Friday, December 31, 2010


“A driver is a king on a vinyl bucket-seat throne, changing directions with the turn of a wheel, changing the climate with the flick of a button, changing the music with the switch of a dial.” -Andrew H. Malcom

“You all look like happy campers to me. Happy campers you are, happy campers you have been, and, as far as I’m concerned, happy campers you will always be.” -Dan Quayle

“Yosemite valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” -Ansel Adams

“Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget.” -Anonymous

“A true friend is someone who thinks you’re a good egg, even though he knows you are slightly cracked.” -Bernard Meltzer

“I must return to the mountains - to Yosemite. I am told that the winter storms there will not easily be borne, but I am bewitched, enchanted, and tomorrow I must start for the great temple to listen to the winter songs and sermons preached and sung only there.” -John Muir

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The wind will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while care drop off you like autumn leaves.” -John Muir

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” -Psalm 24:1 “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” -Psalm 150:6

Monday, December 27, 2010

Perfection and Comparative Fashion

Perfection is sitting on my soft tan couch, Belgian chocolate, Spanish coffee, Enrique Iglesias, and a sleeping, purring cat. I want to pause this moment. I take a sip of my steaming Cafe con Leche, nibble on my Speculoos chocolate Ruben brought and stop to stroke kitty. I want to put this moment into a secret envelope and save it so when I'm feeling stressed or sad, I can pull it out and savor it. This is beautiful. I discovered Enrique Iglesias' new song and have it on repeat. Oh Enrique, why must you be so talented and handsome? Can I put you in a secret envelope too?

Ruben, Sara and I talked yesterday on how exactly to identify the difference between Europeans and Americans. It's a funny phenomenon; waiting in the San Francisco airport or in downtown Sacramento, a person will walk by and immediately you know they're European. And Ruben says it's the same in Belgium; someone will pass by that's obviously American. How is that?

First of all, we decided it's the shoes. Americans wear running shoes or converse and white socks. Dead give-away. White socks are a huge no-no in Europe (or at least Belgium) as we found out the hard way. So, running shoes and white socks = American. Conversely, Europeans wear Pumas or Adidas, skinny little shoes with straps on top. And they wear black socks. Skinny shoes and black socks = European.

Secondly, pants are a key determinant as well. Americans are a bit famous for wearing baggy pants or skinny jeans. Now we have the marbled kind or the ones with fake holes, but generally denim reigns. Baggy, skinny, ragged pants = American. We chuckled about European pants; the half-calf kapris so common in Belgium and other European countries. Ruben wore them two summers ago when he was here, and when we visited his family in Belgium, they sent us home with pairs of our own. He winced now at the memory and swears he no longer owns any more of them, but it's true, kapris (along with colored or patterned pants) = European.

Now, these are generalizations of course. Many Americans wear colored pants and I know Europeans who wear converse. But it was fun to compare our fashions and note the differences. I find it interesting that, just by apparel, you can peg someone's nationality. Ruben laughed, "You just know who's American. It's the whole package." And it's the same when I'm at an international airport; you see a person and they're a European "package". I love it.

I love how different we are. How different and how similar we are. I love travel and people and cultures and fashion and music and....everything. I love comparing and having fun with our differences. Isn't that the essence of life and loving?


(Picture from Google)

Step 1: Find blocks of ice.
Step 2: Find a park with really big, steep hills.
Step 3: Find a bunch of friends who don't mind getting muddy.
Step 4: Put rags on top of the ice so your bum doesn't get frozen and slide down the hill!
Step 5: Repeat.

Tonight, Ruben, JJ, my siblings and I went ice-blocking for hours in Minnesota Park. It was a total blast and we got incredibly muddy. We looked like mud zombies staggering around in our mud-soaked jeans and grimy faces. We laughed and fell and slipped and raced and rolled down the hill getting more muddy and excited with each trip down. I've been ice-blocking many times, but each time it's a tad different and always a thrill. Maybe it takes away your breath because it's already very cold and you're playing with ice. Maybe it's because you get the wind knocked out of you when your block suddenly stops and you go flying off into the mud. Perhaps it's just plain *awesome*. Who knows.

We piled in the car (sure to place paper towels and sweatshirts down so we wouldn't get the seats dirty) and invaded the nearby McDonalds. The workers eyed us warily as we came through...."did you, um, fall?" one of them ventured to ask. "You" We laughed, explained ourselves and ordered almost everything on the menu. Ice-blocking makes you hungry. Very hungry.

Tomorrow I think I'm going to be really sore.
Totally worth it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Magical Traditions

San Francisco is magical at Christmas. Stores are transformed into alluring worlds where every color, scent, discount and employee work to awe and entice you. The streets become bustling channels of humankind; a maze of stoplights, crosswalks and hurrying footsteps. And Union Square becomes the Christmas Mecca. Macy’s giant, brilliant tree stands looming before you twinkling and dazzling in the chilly night air. Children and adults alike laugh and wobble as they circle the nearby ice-rink, while bystanders sip hot cocoa and steaming lattes. The air is full of smiles, cinnamon and lights....hundreds of twinkling, magical lights.

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful!” -Norman Vincent Peale

I have been particularly in love with this Christmas. I continually surprise myself by how nostalgic and traditional I am this season...I want things to be as they have always been. I want every tradition to stay intact. I want us to snuggle on the couch, sipping peppermint hot cocoa, and watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Perhaps it’s because things are so very different this year that I’m so very nostalgic. Perhaps it’s because everything’s so different, I want everything to be as beautiful and warm and wonderful as my memories. And so far, this year has surpassed all expectations. I love this Christmas. So very much.

I love hearing Ruben’s laugh in the next room. I love making paper chains with Mark and hanging them in the doorframes. I love exploring Sacramento and the thrilling magic Christmas has sprinkled everywhere.

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” -Calvin Coolidge

Tonight was the candlelight service at church, and as we sat, surrounded by beautiful lights and majestic organ music, I felt so very small. It is exactly as Pope Paul VI said, “Christmas is the encounter, the great encounter, the historical encounter, decisive encounter, between God and mankind. He who has faith knows this truly, let him rejoice.” The reality of what Christmas really is is so incredible and so powerful, and I can’t help but feel humbled and awed.

During the service, all lights were extinguished save the Christ Candle. From it, the pastor lit his candle then lighted the candles of a few others who then passed the flame to members of the congregation. One by one, as members lit each others’ candles, the light slowly spread. Yet still, the entire congregation sat in darkness but at the pastor’s welcome, hundreds of people lifted their candles into the air, filling the sanctuary with warm, flickering light. It was as if the stars themselves had found their way into our church and filled the sanctuary with their magical presence.
Ruben and I just finished stringing licorice on the Christmas tree. It’s been a family tradition for as long as I can remember and as far back in my memory as I can trace, I remember waking up on Christmas morning and finding hundreds of skinny strings of licorice hanging from the branches. It’s not always easy to find the licorice, few stores are selling the skinny kind now, but Ruben and I found a package at Raleys. We waited until everyone was in bed to open the package and string up the licorice. High and low, around ornaments and between lights, on branches and tossed up high, we strung the licorice. Tomorrow morning it’ll be a delicious surprise to everyone else. :)

Why are traditions so beautiful? What makes them so sentimental and important? Whatever it is, I have so loved sharing them with loved ones and making them a reality again this year. God has been so faithful to us and His goodness is overwhelming, especially now. I feel so incredibly blessed to be here, with a licorice-covered tree, paper-chains galore, an amazing family, and a God who loves me so very much.

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to men on whom His favor rests.” -Luke 2:14

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Family

This is us. We rock.
My brother from Belgium arrived two days ago and we drove to San Francisco to pick him up and see the beautiful lights. It was cold and misting, but the lights sparkled and danced in the wind and they made the rain magical. Ruben laughs at us when we say it's cold...."I just left a snow blizzard" he scoffs. I love hearing his laugh and his accent when he makes fun of me.
We've written, texted, facebooked and impatiently counted down the days and hours for months...and now I look over and there he is, sitting on the couch across from me, wiggling his foot. The dog sighs and we both stop writing for a moment to sigh back at her. Silly old dog.
We decorated the Christmas tree last night. I strung the lights up a week ago, and while the tree stood beautiful in its little twinkling lights, it still seemed quite bare until last night. Our antique lucky pickle was carefully hung, our baby ornaments unwrapped, and great-grandma's three-tiered glass ornament was hung in its revered place at the top of the tree. We didn't pay much attention to hanging ornaments on the back of the tree since that side remains against the window and unseen. Suddenly, under the weight of all the ornaments placed on just one side, the tree slowly tilted and began to fall! With all the ornaments! Ruben was on a chair and caught it and Ryan found some twine to tie it to the wall. Our tree is securely tied now and the ornaments are safe....but it's funny to remember our shocked and alarmed faces when we realized our tree was falling down.
Yes. There are going to be plenty of adventures this Christmas season.
Because we are family. And we rock.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Finals Week

My room has been transformed into a writer’s sanctuary.
It already has the feeling of a psychologist’s room with it’s calming brown and olive green walls. A large tan couch waits for a meaningful conversation and my pictures hang on the walls. Maybe it has something to do with the fact my sister wants to be a psychologist? Who knows.

Today I have a 7-essay final to write and I’ve shut myself in my room until I finish. The final isn’t due until 5:00pm, so I have six and a half hours to write all about history and world civilizations from 1500-present. It’s been a fascinating class, but trying to sum everything into a couple pages feels daunting. Can I just write a dissertation? Please?

Some of my topics:
1. Do you believe in the concept of progress? Depending on your response to the previous question, does the twentieth century represent the death of the notion of progress or the proof that progress is possible?
2. Drawing from three areas (East Asia, India and Europe) define and explain nationalism, and compare/contrast how nationalism operated in different areas and among different people.
3. Why was the twentieth century the world’s bloodiest? What light do science and art shed on this question?

So yes, I’ve found ample amount of blankets, a good supply of music and a whole plate of yummy goodies. I don’t plan to come out until I’ve finished my opus. Shhhh.....writer in progress.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter gold

I got home from school today and just wanted to curl up with a blanket and sleep. The winter sunlight streams through our big glass window and the amber leaves cast a golden glow across the room. The air is still and a soft piano melody plays....calmingly. Tranquilly.

My gates stand watch over the living room, draped in red and green christmas chains. The doorways all have our paper christmas chains up giving each room a festive feel and each passerby a little christmasy thrill as they walk beneath the arch of color. This is such a wonderful season.

Well, the test is over and I didn’t die.
I forgot some important things (Diversionary War Theory and Long-Cycle Theory) which will certainly mean loss of points. Darn-it. I think the problem with having professors as close friends is that when you don’t do so hot on a feel like you disappoint them. You know how they’ll sorta sigh as they grade your paper and see that you forgot important factors.

But now it’s over and I have a whole weekend of intense singing ahead. I’m so excited! Tonight is our dress-rehearsal, then we sing on Friday, Saturday, Sunday morning and Sunday night! The concert is going to be incredible - as it always is - but especially this year since we have six more orchestra members. 100+ voice choir and over 40 orchestra members. It’s going to be incredible. In-cred-i-ble.

But for now, I’m going to curl up with a textbook and a blanket. Finals are next week and I’m going to pause time to study. Time to study while the air is still and the room is golden.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

HST, NEIO, FDI, oh my!

What do you do when you’re faced with something you know is going to be incredibly difficult and probably painful, but there’s no way around it?

I have a test tomorrow in International Relations. It’s a blue-book test, not a scantron, which means by the end of the test I’ll have filled a whole booklet with my definitions, explanations and analysis of a variety of international theories and economics. It also means you absolutely *have* to know your stuff because, to fill that booklet, you have to have something to say. I’m terrified. There is *so* much I don’t know and you can’t bs a blue book test. You either know it or you don’t. I’m in the “don’t” group at the moment.

I’ve been reading, studying, wikipediaing, writing, outlining, emailing classmates and brainstorming for four hours now and I feel I’ve only just begun. These topics and questions are huge! Complex. Difficult. I’m so scared of getting into class, sitting down and getting my test, and drawing a complete blank. A mental blank means my hard-earned A goes down the drain. Ooooo, too much pressure.

World Systems Theory and Dependency Theory’s explanations of development and underdevelopment?
External and internal sources of international law?
Compare and contrast commercial liberalism and mercantilism?
Analyze the five features of the international political economy?


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Take time... notice the very, very small things.

They’re not here forever.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dear International Community,

Your liberalistic pursuits led to the promotion of your self interests while stripping us of our right to protectionism and economic sovereignty. Now our unemployed farmers sit and rot while our children starve and our women’s jobs our outsourced. Thanks Chiquita and Dole for monopolizing the banana industry and wiping out our last remaining competitive market. Thanks IMF for your loan which handcuffed us and forces us to let you dump your goods in our public sector; undercutting our farmers and stealing our jobs. Your sterile Free Zones leech off our desperate labor force and exploit an already crippled system. Your vicious legacy of neo-mercantilism and colonialism continues in an even more subtle and dangerous way than your ancestors could have imagined. We have the resources you need and you have the power to keep us in your web of dependence and disadvantage. We watch as globalization and “modernization” destroy our economy and can do nothing. The modern world continually spins on, wrapped in imperialism and greed.