Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Addition

Happy birthday to our smallest new friend, baby C.A.! Baby C. was born just a few days ago, and we are very much looking forward to meeting her. Congratulations also to her parents and her newly promoted Big Brother. Well done P!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kids Have a Dream

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, my class did a special assignment a few days ago. First, I showed them a copy of the "I have a dream" speech, and we discussed his meaning and perspective. Next, I asked kids to think about the issues that face people today (are they the same or different than in 1967?). Finally, I asked them to write their own speech discussing the issues that concern them the most. As usual, there were some great ones, lots of so-so examples, and a few stinkers. On the whole, however, I thought they did better than average on the assignment, and I was impressed by the depth of their thinking about these issues. Some things 7th graders are concerned about:

-Global Warming (this was the most discussed issue)
-Gas Prices (this is a big deal here in SUV land)
-Inflation (they didn't use the term, but that was the main idea)
-Good Vs. Evil (will evil just overcome good?)
-Weapons/gun violence (guns are bad was the idea in all of these)
-International Co-operation (again, they didn't know the term, but they knew what they meant)
-Domestic Violence

Proof once again that not all kids are as shallow as some people would make them out to be. Granted, their proposed solutions to these issues were sometimes quite goofy (the government should just give everyone money and then no on would be poor) but at least they are thinking about things that need change.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Snow Day!

There was nothing on the ground when we went to bed last night, but when I woke up at 2am the snow was already falling. By 5am there was a nice frosty blanket on the yard and the driveway. I checked the school news website, and sure enough, we were closed for the day. The call came just a few minutes later. I was surprised to see that it was not just us closed, but also several other surrounding districts. I rolled over in my cozy blankets and went back to sleep.

After waking at a leisurely 8am, I spent my day in the following pursuits: baking bread, going for a walk, reading my book, tidying the house, and playing video games. Oh what a life! Tonight there is supposed to be another round of snow, so I may get that day off too. Of course we will have to "pay back" these days in June, but right now I don't really care. Snow! Snow! Snow!

Thursday, January 24, 2008


A few days ago I went for the first fitting on my wedding dress. There I was, standing on the little dais, with pins under my arms, pins at my bust, pins around the waist, pins on my bum, and pins at my ankles. It was wonderful to see how it will look once it's finished, and it was fun to chat with the seamstress, my mom, and my friend C who were kind enough to keep me company. Nevertheless, it was also a painful experience. First, because I kept forgetting about the pins, moving around, and scratching myself. Second, and much more painfully, because of the price at the end.

It is true that I got a great deal on that dress, but the cost of alterations has brought be nearly back to the original MSR. My mom has pointed out on several occasions that a significantly customized dress for that price is quite something, but I can't help smarting at least a little. Nevertheless (again) it really is going to be beautiful when it's finished. I want very much to describe the original dress and the alterations for the fashion/sewing inclined reader, but of course M would then have details he shouldn't. Suffice it to say that it is a classic type of dress, and soon it will suit just me in a dozen different ways. Also, the green polka dots and orange lace really compliment my complexion ;)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

At school we have a lunchtime girls group led by our fair councilors. It is a safe place for girls to come together and discuss the issues that can make life so tough in middle school. The councilor leads the discussion, but the topic is allowed to migrate as the girls choose. Recent topics have included body image, social pressures to look, think, act in a certain way, the joy and suffering of friendships, etc. At a recent meeting, the group discussed societal expectations of women, and someone brought up the idea of "sugar and spice and everything nice." One particularly wise girl observed "that's what cookies are made of!" The discussion that followed was nothing short of wonderful. It warmed my feminist heart, and it reminded me that not all kids are caught up in being vapid and silly. There is hope for the future.

Friday, January 18, 2008


A few weeks ago, M and I met with a wedding officiant I found on the internet. I wasn't too sure about going with someone who did not come with a reference, but I was having trouble finding someone available on our date. We met with him at a Starbucks, answered many questions about ourselves and our wedding, and then agreed that we would send him a deposit if we decided to go with him.

M was really not sure. We both liked the guy, but we had no way of knowing if he was good or not. M wanted to interview a few more to make sure we chose the right person. He started asking friends of ours for recommendations, and one of them actually had a suggestion. She'd been to a family wedding the summer before, and remembered the ceremony as being particularly good. She consulted with the bride, and sent us a name. It was the same guy we'd met with the week before. We've decide to go with him because now we have a recommendation, and besides, it was obviously meant to be ;)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Resolution Follow Up

Now that we are more than two weeks into the new year, I think it is time for a resolution follow-up. One of the reasons so many people fail to keep their resolutions is because they simply forget about them. I have a copy on the refrigerator, and I'm keeping track here. Let's hope something works:

1. Get married--- I can't say I've actually done this yet, but we are making good progress

2. Exercise for at least 30 minutes--- I've been keeping up with the three times a week, but I haven't yet managed to go for five. Most gym visits are an hour long.

3. Say something friendly to someone who is not already a friend--- I've been doing this regularly.

4. Try a new recipe--- I did try a new recipe last week (a new kind of lentil soup) but I haven't done it since. I've been doing very well on making lunch instead of eating frozen.

5. Read a non-fiction book on a new topic--- Three down and three to go.

6. Take dance lessons--- We have not yet done this, but I did get info from our friend M.

7. Tackle "thorny" (i.e. organize closets, sort papers, ironing) house chores--- I'm, urm, still working on this one :P

8. Think carefully before responding at work (seconds in conversation, a few hours via email) --- So far so good.

9. Rest on laurels less at work. One-on-one with each kid in Basic Block--- Done

10. At work, if it doesn't NEED saying, don't say it--- I've been doing very well with this one, but then, I haven't really been tested yet.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Slip Sliding Away

The drive to work yesterday, even with a delayed start, was nothing short of exciting. The snow that fell over night turned to ice, and all the cars on the road were moving as gingerly as possible. Well, all the sane people were being careful, but there are always a few yahoos who think the laws of physics do not apply to them.

As I slowly crawled my way down one hill, an Explorer-type vehicle decided to test out this theory. The driver was at a stop coming from a side road, and decided just to punch it when he saw an opportunity in the line of cars. He made it across the first lane, but when he went to turn, the car hit ice, fishtailed wildly, hopped the curb, and came to rest on the sidewalk. Meanwhile, everyone else tried not to skid behind him. Eventually, the slow crawl of traffic continued leaving Mr. Bozo to sort himself out.

This was the first test of my new snow tires. How anyone who had ever driven studs could say that snow tires are just as good is completely beyond me. Studs are orders of magnitude better on both ice and snow. This is not to say that I'm disappointed with my snow tires. They are much better than three season, or (god forbid) summer slicks. On snow they are really quite reasonable as long as you remember that conditions are not normal and drive accordingly. On ice, though, they are a crutch and nothing more. Why don't I have studs? Because they tear up the road and are, therefore, not socially responsible. That doesn't stop me from missing them on days like this.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Hampshire 2008

Okay, so I am a little late on this one. It's been a busy week. Nevertheless, the results from the New Hampshire presidential primary were both interesting and exciting. Analysts had actually started calling for Hillary Clinton's advisors to start looking for new jobs. Polls implied that Barack Obama would carry the state just like he did Iowa, but somehow this was not the case at all when it actually came time to vote. There has been much speculation about the reason or reasons for this upset. Everything from the power of Clinton's "machine" to her teary-eyed confession that campaigning is tough to the froggy condition of Obama's voice have been put forward as a cause for the change. In the end, it's impossible to say for sure.

I find that I am finally starting to lean towards one candidate instead of the other. I'm still deeply concerned about the electibility of both, but given that they are our choices, I have to make up my mind somehow. Here is my thinking so far. Everybody keeps going on about the Democratic contest being one of experience versus change. That seems accurate to me since she is a true D.C. insider while he is not even a one term senator. He looks good, he speaks very well, and I have no doubt that he is quite intelligent. However, he has very little government experience on the federal level. Now some people see this as a great asset, but I am not so sure.

It seems to me that we are currently in rather a large mess. I know many people would say that this is eternally the case, but I really do thing that we're even more in the drink than usual. I would like to elect someone who is capable of cleaning up successfully (please no jokes here about how women are good at cleaning). In this case, experience is a good thing. I want someone who will recover our international reputation, pay real attention to environmental concerns, and KILL KILL KILL the No Child Left Behind Act. Having watched or read several of the debates, I feel far more confident about Hillary Clinton's ability to deliver on these and many other issues. Besides, think of who her main advisor is likely to be! I like Obama, and I think he may make a great candidate, but he's just not there yet. Vote Clinton in 2008.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Snowdrops are blooming next to our front door! This is proof positive that spring is out there somewhere. First come the snowdrops, then the crocus and primroses, then daffodils, tulips, irises, and finally all the more sensitive flowers begin to return. This makes me especially happy because I just finished cutting the last late roses off as I pruned the rosebush. Even in this northerly place, a person doesn't have to go more than a few weeks without at least a few flowers.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Seattle Wedding Show P.S.

Forgot to mention that, through a quirk of scheduling, the nieces went with us to the wedding show. They were only there for a little while, but it was quite amusing to watch them take it all in. I really thought that Small Niece would love it (miles of lace and fancy things! Yay!) but that Big niece might be quite horrified (miles of lace and fancy things! Ugh!). What I did not anticipate was the effect of cake.

It seemed like there were cake booths every ten feet. If you are a cute little girl who knows how to smile sweetly, it turns out that lots of people will offer you samples of said cake. I think they got to try four or five different samples in about ten minutes. Unfortunately, they were absolutely worthless as cake testers. Every time I asked what they thought they just smiled their cakey smiles, and exclaimed over how yummy it all was. It's a good thing Dad arrived before they'd gotten any farther, or they might have eaten themselves sick. One of the great joys in life is in getting your sibling's kid all hyped up on sugar and then handing them back.

Banned Books

When I was very young, I can vividly remember the Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax, being banned from my school library. Why would Seuss be such a problem? Because I lived in rural Oregon in the early 1980s when the logging industry was in the process of going under. Many logging families (probably half my class) believed they were losing their jobs due to bleeding heart liberal policies about forests (um hello, who was president then?). Thus the challenge, and eventual ban, on the scandalous ecological message of The Lorax.

Time and place have such a huge impact over what is deemed "immoral" and what is not. The part that amazes me is the perceived need for the ban. The logic seems to be "I don't approve of this book, but rather than just keep my kid from reading it, I need to keep it from ALL kids!" Great, then we have a culture based on the lowest common denominator. I'll just get out my Dick and Jane readers then shall I? That's sure to swell hearts and inspire minds.

As a teacher, I do try to avoid using classroom materials that might be considered offensive (it's not easy, and I don't always succeed), but to take books out of libraries just because a few parents don't like them?! It makes me cringe. Take a look at the top 100 most challenged books (arranged by the number of official challenges) of the 21st century, and you'll cringe too:

1 Harry Potter J.K. Rowling
2 Alice series Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3 The Chocolate War Robert Cormier
4 Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck
5 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou
6 Scary Stories Alvin Schwartz
7 Fallen Angels Walter Dean Myers
8 It’s Perfectly Normal Robie Harris
9 And Tango Makes Three Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
10 Captain Underpants Dav Pilkey
11 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
12 The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison
13 Forever Judy Blume
14 The Color Purple Alice Walker
15 The Perks of Being A Wallflower Stephen Chbosky
16 Killing Mr. Griffin Lois Duncan
17 Go Ask Alice Anonymous
18 King and King Linda de Haan
19 Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger
20 Bridge to Terabithia Katherine Paterson
21 The Giver Lois Lowry
22 We All Fall Down Robert Cormier
23 To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee`
24 Beloved Toni Morrison
25 The Face on the Milk Carton Caroline Cooney
26 Snow Falling on Cedars David Guterson
27 My Brother Sam Is Dead James Lincoln Collier
28 In the Night Kitchen Maurice Sendak
29 His Dark Materials series Philip Pullman
30 Gossip Girl series Cecily von Ziegesar
31 What My Mother Doesn’t Know Sonya Sones
32 Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging Louise Rennison
33 It’s So Amazing Robie Harris
34 Arming America Michael Bellasiles
35 Kaffir Boy Mark Mathabane
36 Blubber Judy Blume
37 Brave New World Aldous Huxley
38 Athletic Shorts Chris Crutcher
39 Bless Me, Ultima Rudolfo Anaya
40 Life is Funny E.R. Frank
41 Daughters of Eve Lois Duncan
42 Crazy Lady Jane Leslie Conly
43 The Great Gilly Hopkins Katherine Paterson
44 You Hear Me Betsy Franco
45 Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut
46 Whale Talk Chris Crutcher
47 The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby Dav Pilkey
48 The Facts Speak for Themselves Brock Cole
49 The Terrorist Caroline Cooney
50 Mick Harte Was Here Barbara Park
51 Summer of My German Soldier Bette Green
52 The Upstairs Room Johanna Reiss
53 When Dad Killed Mom Julius Lester
54 Blood and Chocolate Annette Curtis Klause
55 The Fighting Ground Avi
56 The Things They Carried Tim O'Brien
57 Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Mildred Taylor
58 Fat Kid Rules the World K.L. Going
59 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things Carolyn Mackler
60 A Time To Kill John Grisham
61 Rainbow Boys Alex Sanchez
62 Olive’s Ocean Kevin Henkes
63 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Ken Kesey
64 A Day No Pigs Would Die Robert Newton Peck
65 Speak Laurie Halse Anderson
66 Always Running Luis Rodriguez
67 Black Boy Richard Wright
68 Julie of the Wolves Jean Craighead George
69 Deal With It! Esther Drill
70 Detour for Emmy Marilyn Reynolds
71 Draw Me A Star Eric Carle
72 Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
73 Harris and Me Gary Paulsen
74 Junie B. Jones series Barbara Park
75 So Far From the Bamboo Grove Yoko Watkins
76 Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
77 Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes Chris Crutcher
78 What’s Happening to My Body Book Lynda Madaras
79 The Boy Who Lost His Face Louis Sachar
80 The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold
81 Anastasia Again! Lois Lowry
82 Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Judy Blume
83 Bumps In the Night Harry Allard
84 Goosebumps series R.L. Stine
85 Shade’s Children Garth Nix
86 Cut Patricia McCormick
87 Grendel John Gardner
88 The House of Spirits Isabel Allende
89 I Saw Esau Iona Opte
90 Ironman Chris Crutcher
91 The Stupids series Harry Allard
92 Taming the Star Runner S.E. Hinton
93 Then Again, Maybe I Won’t Judy Blume
94 Tiger Eyes Judy Blume
95 Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel
96 Nathan’s Run John Gilstrap
97 Pinkerton, Behave! Steven Kellog
98 Freaky Friday Mary Rodgers
99 Halloween ABC Eve Merriam
100 Heather Has Two Mommies Leslea Newman

Monday, January 07, 2008

Seattle Wedding Show

In the words of an old musical: oh what a vision, oh what a show. People really have gone to town for weddings. When we arrived on Saturday morning, the convention center was already packed with avid wedding fanatics. There were booths for any and every wedding need you can imagine plus all sorts of services you probably never even considered. Each of these booths is there with the sole purpose of convincing you that you MUST HAVE what they offer. Examples include chair sashes, flower preservation services, rental fish (yes, live fish to make your tables look nice), and even a fully equipped party RV.

Mostly we just goggled at all the silliness and dodged the crowds. However, there were one or two areas where we made some progress. First, I think perhaps we may have found a florist. While I do not see the need for decorative fish or chair sashes, I am excited about having lots of flowers at both the ceremony and reception (I'm sort of a flower fanatic in real life too). The one booth caught my eye because of the unusual use of green blackberries in a green and white bouquet. The reasonable prices the lady quoted didn't hurt either, so I think we may talk to her about doing our flowers.

We spoke to several photographers as we wandered around. One common practice that surprised and horrified us was that of the photographer keeping the copyright to all photos. This means that they keep all the pics, and you get to choose a certain number to be made into prints. If you want more of your photos than the fixed number, you have to pay extra. With some of these people you cannot even make copies of your own photos! Add to that albums that cost $1500-$2000 for a single book! We were not impressed. Fortunately, there are a few photographers out there who differentiate themselves by avoiding these tactics. All we want is a talented person to come and take digital photos, and then hand us the CD. Is that so much to ask? Hopefully not.

The biggest coup of the day came in the ring department. We have looked at approximately eight thousand men's and women's wedding rings. M had seen several he liked but didn't love, and I had even less luck. At the show we happened across one lucky booth. They had the perfect ring for him. I cannot explain what made it perfect, but it just seemed to suit him. I put down a deposit, and we even got a discount for buying it at the show. Then, while we were waiting for them to fill out the paper work, my mom encouraged me to keep trying women's rings. I wasn't too optimistic because I hadn't seen anything promising while glancing through the case. The old saying "listen to your mother" has to be true because I did end up finding a very good prospect for my wedding ring. Both of our rings are quite simple even to the point of being plain, but I think they suit our personalities very well. I got more than a little thrill seeing M try on his.

As we left the show I felt torn. On the one hand, this was a perfect example of consumerism gone completely bonkers. People were there to shell out thousands of dollars for things they don't really need and from which they will derive no real benefit. On the other hand, I couldn't help but enjoy myself. There is something very satisfying about being there with M and my mom inspecting cakes and flowers. Who knows why. Nevertheless, I still do not feel any need to pay for rental fish.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Car Buying for M Part 1: Luxury Cars Disappoint

Not long ago, M decided that it was time for a new car. His old one has done good service lo' these many years, but it needed expensive repairs, so he decided it was time for something new. Well, not new exactly, but new to us. I'm delighted that M concurs with my belief that a brand new car is rarely worth the premium price. By some estimates, a brand new car loses 20% of its value by driving off the lot. In short, that "new car smell" comes at quite a price. But I digress.

M decided to get a new car, but he wanted one that still had the practicality and AWD of his old Subaru. The question was, should he just buy another Subaru, or would it be more interesting to trade to something different? SUV's were right out from the beginning (need I explain?). Audi, Toyota, Volvo, Volkswagen, Infiniti, Saab, and several others have cars that met his criteria, but when we did a Consumer Reports search, some of these makes went out the proverbial window too. It seems that many cars aiming for the luxury AWD market do not fair so well on reliability ratings. With the options somewhat narrowed down, we moved on to my favorite part: the test drive.

The Subaru Impreza STI came first. Heading out, this is the car I thought M would probably buy, but he surprised me. The car is fast and sporty, it corners well, and it has AWD, but it had a turbo lag that wasn't much fun, and it had the curse of all Subaru’s: very poor leg room both front and back (there's also the clutch issue in my mind, but M doesn't seem bothered by that). Thus we walked away from the STI without buying.

Next came the Infiniti G30. Do you remember those Infiniti commercials with Jonathan Price? You know, the ones that are supposed to make you think of Infiniti's as suave and elegant and the epitome of controlled power? Yeah, not so much as it turns out. I really expected something special given the price and the hype, but the best thing I can say for this car is that it sounds really cool when you first turn it on (with a silly push button instead of a key). That throaty purr is not enough to make up for the fact that driving this car is no fun at all. Smooth and powerful sure, but also strangely heavy and unresponsive. I've also come to the conclusion that a tiptronic (at least the ones we drove) is just a fancy/smart automatic, and it takes all the fun out of acceleration. I'll stick with a real manual (at least in cars that are meant to be sporty) thank you.

We declined to drive the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 (which was stupid because it would have been fun to try once) because who wants to look that silly, and it didn't meet M's criteria. We did not drive the BMW's, Volvos, Mercedes, Lexus, the RX-8 (sob!), the canary yellow Thunderbird or many of the other impractical or unreliable cars they had on that lot (I think maybe gas prices and the economy are helping people shed some of their sillier cars?) In fact, by the end of that day, the only real contender on the list was a Subaru Forester XT in a most unlovely shade of brown. We went home without a new car.

On another weekend, we set out again, and this time we headed over to an Audi dealer. I expected this dealership to be a funny place due to the level of snoots often put on by fancy car dealers. However, a very nice, low-pressure sales staff brought out an A4 for us to try. The Audi was certainly better than the Infiniti, but both cars lack the feedback that both M and I enjoy. The designers of these cars seem so focused on giving you a luxurious ride that they remove all "car" (feedback?) from the driving experience. I felt as though I could have been in an armchair watching a movie about driving. No thank you. I was all prepared to talk M down from buying such an expensive car, but I found it entirely unnecessary. Once again, we went home without a new car.

To be continued...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Iowa Primary Shake-Up

Well that was quite a night! M and I watched with great interest as the caucus results came in, and things did not end as anyone (I heard from) expected. Of course this is still very early days, but it was still pretty momentous. The fact that Barack Obama (whose name, liberal tendencies, and race would have counted him out in any previous era) was able to take the democratic nomination is amazing. Equally surprising was the fact that Hillary Clinton did not even make second. By one percentage point, she actually came in third BEHIND John Edwards. Just a few weeks ago, I heard one strategist count him out if this election, and call Hillary the sure thing for the Democratic nomination. Go figure.

On the Republican side of things there was also a major switch. Mitt Romney spent the most money and the most time in the state, but he lost by nine percentage points to former Arkansas governor, Mike (isn't my dimple endearing) Huckabee. I find this switch to be the most disturbing. While Mitt Romney is no picnic politically, at least his cards appear to be on the proverbial table. Huckabee, on the other hand, has convinced the national media that he is "a good guy" when, in fact, he is a slithering snake (or worse yet, a centipede with legs in every pie). All sorts of people from Arkansas are writing about how ridiculous it is to be painting Huckabee as a moral paragon. It seems that anyone and everyone in the state has a Huckabee horror story. Add his views on abortion, education, church and state, and gay marriage, and you have one very scary candidate indeed.

I just keep reminding myself that things can change very quickly. Look at Howard Dean in the last election. There are all sorts of places along the campaign route where the course can be altered. We couldn't possibly elect ANOTHER frightening conservative could we? Please no! Please no! Please no!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year 2008!

I hope the new year found each and every one of you warm and happy. Once again I trotted out the paper and pencil to make a list of new year's resolutions. Did I do last year's? Some of them. Do I have any more hope for this year? Who knows. However, I do think the process of reflecting on change is a good one. Also, this year I have decided to take a page from work and do more quantifiable goals. I'm hoping this will keep me a bit more honest. For good or ill, here's the list:

1. Get married--- once (hooray!)

2. Exercise for at least 30 minutes--- 3 times per week (or 5 would be great)

3. Say something friendly to someone who is not already a friend--- once per day

4. Try a new recipe--- once per week, and cook my own lunch (vs. frozen, canned, or otherwise prepared)--- twice per week

5. Read a non-fiction book on a new topic--- six times (or better yet, twelve) per year

6. Take dance lessons--- four to six per year

7. Tackle "thorny" (i.e. organize closets, sort papers, ironing) house chores--- once per week

8. Think carefully before responding at work (seconds in conversation, a few hours via email)

9. Rest on laurels less at work. One-on-one with each kid in Basic Block--- once per week

10. At work, if it doesn't NEED saying, don't say it--- always (this may be a good one for home too :P)