Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Cake



My life in cake. I took this to work today.

it's over

The Bush administration is over and the Obama administration has finally begun. Finally. It's the biggest day in American history that I have lived through and, probably, that I will ever live through. And I had to work.

Of course, many had it much worse. There are those who were being laid off as President Barack Obama gave his first presidential speech. There were people dying as it happened. Et cetera.

But no matter what else was happening, most of the world was, at least, aware that today the United States swore in this man who stirred hope in many people just when we were about to need it most. Without his campaign of bootstrap enthusiasm and almost irrational optimism, I think we would have met the stock market crash of September 2008 with even more fear and panic than we did. Without his unshakeable smile and bizarre confidence in our ability to rebound, I think the past three months would have been even harder than they have been.

On a different point, one thing that particularly impressed me about his speech was that he said "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers." He included me! I'm an atheist. Has any president ever included atheists and agnostics in their inaugural address? Or any address? He included us as part of the strength of the "patchwork" of our society. Atheists are becoming increasingly organized and even have a lobby in Washington. I take President Obama's inclusion of us as further evidence that our culture is beginning (beginning) to recognize that there are people who don't believe in a god and we're not cursed souls. Beginning to.

President Obama. We can finally stop with all that "president-elect" stuff. President Obama!

And George Walker Bush is gone. He's finally, finally gone. And I still don't forgive those who voted him in for a second term.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Heavy Quietness

Today Chicago got several inches of snow. When I woke up this morning at 7 a.m. there were a good few inches of snow on all the cars outside and it was still snowing. It was still snowing two and a half hours later as I fought my way through unplowed streets to go meet friends for brunch. I was almost knee-deep in it wherever I walked.

It was still snowing (even harder) at noon when I gratefully accepted a ride to the el train station so I could go downtown. The prediction was that it would continue to snow into the afternoon. When it snows that hard, salt trucks and snowblowers can't keep up and the roads and sidewalks become stark white barriers to mobility. The streets that have gotten some salt develop huge puddles at the corners where people have to cross. My boots were barely keeping my socks dry and my right ankle was hurting like an old person with every step.

But I loved it. I was born and raised in California, but I love this weather. At the age of 22 I moved from California to upstate New York, which was where I realized that I loved seasons and never wanted to live in California again. On my 27th birthday I moved to Chicago, partly for the cold, snowy, long winters. I've been here 15 and a half years and I still enjoy the winters. I never expect to move again.

What I love about a day like today is that the snowfall gives everyone the perfect excuse not to do stuff. The news broadcast even advised that if you didn't absolutely have to go somewhere you should stay home. Great! What better reason to blow off running errands and just curl up with a good magazine or your TiVo list. When you're tired of that, there's going online, trying out a new recipe, calling someone just to chat or simply lying still and falling asleep. These are my favorite things to do.

I love snowy winter days like this because things slow down and get so much quieter. You can just give up on the outside world, turn inward and enjoy the silence. I just made one trip before I gave up and spent the day at home. As I sat on the train, which trundled slowly along, I gazed at the beauty of the city under snow siege. The rooftops looked like frosted cakes to me, and there's nothing I like better than frosted cake. In fact, the whole world looks like a dessert to me when the snow is coming down like that. I know it eventually goes gray and slushy, but at first it's beautiful. The few people in the train car sat in silence, as if in reverence to the January display.

When I got home, I lay down on the couch and savored the sound of emptiness. A heavy snowfall like this can even silence Saturday afternoon in the city. Now it's 8:30 p.m. and it's still quiet. One of the things I dislike about warm weather is how it brings everyone outside where we all have to hear each other's business. This is so much better.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Cupcakes

One thing I want to do more of in the new year is tell more stories. That is, write more stories, either on my blog or just on my own. They'll be mostly stories about my life, but maybe fiction, too. Anything that has a beginning, middle and end will count.

Since I'm new at telling stories, they'll undoubtedly be boring. Here's the first one.

I like making cupcakes. At my office day job, I've become known as the person who bakes. I bring cupcakes whenever someone on my team has a birthday and I bake cookies, brownies and coffee cakes just for fun. My husband doesn't eat sweets, so I'm excited to finally have eaters for my baked goods.

This past weekend I decided to make the birthday cupcakes with my friend, Ceece, who likes baking from scratch. I usually use a mix and a tub of frosting. Ceece and I opened her Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook from the 1930's and found a recipe for "light, golden yellow cake." We paired it with Ceece's tried and true buttercream frosting, which she uses on her Christmas cookies every year.

We actually produced the lightest yellow cake I've ever managed to make. It was fluffy and delicious with that great home oven taste. Unfortunately, the Christmas cookie frosting was too heavy and sweet. There was no flavor contrast and the frosting overwhelmed the cake. In my opinion, and I am a cake-with-frosting connoisseur, it was sort of like a big blob of vanilla-sugar-too-much.

But they were still edible and the birthday girl was happy with them. However, I think many of my co-workers were suffering from post-holiday fatness since they didn't eat as many of them as usual. I ended up taking the final six pastries to my dry cleaners. I did this because one day a few months ago, I found myself in the similar position of having two cupcakes left over at the end of a workday. I had some dry cleaning to pick up and the elderly gentleman who works there was happy to take those cupcakes off my hands. This time his wife was also there, so they each got two. I ate the last two myself that night (frosting scraped off).

Ceece and I are now on a mission to try to create the perfect cupcake. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, January 05, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

I've been one of those people who looks at new year's resolutions with disdain. Why bother with a pointless cliche that never works? Well, it turns out that new year's resolutions actually do work. According to research I recently heard about on National Public Radio:

1. The success rate of new year's resolvers is 10 times higher than the success rate of adults who desire to change, but don't make a new year's resolution.

2. Of those who make new year's resolutions, 40%-46% will be successful at six months (so yeah, most people fail, but a big percentage succeed).

3. People who make new year's resolutions tend to move from the contemplation stage to the action stage much more than people who don't make resolutions.

4. Having the support of a few friends helps get you to the action stage even faster.

SO!

Do you have a new year's resolution you are serious about? Would you like the support of a few friends? Invite some friends out to brunch. Actually, invite as many people as you can think of because only a percentage of them will actually want to do this. I'm doing it! I sent an email to 21 women and about five or six of us will be meeting.

We'll share our new year's resolutions, see what we have in common, make plans, tawk. Maybe we can set up a support system that will help keep us on track throughout the year. Or if we don't stay on track, we'll have friends to tell us that it's okay and we shouldn't give up. Research also shows that people who are ultimately successful in their resolutions have just as many early slip-ups as those who ultimately fail. We just have to keep each other going.

One friend sent me a link to a great set of tools for goal-setting and accomplishing. Download them here by clicking on the "2009" icon at the bottom of the page. It's at website called Till Creative and I haven't explored it yet, but these downloadable materials look very effective. I'm excited about this.

It's a new year and a new chance to focus on making realistic, measurable changes. Who's ready?