Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve Drops

I found this article amusing and thought I would share it here. Most of us are familiar with the big ball that drops on New Year's Eve, signaling the end of one year and the beginning of another. Much to my surprise (and delight), I learned tonight that many odd things also get dropped by cities. My person favorite is the city that drops an opossum (?!).

Click HERE to read the article.

There, now you have something interesting to share before you toast the new year tonight! ;0)

A Thought

According to some of the commercials I've seen tonight, it is time-consuming and next to impossible to crack an egg, wipe your behind with toilet paper (which, apparently, is also disgusting and old-fashioned), fold a shirt, slice vegetables, peel a potato, and assemble a three-piece food chopper. I have to wonder: Are there actually people as inept as these commercials would have us believe? And if so, how are they managing to do things as complicated as walking upright? Suddenly, American political decisions are beginning to make a lot more sense...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Can Pass Part of the Physical Test!!!

That's right, folks; I just managed to crank out not 50, but 55 sit-ups tonight. 55!!! Better than passing! My goal is to eventually be able to do 80. I figure that I won't be able to do much better than the requirements for the running and push-up tests, so I'm aiming to wow them on the sit-up test. It'll be nice to be able to excel at one thing, at least.

In other news, I have acquired an $800 voucher for my remaining books this semester, so I will be treating myself to all new books rather than used. That may not seem exciting to most people, but to me, the smell and feel of a brand new book is second only to the heavenly aroma and texture of a book that is over 100 years old. Yes, once again I admit it, I am a nerd. A hopeless nerd with no desire to change.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Latest Strategy Revealed

Now that I have confessed my plans to the family (and thus am no longer in danger of being strangled by them for not telling them before posting on my blog), I can blog about my latest upcoming "adventure."

I have found myself, to put it lightly, in a proverbial "pickle". I am pursuing a master's degree in history, specializing in women's military history. However, I have no money to pay for said degree. To that end, I managed to secure a Stafford loan, which takes care of the tuition needs. However, that opened a new can of worms - six months after I graduate, I have to start paying that money back, plus interest. With the way the economy is currently going (and the not-so-bright people sending it further down the tubes), I have a slim chance of finding a job right after I graduate. And at the moment, I am also unemployed. The situation was beginning to look more than a little desperate to me.

So, I began considering various options. I could use my historian skills to research a famous family, and then blackmail them with what I found. Unfortunately, my Christian notions of proper behavior and morals forbid that option. Christian morals got in the way of several other options, too. Then my brain began to revisit an idea that I had flirted with as an undergraduate: Army ROTC. The idea was appealing from the very start: I would have a way to pay for grad school, would graduate debt-free, and would have guaranteed employment for at least the next four years after graduation. In addition, I would learn skills that would enable me to better protect myself, would gain physical fitness, would have far more insight as a historian specializing in women's military history, would be able to travel more, and would hold a position worthy of respect. The chance to make a positive change through my work was appealing to me as well. A few obstacles stood in my way, however:
1. My weight (I'm not fat, but I am certainly a bit overweight)
2. Possible objection from my parents (I do not require their permission, but I do like to have their approval)
3. A moral issue - What if I have to kill someone in the line of duty?

The first issue is not as big a problem as I previously thought. When I spoke to a few of the ROTC instructors, I was assured that my summer training session will certainly get me into the correct shape for the army. Also, I have started working out for at least an hour each day in order to get into the best shape possible before classes start. I already have a very good idea of where I will need to be physically, so getting prepared is not as difficult as I had first assumed.

The second issue was also easier to deal with than I first thought. My mother was not overjoyed by the idea, but she became supportive after listening to all the benefits of this decision. My father shocked me by instantly warming to the idea, and by repeatedly demonstrating his support since the day that I told him of my plans. He built me a chin-up bar in the basement, has made some helpful suggestions to help me improve my workouts, and helps me remember to exercise each day.

The third issue was a little harder to overcome, but I did manage to at last. Appropriately (for me), it was a film that helped me see the way clearly. I was watching part of Sergeant York (a 1941 film based on the true story of the real Sergeant Alvin York), and one of Gary Cooper's lines was strangely applicable: "Well I'm as much agin' killin' as ever, sir. But it was this way, Colonel. When I started out, I felt just like you said, but when I hear them machine guns a-goin', and all them fellas are droppin' around me... I figured them guns was killin' hundreds, maybe thousands, and there weren't nothin' anybody could do, but to stop them guns. And that's what I done." In other words, Sergeant Alvin York, a former pacifist, killed enemy soldiers in order to save lives. Now, obviously, it is unlikely that I will ever have to take the life of another, particularly since I'm seeking a non-combat position once I become an officer. Nevertheless, there is always the chance that I may run into that situation, and I obviously should think that possibility through before it has a chance to happen. Once I internalized the reality that my work could actually save lives, I knew that I will be able to do this. The third possible barrier was lifted.

So, I now have a lot to accomplish in a short while. In order to get into the ROTC program, I must lose 20 pounds, and be able to do 50 sit-ups in two minutes, 17 push-ups in two minutes, and run two miles in under 19:36 minutes. It's a tall order, but I'm determined. So far, I can do 38 sit-ups in two minutes, and I can do 13 push-ups (but I have to touch my chest to the ground in between them). Clearly, I am going to be a very busy (and likely sore) girl for the next few months.

Friday, December 25, 2009

I Hear the Bells

Merry Christmas, everyone! In honor of my favorite holiday (which, unfortunately, I am sharing with an unwelcome migraine), I would like to share one of my favorite Christmas poems, written by one of my favorite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He wrote this beautiful work during the Civil War. There are two more stanzas to it, but they are quite morose and pertain to the (at the time) ongoing war that had torn our nation in two. Since those two stanzas end the poem on a rather despairing note, I have chosen to omit them.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Whenever I read this poem, it for some reason reminds me of an old story I heard long ago, about a church that had a magical set of bells, which would only ring when a person offered a gift of true meaning. Wealthy people came from all over to place gifts at the alter, hoping to hear the bells. They offered precious jewels, gold, and all manner of expensive items, but the bells stayed silent. Then a poor child came to the alter, with no present in his hands. He had nothing but his old, ragged coat, which he was wearing in a futile effort to keep out the cold. While people smirked at all that the boy lacked, he placed his coat on the alter. Suddenly, the bells sprang to life, ringing loudly for all the country to hear.

Two thousand years ago, an even more precious gift was given to the world. It didn't come wrapped in fancy paper from Macy's. It wasn't purchased from any store. It was the first gift of Christmas, the gift that started this whole beautiful celebration. That first gift of Christmas was the gift that truly keeps on giving, the infant Jesus Christ. I hope that today, somewhere between opening presents and eating colorful cookies, you can have a moment to remember that first gift of Christmas. And I hope that, if you haven't already, you can find room in your heart for Him.

Merry Christmas, everyone. And may you hear the bells today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Summer Vacation Photos (Old Faithful)

And to conclude my summer vacation photos, it seems fitting to end with Old Faithful. The video at the end is all the more special thanks to the considerate individuals who walked right in front of my camera, even though they could clearly see that I was taking video at the time (walking behind me or waiting for me to finish was out of the question - I guess either option somehow violated their religion or worldview).

Summer Vacation Photos (Yellowstone)

Summer Vacation Photos (Bear Country)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Summer Vacation Photos (Misc. South Dakota)

Summer Vacation Photos (Deadwood)

And here are some photos from historic Deadwood, once one of the most dangerous, sinful towns in the old West. Now, sadly, it's still trying to maintain that reputation by devolving into a cesspool of saloons, casinos, and complete disregard for history.

The last two photos are "before" and "after" photos. The first one was taken when we first got to the cemetery (where Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock now rest eternally side by side), and the second was taken after my long trek up a steep incline and then back down it (I took the shortcut - a dramatic flying leap forward, landing on my knees).

Summer Vacation Photos (Badlands)

Here are a few photos from the Badlands, which enthralled me more than any other experience during my summer vacation:

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"