Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Can we fix it?" "No, you can't!"

My dad was in town for a day or two last week. He asked me what activities he should do while he was here. On the short list: the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the botanical gardens, riding his bike up Mt. Lemmon, and installing a new above-range microwave.

Our old microwave - brand "EWave," which immediately made me think of Magnetbox, Panaphonic, and Sorny - broke for the third time almost a year ago. First, the handle broke off. Apparently, somebody on the EWave microwave design team didn't realize that handles were not meant to be fragile objects. After it broke off, we used a butter knife to pry the door open. Next, the keypad went on the fritz. You could still use the microwave, but only sometimes. Finally, the microwave itself stopped functioning. There was just no way around it - it was broken, broken, broken.

Since then, we've been using a regular old countertop microwave we already owned. So for many months now, the first item on my honey-do list for Jeremy has been "Get this microwave the heck off my counter."

When my dad came to town, we headed off to Lowe's to check out our options for self-installing a new microwave. For reasons not entirely clear to me, Lowe's decided to hire a wet blanket for an appliance salesman.

Our first question for him was whether we (well, my dad) would be able to install the microwave by ourselves. "Oh, I doubt it," he said, "but we do offer home delivery and installation for $150."

OK, then. How about the installation kit? And can we use the old bolt placements that are already there? "Well, the hardware is included with the microwave," but "no, no, you couldn't use the old stuff. Our delivery service, however, will just take away your old one and put in the new."

When I found the cheapest acceptable microwave: "Oh, that one's on clearance. And actually, we're out of stock. You'd have to just take the floor model."

We finally found an in-stock, not-too-expensive microwave and decided to just go for it and do it ourselves. But just to make sure, we asked if we could hire an installation guy to come over and finish the job if we found we couldn't do it. It almost killed the salesman to let us walk out of there without using his precious delivery service, but grudgingly, he admitted that we could.

You know how Bob the Builder's motto is "Can we fix it? Yes, we can!"? Well, this grumpy Lowe's appliance salesman's motto was "No, you can't!"

My dad didn't really notice this attitude, which means either that my dad is less perceptive of other people's moods or else that I went in there with a chip on my shoulder, expecting to be mistreated and looked down upon because I am a woman.

The removal and installation ended up going very well, thanks to my dad.

Breaking Dawn and Twilight were on hand to provide additional support height in case the microwave fell while my dad was removing it.

Here is the old piece of junk. We considered putting it out by the side of the road - we have previously rid ourselves of an entertainment center and an ancient barbecue in that manner (the barbecue was gone before we'd even walked back into the house). But this microwave was not only broken, it was broken in three ways. So we threw it out.

The finished product. I feel like I have twice as much kitchen space now that I don't have a broken microwave hanging out above my stove and another microwave hogging a whole corner of the counter.

When it was all done, and I was sure we had been successful installing the microwave, I asked my dad if he wanted to go back to Lowe's and say "in your face!" to the salesman. Sadly, he declined.

So, in the case of "Can we [replace] it?" although Lowe's would have you believe otherwise, the answer is: "Yes, we can!" Especially if your dad is in town.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Flashback Friday: The Russians are listening!

As you'll remember from last week's Flashback Friday (in which I was accused, in all seriousness, of attempting to murder my husband), our theme is Stories from Russia.

The US Embassy (on the right). It's not quite like it was in The Saint, is it?

A lot of people have a hard time believing this when we tell them, but it is a fact that we were spied on by the Russians while we worked in the embassy in Moscow. At the very least, it was a fact that the embassy security people (I've forgotten their official name already - although they could be called, informally, "the people in charge of scaring the crap out of you and turning you into a highly distrustful, suspicious, paranoid person) told us we were spied on. All the time, everywhere, we had to be on our guard. Including in our own apartment, because it was bugged, as well as entered and searched on a regular basis.

But we didn't need anybody to tell us that, because it was obvious. On one of our first few days in the country, we came home in the evening to find a book missing from our bookshelf. Which book? A Chechen-English dictionary. In retrospect, that was probably not the best book to bring along from home on a diplomatic assignment, but we were new. And we got the message.

Our apartment.

It's amazing how quickly you can get used to the idea of someone listening in to your daily life, going through your stuff when you're not there, and possibly following you around when you're walking in the city. After a few months, we had trained ourselves so well as to what we could and couldn't talk about at home that it was almost second nature. The unspoken (literally) rule was simply: we pretend we don't know you're listening/watching/following, and you pretend you don't know we know you're listening/watching/following.

There were a few slip-ups, though. One afternoon, we were sitting on the couch talking when we noticed that a newspaper article we had hanging up on the wall was suddenly gone. We had put it on the wall just because it quoted a friend of ours (it was this article, and it's good reading), and a few of our favorite parts were highlighted. Apparently, this attracted the attention of our minders because the article was gone from the wall. Without thinking, I said, "hey, where's that article?" Before I even got to the end of the sentence, I realized it was probably better to just pretend not to notice.

The next day, the article was back on the wall.

Jeremy with his embassy badges on his last day of work.

It wasn't all bad. The place we lived provided minimal maid service: they cleaned our bathroom, wiped down the kitchen sink, and supplied us with toilet paper. They consistently didn't give us enough TP, however, and we must have complained aloud about it a lot because soon afterward, we came home to find a huge pile of TP rolls waiting for us in the bathroom. Thanks!

There were a few other times when we got what we wanted without ever asking. In fact, eventually we were tempted to start complaining how thirsty we were, and how a few cold drinks now and then would really hit the spot, but we decided not to push our luck.

So you see, being spied on is not all bad, though it did take some time to get ourselves back to normal once we were in America again. Sometimes I feel bad for whoever was assigned to us in Moscow because we must have seemed like the most boring people on earth. Except for when they got to read that Daily Universe article - those were fun times, I'm sure.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The United States of Mind

I just love it when other people's painstakingly conducted research confirms my gut feelings, sneaking suspicions, and ill-informed observations.

The other day, The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled "The United States of Mind." Haven't you ever felt like a certain state just had a certain kind of vibe? Or that all the people from [state] are just a certain way? This article quantified those kinds of general impressions and turned them into a nifty, color-coded map for our judgment-making convenience.

I love Oregon. I really do. I grew up there, so of course that has a lot to do with it. When asked what it is I like about Oregon, though, there's not a lot I can say. I like the greenery, I like the proximity of both the mountains and the beach, and I even like the weather. But those are all boring, non-dynamic physical attributes. What I really want to be able to say is that I love Oregon because of what it is, or rather, what its people make it.

Thanks to this new research, I think I can safely say that I love Oregon because it is introverted, agreeable, moderately neurotic, and open.

You know where else I really enjoyed living? Vermont. And take a look at its stats, specifically how it compares with Oregon:

When we were in Vermont, I could tell there was some intangible quality that made Vermont and Oregon similar, beyond all the greenery and recycling weirdos. And now my suspicions are proved correct.

And I always knew there was just something about Arizona that I wouldn't be able to get over, even if I did manage to fall in love with rock yards and unkempt transients hanging around everywhere:

Compared with the kind of state that I love, Arizona is slightly too extroverted, not agreeable enough, way too conscientious, and not very open.

Finally, a way to put the feeling of "I just don't really like it here" into words.

How about your states?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And baby makes four

It's been seven weeks since Magdalena was born so I think I can control myself enough to write this post without getting all weepy. I wanted to write it when she was brand-new, since the emotions were so fresh, but then I realized that they were too fresh and I would never be able to get through it.

Before Magdalena was born, our family was a little club. It was Jeremy, Miriam, and me. Just us three. We were buds. We had our routines, our jokes, our favorite things to do. We were an exclusive, three-person club.

It wasn't always like that. Jeremy and I were married for almost four years before Miriam was born and guess what those four years were like? Yep. A club. It was Jeremy and me. Just us two. We were buds. You get the idea.

And then along came little Miriam Damascus, two weeks early, catching us totally by surprise. Surprise in the sense that she was early, yes, but also surprise in the sense that she TOTALLY ROCKED OUR WORLD. It took quite a while to get used to her, and used to there being three of us.

For a long time, I mourned the loss of Jeremy's and my relationship as it had been. I knew it could be just as good, but it would always be different now, always. I grieved for our exclusive, two-person club, but eventually moved on and came to appreciate the three of us.

When Magdalena was born, I found myself mourning the loss of a relationship yet again. This time, it was the special relationship I had with Miriam. To sum up my feelings at the worst moments: What have I done?? I felt so sad, so sorry for her, and so unsure about the place Magdalena could have in our family. Could she ever truly belong to our club?

Enough time has passed now that I think I can answer my own question: What have I done? I've given Miriam a chance to have a sister to teach, care for, and play, fight, and grow up with. I've given Magdalena the same. For Jeremy and me, there has been the joy of re-discovering all of Miriam's amazing skills and independence that we took for granted before. They're hard to miss now that we can compare them with Magdalena's almost complete helplessness.

I think I can safely say that we are a club again. It's Jeremy, Miriam, Magdalena, and me. Just the four of us.

Monday, September 22, 2008

You know your church building is in the middle of a meth neighborhood if...

...the flyers for the women's enrichment group meeting advertise that "dinner, childcare, and security will be provided."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Flashback Friday: Would you like secondhand smoke with your gastrointestinal distress?

We've reminisced about camping for the last three installments of Flashback Friday. Let's move on to another theme: stories from Russia.

My Russian driver's license. Somehow the photographer managed to make me look like a Young Pioneer of the Soviet Union.

Moscow, Russia, early 2002: President Vladimir Putin was busy impressing the world with his skills in judo, German, and non-smoking. September 11th having only recently occurred, the Russians were temporarily feeling love and sympathy for their American friends (they would get back to disliking and mistrusting us by the end of the year). The temperature outside was 20 degrees below zero, making the snow drifts so dry that to walk through them was like plowing through sand. The boogers in our noses froze immediately upon stepping out of doors. While walking around in the city, we not only had to keep a clear eye for icy patches on the "sidewalks," but also be aware of any large icicles falling down from the roof overhangs of nearby buildings. A few people every year are killed by large chunks of ice falling on them. Such is the treachery of a Russian winter.

So cold. So very, very cold.

Somewhere in the middle of this Muscovite winter were newlyweds Jeremy and Bridget. Jeremy was working at the US Embassy and I was working as a private tutor in different places around the city. One Saturday, after only about three weeks in the country, we went out exploring in Moscow. On the way home, Jeremy picked up some blini for a snack at a street stand. Remember that fact, because it becomes important when later that night, he started puking them up.

Of course, of course, it was the middle of the night by the time he was sick enough for us to realize that he needed to see a doctor. I didn't really know how to deal with a violently ill husband, much less a violently ill husband in a country whose language I didn't really speak yet. I ended up calling the embassy and talking to the medic on duty. He casually recommended I get a taxi and take Jeremy to a nearby medical center. His attitude was so nonchalant, as if it was the most normal thing in the world to venture out into this freezing Moscow winter night with a sick husband.

Still, I didn't really have a choice. Jeremy was very, very sick. So I called the reception desk of the building where we lived and asked them to call a cab for me. At the very least, I wouldn't have to wait for a random taxi to pick us up. We bundled up and I helped Jeremy downstairs and into the taxi. Jeremy told him where to go and we sped off into the night, the driver lighting a cigarette as we went. The smell was making me gag; I could hardly imagine how it was making Jeremy feel.

One of the other of us managed to get the driver to stop smoking. I think it helped when Jeremy basically threatened to vomit all over his car if he didn't. He dropped us off at the medical center and we hustled inside.

If there is something more unpleasant than having to submit to medical tests while you are throwing up, it is probably having to do so while also explaining your symptoms in a foreign language. Poor Jeremy had to think beyond his misery enough to remember how to say things like "my bowels hurt" and "no, I am not vomiting blood" in Russian. The doctor seemed vaguely incompetent, though that may have been because he kept trying to express himself in English and he wasn't very good at it.

Once he'd given Jeremy some medicine to calm his system down, the doctor started asking him questions about what might have caused this illness. At this point, I was in the hallway just outside the examination room, trying to get some rest on a few chairs I'd pushed together. While the doctor went through a brief list of possible causes, I heard him ask, "is there, perhaps, someone who you think would try to do this to you?" followed by an awkward, obvious look at me.

Yes, friends. I'd just been accused by a Russian doctor of trying to poison my husband. It was a low point in our 2.5 months of marriage.

By morning, with the help of an IV, Jeremy was feeling well enough to go home. They gave him a few prescriptions for some medicine that might help. I don't know what Jeremy did to offend the doctor, but it must have been bad because one of the prescriptions told him to take "one suppository per rectum." We think that was the doctor's passive-aggressive way of calling Jeremy...something not very nice.

It was good to be home and have the first emergency situation of our marriage behind us. Unfortunately, that wasn't the last time one or both of us needed urgent care in a foreign country. In fact, now that I think about it, it wasn't even the last time we made a trip to that particular medical center, though the next time was many months later, and it was for me, and it was for pneumonia (at least the doctor - and it was the same one - couldn't accuse Jeremy of trying to kill me with that one).

And I even got out of there without the doctor using a medical prescription to call me a jerk.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Anatomy of a blowout

Today was Storytime day at the library. I enjoy Storytime for Miriam's sake, though I don't get much out of it myself. Miriam loves it, though, and I get a chance to pick up all the books I've had on hold all week.

It's been a bit trickier to manage Storytime since Magdalena was born. There's Miriam, which is fine, because she can walk. But then I have Magdalena in the sling, my purse/diaper bag (currently occupying the same space), a blanket for any nursing sessions that may arise, and a bag full of books to return. I don't know that there is any sight more awkward than that of me and the above entourage making our way into the library, unless it is me with all that hud + baby reading stories to Miriam while possibly nursing Magdalena, trying not to flash the security guard who seems to always be hanging around the children's section.

Today, Magdalena took it up a notch. We had finished Storytime successfully, and I had picked up all three books they had on hold for me (Found, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, and Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History). We settled in on a tiny couch in the children's section and I nursed Magdalena while reading stories to Miriam.

As Magdalena nursed away, I could tell she was working on a bowel movement. She'd been working on it all morning, actually, and I was absent-mindedly trying to recall if she had successfully pooed or not before we left for the library.

That question quickly resolved itself when I felt Magdalena soil her diaper. I use the word "felt" in the sense that I felt her push it out, but also that I physically felt poo on my hands. And it was spreading, slowly and sickeningly, across her back and onto my lap as I held her while she nursed. And she just kept pooing, and pooing, and pooing.

All of this was concealed underneath the nursing blanket, of course, and I was still reading Miriam a story even as a cold sweat of terror came over me. I hadn't looked yet, but I knew that my lap was covered in poo. I knew that Magdalena was covered in poo. I also knew that we somehow had to check out our books and get out of the library with all of our hud, without getting even more poo all over everything (library card, books, library employee, carseat). This was a difficult thing to do even without having to worry about feces, and now, as I said, Magdalena had managed to kick the intensity up a notch.

You may be wondering why I didn't just make a beeline for the bathroom. The fact that I didn't should tell you just how bad the situation was. I couldn't even comprehend the logistics of trying to clean up a blowout like that in any place other than at home, in the bathtub, with a washing machine in close proximity.

When she was done nursing, I carefully covered Magdalena with the blanket but let it hang down enough as I held her so that it also covered the poo on my jeans. Miriam held her books, I held mine, and I used the self-checkout machine to avoid any awkward questions from library employees. Then we made a run for the car. I put a burp rag under Magdalena so that she didn't soil her carseat, and then we drove like the dickens for home. Fortunately, Jeremy was there to help us with the rest.

Here it is. It's like she wasn't even wearing a diaper. Those of you who have experienced a baby blowout know that sometimes, there is just nothing that can contain it, its sheer force is so great.

Also, I never noticed that the wall color matched baby poo so exactly. I'll see if I can forget that fact sometime soon.

Book Review: The Heartless Stone

Ladies, if you don’t want to know that there’s a possibility that the diamond you’re wearing on your left finger was retrieved from the entrails of a murdered African diamond smuggler, read no further.

And definitely don’t read The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.

For me, in some ways, reading The Heartless Stone was like reading Fast Food Nation: I don’t really eat fast food anyway, so that book didn’t scare me or even have a significant impact on my eating habits. Similarly, I’m not really a diamond kind of girl and my wedding ring does not feature a solitaire, so I didn’t feel too bad reading the book. Well, not on a personal guilt level, at least. I certainly did feel bad that so many people’s lives have been ruined, taken, or completely controlled so that the rest of us can wear sparkly rocks on our fingers, necks, and ears.

Even before acquiring my own diamond engagement ring, I'd heard rumors that the diamond industry was scandalously unethical in both its diamond-acquiring and diamond-selling methods. The Heartless Stone goes beyond rumor and conjecture, with the author (Tom Zoellner) visiting at least ten countries and interviewing individuals at every level of the diamond production process to show us what is really going on. Mr. Zoellner delves deep to expose the whole operation for what it is: an industry that created itself with a brilliant marketing slogan (after all, who doesn’t know that A Diamond is Forever?) and then spent the rest of its energy keeping tight control on the supply and price of its goods, resorting to smuggling, murder, sabotage, and child exploitation all along the way.

Price-fixing is strictly illegal in America, of course, and main player De Beers was actually banned from doing (direct) business here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries thanks to tough antitrust laws. But they found ways to get around that obstacle, even if those ways are serpentine and sleazy.

Reading this book caused me to do a double-take on issues I’d never really questioned before. What is the history of the diamond engagement ring? I always assumed it had been around forever, more or less. What is the deal with that “two months’ salary” price guideline? Why do we attach such emotional significance to a piece of jewelry? The answers that Zoellner digs up are always interesting and often troubling.

The book suffers in only two ways. First, I didn't really connect on an emotional level with the intercut story of his ex-fiancée. It reeked too much of "The Raven" - sorrow for the Lost Lenore and all that. Second, and this is a problem with many non-fiction books these days, Zoellner tries to "sex it up," if you will. It was already a fascinating story and then he had to go and inject some carnality into it. I don't doubt that diamonds have their sex appeal, in a way, but I felt that the author took it a little too far just to get with the "in" crowd, as it were.

Obviously, there’s another side to this story, and it’s the diamond industry’s. I kind of get the feeling, though, that we’ve all been being fed their story for years and years, through the media spouting out industry-sanctioned myth. Marilyn Monroe singing “A Diamond is a Girl’s Best Friend”? Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel A Diamond is Forever? Both were encouraged and sanctioned by De Beers, among many other films and books.

The most troubling aspect of the diamond industry’s shameful business practices is that it is all for nothing. A hard, shiny, brilliant rock, yes, but what is that, exactly? De Beers would have us believe that it is wealth, status, love, sex, beauty, and everything we’ve always wanted. When this magical stone comes to us at the expense of so many human beings’ pain and suffering, however, I think it may be time to re-think just what it is we’ve always wanted.

Edited 10 minutes after original posting to add: In case you feel like chucking your ring down the sink, or firing off a nastygram to me personally, let me add one more thing. He never says it explicitly, but I get the feeling that the vast majority of what Zoellner writes about the evils of the diamond industry applies to very large, clear diamonds, 2 carats-ish or above. I don't know if that applies to any of you, but I thought I'd add that disclaimer so that I don't misrepresent the book's subject matter. He's talking specifically about high-end gems here, though I suppose the ills of the trade taint all diamonds to one extent or another.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Welcome back to Tucson! Can you hold for an hour and a half?

Delving back into the medical care system here in Arizona has been a slap in the face. Vermont is a dream land of fairies, butterflies, and rainbows in comparison. I spent an hour and a half on the phone just trying to change Miriam's pediatrician - and that was the successful attempt. A few unsuccessful attempts had already been made and abandoned previously because of crying babies (well, just one), phones running out of batteries because of being in use for so long, etc.

Miriam and Magdalena had their first visit with the new pediatrician yesterday. The thing is, even after all the time and effort I invested in making the change, I'm thinking of changing doctors again. Or even wishing I hadn't changed doctors in the first place. This is already the third doctor Miriam has had since she was born.

The first pediatrician got dumped when Miriam was just a week old for two reasons. First, we waited 90 minutes in a nasty, crowded waiting room for our first (and only) appointment and when we finally did see her, she didn't seem to care about us. But what really made me decide to switch pediatricians was when she told me to stop breastfeeding barely-born Miriam because she had jaundice. Yeah. Bye-bye.

We kept the next doctor for almost the next three years. He was awesome. Many of his former patients who now have kids were bringing their children in to see him, he's that good. The problem is, his office is way over by where we used to live when we first moved here (i.e., the ghetto). It takes forever to get there because Tucson refuses to have a functional freeway. I put up with the long travel time for almost three years, but it finally was just too much.

So I changed the girls' doctor to one based out of a nearby hospital. Here's what I found out yesterday, though: it takes almost as long to get there as it did to our previous, awesome pediatrician. That's because the office itself is inside the hospital, which means I have to park in a huge parking garage and then trek for 15 minutes just to get to the waiting room. Also, it's a teaching hospital, so we are seen by the resident and then the attending physician. I don't have anything against teaching situations like this, because really, they have to learn somehow. However, the visit ended up taking quite a long time as a result. Sigh.

Besides that, it was kind of a mediocre visit anyway. I was already wary because Miriam had a big bruise and a scrape on her back from where she hit it on the bed frame while jumping off the bed. Why do kids get their worst, ugliest, most visible injuries right before professional pictures and doctor appointments? It automatically puts me on the defensive, like I have to prove to the doctor that I am not, in fact, a child abuser.

Then there was the fact that the nurse who measured Magdalena told me she was 25 inches long. I told her that I was pretty sure that was wrong, considering she was only 19 inches long at birth a short six weeks ago. She re-measured and sure enough: 21.75 inches. Whoops. I'm glad I didn't let my daughter get put on the charts as some kind of freak baby.

I'm considering changing pediatricians yet again, in search of that perfect combination of convenient proximity and personable care. Have any of you found that perfect balance? Or am I the only one having negative pediatrician experiences?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is the Tempe IKEA evil?

Do any of you have Google Analytics or a similar tracking program running on your blog, and if so, do you ever actually look at the information it collects? (Andrew and Nancy, I already know your answer to that question.) I rarely check out the stats for this blog, but this post by Ken Jennings, and this one by Miss Nemesis ("handcart" mormon frozen children utah stupid), inspired me to take a look at what kinds of crazy things people search for that lead them straight to My Adventures in Tucson. Some highlights from search term stats for the last few months:
  • "talk of the nation" & boring
  • 10 year old swimsuits
  • aw, fer cute
  • cute pink sparkly shoes
  • cute sparkly pink shoes
  • heckarooney
  • how i met your mother "welcome to the mall"
  • oct 14th alien transcript
  • pole dancing while pregnant (thanks for this one, Katie)
  • stay rich forever & ever, utah
  • wear my cousin's leotard
  • you look so young for your age annoying
  • come back to me is my request (this site is #1 on Google for this search term)
  • antique bathing suit
  • bat shaped sunglasses
  • politically correct term for eye boogers (politically correct?)
  • 60 ways to use salt (admit it - one of you forgot how to properly freshen your sponges)
  • automatic toilets at the tucson airport
  • black in sparkly dark pink jordans
  • costco blender guy
  • germy ball pits (????)
  • ikea "tempe" "evil"
If you do keep track of these things, take a look at your stats and share some of your crazy searches!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Who needs real life anymore?

On Thursday, I created a Facebook account. Apparently, I'm a few years behind the times because everyone else in the world already has an account there, including, I am not kidding, my own mother. Imagine my surprise when I joined up and under the "People You May Know" suggestions was a picture of my mom.

Before joining, I was almost entirely unfamiliar with the Facebook phenomenon. I had heard phrases like "friend" and "so-and-so wrote on my wall," but that was about it. Until Facebook the other day, adding the Followers element to my blog was just about the most social-networky thing I've ever done. Even that was a big step, since my confidence sometimes suffers from a bit of "they're all going to laugh at me" syndrome.

So now I am starting to comprehend all I've been missing. Basically, I've been wasting my time living a real life with real human beings. Why bother, when I can establish and cancel relationships at will on Facebook? I feel like all of a sudden I'm just a playing card, being shuffled around in different decks.

The thing is, Facebook is awesome in that you can reconnect with long-lost friends without extraordinary effort in a low-key, non-stalkerish way. Just now, after doing a few brief searches for old high school friends and sending out a few friend requests (see how I've mastered the jargon already?), I asked Jeremy what happens next.

"So, do I go write on their wall now or what?"
"Well, they have to accept you as a friend first."
"Yeah, I know that. But do we have to send messages to each other now?"
"Nah. You just are friends and that's enough."

To me, that is the genius of Facebook. I send out a friend request and the message is simply: Hi, I remember you and care about you just enough to tell you that I remember you. Now you add my card to your deck and I'll add yours to mine. And if, in the future, I want to reminisce with you, we have each other's contact information.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Flashback Friday: Nature's alarm clock

Somehow I managed to miss telling this story a few months ago when it happened, so here it is as your Flashback Friday.

On our way to our summer in Middlebury, we spent a week or two in Oregon with my family. One of the first weekends we were there, we went camping at the Oregon Coast. This, despite my repeated attempts to stop going camping when I was so darn pregnant. In fact, one of my miserable pregnant camping experiences had taken place at this very campground at the beach, almost exactly three years before.

Still, it was a nice campground, and we were with family, and the weather was beautiful. Most promising was the fact that my brother had lent us his inflatable air mattress to sleep on. What could go wrong?

Well, for one thing, my family could be so cheap as to not own a proper mattress inflation pump. It's not that I demand an electric or otherwise automatic air pump. I just ask for one that functions properly, "properly" being defined as "actually gets air into the mattress instead of blowing it right back out a duct-tape-patched hole in the tubing." Seriously, mom and dad, those things cannot possibly cost more than $10 at Fred Meyer or wherever.

Bravely overcoming the obstacles put in our way by my family's thriftiness, Jeremy and I did our best and after an inordinate amount of time pumping, the mattress was full enough. We spent the day at the Tillamook Cheese Factory and on the dunes at the beach and when Miriam was too exhausted to stay awake any longer, we turned in to our tent for the night.

Jeremy & Miriam at the beach.

The mattress was comfortable enough, as far as any largely pregnant lady is ever comfortable. What was not comfortable was when I woke up a little after midnight and realized that my intense discomfort was from more than just pregnancy: I was sleeping flat on the ground, with nothing between me and the tent floor besides a completely deflated air mattress that apparently had a hole in it.

Curses, foiled again! And by something not even related to pregnancy! It was a long, long night spent sleeping on the ground.

To look on the bright side, though, it was not as long of a night as it could have been. Very soon after dawn, I was shocked out of my fruitless attempts to doze by a barrage of extremely loud profanity being shouted from not very far away.

If that was just about the last thing you expected, imagine how I felt lying on the floor of my tent, surrounded until a moment before by the increasingly gentle rays of the sun and the cute wakening noises and rustlings of birds. Then, suddenly: "@*&%$!$#^&*&!@*$!!!!"

My confusion soon turned into fear when I realized that whoever this person was, shouting at the top of their lungs at 5am, he was actually directing his statements at a living being, as evidenced by:

"I'll #$(*&&@ kill you!"
"Get the (*&#(*$& away from me!"
"You'd better #$%^%& $#%# outta here!"

From the movement of his voice and the sounds he was making, I could tell he was on the move, chasing someone.

Yikes!! I was thiiiiiis close to waking Jeremy up and telling him to call 911 when I realized something: nobody was talking back to this guy or making any response to his profanity-laced threats of bodily harm. The only possible conclusion was that he was not talking to a human at all, but some kind of woodland creature or, worse, a pet.

What the?!? What kind of person goes camping in the gorgeous coastal forest of Oregon surrounded by the beauty of nature, only to pollute it with obscenity-laden tirades? Tirades directed at, incredibly, an animal? Tirades directed at an animal at, incredibly, 5 o'clock in the morning?

I stayed huddled in our tent and he eventually stopped. A few hours later when everyone was up and around, we furtively scanned each of our neighboring campers to see which one could have possibly been the early-morning psycho on the loose. We didn't find any promising candidates - they all looked like good, nature- and animal-respecting people. Of course, there were plenty of jokes from all my family members that someone or other (Jeremy, or my dad) in our own party had been responsible, but they were all kind of nervous jokes, like we were afraid that whoever it really was was going to come for us next and #)$(**$ kill us.

The fitting ending to this story is that the shoddily patched air pump ended up melting when it was left too close to the burnt-out remains of the campfire. Under suspicious circumstances. That I know absolutely nothing about. I promise.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Miriam's Photo Art: a second installment

As soon as we got back to Tucson from Middlebury, Miriam set to work brushing up her Photo Booth skills. She is quite the pro, as you may recall from her photo art debut.

Remember, she set up, chose the effects for, and took all of these pictures by herself.

This one looks like it needs to be titled Lonelygirl15 or whatever.

This is one of my new favorites. In case you're not familiar with Photo Booth, it comes with a few set backgrounds such as the Eiffel Tower, a beach scene, a roller coaster, etc. The way it is supposed to work is that you select the background, move out of the shot (while the computer establishes a "green screen" of sorts), and then move back in so it looks like you're there. Miriam doesn't understand that you're supposed to move away from the computer, so the background ends up choppy like this. But what I love about this particular picture are all the random bits that made it onto the moon. There's even a random baby head orbiting the earth.

This is another Miriam Special. One of the Photo Booth effects duplicates the image four times and tints each with a different color. A separate setting will take four consecutive shots and combine them. Miriam selected both options to create what you see above. Genius!

This is possibly my all-time favorite. The mittens are a nice touch, don't you think?

Someday soon I'll have to do a video installment of Miriam's Photo Art. Yes, Photo Booth does video, and Miriam has learned how to use it.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Under the guise of historicity

(Let me be entirely honest with you: because I wanted this review to be as original as possible, I have not read any of the copious amounts of back-and-forth controversy between Krakauer and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) re: Under the Banner of Heaven. The Mormon response to Krakauer's book is here; Krakauer's point-by-point rebuttal is here.)

Under the Banner of Heaven touts itself as "a story of violent faith." In a sense, I suppose that's true. But really, it is two stories. One is about violence; one is about faith. Sometimes they intertwine. Krakauer's interpretation, however, would have you believe that one motivates the other. The central study of the book is the case of the Lafferty murders, in which two brothers killed a third brother's wife and child because...well, why? Krakauer and I disagree, probably because if I'm right then there is no excuse for him to write Under the Banner of Heaven.

I'll tell you why those two men committed those murders: because they were insane, that's why. But Krakauer, for almost the entire book, takes the murderers' explanation of "God told me to" at face value and runs with it. Instead of the thesis of "people do bad things in the name of religion," we are presented with the alternative of "religion makes people do bad things" and expected to swallow it. As a religious person, it made me gag.

It isn't until the very end of the book that Krakauer delves into the complicated maneuvering by both the defending and prosecuting attorneys of the Lafferty brothers to prove (defense) or disprove (prosecution) the murderers' insanity, and resulting innocence (defense) or guilt (prosecution). And still, the germane question is never answered, nor even raised, by Krakauer or, admittedly, the court itself: isn't it possible that they were both insane and guilty? It's a shame that our legal system apparently does not allow for such a circumstance.

The other issue at hand in Under the Banner of Heaven is the author's rampant disingenuousness. I am not a historian, so I can't comment on his research methods or presentation of disputed sources. But to present Mormonism in such a callous, sloppy manner is an insult to his (presumed) intelligence as well as to all of us members of the faith who don't turn into fundamentalist wackos. I just feel lucky that I was able to see through the sweeping generalizations he made; others who aren't familiar with Mormonism or, worse, who are relying on this book to inform them will not be so lucky. Because Krakauer says things in the book that he must know (from his copious, thorough research, I presume) are misleading, but he allows the reader to infer the obvious anyway.

Here's a small, mostly harmless example involving Brigham Young University. First, he describes it as "Mormondom's flagship institution of higher learning, owned and tightly controlled by the LDS Church." The latter part of that sentence I will not argue with. However, when "owned and tightly controlled by the LDS Church" is coupled with "Mormondom's flagship institution of higher learning," what kind of a picture does that paint? To me, it insinuates a two-bit joke of a college run by religious crazies rather than a legitimate university, one of the largest private universities in the United States, and certainly a respected one.

It gets laughably worse. Krakauer apparently spent at least a few minutes on campus because he is able to describe it in this manner:

"Each of the young Mormons one encounters is astonishingly well groomed and neatly dressed. [...] Heeding the dictum 'Cougars don't cut corners,' students keep to the sidewalks as they hurry to make it to class on time; nobody would think of attempting to shave a few precious seconds by treading on the manicured grass. Everyone is cheerful, friendly, and unfailingly polite" (page 81).

Well groomed and neatly dressed - well, probably, at least in comparison to a lot of other universities. Cheerful, friendly, and unfailingly polite? Thanks, Mr. Krakauer, I'll take it, even if it's not entirely true, at least not of everybody and not all the time.

But please. Everyone knows the running joke about "Cougars don't cut corners." The grounds crew put signs saying so on the edges of the grass all over campus and some wise guy went around cutting the corners off of all of them. Let alone the fact that most of us did, in fact, think about cutting across the grass all the time and actually did so only slightly less often. I guess we're going straight to hell.

More harmful are the conclusions we are left to draw when he describes the Lafferty family in their early days as normal, faithful, mainstream Mormons - representative of all members of their faith, apparently, if the author is to be believed. But a few pages later, when he describes how Mr. Lafferty regularly beat up Mrs. Lafferty in front of the kids, where is the disclaimer, or parenthetical aside, or something to tell us that contrary to what he said before, this is not normal behavior for a Mormon in good standing with the church? By his silence, Krakauer allows us to erroneously draw the conclusion that wife-beating is part and parcel of the Mormon religion.

Which, finally, leads to that most tragic of oft-committed journalistic errors regarding the LDS Church: the failure to distinguish adequately between Mormons and Mormon Fundamentalists. It is a mistake that has so often been addressed, so often fruitlessly, by the LDS Church that I was almost too bored to get angry about it when I encountered it in droves in Under the Banner of Heaven.

I was left unable to appreciate the book as a work of historical research. Instead, I was left thinking - "If Krakauer can't even get that right, why should I accept him as an authority on all things Mormon history?" He left the door wide open for anyone and everyone to question everything else he says in the book.

So, Mr. Krakauer - continue writing about Mt. Everest and other outdoor adventures. But unless you're going to do it in earnest, leave my religion (and my university) alone.

Checkout stand language police

I was at Fry's yesterday and saw this magazine cover:

Besides the unnaturally bright whites of Angelina's eyes, what is wrong with this picture, linguistically speaking?

My friends, am I right or am I right: you cannot battle an adjective. It's like the big headline in yellow just walks right off a cliff - the end of it is completely missing. "Doctors fear that Angelina is now battling post-partum depression" - I'm pretty sure that's what they want us to infer. But why leave the crucial noun out of the headline? As it stands, all we can be sure of is that Angelina is battling post-partum-ness, which hasn't been news for about two months since she, you know, had her babies (post-partum is Latin for "after birth").

Does this kind of thing bother anyone else? Or is it shameful that of all things, I'm starting to get anxious when checkout stand tabloids make grammatical errors? Some days I'm afraid I'm even worse than Ken Jennings.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Flashback Friday: The Biggest Zit Ever

This flashback takes us all the way to the early spring of 2004. Jeremy was finishing up his master's degree at the BYU, just a few months away from defending his thesis. I was working full-time and then some: full-time at a translation company in Provo, as well as teaching LSAT prep courses for the BYU in the evening and on Saturdays.

Meanwhile, in American Fork, where we lived, a new young couple moved into our church congregation. I can't remember their names, which is just as well since I would change them anyway. So we'll call them Jack and Jill.

It soon became apparent to me that this couple constituted the Anti-Jeremy-&-Bridget. I use "anti" not in the sense that they were against us, but rather that they were in many ways our opposites. Like the Anti-Lebanon mountain range that divides Lebanon from Syria: on the one side of some great socio-cultural divide there was us; on the other, there was them. Jack was studying something very business-like and salary-oriented; Jeremy was getting a master's in language acquisition. Jill was studying science. I hate science. They were quickly embraced by the congregation and openly loved by just about everyone who met them, even briefly. I think Jeremy and I were only appreciated by those who really knew us, and we often kept to ourselves (more from shyness and busyness than snobbery, but it probably didn't come across that way).

Back to March 2004. Work was insanely busy for me, but I foresaw a brief reprieve at the end of the week. Jeremy and I seized the opportunity and planned a one-night camping trip to Moab in southern Utah. There was one slight problem, however: we didn't have a car.

Our beloved mid-90s Toyota Tercel, affectionately pronounced "TER-cel" and described accurately as being essentially a go-kart with a roof, had been totalled in a rear-end collision just two weeks before.
We were riding our bikes to the bus stop in AF and then riding the 811 in to Provo to get to school and work, which actually worked out pretty well.

In order to go camping, we needed to borrow a car. And somehow, that car ended up being Jeremy's grandpa's old (well, of course old, because I don't think they make them anymore, for good reason) El Camino. So early on a Friday afternoon, Jeremy pulled up outside my work in a dingy brown El Camino, its truck bed packed to the brim with camping gear and our bikes. Classy! And we were off to Moab.

If we looked like white trash, we certainly felt like it, too. Most of our camping gear was second-hand or borrowed, and our bikes were nothing special, either. In fact, so trashy were we, that when our ghetto yellow foam camping pad held together with pieces of wire blew out of the truck bed on the highway, we actually stopped and went back to retrieve it.

We spent the afternoon hiking and then set off to find a place to camp. Our sister-in-law used to work in the Moab area and she gave us some brief directions to a good place. However, we drove for forever in increasing hunger and dark and found nothing but a potash processing factory. Not a welcome sight when you're hoping for a place to sleep. So we doubled back and found a small campground just off the road and called it good. We slept under the stars in - you guessed it - the bed of the El Camino.

"We slept" should perhaps be changed to "I slept," because Jeremy really didn't. Spring comes earlier to southern Utah, and so Jeremy's allergies descended on him all at once during the night. When we woke up, his eyes were swollen and puffy and his nose was stuffed up. Still, we broke camp and headed back toward town to find a mountain biking trail map.

We showed up at the visitor's center looking tired and bedraggled in our dirty El Camino. We hadn't showered or changed clothing since hiking the day before and Jeremy's allergic sufferings just made us look even more pitiful. For some reason, we hesitated in the car for a few minutes before heading inside, and Jeremy chanced a glance at his face in the rearview mirror. That's when he saw the biggest zit ever, sitting right on the side of his nose.

What could he do but pop it? What would you do in that situation (be honest)? Everything about us at that moment was hideously ugly and here was a chance to at least fix something. So he popped it. But before he had time to wipe away the guts of the zit, which were substantial in size, who should show up, peeking through the open driver's side window, but Jack and Jill. They were wearing hip mountain biking clothes and had just emerged, clean, fresh, rested, and showered from their newish Outback.

I really don't know how they recognized us in our present state. Maybe they just assumed we were the kind of people who would take a trip to Moab in an El Camino. In any case, they saw us and weren't too ashamed to acknowledge our acquaintance and say hi at a time when Jeremy had popped-zit guts all over the side of his nose. The good news was that it was the side of his nose they couldn't see; the bad news was that this meant he couldn't turn his head.

So we carried on an extremely awkward conversation with Jeremy's head facing straight ahead even though Jack and Jill were to his side. I was trying so hard not to bust up laughing from sheer embarrassment. They probably wondered what the heck was Jeremy's problem that he couldn't face them to talk to them. And also why we looked so very, very disheveled and terrible. Not to mention what the deal was with the hud-filled El Camino.

In any case, they gave us some good biking trail recommendations and then said goodbye and walked their perky selves into the visitor's center.

And then, after wiping his face, of course, Jeremy and I laughed and laughed and laughed, and we still laugh about this event often, to this day. Jack and Jill moved away shortly after, and so we never even had to deal with the potentially humiliating experience of seeing them at church ever again. That's a nice ending, isn't it? "And we never saw them again." I'll take it!

ps - if anyone else wants to institute Flashback Friday on their blog, please do! I would love to have a buddy!

Friday, September 05, 2008

The mighty sling

I love slings. I use the plural even though I only have one, because they are a great idea in principle and there are a lot of slings out there besides mine that I like better, but won't afford. The picture above is 3-week-old Miriam in the sling. I can say with very little exaggeration that Miriam spent the first three months of her life in the sling. It was just how she rolled, at least if we didn't want her screaming all the time.

Here she is at 6 months-ish, still hanging out.

Now Magdalena occupies the sling, though not as much as Miriam did. It's kind of a relief to be able to put the child down every once in a while.

I got to thinking the other day how many tasks I've managed to accomplish while wearing a kid in a sling. Some of the odder ones that came to mind include wearing the sling while:

- playing the piano as an accompanist at a baptism
- making bread
- making dinner (even though the instructions say not to cook while wearing the sling...)
- sleeping
- going to the bathroom
- lifting Miriam into the child's seat part of a shopping cart (can you hear my back hurting?)
- breastfeeding. But it's very, very tricky.
- watching an entire movie (Masterpiece Theatre's Dr. Zhivago), standing up and bouncing to keep baby asleep.

How about you?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Some movies I watched

Alternate title: the Return of Netflix, coincident with our return to Tucson.

Sometimes it's fun to watch movies that I somehow never heard of until they were already on DVD. Here are three that I can recommend to you (to varying degrees).

Son of Rambow. Those crazy Brits are at it again, making quirky, hilarious movies that don't really fit any established genre. This one has the feel of Better Off Dead combined with the style and random hilarity of Waking Ned Devine. However, while Better Off Dead was made in the 80s, Son of Rambow is just set in the 80s. Waking Ned Devine was about old people; Son of Rambow is about very young ones.

The basic premise is that an extremely religious, sheltered young boy who has never even watched television ends up watching Rambo: First Blood. What an introduction to the world of modern entertainment for a young, impressionable kid! He and his friends set out to make a film in honor of First Blood.

This movie is rated PG-13, in part for "reckless behavior." And how! It's the kind of movie that I am able to laugh at hysterically as an adult because to some degree, we've all done the stupid, extremely reckless things these kids do in pursuit of their homemade movie, and emerged unscathed, somehow, on the other side. But at the same time, I don't think I'd ever want my kid to see it lest they become inspired by their shenanigans. Thus the PG-13 rating, I suppose, though there is nothing else really offensive in it.

They say we Americans are overly dramatic in our movies, but I think the Brits have their share of drama overload as well. It's the only real flaw in three recent British movies that I can think of. Dear Frankie and Millions also had over-the-top, serious, dramatic moments that didn't fit with each of those films' otherwise spunky, whimsical tone. Son of Rambow suffers in the same way. But I still loved it. And I think I'll be using "skill" as an adjective a lot more.

Penelope. Again, how did I never hear of this movie? It's a remarkably refreshing romantic comedy, though the emphasis is on the comedy rather than the romantic. It's also very different - the premise, after all, is that a girl was born with a pig nose. My only real complaint is that Richard E. Grant is in the film (that's good) but isn't allowed to use his English accent (that's bad).

Unlike most PG-rated films that are designed to appeal to pre-teens and teenagers, this is one that I would actually let my daughter watch. Besides being unobjectionable (also unlike a lot of PG-rated films these days), it has a good message
and is a smart, funny movie besides.

The Business of Being Born. My friend Liz wrote (ranted?) about this one on her blog. I actually had heard of this one before, but all I knew about it was that it was made by Ricki Lake. That fact kept me away from it for a while until Liz reviewed it and pushed me over the edge into watching it. And friends, if you are at all put off from watching a movie because you know Ricki Lake was somehow involved in its creation, just wait until you see her naked in the tub, in labor. Yeah. Um, Liz? Could have used a warning there. I'm just saying.

Anyway, I was disappointed in the film. I appreciated the things it got me thinking about, but it did very little thinking or analysis for itself. I thought I would be seeing a documentary that asked hard questions of doctors and midwives, presented statistics and facts about childbirth in America, and maybe even brought the insurance angle into the debate - all of these elements supporting the anecdotal side of the documentary. I even would have accepted it the other way around.

What I ended up seeing was an almost entirely anecdotal account of three or four women's birth experiences, interspersed with occasional, uninsightful, often biased commentary from health professionals and midwives. The biased part I can understand, because hey, it's their documentary. I just felt there was so much more they could have taught us.
In addition, I felt that the featured midwife could have styled her hair in a way that did not leave her bangs hanging in her face all the time. That drove me crazy!

Also, they completely obscured what was potentially the most enlightening moment of the film, when the director's own home birth turned into a transfer to the hospital and an emergency C-section. That much, I understood. What was left unexplained: how many weeks along she was when it happened, what were the reasons for what happened, how she felt about her midwife considering what happened, etc. Basic, basic questions left unanswered.

It's a shame, too, because one thing this documentary really had going for it was that it interviewed Tina Cassidy, author of Birth. Tina Cassidy! Alas, the opportunity was squandered.

The Business of Being Born is a good one to watch if you feel like sparking your interest in the childbirth debate, and then going and doing your own research. But it is not a stand-alone product. Also, it has Ricki Lake naked in it. Just so you're warned.


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