Saturday, April 30, 2011

Baby Angel

I have been having a really hard month, emotionally. There's a lot of crap going on in my life, and frankly, I could be handling it better than I am. I was feeling pretty bad last night when I went to bed, and I was feeling bad again this morning when I woke up. I read for a little bit, but it was still really early and I was still tired (which I always am lately), so I ended up going back to sleep.


When I woke up a couple hours later, I felt better. The window was open with a beautiful breeze coming in, and the sun was shining on my face but not directly in my eyes. I was really comfortable and just feeling... content.


Then I remembered that while I was sleeping, I dreamed about seeing my baby niece (who I'm going to see this afternoon). In the dream, she came up to me and put her arms around my neck (or head, really, since she's not that coordinated with her little arms) and she gave me the biggest, tightest hug, so tight it almost hurt. And I felt better.

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Letter

Dear the group of Tea Partiers who picketed their Congressman's office because of their outrage that he voted for the budget extension, which didn't cut as much as they thought it should:


Why do you think it's such a good idea to make such drastic, IMMEDIATE cuts? And why is this the issue you're so angry about? I fully agree that the budget needs to be gotten under control, but I just can't see how we could expect it to be done quickly, given the years it took to get it where it is. You just can't chop billions of dollars out of the budget all at once and not seriously hurt the country. Why the urgency, anyway? What would having a reduced deficit mean, besides being a matter of principle?


You know that millions of people would suffer if you got the cuts you wanted, don't you? Do you know that it will be you and your parents who suffer if they cut Medicare, your children who suffer if education gets thrown under the bus (as it always does)? I guarantee you know people who are on Medicaid and WIC right now (even if you don't know they are)--you know that they will suffer? All the college students you know whose parents don't get to pay for their tuition (probably including your own children)? Do you have any idea what this would do the economy?


A government can't just suddenly stop spending billions of dollars. Yes, it needs to happen, but it needs to happen over time--the same way the deficit grew. So instead of picketing, why don't you congratulate your Congresspeople on being part of a decision that was actually a pretty good win for both sides? Rather than demanding painful extremes, how about supporting reasonable compromise on more such debates in the future? And why not tone down all that anger just a little bit, and try for some empathy and understanding instead? You talk about it so much that I think maybe you don't realize that anger is not a constructive emotion for working with people.


Quite sincerely,
Me
An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes.
Cato the Elder

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding. 
Mohandas Gandhi

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Philosophy Series: Health Care

My Stance:
I believe that the government should make sure all American citizens have access to health care.


Why:
The primary purposes of a government are organization and protection, and beyond that, involvement should be minimal. I strongly believe that government should not have too much influence in the lives of its citizens. But I don't understand how we could ask our government to protect us from foreign threats, then leave our daily health and safety up to the greed and self-interest of the free market. They are two aspects of the same issue, but a whole lot more Americans die from preventable health-related issues than die from foreign attacks.


In 2008 the United States was the worst out of 19 First World countries for the number of preventable deaths in people younger than 75. These deaths amount to 23 percent of deaths in men and 32 percent in women, and that just shouldn't happen. If the government is responsible for keeping its citizens safe, then it should be responsible for health care.


(A lot of people talk about how people in countries with socialist health care hate it, and in reference to that, all I have to say is that there are also people who like it, so that ends up being not much of an argument for either side. Yeah, socialized health care wouldn't be perfect. There would be problems. But there are problems now, and our system certainly isn't perfect the way it is. There are people who like our current system, and there are also people who hate it. So it's pretty much the same, except that one way everyone gets taken care of and the other way they don't.)


The fact is that my circle of acquaintances is not generally a wealthy one, so I've seen a lot of people struggle with health issues because they just don't make enough money to get the care they need. I think we should help people who are in need. And I don't think your ability to be physically healthy should rely on your luck in getting a good job. 




Tuesday, April 26, 2011

In re my philosophy series...



How often should I post? I was thinking about having a new one come up each Monday, and though that still seems like the most logical plan to me, it is also true that I am already bored with the food one (probably since there's nothing in it that you all didn't already know). Can I post an extra one this week, or should I just be a big kid and wait until Monday?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Philosophy Series: Food

We'll start off easy with one you've probably already figured out...


My Stance:
My ideal food system would be to grow all my own produce; make my own bread, pasta, cheese, etc.; and buy meat and dairy products from a local, organic, sustainably-run farm. (Even more ideal would be to do the meat and dairy myself, too, but I am just not quite tough enough to deal with the animals at this point.)


I think Michael Pollan probably sums it up the best: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And food means food, not "edible food-like substances," as he calls them.


Why: 
Because processed food is just not very healthy--for eating or for the environment. I believe that food should be free of chemicals, and that we should eat what's found in nature (or what can be made, in a normal person's kitchen, from what's found in nature). This also means I don't like food substitutes, like margarine and artificial sweeteners. 


I don't feel like I need to go into this one very much here, because anyone who reads my blog already has a pretty good idea of why I feel the way I do about this... I talk about it a lot. :)


"You might be interested to know that [as opposed to following each new trend of food science in our search for "healthy food"] there are other cultures that have been eating more or less the same way for generations, and there are peoples who still rely on archaic criteria like, oh, taste and tradition to guide them in their eating decisions. You might also be interested to know that some of the cultures that set their culinary course by the lights of pleasure and habit rather than nutritional science are actually healthier than we are—that is, suffer a lower incidence of diet-related health troubles. 

The “French paradox” is the most famous such case, though it’s worth keeping in mind the French don’t regard the matter as a paradox at all; we Americans resort to that word simply because the French experience—a population of wine-swilling cheese eaters with lower rates of heart disease and obesity?!—confounds our orthodoxy about food. Maybe what we should be talking about is an American paradox: that is, a notably unhealthy people obsessed by the idea of eating healthily." 
--Michael Pollan, "Our National Eating Disorder"

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Philosophy Series: Intro

Hokay. So. 


I've been writing a series of posts that I'm calling my philosophy series, and I'm going to start putting them up this coming week. Each post focuses on a particular social issue--some political, some not--and contains two parts: a short, simple declaration of my stance on the issue, and then an explanation of why I feel that way about it. 


I freely admit that I don't know everything there is to know about each of these issues. But given the amount of research I've done about them, I do feel comfortable in saying that I'm at least as educated about these subjects as the average American is, if not more so, and I feel like I can express a pretty well-informed opinion. 


Feel free to ask for more details if you want me to explain something better, or to offer your opinions about the issues. I would like to learn whatever I can, so my goal is to be as open-minded as possible. Most of all, in reference to the issues that are political, just remember that nothing can ever change or get better if we refuse to talk about it. Our system of government is useless if regular, non-political people don't get involved (if for no other reason than to balance out the ones who are maybe a little too political :) ).


And remember, too, the words of our good friend Mark Twain: "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." We are all in the majority at one time or another, and even when we aren't--it is always a good time to pause and reflect.



Friday, April 22, 2011

"The earth is what we all have in common."

Happy Earth Day

Don't feel bad if you didn't get to do anything awesome like plant a tree or recycle your car; every day is Earth Day, and every day is your new chance! There are a million trillion ways to start taking care of the environment, and some of them are easy. (Some others aren't, it's true--but losing natural resources because we didn't take care of them isn't any easier! Just think of it that way. :) )

I didn't get to do anything epic today, either, but I did see a woman at the Barnes and Noble Starbucks getting her coffee in a mug she brought from home, and that made me pretty happy. All I did was my usual--skipping the plastic bag when I stopped at Target, picking up a little trash here and there, and putting a cardboard box in the recycle bin instead of the trash. 


Here are some great lists of really simple ways to do your part:




Reposted from The Lovely Blog

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

...Why would you think that's what I meant?

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Did you mean: A Gift of Ice

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

And All Nature Laughed in the Sunshine

I have always loved nature, but lately I am practically obsessed. It's actually getting dangerous--I keep getting distracted while I'm driving, looking at beautiful trees or the blankets of wildflowers or the majestic sunsets. It used to drive Mike crazy how often I'd want to stop and take pictures of things, so I've started trying to do it when I'm alone in the car. The other day I pulled over, on a narrow road with a speed limit of 60, and crossed the street to take a video of the wind in the long grass of one of the gorgeous fields I drive past. 



There are a lot of things I don't like about where we live, but in much the same way as the mountains in Utah, the simple beauty of it is very nearly enough to make up for them all on its own. I love the trees...


And the sky...


And the flowers in the spring...



 




And I love living somewhere where I regularly drive past places that look like this:




There are definitely things about the city that I like, and right now they're pretty appealing to me--things like public transportation, and not having to drive so effing much every single day of my life. (I am so. sick. of. driving.) But I love living rurally, too, and these are the things that have kept me here so far.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Entering a Giveaway!

And I need to write about it. I read March by Geraldine Brooks a few months ago, and I am very interested to read Caleb's Crossing. The giveaway is here, and there are a million ways you can enter, so go ahead!


http://thegirlfromtheghetto.wordpress.com

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen--8/10

This was such an interesting book, but in a very strange way for me. It discusses a lot of ideas that really made me think, but I absolutely despised some of the main characters. The basics of the story itself aren't that original--dysfunctional families and love triangles--and actually sort of make it sound like a trashy soap opera, but the details of the relationships are unique. There's a fascinating dynamic to this novel, and the overall result is that it makes you think.


But also, I liked this book because it played kind of a special role for me. I've often said (although probably only to a few people) that I wish I'd spent some time living on the East Coast or somewhere else with a dominant politically liberal population. I grew up among conservatives--was born in Mesa, Arizona; grew up in rural Dallas, Texas; went to college in Provo, Utah--basically traveled from one conservative stronghold to the next. Of all the people I've ever met in my life, I know eight who officially consider themselves liberals. Eight. (There are also four about whom I have my suspicions, but they don't say so--possibly because they, too, are surrounded by conservatives.) 


What this means is that I hear a lot from one side, and pretty much nothing from the other. I see the birther billboards; I walk into a bank and see Glenn Beck on the TV in the corner; I read the hostile Facebook posts; I get the ridiculous email forwards. And while I know that this kind of thing goes on on the other side too, it is so much harder for me to imagine because I don't see it, and the only liberals I know are incredibly intelligent, compassionate, open-minded, Christlike people. So I've often wished that I had a way of being exposed to the radical left in the same way that I'm constantly exposed to the radical right. 


Freedom was my first good glimpse of it. Walter Berglund, one of the main characters, in general is a really nice guy, but he is fanatically obsessed with the overpopulation crisis and I did not care much for that aspect of him. That's one typically liberal view that I don't share, and he puts a lot of emphasis on it. The longer he spent talking about it, the more I felt that I was beginning to see what the excesses of the other side can look like. 


So the story is about the Berglund family--Walter, Patty, their son Joey, and their daughter Jessica--and I was actually really intrigued by the description on the book jacket, so to finish up, I'm just going to include that here. I definitely recommend the book, but make sure you have some time to devote to it; it's a fairly hefty undertaking.
Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter's dreams. Together with Walter - environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man - she was doing her small part to build a better world.

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz - outrĂ© rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival - still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become "a very different kind of neighbor," an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street's attentive eyes?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"To be able to perform music for yourself is a wonderful thing."

This morning I'm reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and listening to my brother downstairs playing the piano. 


I've always been jealous of his skill. I taught myself to play the piano as a kid, and had only a month or two of lessons the summer after my senior year of high school. I played the piano for hours every day until my second or third year of college, but I kind of reached a certain level of skill that I've never been able to get past. I've also tried several times to learn to play the guitar, but it never sticks. And when I played the bass clarinet in high school, I was really good--but I could have been better if I'd ever bothered to practice.


The problem was that I never could practice. I have always loved playing music, but at the same time I've always been frustrated by my limited skill, and I think I have finally realized why. (This is where Norwegian Wood comes back into play. You were wondering, weren't you?)


It happened that the section I was reading while listening to Joseph play was about a pianist. She'd trained to be a classical performer, but in her senior year she had a breakdown from the stress and ended up not playing again for many years. About a decade later, when she'd been married and had a baby who was then starting kindergarten, she began to play just a little bit here and there--and what she realized was that she loved being able to play for herself.


This is what I want. I don't like practicing music. I don't like making mistakes, going over certain passages again and again, playing one hand separately to learn it better, slowing down the tempo to get my fingers accustomed to the motion. What I want is to be able to perform music--for myself. I don't like playing for other people; I always get self-conscious and mess up even pieces that I know how to play perfectly. I don't like the pressure of playing for someone else. I just love playing for myself.


This is why "Moonlight Sonata" has always been one of my favorite pieces to play. It's the one  piece of classical music that I can always play from start to finish with no mistakes, with or without the music. I know others just a little bit less well, and there are many that I can play perfectly up to a certain point and then not at all. I just don't know how to learn music. I can't learn the guitar because I don't want to be learning it, I want to be playing it. It's been a really frustrating dilemma for almost my entire life so far, but I never knew clearly what the problem was before. Now that I do, I can only hope that one of these days I'll pull together enough self-discipline to finally make myself learn. to. practice. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Squeak Squeakers Squeak Squeaken

So. I spent all day yesterday at Robby's funeral--first the service at the church, then an hour and a half in the police-escorted funeral procession, then the military ceremony at the Dallas National Cemetery (which, it turns out, is not in Dallas at all but quite far away in Grand Prairie). 


The church service was the hardest part for me, especially when they played a tribute video that had "My Heart Will Go On" as the soundtrack. I've been friends with Becky since eighth grade and she's been obsessed with Titanic since then, when it came out. Robby and Becky have also been together since eighth grade--so it's all kind of interconnected. When the song started, the entire chapel did a kind of sob/laugh (a laugh that led into renewed sobbing) at the same time because of how appropriate it was.


And now, callous as it sounds, I'm going to try to stop thinking about Robby and Becky for a while. It's been a lot harder for me than I thought it would be, and I'm kind of in an emotional place in my life anyway, with other things going on that are bad enough. If not thinking about this is what I need to be able to start going a stretch of more than three days without crying, then that's what I'm going to do. 


In other news--except it's kind of related because the funeral is what made me think of it--I went and found the shoebox that has all my old high school pictures in it, and I'm going to try and scan and post some of them. Unfortunately the scanner is not cooperating right now, and is just scanning in blankness, so who knows how long this will take. But Lana has just gone down for her nap, so now I will devote some time to figuring it out. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Daunting

Sometimes being in a very small minority is pretty overwhelming. Especially when the majority includes almost everyone you know. Being in the minority is fine when you have a support group, and can even be enjoyable. But when you don't have a support group--or when it's very small and/or is not physically present in your life--even just getting on Facebook can be stressful.


I am doing something else daunting tonight; namely, attending the wake of a high school friend, at which I will see people I haven't seen in eight years, and which is apparently going to be protested by cruel, angry people who think this is an effective method of expressing their beliefs. I was hoping a friend would go with me, but she ended up not being able to; thankfully Mike will be getting off work in time to come as moral support.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Birthday

My birthday is coming up, and for once I actually have a specific list of things I want. Around Christmas I don't have such a hard time, but for some reason in June I can never think of things I want. Well, my friends, that is not a problem this year! I could create my entire birthday list off the things I saw (and coveted) at Barnes and Noble last night.


This journal! Oh, I want this journal. It is a journal of lists. Countries I want to go to. Future Halloween costume ideas. Good deeds to perform. Events to time-travel to. I make lists like this all the time anyway, but now I will have somewhere official to put them! It is a list-maker's dream.


Also this Music Listography journal, which I did see at BN, but isn't on their website. Love. 


Mike owned this before we got married, but the CD itself has disappeared and left us with only the case.







I love this movie for many reasons, but lately I think the best is that Christian Bale does not play someone creepy or deranged. It's lovely to return to simpler times, isn't it?




Oh man, these. Especially A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Cranford, The Woman in White. I must have them all eventually, but since I suspect most of you probably aren't going to buy me the whole set at once, I thought it wise to give you a starting point.



I am completely in love with the music from this movie. (I'm completely in love with the movie itself, too. It just speaks to me, I guess--I can't watch it without getting on Facebook afterward and rhapsodizing about how incredible it is. I just listened to a preview of some of the tracks on Amazon, and I'm already swooning.)



This journal is ridiculously beautiful. I have long had a thing for journals like this, but have yet to actually buy one. 










<-- Obviously need to own this ASAP!






Thursday, April 7, 2011

Robby

A friend from high school was killed in Afghanistan this past weekend (I've heard Friday and I've heard Sunday, so I don't know which). We haven't talked in a long time--pretty much since graduation--but his wife was one of my very best friends in junior high and high school, and he was a good friend too. They just had a baby a year and a half ago. :(


Friday, April 1, 2011

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual, by Michael Pollan--9/10

Everyone should read this book. It took me maybe an hour--it's hard to tell because it was spread out over the course of an afternoon. It's only 139 pages, the pages are tiny, there's only text on every other page, and there's hardly any text on half of the pages that do have text. It's the easiest thing in the world to read, but full of so much information--basically everything you need to know, period, about what you should eat to be the healthiest you can be.


Michael Pollan's food philosophy is seven words: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. It's sad that this seems like a pretty radical idea in our Western culture, but it really does, and you should read the introduction to this book for his explanation of why something so simple needs explaining. Ever wondered about that so-called "French paradox?" This is the answer.


Here are some of my favorite rules:


3. Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry. 
Ethoxylated diglicerides? Cellulose? Xanthan gum?


4. Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup. 


5. Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients. 


9. Avoid food products with the wordoid "lite" or the terms "low-fat" or "nonfat" in their names.


10. Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not. 
Imitation butter--aka margarine--is the classic example... The same rule applies to soy-based mock meats, artificial sweeteners, and fake fats and starches.


19. If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.


20. It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car.


Michael Pollan, if you were wondering, is my food hero. The diet he describes is the one my family has been trying to adopt for the last few years, and though I obviously haven't quite made it there yet, the change is in the works. I honestly can't wait.