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.
Posted by Picasa

(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.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Which English do you speak?

OK, are you ready for some discussion?

Here are my thoughts on a selection of questions from the survey. If you haven't taken it yet, go here before you read on.

And for the record, my place of growing-up is Beaverton, Oregon.

2. I grew up saying "pop" exclusively, but somehow, after leaving home, "soda" has crept increasingly into my vocabulary. This distresses me. In any case, "coke" is not an acceptable variant to me, unless you're living overseas. Then it becomes OK for some reason.

3. I say "tennis shoes," but the fun thing is that my brain no longer recognizes it as two separate words, each with their own meaning. Instead, they've merged to become a new word, "tennishooz." I seem to remember my mom saying "tennies," which was always mildly irritating to me. Sorry, mom.

4. I wouldn't even know what this is except that we did a huge project on them in 5th grade. And we called them crawdads, thank you very much. During that 5th grade unit, I think I wrote a story for creative writing time about one getting stuck in the cafeteria blender. Lovely.

5. I use "you guys" to the extent that I've taught it to all the English pupils and classes I've had over the past 5+ years.

7. I had no idea there was a phrase for this phenomenon. Call people who live in the South what you will, but wow, have they got a colorful description for everything!

8. Again, I experienced a shift here. It used to be "sleepies," but I find myself saying "eye boogers" more and more. I think it might be because it's simpler with Miriam - she understands boogers, eye boogers, and most recently ear boogers. That's what we call built-up ear wax, but when we call it boogers, she puts up less of a fight when we get it out. Oh, and terms involving profanity - does anyone really use those?!?

9. OK, one more creepy shift. I grew up saying "aunt" like "ant," but now say "auhnt." I'm not exactly sure about this, but I think it happened when we moved to Russia and I wanted to be more precise about the term to non-native speakers of English. So I started saying "auhnt." And now I still do.

A similar thing happened to me with the word "mobile." Every country we've been to besides America pronounces it something like "mow-bile." So that's how I say it. And then we come back to America and apparently, it's "mow-bull." Who knew?

10. I might still say "garage sale" except that Tucsonians DON'T HAVE GARAGES! What is up with that, anyway?

12. Definitely traffic circle. Now that we've determined what they're called, if only Americans could figure out how to use them...

18. I say "dinner," but sometimes I wish I said "supper." It sounds so cute and makes me feel like I'm Laura Ingalls (a recurring childhood fantasy, actually).

25. More wishful thinking: I say "binky" but I wish I said "dummy."

26. I called this "take-out" until we went to the Middle East, where it's called, in all seriousness, "take-away" (in English and everything).

27. I had not thought of these creatures in ages, so I really couldn't remember what I called them. I hope I didn't mess up their survey too much.

29. Does anyone else remember that Mathnet? Definitely "ATM - automated teller machine."

Please share your thoughts! I am so interested in dialect variation and I would love to hear what you say and why.

World Englishes

If you didn't think "Englishes" was a word, think again: Cambridge says it is. And they're conducting a survey on English variants at the following link:

Click on the link, take the survey, and then come back here for a fun discussion. I don't want to post anything quite yet because the survey requires that you be completely unfamiliar with their questions ahead of time.

Also, this isn't some lame blog survey. It's real, live research.

Just do it!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sound advice

These were the actual words that came out of my mouth yesterday afternoon:

"Miriam, you can't wear your swimsuit to the airport."

For some reason, that combination just struck me as being odd.

Do you ever find yourself saying something that sounds perfectly logical at the time, but upon further reflection turns out to be quite strange?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The stupidity continues

The top story/banner headline on right now is:

Not a small headline underneath an "Entertainment" subheading way down on the page, but the absolute top story.

Why should I care, CNN? And why should those affected really care, either? So a bunch of spoiled kids don't get to go to a stupid concert from someone I've never heard of. Worse things have happened.

They could have an amoeba-eating brain in their water supply.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Installing a faucet: Part three

I decided to just dive right in with the installation. There was a time we were going to wait until Jeremy's dad was in town to switch out the faucet - he has tons of experience in house building and fixing. But I convinced myself that it was something I could handle. After all, even Stan Palmer had a first time, right?

I opened the box containing the fixture and all its parts (it included a pop-up drain, as well). That's where the trouble started. While I was perusing the instructions, Miriam was grabbing at sundry nuts and bolts and tiny wrenches and scattering them all over the place. This was to be a recurring theme throughout the project.

I managed to collect everything again, and we moved into the bathroom. I emptied the vanity cabinets of all their contents, which Miriam started spreading around the house with wild glee. After a few minutes, our bathroom looked something like this:

In fact, now that I think about it, after a couple of hours most of the entire house looked something like this. Bathroom items were trotted out of the bathroom, and non-bathroom items (like toys and blankies and snacks (!)) were brought right in.

In the meantime, I was making pretty good progress. I detached the water supply lines with absolute success and I was so proud of myself. But when it came time to unscrew the old fixture from underneath, I hit a wall. They were stuck, and I was in such an odd position (halfway under the sink, on my back, with Miriam jumping all over my legs and tummy) that I couldn't muster the strength to get them free.

So I had to do something I really dislike: leave a project unfinished and move on to something else. We went outside and cleaned the inside of the car while we waited for Jeremy to get home. I could hardly handle being inside the house when it was such a disaster area, and yet there was no point in cleaning it up since the job wasn't done.

Jeremy came home and with his brute strength was able to unstick the faucet screws.

The rest of the job proceeded as well as can be expected under the circumstances. I'd wedge myself into the cabinet only to discover that the wrench had wandered off. Then, before I could wriggle out again, Miriam would start loading up the cabinet with various items strewn around the bathroom.

Finally, we reached the point where I put her in the tub to give her a bath and finished up the job while she was playing in the water. Although it took me long enough that near the end, she was practically begging to get out of the tub (repeating, "Mama wash youuuuuuuuuuuu!" over and over again).

And that's how a job that should have taken "about an hour" according to several sources I checked ahead of time took an entire afternoon and evening, not counting the time it took me to clean up the house, which was strewn with a bizarre mixture of toilet paper rolls, wrenches, washers, cleaning supplies, plumber's tape (unstrung from the roll, of course), and bars of soap.

Also, Jeremy insisted that I mention that he was the one who fine-tuned the pop-up drain connection, and also used his brute strength again to tighten things up when I was done.

But even with all those caveats, I still accomplished the installation of a new faucet. If I could do it over again, I would definitely choose a time when Miriam was not my responsibility. The problem is, such times are so rare that when they do arise, the last thing I want to do is replace a faucet.

We'll see if I get a chance. There's still the master bathroom faucet to go...

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

Installing a faucet: Part two

We've been wanting to replace the bathroom fixtures in our two bathrooms almost since we moved in. The old ones were, well, old. And ugly. They were so ugly that they made the whole bathroom look bad. You probably know the style I'm talking about. It's the default, 20-buck faucet that everyone has at one point in their life:

So we picked up some sweet new faucets (one for each bathroom) at Costco. Of course at Costco.

The responsibility of actually installing the faucet fell on my shoulders. That should give you some idea of how insanely busy Jeremy is these days.

So I headed off to Lowe's, Miriam in tow, to pick up a few of the parts we'd need. Why Lowe's and not Home Depot? There are three reasons. First, Home Depot wasn't here when we first moved in and were doing tons of little home fix-ups, so we got used to going to Lowe's. Second, Lowe's is marginally closer to our house (by one block. Home Depot is across the street). Finally, for a task like this I needed customer service, and Home Depot doesn't have any.

Still, I was nervous about approaching a salesperson for help. The last thing I needed was to look like some novice housewife with a toddler who had never done this before and was essentially clueless about the process. The problem is, that is exactly what I was. So I swallowed my pride and got some help from a friendly Lowe's employee. Next thing I knew, we were walking out to the car with everything we needed. I was feeling especially empowered and hopeful.

Coming up next: those feelings I just mentioned? They change.

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Installing a faucet: Part one

Part one of this story goes something like this:

Never, ever try to switch out a bathroom faucet/pop-up drain fixture when your toddler is present and you are solely responsible for her care.

Just. Don't. Do it.

(Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Cell murder

Today, I got an automated phone call (two separate ones, actually: one in English and one in Spanish) from my insurance company, reminding me to set up an annual exam.

After representing the exam to me in the most glowing of terms, the message said this (with my favorite part in bold):

"This test finds hidden problems, so there is a better chance to kill them."

I didn't know my insurance company was so...aggressive.

Look your age!

A picture of 19-year-old me

True story: When I was 19 years old and visiting my family in Oregon for a week or two before going back to school, the hostess at a restaurant gave me the kids' menu.

The age range for the kids' menu was
12 and under.

In her defense, the hostess was rather embarrassed when I told her how old I was, and ended up giving me a huge discount on the meal (perhaps the kids' price??). And I understand that she must have to make frequent, quick judgments about a person's age, on both ends of the spectrum, and it's inevitable that mistakes will be made. But honestly, she thought I was 12?

It's been a curse most of my life that I look so darn young. Just this last August, when we arrived in New York after our flight from Amman, I walked with my little brother (he's 15) to check him in for his continuing flight to Portland. At first, I stood away from the counter, assuming everything would be fine. Eventually, however, it became clear that they were unsure about his being able to fly unaccompanied - at least without paying some kind of extra fee.

At that point, I walked up to the counter. The desk agent took one glance at me and got a familiar expression on her face - an expression that said something like, "I wonder what this little girl thinks she can help with?" She asked, not very politely, who I was. I said I was his sister, and that I was sure his ticket was in order, even though he would be unaccompanied on the flight. Then she flat-out asked, "and how old are you??" When I said 25, she immediately started respecting me.

Does anyone else have this problem? I really wouldn't mind it these days, except for the surly reception it usually earns from people who don't take me for an adult.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

It's that time of year

True to form, yesterday was the second most depressing day of the year for me.

You see, it was the day after my birthday. I know I'm old enough now that birthdays shouldn't mean that much to me, but lately they've meant more to me than ever. That's because on my birthday, of all the days in the year, I can count on getting a break.

This year's break was awesome. Jeremy woke up with Miriam and took her to the zoo before I even got out of bed. I woke up at 9.45, which is the latest I've slept in several years (not counting incidents of jet-lag or illness, although I think even counting illness, this was pretty late). I showered and dressed without having to simultaneously entertain a tiny person, and then ate breakfast at my leisure, away from the kitchen table (!!!). Then, finding myself with some free time, I thought carefully and judiciously what I wanted to spend it on and decided to...

...clean the house.

I'm not kidding - to quote Emperor Kuzco, it was "my birthday gift to me!" And it was a very nice gift, in a way, to be able to go from room to room at a decent pace, without Miriam trailing behind me. I used dangerous cleaning chemicals, not having to worry about if she was in the room. And best of all, she wasn't right there with me, creating a mess as quickly as I had cleaned one up.

Definitely one of the best birthday gifts ever.

Then it was back to reality when they came home from the zoo. Jeremy had class, a presentation at a conference, and then a soccer game. But my birthday was nice while it lasted.

ps - the most depressing day of the year for me is generally the day after Christmas. In a desperate bid to remedy the situation, in high school, some friends and I declared December 26 to be "Festivus," but then we still had December 27 to deal with.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

See what I mean?

Today, I noticed a perfect example of everything that is wrong with local news.

Here is the actual headline from a KVOA (Tucson) story:


There is more wrong with this story than just the shocking lack of a hyphen in "brain-eating" in the headline. Unless, of course, there is a brain, currently eating amoeba, in Tucson's water supply.

But as soon as you get past the alarmist, ungrammatical headline, the story quickly loses steam. Here are the actual facts, as revealed by the end of the article (and I encourage you to click on the article and read it for yourself):

1. The only way to get infected is to inhale infected water through your nose.
2. Any water actually coming out of a tap or faucet has been chlorinated, and thus is not infected.
3. Tucson water officials have already confirmed that there is no threat.
4. The risk of a normal person encountering the amoeba is "practially zero."

So in other words: THERE IS NO DANGER. But that wouldn't make a very interesting headline, now, would it?

Friday, October 05, 2007

From Behind the Stir-Ups!

(I've never done a group blog thing like this before, so please be kind!)

Not that this blog is all about birth or anything, but today was officially declared (by these two ladies) the day to share humorous/frightening/unusual stories about OB/GYN experiences. The above statement, or the following graphic, should scare any wandering males away.

The thing is, although I want to participate, I don't have any freaky OB/GYN experiences. I saw one only rarely before I was pregnant, and then I had one in Syria while I was pregnant with Miriam (although I eventually gave birth using a midwife in the US). I haven't seen an OB/GYN in America in several years.

Anyway, since I don't have any horror stories, I thought I'd share what it was like to visit an OB/GYN while pregnant in Damascus, Syria. It's something I get asked about a lot, though the question is usually phrased something like, "I can't believe you weren't scared to be pregnant over there!"

First, you have to realize that there's no health insurance infrastructure in Syria (or, indeed, in much of the world besides America. Rejoice or lament as you see fit. Personally, I rejoiced). So when we looked for a doctor, we had to choose from an available price range. A single visit to an OB/GYN could cost as little as six dollars out-of-pocket for your run-of-the-mill, Syrian- or Middle-Eastern-educated doctor. We chose a Western-educated doctor who spoke English, and ended up paying 10 dollars per visit.

What did a visit entail? Well, the first awesome thing about my prenatal care in Syria is that I could see the doctor as often - and as soon - as I wanted. I had had a miscarriage before, and so it was nice to be able to go several times in those first few scary months and be reassured by a heartbeat.

Second of all, I could always, always make an appointment for the next day or two. No six-week waiting periods. And once I was in the office, I never had to wait more than a few minutes for my appointment.

The appointment itself would proceed like this: a nice female nurse would call me (and Jeremy, if he was there) back, weigh me, show me into the ultrasound room, and set me up. She was always very smiley. Then the doctor himself would come in and perform an ultrasound, talking me through everything. That's right, the ultrasound was performed by the doctor himself, and he was allowed to talk about it while doing it (I understand from friends' stories that that is not always the case in America). And I got one at every single visit. After that, he'd give me a moment and then we'd meet in his office to talk about anything we needed to.

One of the things we discussed was how much it would cost to give birth to the baby in Damascus. At the best private hospital in town, with my doctor, a normal birth would have cost $500.

It was during one of these visits that my OB/GYN made this statement: "Childbirth is not brain surgery. It's something that happens all the time, everywhere. I like to treat it as a natural thing, not as something that women need to be saved from." Basically, he was awesome.

So there you have my defining OB/GYN experience: short wait times, inexpensive yet quality care, and an ultrasound as often as I wanted it. Who says there's anything to be afraid of being pregnant in Syria?

Thursday, October 04, 2007 Farsi?!?!?

I had the weirdest dream the other day, except I don't think it was a dream.

I was driving from the library to Target, listening to NPR. I mention that not to be snooty, but because it's a vital piece of information in the story.

I wasn't really paying attention to the radio. Miriam was squawking about something from the backseat, or maybe I was trying to remember why I was going to Target in the first place. All of a sudden, I heard the opening strains of "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music being played on a guitar.

Except it wasn't being sung in English, or even German (which would make less sense, really, because that song was written specifically for the musical). It was being sung in Farsi.

By the time we got to Target, the song was over. And then the announcer (do you call them DJs on NPR?) spoke up and said, simply, "Ladies and Gentlemen,
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

What the?!?! Did that really happen? Did the president of Iran show up at some open-mike place - perhaps near Columbia University - and sing Edelweiss in Farsi? And somehow, NPR got a recording of it and broadcast it on national (public!) radio?

I've Googled every combination of words I can think of to bring up a news article or blurb that will confirm that this event actually occurred. So far, I haven't found anything.

Can anyone help me out with this?

Vintage Sesame Street

The other day, the following three circumstances occurred at the same time:

1. Miriam and I were both home at 9 o'clock in the morning.
2. I remembered that I wanted to turn on Sesame Street for Miriam.
3. I remembered what channel Sesame Street was on, at what time, and that it was that time.

These three things rarely happen at once.

So I turned it on, very excited for some fun childhood memories to come back. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. In fact, Lisa said it best when she remarked, "Itchy and Scratchy seem to have lost their edge..."

Folks, I think Sesame Street has lost its edge.

I remember pre-Elmo (and Zoey or whatever the heck her name is) Sesame Street, where there was no threat of a "Vegetable Monster," Bert & Ernie were not rumored to be gay, there were lots of alphabet and number vignettes that were clearly inspired by psychedelia (that, quite frankly, freaked me out at times), and a man named Jim Henson taught us that nothing is too clever or intelligent, even for an audience of children.

But now it's all politically correct and non-terror-inspiring. And "Elmo's World" takes up a full third of the program, even though after about two minutes, his voice startes to grate on my eardrums like so much aural steel wool.

Fortunately, there is a growing availability (via YouTube and, apparently, a new DVD set) of "vintage" Sesame Street. Lately, Miriam and I have enjoyed Sesame Street as I remember it while she sits on my lap in front of the computer screen.

Behold the genius of Jim Henson as it was:

They just don't make them like that anymore.


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