Friday, October 30, 2009

Flashback Friday: Blood, guts, and spinach

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Facebook makes me laugh sometimes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The book questionnaire

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

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

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

More Autumn in Ithaca

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

Flashback Friday: In which I model for Nike

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cell phone coup

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poison Control, the inaugural call

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

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

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

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

What have you called poison control for lately?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Review: Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flashback Friday: Being Mormon in Syria

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The accidental weaning

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Miriam's Photo Art: Part 4

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

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lake Canandaigua Relay

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

Friday, October 09, 2009

Flashback Friday: The giant soccer ball

This might be one of those "you had to be there" stories, but I'll give it a shot anyway.

You know those stupid things you do when you're a kid, such as making up competitions among siblings to see who's the best at some random, inconsequential task? In late 2000, while we were all home for Christmas break, my brother came up with a doozy.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Weird Books: Agatha Christie, The Great Brain, and Growing Pains

Here are three Weird Books that are notable not for crazy subject matter or violation of worldwide copyrights, but for being the little-known products of people famous for other works.

First, there's Agatha Christie. I'm sure you've all heard of her in her capacity as the famous authoress of mystery stories (Murder on the Orient Express, The Mousetrap, etc.). In what at first mention must seem to be a totally separate life of a totally separate person, she was also the wife of an archeologist and spent years accompanying him to digs in the Middle East. Thus it is that Christie also wrote Come, Tell Me How You Live, a memoir of her life among the Arabs (mostly in Syria) as an archeologist's wife, and one of my all-time favorite books. This book is as hilarious and endearing as her mysteries are intriguing and thrilling. And really, Agatha Christie in Syria, who knew?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

So this is what 28 looks like

I turned 28 yesterday. The big 3-0 is closer than ever, and I'm slowly coming to terms with it. Somehow, for the last ten years or so, I've been able to ignore or forget the fact that I am getting older. It's as if I left for college at age 17 and have hovered in my late teens/early twenties ever since. I could probably go on believing I'm still 21, too, if it weren't for all those dang people around me getting older. Moving to Ithaca and getting to know the new crop of PhD wives, I feel like I'm still the same age as they are. Then I remember that although, like them, I was 23 when Jeremy started his doctorate program, that was four years ago.

Some scary thoughts:

-I am now the same age my mom was when she had me (actually a couple days older).

-Life events that I remember really well - starting high school, running in my first cross-country season, going to Alaska, etc. - are all half a lifetime away. As in, as much time has passed between then and now as passed between then and the day I was born.

-Other major life events happened a whole decade ago. Ten years! Where has the time gone? It feels like two or three years since I started college, NOT ten.

-I am undeniably an adult now. Those other responsible, grown-up parents of Miriam's preschool classmates, the ones who seem to have life all figured out and organized and in control? They are probably my age. Some of them may even be younger.

The good thing is that I think I'm holding up pretty well. I haven't noticed any grey hairs yet. My skin seems to be doing OK, but if I looked any closer I might be able to convince myself that some wrinkles are starting to appear (but I still get zits sometimes, so what's up with that?). My body doesn't stand up as well to random strain like it used to - no more bending and stooping to empty the dishwasher while holding a baby. I did that a few months ago and ended up pulling a muscle in my abdomen pretty badly. Something like that would have never happened when I was 21 (if for no other reason than because I didn't have a baby back then).

This is what 28 looks like on me, after an hour in the bath BY MYSELF, hallelujah, thank you Jeremy. I don't think anyone would mistake me for a 12-year-old anymore. And that's fine with me - but I wouldn't mind being taken for a 19- or 20-year-old, especially since that's how old I feel inside.

What is your "internal age" - how old do you think you are, in your mind, before you stop to count the years?

Bonus: enjoy the first few moments of this episode of The Simpsons, and the wisdom of Bart on turning 10 years old. Also enjoy this post, on a similar subject.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Pumpkin Festival

I mentioned before how the one time we made it out to the pumpkin patch in Tucson, it was something like 95 degrees outside. What I neglected to tell you was that we left the outing for the day before Halloween because if you get your pumpkin (and carve it) too early in Tucson, it will wilt and mold and spoil before the holiday it celebrates has even arrived, due to the extreme heat. We learned that the hard way a couple years ago, when we had to throw out our carved pumpkins somewhere around October 15th, having naively set them outside our front door to melt in the blazing sun.

Obviously, that is not the case in Ithaca.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Flashback Friday: Arabian Shower Adventures

Reminiscing last week about our apartment in Damascus, I threatened to tell you about our Turkish toilet. I won't go that far today, but I will tell you about the various showering apparatuses Jeremy and I used during our sojourns in the Middle East. I'm not claiming to have the zaniest bathing experiences ever - we did have running water after all, well, at least most of the time, which is more than some people (like Liz or Nancy) can say - but I thought it might be fun to share a few details.

In Damascus, we literally had a Bath Room. It was an entire room, entirely tiled: floor, ceiling, walls. This made for super easy cleaning - we just soaped the whole thing up with Dettol (pine scent, mmmm...) and sprayed it down. There was a drain in the corner and to dry off the floor after a shower or cleaning, we used one of those ubiquitous oversized squeegees that you've certainly come across if you've spent any time in the Middle East to push all the water down into it. Theoretically, the water would have drained out pretty efficiently by itself, but in a classic example of shoddy workmanship, the drain was not located at the lowest point of the bathroom. So it was literally an uphill battle to get all the water drained out.

Another neat feature of our Bath Room in Damascus was that there was an electrical outlet on the wall right next to the showerhead ("dush telefon" - a telephone showerhead). There was also a button in the bathroom that, when pressed, sounded a buzzer throughout the house. Purpose: unknown.

It was fun to have such a functional bathroom. You could literally take a shower, sit on the toilet, and brush your teeth at the sink all at the same time.

Having actual hot water in the bathroom was another story, and a common theme throughout our showering experiences in the Middle East. The specifications of each system vary, but in general, we had to plan ahead to acquire a limited supply of hot water by flipping a switch. The longer you left the switch on, the more hot water you'd get. We had to be careful, though - the fuel used to heat the water (mazzot) was expensive. There were a few times we accidentally left the switch on while we were at church or wherever, and we'd spend the rest of the day finding tasks to do that required the water we'd inadvertently heated up so it didn't go to waste. It's weird how your life starts to revolve around hot water like that.

Sometimes we just went entirely without hot water. I didn't take a hot shower in Damascus for a few months after moving there. We didn't have any mazzot in our tank, so we just did without during the summer. We ran out again a few weeks before leaving the country and rather than pay to have the tank filled up again, we resigned ourselves to cold showers.

Another time we had to take cold showers on a regular basis was at our apartment in Jebel Webdeh in Amman, Jordan. First of all, the water pressure on the cold side of the tap was ten times stronger than the hot side (but still abysmally weak). Then, we discovered that there was an electrical current running through the water coming out of the showerhead. YIKES. It was all bucket showers after that.

Ah yes, bucket showers. I don't know if that's a universal term or one that Jeremy and I made up, but it means you use a little water to soap up and then a bucket or bowl of water to rinse off. You see, the water supply in every apartment we lived in was very limited. We had a tank on our roof and maybe another one in the basement of the apartment building if we were lucky. When the tank on the roof ran out, we could pump up the water from the basement. When that ran out, we were high and dry until the neighborhood's weekly water delivery day. The entire summer of 2007, I didn't take a single shower. I bathed in about two inches of water in the bathtub. It's an art, and it's one that I mastered. Our efforts paid off - I think we ran out of water only a couple of times that summer.

I have to admit, it's nice to know that in America, I can take a hot shower pretty much any time I want to. As long as Magdalena isn't on the loose, that is.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Three things for Thursday

1. The Little Dorrit Masterpiece miniseries. I have to wonder if actors and screenwriters squeal with glee whenever they get handed a project based on a book by Charles Dickens. The characters are so varied, so quirky, and so hilarious. Jeremy and I are watching this via Netflix and it's like torture to wait two to three days to get the next disc. We should wrap up the series by the end of the week. Our favorite characters are Andy Serkis (aka Gollum) as the requisite crazy French villain Rigaud, and Eddie Marsan as Pancks. We seriously have to restrain ourselves from rewinding every scene they're in just to enjoy their performances all over again.

Almost all of the dozens of other characters are fantastic, too, even if only two of them get to play their roles straight (Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Clennam and Claire Foy as Amy Dorritt). The only characters Jeremy and I don't care for (so far) are Tattycoram and Miss Wade. Perhaps they will be redeemed by the end of the series.

2. This haiku thread over at By Common Consent. Tears. of. laughter. Be sure to take a look at the painting it's mocking, too.

3. Name Voyager is super cool. Job Voyager is pretty neat, too. It takes the "Reported Occupation" data from US census reports back to 1850 and serves it up in an innovative way. Check out the stats for miner, farmer, and engineer:


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