You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2007.

brett cooperThe International Fight League’s Grand Prix Finals went really, really well – I’ll go as far as saying that it was the best IFL event that I’ve attended so far. They gave out five individual championship belts – one for each weight class – with the biggest upset coming from the lightweight division, where underdog Ryan Shultz utterly pummeled the very talented undefeated pretty boy Chris Horodecki.

I scored a spot in the media section – the lone lady among a group of a couple of dozen tussled sports writers from various mixed martial arts sites and magazines. I was close enough to be able to hear the smack of the various kicks and punches, which I always appreciate, although also close enough that the cameraman was often standing right in front of me. I managed, though. Only one fight ended in a decision, which is good, and none of the fights were boring or unbalanced.

I especially enjoyed watching Matt Horwich, the strangely endearing Jesus-crazy middleweight, win the title by defeating Benji Raddich. I’ve been following Horowich since we attended a small show in Portland three years ago, and he improves so much with each fight that I can’t believe he’s the same kid, except that he still carries his Bible to the ring. He’s so weird and sincere that you just want to take him home and make him a sandwich or something.

Even with the five belts on the line, though, I was most intrigued by two of the preliminary bout fighters, Brett Cooper and Tim Kennedy. There’s something about seeing a rising star make his first big win that is more exciting to me than seeing a well-established fighter continuing to impress. Cooper (pictured above after winning, looking a bit shy and dazed) fought the dangerous and well-versed Rory Markham and got a TKO a minute into the second round – showing off a strong chin and a big heart. The IFL found him during their open tryouts, and everyone thought he was going to get killed by Markham in the ring (whether he knew it or not). It was great to watch him prove everyone wrong.

I was so impressed by Cooper that I’m planning an interview for later this week that, hopefully, Ben will pick up for the IFL website. I’ll let you know how that goes.

After the fights most everyone hung out at Mohegan Sun, the casino where the fights took place. Ben and I don’t do well with the crowds and smoking and loud clubs, though, so we headed back to the hotel for more laid-back drinks and snacks. As always, you can read Ben’s official weekend commentary here and his unofficial commentary here.

We headed back to Queens yesterday, where I finally got to spend some time with Ripley after her brush with death last week. She looks like a hobo cat because of all of her hair loss, but she’s healthy, energetic, and alert. And constantly hungry.

It’s been good to get back into my routine after almost two weeks away from home – as of today I’ll be back to regular blog updates and as of Wednesday I’ll be back in the office, returning to my regular combination of depressed and determined. Watch out world!

I’m writing from beautiful Mystic, Connecticut, where I’m accompanying Ben to the International Fight League’s Grand Prix. It’s a pretty wonderful glimpse into his life on the road – talking with the fighters in the hotel lobby, attending the weigh-in, staying up late writing up articles and getting up early to write articles. It’s a completely different life from my office job – and I can only imagine what it would be like to, oh, I don’t know, have a job I cared about.

The good news is that I scored another freelance job today and am now working on two big-ish projects during the day while Ben is down in the conference rooms doing TV interviews and radio commentary. If I score two or so more jobs in the coming weeks, I’ll even be able to break even on Ripley’s insane vet bills. God willing.

After a day of pecking away on our laptops, we headed to the weigh-in at Mohegan Sun, where the fights take place tomorrow night. It sounds pretty boring, but it’s pretty fun with Ben whispering color commentary to me about the fighters. A few of my favorite fighters, Chris Horodecki and Matt Horwich, are competing for belts, and I’m more than a little excited to see them in action tomorrow night. It’s always a bit sad to sit alone, but getting to see Ben ringside and typing furiously makes me proud enough not to care as much as I might.

My favorite part of the fights, though, is surprising males with my MMA knowledge. There’s nothing I relish more than dropping fighter names or submission names to people who think that I’m just another girlfriend of somebody who actually cares, dragged to the fights against my will. Sure, I might be a 5’4″ chick and just over 100 pounds, and, sure, I might be wearing a skirt and a shirt with kitties on it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what a gogoplata is.

My second favorite part of accompanying Ben to the fights is working out alongside the fighters in the hotel’s fitness center. This morning, while I was doing my 30-30 (30 minutes of cardio, 30 minutes of lifting) many of the fighters were busy on the treadmills, covered in their plastic sweat suits, cutting weight as fast as they could.

Every once in a while, one would step off, strip down to nothing, and weigh themselves to see how close they were to making weight. Not only have I now seen more than one of the fighters’ junk, but getting to see the fighters train and hearing them talk really gives me a better idea of who they really are and who to root for tomorrow night. I’m certainly not a sports fan who only likes the best athletes, period – I like to pick my favorite fighters based on the whole package. Pun intended.

What I’m saying is that I’m less likely to be won over by the fact that a fighter is an Army ranger, for instance, than by the fact that while cutting weight he outlined the entire plot of Lord of the Rings to his very patient trainer. Matt Horwich is another great example – he’s not the best fighter ever, but his intense sincerity, baffling Christianity and strange smile make it impossible for me to want him to lose at anything.

For more in-depth fight coverage, with Ben’s hilarious insights and inside information, he always blogs about his on-the-job experiences at The Fighting Life.

lt. ripleyI am overwhelmingly pleased and relieved to announce that Rips is home and absolutely well. Ben reports that she is 100% recovered, barring the clumps of hair she lost while sick. She is demanding to have her belly rubbed whenever he comes home, she is demanding to be fed exactly “on the sevens,” and she is demanding whichever side of the couch that Ben happens to be sitting on at the moment. In other words, things are back to normal.

All of her tests came back fine – the vet said that dehydration was the main problem (caused by her vomiting) that led to a downward spiral that she wouldn’t have recovered from without a trip to the hospital (the bad vet that we took her away from, if you recall, recommended that we didn’t hydrate her until we found the root of the problem). Whatever caused the vomiting will remain forever a mystery, although the two best guesses are that she got a stomach virus similar to the one that shook me and Ben to our foundations that same week or that she ate something bad that her system had to work through.

I am so, so happy that I can stop worrying about her (and start worrying about the exorbitant vet bills, which I will pay with a smile) and start to enjoy Christmas and my time off from work.  The simple fact that she has eaten a single bite without throwing up – or that she’s once again energetic and vocal – makes me want to jump up and down. Ben called me late last night and said, “I know that it feels weird to call you and announce this, but I think you should know that Ripley just used the litter box!” Hearing that was kind of like seeing man walk on the moon for the first time.

Thanks for all of your comments and emails and calls – I felt less stupid after hearing about Buddy, Sammy, Firestorm, Jake, Jesse, and other kitties that are just as much a part of your families and hearts as anyone. Sure, this incident cost me my new laptop, but she’s a pretty great (and warm) lap-top as any. According to my calculations, she has a solid seven lives left of her nine.

Oh – and I’m feeling much better too. I’m still a bit weak and delicate after my traumatic flight and gross sickness, but all’s well. Although I will say this: never, ever go shopping for clothes in the days after recovering from the stomach flu. I was in the dressing room, trying on size 2 pants and midriff shirts and thinking, “Why am I SO hot today? Why does everything I put on make me look SO MUCH like a supermodel?” The answer: because all I’ve been doing is vomiting and eating saltines for three days. Just like supermodels.

Ripley has gone from bad to worse – we took her in to the vet yesterday morning after three days of her throwing up. After initial tests, the local vet had no idea what’s wrong with her. Both Ben and I didn’t like the vet – do you know that generally smarmy feeling you get around some people, even if you can’t place why? – so we rescued Ripley and found a better place, even with the vet insisting that she stay with him and that we were making a mistake by taking her somewhere else.

Now, this was all happening while I had to catch a plane in two hours to my parents’ house in North Carolina. Ben, who is the best man on earth, got in a cab with Ripley and rushed her to a real, actual animal hospital in Manhattan where the vet wasn’t just going to recommend procedures that would make him money and not help Ripley. The new vet immediately rehydrated her and gave her an ultra sound – since she might have swallowed a foreign object. Ben spent hours of his time talking with the vet and, heroically, gave them his credit card information.

Knowing that she was now in good hands, I booked it to the airport. By the time I got there, I was feeling… spacey, like I couldn’t concentrate on anything. Ben called and I could hardly put two words together to tell him how I felt. I thought it was just stress from worrying about Rips, but I found out soon enough that it was actually the stomach flu, which Ben had two days before and which has been sweeping New York this week. I’m 90% sure than having the stomach flu in an airplane is the worst, most embarrassing thing that could happen to a person – and all while crying about Ripley. I’m just endlessly thankful that I had an aisle seat and that the person next to me slept through everything. And that I’ll never see any of those people again.

After a night of vomiting and shivering in bed, my fever broke and I feel much better – “much better” meaning that I feel like I got hit by a train yesterday – physically and emotionally. I’m glad to have my whole family around me and am looking forward to a few days of relaxing and spending time with them. Ben is calling each time he talks to the vet, and, again, I can’t believe he’s taken that burden onto his shoulders while I’m gone.

I know that its silly to be so worried about my cat – there are people with much worse problems in the world – but I am. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to simply not know what the source of her problem is. It seems so much more difficult than when a human gets sick – Ripley is unable to communicate to us what she did or how she feels. I hate to think of her alone in the city, not knowing why she was taken away from her home or why she can’t seem to eat.

three cups of teaHere are a few things I’m suspicious of:

  1. A book with two authors. It’s kind of like having too many cooks in the kitchen.
  2. A book in which one of the two authors is the main subject of the book.
  3. A book in which even though one of the authors is the main subject of the book, the book is written in third person.
  4. Cultural imperialism.

With these four suspicions in mind, I started in on Three Cups of Tea, which was my book club’s choice for this month. Mortenson is a quirky do-gooder who commits himself to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to educate the poor (especially the girls) who are so often lost in the rural mountains of these isolated areas. He started his quest after stopping in a small village after failing to climb K2 in the early 1990s and since then has built over 50 schools, health centers, and women’s centers.

There were lots of things I liked about this book. First off, I love reading adventure stories about far-away places, and learning more about the variety of cultures in Islamic Pakistan and various other -stans was enough to pull me all the way through the book. I also love reading about single-minded esoteric people with crazy missions who stop at nothing to accomplish their goals. Thirdly, I love the idea of fighting the war on terror through education instead of fighting – it seems like it will be more successful long-term and way less expensive, not to mention way, way, less violent.

I’m not sure I was so hot on the book itself – the writing wasn’t interesting (and it had so many chances to be) and, more importantly, the book was terribly skewed in Mortenson’s direction. He’s referred to as a hero at least a few times a chapter and praised non-stop by the people around him. Only smaller sub-prose hints clue you in to the real negative stuff – which I’m as interested in as the positive stuff: Mortenson is kind of crazy and obsessed, he has trouble with delegating jobs to people and handling money, he unapologetically spends months and months away from his family in Montana. He seems to be hurting his health in order to continue with his cause.

Now, I think these negatives could have been dealt with well by the authors – I don’t think any hero is all good or absolutely flawless. In fact, most people who have ever accomplished great things have more than his or her share of weirdo personal problems. I would have loved for the book to explore his flaws in light of his accomplishments instead of brushing his flaws to the side and dropping the Hero-bomb over and over again.

By the end of the book, I felt pretty good about his mission in general, thought. I haven’t taken any developmental studies classes and I don’t know much about rural development, but I can’t see how building schools and educating girls could possibly hurt anything. I was impressed by the way Mortenson adapted to the Islamic culture – learning the languages, dressing the part, and even learning to pray to Allah. He didn’t seem into forcing Western ideas onto the villages, beyond simple wants to educate and equalize.

More than that, though, I was interested in learning about how the Taliban is using the same tactics as Mortenson in order to win support in these rural areas – and they are winning. They have already established tons of schools called madrassas in these places, barring women and teaching only Islam and warfare. They also offer something that is rare in these isolated areas: paid employment. If Mortenson is right, giving these people options other than joining the Taliban, and giving them schools where you learn basic skills instead of extremist propaganda, might be the best step toward a long-term solution for everyone.

I just wish the book had been less one-sided and had a little more depth. It seemed like they were hammering three or four main points over and over again instead of getting inside the issues and really exploring how these schools are changing the region – beyond hyperbole and anecdote.

I was hired for a nice freelance job by a new client this morning, which always, always feels good. I haven’t had work from new people in a couple of months, so even though this is just a web page content job, and even though the project is due the day after Christmas (!), I couldn’t be happier. It’s a new contact and a new future writing sample and a new little notch for my belt.  

Sure, I won’t be able to go crazy at the company holiday party this afternoon, as everyone was probably hoping, but it will be one more nice check to deposit into my Escape from New York savings account.

Speaking of freelancing, it’s now been almost exactly a year since I started looking for writing jobs outside of my crappy office job. Including this new project, which I’m fitting in right before the year-end bell, I’ll have completed 29 separate writing assignments for a profit of just over half of what I make annually as a company drone (before taxes). And every single penny of my freelance money has been nestled safely away. I think that translates to my being half-way to my goal of getting out of this skyscraper and into a pickup truck.

This is all so hard 99% percent of the time, and Ben and I have been so stressed and fatigued and a little hopeless lately, but moments like these are enough to keep me moving forward.

ripsThis morning, something very strange happened: I woke up naturally. I stretched out in bed, rubbed my eyes, and tried to put my finger on the strange feeling I had. Even though I felt more rested than usual, something wasn’t quite right.

The apartment was quiet – all together too quiet! With a start, I realized that it was past seven and the kitty alarm wasn’t going off. Usually by 7:01 AM, the kitty alarm has her paws on my chest and is howling in my face as if the world is going to end. Usually, the kitty alarm is nipping and pawing at any exposed body parts that she can find, although she greatly prefers toes.

Surely, I thought, sitting up and jumping out of bed, Ripley is dead. No other force in the world would keep her from harassing me for food.

I speed walked to the kitchen, noticing well that Ripley wasn’t tripping me up and jogging ahead of me like she should be. Upon inspecting her food bowl, I saw that she hadn’t eaten her dinner from the night before – a phenomenon that is simply unheard of. I called her name and started looking under things to recover her corpse.

Alas, she was in the bathtub. Obviously sick and not wanting to be bothered.

Later that day, at work, I began receiving a string of emails from Ben, chronicling the different places and variety of unfortunate ways he had run into cat vomit. “On the couch,” he would write. “Don’t worry, I flipped the cushion.” And, later, “Everywhere!”

When I got home from work, I found a few new batches myself – under the coffee table, in the kitchen. It was some sort of terrible Easter egg hunt, if you replaced Easter eggs with enormous globs of something that used to be a Grade D chicken dinner feast with gravy.

Ripley seems to be doing a little better now – although the kitty alarm didn’t go off around dinner time like it usually does, she is back to hanging out with us and stealing Ben’s seat on the couch every time he gets up for something. We’re guessing it’s some sort of passing kitty stomach bug.

Seriously, though – how can she just throw up somewhere and then just walk away to throw up somewhere else?  Shouldn’t kitties throw up by kneeling over their litter boxes? I could even hold back her whiskers for her.

I’ve heard a lot about how you shouldn’t take your game face off at the company Christmas party. You should act just as professional as you would inside of the office – remember: you are still surrounded by your coworkers, managers, and executives! Don’t drink too much wine, don’t take gross advantage of the buffet, and don’t giggle too much when someone tries to talk to you about a project! People will remember how you acted come Monday morning!

Well, I think it might be time for some different advice – advice for the people earning under $30,000 a year and with no company prospects. People like me. Personally, I see the holiday party as my one annual chance to eat and drink money away from my company – money that they are so stingy with when it comes to my paycheck. Sure, I might make $11 an hour – but you should see how many dollars worth of steak I can eat in an hour. Or how many $11 glasses of wine I can drink. I might not be very good at many things, but I am an expert passive-aggressive eater.

My own company holiday party is tomorrow afternoon. It’s one of those always-fun mandatory parties where you can either attend or stay at work and log hours, which I find always puts everyone in a festive mood. The mailroom people are never invited, and we’re never supposed to say anything about it. There will be a lunch buffet, and open bar, and a lot of forced smiling.

I’m especially mad because today I tried to mail a personal letter (a cable bill) at work and got called out for it in a company-wide email MARKED WITH A RED EXCLAMATION POINT! They really know how to push my buttons. They didn’t know who tried to do it and they are holding my cable bill hostage until I come forward and get a scarlet M pinned to my chest (The M in this case, would stand for Mailing personal letters at work). All for a 40 cent stamp!

I mean, they’re acting like not every single person here has mailed personal letters and packages from work. And if they think I’m going to come forward and confess just so that I can reclaim my unsent letter, they are so, so wrong. I’d rather wait for the next bill and pay a late fee. Instead, I’m going to go out of my way to eat an extra 40 cents of food tomorrow, even after I’m full.

Here’s the main point: you don’t have to act like you’re at work at your company holiday party. You don’t have to talk about work (it wastes precious time you could be chewing). Don’t hesitate to sample every dessert, maybe even without using the provided utensils. Giggle when the president pronounces Hanukah as if he were Jewish and also deaf and congested. Giggle loud – he should really know better. Most importantly, leave early.

I’ll let you know how things go tomorrow.

I’m not much into New Years resolutions, but I am into best-of end of the year lists. I mean, really into them. Not only do I keep detailed lists of what I read and listen to each year, but I also read everyone else’s top-ten lists and make my own. What’s the greater purpose of this, you ask? Well, I say, let’s not run around asking questions.

Since I don’t read brand-new published-in-2007 books all year long, I’m just going to highlight some of my favorite books and mention a few books you should stay away from at all costs. The complete list of what I read this year is down below – it’s shorter than most years because I spent a solid three months at the beginning of the year reading nothing but short essays. Not that I’m making excuses.

This might also be a good time to tell you about my favorite book website, GoodReads. If you’re on it, you should be my friend. And if you’re not on it and like reading (and making exhausting lists) you should join.

Also – if you read something awesome this year, leave me a comment about it so I can get my hands on it.

Without further delay…

The best book I read in 2007 that was published in 2007:
Like You’d Understand Anyway by Jim Shepard.

Runner up: No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July. So I thought the movie that she wrote and directed You, Me, and Everyone We Know to be completely unwatchable. And I found her author photo to be one of the worst I’ve ever seen. And when I was feeling cynical, I found her stories to be trying too hard and a little too focused on some sort of weird Daddy issues she might have. HOWEVER (and this is a big however) she has an unbelievable ability to describe small moments and tiny emotions. It is amazing and it is worth reading through all of the other stuff for these alone. Ignore the Aimee Bender weirdo quirky Hipster-Realism stuff and focus on the little bits of humanity.

The best book I read in 2007 regardless of when it was published: A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. I had read most of Hemingway’s popular stuff over the years but hadn’t ever picked up this one. I read it while Ben was gone on a business trip and it might have been the most intense, weirdly isolating three days of my life. His writing style makes me want to give up. I sobbed while reading the last page – and I don’t usually sob over anything. I’m more of a whimperer.

Runner up: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Ben and I have been nothing less than evangelical about making our friends, family, and strangers read this book. I’ve talked to weirdos about it on the train. Ben has mailed copies across the country. We should really make a pamphlet that outlines the major points about why this book will make you love the people you love just a little bit more than you thought you could. I don’t know anyone who has taken more than 48 hours to read it.

The other runner up: West With the Night by Beryl Markham. I love reading about totally badass women and I love adventure stories. And I love beautifully written prose. I just wish I had read this book when I was 12 – it might have formed me into a better person. Buy it for your daughters and nieces. Hell, buy it for your sons and nephews.

The worst book I read in 2007 that was published in 2007: Flower Children by Maxine Swann.

The worst book I read in 2007 regardless of when it was published:
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. This is also the runner up. That’s how bad it was.

The complete list (highlighted books link to my blog reviews of them)

I have trouble with exclamation points in general – they’re very useful, but they lose their effectiveness if you break them out too often. This rule is doubly true for the Microsoft Outlook red exclamation point – the little symbol you can put next to the subject of your email that stands for urgency or high importance. My new boss has trouble with this concept to the point where I am not sure if she knows where the period is located on the keyboard or realizes that not all of her emails are highly important.

If you use the high importance red exclamation mark, say, twice a month, I’m going to understand the special pressing and critical nature of your request and treat the email accordingly. If you use it every single time you send me anything it’s going to start meaning less and less to me. In fact, I just might go to lunch before even opening your email in some sort of attempt to teach you a lesson.

What you’re telling me, with your dozens of red exclamation point emails, is that you think that everything you need is way more important than anything else I need to do for other people. It’s like cutting in line for no reason. I hate it so, so much.

In order to curb red exclamation point use, I have written a short two-example guide to help everyone understand when its usage is appropriate.

Inappropriate Usage

Subject: Book Order (!)

Hi Sarah!!!

Could you order the below books for me?? 🙂

Thanks!!! 🙂

Appropriate Usage

Subject: Book Order (!)

Hi Sarah!!!

Could you order the below books for me?? 🙂

Also, I am badly wounded and can’t stop the blood flow!!! 😥 I am typing this to you with the remainder of my strength. If you could call an ambulance or fashion a makeshift tourniquet for me out of office supplies, that would be great!!! Please hurry!!!

Thanks!!! 🙂