Monday, December 31, 2007

Reflections on 2007

Every year on December 31st, the newspaper does a special feature where they ask all of their staff photographers to choose one story from the previous year that left a lasting impression on us. Since we've gone all interactive and multiplatform, they shoot video interviews with us as well. I'm pleased to report that for the first time in recent memory, I actually sound coherent in my video AND I only appear to have one chin (woot!). Actually toward the end, you can see a shadow my second chin, but try not to think about it. Ignore the extra shadowy chin! Please!

Anyway, if you click on this link here, it will take you to the page. Then you have to click on my last name. If you don't know my last name, you should know that it rhymes with "haul" and is frequently misspelled "gall," "gull" or "gual" by junk mail soliciters.

Enjoy! And Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Holiday in Pictures

I am sick. I have been trying to ward off illness for quite a while. I have this theory that if you're really busy and feeling unwell, you can stay ahead of the illness if you keep moving. If you slow down, you get sick. This sounds completely unintuitive, I know, but it feels really true for me.

I just kept working and baking and shooting and decorating and filming and shopping and editing and traveling and serving and clearing and smiling and unwrapping until my weekend plus two days off for the 24th and 25th were up, and I had to go back to work.

Even then, I've been busting my butt at high school holiday tournaments, including yesterday, when I had to spend five hours in a giant cement refrigerator sucking the stench of male, teenage feet straight off the tap. (That is, I shot hockey- the sport that smells like feet!- in a tied game that only ended after 27- no exaggeration- shots on goal PER TEAM). I started shivering and feeling nauseous, chalked to up to the rink temperature and feetstink, came home, continued to shiver feel gaggy on the couch and finally just took a damn sick day. Bleh.

Which gave me plenty of time to upload all the holiday photos in flickr.

Which flickr set should you choose?

Let's see...

Can't get enough Mop Dog?

Click here! It's Christmas, Part 1: Boston.

Do you have the Captain in you?

Did you see Mommy kissing Santa Claus? Want to see more photos of the guy who will the Best Man at our wedding wearing a Santa suit, which I am sure he will be delighted to hear that you saw on the Internet come August? Check out Christmas, Part 2: New York.

Did you grow up in a place that perpetually smells of cow poop? Are you charmed by a certain toddler who looks like he just unwrapped a winning lottery ticket instead of a snowman toy from T.J. Maxx?

(Gawd, when his face lit up like that, I wanted to buy him whatever he wants, ever. Considering I have that same feeling about a bunch of other people's kids, my wallet is all... ?!?! whimper, whimper.?!?! I kind of get why Santa does his thing, actually.) Check out Christmas, Part 3: PA.

Finally, do stories about my in-laws fascinate you? Want to see how thrilled (for real, no sarcasm) a 70-year-old man can be unwrapping a peace pipe bought at a yard sale? Want to see how pretty *I* look in a His'n'Hers matching khaki baseball cap WITH DETACHABLE NECK FLAP from my mother-in-law that Joel insists will not only come in handy on our honeymoon, but could indeed SAVE OUR LIVES in the Australian Outback next summer?

Check out Christmas, Part 4: Home.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Oh. Uh... what? Hi!

Mmm... Christmas hangover. Excuse me while I unearth myself from this pile of greeting cards and mistletoe and shake off the eggnog haze.

Er. Blah. hi!

How was your holiday? Was it good? That's good. Ours was good, too. Busy. Lots of eating and driving and running up and down the stairs at my parents' house with giant bowls of pasta like the dutiful employee- Oops! I mean, daughter- that I am. Or try to be. Whatever.

Joel and I drove three and a half hours in a Suzuki stuffed with presents, cookies, pets (yup, all three) and camera gear. Ollie tried to climb my parents' Christmas tree and had to be held for the entire car ride (both ways) to prevent projectile feline vomiting. Bella wasn't thrilled about being relegated to the backseat, so she spent most of the trip pawing at the window controls and finding a way to release the safety lock on said controls, alternating getting her head stuck or rolling the window in the back all the down as we flew down the New Jersey Turnpike at 65 pmh. Fred was stuck in the Locked Box for Sad Cats the whole ride and performed his annual aria of suffering and woe.

We drove back on Christmas and my mother-in-law made us lobster, which was a nice change from ham and turkey. The lobsters were full of boiling water and dried innards, which formed a thin layer of crust on the stovetop, counters and floor, giving the apartment a Christmasy smell of evergreens mingled with Eau de Dumpster Behind Red Lobster the day after. Hey, it launched me back on the pre-bridal diet. No complaints here.

I'm back at work and Joel is off until the beginning of January. When I left for work, he was busy doing laundry- swoon!- and had already taken Bella to the groomer to rid her furry head of dried lobster water crust. (I'm telling you, those lobster innards 'n water went EVERYWHERE)

I have tons of pictures that warrant a full post of their own and flickr links, but right now I have ice hockey footage to attend to. No rest for the wicked. I do want to leave you a photo of Aiden- oh, Christmas, how much more fun are YOU with a 17-month-old running around? You are so much FUN!- cuddling Ollie. I actually had to put my head between my knees to keep from collasping from the cuteness. For reals. People saw me do it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Fred: mmm favorite nubbly blanket mmm

Me: Hey, buddy... Can we try to take a picture by the Christmas tree?

Fred: But I don't WANT to.
Me: Please?
Fred: ...meh...
Me: Was that a yes?
Fred: Is The Kid gonna be in it, too?
Me: Ollie? I hope so. Bella, too.
Fred: I'm not movin.'
Me: Well, what if I pick you up?

Fred: I'll cut you!
Me: That whole "Big Bad Miami Gangsta' Cat" would be easier to buy if you hadn't been living in Stepford for the past five years, dude.
Fred: Mi Calle Ocho boyz-
Me: Oh, please. You were born behind a hibscus plant in a landscaped apartment complex in MIAMI GARDENS whose logo was a little golf course flag.

Ollie: Why his earses back? He no like mee?
Me: Oh, honey. He likes you just fine. Now, let's go sit by the Christmas tree.

Fred: I'll sit by the tree but I'm not looking at the camera.
Me: That's fine, Freddo.

Ollie: I posez like zis!
Me: Um, okay, that's a good start. Drop your chin down just a little bit.

Ollie: Like zis?
Me: Um...a little less "deer-in-the-headlights," little guy. Just relax and lower your head, okay?
Ollie: Mah feets stink.

Me: Kiddo, you kick sand over you own feces. You're a cat; it's a professional hazard. Look up, please.
Ollie: You sez chinsez down?
Me: That was before. Okay. Look! Ooh, waggly hand!

Ollie: Ah likes to play wif fingerzzzz!

Fred: say- waggly fingers?
Camera: *click*
Me: Gotcha!
Fred: Crap.

Bella: Yoo hoo! I'm over here! I'm ready! I'm ready and here!
Me: Hi, pumpkin. I can see that.

Bella: I've been learning my angles.
Me: You've been watching too much Next Top Model.
Bella: Are you gonna PhotoShop out my eye boogers?

Me: Uh... sure! Always, Belle, always.
Me: Joel, can you all try to get them all together?

Fred: Fat chance.

Bella: This is gonna take awhile.

Fred:Kiss my-

Bella: You know what? I'm outta here, too.
Ollie: Guyz? Guyyyz?


Me: You guys are all sitting like that? On your own? Really?
Camera: *click*

Ollie: WHAP!
Bella: Hey!
Me: AND we're done.

Fred: That was funny.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Just some friendly advice

If you have a friend who tells you repeatedly that his mother is crazy, and you hear Crazy Mother harassing her son's pregnant wife for Christmas card pictures featuring a baby that hasn't been born yet, (three months before the holiday, mind you) and you think that the nice thing to do is offer to take over all Christmas card photo responsibilities, because how crazy could she be and surely you and your pro skillz can make her happy, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Find the nearest brick wall and bash your head repeatedly against it. Maintain unconsciousness until December 26th.

Your friends won't blame you. They'll consider you initiated. They may even supply tequila to facilitate unconsciousness.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stick a fork in me...

I'm done!

Every Christmas card has been written, stamped, sent. Packages of long-distance gifts mailed. Overseas-bound items are long gone Every gift has either been bought or made: edited, cropped, printed or play-tested, packaged or matted, framed and boxed, wrapped, bagged, taped, labeled, and be-ribboned. The house is decorated; the is tree up, wreaths hung, candles burning.

We celebrated Christmas: Part II this past weekend. This is Melanie, doing her "Christmas dance." This is exactly the sort of dance that always made my dad tell me to "slow down" when I was a kid. Even over Thanksgiving this year, at age 28, I was dancing around the driveway in a similar manner, doing my imitation of the cats Greco-Roman wrestling (I was playing both parts), and my dad told me to "slow down." Heh.

Melanie's a great kid; she really is. She gets to be "the Main Angel" in her Catholic School's Nativity play. She gets to bring the Baby Jesus (a doll) to Mary, skipping over the whole Labor and Delivery part. She wanted to practice by carrying around Baelin, who is getting bigger and chubbaloo and completely delicious.

(He left out a huge burp right after this was shot. Not a great pic of him. Sorry, little buddy.)

It occurs to me that I'm holding Baelin in this picture the same way I'm holding my sister's dog. Aw, other people's babies.

Anyway. Back to the Crazy Christmas To-Do List I've been knocking out.

I've undertaken two long baking sessions. In the first I made about a dozen different varieties of cookies into big trays for my office party, Joel's co-workers and parents, my sister and brother-in-law, the pet-sitter and mail carrier.

chocolate chip*
molasses cookies
gingerbread cut-outs
peanut better fork cookies
sugar cookies*
oatmeal raisin*
cranberry white chocolate
thumbprint cookies with raspberry jam
peanut butter blossoms with candy centers
Pillsbury Christmas tree cookies*
Ranger cookies

*Some of these were pre-mixed, premade Tollhouse and Pillsbury break-apart cheater cookies.

The second session was mostly a gift for my Nanny. She was famous for her Christmas cookie trays in her day. She made seriously complex cookies: sand tarts and pignolis and fruit-and-nut varieties and pinwheels that involve cooking pitted dates with grated orange peel on the stove.

Nanny gave both me and Amanda handwritten cookbooks when I was about 12. She taught us herself, by her side, in her kitchen, but so much of what made things "right" was in her hands. She knew so well, so innately, what she was doing that her instructions in the cookbook are sometimes incredibly specific and sometimes really vague. My dad has mastered her meatballs. Amanda's gotten really good at making her marinara sauce recipe and pasta dishes and dough rings of deep-fried deliciousnes; I've been trying to replicate the pies and cookies.

She wrote this dedication in the front:

"To Angela:
My Miss America for always. If and when married, you will be my Mrs. America. To my granddaughter with all my love always, Nanny."

I feel closer to her when I cook her recipes. She's still alive, of course, so I call her on my cell from gourmet shops and Italian delis, looking for the exact type of canned almond paste she's been using since the 1940s. This delights her to no end. She's getting a thick throw blanket for Christmas, a framed photo of the two of us that Joel shot on Thanksgiving, and a tray of the ridiculously complicated cookies. Some of the recipes I've got down cold, some are... in need of improvement. I know she'll appreciate the effort.

So yeah. I've also been chasing the pets around, trying to get a nice photo of them by the tree. I think I finally got one, which is a post for another day. Of course, all the cards have been sent, so maybe it's part of next year's design. Because I am DONE!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Boxer

And in one corner....

Ollivander Holyfield, using the Christmas tree as his beat bag.

Friday, December 14, 2007


So Michelle gets some kind of bonus prize for leaving comments that spark full entries. (M- I can give you shards of broken auto glass! Yay! Sparkly!)

So... The town of Vount Mernon itself has a dodgy reputation. There are parts of it that border the Bronx that are renowned for dog fighting and prostitution. However, the part where I live has a good reputation. I've lived here for five years this coming Presidents Day. I always said, "Well... Despite the Bronx/border reputation, my street seems really nice. I know the burglars don't stand around welcoming you to the neighborhood, so I have to go with my gut instinct."

And for years, my gut instinct was solid. I never had a problem. I've always felt really safe walking Bella at all hours of the day and night. We had a weird situation a few years ago with a crappy downstairs tenant, but it was mostly a domestic issue with his ex-wife and child support and occasionally the smell of marijuana drifting up the stairs. My landlords had him evicted as soon as they legally could.

And now, well... I feel kind of stuck. The apartment itself has some quirks, but for what we pay for it, it's technically a steal in this real estate market. The landlords are a little stingy with the heat and cranky about some stuff, like the times we're allowed to use the washer and dryer. They live in Florida all winter, though, in a condo certainly purchased in part with the nearly $60,000 I've paid them in rent money. Once they leave- right after Christmas every year- the heat comes on automatically with the thermostat around 68 degrees. No problem.

The landlords can be grouchy, but they are good people. Today Mr. M was the one who alerted me to my car situation. I had to go out and cover the big winter storm, which is shitty considering I had to shoot stills for tomorrow's paper AND b-roll for tonight's 5 p.m. broadcast. Taking $25,000 worth of gear out into sleet and snow in a car I can't secure because it has a broken fucking window and all the auto glass places closed early due to the constant melodramatic weather-related hand-wringing perpetrated by, let's see.. Oh, ME and my co-workers! Sigh. Basically I had to ride around finding people shoveling and salting and spinning their tires and shoot them from no further than five feet away from the car with the expensive gear that so doesn't belong to me AND- lest we forget- is missing A GODDAMN passenger window.

Although I did notice as I drove down my street in second gear at 3 mph that two other cars had taped-up passenger windows today. Misery loves company, I guess.

I came home briefly to transmit video in time for the 4:15 p.m. broadcast rehearsal, and while I was upstairs, the landlord surprised me by taping up my broken window and removing a lot of the broken glass from the front seat for me. I'm honestly quite touched, truth be told. It makes up for the fact he has never fixed my broken doorbell because he's going deaf and refuses to wear a hearing aid and repeatedly insists he can hear the doorbell ringing all the way up on the third floor from the porch and therefore it is fixed. It saves me from the door-to-door missionaries, so it's not all bad. Unless you're waiting for an important FedEx package. Then it sucks.

Where was I? Yeah. So the apartment has a perpetually broken doorbell, a laundry curfew, inadequate heat in November and December, poor water pressure and a cabal of CIA-trained skunks in the front yard. I have to schlepp 85+ pounds of video and camera equipment up three flights of stairs, which is taking a real toll on my back since I got outfitted with a proper broadcast-quality video camera.

It also has all hardwood floors, floor to ceiling windows and a fenced-in backyard we use for the dog and parties in the summer. It costs a little more than $1000 a month (discussions of money as it relates to real estate isn't considered rude around here) and we can have all three pets without a hassle. We really don't want to move, since we just won't find a deal like this anywhere else as long as we're renting, especially with the pets. The plan has always been to live here until we can buy something of our own. We're saving a down payment for a house, but it's slow going. It would be going faster if we hadn't had to pay $100 x 5 for BROKEN FUCKING CAR WINDOWS in the last three months.

Is the neighborhood going downhill? Maybe. Is this the work of a handful of petty thieves? Probably. Do I want a supercute 3 bedroom Cape Cod with a fireplace and a fenced-in backyard on the other side of the Bappan Tee Tridge? SO BAD I CAN TASTE IT.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Well, maybe they got him?

We think they nabbed the guy who's been smashing Joel's car windows, along with a bunch of other people's, apparently.


Love this quote from a cop:

"We believe this guy is one of the serial guys going around busting out car windows," Chong said. "This is just a brutal smash and grab - very primitive, really."

OH MY BLOODY GOD AND FUCK- Less than 24 hours after posting this, MY car has been broken into. Passenger window completely smashed, the inverter that I use to plug dying electronics into my cigarette lighter is gone.

I. Don't. Want. to. Live. Here. Anymore.

Menorahs and Mop Dog

Joel and I have decided to break our Christmas celebrations down into four parts this year. We celebrated Part One in Boston this past weekend at Amanda and Tom's house.

We have a little Hanukkah in our Christmas these days, which I personally love.

Artsy-fartsy black-and-white version...

And of course there are lots of gratuitous puppy pics.

My sister's dog? Is a mop with paws.

But he's a cute mop.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Givers like me."

One of my basketball games was cancelled today, so I unexpectedly found myself with three hours to kill. I drove around one of my favorite little towns with the good sushi place, put gas in the car, ran the little errands that I can sometimes carve out of my crazy, unpredictable work schedule. I started to drive in the general direction of the town where my late game is, and I saw a woman about my age take off in a full-on run, uphill, after a bus she had clearly just missed.

I rolled down my window and asked if I could drive her to catch up with the bus. She jumped in the car (luckily not a serial killer) and caught her breath. We were chatting, and she was on her way to the mall where she works. I needed to drive right past the mall to get to my next assignment, so I offered to just drive her the way there, forget the bus.

We started chatting, in one of those instantaneous friendships that sometimes fall into my lap, and she mentioned she was late to work because she just broke up with her ex. He had called, and she was discombobulated. I laughed out load and told her I've been there, done that, in terms of both the lateness and the heartbreak. The ex-boyfriend sounds like bad news. She said, "This seems like an omen, you dropping me off at the mall right after he called." Hmm, how so? "I've been telling myself since the breakup that from now on I only want to be around people who are givers like me." Huh. Givers like me. Best. Compliment. Ever.

We exchanged emails and cell phone numbers. I hope we hang out.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Friends in the Little Glowing Box

Hiya! Who's tired from my longwinded rant against racism? C'mon, who? Get those hands up. Yeah, me too. Just my way of saying this one will be a little lighter today, but lengthy as well.

Michelle asked me in the comments below where I find all the blogs that I read? The short answer, I guess, is to say that I find them through other bloggers. I read a lot of blogs- see the Big Bad Blogroll- and I read the comments on a lot of them. I occasionally click through to a commenter's blog if I like what he or she had to say. Sometimes bloggers link to other blogs, and well... It all snowballs somehow.

It all starts with Alissa, really, back when she was dating He Who Shall Not Be Named (No, not Voldemort. Voldemort doesn't live in New Jersey) in the late 90s. Anyway, her ex-boyfriend started blogging back before "blogging" was a word. He had an online journal. In Ye Olde Days of Yore, we may have called it a "home page." He wrote about... what? Weekend plans, friends, what he ate at the Melting Pot, marching bands, whatever. I found it strangely compelling, reading the daily goings-on of someone I knew and considered a friend but didn't interact with daily.

Alissa, whom I've known since I was 5, started keeping an online journal, too, and it was a great way to stay connected with her while I was at college. After I graduated, I was coming out of a deep clinical depression, and I just felt so good to be free from it. I also had a lot of free time on my hands compared to the end-of-college thesis double major crunch, and I liked that blogging gave me a way to write about it all. Once I moved to Miami, the blog became more of what it is now: funny stories of the Weird Shit that happens to me, the Weird Shit that Fred does, photos, etc.

So I just started writing more, and reading other people, and blogs beget more blogs. A few examples, maybe? Let's see.

Okay! Got one. Alissa wrote a book review of a novel she had just read on her blog. Ironically, it was a novel about blogging and how it connects you with people, how Friends in the Little Glowing Box of your computer become friends in real life. Her book review wasn't harsh, but it wasn't a LoveFest, either. And then, oh crap, the author of the novel found it and commented on her blog. The author was... a little offended. Liss handled it with grace, as per usual, and the author offered to buy her a pitcher of margaritas in the end.

Based on all that, I ended up checking out the author of the good-not-great book's blog. She had a feature called "help" highlighting different needs and causes, from underfunded libraries to individuals in need. She featured a request from Rob, a father whose daughter had been diagnosed with a complicated and rare neurological disorder who was trying to raise money online to buy her an assisted communication device, which he called a Big Box of Words. His writings about his daughter's diagnosis were beautiful.

Rob was a long-time blogger, much like He in NJ Who Must Not Be Named, and he wrote about politics, computer geekery and music until his daughter got the diagnosis. The online community rallied around his family in a way I've seldom seen before or since. I've continued to follow his daughter's progess on his blog, and I'm looking forward to reading his book.

Not long ago, Rob linked to Danielle, a medical student who also substitute-teaches special education classes, referring to something she had written about children with special needs. Her blog is fantastic: funny, touching, well-written, insightful. Her entries on her med school rotation in the morgue are hilarious. I can't stop reading her.

Then, there's Dooce. Dooce is an uberblog, possibly the most famous one out there, written by Heather Armstrong. I heard her on NPR for a segment about being fired from her day job in 2002 because of things she wrote about her co-workers and her boss online. (The word dooced has become a slang word online for getting fired because of your blog.) Obviously, that's something I've thought about carefully, so I checked out her site. Heather writes about her daughter and husband, her battle with depression, her decision to leave the Mormon Church. She posts a different picture of her dog every single day. How could I resist? :)

She recently posted a link to Daily Coyote, the journal of a woman in Wyoming who's raising an orphaned coyote pup. She is an AMAZING nature photographer, and the coyote pup is really, really freakin' cute. I'm afraid that checking out this site is going to occupy you all for the next 3o minutes. (You should probably cancel any plans you have for that time. I'm sorry.)

Speaking of nature photography, I just found Pioneer Woman, through a comment on Daily Coyote. She gets thousands of comments and publishes a calendar of her images, so she's pretty well-established. I've just never found her, but now I'm addicted.

Then, there's Amalah. I found Amy when I was reading Dave Barry's humor column about two years ago. He linked to her site in the context of her husband's foodie site. She had just had a baby, and her entry about thrush and breast-feeding was hilarious. I kept reading, watching her son grow, and laughing. Her entries about her dog and her cat keep me coming back, too. She got a job for ClubMom, which is going out of business January 1st. She basically recapped and highlighted compelling parenting blogs.

Which lead me to... Following Elias. Christy lives in Alaska and writes about her son Elias, who was born four months early. FOUR MONTHS EARLY. He is gorgeous and amazing and flies over the ice with his walker- helps with his cerebral palsy-and his dog Tonsina. She's a hiker, kayaker, mountain biker and wild animal whisperer. We're emailed back and forth a few times, and I consider her a friend. True, she's a friend I've never met, and I only know her through my little glowing box of a laptop, but a friend nonetheless.

ClubMom (turns out you don't have to be a mom to read it..) also led me to Untangling Knots. I read Karla's blog every single day, ever since Amy linked to it a year ago. She gave birth to her son, who is healthy and wonderful, the day I started reading. She may be lurking in the comments. (::waves::) I only delurk there, occasionally. She also writes with great love about her daughter Ava, who died after only a few hours after she was born. I read Karla's archives in one sitting, and you should, too. She is strong, and smart, and a wonderful mother. Grab some tissues first.

I also link to Shannon often. She was a friend of Gwen's, another one of my real-life best friends who keeps a blog, but we didn't really get to know each other until we starting reading blogs. And there's Cindy, who dated a guy I was friends with in high school. They broke up years ago, and both married other people, including Cara, whom I also read. Cindy and I have never met in real life, but we talked on the phone for the first time a few months ago. You'd never know it was our first chat.

I frequently get the question, "How do you have so much time to read all this stuff?" The easy answer is that my job requires me to spend hours online everyday. I have to transmit hours worth of photographs and video footage from the field, without a satellite truck. I use my laptop and a wireless transmitter, and it's easy to check on the blogs a few times a week while the data is moving to the newsroom.

Aside from the fact that I'm practically connected to the Internet from a plug at the base of my spine, the deeper answer is that there's a kind of grace in connecting with people through words and photos that you wouldn't ordinarily have the opportunity meet. I was the queen of pen-pals in elementary school; it's kind of the same thing. I put myself out there with my heart on my sleeve- in real life and online- and so do my friends in this little glowing box.

It's one of the more unique Internet phenomena, but I genuinely care about them, about people I've never me. I want to know the results of Amy's son's latest speech therapy assessment. I'm thrilled that Christy passed her licensing exams to be a school counselor. I want to see if the little coyote pup and the wildlife rehabilitator's cat are still getting along; I'm actually worried for the cat's safety once the coyote grows up. I want to check in with Karla, see the photos from her son's first birthday.

I guess... I just make the time to check blogs because I want to, because there are real people with beating hearts out there, writing and bonding and forming communities, just on the other side of their own little glowing boxes.

Friday, November 30, 2007

On Racism in America

You know what I've come to realize? Only white people ever say, "I'm color-blind." Or, "I don't know what race So-and-So is; I only see the person, not their skin color." Or, "I don't care if someone is green with purple polka dots!" I've never heard a person of color ever say those things. Their race is a non-negotiable reality that comes up constantly in their daily lives. It cannot be ignored. I have a black co-worker who started instructing his son to take off his coat whenever he goes into a store at the tender age of four, knowing that his son will inevitably be accused of stealing someday.

At 12, he started talking to his son about what he should do when he gets his drivers license, because he KNOWS his son will be pulled over for "driving while black." He started drilling him FOUR YEARS before he can even get a learner's permit. "Get your license and registration out immediately, before the officer gets to the car. Keep your hands visible at all times. Never reach for anything in the glove compartment. Stick to 'Yes, sir. No, sir.' Never argue." He feels strongly that these lessons about traffic stops could save his teenage son's life, and he's not wrong.

Only white people have the privilege of ignoring the issue of race, because we don't experience racism day in and day out. We can ignore it if we want to. We have the luxury of deciding race doesn't matter. The "green with purple polka dots" comment is a perfect example. People don't come in green with purple polka dots. They come in black and white and brown and pink and beige, and people have DIED over this difference.

I'm the first to admit that I am too Politically Correct. For the most part, I'm proud of it. I want to have my finger on the pulse of what is the most inoffensive way of saying things, but at some point, one must speak. When Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, a major American news outlet with an international audience was so afraid of using the word "black" that they ended up having to run a correction the next day. They referred to Nelson Mandela as the first "African-American" president of South Africa when he's, you know, African. He was the first black president of South Africa. He's never been an American anything.

I was recently working on a story about two sisters who are shooting a documentary about the first black residents in Lockrand County. One of the sisters is an attorney who fought and won a case against a huge real estate development company who wanted to dig up the only cemetery where African-Americans were permitted burial for decades in that county. The developers built the Gigundo Mall anyway, but the cemetery was preserved. It's tucked in between a parking garage and a giant Target, but it's still there. Nothing says eternal resting place like Pottery Barn and Cinnabon.

Anyway, we were talking about race and disenfranchisement and history, and this documentary they're filming. They interviewed a local historian- an old white guy who bears an unfortunate resemblance to the crypt-keeper in all but one photograph I shot of him. He debunks the authenticity of claims that a house in Nyack was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, which I find completely fascinating.

I heard somewhere, probably on NPR, that the majority of homes that claim to have been stops on the Underground Railroad really weren't. It's an interesting manifestation of white guilt, in a way. There were very, very few safe houses. Taking in runaway slaves was an enormous risk. It seems like such an easy way to gloss over the brutal realities of enslavement, to say, "Well, slavery was really bad, but in our town? Well! We had good people who HELPED the runaway slaves! Our town was DIFFERENT." And 90% of the time, it's just not true.

The very, very liberal town of Nyack (where Joel and I would love to live) has an example of this. There's a historical marker right outside the Dapper Dog Salon on Main Street, proclaiming the home of the Hesdra family to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. In reality, Edward Hesdra was a biracial person who was passing for white. He was able to get away with this in part because he was married to a wealthy woman. This wealthy woman was also biracial. Her father was white, unmarried, and very powerful. The Hesdras were able to pass for white in part because of his influence.

As I understand it, there is one verifiable instance where Edward Hesdra brought in one fugitive slave, one time, who was walking the streets of Nyack in a daze. He saved that man's life, definitely, but it's very unlikely he would have jeopardized his family's precarious ability to "pass" in white society by running a full-time safehouse.

I was talking about all of this with one of the filmmakers when my PC White Person ColorblindnessTM kicked in. I wanted to ask about Mrs. Hesdra. I figured her mother was probably one of her father's slaves, but I found that I couldn't just ask that. I simply couldn't say it. Instead, I asked, "So I take it her mother wasn't exactly a celebrated member of society?" The filmmaker looked me right in the eye, and she said, "Oh, he probably raped one of his slaves."

I collapsed in relieved laughter and mocked by own hand-wringing hesitance, saying, "Sorry, that's just my bleeding heart liberal women's studies degree holding White Lady Factor kicking in! That's what I was trying to say, but my PC Censor when into hyperdrive." We started talking about why I struggle to ask about the ugly truth. She shrugged and said, "Just say it. It's what a black woman would do."

On a related topic, Flea, author of, wrote an amazing post about discovering the script of a Thanksgiving play that her son read aloud in class last week. You need to go read her post. No, really. I'll wait. This next bit might not make sense otherwise. Go and come back. *whistles softly, examines cuticles*

Alright, for the cheaty cheatersons who didn't read it, the author's son was learning the myth of Thanksgiving in school about the pilgrims and Squanto and how they all "made friends with the Indians," yadda yadda first Thanksgiving plant-the-corn-with-fish thing blah-de-blah.*

*QUICK DIGRESSION: How come the “Indians” in the children's storybooks about Thanksgiving are always shirtless and clad in, like, loin cloths? DUDE. It was MASSACHUSETTS. In the middle of WINTER. That place is COLD. The pilgrims are in those heavy cloaks for a REASON. Can we see some nice watercolor and pencil drawings of fully clothed Native Americans for once, puh-lease? It's like Squanto saved the pilgrims from freezing to death during the cold, cold winter by warming them with the heat emanating from his magical, super-metabolic bare chest. Sheesh.

Anyway, the author was talking about trying to find a way to talk to her son about the realities of white peoples' relationships to indigenous people without completely overwhelming and scaring him. She writes:

A few years ago I read an essay by a conservative columnist, whose name I won't mention because I can't remember who it was. I remember the article was about her irritation that her son's school was celebrating either African-American history month, or they were studying about Dr. King, or they'd just given a lecture on diversity, something like that. Up until that point, she wrote, her son had no idea about racial issues, or that there was any difference between black children and white. And now she had to explain it all away, so thanks a lot, school..... I understand her reluctance to get into it with her young son. I don't want to get into it with mine, either. Is there ever an appropriate age to learn that your ancestors kidnapped and enslaved a race of people, beat them, raped them, murdered them en masse? ....I don't want to tell him about any of that stuff, either, and the crazy thing is, I don't have to! Our school books will mostly back me up! It's African-American parents, Mexican parents, gay and lesbian parents, and Native American parents that have to do all the heavy lifting. Again. Still.

She's right. It shouldn’t be up to people of color to do all the heavy lifting. Issues of race and ethnicity shouldn’t come as a surprise to white children during Black History Month. I don't know why a lot of white people seem to think that racism ended with the Civil Rights Movement. I don't know why people are surprised when I talk about the Klan having a visible community presence in the region where I grew up. (Although I'm mostly referring to my experiences covering Klan activity at the Dork Raily Yecord, the KKK marched through Lancaster when I was 12.)

I don't know why I'm surprised that a cross was burned on the front lawn of a black family's house here in Stepford, the night before Thanksgiving. This is not the Deep South. It is not 1963. This is practically the WASP capital of America, one of the wealthiest places in the nation. Cross-burning. Here and now, in a town near you and me. Well, me, anyway.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Skunked: The Trilogy

Bella got nailed, again, in our front yard when Joel took her out for her night walk. Our jackass neighbors never put out their jackass garbage in actual trashcans, so the jackass skunks are always skulking around, eating right out of the jackass plastic bags on Tuesday nights.

Bella got it full on in the face this time. (Did I mention I had taken her to the groomer less than 24 hours before? Bye, money!) It took ELEVEN shampoos, a gallon of tomato juice, two bottles of hydrogen peroxide and a full freakin' box of baking soda to cut The Stink. Our apartment smelled like we tapped a pipe directly into Hell, so we had to open up all the windows in the dead of almost-winter night. Of course, Bella was all wet, and we have no control over the heat in our apartment, so we had to move her crate into the kitchen, which was heated by the oven. Awesome!

The hallway (which we share with the Nice Mexican-American Family and the Contemptous Portuguese Couple from the second floor) quite simply smelled like ASS. There was, like, a visible haze of Highly Evolved Mammalian Emergency Response Instinct (patent pending) over the stairs. We put up an apology note. I would hate us.

You know, I had a chance to kill the skunk a few weeks ago. I could have run him over with the car. It would have involved running a red light and quite possibly swerving into a parked car at 25 mph, but still. THIS SKUNK MUST DIE.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Viewer's Guide to the Thanksgiving Video

The Wacky Gift Competition started when I was in 7th grade. My mom had back surgery shortly before Christmas. She did all the holiday shopping and wrapping for my sister and me in November, but she put my dad in charge of stocking stuffers and the final little details. My dad did the majority of the final Christmas shopping at the hardware store. He got us, among other utilitarian items, suction cups. They were the little kind with hooks that you might use to hang a suncatcher, but we didn't have any suncatchers? So... what, exactly, were we supposed to do with them? I can't really explain why it was so funny, but we all just cracked up on Christmas Day.

For the next few holidays, including birthdays and Fathers Day, we started getting each other funny but utilitarian things. A Pickle-Picker-Upper. An egg timer shaped like an egg that changed colors when the egg was hardboiled. Eventually, we had bought out the local Lechters wall of kitchen goods, and my mom and sister took turns deciding whose gift was the funniest and most creative. That's when the fun really began. This was circa 1993.

Every Christmas for the past 15 years or so, my dad and I compete to get each other "The Gift." Our extended family found this hilarious and always wanted to know whose gift my sister and mom chose as the winner. So we started a family-wide vote after Christmas dinner, with Amanda presenting the gifts and distributing the ballots. In recent years, my sister has been on an alternating holiday plan with her husband's family. We hold the contest on Thanksgiving whenever she spends Christmas with his family.

The criteria are as follows:

"The Gift" has to cost less than $20. It should be "wacky." It has to be useful in some way. It has to work during the demonstration. You can't tell anyone else what you've gotten ahead of time. If anyone finds out, they can't vote. I've won in the past with a mooing ice cream scoop shaped like a cow, a smoke alarm that looks like a Christmas ornament, a hot dog shaped condiment keeper with a door that closed on its own to keep flies away from the ketchup at picnics, a talking soap dispenser shaped like a toilet that uses a motion detector to remind you to wash your hands if you walk past the sink without stopping.

Last year's losing contribution (mine): a toothpick holder/voodoo doll.

My dad and I search all year long for "the Gift." You technically have from the day after one year's contest to the day before the next year to find it. We've gotten in the habit of crowning the king or queen, but the crown was a cheap AC Moore tiara, (yes, my dad wears it with pride when he wins) and it's broken at the moment.

A few other traditions in the video for the as-yet-unintiated.

1.) My dad has asked my sister and me if we'd like to contribute to the family prayer since I was about four years old. We always say "no" in unison. On the one year we decided we'd outgrown this cutesy tradition, circa 1997, we got a lot of flack for it, and so... The "no" continues even though we're 28 and 30. Anything for our public. heh.

2.) We go to the beach every year with our friends. My dad, a.k.a "Daddy the Do-er of the Impossible" has always carried towels, sand chairs etc down to the boardwalk using a little yellow cart. My sister and I found this HUMILIATING as pre-teens. My friend Kelly was the only one who was never ashamed of walking with my dad and his cart. Over the years, my parents have started getting us- the young adults in our extended family/friend circle- beach carts of our own once we get married. This is their way, more or less, of gently hinting for grandkids. ;) We probably have Kristen and Adam to thank for reinforcing that association, as they announced they were expecting Aiden immediately after opening their own little blue cart, which is ideal for schlepping baby gear from the house to the beach. You can see my dad with his little yellow cart in this video.

We didn't know there were baby bibs for all of us in the next gift-wrapped box.

Amanda and Tom's turn!

3.) Greg just got a special award for working day and night on a big project at his job. My mom made him a hat to wear. (He works for the company who labels are on the hat.) This is kind of a theme. Spend a holiday with us, it seems normal. Sort of.

4.) My high school friends have always come over for pie on Thanksgiving night. Even the year I was studying abroad in London, they all showed up anyway.

5.) For those of you who love Larry, (a friend of my grandmother's who has a heart of gold and a unique way with words and catchphrases) he has a special cameo. Without further ado, the Thanksgiving video. It lasts about three-and-a-half minutes and takes less time to watch than it took you to read this description. Gawd. Shutting up now!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

After Thanksgivadoodle

My sister and brother-in-law recently got a dog. Jackson is a Labradoodle, and let me tell you, adding the suffix "-adoodle" to just about any word is kind of addictive.

He looks like a cross between a muppet and mop, a total lovebug. I tried all weekend to make a picture of this little guy where he looked, I don't know, like a DOG and not a cleaning tool. :) This morning, my eighth or ninth attempt, I finally did it!

We held the annual gift competition at Thanksgiving this year, because Amanda and Tom will be with his parents for Christmas. I was facing an unprecedented third consecutive loss, so I seriously had to bring my A game this time. I'm pleased to say that me and my flying alarm clock swept the competition, thank you very much-adoodle. (See? See? I can't seem to stop!)

The crown is broken, so long story short, I was honored this year with a Campbell's Soup hat. :) There is video, coming soon.

You can see a lot of the photos I shot this weekend here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Waiting and the Naming of Cats

Ho hum. I am waiting for the cable guy to show up and fix our television. Waiting around the apartment with no TV? Not so fun. Also, our DVD player broke yesterday. It was fine on Saturday. Nothing changed, no power surges or falling off TV stands. Just dead. Dead, dead, dead.

Ollie is being a complete cuddleslut right now, which helps with the waiting. He's usually up for a purr session. No matter what, he'll always give you five minutes if you scoop him up. Sometimes he has Big Plans, like batting at Fred's tail and nipping at his butt while he's trying to eat, so after those five minutes he'll take off. At least twice a day, however, I get a full-on, melty cat who purrs like a motorboat and sleeps on me for as long as 30 minutes at a time. He usually instigates these sessions, hopping up on the couch to stretch across my lap. It's so cute I can hardly stand it. Keeping him? Such a good plan.

A few people have asked how we chose the name "Ollie." Ollie is short for Ollivander, the wandmaker in the Harry Potter books. Fred is named after Fred Weasley, since he was with his equally troublemaking brother in the beginning, whom I had named George. Bella's full name is technically Isabella Lou!se M!tchell Sheffer G@ul J@ckel, in honor of all of her original co-owners. (She took on Joel's last name after her vision crisis. :) Bella is not technically named after HP character Bellatrix Black-LeStrange, but she is a black dog and Bellatrix is Sirius Black's cousin and he's an Animagus who transforms into a black dog and it all kind of (to quote my 11th-grade English teacher) "smacks" of Harry Potter. Yes. Ollivander seemed like a good choice to keep with the Harry Potter motif.

All three are getting along rather well. Bella can be a little bossy at times, growling and not always wanting to share her food. Ollie can be somewhat of a pest, sproinging and pouncing and grabbing wagging/flicking tails. Fred is just kind of doing his own thing, as per usual, but he gets more exercise chasing Ollie than any other way I've ever seen or tried. All in all, it's working quite well.

Come on, cable guy. This is my day off. I have errands to run. Please, be here soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Things I Hate (In No Particular Order)

1. Our cable is out. No TV until Monday. Have to waste time on my day off waiting for repair person, who will hopefully be literate and able to read the big sign on our door that says: DOORBELL BROKEN. CALL FOR ENTRY. This has eluded repair-folk in the past, many times.

2. There was a misprint on my latest batch of checks. Bills and rent and lots of other things are all late and bouncing now. Fees up the ying-yang.

3. Bella attacked a stack of wrapped Christmas presents. One of the gifts was 41% Cacao Brazilian chocolate. I had to induce vomiting with a piece of bread, diluted hydrogen perioxide, and 37 laps around the backyard. It was super-fun.

4. One of the gifts she opened had a mug in it. The mug itself is missing. Can't find it anywhere. Bonus: Induced vomit did NOT contain pottery shards!

5. Joel's mom is still angry that he suggested his parents get a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts when they showed up 20 minutes early. We've each explained that there were extenuating circumstances, i.e. the cat pee/duffel bag crisis and severe lack of pants on me. She knows those things. She acknowledges they were early, but she's not sorry and she's really not accepting Joel's apology. Also, next time we get together, she says she plans to be late. Okay!

6. Back in September, I had a run-in with a cop who tried to stop me from doing my job. He was completely in the wrong because 1.) First Amendment 2.) I was working a car accident on the Thruway and he's not a state trooper, so he has no jurisdiction over the scene and 3.) there was no police tape or perimeter to prevent me from being where I was. He threatened to tow my car and insisted I tell him which car was mine, which he has 1.) no right to do and 2.) no ability to make happen as I was on the Thruway and he's not a state trooper. I was polite. I was firm. I was RIGHT, and I refused to stop shooting just to indulge his desire to be a dick. I was relieved that there was no ticket on my car when I finished shooting. I remember that perfectly. (Also, it was 9/11/07, so I remember all my assignments from that day .) Today I got a violation notice for an unpaid parking ticket received on the Thruway that day. He wrote the ticket, but never put it on my windshield, just so I'd get dinged with a double fine. See above: Dick.

7. In the last 24 hours, I covered a car that went down an embankment off the Thruway, a 13-year-old boy who got hit by a bus, and a girl who got stabbed at one of the high schools I cover regularly. Sweet.

And that's all the news that's fit to print in this very, very idiosyncratic life. How are you? Are you good? How's your checkbook? Is it okay? How about your dog? Are all your mugs accounted for?
Love and Cuddles, :)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Unbearable Cuteness of Being

Here are some photos I shot on Monday night hanging out with Tanii and el bebe, plus some of Ollie, Bella and Fred.

I can't believe how much he's changed in just one month!

This is Baelin's and my first photo together. We're reflected in the mirror above his swing.

Ah, a preview of the years ahead when he'll be SO. TIRED. of his Crazy Aunt Angie and her everpresent camera. ;)

That's just spitty. (Ha!)

Changing topics now...

Everything you need to wrap Christmas presents: tape, scissors, paper, gift tags, labels, a pen, spare boxes, and of course, the ultra-necessary Cat-in-a-Bag. Yes, I've started wrapping already. Since I make a lot of presents for people, I have to start early.

This is what they mean by "Cat Nap."

Joel has all three monkeys in this one: Ollie in the crook of his arm, Bella on his feet, and Fred weighing down the covers so he's not tempted to move. I swear, they conspire to keep you there so they can mooch your body heat.

Joel is jingling his keys off the left, trying to get them to look up. it's clearly pissing Fred off.

Ollie: *I* am cute and snuggly! I AM cute and snuggly. I am CUTE and snuggly. I am cute AND snuggly. I am cute and SNUGGLY.

Bella: You're a natural, dahling, but it's MORE than just snuggling. True cuteness comes from *within.* Watch and learn, honey chile. Watch and learn.