Friday, May 28, 2010

Flashback Friday: The Biggest Zit Ever

We are on the road in a major way, so here's some refried Flashback Friday for you. Originally published September 8, 2008.


This flashback takes us all the way to the early spring of 2004. Jeremy was finishing up his master's degree at the BYU, just a few months away from defending his thesis. I was working full-time and then some: full-time at a translation company in Provo, as well as teaching LSAT prep courses for the BYU in the evening and on Saturdays.

Meanwhile, in American Fork, where we lived, a new young couple moved into our church congregation. I can't remember their names, which is just as well since I would change them anyway. So we'll call them Jack and Jill.

It soon became apparent to me that this couple constituted the Anti-Jeremy-&-Bridget. I use "anti" not in the sense that they were against us, but rather that they were in many ways our opposites. Like the Anti-Lebanon mountain range that divides Lebanon from Syria: on the one side of some great socio-cultural divide there was us; on the other, there was them. Jack was studying something very business-like and salary-oriented; Jeremy was getting a master's in language acquisition. Jill was studying science. I hate science. They were quickly embraced by the congregation and openly loved by just about everyone who met them, even briefly. I think Jeremy and I were only appreciated by those who really knew us, and we often kept to ourselves (more from shyness and busyness than snobbery, but it probably didn't come across that way).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lest you think Syria is all smiles and sunshine

We visited Crac des Chevaliers yesterday. It's an old (is there another kind?) Crusader castle between Tartus and Homs, a couple hours north of Damascus. It got to be more than a little nerve-wracking keeping Magdalena away from all the sudden, steep drop-offs, and there were many pictures I wanted to take but didn't because of uncooperative children (or because I couldn't let go of Magdalena long enough to get at my camera), but on the whole, you can't go wrong exploring a ruined castle.

The ride home, however - well, there's lots of ways that can go wrong.

At the end of the day, Jeremy had to head up to Aleppo to do some work so I took the girls on a bus back to Damascus by myself. Jeremy put us on a bus and told the driver and the assistant to take good care of us. Which they did, TO A FAULT.

LOST series finale thoughts

Somehow I managed to avoid any LOST series finale spoilers until Jeremy and I watched it last night. Really, it wasn't that hard to avoid spoilers since most social media here in Syria is blocked. We had a last-minute scare that maybe iTunes wouldn't work here either, but apparently they operate on billing address, not location. Thank goodness.

So. Thoughts. The truth is, if someone asked me to explain key aspects of the show now that I've seen every episode of every season, I wouldn't be able to. I'm not sure what that says about me, or about LOST. I certainly enjoyed the ride, and it will be fun to re-watch episodes as well as read what other, smarter people have to say about the show. In a way, it's not really over yet because I haven't quite figured it all out. I have no idea what the heck was going on with Desmond this season. I don't really understand who died when and how that all evens out. Widmore kind of fell off the face of the map at the end there, too. I was so excited to see him revealed as Not A Bad Guy After All but it never really happened. Are we just supposed to assume it took place off-camera?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's what I didn't like about the series finale.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How Damascus has changed. How I've changed.

Damascus has changed.

That scrolling marquee on top of Mt. Qassioon? The one that I always worried was broadcasting messages like "flee the city at once" and I would miss out on survival because I couldn't figure out the Arabic in time? It's gone.

So is the grocery store that was in the basement of City Mall (near where Hessfeld lurked with his Surprise in the Ball). When we lived here, it was the best grocery store in town as far as selection of goods and size. This, despite the fact that it was no bigger than your average 7-11. I know there's a big grocery store now at Town Center (located conveniently 10km outside of, you know, town), but it looks like nothing big has taken root in Damascus itself.

There are ATMs everywhere. When we lived here, there were two ATMs, total, in the entire city. Now they are all over the place.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, smoking in indoor public places is all kinds of prohibited (and yes, that was a hubbly bubbly pipe in yesterday's picture). Compliance with the law seems to be pretty good so far. I do wish the 1000 lira ($20) fine could be assessed by regular old citizens, "on spot," and we got to keep the money. That would be awesome vengeance.

The young women here don't dress quite as modestly as they once did. I have such mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, increased personal freedom is great. It really is. On the other hand, I wish increased personal freedom didn't necessarily equal increased inches of visible shoulder.

I am amazed at what you can buy here now. Wisconsin cheddar cheese (what the?!?), rice cakes, Activia yogurt, and tortilla chips. In other words, everything I craved while I was pregnant with Miriam but had to go to Lebanon to get. No fair.

The Baramke transportation hub (where Charlie used to hang out) is gone, which I already knew, and they moved it to Mezze, which I already knew, but the funny thing is that they call it "New Baramke," instead of naming it after its new location.

There are other changes in Damascus that I've noticed, but the thing is, I've changed too. Sometimes I have trouble distinguishing between the two.

Like how there seem to be fewer uniformed men with kalashnikovs standing idle on street corners. Are there really fewer of them, or am I just used to them now? Admittedly, I haven't been near Malki lately so I don't know if the heat-packing suited men still dominate that neighborhood.

Aside from Facebook and Blogger and YouTube being blocked, there seems to be a greater sense of social freedom here. Everyone seems less suspicious of everyone else. But maybe that's just me, since we're here on vacation and I'm only dealing with the happy smiley side of society instead of the permit-obtaining side.

The final change I'll mention is that I don't get nearly as much attention as I used to. I'd like to think this is because Syrian dudes have finally realized that making kissy noises at me, calling me baby/foreigner!!!!!/beautiful girl/hot stuff, and getting as close to touching me as possible are not acceptable courting methods (never mind that I'm married). In reality, I think it's because these days, I'm walking around with two little blonde girls and all attention is thus deflected from me to them. I feel so emancipated. I always tried not to let the harassment get to me - if you get upset, that means the dudes have won - but it definitely affected me on some level. Now I feel practically invisible, and it's absolutely liberating.

There's also the possibility that I'm still getting the attention but I just don't care anymore and refuse to expend the energy to bust out my righteous indignation.

I guess we can safely say that both Damascus and I have changed. Perhaps there's no need to draw a line and figure out who changed exactly how.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Exploring ruins, with children.

Traipsing around ruins isn't quite the same once you have children, but it's still fun. One of the things I've always loved about the ruins in Syria is that they are completely open to be explored. Nothing is roped away or blocked off or forbidden. You just go where you please - only watch out for that ancient well hole, mmmkay?

Obviously that's a little trickier when you have a 4.5- and a 1.5-year-old exploring right along with you. We visited the ruins of the ancient cities of Qanawat and Shahba today, and managed to do so without anybody falling down a well (or, as was more likely, a tomb shaft). And even though we couldn't go quite at the pace we used to when it was just the two of us, it was fun to explain what we were seeing and exploring to Miriam in a way she could understand. I think we all got more out of the experience as a result.

Some facts and figures first, and then some pictures (let's hope they come through).

Total number of separate modes of transportation we took: Seven (taxi, servees, Happy Jerny bus, taxi, Happy Jerny bus, Pullman bus, Pullman bus, taxi).

Things that were offered to us for free: A ride from Suweida to Qanawat, a ride from the center of Suweida to the bus station, a light jacket in Miriam's size, some chips, and some cotton candy.

Things that we actually accepted for free: Both free rides and the cotton candy.

Centuries in which the two sites of ruins we visited were built: First century (Qanawat) and third century (Shahba).


Number of methods of smoking that are prohibited in Qanawat: Four, apparently.

What we bought for a total of one dollar at a snack stand in Qanawat: Five separate snack items, a bottle of strawberry milk, and a 1.5L bottle of water. I still can't get over it.

One note to explain the crazy transportation - in a place where public transportation is neither accessible nor cheap (ahem, Jordan), we usually have to hire someone to drive us around to multiple sites. Here in Syria, public transportation is king. For the four of us, for a whole day of traveling to multiple sites all over the Hauran region, we paid a total of 571 lira. That's $11.42. I KNOW. Even if those kind souls who gave us free rides had insisted on being paid, it would only have been two or three dollars more. Amazing.

OK, one more thing about the transportation. One thing I love about taking public transportation is that you are absolutely taken care of. On our way from Damascus to Qanawat, we had about six fellow passengers discussing amongst themselves and the driver the best way for us to get to where we needed to go. They weren't about to let us just get dropped off at the bus station, completely disoriented. Oh, dear goodness, no. Together, they worked out a plan for us and then made sure we followed it. It was wonderful.

Here goes with the pictures. I have a few dozen but let's try only two since they're not working so well.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Back in the SAR (Syrian Arab Republic)

(I apologize in advance for any formatting wonkiness and I suspect that you might not be able to see the pictures, which is a crying shame. It's hard to blog without being able to see what I'm doing. I'll fix it when I can.)

Here we are in Syria again. Oh my gosh, I love this place. It's not an entirely rational feeling because on paper, Syria probably couldn't come close to places like Jordan, or even Egypt, as far as ease of living goes.

But there's ease, and then there's quality. And the quality here is very, very good.

The best part is, I would have been able to write that sentence in all earnestness, based on our previous experiences here, even before we arrived on Saturday afternoon. Before I saw the No Smoking signs in the airport actually being observed, and experienced the taxi drivers obediently using their meters and their seatbelts. Before I noticed the increased amount of green areas, and the shiny, brand-new, colorful playgrounds for children that have sprung up all over the city. Before I found out that mobile phone SIM cards now cost only 50 lira ($1) instead of the 1000 lira ($20) we paid six years ago. Damascus was good to us when we lived here, and it's an even better place now.

Some of this positive change comes at a price. Specifically, a taxi into the city from the airport now costs a whopping $30. It used to cost $10, and that was if you overpaid. Apparently, one company (rumored to be Budget Rent-A-Car) bought out all the taxi interests at the airport and then, having established a monopoly, raised the price. Sure, the taxis are much nicer now, but not $20 nicer.

On the whole, though, Damascus is brighter and more dynamic than ever. It's been three years since we were last here and I must have let the Syria boogeyman get to me a little bit in the meantime. If Syria gets any time in the press, it tends to be negative press, and my image of the country we once lived in somehow grew gloomy without my even realizing it.

That gloom dispelled immediately upon arrival...or possibly immediately upon exiting the airport and its gauntlet of immigration procedures. And even those have been improved since we first came here. We were helped along by the fact that strangers kept giving our kids candy. We totally let the girls eat it, too. I've always thought it was funny that Parenting Rule #1 in America (don't accept candy from strangers) is in direct opposition to Helpful Family-centered Society Tactic #1 in Syria.

It's great to be back.

Why so Syria?

We are in Syria now. More interesting posts to come, but I just wanted you to know that I am unable to access any blogs from here. I can post to my own blog but not view it. Nor can I respond to comments on my blog. Facebook is also blocked. It's funny because I was thinking about writing a post about how far Syria has come since our last visit, but on our last visit, blogs and facebook were allowed. So now I'm not sure what to say.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I wasn't quite ready to have The Death Talk yet

I saw a dead body on the road on the way to the Cairo airport today. It was covered up - only partially, and very pathetically - with a few towels. The police were on the scene directing traffic around the site of the accident. As best we could tell, it was the result of a car hitting a pedestrian, though a pedestrian never should have been crossing that road. It's a four-lane (five in a pinch) major highway/freeway.

The thing is, for all they preach about road safety in the Middle East, I've never actually witnessed a fatality here, until today. I've seen car accidents. I've seen car accidents happen. Heck, Jeremy was IN a car accident once in Damascus. But to have the body right there on the road...well, I've never seen that.

Unfortunately, Miriam caught a glimpse. And she's old enough now to know the most awkward questions to ask. So right there in the taxi, we had a discussion about what happened ("he didn't stop, look, and listen") (simplistic, I know, but what would you have said?), what our body does when it dies, what the man's family will do, and whether they'll ever see him again.

That was the best part of the discussion, when we got a little bit into the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how we will all be resurrected, too. I was glad to be able to teach my daughter that the man on the road would one day live again and so would his family, and they can be together.

I confess I didn't expect to be giving that lesson to my 4.5-year-old in the back seat of a taxi on the way to the airport in Cairo, Egypt, but there it is.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Flashback Friday: Sweeping bureaucracy down the stairs

A page from Miriam's passport. Now you know how it's possible that her passport is almost full.
Syria is a country that thrives on bureaucracy. Anyone trying to actually go there is first introduced to this fact upon applying for a entrance visa. Back in 2004, when I had to do just that, the visa application form was a mess. There was hardly any space to answer the questions (what is your mother's name? father's name? have you ever visited Occupied Palestine?) and the instructions for submission and payment were almost impossible to track down. If you did finally manage to suss them out, they still didn't really make sense. Basically, if you couldn't handle the visa application form, there was NO WAY you would be able to handle the country itself.

I tell you all this as background information, because once you were successfully inside the country, the bureaucracy didn't stop there. If anything, it only intensified. There are probably half a dozen Flashback Friday stories I could tell based solely on the experiences we had acquiring forms and obtaining permission to go places and do things in Syria. But there was one experience that typified them all.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Book Review: Taxi, by Khaled Al Khamissi

What I loved the most about Taxi, by Khaled Al Khamissi, was how it made modern Egyptian society so accessible. I've never read another book about the Middle East that was so engaging on such a basic level. There are no layers and wrappers of history and mystery and enigma and exoticism. It's just a dude writing about the many conversations he's had with taxi drivers in Cairo.

Through those conversations, the book touches on everything from politics to the education system to traffic to societal ills. The tone of the book is ultra-colloquial. Literally, it was originally written in colloquial Egyptian Arabic which is kind of a big deal for a published book. The English translation (by Jonathan Wright, and my hat is off to him) is very good and even though you can tell it's a translation, its tone captures the casual and immediate nature of its subject matter.

On Goodreads, I gave the book four stars for myself, but noted that its worth to readers at large is definitely five stars. I had to hold back from giving it that final, amazing star because the book was so accurate that it reminded me against my will of all the things that annoyed me the most about riding in taxis. The wild conspiracy theories. The political rants. The pathetically fake sob stories. The interminable traffic. The Koranic recitations turned up full blast on the radio. The smoking. If I had never experienced all this first-hand - or if I knew I would never have to experience it again - maybe I could have really embraced this book with a five-star rating.

But Taxi is now the first book I will recommend to someone who wants a basic introduction to the Middle East. It is informative, accessible, and absolutely engaging. (The Arabists, From the Holy Mountain, From Beirut to Jerusalem, Eastward to Tatary, Blood and Sand - those can (and should) come later.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

First ride on the Cairo metro

Yesterday, for the first time, I used a metro system in Arabia. Off the top of my head I can't think of any other Arab cities that even have a metro system, but I'm sure someone will remind me of them if they exist. If they do, I haven't been there, or if I've been there, I haven't used their metro.

The Cairo metro was hot and crowded, and now I know why my friend Nancy (who we're staying with) said that she could get just as sweaty and flustered taking the metro somewhere as walking there. Oh, the humanity. Maybe it was a mistake taking our first metro ride during the afternoon rush hour, but on the other hand, I hope it can only get less hot and crowded than it was today.

On the way to our destination, Jeremy and I and the girls sat in the mixed car. Well, we didn't really sit, not at first, because there weren't any seats. Then, of all the men to give up his place, it was an elderly, semi-infirm man instead of one of the dozens of young able-bodied ones. So I got a seat and each of the girls took turns sitting on my lap.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Impressions of Egypt

What to say about Egypt...

It's good to be back in the Middle East. I was smiling almost non-stop on the extremely crazy taxi ride from the airport to our friends' apartment, during which we came thiiiiis close to hitting other cars half a dozen times. I had forgotten how much I missed hordes of employees being paid to stand around and do nothing, or the constant sound of horns chirping and blaring, or the ubiquitous funny English you see everywhere. I had also forgotten about that special Middle East smell, baked to perfection this time of year in the 115-degree heat: a mixture of dust, petrol, baking bread, spices, body odor, and urine that brings back all my memories of Arabia. After any length of time spent walking around in sandals, said enhanced dust is caked all over your feet and let me tell you, it feels soooooo good to wash it off at the end of the day.

I realized almost immediately upon arrival that I would have to set the zany English bar higher than I thought, because there is just. so. MUCH. of it. I laughed and laughed when I saw a car labeled in huge letters, "JUMPO 7000," and rued the fact that I hadn't taken a picture of it. Not two seconds later, another car drove up, with the same mistake written on it. Hmm. Not quite so funny now. This one, though, I think was worth a picture:

And words cannot describe how happy I am to see stuff like this:

I didn't even know there were Kinder fridges. The smart shop-owners here keep their chocolatey goods in refrigerators because of the heat, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw Kinder chocolates getting their own space. Brilliant.

In other news, we got our cell phones some fancy Vodafone SIM cards so they can work on the Egyptian mobile network. I asked the clerk how much it cost to send a text message (19 piastres), and then I asked him if we were charged for receiving text messages in addition to sending them. He gave me the weirdest look as if to say, "of COURSE you don't get charged for receiving text messages, because that would be retarded. I can't even believe you just asked me that question." Take note, T-Mobile et al.

A few items of business:

-The weekend here is Friday/Saturday, so my posting habits may change to reflect that. But maybe not.

-We are hanging out in Cairo for a few days and then heading to Syria for some fun, kid-laden travel. We won't be settled in Alexandria for about two more weeks, so sorry, you'll have to wait a little longer for those pictures of the Mediterranean.

-But you will be getting some posts from Syria, which I think we can all agree is an extra special additional free bonus.

Carry on!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thoughts en route to Cairo

We made it to Cairo and are now happily and sleepily ensconced in our friends' apartment. It was quite the journey getting here, but I expected that, so no surprises there.

I was reminded of a few things, however, like how all foreign countries are the same, in that they are foreign. Upon landing at the Frankfurt airport, the sights, smells, and atmosphere immediately reminded me of all the other foreign countries I've ever been to. The bathroom smelled like bathrooms did in Russia (in a cleaning product sense, not a gross sense). The door handles reminded me of Jordan. The oddly worded signs in English reminded me of just about everywhere outside the States. After a little while, the idiosyncrasies of each individual country rise to the surface and distinguish it from other foreign places (often quite a bit). But every time I leave the US, it takes a little adjusting and everywhere is just Generic Foreign for a few days.

Killing layover time at the airport in Frankfurt.
The girls behaved themselves more or less. Specifically, Miriam behaved more and Magdalena behaved less. Sure, every time Miriam had to go to the bathroom - urgently, of course - was at an uncannily inopportune moment (during the initial check-in at the airport, right when it was time to board [that happened twice] [and of course we'd had hours and hours of layover but she didn't have to go then] and right during passport control in Egypt), but otherwise she did great.

The hard thing about Magdalena fussing so much, especially during the last flight, is that the people around us judged us based on their experience. Most of them were probably on their first, or MAYBE second flight of the day. We were on our third flight and coming up on 24 hours of straight traveling. So I would think we could all cut the 1.5-year-old some slack in the fitful unhappiness department. Not so, judging from some of the looks we got. Sigh. We've been through this before.

And now, to bed, to see if I can start chipping away at the jet lag. Maybe tomorrow you'll get some actual observations on, you know, EGYPT.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flashback Friday: An alarming experience

I won't go so far as to say that I am really out of FF stories, but since there are extenuating circumstances today (traveling to Egypt, etc.), you get a repeat. This was the first Flashback Friday ever, originally published 29 August 2008. Enjoy!

Sometimes I think of random stories from the past that would be fun to tell here on the blog, but I can't think of a way to introduce them as anything other than random stories from the past. So I'm thinking of instituting a Flashback Friday so that at least they can be cohesive random stories from the past. For the next few Fridays, I think the theme will be camping. I can't guarantee that there will always be a theme, or that I'll always be able to post them on Fridays, but here goes.

Also, a disclaimer: many of these stories will feature old friends, or maybe even newer ones, many of whom are readers of this blog. I apologize in advance if I get any details wrong. I'll always tell the story how I remember it, and if you remember it differently, tough. Feel free to correct me (or add to my memories) in the comments section.

One more disclaimer: I'm going to post photos, and some of you are in them with me, and we don't always look good. Maybe I should ask for permission first, but you know what? I don't know that I would get it, and I really want to post these photos. So let me know if you really, really don't want a photo of your 14-year-old self on my blog and I'll see if I can blur your face or something.

First, some background: For those of you who are not young Mormon women, Girls' Camp is a week-long, girls-only camping trip for youth ages 12ish to 18ish. The younger girls are divided into groups of 6 or 8 and then looked after by the older girls, who are counselors, usually in pairs. In the place and time that I went to Girls' Camp, we slept in rustic cabins featuring spider-infested bunks, at a large private (? - or at least rentable) campground. However, the specific location and accommodation style of Girls' Camp varies around the country

I have a lot of, um, interesting memories from Girls' Camp. I'll be completely up front here and admit that I didn't always enjoy the experience. In fact, I attended as few years as possible, basically the absolute minimum while still being a good sport about it. Though the "good sport" part is debatable. But I believe I'm in the minority on that point - most of my friends loved Girls' Camp and went back year after year and were eventually given general leadership positions over the whole thing.

Anyway. Girls' Camp, June 1996: our freshman year of high school had finished just a week or two earlier, and we were officially Counselors in Training, or "K.I.T.s" (don't ask about the spelling). This meant we got to go on a cool overnight hike in the woods and had just a few counselors over our entire age group instead of in our individual cabins.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

WE LEAVE FOR EGYPT TOMORROW.

Miriam's room has been re-christened as Egypt. Anything we're taking to Alexandria goes in her room so we can keep everything straight. Thus it is that we're walking around the house saying things like, "What about the Camelbak?" "Oh, I just put it in Egypt."

Things might go dark for a while on this blog, but I'll resurface as soon as possible. If I make it to the other side of 24 hours of trans-inter-multi-continental travel with children in one piece, that is. Let's hope I do!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Spring comes to Ithaca

For about the last month, I've been taking not-quite-daily pictures of a specific view from a path where I go running. I remember wishing I had done this in the fall when the foliage color change (and eventually, foliage loss) was so dramatic. Here are the results of my pictures, in which Spring comes to Ithaca.

(In case you're curious, the first picture was taken on April 4 and the last picture on May 10.)

video

Monday, May 10, 2010

My life, in boxes

Not that this blog is now all about getting rid of stuff or anything, but...

...I've been getting rid of a lot of stuff. We had a yard sale on Saturday and it went really well. I expected to be haggled down by all the yard sale pros, and I was. The most impressive person was a lady wearing headphones who picked through our stuff with alarming efficiency and managed to snatch up the things we had priced most competitively (read: too low).

What I didn't expect was to feel genuine happiness that other people - strangers, even - were finding joy in our old possessions. We had some pretty random items for sale but I was surprised and gratified when those items were exactly what someone was looking for (though no one ever did buy my old Syntax: A Minimalist Introduction book).

In preparation for the yard sale, I went through all the old boxes full of hud that we've had sitting around, including the dreaded Childhood Boxes. You know the ones I mean - they're full of old drawings and yearbooks and ratty blankets and junior high school notes, and your parents usually force you to take them after you've established yourself away from home. Maybe that works really well for someone who moves only once and then stays there forever. For perpetual movers like us, it really sucks.

So I went through the Childhood Boxes and decided to be ruthless. I was only going to keep things I really loved and throw sentimentality to the wind once and for all.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Flashback Friday: T-shirts of my past

Let's take a walk down memory lane via some important t-shirts of my past. Can you tell I've been on an organizing streak lately? Here are some shirts that are on their way to Salvation Army.

Final Cut, 2000. Jeremy and I went to Final Cut (the BYU's student film festival) for our first formal outing together back in 2000. I never wore the shirt. It was too big and too black. But it reminded me of, you know, our first formal outing. So I kept it. Until now. At least I'll have this picture to remember it by.

Metro League Track & Field Championships, 1997. This used to be one of my most favorite t-shirts ever. Somewhere along the way (probably long before I realized it) it stopped fitting well and started to be very stretched-out and unflattering. I do admire its understated, minimalist design, though. Most of the cross-country or track championship t-shirts I collected were garishly ugly. Not this one. And I will miss it.

Rex Lee Run, 2000. I had a few of these shirts from different years when I did the run back at the BYU, and I decided to get rid of all of them but one (the orange one).

William & Mary, circa 1998. The College of William & Mary was one of my options for undergrad back in the day. I think it's time to accept that I chose to go to the BYU instead.

BYU Physical Education. Speaking of which, here is this fantastic shirt that my brother bought (or salvaged for free?) for me in 1995ish. These were the old-style gym shirts at the BYU before they got classy and changed their official shade of blue to navy (I think they've since changed it again to royal). In the end, I didn't have the guts to get rid of this one so back in the drawer it went.

In case anyone is keeping track, my teal Oak Hills Honor Choir shirt didn't make the cut this year. I don't mind so much since I know it will make a Salvation Army white elephant gift seeker or t-shirt hunter very, very happy. But my Girl Scout Troop 106 t-shirt lives on!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Sorting foreign coins

I've been doing a lot of sorting and organizing lately and yesterday I got to the dregs - separating our big bag of change into the appropriate currency category. A plastic bag full of foreign coins and bills has been sitting in our bottom desk drawer for as long as I can remember, slowly accumulating bulk and getting more disorganized over the years. It was about time somebody did something about it.

To aid me in sorting the currency, I created piles like so:

My geography may be a little off but whatever. What I never realized was that there is so much about foreign currency to get annoyed about. For example, Syrian coins are covered in tiny Arabic words only - no English. So I had to squint and read the coin to confirm that it was from Syria instead of being able to just scan it for the English word, SYRIA. The Czech and Slovak monies are almost indistinguishable from each other, as are the Canadian and British money. I thought those last two were the same for a while - they both have a picture of Queen Elizabeth II on them along with a Latin inscription lauding her. It wasn't until I flipped them over that I noticed the difference.
British coin

Canadian coin


The Japanese money gave me the least trouble - many of the coins have holes in them or they're covered in large, obvious Japanese characters (or flowers!). Bless their hearts.

When I was almost done sorting into my neat little piles, I came across two Netherland coins that ruined everything. Where did they even come from? I've never been there, and if Jeremy has been there it certainly wasn't within the last 10 years.

So now my foreign coins are all in separate bags, neatly labeled. I'm not sure what I will do with them at this point. Obviously a few will come in handy very soon, but if anyone is planning a trip to Estonia, let me know. I've got some EEKs you can have. But the Euros are MINE. We fly through Frankfurt on our way to Alexandria and you better believe I'm going to find a way to spend them on Haribo candy and/or Milka/Kinder chocolate.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Live-blogging the Purge

OK, not really live-blogging, but here are a bunch of pictures. I was impressed with how early they got going, though they're not done yet. So far, they've collected the junk into piles in the front and back of each building. Some of the piles have already been hauled away (in a van, in case you were wondering).

This is the pile in front of our building. Not too bad of a turnout.

The Virgin Mary has been tagged

It's a pre-Apartment Complex Toy Purge Day Miracle:
(The tag is that fluorescent yellow thing secured inelegantly around her neck.)

Tomorrow is the big day. I'm thinking about popping some popcorn and going outside to watch the process. I think the property managers seriously underestimated the amount of junk they're going to have to haul away, so it should be fun.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Movies that are better than the books they're based on

Apropos of nothing, here are some movies I've been thinking about that are actually better than the books they're based on. You have to admit, these are the exception rather than the rule.

1. The Last of the Mohicans. Really, you could pronounce the movie better than the book based solely on the fact that the movie does not feature a scene in which Natty Bumppo dresses up as a bear. Or, for that matter, the fact that it never refers to Hawkeye/Nathaniel as "Natty Bumppo." But there are many other reasons. Michael Mann took a so-so classic book (along with many liberties) and made it AWESOME.

2. I Am David. Maybe this one is my fault - I read the book and I didn't really "get" it. I "got" the movie. So there you go.

3. The Painted Veil. I looooooved the movie so I was really excited to read the book. Too bad it was only meh AND the ending is different, and worse.

4. Gone With the Wind. This movie isn't better than the book it's based on, just as good as it. This is quite remarkable considering how epic and complicated it (the book) is. The casting alone is superb and my sister and I have fun thinking about who we would choose to play the main parts if they ever do a remake of this movie (Rhett Butler = George Clooney and Scarlett O'Hara = ...Jennifer Connely? I don't know if we ever decided.)

5. The Phantom of the Opera. In this case, I mean the musical is better than the book. I have to wonder if this book wasn't really a classic until Andrew Lloyd Webber made it so, because to me the story seemed uneven and poorly developed.

6. Mansfield Park. Sorry, Jane Austen, Fanny Price as written in the book may be righteous but she is also BORING. My favorite thing that the movie changed was that we can actually believe that Henry Crawford reforms himself for Fanny's sake. The book never misleads you like that. But in the movie, it's a pleasant misdirection.

What did I miss?

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