Sunday, January 30, 2011

Road Trip: San Antonio

We went to San Antonio yesterday! A few days ago Megan told me that she and Eric were planning on going up, so Mike and I decided to drive down and hang out with them for a day. We left super early Saturday morning and had a great time on the way there, learning about the Mafia and Dead Duck Day from our favorite podcasts, driving through Austin, and taking pictures of some really fantastic billboards.

 Something was totally going down at this guy's house!
We got to San Antonio a little early, so we decided to kill some time at Trinity University while we waited for Megan and Eric to get out of the temple. 

I found some pretty flowers.
We met up at Half Price Books, which was pretty old and trashy in an artsy way, and ended up spending way more time there than we thought we would. (Not that we should have been surprised.) 




We were starving at this point, since Mike and I had put off eating lunch, knowing that they'd probably also want to eat when they got out of the temple. We decided to find food at the Rivercenter Mall, since it's near the Alamo and the Riverwalk, which were two of the three main items on our list.
We were excited to hear some gorgeous Inca music being played by a live band, but by the time we'd gotten our food and headed back outside to eat they'd been replaced by a gag-inducing recording of Inca flutes playing songs like "Lady in Red" and "How Deep is Your Love." We were deeply disappointed.


But then, finally, it was time to head to the Alamo! Eric and I had been before, but Mike and Megan were Alamo virgins (and trying to get the appropriate Alamo mood going):
Actually I've only been to the Alamo once before, and it was a long time ago, so I'd forgotten a lot about it--like the fact that the whole plaza surrounding it is full of weird carny-type stores like Ripley's Believe It or Not, Tomb Rider, a million ice cream stores, and some haunted zombie something-or-other. Also, the truth is that the Alamo itself is pretty underwhelming; it isn't very big, and also isn't even the original building, which was mostly leveled in the battle. 


After leaving the Alamo and being very nearly deafened by a musket or something shot by two guys dressed like Davy Crockett, we walked several blocks down to the San Fernando Cathedral, which was the thing I'd been looking forward to the most. The building was beautiful, and though we could tell there was some kind of event happening, we couldn't figure out what, since it included regularly dressed people in the pews, a procession full of dressed-up men and boys waiting outside the doors, a mariachi choir, and these guys:



After the cathedral we made our way back to the mall by way of the Riverwalk, which is gorgeous. Mike and I decided we want to live in San Antonio just so we can spend all our time there, listening to live jazz and eating and watching for people to fall in the river.
We'd planned on getting sushi for dinner, but it ended up that we were still kind of full from lunch; instead we got yummy Jamba Juice, which was exciting for Megan and me because we never get to have those anymore now that the nearest Jamba isn't five minutes away. By then it was already a lot later than we'd planned to leave, and since we all had a 4 1/2-5 hour drive ahead of us, we said our farewells and got on the road. The drive home was a lot less fun because it was dark and about halfway through I got so tired I literally couldn't keep my head up, so Mike was my hero and kept himself awake while I took several consecutive naps for the last two hours. We did get to spend some time seriously rocking out together to my excellent road trip playlist, though, which was so much fun. We are really fun people to road trip with. 


So in the end, it looks like having my best friend move to Texas but still live 9 hours away isn't going to be as useless as I thought it would! Eric's brother lives in Houston so they'll be up there sometimes, and it's much closer to us than San Antonio, so we have no complaints. We also have tentative plans for Austin, which is beautiful, and I'm pretty excited. Yay for road trips!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Again... Nice Try

Saw someone post this on Facebook: Mormon Miss America contestant's modest swimsuit draws Christian blogger's praise.


This girl wore a one-piece. A nice effort, sure. But--is it just me?--I feel like the fact that it's a one-piece is maybe negated a little bit by the substantial amount of cleavage she's showing in it.


And then there's her dress, which is beautiful, but sleeveless. She wouldn't wear that dress to church, and she couldn't wear it on campus at BYU or to the temple... So why is she wearing it in a pageant where she's representing her faith?


Of course this is much better than a lot of what else is out there; but the thing is, it's still not appropriate according to Church standards. The statement that makes is nothing new--that you have to compromise to fit in. So in the end, what did she really accomplish?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nice Try.

Sorry, Sensa, but that "before" picture looks better than the "after" one. Good work promoting thinness over health though. That second picture doesn't even look like a human body, it looks like a plastic doll. 

Swimsuits that Make Me Actually Want to Wear Swimsuits

And one-pieces, no less. Convenience-wise, I am not a fan of the one-piece swimsuit. Not. A. Fan. But these I really love, and I'm fairly certain that I would consider making the sacrifice for one of them.
Ideally, I would really like the cut of the suit on the right, but with the pattern from the other one. I actually feel like the swimsuit on the left looks as if the one-shoulder thing wasn't intentional. Still... Very cute.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution, by Michelle Moran--8/10

I had some mixed feelings about Madame Tussaud. The story was riveting, and I didn't want to put it down once I'd gotten into it; but to be honest, that was probably mostly because of the subject matter. The story of the French Revolution is fascinating and absolutely horrifying, and now that I've read it, this novel represents the bulk of my knowledge about that subject aside from watching Les Miserables. That was a pretty big draw for me.

But I wasn't a huge fan of the writing. Stylistically it's choppy with a lot of sentence fragments, and certain aspects of the story progress pretty abruptly. The story line of the revolution flows well because it's full of historical details, but Marie's love story happens in lurches--on one page he's just a neighbor to whom she's attracted, and then suddenly he's kissing her neck and telling her he wants to marry her. (Sorry, I should've warned you about spoilers, but that's not really even a spoiler so don't worry about it. There may be some mild ones later on, though, so now you may consider yourselves warned.) It felt like there were big gaps in the conversations, where things should have been said in order for it to make sense but weren't, which made much of the dialogue not very believable. 

I also found the protagonist difficult to like, which is rough on any book. Since Madame Tussaud was a real person, I have to acknowledge that this may not be the author's fault--I don't know what she was like in real life, and it may be that Michelle Moran has simply described her as she was. But I find it hard to love a character whose primary concern in literally every single situation is the welfare of her business--and not because her business is struggling and she fears for its survival, but because she is obsessed with profits and her "ambition," which she talks about constantly. Her business is actually incredibly successful from the beginning and only gets more so as the revolution progresses, yet time after time, Marie makes painful sacrifices in her personal life because "the needs of the Salon come first." I found it hard to identify with a character who, when surrounded by such awful political turmoil and violence, still values her business above all else.

Complaints aside, I really did enjoy the book, and the story was truly incredible. Much of the historical information was accurate, according to the note in the back, which is something I value highly in historical fiction--but readers should be warned that this means there are several descriptions of pretty graphic violence. Overall I enjoyed the experience immensely, and I was thrilled to be able to read it before publication. If you're at all interested in historical fiction, I would definitely recommend it.


(My review from Goodreads)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tea Dilemma

Which of these do you like better? I can't decide... I love them both.


I really love that the Crate and Barrel one comes with a saucer, but I like the shape of the handle better on the other one.

Thoughts for the Morning

Starbucks wins yet again with the veggie, egg, and monterey jack artisan breakfast sandwich--it was so good, I want another one right now. The zucchini walnut muffin is also incredible, in case you're interested; the pumpkin bread and banana bread both lost their appeal after I had them a couple times, but the muffin is following no such trend. Mmmmm boy.


Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, was pretty annoying on NPR today, at least in the last two minutes of her interview, which is all I caught. She did a whole lot of evasive maneuvering when Steve Inskeep asked her about the administration's timeline for cutting spending, and even though he asked the same question at least three times, she managed to never answer it. 


Lana has a pretty creepy toy, a Sesame Street camera that says several phrases in Elmo and Cookie Monster's voices. Some of them are normal and cute, like "Smile for the camera" and "Picture worth thousand cookies." The ones that freak me out are these: "Give it to Elmo! Work it, baby, work it! The camera loves you, baby! You look mahhhvelous," all in Elmo's voice. Yikes.


Just as Mike and I were talking about Liron this morning (in reference to my current Facebook status and how there are some names that people just can't spell/pronounce right), we drove by the preschool where he is now going, and my uncle Ed pulled out of the parking lot just as we passed. He was behind us for a few minutes before we got to Mike's office, and we waved a few times but he didn't notice, which I'm pretty sure is because our new car still has California plates, and he hasn't seen it yet. 


Watching a new episode of Sesame Street with Lana this morning, and I just saw a sketch that I remember from watching Shalom Sesame--the version of Sesame Street that they show in Israel--when I was a kid! This is a newer version in claymation, and also it was different because it was in English instead of Hebrew, but it was the same song about the Ladybug Picnic. I am pretty excited.



This is the older version, and the animation is a lot like the Hebrew one. And now I'm pretty sure I'm going to go home after work and find our old VHS recordings of Shalom Sesame, because watching the video that I linked to up there made me ridiculously nostalgic. Good times all around.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer--8.5/10

Technically this was one of my "Recommended" books from the 10/10/10 challenge, but I didn't start it until just after the new year. It was fantastic. 


The protagonist is a young boy named Oskar, and he lies about his age so much that I'm not actually sure how old he is supposed to be, but I definitely know that he is older than seven and younger than twelve. Oskar's father was in the World Trade Center when it was hit, and this book is about his struggle to come to terms with his father's death. It is sad, obviously, but it is also funny and clever and sweet and insightful. 


Before he died, Oskar's father used to play games with his son that involved things like sending him on scavenger hunts through Central Park with a metal detector. One of these games was abandoned in the middle when the towers were hit and Oskar had no more clues, but about a year later he discovers a key in his father's closet, and the trail begins again.


Oskar's story is interwoven with the story of his grandparents, which begins in Dresden just before it is bombed, and the mysterious renter who lives with his grandma and never speaks. Each character's story is both heartbreaking and hopeful, and you can't help loving them all. As soon as I can get to the library I'm going to pick up something else of Foer's, because this was the first one I read and I had a hard time putting it down. 

I am Sucking at Blogging

Not sure why that is happening, since I have a lot more time online now than I used to. Maybe that's why, actually--I spend a ton of time online and just waste it doing Facebook things, so I don't get around to writing anything. I am trying to get back in the habit now. 


Goodreads has a book counter/goal keeper thing where you can say how many books you want to read this year and it keeps track for you, and at first I was going to do it but now I decided that I don't want to. After all the structure of last year, I would really like to make this year completely pressure-free in my reading. This is my hobby, right? So why stress myself out about it? I just want to be able to read whatever I want without worrying what I should be reading or whether I'm going fast enough. 


We are a little bit less excited about this year than we were at the beginning of the month, but trying to stay positive about it. I didn't get the library job, which means 1) I didn't get my dream job, but also 2) we now have about two-thirds of the income we were hoping to have. I'm looking for a different part-time job, but haven't had any luck yet. Boo for job hunting. 


Dafni and Brandon found an apartment to go with Brandon's new job, which is very exciting for them, but it's in Hurst (an hour away), which is sad for us. So that's kind of a bummer. 


Mike is supposed to be getting home soon, which is fantastic. He is also looking for a new job because he can't be in school as long as he has such irregular hours, and that will be nice as well.


I have bookmarked a lot of recipes that I am excited to make in the next few weeks, and I am making Sunday dinner tomorrow with several of my favorite foods, so that is going to be delicious. Sharing a kitchen isn't ideal, especially since a lot of my dishes are packed up and I have to use my mom's, but now that we've managed to actually buy some groceries I am hoping not to let it deter me.


And apparently this is a week of headaches, so for now I am going to go lie down until he gets home and we start working on dinner. Here's to more regular blogging starting... Now!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kinda Bummed.

I applied for two jobs at the Wylie library. I had two interviews that both went really well; one of the women who was conducting the interview is the supervisor of the volunteers, so I know her pretty well, and she's the one who told me I should apply for the jobs in the first place. I was feeling pretty sure of getting at least one of the jobs, especially since they're hiring two or three people for each of the positions.


Now I am not feeling so good about it. Yesterday was two weeks since my first interview, and today is one week since the second interview; I still haven't heard anything. In the first interview Cheryl said that I should know by the end of the week. Then, in the second interview, she said that they had pushed back the starting date for the jobs because they were having a hard time deciding who should go where. This has been my one thread of hope.


But I also know that the people who get the jobs will be getting phone calls, and those who don't will be getting letters. It's been a long time that I haven't heard anything... and snail mail takes a lot longer than a phone call.


I'm pretty bummed. This is my dream job, one that I have wanted forever--so much so, in fact, that I will probably continue to volunteer if I don't get it, even though it will be hard to go back and volunteer after this process.


Sigh. I'm obviously not very optimistic at this point, but keep your fingers crossed anyway. I'm not giving up until I get a letter.


And in related news, I applied for two jobs at the Frisco library today, just in case. I have no idea how I'd get to Frisco if I got the job, since we only have the one car, but I don't really care--if it gets to that point, I'll make it work. One way or the other, I will work at a library.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Win!

I won a free book! I went outside to check the mail today and found it on my doorstep. I am really excited. Goodreads allows you to enter to win copies of books before they're published, and I always enter for the ones I think look interesting. This one is called Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution, which is a pretty good title for describing what the book is about. That's all I have to say now because I haven't started it yet, but I will let you know when I get to check it out. (Did I mention I'm excited??)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's Getting Better

With only a couple small exceptions, I am finding that I have been really uplifted by what I've seen in the wake of the Arizona shooting--particularly tonight's speech by President Obama, and what I've seen from some Facebook friends regarding it. This was the first I'd heard of details about the people who were killed, and although I felt sorrow when I first heard, this was when my heart broke for those who survived them.


If you haven't already watched the speech, I hope you will. Don't just read the text, either, which is what I initially did; it leaves out some very touching moments.





"What we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.


We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us."


I want to say that I am optimistic about our ability to do this. Politics is a painful, awful area for many people, and I don't know anyone who remembers a time when it wasn't that way. For me it has sometimes been even worse, because as I have discovered politics I have found myself moving away from the side on which literally almost everyone I have ever known sits. This is a difficult position to be in, and it's pretty clear that I haven't always known how to handle it. 


But I am optimistic because as I think about it, I realize that I have seen improvement--both in myself, and in the people in my life. The number of people with whom I can have a political conversation that does not devolve into irrational name-calling has grown substantially in the past three years. My ability to discuss differences with people without growing angry has increased, and it seems that a few others are making progress in this area as well. 


We use the phrase "the state of politics in this country" a lot, and I have to admit that even when I use it, it makes me smile because of the implication that at some point, the state of politics was better. I don't know, maybe at some time it was. But that doesn't really matter. I firmly believe that "the state of politics" will never improve on the national level until it improves on the local level--until families and friends and neighbors and co-workers can discuss their political beliefs in a respectful, understanding way. We condemn politicians for their behavior, but we support them in it by mimicking that behavior in our own lives.


"We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us." I think that no matter what goes on out there, there's no reason that politics can't become an interesting, enjoyable topic if we just keep this thought in mind.

Life in 2011

Mike and I are feeling really good about being back with my parents for a few months. We bought a new car last week, and thanks to the lack of rent and the incredible price we got from my favorite holistic doctor, we are going to be able to pay it off in about six weeks. It's a 2002 Nissan Sentra, which is in the family of cars we would have wanted to buy anyway; it's grey, which is my favorite car color; it's in really good condition and has a very low mileage, and so it's basically perfect for us. The backseat is a lot smaller than the Corolla's was, but it's a small sacrifice to make considering the otherwise greatness of it.

After that we will be working on paying down debt in large amounts, starting to save money for upcoming trips, and saving up for things that we'll have to buy when we move out again (like a new mattress--we figured that nothing will motivate us to replace a mattress that has springs popping out all over it like throwing said mattress away and not giving ourselves the option of continuing to use it despite the pokiness/uncomfortableness/tearing-clothes-and-sheets-ness, so that's what we did). 

I had my second interview at the library on Tuesday and am now waiting anxiously to find out the results--whether I'll be getting hired (about which I am optimistic) and which position I'll be getting (about which I am nervous, because I wanted them both equally when I applied but now have realized that there's one I would really prefer over the other). 

We are already loving the fact that Dafni and Brandon live in Wylie now, and we can see Baby Goose (almost) anytime we want. In fact, Mike just went to the post office and ran into them there, an hour after they left here! It was good times.

We are pleasantly surprised to find that the drumset Joseph got for Christmas is not nearly as irritating as we thought it would be; he never plays for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time, and it's actually kind of cool to listen to. We especially don't mind when Jaylee is over, because it's kind of incredibly adorable when she goes to the bottom of the stairs and starts dancing every time he plays. 

Daniel left for BYU-Idaho last Tuesday, which is very sad. We miss him already, and are very glad he's coming back in the summer, which is not that far away if you think about it!


I was creeped out the other night by the existence of a place called Uncle Bruce's Salon. This was actually a couple weeks ago, not the other night, but I haven't had a chance to write about it yet and still wanted to. 


Tomorrow is going to be a really long day of baby-watching (12 1/2 hours assuming everyone arrives and leaves on time), but it is also my last day watching Liron before he starts preschool, so it will be nice to get that extra time with him. I just hope he doesn't do the no-nap thing he's been doing for the last couple of days, because that may put a damper on things. :)


There have been political conversations on Facebook the last couple days, and I have been really pleased with how calmly I've been handling them. I usually get intensely nervous whenever I see that someone has responded to one of my comments, and that hasn't happened at all this time. Progress, progress, progress. (Also, no one has ventured into name-calling rudeness yet, which I consider an immense improvement.)


I am really enjoying the books I'm reading right now, and especially the fact that I feel no pressure to read any one thing. (Correction: The exception to this is my brother Joseph, who has been nagging me to read a ridiculous behemoth of a Tad Williams book since we moved here in 2008. Sigh. My excuse last year was that I was too busy with the 10/10/10 challenge, so I promised him that I would read it when it ended... And I suppose one of these days I will have to fulfill that promise. Don't think I won't put it off as long as I can though.)


And now we are going to watch Friends. Farewell.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Yes.

In case you don't know about it, this is in reference to the shooting a couple days ago at the political rally in Tucson, in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (weird, isn't it? and I grew up in Arizona) was shot in the head.




The only other thing I've seen from Keith Olbermann was this video of him railing on Sarah Palin, so I was not expecting this video to be so sensible, wise, and non-inflammatory. All I have to say about it is what I already posted on Facebook, so I will just include it here.

This is what comes of a culture that believes carrying a gun is a God-given right. It's both terrible and inevitable that things like this will happen when people celebrate the owning of weapons. This is why I do not like guns, and one of the many reasons why I cannot consider myself a (political) conservative.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2010 in Review

Well. I definitely started this post ten days ago, but my computer's wireless broke and I've basically only been online on my (new super cute) phone since then. But I'm using Mike's computer now and he says I can only have a few minutes so I'm pretty much just going to post it as it is.


My 2010 Reading:
I didn't end up finishing my 10/10/10 challenge, but I came pretty close. I read 116 books with a total of 40,969 pages. Compared to last year--128 books with a total of 49,240 pages--that doesn't seem very impressive, but I have to consider that last year I reread the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Wheel of Time series(es), and that's twenty books and at least 15,000 pages right there. 


I also spent a lot more time this year trying to read outside my normal genres, so I feel pretty good about how it turned out. Clearly my planning left something to be desired, but I did read some fantastic books, and I am now looking forward to a less structured year of reading in 2011. If you're interested, the the final list is here, but these were my favorites:


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay--Michael Chabon
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
After Dark, by Haruki Murakami
Twelve Angry Men, by Reginald Rose
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
the Dresden Files series, by Jim Butcher
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding
East, by Edith Pattou
The Boyfriend List, by E. Lockhart
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
Empire, by Orson Scott Card
Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson


Some Good Movies I Saw:
Inception
Despicable Me
Percy Jackson
Alice in Wonderland
How to Train Your Dragon
Iron Man 2
Robin Hood
The Karate Kid
Knight and Day
Easy A
Harry Potter
Tangled


Life in 2010 was pretty crazy for us. For the most part, it was blogging and reading and getting worked up about social issues and food reform. We had a few curve balls, and they were sort of giant. We went to Utah twice, once in May for Mia's baptism, then again in December for Christmas and Megan's wedding. And at the end of the year, I got in an accident and totaled our car, which led to our current living situation. So that is that... Mike has been very patient and I am going to give his computer back now. More soon. Hopefully.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Things I Need to See

So this whole new year thing, even though I don't do resolutions, does make me think about the things I want for the coming year. Our situation is changing a lot right now, which means a lot of evaluating and calculating for how things are going to be, and the fact that it coincides with the new year is giving me a pleasant doors-are-open kind of feeling that makes me want to make plans... Particularly travel plans.


Mike and I have talked about the kind of traveling we want to do together, and our idea is that one year we will take a smaller, more local trip, and on the alternating years we'll take bigger trips. We already have some travel plans for this year, since the Shortens are going to Bear Lake in the summer and we have tentative plans to visit my cousin in Austin at least once, so I decided that this would be our small trip year. And that means...


A big trip in 2012! We haven't made a decision yet, but we've started talking about places we want to go, and it makes me really happy to be having this conversation. I'm so excited.


In semi-related news... This is a list of places I need to go. I've been playing that game I told you about, and it has some really incredible pictures that have been giving me wanderlust. (Don't get confused now--this is a list of places I want to see sometime in my life, not options for our 2012 trip. We're going to start out a little on the tame side, like New York City or London or San Fransisco.)


Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
the Great Wall of China
the London Bridge
the Metropolitan Opera (and of course by this I mean that I want to see an opera there, not just see the building)
Eiffel Tower
the Northern Lights
Grand Canyon
Macchu Picchu
Yellowstone
Milford Sound 


This is by no means a complete list; these are just places I've been seeing a lot of in that geography quiz.