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