Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On bathroom surprises and red-headed babies

At night, when the girls are asleep, it's like I could almost forget they exist. I say "almost," because then I walk into the bathroom and find this on the counter:

Yes, that is a stuffed pink pony shoved into the front seat of a toy airplane. Miriam added the butterfly stickers all by herself. Just another step in her plan to beautify the world.

In other news, since when is red hair on a baby girl an invitation for any and all strangers to comment on it? I can't quite figure out why everyone at the grocery store feels compelled to ask me if she's got a temper to match her hair, or if I think it will stay red as she grows up, or who in my family has red hair. I'm not trying to be ornery here - I always answer their questions to the best of my ability (no, yes, and no one on either side, at least not recently), but I'm honestly curious why they're so, well, curious.

Anyone out there with red hair or red-headed children, please share your wisdom with me. I never expected to have a red-haired baby so now that she's here, I could use some tips on how to be a proper member of the club.

As for that fiery temper that Magdalena doesn't seem to have, maybe it just manifests itself in the form of doing baby pushups. Check her out!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Flashback Friday: In which I meet two Presidents

This is the story of how I met, on two separate occasions, the President of the United States of America, and the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both while living in Moscow, Russia.

Meeting President Bush was easy enough. In 2002, we were working at the US Embassy in Moscow and the President came to Moscow for a visit. The Embassy had a formal reception for him and his entourage, which included First Lady Laura Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and NSA director Condoleezza Rice.

As they tend to do every few years, in 2002, the press and members of both governments were once again declaring the official end of the Cold War. President Bush and President Putin were on such good terms in those days that the former even called the latter "Pooty-poot." (I am not making that up.) It's easy to forget now, but in those first few months after 9/11, the United States enjoyed a period of warm, fuzzy sympathy from many nations of the world. Russia was one of them, at least for a little while, as evidenced by this picture of a sign carried by marchers in the May Day Parade:

"Putin sold his soul to Bush." Nobody would make the mistake of thinking that these days.

So President Bush came to Russia and all the embassy employees were invited to a reception in his honor. My friend's 4-year-old daughter sang the national anthem for him and there were a few brief talks by some of the higher-ups in the embassy community.

Then President Bush spoke, after which he and the others mingled with the crowd. And that's how I met the President, his wife, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice.

Here's a picture of Jeremy and me with our friend Chris at the reception. I could have sworn we had a picture of Jeremy with Colin Powell but I can't find it anywhere.

As for President Hinckley (who was President of the Church in 2002), well, let me just say that I lived in Utah for about four years and I never once met any general authorities of the church. All my encounters with higher-up church leaders have been in foreign countries. I'm pretty sure that disproves some kind of common misconception.

He came to Moscow in September 2002, and it was the first time any President of the Church had visited Russia while serving in that capacity (I think Ezra Taft Benson had been there before, but in a government role and not while he was the prophet. I think).

The venue for his meeting with the members of the church in Russia was the Kosmos hotel in Moscow, a run-down former luxury hotel near the Space Museum. Proving that their queuing skills that had been so well honed during Soviet times were still sharp, members of the church came from all over the country early on the day before President Hinckley's arrival and set in to wait the long hours until the event actually started.

This is President Hinckley with Vladimr Kabanov interpreting for him (a Church News photo). Kabanov was our branch president and he did an amazing job interpreting President Hinckley's English remarks into Russian. He even corrected, in his Russian interpretation, a few minor mistakes that President Hinckley made. The conference hall that President Hinckley spoke in was packed, and there were a few smaller conference rooms throughout the hotel that were also filled with people, and they broadcast the remarks going on in the main hall to those rooms. We were in one of those rooms, despite having arrived plenty early. You just can't beat Russians at the line-waiting game.

After his remarks in the main hall, President Hinckley and his wife walked around to all the smaller conference rooms and waved to us. After he left, all the Russian Mormons stayed around and socialized with each other for quite a while. It was a wonderful event and a really exciting time to be Mormon in Russia.

Meridian Magazine ran a very thorough feature on President Hinckley's visit to Russia. You can see lots of pictures and read all about it here.

And that's the story of how I had to go all the way to Russia to meet two American presidents.

LOST, revisited

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed LOST. Is anyone besides me still watching that show? Even my own husband has deserted me and left me alone in my fandom.

I don’t necessarily want to get into a discussion on the merits of this season vs. previous seasons. The show has changed, certainly, but perhaps “evolved” is a better word. If, after watching seasons 1, 2, and half of 3 all in a row, as I did, you had told me that in season 5 LOST would be concerning itself with the finer points of time travel, I don’t think I would have believed you. I miss the feeling of delicious mystery inspired by such events as the monster crashing through the jungle on the Losties’ first night on the island, or straining to catch the meaning of that static-y French radio broadcast that had been repeating itself for 16 years. I’ll admit that I even liked wondering what on earth was in the hatch, although this may have been because when season 1 ended I could just pop in the first disc of season 2 and find out immediately.

These days, those plot elements seem like irrelevant issues of some quaint, simple time in the ancient history of LOST. Now LOST deals with things like getting stuck in the late 1970s for years at a time, or worrying about who is trying to take away your child who is not really your child but the child of a woman you left behind on the island and who may or may not be dead, or maybe she's just crazy, since last we saw her she was hanging out with your boyfriend’s dead father.

But just because LOST has become something different than I thought it would be doesn’t mean I don’t still thoroughly enjoy it.

A minor grievance: I’m kind of getting sick of a certain dramatic device they use on the show. You know the one I mean – at some crucial point in the episode, or perhaps throughout the episode, there is an important character who remains unidentified until dramatic tension is at its peak, at which point the character’s identity is revealed to be someone we already know. I understand why they do this, because it really is cool to wonder what that family in the flashback named their baby, and then give an involuntary shudder of terror when you find out they chose the name Ethan. But I think it’s overkill when they do this multiple times per episode, every episode. Enough already.

The point is, even though LOST is a different show from the one I got interested in a few years ago, and even though it’s an imperfect one, I still love it, and I still watch it. Who’s with me?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Twilight DVD release party

On Friday, when I was still in Idaho Falls, a perfect storm of sorts gathered just in time for me to go to a Twilight DVD release party with my sister-in-law. I was away from home with all its accompanying distractions, my in-laws were available to babysit the kids, and my sister-in-law said she would go to the party with me. All of these factors combined were more than enough to convince me to go take part in the mass hysteria.

There were several parties going on in Idaho Falls, and we chose to go to the nearest non-Wal*Mart location, which ended up being a place called Hastings. There weren't tons of people there, but there was a small crowd of mostly women and girls, plus the men accompanying them, plus the men there by themselves, hoping to pick up on the women.

We enjoyed the free sno-cones and managed to get in the background of a 10 o'clock news broadcast.

We took a picture with a store employee dressed up as Alice.

There was even a poorly proportioned poster cut-out so you could get your picture taken as Bella.

And there were a few contests going on, one of which I won. Yes, it's true: I won a prize at a Twilight DVD release party. The premise of the contest was that there were four apples hidden throughout the store. If you found one, you got a prize. Sarah and I searched high and low (along with everyone else in the store) and didn't find anything. Figuring it couldn't hurt, I asked an employee if she could give me any hints. She shrugged indifferently and suggested I look near the checkout stands. So I did. And I found an apple.

My prize was a movie poster. I left it behind in Idaho Falls, so if anyone there wants it, you are welcome to it.

I did not buy the DVD. In fact, I think Sarah and I left the party before midnight. I don't get enough sleep these days so I am kind of lame like that.

And that concludes my report of a lively evening at a Twilight DVD release party. It ended up being one of the more fun activities I've participated in recently, mostly because of the good company and light-hearted atmosphere at the party.

Discussion question: We all realize that Stephenie Meyer is basically living the ultimate dream, don't we? Think about it. Not only did she write a book, but she got it published. And then she got four more books published. And they are wildly popular. And they're being made into movies (well, not The Host, at least not yet). The pinnacle of all this achievement is probably that Stephenie Meyer's favorite band (Muse) lent one of their songs to the best-selling soundtrack of the successful movie based on the book that she wrote. Does it get any better than that?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Maybe I should become a lost dog bounty hunter

Jeremy saw this sign while out walking yesterday. I wonder - do hooligan wise guys carry Sharpies around with them in general, or did this one see an opportunity and go home to retrieve the necessary writing implement?

The girls and I are back in Tucson now. Flying with two kids is just a barrel of fun. I guess everything went OK in the end because I got lots of compliments on how "good" my kids were. That kind of compliment sometimes gets on my nerves because it implies that their good behavior came about without any effort or exertion on my part. What I would really appreciate is a compliment like, "Wow, I noticed you prepared well and thoroughly ahead of time and then spent every minute of that three-hour flight making sure your daughters' needs were met in a timely manner so as not to disturb the other passengers on the airplane. Well done, mom."

Or something like that.

In other news, I did go to a Twilight DVD release party on Friday night and I'm planning to post about it tomorrow, with pictures. Until then!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Stuff I've done by myself

Since being in Idaho Falls and having the advantage of grandparents and aunts available to tend my children, here are some things I've been able to do BY MYSELF:

-go running, every single day, for as long as I want, unencumbered by the snack/nap/potty needs of my offspring. This is pure bliss.

-drive a car. And listen to talk radio while I'm doing it.

-go shopping, without having to haul two kids along with me into the dressing room.

-take a shower without a little munchkin or two sitting on the bath mat, observing me, or causing problems while I have shampoo in my eyes and am powerless to mediate.

-go to the bathroom. With the door closed and everything!

-eat a few meals. Not technically by myself, really, but without having to cut food into bites for Miriam.

Ah, sweet solitude. I don't know how I'm going to go back to real life this week. Sigh.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Flashback Friday: Boris Yeltsin, Anna Kournikova, and the Kremlin Cup

One of the awesome things about living in Moscow was the opportunity to attend outstanding cultural events for very, very cheap. We went to operas at the Bolshoi theatre for $10 or $15 a ticket, and ballets at the Kremlin Palace for even cheaper. Classical music concerts were often only a dollar or two, or even free, as we found out one night when we showed up late for a performance of Mozart's Requiem at some 19th-century concert hall and the elderly usher lady dismissed our attempts to pay and shooed us toward our seats with a permissive, "Go, young ones."

Besides concerts, plays, ballets, and operas, we also went to a few sporting events. In October of 2002, Moscow hosted the Kremlin Cup. Some of the best tennis players from all over the world came to town for the tournament and tickets, as usual, were very inexpensive. So for a few dollars each, we got to see Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo, and others duke it out on the tennis court.

A ticket to the Kremlin Cup. This ticket cost 70 rubles, or about $2.30.

The Kremlin Cup was held at the Olympic Stadium, left over from when Moscow hosted the Olympic Games in 1980 (the United States boycotted that year because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan). In the numerous concourses of the venue were all kinds of booths staffed by Russian models handing out free samples of various products.

I don't remember the details, but somehow we ended up with an inordinate amount of something called Smint. These were tiny, powerful breath mints in all kinds of funky flavors. Maybe this product existed in America, too. Maybe it still does. But at the time it seemed like quite the novelty and we got enough samples at the Kremlin Cup to last us for quite some time. Jeremy also got a bunch of free Nivea aftershave, which I completely forgot about until I found some in our bathroom cabinet last week while cleaning it out.

Some of the free swag at the Kremlin Cup included this Russian-English tennis dictionary.

Besides the tennis and the free sample giveaways, there was a large part of the indoor tennis area blocked off for a special VIP lounge area. From our seats, we could see that there were lots of important-looking people milling around, all with official identification hanging around their necks.

Also from our seats, we had seen, sitting diagonal from us across the arena, former president Boris Yeltsin as well as Anna Kournikova. We put two and two together and realized that if we could somehow sneak into the VIP area, we might run into Mr. Yeltsin or Miss Kournikova, or maybe even one of the players actually playing in the tournament. We didn't have any assurance of actually achieving either goal, but we decided to try it just for a lark.

We found our way to the VIP entrance, which of course was manned by a few huge Russian guys acting as bouncers/ID checkers. I think we first just tried to walk in, which was a common strategy in Russia - just act like you belong, and often people will assume you do belong. But that didn't work this time. One of the men stopped us and asked us for our VIP pass.

The photo ID part of our embassy badges.

Jeremy is a sharp one and he came up with the great idea to just show the bouncer our embassy ID badges. Written on our badges was the magic word карточка, which in this case meant something like "permit." That word, coupled with the notarized seal on the ID, was enough to convince the guard we were important people, and without any further hesitation, he let us into the VIP area.

The great disappointment was that all we found in the VIP area were other non-important people, like ourselves, looking for famous people, of whom there were none. So we all just kind of strolled around, pretending we belonged, surreptitiously scanning the crowd for Mr. Yeltsin or Miss Kournikova or whoever, and ultimately failing at said task.

Before long, being in the VIP area had lost its appeal and we left.

So although we didn't get to meet the first president of the Russian Federation, or a young Russian tennis starlet, at least we got to watch some great tennis and - most importantly - go home with a ton of free breathmints.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Idaho Falls notes

The girls and I are in Idaho Falls for a grandparental visit. Some thoughts:

1. When we were flying over Utah Lake, Miriam looked out the airplane window and asked if it was the Dead Sea. I guess it's a good thing she didn't see the Jordan River or she might have been really confused.

2. It is kind of cold here. Miriam even asked Grandma, "Why is Idaho cold?" She's full of rhetorical questions like that these days.

3. I can hardly believe it - while I am in town, none other than Laurel Thatcher Ulrich will be presenting at a fundraising event here in Idaho Falls. What are the odds? I was really excited about attending until I realized the event had a $35 price tag. Also, she will be focusing her remarks on her book Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History, which, as you may recall, I attempted (and failed) to read on three non-consecutive occasions. So maybe it's best that I don't attend said event.

4. On the same night that America's premier feminist historian is presenting, another event of monumental proportion will be taking place: the release of Twilight on DVD. There are a few midnight parties going on around town on Friday night and I am not ruling out the possibility of attending, especially if I can persuade a sister or sister-in-law to go with me. It's not that I'm a fangirl, really. It's just that sometimes it's fun to join in the festivities.

I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Close call

Back in July when Jeremy and I were narrowing down the possibilities for a name for Sasha 2.0, I got to thinking about celebrities and the names they give their babies. Specifically, I realized that with procreation being so popular among famous people these days, there was more and more of a chance that Jeremy and I would accidentally give our baby the same name as a celebrity baby. After the birth of the celebrity baby, such an accident is easy enough to avoid - you just run the name through Google and make sure it doesn't come up with any famous last names attached.

But what if we named our baby what we wanted to, only to have some celebrity couple name their baby the same thing a few months later? I confess that, as a name nazi, this would have distressed me. It would have been like naming a baby girl Ariel in the summer of 1989 - a few years down the road, everyone would assume you named her after The Little Mermaid, and the distinction of having had your baby before that movie opened would be lost.

Anyway, today I was at the grocery store and noticed that one of the magazines at the checkout stand had a picture of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck's new baby girl on it. Her name is Seraphina. I couldn't believe it.

Seraphina made the short list of names for Sasha 2.0 for a while there at the end of my pregnancy. I guess it's a good thing we went with a different name or I would have ended up right in the middle of my worst naming nightmare. Phew! That was close.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Say what you mean, mean what you say

Here's a hypothetical situation for you:

Let's say that I read a book, love it, and write a review of it on this blog, as I sometimes do. Let's also say that the author of the book reads my review and writes an email to me, as sometimes happens. I'm flattered to hear personally from the author of a book I liked so much, and I am glad he realizes that my review of it was essentially positive, even if I did mention one or two shortcomings.

Then, a few months later, I attend a book fair; say, the Tucson Festival of Books, and the author is presenting there. I go to his lecture, he recognizes me from my blog, we get a chance to chat, and he calls me out on the negative things I said about his book in my (otherwise positive) review. And I get to have the lovely experience of telling an author to his face what I didn't like about his book, and why, and defending my position.

Well, folks, this isn't hypothetical. That's right - it actually happened to me, yesterday.

The book is The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire. I wrote about it back in September, and almost immediately closed the comment section because I felt the subject matter of the book was so volatile and I didn't want anyone to feel like they had to defend themselves (to me personally, anyway). The author is Tom Zoellner, and he presented at the Tucson Festival of Books yesterday (along with fellow author Bill Carter).

In case you didn't already realize what a nerd I am, let me tell you that I was so excited to go to the Festival of Books. Jeremy took some time off from working on his dissertation, which is kind of a big deal, and we even paid someone to watch our kids so we could go to Zoellner's presentation.

Fortunately, neither our effort nor our money was wasted. The discussion on the authors' experiences of being international journalists was riveting, the moderator's mispronunciation of "Bono" notwithstanding (he kept saying it "Bow-no," which was inexplicably hilarious to Jeremy and me). It was even more fascinating because although Zoellner and Carter write within roughly the same genre, they operate and present themselves very differently. You wouldn't guess from hearing him speak that Carter is an accomplished author; with Zoellner, you could guess it almost immediately. The guy used words in casual speech that I'd really only seen written on the page before, like "scurrilous."

Which made it all the more intimidating later on, when I was sheepishly defending my criticism of his book to him, in person. I don't know if Mr. Zoellner's new-found knowledge that the f-bomb offends my Mormon sensibilities will have any effect on his future writings, but at least he knows for sure now how I feel about it.

Here we are. This picture was taken after our chat, which shows that everything was all very amicable.

So there you have it. Posting book reviews on your blog might help guide the reading choices of others, or perhaps even lead you to meet famous authors. Just be sure that you mean what you write, and be prepared to defend it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Flashback Friday: When Aunt Tilly Attacks

Last night, I was thinking of what to write about for Flashback Friday today and I ran a few ideas past Jeremy to see what he thought of them. One of the ideas went something like this:

"So, when I was a teenager, there was this giant doll called Aunt Tilly, and you had to make cookies and put them in her basket and then leave her on a neighbor's doorstep, and then ring the doorbell and run away..."

It was at about that point that I realized I had completely lost him. And it wasn't until I said all of that out loud that I realized how crazy it sounds. So let me back up a little, and tell you the tale of Aunt Tilly.

First of all, you have to understand that Mormons are weird. We might prefer the world "peculiar," but we are weird. Some of our weirdness stems from doctrinal oddities, but a lot of it is just cultural stuff. As long as we're in agreement on that point, I can continue.

Someone in our local church congregation made a life-sized doll of an old lady carrying a basket, and named her Aunt Tilly (sorry, I tried phrasing it a lot of different ways but there's just no way around how weird this sounds). The idea was that you would bake some kind of homemade goodies, put it in the basket, and then deliver Aunt Tilly secretly to someone else's doorstep. There was a list attached to Aunt Tilly of all the families involved and when you delivered to someone, you crossed their name off the list.

On paper, maybe it sounded like a good idea. In reality, what you ended up with was having your doorbell rung late at night, opening the door, and coming face to face with this:

I would make a joke about someone getting a heart attack just from the shock of such a discovery, but that's what almost happened to my grandma back in November of 1997.

My older brother Blair was finishing up his two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Austria. My parents decided to go to Austria to meet him and bring him back home. Since they would be leaving behind the rest of us kids at home, my grandma came up from California to Oregon to stay with us. Right as my parents were getting ready for their big trip, someone left Aunt Tilly on our doorstep. My mom didn't really have time to deal with her that day, so she put her in the front hall and forgot all about it.

My parents left, and my grandma was in charge. That night, in the middle of the night, my grandma got out of bed to get a drink and saw a dark, scary shape of a person standing motionless in the front hall. That's when she almost had a heart attack.

My grandma, my brother, and Aunt Tilly (the sign pinned to Aunt Tilly says "I'm Grandma Walker; Welcome Home Blair." It was just a joke).

When we finally did get around to filling Aunt Tilly's basket with goodies, my mom delegated the task of delivering her to someone's doorstep to my sister Teresa and me. Under the cover of darkness, we hauled Aunt Tilly out the door, shoved her in the backseat of our car, and took off towards a friend's house whose name hadn't yet been crossed off the list. It all felt vaguely criminal.

When we got to the house, I stayed in the car and kept the engine running while Teresa lurched up to their front door with Aunt Tilly in her arms. She set her down, rang the doorbell, and sprinted back to the car as fast as she could. Then, in a perfectly timed homage to The Simpsons, she urged, "Now drive, Smithers, DRIVE!" and we sped off into the night.

Now that I think about it, that particular family had only recently arrived in America from a different country, and having a stuffed old lady deposited on their porch - baked goods notwithstanding - may have been needlessly alarming. I hope they eventually recovered.

I don't know what happened to Aunt Tilly. Someone probably realized it wasn't such a good idea after all and put a stop to her reign of terror. Or perhaps she's lurking in someone's hallway to this day, just waiting to give some unsuspecting person a heart attack...

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's curtains for me, curtains!

Now that we're going to sell our house, I'm fixing up all the little things that we've let slide in our years of living here. It's hard work, and not a lot of fun, but I was never under the illusion that cleaning out kitchen cabinets while holding a baby as a 3-year-old runs off with the pots and pans would be fun.

What is ridiculous about all this is that I am working hard to make our house look its best just as we are planning to leave it. Why, for example, didn't I re-arrange the den into a more organized workspace a few years ago, so we could have benefited from it for more than a few months?

And why did I put up with our hideous kitchen blinds for so long? When we moved in, there were no blinds over the front kitchen window. So we bought these bamboo-slat blinds for $5 at IKEA as a quick fix to keep the window covered while we found something more permanent.

More than three years later, the $5 blinds had become permanent. I was never lulled into thinking that they looked good, and I secretly hated them every time I looked at them, but apparently I needed the motivation of selling our house to actually do anything about them.

Here is before:

Notice that they're nailed up unattractively above the window, with the nails and hooks in full view. The cord is all bunched at the end because it's way too long. The blinds hang crookedly and wind up crookedly, too. You can see in through the slats if the light is right. Finally, bamboo just does not go with anything else in our house.

Enough was enough. I went to the fabric store yesterday afternoon and chose some cheap fabric to sew curtains. I finished it this morning, took down the bamboo monstrosity, and hung up the new curtains:

OK, OK, so it's not necessarily the most fabulous curtain change ever, but you have to admit that it's an improvement. And it only cost about $10, including the rod. That fabric was the best I could do while making a decision with two kids tagging along, and I think it matches well enough. A sewer extraordinaire, I am not. But I think my effort earns at least a "meh," don't you?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Weird Books: Mormonism, the Islam of America

I'm thinking of starting a quasi-regular feature on my blog about some really weird books that Jeremy and I own. I've been doing some pre-packing in the den lately and I've come across a few gems that are just too strange not to share. So without further ado, I bring you the first Weird Book: Mormonism, the Islam of America, by Bruce Kinney (1912).

This one has a little story behind it. In 2003, Jeremy bought this book online without knowing very much about it. The description says this:

"It is generally acknowledged that Mormonism is similar to Mohammedanism in its endorsement of the practice of polygamy, and its idea of heaven. Many other points of similarity between these systems have been noted by students...As all ancient religions have a modern equivalent, Mormonism can justly be claimed to be the modern form of Mohammedanism, and not incorrectly termed the Islam of America."

Based on that description, we both expected a casual study of Mormons and Muslims and the religious quirks that bind them together. There are a lot of similarities between the two religions, after all, even if most of them don't extend much deeper than the surface.

So you can imagine our surprise when we got the book, cracked it open to read it, and realized that we were very wrong about its tone and subject matter. (In retrospect, I realize that the year in which it was written should have tipped us off, seeing as nobody liked Mormons back in 1912.)

Instead of embracing the similarities of two quirky, often misunderstood religions, the book unfolds something like this: There are two groups of people the author hates. One group is Muslims, which he assumes the reader hates, too. The other group is Mormons. Kinney spends the whole book drawing lots of comparisons between the two so that by the end of it the reader will hate Mormons as much as he hates Muslims.

I wish I were exaggerating, but I'm not. The title Islam of America, which I assumed was meant to be inclusive and charming, is actually meant as a slur on Mormonism. I don't know who should be more offended, the Mormons or the Muslims.

Needless to say, neither of us finished reading the book. It's been sitting on our bookshelf all these years, completely ignored. Until now. You're welcome.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

News flashbacks

My inspiration for this post, as for so many other things in life, is Ken Jennings. He wrote recently on his blog about the first five news events he could personally remember. I got to thinking about it and here's what I came up with for myself:

1. January 1986 (age 4): the space shuttle Challenger explodes. This one is iffy, because I don't know if I actually remember it, or just remember that I remember it, you know? I can recall where in our living room the TV was when the news was on, and also something about being at the church that day and seeing lots of those ubiquitous (if you're an 80s Mormon) stackable plastic orange chairs. Who knows if this is genuine or not.

2. August 1987 (age 5): Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashes. About this news event, I remember not only that only one passenger survived, but that it was a four-year-old girl, and that her grandparents were able to identify her definitively by her purple nail polish.

3. October 1987 (age 6): Baby Jessica falls down a well. I also remember the Simpsons episode that is derivative of this event, but that was much later and thus is not relevant here (though it was extremely funny).

4. November 1988 (age 7): Bush vs. Dukakis presidential election. I remember discussing it in first grade, with help from our issues of the Weekly Reader.

5. August 1989 (age 7): Gorbachev OUT. That was the exact headline in the newspaper one morning when I woke up, which shows you how these memories get clearer as I get older.

I'm going to do one more since the first one might not count.

6. October 1989 (age 8): the San Francisco Earthquake. I was in the car on my way home from piano lessons when we heard about this on the radio. I also remember that a double-decker bridge collapsed and a guy was stuck in his car there for - hours? days? Time is different for kids. It was a long time, anyway, and they did get him out but I think he died later. I can't find any confirmation of this online, but my memory of this is so vivid.

What is interesting to me is what is missing from this list: Chernobyl, Tiananmen Square, a lot of boring stuff about Iran and miscellaneous Arab terrorists, etc.

When I was thinking about it, I realized that I have memories of other news events but they are most likely secondary, and gleaned from sources such as Saturday Night Live or The Simpsons a few years after they happened. The Tammi Faye Bakker scandal and the "We Are the World" song come to mind.

I am very interested to hear your first memories of news events. It was great to read Amanda's list and see how it compared to mine (she is a few years younger than me but we overlapped a little).

What will really scare me is if some of you young people write in and your first remembered news event is something like the OJ Simpson trial. That will make me feel old, considering I watched the verdict being delivered in my freshman science class. But please share your list anyway.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Flashback Friday: The most awkward garter toss ever

Fall 2000: I was back at the BYU after a summer study abroad in Japan, and Jeremy was gearing up to go to the Jerusalem Center on an Arabic study abroad the following semester. Sandwiched somewhere in the middle of those two events, we were dating.

I hadn't yet met Jeremy's parents, but I had met his two brothers, both of whom were living in the Provo area. Actually, I think I had really only met his younger brother at any length. Jeremy and I used to go to Divine Comedy shows with Scott and his friends back when DC performed in the Tanner Building (not the JSB Auditorium). DC's fan base was still relatively exclusive - I think the Garrens were just barely on their way out of the scene, and Divine Comedy's popularity exploded from 2001 on.

BYU comedy troupe politics aside, in the fall of 2000, an event came about that would allow me to meet Jeremy's parents for the first time. As a bonus, the drive to that activity would be shared with Jeremy's older brother Dave, who I really hadn't met at all. The event was a wedding, held in a town a few hours down the freeway.

I resisted the urge to brush up on my knowledge of current events, major world religions, and the periodic table in preparation for meeting Dave, who had a reputation for being brilliant. I think we ended up spending most of the car ride talking about politics. Anything insightful I may have said (to any member of Jeremy's family, not just Dave) was probably negated by the fact that my overwhelming personal attribute at that time seemed to be that I was young. I've spent much of the last several years trying to convince certain Palmers that I have, in fact, aged past the age of 19.

Jeremy must have been pretty confident in his Idaho roots to have taken me along to this wedding. It was a true cowboy affair, with bales of hay around the (outdoor) altar and large belt buckles featuring on both the bride and groom's clothes. I met Jeremy's parents and younger sister and everything was just dandy.

Then came the garter toss. The wedding wasn't a very large one to begin with, and when the call came for all the young single men to gather for the garter toss, only three people were eligible to step forward.

One was gay. One was recently divorced. And the other was Jeremy.

Everyone tried to be good-natured about it, even though I think you'd usually hope for more than three people to be standing there for the garter toss. Sparse numbers was no reason not to go through with this wedding tradition, however, so the groom got into position and the three young men obligingly, though very unwillingly, followed.

I can still see it happening as if in slow motion. The groom threw the garter into the air. It made a graceful, gentle arc before falling unceremoniously onto the ground in front of the three young men. Not one of them made a move to retrieve it.

For a few moments, it just lay there in the dirt, the three guys standing motionless above it. They all knew what needed to be done - namely, that Jeremy needed to "take one for the team," as it were - but they seemed paralyzed with indecision.

Finally, one of the guys physically shoved Jeremy toward the garter, and he sheepishly picked it up. Everyone cheered. The obligatory ritual was over and we could all laugh like it hadn't been so painfully awkward.

And maybe it really hadn't been, for everyone else at least. All they saw were three guys who maybe didn't fight over the garter as much as is often expected at wedding celebrations. It was awkward for me because I was dating one of those guys. It was awkward for the others for obvious reasons.

I guess it's a good thing Jeremy and I did end up getting married after all. Though I suppose this story would have been even funnier if we hadn't.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

There is ALWAYS something worse

What could possibly be worse than having to get up multiple times during the night with a baby who won't sleep?

I can think of two complicating factors.

First, maybe doing so on a night when you were so desperate to get a good block of unbroken sleep in that you went to bed at 8.30.

And second, taking a sleeping pill to make that block of sleep extra-deep.

Yes, I think either or both of those would definitely make the situation worse.

I would totally feel better about my terrible night of sleep now except that this wasn't a hypothetical exercise in counting my blessings. On Tuesday night, I DID go to bed at 8.30, and I DID take a sleeping pill (not Ambien).

And then I had to get up and take care of a baby multiple times while noting the futility of going to bed early and the foolishness of taking a sleeping pill.

Lesson learned, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The MomChop

Back when I was a student at the BYU, I noticed a strange phenomenon cropping up among young, newly married women: the MomChop. All of a sudden, it seemed like everyone was getting married and then immediately cutting off their hair. Some women waited until they had a baby, and then the MomChop concept expanded to include wearing sweats and a baseball cap on campus, in public, during the day. I noted these developments at the time and filed them away under the "withhold judgment" category, to be revisited when I was actually in that situation myself. (Also in that category: moms with crying infants on airplanes and moms who breastfeed in public.)

I've been married for over seven years now, and my oldest child is three, so I think we can take that dusty MomChop off the shelf and have a closer look.

First, I've had long hair pretty much all my life. I think the shortest it's ever been was in fifth grade when I got it cut to my shoulders.

I got married. I still had no desire to drastically reduce the length of my hair.

Then came baby #1. Hmm. I could kind of see where these women were coming from. Nature plays this mean trick on new moms where post-partum hormones make your hair fall out at the same time your baby learns to grab. The result is stray hairs all over the house and in your baby's tightly clenched fists. Not fun. Especially not with really long hair.

Which brings us to baby #2. And this is getting old. I may have long hair, but you'd hardly know it since it is wound up in a bun or braid nearly all the time. So I have to experience all the care and inconvenience of having long hair without enjoying any of the benefits, Jeremy's compliments notwithstanding. So for the past month or two, I've been considering doing a MomChop.

I made sure to go about it carefully and thoughtfully, even trying out some hairstyles that would keep my hair more or less out of Magdalena's reach while still displaying its longness. It was nice to give my long hair one last hurrah, but that's what it ended up being - the last one.

Because this morning, I got my hair cut. I really don't want to call it a MomChop because deep down, I'd like to think that I'm different from that girl wearing sweatpants, a ratty t-shirt, and a faded baseball cap in the BYU library so many years ago. But maybe I'm not.

Here's before:

And here's after, in all its awkward freshly cut glory:

It's way shorter than I thought it would be. I donated the cut hair to Locks of Love (I've done that twice before and still never ended up with very short hair) and I should have remembered that it always ends up shorter than you think it will. Now I feel kind of like a plucked chicken.

Ah, well. At least it will grow again. And then I'll be able to tell you whether the MomChop is all it's cracked up to be. And whether Jeremy has forgiven me yet.


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