Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Morning Cheer ...

(Yes, those are cheerleader rubber duckies.)

I returned home from my walk this morning, stepped inside the front door, bent over to untie my shoes, and this popped into my head:

"Rah rah ree, kick 'em in the knee!
Rah rah rass, kick 'em in the other knee!"

Which made made crack up. Where the hell did that come from?

I might have walked 3.5 miles this morning, but apparently, my brain traveled much farther – like back to grade school.

Isn't it weird how memories pop up seemingly out of nowhere at the oddest times?

There are days that I can't remember what I did 10 minutes earlier, but I can remember the name of a friend's dog from 30 years ago.

And last night, I had a dream about my sister-in-law and my mom and Thanksgiving, and this morning, my mom asked, "Did Sue call you about Thanksgiving?"

Now if only I could harness this power for good. You know, like betting on horses ...

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Watch "House" tonight!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Chicago Tribune Redesign: Initial Thoughts ...

First thought when I saw it in the store this morning: "Weird." The blue banner is gone. "Chicago Tribune" is stacked on top of itself, making room for art and coverlines at the top of the page.

Second thought (called to my attention by the cashier looking for a barcode or a price and finding neither anywhere on page 1 or page 2, for that matter): "Oops." (Oh, funny. I just went the paper's web site and learned that the paper is free today. Maybe that's why there's no price on the front page. Apparently, nobody told the people at my grocery store. I paid .75 cents for it.)

Third thought, when I got it home and started leafing through it: "It's a tabloid that can't bear to think of itself as a tabloid, so it's still going to publish as a broadsheet." But it's a tabloid.

Fourth thought, when I happened upon Kathleen Parker's column: "I read this online ... two days ago."

The Trib is asking for feedback this morning. Here's what I had to say: "First of all, I just paid for the paper. I guess no one told the staff at the store where I bought it that it was supposed to be free today. Though that would explain why she couldn't find a barcode or a price anywhere on pages 1 or 2. But my overarching thought? The Tribune is now a tabloid that can't bear to think of itself as a tabloid so it's continuing to publish as a broadsheet. But it's a tabloid. And Kathleen Parker's column on page 37? I read it two days ago, online. This is the new Tribune? On page 3 are the 5 hot topics as measured by Google Trends? That's the stuff of RedEye. But coverage of the government's $700 billion bailout is relegated to page 4? That would be front-page news in the Tribune I used to work for, not just skybox fodder."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

This Is One Of The Best Things I Have Ever Seen ...

'Twilight' ...

I was late to the "Harry Potter" party.

Kids were already agog over the boy wizard and lining up for the second book before I got around to picking up a copy of the first. Softcover at that.

I didn't have high expectations. It was, after all, a children's book – "young adult," really – from what I'd heard and seen.

But I loved it. And I loved every book in the series. I didn't quite get swept up in the midnight frenzies to buy each successive release, but I had each of them in my hands within a day or two of their debuts. And even as the installments became more and more like doorstops and cinder blocks, I read them – devoured them – quickly, in time that could be measured in hours, not days.

Likewise, I was late to the Lemony Snicket party. I saw the first book in Barnes & Noble and thought the cover illustration was clever, but I didn't pick it up until, well, I don't even remember now the impetus for buying Book the First. But I have all 13 books on my bookshelf, and they look very literary with their clothlike spines and gilt lettering. I even bought "Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography." Take notes, Kitty Kelley.

And then came "Twilight." And again: Me. Party. Late.

I knew about the book because my nephew Nick asked for it for Christmas two years ago. I am all for buying books for kids. The more books, the better. And I'm not alone. At any given time, my nephews and niece are loaded with Barnes & Noble and Borders "credit cards."

I also knew about Stephenie Meyer because she'd pop up on "Good Morning, America" from time to time and the studio audience, stacked with tweens galore, would shriek on cue like this generation's Beatles fans. I wondered if any of them ever fainted.

So it was in my consciousness, this book. And then, as if being poked in the arm from the Universe, several friends told me that I had to read it, that it was so delightful, that I would love it.

All righty. I'm always up for a book recommendation. And the month is waning and I thought that, a la "Harry Potter," I'd be able to knock out the first installment in this Anne Rice-wannabe series this weekend and thereby meet my September challenge. You know the one: At the beginning of the year, Mercurie challenged me to read one book of fiction per month in 2008 because he thinks we just don't read for pleasure enough anymore.

Yesterday, I stopped off at Starbucks (for the first time in a long time, I ordered a soy, not non-fat, latte and realized that I no longer like soy) then headed to Borders where I happened across a big display of Stephenie's books. I picked up a softcover version of "Twilight," and thought perhaps I should buy it in hardcover. For posterity's sake. But I settled for the softcover and its $10.99 price tag.

At the register, I somehow ended up owing nine dollars and change. Hmm. Looking at the receipt before I put it in my wallet, I saw that the book was discounted 20 percent. Because I'm a Borders Rewards member? I dunno. I don't care. But I was happy that my investment turned out to be less than 10 bucks.

I started reading "Twilight" last night, after the sun had set. I settled into my new big, comfy chair, ready for an evening of enchantment. I figured I'd put away about half the book last night (it's just shy of 500 pages) and then polish it off today.

In fits and starts, I managed to make it to page 20. Somewhere between page 1 and page 20, I stopped to Twitter this: "Prodded by friends, I bought 'Twilight' today. Started reading it a little while ago. So far, I'm not impressed. Maybe because I'm not 12."

(Perhaps my Twitter came after I read this, on page 14: "I can do this, I lied to myself feebly. No one was going to bite me." CLEVER FORESHADOWING ALERT!: Edward, of course, is a vampire. But, from what I've gathered ambiently about these books, these vampires aren't of the "I vant to suck your blood!" variety. I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me.)

Clearly, I am not part of Stephenie's target audience.

But then again, J.K. Rowling wasn't gunning for the adult market yet I suspect a goodly number of her eleventymillion books were sold to non-children. (Whether some of us can call ourselves "adults" is open for debate.)

Earlier today, over coffee, I told my mom about my struggle to get into the book and my understanding that the book a) wasn't written for someone my age, and that 2) I'm reading it as a writer (and as someone with above-average intelligence). But "I can't believe her editor let her get away with some of it," I said. "Some of these sentences? I read them and said, 'Oh, come on. That's just lazy.' "

(Allow me to offer that I have tried to write fiction. I don't think I'm particularly good at it. Others have read short pieces of mine and have told me that they liked them. Maybe they were being honest. Maybe they were being good friends. Maybe they were being both. The point is, while I don't think I have a knack for it, I have colossal respect for those who do. It is an art form unlike any other, storytelling. But the key to storytelling, the shortest fiction-writing course ever, is this: Show, don't tell. Somebody give Stephenie a copy of Stephen King's "On Writing," stat. Note: Stephen King's name does not belong in a post about Stephenie Meyer just as Armagnac does not belong in a post about Pabst Blue Ribbon, but I love "On Writing" and if Uncle Stevie finds his way to my blog during a vanity search, so much the better. I'd love to talk to him some day. We now return to our regularly scheduled post.)

Later, at home after running errands, I put on comfy pants (plaid cotton men's PJ bottoms, bought at Macy's in New York years ago, on sale and so cheap, the store almost had to pay me) and hopped onto my bed (which I made this morning, thankyouverymuch; I'll earn that "adult" designation one of these days, by God) with Stephenie's book to try again.

I finished page 20. I started page 21. "I don't think I can read this," I groaned, out loud, when I read "... and I got the impression that she didn't like the doctor and his wife for some reason."

"... for some reason"? Sheesh.

But I kept going, to page 22, where a character says, "That's Edward. He's gorgeous, of course, but don't waste your time." Note to readers: EDWARD IS GORGEOUS, OF COURSE. But we already knew that, because on page 20, Stephenie tells us, as Bella Swan, "I glanced sideways at the beautiful boy ..." which comes as no surprise, because on pages 18 and 19, she tells us that "... they were all exactly alike ... all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful." (Yes, Bella Swan; "Bella" as in "beautiful," "Swan" as in "graceful." As my friend Mike, also a writer, wrote in an e-mail to me earlier today, "Oh for fuck's sake.")

A few sentences later on page 22, Bella watches Edward and his companions as "the four of them left the table together. They were all noticeably graceful – even the big brawny one. It was unsettling to watch." Note to readers: IT WAS UNSETTLING TO WATCH.

I dragged my eyes onto page 23. This is the sentence that made me throw in the towel on "Twilight": "When we entered the classroom, Angela went to sit at a black-topped lab table exactly like the ones I was used to."

To quote Mike, "Oh for fuck's sake."

(Finishing the paragraph just now, I see that, as kismet would have it, the only open seat in the class is next to Edward, who is gorgeous, of course, because he is devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful.)

And thus ends my Stephenie Meyer experience. I'm happy that kids everywhere have another series to sustain the frenzy and sate the hunger that Rowling created with Harry and Hermione and Ron.

But for me, on page 23, the sun has set on Bella Swan.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Myers-Briggs And Me ...

I've taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator several times. I am quite firmly an INFJ.

I'm watching the debate between Obama and McCain. It's almost painful for me to observe this exchange.

I just Googled my type and found this bit of description about conflict:

"They are very sensitive to conflict, and cannot tolerate it very well. Situations which are charged with conflict may drive the normally peaceful INFJ into a state of agitation or charged anger."

Yup.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vote ...



November 4 will be here before we know it. Are you registered to vote? Are you not sure if you're registered to vote?

Click this link if you need to:

1. Register to vote
2. Request to vote absentee
3. Find your polling location

You know where I stand. But whomever you support, support them at the polls.

Election Day is just under 6 weeks away. That's soon. But that's also plenty of time to get up to speed on the candidates and their platforms if you haven't been playing along at home.

Ricky Gervais Is A God ...

Last night, I was reading an Entertainment Weekly story about Ricky Gervais and happened across this:

"When Gervais talks, it's sometimes hard to tell whether he is joking. Gags fly out of his mouth so fast, and in such a deadpan, that sometimes you feel like you're not so much interviewing him as just trying to keep up. In a string of recent stand-up performances, two of which were taped for an HBO special that will air in November, Gervais aims that same withering, rapid-fire delivery at such sacred cows as Stephen Hawking ('Pretentious. Born in Oxford, talks with that American accent'), Nelson Mandela ('He hasn't re-offended. Shows you prison does work!'), and Anne Frank ('No sequel? Lazy')."

I read those last three words and started laughing so hard, I couldn't breathe. And I kept on laughing, hysterically, for at least a couple minutes, the kind of laughing where you finally start to regain your composure and then you just lose it all over again. I haven't laughed that hard in, seriously, three years. I remember the last time I laughed that hard. I was dating G. And it hasn't happened since.

Even now, I'm laughing again. "No sequel? Lazy."

Brilliant.

Offensive? Sure.

But brilliant.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On This Day In Blog History III...

Three years ago today, I wrote a recap of a most-excellent U2 concert.

Quoting: "Cell phones have replaced lighters at concerts. At one point during the show, Bono asked us to get them out and the United Center looked like a dark sky full of cell-phone stars."

Two years ago, I gushed about "Akeelah and the Bee."

Quoting: "Ohmygosh, this movie is the reason why the phrase 'Feel-good Movie of the Year' was invented."

And last year, I wrote a treatise about a visit to New York.

Quoting: "I dipped a couple bites of steak into the Bearnaise lightly. Tasty, sure. What's not to like? But the butter. Oh, the butter. Butter on steak is good (think Ruth's Chris Steak House, where steaks are dipped in butter, I believe) but this herbed butter melting on top of a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak? Holy mother of God.

Mom had the pork Milanese, a pounded piece of pork the size of her plate, breaded and fried and topped with a gorgeous mountain of salad. At least she had salad. My butter-soaked steak was paired with frites. Though no mayo for dipping. And I don't mean that there was mayo but I refrained. I mean there was no mayo offered.

Which is a good thing. Because if there had been, I'm pretty sure I'd be lying a morgue right now."

Will There Be A Parade? ...

Turns out, this is Unmarried and Single Americans Week!

Did you know that 60 percent of unmarried Americans 18 and older have never been married? And that for every 100 unmarried women in the Unites States, there are 86 unmarried men?

Well, there's an argument to legalize polygamy if I ever heard one! : o )

But seriously, folks, whether you're single or married, do something nice for yourself this week.

And next week.

And the week after that.

And every week thereafter.

Pudding, maybe. Who doesn't love pudding? And when's the last time you had it? I submit that many of the world's problems are directly attributable to a collective pudding deficiency.

Lift your spoons, people! The pudding's on me!

Monday, September 22, 2008

All You Need Is 'Love' ...

Thanks to L.A. Dave for pointing out the following very important press about the boys:

New film documents creation of Beatles' 'Love'

By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY, AP Music Writer

NEW YORK - The director of a new documentary that chronicles the creation of the Beatles and Cirque du Soilel's "Love" show calls his film an "emotional journey" that manages to reveal something new about music's most documented band.

"All Together Now," which will be released on DVD Oct. 21, features the surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, as they worked together to oversee the development of "Love."

"We got to talk to all these people not just about creating the show but about the Beatles," director Adrian Wills said in a recent interview. "Because they were in an emotional frame of an experience, they were really candid with us."

"Love," a Las Vegas theatrical spectacle that made its debut two years ago, features the reworked music of the Fab Four for the psychedelic show. The idea for "Love" came about through a friendship between Harrison and Cirque du Soilel founder Guy Laliberte, but Harrison died before their plans could be realized.

McCartney, Starr and the widows then banded together to realize Harrison's vision.

That helped make the creative process more poignant, said Wills.

"The film was kind of like looking at the Beatles as a family, and there were all these kind of family members who (while) they might have been estranged from each other at times, and had gone through, like any other family, hard times and good times together, but now they were coming back together because one of their loved ones had fallen," he said.

The films also captures McCartney and Starr as they reminisce with George Martin, the legendary Beatles producer who helped reimagine the Beatles' music for the show with son Giles.

"You not only get a real glimpse into the creative process of how this show was made, but you get a real glimpse into who these people are," said Wills.

Though the DVD is being sold exclusively at Best Buy and at the "Love" show, the film will be shown at select theaters nationwide Oct. 20.

Dreaming In Politics ...

Last night I had a weird dream involving elevators. My friend Steve and I were trying to get on the right one to get us to the ground floor so we could exit, but we kept ending up on elevators that took us further and further underground.

At one point, we happened upon an elevator that had a "Cheney" button with more buttons below it.

"My God," I said. "There's something lower than Cheney?"

I said it quite seriously in the dream, but now that I'm awake, I'm finding it very amusing!

I Guess I'm Not A Feminist ...

I'm late to the party with this post, but the idea has been stewing in my brain since a certain someone was named to the non-Democrat ticket. (No need to mention her by name. Though this weekend, I did see her referred to as the "Alaska Disasta"; that made me laugh for its forced rhyme.)

When the announcement happened, not only did questions torpedo to the surface about whether she's ready to be president should her runningmate cease to be, but lots of people questioned, very fairly, in my view, whether she can be both a mother and a vice president.

"We would NEVER ask such things of a man!" was the indignant cry. You could almost hear veins bulging in anger. "How DARE they ask that!"

How dare they? Really? It's not reasonable to wonder?

No, we don't ask the same questions of men. Because they're men. Because historically – and by historically, I mean "since the beginning of time" – roles have been rather well defined along gender lines.

I wasn't there, but I do believe that in caveman times, the men probably went out to hunt (and, you know, try not to get killed by saber-tooth somethings) and the women probably stayed back at the cave taking care of the kids, maybe venturing out a little way to gather berries or grubs or something.

And so it's been. In most societies, most of the time, women take care of the kids. Yes, there are stay-at-home dads, and there may be cultures where the male is the primary caregiver (I'm not up on my sociology that way), but there it is.

There are lots of nannies but there are very few mannies.

And She Who Shall Not Be Named has five kids, one of whom is a baby with Down Syndrome who will require extra care and attention (from what I've read) and another who is pregnant and three others who are simply growing up and need their mom for all the things we need our moms for.

"But she's the governor of Alaska!" women cite. "If she can do that with five kids, she can be vice president with five kids!"

No, I don't think so. Being the governor of the least-populous state in the nation versus being the second-in-command of the free world?

Call me crazy, but there's a difference.

And by the way, we could debate if her daughter would be in her delicate condition if she'd had more mom time. Maybe. Maybe not. It's impossible to know, really. Kids will be kids. But thinking back to my teen years, my mom was always there for me and I never got myself into any kind of trouble, baby- or otherwise. I sailed through four years of high school without so much as a detention. Why? My mom was firm but fair, though not even close to a pit bull with lipstick. By contrast, I knew someone who had a very contentious relationship with her mother, a mother who was much more removed for a host of reasons, and yup, that someone was pregnant at 17. So maybe there's a correlation. Or maybe there's not. But it's possible, that's all I'm saying.

So no, we don't ask these "Can he do it all?" questions of men in politics because men, traditionally, have left the home at the beginning of the day and returned home at the end of the day. We expect them to go forth and provide for their families. And women, traditionally, have stayed at home and raised the kids.

Maybe now, out of need or desire, women, too, leave the home and provide for their families, but all the studies show that it's the women who carry the bulk of the home responsibilities in those two-income families. For the most part, it's still the moms who come home and get dinner on the table, it's still the moms who do the laundry and make sure the kids' lunches are made for the next morning and get everyone off to bed and pick up around the house before turning in and doing it all again tomorrow.

And so, in my mind, it's an entirely fair question to ask of the Woman of the Hour.

Hillary's only child is grown, out in the world making her own way. Not that Chelsea never needs her mom (or her dad), but their work with her is done. The First Brood, as they'd be, still very much need their mom. And I truly don't see how she can do both jobs with the degree of dedication that each requires.

Being vice president of the United States is more than a full-time job, it's a lifestyle.

Likewise, being a mom isn't a full-time job, it's lifetime role.

The question has been on everyone's lips for decades: Can women have it all?

No, I don't think they can. Not fully.

I've never understood women who have children and then go back to work as soon as possible.

Mind you, I'm not talking about moms who need to work to help support the family. I'm talking about women who say, "I didn't go to college to stay home and raise kids!"

Well, then, why have them? (Note: This has caused quite a bit of a stir in the comments. I am not saying that people with careers should not procreate, as one of my commenters put it. I'm questioning, as you'll see below, if those people believe their careers are more important than their kids if they say, "I didn't go to college to stay home and raise kids!" In my opinion – and mind you, it's mine; you don't have to share it – having kids is the most important thing I'll ever do (if I'm so lucky someday). And so I – again, personally – would want to stay home to raise them, not race back to my job at the first opportunity.) You want kids, but you want someone else to raise them while you pursue your career? Does that mean your career is more important to you?

In the case of Neighbor the the North, I do believe it should have been an either/or decision.

Then again, in my mind, on November 5th, she'll return to Anchorage and resume her duties as governor and mom.

Excuse me: mom and governor.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama And Child ...

It doesn't get much sweeter than this:



And there's just nothing cuter than a little black boy.

Thanks to L.A. Dave for forwarding the link from Gawker.

Yada, Yada, Yada ...

Why do bloggers blog?

Yesterday, one of the bloggers of one of the blogs to which I subscribe posted about appearing on "Martha," who devoted a show to blogging, blogs, and the bloggers who blog them. Deb said that her blog, Smitten Kitchen, receives about one million hits a month. (And there's the link, to drive her traffic up even further!)

ONE MILLION HITS A MONTH.

By comparison, this here blog probably logs about 2,000 page views a month.

Now, granted, I'm not affiliated with Martha Stewart, as is Deb. But this morning I got to thinking that Deb's blog is successful for a number of reasons (she's a good writer, she's a good photographer, she posts regularly) but her blog's greatest strength, I'd wager, is that it focuses on food. She's forever cooking or baking something, and taking fabulous photos along the way, and posting the recipe along with her commentary about the triumphs or travails of said recipes.

When you go to Smitten Kitchen, you know exactly what you're going to get.

In Bloglines, she has 1,843 subscribers.

By comparison, I have 7.

Now, I don't mean to compare myself to Deb. I started a food blog two years ago in the midst of my holiday-baking frenzy and I loved it, but I don't bake every day (and it's a good thing; I wouldn't be able to fit through my doors if I did) so that blog languishes. I post very rarely. Though now that the weather is turning cooler, I'll fire up the oven again. My neighbors are due for some treats as thanks for William being so kind as to tool on over on his riding lawnmower and cut my grass. (Hi, Rhonda!)

But it all set me to thinking about bloggers who blog with a focus and how lucrative it can be, either through selling ad space or through book deals or through notoriety that leads to a high-profile gig elsewhere online.

Which set me to thinking about why I blog. I tell myself that I blog to force myself to write every day (or nearly every day) but I don't focus on any one topic. I write about whatever's on my mind or whatever movie I've recently watched or whatever meal I've recently eaten. Sometimes, I'm stumped for a topic, which seems impossible, as there are a million things happening in the world today that are worthy of words.

And while I suspect I'd blog even if no one was reading, I admit to checking my page views every morning just to see how many people stopped by the day before. And I like knowing that friends are reading, that even if we're not in touch all the time, they're staying on top of my goings-on through this site.

Lots of people tell me that I should write a book, and I tell them that I'd love to write a book, if only I could think of a topic.

Same goes for blogging, I guess. If I had a great idea for a topical blog, I'd be blogging it.

But instead, I blog my blather.

It's nice of you to drop by regularly to read my ramblings.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On This Day In Blog History II ...

So, what was on my mind two years ago today?

"Relativity" is a brief meditation on family dynamics.

Quoting: "Does Norman Rockwell's vision of the world exist outside of his paintings? In my mind's eye, I'm seeing a father at the head of a dining table, carving knife and fork poised over a perfectly browned bird, family looking at him with anticipation and appreciation. But what do you want to bet that there's a drunk uncle passed out beyond the frame in the living room?"

And last year?

"Dating Malaise" is a rumination on the dearth of datable dudes.

Quoting: "Yes, the gene pool is shallow and the pickin's are slim. Maybe it was all the talk of 'The Sopranos' leading up to the Emmys, but I found myself remembering one particular would-be suitor this weekend. Allow me to paint a picture: Think George Costanza meets the mafia, balding pate, receding hair slicked back with some sort of grease, a bit of a leer on his lips, and a pinky ring in view. Allow me to mention, too, that my profile on Match.com used to say that I'm drawn to men who can express themselves well.

And now, allow me to reveal the five magic words he offered as love bait: 'You're stunning, I'm interested. Tony.' "

"Love bait." That makes me giggle.

VisualDNA ...

A couple weeks ago, my friend Steve sent me a link to a nifty take on personality tests.

Instead of answering questions, you click on pictures. Presented with a batch of photos, you select the one that appeals to you the most. And when all is said and done, you're presented with a virtual journal that – theoretically – tells you about yourself.

Ever eager for insight, I surfed right over. While Li'l Miss Type A over here was sometimes frustrated that the photo options didn't present exactly what I wanted to choose, there was always a photo that was close enough.

Here's what I "discovered," with my commentary in italics.

Mood: Easy Rider – You're drawn to the drama of a big spectacle and appreciate the unpredictability of nature. You like life rugged and rough around the edges. When it comes to art, you tend to have a traditional approach. You are passionate about history and true classics. Truly great art stands the test of time. As for music, you're a focused listener and always on the look out for something new. You love the buzz you feel from watching a live performance – there's no better escape.

Ooh, yeah, I'm drawn to drama. As my friend Angela would say, "Lawd Hammercy": I have drama in spades. But I like to think that the presence of drama is directly attributable to the aforementioned passion, though I can't say that I'm passionate about history. Classics, maybe. But yes, truly great art stands the test of time. My definition of "art" is: If I can do it, it's not art. But the biggest truth here lies in "you are a focused listener": I am really attune to details in music. I used to watch the shows Composer Dave scored and would mention specific moments where I thought his music was especially perfect, like three notes over a rack focus of a fern frond. ("The Search for Shangri-La" from "The New Explorers," if I remember correctly. Hey, I still have the VHS!) I think he liked that someone paid that much attention to his work. But I've always been very aural. My ability to write stems from the fact that I can hear how the words sound best, strung together. And yes, I love live shows. Next up: Ray LaMontagne.

Fun: Escape Artist – You really value your 'quiet time' – to recharge and reconnect with yourself. You're not afraid to take yourself away from the crowd and explore your imagination alone. For kicks, nothing beats being out in the open. You are fascinated by the world around you and love to immerse yourself in nature. When it comes to holidays, you like to explore, and immerse yourself in another culture. Always on the go, you take in as much as you can. You find it hard to switch off, as you like to be absorbing new information all the time. And what turns you off? It might sound cruel – but half man half wolf? That's gross!

Yup, I'm all about the quiet time. And I do like nature, but you can hold the bugs. I hate bugs. And no, I am not attracted to hirsute hims.

Habits: Back to Basics – You switch off by switching on! You're a bit of a TV addict and like nothing more than an evening on the couch glued to the box. Your choice of drink reflects refined classic taste. You deserve to unwind at the end of the day and nothing hits the spot quite like your favorite tipple. As for the home, you're a bit of a traditionalist. It's not just about function – style is a definite priority.

TV addict. Guilty as charged. Though I deem very little TV worthy of my time. But I'm a big fan of the Netflix. I rarely drink at home (not when I'm alone, anyway), but I do appreciate good wine, good vodka, and good scotch. And my home is most definitely my canvas: I love decorating. I am especially skilled at picking out perfect paint colors from those little chips.

Social: Thoughtful – For you friendship is all about being there for one another. You can't imagine life without your best friends. And they're the first place you go when you need some advice, or a shoulder to cry on. When you think of freedom – you think of being in charge of your direction. The open road and a full tank can take you pretty much anywhere.

Absolutely on all fronts. I cherish my friends and I do turn to them often. And I do love to drive, and I hop off the highway if an interesting sign catches my eye. Antique stores are always a draw, but anything kitschy will do the trick, too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

'House' ...

He's come back to me.

He's come back to all of us.

You do watch, right?

The Searchers, Part II ...

Earlier today, someone in the U.K. ran across my blog by entering this search: "why do bitches fold their arms when they are talking to you."

Amusingly, my blog is the top search result. This is the post.

And since I wrote that post (and Jimmy Moore was none too pleased with me, let me tell you), I have changed my eating habits such that Jimmy and I now have a whole lot in common.

As you might know, I'm a big fan of Mark's Daily Apple and the brand of nutrition he advocates, but I'm loathe to call it low-carb.

My beef (pun intended) with the low-carb lifestyle was that people seemed to take it as a license to gorge themselves. Yes, protein is good for you. No, that does not mean that you should eat an entire pot roast. Or 30 buffalo wings smothered in a quart of blue-cheese dressing.

But the other day I noticed that Mark links to Jimmy's blog.

Jimmy, I stand corrected.

Ah, life does come full circle.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saturday, Sunday, Sump Pumps, and Song ...

So, how was your weekend?

Mine was wet. Stupidly wet. Biblically wet. I wonder if I can buy an ark on Amazon.com.

It started raining here on Thursday night. Not a lot of rain. Just a bit of rain. Still, though, rain. And then it dribbled and drabbled a bit on Friday, and then it started raining with feeling on Friday night.

So Friday evening, I did what I do whenever this area is in for a bout of rain: I stayed up most of the night. The last time we had appreciable rain – and by "appreciable," I mean five inches in five hours – I ended up with a bit of water in my basement. Not a lot, but really, any water in a basement is more water than you want.

With steady rain in the forecast for Friday night, I thought it prudent to stay awake in order to keep tabs on things. And anyway, even if I tried to go to bed, I would have been half-listening all night for the sump pump cycling on and off – or not, which is when the worrying starts– and wouldn't have really slept anyway. So I stayed awake, and it was a good thing I did. I ended up with water in my crawl space, so I crawled in to trip the float on the sump pump, but water was coming into my other sump pit, causing that pump to cycle on and off, too. Problem is, there's not room in the PVC for both pits' water, so the pumps basically took turns.

Now, I don't know if the city hadn't opened up retention ponds or whatever one does to take the pressure off of sewer lines, but while the sump pumps were pumping out, the water was coming back in through the gravity drain in the house's original sump pit, which told me that water wasn't getting out to the sewer line in the street, it was just cycling around the drain tile and coming back in, so what I was pumping out was the same water, over and over.

But I have a submersible pump in that pit, so I threw the hose out the basement window then ran outside to position the hose further down my driveway, and while I was out there, I used a big squeegee to move water from a little depression between my house and garage where water likes to pool when it rains heavily which puts hydrostatic pressure on the foundation of the house and, well, all you need to know is that several trips outside left me completely soaked. In the middle of the night.

Take-home message: Friday night, I slept about an hour.

So Saturday, I was pretty much a zombie. I dozed off here and there during DVDs, but more rain was on the way for Saturday night into Sunday, so I figured I'd throw caution and sleep to the wind and pull another all-nighter.

I didn't need to, completely. I snuck in a couple of hours of sleep before deciding that my house would be better served if I held a little vigil for the goings-on downstairs.

But happily (well, relatively speaking), most of today's rain – brought to us by Hurricane Ike – happened after dawn, for which I was grateful. Somehow, it's just more comforting to cope with potential water issues in daylight.

And I am happy to report that all's well that ended well. Though I spent so much time in my crawl space today that I thought that it might make sense to just bring a book and book light with me and stay put. "Well, call me Raskolnikov," I thought as I duck-walked to the sump pump for the umpteenth time. "This is very Notes from Underground. All that's missing is me hacking my nosy landlady to death with an ax."

Good thing I don't have a landlady, nosy or otherwise.

This weekend's rain event, however, taught me a few things:

1. I learned the fine art of adjusting the rubber stops on a sump-pump float to make it kick on and off appropriately for the volume of rain in question.

2. I learned that I might very well have OCD. At one point today, I had five weather sites open in my browser. Mind you, three of them were Chicago Tribune radar pages, one of which I had set to a close zoom of my area, the next of which was a view of the Chicagoland area, and the third of which was a Midwest view. And I spent a lot of time refreshing each page to track the progress of the storm. I'm sure the Trib received millions of views of its weather pages over the past two days, and I probably account for about 1,000 of them.

Here's a pretty picture from the National Weather Service of rain totals for the area, starting Wednesday evening through Sunday afternoon. Keep in mind that it didn't really rain on Wednesday and the rain on Thursday night wasn't appreciable, so this is really a snapshot of the rain totals from Friday night through Sunday afternoon, or fewer than 48 hours:



The smatterings of white, by the way, are areas that received 10 inches. Ten inches of rain, kids. That's a lot of rain. I figure I was dealing with somewhere between 6 and 8 inches. Also a lot of rain. (You can click on the image to make it bigger.)

Today, once the rain subsided and there was room in my brain for thoughts other than "I hope nothing in my basement if floating," music started running through my head, "River Waltz" from "The Painted Veil," a very beautiful piano piece.

And I decided that I wanted to learn how to play it. So I tried to find the sheet music online. No dice.

But I did find a YouTube video of a guy who plays an interpretation of it, but the weird thing was that he cited a quote as his inspiration for his interpretation. And the quote was: "Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. I believe really great men must experience great sadness in the world."

And the source of the quote was Raskolnikov from Doestoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Seriously. The same character and book I had been thinking about earlier in my crawl space. And it's not like the name "Raskolnikov" floats through my head every day.

I looked toward the sky and said, "OK, universe. Thanks for letting me know that you're hearing me."

Lacking the sheet music, then, I did two things:

1. I wrote to Dave to ask him if the software that he uses for composing is capable of ingesting tunes and generating the corresponding sheet music or if it only generates music based on compositions created in the software. I knew he was capable of producing the latter because he did just that for a piece he wrote for a show several years ago that was then recorded by the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

2. I broke out my keyboard (it lives in my office closet most of the time) and started to figure out the melody by ear. I had e-mailed the piece to myself so I'd have it on my laptop and could refer to each phrase as needed as I jotted down the notes. And then I noticed in the scrolling info for the song that the piece was recorded by the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

All righty, then. What are the odds that in one day, I'd think of Raskolnikov and Notes from Underground and then later, in my sheet-music wanderings for a piece of music that wouldn't stop running through my head, I'd happen across a video that would cite Raskolnikov and Notes from Underground and that I would e-mail a friend of mine to ask him if he could generate the sheet music for me because he'd done it before for a piece he composed to be recorded by the Prague Symphony Orchestra, only to have the piece for which I was searching for the sheet music turn out to also be recorded by the Prague Symphony Orchestra? (It'll be interesting to see what comes up when I meditate with intention.)

My keyboard, though, isn't a full 88 keys (it's 49 or 50; I don't feel like counting at the moment) and I don't have the octaves on the keyboard that I need to reproduce the piece. But then I remembered that my laptop hosts GarageBand. But it's too hard to "play" a tune by clicking on the virtual piano keys. But then I discovered that you can use the computer keyboard to play notes. (The Tab key is the sustain pedal, for example.) But the letters on the keyboard don't correspond with the musical notes. So E (the note) is D (on the keyboard), and A is H and C is A and B-flat is U.

I had battled a headache all day, despite my best efforts to hydrate, and trying to play music on a computer keyboard wasn't helping matters on the headache front. So jotted down what I had figured out and I recorded a little snippet and threw in the towel. I can figure out the rest of the melody another day.

But first, I need to get some sleep.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Progress ...

My e-pal Stacy writes a top-notch blog (which I won't link to without her permission, because she recently went "stealth" and far be it from me to become the portal through which icky folks find her again). We've never met face to face but I feel like she's a dear friend because her writing is so real, so forthright, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious.

Yesterday, she wrote about her success with a new eating and exercise plan. She's been plagued with body-image issues and digestive-tract ailments for years, but she's finally struck on the thing that's working for her.

The thing, though, I found most interesting about her post was her self-professed difficulty in expressing her happiness with her success because societally, we view a positive body image as arrogance.

Seems to me that we as a society view positivity in general as arrogance. We're expected to attain ridiculous levels of near-perfection, but God forbid we talk about how we got there or be proud of our accomplishments. Why? Because that will make the people who choose to stay on the couch feel bad? I dunno. Maybe.

But her post made me think about a recent conversation with my friend Lenore. I popped into her store wearing my workout clothes (my visit to her store was pre-workout; I wasn't stinking up the place) and she mentioned that I was looking great.

And my immediate, almost involuntary response was, "Well, I should be looking even better." Sigh. Beth, Beth, Beth. Just accept the damn compliment already. But no. I kept going with my self-critique, telling her how I'm coming up on a year with Brandon and how I really need to up my cardio because he's doing a very good job of sculpting my muscles but I need to burn off the layer of fat that's preventing the world from seeing my toned awesomeness. And how I haven't been rigorous with my eating and I've probably gained and lost a pound or two over and over but if I had been "good," how I'd probably be 20 pounds lighter now. And how when I think about all the money that I've spent on training and then thing about the bills I could have paid off with that money ...

Geez, I'm annoying myself just reading all that negativity. Crap.

So I'm very grateful that I have Lenore in my life, because Lenore wiped out all my lamenting with this simple thought: "Beth, you've stuck with going to the gym for a year."

Well, would you look at that! A different perspective!

Yes, I have, dammit! I've stuck with going to a gym, three days a week, for nearly a year. I'm not one of those people who sign up for the gym in a fit of New Year's resolutioning and then never go. I'm not one of those people who spends a week's pay on lots of cute gym clothes and springy shoes and then quits going to the gym after two weeks.

So, yes, I've been paying a trainer for a nearly a year, but if that's what it's taken to get me to the gym, so be it. I know myself well enough to know that if I'm accountable only to myself, more often than not I will take a pass on the effort. But once the pump is primed, so to speak, I'm more apt to make myself move.

My mom comes over every morning (except Sundays and Mondays and if the weather in inclement) so we can walk. She's very good about walking. She used to go every morning, by herself, just get up and lace up and go.

And when she'd be out there, working up a sweat, I'd still be in bed. One day, she mentioned that she walked past my house sometimes and I said, "Well, hell, ring my doorbell and I'll go with you."

And thus our almost-daily walking date was born. Knowing that she's going to be at my door at 6 a.m. makes me get out of bed when the alarm goes off.

But here's the breakthrough: She doesn't come by on Mondays because she has another early-morning commitment. So when my alarm went off on Monday, I thought, "It's Monday. Mom won't be coming over." But I got up anyway. And then thought, "But I don't have to walk." But I got dressed. And then I thought, "But I don't have to walk." But I put on my shoes. And then I thought, "But I don't have to walk."

And then a voice in my head said, "Beth. You're up. You're dressed. You have your shoes on. You have to at least leave the house. You can turn around whenever you want, but you have to at least walk out the door."

So I did.

And I put in 2.5 miles.

Later that day, at the gym, Brandon asked me if I took pictures of myself before I started with him.

I did, I told him. And then asked, "Why?"

He told me that he wants to create a brochure to sell his services and he's asking some clients for photos.

"OK," I said, bending over and straightening up, holding 10-pound dumbbells in each hand, working on my lower back. "But I don't think I'm enough of an 'After' yet."

"Oh," he said, "I'm pretty sure I remember what you looked like when we started. You've made a lot of progress."

Really? I came home and took a picture of myself and uploaded it into my computer and compared it with the picture I took on October 1, 2007, and sure enough: I have made a lot of progress.

And then immediately thought, "Yeah, but I ..." but then I stopped myself.

As I tell my friends, about a multitude of situations, "So long as the overall trend is toward progress ... ." Whether it's losing weight or getting over a relationship or finding a job, so long as the overall trend is toward progress, you're doing well.

I think the universe laughs at our self-imposed timetables. Sure, it's good to have goals, but how many of us set goals that are realistic? How many of us vow to "never" do something again, only to do it again in two days?

One of the other blogs I read recently posed the idea of micro-goals. Instead of saying, "I'm going to go to the gym every day this week and I will work out for at least an hour each day," commit to "Today, I'll exercise for 15 minutes" instead. I love that approach. It's so realistic.

Success is made slowly, most of the time. "Overnight success" is mostly a myth.

Slacking off will happen. Some days, I just want to lie on the couch.

And that's OK. As long as I get up tomorrow.

And not just to get a snack.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Women, I Beseech You ...

I just watched a segment on "World News with Charles Gibson" about Sarah Palin.

Interviewing women in Hillary Clinton's hometown in Illinois, Barbara Pinto spoke with one woman who said of Palin, "I really like her. She has chutzpah!"

When Pinto asked her if she knows Palin's position on issues, she said, "No, not really."

I would never presume to tell people how to vote, but please, please, please, take the time to LEARN something about Sarah Palin and her positions on issues that matter to you, then decide if you want her to hold the second-most-important job in the world.

Please don't decide to vote for Sarah Palin just because she's a woman.

The Searchers ...

Every so often, I glance at what search terms people are entering that bring them to Finding My Voice.

Hands down, the winner is "mike rowe gay." Enter those terms on Google and my blog is the fourth hit.

I wrote this innocuous little post more than two years ago, in which I never questioned whether he was gay. I wrote it because I had just seen him on Good Morning, America, and just because, I mean, Mike Rowe, hubba hubba! And that voice. I love his voice. Voices, you may have noticed, are a big thing with me.

And I continue to get comments on that post. More than two years later. People search "mike rowe gay" and find my post and weigh in. There's a little debate happening in my comments – Gay! Not gay! One commenter wrote "He is the altar of gay hotness!" Another wrote "If Mike Rowe is straight I am having a sex change operation. Now." Some have left their e-mail addresses so Mike can contact them – and marry them. That's the request, anyway.

As if! It's my blog, people! If Mike is going to marry anyone from the Internets, it should be moi, n'est-ce pas?

Word from my blog comments is that he lives in Cow Hollow. (Note to self: Next time I'm in San Fran, wander around Cow Hollow again.) I once bought a poster from a cute shop in Cow Hollow of the Palace of Fine Arts, my favorite place in San Francisco.

Anyway, yes, Mike Rowe. Gay? Not gay? Don't care. But now searchers will find two FMV posts about him.

FYI, from his FAQ page from the Discovery Channel, in answer to the question, "Are you married? Dating? Looking?", Mike responds, "I've never married, but continue to pursue a life of serial monogamy with a very understanding woman in San Francisco."

Regardless, for gay and straight readers alike:

Friday, September 05, 2008

Where I Stand ...

Fair warning: This is a political post.

For those of you who have made it known that you like my blog but you don't like when I write about politics, you're welcome to leave. But you're also welcome to stay.

Last night, I created a post in which I wrote "I've been writing Finding My Voice for nearly three and a half years" and then quipped "(You'd think I'd have found it by now, eh?)."

But tonight, politically, I have found my voice.

This is what I have to say:

I fear for this country.

I truly believe that we are teetering on the brink of irreversible harm. Seven years ago, the Republicans, with their control of both the Legislative and Executive branches, got behind the wheel and stamped their collective foot on the gas. Problem was, the car was in Reverse.

And now here we are as a country with two wheels hanging over the edge of the cliff. And the only way we are going to survive as a nation is if someone grabs the steering wheel, slams the transmission into Drive, and guns the engine to get us back on solid ground.

It is no secret to recent readers of this blog that I support Barack Obama for President of the United States.

But until now, I haven't expressed why.

Lately, people have been praising me, quite out of the blue, for my way with words. And I thank them. But tonight, I understand that my gift of expression requires that I express my beliefs.

I recognize that I may lose readers because of this post. I recognize that I may even lose friends. If so, I will miss them.

But this election is simply too important. There is simply too much on the line.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and their vote.

But I am baffled, truly, sadly baffled, by how anyone can support the Republicans in this election.

Bill Clinton has said (as have others, I'm sure) that the measure of a President is whether he leaves the country, at the end of his term, better off than when he took office.

It is a very simple metric for a very complex job.

And so I ask: Is this country better off than it was in 2000?

It is not. In any way.

The unemployment rate is rising.

The stock market is plummeting.

The housing market is imploding.

Last week, it cost me $60 to fill my car's tank. Yesterday, I was excited to see gas for $3.89 a gallon.

Oil was trading at $22 a barrel when Bush took office. This summer, it peaked at $147. Of course, I recognize that many factors influenced oil's precipitous rise. But what has the Bush administration done to begin to curb our dependence on foreign oil? Nothing. Moreover, it rewards Big Oil with massive tax breaks while Big Oil reaps record profits directly out of the pockets of everyday Americans whose paychecks can simply stretch no further. And in the end, huge sums of money, unfathomable sums of money, are enriching nations in the Middle East.

We have mortgaged our future to Saudi Arabia. And China. Let's hope they don't want to collect any time soon.

More than 80 percent of this country says that we're on the wrong track. Yet nearly 50 percent of polled voters say they'll vote for McCain. McCain, despite his fervent use of the word "change," is an agent of Bush. Why are so many people willing to vote for four more years of "the wrong track"?

The Republicans argue that Obama isn't qualified to lead, yet all I hear McCain talk about is his time as a P.O.W.

Let me be very clear: I have the utmost respect for our armed forces. And I cannot fathom the living hell a P.O.W. endures. But McCain plays the P.O.W. card over and over and over. I understand that the experience shaped him as a human being, but we don't need a president who endlessly replays the past. We need a president who tackles today's problems with an eye on the future.

What is the future of the United States under John McCain? I don't know. Do you know? How can we? He hasn't said. But he's been very vocal that Barack lacks the experience to lead.

In my view, the President of the United States is a leader but also a standard-bearer, the point around which the country rallies or the point around which the country divides.

Never before have I felt such division.

But there is no disputing that Barack has inspired not only a significant portion of this country but also a significant population of the world. As he said in Denver, "What the naysayers don't understand is that this election has never been about me; it's about you."

That is why we back Barack Obama. He has roused us out of our resignation. He has made us believe again in the promise of this country.

As for experience, yes, it's true that Barack is not a long-time Washington insider. And that is partly why I want him to be President. I also want him to be President because he has proven, time and time again, that his judgment is sound and true. Barack holds fast to his beliefs and his vision. For example:

Barack advocated a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

"No!" said the Bush administration.

And yet, today there exists a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

So what qualified Bush to be President?

Under Bush, Texas carried out more executions than under any other governor. That is his gubernatorial legacy.

What else qualified Bush to be President?

He was a C student at Yale.

I'm not saying this to boast, but I passed the Mensa entrance exam. In an academic sense, I am very possibly smarter than the President of the United States.

I don't want to be smarter than the President of the United States. I want the President of the United States to be smarter than me. Because he's the President of the United States, and by extension, the most powerful man in the world.

Of course, no one man can know everything, which is why a President has advisors. Yes, ultimately, the buck stops with him, but he does not need to know everything about everything.

Bush may be the President, but Rove and Cheney have shaped this presidency. And this country.

And what sorry shape it's in.

(Yes, I know that Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006 and that Congress enjoys the lowest approval ratings ever. But Democrats do not hold a large enough majority to override the Republicans who have dug in their heels. It's hardly the most conducive atmosphere to getting things done.)

I recognize that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for Barack. Jen, one of my regular readers, is upset by Barack's position on the space program. Jen works for NASA. Her concerns are certainly understandable.

Barack cannot be all things to all people. Would that he could but he can't. As President, he'll need to prioritize and organize to implement his plans.

This country currently holds the most massive deficit in our history. Our economy is grinding to a halt. People are losing their homes. Companies are slashing jobs and declaring bankruptcy. Resolving our economic crisis must be at the helm of his list of priorities.

There will be a need for patience. All change cannot happen all at once.

But some change can happen every moment.

I have contributed to Barack's campaign. I have pinned Obama buttons on my purse since the weather was snowy and cold.

Tomorrow, I will visit Obama headquarters in Chicago and learn what I can do to lend a hand.

There are 60 days until the election.

Now is the time.

Yes we can.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

On This Day In Blog History ...

I've been writing Finding My Voice for nearly three and a half years. (You'd think I'd have found it by now, eh?)

And I was recently chatting with Mike and mused that I should revisit my blog posts from years past on a given date and see what was on my mind at the time.

On September 3, 2005, I wrote this post, "Pain Turns To Anger ...," about our government's response to Katrina. (I didn't write a post on September 4, 2005, so I pulled the post that was closest to today's date.)

On this date in 2006, I wrote this post, "B.A.P.E.: Schmooped Edition ...," about a man I was getting to know at the time. It turned out to be a very short-lived relationship.

On this date in 2007, I wrote this post, "Propaganda? ...," about the war in Iraq.

Apparently, something about early September makes me prone to politics.

So allow me to continue the trend.

Planetniner at The Daily Kos posted this response to Palin today. To help boost its visibility (in my little, 100-hits-or-so-a-day way, I'm reproducing it here. Public-service announcement: Conservatives may want to navigate away now.

"Liberals" did not ignore the warning that Osama bin Laden planned a catastrophic attack on America -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not commit the greatest foreign policy blunder in American history, violating the sacred trust of the American people by taking us to war with a manufactured "threat" (WMD) that turned out to terribly, horribly, catastrophically wrong -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not take a hard-won surplus that could pay down our national debt and turn it into colossal deficit our grandchildren will be paying off for a hundred years -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not appointment an unqualified clown to be in charge of FEMA (a vital government agency designed to save the lives of our citizens) and then ignore a crisis that destroyed one of America’s great cities -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not squander America’s greatest asset -- the moral high ground our military assumed with its absolute rejection of torture tactics used by hated totalitarian regimes around the world -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not force injured veterans to convalesce in rat-infested VA hospitals, and refuse to honor these men with adequate care until the press shamed them into it -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not fritter away seven precious years we could have used developing alternate energy sources to free ourselves from the very people who attacked us on 9/11, and still want to destroy us. We are more dependent on these people than ever -- thanks to feckless Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives.

"Liberals" did not spend an entire year trying to talk the American people into spending 2 TRILLION dollars on a crazy scheme to privatize Social Security -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not ignore our current crisis, where 47 million Americans don’t have any kind of health care coverage -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not perpetuate one of the most heinous schemes in American history -- the crass, unprecedented politicization of the Justice Department into a wing of the far-right wing of the Republican Party, to be used to harass and indict Democrats and pit one half of the country against the other -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not champion the risky deregulation strategies that have caused millions of people to lose their greatest asset, their sacred piece of the American dream -- their homes. Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not preside over an economy that was tweaked to further enrich the top 1/10 of 1% of the population, while the other 99.9% struggled with stagnant wages, mounting debt, and slow job growth -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

"Liberals" did not preside over a calamitous reign that has left a record 80% of the country feeling that we’re on the wrong track -- Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives did.

George W. Bush’s campaign plane in 2000 was called "Accountability One." It’s time for Bush/Cheney/McCain conservatives to take some accountability for what they’ve done. Screaming "liberal" doesn’t make liberals responsible for the wreckage.

Acknowledgment ...

Almost a year ago, my friend Jeff Zaslow attended a lecture at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon.

The lecture was given by Dr. Randy Pausch. Jeff was there to write about it for the Wall Street Journal.

You probably know the rest of the story: It was supposed to be a lecture for about 400. It's turned into a lecture for our time. Tens of millions of people have watched the lecture online. The publishing rights to The Last Lecture have been sold around the world. In this country, the book quickly went into multiple printings. Bookstores everywhere were sold out.

On the Acknowledgments page in the book, Randy wrote, "The full set of people I must thank will not fit on this page. Fortunately, web pages scroll ... ."

After the book's publication in April, Randy's health began to make more marked declines. He never finished his acknowledgments. He passed away on July 25, 2008.

But Jeff, Randy's co-author, and Jessica Hodgins, one of Randy's friends and colleagues, had had many conversations with him about who he'd like to thank, and together they wrote Randy's acknowledgments which are now posted here. Jeff's acknowledgments follow Randy's.

I'm very touched to be included.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Coffee-Cup Philosophy ...

I was just rinsing out my Starbucks cup before putting the lid and the sleeve in the recycle bin and the cup in the trash when I spied the words "Keith Olbermann."

I love Keith Olbermann on TV. Smart, handsome, resonant voice. And, of course, it helps that we share the same views.

But here on my Starbucks cup is "The Way I See It #17," by Keith. It says:

"The world bursts at the seams with people ready to tell you you're not good enough. On occasion, some may be correct. But do not do their work for them. Seek any job; ask anyone out; pursue any goal. Don't take it personally when they say 'no' – they may not be smart enough to say 'yes.' "

"They may not be smart enough to say 'yes.' "

I never thought of it that way before. Suddenly, the word "no" seems much less scary.

Hey, Paula ...

From the time I was wee, I loved being in the kitchen.

I have clear memories of standing on a chair by the sink, pouring water between pieces of Tupperware (and no doubt on the floor, too). I'm sure my efforts were good for developing hand-eye coordination or something, but I just liked playing with water in the sink. And I liked being in the kitchen with my mom.

Eventually, I graduated to "real" food-preparation tasks, like tearing lettuce for salad.

I learned how to bake bread when I was 8. (Once you know how to make bread, you can tackle pretty much anything in a kitchen. People are fascinated by those who can bake bread, like we're all descendants of Midas. But there's no magic in bread baking. So long as you don't kill the yeast, bread is pretty hard to screw up.)

I grew up in a time when assumptions about food were beginning to be challenged. We ate margarine, not butter, because butter was a one-way ticket to the great hereafter. Of course, now margarine is Satan in a stick and butter is once again welcomed into the fold.

Ditto eggs.

But by and large, the tumultuous sea of what's good and what's bad seems to have calmed. There are still plenty of questions about what's best, diet-wise, but people seem to be getting a better grip on what they cram in their maws.

I, like a lot of folks, watch cooking shows as entertainment. Not that I ever make most of what's prepared on TV. But the one TV chef who is now completely off my radar is Paula Deen.

Sure, she's cute as a button and I love her drawl, y'all, but the woman ain't no friend to wellness.

I once cracked that Paula's cooking philosophy could be summed up thusly: "Mix a pound of butter and a pound of cream cheese and put it on a cracker."

Now, of course, we're all responsible for our own diets. Yes, macaroni and cheese just tastes good, dammit. We like chocolate cake. Bacon really does make everything better.

But our country is gripped by an obesity epidemic and our children are the first generation who might have a shorter life span than us.

So doesn't it behoove us to teach our children healthy habits from the get-go?

Paula is publishing a new cookbook for kids. In her interview in Ladies' Home Journal, interviewer Judith Newman posed this to Paula: "You've been criticized for the fat content in your food – and as you know, there's a childhood obesity epidemic in this country. Did you modify your recipes for children to have less fat in them?"

Paula's response: "No. Listen, I am your cook, not your doctor. Don't make me responsible. I share recipes with you, but then it's up to you. You know your body, and you know if you're genetically inclined to have diabetes or high cholesterol. My grandmother cooked and ate the kind of food I make every day, and she lived to be 91. Some people are genetically blessed."

I'd wager that Paula's grandmother probably didn't sit at a computer all day or behind the wheel of an SUV toting her kids around town. Paula's grandmother probably moved all day long, keeping a household running in an era that didn't know all the conveniences we have today.

So, sorry, Paula, yes, I think you are responsible, just the way young women in Hollywood are responsible for being role models whether they want to be or not.

And it's not responsible to teach kids to cook Sausage Quiche that calls for:

1 lb mild sausage
1 8-inch frozen deep-dish piecrust, in aluminum pie plate
2 cups (8 oz) grated sharp Cheddar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half

This recipe makes 8 servings. Here are the nutritionals:

Per serving: 455 calories, 36.5 g total fat, 15.5 g sat fat, 683 mg sodium, 10 g carbs, 270 mg calcium, 166 mg chol, 20 g protein, 0 fiber

Now consider that some people (adults, most likely, but still) will have more than one serving. And they'll be eating other things with it, like toast, maybe? With butter? And jam? And a glass of juice? Or milk? Or both? Coffee with cream and sugar? Suddenly, one meal adds up to an awful lot of calories.

The more I learn about food and how it affects us biochemically, the more I understand that fat is not the ultimate villain. Carbohydrates, especially refined sugars, are what wreak true havoc in our bodies.

I've become quite a devotee of Mark's Daily Apple, which is chock-full of information about diet and exercise written in fun and interesting ways. Basically, he advocates eating the diet of our very early ancestors.

As in cavemen, not pilgrims.

I've tried it, and I have to say, my body responds really well to eating that way: lean protein, vegetables, some fruits, some nuts, etc. And if I do eat simple sugar now, whew, baby, I crash. Hard.

So, as I was saying, fat isn't the awful bastard it was made out to be in the '90s – remember when "fat free" was all we looked for on labels? "Hey, I can eat all the candy corn I want! It's fat free!" – but the kinds of fat we consume still matter. Olive oil? Good. Raw nuts? Good. Avocados? You betcha.

Paula's sausage, egg, cheese, and half-and-half quiche? Not so much.

Then again, it could be worse.

She could have suggested topping it with a decorative lattice of bacon. Because bacon makes everything better.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Wine: What I Like ...


I don't know a lot about wine. I know something about wine, but compared to some of my friends, I know next to nothing about wine.

But a little over a week ago, I had lunch with some friends and the recommended wine to go with my Kansas City strip steak (served on a plate napped with goat-cheese sauce – HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!) was Avalon Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon.

I'd never heard of Avalon, but it was a perfect day and I welcomed a glass of cab. I've become quite a fan of cab. Not that I was never anti-cab, but lately cab and I have been getting closer while my friendship with red zinfandel is somewhat strained.

May I just say that it was one of the most delightful glasses of wine I've ever had the pleasure of drinking? I may? Thank you: It was one of the most delightful glasses of wine I've ever had the pleasure of drinking.

Some cabs can be very in-your-face. Most wouldn't think of a cab as part of an al fresco meal. When I think cab, I tend to think of fall and winter and hearty foods, but this cab, this cab is my new best friend.

And it's cheap, about $15.

The Wine Curmudgeon concurs with my assessment, saying, "... it's ... one of the best values in the wine world ... ."

How do you like them grapes?

Don't know yet? Trust me, you'll like 'em.

'Respiro' ...

Well, call me an uncultured loser (or don't, preferably), but I didn't like this movie. (Sorry, Mike.)

The DVD cover has the word "Cannes" on it, so I feel like I should have liked it. It stars Valeria Golino, who's so beautiful you can't help but watch her, whether or not you're straight or gay.

But what, exactly, was the point of the movie? Why were the dogs held in the fort? Other than to provide a plot point later? Why were the kids pantsing each other? Was it some kind of small-Italian-island gang rivalry? "West Side Story" meets "Lord of the Flies"? So Grazia is bipolar? And?

There was just no plot. I like my movies with plot. When I watch a movie, I don't indulge in popcorn or Junior Mints, but I insist on plot. Yes, I'm just that demanding. And yes, I recognize that I referenced a plot point in the previous paragraph, but I use that term loosely.

Mike, feel free to enlighten me. What did you like about this movie?