Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Miriam's photo art debut

Often while I'm working, Miriam is at the computer on the next desk over, also "working" (or "doing a project," as she describes it). She has her own password-protected account on Jeremy's computer with extremely tight controls. In other words, she can only access: 1. her Sesame Street game, and 2. Apple's Photo Booth program. She knows how to wake up a sleep-suspended computer to get to the login screen (or even the switch user screen), click on her username, type her password, and navigate to her two allowed programs.

If you're not familiar with Photo Booth, you should seek out the opportunity. It's basically a really fun, goofy, built-in camera feature with lots of effects to apply to the resulting picture. Miriam loves this application, and calls it "Two Me-mes," after her favorite mirror effect (Me-me is her self-chosen nickname). She has figured out Photo Booth entirely, even how to navigate through old photos and choose new effects.

Here is some of her work from the last month. Remember, she set up, posed, chose the effects for, and snapped all of these photos entirely by herself.

First, I bring you: Artistic Miriam:

(the artistry lies in what you don't see!)

Next is a series of photos, entitled Progression:

Now, I bring you Variations on a Theme:

And finally, Miriam lets her inner and outer child shine through in Goofy Miriam:

It's basically a win-win situation: I get some work done, and Miriam completes a few art projects. Who needs finger paint anymore??

Sunday, April 27, 2008

In memoriam: Old Yellow & Big Blue

Back in December, we cleaned out our outdoor storage closet and said goodbye to two longtime members of the family: Old Yellow and Big Blue.

I mentioned Old Yellow briefly last year in the context of its handle falling off upon arrival from Damascus at the Portland airport. Otherwise, this suitcase was gigantic and indestructible. It was a hand-me-down from my mom, who received it as a high school graduation gift from her parents. It only had the one handle on top - no side handles, and no wheels to facilitate forward movement. So it was capable of hauling very large, heavy loads - as long as you were capable of one-handedly lurching forward with it well enough to get from the airport parking lot to the check-in desk. Once the handle fell off, well...it was time to say goodbye.

The other factor that partially contributed to its dismissal from our family luggage collection, or at least made saying goodbye a lot easier, was that this suitcase was hideous. The looks we had to endure at baggage claim were sometimes enough to make us want to wait around until everyone else had left to claim Old Yellow. Unfortunately, everyone else always seemed to want to wait around until they saw who would step forward to claim the freaky yellow suitcase.

One time, I remember going home to Oregon for Christmas from the BYU with my older brother, Blair. We were waiting at baggage claim at the Portland airport. All the other dark blue, black, maroon, normal-sized, matching-set suitcases were emerging from the baggage handling area lying down sedately on the conveyor belt. Then, in a moment of glory, Old Yellow came bursting through those thick plastic hanging strips fully upright, like it was proud to show itself off to its owners. I think we heard a few audible gasps from the crowd.

Old Yellow's partner in crime was Big Blue, whose main claim to fame was that it was even bigger than Old Yellow. And while Big Blue had caster wheels as well as a handle, the wheels were too tiny to do any actual good in transporting the suitcase. But what really sent Big Blue to the rubbish heap were the tears beginning to form in its fabric sides.

And so it is that one cool morning in December, I hauled these two elderly suitcases to our local Deseret Industries. I took one last picture of them waiting to be hauled up the loading dock, and then they were gone.

Since the suitcases were technically hand-me-downs from my parents, I made sure to ask their permission before I gave them away. My mom said it was OK with her as long as I took a picture of them and then wrote something about them by way of a proper send-off.

Done and done.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Running to terms

I went on my last run on Monday morning. Almost every run for the last two or three weeks has been my "last," but somehow, the next day, I get up and do it all over again. And at the end of it, I tell myself (and Jeremy, poor guy) that that was my last one.

But Monday's really was the very last one, and I'm hoping that by putting it on this blog, it will be more official. Of course, I was hoping to be able to continue running for at least a little bit longer during this pregnancy, but at 25 weeks, it just wasn't feeling good anymore.

The problem is, I am really struggling with this sudden hole in my life. I've run regularly off and on (I promise that description makes sense) for 13 years now - half of my entire life. In high school, it was cross country and (distance) track every year, for four years. I ran the occasional road race in college and managed to be in Portland a few years in a row for the Columbia Classic 15K - one of my favorite races ever, besides the Hood/Portland to Coast relay.

Our year living in Moscow necessitated a break from exercising out of doors in the city. We played tennis at Rosinka a few times while visiting friends, and the embassy gym was also great for using the elliptical machine while watching CNN International. I suppose I could have gone running outside except that a friend of a friend went running faithfully every day in Moscow and when he got back to America, his doctor took one look at his lungs and told him he needed to stop smoking so much.

The most adventurous exercising I did in the Middle East was going on walks, exploring ruins, and just living everyday life (it takes a lot out of you sometimes).

But here in Tucson, I've always gone running, always with Miriam in the jogging stroller. It's been the only reliable "me" time I get, since Miriam has learned that when we are running, she has to leave me alone.

And now I feel disgustingly sedate and inactive. I hate walking, but I have a feeling that that's going to be my only option soon. I am still biking, but it takes more time and effort to set up (Miriam in the bike trailer) and the fewer obstacles in the way of exercise, the better.

So it's farewell to running, for a few months at least. I hope by the time we get back to Tucson in late August, I will be almost ready to get going again.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Out of the mouths of babes

Miriam and I were at Costco the other day and these are some of the actual comments she made during our shopping trip:

"That's too expensive."

"Is it the right size?" and "Is it size two-and-a-half?"

"It's on a good sale."

"It's not on a good sale."

"Maybe we'll buy it later."

"We forgot grapes!"

I didn't know she'd been listening so closely to all the things I say when we're shopping! And I was minorly mortified that statement number one, "It's too expensive," was the thing she said most often, followed closely by "It's not on a good sale."

Kids really are mirrors of ourselves.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The butterfly of impatience

Have you ever felt like you know how to do something better than someone else, but it's their job, or the situation is out of your control, so you just have to sit there and suffer in silence and then later commiserate with your spouse?

Well, we were at our library branch's 40th anniversary party yesterday and they had free face-painting. They had even hired a professional face-painter to do it. The problem was, she was only scheduled to be there for a total of two hours. We hopped in line with Miriam with plenty of time to spare (or so we thought) before the artist would have to leave. There were 7 or 8 kids in front of Miriam, so we knew there'd be a wait - we just had no idea how long it would end up being.

The problem was, the face-painter was spending upwards of five minutes on each child. The results were fabulous, elaborate designs that I've never seen at a face-painting booth before. But on the other hand, we were all getting tired of waiting. But on the other hand, once you tell your kid that they need to wait in line patiently and then they can get a pink butterfly on their face, well, you kind of have to follow through with that.

When Miriam was next in line, after almost an hour of waiting, the face-painter addressed the line and said that her time was up and she would only paint three more faces. "My time is up and I had no idea there would be so many of you," was the reason she gave.

Really, face-painter lady? You had no idea there were so many of us, even as we were all standing in line around the very table you were working on?

Here's how it should have gone, at least in my opinion. The face-painter could have realized that there were a lot of kids, and a limited amount of time. She also could have reasoned that it was the library who was paying her, not us individuals. If we had been paying for her services, then yes, we would have loved for her to spend 5-8 minutes creating an ocean beach sunset scene on our child's face. But as it was, most of our kids just wanted their face painted. I don't think they would have cared if it was a flower drawn on the cheek with dollar-store Halloween face crayons.

And since the face-painter's client was the library, she would actually would have served them better by fitting in the maximum number of kids for a simpler face-painting, thus making the anniversary party a fun event for more people.

Instead of, you know, telling people who had waited in line for an hour that they would not be able to get their faces painted after all, when really, you must have suspected that would happen from the beginning when you were spending so long on each child.

Anyway, here's the result. Miriam's face design is actually less elaborate than most of those before her because we told the face-painter to just do something simple in the hopes she could fit in a few more kids.

So I guess we got the library's money's worth - I just wish everyone else could say the same.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Disappointed, again

Here's another one to add to the list of things I wish I hadn't found out about my fellow human beings.

First, some background: If you ever feel like wading through a forum of questions and answers, you should check out BYU's 100 Hour Board. When I was a student at the BYU, it was a physical paper-on-bulletin-board entity in the student center that was mostly used for normal, student body-centered questions. All these years later, however, it has evolved into an "ask (almost) anything" forum with regular writers and it has its own web page. The paper version doesn't even exist anymore.

The other day, someone asked a fairly simple question about why some people don't wash their hands after using the bathroom, and also (completely unrelated, I'm sure) how often the buttons on drinking fountains are sanitized. They got their answer within 100 hours and life went on.

Until yesterday, when someone wrote in a comment to that question that almost made my head explode, it was so ridiculous. Not even while reading the Daily Universe letters to the editor have I ever wished someone was joking as much as I did when I read this. Behold the inanity:

"Dear 100 Hour Board,

In response to question Board Question #44397, I would like to stick up for people who don't wash their hands every time they go to the bathroom. I doubt many people would be willing to ever volunteer this information on a non-anonymous board, so consider this info precious.

The answer is LOTION.

After I get out of the shower I put nice smelling lotion onto my hands, so they aren't dry and cracked during the day. If I wash my hands well after going to the bathroom, the lotion comes off and I don't want to reapply expensive Victoria's Secret lotion 15 times a day, and I don't always carry it with me anyway. So, maybe this grosses you out, I don't care. The truth is that for a guy, (yes, I am a guy who uses Vanilla Lace VS lotion), you can go to the bathroom without touching any private parts, (it takes a little practice). So other than the doorknob you are fine, given automatically flushing toilets or by using your foot to flush depending on the height. The doorknob does present a problem, but you would have to touch that on your way out after you have already washed anyway, so what difference does that make? It is disgusting to me to shake hands/hold hands with a girl who has dry, scaley, man-hands like she is a lumberjack or something.

-Obama Fan"

A few points, which were also made by the 100 Board writers in response to this comment:

First, of all the reasons he could have given, I will confess that "LOTION" was the absolute last one I expected.

Second, I'm so glad I don't live in Provo and have to maintain constant vigilance for the man with the sweet-smelling hands, lest I inadvertently shake his hand.

Third, guess what, girly-hands: It is disgusting to me to shake hands with people who haven't washed after going to the bathroom.

Now maybe I can go on with my life pretending people like him don't exist. Or that he was joking. There's a chance...right?

A steal of a deal

Miriam and I went to Foothills Mall today. It's probably the strangest mall I've ever been to just for its unusual combination of stores and weird retiree ambiance. We stopped in at the, for lack of a better term, bra outlet store. Ever since I discovered this store, I can't shop for underwear anywhere else. No more navigating messy department or discount store racks! Those things are practically mazes. This store is awesome because it only sells bras and underwear, and it does so in a clear, spaciously laid out fashion.

I normally wouldn't share so much information except that you're going to hear the story of what happened when I decided to make a purchase, and I can't think of enough euphemisms for "bra" to last the telling of it.

I was only going to buy one bra, but then I saw the huge signs all over the store proclaiming a "Buy One, Get One Half Off" sale. So I grabbed another one and headed to the checkout.

The clerk (a female, which is one advantage American bra stores have over their Middle Eastern counterparts) rang up my purchase and the total was more than I expected. Sure enough, she had forgotten to give me half off on the second bra.

I reminded her about the sale and she said, "Oh, but these bras aren't included in the sale." I was so close to just letting it go. But to do so would have gone against every fiber of my spendthrift (cheapskate, some might say) Walker upbringing. So I took another look at the sign and pointed out to the clerk that it didn't say anything about exceptions. All it said was, "Buy One, Get One Half Off" on all bras and panties, all brands.

"I know," she said, "but these ones aren't included."

While still being as nice as possible, I said that if there were exceptions, they should have listed them on their sign, and so could they just give me the sale price anyway?

Yes, she would, just this time, even though I was wrong and she was right (or something to that effect). But it would require a supervisor's approval at the register.

So the supervisor came hustling over in all her authorizational importance and I briefly explained the situation. She punched in a few numbers at the register and the revised total came up - except this time, I was getting half off my total purchase.

For the sake of honesty, I pointed this mistake out to the clerk and the supervisor. But the supervisor waved away my concern and said, "no, it works out to be the same. Buy one, get one half off, or 50% off. It's the same." I tried to explain one more time, but she just gave me the same explanation.

Now, when stupid people offer me money, and I've done my best to help them help themselves, who am I to say no? So I got two bras for the price of one, instead of buy one, get one half off. And the former is definitely better than the latter, no matter what that employee said.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Obviously, my blog is under construction. And I'm doing it from scratch, so it's going to take a bit longer. Estimated time of completion: sometime Wednesday.

If there's stuff you already hate about it, let me know and I'll see what I can do. But be aware that once I've spent time making something the way it is, the chances of me changing it are very, very slim.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A view, yes, but of what?

I used to think that there was always room in the world for one more adaptation of a classic, beloved novel. I myself have seen three different versions of Jane Eyre, and I love all of them for different reasons.

Unfortunately, I was forced to change my mind last night after watching A Room With a View on Masterpiece Theatre. My disappointment was probably enhanced by the fact that I had really been looking forward to it. I even sacrificed Miriam's bedtime routine to be able to watch it (she fell asleep right after bath time, not even in her jammies, wrapped in a towel sitting with me on the papa-san).

That's right - it just wasn't that good. In fact, it was kind of bad. I don't know that it made a lot of sense to people who either hadn't read the book or hadn't seen the original 1985 version with Helena Bonham Carter. I know I was drawing heavily on my memories of that version to fill in the background of the movie. It may have just been a case of trying to fit too much into 90 minutes - the tables having been turned with the Hollywood movies usually getting short shrift compared to television miniseries.

But if it was a case of "not enough time," then what's with a) the semi-sex scene near the end, and b) the new tacked-on ending?

Dear Masterpiece Theatre: Just FYI, high up on the list of "Things I Never Needed to See" was "a sex scene in A Room With a View." This from someone who tries not to complain about the skinny-dipping scene in the original version because it really is quite funny, especially if you avert your eyes from the screen.

And who ever took a novel, adapted it for PBS, and then thought, "This ending is a little too happy. Let's make it sad and depressing"?

I suppose that's what I get for trying to branch out from LOST being the only show on TV that I watch. Now Masterpiece Theatre, of all things, is on notice. We'll see how they do next week with "My Boy Jack." Maybe.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Giving birth

So it turns out that Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood has a younger, more even-tempered little sister. She is Giving Birth: A Journey into the World of Mothers and Midwives. Granted, author Catherine Taylor stays far away from the wider social commentary that was so irksome to me in Naomi Wolf’s book, so perhaps there is just less to annoy me with in her subject matter to begin with.

Still, I found Giving Birth to be a very interesting, if not always fascinating – and certainly not as fascinating as Baby Catcher – “journey,” if you will, into, you guessed it, the world of mothers and midwives. As with most any book, I found I had to accept from the beginning that some of the author’s opinions would not agree 100% with my own. But that’s the point of reading books like these, isn’t it? I was curious about this woman’s experience shadowing midwives, becoming a doula, and eventually giving birth to her second child at home (that last part should probably have a spoiler warning. Sorry).

My in-your-face-feminist radar started tingling early in the first chapter when I read this sentence, in which the author is trying to explain how she was feeling when she decided she wanted a second child:

“I wanted to be special, taking up space in the world, my power written on my body, people smiling at my belly, holding doors, and offering seats (even as I want to reject the stereotype of the weak female).”

That parenthetical aside seems absolutely wedged in there, like it’s actually the main message of the chapter instead of, well, a parenthetical aside. I am more than happy to let her preach about her own sentiments in what is, after all, her own book – but this felt like shoving it down my throat.

Fortunately, it got better from there. Ms. Taylor gives us a very interesting behind-the-scenes look at modern midwifery practices in America, and modern attitudes about birthing from a wide range of women. She draws heavily on personal interviews and gives away entire paragraphs to quotes from her real-life characters, often not interrupting with editorial comment at all. In many ways, it is like a documentary in book form. A few narratives are followed from beginning to end, interspersed with smaller segments of stories that serve to illustrate key points.

One of those key points is that home birth is safe. Specifically:

“[R]esearch has shown time and again that, statistically, home birth for a healthy woman, attended by a qualified individual within a system that allows for hospital backup when necessary, is as safe as or safer than birth in the hospital.”

I believe her when she says this. In fact, I believed her every single time she said it in the book, which was probably more than a dozen times. However, cited research notwithstanding, the claim takes on just a tinge of disingenuousness because when you think about it, the process of deciding to home birth self-selects the kind of woman who is going to have a successful birth outcome. She is almost certainly educated about the birthing process, healthy throughout, and determined to make it work. Also, high-risk pregnancies/births similarly self-select to take place in a hospital – thus raising their rates of less successful outcomes.

Another statistic Ms. Taylor is fond of citing - that of America’s seemingly abysmal infant mortality rate, especially when compared to European nations who rely on a less medicalized model of childbirth – is skewed for this same reason. America’s childbearing population is probably much more diverse (and thus unhealthy, or high-risk, or whatever) than any of the childbearing populations in these countries. Also, it could be argued that US obstetricians are more often involved in extremely risky births that may not even be attempted elsewhere in the world. Again, these mitigating factors receive no attention from the author.

The subject of epidurals comes up often and it is, of course, a divisive one. After 24 hours of labor with Miriam, I finally had one administered, and there are times when I feel guilty about it. I at least have the consolation (?) that it had worn off by the time I was pushing, with the additional bonus that I was able to walk to go to the bathroom by myself shortly after delivering (woohoo!). Do you see how I feel like I have to justify it to you? There really is no reason that I should feel guilty about it – no one I know, even those who have delivered without drugs, has ever made me feel that way. But on some level, I still appreciated the validation I received from Ms. Taylor when she said,

“Still, [my doula instructor] is careful to begin by pointing out times when epidurals are worth the risks, including sheer exhaustion and discouragement, extremely long early labors, when labor is really stuck, if you’ve tried everything else and you still need help, if you have a caesarean, or induction when the cervix is not ripe.”

I read this and almost laughed as internally, I checked off each of these factors, save one (no C-section, thankfully) as being present at my labor with Miriam.

Finally, I was glad to read several accounts of home birth by someone who was at first fairly removed from the process. (Baby Catcher is full of home birth accounts, but they are almost all given by the midwife who was attending.) It is amazing to me to observe the evolution of my opinion on home birth. It wasn’t even on my radar until my good friend Kristen had a beautiful home birth experience at the end of 2006. At the time, I thought it was kind of strange, but good for her. Somehow, over the past year and a half, I have really come to appreciate at least the thinking behind home birth, if not the actual practice itself, at least not for myself. That’s why I am so glad to have a freestanding Birth Center here in Tucson – it provides a sort of “in-between” option for those of us who embrace the general philosophy behind home birth without necessarily wanting to scrub birth mess off of our own bathroom floors (I’m being completely facetious with that last bit, Kristen and Sarah!).

If you’ve already read books like Birth (a must!) and Baby Catcher, Giving Birth is another one to add to the pile. It is a fresh look at the same old thing, and it also has the dubious distinction of being the first book I’ve ever read that features a woman’s bum cleavage on the front cover. Perhaps you can’t say the same?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The refugees

Imagine being a 13-year-old girl, living with your family in Baghdad, Iraq. You and your older sister, brother, and your parents flee Iraq in 2007 and go to Turkey. Another older brother ends up in Sweden. After nine months in Istanbul in a perpetually less-than-permanent situation, not being able to attend school, you, your sister, and your parents are granted refugee status by the US and end up in Tucson, Arizona. You don't really speak any English, and it's the middle of the school year. There's nothing to be done but drop you in seventh grade at the nearby middle school and enroll you in a token ESL program populated almost entirely by native Spanish speakers. Welcome to America!!!

A few months ago, Jeremy and I were recruited by a volunteer at the International Rescue Committee in Tucson to help this refugee Iraqi family figure out life in America. Ostensibly, we would just be tutors, but they warned us we would probably have to help with all kinds of random getting-settled situations. And that has certainly been the case.

Miriam and I go to their house at least once a week to help Hind, the 13-year-old, with her homework. Or rather, I help her with homework and Miriam gets pumped full of sweets and attention from the rest of the family or any fellow Iraqi refugee friends who happen to be visiting. It's just like old times, really.

In addition to 7th-grade math homework, which is really fun to do since my brain had pretty much counted on being done with all that, I often have to help Hind decipher letters sent home with her from school. Once, a long, important-looking letter ended up being nothing more than the school administration announcing the retirement of a teacher. When I finished explaining to Hind what it was all about, she asked me something to the effect of, "so, why do I care?" My answer was that I didn't know.

Yesterday afternoon, she was in a tense mood when I came over and she immediately handed me another official school letter. She had been able to understand it just enough to know that it was about the status of her progress in school...and she'd also been able to misunderstand it just enough to think that it was telling her she would be held back a grade. I was very happy to be able to undeceive her (what it was actually saying was that she was considered "below grade level" in English skills and thus would continue in the ESL program. Well, duh.)

Of course, you can take the Arab out of Arabia but the Arab sense of hospitality remains. Every time we go, we are pumped full of pseudo-Tang (seriously, where do they get that stuff??), date-based sweets, Coke, and plates of fruit provided with a knife for peeling/cutting. This list would include tea and coffee, but of course we went through all that on our first visit to their house (I think they're still getting over it).

The Arab sense of propriety remains, too. I went there once to help Hind study for a test (on the surface area of cylinders, cubes, and prisms), but she had stepped out for a few minutes by the time I got to the door. Her dad answered, and appeared to be alone in the apartment. I knew he couldn't expect me to go inside if it was going to be just him and me, and sure enough, without even mentioning it, he woke up the older sister just to show me she was there, too. Jeremy went over for a visit one time and found himself in the opposite situation - only Hind was home. So he had to stand outside awkwardly for a while. Then a male IRC volunteer came over, too, but it still wouldn't be proper for them to go inside. So they all stood outside around the open door until Hind's dad finally showed up.

Other odd tasks have included helping the older sister study for her driving test, searching out a power cord for a donated phone (Radio Shack strikes again - I'll write about it if I remember), and helping the family of four obtain cell phones (a guest post from Jeremy will be forthcoming, or else I'll just ghostwrite it).

The happy news is that their family is generally doing very well, even for the seventh grader. I think she's done a good job of making the most of a sad situation, and I look forward to deciphering official school letters and homework instructions for many weeks to come.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sense & Sensibility

Did anyone else catch the new adaptation of Sense & Sensibility on Masterpiece Theatre this last week? It was the end of Jane Austen Season, which makes me sad, but we still have a new adaptation of A Room With a View to look forward to next week. Hopefully, the people who made it chose not to reincarnate Helena Bonham Carter's wild 80s hair. I always found her hairstyle in that movie so distracting. In 20 years, will people be saying the same thing about, say, Pride & Prejudice (either recent version)? I mean, if it's a period drama, it should be period hairstyles, right? And thus not influenced by the decade in which the film is made? Maybe groundbreaking new research about late 18th- and early 19th-century hairstyles was completed around the time P&P came out, and that's why we haven't seemed to have that problem since travesties like A Room With a View and that freaky 80s version of Northanger Abbey.

Anyway, I really liked this new version of S&S. Miniseries adaptations of novels always have at least one advantage over any existing Hollywood version - increased length. There's just so much more you can do with an extra 30 - 60 minutes, so in some ways it isn't a fair comparison.

But I'll make a few comparisons anyway, with the 1995 Emma Thompson version. I had a bit of a roller coaster relationship with that movie. I saw it when it first came out and loved it - the Sheriff of Nottingham played a good guy, a young woman got lost on a beautiful hill in the rain after a tragic breakup, the soundtrack was gorgeous, etc. What's not to like?

A few years later in college, I saw it again and decided I didn't like it after all. Everything suddenly seemed so...understated. And Hugh Grant bugged the heck out of me. Why was the power of simple speech so beyond him?!?

And then, sometime after we moved to Tucson, I saw it again. And loved it again, but for different reasons than the first time. For all its faults of reduced attention to certain plots and still having to deal with a bumbling Hugh Grant, I decided it was a wonderful movie. Yes, it was still understated, but it was essentially true to the original story in theme and feel.

I was surprised by and loved many things in this new version. Some of them are an improvement over the 1995 version; others are compliments that stand alone without comparison to its predecessor.

- I absolutely loved the new portrayal of Colonel Brandon and Marianne's relationship. It had so much more feeling and nuance, and we really saw how Marianne "grew up" in the process.

- This version of Lucy Steele was much more devious than the original. In the 1995 version, you could probably argue that she was just a sweet girl who was innocently sharing everything with Elinor. But this one made it clear that she is every bit as conniving, manipulative, and spiteful as we've been suspecting all along.

- The scenery was gorgeous, but maybe I'm just partial to rugged ocean beaches.

- The scene where Marianne faints after seeing Willoughby, and is caught by Colonel Brandon, and then Colonel Brandon gives Willoughby a look that says, "Someday I think you and I are going to have a serious disagreement. " - I loved that scene.

- I loved Emma Thompson's Elinor, but I loved this one, too. She took a while to get used to, but her performance really was admirable. Especially in that awkward scene involving Edward, Lucy, and herself.

- Lucy Steele's sister was hilarious, even if I'm pretty sure the accent she used was completely anachronistic.

- The new Marianne-in-the-rain scene was quite good, which is amazing since the original one was so fantastic. But I thought they gave it a new enough angle that it was still very moving.

Did you watch it? What did you like/dislike about it?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Awkward falafel

Today I had the singular experience of having the woman who helped us spend tens of thousands of dollars on our house ask me if I wanted lettuce, tomato, or cucumber on my pita sandwich.

We were out doing errands as a family activity (ah, Home Depot garden section, how I love you and the tens of minutes of entertainment you give to Miriam) and decided to stop at a local pita shop for dinner. It had been months since we've eaten falafel, and it sounded like a fun Friday afternoon activity.

When we walked in the restaurant, both of us recognized the pita assembly line worker lady. It took a while, but I finally realized that she was our realtor from 2.5 years ago when we bought our house. And here she was taking our order at a pita shop! She was wearing the visor hat and plastic gloves and everything.

I don't know that I've ever experienced anything more awkward, at least in recent memory. As soon as I realized who she was, I was suddenly completely unsure how to act. Should I mention our previous connection? It's not like we've kept in touch over the years. Should I pretend that I don't remember her? Should I also pretend I don't notice the fact that she is now working at a pita shop?

I settled for greeting her over-warmly. I figured it was a non-committal way out of the awkward situation.

As we ate our dinner, we decided that she and her husband probably actually own the pita shop, which improves the situation. Kind of. Is owning a pita shop a step up or down from real estate?? Jeremy and I have no idea.

Regardless, the falafel was good. Still, I don't know that we'll go back anytime soon, at least not until we figure out how to handle such an awkward social situation.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wild conspiracy theories laid to rest...or are they?

My friend Crystal runs a book review blog and she tagged me as follows:

Open the nearest book to page 123 and post the fifth sentence.

Well, The Israel Lobby it is:

"The prosettlement group Americans for a Safe Israel distributed a thirty-page pamphlet smearing Breira's leaders for their involvement with other left-wing causes and referring to them as "Jews for Fatah."

Yeah. Reading this book is definitely not kick-back-and-relax time, which is why I had to hang my head in shame at the library this morning and have them transfer the Express Checkout (3 weeks, no renewals, due today) to Miriam's library card.

But as long as we're talking about this book, let's talk about it.

First of all, I realize it's highly likely that many/most of you have no interest in the subject of this book, if you are at all even aware that such a thing as "the Israel lobby" exists. I don't mean that as an insult to anyone's intelligence, either. The Israel lobby itself, in fact, would have you believe that it doesn't really exist - it would rather you see the effects of its efforts at work in US foreign policy (and, indeed, in some aspects of daily life, the news media, and higher education) without you recognizing them as such.

But if you've ever spent even a few moments talking politics with someone from the Middle East, you have almost certainly discussed the subject, even if you don't know it.

I think an alternate title for this book could very fittingly be: An Ajnabi's Guide to Debunking or Confirming All Those Crazy Conspiracy Theories Arabs Are Always Telling You About. Here are some of the more interesting questions addressed by The Israel Lobby:

-Exactly how much money does America give Israel every year, and what is it used for?

-Is Israel a strategic ally or a foreign relations liability?

-So, all those bombs Israel dropped on Lebanon during the 2006 summer war - were they purchased with American money?

-Who was the first to use suicide bombings in the Middle East?

-What is the true story of the failed Camp David talks?

-Since when is being an Arabist a bad thing?

-Does Israel always do what America tells it to do, and is their continued financial aid contingent on cooperation?

And I'm not even done reading yet.

The most frightening thing about reading this book has been discovering how many of those "wacky conspiracy theories" we wrote off with a laugh in Damascus actually have a strong basis in truth, or are in fact entirely true.

The authors, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, faced an uphill, bumpy road to publication, and the story of the book's genesis is fascinating. Also, I don't know that I've ever read such a thoroughly researched book before.

Before you try to tell yourself that you couldn't possibly care about a subject like this one, think again. Our relationship with Israel and the impact this relationship has on our global foreign policy affects you very much. Think of your personal views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Do your elected representatives carry that view to their boss(es)? Do you think the conflict has anything to do with terrorism, or the safety of Americans and American interests abroad? How interested are you in what causes or ideologies your tax dollars support, and at whose (figurative) expense?

So although I can't really say I look forward to discussing politics with Arabs in the near future, at least when it happens, I'll be more prepared.

Aaaaaanyway, I tag Eevi, Lark, and Liz. If you dare.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

SAHM, WFHM, WAHM or what?

Every once in a while when I meet someone new, I get asked that question: "So, do you work outside the home?"

How, exactly, am I supposed to answer that? It's usually delivered in an awkward, trying-not-to-be-condescending-or-judgmental tone that catches me off guard. Some of the people who ask me are hoping to hear one answer; others are probably preparing to be offended at the other.

Technically, I guess the answer is no. I don't "work" "outside" "the home." But is the fact that I work inside the home assumed in the question, since I have a 2.5-year-old to take care of? I'm not sure.

All this is complicated by the fact that I have a work-from-home job. I get a paycheck and everything. But that's not what that "do you work outside the home" question is asking, so how do I bring it up? I know what people are really trying to ask is, "So, do you do anything besides be a mom?"

The answer to that question is definitely "yes." For about seven months now, I've been working as a lexicographer for a certain, um, huge, non-American dictionary entity that shall remain unnamed. In short, I edit the dictionary. Seriously! You've always wondered who did that, and now you know.

It's basically my dream job, because it's in my field (I have a BA in Linguistics), the work is interesting, the hours are completely flexible, the pay is awesome, I work from home on an online database, and my bosses are all the way across the ocean. It's fantastic!

However, there's a reason the acronym WAHM still includes that "M" at the end. Even when I'm working, I still have to be a mom. And shortly after I started this job, Miriam gave up her nap. So you can imagine why it sometimes takes 2 or 3 hours to get 1 hour of work on the clock. It seems like as soon as I get into my dictionary-editing groove, I hear "Mama, I spilled!" or "Mama, I need a little snack!" coming from the living room. So I pause the clock (the Online Stopwatch is a wonderful thing), take care of her needs, re-start the clock, and once again try to focus on the five main senses of "over" as a preposition, and their collective eleven subsenses.

So far, I've worked in B, F, M, and O, and I've managed to avoid any swear words - though I did have to edit "ovariotomy," which wasn't the most comfortable thing I've ever done.

I'd tell you all more interesting stories about my work, but I have Miriam at my knee, almost literally crying for my attention. Your homework assignment: find the perfect answer to that awkward "do you work outside the home" question!


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