Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Twilight movie categorization FAIL

This unsolicited recommendation was what greeted me on our Netflix page this morning:

Ummmm, I'm not sure "strong female lead" is one of Bella Swan's defining characteristics.

(At least not in the first couple of books.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Unexpected adventures with Nigel the GPS

I know everyone has their zany GPS misdirection stories. I don't really have any complaints about Nigel the GPS. He does a great job getting us where we need to go. But sometimes I feel like he really has a sense of adventure. He's not content to just get us there. He likes to take us on the scenic route, or a different way each separate trip to the same destination, or on roads that Google Maps doesn't even know exist.

It got to the point where, on our road trip to Middlebury last week, I actually asked Jeremy to check Nigel's settings. There's one screen that lets you set a preference for a few options, like avoid toll roads, avoid traffic, avoid U-turns, etc. I was beginning to think that there was an option called "take the road less traveled" that was turned on for Nigel.

But there wasn't, so I really don't have any explanation for why Nigel GPS'd us straight into a lake on our drive home from Middlebury. We were cruising along just outside of Vergennes when all of a sudden Nigel said to continue straight ahead, but straight ahead was Lake Champlain.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Lucky me, Blogger in Draft came out with a new Template Designer right as I was getting bored with my blog layout.

The only problem is, some of the designs make the actual text of the blog nigh unreadable, especially in the sidebar.

I'm working on it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Flashback Friday: In which I almost go to Poland by mistake

In the summer of 2002, my parents came to visit us in Moscow, Russia. We had a great time showing them around the city and teaching them how to be spied on. They stayed in a spare room down the hall from ours and at one point, my mom said, OUT LOUD, "so, Bridget, the guy who's listening in on this room..." before I could shush her. Rule #1: They know we know they're listening, and we know it, but you never admit it.

After Moscow, we traveled together to the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, and Slovakia. Slovakia is an interesting place for me because a sizeable chunk of my ancestors come from there (I am 1/4 Slovakian, in fact, which is a "sizeable chunk" when you're a whitey mostly European mutt like me). On this trip, I actually had the chance to meet a few relatives. In classy Prievidza, we stayed with our cousins the Bubnas family. They made us dinner out of vegetables in their garden and we sat on their porch afterward and listened to their kids play the guitar. That night, I had what was at the time my worst night of sleep ever. It still couldn't take away the magic of that visit.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Middlebury, revisited

As we drove away from Middlebury in August 2008, I teared up a little at the thought of never seeing it again. It had become such a special place to me over that summer and I hoped that somehow, we'd find a way to come back.

Then we moved to Ithaca, which is a scant five-hour drive from Middlebury. A five-hour drive, I might add, that winds through some of the most gorgeous countryside this nation has to offer. Even if you drive it in late March, as we did, which is the "least pretty time of year" according to someone we met in Sharon.

As we crested the last hill outside of town and the campus of Middlebury College came into view piece by piece, I was overwhelmed with memories from 2008. Most of them didn't surprise me - that initial rush of wonder at all the shades of green; exploring the campus every day, all day with almost-three-year-old Miriam; walking a mile to the bus stop to take the bus to Vergennes for appointments with the midwife; climbing eight flights of stairs in Bicentennial Hall (twice) to get labor going. Hanging out at the library. Walking down through the Farmers' Market to the waterfall. Eating at Ross Dining Hall. Enjoying my last days with Miriam as an only child. Birthing a baby. Being congratulated by dozens of strangers on campus in many different languages. You know, fond, warm, tender memories.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sharon, Vermont as the birthplace of Joseph Smith

(This post makes more sense if I tell you that we just got back from a road trip to Vermont. And yes, we went to Middlebury and a post about that is coming.)

In some ways, Mormons are the awkward cousins of the mainstream Christian churches. We consider ourselves Christian and self-identify as such, but there are plenty of churches who don't think we should and wish we wouldn't. We proclaim that Mormonism is not an offshoot or evolution of any modern church but a restoration of the original Gospel from the time of Jesus Christ, which makes us very old but also very new, as far as religions go. So while other Christian sects (using the broad definition) have their Vatican City, or their church doors in Wittenberg, or a legacy of cathedrals across Europe, we Mormons have very little.

A Mormon trail here. An abandoned temple there. And in the middle of more or less nowhere, an isolated wooded path to the site of a cabin not far from where our prophet Joseph Smith's parents lived when he was born in 1805.

It may not be a grand cathedral whose innovative architectural style had a profound impact on the development of the arts in the western world. It is not a place where the world - or even the members of our own faith - look to receive guidance and instruction. All that is left are rocks and stones and boulders: the remnants of a foundation, the crumbles of an old turnpike wall, a crude stone bridge.

But as we visited there yesterday, I couldn't help but feel that this tiny, largely abandoned village in eastern Vermont still holds some sway in the way of things, at least for me. I don't know why we ascribe such importance to the places we are born. It's certainly not an event we remember for ourselves. Still, I stood in Sharon yesterday and the site seemed to be thrumming with all the potential of the excitement and tragedy and sacredness that Joseph Smith, who began life there, would bring to the lives of so many others.

Even if we can't share fully in some of the other triumphs of Christianity, at least we Mormons have a few humble pilgrimages to call our own. Sharon, Vermont, the birthplace of Joseph Smith, is definitely one of them.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: 102 Minutes

I was caught a little off guard when Jeremy asked me why I was reading 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. He doesn't usually ask me to justify my book choices, even though I'm sure he rolls his eyes at books like The Princess Academy when I'm not looking. But for some reason, he called me out on 102 Minutes. He said he had no desire to read that book, at least not right now, and wondered why I did.

At first the answer seemed obvious: I wanted to know what happened in there, on that day. But I don't think that answers the question, either, because why did I want to know?

The conclusion I've come to after finishing the book is that 102 Minutes is no less a survival story than Alive, Black Hawk Down, Lone Survivor, Desperate Passage, In the Heart of the Sea, or Skeletons on the Zahara. Just because it happened so recently and had so many more casualties doesn't mean that the stories of those who perished and survived in the towers that day have less merit than those of other disasters, or that they should remain untouched. I am interested in them for the same reason - they fascinate me with their powerful illustrations of human nature in extraordinary circumstances.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Flashback Friday: Things in Syria that made me laugh

1. On one of our first days in the country, we found this creature in the basement of City Mall. Take a good look (at the creature, not me):

His name is Hessfeld, and he delivers a Happy Toy by method of "Get Surprise in the ball." That became a kind of motto for our time in Syria. That, and also that time I opened a box of Kleenex and found a toothbrush inside. Life in Syria is just like that. Surprise in the ball.

2. Jeremy once chit-chatted with some random Syrians in our neighborhood and one of them busted out his English skills. He told Jeremy he was an English teacher at a local school, and asked, "You think I am clever?" Except he pronounced it "KLEEV-er." I shudder for his English students. Incidentally, "clever" has been on the list of words I can't pronounce correctly ever since.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

All the kid gear I never knew we needed

Part of the culture shock of moving from Tucson to Ithaca has been experiencing these things called "seasons." It was one of the things I most looked forward to, and so far I really haven't been disappointed.

But along with these seasons come heaps and heaps of necessary outdoor gear. When I think back to our time in Tucson, the only "gear" I remember purchasing was swimsuits. And maybe some sunhats. Miriam never even owned a winter coat for the four years we lived there, except for the year we went to Idaho Falls for Christmas and I got her one at Ross. She wore it a couple times in IF and that was it. After that, it hung in the closet, untouched, along with mine and Jeremy's winter coats.

Here in Ithaca, for the girls, we have had to acquire rain boots, medium-weight jackets, heavy winter coats, snow pants, snow boots, scarves, mittens, snow gloves, hats, and now rain pants. Did you know there is such a thing as rain pants? That's what your kids wear to play outside when it is slightly slushy snowy/muddy but not cold enough for a warm snowsuit. I learned this from the other parents at preschool pickup today when I was the only one collecting a child whose jeans were soaked in mud.

Tucson may have been dang hot but as far as kid gear goes, it was also dang cheap, now that I think about it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Impossible maze WIN

My mom sent Miriam a Curious George book yesterday. It came with a maze on the back. Miriam was really excited about it - she loves mazes beyond all reason and is quite good at them. I set her up with a pencil and the maze at the kitchen table and then left the room.

Only about 30 seconds had passed before I heard Miriam expressing frustration that she couldn't figure out the maze. I called to her from the other room and told her it was a pretty hard one and it might take her a few extra tries. I could still hear her complaining, though, so finally I went in to see what all the fuss was about.

My friends, take a look at the maze my 4.5-year-old was trying to solve:

Impossible maze WIN.

(Go ahead, click to enlarge.)

(And I would expect this kind of thing from a book purchased at Ross, but Powell's Books?!?)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Daylight savings awareness FAIL

The bad news is, I am officially 0-2 on Daylight Savings Awareness. The good news is, the universe has at last returned to equilibrium. Remember how I wasted spent my extra hour back in November being early for church? Well, yesterday my lost hour took place during church, because we were an hour late. Once again, I feel stupid, sheepish, and a little bit like it's about time to remember that we are no longer in Arizona (which does not subscribe to the pagan DST tradition).

In related news, two-hour church is AWESOME. As I found out yesterday.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Flashback Friday: Learning to write

My brother Blair and I, 1999

When I was a junior in high school, I had the most amazing English teacher. She wasn't one of those teachers who was generally popular, who everyone loved, but I loved her.

She wasn't the only junior English teacher at my high school, though, and that year, all the teachers (I think there were four) got together to sponsor a quasi-contest. I don't think there was a prize, and participation happened to be compulsory, but it was for a great cause: college entrance essay practice. All the juniors wrote an autobiographical-ish essay like the ones required with a college application and during a few designated class periods, everybody read everybody else's essays (anonymously) and rated them. The teachers tallied up the votes to declare a winner, but more importantly, we had honed our skills and gotten some great ideas in the meantime.

One of the reasons I remember this contest so well is because there was one essay that got passed around that was hilarious/disturbing. It told the story of a child who grew up in a small "hamlet" (that was the word the essay used) who was often beaten and screamed at by his/her parents. I don't remember anything else about the essay besides those bizarre establishing facts, except that the entire essay was written in a very stilted, unnatural, almost incomprehensible style (see "hamlet," above). Looking back, it is obvious to me that the essay must have been written by one of our school's many recent immigrant students and then been run through some kind of an automatic translation and we were all reading a very shoddy rendering of the original (which probably wasn't too fantastic to begin with). That essay was all my friends and I could talk about for, well, the remainder of that English class anyway. We wondered who wrote it, what on earth they were thinking when they wrote it, and if things ever got better in their family. We hoped they did.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Words pronounced incorrectly by me

(See Nigel edition here.)

Do you ever find yourself reading aloud or speaking in public when, to your horror, you come across a word you don't know how to pronounce? Especially one that you've read in your mind as a written word all the time, but you've never heard it spoken out loud?

I'm not even talking about uncommon, difficult oddball words like "halcyon" or "hubris" (both of which appear on my personal unpronounceable list). I'm talking about everyday words like "apricot," "oregano," or even the abbreviation "lbs." For the longest time (and sometimes I still stumble) I pronounced "apricot" like APP-ricot and "lbs" as - get this - loobs. I knew it meant pounds but I didn't know you pronounced it like that. What, the l, the b, AND the s are silent? I was doing fine with "oregano" until Marge Simpson pronounced it o-re-GAH-no. Now I'm always afraid that pronunciation will escape my lips before the proper one.

Sometimes there are words I think should be pronounced a different way, like "aspartame." I was so sad to find out it's AS-par-tame instead of as-PAR-ta-mee. Or CougarEat, at the BYU: doesn't coo-GAR-ee-ut just sound better?

Then there are the words whose proper pronunciations I know, but I don't know if everyone else does, and I don't want to be weirdly pretentious, so should I pronounce them out loud correctly or not? Like "victuals" (vittles) or "often" (the t is silent). I still haven't figured these ones out.

Proper names are even beyond me every once in a while. I was the laughingstock of my group of friends in high school for a while when I made the mistake of pronouncing the second syllable of "Tupac" like "pock" instead of "pack." I may have also pronounced B.I.G. (as in The Notorious) as the word it spells instead of discrete letters, but that also might have been something my friends made up to make fun of me. I can't remember.

I do remember that once while I was teaching an LSAT prep class the name of the philosopher Sartre came up and the only clue I had to its pronunciation was how Jay Sherman said it on that one Simpsons episode - Shartre? Or something? I really embarrassed myself in front of a bunch of philosophy majors on that one.

"Prague" comes out as "prayg" if I'm not careful. "Doctrinal" sometimes embarrasses me as "doc-TRINE-al."

What words do you habitually mispronounce?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Three different ad campaigns, same objective. Who wins?

When we lived in Syria, there was a billboard around the corner from our apartment:

It was part of an ad campaign geared toward educating people that for safety reasons, small children belonged in the backseat, not the lap of someone in the front seat.

When we lived in Jordan, there was a billboard (that I unfortunately do not have a picture of) informing passers-by that every seven seconds, someone in Jordan died as a result of a traffic accident. I think its message was two-pronged: wear your seatbelt and don't drive like a maniac.

Earlier today I came across this video (as did anyone who reads OSC):

I think all of the above campaigns are effective and successful in their own ways. I also think Sussex County wins, hands down.

Have you ever seen a better commercial, anywhere, for anything?

(And I include the set of Laurel Lane commercials as well as this one in that assessment.)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Who needs sleep? Apparently, not my kids.

I've always thought it was a cruel joke for God to play on me to have sent us not one but TWO children who hate to sleep. I love my sleep. I am not good at staying awake when I am very tired. I appreciate the beauty of an unbroken night's rest. I sleep best when I know I won't be troubled by any interruptions. I am not a morning person. I'm sure you can see how all this is a problem once you have kids. Once you have MY kids, at least.

Both my girls hate sleep, even though they have had very different sleep temperaments (variations on the hate sleep theme) and I've dealt with their sleep problems in different ways. And yet the result has been the same: both Miriam and Magdalena didn't sleep through the night until they were almost exactly 18 months old.

Here are the facts for your analysis (get your righteous parental judgment handy):

Subject A: Nursing: I nursed Miriam to sleep every time, all the time. This came about because of a nursing strike she went on at about 3 months old where she would only nurse when half-asleep. It wasn't long before she wouldn't fall asleep any other way. She never took a bottle, either, so I'll give you one guess who was in charge of all these feedings. Naps: She gave up her morning nap when she was about 10 months old, and her afternoon nap seldom lasted longer than 90 minutes. She gave up napping entirely shortly after she turned two. Nighttime: When she was one year old, she was still nursing FOUR times during the night. We did a modified cry-it-out and got her down to one nursing session which she kept up until she was 18 months old. Then she slept through the night, at long last (except for all those times she still doesn't. You know how it goes).

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Ithaca, March 6th: It's almost springtime! The birds are singing! It's bright! It's sunny! It's...27 degrees outside. And there's a foot of snow on the ground.

This reminds me of when we lived in Tucson and when it got to be about October or so, all signs pointed to fall except for the blazing hot temperature. The sun got lower in the sky, it got dark earlier and earlier, what few leaves there were had fallen to the ground. And yet it was 95 degrees outside. It was so strange.

Is anyone out there experiencing spring yet? People in Tucson need not reply because I know you've already skipped ahead to summer.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Flashback Friday: Shoeless Bridget Walker

When I was in high school, I ran cross country and track all four years. By my last season of track, in the spring of 1999, I had run races in a lot of strange conditions. There was the time I dropped out of a race due to an asthma attack, when I was a freshman. There was the time I didn't drop out of a race even when I should have, due to an asthma attack, and had to go to the hospital afterward. Four years running through hip-deep mud at the Trask Mountain Assault Invitational. Four years running through shin-deep sand at the Seaside Invitational. Doubling up on the 1500m (one mile) and 3000m (two miles) races in one track meet, then running the JV 4x400m relay after that for "fun." Almost  four years having never been forced to run the 800m (half-mile) race at a track meet, until one day my senior year my coach made me do it just to see if I was good at it. I wasn't. I think my face says it all.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Elsewhere 2010

For every summer since 2006, we've gone Elsewhere for the duration.

Here's a hint for where we're going this summer (because I'm a nerd like that):

And another hint:

And a few more:
-We're going there for Jeremy to work with a study abroad program.
-It's a place we've never lived before.
-In fact, we've never even been there before.
-But we have been to the country it's in.
-Why yes, that IS the Mediterranean Sea!
-It was a well known city way back when (like WAY back when) because of its lighthouse and library.
-We're really excited.

OK, so that last one isn't a hint but it's true, we are excited. And for those of you who have been there and know what we're in for, don't worry, we are not expecting a European-style Mediterranean heaven. I know it will be moderately dirty and stinky and inconvenient and I won't hardly be able to wear a bathing suit on the beach for fear of becoming pasty eye candy for all the local shebaab, but who cares? I think we're going to have a great experience, and it will be fun to go somewhere new for once.

(Here's the answer of where we're going for the summer of 2010 - just highlight to reveal: ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT.)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

WAHM, in a picture

Remember how I abandoned my family for four days to get a job? Well, despite being late to the first day of training, I got it. Though I have yet to receive a paycheck, I did submit an invoice so I think it's the real thing. Let me tell you how it's going.

Or I could just show you. This is what being a WAHM (work at home mom) looks like:

I had set the girls up with a wholesome, engaging, non-DVD-based activity so I could get a few minutes to work uninterrupted. After a while I heard some suspicious noises so I stepped out of my room to check on the girls. The above picture is what I found: a tissue box emptied, winter gear strewn about the room, multiple hairbands being worn as necklaces by Magdalena, cardboard boxes pulled out, etc. What a mess!

But you know what? It was totally worth it. The girls were happy, I got my work done, and it only took a few minutes to clean up the mess later. And that's what being a WAHM is like. It's just a big series of trade-offs. If I work while they're awake, chaos generally (but not always) results. If I work during nap/quiet time, it means I don't really get a break during the day. If I work at night, sometimes that's lame because Jeremy is there and it's nice to hang out, you know? However, if I don't work during those times, then what's the point of having a job?

And it is a wonderful job. It is perfectly suited to my life situation and to my skills. It's not as mind-intensive as editing the dictionary, which is nice, and it doesn't require a lot of attention to the computer screen. I mostly just have to sit there and listen attentively and critically. Of course, that means I can't listen to music like I could with my other job, and that I have to wear headphones, which makes me less alert to growing chaos the next room over.

The other difference between this job and editing the dictionary is that free time is harder to come by these days. Back in the day, I did plenty of dictionary editing with a sleeping or nursing Magdalena on my lap. Now she's old enough to be running around emptying tissue boxes, as you see, so I pretty much always have two kids to keep track of if I try to work while they're awake. I also have preschool treasurer duties going on, which takes its share of time.

All in all, I am very happy to be a WAHM again, though I do think the acronym should work out to be WHAM. It certainly would describe the situation better.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Baby name castoffs

During the baby-naming process, I consider a lot of things. I check out what the Baby Name Wizard has to say about it. I take a look at NameVoyager. I run it through Nymbler. I try it out with our last name. I see how it travels, and I make sure it matches with any existing children I've named.

However, I've never given much thought to the major impact future phone conversations could have on the name of an unborn child. My friend Amanda has. Lots. And while I don't have a lot of examples of names being disqualified in very creative ways, there have been a few names that I've really wanted to use that haven't made the cut for various reasons.

Here's a list of a few baby name castoffs. I can pretty much guarantee you that we will never use these names, as evidenced by the fact that I am disclosing them to you. We don't tell anyone our babies' names before they're born (we don't necessarily know it ourselves), so if I'm telling you these names, it means they're out of commission.

Petra. Oh how I love this name. It even made it onto the short list with Sasha 2.0, who was later named Magdalena. But when it came down to it I could not, in good conscience, give a girl with last name Palmer, the first name Petra.

Palmyra. Another victim of our otherwise low-maintenance last name. It's too bad, especially since it would have been a great tribute to Syria, Upstate New York, and Mormonism, all in one name!

Vesper. Jeremy really tried to make this one work but in the end, combined with our last name, it just sounded like one big string of vocalic r.

Cora. This one was eliminated when Jeremy's brother and his wife used it on their daughter, which was kind of a freak coincidence since neither of us had told the other that we liked this name. So much for an homage to The Last of the Mohicans.

Rania. I think this one was mostly in the running with Sasha 1.0 (Miriam), and it is the name of Jordan's current queen (you may have seen her on Oprah a few years ago). At some point, I realized that most people in America would not pronounce it as prettily as they do in the Middle East. So it got scrapped.

Veronica. This was the name that made it to the final two, along with Miriam. Obviously, we chose Miriam, and by the time Sasha 2.0 came around three years later, Veronica seemed like cold leftovers.

But just because I can't use these names doesn't mean you can't! A friend of ours had a baby recently and they named her Petra. I was happy for them and also jealous. My friend's sister has a Vesper so I get to live vicariously through her a little bit. And there is a Cora running around with our last name, but I've gotten used to her not being mine.

What are your baby name castoffs that you're willing to share?

(And no, I'm not pregnant. I just like talking about names.)


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