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


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.