Thursday, May 01, 2008

Outlandish sportsmanship

I know I've all but abandoned this blog (I'm not done with blogging, though - just rejiggering for a bit) - but I had to post a link to this article. You see, I've been actively seeking signs of hope, stuff to counter what appears to be a worsening trend of mass self-absorption.

And while I do revel in the little things - the wave from a driver I let into traffic or a waitress who is extra sweet to my elderly mother-in-law - something like this really makes my sappy eyes water:

Sara Tucholsky hit a homerun in a college softball game but her knee gave out before she could touch first base. It looked like her homer would, at best, be reduced to a single by bringing in a sub when the opposing team - get this - members of the opposing team picked Tucholsky up and carried her to each base. It was the only solution that allowed her to keep the run for hitting it out of the park (her first homer, as it turns out) and the competition concocted and executed the idea independently, with no coaxing from a team that ultimately won thanks to their actions.

So, thanks ladies - particularly Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace (the women above in the white uniforms) - for the Feel Good of the Day!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Reading isn't really fundamental...

...not like a few hours in Iraq is...

Reading Is Fundamental is a program that was founded in 1966 to prepare and motivate "children to read by delivering free books and literacy resources to those children and families who need them most."

The program has requested $26 million to keep the program going in 2009.


Remind me how many minutes that pays for in Iraq?

Being that the current administration hasn't read a book since W. took the Curious George series personally, they must not understand the mistake they're making in their proposed 2009 budget in which
all funding for RIF has been cut. They must not understand the value - the importance - the necessity - of reading, especially for kids, especially for the underserved kids who have so much going against them.

I don't have to tell you that reading lets us explore the world, even when our families barely (or don't) have enough money to keep the electricity on, much less travel. I don't have to tell you that reading can inspire kids to learn, can help foster creativity, can help us understand one another. But we do need to tell them.

Write to your elected representatives here. This administration has spent the last seven years chipping away at America's ability to be an intellectual power. Don't let them take this too.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Food and mouth disease research near CAFOs

Our genius government is making moves to relocate an animal disease research facility from its current home on an isolated island (i.e. not near livestock) to the mainland (i.e. near livestock). Even more exciting for us North Carolinians, Butner is among the places being considered.

Apparently, they were not deterred by a government simulation, "Crimson Sky," that ended in riots when a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak necessitated the killing of tens of millions of farm animals.

There's so much wrong with this scenario... but to me, it all boils down to yet one more reason to be very thoughtful about the food I eat. Would a family farm in Butner be any less likely to have to kill their entire heard should viruses sneak out of the lab? Of course not - those animals would have to be destroyed too. But we're talking about the difference between a small, isolated herd and the thousands of animals that are crammed together in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operation); there, unsanitary, crowded conditions allow disease to roll through the population before the first cow to be infected notices the sniffles. This is why conventional meat is pumped with antibiotics, folks. Outbreaks in CAFOs would cripple our food systems enough to lead to the aforementioned riots.

As a side note, when I was in 5th grade, there was talk about building a nuclear power plant in North Carolina. My teacher, Mark Moore, read us Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, a book in which a Japanese girl attempts to harness the good luck of a thousand origami cranes before the leftover radiation from Hiroshima kills her. Our class made cranes and Mr. Moore mailed them and a copy of the book to the powers that be in protest.

Anyone up for some folding?

Day of Silence

On April 25, students across the country will take part in a Day of Silence to protest the bullying, harassment, and sadly, violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Is there anything worth saying that isn't obvious? Our school must be safe for all students. We cannot allow our children to form hateful, prejudicial habits like bullying. Most of all, we have to finally stop placing value judgments on traits that are beyond a person's control - in that way, sexuality is no different than ethnicity.

I hope you'll encourage the students in your life to participate.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Iraq spending v. kids and homeless vets

From Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) via The Huffington Post:
For one day's spending in Iraq, we could provide access to health care for 2.6 million Americans for a year. For one day's spending in Iraq, we could give 48,000 homeless veterans housing for a year."
And later:
...the conservatives who refused to spend $50 billion dollars over five years to provide health care for needy children don't think twice about spending that amount for five months of war in Iraq."
He concludes:
Clearly, we are faced with a question of priorities. We can pour money down a destructive suction tube, for a war that is creating more enemies than it can destroy, in pursuit of impossible goals. Or we can invest in our priorities here at home, while showing a new face to the world, one characterized by respect for human rights, diplomacy, and the rule of law. To me, the choice could not possibly be any clearer."


Read Conyers' whole post here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Poem for mourning

I cut this out of the paper a few weeks ago, and thought of sending it to a woman who recently lost her husband. She had recited a poem at his funeral, a mournful poem that he gave her to hold onto until he died. He had no idea she would have need of it so soon.

I still haven't mailed it, though. Instead, I'll post it here and send warm, healing thoughts her way...

Spare Parts

We barge out of the womb
with two of them: eyes, ears,

arms, hands, legs, feet.
Only one heart. Not a good

plan. God should know we
need at least a dozen,

a baker's dozen of hearts.
They break like Easter eggs

hidden in the grass,
stepped on and smashed.

My own heart is patched,
bandaged, taped, barely

the same shape it once was
when it beat fast for you.

- Trish Dugger

A quote for bad days

There was a section right in the middle when we sat through the night and I went into a bit of a meltdown. But as I've come to appreciate, melting down is what goldsmiths do to refine dirty gold.

- Alistair Appleton, Do Buddhists Watch Telly?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Six-Word Memoir

Six-Word Memoir book preview from SMITHmag on Vimeo.

Mine: Loving myself isn't so hard afterall.

What's yours?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Big Bang Boom CD

As promised, the Big Bang Boom CD is now available for purchase - and for only $11! It's parent-friendly kids' music... or kid-friendly good music... or something like that. Listen to some of the tracks here then buy your disc here. You can also download from my sidebar.

Support local music and protect the ears of the parents in your life - Barney knows they've suffered enough with other kids' musicians.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama on race in America

The blogosphere is buzzing about this speech. Why not take a half hour to watch it and make up your own mind?

Donate to commemorate

For the last few days, I've been thinking about our unfortunate anniversary today, five years in Iraq - five years since awful, intentional lies dragged us into a country that was no threat, five years of sacrificing thousands of our military men and women, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, for what? Easier access to oil? A grudge for Hussein's aggression towards H.W.? Sating W.'s desire to be a war president?

Congrats, Bushie. You've done a heckuva job.

So, how best to commemorate such a dark spot in American (and world) history? Donate.

We, the civilians of the United States of America, have been lied to, oh yes. Our government has treated us like idiots, they have abused the rights our Constitution has given us, they have trampled our privacy and they have plunged our country into massive debt to support their blood lust.

But as bad as it has gotten for us, we get to simmer in our outrage from the comfort of our own homes, while we begrudgingly pay $3.50 for gas on the way to pick up our dry cleaning. Meanwhile, the members of our armed forces are being horribly abused. They are being stop-lossed into more and more tours with almost no leave in between. They often lack appropriate training, are poorly outfitted and are completely dismissed upon their discharge, leading to the spike in vet homelessness, mental illnesses and suicide that we have seen in recent years.

I hope you are among the majority who agrees with me that this is a despicable war. But even more so, I hope you agree with me that opposing the war doesn't mean opposing the folks who are literally putting their lives on the line for our country, however misguided their missions might be.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) are working to support our military - to get them the equipment, mental and physical health care, and post-discharge support they desperately need.

Also on the IAVA site are links to other war-related charities that support a variety of needs for the troops as well as Iraqi civilians and military families.

What better way to commemorate this shameful anniversary than to support those who are most horrifically impacted by it? Let your money be your protest.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New photos at Through the Rectangle

I'm pleased to announce that Rob has posted new photos on his site, Through the Rectangle. It's so hard for me to pick favorites but I do have a fondness for these flowers, and this cat... and the photo on the home page makes my pulse race a little.

This one is particularly pertinent given our sad anniversary tomorrow.

Writing pain

One of the questions I did answer while chatting with an amazing high school creative writing class (see parts 1 and 2 of the questions I didn't get to) had to do with whether I think it's okay to write about things that might be painful for others to read. I'd be curious to know what the student had in mind when posing this question - I certainly hope to not produce work that's so painfully bad, it's agony to be read, so I opted for a more topical interpretation of the question: it is okay to write about topics that are uncomfortable for the reader to consider?

We're taught from an early age to give a polite "fine" in response to inquiries about our state of being, and from there we spend our lives considering whether any conversation should include anything more substantive, particularly if it's negative, than that "fine." And then something derails our lives - abuse, the death of a loved one, mental illness, you fill in the blank - and we feel as though we are locked in a vacuum because no one's talking about how the same thing happened to them, how they experienced the same emotions.

Besides, who are we without our pain? Just as our joys and successes factor into who we are as whole people, so too do our disappointments and traumas... Could you fully describe yourself using only the happy moments in your life?

Kevin Powell (who people my age likely remember well from the first season of the reality show that set off the reality trend, The Real World) demonstrates this well in his poem Son2Mother. This is a short excerpt - I encourage you to read the whole poem here.

Mother, have I told you
That you are the first woman
I ever fell in love with, that what
I've always wanted in life is to hear
You say you love me, too?
That is why, ma, it has taken
Me so long to write this poem.
For how could I, a
Grown man, put words to paper
If I am that little boy
Cowering beneath the power of
That slap, the swing of that belt,
Or the slash and burn of that switch
You used to beat me into fear and submission?

Continue reading Son2Mother here.

The polite "fine" has its place at dinner parties and business meetings, but we do ourselves, and each other, a disservice when we hide behind it our whole lives.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Great question: Part 2

Hey! I was able to actually continue a series - this being a series dedicated to answering the great questions of an astute high school creative writing class. Read Part 1 here.

Q: Do you think writers are born or made? Which do you think you are?

A: I tend to think there's a blend of nature and nurture in most facets of who we are and how we live our lives - that our natural abilities can either be nurtured or discouraged - both the talent itself and our belief that we can make a living at it. I'm definitely better with the written word than math or hard sciences or even speaking (as the students I spoke with will likely attest!), and I've been lucky enough to have had a really solid education in high school and college as well as people who encouraged me (including my rocking husband who has made it financially possible).

Q: Are there any people who dislike your writing and how do you respond?

A: There are two kinds of dissenting voices (at least, when it came to responding to my former News & Record column): the rational people who just don't agree and the crazies who are clearly more invested in being ugly than in having a debate. For the first group, I reply with the most comprehensive and thoughtful argument about why I disagree as I can. I really appreciate thoughtful disagreement and work to nurture relationships with people who offer them. As for the other group, sometimes I just ignore them (if I think they're really not worth my time) and the rest of the time, I reply with the calmest, most rational response I can muster. Nothing annoys people like that more than failing to get under someone's skin.

Q: What makes writing your passion?

A: The whole thing is pretty amazing to me: that we can rearrange existing words and share a unique thought, feeling, perspective, story... Writing is an excuse to learn about anything, explore any area of life, and most of all, writing is a medium through which we can connect to one another even as the world seems to become less friendly, even as we each seem to be further retreating into our own private lives. That I could rearrange words in a way that someone else finds meaningful or thought-provoking is one of the greatest thrills I can imagine.

Q: Did anyone in particular inspire you to be a writer?

A: Not really... so many authors have inspired me, and many people have been supportive of me (I count myself very lucky in that way). Madeleine L'Engle did change how I thought about writing, though. I heard her speak when I was a kid (maybe around 10?) and she talked about getting into the story and letting it lead - sometimes, it takes you to unexpected places, but the job of the author is to record what's happening, not force things to happen...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Getcher Bang hot off the presses

That's right: Big Bang Boom's first album is finally ready for purchase! This is the latest project of the ever-so-talented Chuck Folds (long-time Greensborians may remember him from Bus Stop) whose other current projects are Rubberband and Chuck Folds Five.

If you haven't given Big Bang Boom a listen yet, now is the time. My favorite on the site is Why Can't I Have Ice Cream?, but there are songs on the album that seriously rival it. Okay, so it is kids' music but I promise that you don't have to have kids to enjoy it - which is kind of the point. A lifelong musician like Chuck really doesn't want to listen along as his kids listen to Barney... and nor should you.

Download now or, if you're more patient than me, wait for the actual disk to come out. Chuck recommends the latter because, as he says,
1- It sounds better! Digital download purchases are mp3's which are lower quality audio files.
2- You get the cd with the cover art, liner notes, etc...something you can hold in your hand.
3- You can easily put the cd in your computer and make mp3's for your mp3 player (yes, you can make a cd from the mp3's as well but see #2 above)
4- It helps us more as digital download stores take fees off the top of those purchases.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

OK hate speech

As in Oklahoma... as in state rep Sally Kern... She calls it free speech - I call it an example of the kind of person who doesn't deserve a leadership role in our country. I hope her constituents are listening, too.

Sign an open letter to Kern here.

Thanks to Interstate Q for the post.

Their Eyes Were Watching God - reflections

So, it took me a little longer than I expected to reread Their Eyes Were Watching God - I was pleasantly sidetracked by rereading (ironically enough, given my general reluctance to reread anything) a childhood favorite, Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. (As a long sidenote, we picked this up for our eight-year-old nephew for Hanukkah and I offered to read it alongside him... it was interesting how differently it struck me as an adult - how scary the story is, unrelentingly scary - and how thick with religious undertones, though no particular religion... at least, no particular monotheistic religion. I'm looking forward to hearing what my nephew thinks of it...)

But with a box of tissues and stubborn unwillingness to answer my phone, I took the book and my (now finally ended) cold to bed one afternoon and plowed through it. As with my first three readings of Their Eyes, the book hit me differently this time...

I was in high school the first time I read it, and was a romantic with seriously unhealthy tendencies (particularly when it came to romance) so I was primarily swept away by Janie and Tea Cake's romance - they had found true love, their soul mates. Sure, they hit one another, and sure, Tea Cake did some questionable stuff but such are the complexities of amore, I thought.

In subsequent readings, I was lost in Hurston's language which is often breathtakingly beautiful.

She pulled the horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulders."

In those readings, I lost the romance in my anger at Tea Cake.

Perhaps it's being older... perhaps it's being (slightly) less judgemental, but this time, I didn't feel like I had to defend Janie or Tea Cake - I just had to join them. I missed the language for being lost in the story, discovering love with Janie under the pear tree; running away with her to Joe Starks, then sitting uncomfortably in his store; falling in love with Tea Cake and loving him despite his human shortcomings...

I occasionally go through phases where I value non-fiction more than fiction because I want fact, the truth of the world. But Their Eyes are Watching God is a great reminder that truth and fact are often not the same thing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Great question: Part 1

Last Thursday, I spent a class period with an amazing high school creative writing class. I've always stayed pretty connected with my high school self (as in, I remember all too well what that time in my life was like, not, hopefully, that I haven't evolved in the decade+ since then) and so have always had a special place in my heart, and special set of sympathies, for teenagers. Of course, I often don't get teenagers - life and the way people experience their teen years does change ever so rapidly. But the creativity, playfulness, sarcasm and angst displayed by this group felt so comfortable to me, so very familiar.

The list of questions the students put together for me is a study in thoughtful inquisition - really interesting questions that I was really excited to answer. But there were so many of them that most went unanswered in the little talk I prepared. So, in an ongoing series of posts, I intend to answer the rest. I hope my regular readers will enjoy it as much as the students who opt to stop by.

Q: Do you think that good writing has been replaced by popular fluff that appeals to the masses?

A: I think that there are lots of reasons people write and lots of reasons people read, and that sheer entertainment is a valid reason for both. My guess is that the ratio of fluffy entertainment to well-informed non-fiction and meaty, rich fiction isn't so different than it used to be... but with more and more books being published, and the democratization of writing with blogging, and with fewer people actually reading, it might be harder to wade through to more substantive writing. But there are so many amazing contemporary authors: Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Pollan, Anosh Irani, Salman Rushdie, Marsha Mehran... on and on...

Q: How do you organize your thoughts while writing?

A: I'll let you know as soon as I figure that out... organization is an abiding preoccupation of mine - it's damn near a hobby, really. I'm forever reorganizing, rearranging. For shorter works, I tend to write in layers: first thoughts go down then I revise and rewrite in the document until I like what it says, with notes to myself piling up at the bottom. For longer works, I've been using OneNote lately, a program that works like an actual notebook with sections, pages, subpages, etc. It can collect anything - Web pages, other documents, spreadsheets, images, notes - and is easily searchable. Right now, everything goes in there... now, remembering to look back at that is an entirely different story...

Q: When you walk into a room, do you first observe the condition of the room or the people inside the room?

A: People, always people. People are more interesting to me than just about anything else... and I think it's important to meet the world head-on, looking people in the eye. I think it's a friendlier way to approach life and it shows confidence - it can even build confidence when there's not much to show.

Q: Which is more important in persuasive writing: style, content or wit?

A: I think there's probably a perfect blend of style and content out there - style to engage people, giving the writer an opportunity to be persuasive, and content so that once the reader is hooked into the piece, there's a worthwhile argument to offer. It is in making a worthwhile argument that wit, in terms of being on the ball, comes into play. Wit, in terms of humor, is a bonus, but plenty of successful writers have shown us that it's not essential to persuasion (see George Will).

More to come!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Eating in Asheville

Life does have a way of blowing by, but before our lovely meals become distant memories, I wanted to do a post on where we ate in Asheville last weekend.

When we came into town, we went straight to 12 Bones - it's only open on weekdays and only for lunch, so it was our one opportunity. We were hopeful when we pulled in because the usual line wasn't snaking through the parking lot. As it turned out, the line was snaked through the restaurant proper - so much for a small crowd at a late lunch. As usual, the BBQ and ribs were amazing, as were the sides. Unfortunately, the crowd meant we had to sit outside, which would have been okay (despite the cold and the low oil in the table heater) if some folks hadn't let their kids use the outdoor seating area as their personal playground (while the parents dined inside). I'm guessing one kid is still having nightmares about the glare Rob gave him when he decided to springboard off the table we were eating at - the kid kicking up dirt a few feet away would have had a similar terror had he been paying attention. As we were leaving, the kids were throwing stones at random cars in the parking lot. Yeah.

That night, though, made up for that weirdness in spades. A new joint has opened in Biltmore Village, in a building that was most recently a biker bar. The before pictures they had for our viewing pleasure showed amazing imagination in turning that run down hole into what is now Stovetrotters. Stovetrotters is a wild place with lots of big dreams - I encourage you to visit their Web site to learn about some of the wine dinners, culinary vacations and more that they've got going on (or, in some cases, will have going on soon). As a straight-up dining experience, though, we summed it up as a fine dining where you feel comfortable slouching.

You walk into Stovetrotters looking straight into the open kitchen, which is set up behind the bar. We got our first little thrill when the chef looked up from what he was doing to greet us as soon as we stepped inside. The place is small, so a little loud, but that added to it feeling comfortable for us. The waitstaff was warm and knowledgeable and gave off the distinctive feeling that they are in it for the love of the place as much, if not more, than the paycheck. The food was excellent... though, for the sake of full-disclosure, I do have to confess it wasn't the best meal we've ever had, but it was way up there and the dedication of the staff makes us believe that they will only get better with time. After all, they've only been open as a bistro since December.

Over the course of our meal, we chatted with the owner/pastry chef, the chef, and our waiter who is also the sommelier. We witnessed staff members teasing one another then hugging and a waiter give the chef a high-five after tasting the special for the night (by then, we had finished eating but I had to know what the waiter was so excited about so he brought us a little tasting plate of a pecan-crusted mahi with a sour cherry compote over risotto - we instantly understood the high-five).

I know, those are silly little things, but for me and Rob, they all added up to the best overall dining experience we've had - comfortable, warm, friendly, delicious - and we had a three-course meal with wine for just over $100 - can't beat it!

The rest of the weekend was rounded out with places where we've eaten before but were eager to return: Salsa's, the first place everyone mentions when dining in Asheville (crazy delicious Carrabean/Latino flavors piled high - go very hungry but plan to wait in line), Blue Mountain Pizza in Weaverville, a pizza joint with a gourmet's soul and bohemian clothes, and, never to be missed, the Chocolate Fetish where you won't regret trying anything but must have the sea salt caramels.

Just some thought for food...

Monday, March 03, 2008

Anti-drug ad

At the aforementioned Claypool show, Rob and I had an idea for an anti-pot ad that might actually work...

Toward the end of the night, a couple of hippie chicks were dancing next to us, we're guessing stoned out of their gourds, waving their little arms and swaying around, throwing in moves that were reminiscent of Walk Like an Egyptian but without the Bangles' sultry sex appeal. It was truly painful to watch.

That's it - they're the ad. Sure, you can smash eggs and deflate teenage girls and try to scare kids from trying weed, but show them that they could easily look way less cool than they think they look, and I think the campaign will be more impactful. After all, almost no teenager can relate to ruining their short-term memory but every teen can relate to the quest for coolness...

Claypool in Asheville

It is, indeed, time for another Claypool concert report!

This past Saturday, Claypool was back at the Orange Peel, a club that ranks among our favorites because there's really not a bad spot in the place. We were waiting out the pre-show on a bench in the corner and had a pretty decent view of the stage when the opening act, Secret Chiefs 3, came one. We didn't stay seated long, though. I wasn't totally turned on when I heard their music on their MySpace site (I like my readers too much to send you to their official Web site - that thing is all but unnavigable). But live, they were (mostly) able to pull their seriously eclectic sound, produced by seven people on stage and featuring influences including Indian and Irish (that we heard - I can't begin to decipher the influences list on their page), into a really compelling set.

But Claypool, our ole pal Claypool... according to an interview with Mountain Xpress, Claypool wanted to mix it up a bit for this show:
We’re working up a bunch of old material right now that people are going to be very surprised I’m pulling out,” he says, including “some stuff that’s never been able to be performed before.”

And how. The show was unlike any other Claypool experience we've had which first made us wonder what he was partaking of during his off-stage breaks and later made us wonder if Gabby LaLa, who was notably missing, is the den mother who keeps the boys from straying too far from the sheet music. Don't get me wrong - we love Gabby LaLa's artful Theremin dancing and electric sitar strumming, but Claypool, saxophonist Skerik, drummer Paulo Baldi and percussionist (including vibraphone and marimba) Mike Dillon put on a hell of a show.

They were kind enough to grace us with some crowd sing-along favorites, like D's Diner and Whamola, but true to his word, they also played some unexpected ditties, like Fisticuffs (a Primus song, no less), Highball with the Devil, Buzzards of Green Hill, Cosmic Highway and oh so many more... and, with all the riffing and improvising they did, I'm not sure than any song lasted less than ten minutes, including an extended dueling drum bit in the middle of the set (with his floppy hair and no holds barred performing, Dillon sometimes closely resembles Animal from the Muppets). All told, their set was two and a half hours of fancy music fun.

As a side note, though Claypool did his usual costume changes and then some (new to the mix were a judges robes with a powdered wig and some sort of Genghis Khan looking warrior mask), the rest of the guys were outfitted in these queer (dictionary definition, people) red turtle necks with little snowmen all over them, the kind of thing only a woman who shops at Cold Water Creek would wear seriously... did they lose a bet to Claypool? I suppose we'll never know...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Will hike for mental health

Susan Smalley posted about the mental health benefits of reconnecting with nature on The Huffington Post today. According to her bio, Smalley is a "Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA who specializes in the genetics of psychiatric disorders, particularly those with onset in childhood or adolescence, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism."

She, and supporting research, posit that part of the increase in anxiety, depression and learning disorders in modern kids (and I would suggest adults, too) stems from a disconnection from nature, play and activities that involved creativity and intuition.

It does smack of woo-woo hippidom, but I can see the sense of it - or, at least, I can sense the sense of it... I have had many experiences lately where Rob has encouraged me to drop whatever it was that I was working on, which inevitably seemed urgently important at the time, and hit a hiking trail for an hour. And the second we're surrounded by trees, I feel calm.

I can't explain why and, frankly, I don't think the why is particularly important in this case. Maybe it's simply being disconnected from the world for a moment; maybe we're hardwired to respond to the sounds of the upper branches of trees creaking in the wind and birds calling to one another; maybe the pure oxygen that seeps from trees gets us high.

Of course, with hiking, there are the added benefits of whatever it is that exercise does to contribute to mental wellness. Again, I don't know what that is, but I know that when I get into the habit of exercising, I notice the change in my mood when I stop. (Rob notices the change, too, I assure you.) It's not like I'm doing anything ambitious, like running until I hit the endorphin rush - just hiking, sometimes somewhat briskly, but always with plenty of stops while Rob takes pictures or we just admire something out there - the turtles floating in the water or the curve of a particular tree.

Smalley suggests taking time to "Lie down on the ground and what the sky for a while," and I can't agree more. It's free, there are no nasty side effects (read: Prozac and a sadly decreased libido) and you don't have to reveal your inner soul to someone you're paying $125 an hour (though I am a huge advocate of doing so).

All in all, it's a big "why not?"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Memory at 85

Because I married a man a bit older than me, and because he was the surprise child of a woman who initially thought the symptoms of her third pregnancy were signs of her impending "change," I have a mother-in-law who is 85. Since I've known her, she has gone from mildly forgetful to clearly living with dementia. I try to stay very silver-lining about it, which isn't terribly hard because Caroline remembers us and the rest of the family and she's still herself (unlike some with Alzheimer's who display entirely different personalities). And she's basically happy - she'd rather live in an apartment (though definitively none of her kids - something she decided when caring for her own mother with dementia), but says the assisted living facility where she lives is "good enough for now," with nice people and good food that she's eternally grateful to not have to cook.

Lately, though, we've noticed a drop in her memory. Though we like to think of memory loss (as she puts it) as a steady decline, there are actually dips and plateaus - occasionally, there are even rebounds, such as when Caroline became disoriented when she moved into assisted living but rebounded to basically where she was, memory-wise and functionally, before moving.

So, yesterday I took her to the doctor to get a referral to a neurologist. No harm checking it out, we figure. It's been three years since her last trip to the neurologist and there's no telling what kinds of treatment options have been put on the market since then. We are, after all, living in what some reckon to be the golden age of brain sciences.

Her primary care physician said, "So, how old are you?"

Ah, I see where this is going...

"And you think your memory is poorer than it should be for 85?"

Yup, we've landed... at a good point, no less. What do we expect from an 85 year old woman? I'll admit that I expect what I have with my own 87-year-old grandmother and 88-year-old step-grandfather who are both sharp as tacks, both of whom reside in independent living facilities. But perhaps I have it backwards? Perhaps Caroline's functioning should be what we expect in these years so far beyond the lifespan relatively recent history suggests we should have, while these two amazing paragons of health should be considered exceptions worthy of much celebration.

There's been an increasing amount of debate lately about our expectations of aging, particularly in America where we seem to believe aging is optional. Graceful aging is more often regarded as confusing - why would we accept gray hair and wrinkles when we have a host of professionals and products to remedy them?

At nearly 30, it's easy for me to enjoy my growing crop of gray hair and make predictions about how I will face aging once my brain and body start giving out on me. Really, really easy.

In the meantime, I'll take Caroline to the neurologist and hope that he has some fancy new prescription that will combat her dementia if even only a little. If nothing else, the effort will make her happy.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Jim Neal for Senate

I received an email from a guy at Jim Neal's campaign after I wrote about Kay Hagan recently. Apparently, they thought I could be nudged from "Like Hagan but can't find fault with Neal" to "Ohhh... decisions, decisions" or even "Hagan who?" with a short conversation.

They might just have been right.

I just got off the phone with Neal who was absolutely charming - the kind of person I feel like I've known forever after our 20 minute conversation. The thing with both Hagan and Neal is that they don't feel particularly shellacked, though I will say that Neal's complete lack of barriers or formality did make Hagan feel a little glossy in retrospect. I suppose that's to be expected, though - Hagan has been in politics for a long while while Neal hasn't held an office outside institutes of education. She's had more time to integrate the sheen of politics into her NC gal personality.

But that's the whole crux of their run-off, much like the Clinton/Obama debate nationally. Which is better: a newbie who hasn't been tainted by the political system, but perhaps will have more of a learning curve once in office, or a person with existing experience and relationships that might make the transition smoother, but who has had plenty of time to be twisted by an increasingly suspect system?

Going into my conversation with Neal, I had two questions top of mind: 1) How does he really differ from Hagan politically? 2) As a man who makes no bones about being gay, how does he intend to keep his sexuality a non-issue?

He had several examples at the ready on the Hagan question - areas in which their votes would have been different had they already been in U.S. Senate. Some differences according to Neal:
  1. Hagan would grant retroactive immunity to telecoms for their participation in warrantless wiretapping; he would not.
  2. Hagan said she would support SCHIP if it didn't interfere with the tobacco industry, but Neal says he would "take kids over smokers any day."
  3. Hagan wouldn't give an opinion about Mukasey being installed as Attorney General because she didn't have all the info the Senate had. Neal said he would not vote for anybody who had to parse words about whether waterboarding is okay. "I don't think that sends the appropriate message to the world."
As for his sexuality, Neal said, "It is what it is, and I am what I am. I'm not running from the fact that I'm gay nor do I believe that it would be an issue which would block or stand in the way of my being elected."

He rightly pointed out that anyone who wouldn't vote for him solely because of his sexuality likely wouldn't have voted for him anyway because of his stands on a variety of issues, particularly social issues. During a time in which barriers are being knocked down right and left in the presidential field, Neal believes people find his honesty refreshing.

It is a beautiful picture that shows a North Carolina in which an openly gay man could take over Jesse Helms' seat just six years after the master hate monger retired. Even more than my concern about whether enough North Carolinians will vote for a gay man, though, are my concerns that people who have no problem with his sexuality will choose to use their vote elsewhere in their search for the winning horse. That's not a problem with him - that's a problem with a political system that would be better served by allowing people to choose more than one candidate during an election - that way, we could vote for our favorite dark horse (like me and Mike Gravel in the presidential election) while also casting a vote for the person closest to our views but with the better chance of winning (Obama... then again, I do love Obama... almost as much as the surly Gravel.).

Am I a total Neal convert? I'm not sure yet. I completely agree with his stands on the issues above but there's more research to be done before the May 6 primary. I definitely want to have a beer with the guy, though... not that that's a reason to vote for a person... but perhaps this quote is:

"We've had enough of the politics of division," he said. "This is a year about changing the status quo." Amen.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Homeless vets

This morning's Story Corps on NPR was told by George Hill, who was homeless for 12 years after leaving the Marines.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are roughly 200,000 homeless veterans any given night. They believe it is conservative to estimate that one out of three homeless men once served in the military.

Rob, who was in the Navy, says that the first thing they were told in boot camp was that their job was to die for their country. Period.

Now, clearly I am against the war and wish ever so much that big chunks of our military budget would be put into other things like, say, education and health care. But as a country who makes up the red portion of this pie:

shouldn't we have the budget to take care of the men and women who commit their lives to what they perceive to be our safety? Shouldn't they, of all people, be protected against homelessness by the government that sent them into the war zone in the first place, that asked them to put their lives in the hands of people in fancy suits living it up in DC?

My guess is that starting with quality mental health care throughout their service and after would be a great place to start in combating vet homelessness...

The introspection of mourning

I suppose death makes most of us a little thoughtful, and I have spent the last few weeks, as my ex's father battled cancer for a short while and then passed, thinking of the nearly four years that I was a part of their family. I was a problem relative, to say the least... Perceived as a bad influence on my ex (not the first time I had been accused of that but one of the few times I didn't think it was true), I defended myself through gruffness and sarcasm. I was young; they were protective. I suppose we were all doing what we had to do.

At the lunch, I stood for a while with my ex and the two friends we spent all of our time with, a couple we traveled with, rang in the New Year with, called whenever we happened to be heading out to dinner. It was a strange kind of deja vu, so familiar and yet so alien... one of those moments where it seemed like both yesterday and a lifetime since the four of us stood around together... comfortable but terribly, terribly uncomfortable at the same time.

After all, what is the role of an ex in that situation? I wanted to be useful and comforting but after more than six years apart, that's long since stopped being my job... that's not even within my skill set anymore. I barely had a grasp on how to do that when we were a couple...

The broken heart I sustained at the end of that relationship has long since flaked away, aided in large part by Rob whose very presence in my life has shown me that I was wrong to think major compromise - who I am, what I want from a partner, what I want from my life - is an integral part of a long-term relationship. In it's place, I'm glad to have an amazing marriage, and a friendship with my ex, fueled by the memory of the qualities I loved about her... her awkwardness and sincerity and basic goodness.

The funeral ended with the playing of Dream a Little Dream, which took on a whole new meaning in the Hanes Lineberry chapel:

Say "nighty night" and kiss me
just hold me tight and tell me
you'll miss me.
While I'm alone and blue as can be
Dream a little dream of me.
Stars fading
but I linger on
still craving your kiss
I'm longing to linger til dawn, dear

I don't have any real beliefs in heaven and hell, but I hope that his wife was right when she imagined him sailing to the shores of heaven, greeted by his and her parents who promptly poured him a Maker's Mark. Surely, they serve Maker's Mark in heaven? I'll add that I hope his heaven plays really good music, with a healthy dose of Jonny Lang on the juke box.

Nighty, night, George. You worked hard and played hard; you were funny and irreverent and a hell of a wheeler-and-dealer. You lived life fully and in the process touched the lives of a lot of people. You will truly be missed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Newspapers adjusting to new times

We are in the midst of a monumental clash: new media versus old. On the local level, this is playing out particularly in the struggle between traditional print news, our very own News & Record, and the proliferation of free, online news sources from blogs to the New York Times online. The question being asked across the board is: Will local daily newspapers remain relevant much longer?

Bill Snider*, who spent two decades as the editor of what was then the Greensboro Daily News, thinks the question is a little overblown. “I think newspapers will find their niche the way radio did after TV came in.”

Roch Smith, Jr., the developer and proprietor of, a site that aggregates local blogs, agrees. “Now more than ever, with everyone able to publish to the Web, the value that news organizations can bring is credibility.”

That is just about where the agreement ends. During my conversations with them last week, each offered different perspectives on how local dailies will remain strong in a landscape in which the traditional profit generators – advertising and print circulation – are fast dwindling.

“I know weekly newspapers do mighty well with a local emphasis,” Bill said, “but I think if people are going to depend on a daily newspaper, then it ought to cover national and international news, more than the local news.”

Alternately, Roch sees anything beyond local coverage as an unnecessary recycling of content to be found on any national news site. He instead sees the role of the local dailies as being a resource for connecting people. “I find myself most interested in starting with the human level, as I see the blogs defining it.” Accordingly, Roch begins his news surfing by reading Greensboro blogs then following their links to the News & Record Web site for the “hard news” of the matter.

Meanwhile, the News & Record finds itself stretching uncomfortably between these divergent populations. A recent Web site redesign and the addition of more than a dozen staff-written blogs, all linked to We101, were notable efforts to reach out to the dramatically increasing population of readers who approach news as Roch does.

But I tend to agree with Roch that rejiggering may, ultimately, be less effective than rethinking, particularly redefining the end-all, be-all of newspaper bottom-lines: circulation. Roch believes that dailies should “measure the circulation of the content rather than the circulation of the container.”

What he means is that while newspapers are still busily counting the number of print issues purchased, they could boost their readership by inviting people to circulate their content through new media tools, particularly widgets. For example, I have a widget on my blog that links to my GoodReads bookshelves. Anyone on my blog sees GoodReads branding, and anyone interested in what I’ve been reading can click through to their site, which may stir interest in starting their own GoodReads account. My blog provides a resource to readers and GoodReads gets free advertising. The News & Record could do the same by providing a widget that displays headlines, local sports scores or whatever they want. As Roch pointed out, widgets could even include third-party advertising, further boosting revenue.

As the News & Record squares off with this formidable challenge, its need to cut expenses means that this is my last regular column. I’m sad to go but honored to have had a nearly two-year dialogue with all of you. Thanks for reading – I hope you’ll continue to support our paper as it finds its footing in our new media world.

*Bill Snider, just for full-disclosure's sake, is a member of my extended family.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A&T SuperStudents

I've had the front section of the Saturday News & Record sitting on my desk the last few days, trying to decide what to do with the article about Damien Cash and Derrick Gardner, two A&T students who intervened when a woman was being attacked... news that inspiring deserves more than a wimpy blog post, but I can't really imagine a gesture I could make that would befit two young men taking personal responsibility in a time that seems increasingly me-first... no, I think we're often beyond me-first and well into me-only.

So, I'll stick with a truly sub-par "Bravo!!" and hope that the word of their selfless deed inspires other people to take a moment to look beyond the bubble of their own existence. Maybe Damien's mom could teach parenting classes - as she said, "I know I raised him the right way." Indeed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Another of Olbermann's Bush smack-down

Olbermann may have an ego the size of Bush's war deficit, but he says what needs to be said with an appropriate amount of indignation... and, more importantly, logic:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

USA 193

Apparently the ill-fated spy satellite, USA 193, will be visible in Greensboro at moments throughout the weekend:

USA 193 - Visible Passes

Search period start: 00:00 Saturday, 16 February, 2008
Search period end: 00:00 Tuesday, 26 February, 2008
Observer's location: Greensboro, 36.0730°N, 79.7920°W
Local time zone: Eastern Standard Time (UTC - 5:00)
Orbit: 261 x 263 km, 58.5° (Epoch Feb 11)

Click on the date to get a star chart and other pass details.

DateMagStartsMax. altitudeEnds
16 Feb3.418:33:5510SSE18:35:2315ESE18:36:3312E
17 Feb2.518:27:2910S 18:29:2927SE 18:31:3010ENE
18 Feb1.518:21:0210SSW18:23:1455SE 18:25:2910NE
19 Feb1.618:14:2910SW 18:16:4368NW 18:18:5810NNE

Developed and maintained by Chris Peat, Heavens-Above GmbH
Please read the updated FAQ before sending e-mail.

Happy (belated) Valentine's Day!

Psst - this guy's Lego art is also pretty amazing:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Guerrilla Poetry

I smiled at an older gentleman at the Harris Teeter on New Garden yesterday. (Other than when in truly dire moods, I try to smile at strangers - these days, it's damn near an act of rebellion.) He took my smile as an invitation and offered me a poem.

It's, obviously, an unusual offer and I honestly wasn't sure if he was going to recite one to me, or if the guy was a little loopy... I do have a string of quasi-homeless, slightly (sometimes very) wacky older man friends in my past - it seems that I'm like catnip to them... probably because I smile.

Anyway, the man handed me a short poem printed on a small piece of card stock, then fished out two more. "My wife prints these out for me so I can give them to people," he said. Apparently, he also writes songs and sings them acapella, then burns them onto disks to give to people, but he was out yesterday and hoped that we would run into one another again so he could share one of those.

And then we parted ways. We didn't even shake hands or introduce ourselves.

The poems could have been total crap - it wouldn't have changed the fact that the interaction made the day seem somehow magical. I love moments like that, stumbling across a lovely stranger who offers an unsolicited bit of kindness. Shortly before, a friend told me that she had been given a cup of coffee by a random stranger at a Starbucks, which had likewise made her day.

And I love that this man would share something as intimate as a poem with strangers. I can imagine that many people are put off by the whole thing and refuse the poem, but I hope that much more often, they not only accept the slip of paper but do so graciously and really take a moment to read his words.

But the poems, while perhaps not making this man contender for poet laureate of NC, are lovely and positive. My favorite of the three:

A Letter to my Life

Dear Life,

Be kind and comforting
when I mourn
Be happy and vibrant
when I celebrate
Be patient while
I choose my path

Be forgiving and
when I make mistakes
Be aware and supporting
when I choose wisely
Carry me softly on
your gentle breath so
I land upright and honest

True to myself and others
and to the memory of my ancestors

- Harry Nagel

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Counterproductive diet food?

I had heard before (though I can't now remember where) that some research suggested that artificial sweeteners are counterproductive in the quest to lose weight. A BBC article highlights a study that shows the same.

Granted, the study was performed on rats and not humans, but being my own lab rat of dietary methods, I will say that keeping weight off has involved almost no effort since Rob and I transitioned into a whole foods way of eating. When we were doing Weight Watchers, and were subscribing to the conventional wisdom of weight loss, we had to pay attention to every morsel that entered our mouths and experience those oh so un-American feelings of deprivation to shed pounds. It's counterintuitive but true that now that we eat an egg sandwich every morning (on whole wheat bread) and have banned all low-fat and artificially sweetened (except for the occasional diet soda) from our pantry (we are more flexible out and about), we're lighter than we've been before and we're really enjoying what and how we eat. Mind you, we did replace low-fat items with full-fat, particularly cheese and the swap from margarine to butter. Mmmm, butter!

As with this study, I do tend to think the magic lies in our bodies not being confused by the messages the food sends. While artificial and processed foods prime the body for a certain amount of caloric energy and certain kinds of nutrients that they don't deliver, our bodies know exactly what to do with whole, real foods - it's no mystery to our digestive systems how to break down beets, whole grains or even real cheeses (except, of course, for you unfortunate lactose-intolerant folks - so sorry!). Perhaps that is, in part, why we stay sated for so much longer and have cut back our snacking dramatically.

Now that I think about it, the whole foods "diet plan" isn't so mysterious after all...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Flight of the hamsters

Flight of the Hamsters is the game to play if you're in a bad mood - I have laughed so hard - wait till the little guys start making a descent from really hight up... - now, if someone could explain to me how to steer the hamster...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sit-ins roundtable

Again, seriously overdue on posting this, particularly since the roundtable happened last Friday, but I still wanted to share bits and pieces. Just as background, as you likely know, last Friday was the 48th anniversary of the beginning of the sit-in movement, when four A&T students, Ezell Blair, Jr., (now Jibreel Khazan), David Richmond, Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil, sat down at the segregated Woolworth's counter in downtown Greensboro, reinvigorating the civil rights movement and, as the three surviving members said last Friday, putting a "down payment on our manhood."

Highlights from the roundtable included:
  • They consider themselves the A&T Four, not the Greensboro Four. Though the whole city claims them and their actions now, in 1960, A&T was really a separate and self-contained city.
  • Dr. Warmoth Thomas Gibbs, then the president of A&T, was asked to talk the Four out of the protest, to which he reportedly replied, "We don't teach our students what to think; we teach them how to think."
  • Lewis Brandon, who was an A&T student at the time, and the first winner of the Human Rights Medal in 2002, said, "Greensboro likes to think of itself as progressive, especially in race relations. But Greensboro has never made change without a struggle from the community."
  • When asked by a student how they feel about A&T now, McCain said, "I'm proud of the institution but I'm not satisfied that students are doing enough," he went on to say that he felt the same way when he was a student. (As a funny side note to that question, he made mention of his mother not abiding him wearing a hat inside the house and a student immediate removed his toboggan.)
  • McCain also advised, "Don't wait for the masses to act on your concerns because the masses didn't come February 1, 1960, and they're not coming February 1, 2008."
  • Perhaps most importantly, McCain also said that the reason people are born with the capacity to do more than survive is because it is our job to take care of the least among us, that we're supposed to leave the world a better place than we found it. Buying fancy cars and starting families is all well and good, he said, but it's not the point.
A final note: My friend, Diane, and I were among the five white people there, in a turn-out that I expected to be standing room only but was instead filled with empty seats. It made me wonder a couple of things:
  1. Though African Americans were, clearly, the leaders and motivators of the civil rights movement, have we forgotten that people of all ethnicities, including whites, played significant supporting roles? That issues that affect minorities are issues that we must all address to have the best possible America?
  2. Have we reached a place where we have made enough gains in minority rights that we have gotten lazy? I wonder this not just about issues related to people of color but also about feminism... We do not have true equality - we have earnings disparities, health care disparities, legal disparities - and yet not enough people turned out to hear the wisdom of living civil rights legends to fill a modestly-sized auditorium?

Kay Hagan for Senate

I'm a little behind the ball on posting, but better late than never...

I went to a fundraiser for Kay Hagan on Monday night. I've met Kay a time or two in the past - at a meeting of the (now defunct) local chapter of NAWBO when she was campaigning for her most recent term in the State Senate, and more recently, when I ran into her at the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market. She was in her Saturday morning sweats with her hair pulled back and I didn't recognize her, but she stopped me to comment on a recent column. Needless to say, I was flattered...

But that's not why I like Kay - I liked, and supported her, from that first NAWBO meeting where I got the distinct impression (that has remained in the years since, as I've watched her career) that she's not trying to pull anything over on anyone. Though I, like a lot of people, have an innate suspicion of anyone in politics, Kay has never struck me as trying to pass for anyone other than herself, and to be sincere when she says she cares much more about issues than partisan politics. That said, she does have a seriously liberal voting record (this is the General Assembly record, and this is the abbreviated yet much easier to read Project Smart Vote record), but I'm certainly not one to criticize a person for that...

At the fundraiser, I again felt like she wasn't trying to sell a line, that she's truly concerned with comprehensive education for all kids ("I want all kids to have the opportunities my kids had," she said - her kids attended Greensboro Day School), to support military with a particular emphasis on the mental health of those returning from action, and to build our state's reputation as a center for business, particularly nanotechnology.

Still, I have to confess that I have yet to find fault with Jim Neal, who is also making a run for Dole's seat. Of course, I've never met the guy and he doesn't have any sort of voting record for easy insight... but I have to give a lot of credit to a guy who is openly gay and doesn't make any bones about it either way - it is what it is. A person's sexuality should only be a matter for the individual and whoever they're romantically involved with. As long as an elected official handles their power responsibly and with the needs and wants of their constituents in the forefront, what do I care what gender of consenting adult they have under their sheets?

Ultimately, neither gender nor sexuality (nor, in the case of our presidential race, ethnicity) have anything to do with a person's ability to fill a public office they hope to hold. May the most suitable, dedicated person win.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Gun buyers should prove qualifications

By now, we've all read the statistics: 32 homicides in Greensboro last year, six of whom were teenagers. What wasn't widely publicized was that 25 of those killings, 78 percent, were gun-related deaths. Simmer down, NRA members: This isn't a column about banning guns, but it is one about being thoughtful about how we handle the awesome responsibilities of this right.

It's something I've thought about a lot over the years, particularly at the beginning of this decade when I spent a year's membership at Calibers Indoor Gun Range, creating ever-tighter patterns of .22-caliber holes in faceless paper targets.

It was a powerful feeling to use a weapon with such intensely destructive potential. Ultimately, it was knowing how easily the trigger slid under my grip that kept me from buying a gun.

You see, that's the problem with guns: They are so incredibly easy to use. It takes infinitely more know-how to operate a computer, with which the average non-hacker can hurt little more than people's feelings, than a firearm that can end a life with even the most careless of gestures.

I just can't help but wonder how many of those 25 dead would still be alive had their attacker not had such a convenient weapon. If those attackers had only their fists, or a knife, would they have followed through? It's gory but worth considering that a beating or stabbing requires time, effort and proximity. You can't beat someone from 400 feet away, but you can shoot someone from that distance, even with a wimpy .22 revolver. No, an attacker using fists or knives has to be within an intimate distance of the victim, close enough for a vivid experience of the effect of their actions.

Meanwhile, a person with a gun standing a football field away could barely see the entry wound, much less the precious blood seeping from it. Most importantly, I suspect it's a gracious few people who have the expertise to hit or stab someone once to kill them, leaving time for a change in heart, to stop the attack before it's too late.

Still, I'm not suggesting that guns be outlawed completely. Our civil rights seem to be an endangered species and I'm not interested in further abridgements. But I do think more processes should be implemented to ensure that only those who can handle the deadly power of firearms have access to them.

Right now, we have a waiting period to buy guns in stores but an unfortunate gun-show loophole. Why? Do we value commerce more than responsibility? Right now, anyone who wants to legally carry a concealed weapon must complete an educational course, but why not extend that to all gun ownership? People should be required to prove they can handle both the weapon itself and the responsibility therein before taking a firearm home. We rightly require as much before a person can drive a car.

And, by all means, let's hold gun owners responsible for anything that happens with their firearm, whether they are the ones who pull the trigger or not. Unless a gun is reported stolen, there's no excuse for not taking full responsibility for its whereabouts.

I realize that there will always be a black market for firearms and other contraband. But when lives are on the line, it is worthwhile to take a note from the Serenity Prayer and change that which we can. We can tackle the problems of illegal weapons once we start acting rationally and responsibly with legal ones.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008 and Obama

I suppose this had the effect it was meant to, because I was truly moved by this... not that anyone has had to convince me to be an Obama backer...

I was also moved by's post - from the heart, and the perspective of a person who isn't a political junkie. This is an excerpt - go to for the whole shebang:

The outcome of the last 2 elections has saddened me...
on how unfair, backwards, upside down, unbalanced, untruthful,
corrupt, and just simply, how wrong the world and "politics" are...

So this year i wanted to get involved and do all i could early...

And i found myself torn...
because this time it’s not that simple...
our choices aren’t as clear as the last elections ...
last time it was so obvious...
Bush and war
no Bush and no war...

But this time it’s not that simple...
and there are a lot of people that are torn just like i am...

So for awhile I put it off and i was going to wait until it was decided for me...

And then came New Hampshire...

And i was captivated...


I reflected on my life...
and the blessings I have...
and the people who fought for me to have these rights and blessings...

and I’m not talking about a "black thing"
I’m talking about a "human thing" me as a "person"
an American...

That speech made me think of Martin Luther King...
and Lincoln...
and all the others that have fought for what we have today...

what America is "supposed" to be...

and truth...

and thats not what we have today...
we think we are free...
but in reality terror and fear controls our decisions...

Kitchen tools: oil spray pump

I've been using an oil spray pump for a long while now - I switched from Pam to avoid both the waste of the empty cans and the many ingredients added to help it spray and keep it from spoiling. In my experience, though, pump sprays are notoriously mediocre, spraying in clumps rather than mists, and never for as long as I'd like between pumping. Still, small prices to pay for a reusable container that sprays nothing but the pure oil of my choice.

After five or six years, my last pump finally pumped its last. After a bit of looking around, I came across the Cuisipro Spray Pump at Extra Ingredient. At $14, it was more than I had paid for my last one, but after using it for the first time this morning, I think it was well worth the few extra dollars.

Amazingly enough, it does, in fact, mist, and has an easy pump action. It's a little thing, but in my experience, a few good, essential kitchen tools can be the difference between a pleasant cooking experience and a painful one. For a dramatic example, spend a week using a relatively dull utility knife before switching to a sharp chef's knife - you'll know exactly what I mean.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Stone Mountain State Park

Rob and I have always joked that we like nature... as long as we can see it through the windshield of our car. But his photography, and our desire to find exercise that doesn't feel like a torturous waste of time, has led us to fall in love with hiking in recent months. It doesn't hurt that there are a mass of trails within a five-mile radius of our house.

So, we jumped at the chance to hike in Stone Mountain State Park with our vastly more hiking-savvy friend, Courtney, this past weekend. We chose the longest loop on the map - at 4.5 miles, we thought even we could keep up, though the map did call it a strenuous trail. As it turned out, most of what made it strenuous were the dozens (upon dozens upon dozens) of stairs, many of which seemed to be newly installed, leading to and back down from the summit of the mountain, a relatively smooth rock face that seemed impossible for rock climbing though we saw nearly a dozen climbers making their way up.

We also saw deer - deer that had clearly lived their entire lives in a sanctuary where humans had shot them with nothing more than cameras. They looked up at us from where they grazed, completely unconcerned that we were a few short yards away.

In all, we think we ended up hiking around seven miles, once we had taken a couple of detours, including one to reach the top of the waterfall. We also spent plenty of time just enjoying the surroundings- jumping from rock to rock so Rob could take this picture:

and sitting at the pockmarked summit surrounded by shallow pools of rainwater. We left wondering when the three of us could make the time to rent a cabin there so we could spend a few days exploring the other trails and the vast untouched areas.

The first photo shows a technique Rob is playing with - I love the drama of it! I'll be sure to let you know if/when he posts most pictures from this hike on his blog, Life through the Rectangle.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The sound of the anti-war movement

Being somewhere in the middle of the spectrum from "Inter-what?" to "Coding guru," I've wanted to post a song here for a while but never quite figured out how. The song is "Too Many Puppies," off Primus's first album, Frizzle Fry, which, ironically (for reasons you're about to hear) was released in February 1990, several months before the start of the first Gulf War.

This is just a clip, but I hope it inspires you to download or otherwise seek out the entire song:


Too many puppies are being shot in the dark.
Too many puppies are trained not to bark.
At the sight of blood that must be spilled
so that we may maintain our oil fields.

Too many puppies(x2)
Too many puppies are taught to heel.
Too many puppies are trained to kill.

On the command of men wearing money belts
that buy mistresses sleek animal pelts.

Too many puppies.(x4)
Too many puppies with guns in their hands.
Too many puppies in foreign lands.

Are dressed up sharp in suits of green and
Placed upon the war machine.

Too many puppies are just like me.
Too many puppies are afraid to see.
The visions of the past brought to life again,
Too many puppies, too many dead men.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The funniest thing I've seen in a while

And truly off-color, as is Sarah Silverman's strong suit. Don't watch if you don't like naughty:

Rethinking productivity

2007 was my year of uber-productivity, with undue amounts of time spent thinking of how I could cram more work into each and every day. And while I made great progress in my personal and professional lives in '07, I also noticed some nasty side-effects, like having a harder time really enjoying downtime, because I was always nagged by the work I could have been doing.

So when Rob and I started our New Year planning on January 1, I added a goal of redefining productivity in the hopes of finding the balance between quantity of work and quality of life. Nevertheless, when Tuesday rolled around this week, all I wanted to do was get back in bed, maybe read a little, definitely get some more snooze time in... but having not yet achieved my redefinition goal, I instead forced myself to sit at my desk until 4:30, pecking away at work, most of which will likely end up in the sad "never to be completed" file on my C: drive. But, for the sake of consistency and discipline, it felt like the right thing to do.

Research conducted by Dr. Roy Baumeister, which I unfortunately didn't read until Wednesday, suggests otherwise. According to him, "self-control might depend on a limited resource — a resource that, like a muscle, depletes during repeated, continuous use."

Like muscles, he says, we can build out capacity for self-control through "regular exertions of self-control," such as getting up at the same time every morning or doing a given task everyday. But, just as even the American Gladiators reach fatigue eventually, self-control resources eventually wear out, requiring down-time: activities that require little focus in order to recharge the stores.

Also interesting is that Baumeister's research further suggests that neither the difficulty nor the importance of the self-control sucking task is relevant to how it depletes the stores - only that self-control is used, as evidenced by a study in which the depletion task was simply to eat only radishes from a plate that held both radishes and chocolate.

It seems that in this case, the adage holds true: slow and steady win the race. Regular exertions of self control coupled with an awareness of fatigue are our best bet for remaining as productive as possible without killing ourselves.