Dec 30, 2012

Book Review: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Heidi Durrow's novel, "The Girl Who Fell from the Sky", is about a young girl's search for identity. As a girl, Rachel is born and raised in Germany, with a black American G.I. father and a white Danish mother. Her parents struggle with alcoholism, and when her mother moves to Chicago to start a new life with the children, for the first time, Rachel is confronted with racism, still alive and well in early 1980's U.S.A.

A tragic incident, a fall from the top of their Chicago apartment building, leaves Rachel the sole survivor without her mother and siblings. She is taken in at age 11 by her very traditional, black grandmother and transitions into an all-black community. With her bi-racial skin, bright blue eyes and "white people talk", she doesn't blend in easily.

We watch her grow into a young woman who has to come to terms with who she is, what it means to "be black", family secrets and failings, and the truth of what happened on top of the roof. Abandoned by her father, and left without her mother, she feels disconnected with her past and simultaneously blind to her future. She seeks solace in the love of men in her life and the escape she finds through reading, but it's only when she fully embraces the truth of where she comes from can she find direction and identity.

With all of that said, you're going to think I'm cold and calloused when I tell you the book kind of just left me "meh". It didn't make me feel much of anything. I was an observer, and I could tell what I was being expected to feel, but I didn't genuinely feel it. Does that make sense? The writing was good, but it was calculated. I don't regret reading it, but I won't read it again because I didn't have a connection with it. The summary makes it sound compelling, but when you're in the thick of it, it's slow and lacking... something. It felt a little flat.

I feel bad coming across so negative about it, because it really wasn't bad. I found the general premise interesting and some of the scenes and characters well-done. The writing itself is good, she unfolds the story from multiple perspectives throughout the book.

I think I'll just stop rambling now. I didn't love it, but I wouldn't not recommend it... but I also wouldn't include it on a reading list. It's just a reminder to me that reading is a very personal thing, and just because I'm not feeling it, that doesn't mean this book couldn't mean a lot to someone else.

Oh well, onward and forward, excited for the books I will read in 2013! What's on your reading list for this coming year?


Dec 28, 2012

The Case of the Decade

Three weeks ago I was driving home from work when I heard an announcement on the radio that made me scream, punch the air, and jump up and down in my seat with glee. The driver in the car next to me surely thought I was insane. The Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases on gay marriage in 2013.

Most people expected them to eventually hear arguments on the constitutionality of DOMA, but to the surprise of pretty much everyone, they have also agreed to hear the appeal case of Judge Walker's 2010 ruling on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 in California.

Supreme Court Justices
So, what does this mean exactly for the future of marriage equality?

The short of it: potentially, the ruling on Prop 8 could set a precedent impacting gay marriage (good or bad) for a decade or more. Or... they could decide not to rule much of anything and leave things as is. Or, somewhere in between. It's all a bit complicated actually, so I've taken some time to sort it all out. If you care, read on!

The long of it: (you might want to grab a cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable)

CASE 1: CONSTITUTIONALITY OF DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT

Edith & Thea
Although there have been multiple rulings in the lower courts that DOMA (law declaring that only a marriage between a man and a woman is recognized at the federal level) is unconstitutional, the one that the Court has decided to hear came about when Edith lost her partner Thea. They were together for 42 years, and finally able to legally marry in 2007. When Thea passed away, Edith was required to pay an estate tax of more than $350k because DOMA doesn't recognize her marriage on a federal level. If Edith's spouse had been male, she wouldn't have to pay a dime, according to DOMA. Edith appealed to the courts that DOMA is unconstitutional, and that her legal marriage should be treated the same as any other American's, under federal law.

Normally what happens, when someone challenges the law as unconstitutional... the federal government defends it, and then the Supreme Court gets to make the final call. What's unusual here is that President Obama's administration refuses to defend DOMA, and in fact encourages the Court to strike it down. So instead, a group of Republicans in Congress have stepped in to defend the law in place of the Executive Branch. 

So first, the Court will decide whether or not that group has a right to defend the law. If they decide they do have the right, then the Court will rule on the constitutionality of DOMA. If they decide the group from Congress does not have the right, DOMA will presumably be invalidated, as the government who made the law has deemed it unconstitutional.

Either way, things are not looking so good for DOMA. 

Having DOMA out of the way is a very good thing. It will improve the lives of all legally married gay couples in the U.S.. But it doesn't necessarily change anything for couples living in the 41 states where gay marriage is not legal. 

Here's what could potentially change the lives of couples living in the other 41 states...

CASE 2: CONSTITUTIONALITY OF PROPOSITION 8 IN CALIFORNIA

Judge Walker overturned Prop 8 in 2010
In 2008, the state of California voted by referendum to ban gay marriage by a majority of Californians saying "yes" to Proposition 8 on the ballot. Two years later, that ban was challenged as "unconstitutional" by multiple same-sex couples suing the state, and Judge Walker ruled in favor of the ban being overturned (i.e. legalizing gay marriage in California), on the basis of the 14th Amendment of the United States: No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. (Section 1B, 14th Amendment)

The Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments on two different aspects of this case. 

First, they want to make sure that it is their jurisdiction to make a ruling on this. Normally, it would be, except that Walker's decision is not being appealed by the State of California (the rightful appellant), instead it is being appealed by a group of California citizens who support "traditional marriage". The Government of CA refuses to defend the ban. If they decide that those citizens do not have the right to appeal the decision, then the overturning of Prop 8 stands, thus legalizing gay marriage in CA, and potentially setting a precedent for other states to use the 14th Amendment argument.

The second part of this case that the Supreme Court may decide to hear is the appeal of Walker's decision. If they decide to allow the group of citizens to appeal the decision, the Court will hear arguments to decide for themselves if it is unconstitutional for voters to limit marriage to a man & woman union. Ultimately, they would be deciding if the 14th Amendment provides the constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. This is potentially the most impactful of all of the possible Supreme Court rulings. 

It's all going to come down to how they interpret the 14th Amendment (if the case even gets this far). Obviously the justices are aware that this ruling could potentially decide the fate of gay marriage for the next decade and beyond. They'll have to decide if "any person" covers people of all sexual orientations. They'll have to decide if "equal protection under the law" includes the right to marry. And if the 14th Amendment does provide for marriage, then does that mean that all states are mandated to recognize same sex marriage? If the 14th Amendment does not imply the right to marry, do states have to recognize the marriages or same sex couples from other states, even if it is not allowed according to their own laws? They may decide something in between, such as the 14th Amendment may include that right for same sex couples, but it is ultimately up to the states to decide.

--------------------------

Ok, my brain is fried. Can you see why it took me three weeks to pull this post together? There is a lot to think about here. The justices ultimately gave themselves an "out", saying that they also have the right to not decide anything at all. 

No matter what happens, this is huge. This is what we've been waiting for. And marriage equality in the U.S. is likely to take a huge step (either forward, or backward) in 2013. Anyone else following along with all of this? What do you think is going to happen? Were you hopeful or worried when you heard the news that they'd be hearing these cases?

My primary sources were here, here and here. Pics gathered from google image searches.

Dec 27, 2012

DIY Coasters

For Christmas this year, I had to think a little outside the box since my family agreed not to buy presents for each other. I saw this idea on Style Me Pretty, and I loved it! A simple gift, cute and practical, and easy to personalize. I made 20 total coasters, and it came out to about $1.75/piece, with leftover materials.



What You'll Need:
  • Square Ceramic Tiles, 4.25 x 4.25 inches (mine were 11 cents a piece at the local home improvement store)
  • Decoupage Glue (I bought Mod Podge at the craft store)
  • Paper (this is the design for the tile, I just printed my designs on regular printer paper, but you can use fabric, wrapping paper, napkins, cardstock, photocopies...)
  • Thin Roll of Cork (this does account for about $0.50 of the cost per tile, but it looks more professional - use felt squares for a cheaper option, either of which are available at a craft store)
  • Paper Cutter or Xacto Knife & Cutting Board
  • Wax Paper & Newspaper
  • Waterproof Acrylic Sealer (I used Krylon clear polyurethane spray from the craft store)
  • Foam Brushes
  • Heavy-Duty Glue (I used some Guerilla Glue I already had)
  • Ribbon or string

Instructions:


1. Make sure the tiles are clean (wipe them off with a clean rag & alcohol if necessary). Place them on a surface covered with wax paper - if they're on newspaper the mod podge will stick to it!

2. Trim your paper designs to 4 x 4 inches, this will leave an 1/8 of an inch border on each side.


3. Generously coat the tile with a layer of mod podge using the sponge brush, make sure it covers the whole surface (work quickly, it dries fast!)

4. Center your paper on the tile, press firmly in middle and work your way to the edges - eliminating any air bubbles. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

5. Apply another layer of mod podge over the paper in even strokes using the sponge brush, allow 15-20 minutes to dry.


6. Repeat 3 or 4 times until you're satisfied with the look. You can either brush the glue all in one direction, or every other time in the opposite direction (creates a slight hash mark pattern - that's what I did). Let it dry thoroughly between each coat.


7. When the glue is set, coat with polyurethane. If you use spray, make sure the area is well-ventilated and the surface is covered well (it goes everywhere!). Do several coats, follow the instructions on the can.

8. Allow coasters to completely dry, I'd give it a good 24 hours.


9. Trim your cork (or felt) to fit the tiles. I cut mine slightly smaller than the tiles, appx 4.125 x 4.125 inches. Apply heavy duty glue and attach the cork. Use a heavy book or object to put even pressure on the coaster while it dries (make sure even the corners are being pressed down).


10. Stack coasters and tie them up cute for a gift!


Voila! Your finished product! See how easy that was? The hardest part is being patient for things to dry along the way. The best part about these is the options for designs are limitless, and you can really never have enough coasters. Happy crafting!


Dec 26, 2012

Family Merging

How do you begin to merge a new member into your family? How do you become part of someone else's family? I look at my parents, who've been married 31 years, and they are both natural parts of one another's extended family. My dad's siblings are my mom's, my mom's nephews are my dad's. It feels as though it's always been that way. How do you start from scratch and get to that point?

Some families are open to welcome new members readily. Others, it takes a little coxing, a little awkwardness to elbow your way in and find your new place.

For the first time this year, Katrina and I participated in one another's family Christmas', in some way. We've done little bits of merging here and there... but Christmas is a big deal. You don't just bring anyone to Christmas.

I took her to my aunt & uncles house, she got to meet quite a few of my mom's siblings, my cousins, my grandma. And you know what? It felt... natural. I was nervous and didn't know what to expect, but somehow no one acted strange or asked us questions about the nature of our relationship, they were warm and welcoming. My little cousins ate up the attention. Katrina jammed on the guitar with my uncle. She spent some time on the porch talking about birding with my Aunt.

It is so important to me that Katrina is accepted as part of my family, because family is so important to me. She loved them, they loved her, and that was the best Christmas present I ever could have asked for. I don't know what they think or know about "us", but does it matter? I feel we've opened the door, and the more I have her around, the more she'll gradually just become accepted as part of the family.

Sharing Christmas traditions with Katrina's family.
Her birthday cup of coffee in the owl mug I got her.

After that, we headed home to Katrina's for her family Christmas. For the first time ever, I got to spend time with her on her actual birthday (Christmas Eve!), which was wonderful. Her mom even put me in charge of making Katrina's favorite cake. My plan was just to stay out of the way and not intrude on their holiday together, but her mom made an extended effort to include me - she even pulled together some gifts and a stocking for me when she found out I was coming. I was so touched. It meant more to me than she could ever know.

I think merging happens gradually, over time spent together. Meals, memories and traditions shared. Being there for one another. Making an effort to get to know and love these new people in your life.

How have you merged into someone else's family, or brought someone into yours? Was it natural and easy? Did it take a long time? When did you feel like you really belonged there?

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with your family and loved ones!


Dec 20, 2012

Great Expectations

Expectations are almost always different from reality. And that's a good thing, right? How boring would life be if we knew exactly what to expect all the time?

I didn't really know what to expect when I brought Katrina to my office Christmas party last week. There was everyone with their girlfriends and husbands and wives... and in I walk with my cute half-guatemalan girlfriend, looking gorgeous in her blouse & slacks. I expected whispers. I expected awkwardness. I expected double-takes.

But in reality, there was none of that (at least, from what I saw). People met her and shook her hand and smiled and asked her name. They were nice to her, of course. Honestly? It was pretty uneventful. I think part of me was a little disappointed because I overheard a few people say something about "Ruth's friend". I don't think they got it. I think they saw what they wanted to see.

I wanted to yell, "this is my amazing girlfriend, my significant other, my everything! I'm in love with her!" But of course, I didn't. Why do we want people to know about our relationships? Why do we feel a need to share our happiness and define things for people? I guess for me... it's because I don't think that people really know me unless they know my other half. And I want to be honest and known as I am.

Either way, it was a big and scary step for me, and I still felt a huge relief afterwards. At least now I can say "Katrina this" and "Katrina that" and they'll know who I'm talking about! And I feel freer now, if someone asks anything about dating, I can just slip in "oh yeah, Katrina, remember? You met her at the Christmas party?"

(Or maybe the joke's on me and they all secretly know... I wish!)

I was happy to escape with my love for the weekend and we celebrated our Christmas together. It was a wonderful little getaway, we were able to focus on just being together with nothing else to worry about for a change. Hope you are all having a beautiful holiday season with everyone you love!

I like her a lot.
Our Jellycat owls, my new one from Australia on the right!
Katrina decorated and wrapped presents while I was at work. Gnome Santa!
All she wanted for Christmas was... a cooler
(the big present on the right).
She got me a Keurig!!! I love love love it!

Dec 6, 2012

Wish List

I saw this idea on Spirited Shannon's blog and I was inspired! It's fun to just browse sometimes and dream a little, so I assembled a fun assortment of items that make up my imaginary wish list. I think the things on your wish list say a little something about who you are. What's on your list this year?


1. Nespresso Pixie - a cute little compact machine that makes espresso drinks
2. Marc Jacobs Henry Color Crystal Gold Watch - gorgeous!!!
3. Fab10-piece Rainbow Knife Set - too cute, I'd just need a fun way to display them...
4. Tokidoki Donutella Plush Toy - I make no excuses for my love of stuffed animals and cute things
5. TOMS Gold Glitter Shoes - every pair you purchase also pays for the shoes of a child in need
6. Urban Outfitters Deena & Ozzy Zip-Stitch Moto Satchel - I like a bag that holds everything
7. Etsy Personalized Patina Locket Necklace - love teal + gold (or gold + anything, really)
8. Uncommon Goods Set of 3 Owl Bowls - they're almost too cute to use
9. Uncommon Goods Bad Dog Tumblers - I love pretty much everything from this company...
10. Target Ruby Beach Cruiser Classic Red Bike - makes me feel like a kid again



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