Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Christmas memories, vol. 20

It's that time of year again. Time for you to learn more about how I ended up this way, how I've spent my Christmases lo, these last forty-odd years. This year I expect we'll have some sad ones - it's my first year with both my parents gone, and it's bound to make me kind of melancholy. Heck, I just started crying by the flatbread at Whole Foods because I used to buy it and bring it to my mom as a treat. But the thing is, the reason I miss my folks so much is because my life is filled with happy memories. They were people worth missing.

I'm sitting in public right now, so I think we'll start off with something kind of innocuous. Public tearing-up garners worried glances, and I don't want to stress out that nice man at the next table who's selling Comcast subscriptions to unsuspecting callers who think he's in an office somewhere. (SECOND time I've see one of these guys out in a public place - last time it was in the waiting room at the tire place.)

If you know anything at all about me, you know I am an eater. A savorer of food. An explorer of interesting treats and new deliverers of deliciousness. (You can also tell this about me by looking at my picture, but that is another issue.) I come by this honestly. My people, they're eaters...both my biological and chosen families can strap on a feedbag like no one else, and from roughly November 15 - January 1st most folks I know practically draw maps of the treats they intend to enjoy before the austere deadline of the New Year makes them look like gluttons. Here are some of my favorites, and the logic behind them.

Pillow and ribbon candy - Back in the days of contractor gift showers, we almost always got a fancy box of candy from Harry and David, The Vermont Country Store, The Swiss Colony or some other purveyor of fine mail-order food items. Although they're really just hard suckable sweets, somehow they seemed to have weird Christmasy powers and an added sweet deliciousness that spoke of the holiday and all its promise. Plus, they were hard but kind of soft, too, and if you gave them a little time in your mouth they were chewable, almost like taffy. Which is another tasty holiday treat, that peppermint taffy stuff.

Oranges stuffed with cloves - Wait a second, Mindy, you say. They're not food, they're decorative scented balls of love that children all over the world have created for their parents in second grade. Well, I'm not your every day genius, I'll tell you. Oranges are food. Cloves go in food. Ergo, they are edible. They do not TASTE good, mind you, but my eight year old self had high hopes for them. (This is perhaps the same year I licked the spoon that I thought was covered in hamburger casserole residue but was actually covered in Alpo remnants.)

Mulled wine - I was not a drinker of the mulled wine until I moved to England, but I am now firmly sold on its fine fine warming properties and spicy goodness. I had my first mulled wine at a lovely pub called Ye Olde Swan with my friend Mel, shortly after my move to the UK. Who knew cheap red wine could have such body and depth? I was immediately hooked, and I used to keep a bottle of M&S mulled wine in the cupboard for emergencies. (I preferred to mull my own if I had time, usually with a Tesco's Finest red and Penzey's mulling spices.) It has become my Christmas go-to drink for festive tree-gazing and fire-sitting. And the stuff they served us in boots at the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza wasn't half bad, either.

Mince pies - Another treat revelation from my time in the UK. Before I moved to England, a mince pie was an 8-inch pie full of raisins and nuts and cherries and brandy stewed with traditional spices, that got the skunk-eye from children and a bit of drool from my Dad, and that always inspired conversations about whether there was meat in the mix. Post-England, I think of them as personal little parcels of Christmas, with sweet flaky shortbread crusts and crystals of glistening sugar on their little lattice crusts. They are tiny - two, maybe three bites per pie, and they're even better when they come free after your meal at a country pub. Or straight from the box to the oven from M&S. That works, too.

Eggnogg Lattes - My first year in Seattle, Tom flew up for Thanksgiving. We needed to pick up a few things at Safeway, so we headed out into the not-cold Seattle weather. We tried to dance the steps on Broadway (which are completely inaccurate and hard to use, FYI,) got the items we needed, and decided that, on accounta we were in Seattle and were obligated to at least one latte a day, we had to stop for coffee. So we found a little street cart, another novelty to our Midwestern sensibilities, and saw the little hand-printed sign that said eggnog lattes had arrived. Hmm, thought we. That sounds gross, but oddly delicious. Let's try it. And we did. YUM. I now allow myself one eggnog latte per season, usually on a day when I can't stand the thought of Christmas and feel like just sleeping my way to January - it always picks me up, gives me visions of sugar plums, and reminds me how lucky I am to have Tom in my life.

The Swiss Colony Cheese Food Spread - Sometime during one of our epic shopping trips, Mom would make a stop at The Swiss Colony stand in one of the malls. She would stock up on cheese spreads to serve on crackers on Christmas Eve. As an adult, I understand that these can hardly be called cheese nor are they any sort of gourmet treat, but the five year old in me thinks they are the finest of cheese and the height of sophistication. Especially if they come in a crock, and are served with a Beef Log.

Michelle's Toffee - Seriously, my sister-in-law makes the best homemade toffee on the planet.

And finally, the latest addition to the secret joys of Christmas eating - Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joes. I was skimming the Trader Joe's flyer last year to see what was new or recommended for the holidays, and they made mention of these delightful little oreo-like cookies with peppermint candy in the filling and a thick layer of dark chocolate coating as though they'd just created a fire wheel that could slice bread. I thought, "Hmm. Sounds fine, but seriously. How good can they be?" So I spent some of my precious last dollars on a little tube of cookies. (Last December was a bleak bleak month for my finances.) Well, I ate my words. And the cookies. Boy howdy, these things are pure Nirvana as far as the packaged cookie goes, kicking chocolate gingerbread and pfefferneuses' sorry asses right out of the park. The kid at Trader Joes says that people actually buy these things up at the end of the holidays and sell them on ebay for $10 - $20 profit per box. Perhaps this will become my new cottage industry. Who needs a job when you know the secret of the Joe Joe?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Plate o' shrimp, vol 8

The 2 millionth Eagle Scout

The world's most famous Senior Wilderness Guide

Sometimes life does imitate art. Squirrel!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hey you. Straighten up.

I live by a code - a clearly defined set of policies that specifies which personal behaviors are acceptable, which are rude, which are annoying and which ones are deal breakers. I've been like this for some time now - in fact, sometimes I wonder how I got this way, because it's not actually normal. And, since I sometimes come off as a bohemian lefty what with my flyaway hair and funked up trendy style, people are often taken aback by my standards. They expect this sort of judgment to come with a string of pearls and a twin set.

The good thing about policies is that they give me a very specific prism through which to analyze the world. For example: my policies protect me from people who only have friends from the present stage of their lives - they are not to be trusted with your heart, ever, because you're only as good as what you can do for them right now. My policies tell me that hoarders are trouble any way you slice it - not only is hoarding likely a symptom of some big dark psychological monster lurking in the shadows, even in the best case scenario you'll eventually end up cleaning up after them, and that will really suck. (You can only imagine how I feel about people who don't clean their bathrooms.)

I follow my own rules and policies, so it's really easy to trick myself into doing things. For example, I believe that cheating is always bad. Always. So, let's say I don't want to finish folding my laundry...left to my own devices, I'll just stack it on my cedar chest for a week or two and slowly wear my rumpled clothes. However, since I'm watching a Cubs game where the score is 8-2 in the middle of the 9th, I can make a bet with myself that if the Dodgers win I have to fold my laundry immediately. Chances are I'll soon be folding my clothes because to leave them in a heap would now be cheating. Stupid? Yes. But you'd be amazed at the things I've made myself do just because I was playing some game of chance with myself.

My policies help me set priorities, make me socially savvy and help me get more from my interaction with the world. And they make me more open to other opinions and ideas, too, because there aren't actually that many of them when you get right down to it. Policies only apply to things that are of extreme importance to me...most other things are open to discussion and I'll give a wide berth to all manners of eccentricities and behaviors. (Plus, there is the over-riding policy that, in general, fighting and grudge holding should be reserved as a final option, so I generally give people a lot of rope before I tighten any nooses.) Of course, our world is yin and yang, so there's a dark side to having policies, too. And here's mine: because policies are reserved for things that are really really important to me I have a hairpin trigger where policy violations are concerned, and in the past few months I've found myself completely tweaked off by strangers violating one of my deeply entrenched policies - and when I say tweaked, I mean really, really pissed off.

The policy in question: You, as a person, are 100% responsible for politely interacting with others, and part of this entails responsibly taking up appropriate space in the world without thoughtlessly imposing on others. Violation of this policy will get you a serious verbal reprimand, usually with place-putting precision to be sure there is no ambiguity that an offense was committed.

Violation No 1: I believe you may have heard me bitching about mommies and their baby barges? It's a public walkway, not your personal parking spot. Or your private classroom to teach skills your toddler can't comprehend and won't use for another 15 years. Or a virtual phone booth for you to stand and have your pointless conversation about what to have for dinner. Move over, Babyweight.

Violation No. 2: Parking spots are first come first served. Or, more precisely, first CAR, first served. There is no such thing as saving a parking space. You do not, ever, get out of a car and run into a space on the opposite side of the street and stand there to save it while your driver goes another block or two to turn around and come back at it. You do not, ever, go downstairs when your friends call you from the Kennedy to tell you they're at the Irving Park exit and stand in a space to hold it while they are stuck in Cubs traffic. Holding parking spots is not like holding movie theater seats while a friend gets popcorn. It's like queue jumping at Ikea on a Saturday afternoon. You deserve to be trampled by angry Swedes.

Violation No. 3: While cars do not interact with their surroundings once parked, going to a movie is generally something you do with friends, and therefore it is reasonable to want to sit with the people you came with. However, if you know a theater is going to be crowded it is unbelievably rude to sit your group down with one seat on either side of you. This means that later, when a couple comes in and looks for seats, they are going to have to split up and bookend you and your lazyass friends. Is it that difficult to pay attention and move your group over a seat to give people a chance to sit together? Or do you just like being a complete tit?

Violation No. 4: I realize you are on your front porch and should be able to have any conversation you wish. But must you shout into your phone? It's making me uncomfortable, because in the time it takes my dog and I to walk from first to last earshot of you I learn that you have a yeast infection, your friends don't like your boyfriend, and you don't like having sex with the cat looking at you. This is not information I needed about you. You're a stranger.

Violation No. 5: Back to the seat saving thing. Let's say you have a large group coming to a concert/movie, etc. with open seating. Sit someplace that obviously has room for all of you, and make sure you save that space if you want to sit together. Don't go sit someplace that has almost enough space and then try to cram your late arrivals in next to the people that got there before you, because now the early birds have to be considerate and try to accommodate you, but in doing so they will get stuck with bad seats that have obstructed views and no access to the aisle. This is all your fault, and it serves you right if the old lady in front of you has smelly silent acid farts all the way through the program.

I'm giving you notice. Stop this behavior immediately, or it is completely within my rights to start enforcing. And it will NOT be pretty. According to the policy, all bets are off.

And FYI, the Cubs lost. This draft was saved mid-way, and my laundry is now put away.

Always on the edge of controversy

Susan Boyle didn't win Britain's Got Talent, but predictions are that she's going to be a worldwide mega-star and make millions of dollars. Maybe, maybe not. Personally, I think she's a singing Rubik's cube, or possibly more of a Chia pet that can carry a tune.

I'm not suggesting for a second that she isn't talented...on the contrary, she has a lovely voice and a story that underdog-lovers and people tired of picture-perfect-looks as a requirement for fame eat up like it's candy. But I just don't see that her pretty voice alone is going to make her a mega-star. There is no one like her out there making records, and it's not because she is such a unique talent but more because there isn't a big market for her style of singing. Opera people want real opera. Pop people want pop music with a bit more rhythm and a trendy style. Easy listening people have Barry Manilow and greatest hits albums from Paul Simon. Showtunes folks have original cast albums. Rockers wouldn't touch her with a ten foot pole.

But then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban fans need a female voice in their collection. In which case, Susan Boyle is mere moments away from riches the world has never known.

Making temping more charming

I'm amending the post below with italics so I can get my frustrations out before I go to work tomorrow. I figure if I can tell someone (you) what I think should be done differently, then it will be easier to let it go and just enter the dang data like a good drone.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Oh, the charms of temping

Let me preface this post by saying that I am really pleased to finally have a temp job. I am getting closer to an actual job, as well, but in the meantime I'm really happy to have income again. But I'd forgotten how truly ridiculous temping can be. Here's what I walked into:

- I'm doing data entry at an insurance company, though our actual client is a law firm I think. We're bar coding every file in the history of the company so they can find the relevant hard copy should it be required to defend them in a lawsuit. Data entry itself is never interesting. But that's part of temping...the work is SELDOM interesting...and so it is what it is and I'm fine with that.
- I was told that the company is business casual but that I should dress closer to business since it was my first day. In reality, we are not working in the main offices and all 30 temps AND the supervisors were in jeans, sweats, and other casual clothing. But I looked nice in my trouser suit. This job is not pleasant, and I think my temp agency knew it was not pleasant. Therefore hiding this fact by disguising the dress code doesn't help. Better to prepare me for what I'm walking in to. In some ways, being told you're going to work in a casual environment is a selling point for a temp job.
- The reason for the casual attire is that we are digging through files in various states of decay. Some are just dusty and full of residue from the carbon copies (or worse, the carbon-less copies) of forms in the files. My lovely trouser suit now needs dry cleaning. This was the more important detail for full disclosure in advance of me confirming that I'll take the position. I'm sure they left out this information because they feared people would turn the positions down and they really needed to fill them...a valid concern. However, they were assuming that the fact that this job is a manky, dusty mess would generate automatic refusals, and that is not necessarily true. It's just as likely people would view it as a challenge and dive right in...and if they really were turned off and unwilling to take this on then they would say "no" upfront, never be introduced to the client, and the agency could be sure they're sending in people who will stick with it, thus preserving their credibility. Of course, they did NOT share the details of the work, and now I have a security pass, a dry cleaning bill and I feel completely duped. I'll be switching temp agencies as soon as I can, partly because the one I'm currently working with will blacklist me if I cut out of this assignment early, and partly because I now don't trust my employers.
- Luckily, they have gloves and breathing masks available if the crap gets to you. I will look like a dork as the only one wearing them, but my allergies and asthma require it if I'm going to stick with this.
- The room is set up with boxes around the perimeter and folding tables and plastic study hall chairs at the work stations. As part of my orientation my supervisor said that she knows the chairs are horribly uncomfortable so there's no need to complain to her. She doesn't want to hear it and it won't help because she won't get us something else. (Screw you, OSHA!) You'd think a lawyer who's acting as the project manager would know enough not to say something like this, what since it exposes them to all sorts of legal issues. In the strictest sense, the employer should realize they're breaking every ergonomic work standard in the book and be making an effort to change this, rather than keeping the end client's cost low by compromising the workspace health standards for their employees. As far as I'm concerned, this is an absolute and a huge error in judgment. That said, if they really ARE going to intentionally allow this sort of work environment, they should at least make employees feel they can bring up concerns and that they will try to help if they do...most people will look the other way anyway so they won't have to do a thing.
- On the upside, we have windows. Of course, we don't have access to water coolers, office coffee, vending machines, refrigerators or microwaves...but there are restrooms so at least that's something. A small fridge and a microwave for the duration of the project cost less than one week of my time. If they don't want to advocate for access to the main kitchen for the temp workers, then it wouldn't be that hard to set up a makeshift one temporarily. Heck, even just a fridge and a water cooler would be enough.
- So what am I doing with my MBA you ask? Well, I get a box of files. I go through each folder or document, find the policy number and type it into Lotus Notes to print a label. I stick the labels on the folders (which means I create folders for the loose papers,) and then I put a shipping label on the box and stack it in another corner. Repeat. Not interesting, but in itself not criminal.
- I do this from 830 - 530 every day. We do get breaks...there are mandatory 15 minute breaks from 1015 - 1045 (teams are divided into two groups and take turns,) a mandatory unpaid lunch from 1230 - 130, and another round of 15 minute breaks in shifts from 315 - 345. These times are when we are allowed to use the restroom, unless of course we have an emergency and ask a supervisor. And there is no deviation...don't even think about asking to work through your lunch to leave an hour early for an appointment, or to take your break in the other group's 15 minutes of rest. I mean, we have standards and rules, people. Every one of the people working on this project are paralegals, lawyers or other professionals. Having rules that can be bent when necessary should be completely allowed. There is no real benefit to this military precision, unless creating a sweatshop environment is helping the project.
- The upside of this is that with all the saved podcasts on my iPod, I should have plenty of time to get caught up on my Manager Tools. Of course, iPods, radios or other distractions are not allowed. Ditto for internet access or excessive chatting, because we need to concentrate. See my point above...this would be a simple way to improve employee morale, and the likelihood of it affecting our work is slim considering the backgrounds of the workers.
- They frown upon requests for time off or absences for interviews and other things that might indicate you aren't dedicated to three straight months of this. Don't be ridiculous. Of COURSE no one is dedicated to three months of this. Personally, if I were the project manager I'd lay the expectation with the temp agency that we expect the employees to be there, but that requests for absences would be allowed within reason with prior notice. The temp agency could then establish rules/timelines of notification, etc. for absences to keep things under control, which would give them recourse if a temp abused their good will. This would actually encourage a lot of people to really commit to this...it would be guaranteed work for the summer, at a reasonable wage with flexibility for an afternoon off now and again when you need to go on an interview. So what if the work is messy and a bit dull...at least you have money coming in and can still keep your job search going. For someone like me, that kind of policy would make this job go from necessary evil to opportunity.
- And did I mention that most of the 30 other temps in the room are lawyers and paralegals? If this group is any indication, it's the short guys, minorities and women that are getting laid off at the big firms. This is my problem. I mean, they can't help it that they're lawyers.

I'm glad I had one Friday to work and now I've got the weekend to prepare for next week. I'll come in casual clothes with non-perishable food items to avoid an expensive purchased lunch, and a bottle of water so I don't have to buy it in the expensive store downstairs. A person's got to do what a person's got to do, after all, and I need the money so I'll do this. But fingers crossed Whole Foods or the Art Institute come through for work to get my by instead.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Life's downs and ups

My long absence from this blog has mostly been driven by the circumstances of my life. My days have been looking pretty much the same for the past few months, and I just haven't felt like there was anything to say:

1. I get up at 8AM. There's nothing that pressing to do so I don't need to be up earlier, but if I sleep much later I feel like a complete loser. Plus on Mondays, it's important to call the temp agency to let them know you're looking for work.
2. I do some wake-up surfing for news and other info while watching a bit of cable TV. There's a constant cycle of Gilmore Girls on ABC Family at 10AM on weekdays, FYI, or if you prefer they repeat at 4PM. Of course, until just now they've been stopping at the end of the sixth season so I could never find out how it ends. Curse you, ABC Family!
3. On the days she works, I usually take Beth to work at 11 so I can use her car during the day. That kills an hour.
4. From approximately noon until 4PM everyday and sometimes stretching into the evening, I'm scouring job sites, Crain's, the FT and WSJ, LinkedIn, Vault and various company websites to figure out who might be hiring for what. I attempt to identify trends in business, look to see who I might know who can help me get a name or phone number at a potential employer, or am making phone calls and sending emails to contacts I've been lucky enough to find. I'm writing cover letters, tweaking my resume to fit a job description, submitting applications and following up on them, you name it.
5. When the oppressive frustration of constantly hearing people tell me I'm wonderful but they have an external hiring freeze on indefinitely, I have to get out of the house. Plus, by this time Cali is usually boring holes into me with her soulful pouty eyes...this means we both get a break by taking a walk. We have a standard 3.3 mile route through the neighborhood, and we're averaging an 18 minute mile as our leisurely pace.
6. Now it's time for a little MSNBC and dinner.
7. Two or three times a week, I go to yoga which means that there's a 50% chance any given day that I've discovered a new muscle that's crying like a newborn when I sit/stand/move.
8. I fill evenings with television, more internet time or a good book.
9. And when Beth is working, we (Cali and I) leave mid-way through Letterman to go pick her up. My mother would be furious to know that I sit in the car and read by streetlights at midnight while I wait for Beth to escape the ER.
10. I've also added some volunteer work here and there, but not nearly as much as I should with this amount of time on my hand.
11. Social occasions are few and far between, not for lack of invitations but mostly because I worry about every penny I spend.

See? Not that much to blog about. And while I certainly could be using my spare time more productively to be researching new things and writing and trying out things I've always wanted to, my routine seems to have taken over and I haven't been as productive with this as I could be, either.

The good news is that things are finally picking up on the job front. I have a temp job as of tomorrow AM...a good sign for the employment market since there haven't really BEEN temp jobs since the new year. I've got several promising conversations going with potential long-term employers, and while I am not in an offer-pending scenario yet, I am getting good responses to my resume and there are indications that by the end of the summer I will be. I really do think that my gap year is coming to an end, and I will kind of miss it when it does.

I will say I've learned a LOT about being unemployed, and since many of you have not actually faced this in your mature adult lives I'm going to give you some hints for interacting with your unemployed friends and loved ones.

1. It is depressing and self-esteem deflating not to work. Even your most confident friends will be having self doubt and some unnatural sadness when they have been without work for awhile. (Unless, of course, their lack of work is by choice. Those people are REALLY happy.) So keep in mind they may be more sensitive than usual.

2. It's still okay to sit and bitch about your job. To a point.

3. Even if you've been unemployed before, you have no idea how bad it is out there right now. The rules have changed, and things people used to do to get a job just don't work. And while your caring advice is well meant, your unemployed friend may not always see it that way.

Imagine you're installing a flat screen television with a blue-ray and surround sound theater system that hooks to a cable DVR box that connects to every tv in your house so you can watch recorded American Idol shows in the bedroom or the kitchen or the office. And even though you have done everything the diagram says and checked it three or four times, you just can't get the picture to pull up on the television. Now, imagine that your spouse comes home and, seeing you frustrated and at wit's end, asks you if you remembered to turn the tv on.

That's kind of how it feels when employed people who've never dealt with this negative-growth job market tell you what you should be doing to get a job. Even if they're right, you still want to slam a brick through their head. It's probably best to let your unemployed friend tell you what they're doing and where their frustrations are before you tell them your sage pearls of job-seeking wisdom. This also shows that you have enough respect for them that you assume they are doing a good job in their search, which is better than reinforcing the idea that they suck (see no. 1) and that you are some benevolent savior condescending to help them.

4. Unemployed people need to not spend money, but they also need to get out of the house and have a normal life with social plans and a bit of fun. Obviously it's their responsibility to manage this, but it helps if when planning things you suggest low-cost or free activities so they don't have to point out their lack of income every time you get together. And while it's nice of you to offer to pay for a splurge if you have the income and want to do it, a) you certainly do not have to do this, and b) if you do it too often it's a little humiliating for the receiver because it makes them feel like a leech. This is not to say that I don't appreciate each and every drink, dinner or movie that someone has covered for me in the last 8 months...my friends rock, because most of them seem to know instinctively where the line is...in fact, some of these $5 movies and $10 curries are the best gifts I've ever gotten because they've made me feel normal in a time of abnormality.

Oh. And if you're splitting a check and you notice your unemployed friend skipped appetizers and cocktails and dessert, then they are on a budget and you'll get huge thoughtfulness points by being the one to say, "Hey, we had way more than XXX so he/she should owe a little less than the rest of us." It may be they'll say not to worry about it and you can revert to the normal check division, or they may secretly thank God for you and your kindness.

5. Networking for jobs is a pain in the ass and, frankly, it's exhausting. If you know someone who is unemployed, one of the nicest things you can do for them is to think about who you know that might be able to help them and to volunteer their contact details if they'd like to speak with them. As per no. 3, though, offering the contact if they want it is not the same thing as telling them they have to call the person.

This all probably seems like common sense to most of you, but you'd be amazed at the number of people who have no clue. In fact, I'm sure I didn't back before I was unemployed...I've never not had a job when I wanted one, and I can be really self-focused even if I don't mean to be - I guarantee you I have inadvertently steamrolled people and made them feel like crap. Man, I wish I could undo that. But at least I know now.

So now it's onward and upward. I don't think I've seen this Gilmore Girls episode and I've got yoga in a little over an hour. It's the last day of my routine, after all. I need to make the most of it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Empathize this

I've got two things on my mind today.

First off, I really like Sonja Sotomayor. And I especially like that when discussing his selection criteria for Justice Souter's replacement, President Obama brought up empathy.

Empathy is not the same thing as sympathy, compassion or emotion. Empathy is perspective. The idea that our laws have strict, specific definitions that should be considered without perspective is ridiculous. Laws mean something, but they must also be considered in context. That isn't to say they should be applied arbitrarily, or to advocate making exceptions left and right to suit a judge's whim...suggesting laws should be considered in context simply means that the courts must consider how our laws should be interpreted, and how they can make our society a better, more habitable, more functional one. How they can help Americans live their lives without impediment to their personal liberties. Empathy provides the perspective necessary to do this.

Judge Sotomayor is honest about her personal history and how it informs her perspective. We're kidding ourselves if we think that somehow strict constitutionalists are without bias. Everyone has a bias, and you're a fool if you trust someone who claims they don't. Godspeed, Judge Sotomayor.

Now, On to my second issue.

I have a thing or two to say about the Prop 8 decision. I'm pleased that the union of my dear CP and PG has remained intact. Back in October when we did this whole whirlwind wedding to beat the election, it seemed crazy that a week could make the difference in the legality of their marriage. Turns out it wasn't crazy at all.

So here's the thing. For the life of me, I just don't understand what the big problem is with same-sex marriages. I don't understand why two people of opposite gender in a partnership are more valid, more important and more deserving of privileges than two of the same gender. I don't understand why a relationship I have can be recognized as a valid union, but Tom and George's shouldn't be.

I've heard people say they oppose same-sex marriage because they don't like the idea of homosexuality. They say the idea of two men or two women together sexually is repugnant to them. For a second, let's just say their opinion of someone else's sex life is relevant and not just creepy. I didn't realize that the point of legal marriage was to validate or endorse the sex happening in the relationship. Does that mean that ugly people shouldn't be allowed to marry because someone might find their sex distasteful? Don't be ridiculous.

Others will say that God says homosexuality is a sin, so our government shouldn't recognize it. I'd ask them to show me exactly where God says this, but I know they'll drag out that Old Testament law and then we'll have to start banning polyester blends and shellfish and it will get us off track. Instead (separation of church and state aside,) I'll just ask....Really? Then I'll also assume you are for fining and jailing people who take the name of the Lord their God in vain, making it illegal to forget Mother's or Father's Day, or for punishing the people whose covetous behavior has put them into thousands of dollars in credit card debt, or who have taken out mortgages that they couldn't afford just because they really wanted a nice house like everyone else. I mean, these are actual commandments, people. If we're going to base our legal system and privileges on God's word, let's at least cover the Big Ten first.

Then there's the argument that keeping the definition of marriage limited to a man and a woman protects the family, the sanctity of marriage and makes our society a better place. I think what they're getting at is that marriages establish stable homes, encourage positive economic activity, build communities and connections, and create a nurturing atmosphere for both the children of a union and the parents who created it. I'll certainly agree that marriage does all of this. But I need some facts to prove that same-sex couples don't do this, too, because my experience of them indicates the opposite. (Do you also need me to cite divorce statistics and Britney Spears to debunk this myth? I didn't think so.)

As to the people who claim same-sex marriage opens the door to polygamy and bestial marriage, well, you're morons and I think you know it.

I understand that for a lot of people, homosexuality is foreign; it's not something they are entirely comfortable with, and until relatively recently they didn't even have to acknowledge it existed. I realize that this is difficult for them, and that before they decide if they agree with same-sex marriage, they'd like some time to just get used to knowing about the same-sex couples who've been living amongst them. I empathize with their struggle. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I sympathize with the trouble they're having getting used to this...I mean, I don't agree with them on this issue, but it does really suck when the world throws a set of rules at you that are completely different than your norm, and I know that they don't mean to be bigoted - they just want some time.

But here's the thing. Their discomfort with change is not a reason to withhold rights from other citizens so they can take their time getting used to things.

Legal marriage is about civil rights, plain and simple. Our government allows married couples to choose the most advantageous tax filing status, shorthands dozens of legal privileges that would take thousands of dollars and reams of paperwork to finalize without the marriage license, and bestows legitimization to the partnerships and families that couples form. To suggest that only some of our citizens should have access to these rights is pretty unfair. In fact, it's downright un-American. Even Iowa, a state full of traditional values and AARP memberships, gets this, and has done something tangible to change it. If they can do it, so can everyone else.

I mean, come on California. It's going to seem pretty ridiculous when the gay children of Los Angeles and San Francisco dream of the day that they're old enough to flee the small-mindedness of their childhood home for the more accepting, gay-friendly pastures of Des Moines.

Get with the program.