Opinion: Christmas

My family’s living room, Christmas 2004

Today I’m not feeling long winded, so I will share with you two opinions regarding Christmas.
1) Christmas should not be thought about until either December or the first Sunday in Advent, whichever comes first. In extreme situations you can think about Christmas immediately following Thanksgiving. (Note: this does not apply to gift giving. You can always be thinking of Christmas gifts. This applies primarily to decorations and music.) I refuse to buy Christmas decorations in early November. I would refuse to look at Christmas decorations in November if that were possible, but I think I wouldn’t be able to enter stores, so I’m not quite that strict.
2) I’m sorry mom, but a fig tree is not a Christmas tree. It makes a valiant attempt and is definitely more convenient, unique, and more ecologically sound, but it’s just not quite the same. (This could be cross filed under: Why my family is weird…) Our fig tree also doesn’t hold nearly enough ornaments. I also hadn’t realized until I went through my photos that we’d been decorating the fig tree for so long. I guess going to the closest parking lot and buying a tree just didn’t have the same appeal as going skiing and snowmobiling to cut down our own tree from the woods, either. So while I respect your decision and your past fig tree decorating skills mom, I think this year we’ll have a traditional tree 🙂

Opinion Piece: Organ Donation


First, let me just say that if you don’t read xkcd webcomic, then you are missing something. The comic is funny, geeky, and just plain smart. But every once in a while the comic is also deep. Friday was one of those days.

I think when I got my driver’s permit in Alaska I wasn’t an organ donor. But I was 14 and wasn’t very aware. The first thing I did when I got my permit in Kentucky was have the lady at the DMV and my mom sign as witnesses that I wanted to be an organ donor. My Kentucky license and Minnesota license say the same thing. I am a proud organ donor.
If you want to be an organ donor and your driver’s license doesn’t indicate such, go to www.organdonor.gov to learn more about how to let officials know that you’re a donor. If you don’t know if you want to be an organ donor, think about it and talk to friends and family about it.
There are other ways to help too. I try to give blood when I’m able (and when they’ll take me… I need more iron in my diet most of the time) and I’m also on the Be the Match Registry for the National Marrow Donor Program. They need more people in their database as potential bone marrow donors and while it is definitely a commitment far above and beyond blood donation it is much less than organ donation. And all three can be done together.
So that’s my call to action for you today. You don’t have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with, but if you were planning to get around to being in the Be The Match Registry or becoming an organ donor, you should do it today. And if you (like me) have been meaning to go to the blood bank and donate blood, go do it! I now have an appointment to donate blood scheduled for Monday.

Opinion Piece: Bacon Jelly Beans

Reid’s suggestion for posts was to do shorter opinion pieces. So here goes.

Context: Simon hates bacon. Ok. She doesn’t hate it all, but this is what she says:

I prefer bacon to be used in acceptable ways. You may eat bacon with your eggs, your pancakes, your hash browns, even your sausages, if you have considerable faith in your cholesterol levels. You may eat bacon in salads. You may eat bacon in sandwiches. There are many ways to consume bacon that are fully appropriate. And then there are methods by which the consumption of bacon is rendered inappropriate. You wouldn’t think of these on your own without some kind of diabolical intervention, so I will provide you with a list.

Read more about her thoughts (and her list) here. Basically she doesn’t believe bacon should be in cookies or candy or vodka or cupcakes or chocolate. I disagree. I may have forced my beliefs on her in the past…

So for my birthday she sent me a package which included among other things, a Mo’s Bacon Bar (mmm!) and

Opinion before eating: Bad idea. (Note: I don’t really like Jelly beans in the first place. And bacon without maple or brown sugar or chocolate is somewhat scary to me.)

Opinion after eating: Bad idea. If you would like to sample one or two or ten to disagree, please let me know. Even the people who have claimed to like them (aka Ben) have only eaten one. The guys in the lab refused more than one. Thus, Simon has likely won the bacon war.
So if you are wondering whether to buy bacon jelly beans or bacon dental floss for your loved ones for Christmas, I would advise the dental floss. (It smells like bacon, but tastes like nothing!)

Outrage followed by childish grins

So there’s a news story in the Minnesota papers that’s made it to national news. I first noticed it last week before it was such a big deal.

The basis of the story is this. There’s a 13 year old boy in a town called Sleepy Eye, MN who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His story was in the paper last week because he and his family are refusing chemotherapy. Chemo which would rid him of cancer with 85-90% liklihood. Without it, his doctors predict he will die within five years. Last week the court decided it was medical negligence and ruled that yesterday he get a chest x-ray. He got it and the cancer is back to the level it was before he got his single chemo treatment. Today they had a court hearing to determine what to do. BUT…he didn’t show up. And he and his mom are missing. (Which is why this is a national case now…)

From the Star Tribune article: “Anthony Hauser said he last spoke to his wife about 4 p.m. Monday as he milked cows at the family farm near Sleepy Eye. He said his wife told him she was going to leave and “That’s all you need to know.””

So now there’s a warrant for the mom’s arrest in any state and the prosecuter is working to see if he can get the dad put in jail until the child is found. The judge also found the mom in contempt of court and has ordered the boy to be put into a foster home as soon as he’s found where he will get medical treatment. “County officials had “kind of suspected this would happen,””

I read some of the court transcripts last week which fascinated me in a way. The boy is one of eight children in a Catholic household, but his family also subscribes to the belief that natural medicine will cure all.

This wouldn’t be quite so bad if it seemed like the boy was educated to the point where he would seem to understand the decision he’s making…BUT that is not the fact. Unfortunately he’s one of the people that gives “home-schooling” a bad name. From a Star Tribune opinion piece: “When tested by his teacher for entrance into a charter school, according to court documents, Daniel, who had been home-schooled, could not identify the following word: “The.” “

More info from the Star Tribune.

So hopefully the boy will be found and he’ll get his treatment and learn to make decisions for himself.

BUT I want to end this on a happy note, so I’ll send you off to watch this clip of a incredibly functional family. Matthew Amster-Burton is a fun food writer who became a stay at home dad when his daughter Iris was born. He has a new book out called “Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater.” The book is fun, fast, and full of stories and recipes. Matthew and Iris were on CBS’ Early Show this morning. Check out the clip on his blog.

The Magical Interwebs

So the internet is this cool thing. You can talk to people online, or as my mom would say “talk” to people online, and write letters, and download music, and record the minutiae of your life. Pretty fast and advanced and you can save shipping costs on purchases, right?

Wrong. I decided to buy the Eric Whitacre Concert Download. It’s an online download. I didn’t buy it on Friday or Sunday cause I hadn’t decided if I wanted to buy it yet. It’s $15, I’m a soon-to-be-poor grad student. I went online yesterday to buy it and noticed something strange. The price was listed as $15 plus shipping and handling. That’s odd, I thought to myself, why would they charge shipping on an online download.

The total cost for me will be $18.98. $3 shipping and $.98 tax. So. There are people that will address an envelope (at my church) and then mail it to me with a card in it. The card will have a code that I have to go type in on a website to get my download.

I told this to Ben and he came up with a good analogy: “It’s like I respond to an email with a paper letter, that I mail, and then they respond via email.” WHAT? Bizarre. I think I’ll call them tomorrow and see if I can stop by the office with $16 in hand in exchange for a magic code…

Eight Years Ago

I don’t think any of my conservative friends read this blog, so I won’t feel bad about being partisan here. Yesterday I had a big deadline, so today was spent lounging around, watching the inauguration and generally trying to relax.
Watching Obama take the oath of office and give his excellent speech was an amazing time for me. I haven’t been very active in following politics in the far past (i.e. more than 5 years ago) so this was the first inauguration I’ve watched. It took me back to eight years ago though.January 20, 2001 I was driving from Goshen to South Bend Indiana, in the van with my mom. I was a high school senior (yes, I’m young) visiting Goshen for a scholarship weekend, I believe, and we were driving to South Bend for the day to visit my cousin’s family. On the way there we turned on the radio and the voices of NPR brought the inauguration to us.

No one could have predicted what the next eight years would have in store for us as a country, or what an impact Bush’s presidency would have on the country and on the world. (Interpret this statement as you see fit.) Nor could I have predicted what the next eight years would have in store for me personally.

With my brother and two cousins – Summer 2000

I headed to the movies for Girl’s Night tonight and remarked on how unlikely I would have thought my current life was eight years ago. That 17 year old wouldn’t have had a clue what LaTeX was, let alone how to write a paper in it. She didn’t know where she was going to college, just that she had interests in Math and Peace and Justice Studies. She read incessantly and wrote for the school paper. She was taking a college course in Hymnody, the history and study of hymns. She desperately wanted to spend a semester abroad in South Africa learning about the South African choral tradition. She’d never left the US and Canada and had only been to three King’s Singers concerts.

Kayaking in Aialik Bay July 2008
Today I’m in my fourth year of a Ph.D. in computer science. I’m living in Minnesota, typing this post on a MacBook!, play guitar hero on occasion, and have cable tv. I’ve been going to the gym to build up my endurance and learn to run. Last summer I spent several days in the woods in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, no running water, and bears, leading me to conclude that kayaking made more sense than hiking. Instead of South Africa, I ended up studying in England, leading to my current love-affair with the British Isles. I’ve traveled, multiple times, in nine countries and have seen the King’s Singers about 20 times in four countries. (Yes, watching Flight of the Conchords did lead me to self-reflection.)

Some things are the same. I still sing in my church choir, still love to read L’Engle, Feynman, and the New Yorker. I still dream about living abroad, speaking another language fluently, and being a better pianist. I’m a good cook, fairly messy, and a bit klutzy.

I assume that the people around me are following politics, so I assume that you could conduct a similar assessment of the US over these past eight years.

I like to think that my life now is better than I would have expected eight years ago, which I do not think holds true for our country. But on November 4th, we gave the nation another chance. Right now we are struggling, but the tunnel is not dark any longer. There is a light that, at noon today, got a whole lot brighter, illuminating the tunnel and helping us to see our surroundings and the path ahead. We will not escape the tunnel without making some wrong turns or stumbling here and there. But we have a leader who will help us forward, who will make sure we don’t get lost in the back, and who will have the confidence to ask the person who’s been in the tunnel before to help lead us out. And that, my friends, will make all the difference.

Dream Job

I’m pretty sure that my dream job would be working for/with/at Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. I laughed for two straight hours tonight at the taping and all the show staff and personalities seemed to be having a great time too. I need to actively start campaigning MPR to bring them to MN. Both Mo and Peter want to come, but because MPR plays them in a bad slot (2-3 on Saturdays perhaps?) they won’t bring them for a live performance. However it seems like all my MN peeps listen to them either on the radio, or, more likely, on the podcast. So I need to start emailing and writing MPR once a week or something and threatening to withhold my miniscule pledge if they don’t shape up. That’s my dream profession they’re dissing.

But seriously folks, it was a great evening. Well worth the $22 I paid and to be honest it makes me want to pledge to Wait Wait specifically to help ensure it’s smooth path into the future. What made the show even more fun, is that, as Peter said, it was coming back from vacation for them and was their anniversary show, so it was apparently a little crazier than usual. You folks will probably hear a small portion of that this weekend. So tune in!

I’ll post pictures sometime in the not so distant future. I somehow ended up telling Carl Kasell about PPR when I met him. I did not, however, remember to tell Mo Rocca that while sometimes Morris Dancers dance with lightsaber-esque sticks, they also sometimes dance with hankies. I feel that that is a very important fact and would have made all their cracks that much funnier. Although you can’t make nunchuks out of hankies. Or not very effective ones.

But, having rambled on for far too long, I will leave you to your lives and will head upstairs to the warmest youth hostel room in the Northern Hemisphere. (Makes the condo feel like the arctic.) Adieu!

Reminiscing about Voting

My family is fairly good about not assigning gender roles. Both my parents cook, my brother and I both play legos, and I’ve never owned a Barbie (yes, that would be funnier if my brother had, but he hasn’t). Yes, there are some things that we only did with one parent. (Mom went swimming, ice skating, and canoing while dad went fishing and float-tubing.)


My bro and I – Barbie free for 21 years when this photo was taken

But most indoor things could be with either parent. Since my mom was a homemaker when I was little, she was more likely to volunteer at my school or go on field trips.


Mom and Dad

Voting, however, is something I do with my dad (at school). My mom’s a Canadian citizen, so she can’t vote. That comes in handy when dealing with political phone calls.

I remember going with dad once, when I was little. They were doing a kids election while the parents voted. The local polling place was my elementary school library, 1.5 blocks from our house. This was probably the 1992 presidential election (I have vague memories of Perot and Clinton) so I would have just turned 9. Dad must have stopped by the house after work, since it was dark. Being November, in Alaska, it was also snowy. A time where it felt, at least to me, like we should be curled up with a book, inside, not headed back to school. Both of us voted and got stickers and I remember it being very exciting. Obviously it was more exciting to me, since my dad has no memory of this.


Our old house, by the school

It was ten years later before I’d go to the polls again with my dad. This time, he picked me up from the dorms around 6.45 or 7, to get to the polls when they opened and to vote in time for him to get back for an early lecture. My first vote being a midterm election, as a liberal in a red state, it wasn’t all that thrilling, other than the part where I was part of the process. And there was the cool feeling that this was something that only my dad and I were qualified to do. No matter how much they wanted to, mom and my brother couldn’t vote.

In 2004, the process was repeated, only this time I took it more personally. I’d spent the primaries in the UK, watching the bizarre show from abroad, not fully understanding how, when I left in January the nominee was bound to be Dean, and when I returned in June the nominee was Kerry. The day of the elections, I spent the evening in my room, watching returns online, constantly pressing refresh and hoping the map would change. A family friend was running for a state Senate seat in Alaska, and when the electoral math, sans Alaska, was computed, I couldn’t bare it. I decided to wait up for the Alaska returns. Hoping, against all hope, that our friend would win, and while that wouldn’t make up for map of red, it would at least feel like a small victory. (Sidenote: I like living in a state that votes my way or makes me feel like my vote will count. Polls show Obama with a significant lead in MN, but the Senate race between Barkley, Coleman, and Franken is a true toss-up).

But Gini lost, getting only 31% of the votes. (And yes, this was in Sarah Palin’s ‘hood, so to speak, and Gini’s opponent had been in office since 1995.)

I woke, in the morning, to a bunch of elated classmates. I had one friend to commiserate with, but that was it.

This year will be different. I am more excited than I can ever recall being for an election. I was trying to describe it to my friend Simon who I primarily communicate with online. I’ve called her three times in the four years I’ve known her. The first two were when I was on the train to go visit her. But the second was when I called her on my way to go see the Faith Healer with Ralph Finnes. I had to share my raw excitement about seeing Ralph Finnes with someone, and she was the perfect person. She shared my enthusiasm and understood why I’d called. Today, I almost picked up the phone to call her again about how excited I was. We are both die-hard West Wing fans and I was trying to explain that I was almost as excited as watching the show (yes, that sounds pathetic, but in Hollywood they weren’t letting voters decide it all, it was the liberal writers…) Her response: “Yeah, I think “Ralph Fiennes excited” about sums it up…”


Ralph Finnes

So here I am, 17 minutes from a day that will define my generation. Many of my classmates from 2004 now have status messages on Facebook supporting Obama. I’ve donated money to the campaign, passed out voter info flyers, and proudly worn an Obama button (or two, or three) for several weeks. This is an historic election. An election in the internet age. An election where millions have voted early. An election where either ticket, God forbid, will be a first.

So I’m voting. I’ll get up in about in about 7 hours and walk a block to my polling place, where I assume I’ll stand in lines for a while. I did my research on all the other candidates and initiatives on my local ballot tonight. (There are 18 choices to be made, plus numerous uncontested seats.) I’m voting for myself, I’m voting for my mom, I’m voting for my international friends – both in this country and abroad. I’m voting for my cousin’s kids and my future kids. I’m voting to make the world a better place for everyone. And that’s really why I’m excited.

Dear man in the red convertible

Dear Man in the Red Convertible Leaving Taco Bell at 8:20 Tonight

Perhaps it was my fault.
I wasn’t wearing a bright yellow reflective jumpsuit
Or perhaps it was because I stayed late at work to watch the convention
Or because I was planning another blog post as I rode home.

Or perhaps it was because I wasn’t wearing full body armor
and I didn’t stop when the light turned yellow as I was going down the hill at 20 miles per hour 5 minutes earlier.
Or maybe it was because I’m not an aggressive driver and I don’t have an airhorn on my bike, just a bell.
Or perhaps it was because I was going 10 miles per hour, not 5 as you think proper
Or because there was another bicyclist outside Taco Bell, locking his bike up.

Perhaps it was because I was in the bike lane,
and I wear a helmet,
I use turn signals,
and I come to a full stop at stop signs, despite it breaking my rhythm.
Or because there are so many bikers in this area that we are all invisible and would be better off driving cars.

Yes, perhaps it was my fault, man in a red convertible, that you almost ran me over tonight as you turned left leaving the Taco Bell drive through.
You obviously were busy, what with the driving, the eating, and the cell phone being used illegally without a handsfree set.
So busy, I guess, that you did not see me.
With my reflective arm band and gloves, my blinking white and red lights, my helmet.
I suppose the street lights didn’t help illuminate me either.
You didn’t see me.
That is, you didn’t see me until you heard me.

I clanged my bell, squealed my brakes (a feat at less than 10 mph on a bike) and flew to a stop 5 feet from your car.
Then you saw me.
And you stopped, briefly, to let me by.
Very kind, given that you were completely blocking my lane by now and had almost run me over.
So I let you by instead and you pulled to the shoulder on the other side of the road and kept talking.
The other bicyclist yelled at you for being on your phone.
And then I biked the rest of the way home, shaken, but not scarred.

Yes, perhaps it was my fault, man in the red convertible.
But on the other hand, I think
Maybe
Just Maybe
It was your fault.

Multiple Blogs

UPDATE: Due to a delay in seeing a comment about how I should put all my blogs into one and the crazy out-of-control blog ambitions I have, I’m going to migrate everything to THIS blog. I’ll leave up the descriptions of the sorts of things I’ll be posting below, but I’ll remove the addresses.

Simon, friend and commenter, was surprised to hear I had two blogs. Actually I have more. I got a little blog crazy a few weeks ago and wanted to make a public blog. Then I realized I was going to be posting on multiple topics and thought it would be nice to write distinct blogs so that if you don’t care about my travels, but love my random emails with crazy NYTimes articles, you can just get those. So now I have a triumvirate of blogs and a fourth one in the making. Since this blog gets the most traffic I will introduce them here.

Wandering Around the World – kpwanders.blogspot.com
This is the blog you are reading now. I have about twenty posts waiting to be posted on this site (yes, I’m keeping a list so I don’t cheat my readers out of any crazy stories/antics). The theme behind this blog is: Katie’s travels. This will be a fairly picture heavy blog with limited access to the outer world (i.e. fewer links)

Katie’s Pick of Daily News Headlines
This was born out of my habit of emailing a wide swath of people everytime I laughed at a headline in Google Reader. These headlines will come primarily from the NYTimes, StarTribune, and Slashdot. Unlike Wandering the World, most of this blog will be links to random weird stuff. Sometimes (often?) I may not have even read the article in question, but the premise from the headline was bizzare enough to warrant a post.

Katie’s Food Blog
This will eventually get a better title. I’ve been thinking a lot about food this summer, so hopefully this will involve posts about food. So far I have about forty pictures on my phone of meals from this summer. I also have rave reviews of the farmers market. I don’t really know what will be on here, because I haven’t started posting yet, but I will post tonight.

The obvious, yet missing blogs are the choral geek blog and the HCI/Computer geek blog. When the need arises, I will add them or merge several existing blogs. I couldn’t get the blog name I wanted for the techy blog, so that will be figured out later on. I will stay dormant on the music front until choir starts up again in September.

If this is all too much for you, let me know. You also might want to try out a news aggregator (like Google Reader) that is like an inbox for all the blogs you read. It lets you know when there are new posts and brings them all together in the same location. If you do choose Google reader, let me know what you think of it via email.

I initially started out with the high high ambitions of posting daily. I’m thinking this is going to turn into a post per blog per week, with more or less as I am so inspired. So tonight’s post will be about food…

Because you, the reader, matter to me, I’ll be watching the comments. If you are sick and tired about hearing about topic X you can either quit reading my blog or let me know that you’d rather hear more about topic Y. If you disagree (there aren’t that many of you, so I’m not TOO worried), I will watch the flames be thrown around.