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.

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.

The World of Sarah Palin

In the past few weeks not much has changed with me. Well, I guess that’s really a lie. I’ve left Google and started year 4 of my Ph.D. back in Minnesota. I’m neglecting the blog a little and instead have been doing homework, spending time with friends, and doing a bit of travelling. (I’m in Iowa for the weekend.)

But, one change is something that I hadn’t seen coming. For the past 10+ years, when people ask me where I’m from in Alaska, I reply with, “A small town about an hour from Anchorage.” If the person appears to have in depth knowledge of Alaska, I’ll give them the town name, but that’s fairly rare. Mainly the person wants to know if I lived in an igloo and whether or not I hung out with bears.
With Sarah Palin as the Republican VP nominee, suddenly everyone has heard of Wasilla Alaska. “Hey. Wait. You’re from Alaska, what do you think of Sarah Palin?… You’re from WASILLA? REALLY?”
While this blog won’t become political, and many of you reading know how I feel about these issues, I thought this would be the perfect time to use my recent pictures from Alaska to introduce you to the metropolis that is Wasilla, Alaska. For those of you who don’t know, I lived in Wasilla from 1989-1998 and my trip to Alaska in July was 10 years to the day since we’d left. Much has changed, but some things are still the same.
This is the view of Wasilla as you enter on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. Palmer is now a touristy small town while Wasilla is a big-box suburb type city. A huge number of stores, retaurants and shops have gone in since we left.

All I Saw Cookware (All I Saw is Wasilla backwards with different spacing) This was almost the best place in Wasilla. One year my brother won grand prize in the Candymaking for Under 12 year olds at the Alaska State Fair. He got a $25 gift certificate to All I Saw Cookware and bought an icing bag set.

The above picture is the back side of All I Saw. The other side looks towards Carrs, which was where my mom did a lot of her grocery shopping.
Below is a picture of the new Target. Target is opening in Wasilla and Anchorage in October. Wal-mart’s been in town for quite a while now. Where Target stands now, there used to be a mall. Cottonwood Creek mall. We went trick-or-treating there one year. Another year my jazz band played Christmas music there. I don’t remember what stores were in the mall other than Walden Books.

There is a very odd trend of espresso shacks in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley (where Palmer and Wasilla are). Maybe in all of Alaska. These are stand alone little sheds that have a drive-through coffee business. Most of them were closed as we drove by, so we didn’t get to check it out. Dad says they existed (although weren’t as prolific) before we left.

I went to sixth through eighth grade at Colony Middle School. I have many fond memories of the school, teachers, and classmates. I was part of a fantastic Science Olympiad team which went to Nationals in Michigan in 1998. We had a great band and music program and I was constantly challenged. Strangely enough, I was reminded last week of one of my former substitute teachers. While many subs are forgetable, I remember one sub from middle school who stood out. He was someone who our teacher never left lesson plans for. He taught us about wildlife and survival techniques (i.e. what happens if you get between Mamma Moose and her Calf) and told great stories about his former class trips. Strangely enough, I’m 95% positive that this memorable sub was Sarah Palin’s dad, Chuck Heath.

This is the library. I’m pretty sure that if we could’ve gotten away with it my brother and I would have lived in the library. Wasilla (and Palmer) was a small town, so by a certain time we knew all the librarians. Mom didn’t like us tagging along while she did grocery shopping, so she’d leave us in the library for an hour while she shopped. (The librarians were ok with this.) We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. The library had a checkout limit of 40 books per person at a time. My brother would check out 20 Tintin books and 20 Bill Peet books at a time. I checked out cookbooks and novels. Boxcar Children, Bobbsey Twins, a biography of Evita Peron. I loved it all. I remember being shocked when I worked at the library in Kentucky that some parents only let kids check out 5 books at a time! What did those kids do all week?
When we got home we had to write our books in a notebook to keep track of them and ensure we didn’t have late returns. We also had a column for whether we’d read the books, so to this day, my mom has a record of my pre-teen reading. This trip we didn’t get to go inside the library, but the brown and yellow building was enough 🙂

It’s always strange going back to a place you once knew. It feels like it’s the same, but so much has changed. It’s like meeting friends from elementary school who you used to spend all day every day with, but you’re now 25 and you have an image of them in your mind as 8 year olds. They’ve grown up, as have you, but it just doesn’t feel right. Hopefully I’ll get to go up to Alaska again before another 10 years have passed, but for now, these pictures will tide me over.