Friday, May 29, 2009

Flashback Friday: Movies I watched when I was little

Last week, I showed you a few pages from my early childhood diary. Today for Flashback Friday, I'll walk you through something I found in the same box as the diary. It's a small notebook filled with nothing more than a record of all the movies I watched between January 14, 1989, and August 18, 1990. Or at least all the movies my 7- and 8-year-old self felt like writing down, anyway. It gets pretty spotty near the end.

Here's how I start out my little movie record:

Do you remember the old TV/PBS version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? All the anthropomorphic beavers, fauns, et al were ridiculously costumed, but the main cast (especially the White Witch) were actually quite good. My siblings and I developed an unhealthy dislike for Lucy - she was stubborn and whiny and her haircut was unattractive. On the other hand, I practically worshiped Susan, with her shiny braided hair and pleasant British demeanor.

Moving on:

Part two of the same.

I assume this is part 3.

Then comes the inevitable vandalism from my brother Blair (this is only one of the pages he defaced):

In case you can't read it, it has Return of the Monkeys being watched on Saturday not by me, but by President Bush (Senior). Blair brings up a good point, really, one that was brought up by Jeremy as well when he saw this notebook: Why did I record the "who"? It was my notebook - who else would I be writing about but myself? Couldn't we just assume it was Bridget doing the watching? Apparently not:

Craig is my dad. The best part is that that appears to be his handwriting. I'm glad he was willing to sign off personally on Eight Men Out.

Not only was this little notebook fun to read through for nostalgia's sake, it helped solve a little mystery, too. My sister Teresa and I may not have the best track record for remembering childhood events accurately, but both of us were fairly certain that back in the day, long before it would have been appropriate for us to do so, we watched the movie Flowers in the Attic. I know! What a terrible, terrifying movie. I have vague memories of scenes involving a freaky grandma, cyanide-laced powdered sugar on top of cookies, and a bride falling to her death onto a sunken grate in the garden (?). But surely I hadn't actually watched that movie, and certainly not with my younger sister, right?

Well, see for yourself. The notebook doesn't lie:

This page is nothing less than incontrovertible written evidence of what must be one of my parents' more colossal parenting blunders. I really can't imagine how this came about. I only know that I am scarred for life.

I realize you may not have contemporary written evidence, but was anyone else disturbed by certain movies at a young age? Besides Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, of course (Gene Wilder = SCARY).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Homemade yogurt

Before you read this post, let me remind you that I am neither of the following:

1. A good cook. See my friends Sarah and Christi and Lili and probably others if you are looking for one of those.

2. A natural foods freak. Natural birth freak, yes. Food, not so much. I panned Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, remember? I like homemade food as much as anyone, but sometimes I have Corn Pops for breakfast, too.

That said, I am so excited about the fact that yesterday/today, I made yogurt. Did you catch that? I MADE YOGURT. I feel so empowered. Our family loves yogurt, including Magdalena on a dramatically increasing basis. Now that we can make our own, we are no longer shackled to sugary, runny, ill-flavored grocery store yogurt that costs an arm and a leg! The cheap-o brands aren't so expensive, but if you want to get the good, whole milk stuff for babies, it can get pretty pricey.

I ran across this blog post, Better Living Through Homemade Yogurt, and I decided to go for it. I won't attempt to recreate his instructions. Just go to the link and do what he says (I would add, however, that his directions seem to refer to a quart of milk and two tablespoons of starter).

Briefly, though, you get your milk (I chose whole milk because I'm doing this mostly for Magdalena):

and you heat it up. I followed the above-linked blogger's tip of improvising a double boiler, as you see here. My stove doesn't really use ultraviolet rays to cook food - it just looks that way through the camera for some reason.

After you heat it up, you let it cool, add the starter (store-bought yogurt your first time; leftover yogurt after that) and then you incubate it for a few hours. I put mine in the oven with the light on.

I should add that it was at about this point that Jeremy could restrain his mockery no more. He came in the kitchen right as I was putting it in the oven and pretty much laughed at me. He also asked me if I had to use pectin, which shows how much he knows.

When it comes out of the oven, it's kind of goopy and it looks like this:

I portioned it out into cups, covered them, and put them in the fridge to cool down and thicken up.

Then you're done! Yogurt is seriously one of the healthiest foods out there. It seems like most people in the world eat their yogurt plain, exactly as it is in the previous picture. I didn't even know yogurt existed in this form until we went to Syria. I noticed people drinking yogurt (Arian brand, if I recall correctly) everywhere and it looked so delicious. So I tried some and was surprised to find out that yogurt does not automatically taste like sweet vanilla. I thought vanilla yogurt and plain yogurt were the same thing. They're not.

So I jazzed it up a bit by pureeing some strawberries, the dregs of a four-pound flat that I had almost eaten all by myself.

And then I added it to the yogurt.

I put the rest of the puree into the freezer for future use.

The moment of truth came when I actually ate some. My friends, it was good. It was like richness mixed with healthfulness mixed with freshness mixed with frugality. Mind you, it didn't taste quite like Yoplait. It's yogurt in its purest form, and it takes a little getting used to.

But it is delicious, and cheap, too. I worked it out and this homemade yogurt cost me about two cents an ounce, as opposed to about ten cents an ounce if I bought a big tub of whole milk plain yogurt at the store. Specialized baby yogurts cost even more. I'm sure the price goes up a bit since I added fruit to mine, but I'm happy to have made healthier, more natural yogurt for my baby (and myself) for a fraction of the price of store-bought.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Quarter-life crisis

I knew it would happen. Everyone always told me it would happen, that someday, I would be happy to be mistaken for being eight years younger than I am.

That's the way the trend always seemed to go for me. You may recall that when I was 19 (almost 20), an employee at a restaurant thought I was 12. Twelve. That wasn't an isolated incident, either. And I had to work hard not to let it irritate me too much.

Now that I'm 27.5, I am just about at the point where I wouldn't mind being mistaken for someone eight years younger.

This paradigm shift brings me to two points: my high school's 10-year reunion, and makeup.

1. The reunion. It's next month, and even though everyone always says this, I really can't believe it's been 10 years. What is fantastic about the reunion is that they recently changed the venue (from a remote, distant vineyard) and the price ($75? I think, per person) to something infinitely more practical. They should have planned it this way to begin with, but it's now being held at a deli down the street from the high school, and the price of admission is $10. Everyone knows where it is; everyone can afford it. There's no longer any reason or excuse not to go.

Or is there? There is the oft-repeated argument that there's no use going to your high school reunion when you already keep in touch with everyone you care about. I would add that we have Facebook now. So is the reunion redundant? Did you go to your reunion, or will you when the time comes?

2. Makeup. I don't wear makeup. Should I? I don't have anything against it on principle. I'm just lazy and completely clueless. I would just go for it except that I feel like it's kind of a major commitment - if I start wearing makeup, I'll have to keep doing it or else it will just be weird and inconsistent. And I don't know if I'm up to it.

Discussion question: would wearing makeup actually make me look older, thus defeating my new-found goal of being mistaken for a 19-year-old more often?

Please to be sharing your thoughts. Thanks.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nastygram: Delta & Atlantic Southeast Airlines

I don't know why Jeremy and I always seem to have problems with airlines and flying.

There was the time Delta lost our suitcases when we flew into Idaho Falls the night before Jeremy's sister's wedding. They told us to buy what we needed and they'd reimburse us, so we did. After the wedding was over, they found our suitcases and delivered them to us. Then they didn't want to reimburse us.

There was the time Jordan almost didn't let us leave the country because of their mistake on Miriam and my visas.

Then there was the OTHER time Jordan almost didn't let us leave the country. That time, they let us go after extorting $800 from us. (You can read that whole story - and it's a good one, with a special bonus featuring a left-behind carry-on suitcase - here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

This newest nastygram results from something that happened over a year ago. Jeremy traveled to Wisconsin to present at a linguistics conference, and volunteered to be bumped from his returning flight to Tucson. It meant he'd be away from Miriam and pregnant me for an additional night, but in return, he'd receive a $400 Delta Airlines flight voucher. Flight vouchers are like gold when you live as far away from family as we do, so he jumped at the chance.

Last month, I took that flight voucher to the airport to redeem it for a ticket, and was told that it wasn't a voucher at all, but a receipt. For a check. A check worth $400. A check, most importantly, that we hadn't received.

The Delta employees at the airport tried to tell me that we had received a check, and so that was the end of it. I countered with the fact that when someone gives you a $400 check, you remember it, and cash it, and we had done neither. The employees admitted I was right, and kept my documentation so they could hash it out with Atlantic Southeast Airlines, who had (supposedly) issued the check, on my behalf.

Two weeks later, Delta called and told me they just didn't have time to pursue the matter for me, so could I please do it myself? I was happy to do so - though I wish they would have told me that in the first place so that we hadn't all wasted two weeks. Also, they still had all my documentation, and I really didn't want to drive back to the airport to get it.

So it was with great skepticism of success (and also with kids climbing all over my lap) that I wrote a nastygram to Atlantic Southeast Airlines explaining the situation and asking for our $400. Here's the text of the letter, though it's neither very interesting nor very indignant, so I won't feel bad if you skip over it:

My husband was bumped from a Delta flight last April. I am seeking the issue or re-issue of a $400 check that should have been given to my husband at that time, but wasn’t.

Jeremy Palmer was scheduled to fly out of Madison on 27 April 2008, on ticket number [###]. Delta gate staff asked for volunteers to give up their seats on the flight in exchange for a $400 flight voucher. Jeremy volunteered, and the staff re-organized his itinerary (final destination TUS) and issued him with what we thought was a $400 Delta travel voucher (the number referenced on the papers was [###]). When he arrived home in Tucson on his new itinerary, on 28 April 2008, we tucked the voucher away in our files until such time as we decided to use it.

That time came last Monday, 27 April 2009. I gathered the documents Jeremy had received from Delta in Madison the previous April and took them to the airport in Tucson to purchase a ticket. At that time, I was informed by airport Delta staff that the documents I had were not a $400 travel voucher at all, but a receipt for a $400 check that had been issued. However, Jeremy never received a check.

The Tucson Delta staff also told me that the $400 check appeared to have been issued for an involuntary seat loss, not a voluntary one as was actually the case.

Due to the discrepancies in our situation, Tucson Delta staff kept most of the voucher documentation that I had and said they would try to contact Atlantic Southeast to determine the status of the check that was supposedly issued to Jeremy in Madison in April 2008, but which he never received. They left me with one document, a passenger receipt, which I have included in this fax. It is the only piece of information I have about this situation, as the rest of the documentation remains with Tucson airport Delta staff. The staff there have since told me that I need to pursue my problem with you, which I am hoping to do without having to drive all the way back out to the airport to retrieve the documents they kept.

Can you please track down the $400 check that was supposedly issued to my husband in April 2008? If it was issued, he never received it, it was never cashed, and we would like a replacement check. If it was not issued, we would like to have it issued and sent to us as soon as possible.

Again, the originating ticket number where Jeremy volunteered to be bumped from the flight is [###]. The number on the voucher I have is [###]. Jeremy’s SkyMiles number is [###].

I was positive I would have to pursue the manner with multiple follow-up, highly adversarial phone calls and photocopies of documents and bank statements.

Instead, what I got was an email telling me essentially, "You were right. We're sending you $400."

Awesome. I just love it when people - even people in the refunds department - have common sense and aren't afraid to make restitution to a wronged customer. Bravo, Atlantic Southeast Airlines.

So maybe this isn't a nastygram after all. I did write a nastygram, but since it achieved its desired result with no further effort on my part, what does that make it? I'm not sure. I'm just glad it worked out.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Flashback Friday: Dear Diary

For my 7th birthday, someone gave me a diary. How do I know this? Because I recently unearthed it while going through some boxes in the closet that my parents passed on to me when we moved to Tucson. The boxes are labeled simply "BMW stuff" (BMW are my initials) and they are a veritable goldmine of memories. I'll share a few ridiculous diary excerpts with you today for Flashback Friday. Almost every page of this diary could be its own FF but they might only be interesting to me.

The second page of my diary is as you see here (the first page was filled with such inanities as a listing of all the people in my first-grade class):

"Friday October 7, 1988. I walk to school. I ride the bus back. My favrite foods are chinese food. Mexican food. I can eat with chop sticks. I am going to a opera with my dad. The opera is called Tosca! I think that I will like the opera. [redacted] My frainds are Heidi Jessica C. Jessy [lastname] Erica. Natalie. Jennifer. July [Julee]. Shauna. Jandon. Jasmin. Katie Z. My sister teresa she's younger then me. Sometimes she bothers me. and I don't like it."

Fascinating, I know. It gets even more dramatic on the next few pages with a long-suffering tale about a soccer game (probably my brother Blair's, who was 12 at the time).

"Saterday Oct. 8, 1988. This is a Haert person. We are going to a soccer game. I hate soccer games but I can't do anything about it so I am going." Oh, poor oppressed 7-year-old me. It must have really been terrible playing on the playground for an hour in the great outdoors.

"We are going to Bonny Slope [a local school] for the soccer game. It takes a long time to get there and I'm bored. I am glad that the day is over. I want to take a nap. We are on are way home! I got the ticets for my birthday. The tosca." I vividly remember this opera. I also remember this soccer game, now that I think about it. But I don't remember being such a martyr about it. Sheesh.

Then there are such righteous gems as this one, from October 18, 1988:

"this is a verse from the Bible: Do not forget to do good and to share. -Hebrews 13:16 (NKJV)"
This entry leaves me with a few questions. What on earth was I thinking, writing bible verses in my diary, entirely free of context? Why that particular one? And why the sam hill am I quoting the New King James version, and attributing it as such, even though Mormons generally use and own the King James version? I don't even know where I would have gotten my hands on a NKJV Bible. Sadly, the surrounding entries in my diary shed no light on these mysteries.

I kept this diary on and off for almost four years. Its contents encompass such events as going to Dairy Queen, falling off the monkey bars, losing the back of an earring, looking forward to Teddy Bear Club (?), the time our Christmas tree fell over, and learning cursive writing. The diary ends right around the start of the Persian Gulf War, in 1992. Rudely scrawled interruptions from my two older brothers are sprinkled liberally throughout. Some of them I erased or crossed out; sadly, I did so well enough that I can't read the writing anymore. I mention in places having torn out the defaced pages. It's too bad - I would love to read them now.

One that survived goes like this, courtesy of Blair: "I am so ugly. I hate to look at myself in the mirror. I throw up every time. Blair can beat me up just by breathing on me. I am so weak. Who do I think I am anyway?"

I think my diary-keeping momentum was considerably slowed by my brothers' vandalism. In fact, the very last entry in this diary was written not by me, but by my brother Daniel. You may recall his sensitivity to smells. Well, he wrote in my diary, "Hair spray lady puts on five gallons a day and she loves [boy's name]."

And thus my fragile little 10-year-old diary self was too crushed to go on writing. The rest of the pages after that are completely blank. But it was good while it lasted, at least.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What I'm eating, and a poll

I've been eating a lot of this lately:

It's sliced fresh strawberries covered in vanilla yogurt. Not just any vanilla yogurt, either, but Activia vanilla yogurt. It is dang good. Based on the amount of strawberries we've been buying lately, subtracting the amount that Jeremy and Miriam eat, I have consumed about a pound of strawberries a day for stretches of a few days at a time. And then we run out and I have to wait a day or two until we can buy some more.

This picture should be titled "One of these things is not like the other." They're unbaked cinnamon rolls, yes, but take a look at the one on the upper right. I got this Cinnabon recipe from my friend Janae and they are so delicious. I will never be satisifed with regular homemade cinnamon rolls again. But I can never get the cinnamon roll on the edge of the rolled-up dough to look good when I slice it. I always end up with a deformed one that nobody wants to eat until it's the last one, and even then, it's an act of charity.

I wanted to add it to this post, but it was proving to be too complicated so I've added it to my upper-left sidebar: a poll. I need you to help settle something that has been troubling Jeremy and me. Do you heat up your syrup before you use it, in a separate container? I grew up in a family where we just poured our (homemade) syrup out of the (years-old, oft-refilled) store-bought plastic container. I had never heard of anyone doing something so frivolous as heating up their syrup. I mean, the pancakes are hot, right? And the syrup would cool down in its container very soon after heating it up, right? So what's the point?

Jeremy, on the other hand, practically called me a heathen after we got married and I didn't heat up the syrup. He thinks most people DO heat it up, and I'M the anomaly.

What say you? Vote! And explain your answers in the comments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Last night Miriam didn't want to go to bed so I let her have a "special time" (her words). She stayed up and helped me clean the house in preparation for our home inspection today.

Before I go on, I should tell you that Miriam is in love with the musical Les Miserables these days. She wants to listen to it all the time and has large segments of the lyrics memorized. Here's a small sample of her singing (from the beginning, "Look Down"), best enjoyed if you're already familiar with the musical (or you can view the original here).

As she was scrubbing the baseboards last night, past her bedtime, I heard her humming some tunes from the musical and then softly, so softly, she broke out in song at this part of "Castle on a Cloud":

"There is a castle on a cloud;
I like to go there in my sleep.
Aren't any floors for me to sweep.
Not in my castle on a cloud."

It was a tender, pitiful moment, and I felt like a slave driver mom. It was as if Miriam had become the little Les Mis waif.

A few minutes later she told me she wanted to go to bed, which is pretty much the first time those words have ever been spoken by her. She was like little forlorn Cosette, except she did have a nice queen-size bed to sleep in, not a pallet on the floor.

And now I've discovered the secret to enforcing a punctual bedtime.

Monday, May 18, 2009

You know, what's-her-name

Neither Jeremy nor I is very good at remembering names. This means that any time a third person comes up in conversation, one or the other of us always has to preface it with a long explanation of who we're talking about:

"Hmm, Yolanda. How can I explain her to you...oh, do you remember the time we were at church and Miriam hit her head on the bench, right when that lady with the big glasses got up to thank everyone for helping to paint her house, and then she almost tripped on her way back to her seat? Well, Yolanda was the one sitting in front of her."

Other times, it's put more concisely, as in:

"She's the one whose kid shared toys with Magdalena at that picnic."

It's kind of ridiculous that we keep track of these complicated vignettes more easily than someone's name, but there it is.

It's not just Jeremy and me, though. Even with other women, we all seem to have our shorthand for conveying the essence of a person in just a few choice words or a single phrase. It got me wondering - what is my "what's-her-name" name when I'm not around? If someone out of my hearing says, "You know, Bridget," I am curious how they finish the sentence, "She's the one who--".

I have some ideas:

-She's the one who always has her kids with her, no matter how inappropriate the situation.
-She's the one who is a natural birth weirdo.
-She's Jeremy's wife (what they say about Jeremy is anybody's guess).
-She's the one who plays the piano.
-She's got blondish hair, short, and I would describe her style to you except she has none.

What's your "what's-her-name" or "what's-his-name" name? Bonus: if I know you, I'll see if I can tell you yours, if I've ever had to use it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eurovision follow-up

In case you were wondering who won Eurovision, the results are in, and the champion (with a record score) is this guy:

You're welcome!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Flashback Friday: The Mole, and the removal of said aberration

It's funny sometimes what does and does not affect our self-confidence. When I was 17, for as long as I could remember (until the end of this story, as you'll see), I had had a medium-sized mole just above my right eye. It was same color as my skin, so it didn't stand out too much, but it was still quite visible. Especially if you knew it was there, which I did, since it was my face.

Still, it didn't bother me. Not at all. I never worried about it, not even during those sensitive teen years. The mole was larger than a large pimple and it was on my face all the time, and yet I couldn't bring myself to care about it.

The Mole and I, at high school graduation. Can you see it? I had some smiley pictures, too, but you can see it better in this angry one.

Until an adult intervened. Just after I graduated from high school in 1999, I went to the doctor to see him about something completely unrelated to the mole on my face. During the course of our conversation, he said - rather suddenly, as if he'd been contemplating it the whole time (or my whole life) but had only now found a chance to say something about it - "So, how much does that mole by your eye bother you? It must be hard to have something like that being a source of self-consciousness and low self-esteem all the time, right on your face."


Let me just say that within a week, my mom had scheduled an appointment with the dermatologist to have the mole removed, by my request. I was a bit scandalized - my whole life, I thought The Mole had been kind of inconspicuous at best, a little quirky at absolute worst, but a detriment to my sense of self? Never! But after what the doctor had said to me, it had to go. All of a sudden I felt hideous as long as that mole was still on my face.

My mom took me to the dermatologist for the outpatient procedure. They numbed the area around my eye and cut out the mole. It didn't hurt so much as it was...uncomfortable. I couldn't feel pain, but I could tell what they were doing and it grossed me out.

It was even grosser after the anesthetic wore off and I was left with a nasty bloody crater right by my eye. I spent the first afternoon after the procedure practically comatose on the couch watching documentaries on PBS, mostly (and strangely) about the Donner Party.

A few weeks after the removal, with my brother Blair.

Did I mention this was the summer before my freshman year of college? In a few short weeks, I would meet the set of people who could help me get through the next few years and instead of a vaguely noticeable flesh-colored mole above my eye, I had a gaping wound. It wasn't exactly doing wonders for my self-esteem.

In the end, the area healed up nicely before I left for college. I have a small white scar where the mole was and sometimes I feel like the mole is still there until I reach up to feel it and discover it is gone. It's been ten years now, and I'm glad I had it removed. Apparently, I was the only one who didn't think it made me grotesque and hideous, and I was the last one to figure that out. Thank goodness for my caring doctor who was so sensitive to my tenuous hold on a positive self-image at the delicate age of 17!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Miriam's Photo Art: Part 3

Previous installments of Miriam playing with Mac's PhotoBooth feature are here and here. Remember, she set up, chose the effects for, and took all of these pictures by herself (with one exception noted below).

A budding cubist? I think the pattern of the shirt makes this one more interesting.

A cute two-headed monster!

I love the color of the pajamas plus the disheveled look. And the black eye.

The pajamas look good in this one, too.

If I look at this one too much, I think my head will explode.

I think I'm the one holding up Magdalena. I guess that's her photo art debut.

I don't even know where she learned how to do this.

In case we didn't see it the first time...


Why is she plugging her nose? Because she's underwater, duh!

Beautiful and restful.

This is her winking face. And this picture proves that sometimes Miriam kicks Jeremy off his own computer and he is forced to use my dinosaur of a laptop.

Until next time!

Happiness overload

In a few short hours, Jeremy and I are checking out of everyday life for a while to see this:

More excited, I could not be. Not even for this specific movie, just for anything to give us a break. Though I do think I'll like the movie. Many thanks to our friends Phil & Christina for volunteering to come watch the kids, and to my sister for giving us the movie ticket gift card (many months ago) (for Christmas, actually) (and yes, we're just getting around to using it, but that's better than last year when it took us until June).

Also high on the excitement meter is tonight's season finale of LOST. The thing is, there's also a sewing group going on AND a Pampered Chef party, all at the same time. What's a girl to do? Which would you choose?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My nightmare job

Last night I listened to a podcast about Australia's recent tourism public relations coup, disguised as a contest to win The Best Job in the World. The host of the show invited people to call in with their dream jobs. It got me thinking about what my nightmare job would be, and I think I know what it is.

A realtor.

In no particular order, here are the reasons why I could never be a realtor:

1. The phone calls. OH, the phone calls. I hate the phone with a passion (kind of like Eevi). Having to actually pay attention to it when it rings would be so irritating to me. It's bad enough that I have to do that now, temporarily, in case anyone ever calls ahead for a viewing. I can't imagine having it be that way all the time. People leaving messages, having to call them back, having to make appointments with complete makes me anxious just thinking about it.

2. The driving. Taking people across town, back and forth, especially in a place like Tucson where it's all dysfunctional surface streets and it takes forever to get anywhere, sounds something like my idea of hell.

3. The style. My understanding is that to be a realtor, you have to be chipper, well dressed, and beautiful. I just don't think I could look the part.

4. The financial calculations. Buying and selling a home involve some of the most complicated money math I've ever encountered in the real world. I don't think it's because I have no skills in this area - I do our family's taxes and I took AP Cal back in the day. But start talking to me about escrow and transfer fees and appreciation rates and watch my eyes glaze over.

5. The unpredictable schedule. (Strangely, this is one of the things about motherhood that I find to be very challenging. But that is another blog post.) Apparently, I like to know what my schedule is going to be ahead of time. I don't really appreciate last-minute changes to plans that have been set in place for some time (unless it involves positive events with friends). I don't think I would take kindly to having a relaxing weekend interrupted by some seller's sudden need for something.

So we've established that I'll never be a realtor. Did I miss any other evidence?

What is your nightmare job?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book(s) Review: Rugby, Radiation, and Religion

I get really excited when I love a book, and then find out that the same author has written other books, which I can then read and love. I am currently working through everything Alison Weir has ever written. She's that good. I'm looking forward to reading Black Hawk Down (by Mark Bowden) soon, since I loved Guests of the Ayatollah so much.

But every once in a while, I'm disappointed in an author's repeat works. I don't mean that in a slanderous way: if you write one amazing book, that's one more amazing book than most of the rest of us will ever write, so you're already ahead of the game. Still, though, it's a let-down.

So here are mini-reviews of three books from the same author, Piers Paul Read: Alive, Ablaze, and The Templars.

Alive was the book that drew me into Mr. Read's writing. It's the story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose airplane crashed in the Andes in 1972, and their 7-week struggle to survive. Obviously, some of them were rescued or there would be no story to tell. But the story is best when you don't know too much about it, so that's all I'll say.

I read Alive a few months ago, and I still can't put my finger on exactly what makes this such a tremendously good book. The subject matter is dicey; many of the people involved in the culturally, religiously, and culinarily (if you catch my drift) sensitive story were still alive at the time of writing (and still are), so Mr. Read had to walk a fine line between telling the truth and being respectful to the people who lent their cooperation and entrusted him with the task. The author succeeds spectacularly. Alive is absolutely unflinching and entirely gripping. There were any number of mistakes Mr. Read could have made while writing this book, most of which would have made the story sensational, lurid, and voyeuristic. He somehow manages to avoid all of them.

So it was with high hopes that I checked out Mr. Read's Ablaze from the library. Not only was it written by the same author, but its title was another two-syllable adjective starting with A and ending in E. Plus, it was the story of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, which I have always been curious about. What could go wrong?

Well, I'm not sure what, but I do know that Ablaze wasn't remotely as good as Alive. I don't even think it was the author's fault, as he acknowledges many of Ablaze's faults right in the introduction. To start with, Ablaze takes place in the former USSR, which is not known for its user-friendly and easily distinguishable names. At times, it seemed like everyone was named Vladimir Konstantinovich Mikhailovsky, or some variation thereon. Also, a nuclear meltdown sounds plenty interesting, but in reality, you have to remember that you're dealing with nuclear physics. NUCLEAR PHYSICS. Essentially, what happened at Chernobyl was very slow-paced and boring. And the book about it kind of is, too.

(However, I did like the part where one of the officers involved in the disaster went off and wrote a play about it, which went on to enjoy tremendous success in Moscow. I just thought that reaction was so Russian. Upset? Suffering from radiation sickness? Write a play about it!)

With somewhat mediated expectations, I checked out The Templars, which I would place in the "good but not great" category. Part of its just-this-side-of-mediocrity comes from being mis-titled. It should have been called The Crusades & The Templars, or A History of The Holy Land and Religion, Focusing on the Templars and the Crusades. Because this book is about so much more than just the Templars. Its treatment of the subject is shaped like a cone: it starts out all-encompassing, giving us a rundown of the beginnings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and then tapers down to a history of medieval Europe, then the Crusades, then Jerusalem, ending with the final Templar being burned at the stake. It is a dense book, filled with names and dates and places. But if you get through it, it's a good one. This book is best if you already have an interest in learning more about the Templars. If you have no interest already, this book will not spark it.

Final word: if you're going to read a book by Piers Paul Read, read Alive. If you want to delve into the wars over Jerusalem, go ahead and check out The Templars. If you're a nuclear physicist, it's just possible that you might enjoy Ablaze.

Happy Mother's Day to me

I got this idea from my friend Emily last year. She had the idea to have all the kids in our church Primary answer these questions about their moms and the results were hilarious.

Miriam is right on almost all the questions, inexplicably wrong on a few, and puzzlingly non-specific on some others.

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Flashback Friday: An honest taxi driver

Last week, I told you about the time we got ripped off by a wicked taxi driver in Istanbul. To even it out a little, today I'll tell you about the time a taxi driver went entirely out of his way to be scrupulously honest.

It happened in Hama, Syria (the town's 13th-century Noria waterwheels are pictured above), in the spring of 2005. We had been traveling around northern Syria for a few days and decided to stay the night in Hama on our way back down to Damascus. On this particular leg of our journey, our party consisted of Jeremy, me, my little brother (Steven), my dad, my mom, my mom's friend, our friend, and our friend's friend.

My mom's friend, Steven, my mom, my dad, me, and Jeremy in front of Krac des Chevaliers, a Crusader castle, outside of Hama.

We arrived in Hama by service (microbus) in the early evening, and immediately set out to get something to eat. The eight of us formed a rather unwieldy group for getting transportation around town, so to get to a restaurant for dinner, we ended up splitting into two groups of four and traveling in separate taxis. There was a bit of confusion involved in flagging down two taxis and coordinating who would go in each one, then telling one taxi to try to follow the other, to a restaurant none of us had ever been before (a place called, inexplicably, Dream House).

The taxi that I was in got to the restaurant without a problem, but Jeremy’s taxi got lost and took another minute or two to show up. Finally, the taxi pulled up, everyone piled out of the small car, the taxi drove away, and we all went in to the restaurant to start ordering some food. We were exhausted and famished after a day of traveling, and very happy to be in a clean restaurant that had some quasi-Western food on the menu. Not that I have anything against falafel, but sometimes it's nice to eat something different for a change.

(However, we have learned over the years that just because a restaurant in the Middle East has lasagna [or, as it is usually written, 'lazania'] on its menu, doesn't mean you want to eat it. A friend of ours - an Italian, actually, which makes it even worse - ordered 'lazania' at an Italian restaurant in Lattakia and got pasta with ketchup.)

A good forty-five minutes into the meal, Jeremy looked through the restaurant’s front windows and noticed one of the taxis that had dropped us off pulling up in front of the building. Immediately, he called our attention to it and asked, “Did someone leave something in the taxi? The driver just came back to the restaurant.”

Then, in a moment of simultaneous sickening realization and immense relief, he discovered that yes, someone had forgotten something, and he himself was that someone. The taxi driver came into the restaurant with Jeremy's camera bag. Inside were our two cameras - both our digital and video camera, each worth about $400 - as well as Jeremy's passport, thrown in for good measure, I guess. Apparently, in all the confusion of getting a taxi and finding the restaurant, Jeremy had left the bag on the seat.

What amazes me about this story is the extra effort this total stranger put forth to be honest. He could have found the bag, decided we were long gone, and just kept it for himself - after all, it had been almost an hour and we could have been gone from the restaurant already. And who knows how far across town he was when he found the bag? Instead, he went out of his way to come all the way back to where he'd dropped us off, even though it had been difficult to find in the first place, and bring us back the things we'd left behind.

Of course, Jeremy offered him money for returning them, but the taxi driver refused. We were so relieved and so grateful. A friend of ours left his video camera in a taxi in Beirut, Lebanon earlier that same year, and never saw it again. At the time, all of his Syrian friends chided him, saying, “If you lost it in Beirut, it’s gone forever. You should have lost it in Syria – then someone would have returned it!”

As we saw first-hand, this turned out to be very true.

Feeling better by comparison

When our realtor came over to take pictures of the house for the listing last month, I did my best to get the house in tip-top shape so the pictures would look really good. We moved a few items of furniture out of the way to make the house look as big as possible, I made sure the bed was perfectly made, we opened all the blinds and turned on the lights, etc. And still, when I saw the finished pictures, I noticed little imperfections like the fact that in the picture of our bathroom, you can see my robe hanging on the back of the door.

I thought the robe looked bad. Jeremy said it made it look "homey." Either way, it's not nearly as bad as some of the photos in many real estate listings, as pointed out by a wonderful new site my friend Jen just told me about, It's lovely! I'll take it! It's like Cake Wrecks for real estate. And it is HILARIOUS. Reading through the various listing gaffes has helped me relieve the stress of having our house for sale.

Take a look. Here are some of my favorites:

It's German for "love of the mirrored, flocked wallpaper"

What...a...dump (See! Our close call actually happened to someone!)

San Diego home with charm

Sleep with the fishes, kid (I cannot believe this one)

After perusing that site for a while, I don't feel so bad about my robe in the bathroom. Not so bad at all.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Stuff I should throw away but can't for irrational reasons

I read/heard somewhere that people who end up being packrats are often very creative individuals. The reason they can't bear to throw something away is because they can always see some kind of potential second (or third or fourth) use for it.

I guess I'm a creative person because man, is it ever hard for me to get rid of silly, non-sentimental junk. I'm not talking about old t-shirts, papa-sans, or suitcases. I'm talking about stuff like maps and cardboard boxes. Read on for a run-down of Stuff I Should Throw Away but Can't for Irrational Reasons.

Item: A gigantic cardboard box from a microwave we bought almost four years ago.
Why I can't throw it away: I have a myriad of reasons for keeping this. Hear me out. The first place we lived in Tucson was too small to fit a crib, so Jeremy fitted out this microwave box for Miriam to sleep in. Then it was the receptacle for miscellaneous junk in the closet. Then I cleaned out all that junk, and I'm left with a big empty box. I know I can use it for something...but what? I just hate to get rid of a perfectly good huge cardboard box.

Item: A can of coconut milk.
Why I can't throw it away: I don't know how this got in our pantry, and it's been there for a few years, and is probably expired, and yet I still can't get rid of it. I just know that the second I do, I will come upon some amazing recipe that calls for a can of coconut milk, and then I'll regret it.

Item: A battery recharger.
Why I can't throw it away: I WISH I COULD. Believe me, I wish I could. We don't even have the rechargeable batteries that go with this charger anymore. But part of me thinks we might find those batteries someday, and then they'll be useless to us without the charger, so I better hang onto it...

Item: Lots and lots of Cottonelle Fresh Wipes containers.
Why I can't throw it away: Even the refill packs from Costco give you a new container or two every time, so I have a stash of these underneath the bathroom sink. All of them are empty. I keep thinking I'll find some use for them, but I never do. Any ideas?

Item: Various road maps, including Syria, Jordan, Germany (the map is in Czech and Slovak), St. Petersburg, Vienna, Moscow, etc.
Why I can't throw it away: It's not just a matter of keeping them for next time we go to those places, even though they may be useless by now because of road changes and such. It's a matter of possible political upheaval. Our map of Syria does not acknowledge the existence of territorial disputes in, say, Antakya or the Golan Heights. It's a very optimistic map. It draws its borders the way it wants them to be and makes no apologies for it. I don't think we could find another one like it anywhere. So I continue to keep it, and the other maps, that only get more politically incorrect and more out of date with each year that goes by. Sigh.

What are you holding onto for irrational reasons?

Weird Books: Tanya Grotter and the Magical Contrabass

Here's another weird book sitting on our shelves: Таня Гроттер и магический контрабас (Tanya Grotter and the Magical Contrabass). Does the cover look familiar to you? It should. We bought this book in Moscow in 2002. Harry Potter mania was alive and well in Russia, too, and Tanya Grotter was a little extra literature you could use to fill in the gap while you waited for the next HP book to come out. And at only 57 rubles (less than $2), it was cheaper than the Harry Potter books, too.

I'm sure everyone who bought the books in Russia realized it was a complete rip-off of Harry Potter. But Tanya Grotter did gain a certain legitimacy by virtue of the fact that at least she wasn't Porry Gatter, a totally separate Russian rip-off of Harry Potter. In Porry Gatter, the villain's name was Moldevort. You get the idea.

Ah, blatant plagiarism. Surely it's not wrong if there's money to be made...right?

Monday, May 04, 2009

Exiled, and Nigel

I had hoped that our experience with the unflushed toilets would be the only "adventure" we would have in attempting to sell our house. I had hoped that seven minutes would be the least amount of advance notice we would ever receive. I was wrong.

Twice in the last week, people have come to see our house with zero warning. None at all. The first time, we were all at home and a realtor showed up out of the blue with her clients in tow.

On our way out of the house (and you better believe I checked the toilets), I grabbed the camera and took this picture of us waiting outside until the strangers were done looking at our house. Miriam is holding a bunch of miniature My Little Ponies that she ran back in to grab even after the realtor had gone inside.

The second time was just this afternoon. We were eating lunch. Magdalena was wearing only a diaper and had blueberries smeared all across her face. Miriam's coloring books were spread across the front room. Our house smelled like potstickers - delicious, but perhaps not very sale-inducing. Still, when you're trying to sell your house and a realtor knocks at your door (with no advance notice, let me say again) with prospective buyers wanting to come inside, what am I going to say? That's right: come on in!

In other news, we have a GPS now. It was a graduation gift from Jeremy's parents and we have decided to call it Nigel. That way, all the shifty Tucson car thieves will not be alerted to its valuable resale presence in our vehicle's glove compartment when I tell Jeremy to "put Nigel away."

I know I'm a couple of years behind the times in blogging about zany GPS mishaps (see here), but I'll just share our experience of this morning. Our church meeting today was held in a chapel across town for a special occasion and so I looked up the address online, had Jeremy plug it into Nigel, and we were on our way. We figured it would take us about 25 minutes to get there.

One HOUR later, we pulled into our final destination, after calling a friend of mine and asking her for directions. In Nigel's defense, it wasn't his fault. The directions I looked up showed an address and map.

I've been to this chapel once before, and looking at the map confirmed that it was the one I was looking for. I never imagined that the street address given in the listing would not correspond to the map picture, and be completely incorrect. By following Nigel's (impeccably pronounced, British-accented) directions, we ended up in the wrong place.

The worst part is that even though Nigel's directions seemed increasingly suspicious to me as we continued in a very scenic drive across town, I kept telling myself (and Jeremy kept telling me): TRUST THE GPS. It is technology. It knows the city. It knows where it's going. Trust it. At one point, I questioned Nigel's directions out loud, and he repeated the same directions again, oddly, as if to chastise me.

At another point, long after we should have arrived at the church building, we passed through a remote intersection into one of the more far-flung areas of Tucson and Jeremy told me that Nigel said to "continue six miles..." I just about screeched to a halt right there in the middle of the road. It turns out Jeremy was just kidding (Nigel said to continue one mile), but it also turns out that Nigel was wrong. Because we were wrong. Because the internet was wrong.

Otherwise, we love the GPS. But today, we learned our lesson that a computer is only as smart as the information you put into it.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Flashback Friday: Getting ripped off in Istanbul

There are few things in life that irritate me more than theft. Maybe it's the flagrant violation of the Golden Rule, or the greed of the perpetrator, but whatever it is, stealing just makes me so darn mad.

I'm sure that pretty much everyone who's traveled anywhere has their own story of getting ripped off. Here's one from the Bridget files for today's edition of Flashback Friday.

It was December 2004, and we were heading up to Istanbul from Damascus to meet up with Jeremy's brother and sister for a two-week Middle Eastern travel extravaganza. We had been living in Damascus for about six months at that point, and while we had done plenty of traveling in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, going to Turkey was going to be our first travel encounter with "The West," as it were. We were very excited to be visiting a country with a McDonald's, not necessarily for the predictable, clean food and sanitary western toilets (complete with toilet paper!) that we knew we could find at that restaurant, but because of all the things that usually go along with a country having a McDonald's in it.

Anyway, we arrived at the Istanbul airport, met up with Jeremy's sister, and made our way into the city via public transport to find a hotel (Jeremy's brother got in on a later flight and made his own way into the city to meet us). And find a hotel we did, probably one of my favorite hotels anywhere in the world: Hotel Sebnem in the Sultanahmet area of the city. The staff was friendly, the beds were comfortable, and the free breakfast on the roof of the hotel overlooking the Bosporus was excellent both in terms of the food and the view.

We saw all the sights, of course, but that's not where this story happened. This story of thievery involves, as such stories often do, a taxi driver.

Jeremy needed some new shoes, and Damascus didn't have what we were looking for. He had been making do with some ancient running shoes he'd brought with him from America, but they were almost dead and it was getting very uncomfortable for him to walk.

One evening while we were in Istanbul, a large, quasi-western city, we took the opportunity to visit a mall. We took a tram across town and then walked for forever to get there. It was as if the universe was just making sure that Jeremy got the message that he needed new shoes. By the time we got to the mall, his feet were really suffering.

The mall was very impressive, especially since we hadn't seen anything like it in many months. We found what we were looking for and, since it was getting quite late, decided to take a taxi home. In Damascus, taxis were cheap. We thought taxis in Istanbul couldn't possibly be that much more expensive...right?

Well, by the time we got to our hotel, we realized our mistake. The taxi's meter showed that we owed the driver something like 30 million lira (around $20), which was much more than we were expecting. Still, there was nothing to do but pay the man, no matter how upset we were about it.

Jeremy gathered our things to get out of the taxi while I shuffled through our stash of unfamiliar Turkish bills to find 30 million lira. I handed the driver one large bill, worth about $15, and then turned back to our stash to fish out the rest.

When I gathered the remaining $5 and gave it to the driver, he held out his hand again and asked for "the rest." I told him I had already given him everything. He said I still owed him $15. I told him I had given him that bill first. He said no, I hadn't.

My heart sunk. I knew exactly what he had done and I realized there wasn't a thing we could do about it. I'm sure that while my back was turned, he tucked the first bill into his pocket and then pretended we hadn't given it to him at all.

At this point, one of the hotel owners came outside and asked us what the problem was. We explained the situation and the owner and the taxi driver got into a very loud discussion, in Turkish. Apparently, not only had the driver stolen $15 from us, he had run the meter on the higher late-night rate, even though it was not yet past midnight. He was an all-around crook. They argued for quite a while and eventually, the hotel owner turned to us and said that it was our word against the taxi driver's, and there was nothing we could do about it.

I still didn't want to pay. Jeremy thought we should pay, just to end the situation. We were obviously very distressed. Looking back, I realize it was only $15, but in the heat and indignation of the moment, it seemed like so much more.

While we were debating about it, the owner did something I'll never forget: he paid the driver $15 out of his own pocket and sent him on his way (cursing him as he went). I couldn't believe it. It was such a kind gesture, a genuine one meant to improve the experience of his hotel's guests.

He refused to let us pay him back for a while, but I think by the time we checked out we had managed to give him back his money. And even though we still ended up paying $15 more than we had planned, it felt good to give it to our kindly hotel owner instead of a sleazy taxi driver.

So that's my story of getting ripped off. I'm sure you have one, too, and I would love to hear about it. My sister-in-law once paid way more money than she should have to use a toilet in Italy (it's those countries with millions of lira that are the worst offenders, it seems). How about you?


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