Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 29 and 30: Stacking My Records and The Nile

December 30, 2011

If you could go on a trip regardless of cost, where would you go and what would you see?

Egypt. Everything.
And all over Europe. Or all over the World. Go everywhere, try everything. I want to devour it all with my eyes and a camera and my best travel companion, and a sharp thin ink pen and a fat lined journal and be away for a year. A long year, light on belongings and responsibilities, and heavy on experiences and emotions and all things new and strange.                                                                               

December 29, 2011

What was the soundtrack of your year? Of your life? Which songs most strongly represent the various eras of your life? What songs were playing for the most crucial, formative moments of your life? Or, if the chronological approach doesn't work for you, which songs best capture the different facets of your life? (Childhood, Love Life, Adulthood, Loss, Growth, Career, Happiness, Sadness, etc.)  Please elaborate.

Oh, for a music lover this puppy is difficult to answer. To go with a chronological look? With a facet approach? Or Rob Gordon's way, "autobiographical"? How can I write this and not take three hours, pausing frequently for music breaks?  I'm diving right in, stream of consciousness style and just writing down what pops into my head:

It starts with The Beatles White Album and the goofy charm of Rocky Raccoon.

My dad singing Blackbird to my brother and I. (Which coincidentally started playing as I type this.)

Singing along with my mom's favorite Frankie Avalon tape in her tiny black Sunbird with vinyl seats that heated up to thigh scalding temperatures in the summer. But the minute when that ice cold air conditioning began blowing on my face and Frankie Avalon's high falsetto started I didn't notice my legs burning.

They Call the Wind Mariah from Paint your Wagon in my mom's sweet alto.

Listening to Michael Jackson's Thriller in the car with my parents and they would drive down the scariest road in Kansas City just to freak us out. It was dark and lined with huge oak trees on both sides and we were certain that zombies were around every corner. It was the best three minutes of the night.

Dancing to PYT on the big dance floor at Fun House Pizza with my little brother, while my parents and grandparents chatted on a Sunday afternoon over a pitcher of beer and thin crust pizza. Dropping quarters in the juke box and knowing that whatever happened next was totally up to me.

Then learning to play the piano and falling in love with music, but hating playing it myself.

All things Van Morrison and Paul Simon's Graceland and The Police Synchronicity and stealing my dad's cassette tapes.

Then friends started to heavily influence my music choices. Friends with older siblings. Friends who listened to Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Madonna, Guns N'Roses, Queen, and classic rock. And then high school.

Hiding the Guns N'Roses cassette that I had borrowed from a friend inside of a Paul McCartney Pipes of Peace cover because my mother had specifically banned all GNR from our house.

Listening to Pretty Hate Machine so much that the tape warped.

My dad taking me to see Sting on his Nothing Like the Sun tour, one of my all time favorite albums.

Feeling like Tori Amos wrote Little Earthquakes just for me to listen to while driving home from work in my white Camry with the windows down, screaming along with teenage angst, not knowing exactly what each lyric meant but feeling them with painful clarity.

Making out in my boyfriend's dark bedroom to the melodramatic AM radio strains of  Dust in the Wind.

Receiving my first mix tape from a boy, filled with Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel and Kansas and thinking how amazing it was that someone created something like that just for me. Listening to it everywhere. Except only alone, never with other people in the room or the car. It was private. Just for my ears. Like no one else had ever heard these songs before.

My first heartbreak, soundtrack provided by U2's Joshua Tree, and embarrassingly Lisa Loeb's Stay and Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You, until I found the Dolly Parton version and fell back in love.

College was a Lawrence, Kansas music wonderland. My music collection exploded with easy access to used CD's and new friends with fabulously varied taste.  Years filled with Soul Coughing and Alanis Morrisette and REM and Beck and the Pixies and the Beastie Boys and Ben Folds and concerts and still Sting and They Might Be Giants and The Clash and it was as if the music world opened to me.

Billie Holiday and Jeff Buckley and Robert Johnson and Squirrel Nut Zippers, it was all right there, blending and melding together into this soundtrack of joy and pain expressed in a way I couldn't have comprehended earlier. John Coltrane, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Nina Simone and somehow Shaggy and Nelly and Dr. Dre and Eminem and whatever Joe was blaring in his red Escort with the assymetrical grill.

Then work and marriage and moving and buying a house, our first dance to Nina Simone's My Baby Just Cares for Me, and renovating our house to the subtle strains of R Kelly's Ignition (Remix.) Realizing that I might love The Rolling Stones more than the Beatles.

And then the indie sad bastard, via Jon Sands, started to infiltrate and hasn't let go. The White Stripes, my current obsession The Avett Brothers, Rilo Kiley, Arcade Fire, The National, Mumford and Sons, Modest Mouse, MGMT, Girl Talk, Cake, Florence and the Machine. These are who I listen to almost everyday. Everyday there is music. There has to be. I need it. I can't wait to see where my listening goes in the next ten years and where my life goes along with it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

December 28: Romantic? Eh, Not So Much.

December 28, 2011
Do you consider yourself a romantic person? Do you prefer fancy dinners, roses and chocolate romantic, or are you more non-traditional? What's the most romantic thing you have ever done for a loved one or had done for you?

Oops, I'm a day late, but if I tell you I wrote most of this last night, that almost counts as being on time, doesn't it? Alright, thank you.

Geez, this is embarrassing. I'm a girl. Aren't we supposed to love the grand gesture filled with elegant dinners, horses pulling sparkling carriages, beds festooned with rose petals and boxes of rich indulgent chocolates? I feel like I'm betraying my sex by admitting that all that stuff? That's just not me. I would rather get a really nice chapstick than roses. I would rather go out for a nice dinner and a movie, nix the chocolates and end the evening at home in our pj's watching The Daily Show. I find romance in dinner I don't have to cook and dishes I don't have to do. I find romance in the trash and recycling that I rarely have to put out or the oil change/tire rotation duties that never fall to me. How many times have I mowed our lawn? Once. And that fact, that fact is the super romantic. I'm feeling all amorous just thinking about it. One time I've mowed in eight years. I love my husband. But there is one super stand-out ultra-romantic surprise event that even a practical girl like me gets weepy just thinking about.

Joe and I moved to Philadelphia back in 1999 and lived in sin together. It was a forgone conclusion that one day we would get married. We were best friends, we laughed constantly, we were really really in love and it was going to happen. We picked out and bought a vintage engagement ring, on Ebay in fact. It was all pretty non-traditional. Except Joe wanted the proposal to be a romantic surprise. And how do you do that when you live together and the lady already knows that the ring has been purchased? Well, if you are Joe Sands anything is possible.

After a year we had made the decision to move to Kansas City and I traveled back to KC to look for an apartment and attend several interviews for a new job one week that summer. Joe stayed back in Philly to help his aunt clean out her garage, which probably needed a month's worth of effort (sorry, Suzy!) and so I apartment-hunted and interviewed and had a girls' night slumber party at my parents' house with some friends that I hadn't seen in ages. One of my best friends, Tara, convinced me to go to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art the next morning for lunch and an exhibit that she'd gotten tickets for. The Nelson has been one of my absolute favorite places since I was a kid and their Rozelle Court restaurant looks just like an Italian courtyard, complete with fountain, gorgeous brick work and an open air feel. It's spectacular and one of my favorite spots in the world. I wanted to get married there, but the $10,000 rental alone was out of our price range. So I'd tabled that notion and moved on.

I was grumbly about going to the museum that early after a very late evening of drinking and chatting with friends, but she picked me up and we headed over. Tara suggested we have lunch first, which with a small hangover, seemed like an excellent idea. We walked into Rozelle Court, picked out our lunch and then went to find a table. Tara walked right over to a small table with a reserved sign on it and an enormous, colorful gorgeous flower arrangement. In a rather snide tone, I said, "Tara, that's reserved, we can't sit there." I rolled my eyes and scouted out other table options. She insisted. I still didn't get it and said fine, whatever and sat down. She smiled at me knowingly and I still didn't get it. "Look at the card on the flowers," she said. I picked up the card and read it, they were from Joe and said something to the effect of "I love you and so...." But I still didn't get it. Then from around the corner, he came out, got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I started crying. I was shocked. He started crying. He was not at his aunt's cleaning her garage. He was here. And he was amazing.


This is from our 10th anniversary trip to San Francisco in June.

Of course I said yes. All three of us, Tara was crying like a little girl too by this point, wiped off our tears, sat down for an amazing lunch and couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the day, ok, the rest of the week. It was and will probably remain the single most romantic thing that anyone could ever do for me. It was perfect. I love him. And he mows the lawn.

(I should also toss in this bonus note: my engagement ring is a vintage setting with a sapphire for the main stone, this awesome husband of mine went out and found a vintage ring box and re-lined it in blue silk from a blouse he purchased at a thrift store so he could present it in all it's vintage glory. He is crafty and excessively romantic. Stay away, ladies, he's mine!)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 26 and 27: Books, Brooches and Things Made of Wood

December 26, 2011
Write about the things you collect, include photos, tell why these items are cherished by you.

I love collecting. When I was a girl it was Barbies, and stuffed animals, and those Madam Alexander storybook themed dolls, and rocks, and books and books and books. As a woman I'm still a bit of a collector.

7days: 7 Kofi Swank

My favorite collection is probably my African art. In college, I minored in African Art and I became a little obsessed with it. So obsessed in fact that I spent a month traveling in West Africa, through Cote d'Ivoire, with an Art History class. We visited several cities and different villages that each had a different artistic focus. Villages that specialized in wood carving, lost wax bronze casting, batik and stamped textiles, woven textiles and pottery. Spending a month traveling from village to village, studying each medium, and actually getting to try my hand at all of them was one of the most amazing things I've ever had the chance to do. Molding my own wax cast mask and then watching the expert artists pour the hot bronze in, waiting until it cooled and then polishing it with lemon juice to bring out the shiny yellow. Watching the wrinkled strong hands of a 75 year old potter forming a slab of clay into a tall intricate water vessel, and seeing five year old boys wield machetes to carve small simple wooden masks. I had to start collecting. 
The art was all around me and suddenly I had such a tangible understanding and curiosity at seeing how difficult it is to take these raw materials and elevate them into things of beauty and grace. So I bought and bought. Even for a college student on a budget the prices were reasonable. I bought Kente cloth in bright blues and reds. I bought my very own spirit spouse, see above, named Kofi Swank. I added some gorgeous Senufo and Baule masks, and many many gifts for friends and family. And I just can't stop still. I have a wall full of masks. I have a nail figure Nkisi sculpture. These aren't necessarily museum quality pieces, they are made for sale to people like me, they aren't actual pieces of art that were used in village ceremonies or dances, but they are equally beautiful. Some are wild, some in graphic in black and white, some are covered in intricate beading, but they all have a special place in my home and my heart. 

Though I have to say that anytime I start talking about African art I have this flashback to a visit I made to see an old friend in New York City about twelve years ago. I was staying with her and her then husband, who was a very modern industrial designer from Poland, and when I expressed the very giddy desire to visit an African art exhibit at the Met, he launched into a heated argument with me about how stupid African art is, "Why would you want to go there and see that? It is crap. It's made of wood. It will fall apart. It won't last." So in my head, and in my very horrible fake Polish accent, I just have to say, "It's crap. It's made of wood." I love it, sir, and I disagree.

I also collect vintage brooches, books, books and more books still, though many are now the e-variety, and photographs. We have a wall of photographs that starts in our living room and entry way and is slowing creeping down the hall.

Photo above courtesy of Joe Sands
Photo above courtesy of Bethany (thank you!)

December 27, 2011
What does your office/home/bedroom tell others about you?

I love this question and I love my house and instead of writing another post here on this topic, I'll just link to the series of Bravely Obey Cribs edition posts I did earlier this year and last year. In fact, thanks to Kristen, this reminds me that I still wanted to do posts on our living room, dining area and bathroom. Cool. So click on the following for our master bedroom, our kitchen, my office, and the exterior of our house. I think these spaces tell others that we are colorful, warm, funny, friendly, and that we care deeply about how our surrounding and belongings make us feel everyday. And that I hide all the ugly clutter before I take photos. It's there, I promise.

The room

These prompts are a part of our Reverb Broads December blogging project. Learn more here!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

December 25: Santa Claus and Lobster Claws

Today's Reverb Broads Prompt:

Silent Sunday, post a picture that represents your day.

First collage photos courtesy of Joe Sands, the rest, me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

December 24: Pretty in Pink and PUPPIES!

December 24 Reverb Broads prompt:
Name your top 5 best holiday gifts given or received. Who gave it to you? Who were you giving to? Why was it memorable? via me

Two glasses of wine and a cup of creamy seafood bisque are making writing this prompt rather challenging tonight. The combination of cream and booze is drowsy-making. I'm going to attempt to push through, you know, because it's Christmas Eve and I would feel guilty for skipping a writing day again and no one wants to feel guilty at the holidays. 

So many of my most memorable gifts are from childhood. Those long childhood weeks before Christmas when all you can think is whether Santa will bring you what you've dreamt of, the anticipation, the hope, the magic, it's all so intense and exciting and thrilling.  

In 1981 I had dreams of Pretty in Pink Barbie, in her more than twenty glamourous outfits, pink, sparkly, fur lined, complete with shiny jewelry and high heels. I was desperate for that doll and when I finally received her from Santa that year I was giddy with joy. I slept with her every night. She was perfect and blonde and shiny until I made the mistake of washing and then styling her long ponytail with some very sharp scissors. Her reign of beauty ended that day in the downward spiral of a botched haircut. I hid her away in shame after that and she still lives in my basement, locked up in her case, waiting for the day when she can be played with again. A sad ending for Pretty in Pink. But when we were together it was perfect.

Another favorite childhood gift was the lovely wooden dollhouse that my parents built and decorated for me, complete with carpet, wallpaper, furniture and a porcelain family with painted rosy cheeks. It was sunny yellow, with white gingerbread trim and a shingled roof. It is also in the basement just waiting for some little kids to make up elaborate stories inside its cozy wooden walls.

But the best gift I've received so far has been my little Scotty dog, MacDonald Wuffer Sands. Joe surprised me at Thanksgiving eight years ago with an early Christmas present, a cuddly tiny black wriggling puppy, pink nosed, little lapping tongue. He's wonderful and stubborn and adds so much fun and barking to our lives. 

Joe is an excellent gift giver like his mother. He takes a sincere pleasure in buying gifts with the recipient in mind, not just gifts that he likes. He is so good at it that I can easily think of many thoughtful creative gifts he's given me. But I'm not as good at it. Part of it is that Joe is just harder to shop for, but I think one of the best gifts I've ever given him was for his thirtieth birthday, not Christmas. I emailed our closest friends and family, asking for their all time favorite or current favorite songs, two from each person, and then compiled them into CD and a book with photos and quotes from each person. It's a great list and we both still love to listen to it, and I managed to surprise Joe. This rarely happens. I think he liked it. Every year I strive to come up with something equally good. Six years later still not there yet, but I'm working on it.

The last gift that I think of most often around Christmas isn't so much about the gift itself, but the hunt to find the gift. When I was seven my parents bought me the record of the movie soundtrack to Annie. I loved those songs and sang them all the time after seeing the movie, but instead of just picking it up from under the tree and unwrapping it, I had to find it first. Elaborate clues and a race around the house to finally track down that elusive record made the whole thing so much more exciting and playful than any old plain gift. That hunt all through the rooms, looking in closets, under beds, in cabinets, and finally finding Daddy Warbucks and Annie and her friends waiting for me at the end of my search was kind of magical. I think my parents did a bang up job of not only spoiling my brother and I with generous gifts, but they made it extra fun too. I think I could have received a pack of tube socks at the end of that scavenger hunt and I would have been equally happy. And that's the whole point of gift giving for me. Finding things that will put a smile on someone else's face and making little kids work for their toys!

Most photos courtesy of Joe Sands, except for the one of Joe, courtesy of the lovely Bethany and Pretty in Pink's glamour shot via, who also reminded me of Sea Wees dolls that I loved to play with in the bathtub as a little kid. Baby mermaids for the win.

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 23: A Group Effort (Cheating a Little)

If you could have any job, what would it be?
Courtesy of the elegant Dana

I'm so thoroughly enjoying our first day of holiday vacation and I happen to be surrounded by some of my favorite people, so I thought we would make this a group effort.

I polled the gang, including my four year old nephew, Connor, who happened to be wearing the perfect t-shirt for our prompt. "When i grow up i will be a hero!" So here's what we all want to be when we grow up:

Joe would like to be a very successful travel photographer. Jet setting around the world, photographing the most spectacular places and in his words "with an unlimited allowance for new gear." I would happily be his assistant.

Jim, my brother in law, who owns his own dental kingdom (Associated Dentists in Madison, WI) would like to own several dental implant clinics. Really he just wants to be a dentist, and he is. So score, Dr. Sands.

Katy, my sister in law, is a teacher and energetic, excellent mom of three. When she grows up she wants to be a mom (check) or a nurse (I think being a mom qualifies here) or a UPS delivery woman because "the people I would deliver packages to would be so happy to get them."

Jon, my other brother in law, who is cooler than all of us combined, would like to be a movie and music critic/ninja. Clearly his all black wardrobe would work for both.

Sherry, my mother in law, would like to be a park ranger in Colorado. Really she wants to give tours and chat with park guests and walk along the trails whenever she wants. Actually she'd rather be a retired park ranger who only works part time, because as she says "retirement is the best job."

John, my stepfather in law, who is retiring from his dental practice next month, (yes we are super lucky to have two dentists in the family, we have very clean healthy teeth over here.) John is contemplating a Walmart greeter job, mostly I think he wants the snazzy vest.
Connor would like to be "a moving guy" and "a building construction guy" and "a train driver." He carefully explained that each week he would work at each job for three days and then three days and then three days and then on the last day he would sleep. Pretty reasonable work schedule for a four year old. 

Jackson, Connor's younger brother who is two and had just woken up from a nap had zero interest in our questions. He ate his fruit snacks and smiled and his cheeks were all pink from his nap. Jim suggested he consider dentistry.

And finally, I would love to start and run a nonprofit working with kids of all ages, focused on developing creative writing, reading and general business and life skills. Combining three of my favorite things into one. And still maintaining my lavish nonprofit salary.

So the dentist, the UPS driver, the critic, the photographer and I are off to celebrate Christmas Eve Eve in our traditional way: sushi and a movie, probably the very festive The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It has a happy ending, right?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 20 - 22: Sweetly Scattered

I knew this would happen. I knew that December would creep along leisurely for the first couple of days and then I would suddenly turn around and it would be Christmas already. And here it is, right around the corner. We're almost there: our packages are all wrapped, our treats all baked and now all that awaits is packing our bags, packing our car, and making a little road trip soon toward our celebrations. So in the midst of all of that, plus an insanely full work load, I'm trying to catch up on Reverb prompts. So I apologize for the three in one deal you've got here, it's scattered and brief, but pretty dang sweet. So I'll see you tomorrow, I've got to get packing!

December 20, 2011
Life is a work of art, or so they say.  What beauty do you regularly appreciate/revere in your life?

I love this question. Appreciating the beauty around me is actually something I'm quite good at. I see it everywhere. I see it in our house: full of photography, color, art, and things that bring beauty and pleasure to my life. I see it in the enormous old trees that line our quiet street. I see it in my drive to work, while gazing at the adorable little houses that I pass, or the line of children holding hands and wearing knitted hats walking to school together. I see it in the leafy woods behind my house.

the Jewels

 I see it in the jewelry or shoes I wear everyday. I see it in the face of my husband, the smiles of my coworkers, the way the dog stretches out in the sun. The lights of my Christmas tree with wild little streams of bubbles rushing upward inside each light, the circle of Christmas cards hanging on the wall, and in piles of presents carefully wrapped and beribboned.

I'm not a Jedi yet.

Even on a horrid day I can see the beauty in the little things. It lightens any struggle, brightens any grief and brings joy in sometimes the tiniest packages.

And done!

December 21, 2011
If you returned (or went, if you've never been) to college to study anything you want, what would you major in, and why?

Art history, African art, psychology, sociology, anthropology, chemistry (though very intro level, because while it fascinates me, I have zero education in this area), social welfare, public administration, English literature, theatre, women's studies, music history. These are all subjects that I loved in college and would love to dive into again and gain some expertise around, or in the case of chemistry, sociology and music history, subjects I never studied but have always been interested in delving into a bit. Though chemistry, yikes, just not my strong suit. If money was no object I would take any and every class I could imagine, with no degree goal in sight, just improving my knowledge on a huge range of subjects. And with a brilliant chemistry tutor.

Realistically, I'll probably go back to get my Master's degree in Public Administration at some point. I'd love to become an executive director for a nonprofit at some point in my career and the MPA would be very helpful for that. But after completing my certificate in professional fundraising earlier this year I realized, I don't want to get my Masters right now. I just don't want to be in school or spend the thousands of dollars either. So I'm just reading and educating myself as I go, attending conferences, becoming more involved in the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and reading about all these other wonderful subjects on the side. Unless someone wants to offer me a scholarship, then I'd be happy to get registered for classes next semester!

December 22, 2011
If someone made a board game of your life, what would it look like? What pieces would you need to play?

Two words: Candy Land!

Bright colors! Ridiculous amounts of sweets! Four happy kids wandering along the colorful twisting trail through Gum Drop Pass, Gingerbread Plum Trees, Lollipop Woods, and the Molasses Swamp. Nothing too bad can happen to you in Candy Land, maybe an upset stomach or a skipped turn. It's the first game I can remember playing and the first time I remember winning.

Candy Land is a little kid's game. It's simple. It doesn't require any real skill, but it's cheerful, fun, silly and sweet. No, my life isn't like Candy Land. It isn't that simple. I'm an adult, so mixed in with all of the wonderful friends and family and things I love to do, my life is filled with work and mortgage payments and deadlines and stress and anxiety and analysis and sincere adult concerns. I want to capture a few moments that make me feel like that first time I played Candy Land, restoring that childlike exuberance, reliving that first jolt of joy at my own success, quieting the daily stresses and the busy busy mature thoughts always running through my head. Candy Land shuts that all away. A trip to Candy Land is a brief return to childhood. Before Monopoly or checkers, before even Chutes and Ladders, there was the simple treat of Candy Land. So I want to work on recapturing that feeling, plus I really, really like candy. (Bonus treat discovered while googling Candy Land images: this spectacular nursery with a Candy Land theme. I might have to have a kiddo just to decorate our guest room like this!)

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19: 7 Days of Jolly Narcissism

December 19 Reverb Broads Prompt:
Self-Portrait: Post a picture of you that you like, write about yourself, post a video - what do you want your self-portrait to say about you?

This prompt is timely since 7 Days, the quarterly self portrait photo group on Flickr that I adore participating in, starts up again this Wednesday. I haven't quite decided if I'm going to participate this time around. The chaos of Christmas, interstate travel, seeing lots of friends and family, cramming in as much playtime with my nephews and niece as possible, trying to finish shopping, baking, wrapping presents, working all this week, and then staying up with these Reverb prompts makes me think that something has to give.
It's probably going to be 7 Days.

The project only lasts a week and the daily self portraits take some time, but it's mostly the commenting and staying caught up with everyone's photos, more than 200 participants in the group now, that takes the most energy and effort. I love it. But I felt a serious lack of creative energy when I shot over the summer. So maybe it's break time? In an effort to decide, I thought I would grab a couple of my favorite self portraits from that group that represent the most realistic, unvarnished version of me. Mouth probably wide open, possibly no make up, and looking as goofy as possible in the most public of settings, as I usually do.

Festive Blizzard

I took this shot at Christmas in 2009 during a ridiculously fun blizzard in Omaha. It snowed and snowed and snowed and because we had nowhere we had to be, it was great fun. No traffic, just quiet streets and so much snow. It made everything more exciting and intense and childlike, and you could ignore the traffic signals, snowy anarchy. And of course my mouth is open. 

7 Days: Crazy eyed book love

This is one of my favorite places in the world. Jackson Street Books is a dusty, crowded, wonderful mecca that I could spend weeks browsing or curled up in a musty chair just reading. This is a visual of the crazy eyed book love that I've suffered from since I was a kid. Book fever, the book worms, book nerd-itis, whatever it is you want to diagnose me with, I've got a chronic, serious, and permanent case of the book love.

Starting Clean

Another common occurrence in 7 Days, perhaps it's the quarterly nature of the project, but I always seem to have a haircut scheduled when it rolls around. And since the lady washing my hair was a good sport, and there were only five other women in the salon, why not take a picture while I'm getting my hair shampooed? Having my hair shampooed is the next best thing to a massage. It's decadent and luxurious. So this is a look of pure joy and a slight bit of embarrassment since everyone was starring at me. See, my neck is turning red and splotchy from all the starring. This is what happens when fair skin and public photography mix. 


This photo was the last shot I took on the fall round of 7 Days this year and it was totally inspired by the lovely Mandy. She took a gorgeous self portrait with no makeup and it was angelic. Click here to see her photo.  I thought if she could be that brave, so could I. No makeup, no photoshop and there I am.

7 Days is exactly the kind of group that inspires me. A collection of diverse, interesting, creative people who join each other for a short time each year to discuss, tease, and talk about our lives and photography. I think that's what this whole Reverb Broads group has been about for me too so far. Getting inspired by you all, sticking with the daily writing thanks to you all and having such a great time because this month is a group effort. I'll think I'll skip 7 Days this time around though. Because Reverb Broads is 31 days and I don't have to show my face everyday. I'll spare you the open mouthed laughing with all my teeth showing like I'm about to get a dental exam, or the embarrassing public photography and the quest for shiny self portrait worthy surfaces and I'm just going to try to keep up with the writing this month. Just the writing. And probably some super adorable photos of niece and nephews over the holidays. Those photos I can guarantee.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 14 - 18: Five Days in Five Minutes

Ok, because of jury duty and work and Christmas prep, I've let myself get woefully behind in our Reverb Broads prompts. Yes, I'm slapping my own hand. And in order to not torture myself trying to write full posts on each one, and then staying caught up with the upcoming posts, I'm giving myself just five minutes to write on each of the five posts! (That will not count editing time, believe me, you don't want to read an unedited five minute post, so here goes!)

December 14, 2011
Is volunteering something you do regularly? If yes, where do you volunteer? If not, why not?

So I'm the one who came up with this stupid prompt and yet I don't even want to write on it now. Crap. Ok,
I like volunteering. I like feeling useful and as if I'm making a difference and utilizing my talents and skills to help other people. My career has been spent working with nonprofits and continues to focus on fundraising and database design for nonprofits. But what gets glossed over, in the pretty non-profit "change the world" talk, is the fact that volunteering is hard. 

It's hard because many times the people you are serving don't want your help, don't know they need it and often have many other time commitments, habits and things that block them from taking full advantage of the services being offered to them. I'm speaking specifically of my current volunteer gig, tutoring adult literacy students. I love it. Reading is an incredibly integral and enjoyable part of my day. Frankly my favorite past time. And while I didn't expect to instill that passion for reading in my students, I had high hopes of improving this skill for my students. But do you know how hard that is? Little things that I take for granted like transportation and just calling when you have to cancel or are going to be late, courtesies, aren't standard with many of the students I've worked with. In the last two years I've had about 6 students, and between my work schedule and theirs, or many other issues, I've not tutored one student for more than four months. It's frustrating. It's difficult and it makes me lose my drive and momentum to serve. 

I don't want to turn this into the complaint department, but I want to be realistic. I was about to be matched with a new student coming out of the criminal justice system when I realized, hey, I need a break. My crappy attitude about this volunteer process isn't the next student's fault. It's no one's fault really. But it's time for me to take a pause, re-evaluate, and figure out what I want to do next. Because volunteering shouldn't be entirely lacking in fun. And that's how I feel about tutoring right now. And with that outlook I'm not going to be a good tutor for anyone. Wow, that was kind of a downer. Let's go perk this up a bit, FOOD!

December 15, 2011
Did you taste any new flavors this year? Did you love or hate them or something in between? Will you incorporate these new flavors into your life?

This was a year chock-a-block full of new flavors. I love cooking and baking but don't cook at home as often as I should. So one of my goals for this year was to cook 52 new recipes, and I'm almost there! This year I mastered roasting a chicken and roasting potatoes. I made Indian and Thai recipes, I discovered the magic of browned butter rice krispie treats, I made seafood, pasta, salads, sun-dried tomato and feta pork chops, it was a year full of mostly delicious, only about five not so great, but mostly delicious new meals.

And then we took a trip to San Francisco in June. That trip was filled with so many spectacular meals, but the two that stand out the most for me were a bowl of seafood cioppino with sour dough bread at Scoma's that I had on our first night, to say it was amazing is an understatement, and then the dim sum lunch we had with some wonderful friends at Yank Sing. It is possibly the best meal I've ever head, rivaled only by some fresh pasta in Italy. The flavors and textures were different, savory and sweet, light and crispy, hot and sour, just scrumptious. So yes, I loved almost all of the new flavors this year. And dim sum is now a permanent part of our lives. Oh, those soft little pork buns, get in my belly.

December 16, 2011
What are your biggest pet peeves?

1. Jeans that are still damp coming out of the dryer when you have no choice but to put them on anyway and get to work.
2. People who don't use turn signals appropriately or ever.
3. Prejudice, bigotry, racism, and the way that we so often ignore and don't call people out when they have offended us. The way a room full of white people will make jokes they would never make in front of someone with a different ethnic/racial background. It's so awkward and I feel like a heel when I don't say something. Joe told me to call this "grandparent racism" and that is sadly so true.
4. Dishes in the sink that are "soaking," which really means they are full of tepid water with bits of food floating in them, that I then have to stick my hands in to wash and pull out the utensils sitting at the bottom. I'm gagging a little bit just sitting here on the couch thinking about this.
5. People asking me what's going on or what's going to happen next while watching a movie, if you don't know maybe just watch and see what happens next. It's a movie, they will show you, that is the point. Really, any talking at all while watching a movie.

December 17, 2011
Instead of a list of your favorite things, write a list of your least favorite things, e.g. Worst book you ever finished, the color you hate, bad songs, bad romances, bad recipes.

Worst Movie: 8 MM - A movie about a snuff film staring Nicholas Cage. Do I have to say anything more? My girlfriend Tara and I walked out and got our money back. Though for some reason they wouldn't credit us for the popcorn we ate.
Worst Book: My brother in law is a dentist and one of his patients is a writer and has a book for sale on Amazon. He asked me to read it and write a book report for him so he could know what to say to her when she came in next. This book was so horrible I couldn't even finish it. Just awful awful. Poorly written, hideous cover art, and I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be gay erotic literature, it just happened to be the least erotic thing I've ever read. It makes Frankenstein seem sexy. It may be symbolic that this was the first e-book I ever purchased.
Worst Bands/Musicians: The Black Eyed Peas, Nickelback, Phil Collins (though This American Life has helped with that) and Tool (mostly because their videos give me nightmares and I'm not on drugs.)

December 18, 2011
Who would you most like to meet and why?

This is a hard one. Because I read a lot and possibly I'm a little nutty because of this, I often feel like I know fictional characters, celebrities and public figures in real life. No, I'm not deluded into thinking that since I read a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt I actually know what she would say to me at a state dinner, but I feel like through biographies and autobiographies you can get a good sense of someone. I don't have any one particular person that I look up to the most as a role model or as someone to emulate. There are a lot of people I admire and respect, people I know and love in my own life, and people that I think are amazing in the public eye.

I deeply admire the people who started Kiva, a nonprofit that provides person to person micro-loans that help men and women in third world countries start their own businesses, I admire Bill and Hillary Clinton, even though they are clearly deeply flawed human beings, for their charitable work and their public service. I admire Michelle Obama for bringing cardigans, belts and brooches into fashion, and for her many other more important qualities, strength, independence and sense of community responsibility and action. I would have loved to meet John Steinbeck. I think that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler would be a hoot to share a bottle of wine with over some cheese puffs though I'm pretty sure more wine would shoot out of my nose than down into my stomach. So I don't know who I most want to meet. How about all of you? I think a Reverb Broads meet up would be pretty fantastic, because this month I feel like I've gotten to know all of you just a little bit, how about some wine?

So that catches me up! I'll do my best to stay up with prompts the rest of this month and I can't wait to start reading your posts and commenting tonight. Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend, I'm off to the first of three Christmas celebrations, yeah, presents and cookies!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Doing My Annoyingly Crucial Civic Duty

I promise to catch up on our Reverb Broads prompts and commenting in the next week or so, but I have a pretty good excuse for not keeping up with it this week!

I just spent the last five days serving jury duty. It was the first time I've been called, and of course I hit the jackpot with a week long trial. After being released this afternoon, my head is kind of reeling still. It was easily the most significant and somehow excruciatingly dull way to spend five days. For five days, I felt a weight that I have never felt before. The weight of someone else's future on my shoulders. The weight of making the "right" decision. The weight of listening and gathering and processing testimony, evidence, statements, demeanor, photos, and taking all this supposed "fact" and somehow coming to a fair and measured decision. In the end, I feel like we did as a jury. But the process had more of an impact on me than I anticipated.

That weight is heavy. And I didn't realize how much it would sit on me. I feel rather exhausted and have felt that way all week. Like my head and heart are both full with the consequences of my decisions and judgements on another person's life. Thankfully this wasn't a criminal trial, because I cannot imagine the responsibility of sitting on a jury for a death penalty case or a murder trial. Instead this was a civil trial against an insurance company, but it was a significant and complex case. A day spent for jury selection, three hours of voir dire or questioning of the potential jurors, then three days of testimony and a day for closing statements, instruction and deliberation. Not the longest or the shortest trial by far. Not the biggest or most important case, just one of thousands heard all over the country, but the weight came not from the significance to the media or the city or our country as a whole, but the significance to one woman and one company.

My temporary work place.

I had this whole funny post that I was writing in my head about the jury selection process while I waited Monday. I made notes and captured my observations, funny comments and interesting people. Monday was spent waiting and waiting, watching everyone, 200 plus people, packed into that jury processing room for hours, watching a silly juror education video staring George Brett, when all I could think about was this video of him (Thanks, Matt,) listening to people's conversations, looking at things like an enormous homemade plastic tote bag with Garth Brooks' enormous face covering it, or a lady wearing so much matching maroon lipstick, mascara and eyeshadow that I was surprised she could hold her head upright, or the fifty year old woman coloring in a Dora the Explorer coloring book with no child in sight, or the older disgruntled gentleman who kept shouting that this "whole thing is communist horse shit," or the young woman with the tightest jeans I've ever seen in my entire life and a very ample rear end who kept stopping right in front of my seat to have a conversation with the man seated catty-corner to me. Her behind was in my face so often and for so long that I couldn't help starring at the intricate lace and beading pattern winding it's way all across it. She just left it there, occasionally wiggling it or bouncing up and down when her friend said something funny. I cleared my throat a couple of times and finally tapped her carefully on the hip, smiled and asked her if she could scoot over. She started laughing and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, girl, that thing was taking up all of your space wasn't it?" She flipped her long hair and sauntered back to her seat, in her jeans tucked in hot pink fur lined five inch heeled boots, and continued to carry on her conversation from two rows away, shouting back to her friend until someone from the court asked her to keep her voice down. Then she psuedo-whispered until enough glares and coughs made it clear we didn't care that her "grand-mamma was watching Tiara" or that "John was going to be late home because he was working a job in Independence." She was chosen with my jury pool, but thankfully not selected because I can't imagine having been locked up with her and that lacy behind for five days.

But once I got selected late on Monday night, the whole thing became less amusing. It was suddenly real and serious, and for some stupid reason I had assumed I wouldn't be selected. I felt sort of stunned, particularly knowing that the trial would run through Thursday at the earliest. I'm sure we all felt a little stunned after waiting all day, fingers crossed. But we were selected. It's a weird thing to not want to be chosen for something that's so integral to our sense of stability as a country, but that big picture is hard to see when all you can think about is the imposition and interruption of your normal life. No, no one would want to do this by choice.

My fellow jurors numbered fourteen, including two alternates that were actually necessary by the end of the week after we lost two jurors. Our jury represented a wide cross section of the community. Twelve men and two women, we women were the youngest in the room, and everyone else was over forty, and mostly over sixty. African American and Caucasian in equal number. A teacher, an attorney, an engineer, custodians, alarm system installer, automobile factory employee, a police officer, retired business men, a student, a few who were so silent that I have no idea what they do for a living.

We "lucky" fourteen had either said nothing in voir dire (the potential jury questioning process) or answered in ways that reassured either side that we would be impartial or side with them. The lesson here, if you don't want to be selected just answer as many of the questions that pertain to you as honestly as possible, exaggerate your own prejudices/feelings, throw in a little crazy and you'll probably be dismissed.  My approach was more like engaged silence. I simply couldn't act like a high maintenance fool to get released. There were a few of these. I could have postponed my service, but that was a guaranteed return trip in six months and at least another full day. So I took my chances. It was incredibly frustrating and entertaining to watch those few people that were determined to not be selected. Trying to one up each other in the crazy, or the sob story, or their bias against insurance companies or people with mental illnesses. No one seemed to be lying, but I felt like I was sitting in the principal's office listening to excuses and I wasn't about to misbehave. 

So we fourteen were chosen, numbered and assigned our seats for the week. We were now a part of the judicial process in action. Or more like inaction. For every hour spent listening to testimony or attorneys, we probably spent two just waiting.

Juror 11 waits.

We sat. We did nothing. We read. We chatted. We sat some more. We remained upstairs in the alternately freezing or stifflingly hot jury room. Such close quarters that you could hear everyone peeing in either bathroom. We drank too much caffeine. We ate carb-loaded crappy breakfast food and more pizza than is reasonable. We joked about sleeping in court, ways to get kicked off. We discussed the juror who borrowed money from two fellow jurors and managed to get excused the next day, probably for openly sleeping in court. We talked about quiting smoking, about marriage and women, with lots of polite nods to the two ladies present whenever a sweeping stereotypical statement about how we are "more emotional" or "remember every lie" or "can hold a grudge for 100 years" was mentioned. We tiptoed around the edges of our own very personal stories that linked back to the case in some way. We teased Jeff, the bailiff, about escape routes and hostage demands. We guessed how long we would stay and if we'd have to come back Monday. We (ok, everyone else) talked sports, and weather and military service, kids not being disciplined properly nowadays, the benefits of a good "whupping", our family histories, brief glimpses, at times shockingly personal glimpses, of ourselves and our lives, knowing we wouldn't see each other again after the end of the case. We talked about everything except what we all really wanted to discuss, which was whatever we had just heard in court. We skirted the edges of that, brief talk of judges and bailiffs and the attorneys' quirky habits. The fact that five minutes is really fifteen minutes in "court time" or forty-five minutes that stretches into three hours. The slogs up and down and back up and back down the stairs to the jury room at least 10 times a day while the attorneys and judge discussed matters that were not for our ears.

In other words, we did all the things that I'm sure most juries do, in the same ways that they do, with the same social roles, like mild versions of characters in some John Grisham novel: the joker, the guy that talks too much, the sweet young girl, the wise older grandfather, the Vietnam vet, the blunt talking cop, the silent napper, the man who never looks you in the eye, the analytical note taker, the head in her book girl. And the waiting, the seemingly endless waiting. Some of us with the desire to get back to work, others enjoying the treat of not having work on the factory floor for a week and still getting paid. We talked about the goofy paintings of former judges looming over us in court, and the way that our judge rolled her eyes, and her lack of a poker face. Our straining to hear what the attorneys were discussing in hushed tones at the bench. The fact that the system is nothing like what you see on Law and Order and barely resembles any movie you've ever seen set in a courtroom. It's all more real, more dull, more tedious, less dramatic, more beige. There were no surprises, no shocking cross-exam questions, no sudden revelations that the plaintiff was faking her injuries. The suits are cheaper, the ties are drab. The case isn't black and white. It isn't clear cut, wrong or right, good or bad. The drama was in the little details. In the accident photos, in the emotional testimony of a man who shot and killed his carjacker and hated reliving the event, in the description of flying bricks and flaming tires. But there was no drama in court.

So for a week we ate our crappy meals and sat around the battered drab of a 1930's built jury room, tiny everything, wearing our badges, going through security, being locked upstairs often with no idea of when we would get out, with gurgling radiators and a smelly mini fridge. Regardless of all the inconveniences and irritations, most of us took the duty quite seriously. While we joked to lighten the mood or pass the time, I think most of us, other than Sleeping Beauty who was dismissed, took our duties seriously. We did not sleep. We listened closely. Did we bring our own personal experiences and understandings into that court room and jury room? Absolutely. Could we have done it any other way? No.

This afternoon when the time came to deliberate, we were careful. We were analytical and orderly and fair with each other and with the plaintiff and defendants. We weighed evidence, and reviewed testimony, we read through the instructions closely, carefully, methodically, word for word. We listened to each other with respect, if not agreement. We let the long winded talk, but not too long. We didn't interrupt much. Our jury foreman, a former military JAG attorney, led the group well but was very light handed. We voted with raised hands and no big surprises. Those I anticipated would side with the defense, did. But in the end, a majority, including myself, awarded a fair settlement to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff kindly shook our hands and thanked us afterward. Even thanking those who did not vote for the agreed settlement. It was a nice feeling to receive her thanks and know that we had had some impact in helping to improve her life going forward, in helping to end a nearly six year struggle. The things that stick with me through this process are the waiting, the monotony, the slow way that this process has to move, my strong empathy with the emotional stories of other people both the plaintiff and prospective jurors who are required to share some extremely personal details when asked, the importance of jury service, the care with which the attorneys, though neither was particularly impressive, handled their cases, and the way that the court staff and judge all seemed professional, cordial and thoughtful. We were treated well throughout the trial, as well as possible with the limited parameters and budget of a court.

In general, I would say it was a worthwhile experience. I'm naive. I'm not a lawyer or a judge or a person with much experience in courtrooms, and for that I'm thankful. But based on my experience, I'm glad I was a part of this trial. I'm glad I was able to perform my civic duty and I'm proud for serving. Because the value of jury service is integral to our system of justice, as flawed and tricky and biased and infuriating as it may be. I hope if I have the bad luck to end up in court someday, that I have the type of jury that I participated in this week. I don't know my fellow jurors' names, I sat with them for five days and we never introduced ourselves, but as we left we thanked each other and wished each other happy holidays. I left with a sense of a duty fulfilled and a stronger, tangile belief in our court system. And I'll admit that my experience is only that, my experience, but as flawed and slow and tilted and biased as our judicial system can be, since of course there are humans involved, I think it worked today.  At least the weight is off of my shoulders and I'll sleep well tonight with our decision. And I hope at least eight other people will too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December 13: Three Things, Blunt is One

December 13 Reverb Broads Prompt: What are three things that you are better at than most people? Courtesy of the charming Catie at

Three things I'm pretty damn good at:

1. Observing and reading people, and figuring out quickly when I'm being manipulated.  

2. Playing hostess and making social plans for my gang of friends. Though this gets a lot harder as we get older and add kids to the mix.

3. Speaking my mind and sharing my opinions, as carefully and tactfully as possible. (When I read this line to Joe he paused for a very long time, then said, "You're careful and tactful when necessary, but not always. Sometimes you're just direct. And that you're really good at." This is slightly unflattering and probably quite true.)

I want to write more tonight, ok, that's just being tactful. If I really wanted to write more tonight I would. Instead I've got eight Christmas packages to box up and prep for mailing, a chicken to debone, grocery lists to finish and some actual work to do tonight. So I'll see you here tomorrow. Promise.

Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12: If It Please the Court

After an incredibly long day of jury duty, hours spent waiting and sitting and shuffling around from courtroom to waiting room to courtroom, finally getting out around 6pm, and being one of the lucky chosen 12 for a four day civil trial, I'm beat. So I'm indulging in some guilty pleasures tonight. After securing a literal front row seat for my upcoming week of civic duty, I'm not going to feel guilty about those little pleasures at all. I'm holding my judgement of myself tonight too, just as the court told me to, even if I'm not the defendant.

Tonight I'm eating pizza and molasses cookies, not a vegetable in sight, and laying on the couch watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta and then Beverly Hills right after.  And then, skipping any workout or household chores or Christmas tasks, I'm putting my pjs on and reading until I fall asleep. I may not even brush my teeth or wash my face tonight. Lazy? Yes, guilty as charged today. Because the rest of this week will be spent listening to attorneys and experts, focused on someone else's life and making the right decision, and somehow balancing my job in the mix. I'm interested in playing my part in our justice system, but I'm dreading the imposition into my job, my daily responsibilities and my life. But that's the reasonable price we pay for living in the United States. So I'm indulging a bit, guilt free tonight, and maybe tomorrow too. At least this should be a heck of a blog post once my service is done. Ok, leave me alone now, I must get back to my crappy reality TV.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11: Is that Your Older Sister?

December 11 Reverb Broads Prompt: How are you like your mother? And if you're a mother, how is/are your kid(s) like you? Courtesy of Jessica at
When I was a teenager and my mother would take me shopping for new school clothes, often in an attempt to find jeans long enough for my insanely leggy growth spurts, I remember being horrified when cashiers or sales ladies would ask "Are you two sisters? You look so much alike." This infuriated me. I rolled my eyes and in a huffy and irritated voice I would mumble, "No, that's my mom, jeez." My mother would giggle and blush, turn to me and say, "She thinks we're sisters!" She'd say thank you and then proceed to engage in a lengthy and personal conversation with the sales lady in question, compounding my irritation into a nearly visible cloud of indignation floating up around my permed bangs. I would sigh deeply and stand there holding my shopping bag, probably filled with slightly too short jeans and some kind of slouchy brightly colored sweater, and wait. Increasing the volume of my sighs sometimes hurried her up, but usually she would wave me off while she finished chatting. I hated this whole thing. Why did she talk to strangers? Why did we have to look alike? Why didn't people realize how old she was?
Now I take it as a compliment that we look alike. She's aged pretty darn well and I hope I do too. Our looks are similar, and while we don't have everything in common, we do have a few key things. We are both fairly tall, I'm quite tall and she's above average. We both have hazel eyes that tend towards the green when we are happy and dark brown when angry, so usually more green. We both freckle instead of tan. We can't hold our liquor. We love people watching and Christmas lights. We both have approachable personalities that somehow draw out the revealing and often strange stories of people we've never met, including the homeless, mentally ill and any customer service staff. We both remain calm and organized under pressure. We both have sweaty palms. We both like make-over shows. We both have good phone voices.
But we are also very different. I'm more forceful and pushy, vocal and demanding. She is certainly nicer and more laid back and easy going.  She was raised to be a mother and housewife, and a people pleaser. I was raised to be anything I wanted to be. She tends to be a bit gullible and sweetly naive, while I tend to take advantage of that with a deep level of sarcasm. She likes to be close to home, spending time in warm, familiar spaces with her closest friends. I've been to Africa twice, travel often and love new places, and food she would consider weird. I'm very liberal. She is quite conservative. She is religious. I'm decidedly not. But she's my mom. I love her. So these differences aren't nearly as important as the things we have in common, things that she helped instill in me. And our differences, like my extreme independence, may be things that frustrate her but they are also the things that she wanted for me. So if she takes credit for my positive attributes then she has to for the negative too, right?


Saturday, December 10, 2011

December 10: Chocolate Dipped Best

December 10 Reverb Broads Prompt: What is the best and/or worst thing about your life right now? Courtesy of the beautiful Dana at

Let's keep this simple. I'm taking "right now" very literally and just looking at today. Because it was pretty much the perfect example of some of the best things in my life. Right now is this: Baking, candy making, wearing an Elvis Christmas apron, spending the whole day with my dad and stepmom, wrapping 210 caramels in perfect white wax paper, dipping peppermint patties in dark chocolate and sprinkling sparkly sugar on top, taste testing Kristy's spritz and Dad's ginger snap cookies, and icing and talking and eating and creating a new tradition, ending the day with BBQ, husband and three straight episodes of Boardwalk Empire.
Worst thing? Slight burn on my knuckles from the steam off of those three batches of caramels. A slight tummy ache, like a four year old, from only eating cookies all day. The fact that I'll have to wait until next year to do this again and I'm sneezy. 
There are bigger "best" things and a couple three "worst," but a day like today is just about my favorite way to spend a Saturday. Simple, filled with people I love, spent making delicious treats and goodies that will soon make their way all across the country and into the hands of those we love. So I think that qualifies as the best for me.

Friday, December 09, 2011

December 9: One Favorite Book? Ridiculous.

December 9 Reverb Broads Prompt: What was your favorite children's book? courtesy of Niki at

I love this question and yet I cannot answer it properly. I cannot now, nor have I ever been able to choose a favorite book. There are books for different moods. Different needs, different emotions, different feelings, different subjects, different phases of our lives. I don't want to pick a favorite book. I will not. Kassie at 8 or 10 or 13 or 19 or 21 couldn't pick a favorite book. There have been too many. Too many loved and cherished and shared and re-read and fawned over and memorized.

The poetry of Shel Silverstein taught me the flexibility of words, eliciting laughter and the easy joy that could come from reading aloud. Curled up in my bed in my footie pajamas, wet hair all combed out after my bath, reading with my parents, taking turns letting those words tip toe across our tongues. Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout who simply would not take the garbage out.

Books read to me by teachers in school. Sitting quietly, intently focused on their soft, careful voices as the story unfolded into the closed air of our classroom. Books with dramatic stories of survival and independence, like Island of the Blue Dolphins, that convinced me that somehow, if all of my family and friends disappeared, I could not only survive in the backyard alone with just the dog, but that it might actually be kind of fun.

Little Women taught me about family and made me long for sisters that I would never have. (I did not force my brother to wear a dress. Ok, just the once, he lost the role because he could never play a convincing Amy anyway. Not enough blonde ringlets.) Little Women taught me the ability to forgive and love others even when they have disappointed me, and to feel the tragedy of a death, even a fictional death, so powerful and unfair and futile that I felt as if Beth had just been resting under a blanket on the sofa in my living room moments before she was taken.

Hiding behind that same sofa in our living room, stretched out in front of the incredibly sunny sliding glass doors and devouring tiny book after tiny book of the fanciful and charming Beatrix Potter series. All those little gems of whimsy and Victorian animals fitting in my hand like beloved dolls.

So no. I can't pick a favorite. Why would I have to? There's no desert island in my future. There are new books to be discovered everyday. And that thought makes every day a little brighter and a little sillier and a little better. And I now have a husband to make sure the garbage gets taken out.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

December 8: You Say Whore Like it's a Bad Thing

December 8 Reverb Broads Prompt: Why blog? Why do you or why do you like to blog (recognizing that these are not always the same thing)? Courtesy of one of the people who inspired me to start blogging, Kristen
I had planned to skip the next couple of days of prompts. I'm just tired. I wrote every day in November. I've written every day so far this month. I worry that people are getting tired of reading me. Work is insane, my stress level each day has maxed out around 9 or 10 for four days in a row now. The idea of coming home and then writing something coherent or witty seems like a tall and painful order. It just sounds ridiculous.

Except on my commute home I started thinking about why I blog. I started thinking that even on a horribly stressful busy day like today, I still want to write when I get home. It lifts my mood. It lightens those things that weigh me down. On a good day it enhances the joy. So here, in no particular order, and with links to some previous posts that I think highlight some of these reasons, here is why I blog:

Because Bethany and Brenda told me too.
To create a community full of fellow writers, seekers, doers, and new friends scattered all over the world.
To see myself better.
To write and write and write and edit and edit and write some more.
Because I'm "hard charging."
To try new things with support and praise and joy and even when I fail I can still remember I tried.
To see new things, take new risks, even if it's just to make sure I have something to write about besides sitting on the couch in my pjs, there's plenty of that.
To capture time, to capture moments, to capture a glimpse into my past and future.
To risk.
To engage you.
To feed my ego.
To check my ego.
To bitch and moan and wail and then move along.
To share the things I love: books, food, art, movies, friends, cities, people, family.
To give voice to my view of the world, in my corner, in my head, in my spot, because it is valid and strong and flexible.
To be accountable.
To celebrate.
To make you laugh.
To remember everything, even if it's the glossy memory of a scrapbook.
To show my love.
Because of you.
Because I want to share this terrifying snowman with you. He will haunt your dreams.

This snowman is planning your demise.

Because as much as I'd like to pretend I don't care what people think, I do. I want you to like me. At least most of you.
Because I'm a whore for praise and attention.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

December 7: The Evolution of Funny

December 7 Reverb Broads Prompt: Who or what makes you laugh so hard that milk shoots out of your nose and why? Slapstick, dry witty comedy, your kids, Monty Python? courtesy of me
I think when we are children our sense of humor keys off of our parents' example. I was raised on the heady comedy combination of a father who repeated lines from Saturday Night Live and had been a radio DJ in a former life, and a mother who loved classics like the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby The Road to Morocco movies, or colorful musicals with dancing girls and Fred Astaire, and anything staring Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn. My love of humor and comedy started with Shel Silverstein books that they read to me in funny, high pitched voices, in figuring out that I could make my brother laugh the same way when reading the Hardy Boys out loud to him.  The Hardy Boys alternated from being Southern to British, the only two accents I could manage in middle school. And then something happened. 
Monty Python and the Holy Grail happened. When I was a freshman and acting in a very small part in the school play, a group of junior and senior theatre nerds invited some of us over after practice to one of their houses for a viewing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I knew nothing about it. Nothing. Nearly everyone else had seen it a trillion times and could quote every scene. But instead of making me feel bad about having never seen it, they seemed to get as much joy from watching us few Holy Grail virgins watch the movie as they did from watching the actual movie. They would quote the scene perfectly in-sync, en masse, and then turn to smile at us to make sure we got it and were enjoying ourselves. They made us feel a part of the whole experience. Sort of like going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show except in someone's suburban basement, drinking Diet Coke and laughing with 12 people much older and cooler than me.

Maybe it was just the hilarity of Monty Python, maybe it was the whole experience. But I was hooked. I rented every Monty Python movie I could find and forced my younger brother to watch with me. My brother and I watched their show on TV the few times I could find it. And since this was pre-Netflix I really had to try to find their stuff. After consuming all of it, all of it, it was time to make sure my parents knew how fantastic this movie was. Do you see where this is going? Did I telegraph that enough?  

I was convinced I would show my parents how wonderfully inventive, absurd and funny these crazy British dudes were. As if I'd discovered Monty Python in some kind of derelict, shadowy club all on my own. As if they hadn't already been around for decades by the time I "found" them. But I tend to take a passionate ownership in the pop culture things that I love. Even very early in my life, evidently.
I slipped the tape into the VHS player, hit play, leaned back and waited for the laughter to explode. I intently watched their faces, which may have helped kill the hilarious mood, no pressure, MOM. They didn't get it. They nodded along, but their eyes didn't light up like mine did. They didn't laugh so hard that milk shot out of their nose when the Frenchman taunts King Arthur and his men. They smiled when the Knights who say "Nee" demanded a shrubbery, but they weren't into it. The political humor that I barely understood, "Help, help, I'm being oppressed!" Oh, they gave a placating chuckle here or there. But I knew. I could tell. It just wasn't their sense of humor. (Now my father will claim that he's always loved Monty Python and that he introduced it to me. But that is a calculated lie that he is notorious for perpetrating. Even now he'll take a show or movie or music recommendation from Joe or I, and then two weeks later bring it up in conversation like we weren't the ones who told him. "Have you seen this Big Bang show? Bazinga! I think you guys would like it." He is also notorious for watching a movie/TV show alone and not enjoying it, in fact complaining about how crappy it is, and then when watching with the rest of the family, he suddenly gets the funny. He's going to hate that I've revealed this. But it's true. And as a side note, he is also quite funny. Or as my stepmother would warn, "Don't encourage him.")

7 Days:2 Alternate shot

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the turning point where I realized that there were many, many things I was going to find funny that my parents simply wouldn't get. And that instead of making me sad that they wouldn't get it, (rather like it does now when they don't like movies/shows that I do,) it made me feel superior and giddy and kind of cool. This must be how girls obsessed with Elvis felt in the 1950's. So while Monty Python is decidedly less sexy and pelvisy than Elvis, it felt like rebellion. Absurb, ridiculous rebellion and I haven't looked back since. 
I don't like pratfalls and slapstick much. Weekend at Bernie's was stupid, the Farrelly brother's movies are not for me. But give me Monty Python, give me all Christopher Guest movies except maybe For Your Consideration (what happened there? yikes,) give me Saturday Night Live even on an off season, give me David Sedaris and Christopher Moore, give me Parks and Rec and 30 Rock and The Office. Give me the witty, the verbal sparring, the absurdity mixed with heart and you will own me and you will get to take full credit for the milk spewing out of my nose. That doesn't mean I don't laugh at the 3 Stooges occasionally. They can be a bit irresistible even to me. But male ejaculate as hair gel will never be as funny to me as Will Farrell's pompous Anchor Man or a little more cowbell. So if you hit just that right mix of smart, witty and absurd, you'll end up with yet another picture of me with my mouth wide open. This seems to happen a lot.