Saturday, November 29, 2008

revelling in the mundane

I have been revelling in the mundane this week. We had a lovely Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's. We went for a long walk on the C&O Canal towpath, me, my husband, our son, our dog and my mother in law. Lovely weather, and a truly nice way to work up an appetite for our turkey feast. My parents came over for dinner with us and it was nice to see them.

Yesterday, my husband and I went hiking with the dog. We went to Liberty Reservoir and did half of the Middle Run Trail. Only half, because the 2nd half of the trail involves crossing 3 streams on foot (removing socks and shoes and walking in the ice cold rushing water). We decided to turn back at the halfway point rather than take the dip in the water. We'll do the other half of the trail in the spring, when the water will seem a treat and not a punishment. It was gorgeous hiking, and the weather cooperated nicely, with temps in the low 50s and lots of sunshine. The dog also got to meet a horse for the first time. He seemed relieved that he wasn't expected to chase it.

This morning, I dropped my husband and the dog off at the park for a hike, and I went to the JHU library to pick up some books for my term-paper. The paper is due no later than the 15th, so I have to dig in, and fairly quickly. I got a great parking spot, and had the stacks to myself. Younger students don't get up early on Saturday mornings, so even the guard seemed stunned to see someone actually come in the doors.

When I got home, I took the child for a haircut. Since he has wildly curly hair at the moment, and tends to wear his hair over long and un-brushed, it was necessary. He loves the place we go, Sports Clips. All the stylists are cute girls in sports jerseys. They not only cut his hair, but give him a warm towel for his face and a neck and shoulder massage. Getting him to agree to a haircut has been much easier since this place opened.

We went this afternoon to see Quantum of Solace. We all agreed it was a good addition to the Bond canon. Craig is a much more menacing Bond than the previous incarnations, but it works. I was excited to see the Star Trek preview, although I was apparently alone in this opinion. The kid wants to see Angels and Demons, since he just read the book.

Tomorrow we are going to celebrate my husband's birthday with a trip to the Walters to see an exhibit of jewelry, and then to the Hamilton Tavern for onion rings and burgers.

It's been a great few days.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

hunger in America

I drive home from work through a section of East Baltimore; it is not the worst part of the city, but it is close. As I turned onto North Avenue, I was confronted with a huge traffic jam. In 6 years, I have never seen more than 2 or 3 cars at that corner. Today there were hundreds. And hundreds of people standing in a line snaking around the Diakon Center. I was annoyed. I had to change lanes quickly, and all these people were lining up for what? a sale? a concert? a church event?

Nope. I flushed red as I realized what it was. Those hundreds of people I had just been pissed off at, those folks were lined up for food. It was a Thanksgiving food donation pickup. They were all hoping to get a turkey, some canned beans, instant potatoes.

On the news this evening, I saw a story about that line. Ray Lewis has a foundation that runs the food giveaway every year. This year demand was much much larger than usual. And he was there, handing out food, giving hugs, a few words of encouragement. The news then did a piece on other food banks across the country. The need is huge, but the pantries are nearly bare. A farmer in the Midwest opened up his farm to anyone who wanted to come and pick over what was left in the fields. He expected a thousand people. What he got was 40,000 people willing to spend all day digging in his fields for some potatoes, some carrots, a few onions. He hoped his idea would catch on with other farmers. I hope so too.

This time of year is hard on people. If you can spare some cash, some cans of food from your pantry, a few hours of your time at a foodbank or soup kitchen, whatever you can do, please help. It can be so little to one person, and so very much to someone else. Our office is doing a food drive, and we have adopted a single mom with six kids for Christmas. Our son's school will do a holiday food drive as well. Our local theater is doing a showing of It's a Wonderful Life with admission being a donation of food for our local food pantry. Our local grocery store has $1, $3 abd $5 food donation coupons at the register; you can just add a buck or two to your grocery tab to help buy food for others.

I all too often focus on what I haven't got. Today I got a little reminder that I have EVERYTHING. 1 in 8 people in America, 1 in 8, is going hungry today. I am not one of them. But I know I easily could be, and I know I can help those who are.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

a little maternal pride

I am experiencing a surge of maternal pride. On my refrigerator is a report card -- a report card with 4 As and 2 Bs on it. This is an amazing performance from our rather slacker son. He turned in his homework. He passed exams. He had a good attitude and decent behavior. WHOOO-HOOOO!!!

I am also impressed by his reaction to two recent screw-ups. In one, he hid a kid's camera. She was taking pictures of him, and he kept asking her to stop, and she wouldn't, so he hid her camera in the classroom. He felt bad about it. And called her to apologize.

In the other, my parents called and left a message with him. He "spaced out" and forgot to tell us. So we got a rather unhappy call this morning, asking why we hadn't returned their call... Our son heard about the call, suddenly remembered the previous call, and felt terrible. So he called them this morning, to explain that it was his fault, that he had not given us the message, and to apologize.

Kids screw up. Grown-ups screw up, and deal with the consequences. I like the way the kid is growing up. I really truly do.

Friday, November 21, 2008

citizen on patrol

Last night, my husband and I met up with a neighbor and did our first "Citizens on Patrol" walk. There has been a surge in petty crime (theft from vehicle, theft from garage, etc) and not so petty crime (armed robbery, burglary) in our area. It appears to be mostly the work of teenagers, and several arrests have been made. But rather than sit around and fret about it, we decided to take the Northern Police District's advice and start community patrols. We have some folks who patrol by car, late at night. Some folks are doing a daytime, afternoon patrol. And we are walking, with dogs, in the early evening.

It's not a huge time commitment, basically 1-2 hours per week. The dog loved it. He got a walk in the evening, and we went down alleys and really dark streets, which he thought was cool. Even better -- there were also other dogs to walk with.

Other than being a visible presence, and preventing crime by just being around, I am not sure what value this all will have. But it is exercise, it is pleasant for the dog, we meet new neighbors, and we show we care about the neighborhood. All good bennies, even if we achieve nothing more tangible.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

an attitude adjustment

Our generation is about to get a serious attitude adjustment. Over 10 million people are out of work, and these are just the ones who haven't given up looking. Large chains are going bankrupt, or closing their doors. The big 3 automakers may soon be the not-so-big 2, as GM is hanging on by its fingernails. Prices are dropping, but no one is buying.

We might end up learning the lessons previous generations learned the hard way.
Make do. There is a huge difference between "need" and "want" Put a little aside for a rainy day. If you have to buy it on credit, you can't afford it. Eat what's on your plate. Fix what's broke. Do without.

Will we start saving string? planting vegetable gardens? Canning in the summer? taking car repair lessons? Sewing our own clothes?

We have been a truly spoiled generation. We have always had vacations, and dinners out. We have always had jobs. We had insurance, and endless credit.

I think that maybe, just maybe, we are living in interesting times.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

rewarding bad performance

I have this on my mind today -- how did we get to the point where we reward bad performance? What got me thinking in this direction? Two things - AIG is going to award 500 million dollars in deferred bonuses and compensation to its executives, and our government may have to bailout the big 3 automakers. AIG says the money it's doling out is to keep talented executives on board to bail out the company. It also says the money is not the same money that the government just bailed them out with, but a separate pool of funds. If they had 500 million dollars lying around, why did we have to bail them out? And the executives in question helped screw up the company, so are they really such quality folks that AIG needs to reward them to keep them on board? Bascially they are heaping rewards on folks that screwed up, and screwed up royally.

As to the automakers, I see that we have no choice but to help them out. The US economy is hugely dependent on the businesses downstream and upstream of the auto makers that rely on them being in business, and too many jobs are on the line. I get it. I just don't like it. They have sat on their hands, built cars we didn't want, that didn't meet our needs, often with terrible quality thrown into the mix. And we responded by taking our business to foreign auto makers. And they still didn't respond with better cars, more fuel-efficient cars, more desirable cars. And now they will get bailed out for being bad at business.

I recently did some car shopping on line. I couldn't find a single american auto that met my requirements. Not one. And I wanted to. Not only didn't I find anything, but the deals aren't there either. Toyota is offering 0% financing, on cars that get great gas mileage and have superior ratings. GM is offering employee discounts, high finance rates, and cars with fairly mediocre ratings and so so gas mileage. I'd like to help out the team by buying American, but I can't afford to do it. I just can't take the repair bills, the higher monthly payments and the higher gas bills. So, while our government, and corporate management can afford to reward poor performance, I can't. I have to reward my purchase dollars to the companies that do the best job.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

old friends

Yesterday we went to a friend's daughter's bat mitzvah. It was a very nice event, lots of sweet moments. It made me think about the value of old friends. Our host has been a friend of ours since our college days. Her sister was also there, and also a dear old friend from college. Seated at our table was yet another old buddy and his wife (a new buddy).

There is something special about shared history. You have the same reference points. You get the same jokes. We look older, we've all been through many changes over the years. And yet, magically, two seconds after we all get together, we are somehow 20 again. Sweet.

Friday, November 14, 2008

people are weird, part two

According to AP reports, a priest in South Carolina is telling parishioners they must do penance if they voted for Barack Obama. They may not take communion until penance is done, because supporting Obama "constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil". This is because Obama is pro-choice.

The priest is the Reverend Jay Scott Newman. His parish is in Greenville, SC. And it seems to me that he is requiring his parishioners to disclose how they voted -- a democratic NO-NO. They will get to do so in the privacy of the confessional, but as a former Catholic, I can tell you that the priest knows the voices of his parishioners and the confessional is not that private.

He is going to deny a sacrament of the Church to people based on how they voted(!!!!) As if the only distinguishing characteristic between Obama and McCain was their position on abortion. Or that the issue of abortion was the only issue that mattered.

It makes me sick.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

grown up decisions

Sometimes I hate being a grown-up. Seriously. The day to day stuff doesn't bother me - I enjoy it.

It's the big stuff that gets me down. Should we keep our car? Is it time to trade it in on a new one? Which is better financially? Can we afford it? Can we afford not to do it? Should our son stay in his small private school? or go to the large public city high school? or something in the middle? What's best for him? How much should his opinion weigh in the decision?
Should I try to move into administration? get out of hands-on tech? Take 1 class this semester or two? should we get another dog to keep ours company? how long can we wait to replace the roof? shingle the house?

It's so much easier to focus on the small stuff. What to have for dinner? what to wear to work? do I want a snack? is there time for a nap? which book should I read next?

I think I'll procrastinate for now....

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I want my bailout

The financial bailout was designed to purchase troubled assets so that corporations could move forward and resume normal lending and operations. Today, Paulson announced that no troubled assets would be purchased. 350 billion dollars have already been doled out, without spending one cent on its primary purpose. The government has purchased stake in several banks, and "hopes" they will resume normal lending. "HOPES?" Why the f**k wasn't this a stipulation as part of the bailout? Why weren't conditions put on the money?

I feel like we aren't getting good value for our money. And it is OUR money, let's not forget. I feel like sending the government an invoice. If the bailout is not going to be used as intended, I want my share back. In cash. Now.

I think that's fair, don't you?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

progress is not a straight line

Progress is not a straight line. I am reminded of this from time to time. We just elected Barack Obama president; a great leap forward for diversity. And Proposition 8 passed in California -- a great step back for diversity. Progress is incremental. We inch forward. Sometimes we cannot even measure the distance we've gone, but still its there. Only when we combine days and years of minute moves do we see the real picture. Go back 150 years. A fraction of a second of world history. And women can't vote. Blacks can't vote. Our kids go to school with their "own kind". We marry our "own kind". No one knows anyone who is gay. Well, the two sweet ladies down the street have been room-mates forever, but.... The progress is real, it's there -- it's just not as fast as we want. We're not where we need to be. But we will get there. Inch forward. Get one person, just one, to understand we have so much more in common than we have differences. Write one letter to an editor. Call one congressman. Vote in one election. Progress is not linear. It's just one. one foot in front of the other, day after day after day. Just ONE.

Monday, November 10, 2008

conquering a bias

I will fess up that I have always been uncomfortable with enormously fat people. I mean really really obese folks. Now, I don't mean that I don't like them, or haven't had fat friends, or anything like that. I mean I have a visceral/aesthetic negative reaction to fat. And I have always been ashamed of by bias, my bigotry in this.

So imagine my surprise last night when I was confronted with a HUUUUGGGGEEEELLLLYYYYY fat person. I was channel surfing and caught the first episode of a show on the Style Network, called Ruby. This is a reality show (I know, yuck!) about a woman named Ruby trying to lose hundreds of pounds. Yes, hundreds. At her heaviest, Ruby weighed over 700 pounds. This woman is gorgeous. Seriously beautiful, despite hovering in the 500 pound range... And she is charming. And fun. And you can't help but want her to succeed. Amd within 15 minutes, I pretty much forgot she was fat.

So maybe I am making progress. If I beat this bias, I only have one real major one left -- ignorant people. But I doubt that's gonna go away anytime soon.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

omnivore's hundred

Thanks to I have a new list game to play -- omnivore's hundred. Anything I've eaten off the list is in bold. I did okay, but not as well as I would have thought considering what a food addict I am.... and I noticed I hit all the blue-collar/white trash highlights (hostess pies, spam, big macs)

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian -
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam -
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Friday, November 07, 2008

odd convergences

I have noticed that certain dates seem to be what I call "convergence" dates. By that I mean they have some quality that leads them to be attractive to event planners.... November 15th for example. There are about 10,000 things I want to do, all mutually exclusive, and all scheduled for November 15th. We are going to go to a bat mitzvah, and to a high school fair [baltimore city high schools showing what they offer to potential students]. But we are missing a neighborhood workshop, a concert, and a host of other activities in exchange.

We will have weeks with little to do, and then these convergence dates, where we are struggling to decide the relative weights of all the things scheduled for that date....

Perhaps it's that I want to do everything, and that's just not possible. Or that it's part and parcel of city living, because stuff is always going on. I don't know. I just know I hate having to choose, because as soon as I do, I'm missing something....

Thursday, November 06, 2008

it's not bursting my bubble

It's not bursting my bubble, at least not yet, but.... Ted Stevens is ahead by 2% in the Alaskan Senatorial race. Yes, Ted Stevens, convicted felon. Ted Stevens, disgraced Senator. They still have to count all the absentee ballots. But he could win. And if he does, guess who gets to appoint his replacement, since he will not be allowed to serve? If you guessed Sarah Palin, in her role as Governor of Alaska, you would win it in 1. Now here's the kicker. She cannot select herself. But she CAN resign, and let her Lieutenant Governor select her as Stevens' replacement. Which would give her a Senate seat, and a shot at gaining 4 years of the experience she was criticized for lacking. UGHH!!

And no, I didn't come up with this scenario myself. Rachel Maddow discussed it on her show, and said the tactic had been used once before -- in 1939.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades

YES, WE CAN and YES, WE DID!!!!!! I woke up this morning, still amazed. Against all odds, Barack Obama is the president-elect of these United States. I just watched his victory speech. I cried. Literally. I was so moved by his words, by his vision, by his inspiration, that I sat at my desk and I cried. I am so proud of our country, so proud of my fellow Americans for ignoring the attacks, the distractions, for choosing hope over fear. And for the first time in a very long time, I feel connected to the process, connected to the other voters.

For years I have felt like an outsider. My values were not the values of our leaders. I was not a "real" American. I was disloyal, unpatriotic, a traitor. Pick a perjorative. I did not think in lock-step with the conservative tide, and so was less a citizen than they were.

But now, I feel a renewed sense of purpose, and a renewed sense of hope. There is unity and peace within our grasp. We really are the United States of America.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

dispatches from the REAL America

I just spent some time in the REAL America. To be specific, I spent a few hours in Govans, in line at Govans Elementary School, in Baltimore City, in the state of Maryland. Govans is considerably poorer, and blacker than Sarah Palin's REAL America.

What I found were hundreds of people, patiently waiting in line. It felt like a celebration. People taking photos of the line, asking others to take pictures of themselves in line. A few people got discouraged and tried to leave, but we clapped and shouted encouragement until they got back in line. At one point, an elderly gentleman, who could barely walk stood looking at the line, with a discouraged look on his face. A good samaritan near the head of the line offered the man his spot; he would go to the back of the line in his place. The crowd wouldn't let the good samaratin give up his place, we just said let the older man in line. And that's what happened. No one grumbled, no one said no. We would all wait together.

I made some good friends today (Vernice, Allan and Victor, it was a pleasure!). We talked, laughed, encouraged each other, and shared our hopes for the future. Later, after we voted, we shared hugs and well wishes. Allan took a picture of his ballot in the booth. And he asked the polling judge to take a picture of him voting. She happily did.

They even had certificates of participation for those who wanted to commemorate the event.
So this is the REAL America. Where people were excited to vote, where people were united by a common desire. The REAL America is better than the last 8 years, and it wants the world to know it.

Monday, November 03, 2008

hopes and dreams

I have a lot of hopes and dreams for America.

Perhaps tomorrow, some will begin to come true. I am hoping that we become a nation that other nations can look to as a model for how a country should behave. I hope we respect the Constitution again; civil liberties are not optional, they are fundamental. I hope we learn to use diplomacy instead of war. That the children of America get a first class education, regardless of their parent's education or economic standing. That no one in this country is starving, or homeless, or hopeless. That basic medical care is available to all.

I dream that the American Dream, the idea that each generation can improve on the one before it, is renewed, not just for some Americans, but for ALL Americans.

So today, I wish, I hope, I dream, I pray, that Barack Obama is elected tomorrow. And that this country can regain it's dignity and spirit, so we ALL might move forward together.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

sunday routine

I love my Sunday routine. I get up, make my shopping list, go to the grocery store. Once I get home, and everything is put away, I usually do the dishes. Then its laundry time. I do all our laundry for the week on Sunday. I cook my oatmeal for the week, make my tuna salad for lunches, bake a cake or some muffins. I watch football and do my homework. I read the Sunday paper. I cook something time consuming for dinner. Tonight it's roast chicken, string beans, wild and long grain rice and crescent rolls. Yum. This sets us up to use the rest of the chicken in chicken tamale pie, and red beans and rice with chicken.

It's a very full day, but I like the way it's home centered. And I love the feeling of setting up the coming week: clean clothes, lunches, breakfasts.

this week's oatmeal: steel-cut oats, with cinnamon and raisins. I'll add almonds right before I eat it, so they stay crunchy.

this week's tuna salad: tuna, hard boiled eggs(no yolks), diced pickle, celery, green pepper, shredded carrot, mustard, mayo

dinners this week: roasted chicken with rice and string beans, chicken tamale pie, red beans and rice with chicken, baked ziti with turkey sausage, carryout pizza