Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Year in review

As my family sat around the breakfast table this morning, we read Dave Barry's "Bailing out 2008" year review. My favorite part:
"As world financial markets collapse like fraternity pledges at a keg party and banks fail around the world, the International Monetary Fund implements an emergency program under which anybody who opens a checking account anywhere on Earth gets a free developing nation." Ah, 2008.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

All things made up

Over the past few days, I've been attempting to reconcile some ideas that, while not completely contradictory, are not wholly amicable in their exchange. I believe that we each enter into this world with certain deprivations, predilections, and weaknesses. One may be predisposed to drug abuse, while another - who has no affinity toward drug use - is predisposed to cheating. Some of these tendencies may be more intense than others, some more difficult to overcome, some more serious in consequence. Whatever the predisposition, we each have things that, if we are to return to God, must be confronted and overcome. Some people are able to overcome their deprivations or weaknesses in this life through what may be a passing (though difficult) trial. Others, like Paul, are unable to extinguish these predilections and must live with their "thorn[s] in the flesh." Their lot is to endure through the constant reminders of weakness and imperfection, through the incessant bombardment of temptation.
We have been taught that the Lord "will be merciful unto [our] weakness," (D&C 38:14) that "such mortal allotments will be changed in the world to come," (Neal Maxwell) and that all we lack will be made up to us in the world to come. My question is, to what extent do these promises hold true? Is it only to faithful members that such promises are extended? Is faith prerequisite to having all things made up to us hereafter?
I firmly believe in the Atonement's power to facilitate change, to enable, to provide mercy, and to fill us with what we lack - to make up for what we cannot ourselves do. The Atonement has power to help us confront both our fleeting trials and our thorns in the flesh. Through the Atonement we can be made whole, perfect, sanctified. The injunction is to come unto Christ to receive that perfection, which brings me to faith. Faith is the first principle of the gospel, and to access the Atonement we must have faith, right? As Moroni tells us, we need to "come unto Christ, and be be perfected in him, and deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness; and if [w]e shall deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness, and love God with all [our] might, mind and strength, then is His grace sufficient for [us], that by his grace [w]e may be perfect in Christ."
My concern is for those who lack that faith - those for whom having faith is their thorn in the flesh. I know many people who have exerted their souls to believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In many ways, I believe that they have poured more effort into obtaining this belief and faith than I. Yet, in the end, they have decided that they are unable to believe. I have seen and heard of people who have wept, truly wept, because they have tried desperately to believe and cannot. They want to believe yet they cannot. I have wondered lately where these people stand. Is this sort of deprivation something that will be made up to them? Will they be able to have this gift hereafter? Or, because faith is so necessary to everything else, because it is the foundation for all of the gospel, will they have missed the opportunity to pursue actions that stem from faith? Ordinances that are necessary for salvation require faith, and we are told that this life is the time to make those choices. This life, after all, is the time for our probation, and we should not delay in seeking God. I want to believe that they will have the opportunity to find that faith even though they haven't been able to overcome that deprivation in this life.
I believe that just because I cannot explain something, does not mean that it cannot be explained (Neal Maxwell). Elder Maxwell said, "Meekly borne, however, deprivations such as these can end up being like excavations that make room for greatly enlarged souls. Some undergo searing developments that cut suddenly into mortality’s status quo. Some have trials to pass through, while still others have allotments they are to live with... Suffice it to say, such mortal allotments will be changed in the world to come." Joseph Fielding Smith said, "The Lord will judge you according to the desires of your hearts when blessings are withheld in this life." I do believe these things. I just don't know how to reconcile.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Commis commis everywhere

Scare tactics really do work. You sure won't find me downloading free music. You just might, however, find me in a psych office babbling about how the Commis are coming to get us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Qualifications

New York Times reporter on why Caroline Kennedy is qualified for the NY Senate seat: "...She's a lawyer, she's written books, she's beautiful..." Uh, whose job was it to inform me that beauty is a qualifying position for the Senate? Because I had no idea until yesterday. Ah, beauty can get you far in this crazy world of ours.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

True meaning

Each year at Christmas time I embark on a "true meaning" experiment. I select an activity or set of activities that will help me focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Even as I attempt to channel all my thoughts toward this purpose, it's still easy to get caught up in ancillary activities and thoughts. This year I feel an especial desire to drown out the noisy materialism and welcome in the hush and peace of Christ. I don't want Christmas to be a misnomer. I wonder how we've gotten to the point where Christmas meaning is enshrined in the tune, "I want a hippopotamus for Christmas."
It's already the 2 of December, and I've had a hard time committing to one experiment. I wonder what other people have done to help them focus on Christ during this season (that's not just a musing - please tell!). For now, I have settled on my "true meaning" but would love to supplement it with ideas that others have. This year, I would like to more fully comprehend and appreciate the roles that Christ plays in my salvation and daily life. It's too easy to forget how fundamental Christ is in our lives, how He lives in every facet and impacts every action. I plan to study one of Jesus Christ's titles every day this month and then ponder on how that role impacts my life. I hope that this will help me to feel His presence and import in my life.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fiction and not-so-fictitious living

Frequently, I wish I were a character in a book. I wish that as I turned corners in my life, I could bump into my narrator telling my story. How would she depict my life? What seemingly insignificant details would she pull out of my life, choosing to weave beauty from the mundane? How would she describe my manner, and how would she support her case? What do I look like, what are my flaws? How would my relationships with others be portrayed?
Perhaps I crave this description because I love to analyze myself, others, and the way I fit in my world. I would love to hear another, more omniscient, creator figure describe me as she sees me - to show me how I fit into the greater plot, to display the repurcussions of actions, to show me who I am. Maybe I would like to "see as [I] am seen." Does anybody else ever want this, or am I a total book nerd?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Les Miserables

As I was listening to some music from Les Mis this week, I began to think about sin, Satan's tactics, our reactions, and the Atonement. In Les Miserables, Valjean commits the sin of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. His 19 years in prison do not suffice for retribution; like Cain, he bears the mark of his ill deed for all to see. He is forever a slave to this sin; people won't forget; people won't forgive, even though this misdeed did not directly impact their lives. His sin is continuously displayed, reminding him that he will always be a slave to his past mistakes.
Some people struggle with more obvious sins, and others - for whatever reason - are forced to wear their sins on their sleeves. When this is the case, no matter the size or quality of the sin, we tend to be more judgmental, less forgiving. As the villagers in Les Mis we seem to sing "You broke the law, it's there for people to see. Why should you get the same as honest men like me?", obliterating the memory of our own sins and replacing it with disdain for another's. We play God, taking it upon ourselves to judge and dole out terms of payment. In this manner, we slam the breaks on another's progression, forever detaining him in his sinful stage. We mute the possibility of change, place the label, and box him into a role of sinner.
Valjean's hope for freedom and a new life is quickly replaced with the reality of man's reaction to his sins. Valjean cries, "Now every door is closed to me. Another jail. Another key. Another chain... And now I know how freedom feels, the jailer always at your heels. It is the law!" The irony in the last line frequently makes me feel a bit guilty. The law should be there to make us free, not the opposite. It should enable us, provide us with new freedoms; but too often, because of our own insecurities and guilt, we cause the law to be restrictive and overactive. We hold past offenses over past offender's heads, as if to dare them to try and succeed with the Scarlet A we have branded them with.
After all this rejection, the bishop, instead of condemning Valjean for his ripe sin, provides Valjean with freedom, with a reason to hope and live. He enables Valjean a rebirth, to become the man that the bishop sees he can be. Through the bishop's gift, Valjean's previous sins are forgotten and he is allowed to move beyond his past mistakes. In this act of true selflessness, the bishop essentially pays for Valjean's sins with his silver - something that Valjean did not deserve and could never pay for. He abates those calling for justice and provides mercy to one sorely needing it. This gift is the true gift of freedom - freedom because the sin is no longer remembered, and freedom because it is given to start anew, disentangled from the past and its mistakes. Freedom from ourselves, freedom from other's judgments, and freedom from Satan's grasp.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Red, yellow and orange

All elements conspired this morning to paint a fall masterpiece before my eyes. In an incident that I would not normally deem happy, a truck let fly all of the glorious papers that were supposed to be kept under wraps in its bed. Drawing from a palette of warm pumpkin, burnt orange, mustard yellow and apple red, these small, square papers danced through the air as cars stirred and wind spurred them on. I felt cozily blanketed as vibrantly colored papers fell around my car. As the papers flitted about, my eyes caught the reflection of these colors in the trees surrounding me. What resulted was a dancing sea of autumn, and I could hardly keep my eyes on the road. I don't know if it's normal to get so excited about colors, but I felt an acute awakening at such a poignant display of color and motion.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Heartstrings

What are heartstrings really? And when something tugs at our heartstrings, where exactly is it tugging? I can never seem to find this elusive anatomical part.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Manifesting

"Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." That the works of God should be made manifest in him. Typically, I have interpreted this scripture in what I still maintain to be a correct, but now consider an incomplete manner. I have always looked to the end result - the healing of this man from his blindness. It was facile for me to see how God's works were manifest in healing this man. His healing was a miracle easily attributed to God and His great works. In my subconscious, I suppose I had envisioned this blind man waiting all his life for the works of God to be manifest in him through his healing. The other day, the depth of this scripture hit me. The works of God were to be manifest in this blind man through his blindness, not just in the healing of his blindness. This caused me to think about how my trials allow God to unveil His face through and in me. Perhaps there are things that I desire and have not yet received; perhaps there are issues that I'm grappling with; or perhaps there are unanticipated losses. These very losses, struggles, or withholdings can actually be the means by which God reveals His works to me and others. It could be that because I am lacking in one area, I pursue another path that allows God to use my talents and bless lives. It could be that my attitude through trials manifests God's love and understanding. Whatever the mechanics, the trials we are given are divinely tailored to us not only so that we can endure them, but also so that our capacities and abilities are enhanced. In doing so, God's works are manifest in us.

Trials don't necessarily come as a punishment, or because we have sinned. More often they are there to refine us so that we receive God's image in our countenances. We quite literally glorify God as we pass through trials with faith because God is manifest in us through the trials. "If any man suffer as a Christian... let him glorify God on this behalf."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bad advertising


I walk by this deli every day on my way to work. And every day I chuckle to myself, because I really just don't see how this advertisement helps to bring in customers. I can think of a whole slew of things they could advertise to entice customers and get them salivating... but corned beef? First of all, corned beef isn't something that most people dream about. Secondly, ANY type of meat that would melt in my mouth makes me extremely suspicious. I don't want anything that is supposed to be chewed to dissolve in my mouth, just like that. Lastly, (and this is for Claire) I have absolutely no idea why it is necessary to put "corned beef that melts in your mouth!" in quotation marks. Any editor or English major for that matter would refuse to eat there simply based on principle.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Time

Continuations on a theme - the theme of simplicity. It has been said that life is a zero sum game. We cannot give or take from life. It is what it is. No matter how much we may desire it, we cannot add minutes to the day. What is spent on one activity - mindless, fulfilling, or otherwise - is forever spent. We cannot regain used time. Nor can we, in our futile efforts, cause time to stand still. In D&C William McClellin was admonished, "Seek not to be cumbered." The same was Martha's subtle offense, as she was "cumbered about much serving." Often when we are rushing around, busy being cumbered, we miss the whole point. We miss the beauty that is to be had in even the most mundane actions. We bustle along, forgetting that joy is to exist in the process and journey.

Barbara Kingsolver said: "Every minute I save will get used on something else... On the other hand, attending to the task in front of me - even a quotidian chore - might make it into part of a good day, rather than just a rock in the road to someplace else." She tells a story of a farmer who decides to use draft animals instead of tractors to turn his fields. When countered with the idea that turning a field with horses takes an eternity, he replies that it indeed does. "Eternal is the right frame of mind. When I'm out there cultivating the corn with a good team in the quiet of the afternoon, watching the birds in the hedgerows, oh my goodness. I could just keep going all day. Kids from the city come out here and ask, 'What do you do for fun around here?' I tell them, 'I cultivate.'"

Running around, trying to "use our time efficiently" often times burns us out, so that we are more inclined to spend those extra minutes saved on vapid activities. If we could learn how to capture that eternal mindset, no matter what we were doing, we would feel more joyful, more fulfilled, and more connected as cognitive beings. I'm not necessarily referring to finding happiness in every moment. I think that joy has to do with acute self-awareness and connection on a spiritual level. As we focus on the moment, we begin to feel alive and aware of our own presence. Then we can glory in that life that we feel - we, as living, deliberate actors - choosing to live and act.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Yearning for simplicity

Sometimes my yearnings tap me politely on the shoulder and I turn to look them straight in the eye. On other occasions, they loom before me, rending moot my choice of whether to look. And - this last option being the least desirable in my mind - sometimes they sneak in the back door, lurking until I stumble upon them, half-frightened, half-amused. Recently my yearnings have been of the latter, sneaky type. My yearnings have surprised me - in their content, their frequency, and their intensity. So intense I ache, so frequent I drown in emotion.
I have always loved the city - its vibrancy, diversity, architecture, and people. I love being surrounded by people and activities because I derive energy from them. But lately (and I believe this yearning has been sneaking up for a good many years), I yearn for a quiet life where I form a connection to the land I live on, and participate in a close-knit community. I long for simpler times where days were spent in physical labor. A time with no ipods, facebook, cell phones, email, or blogs. A time where people sat and really communicated with one another. A time where people did things slowly and enjoyed the process in addition to the end product. A time when people knew where their food came from and felt their souls' connection to God's creations. A time when people were still and did not seek out endless distractions.
If my yearnings had free reign right now, I would pack up and move to a farm, grow my own food, write snail mail, rock on my front porch, sit and talk with a few dear neighbors and friends, and sew my own clothing. Some may say this is turning my back on the inventions and creations that are meant to improve life and make it easier. But I say that in many senses, these very things have caused me to move beyond what is spiritually good for my soul. Cell phones, facebook, email, and blogs are supposed to help us stay connected with one another. But I feel disconnected. My spirit is splintered into competing factions, creating spiritual disharmony. I feel chaotic because of the many things I have to do to keep up. I feel like life continues to get busier and busier in an interminable spiral. I have no time for stillness. I intensely desire to step back and denounce it all. But I don't think that's the answer. I need to focus on simplifying life, cutting a deal with opposing factions. I believe it's important to discover how to live in an increasingly (and unnecessarily) busy life. That is my challenge and, I think, our generation's challenge.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Claire Koltko: Culinary Creator of the Century

Is there such a thing as a cake-maker hall of fame? If so, we're putting Claire Ellen Koltko down for first place. Claire knows how to:
a. throw an amazing birthday party
b. make an amazing birthday cake
c. make you feel amazing on your birthday
d. all of the above

Please see exhibits below for evidence of this amazing cake-making talent that Claire possesses in such abundance. Here's to Claire, our own claim to hall of fame. She's a marvel. She's a wonder.






Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The way translation should always be

I just couldn't help myself. I almost died laughing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Unintended consequences

As I have moved toward eating more locally grown food, many people have brought up the idea of unintended consequences. In such a globalized world, our actions taken in a local context may quickly expand to affect the most far-flung reaches of this planet. May I pause to remind one and all that no man is an island. Or so they say. I have heard statistics which say that if x amount of people began to buy all their food locally, y amount of people in developing countries will be flat on their faces, having lost their livelihoods to the whims of Starbucks dems. I actually don't doubt these statistics, and they have caused great introspection and consternation. I'm still tring to learn more and figure out which path is best. The following short article helped me to see another side of the issue.

"By purchasing local vegetables instead of South American ones, for example, aren't we hurting farmers in developing countries? If you're picturing Farmer Juan and his family gratefully wiping sweat from their brows when you buy that Ecuadorean banana, picture this instead: the CEO of Dole Inc. in his air-conditioned office in Westlake Village, California. He's worth $1.4 billion; Juan gets about $6 a day. Much money is made in the global reshuffling of food, but the main beneficiaries are processors, brokers, shippers, supermarkets, and oil companies.
Developed nations promote domestic overproduction of commodity crops that are sold on the international market at well below market price, undermining the fragile economies of developing countries. Often this has the effect of driving small farmers into urban areas for jobs, decreasing the agricultural output of a country, and forcing the population to purchase those same commodities from abroad. Those who do stay in farm work are likely to end up not as farm-owners, but as labor on plantations owned by multinationals. They may find themselves working in direct conflict with local subsistence. Thus, when Americans buy soy products from Brazil, for example, we're likely supporting an international company that has burned countless acres of Amazon rainforest to grow soy for export, destroying indigenous populations. Global trade deals negotiated by the World Trade Organization and World Bank allow corporations to shop for food from countries with the poorest environmental, safety, and labor conditions. While passing bargains onto consumers, this pits farmers in one country against those in another, in a downward wage spiral. Product quality is somewhat irrelevant.
Most people no longer believe that buying sneakers made in Asian sweatshops is a kindness to those child laborers. Farming is similar. In every country on earth, the most humane scenario for farmers is likely to be feeding those who live nearby - if international markets would allow them to do it. Food transport has become a bizarre and profitable economic equation that's no longer really about feeding anyone: in our own nation we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes, while we also import 1.4 million tons. If you care about farmers, let the potatoes stay home."
-- Steven L. Hopp

Check out www.viacampesina.org.

Monday, September 8, 2008

When green means green

Apparently the Japanese are a bit overzealous about conservation, or perhaps the "green" message got lost in translation. All I know is that in the Tokyo zoo's best efforts to go green by conserving water, things turned green. They received the message "use less water" and applied it religiously, forgetting to notice the superfluous amounts of algae spawning in the polar bears' bath. Voila green polar bears. A breed all their own.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bondage

Last week I saw the play Resurrection, which - by the way - I highly recommend. In thought-provoking ways, the play opens windows to an African American male slice-of-life. As the week passes, I find my thoughts caught in the revolving door of analysis. My mind has become consumed with slavery and self-imposed slavery, causing me to question whether there is any type of slavery but what we impose upon ourselves.

The play chronicles a brief history of blacks in America. It speaks of the princely backgrounds from which American slaves were stolen. From riches to rags, to spite the common adage. From these heights, Africans descended to the status of slaves and mere property. Emancipation and civil rights freed them from the more obvious and explicit forms of slavery. But slavery and bondage live on in equally despicable manners. African Americans may no longer be slaves to ignorant white men, but they continue to be slaves to addictions of the mind and body: drugs, violence, food, poverty. Each man in the play has his own slavery that he is struggling with, whether it is heroine, HIV, prison, or poor eating habits.

While African American males may be more likely to be imprisoned or suffer from diabetes, the situation is not unlike our own plight (and I speak with the royal we here). We come trailing clouds of glory, yet we subject ourselves to the great enslaver every day. How easily we allow ourselves to forge chains and be led quietly down. We are told that we are "free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil." We are free to "act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon." Even when we are physically in bondage, we still have the gift to choose. In contrast to physical slavery, bondage of our minds and emotions comes primarily from ourselves and our poor use of agency. Through those acts of choice, we enable ourselves further continual action, ensuring that we are not acted upon. In D&C it says, "Release thyself from bondage," which suggests that we have a responsibility to act deliberately to release ourselves and keep ourselves free from the sins that so easily beset us. In this sense, we can be like Ammon and his people, dedicating all our study to delivering ourselves from bondage. But my question is, at the most fundamental level, if we are using our agency correctly, can we ever be in bondage? I'm not saying one way or the other, it's just something I've been thinking about. Is there any real and ultimate form of slavery besides that which we ourselves cause?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

67 =

Number of Ziploc bags I have amassed in my top desk drawer at work.

Proof of my undying commitment to the mantra "Reduce/Reuse/Recycle." Also proof of my undying commitment to the mantra "Don't do today what you can do tomorrow."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

From Oly to Open

Olympics, shmolympics. Come on, people. Get a move on. No more lingering on those closing ceremonies. Give the Open its dues, please. The US Open, that is. How can you not give heed to this - even if he did lose today?


Oh, hey, Phau...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Possessed

There are only 2 options. Either I have inherited Kitt from Knight Rider, or my car is possessed by some malevolent spirit. Any way you look at it, my car has a brain of its own, and I sure don't like it. My car problems have been too uncanny to believe otherwise. Ever since I bought my car, I've had the exact same problem, on the exact same occasion every year. And it happens to be annoying that my car's spirit flares up at exactly this occasion every year, because it causes lots of hassle in my life.

This occasion I speak of is safety and emissions time. It's no pleasant time for anybody, but my car has an especially dark sense of humor. Without fail, every year, as I drive to the inspection station, my check engine light comes on. Every year. Now everybody knows that your car will automatically fail with that light on, but I've become defiant and try it anyway. When I get there, they of course tell me that it will fail, and reset the battery. You have to drive 50 miles after resetting the battery before they can test your car. All seems to go well until, inevitably, as the odometer rolls from 49 to 50, the light turns on again. As you might guess, it usually takes me months to finesse my car into cooperating with me. This year I sure was praying that it wouldn't happen. But, in a last-minute tussle, Kitt regained his senses and flipped on the check engine light as I drove to get my car inspected. It is quite disconcerting, and I am not exaggerating. If anybody has special talents in casting spirits out of cars, please do let me know.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Strange

So, I would say that the airport is one place where punctuality is pretty important. My question, then, is: Why such an utter lack of clocks in airports? In all my airport wanderings, I have only spied a few rare clocks. I just think it's strange, that's all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's getting religious in here

The relationship between God and gasoline has - from the looks of things - grown quite strong. I don't know if it's the alliteration that people like, or if there is some deeper reason. The owner of the gas station down the street from my house was apparently in quite a pickle over whether he should become a preacher or start up a gas station. In the end, I suppose, he decided that he need not choose one or the other. Quite naturally, the two suit one another. And so we Silver Spring-ites are the benefactors of an outdoor chapel that happens to sell gasoline. While pumping, you can enjoy spiritual quotes on the marquee, Jesus fish on the pumps, and good old gospel tunes.

In other news, some people are taking this relationship to a new level. They have created a religious movement called Pray at the Pump. Skeptical that Congress has any power to change the gas situation, they are appealing to the authority when they pump. Now that prices have dropped a little, they will be holding praise services. And, of course, they won't neglect to pray for further price drops.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Skill vs. determination

George Washington has always been somebody I admire. As I read 1776, my admiration for him grew - not because he became a sort of superhuman, legendary figure. Precisely the opposite. 1776 helped me to discover the real Washington - his flaws, his talents, his luck. Seeing Washington as a real, comprehensible person inspired me to work harder for things I am passionate about. I often feel as though my personal actions are futile, or that because I'm just one person, my miniscule acts pale in the grand realm of collective action. Washington's life, however, helps me to realize what great things one person - one dedicated, determined person - can accomplish. Hard work and single-mindedness often even compensate for lack of skill or talent.
"[Washington] was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecisiveness. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his great teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up.
"Again and again, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perseverance - for 'perseverance and spirit,' for 'patience and perseverance,' for 'unremitting courage and perseverance.' Without Washington's leadership and unrelenting perseverance, the revolution almost certainly would have failed."

Perseverance, determination, in the most hopeless of circumstances. An indomitable spirit, a refusal to give up. These are the attributes that truly make things happen.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wide open spaces

Lest you think that I have abandoned my blog for some petty purpose, I am including some pictures of the Wild West, which (as luck would have it) precluded my ability to post anything. I am also posting these pictures in case any of us in DC have momentarily forgotten that such places and animals still exist.
*Also, it seems that I have acquired a baby. No explanation.














Monday, June 30, 2008

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and Landlords are from...

I don't know if anybody has had as charming experiences with landlords as I have. But, if I were completing the Mad Lib, "Landlords are from [place]," I would have no choice but to write "a psychiatric ward." My landlord experiences have run the gamut from legitimately insane on one end to extremely quirky on the other. I think we would all be hard pressed to come up with any examples of "normal" landlords. I'm just quite convinced that they don't exist. I think that terms of release from a mental institution must include buying a home for the purpose of renting it out.

Just tonight I received an email from a lady who I had emailed almost precisely 2 years ago. I had inquired about a condo for rent in Provo. Now, 3 houses, 3 cities and 2 years later, she capriciously decides to return my email: "Hi, the condo is available so give me a call." Hey, thanks, but I think that people usually need a bit more prompt of a response when it comes to finding housing. Most of us don't look for housing years in advance. But, it's a nice thought...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Brain time share

My brain: a war zone. Multiple parties vying for attention. Mostly petty fighting. Enter stage right - two megaglomerates, who start developing the territory with no thoughts of subprime mortgage. Like drug lords, they crush the competition. The real warfare begins. Who will win (I ask)? But you may ask, who is fighting?
These developers have reached a deal: 60% of brain property devoted to work-related thoughts; 40% of brain property devoted to food. Isn't 40% a bit high, one may wonder? Fair enough, I say. But if you question the 40%, you apparently have no inkling as to how stressful my food situation is. Being part of a CSA is wondrous, but it introduces new challenges into life. Most of my spare moments (when I'm not working) are focused on what ever I shall do with all that kohlrabi kale swiss chard beets turnips scallions mint spinach bok choy cilantro cress. And not just what to do with it, but how to use it all before it goes bad. And how I can use my best persuasion skills to get my roommates to eat any of it. How can I possibly combine all those into one meal, plus that rotting banana in the corner? I tell you, I am surprised that the food constituency compromised at 40%.
So, if anybody would like me to be able to think about anything besides work and food, well, help a sister out. The following are ways you can help:
  • Coach me so that I don't feel so utterly stressed out when I waste even an ounce of food
  • Give me creative ideas for combining a whole lot of food that I've never cooked before
  • Send me recipes
  • Eat my food. Yes, please, eat my food.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Waste

Dear public buildings:

I have a question that has long befuddled me: Why, why, why do public buildings insist on setting their thermostats so low during the summer? I came into work today and noticed that the temperature was set at 65 degrees. Of course, the thermostat is locked, so nobody can remedy the situation. More than being upset at the fact that I'm wearing a sweater and a shawl at my office when it's 90 degrees outside, I'm mostly just puzzled. Businesses are bottom line seekers, and NGOs are always trying to save a buck. So, if for no other reason, buildings should keep the temperature up just to save a little cash. Don't worry, I won't launch into a diatribe on its negative effects on the environment, but seriously... Do you know how much CO2 you're emitting unnecessarily? (I'll give you a hint: it's almost 1oo million metric tons per year.) Why haven't public buildings jumped on the green wagon with the rest of society?

I urge you to address this issue with as much haste as possible. Remember, people are freezing in their offices, money is being wasted, and the environment is going to pot. Thank you for your kindly consideration.

Heather Sanders

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Measurements of joy

An axiom to live by: Joy is directly proportional to the amount of dirt found under your fingernails. All right, it's not proven, but it's self-evident.
I love getting dirty, and I love manual labor. Perhaps that is why I find such joy in gardening. And perhaps that is why I feel that yesterday was a day well spent. Tiffani, Tyler and I spent the morning getting wood and other supplies for our square foot gardens. Ignoring the 100 degree/95% humidity weather, we slaved away - with sweat dripping down our faces - to make our boxes and grids. We sorely underestimated the amount of soil we would need, so we made repeated trips to the local nursery. But, we finally got our compost, peat moss, vermiculite and pearlite all set, and we were able to plant 16 square feet of vegetables. (Can you imagine anything more fantastic?) We've got tomatoes, squash, zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, lettuce, and cucumbers. I can't wait to harvest. But, until then, I'm content just looking at the garden. I catch myself gazing out my bay window at the beautiful garden. And, I - like a toddler needing confirmation - drag every visitor out back to experience the magnificence of the square foot garden. I might need to be more careful about who I drag out there, lest the word get around and people stop visiting us.
I highly recommend everybody start a square foot garden, especially if you get anywhere near the same sort of satisfaction I do out of being outdoors and getting your hands dirty. Here are some of the perks:
  • Requires less water than an average garden
  • Requires less weeding
  • Reduces seed waste
  • It's pesticide/herbicide free
  • Easy to do with limited space - you can even make them on a patio or deck
  • Maximizes space (better than planting in rows)

May the fingernail dirt gods be with you in your ventures. Namaste.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I'm in love

My first hint that I would fall irreparably in love came my first day in my neighborhood. I was driving, trying to maneuver my way around the craziness that is metro DC, and I stumbled upon the impetus for this feeling inside (that I can't hide): The Baptist Church marquee. At that point I knew I could do nothing but fall in love with where I live. The marquee had the following written in glorious bold-face: "God is like Coca Cola. He's the real thing." Over the months, our corner church has provided many opportunities for my love to deepen. Here is the most recent:

Notify your face, man.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Why I can never own an ipod

I have felt this way for a while, but it was confirmed to me at work on Friday. I don't know if anybody else has this problem, but I simply cannot listen to music without singing along. It's a sickness. This is why it would be unconscionable for me to own an ipod. I'm certain that it takes enough of a toll on those around me when I sing along to a cd or the radio. But, if people had to listen to me sing along to an unheard melody, well... I think I just might lose friends pretty quickly. On Friday, I was in my office listening to an excellent Mana song (with headphones placed just so over my ears). Without thinking, I began to sing along, of course being unaware of my volume since I had headphones on. I was alerted to my embarrassing situation when a passerby poked his head into my office and gave me a strange look. "Yes, I'm singing in Spanish while I sit alone in my office - move along." To my dismay, an ipod is not in the stars for me. An ipod would multiply these embarrassing situations exponentially. I just can't bear the thought of that.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

FaceBook In Reality

Hilarious and hauntingly accurate. Need I say more?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Proverbial Pangea

Yesterday I participated in Pangea Day, which was fabulous. Pangea Day (as one might imagine with such a title) seeks to bring people all over the world together: to allow humanity to supersede borders, religion, race, and politics. This idea of uniting with people of all backgrounds - people whom I have never and probably will never meet - is a powerful one. It suggests that, despite superficial and substantive differences, humanity possesses deeply rooted similarities which bind us together. Robert Kurzban explains that as human beings, "we have the capacity and tendency to separate 'us' from 'them'. Once established, we're more tolerant to those we call 'us' and more brutal toward 'them.'" I have seen this mentality in action many times in my life. We easily identify ourselves with a set of people based on the color of our skin, religion, monetary status, gender, vocation, or political bent. We begin to define ourselves based on those characteristics; people who do not fall within those parameters belong to the "them" category. I saw this dramatically displayed in the DR. There was a strong "us" "them" sentiment between Dominicans and Haitians. As an outsider, it was almost laughable - except for the tragedy - to see how the Dominicans separated themselves from the Haitians because the Haitians were black. I have been thinking specifically about the divisions based on skin color as of late because I just finished reading Black Like Me. John Griffin changes his skin color from white to black to white throughout the book. As a black man, he describes the hate stares he receives from white people that are based solely on his color. He details the woes of being unable to convince white people to give him a job despite his high qualifications. In contrast, he feels an immediate sense of camaraderie with black strangers. He talks about the look blacks exchange with one another, a look that tells all - the suffering, the understanding, the willingness to help one another. When he goes back to being white, he notices the immediate change in the way people treat him. Suddenly a policeman nodds affably; he takes a "seat beside a white man at the counter and the waitress smiles at [him]. It was a miracle. [He] orders food and is served. It was a miracle." However, just as immediately, he loses his solidarity with black people. Black men speak to him obsequiously, and will not carry on conversations with him. He finds himself"back on the other side of the wall. There was no longer communication between [them], no longer the glance that said everything."
This division, this deliberate separation from other humans, fascinates me. We are human, and as such, experience the same emotions: love, hate, fear, hope, sadness, despair, joy. We pass through the majority of the same experiences. So, why is it, then, that we are so predisposed to associate ourselves with an identity that deliberately excludes another? Robert Kurzban gave me hope when he explained the research he has been doing. He talks about how, while we still have a tendency to join ourselves to a group, our definitions of us and them are not impervious. They are constantly changing to include other people, to form larger groups. "Increasingly, science shows there's no limit to who we define as us. Eventually, someday, there might not be any more 'thems'." I think that we all feel a sense of connection to humanity and that we possess capacity beyond our understanding to accept, love, and unite. We just need to exercise that capacity more frequently.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Suspicious

My recent activities have aroused many suspicions and raised not a few eyebrows. Rightly so. Like any good bank or credit card company, some devoted friends have begun to investigate this suspicious activity. Please, friends: ease your minds. I have not been held at gun point, nor have I delivered up my integrity. I have not experienced any form of conversion, nor have I "seen the light." And, finally, I have not given in to your seemingly interminable pleas and mockeries. I have been a simple victim of Facebook scandal. I suddenly feel a sense of solidarity with Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid; however, sadly, I lack the importance necessary to get my perpetrator thrown into jail.
Barring the possibility of jail, I suppose I will cede to you Austin Baird's punishment for the commission of this heinous crime. Do as you will.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

30 Days for a million voices

Raise your hand if you've ever heard of Burma. Raise your other hand if you know what's been going on there for the last few, oh... decades. Raise your leg if you've ever done anything to support human rights in Burma. Well, now's your chance to join with the U.S. Campaign for Burma to raise a million voices in support of Burma in 30 days. Each day in May there will be a different celebrity video promoting this, so check them out.
Day 1:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Who d'ya think I am?

So, I am an administrator for an online community where we do loads of e-forums and discussions. I send an email to people once I have approved their account, and sometimes I get back some wacked-out emails. Here is the treat of the week:

"Thank you for approval given to my account, Please kindly send one laptop computer for me. l want to participate in this programme efficiently and effectively,
l will be glad for your due consideration.
My postal address is as follow...
Thank you."


Right... I'll just kindly send you one right out. No problem whatsoever. Little does this person realize that I am just a lowly worker who doesn't even get her own laptop. But, I wish this person the best of luck convincing an NGO to give away laptops. That'll be the day.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Humanity

I read a line the other day in Black Like Me that encapsulates the resident feeling we often harbor toward our fellow men: "How can you render the duties of justice to men when you're afraid they will be so unaware of justice they may destroy you?" That very reasoning lurks behind much of our regret and guilt. How often have we wanted to pull over and help that person stranded on the side of the road, but stopped short because we were afraid of what might happen if we did so? That "helpless" person, after all, could be a mass-murderer or a rapist, someone who will take advantage of our kindness. And so we deny kindness. And so we deny justice. We fear to provide that which is just because we fear. We fear that others do not have the same sense of justice, living by a divergent set of morals and beliefs. And so they cannot be trusted to do what in our minds is truly just. They cannot be trusted to live by our standard of the golden rule. And so we deny justice. Sadly, perhaps; regretfully, perhaps; but the truth remains. Is there, perhaps some bifurcation going on here? Is it truly either-or, or are there more options to be had? I am simply wondering, because I too face this dilemma. I have many times shoved aside my feelings of justice, allowing fear to fill that vacancy. And, I believe that it is a valid fear, a fear that is daily validated by the media and others' actions. However, I have begun to doubt that there are only 2 reactions to these situations. But I don't know where to go with what I think may be a false dilemma.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Riots on the streets of Addis


"The rapidly escalating global food crisis has reached emergency proportions and threatens to wipe out seven years of progress in the fight against global poverty."
-- Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general

Riots in Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Yemen, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Italy. All over rising food prices. Want the stats from the WB and the UN?

  • Wheat prices: risen 130% since last March
  • Soy prices: risen 87% since last March
  • Overall food prices: risen 83% in the last 3 years
  • Food represents 60-80% of consumer spending in developing countries
  • In just 3 years the price of staples (wheat, corn, rice) has almost doubled

Why this dramatic rise? Reports are citing increased population, biofuel demand, bad weather, high oil and transport costs that companies pass along to consumers, and newly "rich" countries' demand for meat and dairy products.

To reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to keep corn prices artificially high for farmers, the US has pushed the use of biofuels. Using corn for fuel, however, is fueling food shortages - especially in the developing world.

With Earth Day approaching, it is quite a propos to think of how we can better take care of the environment. However, how can we reconcile these somewhat opposing needs: to provide food for all, especially the poor, and to take care of the environment?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lose your city eyes and act accordingly

"When you have city eyes you cannot see the invisible people, the men with elephantitis of the balls and the beggars in boxcars don't impinge on you, and the concrete sections of future drainpipes don't look like dormitories. My mother lost her city eyes and the newness of what she was seeing made her flush, newness like a hailstorm pricking her cheeks. Look, those beautiful children have black teeth! Would you believe... girl children bearing their nipples! How terrible, truly! And, Allah-tobah, heaven forfend, sweeper women with - no! - how dreadful! - collapsed spines, and bunches of twigs, and no caste marks; untouchables, sweet Allah! ... and cripples everywhere, mutilated by loving parents to ensure them of a lifelong income from begging ... yes, beggars in boxcars, grown men with babies' legs, in crates on wheels, made out of discarded roller-skates and old mango boxes ... Children tugging at the pallu of her sari, heads everywhere staring at my mother, who thinks, It's like being surrounded by some terrible monster, a creature with heads and heads and heads; but she corrects herself, no, of course not a monster, these poor poor people - what then? A power of some sort, a force which does not know its strength, which has perhaps decayed into impotence through never having been used. No, these are not decayed people, despite everything."

-- Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Splashing in the rain

Some may have abandoned the pastime of splashing in the rain when they were 3 years old. But for others, the magic still remains powerful, and they succumb to the puddles' calls. I would belong to the latter group. I really don't know what else there is to do with rain.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hyper-critical

Scandal has rocked the public health world. Or so many would believe. Last week, events unfolded that are still oozing shock waves to the media, the blogosphere, and public health agencies. For a brief background, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) is, as one might imagine, part of Hopkins, but it is funded by USAID. CCP administers PopLine, the world's largest database on reproductive health. Here's the media's latest spin: recently, PopLine administrators removed the search term "abortion," essentially rendering all abortion-focused articles invisible to the public. That's where most media and bloggers stop.

Enter outrage, shock, and criticism. How could Hopkins, a world-premier research organization, allow such censorship? How could they cut people off from evidence-based information, information that is supposed to be free? People waged a textual war, yelling such things as: "it's absurd to restrict searches using a perfectly good noun such as abortion!" "Insidious and convoluted." "I hope somebody at Hopkins is looking for work next week." "Whoever did this should pay dearly." Hate mail began to stream in.

This episode is, to me, simply a symptom of a broader malady. I am repeatedly dismayed at our cultural readiness to criticize, find fault, and jump to conclusions. Is it that we truly lack the time to seek out a more complete and truthful view of a situation? Could it be that our inclination to rage has been weighted? Do we have shorter fuses than we used to? Are we all becoming cynics? I have noticed this increasing tendency to criticize - especially our leaders, but in a true sense, all people around us. It troubles me. Perhaps we have removed ourselves so far from the situation that we lose all context for decisions. Choices are rarely - if ever - made in a vacuum, and we seldom know the issues surrounding the decisions. It is even less likely that we will have a complete understanding of context - a holistic view of the situation - when it is first presented to us. Yet, so many of us constantly react to the first hearing. We join the rampage, and once adjoined, whether from fear or pride, it is difficult to retreat and look at the situation objectively. We seem to feel that once we have pledged our "support" in one direction, we cannot do what is necessary - to carefully examine each side of the issue. It is also vital to take into consideration the human aspect of decision-making, and remember, remember, that we too are human. I believe we forget that we are of the same nature as those making these "outrageous" decisions. Would we have made the same choice if placed in the same situation? I don't necessarily want to take this to the "cast the first stone" level; however, I find that it is rare that we are level-headed and realistic when we cast our first judgment. We react without full, or even partial information. From that point, we continue on adrenaline and emotions, inhibiting factual ability to penetrate our clouded minds.

To come back to the story at hand, CCP is funded by USAID, which means that certain restrictions are placed upon it. Abortion cannot be advocated or officially spoken of given the current administration. Whatever our personal views on the issue, I would venture to say that we need to seek more understanding of this multi-faceted issue by drawing ourselves back from the minutia of one facet. Then, we can begin to make decisions unadulterated by sheer emotion, and start to act - not react.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Glow, fat heads, and NYC

There is this little Italian trattoria by my work that I am obsessed with. I dream of the fresca sandwich nightly. So, when my sister, Lauren, flew into town, I decided to take her there. The owner found out that we were Mormon (as they always do somehow). He immediately juxtaposed these three sentences, "I love Mormons! They have such great complexions. They're like a super race." He quite obviously was referring to the Mormon "glow," but being ignorant of semantics, chose to call it complexion.

All aglow, Lauren and I headed off to NYC (which has been Lauren's dream for oh, about all 17 years of her life). She died in SLC and arose in the fashion heaven of NYC. I think her highlight was H&M shopping, but she claims it was Central Park.




On Saturday, we went to the kite flying festival on the Mall. My roommate, Claire, poured her whole soul into creating a phenomenal tetrahedral four-cell kite, including hand sewing and collapsable joints. Tragedy struck, however, when she was trying to get the kite in the air. As she was running, the kite began to catch air and rose precisely to children's head-level. As it so happened, a fat-headed child stood aimlessly near the Washington Monument and managed to get his noggin stuck inside the kite, unbeknownst to Claire, who continued to run despite the slight drag she experienced. Continual tugging on Claire's part caused the fat-headed child to fall, breaking the kite in several places. We had the likes of the President of the Kite Association come to play kite-doctor, but to no avail. The kite would not fly. This is why we a. should not let small children out of the house, and b. need to urgently address the obesity epidemic in this country. Claire's spirits did seem a bit cheered when she saw the huge Mao kite in the air. But, then again, whose spirits aren't lifted with a little Mao?



Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter




I fully realize that Easter was yesterday; however, I do so hope that you will indulge me a Pascal post in the spirit of Easter. Now, what Easter would be complete without a little egg dying and some Pirates of the Caribbean egg stickers?

Also, on Saturday we went to the Easter Vigil at the National Cathedral. It was a great service. The cathedral was completely dark in representation of the tomb and the darkness associated with Christ's death. The darkness was almost palpable and I felt a sense of sadness mingled with hopelessness, which I believe the darkness is wont to invoke. Upon entering, we each received a candle. At the beginning of the service, the priests and other leaders entered carrying torches and lighted candles. It was poignant to witness that symbolism of the resurrection - of bringing back the light to the Earth. As the leaders walked up the middle aisle, they would light people's candles. The most beautiful part for me was watching people lighting one another's candles. Each person turned to the next and lighted his/her candle. The dual symbolism really struck me - that of Christ bringing light and hope, coupled with the idea that we are the bearers of that light. We share the light with others and hold the locust of responsibility. It was amazing to watch the light in the cathedral grow brighter and brighter even though we each held only a small candle. It was experiential learning where I saw and felt the light increasing until it filled the whole cathedral. It made my Easter more meaningful and thoughtful.



Sunday, March 23, 2008

Another one bites the dust

I am beginning to believe that my workplace is a microcosm of the greater economy. Let me just start by saying that my organization is up for rebid in June, which means that lots of people are feeling nervous about job security. So, many people are nipping the heartache in the bud by moving on to greener fields. Literally every day I get an email inviting me to join in a happy hour celebration to bid farewell to (mostly) people I've never met. Sometimes the happy hours exceed my personal quota of 1 daily. In light of this, I have adopted "Another one bites the dust" as my work theme song. This week, my boss topped it all off by announcing that he was leaving.

It is as though when one person gets nervous and pulls out, the rest suddenly cannot function. The left-overs have to bear increasing amounts of weight and responsibility. Some cannot handle the pressure and politely beg pardon. Some, seeing others' nervousness, yet not having been nervous themselves, feel that they must - under a sort of obligation or realization - become nervous as well. Thus begins the interminable cycle. How do we stem the fear? How do we keep those left from pulling out even amidst trying circumstances? How can we ensure that uncertainty does not quench our passion?

I am not capable of answering such questions. They are just musings. However, we are now placing bets at my work about who will be next.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginning of all wars"
-FDR

Death of a salesman

On Friday night I went to see Death of a Salesman. Each time I read or see the play, something different sticks out to me. This time, I caught myself pondering over what we equate with value in this life. The theme that struck me repeatedly was that nothing has value unless it can be sold. Tangible, measurable commodities - in this stage world - are the only things that hold value. Uncle Ben continually chided Willy for not seeking riches in the jungle, discounting being well-liked and having good children. (Never mind the fact that those were both illusions.) Ben brings up the idea, "now that (money) is something you can hold onto." If you can't heft it, if it isn't palpable, it is not valuable. How ironic that money is the one thing (although tangible) that we cannot hold onto. In the end (in my eyes) Willy cedes to the idea that money and the amassing of things is what gives a man worth. He believes he will be of more value dead than alive, because his life insurance will provide his family with "value" that they were lacking all those years. $20,000, after all, is a whole lot of value. Willy says, "After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive." While material worth may have increased with his death, moral worth declined.
These thoughts were coupled with some scriptures I have been thinking about. In 2nd Nephi, it talks of priestcrafts, how churches will "preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor." "...behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion." Nephi then suggests that the antithesis and solution to these priestcrafts is charity. "Wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love...Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish... for if they labor for money they shall perish." I return to my original question: What do we value in this life? It seems that in the process of valuing monetary gain, worldly recognition, and praise, we begin to seek not the welfare of Zion. We become so focused on ourselves, our own "needs" and pursuits that we cease to notice the needs of those around us. We begin to suffer our fellow laborers to perish, and we grind their faces, so to speak. We can choose to value equality and charity, or money and praise. It is, of course, not that black and white. But the beginning steps of valuing one or the other take us down well-trodden, opposing paths. Seeing Death of a Salesman was a positive impetus for me to examine the black, white, and gray areas of my values.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Wickedly wicked


We made the trek to the land of the Cleves to see Nikki's brother in Wicked. It was fabulous - every minute. Great company, great show, great music, great food. What else can you ask for?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Where have all the socks and tupperware tops gone?

Something simply scandalous has occurred. The socks have run off with the tupperware tops. I can't fathom why the tupperware tops would leave their beloved lower halves for a stinky, holey sock, but they have done it, and it alarming numbers. I'm sure that single socks have their virtues - they can be warm and fuzzy, I suppose. But, I think that tupperware tops and socks are quite ill-matched. I wish they would come back and join their rightful mates.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

True confessions

For whatever reason, I have never any luck with cameras. I've always had this unattainable dream of owning a nice (functioning) camera for more than 6 months. Alas, it is not in the stars for it to be so. A brief history of my most recent cameras ensues. 1. Beautiful 35 mm SLR: my dear friend lost it in the dark recesses of her bedroom... never to be found again. 2. Another brilliant 35 mm SLR: my little brother was playing with it, left it out in theblazing Utah sun, and fried the thing. 3. I bought my first digital camera ever 2 days before I went to Bolivia. First week into it, the hotel boy we had played cards with the night before took off with my camera and never returned to work. 4. Bought a nice digital camera a few months before I went to the DR. Unforunately, sudden torrential downpours are common in the Caribbean, and the water ruined my camera. As you can see, cameras + Heather = bad. The short-lived nature of my cameras, however, has not kept me from yearning for a new one as soon as the old one goes kaput.
My cameralessness is going on 6 months, and every time I look at my empty picture folders on my computer, I feel devastated. A sense of desparateness has crept over me, and in a craze today I thought, "Hmmm, wouldn't it be nice if I could somehow get a free camera?" This is where bells should be going off , because, as you see, it is nearly impossible to get something for nothing. But instead of abandoning this idea, this great desire to own a camera drove me to type "free camera" in the Google search bar. My delusion was in full swing when I came upon a site where you try products out for free and get a Nikon D300 as an incentive. Mind you, Nikon D300s are expensive little cameras, so I was enthused (again, remember I was in a delusional state). I filled out the survey and even agreed to one offer before I realized what I was doing. You know the type - "try this for free, but if you don't cancel and send back the product in 2 days, you will be charged the full $5,000 and will be enrolled in a program that you can never cancel..." For all intents and purposes, I was willingly squandering my privacy, free time, and sanity. I'm glad I caught myself before it was too late. Who knows what might happen next time I'm in this state. Maybe I need to invest in disposable cameras so I don't do something truly crazy.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Friday, February 22, 2008

Toys will be our downfall

I don't know if anybody else is as pleased as I when they find hard data to back up their entrenched opinions and beliefs. This morning, I almost had to pull the car over because I was so enthralled with what I was hearing on the radio. Hooray for NPR, as usual. At first glance, many may not peg me as a person who is interested in toys. But I am - in a round about way. I've mostly been interested (or disheartened, rather) in the way that toys - especially electronic toys - can dull our senses and retard our social skills. We live in a culture that is so over-entertained, that practically cannot survive a minute without something to distract and entertain. We seem to crave having things in our hands and before our eyes, discontent to spend a moment in quietude. This world is brimming with cell phones, PSPs, MP3 players, PDAs, Game Boys, computers, and video games. We invent and use these things in pursuit of an enjoyable life.
To me, an enjoyable life is full of people, learning, and freedom to act. I'm not saying that these toys are antithetical to my own pursuit of happiness, but I think they detract from it more often than they add to it. All of these toys distract us from our human interactions, to the point that our social skills suffer. We close ourselves off when we put in our headphones or when we play a personal hand-held game. We have so much alone time with our electronics, which don't demand any real interaction, that we almost forget how to treat people. We choose the easy way out instead of having important conversations with those we love. We text when we could call or stop by, we watch a movie when we could serve somebody, we listen to our iPod when we could be listening to our family members.
Today on the radio, they were talking about when toys were first advertised on TV outside of Christmas. This was the turning point when play became synonymous with toys. Chudacoff said,
"It's interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys, whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object." Back in the days, kids (and adults) used to engage frequently in "freewheeling imaginative play." The reception of toys began a sad trend of the shrinking size of "children's imaginative space." [I don't believe all toys are bad and I am not saying that we should all abandon our toys completely, just so you know...]
The way we (and kids especially) spend our time can change our emotional and cognitive development. When we engage in creative activities - make believe, analytical thinking, etc. - we develop executive function, which includes the ability to self-regulate. Acquisition of this skill translates into the ability to control emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.
A study was done on the ability of kids to basically control themselves back in the 1940s. 3-year-olds could not sit still for even a minute. 5-year-olds could sit still for about 3 minutes, and the 7-year-olds could sit still for as long as the researchers asked them to. The same study repeated in 2006 showed that 5-year-olds were performing at the 3-year-old levels of 1940s, and the 7-year-olds were performing at the 5-year-old levels of 1940s. This is disturbing to me on a number of levels. First of all, I think there is great value in being still - controlling your emotions and actions. You can receive peace, inspiration, a recharge. On another level, self-regulation and executive function are much stronger predictors of success in school than IQ. Plus, lack of these abilities is highly correlated with drop out, drug use, and crime. Laura Berk said, "Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain."
I will stop here because I could go on for quite a time about this. But, I think that it is fascinating how much our activities affect us mentally, physically and socially. I wish we all would focus more on the people who are with us when they are with us instead of allowing ourselves to be distracted by the various forms of entertainment.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I have recently discovered...

I have recently discovered the greatest invention on Earth. Some people may believe that the greatest invention was video games. I am sorry to disappoint you - I'm not talking about video games. However, the invention is technological at least. It is called Jott.com. It is the coolest (and freest, might I mention) service. Basically, you call a number and you can jot things to yourself or other people. So, if you want to remind yourself of something, or email somebody via talking on the phone, or post to your blog like I'm doing now, you just call Jott and it transcribes it for you. You get everything you've said in e-format. You can link Jott to your daily to-do list, twitter, blog, etc. Really the options are endless. It's like having a secretary in my hand. So useful. You guys should all check it out. Your life will be a whole lot easier and people will think you're a whole lot cooler.

Powered by Jott

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dylan speaks

I wonder, how many weary friends and strangers are fainting at my door while I puruse my own happiness and pleasure? Has my hedonism drowned out their pleas? Have I been distracted, too busy to see? Have I seen my own sorrows instead of another's? Have I looked beyond the mark? Have I traveled far when I needed only to walk out my front door? Have I ever, even once supped sorrow with the poor?

"Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears
While we all sup sorrow with the poor.
There's a song that will linger forever in our ears,
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary.
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door.
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay.
There are frail forms fainting at the door.
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say,
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary.
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door.
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
There's a pale drooping maiden who foils her life away
With a worn out heart, whose better days are o'er.
Though her voice it would be merry, 'tis sighing all the day,
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary.
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door.
Oh, hard times, come again no more.
'Tis the song, the sigh of the weary.
Hard times, hard times, come again no more.
Many days you have lingered all around my cabin door.
Oh, hard times, come again no more."

-Bob Dylan

Monday, February 11, 2008

Living the hyperbole

As I examine my life, I find it is brimming with "always" and "nevers." Most people would likely recognize that living life in these extremes is not realistic; however, I have only begun to see these follies. I think the most glaring "never" mistruth I have ever told was this: "I will never get a zit." Ah, the innocence of youth. Here's another one we (or at least I) tend to believe, while simultaneously realizing its utterly absurd nature: "I will never get old." In conjunction with my aversion to the norm, I recall repeating on numerous occasions that I would "never have a grandma hairdo." I now see that as you get older, your hair thins, and your options are limited - you just go with it. Also, I used to say, "I will always take a lunch break, no matter how busy I am." Well, now that just can't be true, because it just so happens that I did not take a lunch break today because I was too busy. Then there's the slew of "I'm always the one who... does the dishes ... cleans the house ... takes out the garbage..." I think we really believe that's true - but it's not. In view of the ridiculous nature of these comments, why is it that people still persist in writing, "never change" in my yearbook of life?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hot, hot, hot

I love global warming.* Who can justifiably complain about global warming when it's 75 degrees outside in February? I say that's no cause for worry. I mean, I love polar bears, the Maldives, and sea walruses, but all that pales in comparison to 75 degree weather in winter.


*These views in no way represent Heather's true feelings on global warming.

Monday, February 4, 2008

NPR dreams up in smoke

I have a theory. Many people assert that America is based on a meritocratic system, and I think in most cases I would agree. However, one area of American society blaringly contradicts this supposed meritocracy. I'm sure you're all jumping to conclusions here. Let me assure you that you are correct: that one area is NPR. I imagine that NPR finally ceded to the shouts of its employees, "Down with meritocracy! Up with nomocracy!" That's right. People at NPR ascend the corporate ladder by having cool names. (At least, it can't hurt.) It's quite obvious when you take a gander at the showing of great names. Besides, a radio personality is almost entirely defined by a name. I believe that is the origin of the phrase, "Make a name for yourself." I wonder which of these NPR hosts is king of names, so to speak: Claude Brodesser, Tom & Ray Magliozzi, Diane Rehm, John Diliberto, Steve Inskeep, Farai Chideya, Garrison Keillor, Ira Flatow, Ketzel Levine, Kojo Nandi, Cokie Roberts, Tavis Smiley, Barbara Bogaev, or Don Ganye. Clearly, Diane Rehm has a corner on the market, because not only does she has a fabulous name, she also has a rocking voice. It could possibly be the most recognized voice in America. But, if I had my choice as to who would rule the NPR world based on names, it would be Steve Inskeep, because every time I hear him introduced, I just picture the quintessential post-mission on-campus encounter: "Hey - what's your first name, dude? Oh, right. Listen, Steve, Steveinsky, dude... Haven't you always wanted to knock doors and earn money at the same time? It would be a totally new experience after being a missionary. We're offering free pizza, Steveinsky. Ok, think about it, Stevie, Steveinsky..."
Who would you vote for? (I guess I am now turning this into a democracy. Hmmm.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blackle

Ladies and gents: Blackle is possibly the coolest thing since... well... since solar panels. Check this out:

"If Google had a black screen, taking into account the huge number of times this search engine is used, 750 mega watt hours of energy per year would be saved. In recognition of this fact, Google has created a black version of its search engine, called Blackle, with exactly the same functions as the white version, but with lower energy consumption. Bookmark it today and pass it along:
http://www.blackle.com/
If you are suspicious, read this first http://www.blackle.com/about/"

Math skills

All right, I'm no mathematician, but if I rummage through the remains of my 1st grade brain, I seem to recall that 16 is less than 20, which is less than 24. Have I been severely misinformed or have I been living in a self-created delusional world where 24 is greater than 16? I don't know which it is, but it simply has to be one of the two. Otherwise, I would not find myself continually disappointed when I reach into the variety pack box of Quaker granola bars only to pull out yet another oatmeal raisin bar. I mean, the box plainly states: 16 oatmeal raisin bars; 20 peanut butter chocolate chip bars; and 24 chocolate chip bars. Why is it that if there are truly 24 chocolate chip granola bars, I can never sink my teeth into one? Perhaps my roommates have been sabotaging me because they know that chocolate chip is my favorite. Come on, everybody knows that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Not much has changed

On Monday, in true spirit of the holiday, I listened to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech "Beyond Vietnam." Although - as you might infer from the title - Dr. King was speaking of Vietnam and the ill-begotten notions of war justifications, the speech uncannily portrays what is going on in our days. Simply replace "Vietnam" with a litany of words - terrorism, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and on... and on... As many of you may know, I am borderline obsessed with promoting peace. Dr. King's speech is so moving and rings so true, reminding me that there is something to fight for.

In his speech, Dr. King talks of the war in Vietnam (which we can replace with more relevant issues) as being "but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit." If we ignore {Vietnam}, we will only find ourselves dealing with the next Vietnam. If we are listless, refusing to act, the US will grow concerned with one country after the next. He warns that "we will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy." John F. Kennedy said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." This is the role our nation has assumed time after time.

King states: "I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

He goes on to emphasize that this positive revolution of values will be the proverbial sword hanging over communism. We will never defeat the forces of communism, terrorism - whatever we believe America is fighting for today - by weilding physical power via guns, bombs, and torture. "These are days," Dr. King says, "which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness." Instead, lack of education and ignorance breed hatred toward people we have never met, causing us to act in irrational ways. Our best weapons for peace, so to speak, are actions to ameliorate those very conditions in which negative forces thrive: poverty, illteracy, injustice, and insecurity. "Communism [terrorism] is a judgement against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions we initiated."

"Therefore, Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -- but beautiful -- struggle for a new world. This is the callling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

If I were president...









"instead of spending billions on the war,we can use some of that money, in the ghetto."

-Wyclef Jean

If I were president...

If I Was President by Wyclef Jean

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pandemic tag

It appears that there is a highly virulent strain of blog tag going around. Alas, I have come down with this dreaded disease and must succumb to its demands. I must admit that this disease almost killed me because I am absolutely horrible at delimiting my life and making lists.

8 things I'm passionate about:

1. Peace 2. Poverty 3. Culture 4. Gospel 5. Languages 6. Nature 7. Learning 8. Family

8 things I want to do before I die:

1. Get a PhD 2. Start a non-profit when I see a need that is not being met 3. Travel to Thailand, China, Afghanistan, and New Zealand 4. Have a family 5. Create a real community/sense of social capital 6. Go to culinary school 7. See Angkor Watt 8. Do something significant to increase peace in this world

8 books I have read recently:

1. Three cups of tea 2. East of Eden 3. The color of water 4. Eat, pray, love 5. Stargirl 6. Big box swindle 7. War and peace 8. A separate peace

8 things I often say:

1. Crimeny 2. Oh, dear 3. Seriously 4. Also... 5. Blast 6. What in the world? 7. Indeed 8. Eh

8 things that attract me to friends:

1. Quick to laugh 2. Intelligence 3. Good conversationalist 4. Sincerity 5. Desire to make things happen/change systems 6. Common interests 7. Selflessness 8. Openness to try new things and help me to try to new things/think about things in a different way

8 songs and albums I could listen to over and over (Ok, this one sucks):

1. Guster - Lost and gone forever 2. Jarabe de Palo 3. Feist - I feel it all (yeah, Zina) 4. Pretty much any Mana 5. Martin Sexton - Angeline 6. Mason Jennings - Killer's Creek 7. Michael Jackson - Billie Jean 8. Erin McKeown - Hum

8 Random things about me:

1. Folding clothes is NOT my hidden talent 2. It bothers me if the shower curtain is even slightly ajar when I am showering 3. I sleep with one eye open... yeah, you heard me 4. I hate pie 5. When I was 11, I was hit by a car while walking to my friend's birthday party, but I really wanted to go to the party, so I didn't tell my parents or go to the hospital 6. I alter my routine every morning to prevent Alzheimer's 7. I went through a phase where I only spoke in an Irish accent and almost convinced myself I was Irish 8. I don't like talking on the phone if anybody can hear me, which is difficult since I talk loudly on the phone

8 people I tag:

Heidi, Jess, Mel, Laura, Katie, Nic, Ash (because the more you're tagged, the more likely you are to finally give in), Free people