29 November 2007

Cheesecake Poppers

Sonic is a drive-up restaurant that advertises in my cable market. I'm not sure why; there isn't a Sonic within 50 miles of here. Their commercials are memorable, if nothing else. I'd categorize them as annoying, but maybe that's just me.

They've been showing ads for "cheesecake poppers" lately, which if you've escaped this phenomenon, are little bites of cheesecake, covered in a batter and deep-fried. Deep fried! Cheesecake is bad enough for you, but then deep frying it? Wow, holy calories, Batman. Probably just as bad for you as deep-frying Mac & Cheese. Sonic's website does not list the nutritional information for the cheesecake poppers, but I suspect that's because it is a new menu item and they haven't updated their website.

Then I saw a sign for the same thing at an Arby's.

No wonder America is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Deep-fried everything, mega sized meals, sugar bonanza sodas. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I know that. I'm just astonished all over again at our wacky perception of portion size and what a reasonable daily caloric intake is.

On Tuesday, I was at a meeting held at a restaurant, a local family-owned sort of thing. Many restaurants of that stripe around here are Italian, but this one, I couldn't put a category to. Typical Yankee food, burgers, sandwiches, nutritionally worthless iceberg lettuce salads, a few grilled chicken/grilled fish things. I'd never been to this place before, and I ate prior to the meeting at home, where I can control what I'm getting and I know what is in everything I'm eating. (Control freak? Me?!? Surely, you jest.) I didn't know what I was walking in to there, so rather than take a chance, I just took out a little insurance that my tummy wouldn't be clamoring through the whole thing.

I ordered a cup, a CUP, mind you, of soup, so that I wasn't the only one without food in front of her, and they brought me a bowl that was perhaps six inches across and three inches deep, filled to the brim. If I had to guess, I'd estimate that there were two cups of food inside that bowl. That's their "cup" of soup. It was a vegetarian barley stew sort of thing, and delicious, and it set me to wondering if I could re-create it at home, but I ate perhaps a third of it. I shudder to think what a bowl of soup is to these people.

Being out in the community all day as I am for my new job, the temptations are myriad and near-devastating to my constant refrain of "do you need to eat that?" Fast food abounds, and sit-down restaurants take too long. I've discovered that if I drink coffee, I'm not as hungry and can wait for something to munch on until I get home. Decaf, of course, but I don't think it particularly wise to use that as a long-term plan. I haven't been smart enough yet to remember to put snacks in the car so I'm not ravenous.

I won' fall off the wagon; I'm far too OCD for that. I step on the scale a far more often than is healthy, checking constantly to make sure I haven't gained anything back from the bad eating habits that I have indulged in from time to time over the last month. The eating something crappy is only sporadic, but I worry about it regardless. I've worked too hard and too long to have it completely destroyed by our fast food nation.

The moral of the story? Read the labels, people.

28 November 2007


Charles DeLint is one of my favorite authors. He's a Canadian fella, and I want to live in the city he writes about. His complete literary works are listed on his website. If you've never picked up anything of his, I highly recommend it. Just don't start with Onion Girl, because you'll be completely lost. All the rest of the novels stand well on their own.

He writes what he calls Mythic Fiction. Yes, this is fantasy, but it isn't ever really about a world far away. Rather, he writes about a world, our world, with a small twist. His characters sometimes have psychic perceptions, but mostly I think about his writing as the world that exists at the corners of our eyes. You know how you see something fantastic out of the corner of your eye, and when you turn to look, whatever you thought you saw is something completely ordinary?

Happens to me all the time...it is my imagination, which I like to think is still as active as a child's.

DeLint has a story about Balloon Men, which look like those myriad plastic grocery bags blowing around in the wind that litter our whole planet. When you aren't paying complete attention, all you see is the plastic bag rolling around.

The rain of the last few days has dried up, and we had a very windy day on Tuesday. Leaves, some of the last of the season, swirl in the wind in tiny vortexes, like eddies in a river current. At the end of the fall, the last leaves that litter the ground are brown, unlike the extraordinary colors we see earlier in the season. The uniformity of color is not matched by uniformity of size and shape. So these swirls of leaves look like little animals or perhaps one of the fey when you catch them out of the corner of your eye.

The first time I noticed them was driving in the car, and for a brief moment I thought that something was about to run in front of the vehicle. It was broad daylight, and I actually tapped the brakes before I realized that it was only leaves. Since I wasn't on a busy byway, I slowed the car to watch the wind pick up and gather these groups of leaves, and then scatter them again with the next gust.

If I was a talented writer, I'd find some way to weave those leafy beasts into a short story. Instead, I imagine what they might be.

27 November 2007

Political Stump

I was at an event recently where 4 politicians were given the opportunity to speak.

It made me remember why most people hate politics.

Not that any of them were poor speakers, far from it. The youngest of the bunch was a woman about my age (32) give or take a year or two. She was the best speaker, and she made me wonder if she had been on her high school's debate team, so forceful was she.

Political "season" never ends, it is just more active at times than others. The November general elections were a few weeks ago, but the presidential primaries are looming, some of them only a little more than a month or so away. This primary, for the 2008 presidential elections, will be the longest running and most expensive in our country's history. I've bitched about that before, and I don't want to get too far off track, but I'm astonished when the news shows fundraising totals for each candidate. Where the heck does all that money come from?


Each politician given the opportunity for a few minutes at the microphone said basically the same thing. Two women and two men, two state reps and two state senators. As fascinating as I find the political process, I was bored witless by the speechifying. More people than the politicos took the mic, (four other visiting dignitaries who were just as boring) and by the end I wanted to act like a twelve-year-old and whine about "Can we go now?"

I often bemoan the state of voter apathy in this country, but if what I saw was what most people see when they see/hear politicians....well....then I understand a bit better why people are so apathetic.

One of my admittedly ancient Swedish pop songs that I listen to for assistance in keeping up my language skills has a line that I think about whenever Congress is deadlocked over something, or I notice that somehow, none of the elected bodies, state or federal, seem to get anything done. The singer/songwriter is a fella named Mauro Scocco, someone who writes a whole lot of Swedish pop. The songs that he records himself tend to not have the brightest outlook, but for all the melancholy, I love his music. The line is politiker mot väggen som bara står och stammar, which translates to politicians against the wall who only stand and stutter. And sometimes, isn't that all they do?

Hm, talk about melancholy. Aren't I cheerful today? The weather has been grey and miserable, raining and cold, which contributes to my bad attitude.

As lame as I found the speeches, I still think I'd love, love, love to work as a lobbyist, or in some other position where I would be in a place to participate in the political process. I don't want to be a politician myself; but I'd like to be in the midst of it. If I wasn't having a fit of the shys today, I would have boldly asked the young state senator if I could come to work for her. Doing what, you ask? No clue. Wouldn't really matter, honestly.

Listening to: Dr. Space Dagbok, Mauro Scocco, "Det Finns," release date 1991.

24 November 2007

Baker's Dozen

I read cookbooks as if they were novels. (Funny how they all end the same, no? Those gripping indices!) One shelf of my library is solely cookbooks. Several Swedish cookbooks in both English and Swedish, several ethnic cookbooks, including Greek, Thai, Indian, more than ten about eating and cooking healthy, tasty food. But the preponderance of cookbooks on the shelf are dessert cookbooks. Cookies, cakes, one dedicated only to chocolate, half a dozen that contain recipes for "celebration desserts" for any sort of themed party you would ever care to throw.

With so many of them, you'd think I'd never notice if one were missing. And were it any other time of year, you'd probably be right unless I was searching for a specific recipe. This time of year, however, the cookie cookbooks get pulled off the shelf and scattered about the kitchen and sometimes around the entire house as I attempt to decide which cookies to bake for the holiday gift-giving madness.

I give cookies to people that I want to give a gift to, but don't want to get into the habit of buying something for. My friend who does my nails. My hairdresser. Co-workers. Business colleagues. That makes it sound as if I give them away casually, but such is not the case. My hairdresser has been my hairdresser for more than a decade. My manicurist friend is as close as if she were family. I bake between 12 and 16 dozen cookies annually. Last year, I didn't think I'd be able to resist the urge to eat the dough and hundreds of baked cookies if they were in my house, so I didn't bake at all. This year, I've tasted one of each of the three varieties I've made thus far, and don't want any more. I suppose it helps that I've got a stuffy head and everything tastes "off" due to that, but I don't think I'd want more than that in any case.

For the first time ever, I'm participating in a cookie exchange this year. When the invitations went out, I told the hostess that I'd be bringing Coffee Spice Cookies and Pumpkin Cookies, two standbys on my holiday list. The pumpkin cookies are so easy that I could recite the recipe from memory; I usually bake them throughout the fall in addition to Christmastime. They're so evocative of the season, being made primarily of pumpkin, that I can't resist. Plus, bonus, they're egg-free, so my nine-year-old nephew who is allergic can make and eat them with me. The coffee spice cookies, on the other hand, are more complex and time-consuming. But they make the whole house smell like Christmas, with their allspice and cinnamon and nutmeg.

Unfortunately, the cookbook that contains the coffee spice cookies (and the almond crescents, and the molasses crinkle cookies and about 6 other kinds that I like to make) is missing.


Where could it have gone?

I called a friend and asked if I'd lent it to her; no. I searched the house, even our room dedicated to storage. It isn't on the bookshelf in the bedroom, nor in any of the drawers under the end tables I inherited from my maternal grandparents, the cubbyholes in which turn up the most unlikely things. Every likely hiding place was sussed out, and I even enlisted DH's help, showing him a picture of the cover from Amazon. "Oh, I remember that one," he said. "Do you remember seeing it recently?" I asked, hopefully. "No," he said, looking crestfallen. Then he got a crafty look on his face and disappeared for a few minutes; he admitted to stashing several of my books in cabinets in the library when picking up around the house. Unfortunately, Cookies: A Cookie Lover's Collection was not among the books he hid away.

Amazon and eBay both have the out-of-print book available. Talk about adding insult to injury, I can't just walk in to any of the area's mega-bookstores and replace it. Yes, I've placed an order, but it won't come in time for the cookie exchange.

No one would be the least bit upset if I didn't bring the coffee spice cookies to the exchange; but I want to make them. A search of the rest of the cookie cookbooks turned up a kinda-sorta-not-exactly similar recipe, or at least the picture looks alike. I read the recipe, and thought, "That could work." and set to making it.

Experimentation in the kitchen is one of my greatest pleasures. But you can't mess too terribly much with the recipes for baked goods unless you're prepared for unusual results. See Pie Crust, whole wheat for an example. Baking is chemistry. Mix the wrong stuff and, well, you could end up looking like Wylie Coyote after an explosion.

I didn't alter the chemical parts; kept the sugar/flour/butter ratios the same. But I added a whole lot of spices and flavors, doing my best to re-create the original. There are two minor problems with this. One, we're supposed to bring the recipes of the cookies we bake to the exchange. Two, the base recipe came from the 1963 edition of the Betty Crocker Cooky Book. (That isn't a typo, that's the title on the cover. Google it yourself.)

The first is a problem because for the first time in forever when tinkering, I didn't keep detailed notes. What? Yes, I'm that anal. I'm a Capricorn; we practically come out of the womb as organized, mature little adults. I'm also the oldest of three children; if you tell me that birth order doesn't matter, I'll....I'll...I'll tell you that you're wrong, that's what.

The second is a problem because apparently any baker worth her or his salt in 1963 must have had homemade cookies by the bazillions on hand at any given time. Even halving the recipe after noting the ridiculous yield in the initial read-through of the recipe, I've got about 20,000 of these things. If no one likes them...I'll be stuck with thousands of them. They taste fine to me; but that aforementioned head cold might be helping me fool myself.

So, anyone for a cuppa and a few hundred cookies?

23 November 2007

Att banta

When I was learning to speak Swedish, various things confused me as a non-native speaker. It made me appreciate how incredibly difficult learning English must be. I can never remember which is which, but homophones, homographs...you know, words that sound alike but are spelled different, or are spelled the same but pronounced different...how confusing that must be for someone to try to figure out. Then there are words that mean the same or similar things, like red and crimson. I can't remember what those are called. Homonyms, maybe?

One of the things that I love about English is its richness of vocabulary, the fact that there are hundreds upon thousands of words, the many descriptors available for your use, for free!

Yes, I admit it. I'm a grammar geek. I love all this stuff. No apologies for it either.

Swedish has these little quirks too. The words for ugly and drunk are both ful, but I can barely hear the difference between the two. (Context...so important!) In order to avoid having to say ugly, I would use the word horrible, so that I didn't mispronounce it. Again. Then there are the words for ice cream, glass (like in a window) and glasses (for vision correction), which all sound like the English word glass, but they're spelled differently. I think. I can speak it much, much better than I can read and write it.

Words that had similar meanings threw me from time to time as well. To diet in Swedish is att diet; but then there's this other word, banta, that seems to mean the same thing. My host father explained it to me like this; diet was the word you would use for what you were doing when you were trying to lose weight, but to banta was to just hold back. As best I can figure, banta-ing is somewhere in between leaving something on the plate so you don't feel gorged and starving yourself. Kidding!! OK, so not starving yourself, but not eating all that you want to, either.

Recently, I've officially reached a big number in my weight loss quest. 40. I am 40 pounds lighter than I was a year ago at this time. I had been at a plateau with the losing weight since about May or June. It seems after the death of my Auntie H in October that the scale has been showing smaller numbers, finally, and very slowly. We're talking initial changes in ounces. I've finally invested in a decent scale at home instead of relying on the gym's. I have no earthly idea what to attribute this resumption of weight loss to; I haven't changed anything that I've been doing for the last year in the last few weeks. It is a huge relief to see those numbers going down again.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and yes, even atheist-leaning agnostics celebrate Thanksgiving with their families. My Auntie G cooks twice a year; Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is an event not to be missed. Her stuffing? To die for. Better than your granny's or your mother's, I promise. Since I only have the opportunity to eat it twice a year, I tend to overload my plate with it.

Thanksgiving is a carb festival, isn't it? At least, it is for my family. In addition to the stuffing, which is bread-based, there's mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, corn...all starch-y, not good to overindulge in. Plus this is the Slovak side of the family, so noodles and butter with gravy are also on the table. Like haluski, without the cabbage. Don't ask why we do this, I couldn't explain it to you if my life depended on it. But trust me, it is good. Gooooood!

When people ask me how I've lost the weight, my answer is always the same: "The really, really hard way." Sweating my ass off (quite literally, hahahaha) at the gym, cutting my portion sizes, paying lots more attention to food labels, both for the nutritional value and for the actual ingredients, trying not to eat pre-packaged food, staying away from fried anything. Banta-ing, essentially.

I did not take the opportunity to overindulge yesterday. My attitude about food and relationship with food have changed so much in the past year. It isn't that I no longer derive pleasure from good food, it is that I don't need quite so much of it to be satisfied. One of my cousins, for hours after dinner, moaned about how overstuffed she felt, and I couldn't help but think to myself, "Why the hell did you eat that much, then? No one was forcing you to."

Did I eat the stuffing? You bet. Wouldn't miss it for the world. But there were more carrots from the veggie tray than there was stuffing on my plate. I even ate a little bit of the noodles. I passed on the mashed potatoes. If I eat those these days, it is going to be my own recipe that includes sour cream, cream cheese, garlic, and butter. But was my plate so full yesterday that I had to make a separate trip for a roll? Nope. Didn't eat one of those, either. The fat content and other icky preservatives that are in them aren't worth the taste to me anymore. (They were those rolls that come in the can, that you shape into little quarter-moons.)

Overall, I think my relationship with food and my attitude about it are so much more healthy now than they've ever been. Even when I was a size-0-wearing skinny little bit of a thing. I think about the word banta often. I ask myself all the time; Do you really need that much of that? I turn things over and check out the label, and if it has corn syrup (evil, evil, evil) or tHBQ (dude, two words...PETROLEUM DERIVATIVE!!!) in it, I put it back on the shelf. There's some magic number of fat grams that I won't go over on a single serving of anything. I don't really know exactly what that number is, but impulse buying of a candy bar isn't something that I do much these days. Not worth the calories and fat, and if I'm going to eat chocolate, it is going to be chocolate that has a list of ingredients that I can actually pronounce.

I don't suppose that I can go around answering the question "How'd ya lose the weight?" by saying "I banta-ed," and not just because the Swe-Eng nonsensical word won't make sense to people. I've changed my philosophy, my daily routine, my grocery-shopping habits, my cholesterol levels, my blood sugar, my number of asthma attacks, everything, to get where I am. Much easier to say 'the really, really hard way.' But my favorite upside of it all? Not the fact that I'm stronger and healthier, not the fact that my asthma is under control. Nope. As vain and shallow as it is, my favorite benefit is that in addition to the laundry list I've made of changes, I've changed my dress size, too.

20 November 2007

Red Wine

Why, oh why, can I not remember to stop drinking red wine at one and only one glass? Hmmm? I love wine. I love all kinds of wine, sweet white, dry-ish reds, from every corner of the globe.

One of my favorite family-owned local Italian places has a wonderful red that is called Luigi Leonardo or Leonardo Luigi...I can't remember which. It is goooooooood stuff. Especially with the super-garlicky pasta that I like to get there. Just goes down so smooth.

DH and I and friends went there last night for good food and general hilarity. A good time was had by all. Too much food, and decadant stuff at that. I didn't eat most of the day yesterday in order to be able to indulge in this wonderful cheesy garlicky cream-based pasta dish. I can never finish it. DH decided on dessert; I passed in favor of a second glass of the double LL. The bartenders there believe in healthy glasses full of wine, and I woke at about 1 AM with thousands of little hammers banging away in my skull. Two naproxen sodiums at one, another three at ten AM, and ow.

The tannins in the red wine are what give me headaches. I'm too stubborn to stop drinking the stuff. Working up a slow tolerance does not seem to be working so well; nor does drinking lots of water with the wine. Oh well. Red wine's good for the heart, right?

19 November 2007


I have a good friend who works an unusual (read that not 8-5) schedule. Actually, come to think of it, most of my friends don't work a normal 8-5 schedule. I haven't worked that way since working for the bank, 3 years ago. Working for the non-profit was on call 24/7/365, although I was a day-shift person, my hours were always changing.

My new job has required me to be in an actual office, at a desk, from 8 AM until 5 PM while I'm learning the position. Now, I'm not giving away details of what I do here, nor whom I'm working for; I'm just talking about work in general. I am reminded of how much I dislike being chained to a desk for eight hours a day.

The reasons I left the bank were varied and numerous; but chief among them was that I was expected to sit at a computer terminal for 90% of my day. When I first took that job, it was 90% doing things that I liked and 10% data entry. By the time I quit, it was 90% data entry and 10% of things I liked to do; filing papers at area courts, getting signatures from clients and attorneys, supervising estate sales. I need to be moving, doing different things, out and about. Otherwise, I'm stir-crazy.

It requires a major shift of thought for me to be in an office. I despise office politics. I have no patience whatsoever with cliques and the cool kids. Nor with the bullshit like this: she wore that and its OK, but I can't wear this. Are you getting the job done? Yes? Then who fucking cares?? I hate the conversations that revolve around what people watched on television last night. I don't watch but one television program with any regularity, and I don't give a shit what happened last night on Survivor or Two and a Half Men. I don't work well under micro-management. I'm smart enough, you see, to figure out what needs done without you over my shoulder.

All that makes it sound like I'm angry and bitter. I'm not. I kind of like what I'm doing. It is endlessly fascinating. I'm still helping people in my hometown like I was at the non-profit. It isn't the same sort of help, but it can and does make a difference in my community. I just can't wait until this training is over and I can be doing my own thing. Soon.

17 November 2007

I'm NOT the only one.

I have not ever, to date, had a post that was just song lyrics. Yes, I'll print bits of songs, a chorus or a few lines that I think are appropriate to the situation.


I saw a video while I was on the elliptical at the gym and it brought me nearly to tears, so I'm going to embed the video and print the lyrics, and let that speak for itself. Watch the video. Spend the four minutes that it would usually take you to read one of my long-winded posts.

I can't imagine that someone would not find it deeply moving.

Dear Mr. President,
Come take a walk with me.
Let's pretend we're just two people and
You're not better than me.
I'd like to ask you some questions if we can speak honestly.

What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street?
Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep?
What do you feel when you look in the mirror?
Are you proud?

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Can you even look me in the eye
And tell me why?

Dear Mr. President,
Were you a lonely boy?
Are you a lonely boy?
Are you a lonely boy?
How can you say
No child is left behind?
We're not dumb and we're not blind.
They're all sitting in your cells
While you pave the road to hell.

What kind of father would take his own daughter's rights away?
And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?
I can only imagine what the first lady has to say
You've come a long way from whiskey and cocaine.

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry?
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Can you even look me in the eye?

Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Rebuilding your house after the bombs took them away
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work
You don't know nothing 'bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work

How do you sleep at night?
How do you walk with your head held high?
Dear Mr. President,
You'd never take a walk with me.
Would you?

14 November 2007

Really, didn't we have enough of this during the 80s?

The BBC reported today that President Idiot is moving forward again with Star Wars, the space missile defense system that is too stupid for words. Expensive, non-functional, asinine, and yet, the Idiot At The White House insists that we need it. Um? Dude, he crazy.

The Beeb is radically opposed to Star Wars, and rightly so. At billions of dollars cost with no end in sight, Star Wars has yet to accomplish a single of its objectives. Several tests have been conducted over the years with media invitees, and it never frigging works.

What a clusterfuck. Do we need this? No. A thousand gallons of no. Remind me again, who elected this fool? Oh, right....no one. During the 2000 presidential election season, the Supreme Court made a mockery of the electoral college system and installed W, who was NOT elected by popular vote. Yep, that still pisses me off, seven years later.

And just look what he's done with his appointment; he dragged the country into wars on two continents, pushed women's rights back 30 years or so, eroded your civil rights and turned the economy to complete shit. Heck of a job there, Mr. President.

13 November 2007

Its a bitch to get old, man.

But it is always better than the alternative.

I went to see my physical therapist, physical, as opposed to my shrink...don't ask about my shoulder injury that he works on. It makes me feel older to complain about my aches and pains. As I was walking in the door of the office, I was thinking about something that would make a great blog post. I didn't write it down, and consequently, I've forgotten what the heck it was about.

Since I can't remember that, I'm going to indulge in my vanity instead and tell you how fabulous I'm looking these days.

I had my hair cut and colored over the weekend. This super-super-super short style I'm wearing needs cut often. More than about 3 weeks and it is too long. My hairdresser (love, love, love, love him) put streaks of 3 colors in my hair; a blonde, and two reds. One very red, nearly punk, and the other darker, more of my mother's natural hair color, an auburn. Depending on which direction I style my hair, the punk streaks either show or don't, which is a good thing now that I'm working. Conservative and businesslike for work, punk and loud when I'm not.

Then I went shopping for new clothes; I'm broke as a joke, but didn't have a full week's worth of work clothes since I shit-canned all the stuff that doesn't fit me. Now I've got a more than a week's worth of beautiful clothes thanks to the assistance of my friend K (couldn't have done it without ya, babe!) and most of it? Is a size 10. Considering that my most comfortable suit a year ago was an 18, I'm pretty damn happy about that. Ten! Ten!! Yes, I still have about 25-27 pounds to go, and yes, I'm still working my ass off on it, but I look better than I have since my early 20s. I'm older, more confident, and more fabulous too.

Still highly medicated for depression, though. And not interested for even a second in tapering the anti-depressants right now. I still don't want to need to take them for the rest of my life, and the sooner I can get off them, the better, but they're working right now and I'm feeling better than I have in about a year. I know that part of feeling better is because I'm back to work; my shrink told me that I could not allow my self-worth to be tied up in what I do for a living. I'm still working on that one.

Also still working through the grief of my Aunt passing away. One day at a time on that one.

I'm very cautiously optimistic about feeling better. Once upon a time, when DH and I had just moved in to our current house, the non-profit job was going very well, I remember telling a friend that everything was going swimmingly but yet I had this sense of impending doom. In fact, I'm pretty sure I wrote about it. Is it my Catholic upbringing that makes me wait for the other shoe to drop? Superstition? I don't know. But I'd rather feel that than as if I was living in a black hole.

08 November 2007

Being thoughtful about Pres Idiot's War On Terror

I heard several speeches today from military veterans in advance of Monday’s observance of Veteran’s Day. Listening to people who have actually served in the country’s military was a humbling experience, especially for someone who is adamantly opposed to the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, as well as W’s idiot war on terrorism. (what the hell does that mean anyway?)

There were veterans of nearly every major conflict over the last 50 years, including an adorable old fella who stormed the beaches at Normandy, in attendance. Two Vietnam veterans and a 59-year-old veteran of operation Iraqi Freedom gave speeches. All of them were excellent speakers, and most of them refrained from political commentary.

I have said many times before that I support the people who are in uniform, even while being opposed to where they are stationed and their missions. I know full well that all of the current military personnel have volunteered to be where they are. Some of them may have been forced by circumstances, lack of opportunities, to join the military, however many of them voluntarily stay in the military long after their original enlistment is up. They are extraordinarily proud of the work that they do. Rightfully so, because what they’re doing is damn difficult.

I don’t think that we should be in Iraq. Period. It is my belief that if there were no oil in Iraq, we would not be there. It is also my belief that we are creating a bigger mess the longer that we’re there, and it is not belief but simple fact that we are creating an entire generation of people who despise the United States.

But the speeches today made me see things from another point of view. I was astonished to learn that more than half of the country’s homeless people are veterans. That statistic is disgusting. Deeply. Whether or not you agree with any conflict (and I disagree with most of them) the country has a responsibility to care for those who have put their lives on the line to protect it.

I was also astonished to learn that funding for the veterans administration is not an automatic thing. Congress must allocate funds to pay for health care for veterans, physical or mental, annually. We all know how well Congress does its work.

The gentleman who just returned from Iraq talked about the media’s coverage of the conflict. According to him, the media is 110% on when it comes to the coverage in Iraq, however they are only reporting 10 to 15% of the story. Apparently, there are plenty of good things happening there that no one talks about. I find that difficult to believe. Every day, there are reports of more very young soldiers dying. The government does not keep statistics on the deaths of Iraqi civilians who die needlessly either in the crossfire or from mistakes made on bombing runs. Yes, the insurgents kill innocent civilians too, but the insurgent’s cause is not my concern. I think that the military should be held to a higher standard of accountability, especially when the claims of being the most technologically advanced military force in the world are constant.

The fact is that we can’t leave Iraq now. But as I whispered to a friend during these speeches when someone asked when we’ll be out of there…I think everyone will come home when my friend’s kids are grandparents. What a quagmire. It is a weirdling line that I’m walking here…admire the selfless service of all of the military branches, despise the conflicts, opposed to the policy.

I know my own mind, anyway.

On a completely unrelated note, the voice recognition software IS learning. I dictated this up until a few paragraphs ago, and the errors were very few. Teh technology is teh cool.

07 November 2007

Did YOU vote?

I did.

And yes, I watched the returns into the wee hours, marveling at the very low number of voters in each race. School levies, decided by 10 or 15 or 20 votes. Mayoral races with very slim margins.

I went to vote at noon-time, my new boss having suggested that I head home at lunch and fetch a winter coat because it was not just cold yesterday, it was fucking freezing, and we were spending some time walking around the city. So I ran over to the precinct after fetching said winter coat and cast my ballot, and at 12.30 in the afternoon, I was only #77 in my precinct to vote.

That saddens me. Voter apathy is one of the worst problems a democracy can face, in my ever-so-humble. In non-presidential years, the usual voter turnout is something like 20%. Twenty percent of those eligible to vote actually do so. The other 80% stay home. Truly, it doesn't just sadden me, it disgusts me. Women really had to fight to get the right to vote in this country; out of respect for those brave souls alone should women head to the polls. Nevermind the rest of it; that one vote does make a difference, that it is part of your civic responsibility, that you can't bitch about the state of the country if you don't vote.

And then there's the fact that now that the November elections are done, things are going to really heat up for next year's presidential primaries. Already the longest running election in our history, I know by the time it is all said & done, we're all going to be way over it.

06 November 2007

A blatant plug that I'm not even getting paid for.

DH's company works with a French Company. This has been fact of life for us for more than 10 years. The French people speak good English, mostly. Of the languages that are not English that I speak, French is not one of them. Recently, however, it has become necessary for DH to learn French. I am such a geek that I am voluntarily studying it alongside him.

To that end, he purchased software called Rosetta Stone. I can't tell you how cool this stuff is. The marketing and advertising BS for Rosetta stone claims to be able to teach any foreign language to anyone using methods that are deeply intuitive. Having learned more than one foreign language, I did not believe a word of it. That was before I turned it on.

It is deeply intuitive. I do not understand at all how it works, but it does. I have not learned much more than simple sentences, a few verbs, a few nouns, however I know them letter-perfect.

I am hopeful that we are both able to be conversant in French soon. Rosetta stone is frightfully expensive. For the two units that DH purchased, it was $600. I don't have a stray $600 lying around, do you? If I did, I would be purchasing Spanish and every other language I'd like to learn.

Then there is the voice recognition software. Sigh. You have to activate it to get Rosetta stone to work. And you have to talk to the fucking computer so that it begins to recognize you and your speech patterns. I have dictated this blog post using the voice recognition software and when it works it is cool. Otherwise, it is a consummate pain in the ass. I have never thought that I am difficult to understand, nor do I have particularly strong Midwest burr to my voice. But the computer sure seems to think so. If I could remember all of the mistakes that it has made thus far, you would be howling.

So buy the Rosetta Stone software. The jury's still out on the voice recognition software.

05 November 2007

Working full time?

Is going to cut seriously into my available blog time.

Just wanted to let you know.

04 November 2007

Funerals. Definitely Hell.

So we all know that the rituals surrounding death are for the living and not the dead, yes? The dead don't care anymore. Wherever you believe the spirit has gone, it is no longer among our perceptions. Or at least it is beyond the perception of everyone who isn't psychic, which, unfortunately, includes me.

It has been nice to have my sisters around, even though it was for a funeral. They left Saturday, both of them need to get back to work. Neither will be home for Thanksgiving, but both will be home for a while in December.

Almost everyone was in town for the funeral. It is a shame that with the exceptions of funerals, weddings, and major holidays, I rarely see my cousins. There's a lot of 'em. On this side of the family, six first cousins, seven second cousins. The little ones get so big, so quickly. One of my cousins' sons is getting his driver's license in a few weeks. Last time I saw the kid and paid any attention to him, he was a pudgy, noisy, and badly behaved 8 year-old. He's taller than most of the family now, and a wrestler for his high school, thin and wiry. Quiet, too. I told his mother, "Your kids make me feel old." She rolled her eyes and said, "Tell me about it. I'm turning 40 this year."

Heartbreaking is the only way to describe the calling hours; the actual religious services surrounding funerals usually upset me. I don't know why clergy of every stripe and color find it necessary to talk about how their god is better than everyone else's during funeral services. It has happened at every funeral I've been at over the past 5 years. Catholic funerals, Methodist funerals, Presbyterian funerals...it makes me crazy. At DH's Methodist uncle's funeral, the minister, a learned fella with lots of letters behind his name, spent over 15 minutes railing about the Islamic faith. Inappropriate, people, inappropriate. Ever heard the phrase "a time and season for all things"? Funerals not the place to debate philosophical viewpoints, ya know? The minister for my Aunt's funeral service was no different, spending about 5 minutes on how Christians Are Better Than Everyone Else. Sigh.

As I've pointed out during this whole process, it is far easier to be pissed off than it is to be sad. Being irritated with the celebrant is one way that I get through funerals. I know it is a bit irrational for me to get so annoyed.

A friend of my parents told me that the hardest part of the whole ritual for him is the graveside ceremony. During Catholic funerals, that is tough. Or at least it seems more traumatic to me, probably because the Catholics can't do ANYTHING in less than an hour, and it is a long, drawn out process. But the hardest part for me of the whole ordeal is walking in to the funeral home the first time and seeing the person, family or friend, laid out in the casket. The death somehow becomes more 'real' to me at that point, the finality of it hits me at that moment, even though by that time I've known for a while that the person passed away.

The stress of the last two weeks has shown itself in a couple of physical manifestations I could do without. A tremor in my hands. My normally beautiful skin (nah, I'm not vain) broken out in hives and spots. A headache that wakes me up in the middle of the night and has sent me searching for the strongest analgesics in the house. The inability to sleep more than about an hour and a half at a time, which is worse than my usual bad sleep habits. The fact that she's gone hits me at odd moments, much like I imagine the pain of a phantom limb must feel, stabs and twinges.

One (more) thing that drives me nuts about funerals is the way people will remark to one another, "Doesn't he/she look good?" Dude, they're dead. It don't get much worse than that. But this time I had to agree with that inane remark, because my Aunt looked like she did when I was a little girl, when she was working full time and wore beautifully made suits, jewelry, great heels with purses to match, had hair and nails and makeup just so.

It hurts. It makes me dammed angry that she didn't take better care of herself and manage her Type II diabetes better. Things that would normally not bother me are magnified to heights of stupidity that could cause me to say something I'll regret deeply later. My meds are keeping me on a sort-of even keel, and I've needed to be strong for other family members. My DH has been the strong one for me, unflappable and telling me when I'm making mountains out of molehills. Time will make it easier. But patience has never been one of my virtues. Ever.

01 November 2007