Sunday, November 30, 2008

'Tis the Season

Stupid movers.

I have not sent in my moving damages report; I knew that I needed a chance to go through the Christmas decorations before I could say with any degree of certainty just how much has been broken/lost/mistreated.

Today we hauled out the Christmas decorations. I had time - the next couple of weekends will be busy - the girls were free, and we figured the time was right.

For reasons best explained by others, the movers took it upon themselves to repack some of our decorations. Not all, just some. Which means that some were packed badly (the Weihnachts Pyramide is broken); some were packed stupidly (they reorganized my boxes). I hate opening a box that says "Christmas," only to find that it is full of 17 unrelated items, one of which is vaguely Christmas-themed.

There is no sign of some of the holiday greenery. But I'm guessing it will turn up. Or the missing greenery will make its way into my damages claim.

We had a lovely afternoon, listening to Dean Martin sing Christmas carols as we assembled our various and sundry decorations. I was hesitant to get all this stuff out. I remember way back when, all our decorations fit into two boxes. Well, not anymore. We have way more than we need, and it is all organized so poorly (thanks, Allied). Plus our house is such a mess - where to put all this stuff? Next year will be better.

But the time is upon us, so we have to celebrate. So up went the tree, up go the decorations.

Maddie hung the star on the tree. (Dig the '70s track lighting behind her - no, we have not done a thing to the living room yet.)

Alison and Sylvia made pumpkin bread. Look closely at the ugly kitchen - its days are numbered.

Here are our German Rauchermänner - little smoking men. You light incense inside them and they smoke. Adorable - they are handmade and come from Ergzgebirge. Sehr niedlich!

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care ...

And here's the tree, in all its glory. I am debating whether or not to put up the other (gulp) three trees. Is one not enough? I knew a guy in high school whose family had 45 trees - 45? To be fair, many of them were small, table-top trees. And it was kind of cool - it was their schtick, so to speak.

But wow - I am having a hard time dealing with four. We would like to do the three-story Christmas tree (a tradition started by someone who used to live in my neighborhood, since abandoned because they moved. But we have the perfect house: Three windows in the front of the house, three stories, all in a row.) But if I do that, then must I use all white lights (so as to achieve the desired effect)? Then what do I do with the red lights and those decorations? And it still doesn't solve the problem of where to put the Evergleam - I just don't have room ... is it any wonder this season causes so much stress?

For now, we will settle for one - I'll think about the others later. Later - this is my mantra. Deal with it later.

So, later. That's when I'll be back. Happy Holidays, all!

Let It Snow!

It snowed last night!

Not a lot, but enough. We awoke to a world of white, a veritable winter wonderland.

(Well, winter wonderland by the standards of those who were exiled to warmer climates for three years.)

Not sure if you can tell, but the snowman is on the diving board. We are affected with seasonal displacement disorder, apparently.

We bought boots and snowpants yesterday. How fortuitous is that?

Snow. I am loving winter. Check back with me in March and see if the answer is the same.

(Hi Gale!)


I flipped on the news Thursday night and was treated to a story on how others spent their Thanksgiving. The folks in question were camping out, in the parking lot of Best Buy in Indianapolis, ready to cash in on big savings on laptops and flat-screen televisions.

Happy Thanksgiving.

It's hard to imagine how the lure of bargains on electronics, no matter how tempting, can take the place of celebrating this holiday. Thanksgiving, in its quiet way, is one of the holidays I like best. With no particular religious affiliation, all Americans can take part. And it involves no gifts, no decorating, no over-indulgence of the commercial kind.

(Sure, it involves food - and a lot of it - but you can whip out a basic Thanksgiving turkey dinner without breaking the bank.)

Most importantly, the holiday, to me, is about being with family and friends, about remembering how fortunate we are, and celebrating this life we are so lucky to have. I can hardly imagine giving all that up to save a few dollars on shopping.

I did not grace the step of a single department or big-box store on Friday. I went antique shopping with my BFF, but otherwise enjoyed the day at home. I refuse to participate in the crass commercialism that has encompassed the day after Thanksgiving.

Which isn't to say I am anti-shopping - far from it. I'll do my share, but I'll do it on my own time, in my own way. It won't be at any hour before 8 a.m., and no frenzy will encompass me. It will be all about Christmas cheer, something I've plenty of.

25 shopping days til Christmas. In case you're counting.

Friday, November 28, 2008


So Thanksgiving was two days ago - it's never too late to pause and reflect on all the various reasons I have for being grateful.

In so many ways, I lead what appears to be a charmed life. I have a wonderful husband - we have been married for 20 years and still get along great - and three smart, beautiful daughters. We have fantastic friends and family who would do anything for us. We have a lovely home (sure, it's under construction, but it will be stunning when it's done). We have financial security and are essentially debt-free (unless you count the mortgage), and I have the luxury of being choosy about when or if I go back to work. Truly, life has been very, very good to us.

All the little annoyances - people who make inconsiderate comments, the pesky aggravations of everyday life - rather than getting worse as I grow older, these minor distractions are having less and less effect on me. I've learned not to worry about other people so much and to assume that the problem is theirs, not mine.

As we enter the holiday season, I know how truly we lucky we are to have so few real needs - we do not lack for health care, do not worry about how we will send our daughter to college. And after the election in November, I have real hope for the future of this country. The transition will be peaceful, which is not something to be taken lightly.

Thankful. Indeed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

So Many Books, So Little Time

For once, I actually read every book I brought home from the library. It's much like going to a fantastic buffet - my eyes are usually much bigger than my actual capacity to read, and I end up checking out way more books than I can possibly finish in the allotted time.

So today, back I went, ready for more reading material. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably point out that the books I read were half-mindless fare. But I am a big believer in junk reading, as long as it is alternated with more worthwhile selections. Reading could never be bad (though there are a lot of bad books out there).

I am thrilled to be living near a good library again. The library nearest us in Houston was part of the local community college. It was a nice facility, but the fiction selections were limited. Here, I am just blocks from the county library. I usually walk, but today I had other errands to run, so I stopped on my way home and picked up a pile of stuff with which to occupy myself. I got a book club pick (Eat, Pray, Love - heard it is terrible, but I'll read it for the group), a David Mamet novel (didn't know he had written any novels - hope his prose reads differently than his plays - !), American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (very anxious to read this), and two others that fall into the "light reading" category that I am not going to mention.

I have a list of books I intend to read that is longer than I imagine I will be alive. But it's good to have goals, huh? And more books are always being written. Plus, there is excellent children's literature that I like to have a look at, and books I like to re-visit.

So what am I doing here? Exactly - my comfy chair awaits!

Back To The Real World

It is cold outside today. But not for me - I am toasty and warm inside, enjoying the encroachment of winter. And the fireplace is so enjoyable, especially now that the odor of gas has dissipated since I remembered to open the fireplace. I know, I know - stupid - but it's a new (to me) fireplace; our old one, in Houston, was ventless or something and did not require opening.

Live and learn. Fortunately without disastrous after-effects. You know, like asphyxiation.

I am wondering how long my enchantment with winter will last. Right now, it isn't *really* cold - in the mid to low-30s. Quite bearable, especially when I drive my car. The mini-van may not be the coolest car in the world, but it does have seat warmers.

The hot chocolate, the cozy days by the fireplace, the wardrobe, my beautiful new coat (it's longer, but short enough that you can still see my boots and the bottom of my skirt - trés chic), right now, it is all delightful.

Check back with me in a month. Or three weeks.


This weekend was such fun - never a dull moment here for me. I'm making up for what felt like a social drought over the past couple of years. Friday night was a coffee house concert at church. Huge crowd - we were at capacity. As with most events at church, it was great - good music, good food, great people.

Then Saturday, it was off to Chicago with JoAnn and Barb to see Jersey Boys.

I love Jersey Boys - as I said when we saw it last winter, it is like Sopranos meets boy band. Great music but a compelling story, complete with tons of F-bombs. Fun stuff. Barb and I wanted to stand and dance ... but somehow, it just didn't feel right. And after that usher yelled - and I do mean yelled - at the women who wanted to snap a shot of themselves in their seats way before the show started, I was not feeling bold and daring - I think he would have reduced me to tears.

(I mean really - I understand the ban on photography during the show. But in their seats? Quarter of an hour before curtain? Wonder if he was a real Jersey Boy, the way he hollered.)

It was a totally satisfying day, complete with the waiter at dinner comping our drinks. Not quite sure why he did that, unless he is smart enough to know he has that power and that he will then rack up a huge tip (which he did). He's clearly too smart to be a waiter for long.

Then yesterday I attended the Jeff High School production of Beauty and the Beast, starring (well, not starring, but featuring) my own daughter, Alison, as a member of the chorus.

Jeff has an excellent music/arts program, so the show was, as expected, very good. The kids who played Belle, the Beast and Lumiere, in particular, were very good. The set was lovely, as were the costumes. The show sold out both performances.

There is a family in town with kids the same ages as mine (well, they have a slew of kids; they have a kid everyone's age). They are the type of family who tends to think their kids are a little more important, a bit more talented, more loved, more special than others' children.

This family exists in every school - trust me; we all know them. So their kid has a very small part - important enough to get a bio, but small. So, in the bio section, who has the longest bio? Longer than Belle, the Beast, than any of the seniors in the production? Of course.

And for the record? No one wants to read about every activity you've ever been in - it's a brief bio. That family is something else. And it's not just my opinion - trust me. I've heard others' whispers.

But I won't let that affect my enjoyment of the weekend. The show was great, and Alison did well. She seemed to have a great time.

Now it's Monday - back to normal. The fantasy is over, but I can lean on it when the week turns into drudgery. Which it will. Where is my enchanted castle when I need it?

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's 11 a.m.

And here I sit in my pajamas.

It's raining outside, perfect day to do ... well, not much. So far today, I watched my two-hour CNN special on Jim Jones, then spent an hour reading the paper, eating breakfast, and completing the crossword puzzle (12 minutes today - perhaps due to my reading one clue as "squeak" rather than "speak." I need those reading glasses more than I think some days.)

In eighth grade, a friend and I decided it would be fun to memorize the Greek alphabet, putting it to the tune of "Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning" ("Alpha beta gamma delta epsilon zeta eta theta .... "). Might seem like a colossal waste of time. Unless you're in the eighth grade. Or your crossword puzzle clue is "Greek letter after sigma."

Must run some errands today, in preparation for the coffee house at church tonight. Must hope not too many kids show up, as I was only able to line up one babysitter. Must hope the rain slows down so my basement floor dries.

Must get dressed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Equality 2008

Note from the choir booster club, seeking help for the upcoming musical: "We need Dads to help disassemble the set - Moms can help with light work ... need Moms to help with costumes."

Maybe it's just me, but aren't we past sexism in work duties? So I very nicely wrote a response to the parent, acknowledging all her hard work, but posing the question; I think that in 2008, we owe our daughters more than that. She wrote back and said she is just repeating the requests she gets from the director.

So it's an institutional problem.

Nothing changed. I didn't change her mind, and I doubt she says anything to the director. Though you never know. And I do believe that every time she writes, types, or reads those requests in the future, she will think twice about sexist language.

Small satisfaction, but sometimes, progress is slow, and educating people takes time. Just like those people who use terms like "uppity blacks" and see nothing wrong with it; they have to be taught their racism, and sometimes women need to be taught just how they are helping perpetuate unequal treatment.

There is certainly hope with the next generation; my daughters will benefit from that, anyway.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The approach of winter

I bought my children winter coats over the weekend.

This may not sound noteworthy. But you have to take into consideration two facts:

• They have not worn winter coats for the last three winters
• I have never purchased coats for my children in a store

Living in Texas, winter coats were not a necessity. It got a little cold for a very short time, and a heavy jacket was sufficient. Usually all they needed was a sweatshirt. And they all had heavy fleece jackets, which worked just fine. We did not travel north in the winter, so it worked out just fine.

Except that we all actually did miss winter time. The clothes, the cold, the evenings by the fire - we are excitedly anticipating all of it.

Especially new coats - my girls are all about anything new. But can you believe I've never, ever purchased heavy coats in a store? I always, always relied on Lands End catalog, which has a heavy-duty coats for kids in a rainbow of colors and a variety of styles - short, long, hooded or not. They worked out great - the coat rack at our church or the girls' preschool was always full of them.

But we've outgrown the Lands End look, at least figuratively. We are now all about style. So off to the mall we went.

Alison and Maddie found coats fairly quickly. They were reasonably priced - well, reasonable by my standards, as they do have to wear them every day, and they'll wear them for at least two years. They both seemed happy, and there was a big sale.

We had to head to the children's department for Sylvia. She found the right size, though there are concerns that she might outgrow it. I figured we can suffer through - until I paid for it: $25.99. At that price, she can have a new one next year if she needs one.

(I got a new coat, too; 50 percent off. It is lovely. I'll debut it in Chicago over the weekend.)

So the girls are warm, and they are stylin'. The fireplaces are working, so we are all read for the cold.

We think. We may have forgotten just how brutal winter can be.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Whee on the Wii

My abs hurt. This is what I get from using the Wii fit, the hula hoop game.

I noticed that I am much, much better at the hula hoop if I go to the left. Me, too, said Maddie, while Sylvia prefers to go to the right.

Maddie and are I both right-handed; Sylvia is a leftie.

Just worth a note.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Lazy Blogging

I feel lazy today. So here's your lazy day blog.

1. Were you named after anyone? Not really. Though I think my dad liked that song, "Get along home, Cindy, Cindy." Fantastic.

2. When was the last time you cried? I cried the other day, as Sherri Shepard described what the election of a black president said to her son; I cried when I read the article about the former White House butler. I get teared up watching Obama tell his little girls they are getting a puppy. But in the interest of full disclosure, I cannot talk about the movies The Rookie or Rudy without my emotions taking over.

3. Do you like your handwriting? Actually, yes. I think under analysis it would stand up for me - strong, not too uptight, but organized with a touch of style and class.

4. What is your favorite lunch meat? Patrami. Hands down.

5. Do you have kids? Three beautiful daughters.

6. If you were another person would you be friends with you? You know, I think I would. I would certainly give me a chance - I am all about giving people a shot these days.

7. Do you use sarcasm a lot? You need to ask? We'll just say, um, yea.

8. Do you still have your tonsils? Yes.

9. Would you bungee jump? Not sure - I did go rappelling once. It was a-maz-ing.

10. What is your favorite cereal? I don't generally eat breakfast cereal. But if I did, it would be Grape Nuts.

12. Do you think you are strong? Physically? Below average. But I can be tough when necessary. Mentally? Above average.

13. What is your favorite ice cream? Bem & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Haven't had it in months.

14. What is the first thing you notice about people? Well, if I see them in person, what they look like. How can you help it?

16. What is the least favorite thing about yourself? Right now, my lack of organization and motivation. I'm blaming it on the ongoing construction. Come January, my life will be totally different.

17. Whom do you miss the most? Family and friends who live far away.

18. Do you want everyone to send this back to you? Well, I'm not sending it out, so not sure how to answer. Feel free to answer in the comments, or in your own blog.

19. What color pants and shoes are you wearing? Blue jeans, tennis shoes.

20. What was the last thing you ate? Drank some hot chocolate. Does that count?

21. What are you listening to right now? NPR, All Things Considered.

22. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? I always liked Cornflower in the box of 64. Right along with Carnation Pink and Pine Green. I have an untouched Collectors' Box, along with eight retired crayons, from 1990. My kids know better than to dare use them.

23. Favorite smells? Clean laundry, baby powder.

24. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone? The idiot at Wells Fargo Bank. She was decidedly unhelpful.

25. Do you like the person who sent this to you? I stole it off a blog I read. I don't know that person, don't even know much about her (she's a new sub). But sure, I like her.

26. Favorite sports to watch? My daughter playing soccer.

27. Hair color? Blonde. Of course.

28. Eye color? Blue with green.

29. Do you wear contacts? Yep.

30. Favorite food? Wow. Seafood, probably. Good pasta dish. For dessert, Tiramisu. Made at home - I have a great recipe (thanks, Helen!)

31. Scary movies or happy endings? Happy endings. But a good suspense movie is always good. I like good writing, happy or otherwise.

32. Last movie you watched? Don't even remember - probably Religulous.

33. What color shirt are you wearing? Tan.

34. Summer or winter? Summer. But back here in the Midwest, I am savoring all the seasons. Change is good.

35. Hugs or kisses? Both.

36. Favorite dessert? Tiramisu. I jumped ahead and already covered this.

37. Hot or cold beverages? Cold; very cold. Unless they are supposed to be hot, in which case, I do not care for tepid drinks.

38. Favorite room in your house? I love our family room, but I also like my little office. I love the new master bathroom, love our bedroom, and am totally looking forward to our new kitchen. OK - basically I like the entire house. I wonder if our little sitting room upstairs will be my favorite. I can see that.

39. What book are you reading now? Random Family. But I need to start the book club choice, and soon.

40. What is on your mousepad? Plain blue. But it's a quality mouse pad. I am all substance over style.

41. What did you watch on TV last night? 30 Rock, The Office, and Kath and Kim. Yea, I know. We watch a lot of TV.

42. Favorite sound? Good music.

43. Rolling Stones or Beatles? Beatles. Not a big fan of the Stones. Sorry.

44. What is the farthest you have been from home? When we lived in Germany, Germany was our home. But I felt far away.

45. Do you have a special talent? Good question. I think I have some talents, but they're not really out of the ordinary. I do a great load of laundry. And I can load a dishwasher like no one else.

46. Where were you born? Lincoln, Nebraska. Lincoln General Hospital.

47. Least favorite household chore? I hate them all equally - I don't like to discriminate.

48. Most precious object on your computer desk? I guess the computer. Or my iPhone.

49. A special possession? A ring from my grandmother. Bracelet from my mother. Jewelry from my husband. An antique high chair that my mother gave me. Dresser from my great-grandmother. But as special as these items are, it's all just stuff. People are what matters.

50. How many e-mail adresses do you have? I have three or four, but I only use one. More than one is too much trouble.

Have a great weekend, all!

How far we've come

From the Washington Post:

History through a butler's eyes
For decades, Eugene Allen, a black man, toiled in the SHADOWS of the White House. Soon, he'll see another black man serve — but in the nation's SPOTLIGHT

By WIL HAYGOOD Washington Post
Nov. 6, 2008, 11:42PM

WASHINGTON — For more than three decades Eugene Allen worked in the White House, a black man unknown to the headlines. During some of those years, harsh segregation laws lay upon the land.

He trekked home every night, his wife, Helene, keeping him out of her kitchen.

At the White House, he worked closer to the dirty dishes than the large desk in the Oval Office. Helene didn't care; she just beamed with pride.

President Truman called him Gene. President Ford liked to talk golf with him.

He saw eight presidential administrations come and go, often working six days a week. "I never missed a day of work," Allen says.

His is a story from the back pages of history. A figure in the tiniest of print. The man in the kitchen.

He was there while America's racial history was being remade: Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock school crisis, the 1963 March on Washington, the cities burning, the civil rights bills, the assassinations.

When he started at the White House in 1952, he couldn't even use the public restrooms when he ventured back to his native Virginia. "We had never had anything," Allen, 89, recalls of black America at the time. "I was always hoping things would get better."

In its long history, the White House — just note the name — has had a complex and vexing relationship with black Americans.

In 1866 the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, sensing an opening to advocate for black voting rights, made a White House visit to lobby President Andrew Johnson. Johnson refused to engage in a struggle for black voting rights. Douglass was back at the White House in 1877. But no one wished to discuss his political sentiments: President Rutherford Hayes had engaged the great man — it was a time of high minstrelsy across the nation — to serve as a master of ceremonies for an evening of entertainment.

In the fall of 1901, another famous black American came to the door. President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington, head of the Tuskegee Institute, to meet with him at the White House. Roosevelt was careful not to announce the invitation, fearing a backlash, especially from Southerners.

Started as 'pantry man'

Before he landed his job at the White House, Gene Allen worked as a waiter at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va., and then at a country club in Washington.

He and his wife, Helene, 86, are sitting in the living room of their Washington home Her voice is musical, in a Lena Horne kind of way. She calls him "Honey."

The couple met in Washington at a party in 1942. He was too shy to ask for her number, so she tracked his down. They married a year later.

In 1952, a lady told him of a job opening in the White House. "I wasn't even looking for a job," he says. "I was happy where I was working, but she told me to go on over there and meet with a guy by the name of Alonzo Fields."

Fields, a maitre d', immediately liked Allen and offered him a job as a "pantry man." He washed dishes, stocked cabinets and shined silverware. He started at $2,400 a year.

There was, in time, a promotion to butler. "Shook the hand of all the presidents I ever worked for," Allen says.

"I was there, Honey," Helene reminds him. "In the back maybe. But I shook their hands, too." She's referring to White House holiday parties, Easter Egg hunts. They have one son, Charles, now an investigator with the State Department.

"President Ford's birthday and my birthday were on the same day," Allen says. "He'd have a birthday party at the White House. Everybody would be there. And Mrs. Ford would say, 'It's Gene's birthday, too!' "

And so they'd sing a little ditty to the butler. And the butler, who wore a tuxedo to work every day, would blush.

"Jack Kennedy was very nice," he goes on. "And so was Mrs. Kennedy."

"Hmm-mmm," she says, rocking.

A state dinner
He was in the White House kitchen the day JFK was slain. He got a personal invitation to the funeral. But he volunteered for other duty: "Somebody had to be at the White House to serve everyone after they came from the funeral."

The whole family of President Carter made her chuckle: "They were country. And I'm talking Lillian and Rosalynn both." It comes out sounding like the highest compliment.

First lady Nancy Reagan came looking for him in the kitchen one day. She wanted to remind him about the upcoming state dinner for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But she told him he would not be working that night.

"She said, 'You and Helene are coming to the state dinner as guests of President Reagan and myself.' "

Husbands and wives don't sit together at these events, and Helene was nervous about trying to make small talk with world leaders. "And my son says, 'Momma, just talk about your high school. They won't know the difference.'

"The senators were all talking about the colleges and universities that they went to," she says." I was doing as much talking as they were.

"Had champagne that night," she says, looking over at her husband. He just grins: He was the man who stacked the champagne at the White House.

Colin Powell would become the highest-ranking black of any White House to that point when he was named President Reagan's national security adviser in 1987. Condoleezza Rice would have that same position under President George W. Bush.

The butler remembers seeing both Powell and Rice in the Oval Office. He was serving refreshments. He couldn't help notice that blacks were moving closer to the center of power, closer than he could ever have dreamed. He'd tell Helene how proud it made him feel.

Gene Allen was promoted to maitre d' in 1980. He left the White House in 1986, after 34 years. President Reagan wrote him a sweet note. Nancy Reagan hugged him, tight.

Interviewed at their home last week, Gene and Helene speculated about what it would mean if a black man were actually elected president.

"Just imagine," she said.

"It'd be really something," he said.

On Monday, Helene had a doctor's appointment. Gene woke and nudged her once, then again. He shuffled around to her side of the bed. He nudged Helene again. He was all alone.

"I woke up, and my wife didn't," he said later.

The lady he married 65 years ago will be buried today.

The butler cast his vote for Obama on Tuesday. He so missed telling his Helene about the black man bound for the Oval Office.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I Can See Russia From My House

I should lay off old Sarah P. She's been beat up enough, and now she's gone back to Alaska, back to her day job, fresh off a defeat. She is no longer hurting anyone.

For the record, I don't think she cost McCain the election - he chose her, so that was his decision. Plus, he was following the incredibly unpopular W, which sure wasn't helping anything. And then that tricky economy sneaked in - blaming Palin is not really fair. She cost him some votes, but neither made nor "breaked" this one.

But this one I just can't resist: Word today is that Palin did not know the countries in NAFTA, did not know which countries make up North America.

Nor did she know that Africa is a continent, not a country.

(I'm not even going into the further revelations on her shopping. Except to say: Wasilla Hillbillies.)

Still think she was qualified?

Uh huh. I thought not.

Winter creeps in

So much for our beautiful summer-like weather. November is pushing its way in, slowly, leaving pleasant fall temperatures firmly in the past. Today was still in the high 60s, but the rains came this afternoon.

The brilliant leaves show up in vibrant contrast to the grey skies. My desk sits in front of a bank of windows, and I can still gaze out on the gold, orange, and scarlet.

This has been a particularly lovely fall, with vivid colors everywhere I look. Maybe I'm just more cognizant after living in Houston; maybe I'm just a romantic. Who knows - I am reveling in fall in the Midwest, loving every minute.

I am just a Midwesterner at heart.

The rain would not really be a problem if I didn't have a crew of workers digging a foundation in my back yard. After the months of anticipation, they have officially begun our addition. The deck is gone, pavers dug up, and there is now, outside my back door, the beginnings of a gaping hole. With any luck it will soon be filled with concrete, on top of which will appear a frame for a 10'x26' two-story addition.

We've been living here since July, feeling as if we are in limbo - no bedroom for Maddie, so much stuff that can't be put away, extra furniture shoved wherever there is room. Now, it is as if we can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Soon we will have an actual bedroom for Maddie (well, her room still exists, but only about 4 feet of the room). Slyvia's room will be bigger, and we will have a small guest room (in the fashion of a sleeping porch off Sylvia's room - she will be able to use it when we do not have guests). Once Maddie is vacated from the third floor, we will have our game room back.

And most importantly, we will have a brand-new kitchen. We will have all new appliances, a breakfast bar, an eat-in area. We will get a new half-bath and a small sun room area. New floors, cabinets, countertops, bathroom fixtures, and better lighting.

It is exciting.

So, today I've had to listen to the sound of a jackhammer just outside the kitchen door. But it hasn't bothered me a bit. There are no steps from my back door to the yard - we have to go around to the front. But these are minor inconveniences compared to what lies in store - it will all be worth it.

Small sacrifices.

Once again, I am feeling good. I need to get busy, feel as if I am accomplishing more than learning about presidential history (today it's Jimmy Carter).

I'll deal with that tomorrow. I need to get ready for Family Math Night.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Getting out the vote

When you work 14 hours, it's a long day. But when you're doing something you believe in, it's worth it.

Even if it requires getting up at 4 a.m.

I'm not much of a morning person. I would really prefer to stay up really late and sleep in. But most of the time, life doesn't work that way. Yesterday included, when I had to report for my day as an election judge at 5 a.m. Let me tell you, the 4 a.m. alarm is not an easy way to awaken. Though truth be told, I'd been awake much of the night anyway - I tend to have restless nights when I know I have to get up extra early and don't dare oversleep.

I was given the job of programming voting cards - not the most challenging task, but necessary. And I didn't have to answer hard questions or defer people to supervisors or tell them their registration wasn't valid - all those bugs were worked out before they got to me, so I merely programmed their ballot, gave them simple directions, and sent them on their way. And I got picked to assist voters, so it was win-win-win.

The day went incredibly smoothly. Most amazing was that we were not busy. At all. There was a line already when I got there at 5, anxious types who were anticipating huge crowds and long waits. By 6.30 the polling place was hopping, and I got a little nervous. I was afraid we would get so busy I would forget to vote, so the minute I saw a lull, I jumped in line.

I needn't have worried. Once the 6.30 rush ended, that was it. We were steadily busy all day, but there was never a wait or a crowd again. Not for the entire day. We thought lunch time would get busy, then we assumed around 5 would be busy. At 5.59 p.m, we had two or three people voting and another checking in.

Apparently, the early voting push was successful. Those people waited up to 45 minutes to vote.


I assisted a few elderly voters, which was quite satisfying (even if I had to help them cast votes that I never would have). Most people were upbeat and very excited.

My co-worker started to drive me crazy. As I said, we were not busy, and there were three of us programming ballot cards. So on several occasions, people did not know which one of us to choose. She turned it into a competition, trying to be the first to attract the voters. Which was fun, but she had to be so vocal, saying, I got it! or This one's mine!

Whatever - I started to just sit down and wait unless there were two or three people headed over at once. I don't need to play silly games. I only compete when it's important. You know, like in Mah Jongg. Or Halloween costumes.

We had about 2200 people through the vote center yesterday. Many, many of them were first-time voters; many of them were young, but some were older. They would shyly admit that this was their first time, letting me know they were nervous or unsure. I told them they were fine, that the touch-screen machines are very easy to use, and they could always ask for assistance.

Mostly, I was struck by how empowering it must have felt for many of these people - young people, especially young black men, voting for the very first time. People who must have felt that their vote was meaningless until now. Suddenly they found a reason to be involved, validation that the American dream is real and does apply to people like them.

I don't generally watch The View anymore, but I watched a bit today. And Sherri Shepard told of looking at her son, and letting him know that from now on, he can aspire to anything he wants. Those dreams really can come true. Barack Obama has broken that barrier, and he has proven that in America, truly, anyone can dream of being president.

It was a historic day. I was glad to be part of it, even in a small way.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

What A Night

I've been up since 4 a.m., and it is now after midnight. I was on my feet nearly all day, working 14 hours as an election judge.

I'm exhausted. But in a good way. And I had to stay up to watch some of tonight's historic events unfold.

It's been quite an evening, and I am filled with emotion as I watch the Obamas and Bidens on the stage in Grant Park. It's now time for bed, but I will go to sleep feeling very satisfied.

I am so encouraged by the direction this country is headed. I wish great things from this Obama presidency. What a great time to be an American.

Monday, November 03, 2008

ON the edge of promise

It is beautiful here. Just beautiful. Sunny and in the 70s - the weather is just fantastic.

I feel great. Fabulous. Life could not be any better at this moment.

I am spending today being very low-key. I did some laundry, tidied up a bit after the maelstrom of activity around here over the weekend. I am thinking about attending the Go Blue party downtown tonight, but I know I need my sleep.

I have to report for duty at the polls at 5 a.m. Gulp.

In the spirit of relaxation, I finished watched LBJ on American Experience. Johnson certainly knew how to work the system, and I'm sure he was something else in person - an old school politician who didn't mince words, who wanted his own way.

His legacy is overshadowed by the quagmire that embroiled him; Vietnam was not what he wanted to be remembered for. It wore him out and took him down.

But he did so much good that is overlooked, enacting legislation for:

Head Start
Clean Air and Water legislation
Educational programming
School lunch program
National Parks
Highway beautification
Urban renewal
Public television
Consumer protection: truth in labeling, packaging
Auto safety
National Endowments for the Arts/Humanities
Civil Rights

It is a reminder of why I affiliate myself with the Democratic Party. When Lyndon Johnson described his Great Society, he saw a country where all children had quality of life - medical care, food, education, good jobs, access to all the need.

And I figure if the government can provide this, then what could be wrong with that picture? Yes, it costs money, but what else is money good for? Using it to help others seems like a worthy goal. Frankly, wanting to hoard it for your own use seems slightly selfish. I know, I know, you worked for it. But what is wrong with giving back a little bit, even if it's not by choice?

I know, some people will say that sounds like socialism. And maybe I'm just idealistic. But frankly, I don't see what's wrong with that. Using extra dollars from the wealthy to help the less fortunate - why is this a bad thing?

And it is easy for me to say - while we may not be in the very top echelons of income earners, we are high enough. And I do not mind knowing that some of our hard-earned money will not go in the bank for us, but instead, to help others who need it more.

It's radical, I know. But as people, we have a great power to do good. And I think we will be judged not by how the wealthiest among us lives, but by how we treat the least among us.

Today I saw George Stephanopoulos on television. He said that should Barack Obama win, we will be seen by the rest of the world as a place where truly anyone can grow up to be president. Personally, I think it will do much to repair our image, one that has been damaged by the Bush years. I am truly excited about the possibilities to come with this new era, and we will all benefit from the wisdom of this man.

I see great things ahead. This is why my spirits are lifted today. Tomorrow will tell, but wow, it is a great time to be an American.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tricks and Treats

I admit it: I love Halloween.

I love wearing costumes, dressing up and acting silly. I like decorating my house, handing out candy to all the neighbor kids. I like the orange lights, brown and gold leaves, black cats, and jack o'lanterns. And while I respect those that don't celebrate Halloween, on some level, I just don't get it. I know plenty of people who are good people, good Christians, who have lots of fun with this day. I don't get how it is blown out of proportion - it's just fun.

But I have to respect others' opinions.

This year was a very fun Halloween. I got to dress up not once, but twice. And I chose the costume that was the most fun this year: That's right, I was none other than Sarah Palin.

It may not have been the most original choice, but it was certainly worth a laugh. (How could it not be? There was sooo much material to work with!)

Last weekend, at the Ninth Street Hill party, I was one of three. We were dubbed The Palin Sisters.

Angie, on the far left (you'll never, ever see those words together - she is actually a Republican), carried her gun and moose, and she brought with her The First Dude. What a riot - he was decked out in snowmobile gear. I didn't even recognize him. Carol, on the far right (again, doubt you ever hear that again), had John McCain with her. (He kind of got forgotten over the course of the evening - we figure McCain is used to that by now.)

But me? I had the best accessory: My pregnant teen age daughter, Bristol. She was a huge hit. Carol had jokingly suggested we do that (she, too, has a teenager), not knowing that I already had it planned. She was concerned it might be a bit too much - Helen laughed, saying Carol didn't know me well enough - nothing is too risqué for me - ! It totally worked, because the three of us shared the prize for best costume. The traveling trophy is sitting on my mantle piece; in February I'll pass it along. Alison won the best non-costume for her Bristol, but she had already left, so they gave it to Gary - but he was wearing a costume, so he was not sure how to take it. No matter - we have two trophies on display.

I reprised the look last night, when JoAnn and I hosted a Halloween party, using our house as the haunted house. We invited mostly people from church, and it was so much fun. Great costumes, lots of karaoke, and a backyard fire for those fleeing the karaoke to enjoy.

Here I am with my date, Joe the Plumber.

And here I am with my friend Gale. Sarah and the Goth - a duo you won't likely see again.

We voted on best costume - I got the most votes (yay!) but think I should have shared the title with my fellow Sarah, Kitty, who was carrying a gun (nice touch). Here we are with the deranged Goth (though she was only deranged last night - I think it's all in the company you keep.)

Other winners included Prince Valiant (the blonde wig was too much), the One-Horned, One-Eyed Flying Purple People Eater, the Die, the Genie, and the Kayakers. Sylvia was collecting the votes and managed to snag a third-place prize for herself (she was an adorable gypsy - who wouldn't vote for her?) And an honorary shout-out to my partner in crime: Mustard, who came with her date, Ketchup.

What a fun night - I'm thinking we'll make it an annual event. I'll even let JoAnn use my house again. We do know how to throw a party.

Happy Halloween!