Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unruly End and Welcome Beginning

By most estimations, this was not a great week, and I am glad we're at the end of it. I'm also glad that October is almost here. I love October. Fall colors, baseball playoffs (which the Giants will actually be in this year!!), General Conference, family visits, pumpkins, anticipation of the holidays, etc, etc. So great, so comforting.....and now I am so tired and need to sleep the end of September off....see you next month!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Letter to Justin's Family

September 4, 2010

Dear Tania, Wally, & Chelsea-

I have thought of you every day since Justin’s passing. I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine how quiet your house must seem, and yet I hope you feel how tangible his presence still is in everyone who knew him.

I met Justin on the first day of his junior year. I was his last class of the day. I had no desks courtesy of an office glitch, so my 35 juniors were scrunched together on folding chairs (not an ideal classroom management setting to say the least). Justin was in the second row next to Marten Dijkstra. Spencer Clancy, Sam Witters, Michael Jacob, and Greg Holmes were not too far away. Needless to say, chaos seemed to unfold at any given second. Justin was the catalyst nine times out of ten for the class getting amped up, and I fought him for control all during the first quarter. It took me longer than it should have to realize that Justin just wanted to be heard and wanted to honestly discuss the issues I was bringing up without dealing with the minutiae (e.g., the trivial interests of his classmates, class work he deemed unnecessary to learning) he had no patience for. Realizing that simple fact and coming to see Justin as one of the most interesting people I have ever met, changed that class and changed my life.

Justin impacted everyone he encountered and left them better than they were before. As my TA, during the second half of Justin’s junior year and first half of his senior year, he also left an indelible mark. He contributed to class discussions that he wasn’t even required to be paying attention to. He caught my sophomores off-guard every chance he got (Justin’s shock factor was also one of a kind). He got me into trouble over and over again with the librarian because he couldn’t let her seemingly arbitrary rules stand. Even up to the my last day at SRV, I couldn’t go in there without her eyeballing me like I too was going to threaten her silent order. It was worth it though. I wouldn’t trade one frustrating experience with Justin for anything because with every frustrating moment came a dozen a-ha moments.

Just a few days before Justin’s accident, I was talking with a good friend of his about how many possibilities lay before Justin; that in his own time, Justin would surprise all of us and change the world in a bigger way than any of us dream about. We couldn’t have foreseen any of the tragic events that followed, but in some way Justin has, in fact, changed the world because he changed us. Losing him forced me to evaluate why I do what I do and make sure that I am doing things for the right reasons.

I want you to know how much I appreciate your family. I know Justin wouldn’t have been who he was without you. He will be missed forever.

{This is one of those posts that is here for me - for that future blog book that will capture the big events of the past couple years. I still think about Justin every day. I can't fathom that a kid who was such a life force isn't living anymore. As the bracelets made to remember Justin say, "Janky D - Always With Us". Justin will truly always be a part of those who knew him.}

Monday, September 20, 2010

I wish you could have been with me today....

I wish you could have been with me today - surrounded by the type of beauty that is so perfect, you're almost sad because moments like this slip away all too quickly. I sat in a straight-backed wooden chair on the porch reading and taking in the general splendor. A cool breeze toyed with the leaves and sunlight peaked through the tree boughs. The sound of the river passing by helped make any other reality fade into the background. As I sat here, breathing deeply, taking in the aromatic scent of fire burning ovens, seasoned wood, and life. This is my perfect place, my safe haven, my respite from the chaos of everyday living. The hanging flowers, the sun illuminating the ridges of the tin roof and the soft green of the aspen leaves, the rustic furniture, and ever-changing colors, the feeling of smooth, worn wood beneath my finger tips, the final words of an inspiring book - they all seem like a love note to me. I'm afraid to move, as Anne once said, in fear that the spell of this place, the serenity I feel, will be broken. But down the mountain I must go. "Real" life awaits. I'll be back though. This truly is the only reality I seek.
Note written in the back of Jim Collins' "From Good to Great" during the late afternoon on Thursday, September 16, 2010 at Sundance
ps. The pictures were not taken on that perfect sunlit afternoon. They were taken on the earlier visit to Sundance where I curled up in that rocking chair and finished "Mockingjay" - perfect mood lighting for a book like that, don't you think?


Some of my friends write fantastically brilliant political blog posts (how many adjectives can I stick in one sentence?!). They write about major news events, politicians' latest whims, and issues that seem to affect every aspect of our day-to-day lives. I love these blog posts because I too am passionate about trying to make sense of the never-ending political conundrums that play out over the evening news. BUT I am also an evolving human being whose views are less than conventional in the circles I run in. I am more conservative than some, more liberal than others. And to be honest, I just don't want to engage in political debates in a medium where there is a time delay and a complete lack of human contact. I don't want you to question my personal views without seeing who I am and who I am becoming. If you want to talk, let's do it in person. Why bring this up? Because I never want people to think I don't care. Yes, I love trivial things like Harry Potter, Glee, and Matt Damon's impression of Matthew McConaughey. Yes, I'd rather talk about fall colors and my niece's latest antics than how much I detest the Tea Party movement. But I am studying each day to be more aware, to be a better caretaker of the world around me, and to be someone who can make a lasting contribution no matter what line of work I end up in. Though this may not be the forum, I am slowly figuring things out so that someday, when you and I sit down, I'll be able to explain why I am still a "Decline to State" voter and why there is nothing on God's green earth that will ever make me vote for Sarah Palin.

Okay, so maybe I'm not completely apolitical but who really is, right?!

Handling Monday with Matt

Sometimes Mondays are a little hard to handle. Here's a little something (a brilliant impression of the always shirtless Mr. McConaughey) courtesy of my friend Matt to help make the day a little bit better.
ps. The Esquire cover has nothing to do with anything. Just thought a little eye candy never hurt anything.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Literal Harry Potter

**Nerd Alert**
I LOVE the Harry Potter series. Can't adequately explain how much actually. I have had a countdown on my computer for months leading to the 7th Harry Potter movie. A few weeks ago, my brother showed me the Literal Harry Potter trailer. Watch it - it will change your life (kidding actually - but it will be thoroughly entertaining).

[Thanks Ryan for sharing!]

Post-Dated Surreal Existence

I kept a running list while I was living in LA of the things that seemed completely surreal. A few of them are self-explanatory and a few are stories that I will have to tell you when my "to do" list has less than twenty-one items and my "to do soon" and "to do eventually" list are one and the same. And now, for the list--

*"I met Reese" (My friend didn't say "I met Reese Witherspoon" but on referred to her on a first name basis. Why? Because my friend was nannying for Reese's body double.)
*Two masculine men at church having great fashion and studying at FIDM
*Temple in the midst of the city
*Living in the place that people dream about
*Seeing all those things that I've read about
*Not minding the commute
*Having something to say when someone asks "what have you been up to"
*Actually getting excited for Utah (I know - who would have thought? A summer without Jewels and without my Sundance drives does that to me)
*"We're going to have to run orientation for the players..."
*Listening to Rihanna warming up
*Literally almost running into P. Diddy
*Sean McKissick in the Bishopric
*Meeting players
*Hanging out in the owner's office
*Matt Morrison - Chris O'Donnell - LL Cool J (none of that delectable hotness would have happened without Maria's birthday gift of a Paramount Studios tour - love her and miss living so close!)
*Staying at the JW Marriott at LA Live (the twelve-year-old version of myself couldn't believe Rachel and I were doing that)
*Being alone but feeling content
*Maria down the street
*Beautiful shirtless surfer on morning commute in a Jeep with surfboards
*Ryan Seacrest on the radio (when your morning DJ is Ryan Seacrest, the most interesting interviews take place)
*Standing in the shadow of the Hollywood sign or standing where Dr. Quinn (yes, she might as well have been real) and Sully stood
*Driving the PCH
*Reading on the beach
*(this was my gmail status one day in May)" Just stood in the Clipper locker room and saw the Idol holding room for tonight's show....surreal existence....lots of people are lining up for the American Idol finale outside.... movie screening at USC tonight!  Is this really my life?" 

(That list hardly does justice to my summer, but it's a start. Happy Fall!!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

To Be So Cool

Mae turned two just over a week ago. Love that crazy kid.
(p.s. Are we loving Mae's stylish ensemble?! Looks like she dressed herself, but really she"s just wearing all her birthday gifts at once.)

My Love Affair with L.A.

A couple weeks ago, I started missing Los Angeles in a major way, so I decided to put this into my netflix queue: It's not a very good movie (though it does have a few classic scenes - one of which includes Jennifer Garner wielding a bat on a hapless heart-shaped piñata), but it is a visual love note to Los Angeles. They pan the familiar skyline in the opening shots. Ashton Kutcher's character lives on one of the Venice Canal streets. Eric Dane's character's home overlooks a Malibu beach. Even better, Topher Grace and Hector Elizondo go to a movie at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery where Maria and I watched a couple classic movies in July.... So last night, I watched "Valentine's Day" while I tried to organize my life, and I went to sleep dreaming of salty breezes and crashing waves. Who would of that this Nor Cal girl could love So Cal so much?!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Getting to Yes

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving InGetting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reviewing schoolbooks is a hit or miss for me because there are some schoolbooks I would rather not dwell on more than I have to. However, the tenets of negotiation are something worth ruminating out of the academic forum. We all negotiate every day. Some negotiations are trivial – where to eat out, for example, while others carry more weight – those examples vary depending on individual priorities, etc., so I’ll let you decide what negotiations are weightier for you.

While the writing bogged down occasionally as business and psychology books are apt to do, “Getting to Yes” offers practical suggestions for reaching better agreements in our day-to-day lives in any type of setting. Some of the big “takeaways” for me include the idea that we need to more actively separate the person from the problem. We cannot expect resolution if we do not meet people’s basic needs as part of negotiations. If we don’t listen and validate, people will not want to work with us. Also, even more impactful, is the idea of working together to create options that will satisfy all involved in the negotiation. So often, I am inclined to do what is quickest or to say that “I don’t care” in order to take the path of least resistance. That is not the way to live.

I should present the additional information that I am reading for my Power, Influence, and Negotiation class. The environment of our first class was intense, borderline scary, and exhilarating. Learning how to communicate better in high stakes situations where the outcomes really matter or emotions are threatening to destroy reason is something I need to do. This book will not be enough for me to magically be a better negotiator, but “Getting to Yes” does give me more tools for my arsenal. Now it’s just up to me to practice….

ps. This book is probably just a 3.5 for me, but I have to choose a whole star rating....
(Don’t hate me for reviewing four books in quick succession. I had been putting these off for a while. Plus, I am short on my goal of how many books I wanted to read this year, so I am going to be attempting to step up my literary game….)

Belong to Me

Belong to MeBelong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I should have reviewed “Belong to Me” six weeks ago when I finished it. I would have been able to do more justice to the character’s intricacies and Marisa de los Santos’ carefully crafted tale of love, life, and the secrets we all carry….

Simply said, when a friend told me that this book even existed – a second novel that followed the characters of “Love Walked In”, I was comforted somehow. Cliché, though it may be, de los Santos has created characters that feel like people you actually know and you want to know how their lives turn out. You hope that somehow they really do live happily ever after.

“Belong to Me” is not the best book ever written, but it’s a good book. The writing is just as lyrical and enchanting as de los Santos’ first novel. If you enjoyed “Love Walked In”, you will enjoy this one. Simple truths of life are woven in seamlessly along the characters’ comings and goings, triumphs and failures. Reading this book feels like watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” – one of those experiences that makes the world seem that much better and people that much kinder. Honestly, we can all use a bit more that….

Happy Reading--

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Wuthering Heights...Finally

Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Dear Reader,

Because this is a classic, I took the liberty of assuming most people have read it, so I talk about the book in its entirety. If you still want to read it without any foreknowledge of the plot, skip this disillusioned review.

The Reviewer

“Wuthering Heights” is one of those books – the kind that academics and literary purists rave about. After all, it was written by a Bronte. I had always felt like I should read it. I was an English major after all, but I did not actually sit down and do it until my sister insisted that I should give in and find out why Heathcliff was actually crying on the moors.

I cannot pretend to have liked this book. The characterization is powerful and the scenery haunting, but the characters, themselves, are unlikeable. They are horrible to each other, not mention that they are beyond incestuous. I know Austen’s characters also married their cousins, but this was like dinner in Appalachia where you don’t know if your aunt is your mom or your sister or your grandmother.

My main question though is why do women talk about Heathcliff as a brooding romantic. Yes, he loved Cathy, and yes, he was treated cruelly as a child. However, his behavior probably killed Cathy, and that is just the beginning of his deplorable behavior. When he was starving himself, I just wanted him to hurry and die so the book would end.

Sorry Jewels. I will take through the English countryside with you though. I am sure it just as lovely Miss Bronte described.

Oh. My. Mockingjay.

Mockingjay (Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After my first day of classes, you would most likely expect to find me at the bookstore buying the rest of my textbooks or in a study room making plans with classmates on how to best proceed on assigned projects. At the very least, you would expect to find me at home putting syllabi due dates into my Google calendar. Instead, I was curled up on an old rocking chair at Sundance holding my breath as the final pages of “Mockingjay” unfolded. Forget the “to do” lists and the ringing phone that I left sitting in my car. I had to know how the battles in Panem would end, who would survive, and who Katniss would ultimately choose as the love of her life.

The urgency to know how these stories will end is part of Suzanne Collins’ masterful story telling. Her writing occasionally leaves something to be desired – the pace often is a little too frenetic at key moments leaving the reader rereading to see whose legs exactly were blown off and which genetically altered creature carried off which unfortunate victim. And yet the compulsion to read almost seems forced. Four in the morning or at the expense of dinner burning on the stove, you have to know what happens….

Collins’ characters are flawed, complicated, and unconventional – which is what makes them relatable and more endearing. There is no white knight and blushing heroine. They are more real than that. The characters have issues and triumphs in the same breath just as Collins’ readers are prone to experience in any given day.

Summation of the Hunger Games series and specifically “Mockingjay” seems an impossible thing to do. And so, from a completely personal reaction, I have to say that I love these books. They are violent, disturbing, and exceptionally brilliant. Collins has created a fictional dystopia that eerily familiar to the world in which we live now. In much the same way that I felt after I initially encountered Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” I have found myself thinking about where I see a book’s warnings in day-to-day life. Overdramatic, maybe. But ask yourself next time, you sit down to watch Reality TV or hear about Sudanese genocide on the news after the report of Lindsay Lohan’s latest rehab stint, whether or not we really are that much better than the citizens of Panem’s capital. And what are we going to do about it?

Long review short – Read it. It’s definitely worth a few hours of missed sleep.

(ps. Everyone who has read the books wants to know which of the series you like best. So my order would be Hunger Games first, Mockingjay second, and Catching Fire third. If you haven't read "Mockingjay" yet, I would suggest rereading the other books ahead of time. I think it made my overall reading experience that much better...LOVE them!)