Thursday, October 30, 2008

Disgruntled & cosmopolitan

It's job application-mailing season here at the Palmer house, which means we've been spending a lot of time at the post office. I don't know if the workers there get repetitive stress disorder from scratching their butts all day or what, but the line tends to move pretty slowly. Today, spending 25 minutes in line gave me a lot of time to think about what stamps I wanted to buy. I was tempted by Frank Sinatra and also 1950s cars, but I eventually decided on Eid stamps. The holidays are close enough, and you have to admit, it's a good-looking piece of postage:

Little did I know it would be a major conversation piece once I got up to the window to talk with a postal employee.

Post Office Lady: Would you like any stamps today?
Me: Yes, actually. Some of the Eid ones (and I make a weird calligraphy-like gesture with my hands for some reason).
Post Office Lady: (shuffles to the back to get them, and takes her sweet time, I might add.) These are just beautiful stamps.
Me: Yes. Yes they are.
POL: But people just don't buy them! There's a lot of prejudice out there.
Me: Well, we buy them, at least.
POL: So do I! I think they're so pretty. It almost looks like a Christmas tree.
Me: Uh-huh.
POL: You know, this branch didn't even used to stock these stamps. But now we have a new director.
Me: Oh.
POL: Yeah, she's a lot more cosmopolitan.

This conversation gave me a lot to think about. Do you have to be cosmopolitan to appreciate a postage stamp, even if it is for Eid? Are there really people out there who take the time to be prejudiced against a stamp? Was the fact that this branch didn't carry the stamp a decision by the (non-cosmopolitan) director, or was it because of all the rampant prejudice out there and they were just responding to demand?

And perhaps more importantly, does this stamp look like a Christmas tree?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The plot to take over the world continues

Remember when I told you that we Bridgets were going to take over the world, starting with Vermont?

Well, once again, I've been proven right by somebody else's painstaking research.

The Baby Name Wizard was already super cool for her NameVoyager chart. Now she's kicked it up a notch and added NameMapper, a feature that lets us see not only when a name was popular, but where.

Take my name, for example. Bridget has never been outlandishly popular, but check out its stalwart status in Vermont's tiny corner of the northeast, padded occasionally by neighbors New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. (Somewhat inexplicably, the name Bridget is also popular in Minnesota and Louisiana.)

The people who name their daughters Bridget come from all along the class spectrum and from both major political persuasions. The availability of this data (as well as population density) makes me want to investigate and find out what kinds of names Republicans and Democrats, and rich and poor people, tend to migrate toward.

Speaking of investigating, here's a fun project to try - figuring out if a particular event in history or pop culture spurred a naming trend in a specific area. On a national level, these kinds of trends are not always easy to spot, but when it's narrowed down to a particular state, it can be very obvious.

For instance, in 1972, the name Spencer was not on the charts in any state. In 1973, however, it jumped to being the 87th most popular name in Utah.

What happened in Utah in 1973? Spencer W. Kimball became the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that's what. Check out the name's spread through the "Mormon corridor" of Utah and Idaho over the next few years:

From there, Spencer reached mainstream status through the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, and then quietly retreated back to the land that gave it birth. In 2007, Spencer was popular in only Utah and Idaho (and Maine and New Hampshire. Go figure).

Anyway, I'll stop before your eyes completely glaze over. And I won't even get into the other new feature on the BabyName Wizard's site, Namipedia. Maybe another time.

What did you find out about your name?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A baptism to remember

Sometimes I feel like I'm the ringleader of some circus freak show where my kids and I go around creating and distributing awkwardness. Tonight was one of those times.

I was the accompanist at a baptism ceremony for a little boy in my church congregation. Mormon kids get baptized when they're eight years old and the event is fairly significant. Often, family members and friends from out of town will come for the program, which usually lasts around an hour and involves prepared talks and a musical number or two besides the baptism itself.

I should have known things were going to get ridiculous when Magdalena screamed in the car the whole way to the church. I had been planning to wear her in the sling while I played, but she was far too upset by the time we got there to sit still in it. So I passed her off to a friend as soon as we got there, set Miriam up in her own chair nearby, and went to the piano to start playing some prelude music. Unfortunately, we couldn't find the music book we needed and so in order to play the songs, I had to borrow someone's pocket copy of the Children's Songbook. The pages are about the size of a postcard, so it made playing and accompanying a creative exercise in squinting.

Magdalena was quiet for a few minutes, but then she started fussing and the woman holding her had to go stand out in the hall so she didn't disrupt the program. Meanwhile, Miriam kept wandering up to the front of the room where the piano and I were, just to visit, I guess. The piano was directly in front of the audience and I only hoped that she wasn't distracting anybody too much.

After the baptism itself, I started playing some interlude music while the boy changed into dry clothes. Miriam came up to visit and decided to sit on the bench next to me. The room was quiet and reverent as people listened to the soft music I was playing and thought about the baptism that had just occurred.

Then, Miriam decided to adjust her position on the bench. She put her hand against the piano to brace herself for the move, but her hand slipped and she ended up bashing her face into the keys instead. Not the quiet, high notes, but the really loud notes at the lower end of the piano. After a loud blast of discordant notes that shocked everyone out of their individual reveries, Miriam continued her fall by bouncing off the keys and tumbling flat on her face in front of the entire audience.

There was a collective gasp from the crowd. Miriam was oddly silent for a few moments as she lay sprawled there in the front of the room, but it was one of those ominous pauses before a big, loud crying fit.

I scooped her up as quickly as I could and started to take her out of the room. Little did I know, her mouth was bleeding, and you know how mouth wounds bleed. Soon I had blood all over my shoulder and it had not escaped the notice of some members of the crowd.

"She's bleeding!" one mom said, and rushed over to give me some tissues to help stop the flow. The kids in the audience perked up as soon as they heard that, and I could hear them repeating, "she's bleeding?!? She's bleeding!" The news passed like wildfire through the congregation.

I wanted to cry. I really did. I was so tired, so stressed, worried about Miriam, and, I'll admit it, embarrassed that I had perhaps ruined the baptism experience of this poor little boy and his family.

But once I got into the bathroom and started cleaning Miriam up, I started to laugh. It was just so ridiculous, what else could I do? Miriam's dress had blood on it, my shirt had blood on both shoulders, and I still had a few songs to play on the piano before the program was over. Meanwhile, my other child was still fussing out in the hall with my helpful friend.

Miriam and I made it back in the room eventually, and Magdalena fell asleep in my arms...just in time for me to play the piano for the closing song. So I handed her off again and she started fussing again.

On the way out to the car, Miriam tripped in the dark parking lot, which started another crying fit. Magdalena had finally fallen asleep again, but woke up as soon as I put her in the carseat and - you guessed it - cried all the way home.

I don't know what Jeremy thought when we came through the door, bruised, bloodied, and crying, just from being at a baptism. I'm hoping to see the little boy's family at church today so I can at least attempt to apologize. I think if something like this had happened at my or at my child's baptism, I would just think of it as making the experience more memorable, but you never know.

So if you ever need a little awkwardness and child-induced mayhem at an important family event, just let me know and I'm sure we can provide some, no problem.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Flashback Friday: The world is not enough

Those of you who are tired of stories from Russia will be glad to hear that I think this is the last Russian Flashback Friday for a while. Those of you who want more flashbacks from Russia will probably be glad to hear that I'll come back to this topic sometime in the future. There's just so much to tell.

I've titled this post "The world is not enough," because if there's one thing I learned in Russia, it's that there is never enough. Enough of what, exactly? You choose, and you'd be right. Unless you chose surly female employees, because there are actually plenty of those in Russia.

But seats on the bus? Certain kinds of food in the grocery stores? Daylight hours in winter? Time to leisurely exit the metro car before the doors SLAM shut? Nope, not enough.

I learned this lesson pretty quickly at my first job in Moscow. I was briefly a substitute teacher at the Anglo-American School of Moscow (whose name still sounds vaguely racist to me, even though I know it technically isn't), but I gave that up when some students' families hired me as their English tutor. Their apartment building was loosely associated with a hotel next door and so they told me I could use the hotel's minivan-type shuttle to get a ride from the center of the city, where we lived, to the outskirts, where they lived. Getting there was never a problem; it was getting back that first taught me the cruel lesson of scarcity.

The first time I tried to take the shuttle back into the center, there were a dozen or so other people waiting for it, too. The shuttle could only hold 11 people. We all stood around like we totally didn't care if we made it on the shuttle or not, but as it pulled around to the front of the hotel, everyone nonchalantly sauntered towards it, trying not to look like we were in a hurry even though that's exactly what was going on. Then, when the door opened, everyone took cuts in front of everyone else without actually appearing to do so, and we were all unfailingly polite during the whole process. It's an art, I tell you, and it's one that I figured out very quickly. I think there were only a few times that I didn't make it on the shuttle, and when that happened, I still put on a happy face because I knew that yesterday, it was someone else's turn to be left behind, today it was mine, and tomorrow it would be someone else's again. It was just fate - another favorite Russian concept.

There was no such polite display, however, when it came to the IKEA bus. IKEA, business genius that it is, ran a free bus from two metro stops out to their huge store outside the northern outskirts of Moscow. It was a well known fact that lots of people rode the nice, clean, dependable, free IKEA bus to IKEA, and then walked to their real destination nearby, but IKEA didn't seem to mind. Plenty of people also rode it to IKEA itself.

One Saturday in December, we were waiting for the IKEA bus. There was a larger crowd than usual and we knew it would be a fight to get in. And even if we got in, then it would be a fight to get a seat. Otherwise, we'd have to stand for the whole ride. The bus pulled up and everyone flocked en masse to the open doors. We had to wait for the previous passengers to disembark, of course, but as soon as they were unloaded (at least I hope everyone made it off), we all pushed and shoved to get in.

We could tell it was hopeless from the beginning, so Jeremy took this picture of the hilarity. In a stroke of Russian entrepeneurship, which isn't always easy to find, a few microbus drivers hanging around the metro stop offered to take anyone who didn't make it on the bus to IKEA for a few rubles each. That's what we ended up doing, along with a lot of other people who apparently didn't shove hard enough.

Even exiting the bus and going into the store was always a rush, which always puzzled me. Was there something inside that IKEA was actually going to run out of? From the way we all acted, yes, though I never figured out what it was.

The melee was even more dramatic on the way back to the metro from the store, because we all had our bulky purchases and 10-ruble ice cream cones to wrangle while making a mad dash for a seat on the IKEA bus.

Besides seats on semi-public transportation, one other thing there was never enough of was certain kinds of food in the grocery store. It took me a long time to get used to planning on buying an essential food item at the store, and then getting there and having it The first few times it happened, I figured the person in charge of managing inventory just hadn't factored in mine and Jeremy's brand-new patronage of the store. Except then it continued for the entire time we lived there. You would have thought they would have just ordered a few more cartons of orange juice every month, but there it is. I specifically remember buying one brand of orange juice (J7!) until that was gone from the shelves, and then another brand, and so on until every single kind of orange or orange-derived juice was completely gone. And it was still a few more weeks until more appeared.

How this store could manage stocking "man's jampers in gift package" and "sacks for dust" but not orange juice is beyond me.

Of course, this only led to hoarding once the juice/tomato sauce/cereal/yogurt/bread appeared again, which certainly wasn't good for anyone. At least, it wasn't good for our arms when we had to haul it all back to our apartment on foot.

Sadly, a great deal of this "there is not enough" attitude has stayed with me over the years since we left Russia. It's only recently that I've realized that in America, a line is generally respected, and nobody is going to try to cut in front of me and possibly take the last [whatever]. If the store doesn't have any today, they'll probably have some tomorrow. And I think it's pretty safe to say that unless gas prices get a lot more expensive, there will always be room for me on the bus. Thank goodness for that!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Woombie review

When it comes to baby gear, I am generally a minimalist. I don't have a Bumbo (though I kind of wish I did), a travel system, or even an $800 stroller. And I'll admit that the first time I saw an ad for the Woombie, I brushed it off as just another baby gear fad.

Well, if it is a fad, I am a part of it. I got my very own Woombie last week. Since I had a hard time finding any reviews of the Woombie when I was searching for information, I thought I'd post this review to help out others who are thinking of buying one.

In case you don't already know, the Woombie is a swaddling alternative. I am a big fan of swaddling as preached by The Happiest Baby on the Block, but it does have its drawbacks. The Woombie addresses all of them, namely:

1. The baby's arms are not pinned down unnaturally to her sides. Instead, the Woombie allows the baby to move her limbs freely within the stretchy, tight fabric. In fact, you can even tuck one of the arms out of the Woombie next to the baby's chin or mouth if she's more comfortable that way.

2. You don't have to worry about overheating. With a blanket swaddle, I sometimes had to have Magdalena in just a diaper so she didn't get too hot wearing multiple layers. The Woombie is made of very thin fabric, which allows you to dress the baby appropriately for the temperature and just put the Woombie on top.

3. The baby cannot wiggle out of the swaddle. This is a big pain with a traditional blanket swaddle. Even the tightest, most perfect swaddle is no match for a relatively strong baby determined to get out of 3 o'clock in the morning.

4. There is no method to learn. You just slip it on and zip it up.

There is one downside to the Woombie, though, and it's a big one: it doesn't work as well as a tight swaddle in calming the baby. However, in the Woombie's defense, I think it would have been more effective had we used it with Magdalena from birth. As it is, she's become used to a normal swaddle and so having her arms relatively free within the Woombie sometimes distresses her. I've mostly been using it for naps when she doesn't need to be as completely calm or sleep as long as she does at bedtime. I think in our case, the Woombie will serve us best during the transition period from swaddling to sleeping unrestrained. It gives Magdalena a good middle ground of preventing her startle reflex from waking her up while also allowing a little bit of normal movement.

There's another downside to the Woombie, now that I think of it, but it has nothing to do with the product's functionality. It's the website. Good gracious, what a mess. I'm surprised anyone, including myself, has had the tenacity to sift through that abomination and actually purchase the product. Let's hope that along with the new colors and sizes Ms. Woombie Creator gets herself a new web designer, too.

Bottom line: I would definitely recommend the Woombie for anyone interested in an easier alternative to traditional swaddling, especially if they haven't had their baby yet and so can start out with the Woombie right from the beginning.

As long as I'm talking about a baby product I love, here's another one I never knew I needed - a nursing cover. They're called lots of different things, but whatever the name is, they are awesome. My friend Lili loaned me one of hers and I used it for the first time in public tonight. If anyone out there has been hesitating (like me) to get one because "a blanket works just as well," let me tell you right now, a blanket does NOT work just as well. I don't think I'll ever go back.

See follow-up Woombie review here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finally, some crimes we can laugh at

There are two features I still enjoy reading over at The Daily Universe even though I graduated from the BYU seven years ago and haven't lived in Utah Valley for over four years. The first is the Letters to the Editor, though I admit I haven't looked at them in a while, mostly because letters like this one tend to make my head explode. (In the DU's defense, I don't think that letter was published. It only appeared on the DU blog, which shows that even the DU could tell how insanely stupid it was.)

The other feature I love is the Police Beat, a weekly run-down of all the "crimes" that occur on or around campus. Sometimes there are real crimes, but mostly it's just a list of all the pranks various students have been pulling. In fact, while I was a student there, Police Beat put in place a new policy that they would no longer publish accounts of student pranks, because they felt that by doing so, they were encouraging said behavior. Well, duh. But I think they have gradually done away with that policy since pranks are showing up again in the weekly reports. Besides the pranks, there are always reports of petty theft and the suspicious doings of suspicious males.

Until recently, I was left to mock Police Beat on my own, or sometimes with Jeremy. Now By Common Consent has started a Police Beat Roundtable, where a group of blog contributors systematically makes fun of crime reports from several years' worth of Police Beat columns. Basically, it's a dream come true for me.

If you're interested in reading about tampon machines getting broken into, women being snagged with fishhooks while they sip from a drinking fountain, and student employees tasting unidentified powdered substances they received in the mail, click here. That link will take you to the sixth installment of the Roundtable, which happens to feature Ken Jennings as a guest blogger. From there, you can enjoy the other installments.

In the meantime, watch out for TAs threatening to infect you with a deadly virus via a thumb drive.

Monday, October 20, 2008

There's a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture

The girls have got some kind of sleep racket going, and it's wearing me down, fast. In many ways, this exemplifies how two kids can be harder than one. It's not necessarily any one thing that any single child does. It's all their antics combined that threatens to push me over the edge.

We've got bedtimes pretty well synchronized for Miriam and Magdalena. It's the waking up part that is kicking my butt. Magdalena wakes up ready for the day at about 6am. So I get up with her, feed her, and play with her until she realizes, about 90 minutes later, that she wasn't ready to get up after all. So I put her back to bed, and get back in bed myself... be woken up by Miriam about five minutes later. And Magdalena snoozes away while I wish I could be snoozing right along with her.

The sleep deprivation is really getting to me. Here is an actual conversation I had with a cashier at Old Navy yesterday:

Old Navy Employee: Would you like the receipt with you or in the [pronounced with Midwestern accent] bag?
Me: In the bag. Where are you from?
ONE: Michigan. A lot of people tell me I talk like I'm from Wisconsin or somewhere.
Me: Yeah. What part of Michigan?
ONE: Near Detroit.
Me: My husband has been to Madison a few times and he says it's a really nice place.
ONE: [Blank stare, politely covered up by some common pleasantry.]

Of course, it was only after I left the store that I realized I had made a fool of myself. Because Detroit is in Michigan, and Madison is in Wisconsin, and they happen to be separated by about 500 miles and a Great Lake. I know that, I really do. I'm not like that neighbor girl of mine who moved in when we were both in fifth grade. I had heard she was from Milwaukie, so when I met her, I asked her if she was from Wisconsin. Her response? "What's Wisconsin?" Not where's Wisconsin. WHAT. I am not that girl, I promise!

I considered going back into Old Navy and telling the employee what I really meant to say. But then I realized I didn't really know what I meant to say. I was just trying to make chit-chat on Day 45 of systematic sleep deprivation.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another morning surprise

I woke up this morning and found this on the counter, courtesy of Jeremy:

I guess I've honed my skills since last time because I think I know exactly what happened here.

Let's all admit that sometimes, when you're staying up late working on a project, you sometimes get snacky. Sometimes, you just need something sweet to eat to keep you going. The problem is that sometimes, there isn't anything sweet in the house.

So you get desperate. So desperate, in fact, that you dig out an unopened Christmas advent calendar from last year. You check the date - it has not yet expired. Victory! It's just the thing!

But your excitement is short-lived. Sadly, you get your hopes up only to find, to your horror, that the chocolate inside has gone bad. Just to make sure, though, you open not one, but two little date windows to confirm your utter disappointment.

I asked Jeremy what he ended up eating instead and he decided on two peanut granola bars. I guess I should have told him about the huge bag of chocolate chips in the pantry.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A game of tag

I'm it, thanks to Jill!

1. He can build awesome blanket forts.
2. He takes us to live in lots of fun places.
3. He doesn't mind that I'm a language nerd because he is one, too.
4. He makes me laugh.

1. Nike model
2. LSAT prep instructor
3. English teacher
4. Lexicographer

1. Pride & Prejudice (pick a version) (except that Mormon one)
2. Last of the Mohicans
3. Harry Potter 5 (in the theater, no less)
4. The Little Mermaid

2. Jeopardy!
3. The Simpsons, but only the early seasons
4. Occasional episodes of The Office

1. Jeremy (sometimes from the next computer over)
2. My mom
3. Random people who ask me questions about Syria
4. Warfish take-your-turn reminders (online RISK - nerd alert!)

1. Ice cream
2. Stuffing
3. Popcorn
4. Black olives

1. Ireland
2. Korea
3. Croatia
4. Morocco

1. Moving away from Tucson to...TBA
2. Going to Oregon
3. Fitting into some more of my clothes
4. Magdalena getting old enough to play with Miriam

1. Jen Ishihara
2. Kristen W
3. Liz
4. Britney

(But if you don't want to, I'll try to understand.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Flashback Friday: Escape from a Russian Hospital

This Friday's flashback is actually a guest post from my brother-in-law. Last week we had a story from Jeremy on his mission; this week we have one of his brother, Scott, also on his mission, also in Russia. It's one of my all-time favorite mission stories, so I'm happy to have it featured here today. Here is his flashback in his own words, marking the first time the word "crap" has appeared as a verb on My Adventures in Tucson, at least to my knowledge.

"Below is the story of how I contracted food poisoning in Russia, visited a Russian hospital, and ultimately escaped from that hospital. This story is not for the faint of heart: graphic portrayals of the body attempting to cleanse itself of that which never should be eaten follow. Consider yourself warned.

"One November afternoon at an open-air Russian market in the city of Orenburg, my friend and I were buying groceries. Before heading home, we decided to get a bite to eat. I was craving shish kebabs. After much searching in the cold November air, we came across a vendor with a few shish kebabs remaining. The only problem was that they looked old. And there were flies. I didn’t care then. I was ready to eat. So I did.

"No signs of sickness surfaced until later that evening, when the vomiting and diarrhea came (often at the same time). I was up all night vomiting and crapping. I was too sick to do anything the next day, including eating or drinking. I tried a number of American and Russian remedies, but none of them offered any relief.

"After 30 hours without any fluids, I resolved to get help. I first attempted to phone an American doctor stationed in Moscow, but he was out of the country and unreachable. After consulting the missionary health manual and discussing my condition with friends, I decided to seek local medical attention.

"Upon arrival at the local hospital, I was admitted to a triage room. After 30 minutes of waiting, a doctor called me back to an examination room and promptly told me to bend over because he was going to do what I refer to as “check my oil.” Up to that time, I had never had my oil checked and I vowed right then and there for obvious reasons never to have it checked again. After that procedure, and after I explained my symptoms, the doctor decided to admit me to the hospital as a patient. At that point, my Russian friend and my missionary friend who had accompanied me bid me farewell and I was on my own, which is a strange feeling for an LDS missionary, because we are always with at least one other person.

"After saying goodbye, a nurse directed me to my room on the second floor. Being the ignorant American that I am, I expected to have my own private room. In that I was disappointed. I was led to a cold, green-tiled shared room with about 17 other Russian men. They were lying in metal beds along either side of the room. Many of them looked seriously ill or injured (several were sporting major bandages); all of them appeared utterly shocked at my presence. I had been conversing with the nurse on the way into the room and the Russians immediately picked up on my accent (which I never even got close to mastering). All eyes were on me. The nurse instructed me to undress down to my underwear and to climb onto the gurney that had been placed in the middle of the room. I complied except that, when I climbed onto the gurney, it collapsed.

"After successfully fixing and then mounting the gurney, I lay there in my underwear for all to observe until a couple of other nurses came in to wheel me into what looked like an operating room. In that room, about seven other nurses and one man in a white overcoat were waiting for me. Once inside, the man explained that he was going to “have a look inside me,” as he was pulling a black snake-like cable out of a briefcase. A nurse gave me a plastic doughnut-shaped device for my mouth, and the man started to slide the black cable apparatus down my throat. When the end of the apparatus touched the back of my throat, and then on each successive push of the hose, I puked, hard. The first time I puked, I grabbed the snake and tried to pull it out, only to have the nurses rush to my side and hold my arms down. I remember distinctly thinking that I had never had it worse in my life.

"The doctor found nothing and I returned to my shared room. This time I had a bed. Throughout the night, nurses attended to me and requested various samples. First it was a urine sample. Later, at about 2:00 a.m., it was a stool sample. For the latter, a nurse brought in a cup that was slightly smaller than a shot glass. I reluctantly complied and got up from my bed to visit the men’s room down the hall. A nurse intercepted me in the hallway and demanded that I provide the stool sample from my own bed. At this point I had almost had enough. I recited to her the laundry list of humiliations that I had already gone through that night and I made it clear to her that under no circumstances was I going to provide a stool sample in a shot glass in my bed in front of 17 other Russian men who had seemingly stayed up late so as not to miss a second of my performance. After delivering the stool sample—in the men’s room—I made no extra effort to wipe the shot glass clean.

"Upon my return to the room, another doctor was there waiting to upset my vow made only hours before against having my oil checked. This dipstick returned once again.

"After that, the dark cloud thinned. I had brought with me to the hospital a liter box of apple juice and, at about 3:00 am, I was starting to hold it down. I started myself on a controlled regiment of gradually increased amounts of juice and, by 5:30, I was feeling better.

"At 7:00 am, I was startled when a nurse placed a pillow over my head and a row of ultra-violet lights on either side of the room was turned on for a 10-minute period. The other patients had dark goggles.

"At 8:00, I was summoned to an examination room, in which I encountered a line of about six Russians waiting to have their blood drawn. Although using clean needles for each patient, the nurse wore no gloves, and she was visibly getting blood on her hands. She would wipe that blood off on a towel and then call for the next patient. When it was my turn, I asked the nurse what was going to happen to me next. She was uncertain, but she indicated that my stomach would most likely be examined again. This meant that I would be reacquainted with the black snake. It was then I decided to escape from the hospital.

"I grabbed my only possessions—my slippers, a toothbrush, and my glasses, and I started looking for an escape route. My room was located near a small stairwell, and, after checking down both sides of the hallway to see if I was clear, I made a dash for it. The hallway led to a courtyard in the back of the hospital. I could see no one out there, so I proceeded outside. Luckily, the courtyard was not fenced in, and it led around to the front. There, I hailed a cab (which, in Russia, consists of virtually any private driver), and was driven back to my apartment. I didn’t tell the driver that I had no money.

"Once I was at my apartment, I told the driver that I had escaped from the hospital and had no money but that my friend had plenty upstairs. He reluctantly agreed to wait while I went upstairs for the fare. The door was locked. I sheepishly returned to the cab and promised him that, if he returned later in the day, I would have his fare. By now the driver had lost his trust in me, so he uttered a few choice Russian curse words and drove away.

"I was left to sit in the dark, cold stairwell until my friend returned. He did about an hour later and my long, dark night had at last come to an end."

Thanks, Scott! I hope you can take comfort in the fact that years later, we all got a good laugh at the expense of your misery.

From his cold, dead hands

I stumbled across this article today in the Arizona Daily Star. In case you don't feel like clicking, a University of Arizona student shot and killed two armed home invaders early this morning.

I'm trying to decide how I feel about this. On the one hand, how terrible that two people lost their lives in such a grisly manner. On the other hand, here's hoping they were the same two guys who were terrorizing our neighborhood earlier this month. I'll stop short of saying I am glad they're dead - perhaps "relieved" is a better word. Relieved that there are two fewer bad guys out there, and relieved that the victim wasn't harmed by their - or his own - gun. From all accounts, it sounds like the U of A student was just a normal guy who happened to have a gun nearby (or brought it with him to the door, depending on which article you read) and wasn't afraid to use it.

And that brings me to the larger issue at hand. Until very recently, I've always thought that having a loaded gun in the house is a very, very bad idea. Jeremy went through a brief phase a couple of years ago where he read up on gun laws (The Arizona Gun Owner's Guide: Who Can Bear Arms, Where are Guns Forbidden, and When Can You Shoot to Kill? I'm not kidding), but it never amounted to anything.

I am still against having a loaded gun in the house. A gun in one secure place, ammunition in another secure place, whatever. But what good would that do you in a situation such as the one described in the article? And yet I just can't reconcile keeping a lethal weapon relatively accessible in a home where there are also small children. Because it would have to be relatively accessible to be of any use against the type of crime we're talking about.

I realize, of course, that it doesn't always turn out so perfectly. I think this particular U of A student was lucky to escape from the whole ordeal entirely uninjured. I hope that in time, he will be able to recover from such a harrowing experience. I also hope he realizes that basically the entire city of Tucson is behind him and approves of his actions, at least according to the comments on the news stories (but maybe right-wing NRA-types are more likely to populate internet newspaper article discussions...?).

In the meantime, I guess we have our baseball bat, stashed beneath our bed, always at the ready.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My reign of terror is over

I knew it would happen eventually, and yet somehow, I wasn't prepared when it did: we finished editing the dictionary. Z finally came and now it's done.

Now I'm back to being "just" a mom. No more awkward answers to awkward questions. No more trying to finish an entry before Magdalena wakes up from a nap. There probably won't be as many semi-supervised Photo Booth sessions for Miriam. No more sifting through unsavory sentences for words like "suppository." And now I can finally scrape together some "free time" to do other projects, like organize our photos or make DVDs of our video camera footage.

But you know what else there will be no more of? Well, for one thing, paychecks. Although that wasn't the main impetus for taking the job way back when, it certainly was a nice perk. Something else that is gone that is slightly less tangible is a certain sense of worth. And that is what I'm struggling with the most.

For over a year now I've had this outside project that was always there for me to work on. It didn't wake up during the night or need to be fed or, admittedly, give me kisses or hugs or tell me it loved me. But it was my own little pet, just for me, and some days it was the only measure of myself I could depend on. When I wasn't doing so well as a woman, wife, or mother, at least I was still dang good at editing the dictionary. And I had the paycheck or complimentary email from a boss to prove it.

Now I'm on my own. It's just me and the kids, not me and the kids and my job. For the first time in a very long while, if Miriam asks me to play Candyland, the answer doesn't necessarily have to be, "No, I can't, I'm working." I'm not sure how I feel about that yet. On the one hand, I really don't want to play Candyland, and having to work is an excuse Miriam (if not Magdalena) has come to understand. But on the other hand, it is so nice to be able to drop what I'm doing without having to hit "pause" on a timesheet and say, "Sure, I'll be right there!"

I have hopes that there will be another project forthcoming. Generic Non-US Dictionary company does, too, but it's still technically an "if" and even if it does turn into a "when," I don't know exactly "when." So for now I'll organize those photos and burn those DVDs and maybe figure myself out enough that I don't need to delve into the intricacies of English language in order to feel that I'm worth anything.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can you play the balalaika?

I finished watching Doctor Zhivago yesterday. It took me several days and three or four viewing installments, but I watched all three hours and seventeen minutes of it.

All I knew about Doctor Zhivago before I saw it was that it is always appearing on those lists of classic movies, along with films like Casablanca, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and (shudder) Citizen Kane. So when I sat down to watch it late last week, I fully expected to not like it. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found myself enjoying it so much that I had to force myself to turn it off after an hour or two and go to bed.

Actually, I don't know if "enjoy" is quite the right word for a movie like Doctor Zhivago. It is a sad, tragic, melancholy story set against a bleak landscape during a period of social and political upheaval. It is a compelling movie, rather than an enjoyable one.

The amazing thing is how relatively un-dated it remains, even forty years after it was made, though I suppose that is the very definition of a classic. Some of the performances are tainted a little by that simpering, affected style so many 1960s actresses seemed to depend on, but maybe that's more of a 1960s thing than an actress thing. Besides, all of that is forgiven whenever Omar Sharif and his uncannily expressive eyes are on the screen. Who knew an Egyptian could play a Russian so deeply and convincingly?

On a secondary level, I appreciated this movie for what it taught me about Russia, or, more accurately, about what America thinks of Russia. Doctor Zhivago seems to have informed an entire American generation about Russia. Personally, I can barely remember when the USSR existed. Doctor Zhivago gave me an idea of the kind of image of Russia people like my parents grew up with.

It's a good thing, then, that the story of Doctor Zhivago is so very, very Russian. If there is another story out there that involves more drama, sickness, heartache, betrayal, politics, poetry, bleak weather, power, and death, I'm sure it was written by a Russian as well. The final scene of Yuri Zhivago's life, all by itself, demonstrates the difference between the American ideal ending and the Russian ideal ending. [Spoiler alert, I guess, if you aren't familiar with the story.]

If an American had written Doctor Zhivago, Yuri could have still lurched down the sidewalk in the final stages of cardiac arrest, desperately trying to catch Lara's attention before she disappears forever. But in the American version, she would have turned around and seen him, and perhaps spent a few moments in his company before he dies, secure in the knowledge that he is loved by at least one soul in the world. And somehow, she would have found her daughter, too.

In the real story, though, Zhivago just dies. Yep. Right there on the street, as Lara continues walking away from him, entirely unaware that he is even in Moscow. And Lara never finds her daughter, either. When I realized that was the ending, I could hardly believe it. I had endured three hours of non-stop bleakness for that?

But now I realize that I wouldn't have it any other way. Having Lara and Yuri reunited at the end wouldn't have redeemed either of them. More death, more misery, and more suffering is the only way to end a story that has been about death, misery, and suffering all along the way. To do it any other way would ruin it.

To answer the title question: no, but these guys do. Here is the film's theme for Lara, which I'm sure you'll immediately recognize, as I did, though I didn't know it was from Doctor Zhivago. You see, this movie made its way into my cultural context without my even knowing it!

Monday, October 13, 2008

In which Miriam builds a bear

It's entirely possible that I am one of the last people in America to know about Build-A-Bear Workshop. Apparently, I've passed by the store many times in different malls around the country but I've never bothered to go inside. It always just seemed like another one of those annoying stores with bright lights and a garish logo - stimulation overload even in a mall, which defines that concept.

All that changed yesterday because Grandma and Grandpa Palmer were in town. We were already at the mall and Grandma asked if we wanted to take Miriam to Build-A-Bear. Since the mall play area was overrun with wild, too-big 12-year-olds playing tag and knocking over toddlers, we decided to go for it.

And what a pleasant experience it was! I'm generally not one for coerced, manipulative, profit-geared fun, but Miriam really enjoyed the experience, and I enjoyed it because she did.

Just in case there's anyone else out there who, like me (until yesterday), doesn't know what all the fuss is about, here's the deal.

First, you choose a stuffed animal carcass. I can't remember if they actually call it a carcass. Note to marketing team: if you do call it a carcass, consider choosing a new term. Then you bring it to one of the workers and they stuff it right there in front of you with this magical machine. Once the child decides it's cuddly enough, the bear is finished.

Then you put a heart inside of it, sew it up, and take it over for a "bath." I couldn't tell if the bath (actually a blow-dryer-type apparatus) had an actual purpose, like removing excess fluff, or if it was just for show.

Then you're all set!

They send you home with a cardboard box for a house and even a birth certificate if you want.

The genius of Build-A-Bear, in my opinion, lies in three areas.

First, the initial purchase of a stuffed animal is very affordable. The simplest bear carcasses cost as little as $10. Of course, there are $20 - $25 carcasses, too, but if, like us, you just want it for the experience, it's very affordable. (Especially if Grandma is the one actually buying it.)

After they've sucked you into a seemingly innocuous stuffed animal purchase, they rake in the dough with dozens of expensive accessories. The bear may have cost $10, but if you want to buy an outfit for your bear, it will cost you $15 and up. Brilliant!

Finally - and this is what really won me over - the staff members are low-key and don't pressure you. At least they didn't at this store. The woman who helped Miriam with her bear was pleasant, kind, and helpful. She also heard me tell Miriam several times that we weren't going to buy any extras, like a beating heart (really!) or clothes or shoes - and yet she still treated us with absolute courtesy. Nothing turns me off to a store more than employees who only treat you with respect if they suspect you will be spending a lot of money. I admit it annoys me more than is probably reasonable, but really, I shouldn't have to pretend to take my time looking at all the full-priced goods at Baby Gap or wherever when what I really want to do is make a beeline to the back wall where all the clearance stuff is, just so the salespeople won't roll their eyes at me.

In the same vein as the above, the employees didn't look down on us for not knowing how the whole Build-A-Bear process works. Instead, they guided us all along the way and didn't assume anything. Even some of the other customers in the store chipped in with advice and helpful commentary on the experience. I'll admit that sometimes I avoid going in "experience" stores or restaurants like these simply because I don't know how to do it and I'm afraid I'll be mocked if I try.

It was so refreshing to have a positive consumer experience, especially one that brought so much excitement and joy to Miriam. I'm sure whoever thought of Build-A-Bear is very rich now, and I'm very happy for them. After all, if they can manage to persuade parents to spend $25 on a police officer outfit for a stuffed animal, they deserve every penny.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Flashback Friday: A foreign affair to remember

It's Flashback Friday, and you know what that means: another story from Russia. I have so many of these that we might need to move on to another theme for a while lest we all get Russia'd out.

Then again, today's story is a bit of a break after all because it happened to Jeremy, not me. First, some necessary background information: in the mid-90s, Jeremy served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Siberia, specifically in the cities of Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. Mormon missionaries generally serve in pairs, and each member of the pair is called a "companion" to the other. Throughout their two years of service, as often as every couple of months, missionaries are transferred to serve with different companions.

Elder Palmer

Jeremy had been in Novosibirsk for five months when he was transferred to a new companionship, to serve with a missionary named Elder Atwood. To accommodate the transfer, Jeremy moved in to the apartment Atwood was already living in.

In the bedroom of the apartment, there were two beds. One was a large, comfortable bed. The other was what Jeremy describes as a "coffin bed" because it had sides on it. Once you lay down in the narrow coffin bed, you couldn't roll over or otherwise move to get comfortable because the sides didn't allow it. A difficult decision with an unavoidably unfair outcome lay before the missionaries, and Elder Atwood, trying to give the new guy a break, offered to take one for the team and sleep in the coffin bed. Jeremy wasn't about to argue - it was his lucky day! He'd get the normal bed while Elder Atwood suffered for his generosity.

Meanwhile, missionary work in the city went on as usual. But before long, Jeremy and his companion started having problems with the lock on their front door. They returned to the apartment once in the middle of the day and tried to get in, to no avail. The lock seemed to be stuck, or the key wasn't working. On that day, they simply gave up and went back out in the city to continue working. Later, when they returned, they had no problems getting in the door. It was strange and annoying, but not suspicious - locks are finicky sometimes, and they had no reason to suspect anyone of anything.

Jeremy and I in front of one of his Novosibirsk mission apartments (but not the one) on a visit there in 2002.

The next time the lock gave them trouble, though, they didn't give up so easily. Instead, Elder Atwood went to the apartment above theirs, climbed out on the neighbor's balcony, and lowered himself onto their own balcony to let himself in. They still couldn't quite figure out what the problem was with the lock.

Eventually, there came a last straw: once again, they tried to get into their apartment, and once again, the lock didn't seem to work. So they called in the big guns, in the form of a fellow missionary named Elder C, who was large in stature. Basically, Elder C tried to kick the door down. He kicked and banged and pounded but succeeded only in knocking loose a few splinters of wood and shaking down some paint flakes.

As Jeremy and his companion stood locked outside their own apartment that night, defeated and wondering what to do next, they heard a strange sound. It was a click, and it was strange because it was the sound of their door opening, from the inside.

The door opened to reveal their landlord, a very small and skinny (and at that moment, sheepish) man, dressed in a bright yellow 1970s-style shirt with a wide butterfly collar left open to reveal a hairy chest and a gold medallion on a chain.

Amidst the shock of discovering his landlord - dressed in such a manner - inside his home, Jeremy stepped into the apartment and glanced down the hallway. There he saw an extremely large, almost obese woman who was in the middle of hastily dressing herself. Unfortunately for Jeremy, she wasn't quite finished yet.

Obviously, the landlord had been less than up-front with his Mormon missionary tenants. He was renting the apartment to them while also using it to carry on an illicit affair with a woman who was not his wife. Immediately, the reason why the missionaries sometimes couldn't get into their own apartment became terrifyingly, revoltingly clear.

I'm sure it was a big "ewww" moment for Elder Atwood, too, but I think it had to have been worse for Jeremy. Remember those two beds in the bedroom? The big, comfortable one, and the narrow, coffin-like one? I'll leave it to you to decide which one the landlord preferred for his, um, recreational activities.

So you see that in the end, Elder Atwood was blessed for his generosity. Even if it was at Jeremy's very great and shudder-worthy expense.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

An enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in pajamas

I just love Jeremy. He always keeps me guessing. And it's the little things, you know?

Some mornings of the week, Jeremy is out the door before we girls are out of bed. Every once in a while, he leaves behind a little mystery for me to figure out. For example, the other day, I found a pan of brownies in the fridge. We had made brownies the night before but I had no idea what they were doing in the fridge in the morning. And, it turns out, neither did Jeremy when I asked him about it later. "I don't know," he said, "I guess I just wasn't thinking about it." I guess I shouldn't laugh about that one too much. Once, in the same week, I left a frozen pizza on top of the fridge (fortunately Jeremy found it within a few days) and put an open jar of salsa back in the pantry.

This morning's mystery I still haven't figured out. Here's what I saw on the counter when I walked into the kitchen:

As you can see, this bag of shredded wheat has been opened in a manner most curious. There's the rip on the side, yes, but the top of the bag is also completely opened. Sometimes a picture tells a whole story but I admit I just can't figure out what happened here. Did he rip the bag down the side first (by accident? on purpose?), decide that it wasn't a good enough orifice from which to retrieve his cereal, and then open the bag properly? But why not open it properly in the first place? And if he did open it properly in the first place, why the extraneous rip down the side? WHY?!?

Sadly, we may never know. I asked Jeremy about it when he got home and he had no memory of the alleged cereal-bag-opening experience. Typical.

I wonder what he'll think of and then not remember next...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Down to the wire for this election

I had this great idea to wait until late last week to acquire an Arizona voter registration form, wait until the last day (today) to mail it, and then wait until 5pm to leave the house to go drop it off at the post office. Oh yeah, I also had the great idea to run there instead of drive.

Sounds foolproof, doesn't it? Well, here's what almost got in between me and my civic duty.

First, Magdalena was awake. You may recall all the conditions that have to be met in order for me to be able to go running, and her being awake is not acceptable if I want to leave her at home. Which I did, because Miriam really wanted to be the one to come with me in the jogging stroller. So I took them both outside to see if I could fit them in the single jogging stroller side by side. It kind of worked, but also kind of didn't because I wouldn't be able to strap them in.

I had thought that Magdalena was still to small to fit in our double bike trailer/jogging stroller, but I took a closer look and decided to at least try. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking - time was running out if I wanted to get to the post office in time to mail my registration form.

I enlisted Jeremy's help to get Magdalena situated in the double jogger. It took some - well, a lot of - work, but we finally got her strapped in well enough that it didn't look too terribly uncomfortable. Miriam was good to go and so we were off! It was just about 5 o'clock, and the last mailbox pickup was at 5.15. I knew I'd have to run pretty briskly with no unscheduled stops to get to the post office in time.

About two minutes down the road, Miriam asked for a drink. I love how she thinks I have a magical stash of drinks and snacks with me wherever we go. When I told her I didn't have one, she asked if we could turn around, go home, and get one. The answer was no.

Then Magdalena started crying. I checked on her (while still running) and she looked OK, just angry for some reason. So I kept running. Civic duty vs. maternal instinct, and civic duty won, this time. I told Miriam to hold Magdalena's hand and eventually she stopped crying, but not before I got a few "bad mom" looks from other joggers, walkers, and bikers passing by.

Finally, we got close enough to the post office that I could see the big blue mailbox. I made sure I didn't see any mail trucks pulling away even as my pace slowed down since the drop box is up a medium-sized hill. I slogged my way up the hill as fast as I could and dropped the pale beige form in the box.

At last, my voter registration form was safely in the mail, to be postmarked October 6th. The rest of the run was very uneventful, and I think I went a bit slower to compensate for sprinting the first half.

Now that I've gone through all that trouble to register, I guess I just have to decide who I'm going to vote for. At the moment, I'm thinking of writing in Tina Fey. What do you think?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Flashback Friday: In which I nearly freeze to death

In case you're just joining us, it's Flashback Friday and the theme is Stories from Russia.

Today's story involves neither spies nor mariticide. Instead, I'm going to tell you about the coldest I've ever been in my life. I was so cold that I actually wasn't sure that I would be able to get myself someplace warm before I lost feeling in my legs.

It started out innocuously enough when I decided what I was going to give Jeremy for Christmas. First, some background. There's a pedestrian street in Moscow called Old Arbat that has retained much of its 19th-century Moscow glory. There is also a New Arbat, but it is filled with casinos shaped like boats, apartment blocks shaped like books, and other such eyesores.

Old Arbat, on the other hand, is filled with lots of fun stuff. There are vendors selling souvenirs, of course, which makes it a convenient substitute for the vast Izmailovsky Park located farther out of town. There are shops and restaurants and street performers, too. Near the end of the street, just before it turns into New Arbat, there are portrait artists, who will draw your likeness (either realistically or as a caricature) right then and there for a few dollars.

You may have seen artists like this in amusement parks or festivals; so have I. But remember that we're talking about Russia here, where people with PhDs in astrophysics scrape by a living sweeping floors at the local elementary school. Similarly, these street artists were not necessarily amateurs drawing just to earn a buck: many of them were very, very talented individuals.

I saw this first-hand when my parents visited us in the spring of 2002, and my mom had her portrait done on Old Arbat. The artist's name was Suleiman and he was from Georgia (the country, not the state). Even if you've never seen my mom before, surely you can tell that this is a portrait sketched by a skilled artist.

So in December 2002, I had the great idea to secretly get my portrait drawn and give it as a gift to Jeremy for Christmas. This was no small undertaking for me. I knew that finding an artist, bargaining a price, and sitting lamely where all the passers-by could see the whole process would be intimidating for me. But, it really was a great idea for a Christmas gift, so I decided to go for it.

Old Arbat looks like this, except without the cars and the wires. The architectural style is about the same, though.

I got to Old Arbat and set about looking for an artist. There were plenty of them there, of course, but I wanted a Georgian - Suleiman specifically if possible. I asked around for Suleiman but he was nowhere to be found. I really wish he had been there, not only because I knew he would do a good job, but because it would have saved me the terror of bargaining with three big Russian artists who I kind of felt would do me bodily harm if I didn't accept their offer. Fortunately, I managed to extricate myself from that situation and find a nice, young Georgian artist who was willing to take my portrait for the right price.

You may recall that it was December, in Moscow. The average temperature in Moscow in December is around 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That means that sometimes it's warmer, sometimes it's colder. On this day, I think it was colder. It was one of those crystal clear winter days where the sun is shining but it doesn't seem to give any warmth at all. This wasn't really a problem for me until I realized that I'd have to take off my hat - unless I wanted to give Jeremy a picture of me wearing a shapka for Christmas.

So I took my hat off and it was just as cold as I had feared. And it just kept getting colder and colder as the artist took his sweet time drawing my picture. I think my smile literally became frozen on my face. I have never been anywhere near as cold in my entire life as I was sitting still in a chair in the open winter air on Old Arbat street. But it was all for love, right? And vanity, I guess. Maybe Jeremy would have been happy with a shapka picture after all. Or so my thought process went as my extremities gradually went numb, one by one.

Eventually, he finished, and I attempted to pay him. Attempted, because I didn't have enough manual dexterity left in my fingers to physically pull out and separate any bills. I ended up using my two hands like the bricks of ice they were to wedge my wallet out of my bag, hold it out to him, and then telling him to take 500 rubles (we'd agreed on 300 but I was too cold to deal with making change). He had certainly earned it. Think about it: I was freezing cold just sitting there, while he somehow kept warmth enough in his fingers - through the powers of darkness, perhaps? - to draw a picture. Amazing.

When our business was done, I put my hat back on. It helped a little, but I was still in a tight spot, hypothermia-wise. So I stumbled to the closest warm place I could think of: Dom Knigi on New Arbat. It was a big enough store that I knew I wouldn't attract too much attention as I worked on returning circulation to large portions of my body. And it took some time, but eventually I warmed up enough to get home.

Here's the portrait. I don't even think it's that amazing - it's certainly not as technically beautiful as the one of my mom. But when I remember the circumstances that led to its creation, I tend to give it a little more credit. In a way, I think the artist drew me as I would be if I were Russian. And if almost freezing to death is the price I pay for catching a glimpse of my Russian self, well, I'll take it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

I wish I could do my chores in peace

Today, as I mopped the floor while Miriam begged me for a snack and Magdalena cried in her swing, I thought of a new definition of motherhood as it often means to me. I've always known that motherhood means not having time to do the things I want to do. Today, I realized that motherhood also means not having time to do the things I don't want to do. For example, mopping the floor. Sigh.

Another tidbit of wisdom tonight is for all the people who are wondering how it is to have two kids now instead of one (aside from the touchy-feely aspect of it all that I addressed here). Going from one to two kids was definitely less of a major transition for me than going from zero to one. I don't know if I'm in the majority or minority on that point. Yes, it is definitely more work, but you know what? It is also strangely liberating! With one kid, I could still get a lot done, so I often tried to, and I often failed. With two kids, I have resigned myself to the fact that I probably won't get anything done, ever, so why try? And then I don't fail. Wonderful.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Tucson and I are on the outs again.

It seems like every time I start to feel like maybe Tucson and I could really get along, something like this (or this) happens. To be honest, I'm used to hearing about stuff like that happening in the south part of town (sorry, friends who live down there). And yes, I realize how sad it is that I could ever be "used" to hearing about people being beaten and robbed in their own homes by armed thugs.

Today, though, it got even worse: our alert neighbor passed on an email from another woman who lives nearby, and it seems that there have been two similar home invasions in our general area of town the past two nights. The first one happened, and the police assumed it was drug-related. (Side note: am I a terrible person if I admit to being relieved when I hear that violent crime is connected to the bad lifestyle choices of the victims? It probably does, but it also makes me feel a tiny bit safer. However, please don't draw any shocking conclusions from these statements about women or rape, because that is absolutely not what I'm talking about here.)

Then there was another home invasion last night, so nobody is sure what exactly is going on, except, of course, for the people who are doing these terrible things. Still, there are a few things about the incidents that don't really make sense. For example, the email account says that one of the victims (a man) "answered the door and was confronted with 3 armed men in ski masks." Um, if three men in ski masks ring your doorbell, don't answer the door. Also, it says the men "proceeded to take everything that was at hand, said they did not want to hurt anyone, asked for drugs, and left." I can just imagine it: "Well, now that we've taken your money and valuables, do you happen to have any drugs on hand? No? Oh well, just thought I'd check."

I just can't handle the prospect of not feeling safe in my own neighborhood. It's enough to make me want to stay inside all day, every day, unless Jeremy is home to escort me everywhere. But what kind of life would that be? So I'll continue on as I always have, being absurdly vigilant even to the point that if I pull out of our street and see a car that was previously parked on the shoulder of the road turn onto the street after me, I'll go back to make sure that it wasn't just waiting for me to leave so they could break into our house.

In my more dramatic moments, it's enough to make me want to live in the Middle East forever. I know our affinity for that region of the world puzzles and possibly terrifies many of you, but really, what is there to be afraid of? In what way is a possible act of terrorism or war more dangerous than three masked men breaking into someone's home with guns?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The running, it has begun

There's hardly anything in the world I look forward to less than a first run. There are all kinds of first runs: the first run ever, of course, the first run of a new cross-country/track season, the first run after taking time off for an injury, the first run in America after living in a non-exercisey country, and the first run after being sick. It really seems like your body should just remember how to do it instead of giving you such a hard time every time you take so much as a week or two off. Running is a cruel mistress, I suppose.

But the most hated of all first runs, at least for me, is the first run after giving birth to a baby. I got it over with about two weeks ago and wow, it was excruciating.

The good news is that the second, third, fourth, etc. runs are never as bad as the first. In fact, I almost feel back to normal now. I don't mean that my body is back to normal yet (ask me in about a year), just that as I'm running, I feel much as I used to when I was in the daily habit.

I still have a long way to go, though. Maybe I'm just not self-sacrificing enough, but I have to admit that I find the "pregnancy - going through labor and giving birth - recovering pre-baby body" continuum more than just annoying. It is grueling in many ways. Physically, it is so hard on the body - gaining and losing so much weight within the space of a year. Emotionally, there are so many changes going on that it's hard to keep a handle on normalcy.

The most superficially annoying part about it all is the impact it has on your wardrobe. I know there are people out there who never really wear maternity clothes, and who immediately pop right back into their pre-pregnancy duds, but I am not one of them. Instead, my closet and drawers are in constant upheaval as I change out clothes that no longer fit me - during pregnancy because they're too small; after pregnancy because they're too big - which goes against my sense of order and organization. Then there's the complication added by nursing: some shirts work, some shirts don't. You can see how this gets tiresome, and how it happens that I can go a year or two without wearing large portions of the clothes I own.

But the running is good now, so I'm just trying to remind myself that it will take time - lots and lots of time - to get my old self back. Magdalena is not big enough to fit into the double bike trailer/jogging stroller yet, so for now I've just been taking one or the other of the girls with me in our single jogger. When I take Miriam with me, it's one of the small ways that I can imagine things are like they used to be: "just you and me, just Mama and MéMé," as she likes to say. Also, I've figured out that knowing a hungry, crying baby is waiting for you at home is a great motivation to run really fast.

It will be nice when I can take both of them with me. As it is, I have to wait for a peculiar convergence of circumstances to occur before I can head out the door: it can't be too hot (we're still pushing 100 degrees most days), Jeremy has to be home, Magdalena has to have been fed fairly recently, and it can't be dark (dark = dangerous). Still, it feels so good to take advantage of the times when all the above is true and it's just me, my iPod Shuffle, and one of my girls, getting some exercise and getting myself back again.


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