A plus

I don't know how to spell the sound effect that goes with this posting, but imagine choirs of angels and ascension to heaven... because that is how I feel.

I tinkered with my Christmas toy, (the not-so-fun part of installing drivers and getting the hardware and software communicating, calibrating settings, testing, etc.) And finally, I made my first "cut" -- this letter "A." I needed an 'a' for this page I just made prior to getting the cutter. (The rest of the word "april" is cut by hand, the time consuming way.)



My big Christmas gift arrived today.
I am on page 22 of the user manual, and forgot to eat two meals. I don't think that has ever happened before. (Either thing.)


merry craftsmas

Our cats' favorite holiday is coming to a close. They love climbing the tree and batting the glass ornaments off the branches, unwrapping the presents with their claws, climbing into empty boxes, and chasing scraps of crumpled paper around the house. (Here is a picture of Kazi trying to look innocent.)

I made everything mostly from scratch... even clumpless gravy from the ham drippings! The gravy was surprisingly good with a sweet touch from the honey glaze. I made most preparations in advance so that it all threw together in about 1/2 hour. Everything was as delicious as it was beautiful. A major accomplishment. (I even crafted the centerpiece.) I'm kind of proud of myself here, and not abashed about it at all.
This little John Deer tractor is one of the new ornaments we got to start our emphasis on the tree being a story of our lives. It reminded me of trips to look at tractor stuff with my dad when I was little.

Above: Mark with some of his movie-buff booty... second only to his love affair with books.

Above: Another new ornament that speaks to the special relationship we have with our kitties... how much they mean to us, and how we love and pamper them.



Mark and I went to AZ for quick holiday hello. I helped decorate the family tree - I wanted to hear the back story on each ornament... we found an old photo of the tree in the early 1970's and tried so see how many ornaments from the picture were still on the tree.

And one of my favorites - we watched old 8mm family videos - Mark repeatedly falling on his 18-mo-old face trying to run downhill... and skating a half-pipe when he was 11... (a reel we thought was lost.) Pretty amazing.



In a rare moment, I must confess that I am REALLY a big fan of the T.V. show "LOST."

At first, it was a guilty pleasure that I would try to conceal... like my mail order catalog fetish, or my love of soft socks and patterned paper.

But, I have been watching season 3 on DVD - and have noticed something new. This show is not just a pithy soap opera. It has deep and meaningful subtext, philosophical parody and satire. And the characters are far from generic stereotypes.

Check out the wiki if you don't believe me. I particularly enjoyed the list of character references (many names are pulled from famous thinkers during an 18th century battle of ideas: free will/social democracy ergo American Revolution vs. Calvinists pushing for social morality/Socialism & Royal Decree - as well as other fine moments of revolutionary thought.) Very Shakespearan - with the difficulty in pinpointing which group are the savages...

And I never really noticed show much literature is mentioned. (Or that it is always Sawyer reading whatever he can get his hands on.)

Thank you, TV land, for making one good show. If only you could figure out how to reproduce it.


2 years

I took Friday off and we went to Sea World for our anniversary. It was a very nice to have the whole day and just play.

This all white Beluga Whale was one of our favorites. So large and graceful, I could have watched this one swim all day.

I petted the sting rays and touched a starfish and some kind of plant grabbed my finger and suctioned it. I also threw slimy fish at the seal.

We were one of the first people there and had a few minutes alone with Baby Shamu. It was very cool, because it seemed like she was playing with us.
The shark walkway, penguin habitat, and eel cavern were other faves.
Much fun.



My friend asked me to help her make a scrapbook for a Christmas gift... so the past few days, we have been churning out an elegant little book.

Nancy is a prodigy. Here are a few of her layouts. Keep in mind, this is the first time she has ever done this. I'm jealous of her gift.

Here are a few of the ones I made. I love that Nancy's taste pushes me to streamline my layouts into simple and clean.




family tree

I was going to respond to McKay's question in a comment, but I really had meant to say more about our tree. I think I got interrupted and just posted quickly in order to do something else without completing my thought.

As I was saying, we decided that this will be our last "pretty" tree... because we got in a conversation about the trees we had growing up and how each ornament had a story attached to it. As a collective, the tree held the family history. "This one was from that time we went to Yellowstone," or "I made this when I was in the third grade."

... and while my tree is lovely... it doesn't have our story. We decided that from now on, we will collect ornaments on our travels and during our life that mean something... and our tree will be an eclectic collection of our stories... it will be colorful and imaginative. But it won't be a Macy's Tree.

I think it will probably still be just as pretty, just in the sense that we think our life together is beautiful.

As a first ornament toward our story, I want to buy a melting clock to commemorate our trip to see the special Salvadore Dali exhibit at the local museum.



This holiday, Mark and I decided to intentionally consider what traditions we want to have in our holiday home. We agreed that this will be my last attempt at an "Aunt Reta / Martha Stewart" tree.

We will have tamales on Christmas Eve (McCowen standard), Orange Sticks (Dad's C's legacy) and an orange at the toe of the sock (Mom C's legacy), and a ham dinner Christmas Day. (Even though this year it will just be dinner for two.)

What are some of your traditions?



Following Jamie's bravery, I am posting the education requirements for my blog.

home again

I stole this image from Evan and made it my own.

We look a stink-load alike in this picture. You would think we're related.

I didn't get any pics of the dinner or Mark's family. We were too busy eating and hanging out.

I also realized that I really don't like knitting with a pattern. It is just too much like auditing a spreadsheet - keeping your columns lined up, making sure the right thing goes in the right cell, and all the numbers meet... it's work. I want either creative OR mindless - and knitting with a pattern is neither.



We drove out to Arizona for dinner on Thursday.

Although short, it was one of the best trips I've had lately. (Not saying much, since most of my trips this year have been funerals or business.)

But, it really made me remember how it feels to be surrounded by people who care. To be hugged incessantly. For the first time I realized... Arizona is as much my home as Utah or California. And Mark's family is as much my family as the one I was born into. I'm a McCowen. Don't panic, biological family, I haven't revoked my charter-membership to your particular brand of crazy. I'm just expanding my definition to include some very normal mid-Western folks with great genes. (My kids will be tall, leggy blondes.)

A major highlight was getting to spend a few hours holiday shopping, eating turkey leftovers and wrapping presents with Evan. In particular, I find it hard not to live close to the LB.



I recently took an inventory of what I wish the world was like. No one will argue that it seems like society has taken a turn of some kind. Bad? We are haunted by romantic histories of quintessentially genteel, slower ane more human pasts. And now we rush about ignoring each other to the point of isolation under artificial lights and get our sense of community at a shopping mall.

I expected my inventory to be about family... since I have always been clear on knowing at least that much about what's important. And maybe in a way, it did. The common theme that I noticed was that I believe in human goodness. Not necessarily at an individual level, but as a group, on the broader scale. This surprised me a lot, because I deeply care for particularly few individuals.

I just read this BBC Article about 6 month old babies preferring puppets who are socially kind. I think this might punctuate my point. We prefer to be helpful, loving, and kind. We may not be good at it, but that's what we prefer. And that's how we see ourselves, generally: as "nice."

I'm usually pretty annoyed by the government, so I was also surprised at how much credit I give to the government as an institution that has lost it's way. I still think there is hope... but much to change in order to keep that hope.

Most of all, I really care about social equality and social responsibility. I think in our "American Dream," we get caught up in serving ourselves We forget that in terms of making a better world, getting ahead of each other may not be as easy or advantageous as creating a just and equitable world for everyone. The masses have much more power to facilitate massive economic reform than one person with a home-business... and creater wealth and stability for everyone is better than 2% of the U.S. population owning over 50% of the world's wealth. Interestingly, Bill Gates owns more than twice what Saudi Arabia does.

I guess believing in people, freedom, and equality makes me a radical. Dude.



On Friday night, we saw the play, "The Chicago Conspiracy."

Almost all of the actors in the play have been in tv and movies. The performance was really amazing.

I scrapped to recharge my batteries, but that backfires when I scrap until 5 a.m. I still need new batteries, but my heart is scrapalicious.

I am now reading "Good in Bed" by Jennifer Weiner, a story about a Larger Woman coming to terms with her size. I read while I work out and enjoy the irony.

I am really starting to live for my weekends. For the first time in my mature adult life, (as recent blog posts attest) we are doing stuff on the weekend. Going places, events, fine eateries. It suits us to stay home, but as long as we're here in this Entertainment City, it seems necessary to "take advantage of it while we can." Because unless the housing market falls 300%, we will never be able to buy a home here... and will eventually leave.

Note: you know you are growing passive when a $200,000 studio condo sounds like a bargain you might consider.



I am trying to go to the gym six days a week to make up for exam slack. I'm on day five. If I do it often enough, I actually get addicted... and I have to remind myself to go home and do other things. (I never would have guessed this about myself in former lifetimes.)

I am just finished reading "The Birth House" by Ami McKay and am still reading "Profit Over People" by Noam Chomsky. Both great.

And thinking a lot about the way society has changed.



I just took my exam yesterday. Ahh - the sweet feeling of nothing hanging over my head. So, here's how it goes. I have to wait two months to find out by what margin I did not pass, so that I know how hard I have to study for the next attempt (and let me just go on and guess ahead of time - a boat load.) Everyone I talked to (who thought they were prepared) agreed that this particular form was a beast - and no one thinks they will move up to the next topic. (In a way, this is good news, because it means a lower pass curve... but even though that's what they are for, I'm not getting my hopes all wiggly.)

My work gave me half-days for the prior six weeks and a week off leading up to exam day to prepare. It felt wierd to stay until quitting time today... my first full day of work in a long time.

I have some big plans... the much missed free time kind - like cooking real meals, with (gasp) ingredients other than a drive through... and going to the gym to cycle off the synthetic polymer ones I've been eating lately.

And Crafts-mas is coming, so I'm going to get my glitter on... I'm going to make paper lanterns shaped like stars to put over my Christmas lights on my tree, so Martha of me.

Oh, and reading... books, with actual plots.

Oh, and movies - in one sitting... without feeling guilty. Maybe a guitar lesson or two.

I'm like a kid in a candy store. Oh, good Idea! I can make holiday candies. Mmmm.



I know I should get over myself, someday. But every time I look in the mirror since I cut my fringe, I don't recognize me. And that's like not seeing your own reflection and being sure you're a vampire.

I think someone transplanted my thinker into this (old) lady's body with the costume wig.

As as aside, I love mail order catalogs, crafts, coffee and christmas. Who doesn't?


eye candy

Some artists who inspire me:
My creation



I put a bang on. This wasn't really spontaneous... I've been watching the season on DVD of "Ghost Whisperer" and Jennifer Love-Hewitts' bangs are so cute. (Oh, what happened to the no-TV thing? Yah, that was just plain crazy.) If I put my hair up in a pony, though, I sort of look like Evan, circa 1991. (No offense, bro.) Now, if they stay laying straight and don't go wonky... perhaps I won't regret this.
Note: It is really hard not to floof it 80's-style into a rat-stack. Wait, perfect halloween costume - and thank-you kids for bringing back emo, so I can find leggings and cowl-neck blouses in stripes and bold electric colors.


My current accomplishments:

I graduated from Upward Bound with Honors three years in a row
I wrote my high school graduating class' theme song and performed it at graduation.
I have written a number of songs
I taught myself guitar and piano
I graduated Cum. Sum Laude with a degree in Mathematics
I made the dean's list and George W. Bush's Academic Achievers list.
I passed my first actuary exam and am studying for my second
I learned to Rock climb and Skateboard as an adult
We have traveled to eleven countries

My future accomplishments:
I passed a certification level of actuary exams (ASA, FSA)
I have published something (short story, cook book, children's book, etc.)
I have my scrapbooking featured in a magazine
I have cut a CD of my original compositions and you can buy it off the internet
I can think of 20 people that would come if I invited them to something
I own my own home
I design and sew clothing for myself, Mark, and our kids that can be worn with pride out of the house
I am an advanced guitar player and can improvise along with CDs and other musicians
I am known to be thoughtful and considerate
I compete and am good at a sport


blonde redhead

We went to see this band play last night at the Wiltern Theatre. Great venue, awesome show. I highly recommend the latest CD.
We've been doing more stuff like this lately and it has been nice to feel like we are taking advantage of the hip stuff that goes on here.



For anyone who is worried, we are not close enough to the wild fires burning here to be in any danger. The effect of the fires on us, personally, has been indirect. Mark has been working a lot of hours because someone at his work's house is in the path of the fire and she has been evacuated to somewhere and can't really come to work. Traffic is bad from people movement, and my office in Simi Valley is sandwiched between two fires: It isn't in any danger, but the smoke is said to be pretty ugly (I will be there tomorrow to find out for myself.)

Update: 10/24/2007 - I went up to Simi Valley today and those fires are pretty much not burning any more. The San Diego fires are still going... but Malibu is (I think) done, and the Northern ones are all out. Some people were coughing a little extra at work today, but not much.



I have always loved oatmeal, but hated making it. I found out that, with those packets, you can just add boiling water and wait a couple of minutes. I think the flavory good ones are bad for you, so I got regular and made little packets of flavor of my own, with dried apple, almonds, cinnamon, etc...

Now I eat oatmeal every day and have cut my overall daily calories by 200. MMmm, now that's good.



Mark introduced me to a website that tracks coalition casualties in Iraq.

I thought it was sort of interesting because we are watching the Ken Burns documentary on World War II (The War) in which families read the paper to see if there is any news of their loved ones and don't find out until they get a telegram. I don't know if it would be worse having a website you can incessantly check or not.

However, the site does have statistical trends, average deaths per day, and a drill down to exactly who, how and where. I noticed that 15% of the deaths since day 1 have been from friendly fire... and why do I not remember hearing about a huge 43 ff deaths in a week back in Jan 2005. (Compared to one or two other weeks.) What happened? I also noticed that the weekly average is climbing very slowing but steadily (by one more person for every six months we've been there.) I just thought of a nice math question. An increasing sequence - what will the estimated cost be in three years (total losses). I'll tell you tomorrow. It's too late for more math today. It felt honest and sobering to check it out. I recommend you do the same. And don't just take a quick look. Click on stuff. Explore. Caring about the troops matters. It's not just a bumper sticker.

(hey, not everything on my blog has to be light and silly.)

note to self

It is extremely hard to draw with a mouse. My self-portrait is lopsided, cross-eyed, and fashion unconscious. Is it just me, or is "unconscious" unnecessarily difficult to spell. From here on, I decree that it should be spelled "unconchus." Join me in the rebellion.

8th Grade

Brittany recently sent me this photo and I love it. It looks like it could have been taken in 1967. My wonderful rent-a-child. How I wish it was rent-to-own.


rilo kiley

We went to see these guys play last night for Mark's happy 30th.

These pictures are thanks to his bday present - a slim little pocket-worthy digital camera.

What a strange word: Pocket. A pocket, a locket, and a stinky Davey Crockett.

rilo kiley 2

rilo kiley 1



As you might have noticed, I haven't been writing much for the past month or so. I work on the computer all day, and when I get home, I read the blogs I love, but I have been giving my wrists a break.

To fill in the gaps on some of the missing moments, I might be repeating myself a little to give the details.

My wonderful Aunt Velora passed away on Sept 12. I flew to Utah last minute to attend her funeral. It was a great service and really tough for me to lose her. We were good friends.

A few days after I got back, we had tickets to see AIR in concert. (I recommend checking out the video of them on Mark's blog.) It was the first concert we ever went to together and my first since 1997. It was a really cool experience.

Ryan was in LA the next day and we hung out and went to the beach for part of the day. It was dad's day, so I had a rootbeer float for him.

The following weekend, I went to Boston on business.

It was a pretty city and I got to take a "Duck Tour" in a WWII amphibious tank. We drove the historical sites in the city, and then drove right into the Charles River and boated the historical sites from that view. I learned a lot at the conference about catastrophe modeling and gave a presentation to my work group on it this last week. (Which went pretty well.)

A few days after I got back, Jennifer and Stephanie came out to visit. We took Stephanie to Universal Studios Horror Nights for about 10 minutes. It was so scary that we had to leave. (I think Stephanie will not forgive us for a long time.) They had really good actors in really good makeup with chainsaws and lopped off body parts, some of whome come up and try to lick your face. I want to go back.

Well, we did go back, just not during Horror Nights. We went back during the day for the regular Universal Studios experience. (I had no idea they had such good rides.) We went on Mummy and Jurrassic Park over and over and over (and over...) and we had two day passes, so they were able to go back to the park (I had to work)... but I would have enjoyed "...one more time" on Mummy. There were virtually no lines the day I went. They were in town for nearly a week and we had so much fun that it was hard to see them go. More sand Castles.

This weekend, Mark and I took a road trip to Long Beach. We also went through Compton as though it was a drive-through safari. We wanted to see gang-bangers selling drugs and other dangerous things. It was disappointing, because it just looked like many other LA neighborhoods. No bullet holes or anything. Lots of rims and tires.

Anyway, tomorrow is Mark's 30th Bday. We are going to another concert, Rilo Kiley, and having a party on Friday.