Monday, September 29, 2008

The Geography of Bliss

Last night I finished "The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner. I happened upon this book while browsing the Travel Memoir section of Barnes & Noble. That area has been a bit of a goldmine for me. I love traveling and love reading about others' experiences while traveling so am usually successful in finding something that sounds interesting. This book is a little different than the usual travel memoir. Most of the memoires I read share a central theme of self-discovery or finding love or something melodramatic like that. In this one, the author is trying to figure out what makes people happy and whether geography has any bearing on this. So he travels to 10 different places - places known for being happy such as Switzerland (that surprised me, great country but when I think of happy people, the Swiss don't pop into my mind...) and Bhutan or places that are known for being unhappy, like Moldova, a country I was not familiar with until reading this book (close to the Ukraine, used to be under Russia's control).

Weiner chose the countries he visited based on a 'happiness index' created by a research department of a university in Amsterdam. They tried to scientifically assign a happiness index to each country, which seems pretty difficult. Anyways, Weiner decided to visit countries with the highest and lowest indexes values. Won't go into detail about all of the countries, but here are a couple of countries that were interesting to me:

Bhutan: I studied Bhutan when I was taking some courses in the International Education department at the University of MN, so was familiar with their national policies. Instead of focusing on GNP or GDP, Bhutan's leaders instead focus on "GNH - Gross National Happiness". When making decisions, they evaluate whether the decision will make the Nation more or less happy. It's all a bit touchy feely for me - nice idea in principle but seems pretty inapplicable when you have a diverse population. It's hard to make decisions that make everyone happy - someone always seems to get the short end of the stick. But it works for Bhutan. The people of this nation are pretty poor in general but seem to be rather content/happy with what they have... (which seems to be a trend for countries that have less than Americans?? Feel free to disagree...)

While we are on the subject of what America has compared to other countries, it's a good time to look at how that has benefited society. We have lots of luxuries and most of us have life pretty good. There is definitely a sector of our population for which life is a struggle, but in general, we're doing pretty good. However, Weiner cites a study by a psychologist that compares the state of society today to the state we experienced in the 1960s; since then, the divorce rate has doubled, the teen-suicide rate tripled, the violet-crime rate quadrupled, and the prison population quintupled. Hmmm... so obviously being more well-off financially hasn't bettered life for our country...

Iceland: It surprised me that Iceland ranked high on the Happiness scale. Not that there is anything wrong with that country, but again, similar to Switzerland, it doesn't really strike me as the Mecca of happiness. Plus, they spend a good chunk of the year in complete darkness, 24/7. (Interestingly enough, no one there suffers from SAD. I guess their bodies adjust to the fact that they don't see light during the winter!) Apparently in Iceland, failing at something is completely accepted and almost expected of you. That means you are stretching and trying new things. Failing is also acceptable in the US, but in general, there has to be a happy ending and the failure has to serve some purpose in helping you succeed down the road - this is not the case in Iceland allegedly.

Socrates once said, "The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living" but Weiner's point in this book seemed to be that sometimes we over-examine our life. Maybe the people who are happiest are those that are focusing on living and not constantly asking themselves, 'Am I Happy now?' My mom sent me an article a few years ago that made a similar point. I think there is some truth to this. There seems to be a delicate balance between the right amount of analysis and WAY too much. Of course, being a math major and an analytical thinker means I am predisposed to over thinking things a tish lot. But at least I am not alone in this - Americans seem to be good at this. But, being the work-in-progress that I am, it's a habit that I'll work on breaking over time...

Bottom line, Weiner came up with the following statement about happiness: 'Money matters, but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.'

All pretty obvious things, but all very true. I give this book 3 stars out of 5. Unless you are super interested in happiness studies, it's probably not worth the read. If it's something you are interested in, feel free to borrow it from me!

Friday, September 26, 2008

One more thing...

So, besides picking out a future first dance for a future wedding, I've also found the design inspiration for my dream library - how cool is this room????

I mean, seriously, even if you don't LOVE books like I do, what's not to love about this room??? I'm about 1/2 ways to having enough books. Now I just need a house w/ a room that I can convert into my own little library. You know the old nursery rhyme about the old lady who lived in a shoe? Well, I could probably build a house of books. Not even going to go to the trouble doing the math & figuring out the investment I've made in books....

So now, I guess I need to find a Gershwin-liking, ballroom dancing guy who is also a-ok with my book buying addiction. Maybe I should contact Barnes & Noble or Borders & suggest that they set up some sort of dating service with monthly events held at their stores... hmm....

Alright, seriously the last post for today...

A return to the classics....

Some, err, all of 5 of you who read this blog read my previous France Blog. The inspiration for that blog title was two-fold. The clever name (courtesy of Brooke, my Communications Guru, creative, blog-setting-up friend) was inspired by the movie, "An American in Paris". But the reason that film title was familiar to us was due to my favorite television show, "Sex and the City". The final episodes of that amazing show were titled "An American Girl in Paris" since one of the main characters, Carrie Bradshaw, moved to Paris with her boyfriend-at-the time, Alexander Petrovsky.

Well, I was feeling like a bit of a fraud for naming my previous blog after a movie I had never seen. Now that I have Netflix, I decided to rent this movie. Oh, and let me just do a little plug for Netflix here. I don't know why I haven't signed up for that service months years ago! Here's the beauty of it - you don't feel like you are wasting your money on a movie since you know you can return it & get something new 2 days later. And, if you are taking full advantage of your membership, the more you rent, the less each movie costs since you can 'depreciate' that monthly membership fee over the number of movies you rent each month. Beautiful. And I can't believe I used the term depreciate in this context. Can you tell I am in MBA school???

Anyways, back to the main point of this blog entry. The movie was AMAZING! Why didn't I watch this earlier? They really knew how to do movies back then! An American in Paris was released on Feb 4th, 1952 and features Gene Kelly & Leslie Caron. Leslie Caron's name in the film was "Lise" which is pronounced like Lisa, which was kind of cool. Watching the film was great since it provided many flashbacks to sites I had seen in Paris.

As if the fabulous setting and a tap-dancing Gene Kelly weren't enough,

the film also features a great soundtrack (which I think I might buy...) - if you like George & Ira Gerschwin, you'll like this. In fact, I think I have my first dance for my wedding picked out. Yep, you read that correctly - I don't have a boyfriend, thus no fiance, thus no wedding in the near future, but I sure do have a first song picked if/when I have a wedding to plan... Can't you just picture me twirling around the floor to, "Our Love is Here to Stay"? Now I just have to find a guy who's into Gerschwin... and is willing to take ballroom dancing lessons... Hmm... Maybe I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here...

"The Philadelphia Story" and "Bridge over the river Kwai" are waiting for me at home. So my foray into the classics continues this weekend.... Aside from watching those movies (time permitting), I'm taking a knitting class at Bella Lana (learning how to cable knit!!) and am going to the Opera, "Il Trovatore". It's my first Opera so I am super excited as it's something I've always wanted to check out! Then on Sunday, I need to do an 8 mile training run... yeesh. Sort of nervous about that... Hopefully I'll be able to walk on Monday! ;)
Have a great weekend everyone!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Myth of You & Me

I finished reading "The Myth of You & Me" by Leah Stewart last night. This one was a page turner. In the first pages of the book, you meet Sonia & Cameron - two 15 year old girls who are the best of friends. A page later, the author reveals that 8 years later, something happens to end the friendship. The book then flashes forward to the 29th year of Cameron's life. She is working for a historian and receives a letter from Sonia. Soon after, the historian passes away and leaves her with one last assignment - she needs to track down and deliver a package to her. The rest of the book has flashbacks between the current year and periods of the girls' friendships. You don't find out what happened to end the friendship until the last quarter of the book, so it's tough to put down.

There were alot of poignant quotes from this book that really hit home with me. In one section, the author talks about history and how we remember the past. She says, 'A history, like a life, is just what one person chooses to remember.' She talks about how knowing how things end color the way you see your past - especially when the past you are recalling involves a lost friendship or relationship that ended. As the author states, 'Once you know the end of the story, every part of the story contains the end, and is only a way of reaching it.'

I really liked this book - it definitely made me think of various friendship and relationships that defined who I was at certain points of my life, whether it's a relationship with a boyfriend, or a friendship with a girl that has faded. Cameron has been contacted by her estranged friend, Sonia, because Sonia is about to get married and feels that it's odd that she's going through this significant life event without Cameron's presence; even though they haven't spoken for 8 years, it still feels odd that she is not a part of this event. I definitely know that feeling... But life isn't like a book - a letter won't be sent to that person, letting them know that their presence in your life is missed. You just move forward with the event, whether it's getting married or finishing an MBA program or getting a new job. But it was interesting to read this book and see how, in a fictional setting, it might otherwise play out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

2 down, 1 to go...

Well, after taking a brief hiatus from knitting, I am back at it. I said I was going to knit scarves for my nephews... and once I say I am going to do something, I like to follow through... So the knitting needles were picked back up again lately. Also, I started subscribing to NetFlix so there is a steady stream of movies coming to my house every weekend. I've never really liked just watching a movie - I prefer to have something to do with my hands from cross stitching to sudoku to putting puzzles together. I'm not doing patterns yet, so knitting scarves is a good activity for me since there is no counting involved & now that I have have the knit & purl stitches down, I am able to knit while talking, watching tv, etc. My fingers seem to have a mind of their own!!

Here are the 2 scarves I have finished. I did knit stitches on both of them to keep it easy. The marroon'ish one on the left is James - I used a smaller needle for that one, so the stitches are a little bit smaller. Kolin's is on the right (sort of fire engine red... color isn't looking so great in the picture!!) - Emily picked the yarn out this summer when they were in Battle Lake for the week. It's a nice, thick yarn that's more plush. Hopefully both boys will like them!

Next up, I need to knit one for Andrew. His will also be a knit stitch (figure I better keep them all the same in case the boys compare... not that they would... but you never know...). He requested blue, and I am still on the lookout for the perfect yarn. I might go back to Bella Lana to get some yarn for him - it's a little more pricey but their yarn is so wonderful to work with. I thought yarn was yarn, but the stuff I got at JoAnn Fabrics didn't have much 'flexibility' to it, so it's not the easiest stuff to work with. I am sure I could find something at JoAnn Fabrics, but so far I haven't been successful...

At the end of the month, I am taking another class at Bella Lana where I will learn the cable stitch. I adore cable knit sweaters, so am excited to use that stitch for a scarf - maybe for myself? Or as Christmas presents for family & friends... Kind of nice to have a hobby that turns out scarves that people would actually appreciate getting (I think... err, hope...)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Breath of Hope

This morning I ran a 5k organized by the A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation. My 1/2 marathon training schedule said to run a 1/2 marathon this weekend, so I sought one out and was really happy to find one that benefited a cause that is near and dear to my heart. Most of you that read this blog are my family members so know the unfortunate reason why Lung Cancer is something that has impacted my life - My Grandma McDougall passed away from Lung cancer in May of 1992. Kind of odd to think that I was only 11 when she passed away; granted, I was just finishing 5th grade, but I feel like I was older then. I have alot of wonderful memories of my Grandma. When we were kids, everytime we'd go to Fargo, we'd stop by Grandma's and she would inevitably have some fresh-baked good for us! Mom would try to get a trip to Fargo planned without Grandma finding out so she wouldn't bake anything special for us, to no avail! When I think about it, most all of my memories of Grandma involve food! She was an amazing baker and cook, and the kind of host that just never sat down - she wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of and happy. Hmm, sort of like my mom. I think some of her siblings jokingly refer to her as Val (Grandma's first name).

Back to the run... I was really impressed by the organization of the run. They had different colored shirts for Lung Cancer survivors so it was neat to look around and see all the people who had won their battle with cancer. I also learned that Lung Cancer is responsible for more deaths than any other kind of cancer. Can you believe that? I had no idea. It's actually responsible for more deaths than Prostate, Colon, and Breast Cancer combined.

As I was running the race, I was picturing Grandma up in Heaven, taking a break from a game of International Rummy, looking down on me. Wish I would have had more time with her but at least I have as many memories of her as I do! I saw alot of families that had formed a team and were walking in memory of a loved one, so maybe I can convince some of the McDougall clan that lives in the Minneapolis area to join me next year!

And here's hoping that the money raised today will bring us one step closer to finding a cure!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Running in Remembrance

Chances are, if you've had any sort of somewhat-lengthy conversation with me in the past 4-5 months, the topic of Matt, Liz, and Madeline Logelin has come up.

Who are these people, you may ask? Well, Matt & Liz are MN natives, and Madeline is their baby that was born on March 24th, 2008. I won't go into the details (read further here) but long story short, Liz was in the hospital on bedrest (low amniotic fluid, cord was around baby's neck) for quite some time (2 weeks at home, 3 in the hospital).

Happy story since I already mentioned that the baby was born, right?


March 25th. 27 hours after the birth of a premature, but, in general, healthy baby. Then this post. An obituary for Liz. Devastating story. The morning after the baby was born, the nurse came to bring Liz to meet her daughter for the first time. Liz stood up, commented on being lightheaded, and passed out. Doctors and nurses rushed to help her, but nothing could be done - she had died from a pulmonary embolism.

Can you even imagine? How does a husband and new father deal with the death of his wife while caring for a newborn, premature infant? It's probably one of the most heartbreaking stories I've ever heard. Unfortunately, there are probably stories of others out there who have lived through something similar.

Matt has blogged about his experience from day one. The posts are raw and unedited - he leaves nothing out. The birth of his daughter is bittersweet - it's something Matt & his wife had dreamed about, but now she's not here to share in the joy of raising a child. The blog is definitley worth checking out, though (here). Warning, there is some explicit language used (like I said, it's raw & unedited). Matt has a captivated audience that stretches not only across the US, but across the world from Europe to Asia. He already had tremendous support from family/friends, but now he has a sea of readers that are praying for him & encouraging him to keep on keepin' on. That's pretty powerful.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. A group of ladies in Minneapolis have taken it upon themselves to help Matt & Madeline, as well as other widows/widowers experiencing the same thing. (see here for more info on what they've been doing). An informal Memorial 5k Walk/Run has been organized for Sunday, September 21st (Liz's bday would have been Sept 17). Everyone who follows the blog is encouraged to walk at 1 pm in their respective time zones in memory of Liz. Since Matt & Liz were from Minneapolis, there is quite a following here (plus there was a front page article in the Sunday Strib back in April). So the Minneapolis blog followers will be walking around Lake Calhoun; Matt and Madeline will be there walking with Liz & Matt's parents who still reside in Minneapolis. You can just walk, or you can also donate $7 that will help Matt/Madeline and other young widows/widowers in similar situations (7 was Liz's lucky/favorite number).

A run around Lake Calhoun is pretty much part of every weekend these days now that I'm training for a 1/2 marathon, so I plan on being there to show my support. If anyone would like to join me, let me know! Otherwise, if we could all keep this young father/widower in our prayers, that would be great.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Death Be Not Proud

Yesterday I finished reading "Death Be Not Proud" by John Gunther. I'm not exactly sure what drew me to this book; it was on a table in B&N this past summer, along with some other classics, so I picked it up. It's no surprise that it wasn't the most 'uplifting' or happy story, given the title of the book. The author writes about his 17 year old son's battle with brain cancer in the 1940's. The book contains a lot of details about the various treatments Johnny was undergoing, but much of the book focuses on Johnny's perseverance and positive attitude. I guess I was a little bit surprised by how much they knew about brain cancer in the 40's. Granted, some of the treatments are probably no longer used, but I was still impressed that they knew as much as they did about the brain and cancer.

From reading the book, you definitely get the impression that Johnny was extremely intelligent. At one point of the book, the author includes correspondence between Johnny and Albert Einstein! So Johnny was definitely extremely intellectual and you can tell how proud the author is of his son. The question I have after reading it is: did the son know how proud his father was of him? I wonder if the author wrote this book to say the things he didn't say to his son. I don't think parents were are demonstrative and vocal about their feelings for their children back then - at least that's the feeling I get about that generation....

Next up, I'll be reading something much more light hearted!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Top Design

Last night, the second season of one of my favorite Bravo shows began. Can you guess what it was? The title of this blog doesn't give it away at all... I loved the first season of the show so hopefully this one doesn't disappoint.

It just so happens that I have my own personal interior designer. Jealous? I would be! Brooke Neus is the ying to my yang - give me a differential equation, and I'm in my zone. Ask me to decorate the mantel of my fireplace and I'm completely lost. Luckily, decorating is one of Brooke's fortes (and something she enjoys!).

I had enlarged some photos from my trip to France, so needed help placing those... and I also needed help arranging the items we bought for my mantel back in, oh, April.

So after assessing the situation, she decided to move this Rothko-inspired painting from this wall,

to this wall.
She took the Chicago skyline print that had been hanging above the sofa, grouped it with my 3 photos from France, and hung it where the Rothko-esq painting had been, like so...
Nice huh? Oh, and let it be said that the Rothko-inspired photo was painted by Moi. When I bought signed my life away for my place 3 years ago, I needed something for that empty wall, but was short on funds. So my good friend Amanda, who is very artistic, helped me paint a canvass. I had no idea who Rothko was at the time - but boy do I love him now. And no, I am not trying to pass that painting off as a Rothko - it was just a somewhat-broke, new homeowner's way of sprucing up the place! Which I am kind of fond/proud of!

Last up was the fireplace. Like I said previously, Brooke helped me purchase the items this spring. I tried to work some magic w/ them, to no avail. It is a very awkward space; it's not your typical mantel, instead it's 2 big triangles...

Brooke placed the items we had bought, though, and made the mantel-esq space look wonderful!

My life's dream is to own a little bookstore some day. When/if that dream comes to fruition, guess who I will be calling to come up with a design concept for the store??

Stay tuned for holiday photos in a few months... Brooke comes over every year and decorates my tree. Too bad Brooke & her husband don't have any differential equations that I could solve for them so I could return the favor!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A visit from the bug man

So my Tuesday got off to a brilliant start with a visit from our building's exterminator, who I will refer to as TBG (the bug guy).
I was disappointed to find that he didn't look like this.

Oh well.

He asked me to draw a picture of the bug. Seriously. I am not kidding. a) I ran for the hills as soon as I saw the little guy, and b) I have no art skills. Ask my mom, she'll fill you in on all my art project failures from elementary skill. I'm probably the only kid that hated art.

So TBG asked me to explain where I saw him again, draw a picture, and try to describe the color of the cockroach. As if I wanted to relive that moment again! But for the benefit/safety of my co-workers, I tried to explain what I saw to the best of my ability. And I attempted to draw it, too. Not sure how that would help him, but I'll do whatever it takes to help get this problem under control.

TBG thinks the cockroach hitched a ride into our building in one of the boxes of documents we receive from other parts of the country. Or, he could have come from the sewer systems of Minneapolis (gross).

* sigh * Still can't believe this encounter even happened. Was thinking to myself - 'gee, I'm glad winter is coming! Will kill any of these little critters.' But then I thought about it some more & realized the onset of the cold MN winters means more critters maybe take cover & reside in our building.

Really, really hoping that my call w/ Cargill goes well today. And that if I got a job there, they don't have any pest problems like WF apparently does...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day at the Lake

This weekend I headed up to the cabin for a final weekend at the lake. How is it possible that it's already Labor Day??

I brought a little project with me. I put new flooring in my condo back in May, but hadn't gotten around to sanding & re-painting the trim. I am not a procrastinator usually, but have found that I am when it comes to home improvement-type projects.

So on Saturday morning, I worked on turning this

into this

yah, it took all of maybe 40-50 minutes? Why did I put this off for so long??!? I still have some long pieces that didn't fit in my car, so will have to work on those pieces this month so my cousin can come over & wrap this project up. I love the new flooring, but this is the first and most likely the last major project I'll do in my condo.
Felt good to have that project behind me so early in the weekend. Headed down to the beach. Held Mattie while the boys played in the sand.

Matthew has changed so much this summer - he's really starting to put on some weight. Not nearly as big as Andrew was at this time, but not quite the peanut he was at the beginning of the summer. He loves to kick his little legs (constantly) and is always smiling. I'm convinced he's probably the next Michael Phelps, but I guess we'll have to wait & see if he grows to 6'5" and is double jointed... but if all the kicking means anything, he's destined to be a star swimmer some day!

James & Andrew played really well this weekend, too. They are definitely going to be the best of buds. I even got them to sit still long enough to get a photo of them!

Oh, and Andrew has a new favorite hiding spot.

We had lots of good food this weekend, as usual! I eat so well when I come up to the cabin. Good thing the lake season is over! Mom & Kevin definitely make sure no one goes hungry!

James and Andrew are both really into 'helping' out. James helped mom make breakfast this morning. I think she was a little leary of letting James handle the hand mixer...

But he handled it like a pro! I was leary too, so was impressed!!

Still can't believe it's Labor Day today. Summer is sort of over for me - classes start tomorrow, on-campus recruiting will be kicking off in just 2 weeks. So I will have an intense fall ahead of me. But also an exciting one! Tomorrow will be my last first day of class - something to celebrate in itself! Need to remember how excited I am to be done w/ the MBA program so I don't talk myself into getting another masters down the road... Pretty sure the outstanding balance of my student loans will help....

Hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day weekend!!