Sunday, June 29, 2008

The summer of no cooking

Some of you may be wondering how that whole "I won't have to cook for the whole summer because we all have three meals a day provided for us at the cafeteria" thing worked out. Ladies and gentlemen, we hit the jackpot, big time.

I was ready for a campus cafeteria like the one I went to occasionally back at the BYU. My dorm apartment had a kitchen but I had the option of one meal a day at the Morris Center, which I sometimes took advantage of. The food was good, I guess. There was one hot food line with one main entree and maybe a hot side or two, slopped out onto your plate by a hairnet-and-plastic-gloves-ensconced dining employee. Then there was always a fruit/salad bar and my personal favorite, soft frozen yogurt on tap (or whatever those machines are called). Nothing special, but not too shabby, either.

So then we came to Middlebury, ready for our mediocre, but paid-for, three meals a day in the cafeteria. And I was so, so very pleasantly surprised. In fact, it doesn't really deserve to be called a cafeteria. In Arabic, we all call it مطعم - "restaurant" - and that really is a better description.

On any given day, we have our choice of three to five main dishes, with at least one or two vegetarian versions. And we have yet to see sloppy joes. By "main dish," I mean things like grilled salmon, roast lamb, tofu vegetable stir-fry, etc. Besides that, there is always the choice of:
- one or two soups
- full salad bar with a myriad of toppings, dressings, oils, and seasonings
- sandwich bar with cold cuts
- fresh baked bread
- English muffins, bread, and bagels with a toaster oven and various spreads (including Fluff, whatever that is)
- cold pasta/egg/sandwich filling salad bar
- fresh fruit bar
- canned fruit bar with cottage cheese, yogurt, hummus, granola, grape nuts, etc.
- one or two baked desserts
- soft frozen yogurt on tap and four different (rotating) kinds of ice cream
- do-it-yourself fresh juice with oranges and grapefruits
- beverages, hot chocolate, coffee, tea selection (herbal varieties, too), milk, soy milk

Is there any way we could not be satisfied with all that selection? Basically, whatever you feel like having, they've got it or something like it.

Breakfast is slightly more limited, but they do have half a dozen cereals, some kind of griddle product (pancakes, waffles, or french toast), some kind of hash brown/potato, some kind of egg, and two kinds of hot cereal (oatmeal and Maypo. If you know what Maypo is, please inform us all).

All of the dishes are labeled, with their ingredients listed, with potential allergens highlighted. Also, if something contains pork (forbidden in both Islam and Judaism), the label includes a large cartoon picture of a pig, which I think is a fantastically insensitive way of being sensitive.

My favorite labeling quirk is that Monday through Friday, we are offered imitation maple syrup, and it is labeled as such. But on Saturdays and Sundays, we get Real Vermont Maple Syrup, also labeled as such. Heaven forbid we non-Vermont-natives should think we were getting the real thing when in fact, it was only imitation!

There is a small outdoor dining balcony, and this is a smidgen of the view.

We are so glad to have all our food provided for us this summer. It has been great - no, awesome - to not have to cook or do dishes or, sometimes worst of all, have to consider, "What's for dinner tonight?" Except in the passive sense, of course - more like, "What will they make for us for dinner tonight?" I look forward to the answer every day.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Is my fat tummy too fat?

Kids are so brutally honest sometimes. The other day Miriam and I were out playing on this massive campus that is essentially our backyard, and she asked if she could take a bath when we got home. I said, "sure!" Then she asked if I could come in the bath with her. Before I could answer, she was nice enough to add, "Is your fat tummy not too fat?"

Thanks, Miriam. I already feel like a walking eyesore lumbering around campus among an almost exclusively young, brilliant, and nubile female population with my toddler in tow. Now my own child has turned on me.

The times when I feel most awkward are definitely mealtimes. The entire Arabic School eats together at the cafeteria to facilitate learning opportunities and chances for lots of conversation. Like any cafeteria, the tables are all grouped in one area of the large room and the hot food serving area is in another (and the drinks are in another, and the utensils/napkins in another, and dessert in another, etc.). This means that between Miriam and me, I have to get up and down from the table and make the long walk across the room several times per meal.

And my goodness, is it ever a long walk. I really feel like everyone is staring at me, with varying degrees of disgust. TV shows and movies never show pregnant women as they really are at 8 months along. Instead, the otherwise perfectly skinny woman usually has a cute 6-month-ish belly (and sometimes is able to hide it entirely - John Locke's mom, I'm looking at you (enviously)). So in many of the students' minds, I must be some sort of an aberration from nature.

Combine that pre-existing assumption with the fact that I am always making multiple trips hauling plates of food back to our table (for me and Miriam, and occasionally Jeremy) and you can see where my self-consciousness comes from. To put it succinctly, and possibly offensively, I have BECOME that obese person who walks into Dairy Queen or Coldstone or wherever and everyone instinctively averts their eyes in righteous, unsympathetic judgment.

Also, I can't reach the (nonfat!) cottage cheese - it's on the far side of the fruit bar - and had to ask Jeremy to get some for me. Why?

Because my fat tummy is too fat. Just ask Miriam.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Book Review: The Sweet Far Thing, by Libba Bray


To those of us who are adult fans of YA lit: think back to years ago. Do you remember what it meant to be seen reading a Young Adult book? It was...OK, I guess, as long as you were sufficiently and demonstratively sheepish about it. Harry Potter was an exception, as was any book you read back in elementary or middle school and were re-reading for "purely sentimental/nostalgic reasons" (right).

Well, The Sweet Far Thing reminded me of why, exactly, that has been the way of things in the world of books: because run-of-the-mill YA books geared towards females are often embarrassingly sappy, condescending, and mediocre.

I read the first two books in the trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels) and was mildly intrigued by them. Enough to read the third book, anyway, as you see. I'm not generally a fan of books involving magic, but then, I do love Harry Potter and I wouldn't say I'm generally a fan of books about vampires, either. But The Sweet Far Thing was utterly disappointing to me. It read like one of those Sweet Valley High novels. At least, that's my best shot at a comparison since I was never allowed to read Sweet Valley High. And for good reason, if this book is any indication.

There were elements of the first two books that bothered me, but the third book really had me rolling my eyes. Here is a book that pushes all the pre-teen-and-teenaged-girl buttons but delivers no real-world consequences, or delivers them very weakly. When you consider that the book is supposed to have taken place at the end of the 19th century, the actions of some of the girls and the consequences of their decisions are even more unbelievable.

What kinds of "buttons" am I talking about? Let's see.
- the main character, a young woman, feels suffocated by society's expectations and can't wait to break free from her mundane, disciplined life. Also, she is teased a lot by her older brother and can't wait to put him in his place. Also, she is not very good at school subjects and doesn't make friends very easily. She has yet to grow into her awkward, changing body.

- another young woman character is poor, overweight, friendless, spineless, and dumpy, but she has an awesome singing voice. If only she could build up the courage to show all those who doubt her what she's really made of!

- another young woman character is on the brink of being forced into a marriage to obtain wealth for her family. During the course of the third book, out of NOWHERE, this character is revealed to be a lesbian. What the?!?!?!??!? I can only imagine this was the author's token sacrifice on the altar of misguided teen feminism. I can think of tasteful ways this plot event could have been handled, but shoving it in the book whether it fit or not is not one of them.

- back to the main character - she is in love with the one guy her parents would never want her to marry (for various time-period- and society-related reasons), and even though it's 19th-century Victorian England, she does stuff like make out with him in the laundry shack. This was another "What the!?!??!?!?" moment for me, but it was definitely overshadowed by the one mentioned above.

- anyone who hated the fate of Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean 3 will also hate the ending of this book. But you know what? Anyone who kind of liked the ending of that movie (myself included) will also hate the ending of this book. Because it's been done before (by POTC3) and better (POTC3) and more sensibly (by POTC3).

- most of the characters are so selfish and unlikeable that by the end, I wanted {character} to be forced into that marriage, if only to teach her a lesson. Or to show us modern readers what would have actually happened given the status of young women in that time period (hint: it is probably not opening a fashion boutique in Paris and living a fun, openly lesbian lifestyle).

Finally, I can't quite figure out where the YA category went wrong. On the one hand, you see all the elements above that seem to cater exclusively to pre-teen and teenaged girls' fantasies. But on the other hand, there were far, far too many adult themes - and let's face it, scenes - throughout the book for me to ever be comfortable having my daughter read it. So who is the audience here, exactly? I'm really not sure.

I have a feeling I'm going to have to wade through a lot of junk when my daughter(s) are old enough to be interested in books like these. I don't remember books having so much potentially objectionable content back when I was a pre-teen reader, unless you count Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. (Just kidding.) (Kind of.) So either the books have changed, or my mom just did an exceptionally good job of weeding out the rotten eggs. Like those Sweet Valley High books, for instance...

The birthing center

I really had no idea what was waiting for me here in Middlebury as far as prenatal care and delivery facilities went. The two major wildcards were the one available midwifery practice and the Porter Hospital Birthing Center. If the first didn't work out for whatever reason, I knew there would be at least a few OBs in town for backup. Fortunately, as you know, the midwifery practice looks like it's going to work out just fine.

Porter Hospital, from the hospital's website

But there's only one hospital in Middlebury, so I was anxious to see it for myself. Yesterday, I took a tour of the Birthing Center and to my immense relief, it is a wonderful facility.

Miriam and I took the bus there. It is technically within walking distance, but it would have been a long walk. When the bus pulled up to the hospital stop, the bus driver asked me if I was in labor. I laughed and said I was just there to take a tour. He breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Good, but if you were in labor, you should have told me and I would have raced right over here." I'm glad to know the bus drivers of Middlebury are looking out for us car-less pregnant ladies.

A birthing room, from the hospital website

There is one pre-partum room and four birthing rooms at the Birthing Center. The Birth Center in Tucson only has three birthing rooms, and I suspect they get a lot more traffic than Middlebury does. When we visited yesterday afternoon, there was no one there but the nursing staff. The birthing rooms also serve as recovery rooms, which is a nice bonus.

The thing I was most excited to discover about the birthing rooms is that they each have their own huge tub with shower attachment and optional chair. Water was what helped the most during labor with Miriam, so I have a feeling I will definitely be utilizing that benefit. What's interesting is that while the hospital provides the tubs, it doesn't technically allow water births. I asked the midwife how they enforce that, and she kind of shrugged and said, "they don't like you pushing while you're in the water." Also, apparently, this policy is on the table and might be changed in the near future. I'm not an expert on birthing facilities or anything, but the fact that a small-town hospital even has a birthing center, and that said birthing center has tubs for every room, and that they are even considering allowing water births - it sounds very progressive, don't you think? It's interesting, anyway.

Each mom is only allowed to have two guests with her during labor. I can imagine a lot of people having major damage with that policy, but I think I like it. In Tucson, some of the delivery rooms were full to bursting with all kinds of friends and family, all chatting on cell phones, creating noise and being boisterous, and clogging up the hallways and other facilities. When Miriam was born, the only people in our room were me (obviously), Jeremy, the midwife, and the nurse. So I don't think I'll have a problem with the two guest limit.

Another policy that some people might have a problem with, but that I think will be OK for me: there is no nursery. The baby stays with you all the time, except for a brief trip out of the room for those standard newborn tests and screens.

You can wear whatever you want at the Birthing Center - they don't make you wear those snappy hospital gowns. Which, on the one hand, is awesome. But on the other, it's kind of nice not to have to worry about getting your own clothes terribly stained. So I'm still undecided on this one.

Now, about those epidurals. I asked the nurse about it and sure enough, they do not offer them. They do offer intrathecals, which also have side effects but are not as all-numbing as an epidural. At least, that's how I understood her explanation. I'm really hoping to not have to find out any more about them.

I feel so, so lucky to have such a nice facility available here. It is very new, as is the midwifery practice, so if we had been here two years ago or even last year, it would have been a totally different experience.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A battle for the heart and mind of Miriam

If the Arabic School at Middlebury had a mascot, I think it would be Miriam. As you know if you've read any of my Jordan or Syria blogs, Arabs love kids. And Arabs who happen to be living in America, teaching at an intensive Arabic program for the summer, are no exception.

Somehow, I forget between each summer how much attention cute little blonde kids get in Arabia (or pseudo-Arabia, as we are experiencing here). And also how many sweets. Many of the faculty here have turned to flat-out bribery to win Miriam's affections. I'm afraid it's started a bit of an arms race.

The director got her to learn his name by showing her pictures of his own kids - never mind that the pictures are 7 or 8 years old and the cute baby girl, who is Miriam's favorite to look at, is now 10 or 11. Another teacher showed Miriam her gold cell phone and even let her hold it. That scored major points, at least for a little while, until the director trumped that with his Blackberry phone.

One of the veiled teachers struck out to an early lead, but it wasn't really fair since Miriam is partial to muhajjibas. And when the hijab is purple and sparkly - well, let's just say that it was all Miriam could talk about for a few days.

Yesterday, yet another teacher stopped by our house and gave Miriam a little toy phone. She reigned as favorite for a day, until the veiled teacher gave her some M&Ms at lunchtime. And so it continues.

In the "slow and steady wins the race" category are two Americans, one a teacher and one an admin employee. Both of them understand that the best way to become a little girl's favorite is not always sneaking up behind her and tickling her, especially when you're the fifth (I'm not exaggerating) person to do so in the last five minutes. So we'll see where they end up by the end of the summer.

Fortunately, after a rough week or so of jetlag and getting adjusted to her new surroundings, Miriam really is starting to warm up to everything a little more. The other day at dinner in the cafeteria, the director made some general announcements and then brought the microphone over to Miriam and asked her to count to ten in Arabic for everyone. To my complete surprise, she did it, no problem, in front of everyone. Actually, she only counted to nine, but she said "nine" with such a triumphant flourish that we all clapped and cheered anyway.

I hope Miriam is getting old enough to realize that we only allow her to be so spoiled during the summers. In Jordan in 2006, it was being fed chocolate cake by our landlady (but only once, and against my will). In 2007, it was getting a free lollipop at every visit to the corner store. This summer, apparently, it's being showered with gifts.

But come fall, real life will start again.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A visit to the midwife

I had my first visit with the midwife yesterday. Vermont seems to be all about the smaller, separated-but-interconnected-town-communities, which means that although Middlebury itself doesn't have any practicing midwives, Vergennes, a few towns over, does.

It took me a while, but I finally figured out the bus schedule well enough to get Miriam and me to my appointment in Vergennes, just on time. The 50-minute bus ride there was through beautiful, verdant countryside, dotted only occasionally by homes, farms, and Amish-built playground businesses.

The bus system here allows for up to 1/2-mile deviations from the route for stop requests, so Miriam and I were dropped off right at the midwife's office.

I hesitate to make the following observations for two reasons. First, because I don't want this to turn into an "everything is better here" post. Second, because so far I really only have had one experience here to compare with many back in Tucson.

But let me just say, I was very impressed with this midwifery practice. Their office was clean, tastefully furnished, and not overflowing with harried patients. The toys they had out for kids to play with were well organized, engaging, non-scary, and I didn't feel like I had to sanitize Miriam's hands immediately after contact with them. As an extra bonus, the receptionist spoke English intelligently, was helpful, did not talk smack or disclose private information about other patients right in front of me, and was not surly.

All of that is superficial. As far as the stuff that really matters go, the midwife is awesome. Our visit was unhurried, even with all the "catch-up" information they had to go through with me since I'm so far along already. She felt around for Sasha 2.0 and she thinks she has turned head-down (woo-hoo!), though she's not 100% positive. They'll check again in two weeks and send me in for a scan if they still can't tell for sure at that point. She also said it's OK if I stop standing on my head three times a day to try to turn the baby, which is good, because I wasn't doing it anyway.

So, anyway. Very enthused about the midwife. After the visit, Miriam and I walked around Vergennes for a while and spent time at the library's kids' section to kill the two hours until the next Middlebury bus came. We didn't get home from our 11 o'clock appointment until 3.30pm. Yes, it took six hours to complete the simple task of seeing the midwife, but my time means less here.

We'll go on a tour of the hospital's birthing center sometime next week. Fortunately, the hospital is right here in Middlebury, just a mile or two away from campus. I'll be sure to report all the juicy details of the facility there. For a teaser, let me just share with you the fact that this hospital does not offer epidurals, at all. More details to come.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Arabic freak show

I know there are lots of people who read this blog who have no interest in Arabic or, for that matter, Arabic-related posts. But there are also readers who probably aren't interested in anything I say on here except the Arabic stuff. Hopefully, we can all co-exist in peace. Because here comes an Arabic post.

When I heard about the concept of Middlebury Language Schools several years ago, I have to admit that I was skeptical. Many, many people disagree with me, but I've always felt like speaking a foreign language to another speaker of your native language was...incestuous, somehow, on some level, for lack of a better word. The Language Schools here, however, run entirely on that principle: basically, you speak to everyone, all the time, with very, very few exceptions. And unlike "SYL" Mormon missions, the students here actually do it. It's amazing.

It also leads to some interesting situations, like the one Jeremy and I witnessed/overheard when we visited here for a conference five years ago. A student returned home to his room (it was next to ours) and walked in on his roommate "hanging out" with another student. A female student. In the dark. The entire awkward exchange that followed was spoken completely in Arabic. If that isn't the height of language study dedication, I don't know what is.

So now that I'm a little more used to the idea, it's not so bad. It's not like we're out in the real world and speaking a foreign language to each other just to show off. And there are enough teachers around to keep the grammar from getting too far off the mark.

The "freak show" part comes in when you have a group of students sharing a table for lunch and they all have completely different backgrounds of Arabic study, including having studied in different countries and acquired different dialects. So you'll have a newbie who speaks hardly anything above textbook, first-year formal Arabic conversing with someone who studied for a year in Egypt and speaks the dialect fluently. The weirdest thing I've encountered so far was the other night at dinner. There was a girl at the table who had studied Arabic for several years and is in one of the higher-level classes here at Middlebury, but she only speaks formal Arabic. Exclusively! - not one word of dialect. I had heard that such people exist, but to try to communicate with one (when you've only ever learned a dialect, like me) was an exercise in futility. It went something like this:

Me: (conversational contribution in Syrian Arabic)
Her: (blank stare)
Me: (lots of elaborate hand gestures to convey a basic point)
Her: (conversational response in formal Arabic)
Me: (blank stare)

Repeat, repeat, repeat. I think everyone else at the table was having a good time watching us.

I know I should learn formal Arabic so I can communicate more broadly with more of those kinds of students, but I just can't work up the motivation when there are many, many others who speak enough dialect - from whatever country - to chat about the basics with me.

I'll leave you with a video we made of Miriam counting to ten in Arabic. Jeremy used it to help teach his class about numbers. She's known how to do this since late last summer in Jordan, and in fact, for a while she could do it better in Arabic than in English. But then all of a sudden she decided it was "uncool" to speak in Arabic and we've really had to work at getting her back in the groove.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Our house, in the middle of a campus

Let me tell you about the house we're living in. First, the Arabic School coordinator is basically my new best friend - she actually took individual family circumstances into account when she was assigning faculty to their housing. For us, that meant that we were not assigned to a single dorm room amongst other students, with a bathroom down the hall (though I did have a good bedpan-based contingency plan at the ready, just in case).

Instead, we're in a lovely, shared dorm-type, freestanding house, but still on campus and in the middle of everything. We have two (tiny) ground-floor bedrooms to ourselves, filled with a total of three twin beds (we sleep on two of them pushed together), two desks, some shelves, and a closet each. I'm thrilled about the shelves - every other place we've moved to "abroad" has been shockingly short on shelves. So of course, this summer, when we bring along the fewest books we ever have, there is shelf space galore. I'm working on filling it up with library books.

The living area and kitchen are shared with the other Arabic faculty member who lives upstairs. I'm really wondering if this house was built before the advent of electricity. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was, because a) there are not nearly enough electrical outlets, and b) they are all in extremely odd locations, such as an inch above the floor in the corner behind the bathroom door.

All the floors and doors are very creaky, and there's a door to the basement that I opened on the first night we were here but I don't think I will ever do so again.
We've had thunderstorms almost every day since being here, which is awesome except that there's a leak in said basement-of-terror, and the pump has to be on all day to keep the water from building up down there. Which is also fine with me, again, except that said pump is ancient and shakes the whole house in regular intervals of about 2 minutes. It's been on since Saturday night and every time she hears it, Miriam still asks me, in a fearful voice, "Mama, what is that noise? Can you keep me safe?"

The back and front yards are expansive and grassy, so that's where Miriam and I have been spending most of our time these days. Miriam is working on winning the squirrels' trust, day by day.

There are no laundry facilities in the house, so it looks like Miriam and I will be making a weekly pilgrimage to one of the residence halls to take care of that. I already feel like such a spectacle (gigantically pregnant woman with toddler in tow) that hauling a suitcase full of laundry across campus can hardly make it worse. Right?

All in all, we're very happy here. I think I would be enjoying our house even more if I wasn't constantly getting stuck in all the tight corners. Perhaps the designers of this house from 150+ (?) years ago did it on purpose to discourage college students from getting pregnant. Further evidence of this theory is the lack of comfortable seating anywhere in the house. But for the next couple of months, it's home sweet home. And I'm perfectly satisfied.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Security breech

At my last midwife appointment before leaving Tucson, they told me Sasha 2.0 was breech. That's not really a big deal at 30 weeks (which I was at the time, and again, that's out of 40 total weeks in case you're wondering), even if only one out of four or five babies are in that position that far along in a pregnancy.

Now I'm a little over 33 weeks, and as far as I can tell, Sasha hasn't decided to flip around to the correct position. However, it is notoriously difficult for me to tell exactly how she's situated inside of me. I know that must sound strange, but even if I think I can identify limbs or large segments of body just from feeling them, it's almost impossible for me to put it all together into a 3D image of the baby inside of me.

I have a midwife appointment here in Middlebury later this week, and I'm hoping they'll be able to tell me for sure if she's turned or not.

All of this is not really a big deal, and as far as things going "wrong" in pregnancy, breech position is pretty tame. Except for one thing - most midwives will not deliver breech babies, and in fact, the standard method of delivery for such a situation is C-section.

Yes, the dreaded C-word. That's what's really bothering me about this whole thing. Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against C-sections or the people who choose or are required to have them. But that person was never me. I was all set on visualizing an improved birth experience over my first and all of a sudden I feel like someone has thrown a bucket of cold water on me. I think every woman probably has "C-section" floating around somewhere in the farthest recesses of her mind when she's pregnant, but now it's shoved its way up a few notches of consideration.

I've tried not to think about it too much because Sasha 2.0 still has a few weeks to turn, but I can't help but worry, at least a little bit.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Last night we took a walk over to see Jeremy's office. On the way, Miriam suddenly looked up at me and asked, "Mama, how do you say نحلة in Arabic?"

So maybe she'll be OK with this whole Arabic thing after all.

(For those of you who don't speak Arabic, "نحلة" is Arabic for "bee." Miriam learned it in Arabic first last summer, which explains why her question doesn't really make sense.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Welcome to Middlebury

We're in Middlebury at last, and so far it feels a bit like we've landed in a little piece of heaven. I know that we'll find some annoying things about life here eventually, probably sooner than we'd like, but it's nice to be enjoying ourselves so immensely in the meantime.

Vermont is gorgeous, and that is coming from someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, which is also no slacker when it comes to verdancy. And the weather, people, the weather! Yes, I know it will get humid and hotter, but at the moment it's that ideal 75 degrees, sunny, with a light breeze. Tomorrow, we're expecting an afternoon thunderstorm.

Here is where we are living:

Considering that I was fully prepared to be living in a single dorm room with a communal kitchen and shared, down-the-hall bathroom, our two bedrooms and private bathroom in this house are a dream come true. (Another Arabic faculty member lives upstairs.)

The Middlebury campus is beautiful, and to poor grass-deprived Miriam it is a kids' wonderland of sorts.

The cafeteria, where we all get our three meals a day, is like something out of the Food Network. It deserves its own post, so that's all I'll say for now.

The only downside I can really think of right now is that a few of the Arabic faculty left their families, or at least younger children, at home this summer. So there aren't going to be as many little Arab playmates for Miriam as I had hoped there would be.

The students arrive today and everyone takes the language pledge sometime this weekend. Soon it will be all Arabic, at least in public. I'm hoping that once Miriam gets over her jet lag and grandparents/cousins/aunts/uncles-induced temporary spoiling, she'll be more amenable to the idea of speaking Arabic.

As it is, the first day we arrived I said something to her in Arabic and she looked at me and said, "Mama, don't say that."


Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Inconvenience" doesn't quite describe it

You know how sometimes, there's an incident at a place of business and to protect everyone else from one person's stupidity they have to put up a sign?

Well, if that's the case here (a feminine product dispenser in a women's restroom in a Portland movie theater), I don't even want to know what the incident was.

("This machine does not dispense tampons it dispenses sour drops. We apologize for any inconvenience.")

And yes, we're in Middlebury now, as of 12 hours ago, but any posts about that will have to wait for a minor blog re-design.

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Miriam by any other name

Our daughter's full name is Miriam Damascus Palmer. When we named her, I never had any idea that she would ever have a nickname. It's not that I'm against nicknames, at all, but "Miriam" just didn't seem to lend itself to any particularly handy abbreviation. (I have since been proved wrong, very adorably, by Lark's Mimi.)

But I underestimated the linguistic prowess of a 17-month-old. When Miriam was almost a year and a half old, she was still having trouble saying her name. One day, we prompted her to say "Miriam," and what came out was...

Well, here's the thing. It's been almost another year and a half since that day, and I still don't know how to spell Miriam's preferred nickname.

It's pronounced something like "May-may," but not so deliberately. Like "Mei-mei," but non-Chinese/Japanese-influenced. Or maybe "Mae-mae," but not old-lady-ish?

I've been using "MeMe" pretty consistently on the rare occasions where I need to write it down, making sure to put a second capital M in there to discourage people from thinking my daughter's nickname is pronounced "Meem." But even with "MeMe," there's the risk of people thinking it's the same as Mimi, which it's not, because it's spelled differently, duh.

Then my mom had the brilliant idea of using the e-acute (é) to clarify the pronunciation (think "café"). And so I think I can finally say, with confidence, that my daughter's self-chosen nickname is spelled:


What do you think? If you saw that written down, would you know how to pronounce it? If you hadn't read this blog post, and Miriam told you her nickname, how would you have spelled it in your mind?

I just want to make sure I'm doing the right thing by little Miriam Damascus.

For a nickname chosen by a 17-month-old, you have to admit that MéMé is a pretty cute one. I think Jeremy and I were both surprised at how well it stuck. She has continued to refer to herself as MéMé even though she's been able to pronounce Miriam for a long time now. If you ask her what her name is, she'll answer "MéMé." Before she was proficient with personal pronouns, all of her possessions (and some things that weren't hers at all) were "MéMé's." So now, whenever I introduce her to a new person or group of kids, I find myself clarifying that "her name is Miriam, but she'll probably call herself MéMé." It's become its own persona, and it's one that Miriam strongly identifies with.

I think the real test of the nickname's strength will be when she starts school in a few years. It will be interesting to see what identity she will choose: Miriam or MéMé?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

24 hours of blessed freedom

All of you readers who have extended family living nearby might just laugh at this post, because it may not be that out of the ordinary for you. But for those of us who see our families maybe once a year, you know this is a special event.

Yesterday, Jeremy and I "got away" and left Miriam in the combined care of Grandpa/Grandma and my brother Blair and his wife and kids. This was the first time since Miriam was born that I've spent a night away from her. In fact, I think the longest stretch of time I've been away from her before this was somewhere around 6 hours, but it's always been during the day. Unless you count the time I was sick with norovirus and puking my guts out all night, and recently recovered Jeremy had to take care of sick Miriam for probably 8 hours. On second thought, let's not count that.

For a getaway, ours might seem pretty cheapskate and lame, at least on the surface. We had looked into several options for a fun mini-vacation, including the Columbia Gorge, the Oregon Coast (where we had our honeymoon), and downtown Portland. But as you might have guessed, all of these options, while totally awesome, were also very expensive.

In the end, we ended up using my dad's Intel discount to get a cheap rate at a Homestead Suites less than 3 miles from my home. We used free movie tickets we got at Christmas (yes, it's been that long since we've been to the movies) to go see the new Indiana Jones movie, and then went back to the hotel and warmed up leftover stew we brought from home in the kitchenette. The most luxurious part? Eating dinner, on the bed, while watching TV. This meant: no monitoring a tiny person's food intake and not having to urge on every bite, no sitting at the table until everyone was finished (as nice as family dinners are, you have to admit it's wonderful to have a break), and enjoying the choice of a few dozen channels instead of just three. Heavenly.

In the morning we walked to IHOP for breakfast and then went to a bookstore and read the first chapter of Breaking Dawn from the new special edition of Eclipse. When we went to pick up Miriam at my brother's house, she hardly looked up from playing with Play-Doh to greet us. It was as if we hadn't left her at all.

Even though it was only 24 hours, it was a much-needed break from real life and from the daily tedium of taking care of a 2.75-year-old. I'm not saying that walking Miriam through the bedtime routine tonight is going to be a fantastically new and awesome chore to me, but at least I'll have had a small reminder of what life is like without kids.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The medicine cabinet

I hesitated posting about this, but I've decided to just go for it. Those of you who know my family have probably already figured out what they're like, and those of you who don't know them probably never will. So here goes.

I was looking for some kind of pain reliever the other day because I could feel a bad headache coming on. For as long as I can remember, my family has kept the medicines in the cabinet above the fridge, "organized" (I use the term very loosely) in separate shoeboxes.

Well, since I left home, they've apparently stepped up the organization level and actually labeled the boxes. When I opened the cabinet, this is what I saw:

(In case you can't see well enough, the boxes are labeled, from right to left, "First Aid," "Cold/Cough," "Diarrhea," and "Allergy/Nail Polish.")

That's right, folks. Diarrhea gets its own box. According to this system, a bad case of the runs is equivalent, emergency wise, to a severely bleeding flesh wound. Or the combination of hay fever and needing to repaint your nails.

In my family's defense, the diarrhea box shares with allergy medicines, but the "allergy" was covered up, and also, it belongs over with the nail polish anyway.

At least now I know where to go in an emergency.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Evergreen-colored glasses

Miriam walking on the beach at the Oregon Coast.

We're in Oregon now, visiting my family. We haven't been here for a year and a half, so I've had some time to forget what it's like here, apparently. We arrived in the middle of the night and when I stepped outside the house the next morning, it was like I was in a place where nature uses a completely different color palette. It really felt like I was wearing some kind of filtered glasses that let in all the greens, rich browns, and manicured lawns, and filtered out any kind of desert sandy color or direct sunshine.

I also hadn't realized how vast and open the desert feels. Here in Oregon, it wouldn't be hard to feel claustrophobic because of all the rolling hills and trees that tower over everything. You can't really see anything for any great distance.

But of course, I love it. Jeremy's been giving me a bad time for the past few days because of all the good things I've been saying about the Northwest. The other day, someone in front of us ran a red light and Jeremy sarcastically said, "Can you believe that, Bridget? Can you believe that someone who lives in Oregon ran a red light?!?!? I thought that only happened in Tucson!" So maybe I've taken it a little over the top, but in any case, it's nice to be back for a visit.

Soon we'll head off to Vermont and start that adventure. I'll be keeping the same blog address but I'll probably temporarily change the name to My Adventures in Middlebury. I hope that doesn't confuse anyone too much.


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