Thursday, January 29, 2009

Girl-Next-Door guide to the economic crisis

I don't think I'm alone in this: Even though I'm a college graduate who watches and reads the news every day and whose parents deal with finance for a living, I'm still in over my head when it comes to the current financial crisis jargon.

What on God's green earth is a mortgage-backed security? What exactly is TARP, and where is all this bailout money going? Commercial paper market, anyone? I keep hearing that all the banks were "leveraged to the hilt", but what does that mean?

Ladies, never fear, CNN is here. Finally, a good explanation for the whole timeline that led to this mess, in smart but not overly technical language.

In other news, can we all just take a moment and laugh? Read this silly sentence out loud:
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will attend a two-day conference in Reykjavek.

In other, other news, some brilliant scientists have figured out how to make flood-resistant rice that will help billions of hungry people. Once in college I learned about scientists putting a gene from fish that live in freezing water into oranges so they can resist frost better and have a longer growing season. Genius, people, way to go. Way to invest your career in service to your fellow man!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Peace, Zip, and the Rugby life

Apparently, the hot thing in interior design for '09 is serenity. It makes complete sense, with the state of things right now (I recently read that the American zeitgeist should currently be described as a polarity- terror and hope). Blues, whites, and calm- and escapism. Here are the whites.
And here is the escapism. This image captures that New England prep-Bedford Manor-Oxford professor-Ralph Lauren Rugby aesthetic that I just love.
On another note, I have added another serious contender to my short list of (very) future baby names. I once learned, but had forgotten unti lI re-read it this week, that Sarai and Abraham's son was named "Laughter", or, in Hebrew, Isaac, because that was their response when Yahweh announced that this elderly couple would soon become pregnant. I love that Isaac means laughter, laughter before and with God.

Zipporah is my very favorite name for a little girl. It is so weird, I know. I had never heard of Zipporah until I saw The Prince of Egypt. Here is a still from the movie depicting the wedding of Zipporah and Moses, officiated by her father:
Zipporah means "little bird" in Hebrew (you ladies may recognize the Greek version: "Sephora"). Another fun fact that is significant to me in light of my recent love affair with this nation due to my work: Z is referred to at Cushite, meaning that she is Ethiopian, probably black, and definately a foreigner.
I read this article about her characterization in the Narrative. Though she is referenced only briefly, she stands up to God when God wants to kill Moses and saves her husband's life. The verses where she is mentioned are really tricky, the article says her personality comes through:
Although Zipporah is an obscure figure in the Bible, she is depicted favorably, while Moses is "hapless, a total shirker, full of arguments about why he shouldn't be the one to go to Israel and lead his people out of slavery," notes Kirsch. Zipporah, on the other hand, is heroic, "decisive, fearless, strong, the competent person in an emergency."
Watch her dance, woo, captivate Moses...

This might be a case where a female character is more fully fleshed out in the movie than in the text upon which it is based (like my other favorite female character, Arwen), but I love the character nonetheless.
While we're at it, here is my very favorite scene, from any movie, ever:

Justification for my love of epics, fantasy, etc.

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." ~ G.K. Chesterton

Monday, January 26, 2009

As wise Rafiki once said...'s the circle of life.

Birth and death, all around me this week. It's winter, first of all. Still. Blasted winter. Everything is dead and brown, and I am so cold I have to wear leggings under my dress pants at work, and every morning I start my day with a blast of arctic air (today the added treat was sprinkling icy rain) as I wait for my train.

Images like the one above are familiar to us all, but ring extra true in my world. Both grandfathers and buried in places similar to this. Both were put into the ground amid 21-gun salutes and honor guards, and both my grandmothers homes features triangular folded flags. My Marine brother is about to return home from Cuba, and we do not know where he will go in the future. A safe place? A boring place? A secret place? Not certain.
My mother is in Jellico, Tennessee today burying the woman who was a grandmother to her and raised her for a time when war took her father far away. In small group last week a couple told us of another dear newlywed friend who, at 20-something, is dying of a brain tumor, and in devotion this morning my close work friend shared that her husband's parents have BOTH been diagnosed with serious lung cancer. When I hear this I think of what Melanie shared recently: the night of his wife's death at only 22 years old, Teddy Roosevelt wrote in his diary this simple phrase: "The light has gone out of my life."

War in Gaza, war in Somalia, war in Congo, murdered journalists in Russia, drug war in Mexico, governments falling in Iceland, pirates on the seas, shark attacks up in Australia, 30 thousand children die every day of preventable disease... sometimes it is just too much to bear.

But then...

Life comes back.

This weekend I will attend my very first baby shower. The mama-to-be is a friend of a friend, and she has had to make some tough decisions. As with any young American woman today, she did not have to allow this baby to continue growing toward birth. But she bravely did.

Just in the last two months, Buckner, the ministry where I work, has celebrated many new "forever families". Couples who chose life, journeyed far away to bring back a new child who otherwise would grow up in a state-run institution. Dozens of blogs cry for joy at the arrivals of Sosy and Yeneneh, Faith, and precious little Ella Yanet (below).

A picture of Sosy has hung in my office since shortly after I began working here. We blew up this gorgeous picture of an Ethiopian preschooler living in one of our orphanages for an event in the fall, and just this week I learned she is being adopted RIGHT NOW, and will soon be home with a family who loves her in Texas. Ella Yanet's parents visited our office last week, and I got to hold that beautiful baby for an hour- it was the best day ever. Those families chose life!

This I know: Spring is coming. And life is more powerful than death; Life has won.

Friday, January 23, 2009


In 2009 I am "Joining the Journey", a devotional email that sends you a portion of Scripture to read each day. Today's comes from Genesis 20, where Abraham has told the citizens of the land they are visiting that Sarah is his sister, not his wife. Of course Sarah is taken by another man, and here is what the devotional said today:

Once again Abraham does what seems unthinkable, passing his wife, Sarah, off as his sister to be handed over to the king of a godless nation who will surely add her to his harem. Acting out of fear for his own life, he offers an unsatisfying technical excuse that she is kind of his sister and, well gosh, she agreed to it anyway. And, all this comes just on the heels of God's promise to both Abraham and Sarah that they would be blessed with a son!

Wonder why in the world God would include a story like this, about the very father of the faith?

In this passage God is revealing to us another astonishingly clear example of the difference between man's failure and His grace. God made a promise to Abraham and Sarah. A promise that was part of His plan for Israel and for mankind. That promise and plan was not dependent on Abraham's strength and integrity. In spite of Abraham's failure, in spite of the situation they found themselves, Sarah being delivered into the hands of another man, God intervened in a mighty way to re-set the scenario.

To apply this to my own life is a stark reminder of my own sin in contrast to the grace of God. Like Abraham, I have made cowardly, sinful and selfish choices. Like Abraham, I tried to excuse them. However, God still has a plan and a promise. That plan and promise for me, like Abraham, is not based on my ability to never fail. And as in the Genesis 20 account, God has intervened in a mighty way to re-set the scenario in my life through the work of Jesus on the cross.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

8 Days Later...

First things first:

NIE is BACK! Five months after surviving a plane crash and serious burn recovery, Nie writes again! And I thought my morning was tough today.

Second things second:

I'm back! Not sure where the last 8 days have gone, but I've been too busy to blog. To share with you what I've been busy doing, I bring you...

The FIRST installment of Big City Pretty Reviews!
1) His Needs, Her Needs
This book was recommended by many newly-and-nearly-weds, and Ben read it before the wedding but I just got around to it. I would say it is helpful because it emphasizes the answer to one HUGE question: What makes marriages last? The answer is NOT good communication, or problem-solving, or any other skill. The answer is "being in love". After decades as a counselor, Dr. Harley is convinced that if you cultivate feelings of "being in love" in your marriage, you will stay together. The way to stay in love is to meet each other's needs. If you don't, your spouse's needs are so strong that he/she will go elsewhere to meet them, ie, have an affair. It's a pretty bleak prophecy. 2) The Road
This is the most horrifying book I've ever read. I stopped watching horror movies about five years ago because I determined they are bad for my soul, and unfortunately I forgot that written violence can sometimes be even more disturbing. I read this book because Cormac McCarthy wrote Blood Meridian, which my American Lit prof said was often rated the top novel of the 20th century, and All The Pretty Horses, which was a big movie, and so I figured he was worth reading. Plus I love disaster movies, and this is a post-apocalyptic book.

I guess I will concede it is probably worthy of the critical acclaim, and it is profound, and well-written, and moving. But it is also gruesome, with really graphic scenes of cannibalism and sexual slavery, and a pervading sense of dread. The plot takes place in a post-nuclear bombing future where there are literally only a handful of people left on earth, and a man and his son are walking down a road, always perilously close to being murdered or starving. They "are each other's entire", and the love they share, and the child's purity, are incredibly powerful. 3) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Very long, very slow, gorgeous, and incredibly acted. The special effects are dazzling- each time a new scene dawns I was excited to see how the characters had aged- in forward and reverse- and the settings are lovely. It is painful, however, to see your greatest fears on screen: that the one you love most will leave you, and that everyone you care about will die. 4) The Dutchess
Again, an extreme downer. I was thinking this would be Marie Antoinette part II- no, sir. Georgiana becomes Dutchess of Devonshire by marriage and is full of hope and apprehension and desire to be a happy, good wife. From the first moment of her marriage, her dreams are shattered by a cold, selfish husband. Plot spoiler ahead: The Dutchess' best friend, her only refuge from her husband' indifference and dismissal, becomes his mistress, and then moves into Devonshire House for the rest of Georgiana's life. She, like many women at the time, has one function: produce a male son. That is her only value. Her marriage is a business contract, and she has no control over the outcome yet is judged entirely responsible for its success. What makes the pain of this arrangement even sharper is the fact that tens of millions of women still live this way today, in 2009.
5) The House Bunny
Finally, after all the heartbreaking books and movies, a comedy! Ok, so let's get this out of the way: this movie is not exactly full of "good messages." It is vulgar. It is sexist on the surface, though by poking fun of Playboy sexuality it may actually be not-so-sexist. It is dumb, and it is good ol' fun. It is silly and funny and not to be taken seriously in the least, and probably not entirely harmless, forgettable but pleasant. And my husband has been quoting the red-head's mouse-dressing-up monologue for a week now.

And lastly, a little treat because I love interiors oh so very much:
A dining room, complete with 360 chalk board.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gadgets galore!

The 2009 Consumer Electronics Show took place last week and debuted all sorts of nifty gadgets to add to your life! Because you WILL BE HAPPIER if you GET MORE STUFF! Ok, I'll put aside my general animosity toward mindless consuming in order to admit I'm really impressed by these techy innovations... just buy recharchable batteries, ok? Haha...

Big City Pretty's Top 3 Cool New Toys:
3) Livescribe Pulse smart pen
A finalist in a "Last Gadget Standing" competition at CES on Saturday, this writing implement is a pen and a computer in one. Thanks to an infrared camera near the pen's tip and special paper with microdots that track the pen's movement, the Pulse can digitally capture handwritten notes.

A digital recorder links the notes to audio recorded at the same time -- a lecture, for example -- while handwriting-recognition software allows users to tap anywhere in their written notes and bring up the audio that was recorded when those words were jotted down. The pen contains a USB dock that allows users to upload their notes to a laptop.

The Pulse is available in a 1 GB model for $149. A 2 GB model, which supposedly can record up to 60,000 pages of notes, is $199.
2) Sony Vaio Lifestyle PC
Smaller than a netbook and larger than a smart phone, this sleek device combines the best features of both. For one, it weighs 1.4 pounds and is small enough to fit in your coat pocket.
"It has a cool factor," Sony product manager Xavier Lauwaert said. "You go to a Starbucks and pop this out of your jacket, and people will go, 'Ooh!' "
This Vaio has built-in Bluetooth and GPS technology and runs on Verizon's 3G network, so it's connected to the Web anywhere you can get a cell-phone signal. It also features an 8-inch screen, webcam, two USB ports and a promised four hours of battery life.

The device is available in five colors and hits stores next month. A 60 GB model will sell for $900, a 128 GB model for $1,500.
Coolest New Toy:
1) Polaroid Instant Digital Camera
If you're mourning Polaroid's recent decision to stop making film for its classic instant cameras, here's some good news. This 5-megapixel camera, due on the market in March, contains a built-in printer for producing 2-by-3-inch pictures on the go. The camera's printer contains no ink or toner; the prints pass through a thermal heat head, activating dye crystals embedded in the print paper and producing an image.

The resulting pictures are a little grainy, but they're ready in seconds and have a sticky-back feature for scrapbooking. And, unlike your old Polaroid, you can review the image on the camera's LCD screen before deciding whether to print it. "It's not going to replace your 12-megapixel camera," Polaroid marketing associate Michael Holmes said. "It's fun. It's convenient."

The camera will retail for $199, and a 10-pack of print paper will cost about $5.

Friday, January 9, 2009


2009 Goals:

1. Tackle my brand new responsibilities with 100% gusto (NB: I went in for a 6-month review at work and was given an entirely new job description, leaning much more toward challenges I was itching to begin).
2. Keep best friends. Many times in my life I have had best friends, but I have had a sorry habit of losing them once changes occurred and I didn't automatically see them daily. I resolve to keep my best friends, near and far.
3. Have a weekly tribe. This one may already be occurring: B and I are in a newlywed small group at Fellowship, our new church. But I also dearly miss my female intense community of the last few years, so....
4. Have an accountability mini-tribe. I think this will take the place of two mentors, one older, one younger. I've been thinking about joining the youth ministry, which might connect me with both a high school student and moms of high school students, which would be the perfect catalyst for mentorship.
5. Begin lifelong traditions. Christmas was a bare-bones affair this year in my world, due to getting married in the middle of it. I want to make traditions. What does my new baby family do for July 4? What do we do on Christmas Eve? How do we spend our Sabbath? Do we actually do Date Night?
6. Have a beautiful, expressive, organized home. This probably will include painting a wall or two in our apt, which is annoying, but will be worth it.
7. Host parties. Dinner, cocktail, holiday, birthday, all varieties.
8. Vacation. I am scheduled to lead a trip to Honduras in June, and hope to visit my brother in Spain next summer. I'd also love to throw in a few weekends closer to home- San Antonio? New Mexico? Maybe Seaside, or Vegas, or Savannah? And we all know I'm dying for Kenya...
9. Volunteer and tithe.
10. Work out. And for goodness sake, I have a free country club membership, including free classes, just by living in my apartment complex, so really I have no excuse.
11. Read. Start a reading list journal of all those book recommendations I'm randomly given.
12. Read the Bible. I've just started Fellowship's Join the Journey , which emails you a portion of Scripture to read each day.
13. Make my money work for me. Get a budget in order, including designated savings for future house and vacations. Get my savings in high-yield accounts.
14. Research grad school, decide on preliminary plan.
15. Be a really good friend to the brides in my life, before, during and after their Big Day.
16. Invest in my marriage. Every day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

Remember how your parents used to say that when negotiating your curfew? "Nothing good happens after midnight." Well, Mama was wrong.

In fact, when it comes to driving, late night is by far not the least dangerous time to be on the road. This morning in the DMN I read an interesting report about the deadliest times to drive. Can you guess which three-hour piece of the day is deadliest?

3 pm- 6 pm. Rush hour. The next more dangerous time is 6 pm- 9 pm. The very LEAST most dangerous time to drive is midnight- 3 am.

And can you guess the Deadliest 10 Days of the Driving Year?
10. August 4
9. September 2
8. September 1
7. January 1
6. August 3
5. December 22
4. December 24
3. December 23
2. July 3

and the MOST DEADLY day of the year is......
1. July 4

Yikes! Add one item to my bridesmaid-to-do-list: Keep a close eye on the festivities next July to ensure a safe and joyful evening for one special upcoming July 4 Bride.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ransom captive Israel

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel.
Who mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
has come to thee, oh Israel.

Sometimes we sing Christmas carols without particularly thinking about what we are singing, as as if they were "Ring around the rosy" or "Happy Birthday", just songs we learned when we were little. Even though God-with-us has come, Israel's troubles continue.
On this map of Israel there is a tiny dark-pink sliver on the bottom left side, up against the Mediterranean coast, called the Gaza Strip. You will see a big yellow dot- this is Gaza City. This is where the Palestinian government operates, even though its not technically an independent country, and the Palestinian people democratically voted Hamas into power (although the US govt says Hamas is a terrorist organization). Hamas has been launching rockets (which are most likely paid for/supported by Iran) about 25 miles into Southern Israeli cities (circled in yellow), partially because Israel sealed all the borders of Gaza so that no food, people, medicine, etc can get in or out. Circled in pink are Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Too close for comfort.

Israel sealed the borders because Palestinian terrorists were suicide bombers in Israel, and also because lots of weapons were getting smuggled through underground tunnels into Gaza from its tiny southern border with Egypt. Now, Israel is responding to the rockets from Gaza by bombing Gaza, and Israel has much more superior firepower, so huge damage is being caused. 10 Israelis total have died. Almost 700 Palestinian civilians have died, and the people there have no electricity, only a handful of doctors. Some haven't eaten in days. Even before this violence broke out, the sealing of the borders of Gaza meant the people living there were in an extreme humanitarian crisis.

Israel says it will stop if Hamas stops, but then it launched a ground invastion and is now rolling tanks through Gaza. The UN says 750,000 people don't have anything to eat today. Israel refuses to negotiate directly with Hamas (because they consider it a terrorist organization), but might do so through Egypt. The UN Relief and Works agency says 50% of the deaths and injuries have been women and children.

I sat in front of the news last night and just cried.

Why has Obama been silent on this? I have been excited to watch Obama's first steps because I believe he means to restore our standing in the world, and wants America to be a leader for peace- so why is the French President the one leading the peace efforts?
No matter your politics, or your national allegiance, your heart must break for these people, just trying to go about their daily lives, who are in the middle of a war caused by decisions so far above their heads.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Do You Agree?

CNN has released its Best and Worst Films of 08 . What do you think?

I couldn't agree more about Wall-E, but I'll definately disagree about Australia. And I have to see Rachel Getting Married.

News Flash:

Last night Husband and I went on an impromtu date for Mexican food, my drug of choice. After driving to TWO closed Luna de Noches we found an open Mi Cocina on Preston. We are walking through the lobby, glutted with toddlers in North Faces, and B starts jabbing me in the rib. I turn around to see what in the world he is so excited by, and who do I literally run in to?

Mike Modano. With Willa Ford on his arm.

I feel a special (yet still nonexistant) connection with this couple for two reasons.
First, my husband loves Stars hockey (and thus Mike Modano) more than almost anything. I sincerely try to enjoy this hobby as well, due to my desire to be his "recreational companion" (see Dr. Harley's His Needs Her Needs), but let's be honest, few mere mortals can love hockey as much as B.
Second, my dear friend Coco has seen Willa in her birthday suit (well, since Mrs. Modano appeared in a certain "men's magazine", that is not particularly unique, but Coco's experience was in person, and afterward she had to sign legal papers about it). When the happy couple became engaged, Willa spent an afternoon in the the top bridal salon in Dallas (where my friend was a summer intern) where she found her dream wedding dress. Coco was in the dressing room for several costume changes, thus the nudity.
I'm happy to report that my husband respected Mike & Willa's (since we're so close, I can call them by first names) privacy and did not pester them for an autograph at their booth, but we did happen to be seated nearby so we glanced over every now and then (read: constantly).

Mike had a sangria margarita and nachos.