Friday, February 29, 2008

Beat my score

I got this little gem from fellow nerd Andrew Heiss.

My first try:

My last (and third) try:

At least now I know how incomplete my geography knowledge is. I can generally tell you that a certain city is in a certain country, but exactly where in that country is not always as easy.

Try it, and tell us how you did!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nail polish helmet

We decided it was time for Miriam to be wearing a bike helmet on our bike rides, even though she rides in the trailer. We usually just take her on the bikes/pedestrians-only river path, but every once in a while we ride to campus on city streets. City streets with a wide bike lane, yes, but city streets nonetheless. So we thought a helmet was a good idea.

I had been building up a Target list for a while, so yesterday, when we finally got around to going there, we decided to look at helmets, too.

Imagine my dismay when I saw that brandification has apparently taken over the children's bicycle helmet market as well. There were Disney Princess helmets, Thomas the Train helmets, Dora helmets, Diego helmets, etc. All of them cost more than twice as much as the "ghetto-brand," plain-colored, purely functional helmet hidden in the middle of the array.

Then, to my surprise, Miriam bypassed all of the dazzling branded helmets, pointed right at the plain one, and said, "Look mama, nail polish helmet!" And that was the one she wanted.

Here it is:

I'm not exactly sure where the nail polish connection comes in, although the color is a little bit glossy. But I have to admit I was very pleased with her choice.

After all that, we decided she couldn't wear the helmet in the bike trailer anyway. It is so huge (a fault of all bike helmets, not just the nail polish one) that it tips her head too far forward when she is sitting against the seat in the trailer. Oh well. At least we tried.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Get Rich, Stay Rich

Jeremy got some mail from Provo, Utah today. It was obviously junk mail, but I went ahead and opened it for him. This was the front of the piece of paper that was inside:

As soon as I saw that, I knew this was going to be something juicy. Sure enough, here's the rest of what was inside:

(I know it's fuzzy, but surely you get the idea).

I mean no disrespect to the people who plan these conferences, or speak at them, or even pay to attend them. All I'm saying is that the person or group who obtained our address and sent this to Jeremy does not know him and is not familiar with his life philosophy. At. ALL.

The fact that he is currently pursuing a doctorate in what is essentially a branch of the humanities (even if it is our belovedly marketable Arabic) should be a huge hint that he has plans neither to get rich, nor to stay rich. At least not in these people's definition.

Or, alternatively, they do know him, and also hate him, and want to cause him great aggravation upon receiving an invitation to such a conference.

I wonder...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Public humiliation at the post office

Jeremy's mom sent Miriam a lovely Valentine's package a couple of weeks ago. Miriam loved everything in it, except for one item. You can see it lying on the floor, bottom center, in this picture.

It's the pig wearing bright red satin shoes and a fuzzy coat. For some reason, Miriam just couldn't bond with it. Jeremy and I personally thought it was hilariously hideous, and so we decided to send it to someone who could really appreciate it: my older brother, Blair.

I packed it up somewhat awkwardly in an old box we had lying around and we all went to the post office with some other items we'd been meaning to mail. There was a long line, of course, which made for a large audience of bored bystanders when it was finally our turn.

I hadn't sealed the package with packing tape because I couldn't find any at home. I know it's not the post office's job to give out packing supplies for free, but I didn't think it would be a big deal for them to put one strip of packing tape on the box to seal it. As it turns out, I was wrong. The post office lady told me they "didn't have any packing tape." Obviously, this was a lie, but I thought I understood what she was trying to say.

When we were trying to figure out an alternative shipping container, she asked me, "What is it that you're trying to send?"

"Oh, just a stuffed animal," I hedged, not wanting to have to show it to her and all the people in line staring at us.

"Well, how big is it?" she asked.

I made a motion with my hands to show her, again avoiding having to actually pull the hideous thing out of its box.

Fortunately, she seemed to take my word for it and pulled out a large, flexible envelope that would fit it just fine.

While she busied herself with our other items, I surreptitiously slid the pig out of the box and into the envelope. But before I could seal it, the post office lady looked up, smiling, and said, "oh, can I see that?"

I was so embarrassed, but I pulled it out and showed it to her. Everyone in the whole post office could see it. What surprised me was the lady's reaction. She started chatting about how cute it was! "Why are you sending it away? Doesn't your daughter just love it? Who are you sending it to?" she asked loudly.

"Oh, my daughter doesn't really like it. I'm sending it to my brother," I answered, conveniently leaving out the fact that the brother in question is 31 years old.

As soon as she was done admiring it, I put it in its envelope and sealed it so that I wouldn't have to be embarrassed anymore.

My brother eventually got the package and appreciated it just as much as we thought he would. Here it is in its new home, with a companion (my brother claims that his 7-year-old daughter put the jacket on the doll, but I have my doubts):

I'm sure it's much happier there.

(I'm really depending on my mother-in-law's sense of humor here. I asked Jeremy several times if I could post this and he was confident she wouldn't be offended that we sent a small portion of her Valentine's package to someone else.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The rest of the story

After writing down what happened to us at PF Chang's (and I didn't even give you all the little details, such as the fact that there was no lemon in our water. If you've never lived in Tucson, you probably don't realize what an insult that is, but let me inform you that Tucson tap water tastes like pure minerals), I realized once again what a terrible experience we had. So I went ahead and called the restaurant and asked to speak to the manager.

He came on the line and asked what he could help me with. I told him we had had a negative experience with our server the night before. He asked what the server's name was, and I told him. I was about to continue and explain exactly what happened, but he stopped me and said something like this: "That's it. I've had it with taking complaints about her. Consider her gone. I am not dealing with her messes anymore."

Tentatively, I asked if ours was not the first complaint he'd ever had about her. And from what he said, I could tell that they've been having problems with our server for a long time.

So basically, my phone call put him over the edge and he probably fired her. Do I feel bad about this? Kind of. But then I remind myself that if she had any interest in keeping her job, she wouldn't go around hating her customers so much.

And it's not like PF Chang's is at the end of the restaurant job food chain, either. I hope she'll find somewhere to work where she doesn't have to deal with people. At ALL.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Would you like some snark with that?

We went to PF Chang's last night. It's not necessarily my favorite restaurant ever, but it's within walking distance and the food (in my opinion) is really, really good.

Our experience last night was...fine, I guess. For some reason, our server had a chip on her shoulder from the moment we sat down in her section. Everything she said - everything - was said in this weird, taunting, semi-sarcastic tone. She was like "that girl," you know the one - the one who smiles while secretly hating you.

At first, Jeremy and I tried to pass it off as her disappointment in us for asking for water to drink (is there a worse thing you can do to a server? Sometimes I wonder). But we could hear her treating all of her customers the same way.

When she initially came to take our order, we weren't quite ready. No big deal, I thought. But a few minutes later, when she came back, she said in an exasperated, loud voice, "Ready for round two?!?!?" I don't even really know what that means.

So we were afraid of our server for the whole meal and did our best not to antagonize her, until the end. She brought out boxes for our leftover food and a bag to put them in. Now, every other time I have been to PF Chang's, they have cheerfully offered to include a container of rice in the takeout bag. I've come to expect it. So when she didn't offer, Jeremy decided to ask. He did so in a really nice, non-confrontational way. But our server just glared and mumbled something under her breath that might have been a reluctant "OK."

There was no way I was letting this go. I spoke up and said, "Is there a problem? Every other time we've been here, our servers have offered to include rice. If there is a problem with that, I wouldn't want you to trouble yourself."

Well, then the floodgates of sarcastic smiling/hating really opened. She fell all over herself to say that it was no problem and that she'd bring me back a big box of rice along with the receipt. The clear message underneath her gushing was that she thought I was a jerk for asking.

Oh, there's one more thing. We happened to have a coupon for a free appetizer as well as a $10 gift certificate that we were using. When she ran the card and came back to the table, she said in an extremely loud voice, "I had to have a manager APPROVE THAT FREE APPETIZER COUPON. Here's the check with ALL THOSE DISCOUNTS APPLIED." I could have sworn she was looking around the room to make sure everyone around us heard what cheapskates we were.

We seriously considered complaining to a manager at that point. I know it's not good form to leave an inadequate tip without follow-up, explanatory action. But they were so busy and we were in a hurry to walk back home that we just let it go and left a barely-15% tip. I'm sure she will not be at a loss to figure out why.

Her strange attitude hung over us like a cloud for the rest of the evening. It was just so bizarre! If she hates people for eating at her restaurant so much, maybe she should look into a different job.

(If any of you former/current restaurant employees have any light to shed on this situation, or advice on what we should have done, please share.)

My brother the extra

The movie of Twilight (that's the Cullen family above, as casted recently) is being filmed at least partially in Portland, my hometown. I read on Stephenie Meyer's website about a call for extras in that area, and wrote an email to my mom to tell her that my brother should try out. He has never read the books, and in fact has only minimally heard of them, probably entirely from me. But hey, he's 15. Give him time.

So of course, of COURSE, he goes to the extras casting call and gets a part as one of the core extras, specifically as a member of the biology class. So he'll have to miss school for about two weeks of shooting in March, but he'll be fed and paid. And probably have an awesome experience.

Can you tell that I'm jealous? Good. Because I am. Still, it's not often that I've wanted to live vicariously through my 15-year-old brother, so I guess I'm kind of looking forward to it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Near miss

We took a family walk to Best Buy on Saturday. You can get most of the way there on the river path, which is nice. I just love doing errands on foot or on bike, even if we do get some weird looks sometimes. What I don't like is Best Buy. I really don't mean to sound like a store snob, but 15 bucks for a network cord connector? Come on guys, it's a piece of plastic.

Anyway, on the way home, we were crossing a main road with a pedestrian signal and crosswalk. A car coming towards us, but turning left across the crosswalk, didn't see us there and came thiiiiiis close to hitting us. In fact, he came close enough for us to see who it was - our friends the Saudis. So we all laughed at the near miss and went our separate ways.

Later, I got to thinking about this. Why was it OK to almost be hit by a car in a crosswalk just because we happen to know and like the offending driver? Was it because he was Middle Eastern, and so we figured crazy Middle Eastern driving "rules" applied, and thus excused him?

I have no idea.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A home for the summer

We finally figured out where we're going to be this summer: Middlebury, Vermont.

It's not as random as it sounds. Every summer, there is a massive, well-known (for people who know about that kind of thing) language immersion program held at Middlebury College for ten different foreign languages. Jeremy will be a teacher for the Arabic school. He applied for and was offered this job last year, but we passed it up to go to Jordan. This year, we're going for it!

We visited Middlebury for a week or two back in the summer of 2003, so we're slightly familiar with the college and its environs. And it is a beautiful, beautiful place.

Exciting facts about our upcoming summer in Middlebury, Vermont:
- Middlebury is a small New England town. It has a Main Street with a church on it and everything.

- You can actually walk places in Middlebury. There are sidewalks and you can use them to get to restaurants, the grocery store, and even church - even if you're Mormon.

- As part of the job, we'll have to sign a language pledge stating that we will speak Arabic everywhere, all the time, or else. So it's quite possible that Miriam will learn more Arabic this summer, in America, than she did the last two summers, in Jordan.

- Also as part of the job, we get free room and board. I think this is my favorite part - we all get three meals a day in the dining hall. I realize this could be a curse in disguise except that we've eaten there before (back in 2003) and it was great. In case you're not grasping what this means, let me be absolutely clear: I will not have to cook for the entire summer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Jeremy thinks that's why I was so in favor of Middlebury over other options during the decision process. I have no official comment on that matter.

In what seems to be an emerging family summer work tradition, we will not have a car in Middlebury.

- This will be the first summer we've spent in America since 2003.

It's a relief to finally know where we'll be this summer and we are excited to spend it at Middlebury!

Friday, February 15, 2008


So, it's Valentine's Day. I mildly enjoy this holiday, though I confess it's been more fun this year since Miriam is a little more interested in all the hearts and balloons and flowers we've been seeing in stores and around town. Valentine's Day falls in the same category as St. Patrick's Day and the Fourth of July for me: I only start looking forward to them a day or two in advance, and I'm happy when they're here, but there's no sense of loss when they're over.

Part of my "mildly enjoying" Valentine's Day is that Jeremy has never bought me flowers in its honor. Before you become outraged on my behalf, please realize that this is by my request (and he agrees). Why should he spend two to four times as much money today on perishable flowers than he would during any other season, especially when we can spend that money on something more permanent and enjoyable?

Instead, today he gave me two York peppermint patties that he bought at the campus bookstore. Then he asked if he could have a few bites of one of them.

That moment honestly brought tears to my eyes - the good kind, not the bad kind.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

She can talk

Kids are always saying funny things, but Miriam has had a few especially good ones in the past little while that I thought I'd share.

We were playing in her room this afternoon and she and her stuffed animals were jumping on the bed. I told her she should have Kitty jump on the bed, too. This is what Kitty looks like, except it's a kitty:

Miriam looked at me kind of weird and said, "Mama, Kitty doesn't have legs."

"So of course she can't jump on the bed, you imbecile" was implied.

Also this afternoon, Miriam wanted a snack. Jeremy opened the pantry and was offering various things, all of which Miriam declined. Finally, he asked her if she wanted edamame. This was her response: "No, I don't want edamame! I just had some olives!"

(It's true, she had just had some olives. But that doesn't make this comment any less bizarre to me.)

A couple of weeks ago when Jeremy and I were sick, the Vicks Vapo-rub was out and in use many times a day. One time, Miriam picked up the open jar, smelled it, and then yelled out in an excited voice, "It's lotsa SPICY!"

This one has been going on for a while, but I still don't know where she got it from. From time to time, we pass the hospital where Miriam was born. For fun, I often say, "Miriam, look, there's where you were born!" And one day, out of the blue, she said, "That's where Mama pushed you out!"

(She still doesn't have her personal pronouns quite right, so in this case, "you" meant "me.")

Again, this was a true statement. But it's still a strange thing for a 2-year-old to say.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Hud Shack

Has anyone ever bought anything from Radio Shack, and if so, were you satisfied with the product you had purchased?

More than two years ago, Jeremy bought a microphone from Radio Shack to hook up to his computer for some podcasts he was recording. When he got home and actually set it up, he discovered that it was a piece of junk. In fact, the microphone associated with his iSight webcam was of better quality than the Radio Shack microphone.

So he took it back to the store. For reasons that are still not clear, and which we did not think much of at the time, they could only give us store credit. No big deal, we thought - there has to be something at Radio Shack that we can use the money on.

At first, we decided to use the gift card (of our own money, remember) on a Christmas present for my little brother, Steven. We actually bought something, too, but then returned it and got a $20 hydration pack from Costco instead (one of my favorite things EVER).

Months passed, and then we remembered that we still had this unused gift card. So we trekked back into our local Radio Shack, determined to finish the relationship once and for all.

We bought a universal remote:

and an indoor/outdoor thermometer set:

Folks, the universal remote resets itself every couple of days, and so I am constantly reprogramming it. And now that I think about it, this is actually the second universal remote - the original one we bought broke after a few weeks and so we exchanged it for a new one.

The thermometer we have looks exactly like the one in the picture except it only displays the outdoor temperature about half the time. The rest of the time it just displays dashes. Well, at least I know what the temperature is inside my house without having to walk all the way over to the thermostat!

In conclusion: Radio Shack, your products suck. I would say I want my money back, but I'm sure you could only give it to me in a gift card and that would put us all the way at the beginning.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Pink Sparkly Shoe Saga

Let me tell you the story of Miriam's pink sparkly shoes.

I first bought her a new pair of dressy shoes in December to go with her Christmas dress and other church outfits. I bought them on sale at Target, and they were super cute. I use the past tense because after 10 days, they looked like this:

As you can see, the "sparkly" part of the "pink sparkly" was disappearing at an alarming rate. I had already thrown away the receipt since the shoes fit. I certainly hadn't anticipated such shoddy quality. I decided to try my luck returning them to the store anyway. To my surprise, they took them back without a fight. Target must be taking lessons from Costco.

The problem was, Miriam still needed some pink sparkly shoes. She was distraught without them. So one afternoon, we headed out to the stores and found a new pair. They were more expensive than the Target shoes, but they were very, very cute. Observe:

We were all happy with this purchase and I thought the saga had ended. Until...

On Saturday, we visited with an Iraqi refugee family all afternoon. When we finally left, we loaded Miriam up in the car and drove a couple of miles down the road to pick up a few things at Costco (note to self: recommit to the family rule of never going to Costco on a Saturday. At the very least, never go there the day before the Super Bowl). When we got out of the car in the Costco parking lot, we saw one pink sparkly shoe sitting on our car roof, and realized instantly what had happened.

Jeremy drove back to the Iraqis house while Miriam and I did the shopping. He came back empty-handed. I just couldn't believe that we had lost a member of the special pair of pink sparkly shoes!

When we were all in the car together, I decided to take advantage of a potential gospel teaching moment. We said a prayer with Miriam to help us find her pink sparkly shoes. And it took three sweeps of the road we had driven down, but somehow, we saw her tiny shoe strewn on the side of the road near a drainage ditch. Success!

I think we were more excited about the recovery than Miriam was. For all she knew, it was some kind of weird game we were playing. But I, at least, am very glad to be spared the job of finding yet another pair of pink sparkly shoes for little Miriam's feet.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Pandora's Box o'Germs

When I was a freshman at the BYU, I lived in an apartment-style dorm with five other girls. We shared a back stairway door with another apartment of six girls. That door between our apartments was open a lot, and so the 12 of us all considered ourselves "roommates," more or less. We still keep in touch, eight years later, through an online message board (ladies, if I'm saying too much, give the signal). Usually our conversations are pretty tame, but a subject recently came up that has "pushed some buttons," as the saying goes.

I can't help but feel partly to blame, since I was the one who started that particular thread. It all began when I read this post on Feminist Mormon Housewives. Basically (though don't let my extremely short, slightly biased summary keep you from reading the original), one of the posters there was considering keeping her daughter out of her church's nursery program because they fed them hydrogenated snacks, used plastic toys, and otherwise did not conform to Waldorfian principles.

Most of what can be said in reaction to the above statement has, in fact, already been said in the extensive comments after the article. My feelings are pretty much summarized by comment #5:

Wow! This sounds great! I hope you have great time planning, organizing, paying for, and carrying out the whole thing as the new nursery leader! Cuz baby, that’s exactly what any nursery leader would be thinking when you handed him that rigid mess of first-time mom gone haywire."

(For anyone not really familiar with a Mormon nursery: it's for kids 18 months - 3ish, it's two hours once a week during church, and it's free. There is a central curriculum but things like snacks, toys, and specific scheduling vary on a local basis.)

Somehow, the conversation among my roommates shifted to parents dropping off their sick, symptom-displaying kids at the nursery - it happens all the time and Miriam has been the recipient of a nasty sick bug more than once because of it. And that's when the topic heated up a bit.

Personally, Jeremy and I make an extra effort to keep Miriam home (or with us at church, but not in nursery, if her symptoms aren't too bad) when she's sick. Other parents, suffice it to say, do not seem to agree with me.

Of the parents who put their sick kids in nursery, there is probably a very small minority who honestly don't think about it and don't realize the havoc they are wreaking.

The majority of parents probably do think about it, and then drop them off anyway, and slink guiltily away before their kid starts hacking his guts out, much to the dismay of the leaders and also moms like me.

But there is a third, smaller majority, as I found out during discussions with my roommates. Some parents, apparently, think about it, drop them off anyway, and think it's OK. Because kids get sick, right? So why should we do anything to stop it? This particular roommate (if you're reading this, I know I don't even have to tell you to go ahead and stick up for yourself anytime :) defined her stance as "anti Nazi-anti-germ," a camp I thought I was in, too, until now.

Is that minority bigger than I think it is? I'm interested to know your opinions on this, even if the situation (daycare, playground, art class, preschool) is different.


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