Thursday, May 31, 2007

White Sands Adventure

Last Friday my sister twisted my arm into helping her chaperon a group of high school kids on a trip to White Sands. She promised it would be fun and assured me that I would really be helping her out. So I went. It had been awhile since I'd been to White Sands and also awhile since I'd been around teenagers. There were nine of them, five girls and four boys, a mixed bag personality-wise--some very funny and outgoing, others more shy, trying hard to fit in.

We boarded my mom's old minivan and after an uneventful 50-minute ride through scrubby desert, we arrived at the Sands. It's completely strange how there are miles and miles of standard desert, and then suddenly there are these huge white dunes. There's a scientific explanation, I guess, but it is really so bizarre, these mounds of pure white sand in the middle of nowhere. There's a feeling of being on another world. There must be some planet out there in the universe that looks just like this.

My sister parked the van at a picnic area. We unloaded our supplies and then we attempted to set up a barbecue for lunch. I'm ashamed to admit it, but neither of us had started a barbecue before. That combined with the fact that it was a windy day made it slow-going getting the fire started. The fire finally got going after about an hour, so we put some burgers and then hot dogs on the grill. Success at last, I was glad that we could at least figure this out and not have a bunch of hungry kids on our hands. I was patting myself on the back, then I bit into one of the burgers. Yuck--it tasted watery and flavorless. I give a lot of credit to the kids for not saying anything about it. Hopefully the hot dogs tasted better.

After lunch, we headed to a steep dune to do some serious sledding. The kids took turns sliding down the dune on circular plastic boards. Then my turn came up. The board went down fast, much faster than I expected. It was like flying, and I both loved and hated that queasy sensation, that feeling that this could end really, really badly.

After a few rides down the hill, everyone got tired and three of the boys insisted on having the rest of the group bury them in the sand. Tradition, I suppose, it's a rule of going to White Sands that someone has to get buried. While they did that, I sat down and watched for a few minutes, running the fine white sand through my fingers. The white sand is amazingly clean. There aren't any rocks or plants or trash in it the way there might be with beach sand. One of the girls remarked, it's so quiet out here. And it was. Beyond the noise of our little group, it was very silent.

By then it was late afternoon. The boys extricated themselves from the sand and we all drove home in my mom's old minivan, every one of us tired and covered in sand. I had sand in my hair, behind my ears, on my arms. I touched my face and it was covered in powder. I turned my shoe upside down when I got home and at least a handful amount of sand fell out of it.

Overall the trip lived up to my sister's promise of fun. I don't think I have much of a future as a chaperon (or as a barbecuer), but I think I did OK. Until the next adventure...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My new favorite word (used in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee):

weltschmerz--noun German. sorrow that one feels and accepts as one's necessary portion in life; sentimental pessimism. ( unabridged).

Wordnet defines it as "sadness on thinking about the evils of the world."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Analysis of Price is Right in Time magazine. It's not like I go out of my way to watch Price is Right but whenever I happen to catch it I always get really into it. My faves: the big wheel and the Showcase Showdown.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Slide show

I decided to give flickr a try for displaying some photos I took of Downtown El Paso (also a couple of the desert). Enjoy.

annette_c_a's photosMore of annette_c_a's photos

Sunday, May 27, 2007

So it's officially my birthday.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Article and great pictures about a visit to Chernobyl last year, 20 years after the disaster. Mark Resnicoff writes, "Despite what many people believe, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is not a radioactive desert but, due in part to the lack of human intervention, is a beautiful, thriving ecosystem where nature flourishes." Interesting.

Please tell me I don't write like this

Off the side of a package of Sam's Choice Pecan Praline Cookies:
Your sweet tooth will find immediate gratification when you crunch the pecan praline pleasures in Sam's Choice Premium All Natural Pecan Praline Cookies. Clusters of tender roasted candied pecans are baked into this cookie masterpiece to create the ultimate cookie experience.

A cookie masterpiece? And what exactly is the "ultimate cookie experience"?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jordin won!

A job at America's favorite drive-in

Summer, five years ago. I had applied for jobs everywhere: video stores, grocery stores, fast food restaurants. I'd had a few interviews but had not been offered anything. Then one day I saw the words "Now Hiring" on a marquee at a Sonic Drive-In. I walked into the store, and the manager, a short, overweight man with black hair and a mustache, said, Sure, I'll hire you. Easy as that, I had a job for the summer. It was the first job I got 100 percent on my own.

I took it as a good omen that the date I was officially hired was my birthday. My job was to make soft drinks during the afternoon--cherry limeades and ocean waters (Sprite with coconut flavor) and Diet Cokes with lemon. I also took orders, shoveled ice and mopped the floor. On the downside, my uniform consisted of a red Sonic polo shirt, black pants, tan Sonic visor that I felt ridiculous in the whole time I had to wear it. The place smelled like grease, and it was dirtier than it should have been in the back of the restaurant. But on the whole I liked my new job: the people I worked with were nice and making the drinks was fun. Each drink required a precision almost like you'd use in a chemistry experiment. Two squirts of this flavoring, fill to the top with this much soda, add one cherry and one lime, etc., etc. After a few weeks I learned how to create banana splits and cake sundaes.

I rate this job at number three in my list of the best jobs I've ever had. I think the orderliness and efficiency of the whole operation was the main thing. I had never worked in a fast-food restaurant before. Speed was key. Everything was very organized, set up for maximum efficiency. All the ingredients had their appointed places in white tubs: strawberry and pineapple toppings, chocolate fudge, whipped cream, cherries. It was paradoxical to be making all these delicious, aesthetically pleasing drinks and desserts in this mechanized environment. Noisy machines surrounded you: ice cream machine, soda machine, slush machine, shake blender. Even interaction with customers was mechanized, via speakers at the drive-in stalls and drive-thru. I remember one girl in particular who was practically robotic in the way she ran the drive-thru. She was a master of multi-tasking. To me it seemed like she was always doing ten things at once, making orders at the same time she was taking the next person's order. And I never saw her make a mistake. I wondered how many years of working there it would take to get to that point. Ultimately employees were just pieces in the machine, with everything done according to a processes they had no say in.

So maybe this wasn't the most creative job I've ever had, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I didn't care that the job didn't require much as far as skills or education. Sometimes a job like that is just what you need--no ambiguity about your job description, the satisfaction of getting to work with your hands, pleasant-enough co-workers. A job where you can go home and not give a second thought to what happened at work that day. I liked it so much I ended up staying beyond the summer, into the fall. It was shortly after the winter holidays when I hung up my red shirt and brown visor for good.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Guilty pleasure

For the record, it was my sister's idea to watch all of seasons 1 and 2 of Grey's Anatomy on DVD in one weekend. I previously avoided this show like the plague but I gotta admit that now I get why the show is so addictive. It is like a disease! I can't stop watching it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Interview with Michael Moore in Time magazine about Sicko, his new documentary. Can't wait to see it.
Take Away Shows from French site La Blogotheque. Wow, these are amazing. Check out The Shins.

Friday, May 18, 2007

As a Harry Potter fan, I found this amusing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

New photos

From my latest round of photos:

The Boots (my dog)

Some poppies that took over a rock area in an apartment complex near the house

Roses, beautiful roses

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It rained so much last night I no longer have to wash my car. Awesome.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Meaning of Wife

I found The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston as I was browsing in the UTEP library two weeks ago. The clever pun in the title drew me in. The title sounds like it could be a novel for women, but reading the back cover I found that it's actually a nonfiction book examining the role of wife in Western society. No, I'm not getting married, LOL. But the topic sounded interesting because the cultural roles of wife and woman are so entwined. My recent interest in Mary Astell sealed the deal and I decided to give this book a try.

Kingston, a Canadian writer, does a fantastic job of putting together research for this book. She brings in some fascinating stats and examples from magazines, books, television, and movies. She looks at public figures such as Martha Stewart, Princess Diana, and Hillary Clinton. Intriguing court cases are also a big part of the research for the book, from spousal murder cases to divorces.

At first I was going crazy trying to figure out Kingston's angle for the book. What is she saying--never, ever get married? She doesn't mention what her marital status is until the end of the book, so you don't know if she's a frustrated single or a frustrated wife (or a happy single or a happy wife, for that matter). But what I realized is that the book isn't for or against marriage; rather it's a deconstruction of messages from society about what a woman should or should not be. On the one hand, women are more liberated than ever before; on the other, we’re fed these images of marriage as an ideal. Kingston delves into how marriage is back in vogue on TV and in movies and the mini-trend of highly-educated upper class women opting out of the workforce to stay home with their children. She also describes how single women are portrayed in the media as insecure Bridget Jones-types all desperate to find a husband (for a more recent example, see this NY Times article). On the surface, it looks like we as women have regressed into old modes of behavior. But how much of this is real and how much of it is an attempt to sell wedding dresses and cleaning products? I think what Kingston accomplishes in this book is cutting through many of the stereotypes and presenting a more realistic view of women. Kingston is able to address the images of women in pop culture and expose them as often-silly, exaggerated, even manufactured constructions of what women are and should be, often quite different from what the reality is. It has made me think a little more about the messages I’m getting when I watch another movie that ends with a wedding or another TV show that depicts a flighty, neurotic single woman.

Kingston finally provides some overt commentary in the last chapter of the book. She suggests that Western society is evolving toward a state where "wife" is a gender-neutral term, a verb even, where men are just as accepted as women in the role of homemaker, someone who provides behind-the-scenes support to the spouse. It’s an interesting idea, but to me it seems a long way off. Society is changing, but not that quickly. There’s still a lot inequality in the workplace for women, and there remains an inherent unfairness in that tasks such as taking care of children and doing household chores are often automatically assigned to women. Gender roles and family roles are complicated, and from this book and from my own life, I get the feeling that we’re all just improvising solutions as we go along, which is both a good and a bad thing. Bad because it’s confusing, good because we aren’t tied to old roles and are free to make up new ones.

I highly recommend this book, especially for women. It’s hands-down the best nonfiction book I’ve read this year. It’s a well-researched book on a fascinating topic, and I think its greatest strength is that, rather than allowing this to become one of the books she analyzes that tells women what to do or what to think, Kingston lets her research and examples speak for themselves about the institution of marriage, allowing the reader to draw her own conclusions.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Younger me

Funny the things you find when you're cleaning out your room. Here I am at age 17. Not a great picture of me given my surprised and unsmiling expression but I love the details. I'm getting out of the first car I ever had, a beloved '91 Honda Accord, which I drove until I wrecked it about two years ago. Great car. There's the driveway of the house I grew up in--the picture was taken a few months before we moved in 2000. And this is easy to miss, but if you look closely you can see the top of the black ankle boots I wore to high school that day, the boots I thought were oh-so-cool, my one nod to fashion.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Good-bye to school, for now

Day 1 of freedom. I turned in the final draft of my seminar paper yesterday. I'm finally free of school obligations. Which is cool...but I'm also sort of sad about it. It's going to be a long summer. Too long, I think. It's going to take awhile to adjust from part-time worker/part-time student to part-time worker/part-time slacker.

I'll miss my classes. It's amazing how studying ancient philosophy or dissecting an old poem or reading about hegemony can shed light on the human experience. Seriously. And I've met some very interesting people--literature people, rhetoric people, people who are my age, people who are much older than me, people from other countries. I think my writing has improved, too (but I'll let you be the judge of that). I've had more practice at it, at least.

Thinking about the experiences I've had in the past two semesters, I feel like I made a really good decision to sign up for this program. I feel like I'm in the right place, like things are in alignment. I don't feel like I'm forcing myself to go on, trudging on towards graduation. At this point, school is more of a privilege than just "something to get through." I'm more appreciative of it. Despite the expense of it, I wouldn't trade the experiences of the past nine months for anything.

So it's a sad good-bye to school for the next few months since I opted not to go to summer school. I like to think that I'll be doing some exciting things now that I have all this free time, but in reality I'll probably end up staying home watching TV and doing more of "the usual."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

- Last night I logged into my class discussion board and found out that my paper is now due Thursday. Woo-hoo, and thank God for the Internet.
- Around midnight I was going to watch a replay of a PBS show about Amelia Earhart. But then this scary-looking picture came up and I decided not to watch it. Given what happened to her, I think I would have had a hard time getting to sleep. Disappearances really freak me out, especially at midnight.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The following were thoughts I had after watching I'm with Lucy (off Stu's Forgotten Films list):
- Monica Potter is like a cross between Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Julia Roberts, only funnier.
- Why is Monica Potter not as famous as either of them?
- Henry Thomas (grown-up Elliott from E.T.) is still adorable.
- Three words for this movie: sweet, funny, and different. Rent it!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

-I will be so happy come Wednesday when my portfolio and seminar paper are turned in. Until then it's more hours in front of the PC.
-Yesterday my mom boiled a whole bag of frozen strawberries for about half an hour and then blended them to make some sort of puree. Then we poured some of it on angel food cake. Yum.
Interesting paper on Spanglish by LA Weekly writer Daniel Hernandez. He also writes a blog. LA-centric but worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Some next-to-last class advice from one of my professors: Write a journal. Otherwise how will you remember how you felt at different times in your life? How will you remember what happened, the good things and the bad things? If you don't write it down, it will all be lost.

I take this advice seriously, coming from a professor in his 70s. He's totally right. Things can get awfully hazy in your memory. It's good to have a record of them. Not that I really need to be nagged into keeping a journal, as journaling is more of a compulsion for me than an act of discipline. I've kept journals since I was 12, not to mention writing this blog. I can't imagine not journaling, in fact. But the prof's advice makes me think about it a little more seriously; it makes me more aware that I should be writing about things that are going on in my life instead of just angst-filled ramblings and musings about pop culture. What am I going to want to remember when I'm 70? That I watched Celebrity Fit Club on April 30?

Anyway, I just thought this was a great piece of advice, something I'd pass along, especially to those who are not particularly compelled to keep journals.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

My second-to-last day of class. The clouds look like summer when it threatens to rain nearly every afternoon. I don't know why, walking back from class I noticed how green the grass looked. So absolutely stunningly green I don't think I'll ever forget it.
I stopped in the middle of channel surfing last night to watch the first 15 minutes of Celebrity Fit Club. Curiosity factor got me--Ross the Intern, Dustin Diamond (aka Screech), Maureen McCormick (aka Marcia Brady), and Kimberly Locke together on one show? Bizarre. Turns out Dustin Diamond is really, really annoying. I kind of miss Ross the Intern being on the pudgy side.
Amazing photos of Antarctica on this blog.