Wednesday, May 23, 2007

So much to say, so much to say..

Lindsey, our tour guide at JD, Me, and Em

We're back...finally. It's been a long two weeks, and I am absolutely exhausted and need a nap. I need a nap so badly that I just typed, "I neep a nad" ...

We went to Knoxville and Nashville, TN. We saw the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and we went to Vanderbilt University for Lindsey and Em's best friend's graduation. We went to Opry Land (The hotel connected to the Grand Ole Opry). We went to the Jack Daniel's Distillery (the only place that actually distributes/produces JD). On our way back to Greensboro we spent a night in Asheville, NC and went to the North Carolina State Arboretum and wandered around Asheville... IT WAS AWESOME!

After we got back, we went to bed, woke up, and drove to NJ, stayed there for a few days, visited NYC, and then drove down to Delaware...went to the rally (Em's first one!) and then spent a whole day in Chestertown, Maryland with my extended family. Yesterday we went to Philly to attend a Barack Obama rally and to visit Lindsey and Megan and their new apartment. Now, Wednesday, we are finally back in Greensboro..and will things slow down? No way. Tomorrow is move in day for our new house, I'm babysitting all week, and next week Kelsey graduates and my cousin Ashley gets married. Whew.

Here's a few pictures of our trip to Nashville, courtesy of Lindsey...

Yes, Opry Land has waterfalls inside...and
a river with a boat ride!!

At first glance, a sweet old piano
player man...

But he was just trying to get some!

Pretty picture at the NC Arboretum..

Love everywhere,

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Barack 'n Roll

I love this picture.

Barack Obama. Everyone has their own opinion of him. Some people think he's too religious, some think he "doesn't appeal to the African American community", some people don't like him because he doesn't support gay marriage, some people are in love with him. I of course, am one of those people. Barack Obama is going to save the US from eternal destruction.

I read a magazine article in OCTOBER 2005 about this senator from Illinois, and after I read the article I couldn't even remember the guy's name, but I definitely remembered what he stood for, and it was something I liked. A few months later, around Christmas, I read another article on him, this time I remembered his name and began researching him. He was amazing. Then, by chance, when I was in Burlington, Vermont visiting Rachel and Meaghan, I saw a poster that he was supposed to speak THE ONE DAY that I was on their campus. Rachel and Meag had class, so I walked around by myself and found where Barack was speaking. The line was so long, and they were only accepting so many people. I didn’t make it in – and before he went in, Obama stood outside and gave an impromptu speech, and apologized that not everyone could fit. After he went inside, a few kids next to me ran to the side of the building but the windows were so high that you couldn’t see inside, and barely hear. The dining hall was right next door, so we ran over and stole chairs out of the cafeteria, and stood on them to listen to Obama speak. Every single window of that building was crammed with people, apparently the media present found it interesting, because they photographed the windows full of faces, trying to hear. I listened to the whole speech while standing on a chair outside in freezing weather in my Birkenstocks. When he finished, people streamed out the side door, and I slipped inside. Barack was gone from the stage, but I followed these two high school students who were adamant about shaking his hand. We rounded a corner, took an elevator down, and when we stepped out, there he was! Right in front of us.. and we just walked up to him, shook his hand and told him that we support him and wanted him to run for president. He kind of smiled, I wish I had thought to take a picture with him, but I was so excited and like, blinded by his BEAUTIFUL teeth haha.

After that, last summer I read his book – and then for Christmas my mom got me his other book. I’ve been in love with the man ever since. Everything about him – his ideas on how the country should be run, what he thinks America needs, his family, his past, the way he can write, his morals and values. He really truly is what America needs, I can feel it in my heart. He is so sincere.

Em pointed out to me a while ago that Obama did not support gay marriage. That people were looking to Hillary for the gay marriage bill. However, I’ve done A LOT of research. Neither Clinton or Obama technically support gay marriage. They both support civil unions, and they both think that gay couples should have ALL of the rights that heterosexual couples have. They just don’t support the institution of actual “gay marriage”. Clinton comes off as supporting "gay marriage" but she just keeps saying "how do you define 'marriage'?" (Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood my research.)

So, in short – in Em’s words - beggars can’t be choosers. Neither of my two favorite democrats support gay marriage, however they do believe in equal rights for gays. Having a woman president would be great – but you can’t vote for someone just because of their sex. Barack Obama speaks to me, through everything that he does, says, writes, etc. I will vote for him in the primaries, no doubt, and HOPEFULLY vote for him in the general election!!

Obama will be in Philly on May 22nd at the Electric Factory, 4pm. Em and I will be there, tickets are still available, and half price if you’re a student. If you want to check it out, let me’s going to be revolutionary.


Friday, May 4, 2007

Ashes to Ashes

I thought I would do something a little different. I wanted to post a "guest blogger" ... have anyone who has something to say be able to post. Then I remembered a few weeks ago reading one of the FUNNIEST pieces of writing I've ever read in my life. I was going about my usual boring day...stalking on facebook, wandering the pages of myspace (myspace is very redundant, by the way..) when I came across a blog written by my very good friend, Julie Keech. She's in Japan right now, teaching English and having a rockin' time. She titled this, "Ashes to Ashes".. and gave me permission to post it. I hope you have as much fun reading it as Em and I did. It is absolutely hilarious.

Julie Keech :D

Ashes to Ashes

Recently, one of my students, remembering that Maryland is my home state, brought in an article that she'd seen about it in the newspaper. Apparently, rising groundwater as a result of global warming has softened the soil in some Eastern Shore area enough to allow the coffins of some of America's first settlers to begin drifting into a nearby river. The whole class made polite noises of surprise until we were sure that everyone else just wanted to laugh, and then we all had a good giggle over it.

This was followed by a question and answer session about American burial customs. This is the kind of discussion that I both dread and love. I dread it because, despite being born and raised in the U.S., and having majored in sociology, there are many aspects of American culture that I really don't have a clue about. There's also a lot more diversity in American customs than in Japanese, and I've often found that traditions that my family follows aren't necessarily considered kosher by my fellow Americans. When I can tell them what "we" do, I'm often hard pressed to tell them why. On the other hand, I am viewed as an expert in American culture, and therefore anything that I say is instantly believed without question, which is fun. If I tell them that my mom's family used to hide miniature bottles of liquor along with plastic eggs at Easter, they take it for granted that it is a sacred holiday tradition.

Anyway, knowing that ancestor worship is a very important part of Japanese culture, I tried to answer this one seriously. I explained that people had traditionally been buried in a churchyard, each according to his own religious beliefs, but that cremation was becoming more common these days.

"What do you do with the bones?" Tomoko asked.

Good question. What do people do with the ashes? Time to improvise. "Well, some people bury the ashes in a cemetery, and other times they scatter them on a lake, or in the woods.." (Do people really do that?) "and some people keep them in their home in what we call an urn, it's like a nice vase…"

"Oh! So many! How is there room for everyone?"

Hmm… "Well, usually that's not permanent… sort of a temporary place until…" until what? How long did people usually keep the relatives on the mantle? "For instance," I started again, "My grandparents were both very old when they died, so when my grandfather died, my family waited to…." (oh god, don't tell them what really happened to Grandpa!) "um, bury, his ashes until after my grandmother had died, so.. they could be… together?" I neglected to mention that during the five years that Grandpa's remains had remained in a shoe box in my aunt's closet, my enterprising young cousin had been known to charge his friends a few bucks to see them. I also decided not to mention the many discussions, none of which could be categorized as reverent, about where he would eventually be scattered.

Increasingly aware that I sounded like an idiot, I tried to save myself, "Really, it's all up to the individual family to decide, so everyone has a different tradition… For instance, when my boyfriend's family came to Japan," (I knew it was a mistake, but I just kept going) "they had recently lost a family member who loved to travel, so they brought some of her ashes to.…"

As I stared at the horrified faces before me, I wondered which aspect of my story was the most offensive. Was it, 1)That a person would be scattered across continents rather than buried in a single location 2) That a person would be buried in a land they'd never been to rather than in their hometown in the family plot 3) The simple fact that cremains should probably not have been allowed through customs, or 4) Probably the most likely - the threat of a foreign ghost would upset the racial purity of the Japanese spirit world. Time to change the subject.

"So in Japan, I often see cemeteries," I started drawing a diagram on the board, "where each grave has a tall, narrow stone in the middle, and smaller stones on either side…" The gravestone sketch having turned out significantly more phallic than I'd intended, I quickly stood in front of it and faced my class. "Where, exactly, are the… um, people?"

"Well you see," they began, "After a person is burned, their family will pick up the bones with special chopsticks, and…"

"WHAT?!?" I shrieked. It was the most non-judgmental and culturally sensitive response I could muster upon learning of this bizarre way to torture a family who had just lost a loved one.

"Oh, SPECIAL chopsticks," they explained. "Special chopsticks," they laughed, thinking that I'd misunderstood. "We don't eat with these ones."

"Oh," I said, pretending to recover my composure, as though THAT was what had surprised me so much, not the thought of the bereaved spending hours intimately picking over the charred and smoldering remains of a family member with sticks. "See, we just get a box. We go to the crematorium, where people are burned, and they hand us a box, with the ashes inside." The students gasped and exchanged worried looks at the impersonal nature of this method.

"In Japan, it is a family duty. A family must always take care of each other, even after death."

Good philosophy, I thought. I decided I would not tell them what did eventually happen to Grandma and Grandpa, who had chosen cremation - after the Catholic Church had approved it – because it was significantly cheaper than burial. Of course, further instructions probably would have helped, considering the endless debate among their seven children as to what would happen to them next.

In the end, Grandpa was taken back to his family plot in Iowa. In keeping with Grandpa's frugality, no one had invested in an actual piece of land. Standing next to the burial plots of his ancestors, my family simply made sure no one was watching, stood upwind, and opened the box. I wasn't there to see it, but I hear that the only words uttered were, "Well, the price is right."

Grandma was taken back to the house where she had been born, to be scattered in the garden. Of course, the house is no longer in the family, and my aunt and uncle decided that any kind of informed consent might make the whole thing a little more difficult. As I hear it, the process was a bit rushed as the dogs were making a lot of commotion about the whole thing, and may have alerted the owners to the presence of trespassers if it had gone on too long.

"Yes, family is very important for us, too," I agreed with my students. "My family went to very much trouble to make sure my grandparents got back to their hometowns."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Send Shane a Birthday Card

Many of you may have been invited to join the group SEND SHANE A CARD on Facebook... If you haven't heard of it, basically, there is a boy living in Canada who relapsed almost a year ago with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). For his birthday this year, Shane is asking for birthday cards to be sent to him... he is attempting to break the world record for birthday cards received. Here's a video that uses footage that was aired by a Canadian News Program.

I've been a part of this group for a few weeks, and there's been a lot of debate about it, ESPECIALLY on the facebook group. (What facebook group doesn't have debate?) Basically, people are saying, if everyone paid the $3 they were spending on a card on donating to cancer research, it would be better than sending Shane a card. Also, people are saying that Hallmark is secretly behind this, trying to make a profit. The worst of the arguments is that people who send him a card are being selfish. That they should be thinking of the 20 million people who are afflicted with AIDS in Africa.

I have to retaliate to that with: I think the bigger picture is the fact that the human race, for the most part, doesn't feel a strong obligation to randomly help others. If you are not directly affected by AIDS or cancer (which I am, by BOTH) than you probably don't go about your day daydreaming of ways to raise money for the cause. You also probably don't feel a huge sense of obligation to send a donation to help find a cure. This is not a crime. It might be sad, but the fact has to be faced - the average person doesn't go around donating their money for good causes. Most of the time, they are touched by something- a story in a magazine, a group on facebook, a friend of a friend who's friend has cancer... something like that. Or, they are directly affected, they know someone who has cancer or who has passed away from it, etc. These people probably donate to cancer research more than the others. What I'm trying to get at is - those people, the ones who donate because they were touched by something and felt a need to donate money -- it depends on what they are touched by. Basically: If I am touched by Shane's story and want to send him a card, and that makes someone angry because I should be spending my money by donating it to better causes- than they need to find a way to touch me with THAT story. Because people do not donate for no reason. (MOST people.) If you feel that people should be donating to the AIDS cause, than convince them to, because that is what makes people receptive. They won't do it on their own. (**That is a generalization. I know people who read this are in leaders, and are my friends, and as a whole, I try to surround myself with people who are "amazing" in my opinion...therefore, my group of friends and probably my readership of this blog are not a good representation of society.)

I agree that if everyone who sent Shane a card donating that money to cancer research instead, it would be great - but this little boy's face lights up every time his mother brings a pile of cards into his hospital room. I think it's worth it to send him a card. His birthday is MAY 30th so please send one by then!

Here is his address:
Shane Bernier
PO Box 484
Lancaster, Ontario

You'll need two stamps for it to make it across the border.

I won't preach about this - but if you can find 5 minutes in your day to send Shane a card, you might find yourself feeling much better about yourself...

Love everywhere,