Saturday, December 20, 2008

What I read: "Dreams from My Father" by Barack Obama

Our president-elect wrote "Dreams from My Father" back in 1995, shortly after he was elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. You can see why I thought this book would be relevant now. Not that everything (or even most of what) I read is relevant.

"Dreams from My Father" is an ambitious book, written by an ambitious young man. And it may have been a bit too ambitious for Obama so early in his career. As he says himself in the Preface to the 2004 edition:

I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced. I have the urge to cut the book by fifty pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity.
That said, the book is filled with beautiful images of Obama's childhood in Hawaii and his visit to family in Kenya, as well as a youthful angst based on a search for identity.

Raised by a white mother and grandparents, young Barack never quite fit in. I'm sure we all experience something like that as children, but I can only imagine how hard it would be when you don't even resemble your own family.

Although the book is a bit self-indulgent (and really, what memoir isn't) it's an intimate look at a man with no idea he would one day become one of the most powerful people in the world.

While working in Chicago as a community organizer -- a phrase that was spit out like curse words during the recent campaign -- Obama tried to mentor a friend's teenage son.

I asked him if he was still thinking about the air force, and he shook his head; he'd stay in Chicago, he said, find a job and get his own place. I asked him what had changed his mind. He said that the air force would never let a black man fly a plane.

I looked at him crossly. "Who told you that mess?"

Kyle shrugged. "Don't need somebody to tell me that. Just is, that's all."

"Man, that's the wrong attitude. You can do whatever you want if you're willing to work for it."
Many passages moved me, because hindsight is 20/20, and one slight change in Obama's past would have lead him down a very different path. We've yet to see what kind of president he will be, but this book gives insight into the kind of man he is.

I was especially moved by the tribute to his mother (from the preface to the 2004 edition):

I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book--less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life. In my daughters, I see her every day, her joy, her capacity for wonder. I won't try to describe how deeply I mourn her passing still. I know that she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her.

You have to respect a man who loves his momma.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I am loved

I never meant to upset anyone or make anyone feel sorry for me, but after my wonderful sister-in-law read this post from earlier in the month, she sent me a care package to let me know that three people in Michigan love me. I'm not ashamed to say the gesture and her accompanying note made me cry. In a good way, of course.

I'm also not ashamed to admit that I will probably eat every one of those sugar cookies all by myself. My sister-in-law's sugar cookies are that good. Too bad the significant other wasn't here when I opened the box.

I grew up without sisters, but my sister-in-law has been in the family for a while now, and I think I should start considering her an actual sister. Especially after this.

I think my mom must have rubbed off on my sister-in-law as much as she did the rest of us kids. And I like to my sister-in-law rubbed of on Mom a bit, too. I'm pretty sure Mom got a lot sassier after Melinda married my brother. And that was a good thing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just say no

I've always been one to exercise. That's not to say I'm in great shape. I work hard, but genetics and time are not on my side. Plus, (thanks again to genetics) I'm hypothyroid, so my metabolism also fights me every step of the way. Nevermind that I refuse to completely give up junk food. I tried it, but labeling certain foods "bad" just makes me crave them more. So I subscribe to the belief of everything in moderation (including moderation).

I the last year or so I have developed exercise-induced asthma. When I work out at a pretty intense level (and sometimes not so intense), I'll start coughing. I'm not a smoker and I never have been. I did work almost a year in an office where everyone except me smoked, so I blame that. The doctor prescribed albuterol, suggesting I take a puff shortly before working out. It helps, but not enough. I find that if I keep my heart rate below 140, I don't cough too much. But I don't feel like I'm getting enough of a workout unless my heart rate is above 150, close to 160.

She has now prescribed Singulair. From the prescription information:
This medicine is used for the prevention and long-term treatment of asthma. It is used to prevent asthma attacks caused by exercise.
As with all medications, there is a list of possible side effects, including unusual weakness (great for a workout), stomach pain or upset, dizziness, cough (wait, what? isn't that why I'm taking this?), headache, tiredness and stuffy nose. And I should CONTACT (MY) DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY (yep, it's actually in all caps) if (I) experience hallucinations, fever, persistant sore throat or earache or flu symptoms.

But wait there's more!
CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY if you experience sever stomach pain, server thoughts or actions (!?!), muscle aches/cramps, irregular heartbeat, yellowing eyes/skin, numbness/tingling of the hands or feet, easy bruising or bleeding, swelling or seizures.
Obviously, my doctor must believe the benefits of this medication outweigh any possible side effects. I'm sure I'd be better off if I didn't read this stuff. I don't usually have severe reactions to drugs. Not unless I think I should, anyway.

Here's hoping the medicine helps with the exercise-induced asthma and doesn't make me see things that aren't there.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The real reason I have short hair

From "The Zombie Survival Guide" by Max Brooks:

The simple fact is that ghouls attack by reaching out to grab their victims, pulling them in, then biting. Logic dictates that the less material a person offers up for grabs, the better his or her chances will be. Baggy clothing, complete with pockets, straps, or anything that might hang freely, will be a convenient handle for grasping zombie claws. Anyone who has worked in factories or with some kind of heavy machinery will tell you the importance of never letting anything hang loose. Tight clothing, obviously within comfort limits, will help to eliminate this danger. Hair can be a similar hazard. Many times, victims have been seized and even dragged by their hair to a gruesome end. Tying one's hair back before a conflict may work temporarily. However, a short haircut, one inch or short, is ideal for hand-to-hand combat.
True, I think my short 'do makes me look younger and suits my face better and it's easier to care for, and my hair is naturally curly/wavy and has a tendency toward frizz when it reaches a certain length, and I have an awesome hair stylist. None of those reasons are the real reason for my short hair. It's not about fashion, it's all about survival, people.

If you're a Max Brooks fan -- and who didn't love "World War Z" -- he's at it again. "Those who don't learn from zombie history are condemned to repeat it."

The more you know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What I drove: 2009 Subaru Forester

Some things seem to just go with Colorado: ski slopes, crazy weather, aspens, fleece vests and Subarus.

I don't own a Subaru, but I know a lot of people out here who do. As far as vehicles go, they make sense --they're not huge, but they're plenty big for hauling all your gear. They're good looking, get decent gas mileage and they're all-wheel drive.

I recently drove the newly remodeled Forester. When I bought my car last year, the older Forester made the short list, but lost out due to the price point. The new Forester is bigger but sleeker with a more aerodynamic body. It's priced at $25,460, which isn't outrageous and it feels like a much more expensive vehicle.

From my test drive story (which publishes in The Gazette Dec. 19):
The Forester, like all Subarus, comes standard with all-wheel drive. That all-wheel-drive system has 30 years of Subaru experience behind it. The symmetrical all-wheel drive creates optimal balance for stability and sharp handling, with power flowing in a direct path from the engine to all four wheels, according to Subaru literature.

I spent a good portion of my test drive in the Forester seeking out any lingering snow and ice from a recent snowstorm, trying to test the car’s all-wheel-drive performance — this from a person who hates to drive in foul weather.

Unfortunately, the best I could do for adverse conditions was a gravel parking lot and some standing water. Still, the Forester gripped the gravel and didn’t spin its wheels or throw any gravel when I accelerated out of the parking lot, and there was no pulling when driving through puddles. On the dry roads, the Forester had a smooth comfortable ride, handling like a smaller vehicle, with minimal body roll, even on tight curves.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Here's Yoda!

Years ago, I worked on an I.T. Help Desk. While the job was mostly hell, I had a good friend who made the days bearable. One of the things she did to help me keep from screaming and pulling my hair out was to hide a Happy Meal Yoda figurine around the office. Some days, I'd get off a particularly frustrating phone call -- "if you reset my password, you'll know what it is" -- I'd look up to find Yoda peering at me from the leaves of a plant or peeking out of a coffee mug at me. It was as if he were saying, "Take deep breaths, you will. Suppress your dark urges, you must."

I wonder if the people who design Christmas tree ornaments know Yoda's effect on me or if they're just trying to make a buck. I suspect the latter.

Either way, I'm thankful for my latest ornament find. And I'm thankful to Maureen for helping me get through those Help Desk years.