Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another receipt

Here's another receipt. Miriam and I went to get our hairs cut yesterday at the local Supercuts (my budget for my own haircuts is apparently around $10/year). When we walked in, the greeter took our names down to get us in line for a cut. When we walked out, they gave me this receipt (shown in part):

I think that is the most creative misspelling of my name that I have ever seen, and I've seen some good ones ("Prejat" comes to mind). What's interesting is that she got "Miriam" spot-on - no problems there.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Life is like a freaking sandbox

Tomorrow, we leave Tucson for the summer. So I feel like I can finally vent about something that's been bothering me without being accused of having a bad attitude (which is probably true, at least a little bit).

Basically, I feel like I'm living in a gigantic sandbox. I don't know why it has taken me almost three years to notice it enough to be bothered by it, but there are lots of rocks in Tucson. The big rocks, I don't mind so much, because Miriam climbs on them and has a good time. It's the medium, little, tiny, and sand-particle sized rocks that are slowly (?) driving me insane.

I'm not complaining about the lack of grass in Tucson, or the lack of beautifying landscaping (lest we disturb the natural order of weeds, dying/dead saguaro cacti, and the right of all to keep a washer/dryer in their carport), though those are all valid complaints. But does everything around here have to be covered in rocks?

They get everywhere. In my shoes, in Miriam's shoes, on our entry mat (if only they stayed there instead of getting tracked all over the house), all over the floor of our car, in the storage basket on the stroller, in the bike trailer (and how!), encrusted on anything remotely wet or sticky you drop on the ground, and deposited in a fine layer over all the furniture if we leave the door open for ventilation on a breezy day, invariably just after you've finished dusting. There is hardly anything more aggravating to my ears than the sound a chair being pushed back, or a piece of furniture being moved makes when it catches on a tiny rock and screeeeeeeeeeeeeches across the floor, hopefully (but rarely) the tile floor instead of the wood laminate.

The thing is, I tend to compare things here to where I grew up (Beaverton, Oregon). So it's inherently unfair. And I just know that there has to be some similar complaint about the Northwest that I'm just not remembering - were we always tracking mud into the house? Pine needles? I really don't recall.

I'll go ahead and deal with the omnipresent sand and grit for another day or two. But it's a good thing we're leaving for a while so I can get a break from this living-in-a-sandbox feeling.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gas pains

Just when I think Jeremy and I are real people living in the real world, something happens to enlighten me.

I filled up the other day at Costco and the person before me had left their receipt in the machine. Here is their receipt:

And here is ours:

In case you can't read them, the person at the pump before us spent $81.21 (to fill, I presume, or hope), and we spent $28.78, which is actually one of our more expensive "fills" ever. To be fair, for us, "fill" is a loose term because we never let our gas tank get completely empty, so it's more like 2/3-of-a-tank fill.

In any case, yikes. I think I could work up some energy to be upset about gas prices if my wallet was actually feeling it as much as Mr. $81.21. As it is, we probably fill up 2 - 3 times a month and our car (a lovely 2004 Toyota Corolla S) gets awesome gas mileage.

How much is gas where you are? How much does it cost you to fill up? Are you mad as heck and not going to take it anymore, or largely indifferent, or planning to move to Europe or the Middle East or Asia where they have planned, public-transportationable communities, or what?

(And am I the only one who personally remembers when gas was around $0.97/gallon? That was at the cheap-o Arco station, of course, whose policy was to hire only quasimodos to fill your tank (this was in Oregon). If you wanted uniformed, non-skeezeball service, you had to go to the Texaco up the hill and pay 7 - 10 more cents/gallon.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Camping at 7 months' pregnant

There's something to be said for living life as normally as possible while pregnant. The problem is, sometimes "normal" means "supremely uncomfortable or awkward when you have a large pregnant belly." I'm not saying we should just lie around for 9+ months, though I think most of us descend into some variation of that theme right around 35ish weeks (out of 40). Especially if you happen to hit that point right at the peak of summer and it's all you can do to drag yourself from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned building. Assuming all three exist, of course.

Otherwise, you're left with the patched-up version of the above scenario that I endured while hugely pregnant in Damascus, which was something like:

Sleep every night on a flimsy foam pad on the floor of the living room, the only room with AC (and wow, were we ever thankful for it!), heaving yourself up x number of times to go to the bathroom. Also, put on insect repellent to keep away the bugs while you sleep, and then Benadryl cream for all the bites you got last night anyway.

To get anywhere in the city, climb into - without falling back out of due to balance issues - a service van (an extremely bashed-up and stripped-down white minivan used for public transportation; fare = $0.10) that sometimes doesn't come to a complete stop while you're boarding and whose door sometimes doesn't shut behind you in case you do fall. "AC" in this case is "all the windows are rolled down and the driver drives as fast as possible."

Buildings are air-conditioned if you're lucky. Usually, you're not. That's why you start to only frequent stores who keep their meltables in at least semi-refrigerated coolers.

When I was 7 months' pregnant with Miriam and we were visiting my family in Oregon, we went camping on the Oregon coast. I love the Oregon coast, and we had a great time camping, except for the actual camping part. It rained all night long and I could not get my huge self comfortable. Even if I did manage to find a comfy, dry spot, it was only a matter of time before I had to get up and trek to the bathroom down at the end of the row of campsites. After this experience, I made a mental note not to go camping while 7 months' pregnant.

So, yesterday, we went camping. It was 106 degrees here in Tucson. We headed up Mt. Lemmon with some friends. We didn't camp at an actual campground, so there was no picnic table, no grill, no prepared firepit, no running water, and no bathrooms. Bring it on!

In the end, it was lots of fun, even if I hardly got any sleep. I think it would have been tolerable if Jeremy had let me bring my body pillow, but he had us all on a strict ration of one pillow each. At least it wasn't raining this time, but it was very windy. We all got extremely dirty and smoky and dusty, which made today's shower feel all the more wonderful. And Jeremy watched Miriam while I took a nap, and our bed has never felt better to my camp-weary awkward self. I just hope Sasha 2.0 will someday forgive me for a terrible night's sleep - seriously, it was like she knew I was doing the best I could but still felt like driving me crazy from within.

So you see, there's really not much about normal life that pregnancy has to change. You just might not get any sleep in the process. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has forsaken basic comforts during pregnancy. What's the awkwardest thing you've done?

Monday, May 19, 2008

A happy ending

Once upon a time (9 months ago), in a land far, far away (Amman, Jordan), Royal Jordanian Airlines extorted $800 from us before they would let us board a plane to New York. You may remember this story in the context of us accidentally leaving behind our carry-on suitcase at the check-in counter when we finally were allowed to board said plane.

Well, friends, today I give you the thrilling conclusion to what has become Royal Jordanian Saga: How a Left-Behind Suitcase Full of Expensive Consumer Electronic Devices with No Identifying Marks Whatsoever Was Reunited with Its Owners Across the World Within a Week; or How $800 Took 9 Months to Make the Same Journey.

To bring you up to speed:
Part 1, in which the money is extorted and the suitcase left behind.
Part 2, in which we send in the big guns to Queen Alia International Airport.
Part 3, in which the prodigal suitcase returns (but our money does not).
Appendix A, in which I spend a good portion of my life on hold with US Airways.
Appendix B, in which I am outsmarted by my new arch-nemesis, Mendoza.

My mom and I teamed up and spent a good six weeks playing phone tag with Ms. Mendoza from the Refunds Department. Sometimes, we even spoke with her. She always reassured us that "corporate" was taking a look at the situation and we'd hear back soon.

And we did. After almost two months, I got a letter in the mail telling me that the tickets were not issued by US Airways, so there was nothing they could do for us.

The problem, of course, is that our tickets were issued by US Airways. So now, every time I called Mendoza, I was not only arguing to get our $800 back, I was arguing that her company had issued our tickets.

After several more weeks of this, I called to check up on the situation and they told me that Mendoza didn't work there anymore. I was surprised to hear this, because she certainly was fulfilling her Refunds Division job description - never giving anyone any money back, ever - at an adequate level. Around the same time, I got another letter in the mail saying a decision had been made and it was...that US Airways was not responsible for our loss and we'd have to go after Royal Jordanian for our money. To help us get started with RJ's contact information, the letter listed a PO Box address. In Amman, Jordan.

If a PO Box address in the Middle East isn't a dead end, I don't know what is.

I called Expedia next, even though I knew they were probably the least likely to be able to help us. Their employee said it wasn't their problem, and also wondered why I had taken so long to contact them about the matter. The answer: US Airways took three months and dozens of phone calls to decide that basically, they couldn't do anything to help.

As a last-ditch effort, I called Royal Jordanian's office in New York. I managed to get a live person after several tries, but he referred me to their website and told me to send an email. With absolutely no faith that I would receive a response, I sent an email explaining the situation as well as I could, which was difficult because even I didn't understand why we had been charged $800.

Over the next five months, my mom and I sent the same email to the same address a few times each. And then, out of the blue, last week, I received an email from an actual RJ employee that said, simply, "We're sorry for what happened, we shouldn't have taken your money, and we're going to give it back to you."

Yesterday, the money showed up in our bank account, as if it had never been gone in the first place!

I really can't decide what the most amazing part of this whole story is. There are several.

First, that the relationship between effort invested and result obtained was absolutely inverse. We slaved away at trying to convince US Airways and got nothing. We sent a few emails to RJ and they refunded my money in full. Go figure.

Second, that we still have no explanation for what happened. At this point, I'm not even going to ask. I don't even want to know. My money is back, and I'm not about to question why.

Third, that the same company that could mess something up so completely could also fix it so well.

Fourth, that we are 2 for 2 on RJ miracles, the first one being the return of our luggage.

The moral of this story, much like the moral of the suitcase story, is not to let airlines extort money from you, if at all possible. But if you do, try to have it be Royal Jordanian.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Book Review: Parenting, Inc., by Pamela Paul

The other night, Jeremy and I were at a social gathering whose guests mainly consisted of students, faculty, and staff of the University of Arizona, specifically in or related to Jeremy’s program. There was one other woman there with a young child (five years old), or at least she was the only one who had brought her child. When we were introduced to each other, the first question she asked me was:

“So, what extracurriculars have you enrolled your daughter in?”

I could tell the question she was trying to ask was something more like “so, do you do stuff with your daughter?” So I told her that we go to Storytime at the library, a church playgroup, and…actually, that’s it, as far as regular, standing activities go.

The funny thing is, I just finished reading Parenting, Inc.: How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers – and What It Means for Our Children, which addresses, in part, this very topic. (It does not, however, get into the titular diaper wipe warmer, which is too bad, because really, what is up with those??)

In many ways, Pamela Paul’s book reminded me of Muffy Mead-Ferro’s Confessions of a Slacker Mom, though it is considerably more scholarly and fleshed out. Don’t let “scholarly” scare you, though. The author does cite a lot of research and statistics, and she conducted extensive interviews with people across the parenting and baby business spectrum, but the book reads more like an interesting article from Time Magazine than one from The Economist.

Parenting, Inc. had the strange effect of making me feel guilty about not enrolling my child in every potential brain- or skills-boosting class out there, and then reminding me of my own reasons why I didn’t do so in the first place. Those reasons (both mine and those she cites) include the potential for overscheduling, cost, unsubstantiated hype about supposed benefits, activities that can be replicated for free at home/church/the park, too-rigid (or not rigid enough) class structure, and the age-inappropriate focus of some classes/activities.

I say I felt guilty at first because I had no idea there was such a thing as Little Maestros until this book told me that moms enrolled their three-month-olds in the program.

And then, of course, I took a step back and realized that I didn’t enroll Miriam in any classes at age 0.25 because…well, pick a reason. I’m sure many of you agree with me that at that age, such an extracurricular activity is just not necessary. If nothing else, there’s the old standby that I often fall back on: I didn’t have [whatever] when I was growing up, and I turned out just fine. Right?

Other topics in Parenting, Inc. include:

Toys. Don’t even get me started here. I am a toy minimalist, to begin with, and even when we buy toys, I try not to get anything over-branded, excessively battery-ified, or something that really only does one thing. There are exceptions, of course – I try not to be a Nazi about it – but good, classic, creativity-building toys like blocks, cars, trains, books, and balls are more my style.

I had to laugh at this particular passage (p85):

“While shopping recently at Planet Kids on New York’s Upper East Side, I observed a sixtyish woman enter the store and hold a toy truck aloft. She inspected it from various angles, poking and prodding its appendages and wheels. ‘What does this do?’ she finally asked a store clerk, a note of confused annoyance slipping into her voice. ‘It’s a truck,’ the clerk replied. The woman humphed and set the toy aside. ‘I don’t want to buy something that doesn’t do anything,’ she replied, as if plastic trucks couldn’t vroom along the way they always have in the hands of an energetic toddler. ‘Where are the toys that do something? I want to give my grandson something that has more value.’”

Also, why do toys today have to be so darn educational? Every toy on the shelves, it seems, is emblazoned with a list of its developmental benefits. Can I not just buy a bin of blocks? Must the blocks proclaim that they help with hand-eye coordination?

TV/Videos/DVDs. You already know my feelings about Baby Einstein. And I couldn’t help but feel justified when the author of the book called Ms. Aigner-Clark on her claim that the videos “expose little ones to the world around them and encourage parent-child interaction.” We put in a DVD for our kid so we don’t have to spend time with them, remember? And in fact, back in 1999, Baby Einstein admitted that, too (p129): the videos will “stimulate your baby in your absence, allowing you time to take a shower, make a phone call or do other brief chores baby-free.” Now that’s more like it.

Some of the guilt on this subject remains, though, since I often get my dictionary work done while Miriam is occupied watching Sesame Street. I know there are worse things out there, and the girl has probably never seen a commercial advertisement in her life, but still.

So obviously, I’m OK with my daughter watching “TV” (the author gives up – for good reason – trying to distinguish between TV, DVDs, etc., because the companies who produce programming blur the lines), as long as I’m not kidding myself that she’s going to become fluent in Chinese by doing so.

Baby Hud. OK, OK, the author doesn’t call it that in her book, but what other word for it is there when we’re talking about LED diaper-wetness monitors? Yes, babies and kids do require a lot of gear, more than our parents got by with, for sure. But we have to draw the line somewhere. I won’t say too much more on this topic because I know that if I make fun of [item] too much, I’ll get comments from people telling me how indispensable [item] was for them.

Well, maybe just one soapbox: snap-out infant carseats, complete with travel system monster strollers. And I’d better stop there.

This review is getting too long, so if you’ve found it interesting, go and read the book. Even if you don’t agree with everything the author says (I certainly didn’t, though it might sound like I did), it is a fascinating look into the world of modern parenting.

In fact, the only people who probably won’t enjoy this book are those who did buy an $800 stroller. Attention these people: this book makes fun of you.

Now I can happily return to my life of not buying hud toys or high-fashion clothing for my daughter – guilt-free.


Last week, I went through our closet and pulled out the newborn stuff in preparation for Sasha 2.0's birth. The thing is, she's not due to make an appearance for another 2.5 months - August 3rd, to be exact. Was this some kind of nesting instinct gone haywire?

Not really. I'm in the singular situation of having to pack everything I will need for a newborn way ahead of time because we're moving soon. The other wrinkle is that we're coming back after the baby is born - so I don't want to just bring everything, even if we did have the room. So I have to decide now just how many onesies, blankets, and burp rags to bring with us to Middlebury.

I think I set aside pretty much everything I absolutely need to care for a newborn for a few weeks. Depending on when she's born, Sasha 2.0 will probably be between one month and one week old when we fly back to Tucson. Here's my minimalist-to-a-fault must-haves (not including stuff like diapers and wipes - I doubt I'll be packing those across the country):

1. onesies
2. burp rags
3. nursing pads and sundry nursing clothing items for me
4. lap pads
5. sling
6. baby monitor - I debated for a while about this one. But I have no idea how our dorm apartment is laid out, so better safe than sorry (for this item at least)
7. blankets. I haven't decided how many.

Am I forgetting anything essential?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My brother, the extra: way more attention than he expected (Twilight movie experience)

Remember when my brother did us all a favor and shared a nonchalant account of his time as an extra on the movie of Twilight?

Today, in one of those strange internet mysteries, that post was linked to from fansites all over the world. Message boards, actor webpages, facebook/myspace interest groups (which I won't pretend to understand), and independent book/movie fansites all linked right here to My Adventures in Tucson. The day isn't quite over yet and I've had over 7,000 visits, just to that post.

Some of the originating webpages have room for comments on the post. The vast, vast majority of people who read it enjoyed it for what it was - the account of a 15-year-old extra on the movie set. A few called the photo "creepy," which I don't really understand. Unless by "creepy," they mean "out of focus because it was taken by a cell phone camera, after all." Still others have said they plan to make new, elaborate avatars using the image (and there are some incredibly elaborate avatars for fansite message boards out there, some of them animated).

My favorite comments (of the .01% that I sifted through - heaven forbid my husband should walk in the room while I appear to be browsing a site called "Twilight Extremists" or "His Golden Eyes") were the ones that called attention to my brother's description of Emmett being "tall," and also how he referred to the actors by their characters' names. Those were my favorite parts of his account as well.

The whole thing came full circle today when my own sister-in-law wrote me an email saying she stumbled across a link to my blog on a Twilight-associated site.

Anyway, my poor brother is a bit overwhelmed and embarrassed by all the attention because he never thought more than a few dozen people would read it.

So I'll say here, in public: Thanks for sharing, Steven, and for writing something that has brought so many people so much enjoyment!

Also, thanks to Jenny from - of all the dozens of sites that linked to this blog and used the photo on their own page, she was the only one who asked for permission to do so.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Immunization woes

You know how we all (well, almost all - more on that later) get our kids immunized against diseases that we've never encountered in our lifetimes, or that we've never even heard of? Well, one of those diseases is back, in Tucson at least. There's a measles outbreak going on right now here. There have been 20 cases so far and all of a sudden everyone is in an immunization frenzy. The county has set up free immunization clinics and doctors' offices are swamped with kids getting their first shots or follow-up boosters, ahead of schedule. Since measles is so highly contagious, you can't take your child anywhere without worrying. It's really quite distressing.

I called Miriam's doctor this morning and was told that they were booked for the nurse-only immunization visits until sometime next week. In the meantime, the nurse suggested, I could take her to the free county immunization clinic if I didn't want to wait (yikes!).

All of this got me thinking about a very touchy subject - immunizing our kids. It's something that comes up every once in a while when talking to other parents, and until now, it has been largely a theoretical debate. Lots of "well, if there was an outbreak..." and "these diseases just aren't around anymore," etc. I told myself that I didn't really care what other people did with their kids, but that I would immunize my own, always.

Now that the facts on the ground tell a different story, I have to admit that my opinion has changed. Because somebody else not immunizing their kids is no longer their personal decision. It affects all of us. If you look at it closely, it's a bizarrely unfair situation: if you don't immunize your children, you can rest easy knowing that most of the rest of us do and will therefore most likely keep your child out of the way of an outbreak by preventing it from happening in the first place. On the other hand, if there is an outbreak, your child will be the means of transmitting it and putting the rest of us in danger.

Those of us who immunize our children bear both the risks (both supposed and real) of the actual immunizing shot, as well as the risk of them contracting the disease anyway between boosters (or whatever) because of someone who is not immunized.

I know that people who don't immunize their children generally have their (hopefully) well thought-out reasons. But in a situation like this one, isn't it time to re-evaluate? We're not dealing with hypothetical, long-eradicated diseases anymore.

Do you immunize your children? Why or why not? If there was an outbreak of an immunizeable disease in your community, would that change your opinion either way?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Review of The Host

I finished The Host this afternoon. Now I'm going into that post-awesome-book withdrawal that always haunts me after finishing books like this one.

I didn't want to know very much about the book before reading it, so I'll keep this review short on details.

Basically, I loved it. But I loved it in a different way than I loved Twilight/New Moon/Eclipse, and also in a different way than I can recall ever liking a fiction book before, at least in recent memory. It affected me on more levels than I expected it to, and got me thinking about cool existential dilemmas I hadn't ever considered before.

Before I scare you off too much, let me also say that it is a very readable, exciting, fascinating story. It has hints of the same elements that make up Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga (I won't say what they are, because I wouldn't have wanted to know ahead of time), but they are just hints. The stories and subject matter are very different.

This book has been touted as "sci-fi for people who don't like sci-fi." And for me, at least, that statement held true. I think that even people who do like sci-fi would like this book. As long as they aren't afraid of a little human drama being thrown into the mix.

A few last points:

1. For people who disliked Twilight/New Moon/Eclipse because it made them feel like they were being forced to live through high school all over again, this book is totally different. (Also, for those people: what was the point of going through high school if we can't read books about it years after the fact and laugh about being done with all of it??)

2. My favorite non-story element of the book was that it did not go elementary school on me by describing all the fascinating new inventions or ways of life of the "new world." Nothing is more distracting to me in a sci-fi book (Uglies/Pretties/Specials, I'm looking at you), and I was so glad that Meyer kept it to a bare minimum.

3. Almost the entire book takes place in or near Tucson. I've never been so proud to be "from" here. I think the drive from here to Phoenix will be slightly more interesting for me from now on.

Happy reading!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

May adventures

May is here at last, and we all know what that means: finals, the turning on of the AC, mosquitoes in the evening, and a huge trip somewhere international.

At least, that what it's been like for us for a few years. We've never spent a May (or June, or July) in Tucson, and so I can't help but feel like we're overstaying our welcome. Fortunately, we'll be gone by the end of the month (to Middlebury).

But all this beginning-of-May-ness has got me reminiscing about the Mays of the past.

There was 2000, when I went on a study abroad to Japan. Here I am on my first night there, in our ryokan (traditional inn) in Kyoto. Those few months living with a host family in Kyoto remain some of the awesomest of my life.

2001 brought the return of Jeremy from Syria on his study abroad program. It was nice to be able to talk to him in person, with an added bonus that the secret police would no longer be able to listen in on our 67-cents-a-minute phone conversations....on a phone that he shared with 60 other people...that was often mysteriously "disconnected" mid-call.

Ah, 2002, a relaxing trip to Estonia and Finland (we were living in Moscow at the time). Even if we did have to stay in the House of Evil.

2003. Camping. What can I say? We were living in American Fork. I remember being scared all night that we would be eaten by a bear (it's probably a good thing this hadn't happened yet, or we wouldn't have gone at all).

2004, just before we left for Syria. We went on a rafting trip on the Green River in southern Utah with what is best described as a big group of Palestinian shebaab. I think this trip was the best preparation I had before heading to the Middle East for the first time.

2005 - a day trip from Damascus to the Boukein spring and the Bludan general area. Our friend Sterling arm wrestled an elderly man. I don't remember who won.

In case you can't tell, this is 8-month-old Miriam in 2006 with Jeremy, catching some z's at a stopover between international flights in Vienna, Austria. If for no other reason, I am glad to be Mormon because it meant we could stop at the church building and take a nap before boarding another plane to Amman that evening.

Also 2006, in our own bed in Amman, at last. You'd be surprised how well Miriam adjusted to the time change (of course, it probably helped that she was still waking up at night a few times anyway).

Fresher faces in 2007 - ready for a day in New York City before going to Amman again.

Jeremy and I did our best to get some sleep on the flight, even though 20-month-old Miriam did her best to take up as much of our seats as possible.

As you can see, this year's beginning of May is one of the least exciting yet (except for maybe that camping year...). Oh well. We'll see what we can do about that when we finally get going to Middlebury.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Worth the wait

Last Wednesday was date night for Jeremy and me. We dropped Miriam off at her friends' house (a pair of sisters near her age. They do fun things like "dressups," jumping on the bed, and social bathing) and went to The Olive Garden. I had a hankering (which may or may not have been pregnancy-induced) for their Zuppa Toscana soup and Jeremy had no objections.

Now, I know we should have called ahead, or phoned in our name, or whatever it is you're supposed to do these days. But in our defense, it was 5.30 on a Wednesday night. I guess we just didn't think the restaurant would be that busy. So when the hostess told us it would be a 25-minute wait, it was a surprise, but not anything we couldn't handle. I was hungry and thirsty, but I figured I could wait half an hour without a problem.

Forty-five minutes later, we were still waiting. And we were starving. And the clock was ticking on Miriam's babysitter. Finally, we were called back to a table. Beverage and sustenance at last! Or so I thought.

We got water soon enough, but the breadsticks were AWOL, even after we had ordered our meals. Eventually, they showed up, but then our soup was delayed beyond all reason. Jeremy finally went back to the servers' gathering area (or whatever it is) to see what the sam hill was going on. And of course, he played the pregnancy card, though it was without my permission (I like to save it for when we really, really need it. Though now that I think about it, we were very close to reaching that point).

The thing is, we felt bad about complaining because we could tell it wasn't our server's fault. Sometimes you just know when they're not doing their job; other times, it's apparent that they're doing their best and other people are causing the problem. In fact, this particular server was probably one of the best servers I've ever encountered - he was so genuine, even if it was beyond his power to be supremely helpful.

In the end, we got our food, made sure our server wasn't going to get into any trouble from our complaining, got a free dessert to go, and made it back to pick up Miriam in decent time (and wouldn't you know it, she didn't want to leave).

The next day, Jeremy called the restaurant to compliment our server specifically by name to the manager. To our surprise, the manager sent us a $20 gift certificate in the mail as a sign of appreciation. I would expect to receive a bonus like that when complaining about a restaurant's service, but really, we just wanted the manager to know that they had a good employee.

That is definitely good business practice. What could have been a negative experience - which I surely would have shared on this blog - turned into a really positive one, and we'll definitely be going back to the Olive Garden sometime soon. But this time, I think we'll call ahead.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


I know Stephenie Meyer has achieved plenty these days (she's one of Time's 100 Most Influential People this year, her first book is being made into a movie, every publication that mentions her couples her name with "the next JK Rowling," etc.). But today she managed something that had never happened before: I actually went out and bought her new book, The Host, in hardcover, on the day it was released.

I've bought new books before (rarely!), and I've even bought hardcover books before. But to do both on the very day of the book's release was a first. The closest this has ever come to happening before now was with Harry Potter 7 in Jordan.

I'm sure many of us are curious how good this book will be. I have to admit, I'm not much of a sci-fi fan, at all - all those Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov stories we had to read in elementary school left their horrifying mark on my psyche - but then again, I didn't think I was much of a vampire book person, either.

I was all ready to promise you a review by sometime early next week, since I won't be able to start the book for a few days. But it looks like there's someone in the family who might be able to give us a review much sooner than that: Jeremy. This afternoon, I noticed that the book was missing from the kitchen counter. Shortly after, I got an email from Jeremy that said, "guess what book I read on the bus..." Yes, it's true. Jeremy stole the book I bought on opening day and is reading it even as I write this. Vile usurper!

He's just lucky I wasn't planning on starting it quite yet. So as long as he finishes it in a timely manner, no one has to get hurt.

Is anyone else planning on reading this book?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Blockage of mystery

Well, it looks like we won't be doing our civic duty after all. Just before I opened the box containing the new vacuum cleaner we bought last night, Jeremy and I decided to give the old vacuum one last look to see if we could fix it. We'd already followed all the manual's instructions to clear blockages, clean filters, check possible problem areas, etc., and nothing had worked.

What we learned is, sometimes you have to break the manual's rules to diagnose and fix a problem.

Upon further investigation, we figured out that there was indeed a blockage somewhere in the hose that was causing the vacuum to lose suction. But the part of the hose that we suspected was clogged was, in another brilliant feat of engineering, un-take-apart-able.

So of course, Jeremy got out the hammer and screwdriver and started whacking away at the portion of plastic that was in our way. We had nothing to lose, really - the vacuum was broken already, so if he broke it in the process of fixing it...well, it seemed to make sense at the time.

He finally wrenched out the part of the hose we needed to access and got some long dowels to stick through it and push out the blockage. I had the scary and suspenseful job of waiting at the end of the hose to see what would come out. And in a burst of dust, here's what it was:

That's a collection of accumulated vacuum trappings and one of Miriam's blocks. There was even more stuff in the hose that came out after this. Yuck! For some reason, I found this to be really disgusting, if not for what it was, then for what it could have been. I'm not even going to mention the possibilities. I'm sure your imagination can take care of that.

Remember how I told you that this vacuum had never been quite the same since Jeremy used it unsupervised? Well, I wonder how this block got in there?

We almost broke the vacuum again trying to put it back together, but eventually I turned it on and it works as well as it ever did. And to my surprise, I felt happy to have it back. I'm sure I'll feel even happier when I return the new vacuum we bought to Costco and get our money back. Talk about an economic stimulus! To our savings account, that is.

My brother, the extra: Twilight movie experience

The view from Steven's seat in the Forks High School cafeteria (actually Madison High School in Portland)

I've had a few requests for details from my brother Steven's experience as a Twilight movie extra. You guys are lucky - when I asked him about it over the phone, he basically said, "Yeah, it was neat. I'm really tired." In case it's not obvious, he's 15 years old. But for you, dear readers, he wrote a coherent synopsis of his whole experience. Here it is, in his own words, only lightly edited by me, mostly for paragraph breaks.

After I signed up and went downtown to [the casting agency's] office for a photo shoot, I would check their website once in a while to see the status of my role. After a couple weeks of waiting, I got a text message from the website, saying to check my new job position on the page. I checked my availability to work on a couple days during spring break, and soon they officially cast me. I was originally supposed to go in on a Monday and Tuesday, but they postponed a few times, so it turned out to be a Thursday and Friday that I filmed.

I left at 5:00 Thursday morning, because I had to check in at Madison High School in East Portland at 6:00. I waited in a line for 15 minutes, and when I got up to the front, I received a form asking for my information, including my SSN, permit #, and other basic items for payment. They sent me to the school auditorium with my wardrobe (yes, they had me bring 5 outfits), and I got into another long line waiting for an outfit to be approved by a wardrobe lady. After that, everyone just chilled in the auditorium for 3 or 4 hours, waiting to be called on set. Good thing I brought a book to read.

Then, about 40 out of the 90 extras were called to be in a scene. The rest of us played games for another couple hours. A channel 8 cameraman came in and interviewed a couple extras, one of which was right next to me, so I was in the frame :). Soon after, the rest of us were called to the cafeteria.

As I walked through the halls, I saw posters with "Forks High School" written on them, dates of the prom, etc. In the cafeteria, some of the crew sat us down at tables as if we were at a restaurant. They put a tray with mostly edible food in front of each of us. I got macaroni and cheese and juice, which was too old to eat. The crew selected a few of the extras to just walk around the cafeteria, with no particular destination. After a rehearsal of the scene with the extras, the cast came in and filled a couple of tables at opposite ends of the cafeteria. Each scene was filmed 4-12 times. A little later in the day, there was a food fight, and some of the extras volunteered to throw food.

At some point during the day, I went to talk to someone I knew from the auditorium who was talking to Kristen Stewart, so I had the chance to talk to her for a minute. Near the end of the day, I was chosen by one of the crew to walk past Edward. After a tiring 13 hours, I finally got to go home. Went back the next day, repeated.

In the auditorium, which was the place where people went when they weren't filming at the moment, there were snacks. At about 1:00, we all had a 40-minute lunch break. It was better food than I had expected. It was at lunch where I walked around the corner and bumped into Edward. My claim to fame.

On day two, I sat at the table next to the Cullens, and I overheard a lot of their conversations when the camera wasn't rolling. Rosalie was crabby and really bossy toward the crew, and cussed a lot. Jasper cussed a lot, but he was more laid back. When one of the crew came up and took a picture of them, he gave the camera the bird. Alice was really nice, she seemed intelligent. Emmett was really tall. He seemed nice also. Edward was very independent, and tried to concentrate a lot, but occasionally joined in their conversations. Bella was nice when I talked to her. The actors actually got to order the food that was put in front of them, and that was when Rosalie demanded a brownie and a Propel.

Our directions during filming were to never look directly at the camera, and act like you were having a good time with the people at your table when the camera was rolling.

Overall, it was really interesting to see how they filmed movies, and it was cool to see the actors. But it was also hours and hours of waiting, and I wouldn't be willing to do it again if I didn't get paid $260.
Thanks, Steven!

(See this post for a follow-up.)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Just doing my civic duty

The good news is, our economic stimulus package showed up in our bank account today.

The bad news is, some of it will have to be spent on something as mundane and necessary as a new vacuum cleaner. I can't think of anything I would less prefer to buy with bonus money.

But our vacuum cleaner finally broke today. It was never a very good vacuum, and I never really liked it, but sometimes, when you move into an apartment and it's covered in paint dust, you need a vacuum, and you need it now. So we bought a cheap one and have just dealt with it since.

In its defense, we put it through a lot of abuse over the last few years. We used it to clean up after all kinds of projects that were probably technically beyond its ability level, but oh well. And I'm not sure it was ever the same after those few times that Jeremy used it unsupervised without knowledge of all its quirks or even basic instructions.

I knew it was a dud when the upholstery cleaning attachment broke. Not only did it break, it was unfixable. Not even by a professional - the housing of the brush tool component was not meant to open, ever, so the part that was broken, which we could easily have fixed, was trapped forever. Who designs a tool like that?

The final straw was today when I turned on the vacuum, vacuumed our entire bedroom, and realized that it hadn't picked up anything. The suction was completely gone.

Obviously, I'm not too broken up about having to throw out the vacuum that doesn't suck. I've come to the realization that appliances just aren't meant to last that long these days. In our house, we still use, without any problems, a dishwasher, washer, and dryer that are all more than 15 years old. But a three-year-old vacuum? Way past its prime.

So does anyone have any strong opinions about vacuums that they'd like to share? I'm ready to go out and stimulate the economy with a new vacuum purchase sometime in the next couple of days.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Talk of the Nation

Now that running is out, walking is in, by default. I've taken to listening to podcasts instead of music while walking - it's helped me come to terms with the (slightly) slower pace.

I'm fairly new to the whole podcast world. So far, I haven't done much exploring of what's out there beyond the NPR channel on iTunes. And even within NPR, the only ones I've listened to so far are Car Talk, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and Talk of the Nation.

The topic of the Talk of the Nation that I happened to download today was the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana scandal, which I'm sure you've all heard more about than you care to. So I won't say much, except the following.

All the guests/callers/hosts of Talk of the Nation - save one - were shocked and appalled that the photos in question managed not only to come into existence but actually be OK'd for publication in Vanity Fair. And of course I agree with them.

But you know what? The tragedy of the photos' existence and publication is secondary. To me, the primary issue to wring your hands about here is that so many tween girls were allowed to build up what is essentially the creation of a multimedia conglomerate into something approaching an infallible role model.

All the moms who called into the show spoke of their disappointment and sorrow that their daughters' favorite star, idol, and hero of life was no longer squeaky clean. With which sentiment, again, I commiserate. But a 9- or 10-year-old girl does not form such a fascination with a celebrity entirely on her own. She may initiate it, and nurture it in some ways, but it is generally the parents who will endorse or even encourage the "relationship" with all the mass-marketed hud. Hannah Montana backpacks, sparkly shirts, DVDs, dolls, and concert tickets do not buy themselves.

So before we get too worked up about the downfall of the "last good role model," perhaps we should think twice about the pedestals we put celebrities on on behalf of our children. And as for who we should teach them to look up to - well, the truth is that probably no one is 100% safe. We're better off teaching our children not to buy into manufactured hype in general, allowing their interests to develop without too much specific celebrity endorsement, and making sure they realize that everybody has choices to make and sometimes (or most times) their values will not align with our own. These are principles that can remain constant no matter who takes off their shirt next.

This is the second time I've written about Ms. Cyrus on this blog, which is a lot for someone I had never heard of before that ridiculous news story on CNN, and hadn't thought of since. Let's hope we never have to speak of her again.

Besides your thoughts on this matter, of course, in the comments below.


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