Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Sister Anika: An Overly Long, Long Overdue Introduction

I've been in a long-term relationship since the day I was born. Anika (ANN-ih-kuh) and I are the third and fourth children in a family of nine kids. We follow two boys; we precede three boys; ergo, de facto, we were a pair. By necessity, we lived that way. We split a bunk bed until I was three, shared a pull-out couch until I was seven, and had matching white-metal daybeds until we moved--from the upstairs to the basement--when we took over Nate and Dan's room and lived out our high school years in their low wooden box beds. When I was fifteen, Anika graduated and headed off to BYU, and I became the first in my family to get my own room. I kept two beds.

I followed Snika (that's a nickname; it's pronounced Sneeka) two years later, living first in what had been her freshman dorm (a coincidence) and then in what had been her sophomore-year apartment complex (not a coincidence). I liked the idea of doing what she had done. This wasn't new. Growing up, we were riffs on a theme. She was wide-cheeked and blonde, I was wide-cheeked and brown. She played the violin, I played the cello. She was student body president, I was student body president. She was elected homecoming queen, I was nominated once. By one person. I think.

Despite that, I have to say this: Anika is one of the best people you'll ever know. If you met her, you would quickly agree. No illustrating necessary. But I do want to say this: though I've heard her described as an angel, as a "hummingbird with dignity," and as "the kind of woman we all want to be," she and I used to kick each other when we were angry with each other. Among other ways we disagreed. Once she had a little dish of plastic raspberries, shiny and pink and luscious in their fakeness. I wanted to touch them, to eat them, to make them mine. And when she left the room this once, I think she could see it in my eyes, and she said, "Don't take any of my raspberries! I've counted them, and I know how many I have!" I liked to read in bed at night, long after she wanted to go to bed, and I would say, "Just until the end of the chapter," and she--being generous and sympathetic--would agree. But I started at some point tracing my finger along the lines on the page; I thought it made me read faster and engage better with the text. (I liked to have theories even back then.) This didn't help because Anika would watch me, it turned out, and knew then when I had started a new chapter. "Hey!" she would say, and then yawn, "you started a new chapter..." and she would try to wait impatiently for me to shut my book and turn off my light, but usually she would just fall asleep before I gave in. By the time we were in high school, she consistently fell asleep with the light off, and almost always with her bed covered in textbooks and homework and clean, unfolded clothes. I would laugh and turn off her light and push her leg back onto the bed and hang my clothes on my chair, so they would be ready for me the next morning. I loved that Anika didn't go to bed; she gave up and fell asleep.

I have to confess: this is all old data. Anika and I haven't lived together, really, since 1997, though we've had a few stints here and there over the summers. The summer she brought home Rachel, a roommate, and we repainted the house. The summer she came home engaged, waiting out the summer by making practice wedding cakes with rich fondant frosting while her fiance finished out his study abroad term and made long-distance calls to her from the Jerusalem center. I haven't lived with her since before she was married, and she was married when I was 19.

But she still looks at me when she comes to holes in her stories, like maybe I'll know what she wants to say, like maybe I was there with her when the event happened and maybe I'll fill in the blank and rescue her from momentary forgetfulness. But the truth is, I rarely know her stories in advance, these days. She got married, moved, had a baby, moved, had another baby, moved again, got a washer and dryer, had another baby, bought a house, moved, started taking community ceramics classes where she's the resident Mormon and LDS living expert, and, just newly, started teaching early morning seminary. She wakes up at who knows when and bakes food (sometime this year it will be brownies, I guarantee it) and teaches teenagers religion around her dining room table while the sun rises and the other houses on her street come awake. And then she tends to her always widening galaxy of husband and kids and neighbors and friends and church members. And then she falls asleep and then wakes up and does it again.

That is not my life. Mine is a life of security passes and secretaries and elevators and case law. I have roommates, whom I love, and friends, who make me laugh, and usually some chocolate chips somewhere around me to eat when I want chocolate. What I'm saying is--my life is a good life. I'm grateful for it. But when at work people say--as they often do--"Oh, don't worry, you'll find a practice group you like"--I want to say to them, "Like? LIKE? If I wanted just to have a job I liked, I'd move to my sister's and be her roommate again and help raise her kids." It's a life that sounds great to me, though, like Elizabeth Bennett, I'm pretty sure I would teach them to play "very ill." But it's an outmoded model, one I'm pretty sure has gone the way of the hoop skirt, though, like civil war reenactors, I sometimes desperately wish it could come back into society's (and God's) good graces. Oh, Anika. I recognize I idealize your life. But it's such a nice, beckoning ideal.

And so I'm left with this, my only real question about beginning again to share a cohabitating life with the sister I almost continuously companioned for my first fifteen years: Were I to move in with Snika again, how will her husband feel about having to share her daybed?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ms. Sarah Goes to Washington

I took this picture with my very own camera phone just last night.

Last year, my grandparents sent me a card. "We are so proud of you," they said, "for becoming a lawyer in our nation's capital."

In our nation's capital. I felt like a small town hero.

But being in DC does make me feel a little like a small town hero. I recently watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington again, the Jimmy Stewart movie about a young idealistic senator's first time in the capital. Mr. Smith (Jimmy Stewart) becomes embroiled in corruption, unwittingly of course, and when he goes to tell the truth about his "distinguished" fellow senator, he becomes the subject of attacks from all of the powers of politics--the other senators, his state's political machine, big media. But he stands strong, literally, as he filibusters for twenty-three hours, while waiting for his state to send their support for him to Congress. (Technological advancement would clearly change this in a remake.) But the truth is stymied and the only word that comes from his state is anti, anti, anti, but he doesn't buckle. He stands for truth and righteousness, as he knows it, but then he collapses beneath the weight of his own exhaustion. And the movie only resolves and the girl gets the guy when the senior senator at the center of the corruption caves and comes clean. I just gave the movie away. But it's still good.

The point of this, I guess, is to say that my patriotic DC-self is awakening. The metro stop after mine is Arlington Cemetery.
If I take a wrong turn leaving the office, I end up at the White House. Last night after work, I met Elizabeth at the Jefferson Memorial. The sun was setting, the high schoolers were touring, and the lights of Virginia shone in the Potomac. And then Elizabeth and I got scammed by a woman asking for money for a taxi ride.

I am not dissuaded. Tomorrow, I will wake up, and I will go to work, and I will be a lawyer in our nation's capital. I will stand for truth and righteousness. I will search Westlaw like a colonial revolutionary. I will bluebook like a citizen and a patriot. And when I turn over in my bed tomorrow night, George and Martha will turn with me, nuzzle into my pillow, and whistle "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" softly in my ear, as I fall asleep under a giant, down-filled flag.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dutch Bike Dutch, For the Uninitiated




Peanut butter.

Dutch Bike Dutch (n.) is a homespun event planned by Jeanette and a few of her compatriots. This weekend it consisted of (1) one night's hotel stay followed by (2) bike rides of various lengths (15, 30, or 60 miles, give or take, depending on one's ability to get lost) and (3) free peanut butter. It was sponsored this year by Crazy Richard's Peanut Butter (, the peanuts-only peanut butter brand owned by my roommate Stephanie's parents. Did I mention that before? She's a peanut butter heiress. (It's pretty awesome stuff, actually. Its only ingredient is peanuts. No joke. Totally worth buying online or in your local grocery store.)

This time was the seventh time (they go twice a year--once in Fall, once in Spring), and it was the happeningest Dutch Bike Dutch ever. More than 70 young/not-so-young single adults from DC, NY, and Philly converged upon the Quality Inn in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (to the other hotel residents' chagrin), for late-night chatting, mid-morning tire-pumping, and early afternoon peanut butter eating.

And my great friend and former roommate, Elizabeth J., is visiting me from Austin this weekend, so she joined the crew, too. (See her and me and some locals by a covered bridge below.*) Despite my perpetual nose-blowing and deep-throat coughing (see previous post), it was awesome.

Yes, for those of you wondering, I did the hilly 15-miler ride mostly on my Raleigh cruiser, much like this one.

I also rode a few miles on a friend's small road bike, which he kindly offered for a respite. On it, I did go faster, but I was essentially pedaling in fetal position. We switched back before the end. He looked disappointed.

Today, my rear end and I are sore. But happy.

* All pictures courtesy of Elizabeth J.

Okay, one story: My favorite single moment came at a stop sign. A group of us bikers were lined up behind a horse-drawn buggy, which was trying to turn left onto a busy street. A little boy was looking out through the back window of the buggy. He was wearing black and had little blond bangs hanging from beneath a little black hat. He was staring out the back window at us, specifically, it seemed, at Paul, my roommate's boyfriend, who was taking this small, downtime moment to check something on his iPhone. Paul on an iPhone, the little boy in a horse-drawn buggy, and me without a camera. America, circa 2008. Heaven love us.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Home sick.

Today I stayed home sick. To convalesce.

I believe in the word "convalescing." It sounds healing and purposeful. It adds meaning and focus to the general sort of lazing about and alternating sleep/movie schedule that usually fills up a sick day. Before I started to use the word "convalesce," I felt guilty skipping obligations or activities just to nap or watch TV, sick though I may be. I felt like staying home to be sick was a sign of weakness. I'm my parents' daughter; I should just buck up. And carry tissues.

But now that I "convalesce," I don't feel guilty at all. Theory: Watching a movie when I'm "convalescing" is restorative, whereas watching a movie because I can't or don't want to get up is just plain lazy.

And who can say no to a convalescer? No, don't convalesce. No one can say that.

I will acknowledge that convalescing might, at least in part, be a psychosomatic thing. If I tell my body I'm convalescing, then when I'm sitting at home eating nachos with my roommates in lieu of going to the swimming pool with Jeanette or to the gym with Erika, what I'm subconsciously doing is telling my immune system to do its work. Go right ahead, body. Heal. I will not distract you with exertion.

"Oh, sorry, I can't exercise right now. I'm convalescing."

Try it. It's great.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Surprise! or How I Found Myself Floating in Cayuga Lake (Ithaca, NY), Fully Dressed and Surrounded by Empty and Bobbing Beer Bottles

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You should know this: Jane (a friend from Stanford) and I decided to surprise Reija (my newly former roommate) by coming to Rochester for the weekend. We were close-lipped and stealth, and when she came home Friday afternoon from school, we were waiting in her house. "Aghhhhh!" she yelled and hugged us and smiled. "You're here!" We were. And it was a delight.

Saturday, we decided to go canoeing. We didn't know where we could rent canoes near a body of water, so Reija texted a friend. "Go to Ithaca," he said. "There all your dreams will come true."

We went to Ithaca. It was a beautiful drive. I fought the irrational coveting of every person we saw, every house we passed. I mean, I wanted (
wanted) to be me, sitting there between Jane and Reija in the cab of Reija's trusty truck, speeding along the highway from Rochester to the land of dreams. Jane studying civ pro, Reija talking medicine, me trying not to quote Mary Tyler Moore at every turn. I wanted to be me there, with them. But I also wanted to live the lives we sped by on the way--to be the one to live in that trailer, hanging laundry in that yard, run past by that messy-haired boy bee-lining barefoot into that cornfield; to be the preacher or the secretary or the custodian of that white-steepled church, changing the text on the roadside sign from week to week: "MOVIE NIGHT: SPEED RACER / THURS 6:45"; to be the women selling honey, pumpkins, and hardy mums from roadside stands; the research paleontologist or the intern, holed up in the upper rooms of the Victorian-era wing of the Museum of the Planet; the mom ushering her young kids into the steel-and-glass hall of the Museum of the Planet, to look at the dinosaur skeletons and stare and stare and stare.

And I wanted to be the people, out on Cayuga Lake, boating, kayaking, canoeing in a blue bow of water ringed by trees of red and green and yellow and brown.

And then I was.

We rented a canoe at Puddledockers on the canal portion of Cayuga Lake and decided to paddle out to the lighthouse at the mouth of the lake. "Do you have any advice for us?" I asked the 20ish-year-old Puddledocker employee who saw us off the dock. "Well," he said. "Have fun. And jump in. It's a great day for swimming." We all three just kind of looked at him. We were sweatshirts and t-shirts and sneakers and jeans. "We're not really dressed for that," I said, thinking of the Moosewood Restaurant, where we were looking forward to dinnering after our afternoon on the water. We strapped on our lifejackets and stepped confidently into the canoe. We were off.

Along the way, we stopped at a park bench alongside the river, at the edge of a golf course. We sat and talked and watched the water, the trees, the river lapping up against the edge of our canoe, which Jane had tethered to a root on the river bank. When we decided to go, Jane picked up some beer bottles. Three beer bottles. "I want to take these back," she said, "to throw them in the garbage." "We could throw them on the greens in the golf course," I said, not wanting to have the beer bottles rattling around my ankles. "They'd find them there." Jane held the bottles and said again, "I want to take them with us." "Okay," I said. "Okay," we said. And we got back in our canoe.

At the mouth of the lake, we decided to canoe out a little bit, to do a loop around a tall red buoy. We'd sat there for a while, watching the motor boats drive by, feeling the wind, being jostled by the water which had gotten a little choppy out on the open water. But it was getting time to turn back, so we made to head back up the canal, when we were rocked by a wave. Jane was singing children's songs in French. We were rocked again. I was sitting in the middle of the canoe and tried shifting to my right, hoping to stabilize the canoe. No luck. We were rocked again--and apparently I made a noise--and we were in the water.

Then we were treading water and grabbing bags and trying not to lose the paddles and I was trying not to kick off the flip-flops I'd borrowed from Reija's roommate and we tried to reflip the canoe, but it was full of water and was floating underwater, and I was afraid we were going to lose it at the bottom of the lake, so we flipped it again and weren't quite sure what to do. We were too far from shore to pull the boat in and the water was too deep for us to have something to stand on. But a boat pulled up--and then a second--and then a third--and we were saved. Jane was laughing so hard. "This is so funny!" she said. "This is SO FUNNY!" she said again.

"They need their canoe righted!" one boatman said to another. I was relieved. "But I'm afraid they've lost their beer forever!" And that's when I noticed our little circus of canoe and paddles and bags and flip-flops and girls was surrounded by a distinctive triumvirate of bobbing beer bottles. Three beer bottles. Three girls. And Jane was laughing so hard. "Wait!" I said, treading water and holding onto the canoe. "We don't drink! We were just trying to take them to a garbage can!" Boatman #1 smiled broadly and raised his hands, palms forward, gesturing in a "I'm not making judgments of you three at all!" sort of way. "Can we do anything?" said a woman in boat #3. "Yes!" said boatman #1. "You can grab the beer bottles!" And as we were pulled on board boat #2 and handed towels and asked to sit back as they tied our righted canoe to their rope line, I looked behind us and saw woman in boat #3, reaching far out into the water, trying to grab an elusive bottle. Her kids were watching dumbly on. I can only imagine the lessons she was teaching. "See, kids? This is why we don't drink and boat."

Back at Puddledockers, the employees there were surprised to see us all wet. "Things haven't been going well for you today!" one guy said, after we told him we'd lost Reija's camera because I didn't know, apparently, how to close the waterproof bag they'd loaned us and probably after remembering that we had called three times for directions because we had made an unnecessary 45-minute loop on our way to the store. "Actually," one of us said. "It's being a great day!"

A great day. A great weekend. It totally was.

(Note: After we left Puddledockers, we headed to Wal-Mart and a dollar store to buy new clean outfits, from the skin out, which is why we showed up at the Moosewood--an awesome, awesome vegetarian restaurant--fully clad in identical but variously colored track suits and hungry hungry and cold. We ate so much good food, including vegan chocolate cake, and drove home fat and dry and happy. Who could have wanted it to turn out in any other way?)

Friday, October 10, 2008

An Irony of Modernity

There I was, with my fourth genius bar reservation in one week, holding my iPod thinking, "Please don't work, please don't work, pleasedon'twork."

It didn't.

I'm pleased to say they're giving me a new one.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Personal Progress

Progress is
  • billing five hours of direct client services in one day (which, Monday and Tuesday, I tried--and failed--to do; next week, I'm shooting for six)
  • running before work and swimming after dinner, on the same day
  • getting my iPod to recharge
  • socializing mid-week with ward members
  • buying kale
  • making my bed with my own sheets (finally found amidst my many packing boxes), my new TJ Maxx faux-down comforter, and my just-delivered-from-Amazon silk and gold duvet cover
  • returning Baby Mama on time
  • and going to bed (let's hope, let's hope) before midnight.
That's change I can believe in.

Personal progress. What's it to you?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Look Before You Lend

One day in the nineties, my dad and I were standing in the kitchen area of the South Shore Ward building in Patchogue-Medford, NY. Someone was telling my dad who in the ward had volunteered to bring treats to a then-upcoming youth activity. He/she was saying that one family in our ward--a family with a lot of teenage boys--said they probably wouldn't bring anything. But whoever the speaker was said that probably, this family would end up bringing something anyway. They usually did.

My dad looked sort of disapproving. I said, "Dad, isn't it better that they say they won't bring something and then do, than say that they will bring something and then don't?" I said it kind of flippantly, sure that my dad would agree and appreciate my quick, logical turn-of-phrase. My dad, my kind and generous-hearted and gentle father, looked me in the eyes and said: "It would be better if they said they were going to bring something and then did."

Today I promised three things that I later learned I didn't have:
  • a crockpot (to make barbecue beef for a small post-conference dinner this evening; my friend Peter came over at 8 this morning to get it going; alas, we had no crockpot; alas, we had to call a friend whose engagement has already elicited a crockpot; yes, we did slow cook chuck eye beef in it today, using it even before the happy couple did)
  • baking powder (to make corn bread for our dinner; fortunately, Peter had some; unfortunately, he had to drive home to get it, missing the first few minutes of the afternoon session of conference)
  • What's Up, Doc? (Peter and Jeanette and I wanted to watch it this evening after dinner; I said I owned it; I thought I did; I can visualize it even, even on my shelves; I could not find it in my hastily unpacked moving boxes, at least the ones that looked like they were producing movies; Peter went home, thrice disappointed, and Erika, Jeanette, and I ended up watching some of Baby Mama again; which, to be honest, is a surprisingly funny and subtle movie).
Saying I'm going to come through for people makes me feel great. Not coming through for people makes me feel bad. This is, of course, an eternal truth.

"We are already a covenant-making people. We need to be a covenant-keeping people."
- Camille Fronk Olson

May I work harder and with more humility to come through on those eternal covenants I have already made. May I be a better friend, promising and delivering the things that will help others' lives to go meaningfully and well. And may I please find What's Up, Doc? in my stuff somewhere. It's such a funny movie.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Three for Three

Note: This is not my actual cheeseless pizza. It is a dramatization.


Stephanie had asked me if I wanted to go to institute with her. Feeling like I don't leave my house enough and that I should try to be a part of the larger DC singles culture--and, as happens periodically, feeling guilty about my eh-institute attitude--I said yes. Later, I asked Jeanette if she wanted to come. The plan: Leave for institute at 7:20. It starts at 7:30. It's 15-20 minutes away. I didn't say anything.

I got home from work at 6:30, with just enough time to make the cheeseless pizza I'd been talking about since the night before. (Cheeseless pizza = crust + sauce + toppings.) Erika wasn't a believer. "Prove me wrong, Sarah," she said. "I hope I'm wrong." But, of course, I didn't start the pizza until 6:55 (I found Erika on her bed, where Stephanie found the two of us; there was talking). As I sauteed up some old garlic (found on the butter shelf in the fridge), onions, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, the girls gathered. I baked the crust (pre-made) with some olive oil above it and olive oil beneath, then I added the toppings, and slipped it back in. By the time the pizza came out of the oven, all four of my roommates had gathered in the kitchen, waiting to eat, waiting to leave. "We never do this!" Stephanie said. "We're never all home at the same time."

I rolled the pizza cutter across the pizza, four times, five girls. And Erika took a bite. She shook her head. "I'm a believer," she said. "It doesn't need the cheese. I was wrong."

Then it was 8, and Stephanie's friend pulled up outside to take us to institute (a part of the plan I hadn't seen coming). We went outside, and there were two in the car already. But we piled four in the back anyway--Wendy, Steph, Jeanette, and me--and headed off into the crazy rain. We got stopped in bad traffic one exit out, made room for the police cars, pulled off the highway, and headed home. Then Jeanette and I watched a movie. It was awesome.


We went swimming. Jeanette has started swimming, and I want to be like her, so I wanted to go too. I invited Kim G., a new friend from my ward (and the daughter of my former Plainview New York Stake stake president). Steph sent me an email titled: "gah swimming!"; she wanted to come, too. So Wednesday night, we gathered in the kitchen with swimsuit and towels and $4 each. Jeanette with goggles; the rest of us with goggle envy. And we took off to the pool. It's a high school pool, turned county pool at night, and the room is steamy, the lanes are narrow, and the parents watching their kids' swim practices look as bored as I remember.

But we swam--though we're not all confident swimmers--and we came home again, through the rain, wet and cold and ready for dinner.

I made linguine with clam sauce and broccoli. Jeanette set the table. Kim did a crossword puzzle and filled the water glasses. Wendy made corn on the cob. Steph provided sliced cucumbers and grape tomatoes. We had grapes. "You're eating dinner as roommates?" Kim asked. "We never do this," Wendy said. We sat around the kitchen table and ate until we couldn't. Then Wendy made milkshakes, and we watched a movie. That was Wednesday.


When Erika and I got back from the gym on Thursday night, the debate had already started. I had backseat debated for the first ten minutes as we tried to follow it at the gym, trying to read the closed captioning as we ran. "She's not answering the question!" I yelled. Erika would look over and smile. "No, don't say it!" I said. Erika would look over, smile. "I can't believe he just said that!" I said. The man on the treadmill next to me got up to leave.

We walked into the house, sweaty and cold but feeling good, and we found the girls in the livingroom. Wendy was eating ice cream. Stephanie was eating double-stuffed Oreos. Jeanette was eating dinner. "What are you eating?" I asked. "What's on the stove," she said. I got some, too. Then Erika and I sat down, and we watched Palin and Biden smile and wink. "I don't like women winkers," Erika said. "Oh really?" I said. "My sister's a winker. I do." Half of us would talk and the other half would watch the TV. Then we'd all be quiet and listen to the thing. Then two of us would talk, and the other three would watch TV.

When my plate was empty, Jeanette stood up to get me more. I sat in our fat taupe recliner, sweaty and tired, and she handed me my plate, full of noodles and tofu and something else. I looked down at the plate and up at the room, full of women I am coming to love. I was glad to have all this. I was hungry for more.