debt video

Indebted: We’re Broke, Let’s Fix It

$184,000 anyone? That is how much we all owe to the national debt...Check out this video! Click on the picture to see it.



book review: Collections of Nothing

Collections of Nothing
by William Davies King

I collect nothing, but I collect some things too. I collect cameras. I have thirty or so. I have used more than half of them. Some of the cameras require special film that, while still produced, is only available through places on the internet. I collect mini things: anything that is diminutive in size. Mini-cameras are one good example of a marriage of my favorite things to collect. Oh and I collect friends. I have a lot of friends. Brent thinks it must take a lot of energy to stay in contact with all of these people, but because I am an extrovert, I get energy from talking to everyone…but I digress. My collections of nothing include random items.

When I lived with my friend Nicole in law school we moved, or she helped me move, twice. I can pack clothes, I can pack towels, and kitchen items. What I have problems with is my collection of nothing. It is the detritus that has overtaken your junk drawer in your kitchen. Things that may or may not ever be useful again, but that you are not ready to part with. Randomly acquired items that remind me of a moment, a movie, a date. These items currently compete with my yearning for order in my home. I keep my nothing in various containers, in my desk, in giant plastic bins hidden under our stairway. These little objects remind me of places or people. The stuff makes me happy when I go through it.

Mr. King actively collects nothing. His nothing is different than my nothing, but I think it has a similar meaning: his collection makes him happy.

My nothing defies categorization, while his nothing is well organized and catalogued. For example in the book we learn that he has hundreds of cereal boxes from years gone by. He has many tuna can labels. If you were a PhD student in advertising, you would want to go to his collection because in his collection you could trace the changes in language used to catch consumer’s eyes as they shopped.

The book is part self-examination and part confession. What does it mean to collect such things, to basically collect trash?

I had not realized that I too collect trash until I read his book.

What is a collection? This question is at the heart of the book. His conundrum lies as to whether you can collect or hold a collection if the collection has no monetary value. Further, because his collection is so large and well organized, it may have become valuable. Therefore, while he started collecting because of his own feelings of inadequacy, or lack of value, his collecting may have in turn given him value.

The book serves not only as a meditation on his collection but as a memoir about his family. He uses his family history to explore where his collection compulsion comes from.

There was a sense of voyeurism in reading his book. I wanted to know more about what kinds of strange things he has? Where it all comes from? Where the stuff all resides now? I wanted to see pictures and hear stories about how awkward his collection made his life. I am interested in the strangeness of his collecting.

The book did not satisfy these yearnings. I feel like he is a professor, with a hobby, and a complicated family not that different from my own. And at the end of the book I was left to contemplate my own collections and what these collections mean to me.

oddly addictive

Someone took pictures of the Washington State Legislature and put them together. If you click here you will go to the website to see what I am talking about. Click on the picture to go to the next set of Legislators. It is really strange to look at.


a less weighty topic

So the New York Times had two interesting articles regarding health today.

The first article stated that it takes six months to see the positive health effects of working out. Wow. That is a long time. Kind of un-motivating. (Click this paragraph for this article.)

The other article was about detox programs (click this paragraph to go to the article). You have heard of them...you drink only water, juice, or what have you for x days or weeks and this gets the toxins out of your system. You will have more energy, lose weight, and live happily ever after.

I want to try these things. Brent says they are crazy. My rational brain says, yes, definatly crazy. The other half of my brain says, hey why not try it, can't hurt. The rational side is currently winning.

But the article in the New York Times is a bit annoying. It is unorganized and poorly argued and explained. “There is absolutely no scientific basis for the assertion that the regimens popularly defined as ‘detox’ will augment the body’s own capacity for identifying and eliminating your own metabolic wastes or doing the same for environmental toxins." Can this be? No scientific research into the area of whether detoxing your body is good for it? I don't believe it.

Then the article goes on to state that there is at least one trial ongoing currently.

Any one out there ever tried it?


a new president

Driving back into Washington from our cabin in West Virginia, we see many different license plates. One large white van from Alabama carrying a group of people to see the inauguration rolls past. I get verklemt. On the radio they are talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. and whether Obama fulfills MLK’s dream.

I feel a sense of relief. I did not expect to feel this relief at the change in our presidency.

I am done with Bush. I am tired of him saying that he wanted to do the right thing, and then did the opposite. I am tired of the hypocrisy of it all: that he could be a God fearing Christian, and then somehow feel that breaking the Golden Rule ((Editors note: mistake changed.) was ok.

Last year, a girl friend from college sent around the forward about Obama being a terrorist. I responded nicely, but with some force, that a bit of internet research would show this to be false. My friend did some internet research herself and then sent out an apology for having forwarded the email. She said she was wrong, and that Obama was not in fact a terrorist. What a relief. She went on to say that as a Christian it was her duty to rectify the lie she had forwarded along, because one of the Commandments is not to lie.

Does anyone remember life before Bush? Eight years ago I was in Montana helping Linda as she became more and more ill with cancer. Jack was trying to get me to move home to take care of Montana. Erica was pregnant, but only just, with Tanner. John was still in college. I had not started law school, nor could I foresee living in Berlin for two years at that point. Brent and I were just friends. I was over Clinton. I was tired of his questioning the nature of “is.”

On Friday, Bush told us again that torture anywhere of anyone was wrong and he stands against it.

Really? Really? That is your final word? That is where you are going to leave us? In this double speak world, where Gitmo is still open, as you saunter off to your home in Texas? Look at our country Bush: the economy sucks, our reputation in the world sucks, and the Israelis knew that if they attacked Gaza today, your power was so small, that nothing could be done to stop it. The country gave you the keys and you are handing the keys back not a minute too soon.

So, yes, I feel relieved. This too shall pass. We can make the US a better place again.


Book Review: Eros

Last Christmas, Brent gave me a movie we both adored when we saw it in the theater: Once. We even have the soundtrack. After opening it I realized he did not know that I don’t watch movie more than once and I also don’t read books more than once. Unless, that is, I don’t understand what happened.

I just finished reading Eros, by Helmut Krausser. The story is set in Germany, in fact the author lives in Berlin. (Reader thinks: Ah, Berlin, how I love thee….) As the name implies, the book is a love story, but to whom is unclear.

The book covers eight days in an author’s life. During those eight days, he is told the story of one ailing yet über-rich man’s life. The subject of the book, the ailing man, was born during the Second World War, his parents were at least tangentially involved with the Nazis, and he lived a very affluent life. And he is obsessed with one woman, Sofie, throughout his life. The man wants the author to document his life and his “works” before he dies. At the end I was left feeling that the story might just be real. I wanted to know who this mogul was that had all this money and spent all this time running around after one woman.

But at the end of the book I was left wondering what exactly happened. I could not make out who did what, and what was real. Was any of it real? The last page in the book, a kind of afterward, tells the reader that nothing in the book is real. But that is what the rich guy told the author to tell everyone. I guess any book that makes you want to believe that it could be real can be considered a success.

The translation left a bit to be desired. There were substantial typos throughout the book that at one point became distracting to me. I wasn’t particularly sure of the translation either. I think I would have said some things differently.

However, because the book is so entrenched with the history of Germany, it is hard to translate some items, for example neger kuss. Typing that even feels funny. This item is basically a lump of marshmallow dipped in chocolate. The direct translation of the name of this item is nigger kiss. Nice. No, not nice. Perhaps a bit of discussion about the difficulties of translation is in order but I don’t have a solution for translating these types of cultural difficulties. That is what the Germans call it, and it is in the book. It seems offensive to me, but German’s sometimes think Americans take our politically correctness too far.

The author has been called the greatest living German author, and I understand why after reading Eros. What a solid read. But I am not going to read it again either.


Vituary: Ramona

How do I decide when to write a vituary? At the beginning of the project I expected I would start at one end of my friend list and work through them. This has not proved to be the case.

So I suppose I write vituary’s when I feel like it. But that seems so ridiculous, writers have to write all the time, not just when they feel like it.

But wait, this is not about me, it is about Ramona. Ramona and I met and became friends a little more than 10 years ago. She is from Montana and we connected through Girl Scouts. Looking back through old Girl Scout pictures though, I found her photo, so we must have met before then sometime. Her sister was my camp counselor for years and her mother lead the Girl Scout council in Montana.

But we did not really connect until I moved to DC. Through the years we have had many an adventure together: from the first time I went to her house and kept getting lost for 4 HOURS, to moving her 80+ year old friend, to shopping at Nordstrom Rack, to road trips to New York and the Eastern Shore, to retrieving lost mufflers on the side of the road in the middle of the night. We were “Montana sisters.” She was there when Linda died and then when Jack died. She always would pick up the phone for me.

Until she didn’t.

Which I suppose is the impetus for this vituary.

If the purpose of the vituary is to tell people you love, why you love them, before they are dead, the corollary is that the person must listen.

So, I love Ramona because she is crazy, because she can drink most men I know under the table, because she came to visit me in Germany, because she spends her life doing all good things for other people, because she started her own business, because she can tell a really sad story and make you laugh at the end, because she too can start a one-match fire, because she is grounded and frugal, because she talked to me for hours about men who should not have mattered, and because she always picked up the phone.


Book Review: Her Last Death

By Susanna Sonnenberg

Mrs. Sonnenberg should have written three books: one book about her relationship with her mother (and family), another about what a selfish person she was growing up, and a third about her work in an abortion clinic.

We read about all of the sordid details of her childhood and her relationship with her highly engaging mother, the reading of which reminded me of reality TV. And like reality TV I did not want to read, but I kept reading. The author lulls the reader into thinking she is the only sane one.

When the book is three quarters of the way complete she comes clean with the reader. You almost feel as a reader that she letting you in on the secret that she was not all that different from her mom and her sister. She admits to the reader that she skipped over some items: she is a nymphomaniac and a compulsive liar too. We learn she was as insane as the rest of the people in her life. She was selfish just like her mom. She only becomes a real respectable person when she moves to Missoula. (I read that part on the back of the book and that was why I picked it up.) She gets a real job working at a restaurant (think Finnegans in Kalispell) for minimum wage and cuts off contact with her mother.

I found the final part of the book to be the most moving. She wrote in this section about her work at an abortion clinic in Missoula. But again it seemed to belong in another book. She wrote clearly and explained her choices in life, even if I would not have made the same choices as she did. But without giving the story away, I was left with some questions about this section of the book too.

All three parts of her memoir are compelling. I read the book quickly, but at times I did not believe the author. For example, she states that even though she grew up in New York, went to boarding school in New England someplace (undisclosed), spent time in Connecticut, and had driven across the country with her mother to New Mexico, she did not know the location of Pennsylvania when she was in college. Really? I don’t buy it.

These small blips in the story, a story about lying at its core, make me question the truth in the other statements she makes. That said, the author also points out that she has a skewed memory of what happened. But I can’t help wondering if she is maybe bending the truth a bit here and there. Maybe, just maybe?

(One more thing: the photo on the cover of this book is so distracting...I don't feel like the woman's shoes fit her...they are way too big...and I can't figure out what the message is...why a picture only from the waist down?)


my personal trainer fired me

At 50 bucks an hour he was not cheap. We started working out together in the fall of 2007. I found him on the internet, where all personal trainers live.

He was a little guy, maybe an inch taller than me and he most likely weighed half as much as me. He was gay and he did not share personal information with me. Perhaps he was jaded by so many past clients; people’s lives in whom he had become emotionally invested, only to have those people stop training with him. I can’t say as I blame him.

I would get to the local gym above a local grocery store at 8 am. Everyone knew everyone there just like Cheers; it was a comfortable place to workout. I would hop on the treadmill, starting out slowly. Immediately he would put the thing on an incline not dissimilar to that of Mt. Everest, and have me trying to run up the hill. I persisted, decreasing the incline anytime he walked away. I was not allowed to hold on either, at that height. After 12 minutes of this we would step over to the weights.

I could tell he was alternately impressed at my strength and disgusted at my sloth.

During one session I actually thought I was going to throw up right there in the gym. I rushed to the bathroom and left. It felt horrible.

Now, I don’t like to work out. I don’t run for the fun of it, I don’t push myself to fatigue. And I find people who do to be a bit strange.

Then the nutrition lessons began. Two veggies, one protein for dinner, maybe throw in a starch. A chicken breast with nothing on it the size of my fist for dinner. He even gave me a hand out.
For goodness sake people, I have gone to school for 20 years of my life, I read like a fiend, I know what to eat. Thanks. No really.

He took me down to the grocery where he interrogated me about what I was eating. He held the ice cream in my face and yelled to me that it was killing me.

That is where he lost me. Really, no more ice cream ever? Really? Who was he kidding? Not me.

I started my new job and then could no longer come at 8 am. I emailed him to reschedule. He told me he was getting Washington into shape one person at a time. Since he never emailed back, I guess he was doing it one person less at a time.

A few months ago I almost literally ran into him on the street. He ignored me. It took me a second to recognize him, and then he was gone.

I made my new trainer promise not to fire me.


a new goal: 30 pounds

One of my friends once told me that it is patently clear that I am capable of doing whatever it is that I set my mind to. As I look around, I think that might be true.

So why is it that I can’t lose weight? Have I never really tried?

When answering survey questions that ask how many diets you have tried, I generally put none. I don’t believe in dieting, so of course I have never done it.

Yes I have. There was the time when Jack was sick when I went to the nutritionist. And then the time I half-heartedly tried weight watchers. (The only thing I can remember from that was listening to the reports of the second space shuttle having been blown up.) I am sure there are others.

I think about losing weight. I like the idea. I really liked the idea the whole year before my wedding, but not enough to actually lose weight.

I am educated about losing weight: eat less food, lose weight. I know eating too much sugar is bad for me and even makes me get eczema. (Weird, I know.)

As another friend said, I am not just sitting around eating chocolate éclairs. I honestly think my body processes food better than other bodies. But that is an excuse. I know this. So what if that is the case, that does not obviate my responsibility to lose weight so I don’t end up with diabetes, heart problems, or even worse with cancer.

When Linda wanted to lose weight, she just started smoking and drinking more coffee instead of eating. She was thin most of her life. (And died from smoking, so…)

When Jack wanted to lose weight, well he always needed to lose weight. I look just like Jack. His mother was in her late 80’s and was still talking about losing weight.

So what is the problem? I don’t think I have ever really tried.

In 2009 I am going to lose 30 lbs. That works out to a little more than 2 pounds a month. Erica, my sister, is doing this with me thanks to the internet.

When we achieve our goal, we are going to Ireland. Neither of us have ever been there.

Here is my plan:
1. Journal with Erica daily about our progress, including an honest exchange about what we have eaten.
2. Continue working out with the personal trainer, and go on my own two more times at least every week.
3. Not eat after 7 pm.
4. Go try acupuncture. (Hey, why not?)
5. Read more books about nutrition, starting with getting through Good Calories/Bad Calories.
6. Wear my pedometer.

Wish me luck and keep me honest.


Movie Review: Wall-E

The setting: a dystopian future where humans have abandoned the world because our trash has taken over the world. Robots have been left on earth to clean it up for us. The humans have been gone for so long that only a cockroach and one robot are still alive. The humans forgot that they wanted to go back to earth because they live on a cruise ship, talking on their cell phones, and riding around in little carts. People can no longer walk and don’t know how to make any decisions for themselves. A la 2001 A Space Odyssey the computers/robots have taken over.

How is it that this movie captured the hearts of America this year? It did. And boy what cute a movie it is. Because really, the movie is a parable dressed up as a love story.

Did anyone notice the real message of the movie: we are losing our relationships and robots are taking over the world. Wait, that is kind of strange message. But I can’t help thinking every time I see someone crossing the street talking on their cell phone while about to get hit by an SUV, that something is wrong.

Can our electronic connections take the place of human connections? No, of course not. The movie Wall-E takes all of our internet surfing, cell phone chatting, and consumption to its logical conclusion: if we don’t start taking care of our planet, we are going to have to leave. I wonder if any kids are picking up on the real message of the move...any reports from the field?


a poem

From my mother in law. I think this sums up why I blog and put my pictures online.

I came in my office tonight to work.

Honest to God actual “work” on CPA bills.

It did not happen.

Spent the last 2 hours blissfully and enjoyably wandering through the various sites of my daughter in law, Nicole.

Learned about her family, her childhood and her thoughts.

Better than going to a movie.

Made me love her even more.

Realize how lucky my son is and how wisely he picked.

Will not work tonight.

Time well spent.

Love you too!


Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

By Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Allison Anderson

It is January 1, 2009, and I just finished my first book of the year. Does it count if I started the book last year? I think so.

My binary classification of things divides all things into one of two camps: love or hate (so basic). But I loved this book. The title is what I noticed first: The Elegance of the Hedgehog. What does that mean? Have you ever seen a hedgehog? My friend Loni had one. It was the cutest thing. They would take it on walks in the sand. It died. So what I knew of hedgehogs was and that they are cute, small, and prickly. They have a lot going for them but can be hard to handle.

The main protagonist of the book can be readily recognized as the hedgehog of the book. The 54-year-old concierge is a super genius, who left school at age 12. She has worked in her Parisian eight unit apartment building for twenty years, hiding all along her intelligence. The other story told in the book is about a 12-year-old little girl who is also a super genius. She is trying to find her way in the world.

Both character’s keen observations about life, class, and grammar are delightful to read and enjoyable to contemplate afterwards. Can you change your class? What does class mean? How annoying is the improper use of a comma? Aren’t we all just the same, seeking to be noticed by our fellow man?

This is one of those books that you don’t want to end. As I kept reading I kept wondering how on earth the author was going to finish the book in the few pages left.

Without giving the story away, let me say that the book inspired a spirited emotional response from me at the end.

The book does slow a bit during the in-depth meditations on philosophy, but don’t let that keep you from getting the book. Get ahead of the curve: read the Oprah book before it is an Oprah book.

happy new year