Thursday, January 31, 2008

An unlikely combination

We had dinner at a friend's house the other night. The husband is American and the wife is Finnish, and our evening reminded us how much we like Finnish people. They're just so sensible!

(Have you ever made sweeping generalizations about an entire country's people? Try it - it's fun! And also often true. For example, Turks are upright (definition 3) and Greeks are weird.)

They shared some self-imported Finnish chocolate with Miriam and me, but not with Jeremy. That's because this chocolate had bits of black licorice in it. Jeremy hates black licorice (ah, one treat I can enjoy without him stealing any). And man, oh man, it was SO good. Imagine the inside of little Good & Plenty candies sprinkled throughout a chocolate bar that would be really good even by itself, and that's what this was.

I know it doesn't sound like a likely combination, but I'm glad that someone (thank you, Finns!) finally figured out that putting black licorice in anything just makes it better.

This post gets an I Love Tucson label because these friends live in Tucson and also, it's been a while.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Miss America push-ups

I didn't see the Miss America pageant last night (no comment on if I would have watched it if a) I had known it was on; and b) we had that channel), but here's a video of what was probably the best part: Miss Utah doing push-ups when she was eliminated from the top 16.

And by the looks of the other contestants' push-ups...yes, they need to start doing a real fitness test instead of the swimsuit competition.

Trading Places

The other night, Jeremy and I were both sitting on the couch reading.

He was reading:

I was reading:

What's going on here?

Alternative materials artist

Jeremy and I have both been sick this week, so we had a lazy Saturday all together at home. While I took a shower, Jeremy "kept an eye on Miriam." Though how close that eye could have been is questionable since when I came out, this is what I found:

I've long suspected that Miriam favored mediums other than paper for coloring on. And now I see that the coffee table and her own face are her materials of choice.

(A question: how come kids can do this kind of thing under dad's supervision and we just laugh it away, but if it happened on such a regular basis under mom's care...well, it just wouldn't?)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Are you talking?

A few months ago, Ken Jennings observed that movie quotes have become ingrained in the daily conversation of himself and his family members. He then shared a few of his most frequently used quotes.

I've often noticed the same thing: how much of what I say is really original, and how much has been stolen - even unconsciously or long forgotten - from a movie?

Here are a few that came to mind when I sat down for a few minutes to think about it. I'm sure there are many, many more - and note that I haven't even considered "The Simpsons."

The Emperor's New Groove is a goldmine for Jeremy and me. For example, there's this exchange:

"Pacha: Uh-oh.
Kuzco: Don't tell me. We're about to go over a huge waterfall.
Pacha: Yep.
Kuzco: Sharp rocks at the bottom?
Pacha: Most likely.
Kuzco: Bring it on."

Mostly, we just use the "Bring it on" part.

From the same movie:

"In my defense, your poisons all look the same. You might want to think about re-labeling some of them." We use this in situations that call for the "in my defense" line. Sometimes we finish the rest; sometimes we put in what we actually mean.

"Or, to save on postage..." The perfect line to describe an alternative to what we realize is a ridiculously complicated plan.

"Well, which one is it? It seems like a pretty important conjunction." In real life, this can refer to someone mixing a word up or being equivocal about a decision.

The Saint is one of those over-the-top, ridiculous movies. It's even more ridiculous if you've actually lived in Russia. And yet still more ridiculous if you've worked at the embassy there. But we still use the lines:

"What do you like about it?" while pushing one's imaginary fake hair away from one's face; and

"I'm a search" whenever someone asks you what you're looking for. Or even if the word "traveler" comes up.

Return to Me is another one that has worked its way into our everyday talk. Two favorites:

"You own it?" - said by that ditzy girl in the blind date scene. Actually, now that I think about it, almost every line in that scene is quotable in some situation. But if anyone ever says they own something in our presence, you can bet we'll answer in a dim, high-pitched voice with this line.

"Are you stayin' or leavin' or what?"

We use this one, from Batman Begins, all the time:

"Sometimes... sometimes things just go bad." It works best when you say it in Carmine Falcone's style of intonation.

"It's a mystery," from Shakespeare in Love.

Finally, one from the Lord of the Rings trilogy:

"So few of you have returned!" Eowyn says this to her father when the men come back from battle. The way she says it is so endearing. Strangely, this one usually ends up getting used to refer to food. Like when you get out the package of Oreos and find, to your surprise, that they're almost all gone.

Do any of you use these same quotes? If not, what movies make up large portions of your family conversations?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Skater PhD

In case I've never stated or explained it explicitly on this blog: my husband is in his third year of a PhD program at the University of Arizona in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, with a focus on Arabic. In December, he finished - and passed - his comprehensive exams, an event which I should write a blog post about, seeing as it made my life a lonely, living hell and all, but we'll see. This means that he is now considered ABD: "All But Dissertation." And that should be well on its way to being finished within the next year and a bit.

I give you this background because I'm about to share some videos that give you a very different picture of my Jeremy. He and his brothers recently unearthed some old home videos (edited by Jeremy and his friends) of him skateboarding in 1994. The music on the first video is as it was originally put together by a bunch of teenagers. And for our younger audience, let me remind you that in 1994, skateboarding was still very much looked down on by a lot of people. It certainly wasn't the wholesome, knee-padded activity it is today.

Jeremy skating around northern Idaho and possibly eastern Washington:


I'll end on this note: Jeremy is the only 30-something PhD candidate I know of who has Heelys and wears them on a regular basis. I'm still not sure how I feel about that :).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

One of these things is not like the others

Thanks to a birthday gift and two Christmas gifts, Jeremy and I now subscribe to three magazines. It's been a long time since we've been subscribers to anything - our most recent subscriptions before this year were to The Economist and FARMS in 2004ish - and I'm really excited about getting a few magazines in the mail each month. And since all of these subscriptions were gifts, I can say that it truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

Now, for what the title of this post refers to. The three magazines we're receiving are:

Smithsonian (a gift from my parents)

Foreign Policy (a gift from Jeremy's brother Dave)

...and Reader's Digest (a gift from Jeremy to me for my birthday last October). Woohoo! I have a strange love for this magazine due to the fact that I spent almost every summer of my childhood reading through stacks of old issues at my grandparents' house in California.

What magazines do you subscribe to, and are any of them incongruous with each other?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jane Austen junkies, unite!

Perhaps some of you are already aware that Jane Austen Season has come to America in the form of Masterpiece (apparently it's just called "Masterpiece" now, not "Masterpiece Theatre) on PBS.


I caught the last half of "Persuasion" tonight and it was even better than when I watched it on YouTube last spring.

There is one thing, though: if I am not mistaken, they shortened the kiss scene for the airing on PBS. Did anyone else see the original British broadcast and if so, can you confirm this?

Here is the video of the original to compare.

The other two new adaptations that I've seen are "Northanger Abbey" and "Mansfield Park." I watched "Northanger Abbey" on YouTube as well. It is definitely an accurate interpretation of the book - suitably lighthearted and mocking.

"Mansfield Park" was another YouTube experience from last spring. Enjoyable. But if you're only going to allow one film adaptation of Mansfield Park in your life, it should be the 1999 version.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Movies of note from 2007

Don't worry - I'm not going to regurgitate a list of all the movies I watched in 2007. Instead, I'll focus on a few that were especially enjoyable, interesting, or bad - and movies that I suspect not many people have seen.

The Devil's Arithmetic. I love it when famous actors/actresses do these kinds of low-budget, educational TV films. This one is based on a YA novel and stars Kirsten Dunst (I thought she fulfilled her made-for-TV requirement with "Fifteen and Pregnant," but here we are) and Brittany Murphy. I watched this movie in the middle of the night with Miriam when she was so sick, but even in the wee, bizarre hours of the morning, it was a very moving film about the Holocaust.

Life is Beautiful. I know everyone has seen this movie at least once, but I hadn't watched it in a few years - probably not since fighting off the crowds at the BYU International Cinema. This movie was good before, but since having a child myself, it has become AWESOME.

Mad Hot BallroomSpellbound. I'm grouping these two together because they both focus on elementary school kids in competition (ballroom dancing and the national spelling bee, respectively). I love these movies and try to watch them at least a couple of times a year.

Foyle's War. This is actually a British television mystery series focusing a small-town detective during World War II. The stories are good, the acting is brilliant, and the attention to time period detail is riveting.

The Painted Veil. I already told you about this one.

Les Miserables. This is my all-time favorite book, so I admit that my expectations were high. And on the face it of, this should have been an excellent movie. Liam Neeson is Jean Valjean. Geoffrey Rush is Javert. Uma Thurman is Fantine. Claire Danes is Cosette. What's not to love? The second half of this movie, apparently. The first half moved me to tears, the second half bored me to tears. What a shame. Does anyone know how much time has to pass in Hollywood for another version of a movie to be made?

Millions. This is a cute, cute movie, and I don't think many people have heard of it. The parts with the Mormon missionaries are hilarious.

Dear Frankie. I considered writing a blog post about this one right after I saw it but somehow never got around to it. What an unusual, charming movie. The premise - a woman long estranged from her husband writes letters to her own son from his "father" - is one of those where you know the movie will either be very good, or very, very bad. Fortunately, this one is the former. There is one stupid scene, though - the one in the hospital near the end. You'll know the scene I'm talking about since it's where the f-bomb is said, and thus where the film gets its PG-13 rating. Shame.

The Queen. I wonder if I'm somehow an Anglophile at heart. On the surface, an extremely boring movie where nothing happens. But I loved it.

Aquamarine. I never want my daughter watching these kinds of movies. Ever.

Picnic at Hanging Rock. Quite possibly the FREAKIEST AND WEIRDEST MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN. Sometimes I just don't know what those Aussies are thinking when they make movies.

For a final tidbit of movie-related information, here are the five movies I saw in the theater in 2007. Some of them I saw in the theater because I really wanted to; others were more a matter of circumstance:

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Amman, Jordan). This movie is awesome if you skip through most every scene with Tia Dalma as Calypso. I know because that's what I did when I watched a pirated copy (after viewing it legally in the theater).

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Amman, Jordan). Maybe this counts for two because I saw it twice in the same day.

The Bourne Ultimatum (Tucson, Arizona)

Enchanted (Glendale, Arizona)

I Am Legend (Idaho Falls, Idaho)

What are your favorites/least favorites/notables of 2007?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Naptime for Hello Kitty

It seems like when I use the sink in the kitchen and then go to dry my hands, the kitchen towel is AWOL at least 80% of the time. Later on, when I don't need to dry my hands, I find the towels in the den, behind a trash can, in Miriam's toy box, etc. Obviously, I had my suspicions that the towels were being carried off by a certain 2-year-old, and today, those suspicions were confirmed:

I wish Miriam would have just told me that I was using Hello Kitty's blanket as my kitchen towel. Then all this confusion could have been avoided.
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Saturday, January 05, 2008

2007: Books I loved, and read

This post is probably more for my own enjoyment than yours, but feel free to read on anyway.

According to my library record and some fuzzy recollections (I really should keep track of this more systematically), I read 58 books during 2007. I'll highlight my favorites, and then just slap a big old list up here, commenting sparingly, for you to comb through the rest.

My Favorite 12 Books of 2007 (in no particular order, because that would just be too hard):

1. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak). If you read this book, give it the benefit of the doubt for the first 50 pages or so. You won't be sorry you stuck with it.

2. The complete novels of Jane Austen, except Lady Susan (I don’t do epistolary novels). I know it's cheating to count this as one, except that in my copy, they are all bound into one book. Among them, I would choose Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion as my favorites, though Northanger Abbey got an unexpected reprieve on a second reading.

3. Blood & Sand (Frank Gardner). I enjoyed this book so much that I actually did something as nerdy as write the author an email telling him so.

4. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens). One of my all-time favorites.

5. A Pair of Blue Eyes (Thomas Hardy). Another one of my all-time favorites. I'm telling you, if all you've read of Thomas Hardy is Jude the Obscure, you're missing out big time.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling). Also cheating, since I mean for this book to represent the whole series. I just love it. Attached to Book 7 are interesting memories of going to great lengths to acquire an English copy in Amman, Jordan.

7. Birth: the surprising history of how we are born (Tina Cassidy). You already know how I feel about this one.

8. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray). Yet another all-time favorite. And the movies (both the British miniseries and the Hollywood version) are very good, too.

9. In Plain Sight: the startling truth behind the Elizabeth Smart investigation (Tom Smart). This book was fascinating all the way through, very suspenseful, and made me cry at the end, even though I already knew what was going to happen.

10. Taken on Trust (Terry Waite). It really got me thinking and caused me to write what was probably my most boring blog post ever (besides this one).

11. Eclipse (Stephenie Meyer). Again, I mean for this book to stand for the whole series. I know not everyone loves these books, but I do.

12. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte). Fantastic book. And the newest Masterpiece Theater adaptation is sumptuous.

And now, the rest:

Young Adult or Juvenile Literature

Twilight (Stephenie Meyer)

New Moon (Stephenie Meyer)

Enthusiasm (Polly Shulman)

Fairest (Gail Carson Levine). Not nearly as enjoyable as her other books, which are not nearly as enjoyable as Shannon Hale's books.

Pretties (Scott Westerfield)

Specials (Scott Westerfield)

Journey to America (Sonia Levitin)

Enna Burning (Shannon Hale)

River Secrets (Shannon Hale)

The Princess Academy (Shanon Hale). Don't be fooled by the title. This is a good book.


Popular Fiction

The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)

Pemberly (Emma Tennant)

Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl). This was a mystery book, which made the fact that I had to quit reading it about halfway through due to the introduction of a character who favored the f-bomb even more depressing than it would have been otherwise.

Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys)

The Boleyn Inheritance (Philippa Gregory). Meh. I read one more of her books after this one but they are nothing special.

Mr. Darcy’s Daughters (Elizabeth Aston)

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Husseini). Very good in a depressingly uplifting kind of way.

Austenland (Shannon Hale). Disappointing.

The Constant Princess (Philippa Gregory)

The Painted Veil (W. Somerset Maugham). Um, the movie was SO much better.

Atonement (Ian McEwan). Again, meh. I don't see the genius here.

The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. (Sandra Gulland). I meant to read the other two in the trilogy but there was too much degenerate behavior going on without enough redemption. I know it was a time of revolution, but still.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Gregory Maguire). Crystal, thanks for the recommendation, but this book kind of freaked me out.

The Guardian (Nicholas Sparks). I hated the movie of The Notebook, but this was the perfect book to read in the car on a long trip.


NPR-type books (Either I actually heard about them on NPR, or I could have)

The Price of Admission: how America’s ruling class buys its way into elite colleges – and who gets left outside the gates (Daniel Golden)

The Great Influenza (John M. Barry)

Thunderstruck (Erik Larson)

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your America history textbook got wrong (James Loewen)

The Fight for Jerusalem: radical Islam, the west, and the future of the holy city (Dore Gold). Extremely biased, so I didn't finish it.

Fear less: real truth about risk, safety, and security in a time of terrorism (Gavin De Becker)

Protecting the Gift: keeping children and teenagers safe (Gavin De Becker)

Fleeing Hitler: France 1940 (Hanna Diamond)

The Gift of Fear: survival signals that protect us from violence (Gavin De Becker)

Misconceptions: truth, lies, and the unexpected on the journey to motherhood (Naomi Wolf)



The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)

Some Oscar Wilde plays

Wives & Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell)



The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands (Laura Schlessinger)

Brainiac (Ken Jennings)

Confessions of a Slacker Mom (Muffy Mead-Ferro)

Married to a Bedouin (Marguerite Van Geldermalsen)

The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri (Hugh Nibley). Well, I read parts of it anyway (have you seen how big it is?)

The Happiest Toddler on the Block (Harvey Karp)

Excuse me, but I was next: how to handle 100 modern-day manners dilemmas (Peggy Post)

In the Presence of My Enemies (Gracia Burnham)

Friday, January 04, 2008

House of Evil

When Jeremy and I lived in Russia, we took a May Day holiday trip to Estonia and Finland. In Tallinn, Estonia, we stayed at a bed & breakfast of sorts just outside of town. It was a cute little red country house, run by a 20-something single man named Ivo.

When he introduced himself to us, he said his name, and to both Jeremy and me, it sounded like "evil." Jeremy asked him to repeat it, and he said, again, "evil." We let it pass, but later on in the introductory/orientation conversation, Jeremy asked him how his name was spelled.

"I-V-O," he replied. We were both relieved. And then: "But it's pronounced, 'EVIL.'"

Several years have passed since that trip, which was a wonderful holiday, by the way, and I'd recommend Estonia or Finland to anyone, but we still talk about the House of Evil.

Here is another house of evil. I saw this video on Miss Nemesis' blog and I think I've contributed at least 20 views to its total of 52,000.

Race-based gambling policies

We drove through Las Vegas last week and it reminded me of the following anecdote, which happened over a year ago but somehow never got posted.

Miriam and I flew to Portland, Oregon for a visit with my family shortly after her first birthday. We had a medium-sized layover in Las Vegas, so I found our gate and then let Miriam roam around (supervised, of course).

Of course, it being Vegas, there were slot machines in the airport. Specifically, there was a huge cluster of slot machines in a carpeted area right next to our gate. At that age, Miriam was still in the "aimless walking for the sake of walking, and also discovery" stage, and so she meandered into the gambling area.

Out of nowhere, a Hispanic woman in a uniform-type vest showed up and motioned for me to remove my one-year-old from the slot machine area. In heavily accented English, she explained:

"Minorities are not allowed in the gambling zone."

It was funny because I knew what she meant to say, and doubly funny because she herself was a minority, in the gambling zone. But I immediately herded Miriam away from the slot machines and I've been laughing about this incident from time to time ever since.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

There's a first time for everything

Jeremy got his first traffic ticket on our drive from Tucson to Idaho Falls. It happened just north of Flagstaff, Arizona. I-10 had ended and we were driving on Highway 89. He was clocked as going 75 mph in a 55 mph zone.

Unfortunately, the story behind Jeremy’s first traffic ticket ever isn’t as exciting or outrageous as it could be. The speed limit on the highway fluctuated as the road wound through small town after small town, and Jeremy thought we were far enough away from civilization that the speed limit surely must have gone up again. Meanwhile, Miriam was begging for a bite of Jeremy’s Frostie. He couldn’t have been going 75 mph for more than a total of 30 seconds. But sometime during that short period, a cop going the other direction did a quick U-turn and pulled us over.

I really think that if the cop had been a man, he wouldn’t have given Jeremy a ticket. But it was a woman, and she seemed determined to make a point. The thing is, whatever point it was is wasted on us because first of all, we were out-of-towners who had never driven there before, and second of all, we will never drive there again.

She did, however, write the ticket for only 65 mph in a 55 mph zone, which offense is called “a waste of a finite resource.”

We still don’t know how much the ticket is for. The policewoman gave us a number (of Podunk Town’s courthouse) to call to find out. When we called the number a few days ago, the lady told us that she couldn’t give us that information. Jeremy said, in shocked incredulity, “How is that possible?!?” What he meant, of course, was, “how is it possible that you cannot tell me how much my ticket is for?” The lady thought he was on his way to getting very upset, because she told him to calm down. And what she meant, apparently, was that the information wasn’t available yet.

I’m sorry a “first ticket for Jeremy” had to happen, but at least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Of course, if the ticket turns out to be $431 or some other outrageous sum, I might have to take that back…


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