Saturday, December 20, 2008

One of My Favorite Things About the End of the Year

Presidential candidate Barrack Obama at a rally, in the rain.

I don't know about you, but I get into all the end-of-the-year countdowns, 10 Best lists, retrospectives and the many different ways we find to look back over the past 12 months, this year we just lived. Some of them are of course unnecessary--I don't need to watch a countdown of 40 Unforgettable Moments from Season 10 of The Bachelorette, for example--but there's a lot of quality stuff out there, too.

Probably my favorites each year are the photo collections. So many of the lists that come out, like book and film lists are so subjective and exclusionary, but Best Photo collections, the Year in Pictures, are hard to argue with, and are something that can be immediately appreciated. 

I always forget to anticipate them until they are released, but the best photography of the year often affects me on several levels. First, of course, the aesthetic. Photography is one of my favorite art forms, perhaps because I have some inkling of how hard it is to get a really wonderful picture--at least, if your subject matter is something other than small children, puppies or kittens. A professional news photographer may take 800 shots and find three or four that are worth publishing, if that many.

Another thing I love about these collections is the time capsule aspect--the visual record, beautifully told, of who we were at this moment in time. Seeing some of the highlights of the major news stories, in pictures, helps me reflect on how the world changed this year, or didn't, and what that might mean for the future.

Finally, because of the inclusive, international nature of these news photography collections, I am always astounded by how much I don't know about the past year and the world around us. Reading the photo captions, I learn about conflicts, spectacles, disasters, sports, natural wonders, and even whole cultures I did not know existed. It drives home the idea that my little life, sitting in my Arkansas home, typing on my laptop, following the Oscar season, cooking dinner, while it is 99 percent of what I experience, is only the tiniest fragment of life on this great, beautiful, painful and wondrously diverse planet. It's awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

Someday, I hope to be able to travel the world. It's one of my great hopes. Until then, I'm content to let brave and talented photographers show me what's out there.

Here is a link to a collection I found last night of 120 of the year's best photographs, separated into three parts. It takes a while to get through them and read the captions, but they are worth it. The editors acknowledge that these pictures are not necessarily THE definitive best, and that there are countless more that tell other also-worthy stories. I think they did a fine job. I know some of you won't be able to load so many photos on your computers, so I will post a few here, as well.

Full captions and dozens more great photographs are on the original site. Click on the pictures for bigger versions.

Good stuff.

This volcano erupted in Chile for the first time in thousands of years, attracting an electrical storm as it erupted, which apparently is a common phonomenon:

Students at a Chinese martial arts school:

A giant mechanical spider at a cultural festival in Liverpool, England. Freaky:

Diving Asian fella:
Massai warriors going into battle against warring tribes with bows and arrows. I thought at first they were hunting antelope, then realized they were hunting people:

This is an Important Physics Thing that may solve many mysteries of particle physics when it gets activated next year. I think it looks like a lion or sun emblem, something that would look pretty on my wall:

A mother learns her child was killed in a conflict between Georgia and Russia. Her husband tries to comfort her:

A real live Viking festival. I bet there is grog.

Children of a fallen police officer who died while investigating a bank robbery comfort each other at a funeral in I believe Pennsylvania.

Drummers at the Opening Ceremonies at the Summer Olympics in Beijing:

A view from the base camp on Mount Everest at night:

Rescuers try to save a donkey buried in rubble after an earthquake:

An indigenous Amazonian mother tries to keep police from forcing her family off their ancestral home. She did not succeed:

A whole lot of people going to a ski festival or competition:

Red balloons on the beach in Rio di Janeiro to bring attention to the thousands of poor who will be murdered there in the coming month. 

A swimmer, suspended in time:

I think this looks like a classic movie set, something very melodramatic, but it's actually a burned trailer park in California:

A child being lowered into a sapphire mine in Madagascar:

A U.S. Marine, dwarfed by the majesty of ancient ruins in Iraq:




 


Friday, December 19, 2008

Ta-Da!

Yup, I did it. I finished. How? Because I rock. That's how. : )

I still have to take some pictures of girl scouts in the morning, and I still have some Medical News articles to finish before the New Year, but my slew of pre-Christmas deadlines are now history. 

I'll be working Monday and Tuesday on more articles in the hopes of knocking some out before the holiday. My new niece will be here in the state (I believe she's also bringing her parents, Laura and Kyle) and I'm hoping to get some auntie bonding time in sometime during that week between Christmas and New Year's, so I want to have as little work hanging over me as possible. 

Although I am now done, the Chez Boulden weekend celebration is not yet getting underway. Ben is having a similarly intense workload this week, and just when he thought he was about out from under it, more breaking news happened. He is staying at work late tonight, possibly as late as he's had to stay since I've known him, likely five or six hours after he normally comes home. Plus, he has to go back and work at least one day this weekend. Poor guy. 

I'm about to go take him some dinner and then come home and straighten up so it's a more pleasant place to come home to when he finally gets off work. He is taking off a whole week and then some after Christmas. I'm hoping he can rest and recover, rejuvenate then, cause he's getting more rundown right now than I like to see. 

Ben's a wonderhusband in every way, every single day, and I love him dearly. He's really an amazing guy and even loves me back. I am so lucky to have found him. Must go take care of him now and give him a hug. 




One to go...

Of the 16 articles I've been writing lately, I have just one to go, due in a couple of hours. 

My typin' fingers are stubby little nubs now, but the light at the end of the tunnel is shining on my face...

Now back at it for another bit, and then, perhaps just perhaps, a weekend!

Ah, there's my motivation. Catch ya later. I gots writings to write. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Overwhelmed with Work? Time to Blog.

I've done it again, gone and gotten myself overbooked with work assignments, none of which pay much, but all of which help keep the heat on. I do that, always have, maybe always will. So far, it's worked out okay. I think the stress gets to a certain point and then it just gets kind of numb and I go into Turbo Jen mode for a few hours that somehow are about 800 percent more productive than any in the preceding three months. And then I collapse and start to feel the stress again, but all washing away instead of building up.  

No time to blog, but I'm at a point where I'm waiting on callbacks, out of energy to make more calls. So blogging, even if I don't have the mental energy to say anything much interesting.

With the glorious exception of becoming an aunt to the world's cutest baby, it's been kind of a rough week here at Casa Boulden. Ben and I have both been stretched thin (unfortunately, only figuratively) with work, made more difficult by sharing the car. Money's tight as usual, but tighter. We're a long way yet from going hungry or anything, but for the first time in our marriage a trip to the grocery store really does need to last until the next paycheck, so there is markedly more room in my pantry than I'm used to having. I've had to get creative with the budget cooking even when nothing I can find in the kitchen remotely inspires me. We decided to discontinue our cable TV, going down to the most bare bones level. We took the digital box back and the guy came out today and disconnected the vestigal channels. No more cable news, movies, or the cable shows we watch. That's ok, though; we actually feel good about making that sacrifice for the sake of the household budget and we own more books and DVDs than we ever find time to get to, so we aren't hurting for entertainment options. It'll be kind of fun, I think, disconnecting from the "talking picture box." Since I work from home and depend on the Internet to do my job, we haven't disconnected it.

Anyway, just when we're being bombarded with advertisements and incentives to purchase all the shiny, best things for the people we love lest these stores go out of business and everyone in America loses their jobs. There are some great deals out there, but they all require money I don't seem to have. It's frustrating. Even when I was making plenty of money, there was never *really* enough to get my family and friends everything I'd like. I'm trying to be creative, thrifty and a bargain shopper, make some of the gifts. There's a challenge in that I like, and they are fun to do, but it's also a lot more work and I'm already up to my elbows in projects. Me and my ideas. We'll see how many manage to come to fruition. 

Today, Ben got a small "bridge loan" from one of his brothers to tide us over through this particularly low fundage week until my next check arrives. I hate to have to do that--we've had to before and always try to repay it pretty quickly--but he was very gracious about it to us, no questions or recriminations. No strings. 

It's nice to have help, and nice to know that much as they may need things themselves, my family understands tough times and doesn't have unrealistic expectations of mountains of lavish presents, the kind I'd like to give. It's good to come from a family that knows that's not what Christmas is really about.

I'd been feeling kind of humbuggy, but I mustered up enough optimism and energy over the weekend (actually, I think I was still high on having a niece) to get the Christmas decorations down and put up the tree. No one is coming over likely this season considering our schedule and Ben and I are not exchanging gifts or stockings--but it is nice to have the tree with all the ornaments we've already collected in the three years we've been married. It's lovely, festive, quiet and undemanding, and didn't cost a thing.  

Here are a few pictures. I haven't yet discovered the trick to taking good pictures of Christmas trees, mine never do them justice. Still pretty, though:





Friday, December 12, 2008

It's a Brand-New, Beautiful Day. Meet Abigail.

My first niece was born today, right about sunrise. Her name is Abigail Katherine Shachmut, and she is beautiful, perfect, amazing. I'm already ridiculously proud of her and of my sister and brother-in-law for making her and bringing her into this world. I'm joyful for my parents, who became grandparents today, for my grandmother, who has her first great-grandchild, for my brother who is going around feeling impossibly "uncley" and giddy with glee. 

We hope to meet her over Christmas, if everything goes according to plan and the new family can safely make the trip from Boston. I want to hold her and kiss her on the nose, tell her how wonderful life is, how much richness she has in store for her. I want to tell her that she has parents who are amazing, remarkable people in their own right and tons of family and friends who will love her each day of their lives. I want to watch her grown into her own little person, hear her laugh, soothe her tears. I want her to come to me for advice someday, or call me to tell me about how funny something this totally gorgeous boy in her class did was, or just stop over, banging the screen door behind her to cop a few fresh-baked cookies from the counter and plop on my couch. I want to watch her do her first Tiny Tiger taekwondo moves, and I want to watch her graduate from high school. I want to be her aunt and her friend, as mine have been for me. I want to be in her life, always, for good.

Here are some pictures, sure to cuten anyone's day and definitely to class up this blog:

Abigail Katherine Shachmut
Born December 12, 2008
Brighton, Massachusetts












Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quick thoughts while dinner finishes cooking

  • Insta-realization: I keep wanting to like ground turkey, but I just don't. Except in certain turkey burgers. Other than that, it just tastes like ground beef that's gone off. Which bodes poorly for the dinner I've just fixed of turkey mac (chili mac with turkey). But sometimes you just have to clean out the pantry and fix what you've got. 
  • I wrote four articles today to meet my deadline. Wasn't as prepared as I should have been, but got 'em done. That's what I do. I feel better now and am temporarily resolute to do the next five in steps over the next week instead of all at once. We'll see. 
  • Project Clunkerpool is going better the past two days. I've been busy, so have just stayed home. Amazing how few car problems I have when I don't leave the house. Starting to get a little stir-crazy, though. 
  • When you're going stir-crazy in the house, walks with the dog are especially good. The weather has been cold and fairly icky, but I've found that if I bundle up everything but my face, it's just refreshing, not miserable. 
  • My sis is still pregnant, hanging around in limbo waiting to meet the daughter she will know and love for the rest of her life. I think that must be an amazing feeling, knowing you will love this little person, always, more than anything, and no matter what happens, and yet not knowing anything about them except how hard they kick your insides and that they used to give you nausea. Love's neat that way.
  • I can only imagine the deluge of emotions she's going to go through between now and the end of the month. We're an emotional people, we Armstrong/Brooks clan, deeply in love with family and friends and holidays and carols, Hallmark commercials, and random sweet moments and bits of beauty. Having a firstborn child this time of year, wow. That's intense. Good intense, I hope, and nothing but happy. 

Monday, December 8, 2008

Needing Some Hail Marys

The saying absence makes the heart grow fonder is true for cars as well people, I can now report.

Ben and I are facing the prospect of sharing one remarkably unreliable car for the next two weeks while our one good car, the Scion, is in the body shop. It is finally its time to get the extensive hail damage from April repaired, and it may be in the shop for two weeks. Believe it or not, this is actually earlier than expected. Because of the thousands of cars in Fort Smith damaged by the golf-ball-sized hail here in that giant April storm, the body shops have been booked solid through well into next year. Our appointment was scheduled to be in February, maybe March (nearly a year after the storm), but Ben called a few days ago to see if there was an opening sooner, and they actually had one. 

That, plus the fact that the detailed estimate they gave us was lower than the insurance estimate, so we likely (fingers crossed) won't be out of much from our pockets for the repair, is the good news. 

The bad news is that during this very busy holiday season, for the next two weeks we have to share Ben's 17-year-old Honda Civic. Ben, always the noble one, drives it most regularly, and lets me drive the Scion XB we bought new just before I lost my job. The Scion is comfortable, cute, safe, reliable, spacious. The Civic is none of these, and though it drives passably well for Ben most days, it has a propensity for dying at inopportune times. Particularly, any time I drive it.

This morning, for instance, as we were (no joke) leaving the body shop and casting an eye towards a major wreck that had occurred minutes before a few hundred feet from where we were, the car died as we were pulling out on the street. The full length of it blocked two lanes of oncoming traffic just over the crest of a small hill as we attempted to get it started, had the gearshift lock up on us, then get it started again and try to keep it going as we dodged the oncoming traffic from two directions and the emergency vehicles already blocking traffic from the other direction. It was a minute or two of panic, topped off with almost getting hit by a firetruck rushing to the scene. It all worked out, of course, and though the car died exactly seven more times on the way home from dropping Ben off at work, I did in fact, get home safely. 

I will not be going out for lunch today.

Insurance reimbursement for car rental is not very much, so a rental for two weeks will get pretty pricey pretty fast. We're trying to see if we can finesse our scheduling so we can just share the Civic until the Scion is ready, but Project Clunkerpool did not get off to an auspicious start.

I'm not Catholic, but considering the nature of the storm that caused this problem, a few Hail Marys for Ben and me seems in order. We need all the help we can get. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Habit of the Month: Straightening the Living Room before Bed

Hello, girls and boys, it's that time again. Time for another of Jennifer's crowd-pleasing Habit of the Month posts! 

[waits for cheers of applause and exclamations of joy]

Seeing as I have successfully mastered the fine art of keeping the bathroom clean every day for the past month and a half (YAY!), it's time to move on to the next domestic challenge. This one will make an even bigger difference in our household happiness, since it involves significantly more square footage, and that square footage directly connected to our front door. 

Ben and I are each independently  and even more so together, clutterbugs. Stuff just accumulates around us and then breeds more stuff. I think I get this from my Armstrong side. Not sure about Ben. Anyway, the living room--being the room in which we do much of our living--is ground zero for daily clutter. 

So for the next month, I pledge to straighten the living room every night before I go to bed, so it is fresh and inviting every morning and no matter who drops in unannounced during the day, there will never be more than a few hours worth of clutter. 

Since much of this month the house will be decked out in Christmas decor, this ought to be fun. And since I usually do holiday mess-spreading things like wrapping presents and leaving random packages in the living room, it ought to be something of a challenge this month, too. 

Anyway, that's the habit for this month. If it gets too hard or scary, look for me in the bathroom. At least it's staying clean. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Sharp Insight, Unbidden

I meant to write about this a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still thinking about it, and in light of the upcoming holiday it seems somehow apropos.

There are certain odd moments that are for whatever reason permanently seared into my memory. I'm not talking about the important Kodak moments--birthdays and graduations and getting married. Those are supposed to be there. But others just remain, and remain forever associated with certain triggers. For instance, whenever I'm driving around a curve on the highway at enough speed, I always think about my aunt Y telling me when I was about 11 and she was driving me around a winding road to Camp Tanako that she'd finally figured out the secret to those curves was to slow down a little bit on entering them, then speed up at the end. Now, Y has told me many a memorable thing in my life, but I can't go around a curve without remembering her voice saying that. Every time, it comes unbidden, even though I long ago figured curves out myself. It's a little irritating, but at least that particular memory is fairly useful. They aren't all.

The first time I remember noticing this phenomenon I was about seven and sitting on the front step of our house in Little Rock, kind of picking at the grass and mulling over life. Ironically, I don't remember what I was remembering at the time, but I thought to myself, "OK, if something doesn't have to be important for me to remember always, can just be anything, I'm going to test it by trying to remember the most boring thing possible for the rest of my life." I then tested my theory by staring at a nondescript section of my blue corduroy pants for about 30 seconds until my eyes glazed over. Of course it worked. That diagonal pattern of fuzzy cornflower blue is what first springs into my mind whenever I think about these random memories and associations. I'm pretty tired of that particular image after thinking about it regularly for the past 27 years, but it's here to stay.

I've been thinking about these because of a small thing that happened a couple of weeks ago when I was tutoring the girls down at the jail (I still really love the tutoring, even if me teaching math is scary for all involved). I had two students that day, and we were working out geometry problems when one of the girls broke her pencil lead in the middle of something I was explaining. She looked startled and said, "Oh, my pencil lead broke! Am I in trouble?"

I said, "Of course not, we'll just get you a new one," and proceeded to try and finish explaining the volume of a cylinder formula to Girl #2, but she was no longer paying attention. She was staring at Girl #1 in horror. 

"Where did it go? We have to find it!" she cried, and got on her hands and knees, searching the ground.

"What's going on?" I asked, as Girl #1 joined her on the floor and looked like she was about to cry.

Girl #2, who had been incarcerated longer, explained that a sharp pencil point could be used as a weapon, so if you broke a pencil and didn't find the lead, the guards would have to strip search you to make sure you weren't concealing it. Then they would have to search your cell from top to bottom as you sat naked on the bed and another guard watched over you.

"Just me, or all of us?" said Girl #1, tears suddenly streaming down her face as she stopped the search for a moment to ask.

"Both of us!" her friend said, in a hushed, urgent whisper, "but not her, of course," indicating me.

I spent about five seconds looking for the stray pencil lead on the speckled concrete floor, then told them to just call the guards and it would probably be fine. The guilty girl got a guard's attention through the glass that looks into the control room, and a female guard came to see what we needed. 

Before I could explain, the girl said, her voice shaking, "I broke my pencil, and we can't find the lead, but we've been looking for it really hard and can't find it anywhere and I didn't mean to get in trouble."

The guard, a nice woman who had let me in earlier, looked at me and at the terrified girls, shook her head and said,"What was it, just a pencil lead? That's OK this time. Do you need me to get you a new pencil?"

And that was that. The girls said they were lucky, that they were OK because I was in there supervising them. Maybe there would never have been a strip search for something as tiny and un-weaponlike as a pencil lead, but the girls fully believed there would be, a consequence of being incarcerated in a place where security is necessarily top priority and likely of a life's worth of getting in disproportionate amounts of trouble for anything they did wrong.

I realized how little I understood about their daily lives, both before they came here and while they served out their sentences. To me, a broken pencil lead has never been more than a nuisance. To them, it was terrifying.

And thus, I know that I will remember that incident every single time I break a pencil lead, or perhaps even look at one. I take my freedom for granted, I know, and my privacy, too. It's not something that--despite my teenage complaints to my parents--has ever been an issue in my life. For many, though, a life without freedoms is the reality, perhaps all they know.  

Thinking about tomorrow, Thanksgiving, it gives me one more thing for which to be thankful. And it's one thing I'll not be sorry to remember, time and again.



Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Laura!


Today is my little sister's birthday. She turns 26, a great age, in my opinion. I was thinking about what to write, and--as it so often does in our family--a little rhyme spilled out. (There are better and more sophisticated forms of poetry, but we're not a very sophisticated family, so this is the kind that comes most naturally to all of us. My apologies to the aesthetically sensitive.)

For Laura, with love. Thanks for changing my life 26 years ago, and every day since. Happy birthday!

My World, With Laura In It

The first years of my life 
Were an only-child treat
Yet somehow our family 
Didn't feel quite complete.

So I began asking for a sister,
Pleading year after year,
But until I was nine,
None did appear.

I wanted a sister to dress up like a doll
A best friend to teach about diaries
And take on shopping sprees to the mall.

And then she arrived, one night in November,
And everything changed, all I remember.

For all the sisterly dreams I had erected,
The actual sister was not quite as expected.

She took up space, took up my time.
The toys I outgrew were no longer mine.
She cried and fussed and filled diaper after diaper
(And whenever she'd soiled them the worst
Seemed to be when I had to wipe her).
She broke my things, then wet my bed.
Yes, having a sister was quite different instead.

It was different, yes, but
Though it took a while to unearth it
Having a sister was entirely worth it.

As a baby, she'd smile and look up at me
With eyes filled with wonder,
She'd laugh at my silly faces
And cling to me during thunder.

She'd hold onto my finger 
Because her hand was so tiny
And gradually she became
Markedly less whiny.

She grew and she grew
Getting more fun each year,
A daily joy
Though far or near.

We look nothing alike,
Not one single bit,
But even so,
We're as close as sisters get.

I call her all the time
And she even calls me back.
We have keen sister-sense,
A kind of psychic knack
For feeling what's up with the other
Or knowing when something's down,
For thinking the same crazy things
In our two very separate towns.

I both adore her and tease her,
But she gives as good as she gets,
And though I got a nine-year head start,
I'm no match for her wits.

She's someone charming and funny,
But simple and true.
She likes finding little happy things
And making them, too.

Now she's making another small, happy thing,
A new daughter (and niece!)
So as my baby sister turns again older and wiser
I'm wishing her new family a world full of peace.

I wish her a world of surprises
A world of motherly delight,
A world of sweet joys
And a future that shines bright.

It's the beautiful world I know,
Made more beautiful still,
By the sister I've loved from the start
And the hearts that she fills.



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Movie Alphabet Meme

This is one of those memes that's making its way through the cinematic blogosphere. While this isn't a movie blog, I haven't started one of those yet, so this will have to do. 

I tag Laura, Melisser, and anyone who wants to play along either on their blog or in the Comments. 

THE RULES
  1. Pick your favorite film to represent each letter of the alphabet.
  2. The letter "A" and the word "The" do not count as the beginning of the film's title, unless the film is simply titled A or The. No legitimate films are named A or The, so don't try it.
  3. Movies go by whatever name they were known by for their theatrical release. For example, Return of the Jedi belongs under "R" not "S" as in Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. This rule applies to all films in the original Star Wars trilogy. Same thing with Raiders of the Lost Ark--it goes under "R," not "I" for Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Conversely, all the Lord of the Rings films belong under "L" and all films in the Chronicles of Narnia series belong under "C," as that's what those filmmakers called their films from the start. Confused yet? Don't worry about it; it's not like you're going to get fined. 
  4. Films that start with a number are filed under the first letter of their number's word. Thus, 12 Monkeys would be filed under "T."
  5. These don't have to be what you think are the best movies ever made, just the movies that if you had to watch a movie that started with that letter, you'd never mind watching. Thinking of it as Movies I Could Watch At Any Given Moment, Regardless of Mood or as Movies I Always Get Sucked Into Watching When They Are On TV is a good rule of thumb. 
  6. Any feature film counts, as long as it's on imdb.com. Docs, dramas, comedies, horror, whatever. TV and mini-series and made-for-tv movies don't.
  7. You have to have actually seen the movies and be able to recommend them. 
  8. Select more people to play along. 
  9. Change the rules if you don't like them.
JENNIFER'S LIST:

Annie Hall 
Blade Runner
Chicago
Departed, The
Eight and a Half (8 1/2)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Godfather, The
Harold and Maude
In America
Journey of Natty Gann, The
King Kong
Lives of Others, The
Mary Poppins
No Country for Old Men
O Brother Where Art Thou?
Pan's Labyrinth
Queen, The
Ratatouille
Shawshank Redemption
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Usual Suspects, The
Vertigo
Waiting for Guffman
Xanadu
You Can't Take It with You
Zorro, the Gay Blade

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Odd Moment of the Morning

After doing my tutoring this morning at the detention center, I decided to stop by the grocery store for a few ingredients for supper. 

I was walking towards the entrance, and this heavyset-but-perfectly-fit-looking middle-aged black man was walking out of the store carrying two or three bags of groceries. 

He saw me and said, "Would you put these groceries in that car over there?"

I looked to see what he was talking about. He didn't look old or frail or really in need of help, but maybe I wasn't seeing the whole picture. I probably looked bewildered, but said, "That car?" and pointed to the old Pontiac he was heading towards.  

Then he just laughed.

"Aw, I'm just messin' with you. This is America, that's what you gotta do. You gotta mess with people in this country, have some fun. It's what we do here."

And then he walked off, laughing and laughing and laughing.

And I walked into the store, laughing myself, so maybe he was right.  

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Things I Learned This Weekend

  1. Papa's pizza is even better after just meeting a big deadline and writing for 10 hours straight.
  2. People at the next table who throughout dinner repeatedly rock the opposite side of the booth you're sitting on by pressing back on the seat to wiggle their fingers into their too-tight jeans pockets over and over despite me angrily and unsubtly, pressing the seat back towards them really make me mad. It's just rude and unnecessary.
  3. When ordering a custom omelet with everything...don't. Just pick a couple of ingredients or so. Otherwise you'll end up with cheese, onions, tomatoes, peppers, olives, bacon, ham, sausage, jalapenos and a few other things, wrapped in a thin layer of egg. Not good.
  4. No matter how incredibly good the coffee is, if Ben has the equivalent of about 8-10 cups of it, he's going to regret it later. 
  5. When shopping for a baby shower for a little girl, it's almost impossible to resist the urge to buy something pink.
  6. Someone in Fort Smith makes incredibly good cupcakes with incredibly good lemon icing that I am just going to have to learn to make.
  7. Baby showers are mostly all the same, except when you are related to the baby of honor or except when they have incredibly good cupcakes with incredibly good lemon icing. 
  8. Walking the dog on a late autumn afternoon is the best. 
  9. I still like the movie Castaway a lot, perhaps because I only saw the last hour of it.
  10. The Nazis were way more into art than I ever realized and the story of the massive numbers of masterpieces that were stolen or accidentally or purposefully destroyed during the war is pretty fascinating, even though the documentary "The Rape of Europa" about it could have been better.
  11. Starbucks' new gingersnap lattes are not as good as the gingerbread lattes were, and the shreds of real ginger in them are kind of weird.
  12. It really is best not to discuss politics over lunch with opinionated mothers-in-law who completely disagree with your views, but if you have to, best to do it as you are already on your way out the door and telling her you love her and appreciate her cooking.  
  13. Ben finds it hard to relate to films about French teenage synchronized swimming girls coming of age. 
  14. When soaking a cotton shirt in bleach, don't forget it and leave it in your best stainless-steel bowl overnight and expect your bowl not to be corroded almost completely through in the morning..
  15. When washing something that has soaked in bleach all night and corroded your best bowl and gotten a nasty rust stain on it as a result, don't then try to wash it in the washing machine, even on gentle cycle. It disintegrates.
  16. Peanut brittle that you bought from an eager volunteer outside the grocery store promoting autism awareness tastes better than other peanut brittle.
  17. Dexter is a very well-written show, if creepy as all get-out and even if it is about a serial killer. It's interesting and not gratuitous.
  18. Mountains of clean clothes don't fold themselves any more than dirty clothes do and can be equally overwhelming.
  19. Slipcovers are so named because they slip and they will be my forsworn nemesis until the end of time. Or maybe just my frenemy
  20. Weekends are wonderful, whatever minutiae they entail, when I spend them with Ben. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yes, We Did

I am so proud of my country tonight. Ben had to work the newspaper's election coverage, so I had to stay home watching the returns come in by myself. I was tapping away at my computer, trying to convince myself I was calmly following the election results, taking nothing for granted, keeping my emotions in check, Obama-style. Then from across the cacophony on the TV a phrase broke through: "Barack Obama has won the presidency. He will be the next President of the United States," and that was that. I became a bawling, shaking, flooding ball of unmitigated joy. 

Then the scenes that followed on the TV: shot after shot of people hearing the news, breaking down like I just had, young people cheering, old people crying, black people doubled over in euphoria and disbelief at the historic moment. This is history, I thought. This is one of those defining moments in the history of the world and I'm experiencing it, I'm part of it. It was as intense as 9/11, but with joy and hope replacing that day's fear and despair. 

I've been an Obama supporter from the beginning, and by that I mean from about two seconds after I first heard him speak, the day after the 2004 Democratic Convention, when the morning NPR show was all abuzz with this amazing new keynote speaker. They played clips, and I was enchanted. That morning, I thought, "This man has greatness about him (with some people, you can just feel it). He could be President someday." The thought gave me chills. 

The more I heard about him over the next couple of years, the more excited I got. He was everything I wanted in a candidate--smart, articulate, thoughtful, respectful, self-made, engaging, inspirational and on the right side (mine) on almost every issue. Plus, his personal story and his melting pot genetics seemed to me just the thing the country needed to bring us back together and make some big changes. Other than giving him a sex change and making him an avowed Academy Awards buff, it would be hard to design a candidate I'd like more. 

Curious about digging a little deeper into what this guy was about, Ben and I listened to his audiobook of The Audacity of Hope a few months before he announced his candidacy. We were wowed by his writing, his positions, his ideas about what this country could do and how we both needed to and could bring everyone together to effect real change, not further divide us. I was officially hooked, in for the long haul.

So of course, feeling this passionate about a first-term senator I'd never met from another state, I was also convinced he was too good to ever be elected, ever do more than be a "what if?" It would never happen. When he announced his candidacy, I couldn't decide how I felt. I was excited, but he was such a longshot, it seemed rash. America needed him, but wouldn't recognize that yet. As much as I wanted him in the White House today, I didn't trust the American people to put him there. They're the ones who twice elected George W. Bush, after all. 

But they did recognize that greatness about him. Over and over, people chose to believe in Obama, just as I had, despite the relentless smears and overt bigotry that dominated too much of the campaign. Tonight, enough people chose him to make him the 44th President of the United States, the first African-American ever elected to the nation's highest office. 

Over the past two years, I've become an incorrigible political junkie. I live online and have followed this election with the intensity of a bloodhound tracking a leaky meat truck. It's been an intense experience, this roller coaster of an election that brought new twists, new highs, new crises and world developments, new outrages, and new encouragements every day. It's changed me, I'm sure, though I'm still figuring out how. As disheartened and sick as I was over the past eight years, as cynical as I was becoming about the political process, I am sure it was and is and will remain change that I, at least, need to experience in myself. 

Tonight, though, I am just proud to be an American, tired, euphoric, overcome. Here, now, in this moment of profound grace and beauty, it's an amazing time to be alive.