Sunday, August 31, 2008

The List

I broke down and put my list of give-away items on my sidebar because everyone keeps asking me about it. But it's an embarrassing list and seems extremely puny and unimportant. When this unnecessary stuff is written down in a list, it makes it even more evident to me that this stuff is completely irrelevant. I'm hoping that documenting the silly nature of my junk will be the impetus I need to do something more, give something more, and try harder to make a difference that will actually have an impact on someone. For me this little exercise of finding something to give away every day just serves as a daily reminder that I want to find ways to make the world a better place. For now it's simply meditation and serves me much more than it serves anyone else. But maybe eventually it will help me to find something bigger to do. I hope so.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bittersweet Revenge

I'm a people watcher. No. I'm a people studier. And whenever I am captured in another corporate zoo with a herd of other human specimens, I can't help but closely examine all the animals caught in that trap with me. It's just something I do. Sometimes it's the only thing that keeps me sane. And for the most part I'm pretty good at figuring people out.

But I'm a little more cautious about getting into the mix this time around. The last time I ventured into the corporate world I got bit hard by two of the wiliest members of the pack. I remember wondering at the time why I had been totally abandoned by karma. It seemed like these two were wrecking havoc all around them and not getting the requisite karmic thump. It threw me off balance and had me doubting my belief that what goes around comes around.

Yesterday I went to dinner with some of my old friends from that old corporate zoo and I learned that the same two people who made my life so unbearable were finally getting that thump--hard. And the news was a lot less satisfying than I imagined it would be. I thought I would be gleeful in hearing about their pain and instead I just felt bad for them. It didn't make me feel better about what happened before, although the news did put a little bit of the balance back in the universe. I guess that the revenge just wasn't mine and it was much more bitter than sweet.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fire on the Mountain

I realize it's a bit redundant, but wildfire is wild. When you get the word that a wildfire might be threatening your home, it's funny how quickly you can assess what's really important and what isn't.

So, just in case you are anxious for the whole story, here it is so far: I was at work today around noon thirty in a lunch meeting on the top floor of our shiny new corporate building. We have a beautiful view of the South Valley from that boardroom. We were reviewing a corporate video and focused on the minutia of it when I heard the word fire being passed around the table in hushed tones. We tried not to get distracted by the plume of smoke spreading across our serene view of the mountains Southeast of us. I thought to myself that it looked uncomfortably close to MY mountain, but it was hard to tell from our vantage point. The meeting continued and I made an effort not to watch as the flames got more and more apparent and the smoke higher. By the time I got back to my office at 2 p.m. I had eight missed calls. The first SunCrest neighbor call I returned was my friend Bonnie asking me if there was anything I wanted to get from my house. I've thought about that question in very hypothetical terms, but I could feel the panic rising as I quickly started doing a mental ranking.

1. The cat.
2. Umm, really who cares. Maybe some pictures.
3. That random candle holder and my Kirby vacuum? Nope. Right back to who cares.

But the thought of Captain Casey's pitiful cry as he burned up in my house had me racing up the hill to "save the day." With just one tiny, quick little stop for gelato with my friend DeLaina. (Obviously didn't feel that urgent.)
At first the fire looked extremely far away, but then as I got farther up the mountain it felt closer and closer until I pulled into my driveway and could see the flames from there. I knew in my head that it was probably farther away than it looked, but I've also had my fair share of California wildfire indoctrination. It still made my heart race and I was too mesmerized by the possibility of jumping, crazy, wildfire to leave my house. If celebrity homes can burn up, what's stopping mine from turning into cinders? My neighbors just over the hill had hosed down their yard, packed their necessities, and headed down the mountain to the in-laws' house.
The next call I took was from my friend Rob congratulating me because I won't have to worry about unchecked consumerism any more. "Just wanted you to know your experiment will be rendered useless when this fire burns your house down," he said, thinking he was extremely funny.
The third call was another friend just making sure I was okay. He was watching the mountains and it looked to him like all of SunCrest was going up in flames.

Seriously? Is this really helping?

Watching the news didn't help much either. They kept playing the most dramatic footage over and over and talking about mandatory evacuations and stranded hikers. I stood on my front porch, transfixed by the scene, watching the huge tanker planes drop thick fire retardant in an orange line down the mountain.

Now that the sun has set, the bright red flames stand out even more. They are comfortably far away and unnervingly close at the same time. But I'll spend at least one more night safe in my bed. I guess that's about all any of us can really hope for anyway.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Conservative Conservation

One problem I have with conservation is that it almost has the word conservative in it. It is somewhat ironic that it's usually liberals and not conservatives who are concerned about conservation.

But not always. Nobody is better at this conservation thing than my mom is and she is one of the most conservative people I know. Because of my involuntary indoctrination on conservation while growing up, I have residual rebellion about it. My mom is naturally all about reduce, reuse, and recycle. For her, a dedication to saving the environment was only a byproduct of the necessity part. We were responsible for our own garbage. All of it. There was no big lumbering garbage truck coming down the road to take away our garbage in neat plastic bags to deposit in someone else's backyard. We had to either compost, burn, or recycle every last piece of garbage we generated. They still do, in fact. My mom collects all her recycling in bins in the garage and a few times a year she takes it to Pocatello more than 50 miles away.

But when I was young I interpreted her nearly religious dedication to conservation as meaning we couldn't afford things. I really wanted to throw things away and get new stuff rather than cleaning it or fixing it or making do. It seemed to be all about money and to me being wasteful equated to being rich. Having shiny new stuff meant you were one of the elite.

Now I think a lot about conservation and how to do it. I have to be careful to not make it about money in my mind. Once it becomes about saving money instead of saving the world I feel that old rebellion creeping in. I don't like to say, "I can't afford that." I don't even like to think it. As trite as it sometimes seems, I prefer to think of conservation in terms of lessening my impact, reducing my footprint, contributing less to the tragedy of the commons. And guess what. I save some money too. I'll try not to think about that part.

For anyone keeping score, yesterday I gave away an eye mask and today a pair of jeans.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I Need It

Just over a day into my little experiment and I'm already thinking about all the things I "need" and can't buy. I find myself making a list in my head of items I meant to get before this self-imposed deadline and just didn't really get around to buying.

I realized I've lived for years without a plastic cover thing that you leave in your microwave to use as a barrier for splattery dishes, but suddenly, now that I won't buy one, I desperately need it. How can anyone actually make due without that? And I think glumly about how much better my entire life would be if only I had thought of it before starting on this silly experiment. It's irrelevant that I rarely use my microwave and can use a plastic lid or a plate to the same effect.

And a fly swatter. How, I wonder, have I ever made it through life without that simple little gadget? It must be much better than a rolled up magazine or they wouldn't have them at every dollar store. And now I have to live my tired dreary little life without the benefit of something so basically important to civilized living.

Oh yes. The list goes on. I stomp around my house making an internal note of those things I can't live without, but will somehow have to for a year. I don't think I've realized how utterly lacking my life was before now.

On the up side to this little tirade, however, is the realization that I have plenty of things for the give-away pile. While searching my house for those things that I "need" I uncovered a lot of the unnecessary I had forgotten about. I tried nobly to convince myself that I had gotten rid of nearly every peripheral thing and the getting-rid-of part of this experiment was going to be the hardest. But that's not actually true. I still have plenty of things that can march their way out and by next year I won't even remember what they were. Today it's a pair of black shoes that look eerily similar to two other pairs of black shoes I have. Who knows why I have so many pairs of black shoes, but it's one less today.

One of my friends thought that a better way to do this experiment would be to put everything I own in the basement and only allow one thing a day to come back up. Anything left in the basement at the end of the year would then obviously be unnecessary. That's something I'll have to try another time. I just don't have the energy to haul everything I own to the basement. Plus, it would take a month just to get all the truly necessary stuff in my bathroom back.

But most of my friends just try to bail me out. They offer to give me some of their things to give away and they try to think of ways to get around any rules I may have. They are very creative in their ideas: things like giving them money and having them make the purchases or trading them for things I really want. They've all offered to give me junk that I could then give away and have great suggestions for things that would be less painful to give like pennies or food items. Some suggested before I start I buy a bunch of things I don't really need and then exchange them as the year wears on.

Who knows. I may resort to bending the rules enough to justify something, but for now I'll just keep pretending this is a hard thing to do and try to think less about stuff and more about life.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

First Photos

The first pictures with my new camera: A few of the Tour de Utah racers going past my front door and my nephews by my back door. I don't know much about using this camera yet, but I'm sure I'll get better! At least I hope so.

Today I'm giving away my old pink gym bag because my friend Shelly gave me a new pick gym bag for my birthday that's much better! And who needs two?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Need Less, Give More

I believe a better, healthier world is possible. I think it may be the smallest things that end up making a difference, or at least catapulting the biggest changes.

Today is the day I've been looking forward to for several weeks. It's my birthday and it's the day I'm starting on a year-long experiment. I'm calling it Need Less, Give More. This little experiment is relatively simple, I won't buy anything (besides consumable items like food and soap) for one year--until my birthday next year. And during this year I will also give one thing away every day.

I don't know how this will really play out, but I hope I will learn and change and grow. I made my last purchase today--a camera. So, hopefully during this next year I will be able to document some of my experiences and share some of the things I learn along the way.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tour de Utah Goes Past My Front Door

I just found out that a real-life road race with famous pro cyclists will be going right past my front door on Saturday. I couldn't be more excited. My friend KC, who is the best athlete I know and a fantastic pro mountain biker herself, told me about the Tour de Utah and it turns out they go right past my house.

They are calling this race "the toughest bicycle stage race in America." It takes place over five days with flat sprinting stages and mountainous climbing stages. This stage starts in Park City on Saturday, goes past Sundance and over the Alpine Loop. It's the fourth stage--obviously a climbing stage--through 98 miles of mountain passes and up and over SunCrest to Snowbird.

Anyone want to come up and watch with me? They probably will hit my house three or four hours into the race which starts at 10 a.m. That puts them here at around 1 or 2 p.m. KC is going to call me from the top of the Alpine Loop when the racers go over, so I'll have a 45 minute warning. She and a bunch of her cycling friends are doing their own ride up there.

One of the teams that does the Tour de France will be racing (I think they are Garmin-Chipotle Pro Team) along with a lot of other pros and several local racers. I think it will be awesome to watch. Come up! I'll even feed you something after.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic Hat Trick

I would like to award some Olympic medals of my own for craziest head wear.

BRONZE: The bronze medal goes to the track cyclists with this Star Trekkie little number.

SILVER: The silver medal has to go to the shrieking women's fencing team with their Darth Vader masks.

GOLD: And the gold medal goes to the ear-muff baby bonnets of the water polo team. Grrr. Sexy!

Ladies and Gentlemen. Please stand for the national hat anthem, "My Easter Bonnet."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Embarrassed to Death

Since when is death preferable to embarrassment? Is getting embarrassed really the end of the world? Take the Chinese gymnastics coach, for example, who said he would "jump off the highest building" if his solemn team of gymnasts didn't take home more gold than last time. No wonder those boys never smile. A fall off the high bar becomes a life-and-death situation. Lucky for all of them, they won, because cleaning up that mess (physically and psychologically) would take a while.

The Chinese are big on avoiding diu lian (losing face) at any cost. They would rather tell you they will come to something they have no intention of ever attending than say no. It's a culture that takes a lot of finesse to navigate. Embarrassing someone or making them lose face is probably the worst sin imaginable. It's a cultural phenomenon that runs exactly counter to the American preference for almost rude straightforwardness. I'm pretty sure if you put a New Yorker and a Chinese person in a room together for a week somebody is going to die of embarrassment. And it won't be the New Yorker.

But in nearby countries, a much darker and more egregious interpretation of this shame-based philosophy is in the news lately. Called "honor killing" a relative, usually a father or a brother, kills a woman for some behavior they think will shame the family. From refusing to succumb to a distasteful arranged marriage to being the victim of sexual assault, it's a putative measure, practiced mostly in the Middle East, brought against a female who is perceived to have brought dishonor to the family. Sometimes even the other family members look the other way thinking it may be impossible for another girl in the family to make a good marriage if a "shamed" girl has not been adequately punished.

The fact that this fear of being shamed is on this level is astounding and heartbreaking. To place honor above human life is impossible for me to understand. It of course requires an acceptance of violence against women, deep seated sexism, and a long-standing tradition of women as chattel. But if this is the most shocking and lurid of these practices it certainly makes me think that the other less egregious atrocities against women are more common than we even want to believe.

Surely any amount of shame or embarrassment is preferable.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Internal Viewfinder

Just when I start thinking I should leave this state I have a weekend like last weekend. It's easy for me to get so caught up in day-to-day that I forget to look up. But once in a while I get a vivid reminder that some of the world's most spectacular mountains surround me and I really should appreciate their proximity and grandeur.

This weekend we camped at Albion Basin in Little Cottonwood canyon and spend Sunday morning at 10,500 feet on top of Catherine Pass at a place called Sunset Peak. It was a breathtaking hike--literally--and an awe inspiring view from the top. From the summit we could see from Alta to Brighton to Mt. Timpanogos and on to Heber City.

Hundreds of wildflowers pointed the way and the chipmunks at the top scurried around me and sniffed my fingertips in greeting. When we got back, three huge bull moose took up residence not 100 feet from our campsite and acknowledged our presence in their backyard with their bugling call.

I feel lucky to live in a place so packed with nature's spectacular beauty and heartstopping scenery. Once in a while I remember to appreciate it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sand Bagged

Latvia upset the U.S. in men's beach volleyball--a match that was incredibly mesmerizing. A little like David and Goliath, Latvia's two young players weren't intimated by the older, bigger, and usually dominant American team. Latvia, ranked close to the bottom at 23rd weren't even supposed to be competitive with the top-ranked Americans. I felt sorry for the dazed Americans, but you have to smile at the audacity of the Latvians who came out with nothing to lose and played like it was fun. It was a blast to watch. The god-like volleyball players are heartstopping.

I want to hang out with the men's beach volleyball teams and I want to look like the women beach volleyball players. A girl can dream.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Olympic Aspirations

I'm crazy about the Olympics. I love all of it. I love the opening ceremonies, I love the swimming. I love the gymnastics and the diving and the sprinting and the...well, like I said, I love all of it. I love the personal profiles of all the athletes and the way the world seems to come together. I love learning about the under dogs and hoping for a Cinderella story. I love the discipline and the amazing physical spectacle. I could easily spend the next two weeks watching every minute. Good thing I have a job so I don't get too obsessed.

And this year it's in China, which is meaningful for me since I studied at NanJing University and I speak Chinese. I found myself getting a little teary during the opening ceremonies and watching the cultural display of the best that is China. It gets too easy to forget how amazing the Chinese culture is with all of the negative aspects in the news lately.

I have loved the Olympics since I was a kid. I have vivid memories centered around my grandma and grandpa's little farm house one summer which served as the gathering place for me and my young aunts and uncles mesmerized by hour after hour of the competition on a little black and white TV in the tiny living room. During the boring stuff we would run outside and twist each other up on the swings and jump on the trampoline pretending we were Olympic athletes. It was the year that Nadia Comaneci got her perfect 10 and every little farm girl dreamed of being her.

That was a magical, optimistic time when I actually believed someday I would be an Olympic athlete. No, I wasn't sure in which sport, or what it would take, or how I would actually get there, but I was pretty sure, nonetheless, that I'd be carrying that American flag someday. (I realized tonight that it may not be too late since Japan has an athlete who is 67 years old. Hope springs eternal.)

The harsh reality is that I don't like pain enough to be an Olympic athlete. I'm not sure I even like pain enough to get through an entire spin class. But just watching the opening ceremonies tonight has made me want to somehow be faster, strong, better. I'll take it. I need all the encouragement and inspiration I can get.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

So, about that $79 BILLION surplus

After last night's somewhat snarky blog I thought about being a little nicer tonight. But yesterday I read this article in the New York Times and I'm still having trouble wrapping my mind around it.

Here is the lead: "Soaring oil prices will leave the Iraqi government with a cumulative budget surplus of as much as $79 billion by year’s end, according to an American federal oversight agency. But Iraq has spent only a minute fraction of that on reconstruction costs, which are now largely borne by the United States."

I've been thinking about it all day and I still haven't really come to anything but a knee jerk reaction to it. What the fuck?

"In one comparison, the United States has spent $23.2 billion in the critical areas of security, oil, electricity and water since the 2003 invasion, the report said. But from 2005 through April 2008, Iraq has spent just $3.9 billion on similar services."

I'm just shaking my head. If I wasn't so tired tonight I might be able to actually have something constructive to say. But I think this article mostly speaks for itself.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

ALWYSL8, Will You Wait?

I'll keep it short tonight because the beautiful, funny, smart, and humble dinner club babes kept me out late.

Speaking of late (kinda), I had to note this. Tonight I saw a vanity plate that said ALWYSL8.

Really? I'm thinking that means "always late," but I can't really figure out the point of that. Either her husband is constantly annoyed because she's always late and made her get that plate as punishment, or she is really proud of the fact that she is always late. Could be that she's trying to change and she thinks if she advertises this to the world she will be embarrassed into being on time for a change.

I can only guess. But it seems like it's not really the kind of habit you would want to affirm.

I think people who are always late might be a little narcissistic. They think their time is a lot more important than the time of the people they keep waiting. Their lateness is a way to control their out-of-control lives. But you can bet if someone gave them a million dollars to be on time they would be. Probably even $50 would do it.

I'm not directing this toward those occasionally-a-few-minutes-late people or this would just be a lecture for myself. I'm not even thinking about those people who are usually several minutes late. (DeLaina, I'm not thinking of you being late to dinner club tonight either. Except if you are late like that again you at least have to flick my ear or something to let me know you have arrived!! You know it's all about me, me, me.)

I'm talking about those chronically very late people you have to adjust starting times for. You know the ones. You have to tell them that things start an hour before you actually want them to show up. Then they are almost on time when they arrive an hour and a half after the pretend start time.

I think I'm just talking to the ALWYSL8 lady on the freeway today. She did race past me going fast. Hmm. Maybe she's late for something...just a hunch.

Monday, August 4, 2008

SunCrest Market Malaise

The little SunCrest Market is closing and I'm so sad about it. I knew it was struggling, but I was cautiously optimistic that our letter writing and puny "Save the Market" campaign would help. I shopped there as much as I could, but let's face it, I'm just one person and my 1/2 gallon of organic milk and coffee creamer a week just wasn't going to make all that much difference.

It's a bummer though. I was trying to turn that place into my little Cheers bar. I've always wanted to be a regular someplace and feel like one of the "in" crowd. I love the idea of a little neighborhood hang-out where people gather to catch up on the local news and happenings. Growing up on a farm I always felt like an outsider. All the townies would get together at Toolie's Drug Store or at Irita's Beauty Shop and gossip. My mom claimed to hate that type of thing and would actively avoid most purely social situations, especially Irita's. And town was way too far away for me to ride my bike to alone. But I was always so jealous of the town people. I really wanted to hang out and hear about the Hatch family across the tracks, listen to the old-timers talk about the good ol' days, and figure out just exactly what went on at the old school house.

Still one of my very favorite things to do is to hang out and just talk--talk about anything and everything that comes up. There is nothing I miss more than those all-night philosophical discussions that seemed to happen with regularity during college.

And beyond any social aspirations I had for that miniature market, it was just fun to go there. My nephews loved it. It had become our tradition when they came to my house. We would go to the market (sometimes we would walk which would make it even MORE fun for them) and get some popcorn, treats, and a DVD. They loved to walk up and down every isle and point out all the really cool stuff. Then they would inevitably choose the messiest candy possible like a giant jaw breaker or a tube of some kind of sweet blue goopy stuff--the candy their parents would NEVER let them get. And off we would go to cuddle up on my bed with a Disney-arama DVD and sticky fingers. I'm pretty sure Harmon's will not hold the same appeal.

I wish these small, privately owned businesses could make it in today's society, but it's hard to change people's shopping habits no matter how high the price of gas is. And there is always going to be a big box store with a super in its name with slightly lower prices at an unreasonably higher cost.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

It's a Shut Out

So, I got locked out of my own blog last night. SHUT OUT! I don't know what was going on, but it might have been something with blogger or it might have been something with Sitemeter. My friend Natalie was having the same trouble and sent me an email about what to do. (Thanks Natalie.) But now it seems fixed and I didn't even follow the instructions she gave me.

Here is the real story though. I was kinda relieved last night that I couldn't get in. I was struggling to think of something to write and the entry was sure to be lame.

In other business (since this is sort of a business blog), I need a camera. I want a good one that I can use to take everything from snapshots to really nice photos. Anyone have any suggestions? I don't know where to start and I just want someone to tell me the best camera to buy and I'll go get that one. Help!