Sunday, November 30, 2008

The neverending sickness

Did you know that Newsweek embedded reporters with the McCain and Obama campaigns for a year? Both campaigns agreed to it, but the catch was that Newsweek couldn't publish anything about it until after the election was over. The resulting 7-part report was released a couple of weeks ago. You can find it here.

I'm reminded of those embedded reporters because for the last month, Jeremy has been very ill. I kept trying to write a post about it but it was just too much. I'm often able to cope with these kinds of situations by finding the humor in them, so the fact that I wasn't able to write about Jeremy being sick while it was going on should tell you how difficult it was for us all. I decided not to write anything until it was all over, just like the Newsweek reporters did. Don't worry, it will only take me one post - not seven - to tell you about it.

It started out innocuously enough when, by some freak of germ exposure, Jeremy came down with hand-foot-mouth disease. HFMD is a common enough disease among children, but is extremely rare in adults. It is also moderately contagious, which meant that Jeremy went into a quasi-quarantine in our own house and spent as little time as possible with the girls and me.

As if the sickness - fever, chills, head and body aches, and sores on his hands, feet, and mouth - wasn't bad enough, there was the fact that it was so awkward to tell anyone what Jeremy was suffering from. Why do they have to give diseases names like hand-foot-mouth? It just sounds so slovenly. It doesn't help that there is an entirely different disease called hoof-and-mouth that affects cows, sheep, and pigs.

Then, just as he was getting better from HFMD - and I mean literally, there was one day where the clouds broke for a few hours and he spent some time with us (I think it was election day) - pneumonia set in. Friends, if HFMD was bad, pneumonia was ten times worse. Meanwhile, I was still playing the single parent, taking care of the girls and Jeremy while trying not to pass germs from the latter to the former (or myself).

Things reached a peak one morning when the girls and I were trying to get out the door to playgroup and also give Jeremy a ride to the doctor for an appointment. Right when it was time to go, Jeremy started bleeding out through his nose. Aside from childbirth, I have never personally seen that much blood in my life. Without going into too much detail, let me just say that if I had walked into our bathroom later, not knowing what had really happened, I would have assumed that someone had been murdered there. It was gross. Also? This was the same morning that our garbage disposal broke. Yeah.

Fast-forward to last night, when the girls and I got home from our trip to Oregon. Jeremy is finally feeling better, but he's not 100% yet. His face actually has some color in it instead of being ash gray, and his hands don't look so leprous anymore from the HFMD sores.

Through all the emotional and physical clouds, there were a few silver linings. The major one was that if he had to be confined to a sickbed (or couch, as it were) for three weeks this year, he chose the right three weeks. The day before he got sick, he finished off a big batch of job applications. He was able to lie low for a few weeks and then get mobile again just in time to head off to Washington, DC to present at a conference and have some job interviews, though it was really, really close.

The other silver lining seems insignificant, but it meant the world to me. Remember the pony invasion? That was right smack in the middle of the worst of the whole sickness extravaganza. The beautiful thing was that Miriam played with those ponies all day, every day, and so for a while I only had to intensively take care of Magdalena and Jeremy.

I know some people don't like blogs because they often only show off the best of us. It's fun to highlight all the awesome things we do, the cutest pictures of our kids, the most fantastic and best experiences. But of course there's always other stuff going on behind the scenes - people just don't always have the energy or perspective to write about it all.

For now, I'm so glad that Jeremy is on the mend. And for all you critics who say that all we bloggers write about are sunshine and roses, now you know why. Who wants to put up with posts like this every day?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Flashback Friday: A close encounter with a bear

Ah, Girls' Camp. For as much as I didn't enjoy my time there, it sure is a good source of Flashback Friday stories. (I'm not the only one who thinks so, either - my friend Kristen wrote about Girls' Camp and the Cootie Ghetto a few weeks ago.)

Today I'm going to tell you about the time I was at Girls' Camp and got chased by a bear. It was the summer of 1997, and it was the year my friends and I had all been waiting for - we were finally counselors. No more mandatory craft activities, classes, or scheduled time for showering. Instead, we were paired up and put in charge of half a dozen 12- and 13-year-old girls, and they had to do all the required stuff. My fellow counselors and I spent our time decorating our cabins, sleeping when the girls were gone, and raiding the cafeteria kitchen for snacks after the girls were in bed.

Ready to rule camp as counselors, at last!

The week of camp progressed with little incident (other than the Cootie Ghetto affair linked to above), except that something - I forget what - happened to the bathrooms, and we all had to hike up the hill to a row of Andy Gumps (port-a-potties) whenever the need arose.

My sister Teresa at Girls' Camp in 1997. Looks like she's having fun!

The other thing that happened during the week to put a little excitement in the air was that one morning, the adult camp leaders discovered evidence of a bear having come down to camp in the middle of the night. Apparently, it had disturbed the trash cans outside the cafeteria. From then on, we weren't supposed to go anywhere at any time by ourselves - we always had to be with at least one other person, though really, I think that was a rule anyway.

Still, we lived it up as much as we could as counselors. The highlight really was that we could go to the kitchen whenever we wanted and help ourselves to leftovers from that day's meals. All the cafeteria staff asked was that we turn off the lights when we were done.

One night, after all our young charges were asleep in our cabins, a group of us counselors headed up in the dark to the cafeteria for some late-night snacking. The lights were off, as expected, but we turned them on and helped ourselves to some leftover desserts. The mood was light, the food was good, and we were having a great time laughing and joking with each other.

Then we heard a loud noise. It sounded like something very large was rustling around just outside the kitchen. And then we realized that it was coming from just about where the kitchen trash cans were. Then we remembered the warning about the bear.

I don't remember if we made a conscious, communal decision to flee, or if we all reached the same conclusion at the same time. Either way, it took just a few moments for all of us counselors to high-tail it out of that cafeteria. The banging and rustling coming from the dumpster continued as we ran as fast as we could down the path back to the cabins.

By the time we got there, I think we were all laughing a little bit, but it was that nervous, terrified laughter that sometimes strikes at a moment like the one we had just experienced. If I recall correctly, we reported what had happened to the people in charge and from then on, nobody was allowed to go up to the kitchens at night. It seems to me that would have been a sensible prohibition to make before we had such a close call, especially considering that that's exactly where the bear had appeared the first time, but there it is.

Maybe they made that rule just because they were mad that we counselors, in all our collective terror, had - gasp! - forgotten to turn off the kitchen light when we were running from the bear. Who knows?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving sans Turkey

Thanksgiving was great today. The last time I spent Thanksgiving day with my family was in 1998, so it's been nice to be able to enjoy eating all the comfortable old family favorites instead of choking down some kind of cranberry or walnut stuffing aberration.

One thing I didn't get to enjoy, however, was the turkey. I've always had an on-again, off-again relationship with meat. It just grosses me out, especially if I have to deal with it in its uncooked state. For a full year or two in high school, I was an absolute vegetarian. Gradually, I started eating meat again once in a while, but I still don't eat ground beef. It just gives me the heebie-jeebies for some reason. This means that I haven't had a proper hamburger in over 11 years.

I was looking forward to the turkey today, though. Then something killed - nay, slaughtered - my appetite: my mom had me prepare the raw turkey for roasting. Nobody else was home and it had to be done right then in order to be ready in time. So I was the one who had to take it out, pick it up in all its raw, gross disgustingness, rinse it off, take out the little sack of innards, etc.

Even though almost a whole day had passed by the time it came out of the oven, ready to eat, I still had the image and feel of the raw turkey in my mind and I just couldn't stomach it. Even typing this is almost making me gag.

I don't know what my problem with meat is. Oh well. At least I got to eat tons of delicious stuffing and turn down a serving of yams (which I hate) without having to worry about hurting anyone's feelings. How was your Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Weird stuff in my bathroom

My parents recently re-did the downstairs bathroom in their house. Growing up, we always called it the "blue bathroom" because it had blue tile and blue (shudder) wallpaper. It was the bathroom we kids always used, which means that it was in a sorry state by the time my parents got around to fixing it up.

Re-done, it looks much better. I did my part by putting in a new faucet. That's what happens when you brag about your skillz on the internet - your parents put you to work when you come visit. As part of installing the faucet, my sister and I cleaned out the cupboards in the vanity and discovered a veritable gold mine of forgotten adolescent toiletry treasures.

There was all the normal stuff like old nail polish and eye shadow in garish shades only a pre-teen would try, but there were some gems as well.

First, there was the collection of hair clips from when I was around 10 or 11 years old (I'm trying not to remember too hard because if I do, I might realize that I was older). I went through a phase where the only hairstyle I would do was a "ponytail with some hair out," also known as a half-ponytail. These were my favorite clips to use:

I think the ugliest ones are the third one from the left (it reminds me of sparkly golden dog poo for some reason) and the cast iron metalwork one right next to it. That thing is so heavy that I remember having trouble getting it to stay in my hair.

Actually, the last two items in that picture are the second treasure we found. Those two little dollies are actual earrings that I actually wore in sixth grade. How my earlobes didn't get all stretched out, I have no idea. I thought they were the cutest thing at the time, but now I'm simply mortified that I ever wore them. Last night, I gave them to Miriam to play with, but they will never again be used as earrings, I promise.

Then my sister and I stumbled upon something really mysterious:

Do any of you know what this is? Teresa and I didn't, at least not immediately. And it turns out that that is not even the most pressing question. The real question is not what it is, but rather why it was preserved for posterity in our bathroom cabinet.

Also, who is Sally J.? While searching for clues as to the item's purpose, I discovered that written on the bulb in childish handwriting was the name "Sally J." Who she is and why she left is anyone's guess.

In case you haven't figured it out, the mystery item is an old-school breast pump. Its design doesn't seem that effective to me, but my mom says that's what they used back in the day. That still doesn't really answer the question of why it was hanging out in our bathroom cabinet, but that issue will have to wait. I'm still working on figuring out Sally J.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Weird stuff in my house

Growing up, I think you just get used to all the weird stuff your family has in their house. It's only when you come back for a visit years later that you notice that maybe some things aren't...quite...normal.

Is it just me, or do everyone's parents have a vintage sewing machine in their front hall?

I think it wasn't until I had my very own silverware after getting married that I realized that it's not normal for every single spoon to be bent back to a certain degree. I think that's why I hated emptying the dishwasher so much - the spoons never spooned properly.

Wooden ducks on the fireplace? Normal? Anyone? This thing has been there for as long as I can remember.

Here's a two-in-one: a large pile of almost-rotting fruit and vegetable waste waiting to go out to the compost pile (complete with buzzing fruit flies); and a picture of an old, dead ancestor. Those things are everywhere in this house.

Liquid soap OR soap dish, mom. I don't think you can have it both ways.

Some of you may remember the diarrhea box. What I failed to notice at the time was that pasted to the door of the medicine cabinet is a newspaper article describing a home remedy for - you guessed it - diarrhea. What is going on here??

Does anyone else go home rarely enough that the kind of idiosyncrasies we grew up with suddenly become apparent?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Traveling essentials for a 3-year-old

The night before we left on our trip, I told Miriam to pack any toys she wanted to bring in her little backpack. After she went to sleep, I checked to see what she had packed. Here's what I found:

One crinkly-page book from the bouncy chair toy bar
  • Three big ponies
  • One little pony
  • One pony bed
  • One cow from the IKEA farm animal set
  • Two clothespin dolls
  • The remote control to a space heater we returned to Costco over a year ago (oops)

I cleaned out everything but the clothespin dolls and the ponies (and their bed). She played with them on the plane, but she hasn't touched them since we've been in Oregon. Who needs toys when there is an industrial-sized bin of Legos (lego bricks?) around?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Leaving on a jet plane

The girls and I are in Oregon visiting with my family. Traveling by airplane when outnumbered by my kids was not as terrible as it could have been, but it was certainly overwhelming. I got a lot of help in the security screening line from a fellow passenger (a grandma), and that made all the difference.

On the airplane, Miriam had the window seat and Magdalena and I had the center seat. I was hoping to get at least a woman in the aisle seat; if I was lucky, maybe I would even get a woman who had children herself. A grandma would have also been acceptable.

Instead, the person who got the seat right next to me was a large man. A large young man, unmarried and without children. In other words, just about the opposite of what I was hoping for.

We got to talking during the flight and it turns out that he's a bounty hunter. A real, live person who hunts down criminals who have skipped out on bail. Yikes. Other items of interest that I discovered about my seatmate during the course of the flight included that he has a gay brother, that said gay brother recently got married (in Canada) to an ex-Mormon, that he believes in aliens, and that the ancient Sumerians had close dealings with aliens. Also, giants used to inhabit the earth. They were eight feet tall and had three rows of teeth.

When the plane finally touched down in Portland, my new friend and I encountered that awkward stage of airplane acquaintance where you close the conversation even though you know you have to stay seated next to that person while the plane taxis to the gate. So he said something like, "enjoy your visit with your family!" and I said, "I hope your business deal goes well!" and then we just sat there in awkward silence for another 10 minutes before we could get off the plane.

And then when we did get off the plane, he and I reached the second-most awkward stage of airplane acquaintance - where you say goodbye again, realizing that you may very well see that person again down in baggage claim in five minutes. Still, we said goodbye and good luck one more time. Luckily, I did not see him in baggage claim, so we were spared that most uncomfortable third sheepish farewell.

Once, when saying goodbye to an airplane friend for the second time, I actually said, "Goodbye, but maybe I'll see you in baggage claim," as if that would reduce the awkwardness. Instead, the lady looked at me funny, like I'd broken some kind of unwritten rule in the airplane acquaintance code.

Anyhow, we're here now and having a great time. I'm just not looking forward to the flight back to Tucson. But maybe I'll get lucky and get someone who isn't a bounty hunter for a neighbor this time.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Twilight movie review

I saw Twilight yesterday. I went with my brother, and believe it or not, he was not the only male in the audience. There was a pretty even mix of men and women of all ages there, though there was a good concentration of high-pitched shrieks coming from up front when the title of the movie appeared on the screen.

Here's the thing. This review is not likely to change anyone's mind about whether to see the movie or not. If you've already decided to go, it's probably for reasons other than that you think it's definitely going to be amazing. If you're determined not to, it's probably not because you think it will be bad. Book-to-movie films are funny like that - they come with a built-in fan base that is going to see the movie no matter what, and everyone else pretty much couldn't care less.

So I can be completely forthcoming and say that I fall into the former category: I knew I was going to see the movie for sure. However, I will also say that after seeing the trailers, I was fully prepared for it to suck mightily.

I am happy to report, then, that the movie far exceeded my expectations. It was not a terrible movie. But it was also not a great one. It was somewhere in between, tipped to the side of being a net positive probably because I wanted to like it so much. It's one of those "mood" movies - the kind of film that you could sit down and watch with one group of friends and take it completely seriously, but if you sit down another time in a different setting, it could turn into a homemade session of MST3K - in other words, a train wreck. Dear Frankie is kind of like that, as are Penelope and Van Helsing (which, strangely, is also about vampires). I was in the mood last night, so I liked it.

Speaking of mood, that's something that the movie definitely got right. Watching the movie made me feel just as shivery and angsty as reading the books did.

That's not to say there weren't some really stupid parts. Some of the things from the book that I knew would be difficult to transfer to the big screen didn't work out as well as I had hoped. For example, Edward's sparkly-ness and the way vampires fight with each other - I admire the director's efforts, but one was underwhelming and the other was kind of ridiculous.

The acting was sub-par at times, too, especially from Bella. Certain scenes just oozed with awkwardness. Granted, that particular kind of scene - mostly in the first few tentative conversations between Edward and Bella - is also awkward in real life, but surely there's a way to keep that uncomfortable insecurity from infecting the audience, too. I think my palms were sweating just from watching it.

Where the acting was surprisingly good, though, was among Bella's circle of human friends. Jessica especially was spot on. There was also more humor in the film than I expected, particularly with Charlie.

As for the vampire family, all I have to say is that Jasper is Edward Scissorhands reincarnated, except without the scissor hands.

Sadly, I was majorly disappointed with Jacob. I kind of hope they get a different actor for New Moon, if they end up making that movie. He was just too hunky for me. And his teeth were so shiny and white! Also, I don't think he's even Native American. Not that that's the absolute most important thing, but still. (Although I shouldn't talk because I'm a Mormon, and Mormons are the ones who made Johnny Lingo, a movie in which white guys pretend to be Polynesians.)

The thing about my viewing experience that I was most upset with, though, had nothing to do with Twilight, but with one of the previews before the movie. Whichever peon over at the distribution company decided that The Unborn was a good match for Twilight's audience needs to be fired. The trailer was horrific and I am afraid by proxy for all those unsuspecting tween girls who will be subjected to its terror when they go see Twilight. Don't worry, a nastygram to...someone (the theater manager? Summit Entertainment?) will be sent forthwith.

In case any of you are wondering about my brother the extra, and how that all turned out: yes, Steven appears in the movie. Would you know it was him if you weren't already aware he was in the movie? Probably not. In fact, the scene in which he's most prominent is also the scene where nobody will notice him at all, because he happens to be passing by Edward when Edward walks into the cafeteria for the first time. Oh well.

Steven is in the background of two other scenes, one of which happens to be available for free download on iTunes. I took a screenshot for you so you can see his moment of glory:

Admit it - insignificant though it is, you wish it was you.

Has anyone else seen the movie yet? What did you think of it? Feel free to defend it passionately or tear it apart. You won't hurt my feelings either way, I promise.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Flashback Friday: Casino Royale, Alaska style

This is my older brother Daniel. There's so much I could say about him, but for today, I'll keep it to just what you need to know to appreciate the story I'm going to tell about him for this week's Flashback Friday.

Daniel was born with Cornelia de Lange syndrome. I've lived with Daniel my whole life (he is three years old than me) but I still don't know the easy, short answer to give someone who asks what, exactly, that means. I guess in many superficial ways, it's a lot like Down syndrome, in that there are varying degrees of severity and functionality out there, and everyone with CdLS is a little bit different. I think Daniel is relatively high-functioning, but he still has a lot of health problems.

One of these health problems is that he occasionally has seizures. He had them when he was a little kid, and then they disappeared for years and years. When Daniel was 18, he started having them again. Specifically, he started having them again while we were on vacation in Alaska.

It was about halfway through our trip and my family was eating lunch in a courtyard in downtown Anchorage. I was sitting on a low brick wall and Daniel was standing next to me. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the apple he had been eating drop to the ground and roll away. Then he dropped his umbrella. Then Daniel himself fell flat on the ground and had a grand mal seizure, right there in the middle of the courtyard.

Of course, we were all very distressed. Someone called 911, and an ambulance came to take Daniel to the hospital. As for those of us who didn't ride in the ambulance, a stranger came to our aid and gave us a ride to the hospital.

In case you've ever wondered what the emergency room in Anchorage looks like.

After a few hours of observation and tests, the doctors ended up giving Daniel some heavy anti-seizure medication and we were free to go. It must have been a difficult decision to make, but my parents decided to continue on with our trip.

So we hopped on a ferry and went to the Klondike Gold Rush town of Skagway. If you've ever seen White Fang and remember the gold miners climbing up that huge mountain, (the "golden staircase"), Skagway is not too far away from there. It's kind of a touristy town, but in a very fun and well done way. It's one of those places where wholesome Mormon youth interested in music and dance theater go for the summer to earn some money (see also: Disneyworld). The main boardwalk downtown was made up in Gold Rush style and there was a nightly musical show at an old-style theater, also featuring Gold Rush-era entertainment (and lots of those Mormon youth).

Before the show, there was a mock gambling tournament. Each ticket for the show also bought you a certain amount of fake money to gamble away at the various gaming tables in the lobby. It might seem like a strange activity for our family to attend, but the atmosphere was very light-hearted and friendly, so we all went.

It had only been a day or two since his seizure, and poor Daniel hardly knew what was going on. Not only had the seizure left him disoriented and confused, but he was suffering from the effects of taking massive doses of an anti-seizure medication totally new to his body. He was woozy, loopy, and not entirely "there." Still, he wandered around the gambling tables with my dad and played his fake money about as enthusiastically as could be expected.

The gambling tables closed just before the start of the evening show so that they could calculate who the winningest gambler was and present them a prize during intermission. When it came time to announce who that winner was, with a grand total of something like $350,000 in fake money from an evening's worth of gambling, it was Daniel! Somehow, exhausted, seizure-weary Daniel, in his medication-induced fog, managed to outplay every other gamer there and take home the grand prize.

They called him up onto the stage in front of everyone to present him with his prize. There was a choice of a few tiems, and Daniel chose an audio cassette tape of songs from the show. Here he is in his moment of glory with the star of the show, Soapy Smith.

And because no Flashback Friday would be complete without a picture of me in my awkward stage, here I am in front of a totem pole in Alaska (where is that shirt? I miss it!):

Next week: A) stories of sleepless nights, or B) getting chased by a bear at Girls' Camp. You decide.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

6/6 Tag (AKA NaBloPoMo and/or lack of sleep are killing me slowly but surely)

Camille is my best friend today because she tagged me to post the sixth picture in the sixth folder on my computer. I don't always do tags but this is perfect for day 20 of 30 of NaBloPoMo. What a nice little break from actually thinking up something by myself.

"The sixth picture in the sixth folder on my computer." I don't know if she meant, literally, "My Computer," or just on my computer. Either way, I did the sixth folder in My Pictures, because that's where, you know, my pictures are.


This is Miriam at the airport when we were waiting for our flight to Middlebury via Portland back in May. In her tradition of getting injured the day of major plane flights, she had whacked her eye on the coffee table that afternoon. Thus the lovely owie.

I'm going to tag my fellow NaBloPoMo-ers to give them an easy day if they want it: Chris (yes, Chris is a man. Have you noticed that my male readers, who I've always had, contrary to Jeremy's assertions that this is a girly blog, are finally coming out of the woodwork?), Nancy, Kristen, and Jen. Did I miss anyone?

It's almost 2am now and I think Magdalena has finally gone back to sleep. The ghetto bird is circling and so I think it's time for me to go back to sleep, too. Flashback Friday is tomorrow and it looks like we'll be remembering the time a seizure-woozy brother of mine did some serious gambling. Until then!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

R.I.P. Flounder the Betta

Flounder the betta fish, beloved pet of Miriam and treasured 3rd birthday gift, was found dead in the shower on Monday morning. The cause of death was suicide by jumping out of his fish bowl. The cause of him doing that is unknown.

In happier times, Miriam and Flounder mostly spent time together while she fed him and helped clean his fish bowl. Miriam also liked to ask, "What is he saying?" in reply to which her parents just made up stuff.

Flounder's favorite activities included swimming in his IKEA flower vase/fish bowl and frolicking around his bamboo plant.

Flounder is survived by his loving family members Miriam and Jeremy, an indifferent Magdalena, and anti-Betta-purchase-in-the-first-place Bridget.

A video tribute:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Two things that suck: Target kids' shoes and Target customer service

It's been a while since we had a good, old-fashioned nastygram here on My Adventures in Tucson. Fortunately, I've got a juicy one for you today.

In September, I bought these shoes (Toddler Girls' Genuine Kids by OshKosh™ Ariele Athleisure Shoes - Pink) for Miriam at Target:

So cute, don't you think? She calls them her "pink shinies" for obvious reasons.

Well, pink shinies they are no more. The metallic pink at the toe of the shoe has started to peel off already. Miriam doesn't even wear these shoes every day, and when she does wear them, it's not to rough places like the park or playing outside. Under what I would consider lighter than normal usage, these shoes have started to fall apart. So I asked myself, am I satisfied with my purchase? The answer was no. Naively, I took the shoes back to Target this morning to get my money back. I sometimes forget that not every store is as consumer-savvy as Costco.

I was expecting resistance, reluctance, or perhaps a little of both from the customer service people. But I did fully expect to get a refund, or store credit, or something. What was there to argue about? I, a Target customer, was not satisfied with my purchase and furthermore, could show that their product was defective. What kind of shoe falls apart under light use after less than two months? I really thought I had an airtight case.

Apparently, I underestimated Target's ability to train their employees to never give money back, ever. I talked to a regular employee, a supervisor, and the manager, and each was more dull-eyed, unhelpful, and obstinate than the last. It must have been a slow day, too, because while I argued with them, a gaggle of half a dozen slack-jawed Target employees gathered around the customer service desk to watch the fun.

Basically, it went something like this:

Me: Hi, I would like to return these shoes. As you can see, parts of the shoe are starting to peel off.
Target Employee: Well, those shoes have been worn, so we can't take them back.
Me: I am fully aware they have been worn. I am not trying to pass them off as unworn. I just want my money back so I can buy my daughter a pair of shoes that will not have to be replaced in two months.
TE: We can't take something back if it's been worn.
Me: All right then. Let me simplify. I AM NOT SATISFIED WITH MY PURCHASE. Can I have my money back now?
TE: Well, it's our policy not to give refunds on merchandise that has been used. If we can't re-sell the product, we can't take it back.
Me: I am trying to tell you that you should NOT be selling this product because it is a piece of junk (I may have actually said 'crap'). Please take it back and give me my money.
TE: I'm sorry, we can't do that.
Me: Are you telling me that even though I, a Target customer, am not satisfied with my purchase, you are refusing to give me back my money as a show of good faith, since it goes against your policy?
TE: Yes. You can return something if you're not satisfied, but it has to be new and unused.
Me: How the sam hill am I supposed to know if I'm satisfied or not if I haven't even used the product??
TE: [Blank stare. Obviously, they're not programmed to handle defensible arguments, just the indefensible ones.]

To summarize, Target and I reached an impasse when my desire to return a used item for reasons of dissatisfaction conflicted with their policy to not allow returns of used items, because dissatisfaction was only a good enough reason if the item is unused. Got that?

The really aggravating part was when they got me to leave by giving me an 800-number and telling me that the people there could help me. Guess what the 800-number was? Target customer service. Guess what they did? Put me on hold, called the store I had just come home from, got the story, and then came back on the line to tell me that their policy was not to accept used items for returns. I asked if I could call the manufacturer of the shoe with my complaint, but she said that this particular manufacturer does not deal with customers directly - my only choice was to deal with Target. Foiled again!

I hope the Google gods are listening, so that when someone searches for "Target kids' shoes," or the incorrect, non-apostrophied version "Target kids shoes," or "Target customer service," or "Toddler Girls' Genuine Kids by OshKosh™ Ariele Athleisure Shoes - Pink," they see this blog post review and think better of it. Take that, you obstructionistic, soulless Target store employees.

Book Review: The Hunger Games

It's not every day that a best-selling author recommends someone else's book on her website. Back in September, Stephenie Meyer did just that (click here and scroll down to the entry for September 17th) (Yes, I subscribe to the RSS feed for So what?). She raved about this book called The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

It took a while for the Tucson libraries to get on board, but they eventually purchased a few copies and I finally got to read it last week.

I loved it. You already know my feelings about science fiction, and The Hunger Games is definitely still science fiction. But I still loved it. I don't know, maybe it's time to re-evaluate my sci-fi position.

The premise, briefly, is this: Years into the future, America is a place called Panem split into 13 districts, ruled by the Capitol. Each year, the Capitol hosts a mandatory-viewing, live-televised fight to the death, with one boy and one girl required to participate to represent each district. There's only one winner. The heroine of the novel is Katniss Everdeen, chosen by lottery to represent District 12.

If the story sounds brutal, that's because it is. Behind the Young Adult label is a very serious novel dealing with grown-up themes like war, mob mentality, violence, the human survival instinct, and lengths to which people will go to create "entertainment." While I was interested in the plot, complete with the obligatory teenage romance, I found myself thinking about those larger issues long after I was finished reading the book.

The irony of this fascinating book is that while I, the reader, was horrified with the citizens of Panem for being glued to their televisions watching what was essentially state-sanctioned, televised murder, I myself was glued to a novel, reading about state-sanctioned, televised murder. It was absolutely gripping.

I've read or watched stories similar in one way or another to this one before, but this is the first one that has combined so many elements into a cohesive whole. It's a little bit "The Lottery," a little bit Survivor, some Lord of the Flies, with a kind of Truman Show feel. I even felt a tiny bit of Shannon Hale influence in the characters' names, traits, and the world they lived in.

For those of you who are not Twilight fans, fear not: this book really has nothing to do with that series except that happens to be recommended by the author. Don't let that scare you away. If you are a Twilight fan, however, then take Stephenie Meyer's word for it - this is a great book.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Installing a garbage disposal

In a second installment of our continuing series on home improvement (see Installing a Faucet here), I bring you: Installing a Garbage Disposal.

Of course, of course, our garbage disposal would decide to break just when the sink looked something like this:

Please tell me I'm not the only one who sometimes lets their sink get out of control like this. In my defense, our garbage disposal hasn't been working very well, so it doesn't take much to stop up the drain as you see above. I almost replaced the disposal a few weeks ago as a preemptive measure, but I never got around to it. And then it broke and I had to do it, at its convenience instead of mine (and it was definitely not mine).

So the girls and I went to Home Depot, chose a new garbage disposal, bought it, and brought it home. Then we set about taking apart the old one. How hard could it be, really? That's what I thought, anyway. Famous last words.

It wasn't long before I felt like I was in over my head. The instructions were full of terms like "wrenchette," "flange," and "snap ring," as well as an extensive warning section informing me of the shock hazards inherent in this project, seeing as it involved a metal sink, dripping water, and an outlet. I actually ended up calling a plumber, but he said that it would take at least two days to schedule an installation. Never mind! Still, there were at least two more times during the whole process when I wanted to call back and just pay some one to do it for me.

My work setup was as you see here:

Clueless first-time installer (that's me): check. Fussy baby: check. Three-year-old occupying said fussy baby's seat: check. Same three-year-old monopolizing and occasionally running off with essential tools: check. A totally torn-apart kitchen with no available counter space and a dishwasher full to bursting, just waiting for the project to be done so it can run again: check!

I finally got into a groove and things were going swimmingly. I got the old one out, the mounting apparatus for the new one in, and it was time to hook up the disposal itself. Then we hit a major snag when I realized that the new disposal did not have - get this - a power cord. Now, maybe I'm just new at this, but it seems to me that if your product, which requires a power cord to function, does not include said power cord in the box when you buy it, there ought to be, oh I don't know, a HUGE RED STICKER TELLING YOU SO ON THE BOX. Otherwise, you end up loading both girls back into the car, making an additional trip to Home Depot, and spending another $11.95 on a "plug kit."

I called before I went, to make absolutely sure that's what I needed (the directions were less than forthcoming). In my conversation with the plumbing department employee, I lost any coolness points I may have acquired for doing my own garbage disposal installation because when I was asking him what was in the kit, I had to describe it something like this:

"So, the kit has the plug, and the cord that splits into three parts, with the wires sticking out, and one of the parts has a green circle at the end? And then there's a plastic ring where it comes out of the disposal? And the cappy things where the wires hook together?"

Obviously, I am not an electrician, but I set to work on connecting the power cord to the disposal. There I was stripping back wire casings and attaching black to black and white to white, and putting in grounding screws, etc. I felt like I was building a bomb, and I wasn't entirely confident that the whole thing wouldn't just explode when I got around to plugging it in.

The whole process took much longer than expected, or hoped, but it did get finished. And everything actually worked! No explosions involved.

I was going to write a nastygram to the garbage disposal company about the missing power cord, but the Home Depot people told me that not including it in the box is standard. Which may be true, but that doesn't make it right.

Any guesses on what I get to learn how to fix next? Actually, don't tell me, because I kind of don't want to know.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The good old days

Here is my receipt from a shopping trip to Fry's the other day:

To interpret for you: I spent a total of $26.70, and using my VIP card (the store discount card), I saved an astonishing $42.58, for a total discount of 61%. Woohoo!

Fry's is running some killer sales lately, probably because gas is so cheap again. We really noticed the jump in food prices since we bought food in May right before things were ramping up to get expensive, spent the whole summer not cooking in Middlebury (and thus not buying food), and then being re-introduced to new, higher prices in September. Really, though, the prices themselves haven't gone up. The stores and food producers are tricky that way. Rather, the packages and containers are smaller and the sales are not as steeply discounted.

Gas in Tucson these days is around $2.25, which I guess is a steal compared to recent prices. I personally remember when it was 99 cents per gallon. When I got my license, the price had gone up 25 or 30 cents, occasionally jumping up to $1.55.

I didn't keep tabs on the price of milk back in the day, but now you can usually find it at one store or another for around $2.50 per gallon. A great sale is $1.88.

As for stuff I did keep tabs on as a fancy-free teenager: Yoplait yogurt (aaahhh, forbidden delicious non-store brand yogurt, which my mom refused to subsidize) could be had on a good sale, 4/$1.00. Now a good sale is more like 2/$1.00. Laffy Taffy were five cents each, compared to 20 or 25 cents each now. Jamba Juice was called Zuka juice, and most of their smoothies were under $3.00. Candy bars regularly went on sale for 4 or even 5 for a dollar. And a good meal at a restaurant called Macheesmo Mouse (dumb name, awesome food, similar to but better than Chipotle) was $3.25, with all the fresh salsa you wanted.

What do you remember? And what are the prices like now in your area?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Comments are fixed

An alert reader let me know that the comments aren't working. I was fiddling with some comment settings yesterday (I turned off word verification. Bring on the comment spam! I was getting some of that anyway, and hey, who doesn't love a comment, even if it is trying to sell insurance or alternative medicine?) and that must have broken it. Anyway, I've changed it back (but left word verification off), so it should work now. Please comment on my last post! I had a lonely night yesterday thinking nobody bothered to read it.

Don't worry, this doesn't count as my NaBloPoMo post for today.

So yeah. Comment away and be sure to cast your vote for the Flashback Friday story for next week!

Flashback Friday: I want to believe

You know how sometimes when you're a kid, grownups don't take you seriously? You tell them something strange or amazing that happened and they pat you condescendingly on the head and say, "sweetie, that's not possible. I'm sure you just imagined it." Well, what if it really did happen? And what if you had proof, because your little sister was there with you and she saw/heard/experienced it, too?!? Today I bring you three stories from my personal Twilight Zone file - strange and unsettling incidents that were dismissed by my parents but witnessed or also experienced by my little sister. To this day, one of them defies explanation, but who am I to question a corroborated fact?

We'll start out with the relatively mundane. In the summer of 1994, when I was 12, my family visited Utah for pretty much the first time since having five kids. (This blows a giant hole in the oft-repeated myth that all Mormons go there on pilgrimage every summer.) We stayed in my great aunt and uncle's house in Utah Valley, a huge, three-story, gorgeous house with lots of bedrooms.

My little sister and I got a corner bedroom on the third floor that had a canopy bed to sleep in and a giant, hand-made dollhouse to play with. We were practically in heaven. I have two older brothers, so girl toys and pretty girl clothes were in short supply for most of my growing-up years. Or if I did happen to have a Barbie, she was defaced with glasses and a mustache in no time by my Bic-wielding brothers.

We girls settled in to sleep that first night but were woken up in the middle of the night by a terrible thunderstorm. Out of the box window on the third floor, we had a clear view of it coming over the mountains. The lightning was frequent and frightening, the thunder was terrifying and loud, and the rain was pouring down. I remember that one of the windows was open and Teresa (my sister) and I debated for a long time about who should be the one to go close it, we were both so scared. Eventually, I think I closed it, and we managed to get back to sleep.

In the morning, we asked our parents if the storm woke them up, too. To which they replied, "What storm? There was no storm last night. You girls were just dreaming." No matter how hard we tried, they just wouldn't believe that the house had almost been decimated in a thunderstorm the night before.

14-year-old me beside a certain RV on a certain trip to Alaska. Why do I have so many good stories from my awkward stage??

The next Twilight Zone moment comes from our trip to Alaska, which I told you a little about last week. We had driven all day in the RV and pulled off to a small, deserted camping area for the night to get some sleep. All through our trip, we had seen signs warning of wildlife being in the area (well, duh, this is Alaska we're talking about) and to watch out for moose, bears, etc. So in the middle of the night, when Teresa and I woke up to hear something heavy scratching and scraping against our window, we immediately realized it must be a wild moose bent on destruction of human life. We crept out of our "bedroom" at the back of the RV and told our parents. They told us to go back to sleep. So much for that idea.

I think we spent the rest of the night on the floor in the main part of the RV, too scared to sleep since the moose was hitting its antlers against the window so hard that it was actually shaking the RV. When morning finally came, Teresa and I looked outside and I swear to you, there were no branches or anything else that could have been making those noises on our window. And yet our parents remained completely incredulous of our near-death encounter with a crazed moose.

This last story is the most bizarre. I still don't have anything even approaching a logical explanation for it. But Teresa and I have the same memory, so the experience stands.

We were on some family road trip, the kind where we drove all night to get where we were going (usually California) with my mom and dad taking turns at the wheel. We kids just fell asleep in our seats, sometimes lucky enough to stretch out over an adjacent empty seat, sometimes not. Every once in a while, we'd stop for gas and maybe a bathroom break.

In the wee hours of the morning, we pulled into a gas station for one of these breaks. When I opened my eyes, I was struck by how light and clean and...futuristic this gas station was. There was row after row of gas pumps surrounded by pristine swathes of smooth concrete. The lights were preternaturally bright and illuminated everything so completely. It was easy to see the decor of the gas station, which was inexplicably bizarre. The building and pumps were not covered in any gas station logo I was familiar with, but in neon green italicized question marks, like the Riddler from Batman would use. It was all like something out of the future.

None of us got out to use the bathroom, but I remember that Teresa was awake, too. Soon, my parents resumed driving and we were still driving when morning came. When it was light, Teresa and I talked about that amazing gas station and then asked our mom and dad about it. They said something like - you guessed it - "What gas station? We didn't stop at a gas station last night! You must have just dreamed it."

Right, mom and dad. We dreamed up a gas station covered in green Riddler question marks. Teresa and I both. The same dream.

I don't know what they were trying to cover up, but obviously, it hasn't worked.

I think I'll give you a choice for next week's Flashback Friday. I'm sure I'll end up telling both of these stories eventually, but which one would you like to hear next week?

A) The time my brother experienced a debilitating seizure and then, only a few days later, won a substantial amount of money gambling;


B) The time I was chased by a bear at Girls' Camp.

Just let me know in the comments!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Spencer, revisited

Yesterday, I clicked through Google Reader to the Baby Name Wizard blog. Her newest post was titled, "Name Spotlight: Spencer," and I thought, "hmm, how interesting, I just barely wrote about the name Spencer, too."

Then I read the entry and realized it wasn't a coincidence - the Baby Name Wizard was blogging about my blog post. I guess nobody but a name-nerd Mormon would have a gut feeling about all those Spencers born in Utah in 1973, so I picked up on a name story that she wouldn't have noticed herself.

She goes on to tell the rest of the story about the name, explaining why (which I couldn't do) Spencer became popular in the rest of America for reasons other than it being the name of the Mormon prophet.

A question that still remains is why names like Harold (B. Lee), Ezra (Taft Benson), Howard (W. Hunter) and Gordon (B. Hinckley) have not sparked instant waves of namesakes, not even in Utah.

I can think of two possible reasons. First, the LDS population is more spread out these days than it was in 1973, so a Mormon naming trend might not show up so heavily in one state. Then again, I imagine the proportions in Utah have remained the same or increased, so maybe that isn't a reason after all.

The other reason is that the name game is more high-stakes these days. You can't just give your kids nice, normal names anymore, or so it seems. So parents have found other ways to give tribute - middle names, or perhaps corruptions or alternative interpretations of names of the prophets. I can think of at least one Mormon friend of mine who gave one of her kids the middle name Hinckley, after Gordon B. I do know another friend who named her son Ezra, but I don't know if it was after Ezra Taft Benson, and if it was, it certainly was well after his death, not in the first year of his time as president of the church.

Does anyone else have any ideas on why other Mormon prophets' names don't show up as trends in the Mormon community?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Review: Pushed

When I happened to see Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care on a featured shelf at the library, I admit that my first thought was something like, "what, again? Haven't we been there already? What could Pushed possibly have to say that hasn't already been said in books like Birth, Misconceptions, Giving Birth, etc. etc. etc.?"

The answer is: quite a bit, as a matter of fact. I'm glad I decided to take the book home and give it a chance. I won't go so far as to say that this is a book about childbirth that men could actually get into (does any such book exist?), but it's probably about as close as you're going to get. In large part, that's because Pushed, unlike any of those other books, does not appear to have been motivated by the author's own negative birth experience. In fact, the author, Jennifer Block, mostly keeps her feelings to herself and lets statistics, and to a lesser degree, anecdotes and interviews, tell the story for her. It's not until the final chapter, a treatise on mother/fetus rights (or sometimes mother vs. fetus rights) that we really get the full force of her personal opinion on some of the major issues affecting women's choices in childbirth.

This book holds particular interest for me at this time for a few reasons. First, as you know, I recently gave birth to my second child and had a birth experience as different from my first one as day is from night. So the choices and procedures involved in maternity care are still very fresh in my mind. Second, I have a sister-in-law who is pregnant right now and who (as far as I know) is hoping for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). And wow, does this book ever have lots to say about that issue.

Out of respect for my sister-in-law, I'll keep my analysis of what Pushed has to say about VBAC very general.

I knew VBAC was "controversial" in the sense that not every woman was interested in trying it, or that not all physicians were willing to take on such cases. But I had no idea that it is probably the most divisive issue confronting the obstetric community (and, thus, pregnant women) at this time. Perhaps this is because the concept of VBAC touches just about every nerve possible: was the first cesarean necessary or not? If not, was it elective? If necessary, has that assessment changed in either direction in hindsight? Are the circumstances that led to the cesarean likely to present themselves in a future birth? Most of all, VBAC starts a firestorm when you start comparing the risks of a VBAC versus a second (or third, or fourth) C-section. Essentially, and I am leaving out chapters and chapters of analysis and commentary, Block makes a very convincing case for the side that contends that VBAC is at best safer than, and at worse, as safe as, a second C-section. In doing so, she goes against the current position of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists, which is that VBAC is not a recommended course of action. However, that has not always been the case. For several years during the 1990s, VBAC was sanctioned by ACOG.

You can see how navigating the arguments on both sides of the medical community spectrum is like walking through a minefield. Unfortunately, it is pregnant women who are caught in the crossfire. I didn't realize this until I read it in this book, but it is by no means guaranteed that a woman who wishes to try a VBAC will be allowed to do so. Depending on where she lives, she will face opposition from hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies. The book describes women who have been denied a trial of labor so desperate for a VBAC that they labor clandestinely in the parking lot of the hospital and go inside only when it's "too late" for a C-section. However, apparently it's almost never too late, since one woman who tried that was told she could start pushing as soon as she took in some oxygen. Except that the mask they gave her wasn't supplying oxygen, it was general anesthesia, and she woke up having given birth by C-section, without her consent.

This, of course, brings up the issue of reproductive rights. When that term is mentioned, most people think of abortion, but birth is a reproductive right, too. One interviewee in the book describes maternity care as the last great frontier of feminism, and one that has not yet been taken on in full force. Somehow, the debate keeps getting re-directed to abortion, and meanwhile, women everywhere are being denied choice in the manner in which they birth their babies. The stark incongruity in the way these two closely related issues are addressed is shocking.

Lesser issues than VBAC are also addressed in the book, such as why the C-section rate in general is so high (almost one-third of births these days) and getting higher, and why birth has become so rife with interventions.

That latter issue is one I took particular interest in, having given birth so recently. According to the author's research, only 2% of mothers have had an "optimal" birth experience. Obviously, some women have risk factors or other complications that will keep them from being able to avoid some interventions. But Block cites lots of research that calls into question the increasingly entrenched methods of intervention such as routine IVs, continuous blood pressure readings, electronic fetal monitoring, epidurals, Pitocin, forceps, episiotomies, and flat-on-your-back pushing.

The 2% statistic is slightly misleading, of course, because honestly, some women don't care if they're hooked up to an IV, or receive an epidural, or are induced, or are confined to a bed during labor. "Optimal" should of course be defined by each individual woman. Who is Ms. Block, or Ricki Lake, or anyone to tell a woman that she shouldn't be satisfied with what she thought was an OK birth experience?

The good news is, Ms. Block seems to realize that. And that's what separates Pushed from other books in this genre. The anger and indignation just aren't there. Or they are, but they just sort of simmer below the surface, manifesting themselves largely in anecdotal interviews or statistics, instead of being in your face, demanding that you feel disenfranchised.

That being said, the book's thesis, as indicated by one of its closing paragraphs, is (p. 271):

"What's best for women is best for babies. And what's best for women and babies is minimally invasive births that are physically, emotionally, and socially supported. This is not the experience that most women have. In the age of evidence-based medicine, women need to know that standard American maternity care is not primarily driven by their health and well-being or by the health and well-being of their babies. Care is constrained and determined by liability and financial concerns, by a provider's licensing regulations and malpractice insurer. The evidence often has nothing to do with it.

"Today women have unprecedented access to the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves - and therefore the best decisions for their babies. They are in fact in a far better position to make evidence-based decisions than their doctors. They have a right to make those decisions, and they should make those decisions."

I completely agree. However, I would add the caveat that if a woman, having accessed the pertinent information, makes the decision to be induced or send her baby to the nursery or not breastfeed or, heaven forbid, elect for a C-section, then they're allowed to create their own "optimal."

As long as they allow me the same and let me have my ginger ale and Gladiator music.

I want candy

My friend Chris wrote on his blog the other day about candy. It might seem like candy is not an intense enough subject for an entire blog post, but I disagree. I LOVE candy. Part of the candy mystique probably comes from the fact that when we were kids, it was a restricted commodity. At least it was for my family. I remember going to friends' houses who got ice cream for an after-school snack, and I thought they were pretty much the luckiest kids in the whole world.

Even though I'm an adult now and can buy candy anytime I want, some of that childhood awe of certain treats has not worn off. Chris mentioned Gushers in his post, and the same holds true for me. Gushers were so cool when I was a kid, and I was never allowed to have them. Same with Fruit Roll-ups. We always just had the nerdy, home-dehydrated kind made of actual fruit. Boring!

Another near-unattainable childhood candy was Big Chew (that's what I remember it being called, but apparently it was Big League Chew). Looking back, I can't believe this product even existed. If I didn't have such strong memories of coveting it and then savoring it whenever we did get it, I don't think I would believe it. Then again, I also remember enjoying candy cigarettes, so what's a little fake chewing tobacco?

I just know there are other childhood favorites that I'm forgetting, that they probably don't make anymore. Are Spree still out there? How about Pixy Stix or Fun Dip? Pop Rocks? Obviously it's been a while since I took a good look at the candy aisle. What were some of your favorite childhood candies? And what do you think about a parent who allows their child to have pseudo chewing tobacco and candy cigarettes, but not Fruit Roll-ups?

Monday, November 10, 2008

So tired. So very, very tired.

These days, I'm having flashbacks to this post about sleep deprivation. Did anyone notice the mistake in that post? I talked about being on "day 45 of systematic sleep deprivation" when in reality, it was more like day 75 since Magdalena was 2.5 months old at the time, not 1.5. Self-illustrating commentary, I guess.

Lately it's been Miriam waking up at night that has pushed me over the edge into bleary-eyed oblivion. The other night, I went to bed early with the girls, hoping to get at least a few-hour block of sleep at once. Instead, I was woken up at midnight (by Magdalena), 1am (by Miriam), 3am (by Magdalena, and kept awake until 4.30am), 5am (by Miriam), 6am (by Magdalena), and finally up for the day at 7am (with Miriam). At this point, school districts should be paying me to go to high school gymnasiums across the country as an object lesson against teen pregnancy. Behold the sunken-in eyes! The messy hair! The spitup-stained clothing that she's been wearing since the day before yesterday, which is also the last time she showered! Yikes.

However, it appears that my destiny as an unkempt mom is not to speak to teenagers, but to appear in actual photographs of a college journalism student's exhibition. True story. The girls and I were on campus this morning admiring the clock tower while we waited for Jeremy to finish teaching his class. I was in full dishevelment mode, and the girls weren't looking too cute, either, on account of we left the house in a hurry early in the morning.

Imagine my joy when we were approached by a young female student with a camera. She explained that she was a photojournalism student doing a project on the theme "Women at Different Ages" and would we mind if she took some pictures of us?

So she took a dozen or so pictures of us three girls gazing up at the clock tower and then went on her way. I kind of hope none of them turn out so that nobody besides her ever has to see them.

Then again, maybe she was a scout for a high school gymnasium speaker program on teen pregnancy...

Pony invasion

This morning, a friend of mine sent us home from her house with a box full of My Little Ponies that her eight-year-old daughter is done playing with. Miriam loves ponies, and before today, she was the proud owner of exactly one (1) My Little Pony. Her name was Snowflakes, and she was a special toy I bought at the Ben Franklin in Middlebury so Miriam could have something new to play with when Magdalena was born.

Today, we brought home the donated box of My Little Ponies and Miriam started to unload them and play with them while I took a shower. When I came back and turned the corner into the kitchen, this is what I saw:

Aye caramba! And those are just the ones with magnetic front legs. In all, I counted something like 20 ponies, with a few more baby My Little Ponies with plastic hair instead of "real" hair. It was pony mania in the kitchen. By my calculations, Miriam's pony stock shot up some 1900%, all in one day.

That's the funny thing about toys, isn't it? They just seem to multiply. It's not like we consciously sit down one day and decide that 19 ponies simply isn't enough anymore, and it's time to think about purchasing a 20th. It just comes on gradually, until one day you walk into your kitchen and there are two dozen ponies having a jamboree on the fridge door.

Needless to say, Miriam has been playing with the ponies all day long, including at church. After two hours in the church nursery, one of her teachers came up to me and said, "Miriam was talking about ponies a lot today."

I do not doubt it.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Return to sender, someday

While we were in Middlebury this summer, some friends of ours were in charge of collecting our mail for us. When we got back, there was one mysterious item in the huge stack of weekly (now vintage) Fry's ads and helpful doctor appointment reminder notices: a package addressed to Josh Perkins.

There is no such person living with us, of course. When I took a look at the address, I noticed that it was a few numbers off of ours, but it indicated a house that doesn't exist. Why the mail carrier delivered it anyway, I'll never know. Perhaps because it came from Canada, or because the sender spelled Tucson wrong (Tuscon), so what's one (or two) more errors?

The problem is, this package has been sitting in our house ever since then, gathering dust. I just don't know what to do with it. The sensible thing would have been to take it to the post office as soon as we got back from Middlebury, since it shows a mailing date of June 21 and plenty of time had already passed with it stagnating in our house over the summer. But we were busy re-establishing our lives, and the new life of little Magdalena, and it just didn't happen.

Now it's November, and with each day that passes, it's going to be more and more embarrassing to bring the package into the post office and do whatever needs to be done with it.

If the fact that it's taken almost five months to return this package to the sender isn't bad enough, there's the added humiliation of what it looks like now. Somehow, Miriam got a hold of it and scribbled on it, and also punched a pen tip through the paper a few times.

So if Josh Perkins ever gets his package, I hope he doesn't mind the shape that it's in.

If anyone has any great ideas for excuses I can give the post office employee when I finally get around to taking in this package, let me know.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Flashback Friday: Shut the door!

I'm hesitant to tell today's story because by telling it, I'm admitting that it happened, and if there is any justice in the world, my little sister Teresa is in for some very embarrassing karma. But since it's Teresa and not me, I'll go ahead and risk it.

Between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, my family went on what remains my most favorite family vacation ever: a trip to Alaska. We flew to Anchorage and then rented an RV to drive around the state. After a week or so, we turned in the RV and got around by ferry. The trip held several distinctions for my 14-year-old self, including the awesomeness of visiting a town called Homer Spit (and sending my fellow Simpsons fan Kristen a postcard from there), the novelty of seeing Russian onion-dome churches on the island of Sitka, and the heartbreak of accidentally leaving behind an entire box of peanut butter Twix on a ferry.

My brothers and sister and I at a glacier in Alaska. My oldest brother was on a mission in Austria at the time.

Besides all that, there was also all the time my sister and I (and brothers, but they don't really figure in this story) spent in the RV, on the road. My parents sat up front in the driver and passenger seats, which were lower than the rest of the vehicle and separated by a few stairs. Theoretically, we kids were sitting sedately in our seats in the back, with seatbelts buckled as we drove through the most beautiful state I've ever seen.

In reality, of course, we were dancing, completely unrestrained in the aisle of the RV, to the Beach Boys tape my parents had playing on the stereo. Or stretching out on the benches or beds and taking naps or playing Thirteen. Or rummaging through the "kitchen" cupboards for snacks. Now that I think about it, I don't know if my parents knew what we were doing and didn't care, or if they really were oblivious at the time, as we kids assumed.

At night, we pulled over wherever was available and slept, and then kept going to our next destination in the morning.

One of those destinations was a big tourist spot, but I don't remember exactly where it was. There were a lot of people there and there was a nice enough visitors' facility to have lots of bathrooms available. As I remember it, instead of separate, indoor restrooms for men and women, there was just a long row of enclosed single bathrooms, each one spacious enough to be wheelchair-accessible with its own full-length door. Each room was so big, in fact, that if you were sitting on the toilet, you couldn't reach the door. Additionally, perhaps to accomodate wheelchairs, the doors swung easily outward from the bathroom instead of toward the toilet.

Teresa and I walked over to the row of bathrooms. Either I waited for her to go first, or I went and came out again. Whichever way it happened, I was there to witness what took place when Teresa chose a bathroom to go into. She tried a couple of doors, but they were locked. Finally, she found one that was open, so she pulled open the door.

That particular bathroom may have been open, but it certainly wasn't unoccupied. There was a person sitting on the toilet who, at that moment, was probably really wishing they had locked the door. As it was, they hadn't, and now they were on display for all us tourists to see.

The sensible thing to do would have been for Teresa to just close the door again. To this day, I don't know why she didn't. Maybe because she was only 10 years old and very surprised at what had just happened. Regardless, she did what any little kid in her situation might have done: she ran away. And I, her supposedly responsible older sister, ran away with her.

Behind me, all I could hear was the voice of that poor, exposed person calling out, "Shut the doooooooooor!" Meanwhile, the door of the bathroom was slowly swinging open, outwards, so that while it had never been within reach of the toilet, it was only getting farther away.

When we got back to the RV, I think we were equal parts horrified with ourselves and also about to fall over from laughing so hard. I still wonder if some other tourist took pity on the toilet-sitter and shut the door for them, or if they had to waddle, pants down, all the way out of the bathroom to reach the handle and shut it themself. We'll probably never know. At least, I hope we don't ever find out. At least not first-hand from the source. That would be awfully embarrassing. For Teresa, of course.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What lies beneath the couch cushions

I don't pretend to be a perfect housekeeper. My house is always basically clean, but sometimes, there is dried-up macaroni cheese stuck to the side of the coffee table and I don't notice it until after the guests who sat right in front of that coffee table all evening have gone home.

Other times, I really can't be blamed for a display of unkemptness. If, at the last minute, Jeremy decides to pull out the couch so our guests can have a better view of a movie we're watching, is it my fault if I didn't anticipate that? Can I be looked down on just because under the couch there are sundry "treasures," such as small toy airplanes, refrigerator magnets, hair clips, uncapped markers, and stray Cheerios, now revealed for the world to see? I don't think so.

Right now, there is a couch-cushion horror story just waiting to happen. A few weeks ago (yes, weeks), I was bringing out all the hand-wash laundry and I set a pair of socks on the couch just for a moment. When I turned back to collect them, only one of them was there.

This was vaguely terrifying to me. These socks were very dirty, and now one of them was missing in the vicinity of my couch, threatening to pop up at an inopportune moment (see dried-up macaroni and cheese, above). I had to find that sock! First, I did a cursory search for them and came up with nothing. I went back and checked in my bedroom to see if I'd dropped it there. Nothing. Then I looked all around the couch and under the cushions. Still nothing.

It's been a while now and I still haven't found that missing sock. I know I brought it out and put it on the couch, but now it is nowhere to be found. With my luck, it will choose to emerge right when some guests make themselves comfortable on the couch. Alternatively, someone else's kid - or our own - could pull it out from some forgotten corner of the living room and run around waving it above their head.

At least I've had some time to prepare myself for the eventuality. And I've learned my lesson: never put dirty socks on the couch, even for a moment. Also: always, ALWAYS, check the coffee table for dried-up macaroni and cheese.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Voting in Tucson

We voted at our local nondescript neighborhood church building. Don't they do voting at schools anymore? Or is it too dangerous to have hordes of random adults (albeit registered voters) passing through an elementary school these days?

Before you get all excited, like Jeremy did, realize that the bottom half of this sign is in Spanish, and there will not, in fact, be a 75-pie limit inside the building.

Does it bother me that all the signs at our voting location were in Spanish as well as English? I haven't decided yet. I'm just trying to remember if the ballot itself was in both languages. I can't quite recall, which doesn't really mean anything since I hardly even notice all the Spanish around here anymore.

We went ahead and took the kids with us. Our strategy was to avoid the lines by going mid-morning, when it was after work had started but before lunch break. And there was no line whatsoever. The precinct workers - almost every one of whom were elderly ladies - told us that at 6am, the line stretched all the way down the sidewalk. The ladies all thought our kids were cute and gave them extra "I Voted" stickers, which could have led to some serious Ben & Jerry's defrauding if we had a scoop shop down here. I wish I could have sent the stickers your way, Jen.

Yesterday evening, we settled in to watch the big map of the USA get colored in red and blue. Miriam was obsessed with it. In fact, every time the news anchors starting talking instead of showing the map, she got upset. Today, our afternoon project will have to be coloring in a map red and blue. And then this election will really be over and maybe NPR can talk about something else for once.

Tupac is rolling over in his grave

Tupac - Changes - Tupac

Skip to 1:53 to hear the pertinent part of the song (and also to avoid some minor profanity).

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day: A Retrospective

Let's take a walk back through the years, shall we?

I don't have any memories of Reagan being president, but I do remember discussing the Bush Sr./Dukakis election in first grade (1988). Specifically, I remember that one of our Weekly Reader issues was dedicated to the election and we could all check a box on the page to "vote." Then we all just voted however our parents were voting.

In 1992, I was in fifth grade. We kids continued to "vote" however our parents were. I remember having some spirited discussions with classmates about this election. Basically, our arguments boiled down to "Bush is better!" "No, he's not! Clinton is better!" Fortunately, things have changed...or have they?

1996, sophomore year of high school. I have no notable recollections of this election at all, except for that Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" episode (you should seek it out if you haven't seen it - it's social satire at its best).

Finally, I can vote! By unexciting absentee ballot, anyway. I was a sophomore at the BYU in 2000, and let's face it, the choice was easy for my young, fresh, not-yet-disillusioned self. The best part was going to bed election night thinking Al Gore had won, and then having my roommates wake me up in the middle of the night to say that actually Bush won (or maybe it was the other way around). Etc., for the next two weeks. Greta van Susteren and Crossfire became TV staples in our apartment.

Another absentee ballot, this time from Damascus in 2004. The US embassy/cultural center threw an election night party which was great fun, but kind of a joke since our time zone was so far ahead of America. The first results were just barely coming in when the party ended. Oh well. We stayed up most of the night watching the news anyway once we got home since it was Ramadan, and all our neighbors were awake, making a racket.

Today, I'll be voting in person for the first time. It sounded all idealistic when I made the decision not to do a mail-in ballot - you know, taking the kids along, giving them a taste of civic duty, experiencing the excitement of an election first-hand, etc. Now I'm just hoping that the lines won't be too long.

Happy Election Day!


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