Thursday, December 25, 2008

Everything we have ever loved

"Christmas--that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, [or of craziness], but always it will be a day of remembrance--a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved."

~ Augusta E. Rundel

It has been such a day for me. Thank you, dear family and friends, for being part of my life and for including me in yours. Merry, merry Christmas!

Year-end stats: 2008
(aka my sort-of Christmas letter)

  • Houses lived in: Just 1! (This is the first time in six years I've stayed put in the same house and the same room. Yay!)
  • Herb gardens planted: 2
  • Herb gardens still alive: 0 (except for one determined rosemary plant)
  • Pounds lost in biggest loser competition: 10 (see here)
  • Pounds gained back at end of competition: none of your business
  • Episodes of LOST watched: 72
  • Writing classes taken: 1
  • Book club meetings hosted: 10
  • Countries visited: 3 (Egypt, Jordan and Israel; see here and here)
  • States visited: 4 (See here, here, and here for Colorado; here for Idaho/Utah; and here, here and here for North Carolina)
  • Trips to Utah to see family: 3
  • Vacation days left at end of year: 0
  • Pounds of Hunter's seriously sharp cheddar cheese consumed: ~10
  • Awesome kids I teach music to at church each week: ~40
  • Presidential elections survived in DC: 1 (Third one! Can you believe I've lived here more than 8 years?!)
  • Times pressed snooze: 365 x ~5 = ~1,825
  • Minutes spent commuting: ~21,600 (45-60 each way every day - see here and here)
  • Books started: ~50
  • Books finished: 15?
  • Major reports released at work: 4
  • New blogs started: 2 (see here and here)

'Tis the season ...

... to elf yourself!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Images of Christmas

Washington, DC Temple:

Our house decorated for Christmas:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

His charisma is killing me

I was walking past a stack of newspapers on my way to the printer this morning when I saw a headline out of the corner of my eye that literally stopped me in my tracks:

"Obama's Charm Offensive."

, I thought, you just can't win with some people, no matter what you do. People are offended that he's a nice guy who's good with people?

Then I caught the subhead: "Radically different from Rahm." Wait, I thought Rahm was the offensive one. I'm so confused.

Luckily there was a second subhead that shed more light: "Republicans clearly flattered by personal calls." And suddenly I got it. "Offensive" is a noun here, not a verb. He's waging a charm campaign. Killin' 'em with kindness. Ha ha!

I immediately remembered the list of funny actual headlines we got in one of my college journalism classes -- things like "Iraqi Head Seeks Arms" and "Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge" and "Kids Make Nutritious Snacks." In fact, I just found a similar list here:

Funny Newspaper Headlines:
  • Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
  • Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted
  • Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents
  • Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
  • Eye Drops off Shelf
  • Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead
  • Shot Off Woman's Leg Helps Nicklaus to 66
  • Enraged Cow Injures Farmer with Axe
  • Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Dies
  • Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter
  • Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
  • Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
  • Deer Kill 17,000
  • Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge
  • New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
  • Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
  • Chef Throws His Heart into Helping Feed Needy
  • Fire British Union Finds Dwarfs in Short Supply
  • Ban On Soliciting Dead in Trotwood
  • Lansing Residents Can Drop Off Trees
  • Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half New
  • Vaccine May Contain Rabies
  • College Opens Doors to Hearing
  • Old School Pillars are Replaced by Alumni
  • Include your Children When Baking Cookies
  • Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
  • Bank Drive-in Window Blocked by Board
  • British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands
  • Air Head Fired Steals Clock, Faces Time
  • Lung Cancer in Women Mushrooms
  • Farmer Bill Dies in House
  • Teacher Strikes Idle Kids
  • Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash
  • Probe Told Miners Refuse to Work after Death
  • Drunken Drivers Paid £1000
  • War Dims Hope for Peace
  • If Strike isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last a While
  • Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
  • Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
(This list also kind of reminds me of some e-mail forwards I got circa 1998, back when it was cool to forward funny jokes and I would even print some of them out and put them in a binder -- true story. Didn't grasp the whole Internet thing at all back then.)

Anyway, I'm kind of proud to have discovered my very own unintentionally funny headline.

And here's another thing about this front page that you might have found interesting: the picture of the guy with the white hair. Um, that's not Rahm. Or Barack. Did they get mixed up and put someone else's picture under that headline? Nope. Turns out that pictures belongs with the story BELOW it, headlined "Larson: I'm not afraid of Speaker."

Note to editor of The Hill newspaper: Might be time for a small chat with your copyeditors and layout folks. (Try not to be too offensive, though.)

Have a funky, funky Christmas

I can't believe I forgot my camera and couldn't record our bad-poetry-slash-Matt's-birthday party!

The winning entries (we didn't actually pick winners but since it was Matt's birthday we'll call his entries the winners):

-Funky Funky Christmas, by New Kids on the Block
-18 and Life, by Skid Row

I contributed a dramatic reading of Christmas Eve in Washington (turns out we had a lot of song lyrics), and Liz and Kim came through with some HILARIOUS poems written in all seriousness by people they actually know, all about truth bombs and Mormon singlehood.

Though none of the bad poetry performances were preserved in video format, I did manage to snap a few pics with my phone. Please note Liz's awesome decorations, including the hot seat for dramatic readings:

And here is Matt with a few of the ladies:

Have a funky, funky Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Adrenaline junkies and blogging


I'm seriously considering investing in this alarm clock, called the SnūzNLūz:

How it works:

"Connects to your online bank account, and donates YOUR real money to an organization you HATE when you decide to snooze!"

Are you a butcher? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to PETA
Are you a republican? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to the ACLU!
Are you a land developer? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to the Wilderness Society!
Enjoy your freedom? (Blue state version) Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to the GOP. or
Enjoy your freedom? (Red state version) Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to MoveOn.Org
Are you a hippie? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to the American Coal Foundation.
Are you a Ninja? Set your SnūzNLūz to donate to, hrrrm, we can't find a Pirate Charity at the moment. But there must be one...somewhere...
I'm not sure which charity I'd choose. Any (non-partisan) suggestions?!

So, yes, I admit it, I have a lifelong addiction to the snooze button.

A friend asked me recently how my mornings typically go. Well, I answered, they usually start with me hitting snooze for approximately an hour, then rushing out of the house late for work with unwashed hair, eating breakfast on the way to the bus stop, putting on makeup while riding the metro, and finally slinking to my desk and pretending I've been there awhile already.

So how does this tie into blogging?

I'm not so good at doing things on a normal timeline, or in installments, whether it's getting up in the morning, getting a project done at work, writing a paper, planning a party or a musical number or whatever. I tend to put things off, keep putting them off, put them off some more and then suddenly get it all done in a big burst of hyperfocused energy. My mother calls me an adrenalin junkie. I'm pretty sure this type of behavior has shaved a few years off my life.

So when it comes to blogging ... well, I try to space out posts and all, and I have ideas for posts regularly, but somehow they just pile up and the only way I know how to do this is to catch up all at once.

This is basically a very long way of explaining why there are eight new posts all of a sudden, and inviting you to read all of them (even though I have a feeling this is probably bad blog etiquette or something, and only my mom and like one other person will read them all). Ah, well, all I can say is, Welcome to my world.

Pearls before swine

(Scene: Morning. A reasonably attractive woman in her early thirties boards a city bus and finds a seat across from several other riders, including a man about her age reading a newspaper.)

Man (looking up from newspaper): Hey, you have some dirt on your pants, yeah, right there.

Reasonably attractive woman: Oh, thanks. (Rubs at dirt with fingers.)

Man: I think it's actually from your purse -- it's all dirty on the bottom.

Woman (turning an impossibly large purse to look at the bottom): Oh, no, I must have set it down at the bus stop. Thanks for pointing that out.

Man: If I were you, I'd wait until I got to work and use water on it; otherwise you'll just rub it in.

Woman: Ah. Good point. (Sits still, feeling uncomfortable, wanting to rub dirt from her pants and planning to do so as soon as man gets off bus.)


Man (looking up from newspaper): You have more self-control than I do. I would have been rubbing at that dirt like crazy by now.

Woman (laughs self-consciously): Well, really it's just par for the course for me. I'm always having minor mishaps -- it's kind of a way of life for me. My friends tell me I'm like the heroine of a romantic comedy who's always falling down and hitting her head, but who gets the guy in the end. Like Sandra Bullock or Meg Ryan or something.

Man: Do your friends always lie to make people feel better about themselves? (Laughs at his own joke; woman laughs confusedly.)

Man: I'm Tyler.

Woman: Nice to meet you. Allison.

Man: Hey, do you read the comics?

Woman: Yeah, sometimes.

Man: My favorite one is this one about a pig and a zebra. Last week, they had a really funny one where the pig ...

(Man keeps talking. Woman's mind wanders to other riders on the bus who are trying to appear as though they are not eavesdropping, which, of course, they are. "Is he hitting on me?" the woman thinks. "Are all these people laughing inside, like I do when I see someone hitting on someone else in public? Is this awkward? Or not? AND -- did he really just say that my friends are *lying* to make me feel better when they say I'll get the guy in the end?"

Man finishes story and laughs, looking expectantly at woman. Woman realizes she wasn't listening and has no idea what he just said and pretends to laugh awkwardly.)

Another reasonably attractive woman (sitting next to the man, laughing loudly): Oh, that's a good one! I love that comic!

Man: It's called "Pearls Before Swine." I have no idea what that means, but it's my favorite comic.

First woman: It's from the Bible.

Man sitting next to woman #1: Yeah, it means, like, not tellin' people your personal business 'cause they don't understand. Like, if I believe somethin', and I know people don't respect that, then I ain't gon' tell those people, 'cause it's special to me.

(First woman stands as the bus pulls up to the metro.)

Man: Hey, nice to meet you.

Woman: You too. Have great day. (Exits bus with a sigh of relief.)

Uh huh. Welcome to my world. :)

I <3 DC

I have officially lived in Washington, DC longer than any other place my entire life. 8 years! That's one quarter of my life so far. I was just looking through my pictures from this past year and decided to post some of the best places in DC I've visited this year.

1. Eastern Market: Hands down one of my favorite places in DC. Amazing blueberry buckwheat pancakes for breakfast ("bluebucks"), and then flea market / craft heaven. My favorite bookstore is also at Eastern Market: Capitol Hill books, inside a converted row house with teetering piles of books taking up every last square inch of space and cranky, funny old man running the place. (See last three pictures).

2. National Aboretum: It's a fairyland every April when the azaleas are in bloom. And the bonsai exhibit is cool, too. This year I went with Liz and Rachel.

3. The National Cathedral: I visited twice this year. The first time, they were projecting artwork on the outside of the cathedral at night to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The second time was for a concert on the 4th of July. Next time I go, I want to buy a guide to all the gargoyles in the gift shop and then go outside and spot them. Or do the same thing with the stained glass inside. Someone out there wants to do this with me, admit it.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built a chapel in the heart of DC in the 1930s. Tragically, the Church later sold it to the Unification Church. I called up and asked for a tour one day on my lunch break, and ended up explaining to my guide why the stained glass in the sanctuary represented the holy land on one wall and the central/south American lands on the opposite wall. Another highlight was the mosaic of the Sermon on the Mount over the front door, signed by someone named, simply, Mahonri.

5. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival: Every summer for three weeks, the Smithsonian highlights a couple of countries and a US state on the national mall. There are crafts and food and art and demonstrations. The first time I attended, one of the countries was Oman, and I left with henna tatoos on my hands that lasted more than a week (this was just as I was starting a new job). This year, Bhutan was highlighted. The third pic is of a sand painter. Here I am with Kim, Richie and Liz:

6. The Air Force Memorial: I did NOT like this when it was built a year or so ago. But I drove past one day when there was a rainbow, so I got out and visited it up close, and decided it's actually kind of cool.

Non-chronological post with beach pictures

It turns out I have approximately one million pictures on my computer that I've been meaning to post ... including some from a beach vacation back in June that I still smile when I remember. (This was the second of two Outer Banks treks this summer, this one with some old, dear friends that I don't get to see nearly enough -- read more here.)

"And here we have Idaho, winning her way to fame"

Family Reunion! In August, we packed the fam into cars and drove up to Stanley, Idaho to the cabin my grandparents owned throughout my childhood. Pictures this small probably won't do it justice -- the mountains, the sky, the lake are all breathtaking. And could my nephews get any cuter? Seriously.

It's all about me. me me me

I was spotlighted in the Relief Society [church women's organization] newsletter. Lucky me! It's rather informative, and is just like these sets of questions that are all the rage to tag people with on blogs these days, so I figured I'd post it here.

Where were you born and raised?
Where wasn't I? I was born in Provo, Utah, and over the next 13 years, my family lived in Utah, Idaho, Connecticut, Georgia, California, Mexico City, Michigan, Kentucky and Colorado. Some of my favorite childhood memories come from Mexico City, where I attended kindergarten and first grade at a British school called Green Gates, and from Kentucky, where we lived for five whole years. I went to high school in Colorado, and my parents still lived there until a couple of years ago.

How many siblings do you have?
Three. My brother Zach is just a year and half younger than I am and recently finished business school in L.A. My youngest sister, Emily, lives in Indianapolis with her husband and two adorable little boys. My sister Lindsay passed away in a car accident while I was serving my mission; she was 17 at the time. I still miss her.

Where was the last place you traveled to what was your favorite thing about it?
The Outer Banks, North Carolina. I loved the sun, the sand and the long talks with some old, dear friends. Just before that, I was in New Orleans -- my favorite things there were the live music, the beautiful cemeteries and all the balconies in the French Quarter. [I wrote this back in September before I went to the Middle East.]

Favorite Church Calling
I didn't think I'd like being a Primary [youth Sunday School] music leader, but I LOVE it. It's my new favorite calling. My other favorite calling is [adult] Sunday School teacher.

Favorite Hobby?
Reading. I've also taken up jewelry-making over the past year or so, and I play ultimate Frisbee regularly. And I love to sing.

Favorite Food?
Lebanese. And sushi. And C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E.

Favorite Book You've Read This Year and Why?
"Gilead: A Novel," by Marilynne Robinson, and "The Brothers Karamazov," by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Both books deal with issues of faith, doubt, grace, and human relationships in a beautiful way and are superbly written. I was deeply affected by them both.

Good Advice You've Received?
"Wherever you are, be there." My brother said this to me once in college, and it just stuck with me. It reminds me to relish life's experiences now, rather than dwelling on the past, obsessing about the future, or just wishing life were different.

Tell us one thing we wouldn't know about you after meeting you once?
I double dip. Salsa, ice cream, you name it. Guilty.

Groove is in the heart

Just had to post a couple more pictures from my trip to Denver:

(That's me, Marlise, Janson, J.D., Jen and Marie)

There's just something about old friends -- people you've laughed and cried with, who've seen you at your best and at your worst and still love you anyway, etc. Few things in life compare with talking long into the night with friends like that. It was also fun to get to know the rest of the Smurthwaite fam better and experience what a special, amazing family they are.

And ... I hope Marlise doesn't mind me posting this video, but I can't resist ... it just reminds me too much of all the awesome impromptu dance parties we had in our house, right down to the song! It feels good to know that the tradition is being passed on to the next generation.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Vagaries of the crowd

Anyone want to start a band?

The rules, according to someone named Drew, who got them from someone named Heather via George (Does it count as being tagged if you are reading the blog of a random person you've never met? I stumbled across this while searching for bad holiday poetry, but that's another post altogether):
  1. Click on this link. The title of the page is the name of your band.

  2. Click on this link. The last four words of the final quotation on the page are the title of your album.

  3. Click on this link this link. The third picture is your album cover. (Or, if you're a cheater like me, you click the first link a few times, you pick the quote that works best and the picture you like most.)

  4. Take the pic, add your band name and album title.
My results:
Band name: Slim Williams
Album name: Vagaries of the Crowd
Album cover:

Now you. I tag you all. (I've never tagged anyone before. Is this weird?)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Overanalyzing the Polar Express

I have a sore throat.

So, I just made some chicken soup and found myself curled up in front of the ABC Family Christmas movie of the night: The Polar Express.

Am I the only one, or does anyone else ever feel like the kid in the Polar Express who is running around on the top of the train in the freezing cold, having run-ins with a hobo who fills your mind with questions and doubts, chasing after golden tickets that actually belong to someone else that you accidentally lost, jumping between train cars, delivering cups of hot chocolate, singing cheesy songs and looking at the northern lights -- oh, and nearly dying several times? And then, just for a moment, you go back to the regular coach full of the all other kids who are completely oblivious to the danger and complexity of the journey, who are just enjoying the ride and looking forward to the destination?

I mean, who are those kids, just hanging out in the coach car, sipping their hot chocolate and looking placidly out the window -- while for others, the entire journey is a mighty wrestle within themselves for the meaning of everything? Do I envy those kids in the coach? Pity them?

I can think of real-life counterparts to those kids. But now I'm asking myself, if I really got to know them, would I realize they are all fighting top-of-the-train battles of their own? Is it the human condition to have to struggle through things, to face challenges -- or are there people who really do just get to ride in the coach?

"One thing about trains: It doesn't matter where they're going. What matters is deciding to get on."
-- Conductor, The Polar Express

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Linds

Say not in grief that she is no more
But say in thankfulness that she was

A death is not the extinguishing of a light,
but the putting out of the lamp
because the dawn has come.

-Rabindranath Tagore

On Saturday I visited my sister Lindsay's grave for the first time in at least three years. Jen and Marlise, former roommates of mine in Washington, DC, have been hearing about Lindsay for years, and since we all met up in Colorado last week, they got to come with me. I loved sharing something so special to me with dear friends; it was almost like I was finally introducing everyone.

I brought Lindsay some lilies -- my favorite flowers because of their strong, sweet smell. I took a moment to trace my finger over the image of the bleeding heart plant on her headstone and looked at the dates under her name: November 18, 1980 - December 28, 1997. She would have been 28 today.

We stood there watching a colorful sunset and I spouted a few memories; then we sat on her bench talking about life and made sure to sing her Happy Birthday before we left.

And I know it seems slightly irreverent to strike a silly pose in a cemetery, but trust me, Lindsay would appreciate it:

The next day, on my way home from church, I couldn't help stopping by the cemetery again. This time, I plopped down cross-legged in front of her headstone and stared at it for a long time. There were some bees crawling around on the flowers, and I watched them come and go, their legs heavy with pollen. I thought Lindsay would have been interested in them, and I wondered what she would be doing if she were still here. I felt the gaping Lindsay-shaped hole in my life, the one I don't think about very often, thought about the confusion and crossroads of my present life, and had a good hard cry for several minutes.

Today, Lindsay's actual birthday, I came home from work and found a candle burning in my room. Next to it was a white mug with blue snowflakes on it and a canister of Stephen's gourmet hot chocolate. And on the bed was a blanket with a yellow note and a yellow bow. It took me a moment to process (and to realize I wasn't being stalked or seduced), but I recognized the blanket as the afghan Lindsay started knitting, with stripes of different colors for each of her friends. It was a perfect, utter surprise, and some combination of a long day, the recent visit to the cemetery, and the unexpectedness of something so meaningful triggered a fresh set of tears. So, since I was already in the mood, I dug out the tape of Lindsay singing "Breath of Heaven" that she sent me just before she died, wrapped myself up in the blanket and listened to her sweet voice.

I don't often cry when I think of Lindsay, and her birthday isn't normally sad for me. In fact, we like to have fun with it. It's been almost eleven years, and it's gotten easier with time, but somehow this year, Linds, I miss you more than usual. Thanks for the blanket. I love it.

Death is not the end
Death can never be the end.

Death is the road.
Life is the traveller.
The Soul is the Guide


Our mind thinks of death.
Our heart thinks of life
Our soul thinks of Immortality.

-Sri Chinmoy


I didn't expect anything special when I walked into church on Sunday with Grammy. I hadn't been to the Littleton 5th Ward since my parents left Colorado several years ago, so I figured I'd probably see a few people I knew but mostly just look around and reminisce about my high school years.

It turned out to be so much more than that. Not only did I know everyone on the program (my dear laurel adviser spoke, a boy I used to babysit was reporting on his mission, and so on), but I was also just overwhelmed with the love I felt from and for so many people -- people I haven't seen in years. People who grabbed me and hugged me with tears in their eyes; people who sat and talked to me about my life and career decisions; people who were anxious for news about my family.

I have been thinking about this ever since Sunday, about how profoundly it affected me to remember that I have deep roots in a community. As a single person in a city of transients, I have grown accustomed to constant change, to getting new roommates and new jobs and new wards almost as often as new clothes. My family has always been a constant, but on Sunday it was like I visited my village. The ward where my dad was a bishop, where people rallied around our family when Lindsay passed away and Mom broke her neck, where Zach and I left on missions and came home again, where Emily got married. I didn't realize until I was there A) that I actually had roots like that, or B) how much it meant to me. I don't know when it will be, but I'm looking forward to the next chance I have to go back.

Back to my Roots.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Window on Wadi Musa

(Go ahead, click on it. That's right, there are 400 itty bitty trip photos in there. I'm not gonna lie, I'm kind of impressed with myself right now.)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Favorite Mideast memories, stream-of-consciousness
(aka, How I spent my stimulus check and tax refund)

  • The warm, gooey perfect falafel we bought just outside the Western Wall
  • Making a human pyramid at the pyramids
  • Referring to any food we didn't recognize as "wikipedia"
  • Singing hymns in the matchless acoustics of Saint Anne's church
  • Laughing, talking, sipping lemon tea and eating wikipedia crackers and white pomegranate at the hostel in Petra, afternoon sunlight streaming in through the perfect window
  • Matt's spirited rendition of the Lion King in the Petra monastery
  • Floating down the Nile talking with dear friends and watching a slow sunset
  • Wandering through the tunneled streets of Acco at night
  • Dumping piles of dust out of my shoes after a day in Petra
  • Falling asleep on a horse and buggy ride around Luxor from sheer exhaustion
  • Sinking in up to my knees in mud at the Dead Sea
  • Paging Andrea over the airport intercom in Amman
  • Praying in the church on the Mount of Beatitudes
  • Getting lost driving in the West Bank … I'm not sure where we are but there’s a sign to Ramallah … yikes ...
  • Rusty and Dave pelting each other with olives all along the Jerusalem city wall
  • Jewish men and boys singing and dancing their way to the Western Wall at sunset
  • Wading through knee-deep water in Hezekiah’s tunnel
  • Camels everywhere! I heart camels
  • Getting proposed to by my camel driver (he offered 1 million camels for me!)
  • Being told by my donkey driver that my donkey was slower because I was too fat
  • All the homos – I mean hummus – I could eat. I heart hummus
  • Being nearly accosted by Egyptians for money
  • Melt-in-your-mouth Egyptian pizza
  • Randomly meeting someone from the Cairo ministry of culture who got us reserved seating at the whirling dervish show
  • Matt reading us select verses at Biblical sites in and around Jerusalem
  • Walking smack into a wall in the Masada museum
  • Shekels!
  • Dinars!
  • Hearing the call to prayer virtually everywhere
  • Sprinting through the old city with a djembe and a backpack full of dishes and scarves
  • Losing half my body weight in sweat at the Valley of the Kings
  • Gaining it all back eating pita bread and every kind of salad imaginable

Salaam alaykum

This is how awesome/nerdy my family is: A week or so after I got home from Egypt, Jordan and Israel, we used to set up a conference call. It included a web feature where they could all see my desktop, and I walked them through roughly 400 (out of 1500 ... ) pictures I'd taken. And not only were they actually interested right up to the end, they were jumping in with additional wikipedia info on things I didn't know!

I won't put all of you through that, but I will post a few pics and highlights here (an even better album of the best pictures with soon-to-come captions is here here):

Long time, no posty

I'm back.

Just to reassure you, most things in my life are still just the same as ever.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Presidential Mad Libs

Finally, a way to get the candidates to talk about my issues ...

Generate a Barack Obama Quote!

"You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about fear of falling. Well I think Americans are tired of the same old mushy bananas. Ordinary Americans believe in kittens, they want less
kidnappers, they just aren't sure if their leaders believe in sparkling effervesence."

"These people haven't had brilliance for fifty years. So you can't be surprised if they get bitter and cling to their ants and their fire ants and their fire-breathing ants. That's what my campaign is about. Teaching all the little people in this country that they can have castles."

Generate you own Barack Obama quote here and share it below ...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Can you hear me now?

So, last Monday, I come home early, change into my comfies and settle into my bed for a conference call. About an hour in, I hear a knock on my door. That confident, familiar knock, you know, the “RAT-tat-tat-TAT-TAT” you would answer with a "TAT-TAT." Oh, I think, it must be one of our friends, so I get up to answer it, thinking I'll just apologetically motion to my phone, shrug, mouth the word “sorry” and send them on their way.

I put my phone on mute and open the door and there's a perky, overweight girl smiling up at me. She launches into a schpiel about how she's from the inner city and has a two-year-old daughter and is selling magazines so she can to go back to school and get a degree in social work.

Now, it normally takes all my courage and concentration to say “no” to anyone about anything, and this is even harder because I'm distracted by the conference call and taken off guard. I find myself smiling and nodding and being nice, even though in my head I'm thinking, no, stop, you'll only encourage her! So I start to explain the whole conference call thing and motion the phone, which just makes her increase the speed of her schpiel, and before I know it I've purchased two magazine subscriptions to be sent to soldiers in Iraq to read during their free time. I’m still not sure how it all happened. Argh.

Anyway, the magazines are not the point. The point is that I close the door and go back to the conference call, commenting here and there along with the other four people on the call. I start making a pretty important point when Rob suddenly interrupts me and starts wrapping up the call. I stop and try again, talking louder this time, but now Dan is talking over me, and I'm thinking, hey, why isn't anyone paying attention to me?!

That's when I look down at my phone and realize it is still on mute. Twenty minutes I've been talking and no one's been hearing me! I take my phone off mute just in time to sign off, and then sit there holding the phone and replaying the last 20 minutes of conversation, wondering how I didn't realize sooner it wasn't a conversation at all. It was like the restaurant scene in The Sixth Sense, where you think Bruce Willis and his wife are talking to each other, but then after you find out he was dead and she could never see or hear him, you realize that the scene still works without anything he said. So basically ... I was the dead person!

Um, just so I know I'm not writing this blog post to no one ... can you hear me now?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What I did on my summer vacation

This awesome video of Memorial Day weekend pretty well sums it up, from spoons to Kitty Hawk to lots of sun and sand to MIKA and Ken Lee. (The only thing missing is all of the nutella I consumed ... which is probably better left out ... ) Shout out to Emily for putting it together and taking some great shots, including the one below -- you're amazing!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How do you beach?

During my first job out of college, I kept a little window open in the corner of my computer screen with a live beachcam of Waikiki Beach. I just checked, and it still plays Waikiki Baby and Rhythm of the Ocean ("Hear it calling your name ..." ) over and over and over, which is funny to me now. Anyway, when work was just too irritating, I'd click on the window and look at all the little people on vacation and daydream about my upcoming trip. (I believe this type of behavior is also known as "going to your happy place.") When I finally made it to Waikiki a few months later, I stood in front of that camera and waved encouragement (or gloated? not sure which) to whatever beleaguered office peon might be watching at that moment.

These days, my happy place is still the beach. After two sublime beach vacations in two weeks, I'm back in the office wishing for a live beachcam of the Outer Banks. But this time, I'm reading beach poetry, too ...

This first one is dedicated to Rachel and to walking until we can't walk anymore. In beaching and in life, I think I'm a walker.

The second is dedicated to John and his drip sand castles. And it is simply the essence of my very happy place.

Beach Glass
by Raymond A. Foss

How do you beach?
Sorry, don't want to get
Too personal
Just asking, to get a perspective
To put us on the same page.

Do you lay in place
drink in the rays, melt the stress?
Or maybe play – ball, Frisbee, or V-ball?

Not me. I walk, the length of the beach
Too restless to sit
Lost in my own thing
Looking for shells, people,
and beach glass.

Taking in the scene;
Hoping I remember where I left her
on my return.

Beach Sand
by Raymond A. Foss

Maybe it is the memories
the change of pace that brings us there
the sense of vacation
maybe the smell of the place
the sights of the gulls, the dunes, the grasses
but oh it is the feel of it,
the crunch and slide of it
the feeling of beach sand
so different from dirt, soil, loam
no, not earthy, moist, rich,
but oh so granular and gritty
even when wet,
moveable paper spreading under toes
sliding beneath the soles
smoothing my skin
clearing my mind
unburdening me of the rest
drawing me to the tactile, the feel
of beach sand

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Big Easy

New Orleans top ten highlights (I attended the AAPOR annual conference last weekend, and also found plenty of time to play tourist. I became unexpectedly fond of this city):

10. Being in New Orleans during a flash flood warning

9. Not tripping over my feet or my words in my first professional conference presentation

8. Bourbon street. Yikes! (Anyone who has been there knows exactly what I mean.)

7. Room service :)

6. Getting trapped momentarily in an elevator just below the 27th floor of the hotel (hey, it could have been worse)

5. Balconies! Everyone in the French Quarter seems to have them. I want one. With plants.

4. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Have I ever told you that I love cemeteries? New Orleans cemeteries are known as Cities of the Dead because they look like streets with rows of buildings. This one is in the beautiful garden district.

3. Sitting in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant watching a man at the next table use his shoe to smash a giant cockroach on the wall, then hearing the bartender scream out a moment later, "What did you do to Frankie?!" (Seriously, though, the food all weekend was excellent. Jambalaya, gumbo, seafood and po'boys, mmmm!)

2. A driving tour, offered through the conference, of areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, most of which are still in various states of disrepair. Conducted by a non-profit group called Women of the Storm. Sobering and inspiring all at once -- these ladies saw something that needed to happen in their community and just started doing it. I want to do that. (I also heard heartbreaking stories from my taxi driver and others I met along the way who lost friends and family, who tried to rescue who they could, who pulled together with others through the storm. It all put my life into perspective. I thought my basement flooding a few days before this trip was something, but compared to this, I am not complaining.)

1. Live jazz. I can't describe this in words. Click on these links to have a listen yourself:

And I didn't even get to take the plantation tour or the swamp tour or help rebuild a school or house! All in all, I highly recommend N'Awlins as a destination. Interesting history and culture, great live music, and they need the money coming into their economy. Let me know when you go and I might even come with you!