Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Movies of note from 2009

This is not a list of everything I watched in 2009. These are just movies of note - films that were especially enjoyable, or old movies that I re-watched or watched for the first time in 2009, or perhaps they're just films I think you may not have heard of before that are worth checking out. (Here are links to the lists from 2007 and 2008.)

The Soldier and Death. I grew up watching this movie and it informed many aspects of my childhood. It is very weird - in some ways, I think Jim Henson is probably crazier than Tim Burton. But it is a great story, well told, and it has so many quotable quotes (and it appears to be available online in its entirety here).

American Teen (documentary). I can't recommend this one wholeheartedly because it has plenty of intense, unsavory moments. I include it in this list because I do think it's worth seeing, especially if you feel like being re-horrified at the terrors of high school.

Little Dorrit. I already gushed about this one. Since writing that, I've finished watching the miniseries and while it is not a perfect movie, it is very close. The ending was a bit rushed and Jeremy and I had to rewind it and re-watch a few scenes to understand some crucial details, but it was such an enjoyable movie. The soundtrack is gorgeous, too.

Collision. I watched this one at my parents' house, since they had it sitting on the DVR from Masterpiece Contemporary a few months ago. This is another one that was just a joy to watch. I savored every episode.

Lars and the Real Girl. We watched this one again last week and I still loved it.

State of Play was this year's Ironman for me - a movie I hadn't really heard of that I started watching against my will and ended up really liking. I did spend half the movie willing Russell Crowe to wash and/or trim his hair, though.

I saw four movies in the theater this year: Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, 500 Days of Summer, and New Moon.

What did you watch in 2009?

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009: Books I loved, and read

It's time for my yearly book round-up. I love writing this post and choosing my favorites. This year, I had the advantage of having joined Goodreads (thanks, Liz!) so I was able to keep meticulous track of what I read. Thanks for all the recommendations - they are noted where I remembered to add them. Let me know if I forgot you. Links lead to book reviews I wrote throughout the year. And for reference, here's the list from 2007, and 2008. For my ten favorites, I made up a new rule that to be included, I had to have read the book for the first time in 2009. That way, the list isn't clogged up with old favorites that I re-read.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Flashback Friday/Vintage Post: A Very Special Christmas Edition

Here's your Flashback Friday/Vintage Post for today: last year's Very Special Christmas Edition, originally published December 19, 2008. Merry Christmas!

We spent Christmas 2004 in Damascus, Syria. Jeremy's brother and sister were in town visiting for a couple of weeks and we had been traveling together in Turkey and northern Syria just before Christmas, and would leave for Jordan and Egypt just after Christmas. Christmas Eve, however, we spent in Damascus. It was a Friday, so we had the day off from work and school. We went to church with our tiny (six total people on a good day) congregation at the humanitarian volunteers' apartment. The volunteers, called missionaries in most other countries where they're actually allowed to preach, were a retired couple who always did their best to bring the comforts of home to a country as foreign as Syria. Part of that effort included constructing a makeshift Christmas tree out of colored lights and a bedsheet. The star on top was cut out of the packaging for Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Messiah sing-along

I've wanted to participate in a Handel's Messiah sing-along for years. Today, I finally got the chance. My dad works at a major computer chip producer plant, and out of the goodness of their hearts, they hosted a Messiah sing-along during lunch hour. In a further show of benevolence, they opened it up to members of the community as well.

We all sat in an auditorium with our sheet music and, well, sang along to Handel's Messiah. They had a professional performance of Messiah projected onto a screen at the front of the room so we had a strong lead to follow. There was a dude standing in front of the screen at a lectern, conducting the music, which I thought was a nice touch. Most of the people there sounded like amateurs, like me, but there were a few really talented (and practiced) singers there.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Vintage Post: In a world where salt has 60 uses...

Today's Vintage Post: In a world where salt has 60 uses..., originally published October 21, 2007. I still laugh every time I read this list.

(Note: click on the graphic to view it, and then click again to enlarge it.)

A woman came up to me at church today and asked if I wanted a handout on "60 Uses For Salt." What could I say but yes?

(If this seems a little random for something given to me at church, it's related to our church's food storage program, which is awesome. What is even more awesome is the amount of knowledge certain people in our congregation have on the subject, including the lady who gave me this handout.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Flashback Friday: Being Mormon in Russia

Being Mormon in Russia isn't nearly as odd as being Mormon in Syria, but the experience of attending church there did have its quirks. Here are some memories.

We moved to Moscow in January and it was dang cold. Our first Sunday there, we made our way to church by walking to the nearest metro, taking it several stops to the northwest, and making our way through a busy open-air market to get to the cultural hall the church rented for Sunday use. The open-air market was an especially colorful place. There were aggressive vendors who would descend upon the swarms of people exiting the metro and offer all kinds of goods for sale - lemons, toys from China, cheap used clothing, you name it. There was one vendor who stood at the top of the metro staircase, selling seeds of all kinds. Every single Sunday (except for one or two times when he was very noticeably absent), the seed salesman repeated the same sales pitch in a lilting tone over and over and over again. We quickly dubbed him Mr. Chorniy because he always started his pitch with "Pyerets chorniy..." We had his speech pretty well memorized after a few weeks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vintage Post: Streaker!

This story just needs to be told as often as possible. Originally published April 9, 2007.

I don't know quite what to think of what happened this afternoon at the pool.

It was a nice day today, like most every day this time of the year, so Jeremy and I took Miriam to the pool near Reid Park. We like that pool because it has a fun zero-entry pool with some fountains and a lazy river, as well as a separate warm-water therapy pool.

We were just about finished with our visit and were toweling off near the therapy pool when all of a sudden, I heard Jeremy exclaim, "Hey, you can see that kid's bum!"

I looked up (what would you do?) and saw that a young teenage boy's swim trunks were sagging down so low that, in fact, you could see the vast majority of his bum. In another moment, I realized that the boy was one who had been in the pool near us earlier. I took notice at the time because he seemed to be slightly mentally challenged, and also because his dad gave the following instructions to his little brother, who accompanied him in the pool: "Don't leave him alone!"

Well, apparently the little brother had left him alone, because here he was running around half naked in a public pool area.

As we looked on, the boy's behavior grew even more bizarre. He ran up to a lady sitting poolside and kind of grappled around her face. She waved him away, laughing nervously at the increasingly absurd nature of the situation, as were we all. Then, he must have decided that his swim trunks were a hindrance to his cavorting, because off they came.

There was now a fully naked teenage boy running around the pool. I heard lots of gasps from parents who, I assume, were now trying to cover their children's eyes. The lifeguards all jumped down from their perches to approach the kid. But he couldn't be caught - he was running full speed around the pool, buck naked.

He ran to the far side of the pool, grabbed some bags of people's belongings, and threw them in the water. Then, perhaps realizing that there was one very important pool rule, which is not generally posted but is very widely understood, that he had not yet broken (not wearing a swimsuit and running in the pool area having been covered already), he went to the edge of the pool, stood fully upright, and promptly urinated into the nearest lap lane.

I was horrified, and yet terribly amused. I looked over and saw one of the lifeguards doubled up with laughter. The lifeguard near us was laughing, too. Two poor female lifeguards had been pursuing him earlier but were now keeping their distance.

He ran around a little longer without anyone challenging him. Eventually, the little brother showed up to help (I don't know where he had been, but I'm sure he got a surprise upon re-entering the pool area) and he and the lifeguards were able to corral the escaped kid and wrap a towel around him.

I wonder if this kind of thing has happened before at the pool. And I also have to wonder if a few more households than normal are having a talk about the birds and the bees with their children this evening.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The MomChop, revisited

Remember when I got a MomChop? Well, the end of that story is that I really regretted it. The MomChop fulfilled its purpose of keeping my hair from getting hopelessly tangled in tiny baby fists, but there was the downside that I didn't look very good with short hair.

It took me nine months to work up the courage, but I went in to get a better haircut today. Jeremy told me he would really, really, really, really appreciate it if I didn't get bangs. I passed on those instructions to the (Finnish!) stylist and we went with a less dramatic face-framing layers look, maintaining what overall length I had left. And I love it.

Here's a look at before:

In other words, hi, my hair is all one length and it is boring and so am I. BLAH.

And now for after:

The first thing I said when I looked in the mirror was, "wow, I feel like I finally look my age." I'm not sure what I meant by that, since I'm 28 now and looking my age is not such a fun thing. I guess I just meant that I look like a grown-up now, instead of a 28-year-old with the same hairstyle I had when I was 12.

If this is a MomChop, at least it's one I can be happy with.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"No one ever told me..." (special poo edition)

This morning, after two-and-a-half days of being an unsuccessful poo-poo cheerleader for little constipated Magdalena, I found myself faced with the ghastly task of removing chunks of poo from inside of her bum with my fingers. I used a baby wipe, but still. I am sorry to inflict the above sentences upon my readership, but there's just no delicate way to put it. It was gross.

Now, I'm not a big fan of using "no one ever told me I'd have to [unpleasant task]" as an excuse for begging off of being a good mom. But sometimes, there really ARE things that no one ever told me I'd have to do. If I'd known ahead of time about digging poo out of a toddler's bum, would it have been a deal-breaker? Hard to say. Here are a few others.

No one ever told me that, in order to preserve the sanctity of my 4-year-old's potty experiences at automatic-flush public toilets, I'd have to stand there with my hand over the flush sensor so it doesn't inadvertently flush while she's still on the potty and frighten her out of her wits.

No one ever told me that sometimes, while taking a shower with my kids, there is a definite possibility of stepping on a turd.

No one ever told me that not only would I often have an audience while taking care of my own bathroom business, but that I would sometimes have to narrate said business, especially for a just-potty-trained 2-year-old. And sometimes all this would take place in a public restroom. Yeah, that's pretty much when you just stay in your stall until everyone else has left the bathroom so you have a chance of escaping public humiliation.

No one ever told me that I'd be asked the question, "Mom, can you come look at my poo-poos and tell me if it's diarrhea?"

What did I miss? I would have said that no one ever told me I'd have to clean poo off my walls, but I haven't had to do that yet. Also, people DID tell me about that one.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Vintage Post: The king of cheese

Vintage Post: The king of cheese, originally published December 11, 2007. Miriam was two years old. And nope, there still hasn't been a worse picture taken of her than the one featured in this post.

Miriam attended her first American birthday party on Saturday. She was previously a guest at Natalie's birthday party in Amman, and then later in the summer, Natalie's sister Tina's party.

But the neighborhood-kids-in-the-kitchen birthday parties she attended in Jordan could not compare with what she experienced on Saturday. That's because this party (for a 3-year-old friend) was at Chuck E. Cheese.

I'll admit that I was nervous when I received the invitation. The boy's mother is a good, trusted friend of mine, so it's not that I felt the need to question her judgment. But I haven't been inside of a Chuck E. Cheese "restaurant" in at least 17 years, maybe longer. I had all these flashbacks of animatronic animals who were missing major portions of their bodies lurching around unnaturally while singing "Happy Birthday Boy or Girl." Then I remembered that that was from an episode of The Simpsons, and so there was probably nothing to worry about.

But it turns out that I wasn't that far off. There were animatronic animals lurching about on a stage positioned uncomfortably close to the dining area. And the animatronic Chuck E. Cheese himself was missing the back of his head (though he didn't catch on fire like he did on The Simpsons).

The toys were also pretty much as I remembered them, complete with abrasive sound effects and lots of flashing lights. There was no ball pit, though - have those been outlawed in America?

In the end, I think Miriam had a great, if occasionally overstimulating, time. I was the one who had a problem overcoming the unwholesome juxtaposition of "playing on germy toys" with "eating pizza immediately afterward."

And it was definitely worth it for this picture we took at Chuck E. Cheese's Sketch Booth:

My friends, you will never see a worse picture of Miriam Damascus. The saddest part is that you can tell she's trying so hard. (In case you're wondering, I'm looking up at the screen to see if the camera had taken the picture yet. Apparently, it hadn't. I don't know how I missed the beep amid all the chaotic background noise.)

After all the games she played, Miriam had a whopping 12 tickets. She traded them in for a cheap plastic ring. It is currently her favorite possession.

Thank you, Chuck E. Cheese.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Flashback Friday: Arabian Electricity Adventures

We've already had fun with Arabian Shower Adventures. Let's move on to Arabian Electricity Adventures.

Where to begin...well, in our Damascus apartment, there was the fact that there were about three times as many light switches in the apartment as there were actual lights. I never figured out what the other switches were meant to do. Mostly I just left them alone.

Then there were the two huge chandeliers in the living room with fake candles as lightbulbs which flickered on and off depending on how much electricity was flowing through our apartment at the moment.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Air travel with kids

I've just about had it with people who glare at parents with crying babies on airplanes. There are a few things I would like to say to these people. Specifically, there are a few things I would have liked to say to these people yesterday, when that mom with a crying baby was ME (and the baby was 16-month-old Magdalena) (and I hereby declare16 months to be the worst age to be flying on an airplane).

-Listen, pal, we got up for the day at 4.15 this morning and faced a blinding snowstorm on our way to the airport. Then our flight was delayed almost 3 hours, which fact we couldn't know until we were actually taking off, because until that point, all the airline people would tell us was that we could be cleared to leave at any moment so we needed to stay in the gate area.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Vintage Post: Waterbeds

Last year around this time, people just kind of stopped reading blogs until January, when things picked up again. I get it - it's a busy time of year, a lot of us are traveling, etc. etc. So this year, I thought of a plan to ease things up a bit on My Adventures in Ithaca while still providing "new" content. A few times a week I'm going to re-post something from the archives. It might be from three years ago. It might be from six months ago. It probably won't be from any more recent than that. I know this blog's readership has ebbed and flowed and changed over the years, so chances are that not all of the re-posts will be repeats for all of you.

I'm still planning on doing normal posts, too, as well as my yearly book round-up toward the end of the month.

Enjoy today's Vintage Post: Waterbeds, first published Sunday, April 22, 2007.

I don't generally go to church looking to be amused, or listening for people to say strange things (though the latter happens more often than you'd think. You just have to pay attention).

But today during the third hour of church, I found myself thinking about waterbeds.

My parents had a waterbed waaaay back when, so long ago that I can hardly remember it. But since they got rid of it, I probably haven't thought of waterbeds more than a few times. I certainly haven't thought of them in the last several years. They're just not something I encounter on a daily, monthly, or even yearly basis. Consider: when was the last time you thought about a waterbed?

So you can imagine my bemusement when, during a 45-minute lesson on "Becoming an Instrument in the Hands of God," the subject of waterbeds came up twice. Two different ladies raised their hands at two different times during the lesson to offer two completely unrelated (to each other, not the lesson) comments, each of which somehow involved waterbeds. I was so surprised by the first lady's mention of it that I can't even remember what the substance of her comment was. The second lady was talking about a roommate who switched beds with her when she hurt her shoulder and couldn't sleep in her waterbed.

It was an interesting phenomenon, and helped to distract me from watching the two homeless guys wandering around outside the church building during the entire lesson.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Building bridges of spilled hot chocolate

The four of us participated in Cornell's annual "I Believe In..." dinner last night. It's put on by the Interfaith Council, and is intended to be an activity where people of many different faiths (or no faith, as the case may be) can sit down together and talk about their differences, or maybe even similarities. Last night, we mingled with a Buddhist monk, a Swedenborgian, a Unificationist, a Unitarian/agnostic, Muslims, some fellow Mormons (but not really since we were confined to separate tables), Catholics, and some regular old Christians, plus a whole bunch of other people whose religions I didn't catch.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Flashback Friday: A fat, fat lip

I can't remember exactly when it was - the summer of 2003, maybe? We were living in American Fork while Jeremy worked on his master's degree and I worked at a couple of jobs. Somehow he ended up playing on an intramural flag football team at the BYU. I know they make it flag football so it's not as brutal or dangerous as regular football, but it was still plenty risky to play. A little while before Jeremy's incident, a BYU student died on the intramural field after falling and landing on his head and breaking his neck (if I remember correctly, and I can't find any archived news stories to back me up).

At this particular early-evening game, during the course of regular play, Jeremy's face came into sudden, forced contact with the head of a large Pacific Islander. Jeremy's mouth took the brunt of the impact and his front teeth went all the way through his upper lip. At first he thought he was fine, but when blood started gushing from his mouth, we all realized that he wasn't. He took off his shirt to staunch the bleeding and pretty much soaked it.

I was at the game, so I was able to drive him to Urgent Care. We spent about 30 minutes in the waiting room before being shown back to see a doctor, only to be told that "uuuuuhh, that is way too serious for us to take care of here." Thanks. They did us the favor of calling the local ER to tell them Jeremy would be coming in, and they said that they weren't busy at all and there shouldn't even be a wait once we arrived.

So we headed over to the ER...and passed the wreckage of a fairly major car accident on the way, complete with ambulances, with sirens blaring, that beat us to the hospital. We ended up waiting for a pretty long time for Jeremy to be seen.

They stitched him up pretty well and clarified that Urgent Care could have done the same thing, but the doctors at the hospital were better qualified to do a cleaner, more cosmetic job of it. Jeremy left the ER with a lot of high-dose ibuprofen and a very fat upper lip.

The point of this story is that for some reason, we decided to take some pictures of Jeremy exaggerating his fat lip. I mean, it was fat, but it was not as fat as this:

or this:

All in good fun. To this day, Jeremy has a small scar on his upper lip. We figured out later that he would have bashed in his front teeth for sure if he hadn't had a permanent retainer wired in there. And he doesn't play any sports these days without wearing a mouth guard. Because you never know when a Pacific Islander's skull is going to shove its way into your upper lip.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

In defense of Twilight

Before you read this post, please know one thing: it really is possible to be warmer-than-lukewarm when it comes to Twilight. It seems like some people want you to only be allowed to hate the books to the extent that you say it is the worst piece of trash ever created, or to love the books so much that you own a shower curtain with Edward's face on it (oh how I wish I were making that up). But please believe me when I say there is a very reasonable middle ground, and I am on it, along with a great many other people. I do love the Twilight books. But they are neither the best books I've ever read, nor are they even close to being among the very worst. I read a lot of books. I like a lot of books. The Twilight books happen to be among the books that I like.

Monday, November 30, 2009

NaBloPoMo Roundup (2009)

Is it too self-referential if I do my NaBloPoMo Roundup today, as part of NaBloPoMo? I hope not.

NaBloPoMo was a little bit harder for me this year than last year, but I didn't end up having to scrape the bottom of the blog-topic barrell like I thought I might. The way I know this is because I didn't write a post about laundry. I had the laundry post on the back burner all month long, knowing I could break it out at any time if I got in a NaBloPoMo pinch. That never happened, but I came close a few times. Seriously, laundry. I might still write that post someday. And then we can all agree that life is boring sometimes, including yours, if you take the time to read my blog post about laundry.

A chance for a new life, bypassed

I had the chance to become the mistress of a trucker today, but I let it pass me by.

We were driving from DC to Ithaca (it ended up taking us a smooth 6.5 hours). After a few hours, we picked up some food at a Pizza Hut embedded in a Pilot truck stop somewhere near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Classy, I know, but it was our one pit stop so we were stuck with what was available. When we were about to get in the car to leave, I noticed that the sandwich we bought had a time stamp on it, directing us to "request a new product if received after 10:36 AM," which I was pretty sure it was.

All of this is the long way of telling you that I walked back into the truck stop by myself and had to ask someone standing in line in front of me what time it was. The person who I happened to ask, happened to be a trucker. And he took my casual query about the time to be an invitation to a conversation.

He was from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the time zone is different there, and he was headed to Boston, blah blah blah. I put on my polite smile until I could break away to pick up my sandwich, because our conversation had at least established that it was, in fact, past 10:36 AM, the time difference in Chattanooga notwithstanding. As I was waiting for the sandwich at a separate counter, the trucker walked past me out the door but then turned around and asked me if I wanted to go to Boston with him.

Honestly, I thought he was joking, so I just kind of laughed and avoided making any further eye contact. Then he repeated the offer in a more persuasive tone and said, "are you sure?" At that point I looked right at him and said "uuhhhh, no." He replied, "well, you have a nice smile," and then left.

When I got back out to the car and was reunited with my husband and two kids, I told Jeremy how I almost left him for a trucker at a pit stop in Gettysburg, PA. It took a lot of deliberating, but I think I'll stay with Jeremy for at least another eight years. As long as he tells me I have a nice smile a little more often.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Movie Review: New Moon

If I had to write a movie review of New Moon in one word, it would be:


I haven't seen so much angst packed into two hours since high school. As in, real life, when I was in high school. In fact, I'm kind of sad I couldn't watch New Moon as a 16-year-old girl because I think I would have LOVED it. It was just so angsty. Everyone was sad and mopey and dramatic and beautiful and breaking up and having misunderstandings and almost kissing. ANGST.

Besides the angst, here are my other impressions of the movie:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Flashback Friday: Thanksgiving memories

My friend did a post a few weeks ago about her Thanksgiving experiences in China and it reminded me of our weird Thanksgivings in foreign countries. We've actually only celebrated two Thanksgivings abroad and neither of them were particularly zany, but I thought I'd dredge up some memories for you anyway for Flashback Friday.

In Russia, we got together with a few other American expats at someone's apartment. It was one of those things where we all did our best to re-create a family favorite with the ingredients available, and some of us had more success than others. Jeremy and I brought that dessert that has so many different names, the dumbest of which is The Next Best Thing to Robert Redford. I think we only had to make a few substitutions in the ingredients. The main problem was that we didn't have an electric mixer to whip up the cream, and Cool Whip in Russia was obviously not an option. I don't think we had powdered sugar either. We did score some Jell-O pudding mix at the commissary, so that was nice.

The final product might not have been as fluffy or light as usual, but it was sweet and chocolatey and creamy and I think it tasted pretty good. Thanksgiving success.

My memories from Syria are a little fuzzier because Jeremy and I were just barely recovering from some pretty terrible spinach-inflicted food poisoning. I do remember that the senior couple volunteers made some major ingredient coups and had prepared a pretty good spread of American food for the members of the branch and our friends. My favorite was that they had actually made stuffing, albeit with a different kind of bread and a vegetable that was not celery but was the closest thing the street vendors could rustle up for them. I'm still not sure what it was, but it all tasted so good.

Strangely, I don't remember either gathering having turkey.

I'm glad we made an effort to celebrate even though it was awkward and difficult at times. Because it was also delicious, and that made it all worth it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Thanksgiving post

Let's face it, I'd rather be doing other things than write this post, and you'd rather be doing other things than read it. So I'll be brief.

The big thing I'm excited about at Thanksgiving this year is that I'm in charge of the stuffing, so I get to make it the way I want it. Stuffing is probably my favorite food, so I'm particular about it. I think everyone is particular about it, actually, so you can see how it can turn into a clash of family traditions. The way I was raised, if you put cranberries, sausage, a corn-based product, raisins, or any other abomination in your stuffing, or if it came out of a box, you're doing it wrong. YES, I realize I probably just offended 75% of you.

The only things that belong in stuffing are bread, celery, onions, poultry seasoning, and butter. Also, don't ruin it by actually stuffing it in the turkey.

Who's with me?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Boston to DC

We left Boston yesterday, headed for DC. For some reason, we had it in our minds that the trip would take 6 hours. It took about 12. Here's how.

First of all, I don't know where the 6-hour figure came from, but it wasn't correct to begin with. It's more like an 8-hour drive, so there was that.

Then there was the fact that we forgot that kids make everything take seven times as long than it would for two adults by themselves. Seriously, SEVEN TIMES AS LONG. Packing. Walking down to the car. Getting in the car. Programming Nigel the GPS (because you have to narrate everything you do to the 4-year-old in the backseat). Eating. Putting on mittens. You name it - it takes longer.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This hotel is too good for me

It has come to my attention that I am not classy enough to stay in nice hotels. Courtesy of Cornell, for the sake of Jeremy's conference, we are staying in the Marriott in downtown Boston. You can imagine how much it costs.   It's not just the per-night charges, either. Everything costs extra money at nice hotels.

It's strange, because you'd think paying an arm and a leg each night would entitle you to, you know, a donut and some milk for breakfast, on the house. Or wireless internet. Or a parking spot, for heaven's sake. But no. Those things cost extra. I found myself cracking open the room service menu our first day here just to see how much it would cost for the convenience of having breakfast at the hotel. It quickly became apparent that just by checking the prices, I had already proved I couldn't afford it. Someone who can spend $25 on toast, jam, and juice doesn't need to check the price list. They just do it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Impressions of Boston and a missed opportunity

We've been in Boston for three days now, so I think I'm fully qualified to make sweeping generalizations about the city and its inhabitants.

1. Its roads are very curvy and nonsensical. Even Nigel the GPS gets confused sometimes. The worst part is that it's one of those cities where if you make even ONE wrong turn, your ETA jumps back about 12 minutes.

2. We have the ghettoest stroller in existence, apparently. Everyone else walking around town with their offspring has cute European-ish baby buggies. Almost they persuadeth me to buy an $800 stroller (but not quite).

This is your life, blog style

You know that kind of friend who you can go without seeing for years, and then when you do see each other again, it's like you can pick up right where you left off?

I love that kind of friend. And fortunately, that kind of friend is a lot more common now that so many people have blogs. Because "where we left off" now means "you know, last Tuesday when I read your blog." I love it. And I love that it doesn't have that stalker-y feel so much anymore like it used to a couple of years ago.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The world outside of Ithaca

We're in Boston today. Jeremy and I spent our 8th anniversary on a six-hour road trip and then spent the night in fabulous hotel accommodations...crammed into one room with our two kids.

Nevertheless, I do love me a good road trip. We only stopped twice, but we struck out both times. The first time, I really, really had to go to the bathroom and of course I realized the urgency of the situation only after we passed half a dozen brightly lit, conveniently located travel plazas. No, I had to choose the next exit, the one where we had to drive three miles from the freeway on winding, fast-darkening country roads to use the gross bathroom at some grimy gas station.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flashback Friday: When Bridget & Jeremy got married

Jeremy and I were married on November 20, 2001, which makes today our eighth anniversary. Here are some random, non-sentimental memories for you.

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We both took a week off of school and work to fly up to Portland and get married here (The Portland Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints):

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

I am so excited to write this blog post. I've been looking forward to it since last Friday, when Jeremy and I watched the first half of Lars and the Real Girl. The Netflix DVD stopped working at that point and it was like torture to wait until Tuesday to receive the replacement disc. I almost jumped the gun and wrote a review of the movie anyway, on the basis of having seen the first half only. But then I decided that since there were so many ways that this particular movie could go horribly wrong, I'd better wait until I'd seen the whole thing before I recommended it.

Thankfully, my suspicions that the movie would turn out to be awesome were correct.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two good deals

1. A couple of weeks ago, I heard about the one-day Oprah deal where if you mentioned the right coupon code, Payless Shoe Source would give you 50% off your entire purchase, no exceptions. So Miriam and I went to Payless, bought five pairs of shoes, and paid $30 total. I later returned one pair which brought the steal of a deal down to four pairs for $27, but still. These cute little shoes for Magdalena didn't cost me $19.99. They were on sale for $7, so I paid $3.50. I was, and am, pretty excited about that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

11 books that made me cry

My friend Anna is sick and requested that I recommend a good book, or tell a sad story for her. Instead, I'm going to recommend some good, sad books. Now, I may cry in stressful situations when I'm tired, or pregnant, or recently had a baby, but it's not easy to make me cry for a movie or a book. So these books are exceptional: they all made me cry.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Michael Jackson nostalgia

I realize this post is about four months late, but I'm going to go ahead and write it anyway.

Jeremy outed me in the comments of a previous post as listening to Michael Jackson. It's true. I have been listening to Michael Jackson a lot lately, including "Stranger in Moscow." Because the man has some dang good music.

To anyone who didn't actually live through it all, it's difficult to explain the extent and voraciousness of Michael Jackson's cool factor back in the day, for example, the entire decade of the 1980s and a few years of the 1990s, too. I think I can say without exaggeration that he was the. coolest. person. on. the. planet.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sabbath musings

Magdalena is officially at the age where I have to suppress a tired shudder before gathering my courage and entering the church building with her. Mormon kids don't go into the nursery class until they are 18 months old, so we're still a long three months out from any kind of relief.

Once we're inside the church building, Magdalena turns into a little hellian. She wiggles, she squawks, she scatters her snacks all over the seats and floor, she escapes from the pew and makes a break for the front of the chapel, or the back.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Magdalena the guinea pig

Since I'm a linguist, it was pretty much a dream come true when a woman approached me at the farmer's market and asked if I would volunteer my kids to be subjects in Cornell's Baby Lab research. During my time in the BYU linguistics department, I was brought up on stories of famous studies like the Wug Test.

The research they had Magdalena participate in a few days ago was similar. I took her into a room and put on some huge headphones that blocked out the researcher's voice so I couldn't hear her and pass on unintentional cues to Magdalena. At the time, all I could see was that they were presenting her with a variety of objects and asking her to put certain ones in the basket.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Flashback Friday: Reflections on kindness in Moscow

Perhaps you've heard: Russia is bleak. People are mean to each other, a lot of the time. The weather is often brutally cold and dark. There are a lot of poor people there, both scraping by in small apartments or living right there on the street. Begging is something that goes on everywhere, all the time, including on the metro. For a beggar, the metro provides a captive audience that constantly refreshes itself, for a space of time just long enough to make a plea for money.

The walk to my work (top) and to the Embassy (bottom). Both very bleak.

When we lived in Moscow, it was tempting at times to get caught up in the habit of criticizing anything and everything. There was a lot to complain about. We had a lot of negative experiences there, whether it was with reckless drivers, discrimination against fellow foreigners, or the service-with-a-snarl lady at the checkout counter. (Being accused of attempting to murder my husband also comes to mind.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tamiflu, Swine Flu, and YOU (well, me)

I was going to do a post about all the quirky terms in my Google search history. Then I came across this one:

"Tamiflu baby cries all day"

and decided it deserved its own post.

(Actually, the first search term listed is "babt tamiflu cries all day," which is the kind of typo you make when you're holding your baby and she's been crying all day.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Video potpourri

I've been wanting to post a few videos I've enjoyed lately.

1. I didn't get a lot of sleep last week and one afternoon I ended up watching a lot of YouTube videos with the girls on my lap. This one made me laugh until I cried (see "lack of sleep," above).

2. My dad told me about this one. Watch out - it's addictive. It's just a creative wedding aisle dance from some normal couple. I watched it the first time and thought, "that was cute, but whatever." Then I watched it again. And again. And again.

3. Then I saw the spinoff "The Office" did a few weeks ago. Hilarious and fun to watch for a whole different reason.

4. Did you see the highlights of that ultra-violent BYU women's soccer game last week? As Jeremy pointed out when he watched it, it's not like BYU was totally without fault. But come on.

5. This one is classic.

6. My brother Steven posted this on his blog. I watched it about a million times and laughed every single time.

I just had to take a screenshot of the moment that almost made me pee my pants. What is even going on here?!?

What videos have you been watching lately?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's actually called Summer SAD

Remember when I joked about having Reverse Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder? Well, first of all, I wasn't really joking, and second of all, it turns out there really is such a thing. I found that out when a stranger left a comment on that post a few months after I wrote it, telling me so.

I was simultaneously relieved and alarmed by this knowledge. It was all well and good to make light of the fact that I felt wilted and desiccated during the spring and summer months in Tucson. But it was unnerving to realize that not only is there a name for what I was experiencing, there are other people who have the same problem. I mean, enough people casually or emphatically agreed with me in the comments section of that post, but in the real world there is a website and a support group and a New York Times article and everything.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Awkward Palmer family photos

Before I ever knew about Awkward Family Photos, my friend Britney did a post on all the photo duds she had to cast aside when going through pictures of her kids. You know, the ones that are unfocused, or where your kid looks terrible, or no one is looking at the camera, or all of the above. I sifted through the last few months of Palmer family photos and found some winners. And by winners, I mean losers.

This one seems innocuous at first, and it's fine, really, except that my sister-in-law and I ended up in no-man's-land as far as rows are concerned. Check us out - we're squatting behind the seated people and in front of the standing people, and we're the only ones doing so. We're short, but we're not THAT short.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The real American hero

The upside of not seeing movies in the theater, pretty much ever, is that there are always lots of good DVD rental choices out there. I'm not saying GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is one of those good choices, at least not in the normal sense of the word, but Jeremy and I did end up watching it last night.

Another DVD-over-movie-theater bonus is that when I'm watching a movie like GI Joe with Jeremy, we can pause the movie while we wipe away tears of laughter at all the unintentionally funny parts, or point out the ridiculous plot points, or take a moment to predict what happens next. It's great fun. And GI Joe is the best bad movie I've seen since Van Helsing back in 2004.

Let me explain what I mean.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Disaster averted

I want you to imagine, as I did, all the things that could go wrong with the following scenario, which took place on Thursday:

I needed to have my blood drawn at the local laboratory in preparation for a doctor appointment next week. I had been fasting for 12 hours as instructed. I also had my kids with me. And I had to walk to the lab, with the kids. And it was cold outside. And both girls had been sick in previous days so they were a bit stir-crazy from being cooped up inside, and were liable to spontaneously implode into mischief upon going out in public.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Flashback Friday: Adventures in paying a phone bill in Syria

There was this one time in Damascus when Jeremy and I had dinner at the phone bill lady's house in Damascus. Does that even happen anywhere else besides Syria? It seemed so normal at the time, but kind of weird in retrospect.

We would see her maybe once every two months when we went into the phone office to pay our bill. Out of all the ladies who worked in the office, she was always the most helpful. The first time we went to pay our bill, we had no idea where to go, what line to stand in, what procedure to follow, etc. I think all the other workers just didn’t feel like dealing with some dumb foreigners at that moment (it could get very hectic in the office since, in a stroke of organizational genius, all the bills in a particular area fell due at the same time). She was very patient and showed us the ropes. Jeremy and I remained dumb foreigners in many respects, but at least we figured out how to pay our phone bill, thanks to her.

You see, the phone-bill-paying system they had going in Syria was quite interesting (you can see from the above picture what kind of infrastructure we were dealing with).

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Expectations vs. reality

All told, it took Jeremy about six years to earn his postgraduate degrees. It was a long and winding road, and at times, the only thing keeping us going was the thought of what life would be like once he had a real job. It was our way of focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel, I suppose.

There were actually lots of little lights at the end of the tunnel, but they fell into basically two categories: when Jeremy has a real job, we will have a lot more money, and a lot more time. So how is that all working out for us?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A child's prayer

I don't mean to blog about Miriam two times in a row, but I just can't resist, not today.

I think most parents would agree that the time their kids spend away from them is like a little black box. Even though it is refreshing to be away from them once in a while, after the fact I find myself almost rabid with curiosity: what did they act like while I was gone? Was it the same way they act when I'm there? What funny things did they say and do? In other words, what is my child like when I'm not there to coach and guide her?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Miriam loves preschool, and so do I

Shortly after we found out we'd be moving to Ithaca, I set about finding a preschool for Miriam to attend once we got there (here). Since I was doing all my research online, I knew I wouldn't be getting a perfect sampling of preschools, just the ones with an internet presence. But it would have to be good enough since we weren't going to be in Ithaca until late summer, by which time I was sure all the good preschool spots would be filled.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Return of the fast

For the uninitiated, let me explain the concept of fasting from food and drink, as the Mormons do it. The first Sunday of every month is designated Fast Sunday. Members of the congregation abstain from food and drink for two meals, and donate the money we would have spent on food to charity. During this time of fasting, we also try to focus more on prayer, so that we're not just going hungry.

The other special aspect of Fast Sunday is that part of the church meeting is set aside for members to volunteer to come to the pulpit and bear testimony of Jesus Christ. If you are ever thinking of visiting a Mormon church meeting, I would find myself torn between recommending you seek out a Fast Sunday to do so, and begging you to steer clear of the chapel on that day, of all days. On the one hand, some of the most heartfelt and sincere testimonies I've ever heard have taken place on Fast Sunday. On the other hand, there are weird people in every religion and Fast Sunday tends to bring the Mormon weirdos out of the woodwork (and up to the pulpit). Let's just leave it at that.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

I should have seen this coming

As I went about getting ready for church this morning, I was a little concerned about the state of NaBloPoMo, even on this very first day. I just didn't have anything to post about.

National Blog Posting Month 2009

NaBloPoMo 2009 is here, starting tomorrow. One post a day, every day, for 30 days. Remember how fun last year was?

Who's with me?

(Last year it was Kristen, Chris, Nancy, and Anna. Kristen and Amber did it last month.)

Lisa Lou*
A bunch of relatives of a friend whose blog addresses I don't have*

(Asterisk denotes people I've never met, just so you know this isn't some sort of private club.)
(Please let me know if you're doing it and want your name/blog added here.)
(Steven, Suzanne, and Craig all started a blog just to get in on NaBloPoMo. Awesome!)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Flashback Friday: Blood, guts, and spinach

On this very night, five years ago, along this very stretch of road in a dense fog just like this, I was smitten with the worst case of food poisoning I've ever had.

OK, actually, it was not this very night - it was closer toward the end of November. And it was in Syria, not America, though it was kind of cold, if not exactly foggy. But one thing is for sure, and that is that I've never had food poisoning as bad as I did that time. In honor of Halloween, I'm going to tell you a tale of horror, a tale of midnight surprises, a tale of wild rides through crowded, foreign streets and of needles seeking a vein. It is a tale, my friends, of spinach gone terribly, disgustingly bad. Get ready.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Facebook makes me laugh sometimes

I think Facebook has had three major overhauls since I signed up a little over a year ago. They just can't leave things the way they are. There's always a better way, and it always upsets a lot of people.

Not me, though. In fact, it makes me laugh. This newest version of Facebook sometimes seems like a touchy-feely relationship counselor, making suggestions like, "So-and-so: Reconnect with him."

Or, "So-and-so: Help her find more friends."

Seriously! I feel like Facebook is trying to be my life coach.

It was bad enough in previous versions when Facebook used to have some person entirely unknown to me permanently perched on the top right-hand corner of my screen because it was convinced the person was "Someone I May Know."

Now if you'll excuse me, I feel compelled to go round up some more friends for So-and-so.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The book questionnaire

It's no secret that I love reading books. I found this meme on this website. I can't remember how I stumbled upon it, but I immediately knew I wanted to do it. I'd love to know your answers, too, in the comments or on your own blog. You can pick and choose questions if you want.

1) You are facing an epic journey. You may choose one companion, one tool and one vehicle from any book or film to accompany you. Or just one of the three. It's up to you. What do you choose?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A former vegetarian's take on organic, grass-fed beef

Here's the thing: I'm not a big meat-eater. I went completely vegetarian for a couple of years at the end of high school and the beginning of college. I have since started eating meat again, but not very often, and there are certain kinds of meat that I still steer clear of. For example, I haven't eaten a hamburger in twelve years (and frankly, reading stories like this makes it easy to resist).

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Autumn in Ithaca

Yes, this is another post where I wonder what I did to deserve to live in a place like THIS:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Flashback Friday: In which I model for Nike

One of the most randomly awesome things that happened to me in high school was the time I got to be a model for Nike. The only background information you need to know is that the world headquarters of Nike is located just a couple miles from the house I grew up in. A lot of people work there. Everyone knows someone who's a Nike employee, or one or both of their parents is a Nike employee, or they themselves are Nike employees. It's all a rich tapestry. Now here's the story.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cell phone coup

Back in April, I explained why I hated my cell phone bill. Then I said:

Based on the above information, my ideal phone plan would have fewer daytime minutes, include text messaging, and be a lot cheaper than $60/month. Ideally, both Jeremy and I would have a cell phone (but one or both could be prepaid). Do you think that such a thing exists, somewhere out there, in some combination?

After a lot of research, we realized that Google Voice, a pre-paid cell phone, and a landline just wouldn't work for us. Jeremy is not in his office eight hours a day. He has office hours on different days at different times, and is often in the classroom teaching. Thus, we couldn't rely on his office phone as a part of our communication plan. Pre-paid cell phones are shockingly expensive if you plan on using them for anything other than the rare urgent or unplanned call. Most of the plans we looked at were $1/day for any day you used the phone, and 10 - 15 cents per minute after that. Good for emergencies, not so good if you actually plan on using it. Still it might have worked out if we got a landline to rely on, but landlines in Ithaca are $30/month. The service did include unlimited nationwide calling (I'm glad phone companies have given up sustaining the myth that long-distance calls cost substantially more than local ones), but it was still basically a cell phone tethered to the wall. Not practical. It might be well and good to have a landline, but if I could never call Jeremy with it for fear of incurring another $30+ per month, what was the use?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poison Control, the inaugural call

Magdalena reached the First Call to Poison Control finish line much sooner than Miriam did: 14 months versus 3 years old. This was one milestone I wasn't anxious for her to improve on.

At least it wasn't that serious. She sucked on the shampoo bottle in the bath and next thing I knew she was literally foaming at the mouth. I rinsed out her mouth and it didn't feel too soapy, but she was gagging a little so I knew that at the very least, it had left a bad taste in her mouth.

Still, I was a little worried and I felt it was my duty to call Poison Control. I may have been inattentive enough to let my baby drink bath products, but that didn't mean I couldn't be responsible about it after the fact.

I told the Poison Control guy that my 14-month-old had ingested some shampoo. I could practically hear the "meh" in his voice as he told me that "children generally tolerate shampoo very well." Oh, how that made me feel like an OK mom after all, that this thing had happened so often as to inspire absolute indifference in a poison control expert. What a relief.

What have you called poison control for lately?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Review: Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

When Jeremy goes out of town, I go into survival mode with the kids. I make a big pot of soup and we eat it for lunch and dinner every day he's gone, until it's gone. Sometimes I supplement with frozen waffles. I make sure there's plenty of ice cream in the freezer, in flavors that I like. And I allow a few things that perhaps I otherwise wouldn't, like me reading a book on the couch while the girls go crazy in the living room. It helps if it's a really good book, so the time passes faster.

Well, Jeremy was in Chicago from Thursday to Sunday, and I managed to snag Graceling from the library (without even placing a hold!) to have at home while he was gone. Here's a quick review of the book that gave me a reason to wake up in the morning and face the world while going solo with my two kids for four days. If only I could have made the reading of it last the whole four days, right?

What I liked:
Fantastic, self-contained story, a strong female character, writing that really draws you in, and a compelling mythology. It's a very readable fantasy book, and I liked how it chose realism over dreaminess. Sometimes people in this book were ugly, or dirty, or had messy hair, or snot frozen on their faces. The plot was full of interesting twists that I rarely saw coming, or if I did, it was in the context of, "ooh, it would be so neat if something like [such-and-such] happened next!"

What I didn't like: Sometimes I felt like people were getting upset at the drop of a hat. Like, someone would go storming off the scene and I'd have to flip back the page to see what huge event I missed, only to see that it was really nothing. A certain major scene between the two main characters was confusing to me, but maybe that was my fault.

Also, the strong female character I mentioned above? She doesn't care for marriage. Call me old-fashioned, but MARRIAGE ISN'T THAT BAD. I promise.

What I didn't expect to see in this book (or any YA fiction book, for that matter), but did: herbal birth control tips.

What I did expect to see in this book, but didn't: pages of descriptions on how beautiful and toned and marble-like Edward's Po's chest was.

Unresolved discussion question that I may or may not want to know the answer to: Is Raffin gay?

Certain bits of the plot reminded me of: City of Bones, Twilight, any Shannon Hale book, The Thief/Queen/King of Attolia, Jane Eyre, and - get this - Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken.

So yes, this book gets about 4/5 stars from me. If I did decide to give it five stars, it would be with the reservation I alluded to above: why does a strong female character necessarily have to disdain the institution of marriage? I know it's just a book, but still. Give us a feminist character who is not afraid to have a husband and kids, and still kick butt in her discretionary time.

Also, I continue to be confused about what constitutes YA lit these days. The cover art and story description of Graceling are very 10-year-old and up, but parts of the plot are definitely not. It's nothing an older teenager couldn't handle, but I have to wonder if the book's target audience couldn't be expanded and better served by leaving some of that stuff out. It's still a mystery to me.

Has anyone else read this book, and what did you think?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flashback Friday: Being Mormon in Syria

Being a Mormon in the Middle East is unlike being a Mormon anywhere else. The rules vary a little from country to country, but generally speaking, you're not really allowed to talk about your religion, at least not with a goal of converting others. In a few of the countries, it's better to just keep your mouth shut altogether, to err on the side of caution.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The accidental weaning

Breastfeeding Magdalena has been quite a different experience from Miriam's for many reasons, and I knew from the beginning that I most likely would not be nursing her for as long as I did Miriam. I made a half-hearted goal of 12 months figuring it would be pretty easy, but as it turns out, it was often a challenge to keep going for that long.

Anyway, this post is not a weepy eulogy mourning the passing of an era. It is the story of how Magdalena was weaned, somewhat accidentally.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Miriam's Photo Art: Part 4

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do: it's time for another installment of Miriam's Photo Art (previous installments are here, here, and here). Remember, she set up, posed, chose the effects for, and snapped all of these photos entirely by herself, except for the few that have someone else in the photo. But even for those, I suspect she had senior editorial powers.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lake Canandaigua Relay

I don't know that there's anything in the world of exercise that I love more than a good running relay. There's all the fun and hilarity of hanging out with your running buddies in cramped minivan quarters, combined with the exertion of running many miles over interesting and varied terrain throughout odd times of the day and night, all wrapped up in the novelty and excitement of a highly anticipated popular event. It's been years since I've been able to participate in one. Ten years, in fact. All four years I was in high school, I ran the Portland to Coast Relay (kind of like Hood to Coast, Jr. - we ran at the same time as the Hood to Coast people but we skipped the first third of the route and ran only two legs each instead of three).


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