Have you ever thought about what books you would choose to read (if you could) if you were on a deserted island or, like Mr. Waite, in solitary confinement? I confess I haven't given it much thought - until now.

Mr. Waite describes his schedule after some time in captivity:

"Now that I have books, I can find a little more balance to the day. I plan it. After exercise I will say my prayers, then I will meditate for a while. Afterwards I will allow myself time to read until lunchtime - that should give me four or five uninterrupted hours, providing I have light, of course. [His room had no natural light and the power went out quite often in Beirut.] After lunch I will think about what I have read and then spend an hour or so on my own mental writing. [He claims to have written much of Taken on Trust in his mind while being held hostage.] Then I will say my evening prayers and perhaps do some further reading until it is time to sleep. It sounds good."

His thoughts on reading:

"What would I want to say to [a writer of one of the books he is reading in solitary confinement] if I could meet him today? I would say, keep a space in your mind for the man or woman in prison; the individual who will read your book with the same sort of relish with which a starving peasant seizes a loaf of bread. This is the individual who will penetrate to the heart of your writing. He is your critic, your disciple. He will sit with you for hour after hour, and will hear your own soul speaking through your words. Be aware of this lonely man or woman as you write."

Some of the books Mr. Waite had access to include two random volumes of a multi-volume encyclopedia set (M to Mexico City was one volume; another was earlier in the alphabet), a travel book by Freya Stark, The Brothers Karamazov (but only the first volume. How frustrating!), and unnamed books by William Styron, Dorothy Sayers, and others. He also had a Bible (but in a modern translation, which he lamented since it meant he wouldn't be able to enjoy the richness of the King James language) and, amazingly, a small prayer book that he himself had managed to give to other hostages before he himself was taken.

If I had to choose only a few books, I think they would include the following:
Les Miserables
The Count of Monte Cristo
Anything in a foreign language that I know, but especially a work that I was already familiar with (The Book of Mormon comes to mind)
A world atlas, preferably by DK

When you think about it, you realize that you can't just choose your "favorite" books. It has to be something that is long or wordy to begin with and can withstand multiple readings. The foreign-language books would be especially rewarding in that regard, and I think my reading skills in whatever language it was would be pretty amazing after it was all over.

Surprisingly (or maybe not), there is a lot more I could say on this subject. This book really made me think.

How about your books? What would you choose to take with you if you knew it was the only reading material you'd have for months or even years?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The truest thing she's ever said

Two-month-old Miriam at her first IKEA trip.

Miriam and I had to be at our church for an activity at 8.15 this morning. Of course, on the one day when her normal early wake-up schedule would have worked out just right, she chose to sleep in. So I had no other choice than to wake her up, which every parent understands is a crime against nature.

The first thing she said when she opened her sleepy eyes was:

"IKEA is too far away!"

I couldn't agree more, Miriam. I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Postponing the inevitable

A few weeks ago, I made a decision that relieved a lot of stress and helped me feel more excited about life in general and the Christmas season specifically: we're going to wait until after the holidays are over to potty train Miriam.

I sat down and thought about it and realized that all the pressure I was feeling to potty train Miriam was external: she turned 2 in September, so time is "running out"; a few of my friends' kids were trained before then; comments from (well meaning?) relatives, etc.

All this night not have been a big deal except that Miriam has zero interest in the potty and actually has a rather strong aversion to it. Also, I am basically without a husband (to help do the job) until December 12th (the day after his oral examinations), and I am just barely feeling better from having my tonsils removed.

Are these excuses? Certainly. But they are valid ones nonetheless.

It seems like we're always having to schedule these important milestones around other life events. First, there was her birth: Syria or America? Should we move her to a crib before or after we go to or come home from Jordan (the first time)? How about weaning (going to or coming home from Jordan, the second time)? And the list goes on.

Potty training: before or after Christmas? The answer looks like it's going to be: after!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A great, big Wilhelm scream

Have you ever wondered what your reaction would be if an intruder snuck up behind you while you were preparing dinner and suddenly grabbed you?

Well, I got to find out yesterday when my husband did exactly that.

I was in the kitchen, calmly chopping celery and preparing dinner. Jeremy was on campus, and not due home for a little while still (or so I thought). Miriam was sitting on the counter "helping," as always (which means I was trying very hard not to chop her fingers off as she grabbed at stray celery pieces). She was facing me and I was facing her, with my back to the rest of the house. Meanwhile, the microwave was defrosting some meat and the washer and dryer (right next to the kitchen area) were both going.

Suddenly, someone was grabbing me from behind. I screamed and jumped and almost choked on the piece of celery that was in my mouth. It's a good thing I happened to not be holding the knife at that particular moment. Almost immediately, I realized that it was just Jeremy, but it took me a few minutes to calm down.

In his defense, he said that he thought I had heard him come in (through the backyard, opening the security door, hanging up his bike, etc.). But of course I hadn't, because of all the noise in the kitchen.

Even though that was extremely terrifying, I think it still was not quite as scary as the only other scary prank Jeremy has played on me.

First, you must understand that I hate spiders and have a completely irrational fear of them.

When we were living in a basement in American Fork, we occasionally found spiders in sundry corners of the house. Of course, it was usually Jeremy's job to dispatch them. But one night, he was busy studying and he casually told me that he saw a small spider in the bathroom and he wanted me to take care of it. After quite a bit of protesting from me, I naively headed off to the bathroom, armed with a tissue.

I didn't see the spider, so I asked Jeremy where exactly it was. He told me that it was probably on or under the bathmat. I decided to scare it out by lifting up the bathmat very quickly.

Well, I lifted up the bathmat in one quick motion, and suddenly, there was a huge swarm of spiders scurrying everywhere. I was so scared that I ran screaming out of the bathroom.

After Jeremy calmed me down enough to talk to me, he told me that they were fake spiders, and he had planted them there on purpose to scare me. I went over to look, and sure enough, there were dozens of small plastic spiders lying motionless on the floor. They had only looked like they were moving earlier because I had lifted up the bathmat so quickly.

He's never done anything like that again. What can I say? He learns his lessons well.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

At the risk of revealing how lame I can be

In case you didn't know already, they're making a movie of Twilight. Recently, they announced the actress who will be playing Bella. Her name is Kristen Stewart, and based on her performance in the one movie I've seen her in (Speak, an intense but awesome movie that most high-schoolers would benefit from watching), she is perfect for the part. I am about as excited as one can be for something like this (and possibly more excited than I should be).

It is so refreshing when the people who cast movies get something right. They do a good job most of the time, but every once in a while they make an error so egregious, so sensibility-offending that it singlehandedly ruins a movie.

For example, whose idea was it to cast Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes in the new Batman movie? Whoever it is must be on a quest to cast my personal least-favorite actresses in the role (after Katie Holmes in the first one). It also must be a totally different person than the one who was in charge of casting the rest of the movie, because everyone else looks awesome. Who would have thought that Christian Bale could dance in Newsies, give sloppy kisses in Little Women, actually accept a part in a lame dragon movie, and yet somehow portray a very menacing, convincing Batman?

Other bad casting decisions that spring to mind include Jeff Daniels in The Crossing (as George Washington!), Kevin Costner in everything except Field of Dreams (when the role he played actually fit his one acting ability: playing a bland white guy), and Julia Stiles in everything she's ever been in.

What, in your opinion, are the best and worst casting decisions you've noticed?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

You're laughing with me, right?

I just love it when someone makes fun of Mormons in a capable, knowledgeable way:

The way the missionary talks to the lady is spot-on. Somebody involved in that ad campaign was or is a Mormon, and probably a returned missionary, too.

Here's another one I like:

They even got the font on the name tags right (at least, it looks just like the font used in the logo for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Anniversary to us!

Today is our sixth wedding anniversary. We are celebrating by watching a movie (Rescue Dawn) that we picked up at one of those rental kiosks you see in grocery stores. Woohoo!

Other memorable anniversary happenings:

Our first, when we went out for dessert at Cafe Pushkin in Moscow. It's probably still the fanciest restaurant I've ever been to. And the desserts were delicious.

Our second, when Jeremy was out of town at a conference. So romantic.

Our third, when we were in Damascus and went out to eat at a Russian restaurant. That food was fine, but something we'd eaten earlier in the day gave us violent food poisoning. I will never again eat spinach, at least not if it's been cooked by an Arab landlady.

Our fourth, when we put two-month-old Miriam to bed and watched Master and Commander.

Our fifth, which I actually have no memory of. You'd think I'd at least remember, you know, the movie we must have watched.

The good news is that barring any unforeseen disaster, Jeremy will have finished and submitted his comprehensive exams by tomorrow afternoon. This means he will be able to spend time with Miriam and me again. So maybe we'll do something really ambitious and go out to celebrate. Maybe.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I'm it!

My friend Crystal tagged me for the "seven things" game, except I've also seen it as six. I'm going to modify it to be "five things," and it's going to be "five things that are sensory in nature that drive me CRAZY!" Because it's my blog and I can do what I want. Crystal, if I've not sufficiently fulfilled the nature of your tagging me, please let me know.

(If you're really dying for a random list of things about me, check out this post: Truths.)

Five things that are sensory in nature that drive me CRAZY!

1. I cannot stand touching, or even hearing other people touch, glass cups. It gives me shivers just thinking about it. We have nice glasses that we received as a wedding gift, but I use the cheap Target plastic cups instead. It's getting so bad that the other day I told Jeremy that he was going to have to start unloading his own glass cups from the dishwasher if he continued to insist on using them. Maybe I'll end up like Howard Hughes.

2. The smell of the streets when it rains after not having rained for a long time makes me gag. I know a lot of people love this smell, but I almost puke every time. It's a good thing I grew up in Oregon where "it rains after not having rained for a long time" almost never happened.

3. The sound of opening or closing our plastic accordion door that separated the bathroom area from the rest of our apartment in Damascus freaked me out every time I heard it. It was a sudden, loud, rattling sound that made me think there were machine guns going off outside. Yikes!

4. Sweet potatoes disgust me.

5. I hate, hate, HATE emerging from a movie theater when it is still daytime. Going from a dark, cool environment to the garish, blazing sun is basically a guaranteed headache for me.

I'll tag anyone who reads this, but you have to respond in comment form first. What makes you feel like you're going to be the next Howard Hughes? You can double up on senses if you need to.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Overheard, heard, and read

Overheard: We were at Costco the other day and I was walking down the skincare/haircare aisle. I overheard two ladies debating the merits of two different body washes. One of the ladies was telling the other that one of the body washes had "Jehovah oil." She said it over and over again until finally, her friend corrected her and said, "Um, I think it's jojoba oil." It's too bad, because a body wash infused with Jehovah oil was sounding pretty exotic to me.

Heard: Twice a year, all the Mormons in a given area (called a "stake") meet on a Saturday evening for a special edition of church (and sometimes, volunteers from the congregation run a nursery for the little ones so the parents don't have to fork out babysitting money for something as unglamorous and mundane as a church meeting. Which is very considerate, except that last time, we picked up Miriam after the meeting and the people in charge of the nursery had fed the kids Oreos and juice. Do I even need to tell you that men were in charge?).

Anyway, our meeting was tonight. One of the speakers was called up at the last minute to talk about an experience she had recently had. When she introduced herself over the pulpit, she said "Hi, I'm [so-and-so]. I'm pretty new in town. My family and I moved here from Heaven."

What the?!?!? She suddenly had my full attention. But then she backtracked a little bit and said, "I mean, a little piece of Heaven, called Alpine, Utah."

Jeremy wisecracked (any Tucson-lovers who are easily offended should close their eyes), "And now she's in Hell."

Read: I really try to make sure that Miriam has good books to read, even if some duds do slip through the cracks sometimes. These days, we're reading a book of nursery rhymes illustrated by Mary Engelbreit. The pictures are gorgeous, but the text leaves something to be desired. Check out the last page, specifically the last two lines:

It took me a moment to figure out what was wrong, because at first it just sounded awkward. Then I realized that the question mark should go after, you know, the actual question: Are the children in their beds? Because [statement], it's eight o'clock.

And now it bugs me every single time I read it. I feel like I have to conform the inflection of my voice to the punctuation in the book, and I suffer for it. Oh well. I guess we can't expect perfection in professionally published and supposedly edited children's books.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The one true yogurt drink

It has come to my attention that not everyone in my acquaintance is familiar with these:

Jeremy and I have always called these "yogurt drinks." I don't know what they're intended to be called - Actimel, maybe?

Anyway, yogurt drinks and the Palmers go way back, all the way back to 2002 when we were living in Russia. That's when we discovered drinkable yogurt, as well as its (mildly alcoholic, as we found out later) cousin, kefir. I have nothing against regular yogurt, but there was just something so...Russian about taking along a few bottles of kefir and some bread and cheese on an overnight train ride. So it was only natural that when Actimel yogurt drinks started appearing in the stores in Moscow that we would love those, too.

At first, we could buy a six-pack of Actimel for 45 rubles (about $1.35 back then). Then, as happened many times during our year in Moscow, the stores figured out that they weren't charging enough for a great product and the price went up, first to 60 rubles and eventually to 75. Not such a good deal anymore.

Fortunately, we discovered, of all things, an Actimel outlet store of sorts (really!). And it was located, of all places, just off Red Square. So every once in a while - okay, several times a week - we'd head over there and stock up on bargain-priced yogurt drinks. Why were they bargain-priced? Because they usually expired that day or the next. Thus, it was not uncommon for me to come home from work in the early evening, walk into our apartment, and see tiny yogurt drink bottles strewn all over the kitchen and Jeremy lying on the couch, whining about having drunk so many just to save them before they expired.

These delicious yogurt drinks eventually followed us around the globe, though we had to do without them for a while when we lived in Utah between stints in Russia and Syria.

But in Damascus, they showed up again, although at a prohibitive cost. Only a couple of stores in the city carried them, and I'm sure that the Saudi expats were the only ones who could afford them. I think we mostly just gazed at them wistfully as we passed them by.

Finally, America caught up with the active cultures trend, and our special yogurt drinks arrived in the States at last. The first time I saw them in the refrigerators at Costco, I could hardly keep myself from dancing with joy right there in the aisle.

Now I'm just waiting for all the additional flavors to come: orange (my favorite, but sadly unavailable around here), pomegranate (!), and blackberry/blueberry.

If you haven't tried these yogurt drinks, maybe you should give them a chance. They've never let me down.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The root of all evil

I really, really dislike Wal*Mart. I won't elaborate too much on the subject because I know that a lot of people like it, or at least shop there for low prices, or are indifferent. Just give me a few paragraphs and I'll be done.

I hadn't been there for a couple of years until recently. My sister Teresa, bless her heart, purchased a gift for Miriam's birthday at Wal*Mart but I ended up having to return it. I put off going for as long as possible but finally, I packed up the toy (it was a SeeNSay) and made the trip to our local store.

On the way there, I tried to tell myself that Wal*Mart probably wasn't as bad as I remembered it being, that maybe the intervening years since my last visit had sharpened my dislike for it undeservedly.

I got there and did what I needed to do. And realized that my dislike for that store is as warranted as ever. Sorry, folks. I tried. I will remain an enemy of Wal*Mart until further notice (don't hold your breath).

On the same subject, check out this email I got from my mom. I'll quote the words as they were written by the original sender, a cousin of hers:

We had a going away party yesterday for a lady at our Durham claims office. One of the supervisors called a Wal-Mart and ordered the cake.

He told them to write "Best Wishes Suzanne" and underneath that write "We will miss you".

As the picture shows, it didn't quite turn out right.

This would be hilarious if it weren't, at the same time, extremely unsettling.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Having my tonsils removed at age 26

In case you're wondering what it's like to have your tonsils removed as an adult (and several of you have asked me), here's the scoop.

Day 1. The procedure itself was relatively short. I checked into the hospital's surgery center at about 10.30 and was discharged shortly before 1 o'clock. As far as I can remember, the surgery itself started at 11.30 and I was waking up from the anesthesia (speaking Arabic, according to the attending staff) at 12.30.

Immediately after the surgery, before everything swelled up, I was already glad I had done it. I could tell that my throat was going to feel so much better once it was healed.

The rest of the day was kind of a blur. I was on a half-dose of Vicodin most of the time and just slept and swallowed the hours away. Swallowing was quite the chore. I had to work up the courage to do it each time.

Days 2-4. Swallowing, eating, breathing, and talking were very, very painful, even through Vicodin. In fact, talking was actually impossible for me. The problem wasn't that my voice was gone; it was that the movement of my mouth required to produce speech was excruciating. I think the whole house was covered in sticky notes by this point, filled with all the things I was trying to say out loud but couldn't.

Not only was the inside of my mouth sore, but parts of my jaw and lips were in pain, as well. I could hardly open my mouth to "eat" "food," which is what I would call slurping applesauce from a spoon. I lived on applesauce, apple juice, popsicles, and brown rice for these few days. When this is all over, I think I'll stay away from apple-based products for a while.

Day 5. I ventured out of the house for the first time to a low-key dinner at a friend's house and managed to eat some mashed potatoes. In just a few days, I had lost 5 pounds. In other developments, I was able to open my mouth enough to brush my teeth for the first time since the surgery. The pain was still bad, but it was really starting to feel more like strep throat than post-surgery discomfort.

Days 6-8. I woke up on day 6 feeling much better. The major problem now was not necessarily pain, but tightness all through my throat. Also, for some reason I was constantly yawning, which was very uncomfortable. Fortunately, I was able to expand my diet to include instant breakfast and bananas.

Day 9. I was finally able to talk again more than a week after the surgery. I also decided to try to exercise today, and managed to go for a walk, but it turned out to be too much. That night, I started bleeding. I'll spare you the gory details except to say that after a long night, it stopped, and I woke up in the morning with a trickle of dried blood running down from the corner of my mouth. Jeremy said I looked like a vampire.

Days 10-12. This brings us up to date. In many ways, these last couple of days have been the worst because of the bleeding. I had started to eat a more varied diet but now I'm back to applesauce and popsicles. But I have a feeling that tomorrow will be a good day.

In summary:
Total weight lost: about 10 pounds, some of which I'm sure is just water weight.
Total recovery time: about 12 days; probably a couple more to be 100%.
Days I had help, in the form of my mom: 5. I wish it could have been more.
Number of days I thought I would take Vicodin: 0.
Number of days I actually took Vicodin, even though it was just a half dose: 5.
Percentage of people with tonsillectomies who experience bleeding: 10%, apparently.
Movies watched while convalescent: Evita, Eragon, Cars, Little House on the Prairie, Pride & Prejudice, 3.10 to Yuma (the old version), parts of The Fellowship of the Ring, and Gone With the Wind.
Books read: none. Either my head wasn't clear enough or I was just in too much pain.

And finally, the answer to the question, Was it worth it? DEFINITELY. I am very glad I did it, despite all the pain and suffering.

Any other questions?

I'm also curious how my experience compares with that of someone who had their tonsils removed at a much younger (or older, I guess) age. I've heard it's an easier process for children, but maybe that's just because the children forget (or can't express) how painful it was.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The sign says...

Jeremy had soccer practice at a park the other night, and Miriam and I went with him to play on the playground.

This particular park has three or four soccer fields, and they are encompassed by a paved exercise path. I pushed Miriam in the stroller for a loop in a tentative attempt at exercise since having my tonsils removed. Along the way, there was a large, official sign posted that said this:


Obviously, some of the letters were missing. But the spacing of the letters was such that it was difficult to tell exactly where those missing letters were supposed to go. As I walked, I came up with a couple of ideas of what the sign was supposed to say:


Halfway through the loop, we came across another sign that said the same thing. But this time, no letters were missing. The answer to the puzzle? (Highlight below to reveal.)


I never would have guessed it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A minor grievance

I've noticed something recently: the wait times on DVDs these days are terrible. By "wait time," I mean those portions of the DVD (usually when you first put it in) that cannot be fast-forwarded or skipped through, or clicked through for the menu. You have to watch them, every time you put in the disc.

They usually consist of a short montage telling us which studio/entertainment group/channel created the disc - sometimes, there are several of these, back to back, for the different companies who all had a hand in the disc's creation. Then, there are a few copyright notices, each with their own screen, often in three different languages. If it's a movie with commentary, then we get the warning that the commentary is pure opinion and does not reflect blah blah blah - again, in three languages. Sometimes, even trailers for upcoming movies are un-skippable, though I think there are fewer of those on newer DVDs. And finally, my favorite: "You Wouldn't Steal A Car."

(To which my mind always responds: "but what if they would steal a car? What then?")

In my experience, the worst offenders on DVD wait time are Bob the Builder, Baby Einstein, and anything from Excel films. The best seems to be VeggieTales (really!).

Don't even get me started on excessively animated menu transitions, which are often so wrongly billed on the DVD case as a "special feature."

And while we're talking about things that should not be called special features, here are a few, taken straight from my copy of The Last of the Mohicans:

- anamorphic widescreen (so I can see the movie)
- interactive menus (so I can select "Play Movie")
- scene selection
- Audio: DTS English (so I can hear the movie)
- Subtitles: English, Spanish

I think we can all agree that the above items should be considered "standard," not "special."

Just so we're all clear on my high personal standards for a DVD. Thanks.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Aw, fer cute...

The other day I was lying with Miriam on the bed, trying (in vain, as it turned out) to get her to take a nap. She was jumping around on the mattress instead of resting and accidentally bonked her head right into my forehead.

The stress and frustration of not being able to get her to sleep, combined with very real pain at the impact, caused a few tears to roll down my cheeks.

Miriam saw that I was crying and her natural, toddler empathy kicked in. She said, "kiss better?" and gave me one. Then it was "a big hug." That helped, of course, but I still had tears on my face. So she took her blankie and awkwardly dabbed my cheeks, saying, "no more tears." Finally, she tossed out one of our favorite lines to use on her, with a twist: "Don't be scared; Meme [Miriam] is here."

I guess I've got nothing to fear. I've got a 2-year-old looking out for me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

My husband's new favorite movie

(Ha ha, love, just kidding. I wanted to make sure I had your attention!)

I picked this DVD up at the library the other day on a whim, in preparation for the Great TV-Watching Marathon of 2007 (aka, me getting my tonsils removed). I am mildly familiar with the old Michael Landon version of Little House on the Prairie, but extremely familiar with the book series. In fact, I remember the day in fourth grade when I found out that those books were technically fiction. I still haven't gotten over the shock and disillusionment.

This new Disney version is nothing special. The production values are quite good and the acting is above-par. And perhaps the source material is partly at fault, but it seemed like the entire 4-hour drama went something like this:

- Cute prairie girls do cute pioneer things, until
- Something Very Bad or Scary happens, and then
- Girls get sent into the house, often "right now!"
- Pa takes care of it, unless he's in town getting supplies, in which case Ma takes care of it.
- Girls continue to play pioneerily, until
- There is something Very Bad or Scary to talk about, adults only, and then
- Girls get sent into the house to "wash up" or "get supper on" or "do chores."

I actually liked it more than it sounds like I did. But probably not as much as Jeremy.

Because through a Vicodin-induced oversight, I had my mom return the DVD to the library before he was done watching it (I didn't even know he was watching it). On Sunday morning, when I woke up, I found out that late on Saturday night, he had called Blockbuster to see if they had it in stock, gone there, spent time looking for it, swallowed his massive male pride and asked an employee for help (but I heard he said it was his mother-in-law who wanted it), and then spent $4.00 to rent it.

I hope it was worth the trouble, Jeremy. You'll have to let us all know.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

That's the word I'm looking for

I was at Home Depot the other day. Yes, Home Depot (and not Lowe's) because the other store we had to go to shares a (massive, sprawling) parking lot with Home Depot and I wanted to stick it to the man by walking in between errands.

Also, does anyone else call it "Home Despot"?

I was looking for one tiny item; namely, these:

So after spending the better part of 10 minutes tracking down a customer service representative - and when I found one, I found four of them, huddled together. I don't think they should hang out in packs, maybe that's why they're so scarce in the actual store? - I asked where I could find said items.

But I couldn't remember what their actual name was. So I asked where to find "those white plastic things that police use as handcuffs at riots and stuff." After they all had a good laugh at my expense, one of the employees showed me to the right place, and also told me that they're called "zip ties."

Come to think of it, there are quite a few things in life that I either don't know the name for or I do know it, but I've been pronouncing it wrong all my life. Sometimes, these errors are caught by trusted friends before I expose myself to general ridicule. Other times, I'm not so lucky. Recent occurrences include being told that Reuter's is pronounced "Royters," not "Rooters;" that the "t" is silent in both "Colbert" and "Report" (how could I have known that one?!?); and that all this time, the book's title is Far From the Madding Crowd and not Far From the Maddening Crowd.

At least now I know. And knowing is half the battle.

Friday, November 02, 2007

On a dark and stormy night

Two days late, here is the story of one of the scarier things that has happened to me.

It was the summer of 2003. Jeremy and I had been married for a little over a year and a half, and we were living in American Fork, Utah, while he finished up his MA at the BYU. Specifically, we were living in the basement apartment of my great aunt and uncle's house, a beautiful, gigantic (but older) house just south of the Mount Timpanogos Temple.

At that point, in all our 20 months of marriage, Jeremy and I had spent only one night apart - and that had been just a few weeks earlier at a scouting campout. So although I had accompanied him to Middlebury College in Vermont for the first week of the conference he was attending, I had to get back home to start teaching LSAT prep classes. That meant spending a week at home in AF without Jeremy.

I don't consider myself a scaredy cat in the technical sense of the word. I think my main problem is that my imagination is too vivid. And despite my worst fears, the first two nights without Jeremy went by without incident.

The next night, at 4am, I was awakened by someone pounding on our door. Not knocking, pounding. I was terrified, and ran straight upstairs to wake up my aunt and uncle.

My great-uncle had heard it, too, but thought nothing of it (!?!?!). My great-aunt insisted on checking things out. So I hung out inside while my elderly (upper-80s) relatives established a perimeter around the building. When they came back inside, they said there was nothing. They even suggested that it could be someone who knew that Jeremy was out of town and was just playing a prank (his Sunday School class of 10 13-year-olds somehow immediately sprang to mind at that suggestion...).

But we were ready for them - whoever or whatever it was - the next night. I slept upstairs that night, and my aunt and uncle set an alarm to wake up just before 4am. Sure enough, right on cue, someone was downstairs pounding on the door. But by the time we got down there to investigate, there was no sign of anyone.

The third night, my aunt and uncle took it a few steps further. Remember that we are talking about elderly people here, and try to picture this: first, they spread flour around the basement entryway to catch the footprints of whoever it was. Then, my uncle waited hidden, outside, with a baseball bat as a weapon. Finally, my aunt was inside with the phone in her hand, ready to call 9-1-1 (yes, just like on that episode of the Simpsons).

At 4am, someone was banging on the door again. The problem was, my great-uncle was out there and could see that there was no one there!

I think we all would have been even more creeped out except that by chance, my aunt and uncle mentioned the situation to their daughter later that morning. Immediately, she volunteered that the noise was probably related to the new sprinkler system she had just put in at the house. Apparently, she hadn't finessed it as well as she could have and she guessed that some of the pipes were banging and making it sound like someone was banging on the door.

Sure enough, that's what it was. By nightfall, we were all laughing about our "nighttime visitor."

But that doesn't mean I slept downstairs in the basement by myself right away. Nope. I waited until Jeremy got home a few days later. And we've hardly spent a night apart since.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

I'm about to have the scariest Halloween ever, I think: I'm leaving in a few minutes to have my tonsils removed.

If I come home in one piece (sans tonsils), I'll tell you about my scariest story in honor of Halloween.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A nerd among many

Last night, I did something I don't think I've ever done before: waited in line with a bunch of excited (fellow?) nerds for the opening/release of a product/movie/book, or, in this case, operating system. Apple released Leopard for sale yesterday (slogan: "Add a new Mac to your Mac," which I will freely admit does not make sense to me).

The U of A bookstore was offering a special price for one hour only, from 6 - 7 in the evening. So there was a huge line snaking through the store, with free candy and free t-shirts and other festivities. And everyone there, I can only assume, was an Apple nerd. So when I took a turn in line (while Jeremy played outside with Miriam) and tried to read my book, I had to stop because the nerd behind me kept reading over my shoulder. I haven't had that happen since Russia.

(What's even more embarrassing is that it was Eclipse, which is kind of a vampire/werewolf book, and might be a strange book to understand while reading over someone else's shoulder.)

(On the other hand, maybe it helped me fit into the crowd...)

The worst part is that I am not even a Mac person. My upbringing was strictly PC-based, while Jeremy's was all Apple. So you see, Jeremy and I have an interfaith marriage of sorts.

I will admit that Macintoshes have come a long way since those shockingly ghetto machines we all played Oregon Trail on in elementary school "computer hour" back in the day.

But I remain firmly in the PC camp, despite Jeremy's best missionary efforts, and despite the presence of Leopard (and increased "Mac"??) in our home.

Perhaps these stories should have been two separate posts, because the questions they raise are unrelated.

First, have you ever waited in line for something so geeky? Or non-geeky?

And second, whose side are you on, mine or Jeremy's?

Or in other words, the right side, or the wrong side?

Book heaven

Somehow, I heard about the Friends of the Pima County Public Library 8th Annual Book Lovers' Holiday Sale. Jeremy, Miriam, and I were driving back from an appointment across town and would be passing the sale's location, so we decided to drop in.

But what was intended to be a casual visit turned out to be unintentionally intense. We drove up to the building and there was a orange-vested volunteer outside telling people that the parking lots were all full. Everyone had to park across the street and walk over. And once we got inside, it was chaos, mayhem, and an utter madhouse. There were thousands and thousands of books stacked all over the place (though most were on shelves), and tons of people rifling through them frantically.

You see, each book (used, of course, most discarded from the library system) cost around $1.00. Some were 50 cents, some were 2 bucks, but most were a dollar. So a lot of people had large cardboard boxes and were shoveling their books of choice into them.

We took turns watching Miriam so the other one could "browse" (way too relaxed a term for what was going on), and ended up purchasing these 10 books:

...for a total of $13.00. Quite a steal, when you consider that the kiddie board books are usually 7 bucks each.

I just love accomplishing something on Saturday mornings.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Five-year Flashback; or, How I Almost Became a Hostage

Five years ago this week, a Moscow theater crowded with an audience of over 800 people was taken over by 42 armed Chechen rebels. They held everyone in the building hostage for almost three days, demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. In the meantime, they had mined the building with explosives and had bombs strapped to their bodies.

In one of those bizarre "close calls" that we all have at one time or another, Jeremy and I were supposed to be members of that audience, but by a twist of fate, we were safe at home. We'd made plans with a few friends to go see the play on that night, but the woman in charge of buying tickets for everyone got sick and ended up not getting any (the show was sold out on that Wednesday night).

We were living in Moscow at the time, working for the US Embassy. As far as I can remember, we were alerted to the situation by a call from the embassy warden not long after it happened. Since it was already late evening, we went to bed and woke up in the morning to hear more details on the local news.

The outlook was certainly grim. I remember going to work as usual and the mood on the streets was unbelievably tense. Personally, I couldn't see any way for the situation to be resolved without everyone being killed. And as the days went by, it looked more and more like that was what was going to happen.

Then, on the third day of the crisis, something happened* to trigger a storming of the building by Russian special forces. They pumped a mystery gas into the building through the ventilation system and then went in and eliminated all the hostage-takers. The hostages were evacuated, some on their own two feet and some carried out by the troops. In classic Russian style, the conscious and unconscious hostages were loaded onto common city buses recruited for the purpose and taken off to hospitals around Moscow. The images of all the above are clearly imprinted on my memory from watching local Russian news (completely uncensored, of course).

It took a while for casualty counts to reach us, but I will be honest and say that when we and fellow Muscovites first heard that "only" 129 of the 800+ hostages had been killed, there was an overwhelming feeling of relief that the number was so low. Everyone had been expecting a far higher death toll.

Of course, if you read anything about the hostage crisis now, that initial positive reaction is not mentioned. And in hindsight, it is not such a successful outcome - especially when we found out that most of those deaths were caused by the rescue gas, not the hostage-takers. But at the time, it was considered to be almost a miracle.

I think not attending the play that night was the closest call I've had in my life, at least that I know of (I'm convinced we all have many similar - if less dramatic or obvious - experiences almost every day).

What's yours?

*I can't find this referenced in any of the accounts online, but it was reported at the time that a child hostage started to have a breakdown after being without his parents for almost three days and threw a water bottle at a hostage-taker. The terrorist then opened fire and spurred the special forces into action.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Park carnage

On Saturday, Miriam and I rode our bikes to the park. That's what we call it, but it's actually me, on a bike, pulling Miriam in her bike trailer.

I usually take a book along with me to the park to read while she plays. I would listen to music on headphones, too, if I didn't think that would just be too much for the other parents. Sometimes I feel like everyone there is judging me for sitting by and reading (and ahhhh...listening to music if only I could) when I could be engaged with my little one. If anyone ever has the guts to bring it up with me, I will tell them that I get plenty of quality time with Miriam at home, being the wife of a PhD student who has his comp exams NEXT MONTH and all. So they can just have fun with their kids and I'll get my 15-minute breath of fresh air.

Anyway, while we were at the eerily named Children's Memorial Park, a 5-year-old girl the next swing over fell off and did a face plant in the sand. Her mom picked her up and ran her over to the drinking fountain/bathroom area, but not quick enough for the girl's older brothers not to see that there was blood streaming down her face from a nasty mouth wound.

The two brothers immediately announced in loud, excited voices: "There is BLOOD all over her FACE!!!!" and within about 10 seconds, every kid in that park had run over to the bathroom area to get a look at the poor girl.

Meanwhile, her mom was doing her best to clean up the screaming girl under less than ideal circumstances. Basically, she was trying to wash her face and stop the bleeding with the girl's shirt, which she was simultaneously trying to remove from her frantic child. All this while a big group of kids stood around and watched, providing plenty of grossed-out commentary.

Eventually, everyone settled down, the crowd dispersed, and that family went home. But the incident was not easily forgotten by the kids at the park. A good 20 minutes later, some little girls came up to me and asked if I'd seen "the bloody girl."

That poor mom. There are moments in motherhood where you just wish you could be invisible, and I think that was definitely one of them.

Monday, October 22, 2007

In a world where salt has 60 uses...

(Note: click on the graphic to view it, and then click again to enlarge it.)

A woman came up to me at church today and asked if I wanted a handout on "60 Uses For Salt." What could I say but yes?

(If this seems a little random for something given to me at church, it's related to our church's food storage program, which is awesome. What is even more awesome is the amount of knowledge certain people in our congregation have on the subject, including the lady who gave me this handout.)

After church, I had a chance to actually read it. I've had a great time imagining the world in which many of these uses would actually be applicable. Namely, a world in which:

1. People still use hankies.
9. People's apples become wrinkly.
10. People call the griddle after a pancake but call the pancake itself a flapjack.
14. People read this sentence and don't almost fall over laughing in church (like Jeremy did).
25. People polish their teeth.
32. People are hanging up laundry outside in freezing temperatures.
35. (This one is cheating and doesn't really belong on the list, because in this case, you've used too much salt, haven't you?)
50. People's hose are constantly getting mismatched.
58. People own old kerosene lamps.
60. People are baking pies (OK, maybe this one is strange only for me).

And finally, this is a world where Mormons apparently:

12. use coffee pots (I guess there could be other uses for it),
49. drink coffee (hmm, maybe not)
30. drink tea, and
52. are constantly getting wine stains on their clothes.

Anything else?

Security at church

Last week, the leader of our congregation stood at the pulpit at the beginning of the meeting and made an important announcement. The substance of his message was that there have been a lot of car break-ins and thefts occurring in the church parking lot during church services and other church-related activities, and that we should all be careful about what we leave in our cars during meetings.

The best part was when he was trying to introduce the situation delicately. He said something like, "As you know, this church building is located in a neighborhood of Tucson that...(rethinking) this area, there are lots of...(rethinking)...well, this neighborhood has its share of problems."

It certainly does. We have to have people sitting out in the foyers during church meetings so that ill-meaning stragglers don't walk in off the street and cause mayhem or worse, steal things (this has happened). There are also members of the congregation assigned in pairs to circle the building during the meetings for similar reasons.

One time, during the third hour of church, when we had split into our men- and women-only meetings, something "interesting" happened. First, you have to understand that the windows in that room face the rear parking lot, and offer their view to the audience facing the teacher. One Sunday, we were quietly having our lesson when I looked out and saw two scruffy men wandering around. They were partially behind the dumpster, which meant that they were out of view of the parking lot (and thus the patrols), but were in full view of us class members. We looked on, mostly in curiosity, as they kicked around and did nothing much. In the meantime, the lesson was proceeding as usual.

But then one of the men - and neither of them looked the picture of health - pitched over and started vomiting violently onto the ground. I think there was an audible gasp from all of us audience members who could see it happen. It was disgusting, but also hilarious because the teacher had no idea what was going on. Eventually, the parking lot patrol caught up with them and had a discussion about other places where they could go, and the men left. But it remains one of the most interesting things that has ever happened at church, at least in my experience, and at least in America.

It's sad that we have to worry about these kinds of issues when we're attending church, of all places. But it is necessary.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Installing a faucet: Part 4: The thrilling conclusion

Here is the master bathroom, complete with the brand-new faucet fixture!

I did this one entirely by myself (insert obligatory reference to Jeremy tightening things up with his brute strength here).

I ended up replacing the P-bend (? - I may have installed the fixture but I won't even pretend to speak or understand the lingo) pipe underneath the sink because it was disgusting on the inside. I don't know what the previous owner of this house had put down the sink, or why we have let it just sit there the past two years. So much gross hud came out that even Miriam (my captive audience) was saying "ewwwwww!"

Of course, replacing that part necessitated another trip to Lowe's with Miriam. But this time, unlike last time, I felt very confident and knew exactly what I was looking for. Even if I didn't know the name of it. It was an awesome feeling.

So this story has a very happy ending. I encourage you all to go out and replace your lavatory and/or kitchen sink fixtures without delay. It will make your week! It made mine, anyway.
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(Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

My heart is filled with glee

It's possible that I'm the last person in the world to discover Veggie Tales. But just in case you aren't familiar with them, as I wasn't until last week when a chance taken on a randomly checked-out children's DVD turned out to be especially fortuitous, here's a taste.

Veggie Tales is the only thing Miriam will watch these days. She is strangely not a big fan of television or movies. The only things so far in her life that have even remotely held her attention are The Little Mermaid and old-school Sesame Street segments on YouTube (leading to Jeremy saying, during a phone conversation with his brother Dave, in all seriousness: "She's all about YouTube these days").

So the first time we put in Moe and the Big Exit and she watched the entire 40 minutes, I was astounded. And the best part is that the episodes are clever and un-irritating even for me to watch. I've been singing the songs from that episode and others from YouTube all week long. And not at all in a "I hate these songs and why are they still in my head!?!?" way.

I don't think it's possible to watch the above clip and not be enchanted on some level.


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