Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Apartment stories

The memories that have come flooding back to me since being in Provo are not all about the glory days. Since we live in a dump, I've begun to recall that for some reason, it seems to be a rite of passage for young BYU marrieds to live in a terrible apartment for at least a semester while they are students. When I stop to think about it, almost all of our married friends lived in semi-squalor at one time or another during their BYU careers. (Jeremy and I missed out on that experience since we were married undergrads for only about 3 weeks.)

I remember one couple whose apartment was kind of just one room, and to regulate the temperature of the oven you had to crack open its door a certain number of inches, and the apartment was deep, deep inside of a house's basement. Another couple lived in a converted office building and so they had industrial fixtures in their kitchen - I think their sink was more like a bathtub. This is in addition to Jeremy's cousin Allison, who told me that they lived in an old dentist's office so there were faucets coming out of the walls everywhere. A girl I worked with lived in a basement apartment where spiders threatened to overtake her and her husband. Seriously - she would find them in the shower, in the kitchen, and crawling in their bed at night. That same apartment had no cabinets, at all. Anywhere.

Please understand that I firmly believe that living in a dump builds character. I'm just really at a loss to figure out why all these wholesome Mormon newlyweds throw their sense of residential decency to the wind and choose to live somewhere that could probably be declared unfit for children if anyone were to look into it.

Here's a gem I saw while walking to the library today. This is the side of the building, which had TRUMAN written on the front and appears to have once been a (haunted?) warehouse or factory at some point.


Does this house look disconcerting to anyone else?

What are your apartment stories? Laura has one here (it's from Tucson). Is this crappy married housing thing specific to BYU or universal?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Book Review: Black Hawk Down


I don't think it's possible to spend much time in the Middle East without hearing about Black Hawk Down, the movie. It played on MBC2 practically every other week when we were in Syria and enjoyed inexplicable and universal popularity among my young male English students in Damascus. Somehow I managed to avoid seeing it, though. Jeremy watched it a couple of times - once by his own volition and another time while waiting to get his hair cut at a barbershop in Amman (it was playing on the TV there).

Then I read Guests of the Ayatollah a few months back, and loved it. I noticed that Mark Bowden had also written Black Hawk Down, so I checked it out. I just finished reading it last night and although my expectations were very high from reading Guests, they were not disappointed in the least.

Black Hawk Down is the story of an American military operation in Mogadishu, Somalia, that went terribly awry. The actual events of the operation belong to multiple points of view, are myriad, confused, complicated, and at times obfuscated, and ocurred in a distant, foreign environment. And yet the author manages to take the thousands of tiny pieces that make up the disaster and fit them together into a manageable, cohesive whole that aside from being true makes a riveting story. That is one of Bowden's major talents, and I admired the same skills at work in Guests.

Bowden's other strength that makes Black Hawk Down so readable is his ability to give each one of dozens of characters a recognizable trait that humanizes them for the reader. Then, he doesn't hesitate to bring up that trait again and again throughout the narrative to remind us of who he's talking about. I hope the real-life versions of these men don't mind having their entire self converted into a kind of narrative shorthand (the coffee-lover, the guy who fell out of the helicopter, the guy who cut off his own cast to join the operation, etc.). In a book with as many different detailed plot threads as this one, it really helped me jump back and forth between the various areas of action and be able to recall in an instant who was doing what when we last left them.

That is essential, because the story of Black Hawk Down is absolutely frenetic. In some ways it is what I expected it to be - violent and tragic - but I was caught off guard by the humanity of the story. I thought I would be turning the pages gingerly, averting my eyes from a gore-fest, but instead I was hardly able to tear myself away from reading it. There is violence and death, yes, but they are presented tastefully rather than in a sensational or voyeuristic manner.

In fact, I'll be totally honest: this book made me cry. I couldn't believe I was reading about a bloody street fight between two groups of soldiers and actually weeping. I was moved to tears by two specific parts of the story that I'll share briefly (SPOILER ALERT).The first was as I read the account of a combat medic's attempts to save a young soldier's life in impossible circumstances (they were still very much in the middle of a street fight and were temporarily taking cover in a courtyard they'd taken over). The soldier had been wounded quite badly and was slowly bleeding to death despite the medic's best efforts. Everything depended on the wounded soldier being evacuated from the scene as soon as possible. And yet everything seemed to be conspiring against that very thing being able to happen.

The other part that affected me deeply was when two Delta operatives volunteered to try to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter, the second that had crashed that day (of four that would eventually be shot down). All of the actual rescue components had already been sent to the first helicopter crash site, leaving none to assist this second chopper that had been shot down in a more vulnerable part of the city. Even as the Delta soldiers were dropped into the area, a crowd of hundreds (if not thousands) of angry, armed Somalis were running through the streets to the site of the crash. There was almost certainly nothing the two Delta operatives could do for the injured and isolated crew. But they went anyway, and defended the helicopter's crew for as long as they could until they, too, were killed. In my world, I would be tempted to say that was stupid or pointless, but in theirs it was simple duty and bravery, and that really moved me (SPOILERS OVER).

Even if you don't like "war books," as I generally don't (with this recent exception), I think you could really appreciate Black Hawk Down. It may not be gentle or sanitized, but it is intelligent, straightforward, and compelling. Just be warned: it might make you cry.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flashback Friday: When Bridget met Jeremy (Part 1)


I've considered doing this for a while and being in Provo has put me over the edge: I'm going to write about how Jeremy and I met for Flashback Friday, in several installments. The only sad thing is that I don't have access to any old photos right now - they're packed up in a storage pod. The perfectionist side of me is really bothered by that. On the other hand, maybe I can scrounge up a few from somewhere. In any case, the first part of this story doesn't really have photos, so let's begin Part 1.

It was the autumn of 1999. The 20th century was coming to an end, unless you listened to the history nerds, who insisted that the 21st century wouldn't actually begin until 2001 (I think they were right). Y2K was still a real concern. At the BYU, NCMO and one-strap backpacks were about to take the Daily Universe letters to the editor page by storm. The Soapbox would soon become one of the coolest things about an on-campus lunch hour. Life was good.

My major was linguistics, and that required me to take 12 credits of one foreign language and minor in a second foreign language. One of the two had to be a non-Indo-European language. I chose to minor (and ended up being two classes short of a double major) in Japanese. The other language I took was German.

Like many entry-level language classes at large universities, German 101 classes were commonly farmed out to TAs to teach. I'm sure there were at least ten sections of the class that semester. My particular section happened to be taught by a native German speaker who I'll call Fritz. He was a student himself, and was also the "RF" (resident facilitator) of the German House of the FLSR. That will be important later.

My class of about 25 people grew to be very close-knit over the course of the semester, unusually so. We were all comfortable with each other and had a good time collaborating on class projects. Our teacher Fritz also got along well with all of us and at times it seemed like we were all just a big group of friends who spoke mostly very poor German.

The end of the semester approached and for our final class project, Fritz organized us into small groups and assigned us to make a video presentation, in German. We could do whatever we wanted, but the idea was to write and present a creative skit, and then videotape it for him to watch and grade.

I was lucky to be put in a group with four or five other people who I especially got along with. We all had kind of a quirky sense of humor, which led to us writing a skit in a murder mystery style. They somehow convinced me to play the villainness of the story, which continues to amaze me because it was so unlike me to agree. I was just about the youngest student in the class and I generally tend toward shyness, particularly when it comes to making a fool of myself on camera. Still, make a fool of myself I did, very thoroughly. I recall doing the following on tape: speaking bad German, singing a German folk song - solo - shortly after killing someone as part of the video, and pedaling a huge cruiser bike down the street in the freezing pouring down snow while wearing an oversized helmet and being pursued at 5mph by a police car. Not my most stellar moments, in other words. I guess I agreed to do it only because I thought no one would ever really see it. Just our German class, and our teacher, right?

When it came time for everyone to watch the videos together as a class, everyone LOVED our zany little murder mystery. We may have even watched it twice.

I know Fritz enjoyed it, too, because he ended up inviting his roommates to watch it as he viewed it again at home (at the FLSR) to assign us our final grades.

One of his roommates was Jeremy Palmer.

Next week, in Part 2: the best pickup line ever.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The longest day of the year


Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it.

Apparently, it was on Sunday.

It stays light until almost 10pm here in Provo. We stayed the night in St. George to break up our road trip and even though it was 9 o'clock when we rolled into town, there were still kids out riding bikes and playing in yards in the twilight. It brought back a lot of memories of childhood summers, where all us neighbor kids stayed out until it was completely dark, which I seem to remember as being close to 10 o'clock.

That feeling of having endless hours of play ahead of you even after dinner is over is so nostalgic to me. It's amazed me each night we've been here, playing outside or going for a run and thinking it's light enough to be 7.30 when it's actually 9.30. Then the kids crash and you have to put them on the expedited bedtime routine, but it's still fun.

All right, I'll come out and say it - I had forgotten that I love summertime when it's not 100+ degrees outside, and where the sun being out so late is a blessing instead of a hot nuisance. It's nice to be able to enjoy it for the first time in a long time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Across vs. acrosst

(Sorry about the sloppy formatting - it was my first time doing an in-post poll and I can't change it now since people have already voted.)

Without exception, every person who I have heard say "acrosst" with the T at the end has been from Utah, or was raised by people from Utah, or had strong Utah influences on their linguistic upbringing. This includes Ken Jennings, by the way, if I remember correctly (edit: apparently I don't). I can't figure this one out. It is as puzzling to me as crayon=crown was to some of you.

What is going on here? Why the final T sound? Am I the only one who has heard it pronounced that way?

Peripheral discussion: I have noticed that someone who says "acrosst" often says "drownded" (for "drowned") and "drawled" (for "drawed," which itself should be "drew"). Again, what is going on here?

Crayon, cran, cray-un, cray-awn, crown

I know it was forever ago, but here are the poll results for the pronunciation of "crayon."

I am so relieved that five other people pronounce it "crown," like I do. And no, I have no idea where that pronunciation comes from. I only know that I am ashamed every time I say it.

I found the pronunciation distribution maps from this dialect survey. It looks like I have at least one "crown" friend in Portland, Oregon.

This purple map is crayon=crown.

Blue is crayon=cray-un.

Green is crayon=cray-awn.


Red is crayon=cran.

I'm figuring out a new poll tool that will keep it inside of a post, so we'll see if I can get that to work...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Not so much the house of our dreams

When I said we'd be giving up all our comforts to live out of a single suitcase in Provo for the summer, I really meant it. The house we're living in is a piece of junk and is anything but comfortable in every respect. Jeremy and I have been debating on whether this is actually the crappiest dwelling we've ever lived in. Hotels are a completely different category and I'd rather not have them enter the competition because too many of them would win too easily.

Anyway, it keeps coming down to the house we are currently in vs. our apartment in Jebel Webdeh in Amman. Jeremy and I are having an ongoing conversation like this:

Jeremy: I think Jebel Webdeh was worse. Remember the oven that was always threatening to explode? And how Miriam was not allowed to enter the bathroom or kitchen?
Me: Yeah, but at least the living room in that apartment had a nice floor. I refuse to walk around in this house without flip flops or shoes on. Not even just socks are good enough.
Jeremy: The shower here works OK, though, even if it is gross. The shower in Jebel Webdeh was always electrocuting us, remember?
Me: True. There is the problem of the weird odor in this house, though. You yourself said it smelled like a pet store in here.
Jeremy: Yes, it does. We should attach Lysol wipes to our shoes and walk around the living room floor until it smells better.
Me: I...don't think that would help.

So yeah, we don't like the place we live so much. It's a big 100-year-old house south of campus that has been split into four apartments. So there are oddly placed doorways and walls put up in the middle of nowhere and lots of cramped, awkwardly shaped closets. I do love me an old house now and then, but only if it's been well maintained, or at least lovingly worn out, and this house is neither. It is just run down and dumpy.

The whole situation was made worse by the fact that when we showed up, we discovered that there were no sheets or pillows to be found. That first night was pretty sad. We went to IKEA the next day and got a few $1.99 sheets and pillowcases and things were looking up soon enough. Life is always, always better when you have sheets and pillows to sleep on.

And that's how things keep going here. We settle our standards once more, deciding that maybe it's not so bad if we have go the whole summer having to pee in a bedpan in the middle of the night because to get to the bathroom we'd have to walk through both the girls' room AND down an ear-shatteringly squeaky, creaky staircase. But then we find out the dryer doesn't work and it's like OH MY GOSH, how do my expectations, low as they are, continue to get shattered??

The whole feeling we get from this house is that it feels nothing but hatred towards those who wish to make it their home, a sentiment best expressed by this video, one of my all-time favorites:

Well said.

We all need to take a page from Miriam's book. She is just pleased as punch to be living in an unfamiliar, exciting house. Every new thing she discovers is just so wonderful to her. The other day, she said, "Mama, did you know we have a bench in our house? Isn't it so nice to have a bench in our house? I just love the bench."

And there is a yard, and it's a great location, and we're only here temporarily. I keep repeating those three things to myself over and over again, in the hopes that it will help me get a better attitude. If you hear me start to rave about the benches, you'll know that it worked.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Provo 2.0

What a feeling to be back in Provo, Utah! All the memories that have come rushing back to me these last couple of days really have been more of feelings than of places. Provo remains much the same as it ever was - amazingly so, considering that it's been more than seven years since I lived here. Some construction projects that were underway back then are long finished, a few (ok, many) restaurants have come and gone, and they finally got rid of that trailer park on State Street in Orem. But otherwise, it's just the same place, with a fresh crop of BYU students and associated hangers-on to populate it.

I had forgotten, for example, what a meat market this place is. I'm sure this is true of many college towns, but everywhere I look there are men courting women, and men fixing their cars in front of women's apartment complexes, and meticulously fashionable women walking their dogs up and down the same street three times a day, etc. The show never stops.

I had also forgotten how dang friendly everyone is. I went to my beloved Macey's grocery store our first morning here and it was like I could hardly get my shopping done for all the strangers saying hello to me.

There are a couple of things that I remembered being one way that are now another. Monkey bars, for one thing. Monkey bars are the poor man's Creamie, and back in the day, Macey's would put them on sale every once in a while for 17/$1.00. You better believe I stocked up. Now, though, they are far more expensive - and also smaller. The shrinking food package strikes again, I guess.

Also, UVSC is now UVU.

And there is still not a gondola over I-15 like that one apartment complex west of the freeway said there would be approximately nine years ago.

Then there is all the nostalgic stuff - reliving the "glory days," if you will. I graduated from the BYU in 2001. This is where I lived away from home for the first time, where I figured out what I wanted to study, how I wanted to live, who I wanted to be. It's where Jeremy and I met, dated, got engaged, and lived for the first month of being married.

We came back here a few years later for Jeremy to finish up his master's degree, but we lived in American Fork then so my memories from that period aren't quite as potent. Or maybe it's because we're living south of campus again that I remember the undergrad days so well. Part of me just wants to revert back to studying Japanese all day and surviving on stir-fry, smoothies, Marshmallow Mateys, and oven-baked steak fries again.

To complete my walk down memory lane, I will be sure to purchase some ice cream and milk (preferably inspected by Danny) from the BYU creamery, maybe visit the Monte L. Bean Museum, feed the ducks at the Botany pond, and avoid getting hit by a car while walking on 900 East. Anything else?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Road Trip: Tucson to Provo

Just when you think you know your own children, you take a road trip with them (from Tucson to Provo) and find out all kinds of new things.

For instance:

-Magdalena is an extremely light car sleeper. I think sometimes even turning my blinker on woke her up. I was all set to listen to some rockin' Evita tunes on the drive but I ended up having to hover over the stereo's volume button to turn it down at any loud moments.

-Miriam gets more and more inquisitive as she gets more and more exhausted. And her questions get more and more nonsensical. The way I knew she was really tired was when she started asking if the water in her water bottle would help her sleep, and if Dad's water was the same temperature, or colder, and could she have some of his if it would help her sleep?

Other highlights:

-We ordered some chicken nuggets at the McDonald's in Flagstaff and the employee asked us if "we'd like some dipping sauce for those nugs." I hereby declare "nugs" to be my preferred term for chicken nuggets.

-Miriam was a lost child for about 2 minutes at a Maverick in Fillmore, Utah. I went to the bathroom but Miriam said she wanted to stay outside and play with Dad on the playground (but she ended up following me without either of us knowing it, as we would see). Right as I was walking in the bathroom door inside the store, I thought I heard someone say "Mama" in a Miriam-ish kind of voice, but I didn't give it a second thought since it couldn't possibly be her. Then, while I was in the bathroom, I overheard a mom and child walking in talking about a little lost girl. When I came out, I found out that the little lost girl was Miriam. Jeremy had found her by then. She was pretty distressed. I hope she remembers that feeling if it helps her not do that again.

-Re:Tucson to Provo preferred driving route. We've only made the drive four times total (including both north- and south-bound), but I think I like the route through Flagstaff best, even if it's not the one recommended by Google or our GPS. We went the Las Vegas way twice and both times we got stuck for a long time in the Hoover Dam bottleneck. Besides that, the Flagstaff way is prettier and has a more varied landscape, which helps keep my interest during the drive. It's also cooler, and therefore easier on the AC in the summertime.

We're glad to be done driving for a few weeks, and the girls are, too.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Adios

So much to say, not the least of which is goodbye to Tucson.

We pulled out of town Thursday morning. As we drove through the city for the last time, Miriam started saying goodbye to all her little landmarks. Goodbye, shoe store! Goodbye, Fry's! Goodbye, Lowe's and Home Despot!

Those are the things she will miss. Here are some of ours:

-the River Walk/River Path/Rillito Wash. We never really figured out what it was called, but it was awesome. We loved running, walking, and biking on that path.

-the Brandi Fenton park and splash pad. What a fun place. It had two playgrounds (one big, one little) for Miriam to choose between, and a splash pad for the hot months. The best part about this park is that there are no swings. I really don't like swings. Too high-maintenance for a playground activity.

-the farm. Now that we're gone and I don't have to consider internet stalkers figuring out our exact address, I can say that we lived right across from the U of A farm. It was so nice to have a little less humanity in the area, and also to go visit the animals on lazy Sunday afternoons.

-the library. Tucson had a good system going, with all the branches in the city acting as one when it came to inter-library loan.

-people. More than I expected, really. We kind of thought all our friends moved away about a year before we left, but we ended up getting to know more people better. Too bad we had to move away from them so soon.

As for the things we don't miss, you know what? I'm not going to list them. I sometimes get accused of being a Tucson-hater, and I'm really not. On the balance, there were more things that I didn't like than I did, but that doesn't mean I hated every minute and I couldn't wait to bust out of there.

Or so I tell myself, now that I'm gone. Ha ha ha.

We're in Provo now. More to come on the road trip and the return to Happy Valley (and hopefully an interim blog redesign, too). Stay tuned.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Flashback Friday: A lesson in bridal shower etiquette

I am vaguely aware that we Mormons have some strange traditions going as far as weddings go. We include pictures with our wedding invitations, we invite more people to the reception than the wedding, and in fact, we often hold more than one reception to include as many friends and family in the festivities as possible.

Then there's the bridal showers. Maybe this is common outside of Mormondom as well, but it seems like girls who are getting married usually have two showers. There's the practical shower attended by older, long-time family friends, and there's the younger, hipper shower with all the bride's contemporaries. As you can imagine, the gifts given to the bride by these two groups of people are very different.

I figured this out the hard way. A few weeks before my brother got married, my sister Teresa and I were invited to a shower thrown for our future sister-in-law, Emily. It was the young, hip shower, held at a downtown Portland restaurant. I was 18 at the time. My mom packed me and my sister in the car and sent us on our way with directions to the restaurant and a gift. The gift was a rice cooker. This will be important later.

Blair & Emily

We got to the shower and as the evening wore on, Teresa and I slowly realized that this was not a rice cooker kind of shower. Everyone else had given her lotion, hand cream, cosmetics, etc. Obviously, our gift was in a whole different category.

So toward the end of the shower, after opening a lot of beautiful, pampering gifts, our future sister-in-law opened our gift and there it was, a rice cooker, in all its glory. Teresa and I were so humiliated. We just wanted the shower to end. We were embarrassed before it was opened because we knew what was coming, as it was opened because everyone else got to share in our shame, and after the fact because from then on we were the weird sisters-in-law who gave a rice cooker at the cool person shower.

But we did learn our lesson. I will never make that mistake again (or, as the case may be, allow my mom to make it for me).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My feral children

While Jeremy was defending his dissertation - and I mean literally, while - I was at home, throwing up. I waited four years to be able to attend his dissertation defense and I ended up getting sick during the exact 18-hour window that made it impossible for me to do so. Don't worry, I had Jeremy give me a play-by-play once he got home, but it still made me sad to have missed it.

He was gone for about five hours total, and during those five hours, I let the kids take care of themselves. Between bouts of puking, I got a good look at what a child's descent into ferality would look like. You read about kids getting abandoned and how they lived off of ketchup packets and dry pasta for two weeks and I feel like I understand that so much more now.

1. For meals, the girls were limited to the food Miriam could reach. Magdalena had a fruit leather for breakfast, cut into little pieces with scissors that Miriam fetched for me. I cut the pieces while lying down, they fell on the floor, and Miriam gathered them up for Magdalena to eat.

2. Lunch was bread. Miriam ate her piece plain and broke up another piece for Magdalena.

3. We usually drink water out of a Brita pitcher, but yesterday Miriam filled up her water bottle and Magdalena's sippy cup straight out of the tap. What can I say? Desperate times call for desperate measures.

4. To fill the time, we all went into the girls' bedroom, Miriam closed the door, and I lay down and just let them play. I did not enforce any of the regular rules, which is how Magdalena ended up playing with baby wipes, shredding them in small pieces, and spreading them around the room. And probably eating some, too.

5. Miriam played on sesamestreet.org for approximately 20 hours. She watched videos and played games featuring characters whose voices were each more strident and annoying than the last.

I ended up doing only two child-care activities the whole time. I changed Magdalena's poopy diaper (after Miriam informed me of its existence) and I got up off the floor to turn down the volume on Miriam's computer game.

When Jeremy got home, instead of giving him a hero's welcome, it was all I could do to roll over, say congratulations, and wait to throw up until he had left the room. Then Dr. Palmer had to take care of two neglected kids the rest of the day. What a way to celebrate.

Fortunately, I'm feeling a lot better today. It's a good thing, too, because today is our last day in Tucson. We'll see how good at packing I am living off of nothing but saltines and 7up for the last 36 hours.

Discussion question, and I really am curious about this: do you throw up into a bucket or the toilet? When I was a kid, we threw up the first time wherever, most often on the (carpeted) threshhold to the bathroom - I don't know why we kids never seemed to be able to make it those last five feet. Then my mom always put us on the couch and gave us a bucket. That way, we were able to throw up without having to make a mad dash to the bathroom. The buckets my family used were always old Costco-sized candy containers, which may explain my strange aversion to red licorice and Whoppers.

Is the bucket thing weird? Or smart?

Dr. Palmer at last


Jeremy passed his dissertation defense today. Congratulations, love!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Do we hide behind our children?

I read this article today. The title is, "When women hide behind their children on Facebook." Specifically, the article is referring to mothers using a photo of their child as their profile picture on social networking sites. I noticed this phenomenon when I signed up for Facebook but it didn't really raise any red flags for me at the time.

But now that I stop and think about it, it is kind of strange, isn't it? Especially if you use Facebook for one of the main reasons I do: to reconnect with old friends you haven't seen in forever. If I want to get re-acquainted with so-and-so, what good does a photo of a cute 2-year-old do me?

On the other hand, I know exactly why we do it, and it's for the same reasons mentioned in the article. Our kids are our (arguably greatest) "achievement," our kids like having pictures taken of themselves and can be counted on to look cute (unlike ourselves), we have a million more pictures of our kids than of us, etc.

I do feel, however, that there are some darker motivations at work here. One, that we women are trying to send the self-effacing message, either consciously or unconsciously, that WE ARE OUR CHILDREN. And secondly, that if we - heaven forbid! - post a picture of our actual self on our Facebook page, we will be accused of being self-centered and narcissistic.

I know this because it's what I'm afraid of. Despite my efforts to be an invisible mom, I somehow managed to actually appear in a few photos we took of the girls recently. When it came time to post them on the family blogs, I debated whether I should crop myself out of them or not. I actually did try to crop myself out, but it looked awkward and unnatural. So I left myself in and posted the picture. And then worried that someone would comment on me, or my appearance, or think that I was trying to somehow insert myself into my daughters' lives.

Then I realized how ridiculous I was being. Since when are we not allowed to appear, or look good, in pictures with our children? But have you ever felt the same way? If you are a young mom, I'm almost positive you have.

The article goes on to mention how when women get together - even highly professionalized women - all we talk about is our kids. This is definitely true, at least to a great extent, and I'm not sure that I have a problem with it. There is something so liberating about motherhood being the great equalizer. In any social situation (or foreign country, I might add), if two mothers find each other, they will have something to talk about. If that something happens to be the favorite foods of a three-year-old, is that so bad? Of course there is a time and a place for more varied, "elevated" conversation, but sometimes it's nice to just bask in the commonality of "she has kids, and so do I." It doesn't mean that's all I am - it just means that's what I feel comfortable talking about with slight acquaintances sometimes.

One last note. When I changed my Blogger profile picture a few months ago, I chose from among three photos. Two were of myself and one was of Miriam. I ended up choosing the one of Miriam not because I wanted to be invisible (after all, if I wanted to be invisible, mistake number one was starting a blog), but because I thought it was arresting, unusual, and eye-catching. But maybe I was just kidding myself.

Do you hide behind your kid on Facebook?

The defiling of Biosphere 2


We visited Biosphere 2 the other day. Anyone who spent even a smidgen of their grade school years in the early 1990s surely remembers the class discussions we all had about the Biosphere project. I had kind of forgotten about it until we moved to Tucson and realized that Biosphere is located just 40 minutes outside of town. Yes - as my friend Amanda pointed out, the environment they chose to best mimic the harsh, infertile conditions one might find on the moon happens to be right here in Arizona.

A visit to Biosphere 2 consists of a roughly 90-minute tour through the living quarters of the original Biosphere team, as well as the different biomes in which they conducted their research. The tour somehow managed to be simultaneously very boring and suddenly fascinating. You'd be standing there in a manufactured rainforest listening to the guide drone on about decomposed leaves and just about when your eyes glazed over, he'd suddenly start talking about how wild monkeys became the arch enemies of the Biosphere researchers. Or one minute he's telling you about the rate of tree death in the savannah biome, and the next he's giving you the scoop on the different factions that formed among the researchers during their two years of enclosure. It ended up being quite a good tour.


A German was kind enough to make our picture in the rainforest biome.

The best part came while we were in the bowels of one of the biomes, near all the machinery and electrical systems that help Biosphere continue to function on a daily basis. The guide launched into a long, detailed explanation about how enclosed they try to keep Biosphere. For example, no food or drink are allowed in the premises, and before they even laid the concrete foundation for the structure, they lined the pit with specially constructed sheets of metal to keep any kind of foreign intrusion out of Biosphere. At one point in its history, all guests had to wear special booties so that the specialized, delicate environment of Biosphere could be absolutely preserved.

At the moment he concluded his speech about keeping Biosphere apart from the things that contaminate the outside world, Magdalena spit up a classic goo of breastmilk and Cheerios all over the floor. It was not one of our greatest moments as parents.

Despite violating the sanctity of Biosphere, we had a really good visit. It was definitely worth the time, effort, and money. In a way, I felt like I was fulfilling an elementary school dream that I never knew I had. Who knew when I was reading all those Weekly Reader articles about Biosphere that I would someday get to go there?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Flashback Friday: Mandatory fun at the dance festival

The summer I was 15, I participated in a dance festival put on by the Mormons. Every few years - eight, maybe? - the Mormons organize a massive dance festival for the youth. The year I did it, the "cool" dance to sign up for was the ballroom dance. Looking back, I wish I had done the Ukrainian dance. But not the Mortal Kombat dance. The costumes for that dance were teal and black unitards that somehow managed to be unflattering to every figure. Just ask my sister, who was 10 years old at the time (and you know that if a costume can manage to disrespect the figure of a ten-year-old, it's BAD).

The figure-disrespecting unitard on my sister Teresa


Not that the ballroom dance costumes were beautiful or anything. They were hot-magenta dresses and if that wasn't bad enough, on the day of the big performance, the leaders - get this - stapled giant sequins all over the skirt. It was a hot day, too, so all us girls had shiny bright pink faces to match our shiny, bright pink dresses.

On a local level, before the big performance, we learned the dance steps from volunteer teachers in groups of eight couples. As for our dancing partners, they were more or less assigned to us. Somehow, I ended up with a guy (who I'll call Jose only because his real name is unusual enough to give away his identity immediately) who must have been something like 6'6". For those of you who don't know me in real life, I am 5'2" - and I was probably even a little bit shorter at the time. I don't know what the dance teachers saw in Jose and me that led them to put us together, but I did my best to stand on my tiptoes to be able to reach his shoulder with my arm fully stretched out. I was 15 and awkward, and having a dance partner twice as tall as me just made things worse.

You see, I was participating in this dance festival against my will. Honestly, my mom made me do it. Like many other things in life, I eventually ended up having fun and being glad I did it, but it was touch and go there for a while. I remember plenty of Saturday morning practices where my friend Kristen and I just dozed on the couches in the lobby of the church building wishing we were somewhere else - anywhere else.

And yet, I did learn the dance well enough to be ready for the big performance, to be held at a local high school. All the groups of dancers from our area would be performing there, so our set of eight couples would combine with many other sets of eight couples for one big, impressive display of parental-enforced-participation ballroom dancing.

I've never been clear on the details, but somehow when we got to the performance venue, there was a change of plans and I was no longer in my original group of eight couples. Instead, one other couple, as well as Jose and me, had been moved to our own square. Just by ourselves. Just us two couples. Everyone else would be dancing in the relative oblivion of being one of dozens of people dancing in a small area. We would have just four in a wide open space.

I was good friends with the other girl in our situation, and I guess we just decided to be good sports about it. I can't speak to her abilities, but my dancing skills were certainly not up to being featured in a major performance. Still, we danced in our little piece of center stage and I think we did OK.

After the performance was over, I remember trying to convince myself that maybe there had been so many dancers after all that nobody noticed us four in our own little square. No such luck - a friend of ours said something like, "So were you guys the featured dancers? I noticed you dancing all by yourselves right in front." D'oh!

A month or two later, we had the regional performance (with 10,000 total youth participating in all different kinds of dances) and it ended up being tons of fun. At that performance, my friend and I did end up back in a set of eight couples, so there was no more special featured dancing. But while I did manage to hang on to Jose as my partner, we were reassigned to a group of older (non-teen) dancers who seemed kind of professional. My friend ended up dancing with an older man (if I recall correctly, Jennifer).

Did anyone else experience forced fun in their teenage years?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Coupon: KOO-pon vs. KYOO-pon

The coupon pronunciation poll is about to close and I can't believe it - the results are exactly even. Thirty-four people said they pronounce it KYOO-pon. Thirty-four other people said they pronounce it KOO-pon.

Personally, I say it KYOO-pon. All through my growing-up years, I never gave a second thought to that pronunciation. I'm pretty sure that everyone around me said it that way. In fourth or fifth grade, one of my teachers told the class that the Pacific Northwest dialect was considered to be the standard accent of American English, the one studied by national newscasters if they wanted to sound generic. Who was I to question her?

But obviously there are quite a few people who say KOO-pon. I'm guessing that if there's a "right" answer to this pronunciation question, KOO-pon is it. But I don't think I'll be able to give up KYOO-pon.

One last coupon note before I put up a new poll: I found a map showing the distribution of the "KYOO/KOO-pon" pronunciation.


This survey had some 11,500 respondents. The red dots represent KOO; the blue dots are KYOO. The green dots are "other" - I can't imagine what other pronunciation there is, though.

In that survey, 2/3 of the respondents said KOO. You can see that it is dominant on the map. The interesting thing is that geographical location doesn't seem to be a huge indicator of how it's said.

OK, moving on. This is a sensitive one for me because every time I say this word, I feel like I'm saying it "wrong" (if we're being descriptive, there is no wrong answer, but you know what I mean). I'm torn between staying loyal to my upbringing and teaching Miriam a more mainstream pronunciation (in fact, to avoid having to make that decision, I often just say "colors").

CRAYON.

Do you pronounce it:
cran (like man);
cray-un;
cray-awn; or
crown.

Please feel free to mock the pronunciations that you don't use, especially "crown," which is the one I say.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Drive-by puking

Yesterday I got to thinking and I realized that I hadn't had any zany experiences lately. Sure, there was the graffiti at the library or that lady with tattoos on her boobs at Fry's, but it wasn't like I'd stepped on a used condom at the park or anything.

Literally as I was thinking that, a lady drove up our lane, stopped her car, got out of it, and threw up in front of our house. Then she drove away.

Thank you, lady. That'll do nicely.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Back to business

All right, I think I'm slowly but surely recovering emotionally and pictorally from the self-inflicted decimation of my blogs. Time to get back to business and take a look at some important issues. Namely, what on earth should I do with this blog once we move?

Here's the low-down: Jeremy defends his dissertation next week, and then we pack up and move to Utah for a summer job at the BYU. The bulk of our stuff will be in a storage pod heading off to Ithaca - we'll have to get by in Provo on stuff we can fit in our car. I thought we might get away with actually being surrounded in comfort with all our possessions this summer, but it looks like we'll be following the tradition of previous years of essentially living out of a suitcase.

After the BYU work is done, the plan is to - hear me out on this - drive 30 hours across the country to Ithaca. If you have any advice or experience on this front, bring it on. Do we book hotels in advance? Should we drive during the day or night? How much should we plan on stopping to see sights? Are we insane? I have no expectations of it being a neverending picnic, but I have to believe it's doable (and has been done before).

And what about this blog? Should I retire it and start a new blog with a new URL (I've reserved myadventuresinithaca.blogspot.com just in case)? Or keep the Tucson URL, and change only the name of the blog? Some other third solution that I don't see? I've been operating under the assumption that My Adventures in Tucson is my "American" blog, while My Adventures in Syria and My Adventures in Jordan get separate ones because they are different countries. You may recall that when we were in Middlebury, I just temporarily changed the name of this blog and did nothing to the URL. By those rules, I should keep the same URL and just change the name of the blog. Who even types in URLs these days anyway? Isn't it all just bookmarks and links?

Basically, I curse the day that I named any blog with a specific geographic location. Let this be a lesson to you.

Really, though, what should I do?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Google will not save you from yourself

Consider this a public service announcement:

If you delete a Picasa Web Album that is associated with your blog, it will delete all the photos on your blog.

When you put it like that, it seems like it should be obvious. But consider this in your calculations - when I started blogging, there was no such thing as Picasa. There was a program called Hello and it was not very well integrated with Blogger. So when Picasa came around, and later when Web Albums appeared, my mind never really made the connection that photos on my blog = photos in the associated web album.

So when I went through my Picasa Web Albums and deleted what I considered to be online clutter - you know, albums called things like "My Adventures in Tucson" - I honestly never considered that it would erase all the pictures on my blog. The Confirm Delete message didn't give me a hint of it, either. I'm so used to having to double confirm everything I do on a computer these days (all those "are you sure you want to do that?" messages) that I expect a program to completely explain to me the ramifications of my actions. When all Picasa Web Albums warned me about was that the album would be erased, I thought, hey, that's what I'm trying to do. It said nothing about removing the photos from my blogs.

Magdalena's blog was completely decimated. No photos were left, at all. This blog had no photos left, either. Miriam's blog got hit here and there in a few places. So I'm slowly working at putting all of them back. It is tedious and boring and frustrating because it's my own fault.

It's funny because I always felt like I should have a backup of my children's blogs at least, but I figured that Google disappearing or crashing or going under was about the least likely thing to happen, ever.

I never even considered human error, certainly not on my part.

I've looked into iterasi already, but does anyone have any ideas for a program that does a full backup of a blog, including pictures? Or a time machine that will take me back to Thursday afternoon before I did this? Thanks.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Flashback Friday: Midnight's Ghost Stories

When I was growing up, it was pretty much the coolest thing in the world that one of my uncles made movies for a living. Or helped make movies, or worked with people who did, or something. I was never really clear on the details.

In any case, all us kids wanted to be just like him. One way we used to pretend to make movies was by writing stories vertically, in frames, on blank rolls of receipt paper. Then we rolled the paper around two pencils on each end so that only one frame showed at a time. It was kind of like a movie, if you used your imagination, a lot.

(Side note: another way we made "movies" was by drawing pictures on a flip pad - or in the bottom corner of a hymnbook in a pinch, during boring church meetings - with slight changes made so that when you flipped it quickly, it made the picture move. Fun times.)

I recently unearthed one of these movies. I reproduce it here in its entirety for your reading/viewing pleasure (click to enlarge the photos).







A few observations:

1. I like the "scary" squiggly writing. It's a nice touch.

2. There is a character named Midnight. Who could have foreseen that she'd turn evil?

3. A stop at the candy booth is a featured frame. Oh, how I loved candy.

4. Missing the bus is a crucial, terrifying plot point. What can I say? It's a real concern when you're in elementary school, as I was when I wrote this.

5. The lame "it was all just a dream" ending. Just because Dallas used it doesn't make it right.

As for the macabre subject matter of this "movie," I think you can blame it on my having been scarred by watching Flowers in the Attic a few years before.

Am I the only adolescent who spent her spare time writing horror movies on receipt paper, or flip-movies of stick figures jumping on the trampoline in the corners of hymnbooks? Come on, admit it - you did, too.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Syrup poll results and a new poll

Thanks to everyone who helped settle a dispute in the Palmer family by voting in the syrup poll. The results speak for themselves (55 total votes):

Do you heat up the syrup before applying it to pancakes, waffles, etc.?
Yes: 16 people, or 29%.
No, although I have heard of it: 29 people, or 52%.
I've never heard of such a thing: 10 people, or 18%.

I think even Jeremy would have to admit that I am right, especially when you consider that the number of "Yes" votes was inflated by members of his immediate or extended family. I think their votes should all just count as one since they were obviously raised in the incorrect traditions of their fathers.

I like using polls to test out the waters of public opinion in our personal disagreements. Here's another one, and you need to think quickly and honestly about your answer before you're swayed by the responses of others. I'm not asking you what is right, or correct; I'm asking you what you actually say.

Is "coupon" pronounced KYOO-pon or KOO-pon?

Vote on the sidebar and comment here to defend your answer, if necessary. I'd also be interested to know where you're from to see if there is a regional effect at work here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Death of a dryer and a small animal

Our dryer broke on Saturday night. If I could choose any appliance to break at any place at any time, it would be a dryer, in Tucson, in the summertime. It's really not that big of a deal. Still, we needed to get it fixed.

The dryer dude came over today and tucked himself away in the laundry closet, disconnecting various parts and tubes to figure out what was wrong. Then he said what I think is something I never really want to hear from a dryer dude when he's rummaging around behind the dryer:

[really fakely innocent- and nonchalant-like] "Ummm, so...do you guys have a pet?"

We told him we didn't, at which point he didn't have to tiptoe around announcing to us the fact that there was a small, DEAD animal inside of the dryer lint tube thing.

I'm glad he had the sensitivity to test the waters before announcing that our possible pet had met its untimely death in the dryer lint venting apparatus, especially since Miriam was in the room at the time.

Ew.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Young adult book review round-up

Enough talk of books about Andean plane wrecks, Soviet nuclear disasters, and Templar knights. It's time for a quick review of a few Young Adult books I've read recently.

I've discussed this topic before (and I'm happy to discuss it again), but my opinions have recently been clarified: there are three types of YA books out there. First, there's the cool kids, books like the City of Bones series, or A Great and Terrible Beauty. Sure, they're technically "young adult," but they're mature beyond their years and sometimes they smoke and drink a little, at least figuratively if not literally.

Then there are the nerd books, like Hattie Big Sky or The Girl Who Could Fly. These are simple, sweet, endearing books that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside.

The final category are the books that can kind of hang out with everyone. Books like the Harry Potter series, or maybe the Aragon books (I can't say for sure because I haven't read that series, but they strike me as being ubiquitous so I'm making an educated guess). They're hip enough to belong to the cool crowd, but they are widely appealing and generally inoffensive.

All of these books have merit. What you will personally like, however, just depends on your taste.


According to my analysis described above, Hattie Big Sky is a nerd book, and I love her for it. This is YA fiction the way I remember it best: a young kid rising to overcome a tough situation, good family values, a strong sense of place and time, and of course, a backdrop of war (preferably with Germans). I heard about this book from Lark and I wanted to help spread the word that the type of book I loved when I was actually a young adult (Jacob Have I Loved, Johnny Tremain, Stepping on the Cracks, etc.) is alive and well.

If you read enough books like City of Bones, though, you tend to forget that.

I've read two out of the three books in this series (which definitely belongs to the cool kid category) and I have mixed feelings about them. I think my reservations would largely disappear if these books weren't classified as Young Adult. I most likely would not let my young teenager read them. On the other hand, they are compelling books that are perfectly appropriate for the right audience. I've read two of them so far, and I am planning to read the third. Make of that what you will.


Back in the nerdy category is Victoria Forester's The Girl Who Could Fly. Stephenie Meyer said it best when she described this book as being a cross between X-Men and Little House on the Prairie. That sounded really odd until I read the book. She's right; it is. And it works beautifully.

Is anyone else reading any good YA books lately? Do you agree with my cool kid/nerd/everyman classification?

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