The Road

2011/12/31


The RoadThe Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nothing like ringing in the new year with a post-apocalyptic book. Cheery! When this book came out and there was so much buzz about it I had little desire to read it. But it came across my nightstand at just the right moment so I gave it a shot. I'm so glad I did. It was incredibly rich and worthwhile. Enjoyable seems like the wrong type of word considering the subject matter, but the language was simply incredible and the format of the book is very accessible.

What I learned:
There's an incredible amount in these pages about life. I love books that take humanity to its very essential frame and examine it. How would I behave in such dire circumstances? What does that tell me about how I navigate my days from my exceedingly cushy vantage point?
There's also a great deal about parenthood in the novel. What would you do for your children? What are the limits of mercy? How many of my "ethical" choices are relative to my circumstances?

What I loved:
The language. Some of McCarthy's short passages were breathtaking.
The questions. I like books that make me think.
The boy's voice. He was truly the embodiment of the best of human nature. It was so important to have a child in the story. Even though the book is heavy and dark, I think the author is showing an optimistic point of view by including him.

A favorite passage:
No lists of things to be done. The day is providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth is grief and ashes. So, he whispered to the sleeping boy. I have you.


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1Q84

2011/12/30


1Q841Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is so hard for me to describe what I love about Murakami's books. I definitely do not recommend them unless you appreciate the bizarre. This one was slightly less surreal and fantastical than some of his other titles, but still had lots of his characteristic craziness. It is long enough that I had to pace myself rather than rush through it, but I really enjoyed it all the way through. The characters were intriguing and the plot was great. Wild and strange, but great.


I am a total sucker for a romance plot line with separated lovers struggling to be reunited. There is so much to be drawn from examining the characters. One of my favorite passages is near the end. I'd consider it something of a spoiler alert except I doubt anyone I know would want to read this book.


It was such a long time, Aomame thought.

It was such a long time, Tengo thought too. At the same time, though, he noticed how the twenty years that had passed now held no substance. it had passed by in an instant, and took but an instant to be filed in.

...Tengo once again keenly felt the mind's ability to relativize time. Twenty years was a long time. But Tengo knew that if he were to meet Aomame in another twenty years, he would feel the same way he did now. Even if they were both over fifty, he would still feel the same mix of excitement and confusion in her presence. His heart would be filed with the same joy and certainty.


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Carnage

Witness the carnage that once was two gingerbread houses. Someone call FEMA. 

Moment of the day

Georgeous day calls for being outside. The girls are rocking the park while I catch up on some neglected magazines. I absolutely adore the nothingness of this week between Christmas and New Year's. Love not working, love putting the house back in order, love having no agenda. 

Moment of the day

2011/12/28

Evening walk through the neighborhood to see the last of the Christmas lights

SoCo and BBQ

2011/12/27

We took a little sister time today and went window shopping on South Congress. I don't get enough of my sisters so it's been fabulous to hang out and stay up too late and generally enjoy their company. Ben, don't you feel left out? We would have found a hat for you too.


My dad and sisters head home tomorrow so we took our last night together and headed out to the Salt Lick for some delish BBQ. It's been a lovely visit all around, so glad they could come.



Future Longhorn

2011/12/26

Xandy asked to visit her current obsession and future home, the University of Texas. We had fun frolicking around on the grass near the turtle pond. Another beautiful and sunny day even though the forecast said rain. Yay for sunshine!

Merry Christmas

Happy Gingerbread Day

2011/12/24

Back row houses: Tessa, Sylvie, Haley; Front row houses: Xandy, Anna

Total win for gingerbread day this year. I woke up this morning to a little rain which made me nervous after last year's cluster of humidity related fiascoes. But everything worked like a charm. I am apparently gaining gingerbread related wisdom as the years march on. I made five houses again this year after swearing I wouldn't ever again last year. But I had many helping hands and it went super smooth. Yay us! Anna had some trouble with a collapsing roof, but she is tenacious and totally made it work. Tessa and Sylvie complained about my OCD need to buy only red and green candy but I still think they look great (and will do the same next year). We also added jolly rancher stained glass windows this year which was a nice touch. Next year we'll have to add a sun room or something to up the ante.

I use four batches of this recipe for icing and it was absolute perfection for construction and this is my favorite all time gingerbread recipe although I halve the ginger and cloves (quadrupled as well made just barely five houses). It stays good for weeks even sitting out. Our gingerbread is for eating, not just looking in this house.

Town Lake

2011/12/23

 

Crazy gorgeous day yesterday afternoon and we capitalized on it in a big way by heading down to Town Lake to rent canoes. So much fun. Absolutely no other way to say it.


Xandy was determined to catch one of the hundreds of turtles that sun themselves along the water's edge. And at the last minute she made it happen. I think she was as surprised as we were.


We stopped off by Sugar Mama's on the way home. I know I'll get push back on this one, but they truly get my vote for best cupcake. Better than Hey Cupcake. Jack's Lemon is among my favorite desserts ever. Mmmm.

 

 
Love my sisters with a fiery passion from deep inside my pancreas!

Need

2011/12/22

This Christmas I am very clear about what I want and what I NEED...

Today

2011/12/20

More than one moment to my day. Some last minute shopping, a class party, and hanging out at home. Good day.

Sweet musical girl

2011/12/15


Sylvie is such an enigma. They say girls are made of sugar and spice but I like to think of Sylvie as sweet and sour. Which is one of her favorite dinners so I guess that works. She does have a lot of anxiety and other emotional volcanoes, but underneath it all is the most incredibly sweet and caring girl. She has given me more hugs in her short life than I could ever deserve.

It is true that siblings seem to differentiate and I think Sylvie has always lived under the shadow of Tessa being the "artisitic" one, but she's come into her own lately and I find her drawing a good portion of her free time. She usually won't share her pictures with any of us, but she did show me this Christmas card which I fell in love with. She's always humming under her breath or tapping with her fingers whatever song she's assigned in piano that week - music runs in this girl's soul. I am a little envious of her gift and I'm wondering how long it is until she's a better pianist than I am. Not that that's a very high bar. Ah, I love this girl!

Funny, funny, sweet girl


I need to tell y'all how adorable my Tessa is. First of all, she genuinely uses the word "y'all" and it doesn't even annoy me - I actually find it endearing. She is just funny and kind and easy going and just pretty amazing all around. There are of course some negative adjectives hidden in there too but nothing much out of the ordinary kid stuff.

Exhibit A: Her class is having a sock exchange party tomorrow and she couldn't be just content with wrapping up a pair of socks, she had to write a instruction manual to go with them. Yes, an instruction manual for socks. Transcribed below:
As rightful owners of Fred (right) and Joe (left) I give you this manual. You will need it. To take care of Fred and Joe you must serve them one teaspoon of pure cocoa powder each day. You must put them to bed at 8:32 pm each day or they will get cranky. I have enclosed there favorite toy in this card. (A purple rubber band taped inside the card) During winter season you must put them o your feet. Do that or they will get cold. Joe is lactose entolorent and Fred is allergict to peanuts. Take care and Merry Christmas.
Exhibit B: Next week there is a slipper day at school and I have been crocheting slippers for both girls to wear per their request. Dave didn't key in to this fact and offered Tessa his moose slippers to wear which she eagerly accepted. My feelings were minorly hurt and Tessa I guess got the message. She is usually one to avoid conflict or even the resolution of conflict, but I found this note on my pillow when I got home last night. I laughed out loud. Sweet girl.
Iz beez havin' bad grammar.
I iz gonna not wear dads moose slippers. Iz gona wear yours! Sowwy!


Moment of the day

Rainy, rainy, rainy day. It's lovely. 

Year in Review 2011

2011/12/14

I'm having a hard time deciding what flavor 2011 has been for my annual Year in Review post. Some years seem to be landmark or pivotal but this year just flew by, not sticking in my head as particularly one thing or the other. I am also in extreme forward thinking mode as the next year has a lot of stuff coming so I'm probably not giving cute little 2011 its due.

We seem to all be generally intact and doing well. Dave is enjoying his job a lot and that is a great thing. He is logging lots of miles running each week as always. He is more stalwart as a runner than I could ever completely understand. This year he ran marathons in Tulsa and Salt Lake, numbers four and five in his illustrious career. I have noticed things with professional sports are not superb this year, but you'd have to ask him about that since I seem to have stopped even pretending to pay attention.

The girls are doing really great in school and are generally amazing each and every day. They celebrated birthdays ten and seven this year. I am fully aware that these are the "good" years between diapers and hormones; trust that I live every day reveling in that fact. Tessa has loved choir this year in both 4th and 5th grade. Sylvie is still in love with the piano, she really has a gift for it. (Tessa is still playing but love is not the best adjective there even though she is a really good pianist.) Sylvie tried out tap dance classes but in the end it wasn't completely her thing. The girls have had a lot of highlights but I would imagine our snow day and blue hole would be among their favorites. And of course our big trip to Utah/Wyoming to visit family and friends.

My banner event of the year was without a doubt hiking the Grand Canyon. I've said more than enough on that topic but it was absolutely magical. I also had a great girls' weekend in San Antonio for my birthday. I guess it was a good year. If you're just tuning in, the work thing is a little crazy for me right now as I've just found out my job will be ending in June. I am optimistic that things will work out for the best. And of course 2011 was the year I unveiled more of the crazy and embarked on my epic Daytum project. I'll write more about that later as the year wraps up.

We're slowly working on the house still. This has become a definite slow burn with me rather than a consuming frenzy like it was in our Phoenix house. We had a carpenter redo our fireplace this year and it is lovely, lovely, lovely. But the family room is still not painted and that has prevented me from taking good pictures to show off. Maybe next year. The yard is a blah holding pattern as we've had an absolutely horrid drought this year and the plants are far from happy. It's been bad enough to slightly dent my rosy estimation of my beloved Austin.

I hope this busy but wonderful Christmas seasons finds all our friends and family well. I realized just this last week that Christmas cards didn't quite make my list of things to do this year. Perhaps every other year will have to be good enough. But I hope you all know that here in Austin there are fond wishes and love for each and every one of you. Merry Christmas!


Moment of the day

2011/12/13

Another foggy day to run in. I've been enjoying much the wintery weather. Just cold enough for yummy scarves but not cold enough to qualify as winter any place other than the sun belt. 

Christmas past

I'm feeling nostalgic so I went through some old Christmas photos and found these gems. This was 2004 and it's hard to believe my girls have grown so much.

Tessa has always been an artist. Here she is as an adorable 3 year old, drawing a picture of the tiny nativity set you can see on the table next to her. She did this more than once and it kept her occupied for many hours that Christmas.


Sylvie's first Christmas. She was (and is) such a cutie.

Yet another Adele song

I would call her songs a guilty pleasure but I have no guilt...

Moment of the day

2011/12/09

I haven't been running at town lake in forever. But it felt like the exact right thing to do this morning. I don't think you can see it in the picture, but someone has painted a mural on the side of the bridge that says "focus on one point and breathe ". Good advice. There was another one further down that said "let's all pretend we're robots". Love it. 

5th Grade Musical

2011/12/08

Tessa was in the 5th Grade choir musical performance today. Twas the Crazy Night Before Christmas I believe was the title. And crazy it was. Tessa was a "detective dancer" during the scene where they tried to figure out who the impostors were among the three claiming to be Santa. She had an absolute blast during the performance as well as the practices and hard work leading up to today. It makes me happy to see her really loving something. You can spot her in the pictures by her giant curtain of hair.

Decisions

I haven't been sleeping well and that is a sure sign that things are askew in my head. I almost never have trouble sleeping but here it is. How nice. I understandably have a lot brewing in my noggin with new job/career prospects and game plans darting about. I'm not really *worried* about what to do next, I know I have a lot of time yet (since my job doesn't end until June). But I do like things to be settled so indecision is always an extremely uncomfortable place for me. No matter what the choice is, I do a pretty exhaustive overview of the options and then decide fairly immediately. For better or for worse. For shopping and the like this process works pretty well, but for major life decisions I realize I need to pace myself a bit. What? Patience?

At this moment in time I am considering strongly becoming certified to teach middle or high school math rather than continue in Institutional Research. It just feels like time for a change. Teaching math was my original plan when I earned my bachelor's degree forever ago, I just got distracted for 12 years or so by an awesome job. I feel passionately about education, especially math education. So doing something that has true impact feels worth the tremendous effort it will require to get myself certified for the classroom, the longer working day, as well as an hourly pay cut. Way to sell it, Amber!

The big problem is it's hard to jump into a significant cost (meaning all resources: financial, time, burden on my family, as well as my sanity) when the benefit is something of an unknown. I of course don't really know how well suited I am for teaching or if the realities of managing today's classroom will be a bigger negative than the theoretical joy from passing on a love of geometry and calculus. I don't think there are always "right" choices in big life decisions. You just pick your path and utilize Grace to live with karma that arises. I am being prayerful and thoughtful about my decision. I know that whatever path I choose, my Heavenly Father will give me the resources to deal with the good and bad ahead.

Moment of the day

2011/12/05

It's cold outside. A good afternoon for a cup of herbal tea and a magazine. 

Moment of the day

2011/12/03

Christmas tree. Festive. 

Which is truer?

om mani padme hum

2011/12/01

I have made a concerted effort over the past few years to be a more open person. Social connection doesn't always come easy or naturally for me, but I have made a real effort to share more of myself with those around me. Blogging has been a big part of this, but I have also sought out more social outlets and strong friendships. I am one who feels love through quality time in the form of meaningful conversation (thank you Five Love Languages) so this effort has been very beneficial for me; positive growth indeed. But along with the good, there is a negative side affect that I have been trying to combat. I have learned to share more of myself and my thoughts on those things that affect me directly, but I have also found myself with too many quickly formed negative and judgmental opinions on others. I think it is a natural human condition to discuss those around us. It is part of how we learn about ourselves to compare and contextualize. I don't think this is necessarily wrong nor do I think talking about others always falls under the category of "gossip". But I don't want trite or judgmental comments to be part of my language or thought processes.

To remind my self to stay elevated in my speech and thought, I bought a ring last year with the Tibetan prayer of compassion inscribed on it. Om mani padme hum is means many things, but at it's root is the message of compassion, which I think translates best to the LDS tradition as charity, or generally as love. The ring has an outer ring that spins around the inner ring; the movement is said to invoke the prayer as well as if it were spoken aloud in the tradition of the prayer wheels in Tibet. It has served as a touchstone for me to keep compassion, charity, love for my fellow man at the forefront of my choices.

Moment of the day

2011/11/30

As I sit in my office today listening to not even digital music on my PC, but streaming music that I don't even "own", I am struck by how rarely I consult the gigantic wall of CDs only a few feet away from me. Evolution? 

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

2011/11/29


The Heart is a Lonely HunterThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. This is my second reading and I know there is still more to glean from it. This time through I was really struck by the loneliness, the solitude of all of the characters. It was heartbreaking how they each thought they had a singular confidant, who ultimately (perhaps?) didn't understand them at all. But it was also amazing how incredibly important it was to have that one person who *understands*, who knows you. Very true.


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Thanksgiving

It is a shame that this is really all I've got to offer for photo documentation of our Thanksgiving. It was a lovely and chaotic day and my camera was the farthest thing from my thoughts. So here you have the motley and rather sad "kid" table. The adults got the all the fanciness that will I suppose only live in memory. I so rarely make a fuss out of table presentation that it really is too bad. Ah well.

After our epic trip to visit family and friends last year, I was feeling rather sad at the notion of a small, lonely Thanksgiving at home. So I invited three families of friends who all willingly accepted and it became a big, happy, festive Thanksgiving at home. 18 total and it was no small feat to find a spot for everyone. But food was delicious and plentiful. I only had to do the turkey and stuffing. And pies of course. It was impossibly hard to whittle down my selections to only two as I am accustom to making all the pies. This year I made my favorite lemon meringue and a new chocolate cheesecake that was divine. Kinda messy to cut, but soooo worth it. The preparations for the day were a lot, but it was a great holiday. Good friends are big part of what I am grateful for in this life.

I reflected a lot in the weekend after our feast on how different my life will be come next Thanksgiving. My youngest sister will be living with us while she starts off on her college education. My mom will also be moving to Austin because she knows that's where all the cool people live (or maybe Austin will finally be completely awesome when she joins us). I will (hopefully) have a new job or possibly even a new career. I will have a middle schooler (gasp). I like change, but that is a lot to be sure. Gratitude and a lot of deep breathing will carry me through.

Worky

It is difficult when I am working in Phoenix to maintain significant contact with my girls. They are getting to be better phone talkers, but it's still far from ideal as conversations quickly spiral into "What did you do at school today?" and "Nothing". This last trip I started taking a lot of pictures to text back to them so they could better see my week, an attempt at new vein of communication. Little did I know that I would be losing my job and the result would be a bitter sweet homage to my lovely little job. I will miss campus.

Moment of the day

Behold the chaos that is chess club. I had to mediate more than one "I don't want to play with a girl/boy" dispute today. Both genders are thick with cooties at this age in my opinion. 

Breath, Eyes, Memory

2011/11/21

Breath, Eyes, Memory Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There was a fair bit about this book that I enjoyed. But in the end I did not feel the emotion that I felt the author must be trying to portray. I felt like the female-ness of the characters was key to their Haitian experience, but there were virtually no male characters to give me the proper context. I felt like there was too much left unexplained.


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My awesome week at work

2011/11/19

I just got back from Phoenix and it was not one of my best weeks at work. In a nutshell, I got to fly to Phoenix (at my own expense mind you) to be ignored by my boss and the rest of the college leadership and then finally informed that I will be losing my job. Strangely, as I write this I am not in a completely dark place about the whole experience. I know things will turn out alright and perhaps even for the better in the long run.

I've worked for Glendale Community College for over 12 years now. I started there fresh out of college and no idea what I was getting in to. But I had two great bosses and mentors that helped me turn Institutional Research into a career that I love. I was set to quit work altogether when I had Tessa over 10 years ago but my first boss asked me if I would be willing to try working part time, the majority of it from home. It wasn't always easy with a babe underfoot, but I really enjoyed working in general and my job specifically. The college created a half time position just for me and it worked out to be mutually beneficial. That worked for several years and then three years ago when we moved to Austin my second boss told me he couldn't live without me and made it possible for me to work from Austin even though such an arrangement was rather rogue for the college. The arrangement has worked well but we have a new college president and she is reorganizing our office in a pretty big way. I'm basically being forced out. I have strong opinions on this but I'm not sure how to articulate them without seeming like a whining egomaniac.

Anyway, my trip started out with three days where my boss was completely out of the office and everyone else higher up in administration was avoiding me. I should have seen the writing on the wall because one of my other co-workers had just been re-orged to another department and I was hearing rumors about the president ceasing all telecommuting across campus. (Not that there is that much, I'm one of the very few doing it a majority of the time.) Thursday ended up being a tragi-comedy of sorts. It was my co-worker's last day and my boss was also ignoring her (classy) so I had planned a going away lunch for her and arrange for a gift. About two hours before the lunch the HR director walked into our office and asked my boss if now was a good time to meet with me and her. And in that instant the floor fell out from under me. I knew this could be no good. They took me back to her office in the course of five minutes or so informed me that my position would now be full-time and telecommuting was no longer an option. So I have to move to Phoenix and work full-time if I want to keep my job. And honestly, I had to laugh that they told me that they want me to stay on. They even told me that "some people would commute". Yeah. That's gonna happen. They told me that I am "very important to the college". Um, awesome way of showing it. The one glorious bright spot it all of this is that I have a signed contract from the former president agreeing to my telecommuting arrangement until June and so my job will be kept in it's current state until then. Thank goodness (!!!) my wonderful boss put that document in place for me. Otherwise I'm sure my re-org would be effective in November like my co-worker and I'd be all kinds of out of work right now. This way I have a lot of time to plan and prepare and figure out what my next big move will be.

So I cried for the first time ever at work. I totally lost it and couldn't get my composure for a couple of hours. I walked for a long time and then hid in my car until I could handle myself. I'm not sure why it felt so raw but it was really hard to process. Doesn't feel so good when a job that was created specifically for you is taken away by people that (in my opinion) are not well informed enough to really do that. I'm going to (reluctantly) stop my editorial here because a) I am still employed by these people, and b) I truly do not think the world will cease functioning without me. Just cease functioning well :-)

So back to Thursday, one of my co-workers blessedly went and un-invited my boss from our lunch and it ended up being a good-bye slightly bigger and more bitter than I had planned, but good. After lunch I pulled myself together and went to present to a college committee and smiled through their comments and praise about how much they like working with me and what a great job I do. Nice. Friday was "normal". Meaning my boss pretended that nothing had happened and tried to talk to me about how weird everything was with the new president not really landing on what she wanted our office to look like yet and how the atmosphere was "awkward" on campus. Ya think? (I'm self editing here again. Bitterness seeping through.) And then at noon Friday I walked out of the office without saying a word to anyone because all my co-workers had disappeared without telling me where they were going. Good bye all.

Let me recap my current state since I've gone on too long as per usual. I am mad. I feel like they are making a stupid choice and I want them suffer and explode in ruin when they realize how much work I've been doing and how no one will be able to replicate my quality of work for years to come. What was that I said about being an egomaniac? Sorry. I am also hugely grateful that I have months to figure the next chapter. I am feeling nervous because I don't know what the next chapter will be. I am also beginning to be the teensiest bit excited about the prospect of change. I haven't been very happy in my position since my last boss left but too comfortable to do anything about it. Thanks for the nudge, universe.

More to come later I'm sure as I process. But good to write this down while my bitterness is still fresh enough to make for entertaining prose.

True

2011/11/17

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1 Corinthians 13:12

Biking and treats

2011/11/12

I got home from yoga today and found Tessa and her friend laying on the couch, "bored". I asked them if they wanted to go for a bike ride and they jumped up quick. Taking my cue from their enthusiasm I thought we'd push it and I offered to take them to our favorite frozen yogurt shop, about 2.25 miles away. The girls have certainly been tearing up the neighborhood on their bikes the past few months, but they haven't done much distance or real destination biking. They did great and had a great time. We stopped at a neighborhood park on the way back, adding to the fun of the afternoon. There was one hill on the way back and they were both worn out by it, but I was impressed. Tessa said we need to go every Saturday from now on. Gorgeous, gorgeous weather.

Moment of the day

2011/11/11

Haircut! I've been growing out my hair and have actually been pretty happy with the process, and but it always feels great to have a fresh cut. 

Moment of the day

2011/11/10

I bought these beautiful photographs when I was in San Antonio and I've finally found frames for them. Kinda funny that I went all the way to San Antonio to buy photographs of Austin. It feels good to put some more personal touches in the house. My creativity in that vein has been somewhat dormant. And of course the family room project is still on hold until I save up to hire a painter. I am not in the mood to tackle two story walls. 

Moment of the day

2011/11/06

What is about 2nd grade and Bon Jovi? Both my girls thought they were the best band in the world at this age. Sylvie is a karaoke star in the making. She'll play rock band by herself just singing for hours. She sings along with the radio in the car all the time too and I adore her for it.