Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Movies of note from 2009

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



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



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



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


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


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


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

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

What did you watch in 2009?

Monday, December 28, 2009

2009: Books I loved, and read

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Flashback Friday/Vintage Post: A Very Special Christmas Edition

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

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




Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Messiah sing-along


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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 18, 2009

Flashback Friday: Being Mormon in Russia

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vintage Post: Streaker!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The MomChop, revisited

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

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

Here's a look at before:


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

And now for after:

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Vintage Post: The king of cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Chuck E. Cheese.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Flashback Friday: Arabian Electricity Adventures

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Air travel with kids

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

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Vintage Post: Waterbeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 07, 2009

Building bridges of spilled hot chocolate


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

Friday, December 04, 2009

Flashback Friday: A fat, fat lip

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

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

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

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

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



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


or this:


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

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

In defense of Twilight



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

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