March 29, 2006

Riding the Crimson Wave

***Warning: If you are squeamish about periods (ie, if you are a man), then don't read this blog entry. You have been warned.***

I have always been a stickler for getting places on time. Job interviews, meetings, doctor's appointments, and even movie showings---I always try to arrive a bit early. This penchant for promptness must be deeply ingrained within my body because it is manifested in my monthly cycle. After I got my first period at age 12 (which shocked the living daylights out of me), my period has been as reliable as a Swiss watch.

Like a credit card bill that turns up in your mail every 10th of the month, my period is a regular---and irritating---part of my life. Whenever my skin starts to break out and my abdomen begins to swell, I know it's time to stock up on my Always and Tampax. Aunt Flow has come for a monthly visit for over ten years of my life. Ten years! That means I've spent well over five hundred dollars on feminine products alone. Do you know how many pairs of shoes I could buy with five hundred bucks? Or how many orphans I could feed?

Spending money on maxi-pads and tampons is only the start of my problems. There's also the mind-numbing cramps and the ever-pressing worry of leakage. (Gross.) On top of the pain is also the inability to wear light-colored pants when I have my period--- just as a precaution, but a necessary one. And don't get me started on the cute pairs of underwear that have been ruined due the early arrival of an unexpected "guest." (Gross again, but very true.)




Yet if there is one good thing about my period, it is its reliability. If I have to suffer through this bleeding every month, then I might as well know when to expect it---and my period has been happy to oblige in keeping a steady arrival/departure schedule. If my period arrives on the 20th of June, then I can expect to have my next one around the 20th of July. Easy as that. In the past ten years I have never missed a period. Yes, I have been late to a few meetings and I've missed a few previews at the movies, but I have never missed a period.

And so it really worried me this month when my period was two weeks late. I have been over a week late before, but that was during a time of my life when I was really stressed out and not eating properly. This month however has been relatively stress-free so I couldn't understand why my period was ignoring me.

Irrational fears began to swirl in my head. Could I be pregnant? Of course not, I thought. Pregnancy requires sex and let's just say I've been in a dry spell for over two decades. Then my fears swung in the opposite direction: what if I was infertile? Did I use up all my eggs? I cursed my ovaries. They should have told me they were running low on supplies!

Pregnant? Infertile? I began planning a trip to the doctor when...hallelujah...my period arrived to save the day. Phew! I wouldn't become the next Virgin Mary and I still have a few eggs to spare. My fears were sloughed away.

So my period was two weeks late---but for the first time in my life, I've never been so happy to see it arrive.

March 28, 2006

Museum Jealousy


The MoMA is swathed in wealth. From the gleaming white walls to the masterpieces hanging on its walls to the newly-renovated building itself, the MoMA oozes money.

The sixth floor of the museum houses the special exhibitions. Currently there are two exhibits on display up here---the life work of Edvard Munch as well as contemporary architecture in Spain. Both exhibitions come equipped with an audio tour and an exhibit tour book that is available at the museum store. The artworks displayed here are on loan from institutions from around the world; undoubtedly, the loan and design costs for both exhibits number in the millions.

Where does all of this money come from? Well for one, it costs 20 bucks for an adult admission ticket. Eight dollars is shaved off for students (they only have to pay $12). Seniors get a further discount and children under 16 who are accompanied by an adult don't have to pay a penny. So if the MoMA gets between 2-3 million visitors per year, we could assume that the museum makes between 25-55 million per year on tickets alone. Lest we forget the wealthy MoMA donors tha provide a lovely cushion of another 10-30 million (perhaps less, perhaps more).

All of this money makes my body teem with envy because the museum I work for, the National Air and Space Museum in DC, is strapped for cash. Because NASM is a federal institution, it receives primary funding from the government. Our yearly allowance from Congress, however, only provides enough money to cover the salaries of its employees and general maintenance fees, like electricity and plumbing. This means that if the museum wants to create new exhibitions, the curators have to seek outside funding. Sure, sure, it is easy to assume that lots of donors will step up to the plate to help the Smithsonian, but the truth is that most donors want to give their money to high-brow institutions like the National Gallery, the Met, or the MoMA. Museums like the Air & Space lack the refinement and sophistication that embody institutions of art.

Because money is so tight at NASM, there are some exhibitions in the museum that haven't been changed since the building opened to the public in 1976. That's thirty years ago! The ever-shrinking budget weighs heavily over my own department where the color printer is reserved for special printing purposes. Even the cost of paper and ink come at a high price around here.

A simple solution would be to charge an admission fee. Because the museum often attracts 10 million visitors a year, a fee of ten dollars would translate into a whopping 100 million for the museum! Minus 50 million for general maintenance costs and that gives the museum 50 million bucks to make new and innovative exhibitions. With exhibitions costing an upwards of $25 million these days, even 50 mil doesn't sound like much. But it's more than what we have now. (The new "America on the Move" at the National Museum of American History cost $22 million.)

But alas, the museum will never charge a fee because it is a federal institution. One of my co-workers has also pointed out that if we decide to charge a fee, Congress will diminish our allotted budget by whatever we make. So it's kind of a catch 22.

Mostly, it makes me sad that the Smithsonian Institution is recognized as the premier educational resources in the world, but its own museums are in deep financial straits. We want to be the best that is out there, but being the best takes money---and that's the one thing we lack in abundance.

March 27, 2006

I want to be a part of it...New York, New York!

My body is going through withdrawals. I spent the weekend in the Big Apple and my body must have acclimated to the bright lights and excitement. Once I returned to DC my body decided to revolt---sore throat, fever, achy muscles. Get me back to NYC, stat!

The Met, the MoMA, an Episcopalian church, the shopping (of course!), excellent food, weird cab drivers, and awesome eighties music. What more could you ask for? Here are some highlights of my trip:

1.) The MoMA


Recently I've been on a modern art kick, which is interesting because I used to hate modern art. But now I can't seem to get enough of it so the MoMA was my number one destination on the trip.

"Starry Night" was amazingly beautiful. Now I can better understand why it is one of the most famous paintings in the world. What's cool about the painting is that a lot of the canvas shows through the paint, giving it a very organic look.

Vincent Van Gogh was a troubled soul, but I wish I could step into his shoes for just a moment and look up at the night sky. Would I see the swirling stars and glowing moon that are depicted in "Starry Night"?


Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory" was also on display and I was surprised about how small it was. I've always envisioned the painting to be pretty big, at least thirty inches across, but as you can see it's just a baby of a painting.

I took this picture with a random guy standing next to "Persistence" to give perspective on its size.


One of my favorites was Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie Woogie." I learned about this painting in my Humanities 101 class during my sophomore year in college. At first glance I thought "Broadway" was trite and simplistic. Couldn't someone like me, who is semi-artistically inept, produce the same thing? And yes, I can copy Mondrian's work, but I could never be a pioneer as Mondrian was. His work reflects the artistic movement to break apart traditional conceptions of art. Mondrian used primary colors and shapes to convey images, sounds, and feelings. "Broadway Boogie Woogie" represents the excitement and syncopated beats of the Jazz Age in New York. By looking at it, we are transported back to the 1920s when jazzy melodies filled the city air and when street lights pulsed at every corner.

2.) St. Thomas' Church

On the way to the MoMA, we passed by a neo-gothic Episcopalian church. We decided to step inside briefly, but we ended up staying for nearly half an hour. I love old churches. It's amazing how quiet and peaceful they are inside when the outside world, only a few feet away, buzzes with honking horns and rushing traffic.

My favorite part of Catholic/Episcopal churches are the stained glass. I love how sunlight filters in through the colored glass and brings a dim illumination to the stone columns inside. I love how even in the twenty-first century most of the light in these churches come from candles and stained glass. Although St. Thomas' Church was built at the turn of the twentieth century, its gothic architecture transported me back to the Middle Ages when European society revolved around God and religion.



I don't think I would mind making stained-glass for a living...

3.) Joshua Tree

The Joshua Tree Bar is not swanky nor trendy. It doesn't attract any celebrities, but it definitely is very fun. I could probably do without the college fraternity crowd and without drunk guys spilling alcohol on me, but out of the four bars I went to this weekend, Joshua Tree was the best. Why? Because they played cheesy 80s music videos! When we first went in, "Sweet Child of Mine" was blasting across all the screens. And after that came "Living on a Prayer"! My two eighties favorites back to back.

My only complaint? Why didn't they play "We Built This City"?

4.) The Friends

I went up to New York with my friend Amanda and we stayed at our friend Rachel's apartment. We've all been friends since middle school and we've managed to stay close despite our years in college and living in different cities. I feel incredibly lucky to have friends that I've known for over ten years. And I feel very lucky that we are able to share so many laughs, deep conversations, and dreams with one another. Fab Five Forever! (Minus Allison and Shena on this trip...)


(I like to play around in Photoshop.)

March 23, 2006

What Should I Have Done?

I was walking to the Metro station after work when a woman approached me. She was wearing a long camel-colored coat and carried a dark red bag.

Woman: Excuse me! Do you work over there? [Points to my office building.]

Me: Yes, I do.

Woman: Oh good. I just...I was just wondering if you could help me out. You see, I just moved to the area a few weeks ago. My mother is out-of-town and she let me borrow her car while she's gone, but I got into a car accident this afternoon. Yes, just a few blocks away.

Me: Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that.

Woman: No, it's all right. A German lady hit me and now my car is totalled. And I have no way of getting down to Leesburg [a town in Virginia about an hour south of DC]. That's where I live, you see, and I need to pick the kids up from the babysitter's.

Me: I'm sorry, but I don't have a car.

Woman: Oh, I didn't mean that! I talked to the police and they told me they couldn't give me a ride that far south. And oh, do you think you could help me out?

Me: I'm sorry...

Woman: There's a taxi-cab over there and he told me he can take me down to Leesburg for half-price. Could you help me out? Please?

Me: I don't have any cash on me.

Woman: There's an ATM right around the corner. You know, I work. I could pay you back tomorrow. I just need a ride.

Me: I'm sorry, but there an appointment I have to get to...

We parted ways and I was left feeling unsure about what I should have done. The entire time we talked I felt very uneasy. She kept touching my shoulder and telling me about all of the problems she faced earlier in the day---and I wasn't sure if I believed her. What made me uncomfortable the most was when she told me about a taxicab around the corner and I couldn't see any down the street. And what unsettled me further is that she was so quick to point out the location of the nearest ATM. I wonder if I had drawn money out for her---would she have asked for $40? Or $100?

Yet I also felt guilty. As a Mormon, I've been taught to "judge not" and to serve all people. Yet as a city-dweller, I also have to be careful. So did my actions demonstrate my callousness or my street-smarts? Did I do the right thing? I don't know...

I think since I felt uneasy from the start, I did what I thought was best at the moment. And when I got home, I wondered if there really was no other means for her to get home besides asking a perfect stranger on the street for money. Surely the police could have referred her to someone who could have taken her home? Weren't there be buses that went down to Leesburg? And if she did indeed have a job, shouldn't she have some cash at hand?

But then again, should I just have given her the money instead of judging her motivations? Perhaps she was telling the truth after all...

March 22, 2006

A Rodney Smith Celebration

I love photography and so I love Rodney Smith!













March 20, 2006

Put Down Your Louis Vuitton and Go Back to School!


Dear Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Jessica Simpson,

So, the three of you have become hot celebs here in America. Guys want to date you, Versace wants to dress you, and millions of girls want to be you. It's this latter group that I want to address---the fourteen and fifteen year-old girls with braces on their teeth who spend hours at the mall trying to look like you.

As far as role models go, the three of you have disastrously failed. What kind of image do you project? Blond bimbos with fake boobs? Yep. Ditzy droids who are unable to decipher whether World War I or World War II came first? Check. Superficial chicks who have received torrents of fame due to their sex lives? Sure.

I am sure that within all of you there is an intelligent young woman who is just screaming to come out. You are beautiful! You are smart! (Well, at least I hope so, Jessica...Honestly, chicken by the sea?) And you are capable of filling your minds with knowledge and wisdom! So if you really want to be a role model to these girls, then you should go to college and pour some education in your pretty minds. And afterwards, you should become spokeswomen for causes that delve deeper than fancy purses and expensive shoes. Put your fame to good use, I say!

The freedom you enjoy today as women was gained by the blood, sweat, and tears of thousands of women who fought for feminine equality. It's sad to see you squander it. But it's never too late to make amends!

Sincerely,
A Friend

(PS - Two words of advice. One, read this article. And two, listen to the words in Pink's new song, "Stupid Girls. Psssst, she's talking about you."

A Happy Birthday for the War in Iraq?

If history is the story of human civilization, then historians must be the storytellers of this rich and intricate narrative.

Like any other artisan, the historian uses raw materials to build his handicraft---ancient symbols on a cave wall, delicate rolls of papyri, embellished texts locked away in a monastery, yellowed newspapers, and any other bit of written evidence of mankind's past. The art of creating history takes many decades---perhaps centuries---to produce. First, the historian must rid herself of all personal bias (which proves near impossible). Second, all of the evidence that isn't lost to natural disasters or war must be gathered. Third, the evidence must be stitched together in seamless strokes. And fourth, any mistakes in the fabric must be meticulously cut out. It is a long and difficult process.

Concerning the War in Iraq, the raw materials of this historical event are still being gathered. The pattern for the fabric is under construction and it will be many years before a final product can be produced. And so, the current situation in Iraq may seem bleak, but the ultimate outcome is still being decided.

Recent articles in the
Washington Post and Newsweek have made me realize that hope remains in Iraq. (And I'm always a sucker for hope.) So even though I think we've entangled ourselves in a horribly messy war, I am still hopeful that the final outcome will be a success---a democratic and stable Iraq.

But who knows? For now, I will sit back and wait as history continues to be recorded. Trying to analyze the "goodness" or "badness" of the war is a futile effort without knowing all of the consequences it brings.
It's like trying to write a movie review when all you've seen is the first fifteen minutes. Or summarizing a book when all you've read are a smattering of pages in the first three chapters.

Honestly, did anyone really think that the assassination of an Austrian archduke would lead to World War I, which consequently led to World War II, which then brought on the Cold War and Vietnam? Just to think...the life and death of Franz Ferdinand II would shift world history and consequently effect the lives of billions! Curse that Serbian assassin!

Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully, the War in Iraq will not bring such awful consequences. And hopefully, our progeny will not look back at this war and say "If only they knew what we know now."

March 16, 2006

Got a Minute?


Just by filling out your name and contact information, the "Save Darfur" organization will a send an email on your behalf to the president, your senators, and congressman urging them to sign the Darfur Peace and Acocuntability Act. The cost? It's free of charge. (The website also provides information about the act itself if you want to learn more.)

It's a very simple process and it will let your political leaders know that you care about what's going on in Sudan. Our political leaders need to know that their constituents are aware of and want to put a stop to the genocide!

Uh-Oh...


Today, President Bush reaffirmed his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states who possess nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Bush's stance on warfare shifts American policy from decades of deterrence to a more aggressive approach of "attacking enemies before they attack us." (Read more here.)

Preemptive war makes me nervous. The basis to strike Iraq was made on the premise that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Such WMDs have remained elusive and so the American people are left wondering why we entered this war in the first place.

It is naive to justify the War in Iraq on the conclusion that we had to strike back after 9/11. I've heard this excuse many times and my reply is this: we did strike back against Al Qaeda---in Afghanistan. But now we are embroiled in a war that may last another decade in Iraq while Osama Bin Laden remains at large. Undoubtedly, he and his henchmen in Pakistan and Afghanistan are cooking up plans for another attack on the United States and her allies. Furthermore, U.S. involvement in Iraq has stretched our military and resources so thin that we are unable to send troops to Darfur or other countries that need dire assistance.

I admit as a history major that it is too soon to tell whether or not the War in Iraq will be a heartbreaking tragedy like Vietnam or an overwhelming victory. Only history will be able to make this judgment.

Who knows though? Maybe Bush's preemptive war strategy prevented Saddam Hussein from bombing America with nuclear weapons. But maybe the War in Iraq is merely creating a breeding ground for future terrorists. Maybe it is blinding us to the attacks that Al-Qaeda is planning against us.

March 15, 2006

Genocide in Darfur: What We Can Do to Help

When I get home from work every day, I like to watch the news to catch up on what's going on in the world. On Monday night, Ann Curry of NBC News did a piece on the genocide in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions have been displaced since 2003. The farmers of Darfur have been driven from the homes and forced to live in refugee camps. Malnutrition and starvation abound. Men are killed, women are raped, and children left orphaned while their government turns a blind eye. The Janjaweed militia continues to wreck havoc upon the refugees. The violence is so terrible that NGOs have pulled out of the region to ensure the safety of their volunteers.

After watching the news with my roommates, we were all saddened and disheartened by this situation. Why doesn't the U.N. do anything to help? Why can't President Bush send in American troops to protect the refugees and keep the peace? Why is the world turning away from the suffering in Sudan? I felt helpless, but consigned myself to the fact that I couldn't do anything as a mere individual. I don't have any legislative powers to push for U.N. intervention. I don't have any troops to send into Darfur. What more could I do then contribute some money to an NGO and pray for the refugees?

But today I came across an article in the New Republic about a group of Swarthmore college students who are doing something to help. Working from their dorm rooms, Mark Hanis and Sam Bell raised money to support the underfunded African Union, the main peacekeeping force in Sudan. Eventually they raised a quarter of a million dollars to support Darfur peacekeepers. The money is being used to train female escorts to protect women refugees when they must leave their camps to collect firewood. Such protection is needed because the refugees our often raped by the Janjaweed when they leave the confines of their camp. Currently, the Genocide Intervention Network (the organization co-founded by Hanis) is working to stop the violence in Darfur and organizing Americans to lobby their congressmen to send U.S. military aid.



The GI-Net website provides ten ways for civilians to provide help. Number six on this list is to work within our faith communities to raise awareness and support to stop the genocide. This can be accomplished through organizing prayer meetings, holding sermons about charity work, and having functions to raise money to support peacekeeping missions in Darfur. I know many of you who read my blog are Mormon and so we probably represent around 20 individual wards. I urge all of you to work within your wards and stakes to raise awareness about Darfur. Maybe you can talk to your activities committee chairs and help them set up a ward activity's night to watch Hotel Rwanda and raise money for a charity. Perhaps at your next fast and testimony meeting, you can lead your ward in fasting and praying for the refugees. As Mormons, we have the responsibility to take care of those around us. On top of this, our church leaders have encouraged us to be informed and able citizens. Thus, we also need to write to our congressmen and senators about increasing American aid and military presence in Sudan---and about any other issue that is important to us.

We are all busy with work, school, raising families, etc., but we must never be too busy to reach out a hand to those in need. If you have the time, dedicate an hour or two out of your week to do community service. If you lack the time, then donate your money. Whether you have thousands of dollars to give or just one, it makes a difference. We all have an obligation to love our neighbors---even the ones who live thousands of miles away in a place called Darfur.

Don't let anyone tell you that there's nothing you can do. Our country is plagued by this brand of thinking. There is something you can do. The only enemies we have to fight are cynicism, pessimism, and hopelessness. Is God cynical? Is He pessimistic? If you are striving to be like God, then surely these traits have no place in your body. If you're just striving to be a better person, then being cynical or pessimistic will only keep you further from your goals.

Act today! Open the door for someone, bake cookies for your neighbors, do the dishes so your husband/wife can relax, mentor a student, SMILE. And please, help stop the genocide in Darfur.

When I Grow Up...

I'm afraid I will jinx myself if I say this outloud, but here goes: I have my life mapped out for the next seven years!

March 2006 - September 2006 --- Finish my job in DC, freelance, take pictures of cherry blossoms, make friends, take a personality test at the Church of Scientology (no joke!).

September 2006 - September 2007 --- Complete my MA, travel, visit Scottish highlands, eat chocolate in Switzerland, and French kiss a French fellow in France.

September 2007 - September 2008 --- Take GRE, apply to grad school (again), work, write, toil and labor at loan applications.

September 2008 - Whenever 2013 --- Write that sucker of a dissertation and get my Ph.D. (And maybe my MRS...Hahahaha.)

And Beyond --- Secure a tenure-track teaching position at a great liberal arts college, live in a place that is warm year-round, adopt a bulldog named Winston that I'll call Winny, adopt a Ragdoll cat named Moses that I'll call Mo-Mo, buy a cute townhouse, sit down and sleep.

Now that I've mapped out my life, my plans will now inevitably crumble. Haha. I don't say this in a cynical way, but I've learned in my short 23 years that life takes you on twists and turns that you never expect to come your way.


Case in point: that's me in the bright red shirt with my lovely friends from my freshman year in college. We're celebrating my 18th birthday and it's strange to think that this picture was taken over five years ago. Did any of us back then have any clue of where we would be now?

What were our five-year plans back in 2000? Did they include going to India and working for Mother Theresa's Home for the Dying and Destitute? (That's Jami, second to the left.) Did they include working with the elderly and helping them enjoy the last years of their lives? (That's Adrienne, far right.) Did they include going to London on a study abroad? (And that's me.)

Nope. My plans in 2000 included finding a major, going on a mission, and finding a husband. How funny and how naive! Well, I eventually majored in history, I decided against a mission, and I never found my hubby during my BYU days. So that's life for you, but let me also tell you this: I couldn't be happier in my current station. I couldn't dream of anything better than working in DC at a great museum, volunteering my time on Tuesday nights, laughing with my new roommates, and freelancing in my free time.

If anything, I look forward to see what my life will be like in 2013. Most likely it will be completely different then what I envision it to be now. Or perhaps by sheer luck, I'll be finishing up my Ph.D just as I planned on doing seven years before.

So here's to the year 2013! I look forward to meetin' ya.

***I cannot overlook the accomplishments of my other three friends in the picture! Cassandra (far left) is tackling the BFA program at BYU. Jana (holding the blue fan) is an expert at assessing the payroll, a most fabulous Primary president, and hopefully a mother-to-be come summertime! And Brittney (second from the right) is raising the darling blue-eyed Tanner and will welcome another Miskin baby in July. So there you are! My wonderfully talented and fabulous friends.***

March 13, 2006

More and More Alone

In this week's edition of Newsweek, Anna Quindlen touches upon the growing loneliness in the digital age.


It's ironic, isn't it? With email, cell phones, and fast-flying airplanes that whisk us to the other side of the world in a matter of hours, human contact is readily diminishing. Just think of it. Grocery stores are populated with self check-out stations so you don't have to mutter a how-do-you-do when you purchase your food. Gas stations are equipped with easy-access credit card slots so you never have to enter the station itself. And when's the last time you stepped into the bank? I can't remember. The only time I stop at the bank is when I need to withdraw some cash from the ATM.

Modern conveniences have sure made our lives a lot easier, but they also make our lives a lot lonelier.

Whoa Nelly!


Polygamists are picketing for the right to have multiple wives! Egads!

"Polygamy rights is the next civil-rights battle," says Mark Henkel, who is the founder of a Christian evangelical polygamy organization. Henkel argues that if a child can have two mommies, then it is should be legal for her to have two mommies and a daddy.

Gay and lesbian activist groups contend against this slippery-slope ideology. Yet Henkel's argument brings up an interesting point: what is the government's role in defining marriage?

I'm not asking whether or not we should legalize gay marriage or polygamous marriage. My question is this: where does the government draw the line? Why is one marriage right but another wrong? Should the government even have a say in who should or shouldn't get married? Where indeed do we seek this sort of guidance?

From God? (But how do we do so in a secular nation?)

From philosophy? (Yes, but which philosophy do we choose?)

From the people? (Can we trust the view of the masses if they are so prone to change after a few decades?)

What do you think?

March 11, 2006

Can $1.85 make a difference?


Aside from bashing the President, praising the President, and decrying the uselessness of BYUSA, the recent editorials at the Daily Universe have curiously focused on the pertinent topic of minimum wage in Utah.

From what I gather, the Utah state legislature recently rejected a bill that would raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.00. Some students support the raise, while others vehemently reject it by citing potential inflation and unemployment. These cynics surprise me for two reasons: one, many BYU students are paid less than seven dollars an hour, thus making me assume that the student body would unanimously support the bill. Two, I just finished the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich. I don't think I can ever view America's working class in the same way again.

Nickel and Dimed is an exercise in "old school" journalism. Ehrenreich, a renowned writer with credits in Harper's and Time, undertook the assignment to chronicle what life was like as a blue-collar worker in contemporary America. Her main objective was to see if she---a competent woman with intelligence and a hard work ethic---could make a living in the lower dregs of our society.

So for a few months, Ehrenreich worked undercover at three blue-collar jobs: a waitress in Florida, a maid in Maine, and a Wal-mart associate in Minnesota. To start, the writer had certain advantages over many of her working class counterparts---she is white and speaks English fluently. Yet despite her race and her ability to communicate in our native tongue anddespite her intelligence and a doctorate degree, Ehrenreich desperately struggled to make ends meet. She oftentimes found herself having to work two jobs to get the rent paid and to put food in her stomach. And she was only taking care of herself---most lower-class workers have two or three children in tow.

For two hundred pages, Ehrenreich chronicles the struggles and despair of the working class. Her waitress friend Gail lives in a truck and doesn't have the money to pay for pills that alleviate her migraines. Living in an apartment is out of the question too because she lacks the resources to pay for a deposit and first month's rent. While in Maine, Ehrenreich works with a woman named Holly who is pregnant and continues to work despite her morning sickness that leaves her weak. When Holly sprains her ankle on the job, she refuses to go to the hospital because she can't afford taking time off of work and she doesn't have proper health coverage anyway. And while in Minnesota, Ehrenreich witnesses the corporate cruelty of Wal-mart and how the company carefully guides its employees from forming unions. In her view, Wal-mart prefers to hire new employees rather than treat their existing ones decently.

The Economic Policy Institute has concluded that a "living wage" for a single adult and two children translates into $30,000 a year, or about $14 per hour. Of course, this is not the bare minimum that a family can live on, but it includes things like health insurance and child care at a licensed center. Obviously, Ehrenreich was a single woman and wouldn't need $14, but she did work with women with young children who made the same $7 that she made an hour.

I am not an economist by any means and I do realize that raising the minimum wage would bring consequences like inflation, but I also cannot deny that there is a real problem here in America. There are people living among us who are worked to the bone and still can't make ends meet. I think it is easy for us middle-classers to say that hard work is the key to success, but Ehrenreich clearly demonstrates in her book that this isn't the case. Her co-workers probably work a lot harder than most of us white-collar workers or university students. Have any of you ever worked as a maid or as a waitress? It's tough stuff. It's mentally and physically demanding. And imagine doing this type of work for ten hours a day for a mere sixty dollars. Forget about overtime.


Before I read this book, I also had the sanctimonious thought that education is the key to advancement. And while such a statement is true, how does a single mother of two who works two jobs a day expect to fit in college classes? Who is going to take care of her kids when she goes to school? How will she get there if she doesn't have a car and doesn't have the money to pay for the bus fare? And when will she sleep?

The answer to these problems is much more complicated than raising the minimum wage. The answer would have to be a combination of raising income, providing more opportunities for advancement in the work place, and perhaps most importantly, helping the lower classes get a higher education.

Yet in my mind a dark and lingering thought continues to tremor---are our comfortable American lifestyles dependent upon the thankless work of the underclass? Is this the way our country functions? On the last page of her book, Ehrenreich writes: "The 'working poor' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else."


What a frightening thought. How many times have I dismissed the people who served me at a fast food restaurant? How many times have I failed to leave an adequate tip at a diner because the service was too slow?

For a thought-provoking read that will shake some humility into your soul, read Nickel and Dimed. And if you don't have the chance to read it, be nicer to the people who work at Wal-mart!

March 10, 2006

Are You a Cougar, too?

During my freshman year at BYU, one of my first glimpses of campus was the welcome sign at the school's main entrance. It read: "Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve." Throughout my tenure at BYU I have seen this sign dozens of times, whether glancing at it while I made a late-night Wendy's run or passing it by as I drove onto campus. And from September 2000 to April 2005, I fulfilled the first half of this motto: I filled my mind with books and lectures; I grew mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

In a sense, BYU has fulfilled its duty to me. The school provided ample meals for my mind and provided countless opportunities for me to grow as an individual. Now it is my turn to fulfill my half of the bargain---"Go Forth to Serve."

In a 2004 BYU devotional, Vai Sikahema, who is a prominent sports news anchor in Philadelphia, expounded upon this motto and ruminated about his struggles and achievements in fulfilling his half of the deal. The main point behind his speech is this: BYU students have an obligation---perhaps even a covenant with God---to go forth and serve after graduation.

The sign at the main entrance isn't something we just take pictures of after commencement ceremonies, it's something that we need to integrate into our lives. Indeed, our BYU education is almost entirely funded by the faithful tithes of people that we have never met. Some of these people will never have the chance to go to college; they may never have finished high school. Yet they have paid their tithes with a knowledge that the money would be used where it is needed. Don't we owe it to these people to do whatever we can to use our newly-minted degrees to spread some good in the world?

What a simple phrase. "Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve."

Not, "Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Make Lots of Money."
Not, "Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Rise Up the Corporate Ladder."
Not, "Enter to Learn and Squander Your Mind on Wasteful Activities."

Go Forth to Serve, it says. Perhaps along the way, you will make lots of money and rise in the ranks of your corporation. But first and foremost we need to remember to serve in every capacity we can. Serve at work, serve in the home, serve in the church, serve in your community, serve your country. We are a fortunate bunch, BYU alum. I hope I never forget that.

March 9, 2006

Don't Leave Me All Alone, Project Runway!

Oh, what a fantastic finale last night for Project Runway! PR has to be my favorite show and I am unbearably sad that I have to wait a whole year for Season 3. (Do they even show Project Runway in the UK?)

I think all three designers---Santino, Chloe, and Daniel---had fabulous collections. It really was a toss-up to me on who would win the show. Undoubtedly, all of the designers have benefited from the show's publicity and will be in high demand in the upcoming years.

Chloe is the winner! I have to admit that I was surprised, but pleasantly so, that she won. I thought her collection lacked a theme and the fabrics were a bit heavy, but like the judges said, her work is perfectly executed and fitted. And I absolutely love the baby doll dress she made for her 13th look (left). Ms. Diana did an excellent job putting it together.

For a moment before they annouced the winner, I really thought the judges would pick Daniel V. I thought his collection was the most versatile because it encompassed outerwear, evening wear, work wear, sweaters, pants, and even handbags. His clothing demonstrated excellent detail and I could see the Japanese/Militaristic look that he was going for. His cream coat (right) is pure perfection! I have a penchant for cream-colored clothing and it has been a dream of mine to buy myself a soft cream trenchcoat to wear around town. I would be a happy woman indeed if I had enough money to buy this lovely creation.

As Tim Gunn declared, Santino's work was breathtakingly beautiful. I loved the satins and laces that he chose, the earthy color palette of the pieces, and the soft feminity that accentuated his entire collection. I saw the strongest continuity and theme in Santino's clothing. Just by looking at his pieces individually, I could have sworn that the judges would pick him to be the winner. I'm a little confused as why he lost... But I'm sure that Santino will have a lot of work coming his way now that Project Runway is over. And maybe it's a good thing he lost because he won't be tied to a contract with Banana Republic, which is one of the rewards in being named winner of the show.

On a closing note, I really liked this below-the-boob vest (right) that Daniel V. created for his collection. At first glance it seems entirely bizarre, but I love it. It's so Caroline-esque in a way!

I don't know if I could ever pull off such a number. Is my chest too big? Too small? Would I merely be calling attention to my breasts?

Where would I even buy a below-the-boob vest? Would people just stare at me strangely when I walk down the street or would they whisper to one another, "How trendy! I saw something just like that on Project Runway!"


March 8, 2006

I'm the Guilty One


There is a story today in the New York Times about the AIDS epidemic among African children. In the past decade, the disease has overwhelmed the African continent and millions of adults and children now live with the virus.

The country of Lesotho, tucked away in South Africa, is not spared from this epidemic. Two pediatric AIDS clinics have opened in the country in the past year, but thousands of children still do not receive any treatment. Half of the infants who are born HIV positive die before their second birthday due to lack of medical treatment. How tragic this is considering medicines can prolong their lives by decades.

When seven year-old Tsokotsa Lepheane came to the clinic, he only weighed 36 pounds. Both of his parents have succumbed to AIDS; his mother in 2000, his father in 2003. His grandmother, who now raises him, sold homemade brooms to purchase the $5 bus fare to take him to the clinic. In recent weeks, Tsokotsa has refused to eat solid food. The only thing he ingests is hot water---or medicine, as he calls it.

The hospitals and clinics in Lesotho are filled to the brim. The infants in the AIDS ward are sometimes crammed three to a crib. Doctors and nurses are heavily overworked; the turnover rate is high. "Everybody is running away," said Maneo Tsoaeli, the head nurse of the government-run Quthing Hospital. "The situation is so pathetic."

When I read articles like this or look at photo essays of modern-day slavery, a wave of sadness spreads over my skin. Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do little children have to suffer so much? And is there anything I can do to help?

And when I look at my life, I realize that there are so many instances when I criticize my government or my political leaders. There are so many times when I cry into my pillow at night, overwhelmed by the stresses in my life. And there are so many times when I wake up from my soft bed, wash my face with clean running water, grab a bite to eat from my kitchen that overflows with food, and yet I mope and groan about paying taxes and grumble about the failings of the democratic system.

At times, I look up at the sky and angrily ask, "Aren't you up there? How can you let this happen?"

And if I wasn't so angry and frustrated, I would hear the quiet and humble reply. "How are you letting this happen?"

March 6, 2006

A Quote...

"The only religion which can fully satisfy today's ideal is a religion that is committed sincerely to the search for truth, that refuses to ground faith on naive credulity, that refuses to prostitute learning for the defense of belief, that encourages rather than condemns genuine and uncensored scholarship, that is not afraid of what men may learn in their quest for knowledge. It is a religion of freedom that is committed to the distraction of every form of tyranny over the minds and souls of men."

- Sterling McMurrin

Do you feel your religion does this?

As you search for truth, do you feel you are brought closer to your religious beliefs or driven further away from it?

I have opened the forum. DISCUSS!

Falling Back in Love with Fiction

When it comes to reading, I am a voracious eater. I swallow words by the dozen, gulping down paragraphs like a famished traveler. Page by page, book by book, I eat the words as if preparing for a seven-year drought. I am too eager---too hungry---to savor the metaphors. When I am finished, my mind is tight with words and stories, but I am left unfulfilled.

As I read Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, I'm trying to become a more-refined eater of fiction. I'm making an effort to slow down and taste the fare, taking small bites and chewing thoughtfully. I let the similes and alliterations roll on my tongue; I try to enjoy every meal.




Reading is like sitting on your front porch on a summer evening and sipping strawberry lemonade through a red and white straw.


You pick up the ice-filled glass and bring it to your lips. The liquid enters your mouth and your teeth shiver with its coldness. The tart flavor tickles your tongue. As the lemonade gradually glides towards the back of your mouth you taste a sweet hint of strawberries.

Between sips, your eyes scan the horizon. Green trees with green leaves. Soft winds that rustle the branches. A purple sky and a setting sun. Time slows down, and for a moment the world is an endless summer. Dandelion wine, as Bradbury described it.

You lick your lips and bring the glass to your mouth again, ready for another taste.

March 2, 2006

60 Second Update

1.) I got into the London School of Economics! What a surprise! I really didn't think I would get in and I really didn't think I would hear a reply until mid-April. Nonetheless, I am extremely happy and excited to head back to my favorite city in the world come September. Wahoo!

2.) I started volunteering for a DC organization that works with kids affected by AIDS. About 20% of the kids have HIV themselves; the rest have immediate family members who have the virus. I'm working with the teenagers and they are all a lot of fun and funny. Spending time with them really makes me see that I have so much to be thankful for. My own problems that oftentimes seem so difficult and painful are insignificant worries compared to what these kids have gone through their entire lives. On top of living with AIDS, many of these teens come from single-parent homes, face poverty, and attend below-par schools. All of this makes me wonder---why am I so lucky? And I really don't know why...

3.) One of the funniest moments I witnessed this week was when I threw my cruddy peach in the trash. My roommate Diana berated me for wasting food, leapt after the peach, grabbed it from the garbage, washed it off, and ate a part of it. After tasting it for herself, she threw the rest away.

I raise my fist at you, Costco!

4.) I have made a goal to tame my profound appetite for sleep. If you have ever lived with me, you will know that I love to sleep. I can sleep for twelve hours a night. As recently as October 2005, I slept for twenty hours in one day!

But I really should harness this desire, right? I mean, don't responsible adults go to bed at a decent hour to wake up early for work? Why can't I do this? Why does my body love to sleep so much???

5.) I love Project Runway. Not as much as sleeping, but I love this show with all of my heart.

March 1, 2006

Yuck!

Imagine my delight when I discovered that peaches were on sale at Costco. Eight juicy delicacies for a mere five dollars! Not bad, not bad, I thought.

When the Costco employees weren't looking, I popped open one of the peach containers and poked the flesh of the fruit. Soft to the touch. These babies were dark yellow, immensely round, and smelled like a Georgian dream. Yum!

Thus, can you imagine my disdain when I bit into one of my prized purchases and all I could taste was sandy mush? How can something that looks and smells so good taste like utter crap?

Costco, I want my money back, you fools!

On a happier note, I also purchased nine yummy cream cheese danishes. These pastries were also soft to the touch and dreamy to smell---plus they taste like heaven. I love cream cheese!