A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Quiet Christmas Morn

May you have a peaceful and happy Christmas morn!  I am setting this to post right as we get to call my missionary brother :)

Merry Christmas!

"On a Quiet Christmas Morn" by Mary Chapin Carpenter

Monday, December 24, 2012

What it Means to Me

Thought this was a good upbeat Christmas song for Christmas Eve.

"What Christmas Means to Me" by Stevie Wonder

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Love Really Is...All Around

This one's not a song, but I liked it nonetheless.  While Christmas is a time that amplifies joy, it can also amplify sorrow.  People who feel alone, friendless, or unloved can have those feelings exacerbated by a season that emphasizes togetherness with loved family and friends.  That's why I think an important part of Christmas is making "room in your inn" for whoever is struggling or feels alone.  It's important to let them know that they are not alone, that they are loved and cared for.  As a wise man once said "it is usually through another person that God answers our prayers."  I believe that.  I also believe, as the movie "Love Actually" states, that "Love Really is...All Around."  We just have to look for it.

As this is Christmas Eve Eve (or, as my brother might say, the penultimate day before Christmas), you get two videos.  One is a Mormon Message about feeling God's love on Christmas, and another is a Christmas song by Michael McLean, "Homeless."

"For in His love there is a home" - for everyone who feels alone, forgotten, or friendless at a joyous time.  I believe Christ truly is there for us, and we owe to him to be there for others.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Infant Holy

I really liked this Christmas hymn, which I think I heard for the first time this year at our Institute choir's Christmas concert.

"Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" by BYU Vocal Point

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Today was a long day.  I felt like posting "One Day More" because I have only one more day of work between me and my Christmas vacation.  However, Les Miserables is not technically a Christmas album.

I need a Christmas lullaby to sing me to sleep, and this was perfect:

Christmas Lullaby - John Rutter & the Cambridge Singers

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Go Tell

When people are super excited about something we say that they want to "shout it from the rooftops."  This song reminds me of that expression.  I so grateful for the gift of Jesus.  I know I so often need His grace and His understanding.  Sometimes I feel like Going to Tell It on the Mountain!

"Go Tell it On the Mountain" by James Taylor

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012


I noticed while singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" today that it has a lot of exclamation marks.  Too many exclamation marks is one of my many grammar sins.  I love that it is a joyous EXCLAMATION of the angels singing to celebrate Jesus' birth.

Here's a version sung in St. Paul's Cathedral in London:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When is the Time?

A quote from West Wing has been running through my head yesterday and today.  Josh Lyman, a member of fake-President Bartlet's staff, is trying to negotiate with protesters who are trying to get the government to stop doing ammunition drills in an area of Puerto Rico.  He is arguing with another member of the President's staff who wants the protesters to suspend their protest temporarily.  In essence, this staffer's argument is: "Now is not the time" for protest.  

Josh replies: "When is the time to be protesting? Tell me. I’ll tell them. They’ll do it."

The senseless horror of Sandy Hook, Connecticut is still on everyone's minds. Some say that it's "not the time" to be talking about gun control. If now is not the time, then tell me when is, and I'll do it. We need to talk about a culture of violence in this country and see if there is anything we can do to prevent tragedies like this. I urge you to sign the petition to President Obama to immediately consider gun control legislation. The U.S. has some of the loosest laws in the world on possessing firearms, and it's time to reconsider that policy.

If you don't believe in gun control, what would you advocate to prevent horrors like the events of yesterday? We can't do nothing.

Sing, Mary, Sing

I hope you like this song - it's not one that I had ever heard before I stole Kathy Mattea's Christmas album from my dad.  I like its upbeat tone and joyous message.  I couldn't find it on YouTube, so here's just the song from Grooveshark.

"Sing Mary, Sing" by Kathy Mattea

Friday, December 14, 2012

Peace, Be Still

Words can't describe it.  The events today  in Connecticut are inexpressible horror.  Children who just yesterday were writing letters to Santa, playing with dolls, or riding their bike down the street are now dead in a senseless act of violence.  There is nothing I can say or do to ease the heartache of 28 families in a small town.  It's times like this when I need the "peace that passeth understanding" of the gospel that comes from Christ, who was able to say to the wind and the waves: "Peace, Be Still."  He cannot bring back those innocent Angels who perished today, but He is able to give us peace when we are surrounded by a world that is frightening in its horribleness, as it was today.  Take time to be "still, still, still" today.  Hug your loved ones!

"Still, Still, Still" by Mary Chapin Carpenter

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Because I just bought my Christmas tree tonight, of course I had to choose a song about it.

"O Christmas Tree" by Aretha Franklin

Sunday, December 9, 2012

O Holy Night

Tonight, it's just going to be Susan Boyle's version.  Have a good night, world!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Do You Hear the Bells?

I'm on kind of a Civil War kick today, so here's a Christmas song that was written during the Civil War.  I love the lines "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep/God is not dead, nor doth he sleep/The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/With Peace on Earth, Good will toward men."

"I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" by The Carpenters

Friday, December 7, 2012

All I Want For Christmas

Is a Hippopotamus.  Yep, I'm with Shirley Temple on this one.

This song just reminds me of how ridiculous Christmas can sometimes be.  I have been blessed with material things far, far, FAR more than I deserve, yet I'm expected to come up with a Christmas list of things I want? It seems an affront to people with far less than me that I should expect or want more.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rejoice, Rejoice

A bunch of my friends have been sharing this video on Facebook.  It's a beautiful version of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" by The Piano Guys, along with images of Christ's birth and life interspersed.  A good reminder of our reason to "rejoice, rejoice" as part of the song goes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


We have a "five families" Christmas party which involves five families from my parents' ward.  We've all known each other forever and it'd kind of what I imagine having a large, extended family Christmas party would be like (none of my extended family lived nearby growing up).  For the past couple of years, it has been a tradition to sing this at the Christmas Party:

Handel's Messiah - it gives me chills every time - so so so so so so so so so so so so so so SO awesome!  We are *almost* as good as MoTab.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Shout for Joy

This is in danger of becoming a Mormon Tabernacle Choir Fest.  Here's a beautiful Christmas Spiritual, sung by Odetta:

Shout for Joy!

Sunday, December 2, 2012


What's not to love about an Orchestra with "Siberia" in its name?  Here's a Rockin version of "Carol of the Bells" by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Joy, Joy to the World!

Tis the Season for Christmas Music!  Christmas music gives me much joy - I think I'm going to share some of my favorite Christmas songs this December.  Below is a Youtube video of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "Joy to the World."  I love it!  Anyone else have any ideas of good Christmas songs?  I like unusual versions and new songs, so feel free to suggest anything.

Friday, November 30, 2012


While it's been hard to find something to write about every day (especially something that I think others would find interesting), I've liked writing every day.  And, in a perfect bit of serendipity, this post is the end of NaBloPoMo and my 200th blog post (cue confetti!).  But why do I really like blogging?  Here are some possible reasons:

(1) Blogging is very different from what I do on a day-to-day basis.  It's a lot more creative and extemporaneous than writing work emails and memos.  Similar to baking, blogging is just a different skill set than tax accounting.

(2) It's a non-confrontational way to express myself.  I generally don't like to argue with people, so blogging is a way to share my opinions, which are strongly felt, but I rarely share them in person because I don't want to offend others. This may be the reason that one of my clients thinks I'm a Republican (I've never contradicted her, which just shows how spineless I am).

(3) Writing gives me a chance to think about why I believe what I do.  By writing out my ideas and thoughts, they seem to acquire more definitive contours and I'm able to consider an argument - how to structure it, how to appeal to people who may disagree with me.  Writing it all down hopefully makes my Liberalism at least a little bit more rational.  I much prefer writing to conversation (anti-social, I know - see #2 above).  Perhaps writing is the other side of my passion for reading.

(4) Blogging gives me the illusion of importance without bothering other people and blathering all day long. I have a secret fear that inside the quiet me there is the REALLY ANNOYING ME that won't ever shut up.  You know, the person at a party who thinks they are SO interesting when in fact all they want to talk about is how awesome they are (spoiler alert: they are not actually awesome).  You may be able to tell that I don't like people like that.  So, a blog is a way that the audience can be self selecting.  I won't have to intrude my opinions or thoughts where they are not wanted.  I'm pretty sure that the only regular reader of this blog is my brother, but that's okay.  This girl can still nourish the secret, laughable dream that someday someone somewhere will make a movie about my blog (could Meryl Streep be me?  Please?).

(5) Two words: punching bag.  Blogging is great stress relief - even if I don't really blog about the stuff that's bothering me (because, along with #4, I'm kind of paranoid about strangers learning my secrets - the internets is forever).

(6) Love of Routine, or maybe I'm OCD?  My daily routine is very structured and I like to do everything in a certain order.  So blogging every day becomes a part of the routine that is fun and non-accounting related (see #1).

So, this is the end!  Or, is it?  I may be blogging in December too...just for the sheer joy of it :)

This does not really relate to this post, but I have LOVED my calendar's picture for November.  Just makes you want to walk down that lane, doesn't it?

Cider, a warm sweater, and a cute dog are all this picture really needs.
Anyone want to vacation with me in Oregon to find this road?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Silly Goose

I really don't have the energy for a deep or meaningful post.  This has been a long, long week.  Instead, enjoy the coconut scene from Monthy Python and the Holy Grail:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I may have blogged, like, a few billion times about how much I love West Wing.  Aaron Sorkin is the screenwriter behind a lot of the greatest episodes.  I was reminded of this video below tonight, which combines the brilliant Sorkin's many riffs on himself.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Got a Pedestal?

Pedestal: Noun.  (1) the base or support upon which a statue, obelisk, or column is mounted. (2) A position in which one is greatly or uncritically admired.

So, this article happened this week.  If you weren't an angry feminist before reading it, you might be afterwards.  There have been some good responses (here and here for satire).  My response is simply that I don't want to be on a pedestal as something pretty to be looked at, and I don't want a man who thinks I belong on one.  I have not been raised to think of men as the enemy, but as equals.  There ain't nothing wrong with that.  Sitting at home knitting doilies is not going to attract the kind of men I would find interesting anyway.

The woman who wrote the original article seems to be thinking that life is a zero-sum game - if women gain something, men have lost something.  I refuse to believe that's true.  I think when both genders have equal rights, EVERYONE benefits, not just women.  Children of single mothers have a better shot in life if their mothers are paid equally with men (for just one example).

Perhaps the first definition of pedestal does have something that we all can look to as a goal.  I DO want to be a base of support - for others and for myself.  I want to be a strong, independent woman (and I feel like I need to be, as a Daughter of God) who can bear burdens and help others in her turn.  This doesn't mean I view men as the enemy to be cowed and defeated, but that I view them as Sons of God and co-equals.  When we view each other as having a spark of divinity, we are able to walk together into a better day.

Should we have debate about men and women?  Of course, it's fair game.  Are all men and women the same?  Absolutely not!  Is marriage an important goal?  Definitely.  But let's not use straw (wo)man arguments to tear down an angry feminist stereotype that doesn't exist.  Feminists don't hate all men, just the ones telling us to get back in the kitchen.  Below is one of my favorite feminist songs by Peggy Seeger:

I'll probably never be an engineer, but even if I'm never a mother, I can be a woman of faith, kindness, and courage in a world that needs all of these qualities - and I can seek to bring those characteristics into my career, whatever it is.  If men are intimidated by that, then good riddance.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Oh, yeah, blogging...

Sometimes a month of posts means a lame post.  This is one of those times.  Hopefully back tomorrow with a feminist post on pedastals and patriarchy!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Woody Sez

I went to a musical about the life of Woody Guthrie last night, it was great!  Here are some of the songs I really liked from the show:

Worried Man Blues by Woody Guthrie

Jackhammer Blues by Woody Guthrie

This Train is Bound for Glory by Lew Dite

And of course, This Land is Your Land (all the verses!)

Wish I had bought the soundtrack, but guess that means I'll be scouring iTunes and Amazon for good versions of all the songs.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


I just finished reading "Drive," a book by Daniel H. Pink about what motivates us.  He argues that we are motivated less by extrinsic rewards (carrots and sticks) and more by intrinsic rewards (the joy/learning of certain tasks).  Sadly, when I took Pink's online quiz to determine what motivates me, I lean more towards the extrinsic rewards end of the spectrum.  Is this a bad thing?  Maybe.  Or maybe it is simply a function of what industry I work in.  It's not like working as a tax accountant encourages creativity all the time ("creative accounting" is generally a pejorative term).

If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job.  The kind robots will be doing soon.
So very true.  Motivation is a lot more than a slogan or poster.

But I think what I took away from the book is that we can have two baseline assumptions about people: (1) we can either assume people are lazy bums who will not work unless we micromanage them (call this "The Older Sister" mindset) or (2) we can assume that people desire to work hard and enjoy the fruits of their labors.  This assumption about people changes how we treat them.

It's interesting that Mormonism combines these two views of people.  Mormons believe we can be motivated by what's called "carnal" desires or "the natural man" - the desire to be lazy, selfish, mean, and terrible.  Or we can be motivated by our "divine nature" to acquire the attributes of God - kindness, love, selflessness, and goodness.  I think what the book and Mormonism have in common is the belief that we can choose which assumption we tap into.  We can decide to view people as vile or virtuous.  But the truth is rarely "all-or-nothing" - sometimes I am motivated by carrots/sticks (i.e. I pay my credit card bill on time because I don't want to pay the late fee/interest) and sometimes I am motivated by a higher purpose (I volunteer because I want to help people).

This is expressed well, as always, by Shel Silverstein.  As the poet once said:
I asked the Zebra,
are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?
Are you noisy with quiet times?
Or are you quiet with noisy times?
Are you happy with some sad days?
Or are you sad with some happy days?
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?
And on and on and on and on and on and on he went.
I’ll never ask a zebra about stripes...again.

Are we good with bad parts or bad with good parts?  A little bit of both, I think.  What do you think motivates or drives you?

Now that I've finished the book I "have" to read, I'm going to spend the rest of the day reading Jane Austen fan-fiction.
jane austen
Jane Knows All

Friday, November 23, 2012

Circular Reference Warning

Previously I have blogged about my true love: Microsoft Excel.  Those of you who use MS Excel may have seen the "Circular Reference Warning" - it's an error when a cell in the spreadsheet is referencing itself in a formula.  It's the equivalent to "does not compute" for Excel.  Instead of writing a new blog post today, I'm going to reference some of my most-viewed and/or favorite blog posts of the past.  I realize this is heresy similar to quoting yourself in church, but nonetheless, here goes.

Here are the top 5 posts by view count:
Capitalism Is the Worst Economic System, Except For... (apparently I need to quote Winston Churchill more often?  This is the most-searched-for item that leads to my blog according to my statistical analysis.  However, this is also one of my favorite posts so I'm glad it's gotten a lot of views)
Jesus is Risen! (gets a lot of viewers from Russia, apparently)
Inaugural Blog Post (my first big, official post - ahh, the memories)
A Politico's Prayer (this was one of my favorite election-themed posts this year, so I'm glad it's popular)
Epic Book Report Saga Continues (don't know why this one of my book reports last year was so popular, but I like this post too)

Here are some of my favorite posts, in no particular order:
- I enjoyed doing a bunch of posts on Mitt Romney this year.
- Geometric shapes, religion, and politics
- New Year's Resolutions (more to come in 2013, most likely)
- My favorite Christmas-themed post
- Tax Nerd to the max!
- And this and this are probably my favorite political posts

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is set to post automatically, because I will be baking rolls and making sweet potatoes today.  I hope you are able to have a restful and enjoyable Thanksgiving.  Eat a little of everything, take a post-meal walk, and enjoy the company of friends and family!

I have probably shared this every Thanksgiving, but here you go anyway:

Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie

You're welcome.  If you want some more Thanksgiving soundtracks, click here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

True Story: My mom hates Mother's Day.  She dislikes it because she feels like it's an excuse to be nice to your mother once a year and then treat her like dirt the rest of the year (she had really terrible kids, apparently).  She may be the only mother who is like this, I don't know for sure.  However, today is her birthday, so I have to express my gratitude for her raising me.  She has her quirks, like hating Mother's Day. But she is so fun!  She is much more spontaneous than the accountant writing these words.  She got me in to my first concert for free (The Beach Boys, for the record.  Yeah, I was that cool as a 12-year old).  She even braved the freezing cold to go with us Obama's first inauguration in 2009!

She loves kids, and someday will be the best grandma ever - she will spoil them something awful.  She is also a great teacher who loves doing object lessons.  She has imbued all of us with a love of art (or at least an appreciation for it), and currently volunteers as a docent at the art gallery, giving tours to kids.  In short, I hope someday to be the kind of mom she is.  Mom likes to say that Mother's Day is 365 days a year, and I agree - Happy Mother's Day!  And Happy Birthday, Mom!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


My dad is kind of a combination of this guy, this guy, and this guy.  Because I've already blogged about how my gratitude for my brothers, and may have mentioned my mom is awesome, I felt like my dad deserved a post of his own.  He really exhibits the fruits of the spirit, especially gentleness.  He is very kind and patient.  He's is really quite a lovely man, and I'm really grateful he's my dad.  On a very snowy day, he is also kind enough to shovel out several feet of snow.

Would it sound too much like a personal ad if I say he has a great smile and a great laugh?  Because he does.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a great dad, and only four people have the best dad ever!

This is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but was funny enough to share:

It's true, I'll always be Daddy's Little Girl.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Susan and the Gals

Well, I'm almost ready to blog about politics again.  I think the election was a bit much - I got really stressed out about it, especially in the apocalyptic aftermath of the political commentary.

Every time I vote, I always think about the Feminists (some might say FemiNazis) who have moved this country forward.  They are responsible for giving me the right to vote, for blazing new career trails, for making more equitable laws, and so many other gains for the rights of women.
Fearless, indomitable - these are the adjectives I would apply to Feminists!
Feminism is a word freighted with all kinds of connotations in Mormon culture.  A Feminist can be viewed as someone who "hates men" or is a strident voice of discord in a society that values unity.  Several years ago, a woman made a comment in church that "Ugh, I'm not a Feminist."  Her tone made clear that Feminism was something dirty and terrible.  I'm not an instigator, and I have no backbone so I didn't respond.  But, of course, this comment hurt me - I don't think that my brand of feminism is everyone's cup of hot chocolate, but I do think that EVERY woman is a feminist (every man should be too, but that's another post).
Susan B. Anthony and Mormon Suffragettes
While driving someone to a far-away airport tonight, I got to hang out with a friend I haven't talked to in a while.  She and I are polar opposites on the political spectrum, yet we both self describe as Feminists.  Knowing this, I asked her to describe Feminism.  She described a very different thing than my Feminism, but there was still the common thread that unites all of Feminism - the belief that women are equal to men in every respect.

Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two of my heroes
Equality is the heart of Feminism!  As a Feminist once said, "Feminism is the radical idea that women are people too."  Oftentimes we forget how RADICAL Susan B. Anthony and the early suffragettes were.  Or how RADICAL it was to argue for women's education and employment.  Or how property laws used to designate women as chattel.  Feminism was a radical proposition when first introduced - almost laughable in its principles.  Yet a group of very dedicated women fought long and hard to change unfair divorce and child custody laws, to remove barriers to women in college, and to establish my right to vote.  Susan B. Anthony was even arrested for attempting to vote!  In America!

She was convicted, too!
These lovely ladies were awesome!  I am so grateful for them.  While I don't think we're perfect in our equality of opportunity yet, we have come a long way, so I'm thankful for Susan and the girls who worked so hard for the generations to follow.  We should be proud to take up their banner and advance the cause of women's rights into this 21st century.  Susan's motto for "The Revolution," her weekly suffragette newsletter was "Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less."

I'm also going to add the words to a rousing Mormon Suffragette hymn (someday I'm going to make the sisters sing this in church.  Also, why is there not a YouTube video of this?):

Freedom's Daughter rouse from slumber,
See the curtains are withdrawn,
Which so long thy mind has shrouded,
Lo! Thy day begins to dawn.

Woman, rise, thy penance o'er,
Sit thou in the dust no more,
Seize the scepter, hold the van,
Equal with thy brother, man.

Truth and virtue be thy motto,
Temp'rance, liberty, and peace.
Light shall shine and darkness vanish.
Love shall rein, oppression cease.


First the fall 'mid Eden's bowers,
Through long suff'ring worthy proved.
With the foremost claim thy pardon,
When earth's curse shall be removed.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

We Gather Together

My dad likes to say that one of the things he likes about Thanksgiving as a holiday is its lack of commercialism (I guess he's not including Black Friday).  Thanksgiving is a time where we get to sit back and consider our blessings.  We have been given so much.  "Given" is the right word, at least in my case, because I feel I have been blessed far more than I deserve.  I am thankful for so much, and I'm thankful for the chance to think about that gratitude on Thanksgiving.  There is power in gathering together and uniting in gratitude.  Perhaps it should remind us of those who do NOT have what we have, and makes us more disposed to be kind to and love them.

"We Gather Together" by Celtic Women (Random Pictures alert, but the song is pretty)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Bros

Growing up, I thought it was terribly tragic to have three (count 'em, THREE!) brothers.  I envied those friends of mine who had sisters.  When one of them was especially annoying, I would fantasize about trading them in for a sister.  Now that we are all older, however, I wouldn't trade any one of them in.  I love my brothers, and I'm thankful for each and every one.  (I've noted before that I'm terrible at keeping in touch with people, and this is true for my brothers too.  Maybe I should call them instead of writing a blog post about them...yeah...)
We made it through Hezekiah's tunnel together.
Biggins is a born lawyer - loves words, arguments, and logic (which is why he is part Mathematician, too).  He reads more about a more varied set of topics than anyone I know, and seems to hone in on every interesting article or video to be found on any corner of the internet.  He self-describes as a pedantic a-hole, but in reality is one of the most understanding of people I know.  When we got a new puppy while he was in middle school, he was the sweetest cuddler with her of all of us.  Breakfast cereal, Chicken Nuggets, and Pizza made up his diet well into his teenage years, but he has since broadened his horizons and even eats coleslaw now.  He cracks his knuckles, which drives my mom crazy.  In short, he is funny and smart and awesome.

K-meister is the next Bill Gates/Steve Jobs/computing supergenius of the world.  He is the Brain to my Pinky, and I'm convinced that he will someday take over the world.  He's a quiet one, and sadly is moving thousands of miles away from us, but we'll find a way to embarrass him yet.  K is a brave Democrat in the face of near-universal opposition at BYU-Idaho currently.  Soon, he will be taking over the computer engineering world of San Diego.  This will probably involve his current favorite pastime, smoking meat.  He will bring true Texas BBQ to the sunny shores of California.  His mission gave him a taste of places that are warm all the time, and I don't think he'll ever live near snow again.  Sometimes wacky taste in music, but lovable and loyal nonetheless.

Banjo is currently serving a mission in a beautiful European country with a romance language to wow the ladies when he returns in December.  Betting odds lean heavily in favor of him being the first of us to marry, despite being the youngest, as he was the only one to have a steady girlfriend during High School.  He LOVES! EXCLAMATION! MARKS!  His exuberance will be applied to who-knows-what major when he returns in glory to college in January.  During high school he loved to drive my mom's old van around full of his friends.  He was three when he joined swim team and is the only one of us with any musical talent on the piano.  Did I mention he is multi-talented?  In fourth grade, he wrote his future biography and stated that he would be President someday.  When he's President, Biggins will be chief counsel, K will prosecute the cyber war with [insert country here], and I will have the best job of all - Christmas tree lighter.

Have I convinced you to marry any of them yet?  I am still in the market for a sister or two or three to add to these great brothers.  Luckily, I now trust them to choose wisely.  I love you guys!

They look even cuter with beards ;)

Friday, November 16, 2012


Art can be artificial - a flat 2-D rendering that oversimplifies the complexities of life.  But art can also be a prism through which we step into the shoes of others.  It can help us understand the alienation of the 1920's when we look at Edward Hooper's Nighthawks:

We can practically touch the divine when we look up at Michelangelo's magnificent frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling:

We understand the horrors of the civil war through Matthew Brady's photography.

We experience the pure joy of a good day as Gene Kelly dances his way down a wet street:

Of course this is just what I feel, but I'm going to generalize and assume that you have all been touched by some work of art, whether music, poetry, dance, literature, theater, paintings, or sculpture.  We may take away different things from these artificial renderings of reality, but they can show us life's joys and pains in a unique and compelling way.

I remember reading somewhere that would have been literally impossible for Mary to hold Jesus the way she does in Michelangelo's Pieta.

Yet, it doesn't seem artificial to look at - when you stand in front of it you are drawn to her sorrow and it is almost palpable.  You are THERE, at the tomb, witnessing the horror and the sadness just as surely as Mary felt those things.  That the actual event did not look like this is almost certain, but the universal emotions it portrays resonate with us.  Maybe the Pieta doesn't move you - maybe for you it's movies, songs, great literature, or some other art form.  The creativity of others can be WONDROUS!  One of the things I love about art is that there is no "official" interpretation of something.  Sure, the artist can tell us his or her thoughts on what their creation means.  But truly great art has so much depth and loveliness to it that it captivates you, and brings you under its spell. You are able to learn things from it that the original artist may never even have imagined.

I'm grateful for art!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Counting My Lucky Stars

As I drove from St. George, Utah to Salt Lake City one October evening a couple years ago, I encountered a freak storm of sleet, rain, and icy snow.  The road from St. George to Salt Lake has some steep drops.  To make it more scary, I was completely unfamiliar with the road.  It was the only time in my recent memory that I literally feared for my life.  Luckily, I was able to get behind a truck and by following its tail lights closely, make it to a pull off.  I stopped at a covered gas station to wait out the worst of it.

That experience made me really, really grateful to be alive.  I realized that I really do want to live a long life!

Because Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I'm going to devote the next week of posts to things I'm thankful for.  This post is about gratitude for the gift of life!  This gift allows me to enjoy a lot of the other things I'm grateful for.  I'm grateful for the beauty of the earth that we live on - it has so many beautiful things that also have the gift of life.  So many times I have been inspired and uplifted by the beauties of nature.  In counting my blessings, I have to be grateful for my lucky stars that have allowed me many years on this beautiful planet!

For the Beauty of the Earth, sung by the Cambridge Singers (I think?)

Photo website with GORGEOUS pictures of earth's bounties: http://500px.com/

Photo of the day by National Geographic: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day/

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Re-Read

For some reason, I really love to re-read my favorite books rather than branching out and trying new ones.  Admittedly, this does mean that sometimes my favorite books get a little old.  I have probably read "Anne of Green Gables" at least ten times, and close to that for Pride and Prejudice.  There is something so comforting about sitting down with your favorite book or books.  I love re-reading Harry Potter, for example, because of all the fun quirky side stories and little beautiful details I forget about.  Re-reading a classic like Jane Eyre is fun because I love the writing and the story line is unconventional.
Girl Reading by a Waterfall by Maria Konstantinovna Bashkirtseva
The problem with re-reading, however, is that I miss out on so many other great books.  At the moment, I am in a "reading rut" and need some new material (having already re-read all of Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, and several other favorites within the past year).  So, dear reader, please suggest some reading material in the comments.  I need me some good reads!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Knock Knock

This is going to get a little old - posting every day.  So I thought I'd share some of my favorite jokes.  I freely admit that I am a horrible joke teller because I usually laugh at my own jokes.  So that's the benefit of doing this via blog - hopefully the jokes are better?  Actually, these jokes are probably terrible, but it's been a long day and I'm too tired to care.  Feel free to post any of your favorite jokes in the comments!

Note: I apologize to Blondes, as some of these are Blonde jokes.  I also apologize in advance for any jokes that offend you.  In no particular order, here are some the jokes and photos.

So one day, a liberal, a conservative, and a moderate walks into a bar.  "Hello, Mitt!" says the bartender.

Two blondes are hiking in the woods, and come across some tracks.  "These are deer tracks!" says the first blonde.  "No, no, these are moose tracks!" says the second.  "You're wrong!"  They were still arguing when the train hit them.


Two blondes are on opposite sides of a large river.  The first blonde calls out to the other blonde: "How do you get to the other side?"  The other blonde yells back: "You ARE on the other side!"

Bill and Hillary Clinton are driving down the road in Chicago and stop to get gas.  The gas station owner runs out and gives Hillary a big hug.  "Joe was my date to prom over forty years ago!" Hillary tells Bill.  Joe and Hillary have a pleasant conversation about old times and old friends.  As they drive away in the car, Bill turns to Hillary and says, "See?  Aren't you glad you married me?  If you had married him, all you'd be is the wife of a gas station owner!  I was President!"  Hillary replies: "If I had married HIM, HE would have been President!"

Two missionaries are tracting in the bible belt.  They knock on one door, and hear a warning from behind the  door: "Get off my property RIGHT NOW!"  Before the missionaries can back away, the owner comes out shooting - aiming straight at the Senior Companion's chest, who jumps in front of his Junior Companion.  The bullet hits him, knocking him down.  To everyone's amazement, the bullet is lodged in the Book of Mormon in the Elder's suit pocket, and he gets up.  He opens the Book of Mormon and says "Wow - I guess it's true, NOTHING really can get through Second Nephi!"  (Note: I told this joke in the first talk I ever gave in Church)

St. Peter is giving a tour of Heaven to some newcomers.  They all get on a tour bus.  St. Peter points out the Lutheran section, the Methodist Section, the Buddhist section, etc.  Then he tells them that they all have to be very very quiet as the pass the next section of Heaven.  They drive up to a hill overlooking this section, where they see a well-ordered neighborhood.  Getting back on the bus as St. Peter hushes them all, one of the newcomers asks, "What section was that?"  St. Peter replies, "Those are the Mormons, they don't know that anyone else is here."

Monday, November 12, 2012


If you live in a free country, thank a veteran.  While our society may glorify or idealize war, the reality is that "War is Hell."  The price of war is a terrible cost that is paid not in money but in blood and pain by our veterans.  Yesterday I was listening to a radio program about the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and so many other horrible things that veterans face (disturbingly, women face a high risk of sexual assault).  I'm generally a hippie peacenik when it comes to war, but I am still grateful for the men and women who serve in our military and protect me.  Yesterday was Veteran's Day, so in that spirit I'll share a few good songs about the cost of war.

Eric Bogle, The Green Fields of France

Liam Clancy, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Heart: The Cold Hard Truth

Cold-hearted, hard-hearted, "he has no heart" - all phrases we use for those who are cruel and unfeeling towards others.  I was thinking today of hearts and their condition.  During church, I thought of the verse that talks about stony hearts - couldn't remember where it was in the bible, turns out it is in Ezekiel 11:19:  "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh..."
A stony heart turning to flesh
As one of the speakers was talking about unity, I thought this was an appropriate verse.  On the rare occasions when I do good deeds, it's often with a "stony" heart - a heart that is begrudging of the time/money/talents it takes from me.  All too often, my prayer is that God will give me a heart of "flesh" - of empathy towards my fellowmen and women.  But if we are to be one - as a society, a church, a family, or whatever, then we must have compassion and kindness towards others.

Someone else shared today that she noticed that compassion has "compass" in it.  She talked about how one of the definitions of "compass" is "to extend or stretch around; hem in; surround; encircle" (that's Dictionary.com's definition, but that's basically what she was saying).  Compassion should be that kind of feeling, the kind that encircles those we love and serve in a warm embrace.

Henry B. Eyring said in a recent talk:
With all your differences in personal circumstances and past experiences, I can tell you something of what lies ahead for you. As you keep the faith, you will find yourself invited by the Lord often to serve someone in need when it will not seem convenient. It may appear to be an unpleasant and perhaps even impossible task. When the call comes, it may seem you are not needed or that someone else could easily give the succor.

My heart is so imperfect and stony sometimes, especially when doing good inconveniences me. My heart misjudges, condemns, and hardens far, far, far too often.  It's not like a soft heart is unalloyed joy, either.  Having a heart of flesh is risky - it opens you up to rejection, heartache, betrayal and other heart-pains.  The other side of it, however, is the lovely emotions of generosity, compassion, empathy, sympathy, kindness, and love - things we would never get to feel if our hearts were stony.

To start, I hope that I can at least have the desire to have a new spirit, a new heart of flesh. Desire is the first step towards that "change of heart" to use another heart-y phrase.  Politics and religion are both areas where it is easy to have a "stony" heart towards others and to misunderstand one another.  Let's have undivided hearts as a country and a people.  Utopian, I know.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I am...

Heard this song on the local bluegrass station and really liked it.  Patriotism knows no party.

"I am A Patriot" by the Burns Sisters

Sorry for the lame post today.

Friday, November 9, 2012


All I can say is: I survived this week.  When you think of survival songs, the most famous is this one, by Gloria Gaynor:

However, I also like this one from the soundtrack of the movie Holes (which is a fun movie and book, by the way - I recommend both):

Mostly, though, I need confidence to survive the future.  So that's when I whip out this classic from the Sound of Music:

Congratulations on making it to FRIDAY.  What songs do you listen to when you've made it through a tough day or week?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Mom = Awesome. Me = Not So Much.

Enough of the politics.  It's time for a little self-gradulation/flagellation.  This post could be titled like one of my favorite blog posts of all time.  That was from another NaBloPoMo blogger, Anna, entitled "In Which I am awesome, not awesome, but eventually awesome again" (Anna, if you are reading this, I hope you don't think I'm stalking you...I just love reading your blog 'cause it is hilarious and lovely.  Also, check out blogs from Austin and Anne, also doing NaBloPoMo this year.  Apparently your name has to start with an "A."  Also, I use "also" way too much.  And parentheses.).

In Which...I am Awesome
I had an awesome idea for my parents' 30th wedding anniversary.  I would make them a quilt, and have a bunch of their friends make squares.  Okay, it was going to be my mom's friends.  But still, I thought it would be heartwarming and they would enjoy it.  So, using my best Tom-Cruise-Mission-Impossible impression, I broke into my mom's email and stole the email addresses for a bunch of her friends and relatives.  I emailed them and asked if they would be willing to help.  And yes, I was so on top of it - I emailed them all about 2 1/2 months before my parents anniversary.  I bought a bunch of fabric (hid it in my car trunk, because I was still living with my parents) and mailed each quilter a bunch of fabric so they could make a square, along with instructions on size.

With one month til my parents anniversary, I had received many of the squares and I started planning the quilt.  Aided and abetted by my visiting teacher and her roommate, who let me sew at their house, I managed to sew together the quilt just in time for the actual day of their anniversary.  Here is a picture of the cutest couple in the world and their quilt.

The Lovebirds on their 30th Anniversary (ignore the date on the photo - completely wrong)
Pretty Epic, right?  Actually...

In Which...I am a Lazy Bum
The quilt may look good from afar, but it was actually pinned together (be wvery wvery careful opening presents from me).  The top layer was sown together, but the back and batting was pinned on.  Despite taking a secret day off of work to sew all day at my visiting teacher's house, I was unable to finish by the actual date of the anniversary.  Then, the quilt sat.  And sat.  And sat some more.  My mom would gently nudge me occasionally.  "Maybe we should set up the quilt?"  She would look at me quizzically.  Time passed.  I moved out of my parents house, went on international vacations, and never seemed to have time to finish what I've started.  Until...

In Which...My Mom is Awesome
Eventually my mom wised up to the fact that I am procrastinator extraordinaire, and set up the quilt on her quilting frame and just started.  Over the past two months, she hand-quilted a bunch of hearts onto the quilt, and with literally 5% help from me, finished the quilt that was an alleged "gift."  Today she told me that she had finished, and the quilt is finally hanging in my parents house.  My parents will shortly celebrate their 33rd anniversary.  Yep, three years.  Thanks, Mom, for being awesome, patient, and the BEST!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Day After

You might guess that my reaction to the news last night was...ENTHUSIASTIC!  Obviously, my guy won so it is easy to be happy today.  However, based on some of my friends' Facebook statuses, last night's reelection (!) of Barack Obama can best be described by this R.E.M. song:

Seriously, I had to exercise self-restraint to NOT comment on statuses that declared the end is near and we should be stocking up on canned goods.  Obama's reelection does not merit sackcloth, ashes, or discourses on how we are all going to Hades in a Handbasket.*  If the re-election of a president you disagree with is the end of your world, maybe you need to get some perspective.  Obama will not have unilateral power, and the Republican party still controls the House of Representatives and can filibuster the Senate ALL. DAY. LONG.  I may disagree with Governor Romney, but I don't think his election would have spelled disaster for all mankind.  Of course, you may point out that it easy for me to say this, because my party was victorious.  You are completely right, but hopefully I will remember this post the next time a Republican wins the White House.

As C.J. Cregg once had to remind President Barlett in the fictional world world of The West Wing, "In a democracy, often times other people win."  Now is the time where we should be sitting down as a country and saying, we are very divided - this was a close election.  People elected a Democratic President, a Republican House, and a Democratic Senate.  How can we make this work?  It's time to govern, and I hope both the Congressional Republicans and President Obama can make the tough choices that it's going to take to deal with the debt and all the other problems facing this country.  In that respect, I am hopeful - Speaker Boehner said he is open to "new revenues" to address the fiscal cliff.  I'm hoping the parties can reach a deal.

Besides the headliner, here's other election news I found exciting:
- Tammy Duckworth, a double amputee, was elected to the House of Representatives.
- New Hampshire has the first all-woman congressional delegation (two senators and two representatives!).
- Speaking of women, for the first time 20 (!!!!) of the U.S. Senators will be women.  That's one in five!
- Jim Matheson, a Democrat, held on to his seat in that reddest-of-red states, Utah.
- The Mormon Church put out a classy statement about the election.

The other big Facebook comment by Republican friends?  Already gearing up for 2016...sigh...

*Incidentally, Hades in a Handbasket would make a great band name.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Take A Bow

I don't know what songs are on your election day playlist, but I'm thinking of this song:

Take a Bow, America.  We have survived our first election with a Mormon presidential candidate as a serious contender.  With some minor exceptions, there have been no ugly anti-Mormon tirades and no sustained attacks on Mitt Romney because of his faith.  As a Mormon and political junkie, I just want to say: Thank You, America.  Thank you for respecting my beliefs enough to consider Mitt Romney just a normal American.  I know we're a bit unique (we like to refer to ourselves as a "peculiar people"), but thanks for respecting religious pluralism.

Well done.

Oh, and DON'T FORGET TO VOTE!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 5, 2012

You're Unique

Tomorrow is Election Day.  As the saying goes, it's the only poll that matters.  However, it is HIGHLY unlikely that MY vote actually counts.  Even though I live in a swing state, the margin of victory will likely be thousands of votes (whichever way my state goes tomorrow).  So why do we go to the polls when really, one vote doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things?  It seems irrational!

For example, the 538 Blog at the NY Times predicts the "Return on Investment Index" - which is the likelihood that one vote could impact the ultimate outcome of the Presidential election.  The top three are Nevada, Ohio, and New Hampshire.  I live in none of those states (and it's likely you don't either).  But I will still go to the polls along with millions of voters who live in states where the outcome is not in doubt (see: Utah).  There are probably a lot of reasons we go to the polls, but I'd like to focus on the "unique" factor.

We believe in America that one person can change the world, that one person can make a difference, that each American voice is unique and part of a great melting pot of cultural richness.  Each individual has a say in their own unique way.  I'm reminded, however, of a surly retort I used to throw at my mom as a sullen pre-teen.  She would say "remember you're unique" and I would reply "just like everyone else."  We are all unique and therefore we are all similar.  We are all Americans united in our love of country.  We argue fiercely about what America should be.  But isn't it wonderful that for the past 224 years Americans have gone to the polls and cast ballots?  This is our 57th Presidential election!  With the obviously vast exception of the civil war, Americans have settled arguments not through violence, but through a (relatively) peaceful democratic process.

We've become part of our democracy, and our vote is precious because it was fought for - in some cases in the American revolution, in some cases by the suffragettes or civil rights marchers, and in some cases it is granted through a citizenship test that we have waited and studied for over long years.  We vote because even though we know our individual vote won't make a difference, we know that the aggregate of all our votes does add up to something: a government  that is our own, that is "we the people."  Even if Obama doesn't win tomorrow, I will be proud to call America my country.  America has a long way to go towards perfection (don't we all!), but it's a beautiful land.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow.  Participate and let your voice be heard - all across this great land!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Love, Love, Love

The gospel I believe in is born of love.  Love of our Heavenly Parents.  Love of Christ.  Love from our friends and family.  Love for those we serve.  So, on this Sabbath Day I thought I would share a few verses from a hymn about Love.
O love that glorifies the Son,
O love that says, "Thy will be done!"
Pure love whose spirit makes us one-
Come fill my soul today, come fill my soul today.
O love, that overcomes defeat,
O love that turns the bitter sweet,
Pure love that makes our lives complete-
Come fill my soul today, come fill my soul today.
(Hymns, pg. 295)
The world needs a lot more of love.  I hope you feel loved, and are able to feel love for those around you.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


We all want to move our country "forward."  I really like the video below by President Obama's campaign.  However, if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, then I give you fair warning: this will probably drive you  nuts.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pros and Cons

In any election, you can vote: (1) affirmatively for somebody or (2) negatively against the other guy (or gal).  This is perhaps a more pronounced choice in American elections, where the only viable candidates are generally the Republican and Democrat.  Other countries have the luxury of minority parties or viable third parties, and while I'm sure it would be good in some ways to have those things, we're talking about things as they are.

I'm finding that my electoral choice on Tuesday is a combination of these "pro and con" reasons.  I'm definitely voting FOR Obama, as I like his policies and I think he's done a decent job over the last four years.  But, I'm also voting AGAINST Romney, because I literally don't have any idea what he stands for - it seems as though he will say or do anything to get elected, including changing positions on almost every issue throughout his career.  And the positions he has articulated during his Presidential campaign are things I don't want to happen.

While planning this post, I thought that it was perhaps sad that so much of my vote is made up of Anti-Romney sentiment.  Sometimes, the pro and con arguments are both sides of the same coin - in order to be "pro" Obama I must necessarily view his policies and ideals as "better" than Romney's.  It's not that I think Romney is a terrible human being (unfortunately some on the Democratic side seem to argue this).  However, at the extreme, the pros and the cons can convince us that the other side is evil.  The for and against arguments that are so necessary to the electoral process can actually impede governing once the election is over.  So I'm hoping that, whatever our differences, we can come together on November 7th, the day after the election, to work out our pros and cons and compromise on solutions to move our country forward.

Someone will be making a concession speech on Tuesday night, and so I wanted to share John McCain's speech from four years ago.  Not because I want to rub salt in wounds, but just because I thought it was a great example of "coming together" rhetoric that we need to turn into reality no matter who wins on Tuesday.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


One of the reasons I like my blog is that it gives me an opportunity to pontificate and sound important.  It also helps me practice writing.  So maybe this year I will participate in NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month.  One post per day.  I invite you to join me in honing your writing skills.  Post a link to your blog in the comments and we will keep each other honest!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Politico's Prayer

I thank thee that thou hast made my Presidential candidate the honest one.
The One who will create jobs and do all things righteous.
I thank thee that thou hast made me pure in heart to see
The flaws of my opponent, while ignoring any and all flaws of my candidate.

Give me strength to ignore factual inaccuracies on my own side,
Disregarding the cognitive dissonance that exists within my contradictory positions,
Erecting straw man arguments which the other side is not making,
And strenuously pointing out each truth stretching by the other side.

Grant me eyes to see only with my prejudices,
Ears to hear only sycophantic cable news hosts,
Lips to speak only with those who agree with me,
And fingers to type accusatory Facebook comments.

Help me to ignore nuance, complexity, and compromise
Thus reducing this contest to Good vs. Evil
And thereby demonizing the opposite side
For they hate America and do not share my values.

Bless me to see the ridiculousness of the nonsense issues
Which the other side lobs my way,
All the while nit-picking unimportant missteps
Made by the candidate I disagree with.

Bestow upon me the gift of blaming outside forces for my candidate's failings:
The Media, The Moderators, The Altitude, Etc.
While holding my opponent responsible for issues over which
He has no control - macro-economic trends, Clint Eastwood.

Help me enlist the aid of The Founders, History, and Economics,
Selectively choosing only statements and statistics which support me.
Lead me into vast oversimplifications and generalizations, and
Deliver me from any ideas that support the opposite side of the argument.

And, finally, grant me the ability to dig in to my entrenched positions,
Validating all my preconceived notions of the candidates,
Never exercising critical thinking or principles of logic,
But instead relying on predetermined opinions about who I support.


Now, obviously, this post is hyperbole (and sorry if it comes across a bit cynical and/or blasphemous).  But I find myself exhibiting some signs that I fall prey to the failings listed.  For instance, one of the things that really irked me about the second debate was Governor Romney's "selection" of facts as they related to energy.  Romney cited a statistic that oil drilling was down on Federal lands 14%.  This statistic is technically true from 2010 to 2011, but ignores the context, and the fact that oil drilling on Federal lands is actually up over President Obama's term of office.  Most of the decrease is due to the moratorium on drilling Obama ordered after the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and production is now increasing again after that moratorium was lifted.  Thus, the context of this one year statistic is important and contradicts Romney's assertion that Obama is limiting oil drilling and thus responsible for rising gas prices.

What bothered me is that Romney choose one fact while ignoring the context of that fact.  In essence, he lied.  But as I've let this stew since the debate last week, I've realized this: President Obama did the same thing.  When responding to Romney's attack on Libya, Obama stated a true fact - that he had referred to the attack as an "act of terror" in his Rose Garden Press Conference on the day after it happened.  Semantically, this was true.  However, this fact ignored the broader point that Romney was making, which is that Obama and his surrogates were blaming a spontaneous demonstration for the attack, long after other evidence pointed to a planned attack

So, Obama selected one fact which supported him and ignored the context of that fact.  He misled in the same way Romney did.  Yet that has not bothered me really since the debate.  I think this is because I am voting for Obama and not for Romney.  I decided who to support first, then went looking for reasons for my support - not the other way around.  The problem is, I don't really know how to combat this.  I mean, I'm pretty sure that any evaluation you or I make of the candidates at this point is going to include our already-formed and long-held opinions.  But the best we can do is be self-aware.  Recognize that you have a bias, and try to catch yourself giving too much credit to your side or blame to your opponent.

With that in mind, I would like to challenge each of you to do something as you watch the third and final debate tonight:
1) If you are a Romney supporter, find an issue where you think Romney is wrong and Obama is right.
2) If you are an Obama supporter, find an issue where you think Obama is wrong and Romney is right.
3) No matter whose side you are on, try to examine the arguments rationally, and appreciate that both men are trying to serve their country as best they can.  Both candidates are good, imperfect people.  Obama is not a socialist.  Romney doesn't hate poor people.  Please, please, please play nice.  At least, that is this political junkie's prayer.

If not, enjoy the laughs at the Al Smith dinner this year:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Autumnal Parable

So this little thought ran through my head as I've been enjoying the autumnal amazingness.  Sometimes you will look at a tree throughout the year, and it looks like a scraggly one.  Kind of a "mangy" look to the tree.  But then, October rolls around, and all of a sudden the tree bursts into a vibrant orange and red.  I drive past the DMV on my way to work, and most of the time it is a depressing place - sometimes with lines outside the door!  But in October, the small trees in and around the parking lot BURST into fire-colored plumage.  I love it, and I love driving by there.

Some people are like those trees.  We look at their outside and think that they are nothing special.  But then we find a moment that is a burst of glory where they show their true colors.  They show that they are beautiful spirits.  Just like you can't judge a book by its cover, or a tree in January, you can't judge people just by a glimpse of them on one day.  There is so much beauty in nature and in people!

I don't have pictures of the trees (imprudent to take pictures while driving), but you can read this old post with lots of pics of autumnal glory.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bias of All Sorts

Hooray for me, I did finally get to watch a debate this year - the VP debate last week.  It was an interesting case study in pre-conceived biases to read the facebook posts afterwards.  While I found Ryan smug and patronizing, many found Joe Biden to be so.  It gives me zero hope that the country will be able to "come together" after the election and be able to find common ground.  Maybe we can at least laugh at the ridiculousness together?

Monday, October 8, 2012

It's Debatable

True confession:  this democrat did not watch the debate last week.  Turns out I had a work event that night.  Of course I read all the coverage later, and turns out I didn't miss much.  The thing I wanted to say is this: just because President Obama didn't defend liberal ideas well doesn't mean that liberal ideas aren't good.  Likewise, Romney's good debate performance doesn't mean conservatism is always right.  If an idiot who agrees with you negates your cause, Sarah Palin would have been the death knell of conservatism.  Meanwhile, Mr. President, please do a better job next time.  This election is too important to let go easily.

Monday, October 1, 2012

For the Win

For whatever reason, "for the win" has become a really popular phrase for me recently.  Apparently the debate on Wednesday is "Romney's last chance" to turn things around.  According to popular wisdom, Governor Romney has to go for the win or all is lost.  All I know is, I'm excited.  I like watching the debates!

And I like watching the comedy that inevitably follows!  Strategery For The Win!
The debate will begin Wednesday night at 9 p.m. EST.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

That Glorious Old Dominion

Without reserve, I do hereby declare that my favorite jurisdiction* in the union of states known as The United States of America is...Virginia.  I know, you're shocked, right?  As I mentioned last Monday, I took a vacation to see some old and new historic sites in Virginia, a.k.a. the Old Dominion.  The trip lasted about 8 days and was wholly SELFISH.  I am ashamed to say that (a) I did nothing for my church responsibilities, (b) I did not call *any* of the friends I planned to call during the long drives, (c) I ignored 99% of work emails, and (d) I ate whatever I wanted and did not go to the gym once.  All terrible, I know.

Nonetheless, 'twas a glorious trip.  So, if you have an hour or two to spare, let me recount "Tales from the Trip."  FYI, this is a super long blog post, and full of random thoughts about random topics.  At many points, I may (perhaps speciously?) draw conclusions about current political situations based on past events. Also, you should note that I have a tendency to overuse words like "awesome," "beautiful," and other "glorious" adjectives.  All the pictures are from my cell phone, so apologies for the quality (some of which is due to user error).  You have been forewarned!  Proceed at your own risk.

Forest Road during Church Retreat - such a beautiful forest :)
Also saw a deer family!
I started off the trip with a stop at my church retreat in a beautiful local forest.  Minus the lumpy mattress, it was fun - I had never been to one before, and even though I am anti-social, I managed to have a spot of fun with others before escaping to my solo road trip.

Next stop was Charlottesville, where I made my brother a birthday cake (aha, you are thinking I was not selfish in this - you are wrong...I just like to eat homemade cake).  Cake decorating is not my strong suit (I make cakes taste good, not look pretty) but I attempted to decorate it in UVA colors - blue and orange.  I used this cake recipe, and it was delicious.

Next morning, I forced my brother to get up "earlier than he had all semester" to go visit Montpelier (in case you were wondering, that was before 8 a.m.).  We did a special "behind the scenes" tour and it turned out that we were the only ones there at 8:30, so we got a personal tour of James Madison's house and could ask as many questions as we wanted!  Our tour guide escaped two hours later, no joke.  I learned a lot about Madison.  One of the coolest things was that he was an environmentalist (well, sort of).  He was big on preserving trees, stating "Of all the errors in our rural economy none is perhaps so much to be regretted, because none is so difficult to be repaired, as the injudicious and excessive destruction of timber."  I like to think that means that he would have been for the protection of the rainforest, in favor of recycling, and against the clear cutting of old growth forests.  There is an old growth forest behind his home, and I posted a picture of that in my previous post.

Madison's Temple.  No recommend required.
 I liked this "temple" that Madison constructed, it's a beautiful little spot to look out over his glorious view of Virginia farm country.  There is something restorative to the soul about the beauties of nature!  Madison (and Jefferson) were also big on religious freedom.  Madison had some pretty radical views on this for his time, and believed that separation of church and state benefited both the state and the church, thinking that state-sponsorship of churches would corrupt them.

That night, we also got to go to a great concert at the UVA amphitheater - a bunch of great Broadway tunes, including medleys of "Guys and Dolls" and "West Side Story" - I love it when unplanned things like that turn up, it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Dome Room at Monticello
The next day was devoted to re-visiting Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.  I think the last time I went was when I was in Girl Scouts.  For the record, the best tour of the three that I did there was the garden tour - thank you, volunteer docent Elaine for sharing your infectious enthusiasm about Jefferson's plants!  When planning the trip, I was very excited because I got a ticket to go "upstairs"!!!  Something I had always wanted to do.  In case you are wondering, Jefferson's stairs are insane.  HOW in heaven's name did they get any furniture up those stairs?  Ridiculous.  Jefferson considered stairs a waste of space, so he didn't ever have grand staircases.

The highlight of upstairs was the "dome room" - a beautiful gem of a room.  I had to laugh though, because it was typical Jefferson.  The room was beautiful, but also completely impractical.  It was too cold in the winter (no fireplace) and too hot in the summer (too little ventilation), so it never really got used for anything.  Jefferson just wanted it because he wanted his house to have a dome and follow the classical rules of his architectural hero, Palladio.  Reminded me of Jefferson's impractical idealism in the political realm.  He refused to see the excesses of the French revolution and continued to be a committed Francophile even during the Reign of Terror.  After his presidency, he advocated that slavery be spread to new western states, and he thought that by doing this, slavery would peter out and die, and the former slaves could be returned to Africa.  He didn't believe that whites and blacks could peacefully co-exist in the same society.  I'm glad we are proving him wrong on that.

Also visited James Monroe's house, Ashlawn-Highland.  Did you know that he and his wife attended Napoleon's coronation as emperor?  They were the only Americans invited.  Monroe ALSO died on July 4th, just a few years after Jefferson and Adams died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  Love stories like that!
The main section of the memorial, which has water
jets to simulate the flying bullets
Crossing a few centuries of American history in a single bound, I visited the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA.  Your first question, of course, is: where is Bedford, VA?  Once you learn that it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, your next question is: why is the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford?  Turns out it is because, of the 30 "Bedford Boys" serving in the Army on June 6, 1944, 19 of them died in taking Omaha beach on the Normandy coast that day.  Proportionally, because of its small population, Bedford suffered the heaviest per-capita losses on D-Day.  I thought the monument was really interesting and well done.  This statute showing a soldier carrying his wounded friend has a real gold wedding band on the soldier's hand.  The wedding band is from a D-Day survivor, who promised a dying comrade that he would return the wedding band to the dying soldier's wife.  The survivor searched for the wife but was never able to find her, so he donated the wedding band to the memorial.  I liked that story.
See the wedding ring?  It's real gold.

During my tour of the memorial, several of my fellow tour-goers made really derogatory (and incendiary) remarks about President Obama.  Unfortunately I have a lot less courage than a D-Day soldier, so I didn't call them out on it.  Nonetheless, I left the memorial with a feeling of gratitude for all those brave veterans who fought on D-Day and who still fight to protect liberal me.

Near Bedford is another, less-visited home designed by Thomas Jefferson, called Poplar Forest.  It is GORGEOUS.  Designed as a perfect Octagon (until Jefferson realized he forgot stairs - he added those to two sides of the Octagon later...slightly less narrow and high than the stairs at Monticello), almost each room in the house is also an Octagon.  The awesome thing about this house is that it is so full of LIGHT.  Lots of floor-to-ceiling windows, a skylight in the central dining room, and glass doors in between rooms mean that there is a really beautiful feel to the house (which is almost totally devoid of furniture right now - they are still restoring it).
Poplar Forest - Jefferson later added the kitchen wing on the right
You may have noticed from the pictures so far that I don't have any pictures of myself on this trip.  This is what my phone did the first time I tried to take one, which was at Poplar Forest, no lie.
Apparently my face is bad voodoo for cameras...

I used that as an excuse to not take any more pictures with me in them for the rest of the trip.  Trust me, it's better this way.

Final note about Poplar Forest: even the outdoor privies were octagonal.  Jefferson didn't mess around when it came to his favorite shape.  He really, really, REALLY liked Octagons.

McLean House at Appomattox Court House
Fast forward to the end of the Civil War, which occurred at Appomattox Court House.  Here's the McLean House, where the surrender happened.  So much blood shed during that war, and so many lives destroyed.  Grant was very merciful to Lee's armies, allowing them to get food and rations from the Union army, and providing parole passes for each man which allowed him to travel home on union transports.  The union soldiers had to stay up all night to print over 30,000 passes for the soldiers.  As the Confederate soldiers walked in to surrender their arms, Brig. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain ordered his Union men to perform the "marching salute" with their guns held at attention.  The Confederates were so moved by this gesture that they reciprocated with their own marching salute.  Chamberlain described it as "honor saluting honor" (read his full quote about this experience in the Wikipedia article here.  Also, Chamberlain is featured in the excellent book "Killer Angels" for his role in holding Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg.).

Give me Liberty or Give me Death!
Next was Williamsburg.  Williamsburg is an extra special helping of awesome if you are a history nerd (and, as you probably know by now, I am).  I helped storm the governor's palace, watched the news arrive about Lexington and Concord, and marched with the fife and drum corps down Duke of Gloucester street.  When I retire, maybe I will be a history actor at Williamsburg just for the sheer fun of it.  One highlight was hearing a talk by George Wythe.  He's a founder I didn't know much about, but made me want to learn more.  Got to tour the House of Burgesses - my skin prickled to walk where Patrick Henry railed against the British.  Went to a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence and heard the thrilling words "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal"!

During the trip, I finally finished reading an 800-page biography of Washington I have been working on since July, and it made me appreciate him so much more.  I'm not sure our country could have survived its formative years without him.  He was so wise!  Glad that he supported the constitution and served as our first President.  Patrick Henry, and many others of the revolutionary generation, didn't support the Constitution, calling it a betrayal of the spirit of 1776.  Also, made me realize that dirty politics is nothing new.  Did you know Washington was accused of being a Benedict Arnold to the British during the war?  This allegation was made during Washington's presidency - which is just so wrong and terribly untrue!

Marshy Jamestown Island on a perfect day!
Another gorgeous day dawned, and I was off to Jamestown!  I took a walk around the entire island - a 5 mile walk that was made pleasant by the presence of beautiful butterflies and lovely wildflowers.  I feel like I sweated where the settlers sweated - it was only about 80 degrees, but that was quite warm enough.  Still, it was a gorgeous walk through a landscape perhaps similar to what the first landing settlers saw.  Can you name the three ships which landed at Jamestown in 1607?  They were led by Christopher Newport, an expert sailor of the day. 104 men and boys set up a fort at Jamestown, but almost everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.  They arrived in the middle of a drought, had their food store rotted, were attacked by Indians, and struck down with disease.  Only 1/3 of the original company survived the first year!
Telling stories of
Indentured Servitude

Rachel, an indentured servant of 1620, showed us around the original site of Jamestown.  She was a hoot!  She told us of the travails and triumphs of the early years at Jamestown, truly making history come alive.  They have recently uncovered the site of the original fort at Jamestown, and recreated some of the walls.  The remains of the foundation of the first English Church in North America are still there, too.  This was where the first legislative assembly was held!  (One year before the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts!)  Jamestown saw  the beginning of some of our most tragic history - arrival of the first slaves, and the beginnings of the intentional (by war) and unintentional (by disease) destruction of the American Indians.

And yet, as Rachel pointed out - even with the terrible survival rate and sometimes horrific conditions in Jamestown, English settlers kept coming - because it was still better than life in England, where the only plot of ground you owned was when you looked up at it from your coffin (as she put it).  There's a sort of theme park near the Jamestown site where they've recreated the entire fort, and all three ships that sailed into Jamestown in 1607 (the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery - doesn't it give you chills that one of the ships was named "Discovery"?  Love it!).  That was cool - they also had an Indian village.

Yorktown's Redoubt 9, taken by the French in an assault
on British Defenses
Visited Yorktown next, site of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis.  Yorktown always seemed anti-climatic when I studied it in school - it was your basic siege, nothing exciting really happened.  While at the site, though, I learned about the storming of redoubts 9 and 10 by American and French forces to move the siege line forward so they could shell British defenses.  Part of the American force was made up of Rhode Island infantry.  Rhode Island passed a law that any slaves who volunteered to serve in the continental army would win their freedom.  Some of the slaves which volunteered participated in the attack that day.  So, slaves working towards freedom were part of the charge to take the redoubts.  I'm grateful for their sacrifice and courage.  Redoubt 10 was taken by the Americans, led by Alexander Hamilton.  Redoubt 9 was taken by French forces (in a somewhat comical detail, both the British and French had German-speaking Hessian soldiers fighting against each other - apparently during the attack the German commands got a bit crazy because both sides had Germans!).

Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg
Last stop was the Fredericksburg battlefield of the Civil War.  Eighteen times, Union soldiers charged across a bloody field and tried to take Marye's Heights.  Eighteen times, Confederate soldiers held fast behind their stone wall and repulsed the attackers.  So many lives lost, and so sad.  I think we glorify war too much.  War is not glamorous or sexy.  War is a terrible terrible price paid by the few for the freedom of the many.

I liked what John Adams had to say about the American Revolution: "But what do we mean by the American Revolution?  Do we mean the American War?  The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the American people."  The revolution was about ideas - radical ones, like equality.  Those radical ideas continue to be argued about and discussed today.

I also listened to "American Creation" by Joseph Ellis on CD as I drove all around on my trip.  He emphasized the gradual nature of the transformation of the American mindset - it took a long while for the majority of Americans to come around to Independence.  Additionally, most people were against the adoption of the Constitution when it was written!  It really is a miracle that America exists.  But somehow, we have endured as an American people.  Through danger, despair, and desolation we have somehow overcome.  This entire trip reminded me of how much I love America.  Hip Hip Hooray!  Also, it reminded me that I have so much more to learn about!  So many of the places I visited reminded me that I know so very little about the fascinating history behind the sites.

*I couldn't say "state" here, because Virginia is technically one of four commonwealths in the U.S.A.  Bonus points to you if you can name the other three.