Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas (5): Little Drummer Girl


I have no gift to bring
That's fit to give a King...
Shall I play for you?

I played my drum for Him,
I played my best for Him.
Then He smiled at me.

I thought I would go back to my original intention of The Twelve Blogs of Christmas and pick an obscure Christmas song lyric that oddly relates to my life.  This one comes from two different vereses of The Little Drummer Boy.  I realized it's hard to think of that song without the excess "pa rum pa pum pum rrrrrum pum pum pum" interludes but in the words above I think there's a pretty profound encounter with Christ going on.  The drummer boy is lamenting - in the line just before the ones I chose - that he is a poor boy, just like the Christ child.  Unlike the magi with their extravagent offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the fictional percussionist has nothing to give...except his service.  He realizes that although he has no material goods, he can do for Jesus what he is good at doing: he can drum. In the next verse, following some poetry about musical barnyard animals we find that the drummer boy not only plays for Jesus, he plays his best for Jesus.  I think that's the offering that God is always looking for.  And the next line always gives me a little chill - "Then He smiled at me".

There's something about Christmas that sends the volunteerism bug echoing through people.  There's that goody-goody happy feeling that people get when they help others and with a sort of infectious cheer everyone jumps on that band wagon at Christmas time.  But I wonder if maybe there's an even better reason to serve.  Maybe by giving the gift of ourselves, giving the very best of ourselves, we can bring a smile to the face of God.  What better reward for the gift of serving - and not just any efforts, but our very best - than to see God smiling? 

For the seventh year in a row Tony and I are serving at the East Aurora Gift Mart with Community 4:12.  For those that haven't heard me gush about this awesome event, our church partners with other churches and businesses to collect a massive amount of new toys ($6-20 each).   We then bring these toys over to schools in East Aurora and while we host a Christmas party for the kids at the schools, we set up a gift mart and sell the toys to the parents for $2 each.  The money raised then goes back to the schools.  It acts as a win-win-win situation in that the children have a blast, the parents get affordable gifts while still having the dignity to purchase their own, and it's a fundraiser for the schools.  We call the model giving a hand-up rather than a hand-out.  Seven years ago we began this endeavor at a single school in East Aurora.  Now we have two gift marts in East Aurora serving four different elementary schools as well as a gift mart in East Joliet too.

At multiple events throughout the year - and especially at Christmas time - serving always reminds me of The Little Drummer Boy.  I don't have a lot to give God in terms of material goods.  My entire yearly salary is probably less than what some people at my church tithe.  But I can serve.  That's the song I can play.  And I will play for Him.  And I will play my best for Him.

Then He smiled at me.
Me and my drum.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas (4): Prancer's in a Mini-Mall Near My House!

I can't tell you how many years it's been since I've seen the Christmas movie Prancer about a young girl who finds one of Santa's errant reindeer and hides him in a barn to nurse him back to health, but in every preview for the movie (on TV or back in the day when it first hit theaters) there was one line that was always played and it's when the girl cries out, "Prancer's in a shed near my house!"  If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about.  There is no shed by my house so it turns out this year Prancer decided to hang out at the mini-mall near Costco.

I think he recognized my hat....

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: (3) Santastic

In a follow up to my previous post about my favorite accessory, I invented a new word.  (It's been a while since I've come up with one...)  I give you:

Santastic: (adj) portmanteau of Santa and Fantastic; used to describe something that exudes Christmas spirit and brings joy, happiness or brightness to someone else in the manner of Santa Claus bringing smiles to children. 

Go on, use it in a sentence and add it to your vocabulary. Example: "The Christmas movie Elf is Santastic!"  "My friend Lisa is filled with randsanity or maybe just Dewfeine.  She went around town all day on Saturday in a wacky holiday sweater and a santa hat.  She's so Santastic!"

Wishing you a very Santastic holiday season!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: (2) My Favorite Accessory

On Saturday, to celebrate my mom's birthday we gathered my whole family for "Breakfast with Santa" at my parents church.  Yes, it was a little bizarre to be one of the oldest people there without children, but it was fun to have the whole family together and celebrate the coming holiday as well as my mom's birthday.  And in honor of the holiday spirit I donned one of my favorite winter accessories: my santa hat.

It was a convenient addition to my outfit in that it kept my head warm and also concealed my less than neat hairdo resulting from my hurried shower and incomplete drying of my hair (we had to be there at 8am and Tony wasn't home from work until 9pm on Friday, you do the math).  Plenty of people were sporting the Kringle chapeaus at the event but the rest of the day was rather amusing.  Seeing as how I commited myself to a day of hat hair, I decided just to leave the hat on as I went about errands and activities for all of Saturday. 

My first stop was Costco.  In line at Customer Service, a man walked past me on his way out the door.  He glanced my way and then after passing me, backtracked three steps, and leaned over to conspiratorially tell me, "I gotta say, I love the hat."  This brought almost as much of a smile to my face as in the center of the store when a gentlemen pushing a cart carrying two kids walked by me.  He didn't pay me much notice, but his two kids spotted my bright head head and pointed me out with cheers of "SANTA CLAUS!!"  I smiled and waved like a minor celebrity.  Multiple other smiles and giggles were passed my way throughout the shopping trip and through the various other stores I visitied that afternoon.  And of course I was met with more than one "Feliz Navidad" as I joined my parents at a Mexican restaurant for dinner.

I've never had a problem making a fool of myself to bring others happiness.  I don't know what it is about a red furry hat that brings a smile to the faces of strangers, but I'm more than willing to spread that small bit of cheer however I can.  Plus, it really was a nice way to keep my head warm...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The 12 Blogs of Christmas: (1) The Gift of the Magi

I want to resurrect an idea I had on my blog a few years back (December '05) where I had 12 blogs in the month of December that all dealt with a theme of Christmas.  Previously I focused on Christmas songs, but this year might be a bit more varied.  Enjoy!

Over on her blog and also on Facebook, my friend Ellen asked a question about favorite Christmas books.  I have a decent number of books tagged "Christmas" in my LibraryThing account (see the search box on the right if you're curious) but after I posted her my reply, I thought of another favorite Christmas story that I haven't thought about for many years.  It's a short story, so it didn't come to mind right away when I thought of Christmas books, but it remains a favorite nonetheless.  It's by the author O. Henry (a wonderful pen name as well as a candy bar) and the story is called The Gift of the Magi.

The story is in the public domain so if you click the link above, you can get the whole text of it, and if you've never read it, I highly recommend doing so now.  Go on, O. Henry is a much better author than I am so you'll enjoy it much more than my ramblings.  I reread it the other day and it hit me as especially profound in today's world of economic hard times.

I'm one of those people that delights in gift giving and I'm ashamed to admit that I love giving expensive gifts too. But recently I've been leaning towards more inexpensive but thoughtful gifts and it's left me ruminating on the short story.  Instead of showing off possessions that inspire envy in others, I would rather people look at Tony and I and realize that we give gifts wisely.  It's why a portion of our Christmas shopping is for people in East Aurora that we've never met as well as for my awesome nieces and nephews.  It's why even before we start spending for family we send money through Compassion for a gift for the child we sponsor.

So in light of Black Friday (yes I was shopping at 3am) and Cyber Monday (I still can't be persuaded that online is the way to go), and our continuing difficult economy, I thought I'd share this story about the theme of giving.  My favorite part is the quote,

"Let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi."  - O. Henry

Hope it touches your heart as it has mine.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Sweet Success!

I finished my novel. *phew*  This makes me a three-peat NaNoWriMo winner for whatever that's really worth. I know the next question on everyone's mind is, why don't you look to publish anything, but I'm still young and I'm learning and growing as a writer and I have a lot of learning and growing as a writer left to do.  I can honestly say that what I came up with in '08 was way better than what I composed in '07 and I think my '09 work, though possibly a weaker story, is probably better written than my '08.  Cheers to all those who NaNo-ed with me and special thanks to those that cheered me on along the way.  I got very close to giving up mid-month and probably would have without such cool people supporting me.

Some people might look at this accomplishment as just a silly game.  I wrote a crappy 96 page story, big whoop, right?  But aside from writing, NaNoWriMo is also about the focusing on a goal, dedication above distraction, and pursuing creative ideals.  If you look at the stats too, less than 20% of the participants that start NaNoWriMo actually reach the 50,000 word mark (last year was actually the record-high for wins with 18.2% of writers winning). So I guess that's worth at least a nod of admiration for sticking through what most abandon.  (But even those that don't reach 50K have something to be proud of.  As I've told friends, even if you write 1000 words for NaNoWriMo, that's 1000 words you would not have written otherwise!)

But I think I've put in enough words for today. I'll try to keep my prolific writing up with more blogs in the next month.  For now, break out the bubbly and join me in a toast to the wonderful world of writing!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I swear they aren't in kilts...

I love my laptop computer.  it's pretty much a dinosaur, weighs a ton of bricks, and offers me second-degree burns if I use eit on my lap too long, but i really do love the thing.  Most of my attachment to it is sentimental. I'veee covered it with some of my favorite stickers (NaNoWriMo onees, a goonies stickere, and NevereWear's Scary Trouseer one) so it has a fun and whimsical look to it and it's also been with me through somee fun times. I finisheed my '08 NaNowriMo on it and so far it's serving me weell through '09. 

And in a rare break from noveling, I'm using it to compose this blog entry now too. 

Which eexplains what you may have noticed that there aree some things looking a little eodd about my writing tonight.  I have a few sticky keys on my keyboard.  Namely, the shift key which makes for some rrather difficult capitalizations, as well as the 'e' and the 'r' keys which rrepeat themselves at odd increements with rather unpredictable frequenciesee. 

Of course, these arre things that are easy to corrrect, but i thought I would write this with no corrections just to show how amusing things can look if you geet rrandomly repetitive 'r's and 'e's into normal sentences.  In my novel it's been especially funny because thee word 'the' (corrected) more often then not comees across as 'thee'.  add in that with the rrolling 'rr' and it seeeems that most of my characters are speaking with Scottish accents.

So far though, none of them are wearring kilts.

35,000 words and counting....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NaNo Halfway and Something Different

I'm just past the 26,000 mark in my novel. I'm not having quite as much fun with the story as I did last year. I think it's one of the deals where I can't force humor, though in the right mood I can come up with some pretty amusing stuff. I guess I was just in a more lighthearted mood last year. But then, so was the rest of the country it seems...

This year is teaching me how much my emotions are tied to my writing.  When my energy levels are low, in walks writer's block.  When I feel a fit of giggles sneaking up on me, that's when I'll write the funny parts.  And when I'm just peacefully content, that's when I come up with the inventive adventuresome part.

In a note of encouragement, a friend told me that "you have to write a lot of crap before you get to be good", and in a strangely negative way it makes me feel better. I might be in the stage where I'm writing 'a lot of crap' right now, and that's okay.  What matters is that I am writing.

In a slightly related note, my friend Sean (who falls into the friends-that-write-way-better-than-me category) posted a facebook note about a fiction contest over at  It sounds like the prizes are essentially awarded at random, but I entered more as a chance to take on the challenge of writing a story in just 100 words.  It made a nice contrast to NaNoWriMo in which I'm often fluffing up ideas to boost word count.  The theme was "Found in Space" and here's what I composed (in about 12 minutes on my lunch break):

They would not have landed if the computer read ‘Uninhabitable', but the weary travelers needed a reprieve from decades floating in space. The natives looked and spoke like them - an amazing coincidence considering the multitude of tongues spoken in the galaxy – which made easy the procurement of food and fuel.

Six years later, they still lived in solitude. No aliens welcomed them, learned who they were or where they came from, so eventually they left. Their stop gave new meaning to the word ‘alienation’ - the only memory they would take with them from their brief time on Earth.

Okay back to my novel.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Conversation

I was at the Naperville train station this morning going through one of my waiting-for-the-train routines of reading the headlines through the glass of the newspaper vending machines. The Chicago Sun Times and The Naperville Sun both displayed front page pictures of the flag display at rotary hill: 2009 flags on the hill for Veteran's Day 2009. As I looked at the beautiful photos, a stranger's voice behind me spoke up.

"Have you been over to see it yet?"

I glanced up and saw a young man, probably around my age or just past thirty at the oldest. I hesitate to admit it but he looked like my typical image of a young Naperville resident. His hair was shaggy and spiked with gel in the I-meant-to-look-messy way that seems popular now and his clothes appeared a combination of Abercrombie and Gap though no conspicuous labels were shown.

"No," I replied to his question. "But some of my friends visited and I saw some great pictures."

"It's amazing," he said plainly. There was no trace of awe or inspiration in his voice, it was as though he was stating simple fact, not opinion.

"They did a great job with it," I said gesturing to the pictures on the papers in front of us. "It's a really...powerful gesture." I searched for the right word, but 'powerful' seemed to convey the imagery created best.

"You got that right," he concurred. "Five years in the marines and I was moved to tears."

In a stroke of awful timing, he conveyed this last fact to me just as he turned to walk toward the train that pulled up behind us.

"Thank you!" I called after him, but aside from a brief nod of his head he had nothing more to add to our exchange. I hope sincerity echoed in my voice; sincerity, pride, and honor.

A brief pang of shame struck me as he walked away. I never would have guessed this young commuter was a veteran. If he were in full uniform I may have saluted, applauded or even bought him a morning coffee to show my appreciation. All I could do though was call out my hurried thanks over the shrieks and hiss of the train's brakes. I had inadvertently pegged him in my mind as a Naperville yuppie, the usual guy who elbows in front of me to get on the train first or pointedly ignores the opportunity to offer his seat when I'm standing in heels after a long day: the kind of commuter that I sometimes think should be a little nicer or a little kinder, the person I think owes me something ...when in fact I owe him so many of the freedoms I take for granted every day of my life.

Thank you to all the men and women that have served and are currently serving this country. Thank you to all those who have lost loved ones in the military. Your sacrifices are worth more than I can ever say.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


"And I wonder where these dreams go, when the world gets in your way.
What's the point in all this screaming no one's listening anyway."
- Goo Goo Dolls, Acoustic #3

Communication has been frustrating me lately. A lot.

Both at work and in my NaNoWriMo project. At work it's saying the same thing multiple ways and using every ounce of energy to explain yourself, only to be entirely unheard or misunderstood. In my writing, it's my frustrations with not being able to get the right descriptions out and feeling like whatever poetry I create is just a repeat of something that's been said or done before. So I'm frustrated. Feeling like I'm speaking and shouting and still can't get my point, my thoughts, my ideas out.

And then I realize that's probably how God feels most of the time.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Because it's not there.

On the brink of October ending, I have more on my mind than just Halloween. Once again I find myself pondering - and foolishly committing to - National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge to take the month of November and, by writing around 1700 words each day, write a 50,000 word novel. I've participated and "won" for the past two years (winning involves completing 50,000 words before midnight on November 30th) but I'm hesitant to participate again.

My first reason for stalling is that I don't have too many ideas. This is the first year that I've struggled to develop a title and though I've been working through some outlining and pre-writing, I just don't know if my ideas are any good. Secondly, I feel a bit like I've already completed two 50,000+ projects that are for the most part unreadable and in desperate need of editing. I've yet to take the steps of revisiting my work and polishing it so I feel a little senseless persuing another draft when my first two have gone nowhere.

But when I think about the fun involved of seeing a story come to life... when I take a day and write a character that I never even planned to create... there's a thrill to it. Yes, there are the frustrating days when I want to dropkick my laptop out the train door. Yes, there are the writer's block moments when I seem to plug out nothing but cheesy dialog. But when each day brings me closer to a novel - even a largely unreadable first draft of a novel - it's exciting. And completion is pure elation.

Funny thing is, as much as I like to write and to write about writing, I don't like to talk about my novel. I think it's near impossible to say the words "my novel" outloud without sounding a bit pretentious. Go ahead try it, "The other day I was working on my novel..." - don't you instantly sound a bit more full of yourself? Maybe it's just me. My writer identity (I still can't use the word *author*) isn't one I'm completely comfortable with. A sure fire way to make me blush is to bring up my writing in public.

I'm giving it another go, though. I came across a quote the other day that read, "Why do writers write? Because it isn't there." For me, that's what NaNoWriMo is about. I'm not pursuing publication. I don't even write for an audience. It's just about me creating something new. Because it isn't there.

Friday, October 23, 2009

About to Break

I cannot take this anymore, I'm saying everything I've said before,
All these words they make no sense, I found bliss in ignorance,
Less I hear the less you'll say, but you'll find that out anyway!
Just like before…
Everything you say to me, takes me one step closer to the edge,
And I'm about to break!
I need a little room to breathe, 'cause I'm one step closer to the edge,
And I'm about to break!
I find the answers aren't so clear, wish I could find a way to disappear,
All these thoughts they make no sense, I found bliss in ignorance,
Nothing seems to go away, Over and over again,
Just like before…
~Linkin Park
I don't always listen to angry punk rock music, but I actually really like Linkin Park. This song got me thinking though. What do you do when you feel like you're about to break? I know we've all been there at one point or another. And if you're lucky enough to have a long enough fuse that you've never been in a spot where the powder keg of your mind was about to blow from the pressures around you, share your secrets because I'm sure the rest of us are quite curious.

For me, I just get stressed sometimes. I let little things worry me more than they should. I let expectations from others take a greater priority than God's image of me. And I get to thinking that I'm way more important than I am - that the world can't go on without me running at a frantic pace. This week has been one such stress-fest. Work would be infinitely easier if I could be in two places at once - or at least manage to grow an extra pair of arms. I started to think I could stand being the world's first octopus-human hybrid just to improve my ability to multitask. That's when I realized I needed some perspective.

I took the day off on Thursday. My awesome husband Tony was at home (he starts a new job on Monday) and I decided nothing at work was more important than spending some free time with him - and regaining my sanity with much needed rest. I cleared my schedule by working my butt off on Wednesday and spent Thursday relaxing. Seriously, I did next to nothing. I slept til nine, stayed in my pj's until noon, caught up on the previous two episodes of Top Chef, did some reading, and worked on a blanket I'm crocheting. It was awesome.

I realized I've only had three non-sick days off work this whole year so far and my longest "vacation" was July's bout with Poison Ivy. (I was on way to many drugs to actually enjoy that time off.) But overworking was not me getting more done. It was me burning myself out. Pushing myself to get more done until I was wound up so tight that the smallest things set me snapping unfairly at others. I needed rest. True rest.

I realized that this is why God created a Sabbath. It sounds corny because I know I've heard it preached in church multiple times, but I haven't seen that scary work-a-holic side of myself in a long time. It struck me though as truly awesome that He recognized, way back then, our need for rest. I don't treat my weekends as very Holy - more often they are days to catch up on dishes, laundry, groceries, and family affairs. It's something I need to change.

Before I break, I need to break - break from my routine of stress, overwork, and pressure. As I mentioned in my last post, I need to set aside times of reflection in my life.
I need times of peace.
I need breaks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cold Tangerines

My friend Ellen recommended a book to me called Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. I didn't admit to her (until now) that I cringe a little at book recommendations. There's a certain amount of pressure that comes with reading a book that someone else really likes. Maybe the book spoke to them in a way that it just won't talk to you; perhaps something in a person's life resonates with the book and they only imagine that you share that sonorous quality. Whenever someone recommends a book I find myself reflecting on the quote that, "In literature, as in love, we are often astonished at what is chosen by others."

However, Ellen is someone that I trust and admire so her recommendation didn't dare go into the "perhaps, maybe before I die" pile of books on my mental shelf. Instead, Cold Tangerines showed up on my library hold queue and jumped quickly to the top. I started it this week, and (as of my train ride home today) I have just a few chapters remaining. It's the kind of book that speaks to a reader - I suppose I mean female readers - and I almost wish I could Xerox off different chapters and press them into the hands of family and friends and say "You need to read this!" or "This is SO what you are going through!"

And, of course, with a book that relevant to my loved ones, there were to be found several passages that seemed to be written directly at me. In a chapter called "Prayer and Yoga" she laments that both are decidedly good for her yet she doesn't stick to either as often as she should. (Sound like anyone you know??) I also really liked her thoughts on writing. As I contemplate another looming November with NaNoWriMo, I find myself pondering if I want to embrace - unleash - my identity as a writer once again. I've wavered and flip-flopped about taking on the chaotic novel-in-a-month challenge this year and then, this afternoon, I read this:

"Sometimes when I'm writing, if I try really hard, I can move more slowly, like a dancer or a mime, and taste things more vividly, and see not just the trees and the grass, but the individual leaves and blades. Things are richer and brighter than I thought, now that I have slowed down enough to see them."

~Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines p. 137

I don't think NaNoWriMo is quite the atmosphere for slowed down perception that Niequist is speaking of, but I understand her need for the reflective introspection that comes from times of writing. It's where I spent a lot of time in the days when I was a prolific journaler - heck, even when I was a more prolific blogger. I look with some shame on my sparse posting of this year. I see it not as sad because I missed sharing inane thoughts with friends and family but rather, sad that I was living my life without reflection.

There's a famous quote that says "We must live life forward and define it backward," but I think most of us fall into the trap of too much forward motion on that one. Not that it would be good to over-define life to the point of not spending one's time living it. When we can find the place between rushing out to live each day and poignantly reflecting on our journey as a whole, that's where a well paced life will be. Neither hurried nor bored, that will be a balanced life indeed.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Can't they just call it fancy-single-cup-of-coffe-thing-a-ma-jig?

This week at the train station they've been giving out free coffee as a promotion for Keurig coffee brewers. Well, actually they're not giving out the cups of coffee themselves, but rather they have been passing out a cup with an insert containing the thing that you put in the machine to brew the coffee and then sending commuters to the Great Hall area of Union Station where all of the fancy brew machines are set up.

It's actually something of a brilliant invention. Basically you place the coffee or tea insert (what looks like an over-sized single serve half and half container) into the machine, put your cup under the spout, press a button, and in less than a minute you have fresh brewed coffee or tea. I can see the draw of them for corporations - Tony said they had one at his previous job - but I'm not rushing out to get one in my own home any time soon. In part, because I have no clue how to pronounce the things. Even the volunteers passing out the samples varied from "Free coffee from cure-ig" to "Coffee compliments of coo-rig today" and "Brew your own cor-ig coffee". If it were me I would call it the Coffee-in-a-Minute Machine or something else equally less cool and European but simple to say.

I did like the coffee though. I tried the Caribou rainforest blend and it was really good. The strangest thing was that as I was adding cream and sugar to it there was a man next to me that put five creamers and eight packets of sugar in his drink. The cups were comparable to a small from most coffee shops and my jaw must have hit the floor when I saw him empty creamers two at a time twice into his cup; reach for the sugar, count out four packets, tear them open, dump them into his cup, and repeat; followed by a quick stir and then one more Coffeemate creamer! He didn't even taste it before adding everything! I'm all for sweet beverages (one cream, one sugar for me) but I had to wonder if his drink even resembled coffee when he was done with it.

Friday, October 09, 2009

On Science...

They wouldn't call it re-search if we found the answer the first time.
-L. J. Guerrero

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Part 2 (Peanuts, M&M's, & Me...Continued)

Consider this something of a follow up to my last blog post. (This will make a bit more sense if you read the other one first.) I feel like maybe I was a bit too maudlin in my introspective ramblings so I thought I would follow my usual blog pattern and tie my thoughts to something from the literary/pop culture world.

Many of you know that Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favorite books. I was impressed with the Keira Knightly version of the movie but I much preferred the A&E miniseries with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I confess that as a young romantic I daydreamed myself Elizabeth Bennet (really, what girl reads the story and doesn't??). She's an ideal heroine: headstrong, determined, witty, and beautiful and she unknowingly wins the heart of Darcy who is eventually revealed as an ideal man.

The more I've read the story (and various versions of it), I find that there's another character that I resonate more with. As much as I want to be the Lizzie Bennet, I think I may have much more in common with Fitzwilliam Darcy. (Yes, his first name is Fitzwilliam. Not Mister as many seem to believe.) This is where the tie-in to my previous post arises. Darcy is unfairly labeled as proud and arrogant early on in Austen's story because he's not entirely comfortable in social settings. Bottom line: he's shy!

One of my favorite scenes in the novel, is a turning point in Lizzie and Darcy's relationship. She calls him out on his aloofness (which she has assumed is really pride) and he explains that he doesn't always feel comfortable making small talk with strangers. In response, Elizabeth confronts him with an interesting piano-playing analogy:

"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."

"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault- because I would not take the trouble of practising..." (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice)

Later in the story, Darcy takes Lizzie's advice to heart and his efforts at "practising" lead her to fall further in love with him. I guess it's partly why I love the story so much because their relationship is not a schmaltzy love-at-first-sight but one of deepening regard over time and the betterment of two people because of their relationship with each other.

But back to my own comparison, I've seen real truth in the lesson Darcy learns. Whether my weakness is piano, social graces, or blog-writing, improvement comes only through practice.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Peanuts, M&M's, and Me

Consider this something of a riddle... What do peanuts, M&M's, and I have in common? You'll get answer by the end of the post. (How's that for a teaser to keep you reading?)

I was never a performer as a kid. I'm actually the only one of my siblings that never participated in a piano recital and though I may have been in dance under the age of 4, I have no recollections of being on stage solo as a kid. Through elementary and junior high I had a couple bit parts in chorus shows, but never took a lead; and by high school I learned that I was better with behind the scenes work than being on stage. By the time I reached college I was pretty sure that I was overall a shy person.

Yet, most people that know me now consider me to be pretty outgoing. I actually talk a lot in social settings and sometimes I might even be that person with a little too much to say. I love parties, too. (Not to be confused with "partying" - I've never been big on the bar or dance club scene, but if it's a get together with friends for games, movies, or sporting events I'm sure to enjoy myself.) But I still have an inner conflict with my shy-self. When I'm invited to social events, it's a challenge to persuade myself to go. Don't get confused, you read that right: I love social outings and I always enjoy myself, but convincing myself to go is like pulling teeth. I almost wonder if I have some borderline social anxiety or something. I really do enjoy meeting new people, I just get nervous going into situations where I know I will. There's always plenty of perks to putting myself out there; I'm still just struggling to understand why it doesn't come naturally to me.

Now comes the answer to the riddle: like peanuts and M&M's (and I suppose also Peanut M&M's), I have a shell. There's a definite game face that I wear in public and social settings and the me underneath is nowhere near as bold and confident as the mask most people see. I don't think that concept is foreign to many people, I would bet most of us have an inner self that rarely goes on display. The true challenge though is to form the mask to look as much like a true-me as I can. I want to be genuine, never fake. In recent years, I think social-game-face-lisa has come to much more closely resemble private-inner-sanctum-lisa than ever before. Or maybe that's vice versa. Or perhaps the mask has just become a little transparent. I'm still a shy-reclusive-wallflower but I'm also the bold-smiling-butterfly. I'm not even sure how that makes sense yet nonsense could be the most relevant aspect of my personality so I try not to over-analyze disparities.

It just might be incongruities that make individuals a little more interesting.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I'm not generally a motivated person. I prefer to start rather than finish things and although I can be very reward drive, I don't always stick with things when results take a while to see. These traits become something of a hindrance to developing a good workout routine.

A while back, I tried to start a schedule. It was Tuesday and Thursday night which became just Thursday nights when twice a week was too cumbersome. But the problem with evenings is they aren't really good for "me time". There's family birthdays, friend get-togethers, volunteer meetings, dentist appointments, and so on. People always say that a good exercise schedule should be protected time: write it on your calender and schedule other things around it. Except, how do you say no a birthday party because you have to work out? And of course, compounding those dilemmas were the inevitable train delays and work conflicts that didn't get me home on time.

So now I'm going for a new approach. Mornings! I'm aiming for a 5:30 am class at Lifetime Fitness twice a week. Yes, that means I have to get my butt out of bed at 5 am (the hardest part), but it's the only way I can workout, shower, eat breakfast, and still catch a 7:40 or 8:00 train to work. Tuesdays it's Yoga Pilates Fusion to work on core muscles, balance, and flexibility; Fridays it's Barbell Strength training to work on strength and toning. Weekends are for cardio training - swimming or jogging. I'm not trying to lose weight or become a body builder, but I do want to tone up and get my metabolism levels going better. Also, I'm one of those crazy people that finds exercise really relaxing.

I'm posting this blog update as something of a self-motivation tool too. Feel free to ask me how things are going in a few weeks - this will either encourage me to keep up the good work or guilt me back into keeping up if I slip out of things. I've heard it takes ten weeks to really make something a habit so ideally I'll maintain (or add to) my twice a week goal from now until the end of October. I know this will be infinitely more challenging once winter creeps in with cold weather and a car that needs to be scraped off before whisking me off to the gym, but I'm confident that it's a pattern that will be good for me in the long run.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


(Phone conversation)

Tony: All this construction in the parking lot is really loud and distracting.

Lisa: Why don't you take the laptop and go over to Caribou or Starbucks to work?

Tony: But then I can't watch the Cubs game....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Yesterday I finished a book I've been wanting to read since I first heard about it: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Here's the review I wrote:

There's no denying that zombies are trendy right now. With video games like the Resident Evil series and movies such as Dawn of the Dead, animated corpses feasting on the brains and flesh of the living have some sort of unexplainable mass appeal. Like many other readers though, the last place I expected the undead to appear was in a literary classic. But that didn't stop Seth Grahame-Smith (either a genius or seriously deranged writer) from rewriting Jane Austen's masterpiece Pride and Prejudice as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, declaring it "The classic regency romance--now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem".

If the title alone doesn't bring a wry smile to your face or elicit a slight giggle, don't bother picking up this book. Many readers will declare the work ridiculous and scoff at the apparent destruction of one of the most beloved romance stories of all time. However, I was on the right side of the fence to appreciate Grahame-Smith's bizarre humor and although I wouldn't by any means declare the work an improvement on the original, it was certainly a fun book.

Much of the text and plot are preserved from Austen's writing - with the obvious addition of zombies. Instead of country ladies, Grahame-Smith's Bennet sisters are warriors trained in the arts of combat, sworn to defend the crown from the hordes of "unmentionables" that plague England's roads and countrysides. The reader still finds Elizabeth fighting her prejudices (and zombies) to fall in love with the proud (zombie-fighter) Mr. Darcy but amusement is added (along with ninjas) by altering some of the well-known plot points such as the classic encounter between Lady Catherine and the sharp-tongued Lizzy.

Already assured to be a cult-classic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a great book for those that love the original but are willing not to take their literature too seriously. It could also succeed in bringing fans of the horror genre to an appreciation of classic literature, but the book is likely more enjoyable for those familiar with the primary text as long as they are ready to laugh at it.

Now it's just a matter of waiting for the September release of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Where To Begin

The world of scientific research can be a tricky place to be sometimes. I've often joked, "If we knew how things would turn out, it wouldn't be called an experiment." There's two ways to go about research too: one can either seek out something that someone else has done and apply it to one's own field of study or one can embark on new uncharted territory in hopes of developing a technique that nobody else has done but that others will likely seek out and apply to their own fields of study in the future. The former has the obvious advantage in that it's simpler, more elegant, and generally produces research that gets funded. The latter though is where science can be much more interesting. And much more frustrating.

You can probably guess where my work is currently leading me.

I don't mind that the work itself is frustrating. What I find more painful is when I'm told that certain things are "impossible". I must say, I loathe that word. Yes, the tasks before me are difficult. Yes, they will take a lot of thought, a lot of rethinking, and a lot of collaboration and advice from others. Yes, I will have to synthesize a protocol out of various bits and pieces from people that are working on things far outside of my intended targets. But that doesn't in any way equate "impossible" at this stage in the game and thus, "impossible" seems like entirely the wrong place to begin.

Right now, I have options. Another word for options is possibilities. Only after every single one of them is exhausted will I succumb to declaring the path before me "impossible". That might be where I end, but there's no way that's where I plan to begin.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fielder Wins, But Pujols Shines... or at least his head does...

What would Blogger Arrow be without my annual tribute to the Home Run Derby? Let me start with some quick flashbacks to 2008, 2007, and 2006. Ah yes. Those were the days where it took far more than eleven home runs to really impress the crowds. *sigh* This year's competition was severely lacking in the "He hit HOW many???" category that brought jaw drops to greats such as Josh Hamilton and Bobby Abreyu. But as always, I offer a tip of my hat to this year's champion Prince Fielder, first baseman of the Milwaukee Brewers.

With Prince taking the title and Albert Pujols (first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals) as the obvious favorite, I have to take note of the fact that these two talents both hail from the National League Central division - also the home of first base greats Lance Berkman of the Astros and the supremely awesome Derrek Lee of the Chicago Cubs. There's no doubting the phenomenal quality of baseball played by all four of these men (their numbers speak for themselves) but it leads me to question why the NLC is routinely criticized as the worst division around. Granted, the division typically produces a close race in which many of the teams boast mediocre records at best, but I have to argue that those stats are due more to evenly matched rivalries than overall lack of talented teams, as the media tends to imply.

Before I distract myself too far with topics such as East Coast Bias, let me return to the subject of Albert Pujols. I'm anything but a Cardinals fan, however I have great respect for Mr. P. He's the epitome of a classy player and despite his astounding numbers in the game, he constantly comes across as humble - giving equal praise to both teammates and rivals - and professes his faith in God when attributing a source to his talent. There is one thing, though, that I always seem to forget about Pujols, that I was reminded of at the Home Run Derby: he is bald.

(Not that there is anything wrong with that. I have long been an admirer of the follicly challenged.)

Something about his shiny head, though always seems to surprise me. Perhaps the oddest spectacle of the Home Run Derby was seeing both Pujols and Fielder taking the plate with exposed heads - a rare safe opportunity to do so since there is little to no risk that a batting practice pitcher of their choosing would throw a fastball up and in. Since baseball players are so rarely seen without their caps or batting helmets on, their hairstyles (or lack thereof) can be a bit shocking. Hence my surprise at Mr. P's sparkling pate. For another example, look to White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. With his catcher's gear, ballcap or batting helmet on he looks like a perfectly normal individual. And yet, when he removes his head-ware, one is confronted with a bizarre shock of bleach-blond hair leaving one to speculate on his passion for surfing in the off-season.

The baseball cap is more than just a uniform piece. It is a fashion statement that these talented men seem to incorporate into their personas. With their team loyally identified across their foreheads, it's no surprise that many of them look like entirely different individuals when seen with exposed craniums. It was actually something of an image hunt to find a photo of Albert without his trademark red top. But it just goes to show that despite their feats on the field, these heroes really are everyday people too.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Look Alikes

I wouldn't by any means call myself a HUGE sports fan, but summer brings out the best (or maybe the worst) in me with two of my favorite things to watch - baseball and tennis. The former won't surprise many who know me to be quite the Cubbie fan, but not many people are aware of just how much I love to watch professional tennis. Specifically, Wimbledon.

No joke. I. Love. Wimbledon.

It started somewhere in the vicinity of my high school years (perhaps when all my siblings had summer jobs but I was a bit too young) that my mom and I would spend our late June, early July mornings watching the beautiful British competition. I can't pinpoint what exactly I love about Wimbledon - I don't get nearly as excited about the US or French Opens - but something about the high-class traditional atmosphere greatly appealed to my middle-class young American self.

Anyway, this year a bad reaction to poison ivy kept me out of work for a few days last week and the highlight of being "sick" was definitely rejoining my beloved Wimbledon competition as part of the live-television audience. The men's quarter- and semi-finals were especially riveting and I found myself rooting, unexpectedly, not for Roger Federer but for the American underdog, Andy Roddick (picture at right). And he almost pulled it off. Truthfully, I think he deserved it for the simple fact the Federer never succeeded in breaking his serve through the first four sets - and at 130+ mph it's a pretty tough serve to break.

But watching him play, there was a small voice nagging in my head that kept saying, "Who does he remind me of?" Somewhere around set three it hit me. If they ever make a Family Channel movie of The Andy Roddick Story, actor Sean William Scott (picture at left) would be a perfect choice to play the young tennis pro.

Am I right or am I right?

I don't know why my brain always makes these strange connections, but it's my own bizarre world of sports commentary. I've also recently commented that Sam Fuld - a rising star in the Cubs organization - bears something of a resemblance to former SNL odd man Chris Kattan... but I suppose that's a story for another time.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Memorial Day

I got this cartoon in an email today and I wanted to share it with just one simple request. As we all go into a fun weekend (that looks to have beautiful weather), through the parties and festivities and celebration of a day off work... Remember why.

With my deepest thanks, warmest regards and utmost respect to all those who have served, who are serving and who will serve our country. Thank you for our freedoms, thank you for our lives. Amen.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Enough already!

Our Purell which art in hand wipes, Sanitizer be thy name.
In sickness come and germs be gone from our hands as they are in public.
Give us this day a test for H1N1 and forgive us our allergies
as we forgive those who sneeze from Influenza B.
Lead us not to contamination but deliver us from swine flu.

Okay maybe I should explain that before people start crying sacrilege. I'm getting really sick of swine flu (pun intended). There has been way too much hype and media fear mongering for my tastes and I wrote this "poem" as something of a satire for where people place their trust these days (some of you have heard my griping about the "Purell Patrol" that enforces the use of hand sanitizer upon entering my building... because, really, the answer to an international epidemic must be hand sanitizer....). I think the news has done too much to sensationalize the outbreak of H1N1. Reports declare "Child in US Dies of Swine Flu" and, not to minimize that death in any way, it was a 2-year old from Mexico who was already severely ill when presented to doctors in Texas. Similarly, a recent headline read "38 New Suspected Cases of Swine Flu" when medical institutions are quite adamant that almost all of these "suspected" cases are turning out to be Influenza B, a very common seasonal strain of flu. I've had enough, people. In the words of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy: "Don't Panic!"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

St Baldrick's Year 2



Thanks so much to Dan, dad and Tony for shaving their heads in support of Pediatric cancer research! This year's event was awesome and their team raised almost $1500! Thank you so much to everyone that donated on their behalf! You really are making a difference to children everywhere. If anyone is still willing/able to donate, the site will be up for a few more months. Click here for more information.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

These thousand hills roll ever on
The footprints of a Mighty God
They bring me to my knees in praise:
Amazing love, amazing grace.

Was on a hill my savior died -
A broken heart, a bleeding side.
Hill of the skull, Mount Calvary,
The blood He shed, He shed for me.

When heaven's hills at last I roam forever settle in my home,
I'll join the saints around Your throne - Your kingdom, Lord, rolls ever on.

These thousand hills roll ever on, ripples of a coming storm
The morning star precedes the dawn,
These thousand hills roll ever on.

~Third Day, "These Thousand Hills"

Friday, March 27, 2009

Random Part 2 (aka "I am not a drug dealer")

I'm kinda stymied with blog topics these days so here's another random gem that might make you laugh/smile a little if you're in a strange enough mood to find it funny.

I just found a scrap of paper on my desk at work with the following written on it:

Meth 25
Acid 10
Concentrate 5
H2O to 50

Lest anyone think I'm a closet drug lord I should explain that it's a recipe for a gel fixative that we use for a procedure called silver staining. The ingredients are Methanol, Acetic Acid, a commercial fixative concentrate and water. Knowing me though, I could see using the back of this scrap of paper to jot down a phone number or something and then shoving it in my purse or pocket. Outside the lab I think notes like that could probably get me in trouble. ;)

Monday, March 16, 2009


For whatever reason Tony decided that he can read the mind of Cubs manager Lou Pinella. Along with his latest voice impression of our favorite skipper, Tony had this insight to share:

"What am I gonna do with Fukudome?"

Hey, I warned you it was random.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I Watched the Watchmen

I went to see the movie Watchmen this weekend. For fans of the Alan Moore work, it's a must see and though I've long preferred Neil Gaiman over Moore in the dark and disturbing graphic novel genre, it was a pretty cool movie. It has a good mix of dynamic characters, political intrigue, superhero special effects and some kick-butt martial arts fight scenes. It also very much earns its R rating so I have to recommend it with reservations. Much of what was implied in the book version is shown in graphic detail on the large screen and if I were the editor there are certainly scenes I could have done without - but knowing the target audience it's not surprising how much was gratuitously included. Nevertheless, it was a really well done film.

One of the most interesting parts for me was that although the film followed the graphic novel practically scene-by-scene, it brought much more depth to Moore's work by the inclusion of music. On watching the opening credits - a montage of partially still scenes lifted directly from the original pen and inks - a smile crept across my face at the brilliance of the music choice. I became acutely aware just then of how silent a process reading actually is. Even in a graphic novel, presented with perfect visuals of what each character looked like, I never fully thought about what each one would sound like - let alone what the soundtrack of their adventures would be. I'm not always a fan of book-to-movie translations (yes, I'm the one who typically whines "the book was soooo much better!") but in this case the media of film added a new dimension and enhancement to the book that can allow enjoyment of the story for long time fans and newcomers to the franchise alike.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Bookworm's Back

I have another book review to share. It's actually a book that I finished two weeks ago but it's one that I can't stop thinking about. (For those more familiar with my literary habits that's saying a lot since I've already finished four and started my fifth book since completing this one.) The book is What is the What by Dave Eggers.

My first surprise on opening the cover of Dave Eggers novel What is the What was the subtitle The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. As my mind struggled to reconcile finding the word "autobiography" on a book plucked from the fiction shelves, I proceeded on to the book's content - a first person memoir of the life of a refugee. Eggers' voice disappeared as the pages turned and the story became solely that of Deng one of Sudan's "Lost Boys" struggling to make a life for himself in America while haunted by the memories of the existence he left behind.

As the story unfolds in the present, Valentino takes his encounters with strangers in America and uses them to mentally reflect on his experiences in Africa. By silently telling others his story (which translates as a complete narration to the reader) he seeks their understanding, their sympathy and their grace and as a reader I couldn't help being captivated by his turbulent journey. There is joy in his childhood in a remote village where a bicycle is a prized and wondrous possession. There is fear in his flight across the wilds of Sudan narrowly avoiding lions and slower killers like disease and starvation. There is desperation in his life at the refugee camp dreaming of something better for himself and wondering if his family has survived as well. There is awkwardness to his arrival in America and the culture clash of living as an outsider in a new homeland.

What is the What is a highly emotional and moving book. Eggers has expertly blurred the lines between fact and fiction to create a fully realized and seamless narration of hardship and endurance in the life of a refugee. With an overarching theme of compassion for others in the face of evil, Valentino Achak Deng's story is immensely powerful. This is a book that will stay with you, will keep you thinking and and reflecting on it, long after the back cover is closed.

At the risk of providing something of a spoiler, the title comes from a Sudanese story in which God first gave cattle to men. Given the importance of livestock in Africa's harsh climate, the cow was the ultimate gift. According to the legend, God gave man the choice that he could either keep the cow or have "The What". This option prompted the man to ask, "What is the what?" to which God responded that man was unable to have the answer and must decide between the known gift and an unknown "what". I won't ruin the story by explaining this any further but the question, and thus the title, has a recurring appearance in the book and the ultimate answer to the question becomes a thought provoking point that I still find myself reflecting upon. Overall, this was a really amazing book that I'd highly recommend to anyone looking for a biography of a refugee's experience or anyone seeking an excellent narration of life in Sudan.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Godliness, Contentment and Great Gain Paradigm

This week at church - or rather this month - we've been talking about generosity. This week's message was about financial freedom and it was a very powerful message as the burden of debt is something that I've struggled with all my life. Our pastor brought up a passage from 1 Timothy and amidst Paul's teachings about money he states,

"Godliness with contentment is great gain." 1 Timothy 6:6 NIV

It was pointed out that this verse acts as an equation of sorts in that
Godliness + Contentment = Great Gain
but in the culture of the world we often place things backwards and believe that
Godliness + Great Gain = Contentment
Instead of allowing God's presence and our own peace of mind to define wealthy, we believe that the presence of God along with the fulfillment of material desires will bring us peace of mind.

I agree that all of that is true, but in my mind I took the process one step further. I think in our consumer driven world, we often hold to the view that
Great Gain + Contentment = Godliness
Instead of clinging to God and choosing contentment, we hold up a false picture of who we idolize. It is those people who seem to have it all and - in our minds at least - are the epitome of happy, that we hold up and worship as our ideal. It is the celebrities with fancy houses; the Bill Gates types with huge salaries; the lottery winners with effortless incomes - in many ways they are what we want to be, they are our image of God.

Everyone says that money can't buy happiness and yet so few live as though they truly believe that. I know I don't, and I fall prey to the trap of wanting more than I need and believing that if I just had.... I could really be happy. It reminds me of the Jennifer Knapp song in which she laments,

"And though I'm rich, I claim that I'm poor.
Crying over earthly things I know I can't afford,
But He who died is greater than these.
I should be thankful and praying on my knees."
~Jennifer Knapp, "All Consuming Fire"

So there's my goal for now. Giving up on senseless wants and instead focusing on what I really need in my life - God's presence and opportunities to share His love with the world.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Ever Mindful

Growing up Catholic, there was a grace that my family and I prayed before every meal. There are two versions but one says,

Bless, oh Lord, this food to our use,
And thus to Thy service;
Make us ever mindful
Of the needs of others,
In Jesus' name, Amen.

When you're little and taught to memorize things like this, the words don't always have much meaning. It becomes a quick poem, a rhyme that we would try to utter as quickly as possible, to get it done, to check it off the list. But something about this prayer has stuck with me over the years and for the past week I've been meditating on it a bit. The first part is what I think of as the traditional "grace" line - a blessing of the meal - but even those simple words contain a deeper meaning. We are asking God to bless our food so that in nourishing ourselves, we can be of service to God. The food is for our use, but ultimately it is a line of stewardship to say that all that is in us, around us, part of us is God's and can be used to serve God. The second line is what I find the coolest part of the prayer: "Make us ever mindful of the needs of others". I think those words are the ones I've been searching for lately. In fact, I'm praying it "Make ME ever mindful, Lord, of the needs of others." Ever mindful. To go through every day mindful - having my eyes open - to what others need, I think that's a powerful ask. A powerful ask to a powerful God.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Super Bowl's Most Famous Feat...or is it Feet?

Although I wanted to make this post about the Super Bowl a tribute to Mike Tomlin - the youngest coach to win the game - and come up with all sorts of rumors about how he is really the long lost brother of actor Omar Epps, it seems that that topic has already been done before. Instead, I'll focus on an only slightly less overdone topic and talk about the catch that won the game.

Though many players gain great fame from their spectacular last minute awe-inspiring performances, great tribute must be given to the feat - or rather the feet - of Santonio Holmes. With triple coverage and only seconds of game time, Holmes collected a pass from Ben Roethlisberger to the very corner of the end zone and managed to keep both toes on the ground in bounds for the win. I can't even tell you how many replays showed from a multitude of angles that it was in fact a catch, but it might be safe to say that Holmes has the most famous feet of the week. But going back to the man who threw the ball to him, though I had little stake in caring who won the game, part of me was definitely cheering for Roethlisberger. Not only does he have the most fun-to-say name since Plaxico Burress, but part of me feels a little shot of sympathy for him growing up with a name like that. For the amount of times I've been on the phone and had to say "It's r-r-E-r-o" and still have hideous misspellings of my name appear (even by members of my own family!) - I can only imagine the trouble that Ben has been coping with all his life.

Congratulations Steelers and congrats to the Cardinals, for making it a well-played and very exciting game. Congratulations to Santonio Holmes for keeping his feet just right and congratulations to everyone who spelled Roethlisberger correctly. You can all go to Disneyland with Bruce Springsteen now.

The rest of us will wait out the next few weeks of bitter Chicago winter with just one thing in mind - "Is Spring Training here yet???"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

This one's for A.P.

A quick preface because preface is a cool word that doesn't seem to get used enough: I sort of quit blogging. Obviously if you're reading this, that's nothing of a surprise for you, but I've been informed that people actually DO read my blog so I'll try to get back into it. For now though, I'll post out an entry that I wrote a last week and left in the drafts folder. Thanks for reading.

Last month I got another pre-realease book through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program. There's something ultimately fun about reading a book before it's even hit the bookstores and I figure since the whole purpose of publishers giving out these delicious freebies is to drum up publicity for their product I might as well at least mention the really good ones here as well as on LT. The book I just finished is a nonfiction work called Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran. Here's my review:

Honeymoon in Tehran is a memoir by Iranian-American journalist Azadeh Moaveni chronicling two years of her life living in Tehran and dealing with the complications of a government that restricts the freedoms of women and journalists (and especially women journalists). The book is a resource of world politics as Moaveni presents an insider's view of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rise to power. The story is even more compelling as Moaveni tells her own tale of falling in love. As she navigates Iranian wedding customs and the issues of pregnancy before marriage, the story becomes a personal one and her balance between factual and emotional writing is exceptional.

In many ways Moaveni's story is a wake-up call to be aware of things that Americans and other citizens of Western countries can take for granted - choice of dress, public playgrounds, sattelite TV, choice of children's names, uncensored internet access, freedom to associate with members of the opposite gender - and yet she paints a fair picture of Iranians in Tehran and refrains from playing the victim despite dire circumstances for her family and career. As a book that both educates and entertains, Honeymoon in Tehran is an excellent book club choice or a great read for anyone seeking a literary trip to Iran.

I got to thinking about this book a lot this week with the monumental inauguration on Tuesday. I won't deny that I'm an Obama supporter. Since meeting him in 2005, I've gained the impression that as a senator - an hopefully now as president - he sees himself as a public servant and I feel that is a role that comes across as more of a rarity in Washington these days. With that said though, I'm not one of the many celebrating January 19th as "Bush's last day in office". I don't think Bush was the villain that many have painted him as. I won't defend his decisions, but I won't criticize them either. Going back to the subject of Honeymoon in Tehran, I'm really grateful to be an American citizen. As I mentioned in my review there are so many freedoms we have in this country that people take for granted. Even those who hated Bush knew that they would have to deal with him for a maximum of eight years - and throughout those years they were able to enjoy the freedom of speaking their mind about him openly, loudly, vehemently with no penalties. Yes, I'm glad to see President Obama in office but I have a healthy salute to former President Bush for his service to our States. Republican or Democrat, Inauguration is bigger than the man in Oval Office - whether you support the current administration or not - this country is one that I'm exceptionally thankful to be part of.