Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Little Christmas-time Love

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that.

It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion you'll find... love actually is all around."
~Hugh Grant as the British Prime Minister in Love Actually

Christmas is about one thing: love. God sent his only son so that we might not perish but have eternal life. God loves us, unconditionally, all of us, each and every one of us. I forget this daily, but Christmas is ultimately about one thing: Love.

and no, i don't know the people in this photo, i found it on someone else's blog. call me a creeper if you want.
Merry Christmas, Mele Kilikimaka, Feliz Navidad, Frohe Weinachten!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Merry New York Christmas

"Yeah I'm sending you a Merry New York Christmas
And a prayer for peace on earth
Within our time
Oh, the sidewalk angels echo hallelujah
And we understand them
Now more than ever
So call on your angels
Your beaten and broken
It's time that we mend them
So they don't fade with the season
Let our mercy be the gifts we lay
From Brooklyn to Broadway
And celebrate each and every day
This New York City Christmas"
rob thomas, merry new york xmas

Ah, New York City. Before Bonnie, Caitlin, and I departed for Manhattan, someone asked me if I'd ever been to the City at Christmastime. "No, you haven't? Well, you'll love it. Its magical!"

Magical? A city? I had my doubts. Certainly its just focused on spending money and buying gifts rather than kindness and love. I knew it would be fun but I didn't think the city would be any more magical than usual. Apparently I was wrong.

I follow a handful of blogs (in addition to my friends) none of the writers do I know personally - that focus on a handful of things - love, a few on interior design trends, and one on just randomness. They all in some way have recently paid tribute to the Big Apple, and one of them had DOZENS of pictures of Bergdorf Goodman's christmas window displays. BG is a store that is entirely too expensive and over-the-top for my liking. But its windows were spactacular, and since they didn't have price tags for me to find disgusting, I thought they were lovely. Caitlin's Mecca, Saks Fifth Avenue, was a wonder of twinkle lights, silver shiny decorations, and fake snow. It was, in a word, magical. So is spending the afternoon in New York City with good friends, no matter what time of year.

There were millions of Santas traipsing around Rockefeller Center for a "santa pub crawl." There was the guy dressed as Jesus in Dean and Deluca. There was the Egyptian cab driver who showed me photos of his kids as I rode in the front seat with him through the Lower East Side and Midtown. (Our new friend from Cali was with Cait & BonBon in the back seat.) I think my favorite moment was in Chinatown.

Bonnie muttering a few choice words as she got cash from the ATM. Me wheeling and dealing with the drug dealers. I mean designer bag dealers. Caitlin first not buying anything but then opting for some prada shades. (which she proceeded to wear as the sun went down and we attempted to find a cab in the 20-something degree weather.)

"Do you have an application?" A man with a thick accent and dreadlocks asked me.

"No." I replied rudely. I didn't have time to be ripped off.

"You don't have an application??" He asked again with a smile.

"For what?" I demanded to know.

"An application for a new boyfriend! If you have it, I will sign and approve."

Hahaha. Laughter all around, from my friends and his.

"Oh, well, I have kids..." (someone asked me if i had kids on friday night, before they asked if they could take me to dinner, so i was thinking this would throw him off.)

"Really, me too!! I have five kids! And two wives! I would like a third! Are you interested? Maybe your friends are too??!"
"Oh, well now you're just messing with us." More ha-has. More laughter. But we walked quickly away.

If I lived there, I'd probably be sick of the tourists at Christmas. I'd probably be wrapped up in the decorations and materialization of the holiday. I'd be enthused at the thought of buying a live tree from a nearby street corner, just like they do on the tv show "Friends."

But I'm allergic to Christmas trees. And I love the clean, simple subway system of DC. And I need trees and the occasional house with a yard. So, for now, New York City, we'll have to be long-distance acquaintaces. Don't think I don't love you. But for one more heart belongs to this district.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

red white & blue christmas

i love the city of washington, district of columbia. but i'm not sure that i would have ever convinced myself to move here for longer than just an internship if it hadn't been for the president and the wonderful people that work for him, who i met last spring. the pace of the internship, the quality of the people i worked alongside, witnessing actions and policies of the leader of the free world, the american president...i spent the four months of my internship in wonder.

i got to share that wonder with my mom this week. all political appointees got to take a guest on an east wing tour of the white house in all of its christmas glory. the theme this year is red white and blue christmas.

the president returned from giving a speech on changes in military strategy since 2001 at west point while we were in the WHITE HOUSE.

that's right. we weren't outside for the arrival, where you feel the wind in your hair and your face being ripped off by the blades of marine one, but we saw the three helicopters approach the south lawn (two decoys, one the real deal), one hover and land, the marines step off, salutes the president, and then, he walked out (the president) and waved to the peeps gathered behing the rope line outside.

i don't care who you voted for in 2000 or 2004, or if you think he has been incompetent as president - the majority still elected him and it is so cool to see democracy in action. i so wish my dad could have been there, and maybe my brother too, and everyone else i know and love.

my mom teared up in the blue room (where we watched the action) after the ceremony was all over. we were in the white house when the president walked thourgh doors one floor below us!! all that he has sacrificed, all the lives that have been sacrificed during his presidency, just to think about all of that makes it pretty moving to witness marine one landing.

enjoy the photos. merry christmas. and, as dubya always says with a smile, god bless america. and god bless you.

i call her mom. but you can call her crazy

"its cold here in dc. want laura to know i am texas girl when i meet her this afternoon. sixteen coats of mascara. mink coat. big hair. three pounds of jewels."

my mom has just left this district after three days of fun. she got in on monday evening and left this morning. (well actually her flight was delayed, sorry mom!) the above is a text message i recieved from her tuesday morning, sent to freak me out (as a joke ha) because i had specifically asked her not to wear her "fur" on our christmas white house tour that afternoon.

my mom and look exactly alike. see below.

on the street, in restaurants, in shops, wherever - people ALWAYS feel the need to comment "oh wow, i can tell you are mother and daughter." "oh my gosh, you look so much alike." "that must be your beautiful mom over there. you are the spitting image of her."

to most of the thousands of people, i always respond with a smile, a laugh, a nod, or a thank-you. but on the somedays, after hearing it 5 or 6 times, i just want to say -"thank you for pointing that out. we come from a society that does not use mirrors, so i never really knew i looked like my mom before today." ha.

it doesn't bother me as much as i act like it does. she's bright, bubbly, always smiling. but before i tell you about our adventures, let me pause to point out - we are different. despite my need to talk to her for at least a few minutes everyday, or my need to run all important decisions by her, we are different. for one, i don't call everyone (including the grocery stork cashier) baby doll or sweetie. i typically don't have problems balancing my checkbook. i don't look at a pile of absolute crud in an antique store and think "HMM! TREASURE!" i can't shop for longer than an hour. i do believe there is such a thing as an excess of hairspray. she finds my dad a lot funnier and cooler than i do. you might say she thinks he hung the moon. i think he's a big nerd who needs to realize that mack brown neither personally knows him nor can hear him while he is yelling at the television.

all that said, she's my favorite person in the whole world. my biggest problem is that she knows this, and uses it to her advantage. haha. but really - my mom is kind, thoughtful, and rarely meets a stranger. i do get my loud voice and obnoxious storytelling skills from her. this is why i think i am so frequently perturbed at her inability to control the volume of her voice or get to the point - its like watching a video of myself. awkward.

Monday night in DC we met at my house around 6 p.m. She got out of the cab looking glam - fur coat, big hair, etc. We went to dinner and, without the boys to rush us, talked and talked before we ordered, ate some shrimp and vegetable combination at a fun restaurant near my house, and talked and talked some more. We then wandered down Wisconsin and looked in some windows while freezing, grabbed dessert, and headed back to the T street and my harry potter room.

(if you're wondering how we fit into my 5x9 room, its easy - her suitcase became the new rug we walked on, and katherine let me sleep in her wonderful sleeping bag in her room, all this while she was studying for finals. as a thank you, i apparently talked to her in my sleep, but have no recollection of that.

tuesday was the big white house east wing tour. but i have lots of photos and a good story so i might just save that for another post, since this is turning into a NOVEL. sorry.

the rest of our trip was great - tuesday night we drove out to mount vernon, only to find that their website lied and the lantern-lit christmas tours are weekend only. but we went to target to grab a few things and had fun in the aisles. of course my mom thinks its okay to sing loudly in public when there is no music playing. later that night we distracted/disrupted the doctor (katherine) from her studies and had funny convos.

wednesday mom had lunch with our fun family friend lisa parcells (the parcys live in mclean, we were good friends in houston 3rd - 6th grade before they moved) and i cut out of work a little early. we went shopping at a downtown christmas market - while she was waiting for me some dude came up and asked my mom if he could take her to dinner. she politely declined. earlier that day someone had approached her and told her she was what a real American woman should look like, beautiful. ew. creepy. and probably not 100% true. haha i crack myself up.

wednesday night we had dinner with all my faves in dc - katherine, caitlin, bonnie, lauren, emma, and charles joseph caulkins. i miss the days when groups of peeps hung out at my house talking with my mom and playing pool with my dad into the wee hours of the night. i don't so much miss her telling people where my nickname "lolly" came from.

it was so easy to say goodbye to mi madre on thursday. i'll be seeing her in exactly a week! normally i've only seen her for two or three days, not nearly long enough, and have say goodbye for another month or six weeks or so. knowing that i'll be home for two weeks in a week from now? it's like, okay, mom, peace, see ya, bye.

yep, i call her mom. but you can call her crazy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Here if You Need Me" - great book

Here if You Need Me, by Kate Braestrup

True Story - a woman living in Maine with four children dealing with the sudden death of her husband, a state trooper who died in a car accident. She goes to seminary to fulfill her husband's wish for himself, and becomes the chaplain for the Maine Game Wardens. It winds numerous stories of death together as her family moves on from their own experience with it.

It is not a Christian book, per se, because Kate is a Unitarian Universalist - there is one point in the book that i literally closed it and was thinking "WHAT!" because -her son had asked her what it meant to follow jesus, and what would his life look like if he did that, and in her head Kate is thinking "Oh please, please dont do that..." I was shocked. Turns out Unitarians believe all kinds of things - and she believes that God is Love. She believes in Jesus, but not that he is God. At least that's what I've gathered from further reading about the Seminary she attended.

Anyways, it is a marvelous book if you are dealing with death or not. Its short and moving and funny and more light-hearted than you would imagine. It is beautifully written and will tug at your heart. For me, i walked away from it clinging to my faith and aware of the need of God's grace to understand why people die.

Kate doesn't avoid the fact that death SUCKS. But she also doesn't give in to the modern day mentality that death can be avoided. At the end, I felt as though the author was really my friend, someone I knew and trusted, who was ready to grieve by yourside at any moment, or to just share a laugh and a story from the woods of Maine.

Read it!! You can borrow my copy anytime. (Added incentive: the cover is really pretty.)

Book Club Round Two

6) Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster
Recommended by a friend, it is really funny. and really bitter. and drops the F bomb alot. But I'm not not recommending it. If you need a beach read, its pretty good, and isn't so bitter the second half.

7) American Poems, Compiled
400 great poems, both famous and not so much. Some favorites: "If" Rudyard Kipling, any Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson. I checked it out from the library, so sue me.

8) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty SmithApparently an American classic, I had to force myself through the first 100 or so pages. But the writing is superb and the characters are memorable - but the book is somewhat sad. Definitely points out the need for good teachers and kind-hearted people. And paints an ugly picture of early 20th century low-income life in New York City. All that sad, you should read it. I give it 3 1/2 stars.

9) City of Glass, Paul Auster
I borrowed this from roomie Katherine. The author is brilliant in a twisted, this book is off its rocker sort of way. I read it right before I spent the day wandering around New York City, so it was perfect. And its a quick read, if you're into mystery/detective stuff, read it. Someday I plan to read the other two books in the trilogy.

10) Marley & Me, John Grogan
My mom read this book when it first came out 5 or 6 years ago, and quickly passed it on to several friends, so I had never read it. Good timing though, to read it a few months after Sam died. Helped put my hurt into perspective - dogs really can teach us invaluable lessons. Don't call yourself a dog lover and tell me you haven't found time to read this book. Two thumbs way up!! (ps movie coming out christmas day with jennifer aniston and owen wilson, so you better read before then...)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Beat the Hell out of Al Qaeda

I have a bit of a crush on Bob Gates. I mean President of A&M Gates. Or Secretary Gates. Anything but Bob. We're not really on a first name basis.

When I transferred to Texas A&M University, I could not have told you who was President of my new school for one million dollars. But, after I read the Texas Monthly cover story on him (published immediately prior to the annoucement that he was the President's nominee for Seecretary of Defense in Nov. 2006) I developed a huge soft spot in my heart for him.

Unassuming. Non-political. Respectful of tradition. Honorable. Inspiring. Brilliant. Loyal. Determined.

Most students that I knew at Texas A&M followed his nomination and clearance process extremely closely. I read an article in our school paper about how he took the weekend to think about accepting the position from President Dubya - Gates said he had to talk it over with his wife, and he wasn't sure he was ready to leave a place he loved so much: TEXAS A&M. He admitted to walking the campus late at night with tears in his eyes, knowing it was his duty to serve his country as the Chief of the Pentagon, but not wanting to believe he had to go to Washington.
In an emailed letter to all students, Gates had this to say:
""You already know that I am leaving this incredible university reluctantly and with a heavy heart. By the same token, Aggies more than anyone else understand why I must do so."
I saved that email in my inbox for the rest of my tenure as an undergrad. I can vividly remember standing among the crowd at his farewell "yell practice" (read: pep rally) with my roommates as we sang the fight song one last time with President Gates. A&M has a familiar, somewhat crass, chant- "Beat the Hell Out of ___(insert opponent here)!!" Good Ole Bob yelled out, several times, "Beat the Hell Out of Al Qaeda!"

The only reason he was leaving this university he had helped and loved so much was to fight a much bigger fight. He announced this past Monday, December 1st, that he will continue to serve in the Obama administration. What a brave man. He is a registered independent but has worked closely with both President George Bushes. He worked at one of the most conservative schools in the nation. (I googled this to make sure I wasn't exaggerating. Princeton Review listed TAMU as #8 on its list of "Socially Conservative" colleges for 2009.)
To get to the point- the great Robert Gates is definitely a middle-of-the-road type of guy. He'll be sitting next to Barack Obama, with Joe Biden on the other side, and across from the likes of Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton in the cabinent meeting room. Certainly harsh words and opinions will be cast around the room as quickly as you can say "Yes We Can!" Again, he is a brave man. I'm proud of his decision - and I'm proud of Obama for asking him to stay. I will say this: the cabinent meetings in 2009 are going to be ROWDY. In all caps.

Can I just take a quick second to ask - is Obama going to count this REGISTERED INDEPENDENT as his token "Republican" cabinet member that he promised the American public during election season?? Oh, wait, was that just fancy election-season rheotoric?
On behalf of Texas A&M, we're proud of ya, Bob Gates. We'll be watching. (Along with Al Qaeda.) Send us an email every now and then, would ya?

Oh- and a ps - found this quote, pay attention Dad:

"Were we to become a top ten university and lose that spirit, those traditions, our culture, we would be nothing more than another giant education factory. A big brain with no heart. Hell, we might as well be in Austin." -Gates 2004

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

reading list (round one)

Understatement of the year: I love to read. Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Cecilia Ahern, the big names. And random authors you come across while hanging out at your local Barnes & Noble.

Our President (George Dubya, hail to the Chief) keeps a list of the books he reads each year, which in 2007 was more than 90. His critics doubt this is true, citing as evidence his many blunders of the English language. However, he says that he gets the reading done because he never watches TV, with the exception of the occasional sports game, and he enjoys reading.

So, I decided in 2008 I would keep a list of all the books I've read. And, why not blog about them? Great. Stop reading here if the idea of reading about my reading bores you. I totally understand.

1) My Sisters Keeper - Jodi Picoult
If you haven't read anything by this phenomenal author yet, start here. Her characterization will suck you in - and all of her topics are obscure and extremely well researched to be as believable as possible. My Sister's Keeper deals with tough topics - a child's battle with cancer, stem cell research, parents vs. teenagers, etc, but it is not too dark. It has its laugh out loud moments, and it left me crying as I closed the back cover. Were they tears of joy? Tears of sorrow? I'll let you discover that on your own.

2) The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls
I found it shocking that this book is based on fact - its a memoir of a women who grew up in a poor, rough, hurting family surprisingly surrounded by love. Walls writing allows the reader to travel right along with her through childhood - only stopping along the way to appreciate the comforts and simplicity my parents gave me that I never even noticed. Read it, read it!

3) Lost & Found
A great beach read. Not earth-shattering writing but a wonderful story that left me in tears. I'm either turning into a sap that crys real tears at the drop of a hat, these books were exceptionally good, or I had an emotional spring. Perhaps just a combo of all 3. To sum up- a brave woman, her deceased husband's dog named Lloyd, and an island of the coast of Maine. There may or may not be a hunk thrown in there somewhere.
4) 3 cups of tea, Greg Mortenson
WHY HAVENT YOU READ THIS BOOK??? WHY? I first heard of this from Justus Anderson, an Aggie friend who spent half of 2008 in Africa. He read this book on the way over there, and then I saw it all over the tables of B&N, so I bought it. WONDERFUL story that we all need to hear/know about. Anyone want to go hiking or build schools in Pakistan? Let me know. (I mean, I probably won't actually go with you, but I'll be glad to assist in the funding of your trip.)

5) Last Lecture, Randy Pausch
Wonderful book. If you haven't heard of it - a professor found out he was dying of brian cancer gave a "last lecture" on all the accomplishments of his life. Its a short, inspiring read that I recommend to anyone and everyone of all ages. I will warn you though, you may find a tear or two in your eye before the end. A good reminder that death is inevitable. (Apparently so are taxes, unless you live in a hut in the middle of nowhere Montana.)
6) Nope, I think that's enough for today. What a wonder that we live in a day and age where you don't learn to read based on the color of your skin or if you're male or female or if your parents can afford wealthy tutors. (for the most part) Yeeaaaaa Reading!!