Saturday, May 29, 2010

Awesome [Ellie]

As happens every year about this time in a ward as full of students as mine, several good friends of mine are moving out. I've been a little down about this for the last while; that must explain why Bryan, for Mother's Day, got me a little book called The Book of Awesome.

The Book of Awesome
is not the kind of thing that I typically read. It's based on a blog where the author collected 1,000 submissions from people across the web of things they find "awesome." The word "awesome" alone pretty much takes it out of the "books I read" category. But, to humor Bryan, and because I needed to ponder me some awesomeness, I've been picking it up from time to time. Most of the things are small, everyday pleasures that we take for granted. I admit that I've enjoyed most of his ideas, although some things he rhapsodizes about I can't quite relate to.

So, with that long intro, I've come up with a few things he left out that I think are awesome.

*Green cement trucks with fancy stenciled designs on their barrels. I don't know if this is just a Columbus thing or what, but I've never seen such decorative construction vehicles. They make me smile every time I see them.

*When a song comes on the radio that fits your mood exactly, inviting you to sing soulfully at the top of your lungs.

*Spotting the first firefly of the season.

*Finding a great new outfit in your own closet.

*The first time you see your child choose to walk with tiny tottering steps instead of crawling. (Shout out to all you moms with late walkers out there!)

*Finding the right tool for the job. Also the right container.

*Ohio birds. Especially the brightly colored ones. From my house I can see cardinals, goldfinches, and blue jays, besides robins, doves, starlings, grackles, red-wing blackbirds, and sparrows. If I drive down the street a ways, I can see turkey vultures and great blue herons. In the metro parks I've seen bluebirds and even a woodpecker with a scarlet head pecking wood! Sorry for the list, but I really love birds.

*When somebody else has replaced the towels/toilet paper roll.

*When a stain on my baby's shirt comes out on the first try.

*Finding a great book, picked at random, from the library. This is awesome because it hardly ever happens.

*When my non-snuggler child comes to me and wants to snuggle.

*Getting the giggles as an adult.

*When we're driving and Bryan reaches over to hold my hand.

Speaking of Bryan, he's promised to blog his own awesome list. Stay tuned.

Got any awesomeness to add?

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Road [Bryan]

Just got done reading The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, a fascinating and emotionally wrenching book. The story is about a father and son traveling together through post-apocalyptic devastation. McCarthy tries to imagine a world where conditions render hope an absolute impossibility. Everything is dead, nothing grows, and starving humans feed on each other, even their own children. The dim climate, cold and getting colder, is punctuated only by lightening, freezing rain, and gray snow. All that exists is the shell of the former world, burned-out cities, looted stores, and useless technologies. Even memories of the old world are beginning to fade, “the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.” People live, shivering and wet, through either cannibalism or scavenging an ever-diminishing supply of canned food. There is no reason to believe in anything, especially that life will get any better or that a loving God exists. As one of the characters says, "People were always getting ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow wasnt getting ready for them. It didnt even know they were there... There is no God and we are his prophets." There is no looking to the future or, as the book says, “There is no later. This is later.”

The central questions this raised for me are these: Would we still have reasons to live in such a world? If everything else were taken away, even the possibility of happiness, what would make life worthwhile? Is there anything to stop us from committing suicide in such a world?

This unsentimental book seems to find at least a fleeting meaning and beauty in the relationships we have with one another. The relationship between father and son, simple and unadorned, is one of the most touching descriptions of familial love I have read. The father desperately tries to encourage his son to live and go on, even while he himself is without hope, and dying. He tries to preserve the kindness and generosity he finds in his son, while enduring the compromises he himself must make with morality to help them survive. You desperately begin to want to take care of this little boy, the lone spark of goodness (the "fire") in a murderous world. The end of the book, where the son asks his Dad to let them die together, is very sad, but profound:

I want to be with you.
You cant.
You cant. You have to carry the fire.
I dont know how to.
Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I dont know where it is.
Yes you do. It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it.
Just take me with you. Please.
I cant.
Please, Papa.
I cant. I cant hold my son dead in my arms. I thought I could but I cant.
You said you wouldnt ever leave me.
I know. I'm sorry. You have my whole heart. You always did. You're the best guy. You always were. If I'm not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I'll talk to you. You'll see.
Will I hear you?
Yes. You will. You have to make it like talk that you imagine. And you'll hear me. You have to practice. Just dont give up. Okay?
I'm really scared Papa.
I know. But you'll be okay. You're going to be lucky. I know you are. I've got to stop talking. I'm going to start coughing again.
It's okay, Papa. You don't have to talk. It's okay.

Freaking Big Deal, Part 2 [Bryan]

The Senate passed the banking reform bill! This way out of my area of knowledge or interest, but the consensus from people I've read (here and here, for example) seems to be that the bill is fairly tough (tougher than expected) on big banks and makes some really positive changes. It creates a new consumer protection agency, finally puts some regulation on derivatives making them more transparent, and fixes the investment ratings agencies, thus addressing many of the major causes of the recent financial crisis. Of course, it will probably not solve all of our problems. What is amazing, though, is that the Democrats were able to do something real in the face of millions of dollars of fierce lobbying from the fat-cat banking sector and staunch resistance from most Republicans.

I can post this if I want to, because I like it [Bryan]

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Half, but it made me feel Whole [Ellie]

On May 1st I ran my first half-marathon. I say first because I plan to run more. Here's why:

5:55 a.m.
I wake to my alarm. Peeking outside I see rain pouring down in sheets. Thunder booms in the distance. I throw my bright red rain jacket over my race t-shirt.

7:40 a.m.
Anna, sister/running buddy/personal trainer extraodinaire, and I arrive in Downtown Columbus. The rain has stopped. We follow the hordes of people heading toward the starting line. More than 6,000 people ran the half marathon alone; add to that 5Kers and spectators, and you've got easily 10,000 shoehorned into a couple of blocks. Wall to wall people.

7:47 a.m.
We find what looks to be the starting line, except we can't see it. It's covered in people. The road is so full of racers that we have to squeeze onto it, stopping just shy of actually shoving people out of the way. The atmosphere, like other races I've been in, is carnival-like. Their are balloons and tents everywhere. People are excited, bouncing in place, stretching, taking little warm-up jogs, using the port-a-potties. The mayor and a local news personality are hamming it up trying to rally the crowd. They are largely ignored. We line up with others planning to run at a 9-minute mile pace.

8:00 a.m.
The race begins, or so it would seem. The wall of bodies in front of us begins to move forward sluggishly.

8:05 a.m.
We actually cross the starting line. We are unaware of this.

At this point time becomes irrelevant.

During the first few miles, my body feels tight. I think, This doesn't feel great. I'm doing this for 13 miles?

Miles 3 and 4 pass. Entirely warmed up and in a rhythm. The Central Ohio humidity which has, for the most part, been absent from our training runs, makes its presence known. Already I'm hot and sweaty. I take my jacket off and pray for rain.

We run through German Village. As we pass the park, Villagers are lined up and cheering. Some seem to specifically cheer Anna and I. It feels good to be doing something people cheer for.

Right before we hit mile 5 it starts to rain. I'd feared this before the race; now I am just grateful.

Mile 6, almost halfway though. There's a large crowd at this intersection. More cheering; it feels so good! We seem to be picking up time with each mile.

The drink stations keep offering Gatorade. All I want is water. I want to dump it all over me.

An older gentleman teases Anna and I that we are chatting just to show off that we can still talk.

We catch the woman assigned as the 2-hour pacer. She's holding a tall stick with balloons. As long as we stay ahead of her, we'll accomplish our goal.

Mile 9--Wow! Really? Mile marking for the race was haphazard. Nine snuck up on us. Only four more to go. That's a morning jog.

Mile 10. Anna and I "high ten." Exhaustion is setting in, but we're almost there.

Mile 11. Only two more? That's less than 20 minutes. We pick up a little speed. I know I'll regret it if I don't give it all I've got. Who knows if I'll ever do this again?

Mile 12. It happens. I think the thought I've never allowed myself to think: Well, maybe I could run a marathon. Pure insanity.

Anna feels energized and wants to pick up speed. I can't make my 32-year-old body go any faster, though I'd like to.

10:00 a.m.
We spot the finish line ahead. Suddenly, I can sprint.

10:02 a.m.
We cross the finish line smiling. We give each other a corny high 13.1. Our official time? 1 hour, 57 minutes, 55 seconds. We met our goal of breaking 2 hours! We came in 1,508 and 1,509th. That's good enough to put us in the top 25 percent of finishers. Not bad for a first half marathon, eh?

And the aftermath: So sore I can hardly walk the next day, and then gradually better the following days. Stairs=torture. A week and a half out, I can still feel strain in the tendons under my left ankle, but it's getting fainter every day. They're going to have to get used to it, 'cause I'm doing it again next year!

So much thanks to Spencer and Rachel for taking care of the kids while we ran. Thanks, also to my sweet visiting teacher Norma, who made an awesome "Distance Runner Care Package" and helped watch the kids. Thanks to Bryan for getting the kids up and ready every morning while I was gone running. Finally, armloads of thanks to Anna, without whom I would never have even dared attempt this. Talking with her made running 13 miles (and all those training miles, too) a pleasure.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mashed potato madness [Bryan]

More progress on the mashed potato front! My major questions lately have involved, first, incorporating cheese into the recipe (since, hey, everything is better with cheese), and second, finding a fresh herb to spice things up a bit. Here are the recipes that have informed my recent work in this area:

First, a recipe for garlic Parmesan mashed potatoes, which seems to have found the perfect amount of Parmesan and balanced it nicely against the garlic. They still use the problematic "drain method" of boiling the potatoes, though, which is a big mistake (tsk, tsk).

Second, a recipe for baked mashed potatoes and yams, which is very different and interesting. Using half sweet potatoes is a fun change of pace, although I think I prefer the regular potatoes for most occasions. This recipe also had a nice balance of garlic and cheese, but the key contribution was definitely the fresh rosemary. I tried using fresh parsley before, and that was good, but I think the rosemary is by far the best way to spruce up a mashed potato dish.

So, I'm going to stick with the recipe I posted last time, involving the essential "no drain method," but with the following addendum: it needs to include 3/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, along with 1 tsp fresh rosemary.

The purge [Bryan]

I rarely find myself agreeing with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah). He and I have very different views of how the world works and what public policy should look like. Although he is very conservative, however, I always had the sense that he is a decent, sincere fellow, by disposition someone who is willing to work with those on the other side of the aisle.

In a Republican party growing more radical and extreme every day, though, a person like this couldn't last long. It is not like Bennett is a centrist -- he isn't. He has voted to filibuster everything the Democrats have proposed this past year. He is as as conservative as they come. But apparently that isn't enough is today's Republican party. Your political opponents are not people to "find common ground" with; they are people you call "Nazi communists who hate America." Since Bennett tried to find common ground, he was given a humiliating third place finish during the nominating process.

Utah Republicans need to take a serious look at the madness and extremism that is engulfing their party.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Windy City [Bryan]

I just got back from Chicago. I love that town: the architecture, the museums, the good food, and, above all, the lake front. There is an energy that I felt as soon as I stepped off the plane in O'Hare. It is a crown jewel of American cities. I was there to meet with a group of people from a prestigious Chicago-based foundation. I must say, they treated me very well. They put me up in a luxury suite for the night overlooking Michigan Avenue, the "Magnificent Mile". It was the first time I have been in a hotel room with multiple rooms (a living room!). There was even a telephone in a bathroom, hanging there above the toilet paper roll (not sure I wanted to touch it). It was so nice that when I returned to my room in evening, I entered to soft light, soothing music, and turned down covers on my bed -- very different from the discount motels we usually haunt.

The meeting itself was intimidating. It quickly became apparent that I was very different from almost everyone else in attendance. Most of the other people were from the Harvards, Stanfords, and Princetons of the world. Not only were they mostly at elite institutions, but most were senior faculty, some of the most recognized academics in the world. And then there was me, unknown, unread, and unheralded (one prestigious professor kept calling my Byron). I kept having that Sesame Street song in my mind, "One of these things is not like the other." The differences were most apparent during our lunch conversation, which turned to the recent Supreme Court vacancy. People were chiming in on the Supreme Court candidates that they had met or were close personal friends with. Some talked of their "recent visit to the White House" (cue Bryan: "One of these things is not like the other"). It was an other-worldly experience to be included in such a group.

The next day, I had a few hours before my flight to Columbus, so I went down to Hyde Park. I saw the Frank Loyd Wright house and toured the famous Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago. While I was there, I noticed a volunteer, an older man, who was trying to explain to a younger couple why what they were looking at was so great. They didn't seem that interested. After they left, I went up to this volunteer and asked him what his other favorite pieces in the museum were. Well, that started a 2 hour personal tour. He proceeded to take me all over his beloved museum, showing me his favorite pieces, telling me why they were so cool, explaining their history. Now that is how to experience a museum! I love people who are passionate about things like old pots.