Well, if that’s all it takes…

Although I plan on voting for Barack Obama in the upcoming election, I’m trying to remain fair. I don’t “hate” McCain, I don’t think he’s a bad person, I try not to belittle him, and I don’t think everything he says and does is wrong, by any means. I think he has a LOT of positive qualities. But this one just made my head hurt. The quote below is in reference to his running-mate, Governor Sarah Palin (who I’m sure is also a lovely, intelligent person).

” ‘I think Sen. Obama, if they want to do down that route, in all candor, she has far, far more experience than Sen. Obama does,’ McCain said. He cited Palin’s stint as governor of a “state that produces 20 percent of America’s energy” as well as her previous membership in the PTA and her time spent on the city council and in the mayor’s office in Wasilla, a town of fewer than 7,000 people outside Anchorage.”

While I’m in full support of active mothers everywhere, I didn’t realize the PTA qualified one to serve as second-in-command of the free world. Silly me.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080831/ap_on_el_pr/cvn_convention_rdp

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Butter Sculptures

It’s getting close to State Fair season here in Texas, which in my opinion is the best season of all! I got an e-mail through Flickr the other day from a girl in Toronto who told me that she is working on a news story about this year’s New York State Fair butter sculpture. When they’re done with it at the end of the Fair, it will be recycled into biodiesel instead of just being thrown away. The idea of a buttery cow or pig or Elvis being thrown in the trash to melt into goo is just sad, so I’m glad they’re actually doing something with it! Maybe Texas will follow suit. Anyway, this girl e-mailed me because she is collecting photos of state fair butter sculptures for the article, and she saw mine and would like to use it. I agreed, so check out their awesome slideshow of mine (please note the aviator glasses on the pigs) and others they found, as well as a video of the one in New York that will be turned into fuel. It’s just good, buttery fun.

http://www.nowpublic.com/environment/ny-state-fair-butter-sculpture-be-turned-biodiesel-fuel

“This year’s New York State Fair has brought something new to the time-honored butter sculpture. It has turned the tradition green. When the fair ends, the state university’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry will convert the sculpture’s 900 pounds of butter into biodiesel for the college’s vehicles — enough to power five round trips to the Adirondacks.”

When Pigs Fly!

When Pigs Fly!

On Anthems

I learned something from watching the closing ceremony of the Olympics last week! I realized that the tune to the unofficial English national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” is the same as that of the American hymn, “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee”. I knew the name of their anthem, but I’d never heard it sung until the choir performed it that night, in celebration of the next Olympics being in London in 2012. While I have a music degree and know that tunes have often been reused over the course of history, especially Christian hymns from the 1800s (in fact, this origins of this tune itself are uncertain), I was surprised that an American composer of that time would steal something so representative of England and its government. Then I realized that it was probably not at all an accident, but rather very much on purpose, to prove a point.

“God Save the Queen” is written from the perspective of a submissive subject petitioning God to strengthen and continue the glorious Queen’s reign over her people, in hopes of remaining in power over other nations.

God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen,
God save the Queen:
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen.

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter thine enemies,
And make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.

Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen.

“America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee)” was written by  Samuel F. Smith in 1808, less than a generation after the signing of the United States Constitution, just long enough for Samuel to witness the way this newfangled government, run by and for the people, was working itself out in reality. The lyrics to this song, which shares the same tune with the lines above, seems to me to be about the music and poetry of freedom, about all the citizens of this land joining together to praise God, the author of True Freedom after which we model our democracy. I was taught this song as a kid, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen all the words. I don’t mean to be cheesy or dramatic, but it’s clearly a love song!

My country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died !
Land of the pilgrims’ pride
From ev’ry mountainside
Let freedom ring !
My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love:
I love thy rocks and rills
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills
Like that above.
Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom’s song:
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.
Our fathers’ God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing:
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

THIS is why I (as a Christian) believe in the separation of church and state. THIS is why I can’t vote Republican at the moment, no matter how much I’d like to be able to. I love Samuel’s vision for our country: all different kinds of people coming together under one flag – not a royal ruler or a far-too-heavy-handed executive branch – who can legally claim the citizen’s right to speak and act freely, no matter their political, religious or any other beliefs.

Sorry for the soapbox. I’m done now. To sum up, with mighty respect to our parent country across the pond, I like our song better!

Read “Eat, Pray, Love”

I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert this summer, and while I didn’t like everything about it, it did have some really great quotes that I wanted to share. The non-fiction book is broken into three parts, each spanning four months and taking place in a different country. The event that kicks off her year abroad is that she gets a divorce (one that she instigated, not because there was infidelity or abuse or anything horrible going on, but just because she didn’t want to be married anymore), and the problem I had with a lot of the first third of the book was her whining about the loneliness and depression she experienced afterward. Oh, and her ex-husband’s anger with her over her decision to end their marriage. I have no tolerance for things like that, and a lot of the spiritual growing she does in relation to that issue just made me roll my eyes.

BUT luckily there is more to the book than that, and there was less and less of it as the book (and she) progressed. The parts I wanted to share were mostly about food and spirituality – two of my favorite parts of life! If you can deal with the divorce whining, I highly recommend this book. Here are some of my favorite quotes. http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/eatpraylove.htm

*”Looking for truth is not some kind of spazzy free-for-all, not even during this, the great age of the spazzy free-for-all.”

*I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us indeed – much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own hearts. I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the center of that heart with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love.”

*”I wanted what the Greeks called ‘kalos kai agathos,’ the singular balance of the good and the beautiful.”

*”The accent in Naples is like a friendly cuff on the ear. It’s like walking through a city of short-order cooks, everybody hollering at the same time.”

*Of a policeman in a small Italian town: “He gives me one of the greatest things anyone can ever give me in life – a tiny piece of paper with the name of an obscure restaurant written on it, and a hand-drawn map of how to find the place.”

*”In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted.”

*She described her sweating and discomfort during long meditative chants at the ashram as “not like a person sweats, but rather like a cheese sweats.” (I love that!!)

*”I was doing something I’d never done before…And what will I be able to do tomorrow that I cannot yet do today?”

*”I just want God. I want God inside me. I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water.”

*”I could feel all this old pain of lost love and past mistakes attenuating before my eyes, diminishing at last through the famous healing powers of time, patience and the grace of God.”

*”This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you’re craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a plumber/poet. If you bring the right earnestness to your homemade ceremony, God will provide the grace. And that is why we need God.”

*”At some point, you have to make peace with what you were given. Useful, then, might be to accept how I was made and embody myself fully therein.”

*”To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver.” – Ketut, Balinese medicine man

*Elizabeth: “What can we do about the craziness of the world?” Ketut: “Nothing. This is nature of world. This is destiny. Worry about your craziness only – make in you peace.”

*What Elizabeth calls “Diligent Joy”: “The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people.”

*Elizabeth’s guru’s teachings about happiness: “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep summoning upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment. It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress, but continuing to pray when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments.”

*”Love is always complicated. But still humans must try to love each other, darling. We must get our hearts broken sometimes. This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.” – Elizabeth’s future husband, Felipe

*”I was not rescued by a prince. I was the administrator of my own rescue.”

*”Isn’t our individual longing for transcendence all just a part of this larger human search for divinity? Don’t we each have the right to not stop seeking until we get as close to the source of wonder as possible?”

Pedicure Patriotism

So I had a patriotic moment the other day. I feel this needs marking or noting in some way, as it’s not very often I feel patriotic, at least in the traditional sense.

I’ve become quite a critic of the U.S. in recent years as I’ve learned more about politics and the horrible things people do to each other in the name of money and power. And I still am, trust me. But I was getting a pedicure the other day, (not something I do very often, but a long-ago boyfriend gave me a foot complex, so what’s a girl to do?) and I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for my surroundings.

I was sitting in a spa chair, a smiling woman at my feet making them as pretty as they can be, making my ugly toes soft and colorful with a shade of deep orange. I had just bought “Reading Lolita in Tehran” the previous weekend, and since I had it in the car, I started reading it there while I waited. I don’t know if you know anything about this book, but it’s a memoir of a woman who spent a day a week for two years meeting secretly with a group of women in Tehran, Iran to read Western classics with them, books forbidden under the Islamic Republic for various reasons. I got about a chapter into it, and I was reminded of all the people in the world, such as in Iran and China, who are deprived of so much information by their governments. I was reminded that women in Iran cannot wear makeup, and showing their bare feet in public, as I was doing (especially being a single woman traveling outside my home alone), is pretty much out of the question.

I was sitting there, digesting these thoughts, and an extremely effeminate man walked in to get his nails done. He was wearing heeled shoes, jeans, a tucked-in, long-sleeved black shirt, and he had synthetic, French-manicured nails, earrings, and shoulder-length hair slicked back and curled under. It was obvious that he was a regular, as one of the women walked up and hugged him, and he sat down at her table and asked her how she’d been. As they chatted, I was reminded that in Iran, gay people are simply not recognized. They don’t have gay people in Iran, Ahmadinejad says. If someone is caught conducting homosexual activity, they’re pretty much either beaten or killed, as far as I understand. I thought wow, how great is it that I can sit here and have my toes out being beautified in public, and so can this gay man. He doesn’t have to hide his nature, his behavior, and he can broadcast it as loudly as he likes with his French manicure. Vanity and sexual freedom are legal here.

Then a fire engine drove by on its way to an accident down the road, and I was reminded of the government employees that come to our aid when we’re in trouble. I make training materials for firefighters for a living, so I’m reminded of them on a daily basis, but in this context, I was feeling pretty proud of our country and its system of protections.

Then I looked across the street and saw a Japanese restaurant, and I was thankful for our system of immigration, with all its flaws. We may have a wildly imperfect way of carrying it out, but I love living someplace where everyone is different, where everyone’s family has a different story that spans countries and continents and cuisines.

Next to the restaurant was a car stereo store. Common, I know, but most of the listening I do in the car is to NPR. And I thought my goodness, how lucky we are to have a legal radio station that is partially funded by the government that allows such a diversity of content. People are allowed to say bad things about the United States, about President Bush, about our system of government. I’ve got a friend living in China right now, and the limitation of information is so severe there that we had to work out a code before she left so we could keep each other informed of danger, riots, government-censored information or anything to do with God or churches. It’s real, and it happens every day to people all over the world, and the account of this secret book club in Tehran reminded me of that.

I know that this country has SEVERE problems right now, and I’m horrified by the erosion of citizens’ rights that has gone on under the Bush administration. We are by no means perfect, or as good as we could be, but we have the fundamental freedoms of speech and religion. We don’t always use them to the fullest, but they are ours, fundamentally. And I’m always aware of this, but sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the negative aspects of democracy that I forget that we really have it so great here. I wouldn’t consider myself a vain person, really, but I’m so thankful for my pedicure and what it means about my country, and I left the salon feeling just the tiniest bit patriotic. It was a refreshing change.

My (Ridiculous) Night Biking Adventure

I should have known better. I called my mother and said “I’m going on a 14-mile bike ride after work.” She said “You’re going to die! ” about five times. I really should have listened!

My awesome roommate and I really don’t hang out enough, and she invited me on a night-bike ride with a co-worker and some other folks who get together on Friday afternoons and ride around White Rock Lake. The website they have said it was a social ride, and that it’s a leisurely pace, and I knew a 6-year-old was going to be involved, so I thought hey, I’ve done the Tour Dallas several times and loved it, and that’s 20, so 14 should be nothing. Well, apparently for these hard-core bikers, what ensued WAS a leisurely pace for them. But these are the kind of people who have $500 head lamps on their helmets, not my kind of leisurely. Sure, I have bike shorts and running socks, but I wear my boyfriend’s helmet and ride my roommate’s bike, so I’m most assuredly NOT in their category. I know this now.

Anyway, I huffed and puffed up the first hill (which I was told there was a bypass for, but none of the scouts remembered to tell anyone that – all of a sudden, there was just a hill that we were half-way up). I put my bike in the lowest gear and trudged up slowly, but I’ve been working for 12 straight 12-hour days and haven’t really been hydrating OR reading the headlines proclaiming record-setting heat this weekend, so I was just caught totally unprepared. Anyway, I got to the top, but I was starting to black out a little, so I got off the bike and sat down. I’m kind of a lazy exerciser, so I’m not used to getting to this point! I know it was over a hundred degrees, and this is a very advanced group of bikers, but I felt rather stupid having to stop after the first hill! My awesome roommate stayed with me and poured water on me (thanks Rebecca!) and told them to go on ahead (I had about 40 restless bikers about a hundred feet ahead, staring back at me – quite intimidating), and when my temperature went down and I drank a little water, I felt much better. Also, she switched bikes with me – I was riding her husband’s bike, which is way heavier than the one she was riding (which is actually the one I usually use, anyway). That helped.

We caught up with the group after a little while and bypassed the rest of the hills, and the sun started to fade over the water, and it was quite nice. Until the bugs came out en mass as the sun set. You had to keep your mouth closed so bugs wouldn’t fly in, and the rest of the bikers had plastic glasses on to avoid that, but we didn’t know, so we just kept making spitting noises and trying to avoid them the best we could. There were so many that it literally felt like raindrops. My allergies have been really bad this year, so breathing through my nose is not the easiest thing lately, so I kept having to use my hand to cover my mouth so I could breathe well, which made me swervy. I’m glad I didn’t fall off. Come to think of it, that was the only victory of the evening.

Then, of course, it was dark, and the bugs got worse, especially in those back areas we had to go through to bypass the hills. If you know me well, you know I’m quite clumsy, so between the darkness and having to keep my head down to avoid bugs in the eyes, I was at a real disadvantage when it came to potholes, cracks, and turns. The bike I was on had a light, but it really didn’t give off much, so unless the headlamp guy was in front of me, I couldn’t see much at all. I almost rode straight into a 8-foot-tall pile of rocks in a construction area, and only at the last second did I see that the trail made a jerky move around it. Okay, so that was victory #2. If you can call it that.

I had a great time talking to my roommate and her sister-in-law, because despite the fact that we live together, we really don’t get to hang out enough. And she was totally awesome to ride slower with me and make sure I was okay. But other than that, the evening was a complete disaster! The scouts of the group actually left a guy on the trail (the only person who was as slow than me!) who took a wrong turn (they found him an hour after we got back), so at least I wasn’t the major pitiful-biker story of the evening. I’ll take second place.

So anyway kids, the moral of the story is, drink lots of water this summer and for goodness sake, don’t go night biking without a really bright headlight and some goggles.

This is me on the Tour Dallas, a DAYTIME ride.

My Very Soggy Vacation

Well, things went a bit awry this year on the White Family Vacation. First of all, it rained for four straight days while we were on South Padre Island. We spent a lot of time in the condo together. My family has done its fair share of bickering in the past, so it was a pleasant surprise that we had a great time together for that many successive days!

We managed to get out despite the rain – Grandma and I got pedicures, Lindsey and I got toe rings and hung out at coffee shop/Internet cafe for a while, and we went out to dinner most nights. Jeff and his wife Gina cooked dinner for us one night – fried chicken and asparagus. We went to Garcia’s one night, which is the first U.S. location of a restaurant and store in Mexico that my parents and grandparents have been going to for 50 years. It started as a jewelry stand in a Mexican border town and grew into a real business, and my grandparents knew Mr. Garcia from the very beginning. Kind of neat.

The sun finally came out the last day, and those of us who were not yet burned (read, me) got some sun. It actually came back with a vengeance, like it had something to prove, and I had to cover my back and legs with my beach towel (picture that, please) for most of the afternoon to keep from being fried. There was a hurricane somewhere in the distance, so it was causing giant waves and a LOT of seaweed to wash up. The seaweed was everywhere. We could really only be in the water in the morning, because as soon as the tide came in, it brought seaweed with it – from the balcony, you could actually see football-field-long stretches of seaweed making its way to the shore in a diagonal line. The current was pretty powerful, and after an hour or so in the water, my sunglasses were swept right off my head, and I realized at some point that one of my rings was gone.

While it was raining at the beach, it was also raining in Harlingen, and my grandmother’s house flooded with about three inches of water sometime while we had her at the beach, most likely Monday. Thursday, when we got to her house, it had been mildewing for days, and the smell was overwhelming. She, of course, couldn’t smell it very well, so she didn’t exactly jump on getting the insurance process started, and it wasn’t until the next afternoon that a guy came to suck some water out of the carpet in a couple of rooms. Luckily, getting a little water out made the smell a little less oppressive, but you still had to wear shoes everywhere you went, and we were all feeling quite moist. We tried to keep the doors open to help vent a little, but the normal high-90s weather had returned, and the heat mixed with the mosquitoes and mildew was NOT PLEASANT. Two days later, the insurance adjuster finally showed up and did his thing, and then we got the water-sucker guy to come back and pull up the carpet.

While the Carpet Saga was going on, I was trying my best to clean out my grandmother’s house. We have been trying to convince her to sell her house and move to Dallas for some time now, and I think she’s finally wrapped her head around that possibility. We had a meeting with a lawyer to go over getting the house deed changed to her name, instead of my grandfather’s (who has been dead for over 10 years). He got that process started, so as soon as that happens and we can get the house ready, it can be sold.

But in order to do THAT, we have to clear out 50 years of CRAP. I cannot comprehend the amount of junk this woman has amassed: several hundred plastic utensils, an array of cookie jars, exercise equipment, scary chemical cleaners from at least three decades ago, more empty coffee cans than any sane person could ever use, and rat poop. Oh, the rat poop. It was everywhere. She has fixed the rat problem, but they left little presents in every drawer, on every shelf, even inside the fold-up couch. I did my best to sanitize every place I worked on, but I know there’s more waiting for an innocent, unsuspecting maid. The weirdest find was an empty food can, label removed, covered with pasted-on clippings of women’s eyes. Just their eyes. I showed her, and she had no clue where it came from. Wall-E would have a ball in this house.

The beach part of the vacation was restful, but the last four days have been exhausting and uncomfortable. Which is fine. If it means I left my grandmother in a better environment, I don’t mind at all, and I wish I could have done more. The frustrating part was that she doesn’t seem to realize that her house is falling apart around her, and what she does realize, she doesn’t mind. She is definitely more scattered and forgetful than she used to be, and that’s heartbreaking. She has always been a bit ADD, flitting from one thing to another, starting projects and never finishing them. But now she will tell you a story she just told you ten minutes ago, or offer you the same pair of unwanted slippers four times, which is an entirely different kind of scattered, and it’s alarming to me. It’s of course hard to see this strong-willed woman deteriorating, but the sucky part is that she’s alone down there experiencing this mental challenge. I’m so afraid she’ll take too much medication, or misjudge how old the chicken is, or leave the gas stove on and blow up her house. Her best friend just died three weeks ago after an illness, and she’s been sad, although I think seeing her friend give up her will to live has made her more determined to take care of herself. She’s not ready to give up.

She’s also been getting taken advantage of by magazine companies (she was getting ESPN, Latina and Radar, to name a few, as part of a magazine club thing), book clubs, and things like that. She didn’t understand why they were all coming to her, and she keeps meaning to call them and figure out who sent her a subscription, but she doesn’t understand or remember that she mot likely gave someone her credit card number and authorized it herself, not understanding what she was doing (and, I’m sure, being led on by a horrible human being phone person who knew exactly what they were doing). My sister-in-law Gina got on the phone with both companies and yelled at them for taking advantage of old people, and she got some of Grandma’s money back. She gets more junk mail than I’ve ever seen, and many of them were thanking her for her contribution, so I know she donates money to a lot of charities. Being an avid charity-donor myself, I understand her desire to help people, but she had BAGS AND BAGS of junk mail sitting around, all asking for money, and I can’t have that. I’m going to try to get her off these junk lists, so hopefully there won’t be the temptation for her to give Publisher’s Clearing House the time of day. I found a small shredder in a closet somewhere (she didn’t know it was there), and I taught her to use it, so hopefully what I can’t get to will be shredded. And hopefully, she won’t shred her fingers.

Anyway, it wasn’t exactly Club Med, but overall it was a nice vacation. I really enjoyed being with my family. I haven’t really spent much time with my sister-in-law the last few years, and I don’t really know her very well, to be honest, despite the fact that she has been with my brother for ten years. She really opened up on this trip. She’s usually very quiet and reserved, but she came alive with us this week, and I really enjoyed her company. She felt – and acted – like my sister for the first time. So many of my friends have such unhappy or fragmented family lives, and I am so lucky to have the familial stability and framework that I do, and I’m acutely aware of that. We are a wildly-imperfect group, but I can’t describe how grateful I am to be a part of it.