Tuesday, August 31, 2010

True love

I thought you'd enjoy this picture. True love is Jeremy letting me read The Hunger Games first so I could move on to Catching Fire, and then Mockingjay. It was so much fun reading in bed together until the wee hours of the night, and then each trying to convince the other to get up with the kids in the morning. I also enjoyed talking over key plot points, telling each other our freaky Hunger Games-inspired dreams, and me peeking over to see what part of each book he was at and then trying to refrain from giving any reaction that would spoil the plot.

We're driving to Oregon today. Miriam is excited to see if the Blue Mountains really are blue. Wish us luck.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I wonder if 'mortified' is a better word than 'embarrassed' in this situation.

Remember when I talked about my most embarrassing moments a few weeks ago? Well, unfortunately, I came across a new embarrassing moment. It just happened last week.

When we got to Idaho Falls, we found a stack of - wait for it - return-addressed, stamped thank you notes. From our wedding. Almost nine years ago. The envelopes have the addressees' names on them, but no addresses. So I imagine (I can't remember exactly since it's been almost a decade) that I wrote the thank you notes, stamped them, return-addressed them, wrote the addressee's name on them, and then put them aside to look up the address later.

Well, "later" never came because we moved to Russia and then moved to American Fork, and then moved and moved and moved and seriously, we didn't even see our wedding gifts until we'd been married for four years. So this stack of thank you notes slipped through the cracks.

Until now. I mentioned that I'm really embarrassed and it's because hardly any concept was drilled into my head as a kid more than the rule that you always, always send thank you notes. Always. What makes this worse is that obviously I forgot I never sent these, so some of these people I've spoken with face to face in the nine years since my wedding. And maybe they were wondering if I ever received their gift, or if I just didn't care, and meanwhile I had no idea I needed to apologize for not thanking them properly.

So, to the following people, let me say that I wrote you a thank you note nine years ago but I never sent it:

Glade & BJ Walker
Karalee Palmer
Graziano Family
Steve Lusk
Kristen Winkel
Cathy Jones
Bangerter Sensei
George Perkins
Ryan & Chelsea Kendall
Ann & Kevin Keller
Ryan & Marianne Anderson

That is all. Perhaps you'll see it in the mail soon, complete with a 34-cent stamp from nine years ago. Do they sell 10-cent makeup stamps these days? I guess I'll find out.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

(Some of you may be wondering how it is that I got to read this book after all. The answer is that when we got to Idaho, my sister-in-law Sarah lent all three books to me, may her name be blessed forever.)

I promise I won't give any overt spoilers in this review. But I understand if you choose to wait to read this post until after you've read the book.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Flashback Friday: A foreign affair to remember

Refried Flashback Friday: A foreign affair to remember, originally published October 9, 2008.

It's Flashback Friday, and you know what that means: another story from Russia. I have so many of these that we might need to move on to another theme for a while lest we all get Russia'd out.

Then again, today's story is a bit of a break after all because it happened to Jeremy, not me. First, some necessary background information: in the mid-90s, Jeremy served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Siberia, specifically in the cities of Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. Mormon missionaries generally serve in pairs, and each member of the pair is called a "companion" to the other. Throughout their two years of service, as often as every couple of months, missionaries are transferred to serve with different companions.

Elder Palmer

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hello/goodbye, Utah

Our time in Utah came to an end waaaay faster than I expected. So, sorry all you people who we thought we'd get to hang out with. Seriously.

It hadn't been that long since I'd last visited Utah, but this time we were up in Lehi so it was a little different than Provo. The main thing I was struck by was that I kept thinking I saw people I knew from my days at the BYU. Then I realized that no, people in Utah just share 80% of their genes with other Mormons, so they only resemble half the people I knew in college.

OK, I'm exaggerating a little, but it is true that everyone looked vaguely and almost creepily familiar and I had to do a double-take many times to confirm that it was not my old friend so-and-so. Part of the confusion also comes from the fact that hair and clothing styles in Utah Valley are very, shall we say, homogenous, so you really do have to look close to catch out any actual acquaintances.

In other Utah news, we really enjoyed our visit. Jeremy's sister tended the girls for an astounding 8 hours so we could climb Mt. Timpanogos together. It was so glorious. The last time we climbed Timp was in 2001 when we were dating. This time, we got up at 4.30 and started climbing while it was still dark. For a long time, we hiked together, just the two of us, in darkness and quiet, except for occasionally jangling the car keys to avoid surprising bears (really).

We made it to the very top this time, instead of stopping at the saddle like last time, but you know what? I never want to go all the way to the top again. To the saddle, the enjoyment vs. suffering vs. sense of achievement ratios are just about  in equilibrium. If you continue another difficult 45 minutes to the summit, those factors get all out of whack. I'll leave you to figure out which one skyrockets (hint: it's SUFFERING). Next time I climb Timp, I'm stopping at the saddle. The view is just as good, after all.

And for anyone who's been wondering for years which route to the top is the easiest (like I have), I can now tell you from personal experience that it's the Timpooneke trail. Glad that's settled.

We're in Idaho now. Only one stop besides this one is left in our Summer of Progress.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mockingjay is out there somewhere

Mockingjay, the sequel to The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, is released today. Now I have a dilemma.

You see, my copies of the first two books are packed away, on their way to the UAE. It shouldn't matter, right? Because it's the third book that's new?

Except I do like to re-read the first books in a series before reading the last new one. Plus, I read this article in the NYT recently about happiness and it said that looking forward to something for a long time makes that thing more rewarding when you finally get it.

Now, I've already been waiting for this book for a year, so I'm sure it will be plenty rewarding. But it will be more so if I wait to read it until I get my hands on the first two books and re-read them.

But in the meantime, what if someone accidentally spoils Mockingjay for me?

Is anyone else waiting a while to read this one? If so, please join me in my self-imposed total radio silence on all things Panem.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Go West, Day 5 (Laramie to Lehi)

Day 5: Laramie, Wyoming to Lehi, Utah.
Pace: An easy 6 hours of driving.
Rations: We survived off the hotel breakfast all the way until Lehi. Woohoo!

We arrived in Lehi on Saturday afternoon and honestly I can't remember a thing about our drive from Laramie. I think maybe we stopped at a rest area? And I learned how to use the engine brakes on those hills from Park City into SLC? I really don't recall. Everything has blended together.

I can't believe it took us 5 days/4 nights to drive from New York to Utah. That seems so much longer than 4 days/3 nights. But we got by with only one night in a hotel, which was nice. One benefit of moving so much is that you meet people who end up all over the country (and world) so you always have a friend just off the highway.

Looking back, I think our trip went really super well until we left Nauvoo. After that, there was the wrong turn into Missouri, and then the detour, and then the detour-detour, and meanwhile Nebraska and Wyoming were still stretched out wide in front of us. It was daunting, and we never did get in a solid 14-hour day to cut the trip down a bit.

We still have some driving to do - we will head up to Idaho for a few days soon. Then we still need to drive up to Portland to visit my family and catch our flight to Dubai. Let's hope the memory of 38-something hours of driving has faded somewhat by the time we take those road trips.

Lastly, I would like to state for the record that I personally drove 36 of those hours mentioned above. But. Jeremy had to take care of the kids while I did it so really, I think he had the harder job.

That is all.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Go West, Day 4 (Lincoln to Laramie)

Day 4: Lincoln, Nebraska to Laramie, Wyoming.
Pace: Steady. Another 8ish hours. It started to feel like grueling right around Cheyenne, when Magdalena had a little breakdown.
Rations: Our chocolate milks are now gone. Does that qualify as meager?

Somehow, this trip seemed to go much faster last year when we were driving in the other direction. I think it's because last year, we packed in one 14-hour day that really took the edge off the 36-hour trip total. This time, we're doing mostly 8-hour days so it's taking f o r e v e r.

We spent the morning in Lincoln hanging out with our friends the Lewises. That wasn't the plan at first but they are good at talking us into things (last year, they talked us into staying the night, which also wasn't the plan).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Flashback Friday: In which I nearly freeze to death

On the road. Refried Flashback Friday, originally published 3 October 2008. In addition to this occasion, I also almost froze another time.

In case you're just joining us, it's Flashback Friday and the theme is Stories from Russia.

Today's story involves neither spies nor mariticide. Instead, I'm going to tell you about the coldest I've ever been in my life. I was so cold that I actually wasn't sure that I would be able to get myself someplace warm before I lost feeling in my legs.

It started out innocuously enough when I decided what I was going to give Jeremy for Christmas. First, some background. There's a pedestrian street in Moscow called Old Arbat that has retained much of its 19th-century Moscow glory. There is also a New Arbat, but it is filled with casinos shaped like boats, apartment blocks shaped like books, and other such eyesores.

Go West, Days 2 and 3 (Ann Arbor to Nauvoo to Lincoln)

So yeah, the campground didn't have Wi-fi.

Day 2: Ann Arbor, Michigan to Nauvoo, Illinois.
Pace: Steady (another 8.5 hours of driving)
Rations: Filling. More friends fed us. What can I say? We have good friends.


Day 3: Nauvoo, Illinois to Lincoln, Nebraska.
Pace: GRUELING, due to the multiple wrong turns and closed roads.
Rations: Filling. Yep, friends fed us.

Yesterday (Day 2) was kind of a hard day. I know, right when I thought we were getting good at this. It started out GREAT when I got to meet up with an old college roommate in South Bend. I told her I'd be passing through town and she set up a lunch for us at a park. It was brilliant. If I had the picture she took of us together for the first time in what we think is about nine years, I'd post it. Probably.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Go West, Day 1 (Ithaca to Ann Arbor)

Day 1: Ithaca, New York to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Pace: Steady to strenuous (8.5 hours)
Rations: Filling, because the friends we're staying with fed us pizza.

I feel like Jeremy and I are finally getting the hang of this whole traveling thing. We made it from Ithaca to Ann Arbor in about 8.5 hours of driving, with three stops. Our car snacks were great. We brought back the frozen chocolate milks that were such a hit on last year's cross-country road trip. We also had pepperoni, grapes, crackers, and a new idea, fruit by the foot - SUCH a treat in our family, plus it takes forever to eat. Bonus.

We hit a few snags when:

- I-90 told us there was a rest area in 38 miles, so we all held our business until then, anxiously counting down the miles, only to have the actual sign at the rest area inform us that there were NO FACILITIES. Guess what facilities means? Yeah, no bathrooms. Nice. Could have used that information oh, about 38 miles ago.

(We used the portapotties by the truck parking lot. You're welcome.)

- People in huge cars tailgated me anytime I happened to venture into the left lane. Yeesh. And it always seemed to happen right when I was trying to pass someone so it wasn't like I could get out of the tailgater's way immediately, like they obviously wanted me to. This happened with increasing frequency the farther west we got.

- Relatedly, fellow drivers, my safe following distance from the car in front of me ≠ a spot for you to sneak into.

- Rumble strips on the freeway before toll booths wake up my sleeping kids. Another reason to hate tolls, I guess.

Otherwise, it's great to be on the road again. I stopped crying more or less by the time we were out of Ithaca city limits, so that was nice. And I have to admit that last year, it kind of irritated me to be on the Oregon Trail, but going the wrong way. So I'm really enjoying going the right way this time.

I can't promise a Day 2 update because we might be camping tomorrow night. Then again, the rest areas around here have Wi-fi, so maybe the campgrounds do, too. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Go West

At Lucifer Falls, where sometimes, it's fun to pretend you're in The Last of the Mohicans. NOT THAT I'VE EVER DONE THAT.
I really don't have any words to describe my feelings on leaving Ithaca, and I've probably yammered about it here on the blog too much anyway.


Goodbye it is.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Everything we own

You may recall that we sold almost everything we owned (aside from personal effects) back in May, in preparation for moving to the UAE. It was a terrifying experience, really, even though 1) our place in Dubai is fully stocked and furnished so it wasn't like I was giving up furniture forever, and 2) we didn't own any nice things anyway.

In fact, when it came down to going through every single item we owned - which we totally did, because there was no way I was shipping a bunch of mystery piles across the world - I realized how much stuff we had that I didn't really care about anyway. Why did I even have all this stuff? The reasons were myriad.

Because I associated the item with some sentimental event or period of my life.

Because I got it for an awesome price and I didn't want to relinquish my great deal.

Because it was a gift from someone else.

Because someday, somewhere, I might need it.

Because it was expected that I would own such an item.

The problem is, I don't think any of those is a legitimate reason, all on its own, for keeping something. I mean, it was nice to have a springform pan set on hand, just in case. But just in case what? In case I become someone who makes cheesecake, ever? Not going to happen. While going through all our stuff, I realized I had so many things like that. Things I didn't really want, didn't really need, and certainly didn't love.

So while it was terrifying to sell all our possessions besides (basically) books and shoes and clothes (but with the four of us, we still had plenty of those), it was also kind of thrilling. I no longer felt like I HAD to hold onto this stuff, for just in case or whatever. It was like a forced radical simplification of our lives.

Here's what the process of packing/selling/giving away looked like back in May:
Since customs requires a labeled packing list, I taped a piece of paper to each bin and wrote down what we put in it as we went. At times I got a little too specific. I hope customs doesn't mind if I simplified "toothbrushes/toothpaste," "razor refills," "floss," and "perfume" into just "TOILETRIES."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flashback Friday: My most embarrassing moment (?)

Have you ever sat down to try to think about the most embarrassing moment you've ever experienced? Every once in a while I get to thinking about it but I never come up with anything definitive.

Until the other day, when Jeremy reminded me of what I think is my most embarrassing moment. (Yes - unfortunately, he was there for it.)

Before I remembered that moment (with Jeremy's help), I was just about sure that my most embarrassing moment was the time I peed my pants on the sidewalk in front of my grandma's house while walking my aunt's dog. And we all know how sidewalks turn dark when they get wet. This moment was so embarrassing to my young self that I can't even remember all the details, such as why, exactly, I peed my pants. Hmm.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The process of saying goodbye

It worked out really well that we got to come back to Ithaca for a couple of weeks after our summer in Egypt, and before moving to Dubai. It's been a very carefree time, and we're spending it doing all the things we know we'll miss. Picking blueberries, hiking, camping, playing outside, hanging out with friends. It's been lovely.

It's also very bittersweet. It's hard to come to terms with the fact that this is the last time we'll do many of these things, at least here in Ithaca. There are some things I'm having a hard time saying goodbye to, even in these halcyon days, and it's not entirely rational.

One of the biggest regrets I was having about moving away was that I wouldn't get to participate in the Lake Canandaigua Relay this year (last year's team pictured above). Before the whole Dubai thing came up, I was already thinking about who would be on our team, and how maybe the grandparents would be in town so I wouldn't have to hand off the kids at the exchange points, and whether we wanted to keep the same team name (Ghoti - nerdy linguist, anyone?), and how gorgeous the scenery was going to be. And then, to be leaving Ithaca all of a sudden - I just couldn't get over the fact that I wouldn't be able to do the relay after all.

Then today, I got an email saying the relay has been cancelled. It's run in conjunction with an ultra marathon (as in, people who run the whole relay by themselves) and the organizers apparently decided that that part of the event was getting too big to deal with the relay as well. So they cancelled the relay.

And now it's almost as if the last tie keeping me from being able to really make peace with leaving Ithaca has been broken. I feel so bad for everyone who was able to plan on doing the relay, but so good for me, you know? I have so many good memories from running the relay last year and now I get to hold on to those with my head held high, not worrying about what I'll be missing this year.

Now, if someone could just close down all the awesome state parks here and also make all my friends move away before us and maybe take away some of that gorgeous greenery, that would be great. Then I really wouldn't be sad to leave. Thanks.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Summer Progress

Now begins the summer of Progress. You know how in the olden days the entire British royal court would pick up and travel as a whole for the summer? That's kind of what we have planned for the next six weeks or so.

We wrap up our time in dear, precious Ithaca sometime early next week. Then we drive back across the country - reversing our exact route from last year - to end up in Utah/Idaho for about two weeks. Then it's on to Portland for two weeks.

From there, we fly out to Dubai in mid-September, just in time for school and work there to start up after the month of Ramadan. Ask me how happy I am to miss Ramadan in the UAE. The answer is SO VERY EXTREMELY.

If you've been following our travels recently, you'll realize that the life of the Palmer family from May to September looks something like this:

To add some really fun uncertainty into the mix, we are in-between insurance policies right now. Our lovely Cornell benefits have come to an end but our new insurance won't kick in "until we set foot in the UAE," as put by an HR representative at Jeremy's new job. Of course we are graciously invited to foot the bill for outrageously expensive COBRA benefits, but I hate to pay for the privilege of a low deductible and convenient co-pays when what we really need is a simple catastrophic plan that will cover us nationwide (since we will be traveling all over said nation in the next few weeks). But try as I might, I can't determine that such a plan exists. We found one plan intended for temporary travel but the maximum coverage limits are a little low for a catastrophic plan. And it will only cover us if we are 100 miles or more from home. My damage with that is that I don't even know where "home" is right now.

Meanwhile, I feel like we are four ticking time bombs, walking around uninsured in America. Every time I hear the girls playing rough the next room over, and then a crash, and then a cry, I cross my fingers and hope it won't require any kind of trip to any kind of medical facility. Let's hope we get our insurance figured out soon.

Anyway, the insurance wasn't really the point of this post, except that it adds to the general merriment of our Summer Progress. Good times ahead.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Flashback Friday: Suspended, in school

I forgot that there was one other time I had a run-in with the authorities at school (besides this time).

Westview High School, Portland/Beaverton/Aloha, Oregon (depending on who you ask), 1997ish. Westview had what was called a "closed campus," meaning that students were not allowed to leave school grounds during school hours. I don't know that anything dramatic ever happened to spur such a policy; it's just the way things were.

There was one big exception to the closed campus policy, and that was for people who attended classes during the school day off-campus. I can think of only a few classes this actually applied to - one was some sort of technical course offered at a facility down the road. Another class was my very own Mormon seminary. The small building where we held class during lunchtime was in sight of the high school, but off-campus. So we were all issued special green passes that we had to keep with us in case we were stopped by the Gestapo (our lovely name for the campus patrol, who rode around in golf carts) so we could prove that we were allowed to be off-campus.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

God bless America

Here are some aspects of life in America that I am positively relishing since we've been back.

1. The grocery stores. I always look forward to the first time back after a trip abroad because it is so overwhelming. Grocery stores here are so big, so clean, and do not smell like rotten meat. Glorious.

2. Having a car. Not to be a snob - and remember, I have lived without a car in the States for a few months in 2004 as well as the entire summer in Middlebury - but I do appreciate being able to strap my kids in my own personal car to get to where I need to go. No wrestling with them in the back of a hot, smoky, rip-off-y taxi with Koranic recitations blaring over the cassette tape player. Just the girls sitting quietly and restrained and enjoying a little Pinback with me.

3. The general state of order and calm. I do love a good, healthy sense of bustle about a place but on the other hand, it's nice to have things like lines, consistent opening hours, crosswalks and crosswalk signals, traffic lanes, lulls in said traffic, etc.

4. The familiar food. I always find ways to adjust when overseas but there's nothing like going to the store and being able to just buy a big block of cheddar cheese already. And not have to pay 10 dollars for it.

5. My kids are nothing special. This is kind of a strange one, I guess, but it is a relief to not have to prepare my kids psychologically before every outing. I noticed the difference as soon as we were in London - no one was staring at us or trying to touch my girls' hair. (Except for that Saudi family in London who gave my kids candy and then tried to take cell phone pictures of them. Not so much cool.)

Thank you, America, for these wonderful things. Amen.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

We were in London

Even though getting through all the formalities at Heathrow airport took much longer than expected, we still had just enough time to go into London, see the Tower, and catch our flight to Newark. I confess that near the end of the tube ride into the city I was wondering if it was going to be worth it, if perhaps we had made a mistake dragging our already travel-weary selves and kids into a big city.

Then I saw this:

and without even going inside it was already worth it to me. I just love me some good ruins and interesting history. I can't help it.

Of course we did go inside, but only after grabbing some food from a street vendor. You know how when you're traveling and you're hungry and you pass some food for sale and it doesn't look terribly appetizing and you're not sure if the prices are good but at the same time you have no idea when you'll pass food again so you decide to buckle down and go for it? Well, that's what we did at this street stand. And let me tell you, I've never tasted a more disgusting hot dog in my life, certainly never one that cost SIX DOLLARS. Jeremy will say the same about his hamburger. The really sad part was that as we walked closer to the Tower, we saw about six other food places that looked cheaper and better than the one we'd just eaten at. A casualty of traveling in an unfamiliar city, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

12 hours in airport limbo

On our way home to Ithaca from Cairo, we had a 12-hour overnight layover in Newark. I knew this when I bought the tickets, but at the time it didn't seem like that big of a deal. We've had to deal with long layovers before and we've always come out ok on the other side, more or less. I figured we'd find a quiet place and somehow get the girls to sleep and maybe even get some rest ourselves.

What I didn't count on was being thrust into some kind of airport limbo. But that's what happened.

Monday, August 02, 2010

You be the judge: more stolen stuff in Egypt

Cairo gave us one last mystery/insult just as we were leaving the country. I present it here so you can assist me in solving it.

The setting. When we arrived in Cairo, our friends the Heisses were just leaving. They passed on to us a huge bin full of various toys and useful household goods. It was a mix of things they had acquired for themselves in Cairo, and things that others had passed down to them.

On Saturday, as we were getting ready to pack up and leave, we re-packed the bin and added a few things to it, like our kiddie pool and a small cooler. Jeremy hauled that bin as well as a folded-up portacrib down five flights of stairs to our front entryway, left them there, and then came back upstairs to grab a few more things. The plan was to get a taxi and deliver the bin and crib and other items to the church, where they could be passed on to other families moving to Cairo.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Favorite Egypt memories

Just in case Thursday's post left a bad taste in your mouth, here's a happier take on our summer in Egypt. Presenting: our favorite memories!

Visiting Alexandria. Sadly, just visiting, not living there.

Sending Miriam to a neighborhood summer day camp for a few weeks. Best decision of the whole summer, and Miriam agrees.

Except for maybe the decision to buy a kiddie pool and put it on our balcony. Brilliant.

Visiting Ibn Tuloun Mosque. That place is awesome, and you can climb the minaret!

Watching World Cup games. Jeremy got the best game - watching Algeria vs. USA in an all-Egyptian cafe. I got the short end of the stick with Ghana vs. USA in an all-Egyptian cafe. Let's just say I was the only one cheering for America.

Staying with the Heisses and watching Miriam color with Rachel for hours on end. Seriously, hours.

Discovering a used bookstore called Bookspot. They sell used books for cheap, then buy them back from you. AND THEY DELIVER.

Rocking the Khan al-Khalili's world when we went there with a friend and her kids for a grand total of three blonde-haired, blue-eyed adults and five blonde-haired, blue-eyed children, ages 4, 3, 2, 1, and 0. It is possible we left some of the vendors with the impression that both us women were Jeremy's wives...

You know what my absolute favorite memory from this summer was? Our trip to Syria. Hands down, no contest. That place is amazing.

Aaaaaand that's it from me until we're back in America!


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