The Way to a Happy Life

9497585-road-to-happiness-search-and-find-a-happy-life-joyful-living-fulfillment-arrowIn honor of my family visiting me this week, I want to share a poem written by my grandfather’s uncle and stepdad (long story), Basil Venti. These words have been recited at every important family event for as long as I can remember. The first time I recited it, I was four! It’s traditions like these that keep families strong.

The Way to a Happy Life
by Basil Venti 

Journey on through the years
Speak kindness and cause no grief
Do good along the way
Even a little, but every day

Never idle the precious time
Never quarrel, yell, or whine
For as long as the Earth is under the sky
Always some argument will eventually arise

Always do whatever is right
Help the weak and conquer the pride
Above all, strive to do your best
And leave to God to do the rest

Looking forward to (hopefully) blogging some of my thoughts about the visit very soon. Between school, work and getting ready to move next month, I’m swamped. You know I’ll do my best, though.

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Change & Lack Thereof

 

When I went home for the holidays, I took a stab at scanning some of the family pictures we had lying around the house in these things called “Photo Albums.”  For all my talk about fear of change, I realized that some things in life don’t really change.

I appreciate that my family are likely the only ones to get as much sentimental value from this as I do. Still, I hope these pictures might inspire some of you others out there to take a look back into the dark, mothball-filled depths of your closet, attic, or basement and see what memories may be lurking there just waiting to be found.

I think this set of pictures is a great starting off point. My grandparents have a little sign at their house that reads “All Because Two People Fell In Love…” and none of the other pictures would exist if it wasn’t for them.

They celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary this month!

My grandmothers’ ability to look almost the same completely baffles me.

 

 

On the right, my cousin Leslie holds me as a toddler, and on the left I hold her youngest daughter, Gia

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Boys, Boys, Boys. In case you’ve been wondering who the Ralf & Erik I occasionally refer to are–here they are. My “little brothers”, Ralf (on the right) is a year and a half younger than me and Erik (the odd looking one in the middle) is two years younger than him. My cousin, P.J. (the studly young gent on the left), is a year and a half older than me. I could have saved the geneology and simply said, we are all fairly close in age.

And while I’ve always been the family outcast for liking things like politics and academia, these guys definitely developed into young men with very heavily aligned interests–sports and their bodies.

Hence:

Don’t worry, ladies–there are more of those to come.

 

Nothing is more reverent for good Catholics than the participation in one of the seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick. Yes, after 13 years of Catholic school I can absolutely name them off the top of my head. #catholicwin

As you can see in the picture below, my family has always been very invested in upholding the gravitas of such holy occasions.

No offense to the Eucharist, but I think I felt closer to God before this next picture taken just after a meal at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas. I highly recommend the pork tenderloion.

Clearly, the only way to express feeling God’s presence is by looking like a member of Kiss. This I firmly and truly believe. That is why so many babies cry and drool during their Baptism.

I’ve saved the best for last (and the absolute side-splitters for an upcoming post). The picture below was taken during one of our traditional tamale-making extravaganzas. From left to right: Martha Hernandez, Martha (my grandmother), Me, Aunt Debi, Aunt Lynda, my mom, and little Ralf.

Cut to 2011:

From left to right: Ralf, Me, Leslie (Aunt Debi’s daughter), Aunt Debi, Cyndi (Aunt Debi’s daughter), my mom
(Aunt Lynda’s family showed up after this picture was taken)

We even use the same pots, pans, and bowls nearly 15 years later.

What’s the message, then?
It reminds me of my time as a cheerleader. When we’d do our spins, we’d find a static spot on the wall and use it as a mark to keep our balance. For a girl who is over 3000 miles from home and figuring out her life one day at a time, sometimes I feel like my world is spinning faster than I can handle. As I struggle to find my balance, these pictures and the people in them are my spot on the wall–something I can rely on to keep me steady.

A toast, to the knowledge for all the good that change can bring, sometimes it is nice to have something to rely on.

“Promise me you’ll never forget me because if I thought you would I’d never leave.”
~Winnie the Pooh 

Holiday Cheer to my Rear (O Tannenbaum)

Part 2 – O Tannenbaum

My father was born in Germany, but to be quite honest, I know very little about my German heritage. Much of what I do know comes from the holiday dishes that my Oma artfully puts together every year. While duck, potato dumplings, and warm red cabbage make me a very happy girl, the true stars of the holiday season are Oma’s cookies. Every year for as long as I can remember, my grandmother has  baked cookies for Christmas. When I was a little girl, my Oma lived in New Jersey and each year when the package would come in the mail, my dad would gracefully cradle the package, open it up and give my brothers and I each one cookie–then hide the tin. I wish I was kidding. He would either hide it or place it so high up that we couldn’t reach it. Cookies were then used to reinforce positive behavior–like dog treats.

I remember staring up at the cookie tin with my brothers, drooling with desire and intent on finding a way to reach that treasure chest of sweet goodness. After painstaking planning and acute execution only a Weissenberger child could pull off, we’d manage to snag a couple from the tin. I’d take the tiniest bites possible, savoring every morsel, careful not to drop a single crumb. Then I’d wait, tummy full of sugar and guilt, for my dad to come home. He’d sneak into the kitchen, fully aware that being caught with the tin might mean he would have to share. We held our breath as he opened the sacred tin, hoping just this once he wouldn’t have a mental count of the remaining cookies. He always did.

“Who touched my precious….”
(Yes, this is a picture of my dad morphed with Gollum. I really need to work on my Photoshop skills.)

My mom, using skills learned only through year after year of working with small children, would calmly and patiently intervene: “They are just kids/It’s Christmas/Those cookies aren’t just yours/Learn to share.” Every year, it was the same thing until, finally, my mom explained the situation to my Oma. Graciously, she offered to make us each our own bag of cookies for Christmas. None of us are very good about sharing them.


This year when Oma asked me what I wanted  for my birthday, I could think of nothing I wanted more than some Almond Crescents–my absolute favorite of all the Christmas cookies. I cannot express the joy that came when I opened that tin to see the familiar crescents nestled in their neat bed of parchment paper. The crescent shape, according the research I did while writing this blog, is very common in German baking. Legend has it that when the Austrians defeated the Ottomans, they celebrated by making the crescent shape which adorned the Ottoman flag. If war had a referee, I’d call that “excessive celebration” – Unsportsmanlike Conduct. If you can’t spike a ball while staring down a defender, you shouldn’t be able to make such utterly taunting cookies.

 I imagine the flavor of these cookies to be similar to that of angel poop (angel poop would taste delicious since they only eat clouds and love). So if you ever wondered what angel poop tastes like, here is a recipe that I found online for these cookies. Note: This is NOT the recipe used by my Oma. Sorry, but I am my father’s daughter and I just can’t share that.

Ingredients:

1 c butter
3/4 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1 1/2 t almond extract
2 1/2 c flour
1 c almonds; ground
confectioners’ sugar

Instructions:
Beat together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Blend in extracts. Mix in flour and almonds. Using about 1 T of dough for each, shape into logs and bend into crescents. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees F until light brown. While warm, roll crescents in confectioners’ sugar. Cool on racks and store in a tightly sealed container. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

A toast, to traditions that keep the soul fortified in this tumultuous world.

“Because of our traditions every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
~Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof) 

A Return to the Motherland

IMG_0077When I get the energy to write about my program, my job, the end of finals, and my trip home–I will. Until then, this may –or may not– be the first in a series of “simple posts” about things I missed when I was away. Allow me to share a few short stories that illustrate what being home means.

Missed Item #1? My mother…& her vanity

Example 1-

After hours of sitting in traffic (no thanks to the tanker that blew up on the 60 forcing it to CLOSE) on the way home from the airport, my mom and I stop at the mall to try out a new restaurant that just opened. Although exhausted, I agree to check out one store with her after we finish eating.

-FLASH FORWARD 7 stores and a lap and a half around the mall-

Mom: Liane, can you hold my coat? It’s warm in here.
Me: Of course it is. You are wearing a coat in Los Angeles.
Mom: Yeah, but I look hot.
(She really did, though.)

Example 2-

Mom: Tomorrow is the Christmas program at my school. I don’t know what I’m going to wear.

Suddenly, her eyes hone in on me, narrowing…like a lion stalking its prey.

Me: What are you looking at?
Mom: Your blouse.

-FLASH FORWARD to my mom literally making me take my shirt off  and wash it in case she decides she wants to wear it tomorrow. She’s also wearing my coat.-

A toast, to beautiful women and the daughters that put up with them.

All women become like their mothers.  That is their tragedy.  No man does.  That’s his. 
~Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

An Explanation

3534516458_48e4e8595fIf you are reading this post, I think it is safe to assume you are either family or a friend. Hypothetically, you should know a fair amount about me and what I am doing out here in DC.

I made that assumption. I thought, these people are my friends and my family. Turns out, not a safe assumption to make–not safe at all.

The night before I left for DC, my parents took me to a farewell dinner. It felt like my Last Supper–though, if I was going to have a last meal Roy’s wouldn’t be too bad. In typical Liane fashion, ever my Father’s Daughter, I spent an inordinate amount of time talking about myself. The waitress came over, smiling and waiting patiently as I blabbered about something I was “feeling” about the impending move. Eventually, I did need to pause to breathe and my mother politely turned to the waitress with pride and said, “She’s moving to DC for grad school tomorrow.” I excused myself to go to the bathroom and upon my return my mother throws this at me:

“The waitress asked what you were studying and I didn’t know what to tell her.”

I looked at my parents in utter disbelief. I started planning for graduate school my third year of college–over two years before that dinner. I’d prepared a binder of all my options. Not just any binder–color-coded, alphabetized, quick reference fact sheets–this was the kind of binder that Type-A, OCD, control freaks dream about. I’d spent more than one Sunday morning drinking coffee and flipping through my options with them. They were there every step of the way, as I narrowed my options. I’d chosen my program months ago and spent the time before I left having to tell every person we met about leaving. My mother could name every single class that my brothers were taking, but she had no idea what Master’s program was moving her one and only daughter across the country.

My eyes turned to my Dad, certain that the self-proclaimed “ultimate boyscout” would remember. Don’t they teach mnemonics in the Boy Scouts? Nope, another blank stare.

Why am I publicly chastising my parents for this action?

(1) To explain why I have an attention-seeking personality

(2) To ease your guilty conscience, since I’m pretty damn sure you don’t remember what I’m studying either

(3) To make them feel guilty before my birthday which is in 13 days!

This is the part where I play psychic and answer all the questions you are about to have:

Well, Liane, what DO you study?
Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University

What the hell does that mean?
The program focuses on the place where politics, media and public affairs intersect. Still confused?

What’s the point of that? Are there even jobs in that?
Absolutely! Media, and social media, is one of the largest growing fields in the country–inside and outside of academia. This kind of degree could open doors in new and traditional media organizations, government, politics and business. So, anywhere really!

What do you learn?
Currently I’m taking classes in Media Theory, Media and Foreign Policy and Research Methods. I will probably talk about some of that more in detail at a later date.

My research interests within this realm of study are still a little fragmented.

Generally, I am curious in how social media will continue to shift the way politicians interact with the public. As someone who witnessed the development of new media “on the frontlines”, I have strong feelings about the value that it has to society. The shift of the dynamics of interpersonal relationships and the construction of individual identity has been staggering, but I think we are still just beginning to see where new media can take us as a society.

In terms of  the “public affairs” side:

  • Politics, primarily Elections –Working on the Hill made me jaded about the amount that people can do once their representatives are actually in office. Elections, in my opinion, are still the most vital part of democracy.
  • Education–The children are our future–and I hate dumb people and I wish there were less of them.
  • Foreign policy–Since our education system sucks, globalization reigns supreme, and I don’t have the time to learn Chinese.

Well, now that you know what I’m studying–I should probably actually go study

A toast, TO BOOKS!

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
~Cicero

An Excuse

images

I figure writing this blog is good for a number of reasons, allow me to explain.

#1- Sorry I’m popular

I have a large family & a lot of friends. This means recounting, in excruciating detail and with equal fervor, the same events numerous times. Inevitably, someone loses out, taking that kind of dedication to storytelling is impossible- I get lazy or refuse to mention them at all. That’s truly a shame—my stories, like me, are amazing.

#2- Me talk pretty one day

I’m a much better writer than I am speaker. It’s true, I admit it. I talk a mile a minute and I get so caught up trying to keep up with my brain that I skip over the good stuff and drop the punchline. Don’t get me wrong, with enough planning in advance I can rehearse a story like no other, but there is no doubt that the written word is my medium. It just lends itself to a greater ability to use proper diction. To me, a finesse with diction is simply an extension of efficiency. Why use a bland word, or a string of words, when you can pause and think and use that word that brings out the soul of your meaning. Now that is art.

(PS. I will send something special to the first person to post where “Me talk pretty one day” comes from)

#3- What was I saying again?

I have a terrible memory. Don’t get me wrong, I remember the weirdest things. Like the face of that girl who was on my cheerleading team for a week 13 years ago. She was a quitter, I cannot forget the face of failure. But forget trying to pry information from my head if you ask me something practical like:

Nurse: When was the date of your last period?

Me: stares blankly, looks at the ceiling, thinks, continues thinking, squints, counts, closes her eyes, thinks, counts again, another blank stare, looks the nurse dead in the eye—maybe that will trigger something, maybe SHE knows the answer– I dunno. Sometime inconvieniant. Can I phone a friend?

Literally once I called a friend from the waiting room before my appointment to ask when I borrowed a tampon in preparation for this question. Although what does it say about her that she remembered the last time she lent me a tampon?

Wow, this post took an ugly turn. My sincerest apologies and deepest thanks for sticking through it.

About my memory, as demonstrated above in my graphic and grossly inappropriate example, it’s atrocious. So if you expect me to remember the things that happened even say, a week later, unless it was highly influential in shaping my worldview—you’re SOL. Instead, you will end up with a rambling of random things that happened at some point in time.

Me: There was a dog and a weather balloon and some lady was crying.
Confused Co-Conversationalist: Were they in the weather balloon?
Me: Oh no, that was last year. It just reminded me of that other time. But overall, I was really disappointed with the quiche.

Are you lost? I should hope so because that kind of nonsense is only intelligible to people on salvia and those with severe mental disorders. If I ever meet someone who can make sense of my half-remembered gibberish I will march them over to the church and marry them straight away—man, woman, horse, irrelevant! Clearly it’s kismet.

However, I’m going to confess that my concern is not with being able to accurately recount my adventures to other people. I’m far too self-centered for that. My concern is that I won’t remember for myself. So I’m creating sort of a real-time scrapbook forever woven into the tapestry of the internet. Like an elephant, the internet never forgets.

60 years from now, when my hair is grey (or heavily covered in dye), my eyes have long since lost their focus, my body is brittle and weak, and my ears are muted from rock music and cellphones—I will have my robot companion put in my hearing aid and read to me about my adventures as I knit my cat a sweater. Although there is a possibility that the future involves medical advances which stop the aging process, but thats a much less dramatic picture.

#4- Me, Myself and I

I know sitting around and reading about me discussing my favorite topic, myself is fairly annoying. But you know what’s more annoying? Sitting around and listening to me talk about myself for hours. This blog is a godsend. You can take as much of my self-centered ramblefest as you want, before you hit the vomit point and all you have to to is click away until you feel the need to return.

Even if no one reads it, it will satisfy my narcissism, preventing me from feeling the need to discuss every mundane detail of my life to you.

#5- I’m lazy.

Let’s be real. If I don’t call you, it may or may not be because I’m busy. I’m notorious for staring off into space for hours, yes HOURS, at a time. I don’t need TV or Internet to procrastinate. I just need my own mind and something to think about. So, the reason we haven’t spoken in 6 months is not necessarily because I’ve been so consumed with all those things I should have been consumed with (and probably told you I was consumed with). And furthermore, you aren’t the only person I have been unconsciously avoiding (without malintent-of course). The task of calling all those people and catching up is fairly daunting and I’m lazy. Instead, when one of us finally gets around to the awkward facebook chat or text, or God forbid phone call “Hey. What you been up to? It’s been forever.” I can simply type www.thestarspangledgirl.wordpress.com.

And hell, I know you, its better for you too! You don’t have to sit there for 2 hours and pretend to be interested(see #4) as I do a halfass job (see#1) of explaining events I barely remember (see #3) with mediocre skill (see #2).You’re welcome.

A toast: To blogs, friend to egocentricts and friends of egocentricts, alike

“I sincerely believe blogging can save America.”
~John Jay Hooker

The Journey

the-hobbit_2422493bI’m going to begin by thanking all the people who helped me get to the airport this morning. To my mom, for giving me life and teaching me how to live it ever since. To my dad, for making my morning totally stress-free despite our natural inclinations for stressfests. To my grandma, for making me a whole pot of coffee even though I could only manage to drink one and a half cups (albeit large ones). To my grandpa, for driving me through LA rush hour and making me a PB&J so I have a little bit of home on the road. There are a million things I could thank them for, but there’s a few.

This morning was a blur. I slept fairly well considering my—well, considering my personality. By “sleeping well”, I mean two solid hours of sleep. Then I woke up and BLURRR and suddenly…here I am at the airport, an idle 4 hour wait before my plane begins to board.

As of this moment this has been the most hassled travel experience I’ve ever encountered. Although I typically maneuver two suitcases like a pro, today I feel the handicap of a lack of sleep and my cumbersome backpack, purse and pillow. I’m falling all over the place. The line for security was a nightmare (second only to the flight out of Dublin, which was hell on Earth). I’d decided, against my better judgement and prior travel knowledge, to wear my boots to the airport. Usually I go no-hassle and wear flip flops, but today I was that girl.

I’d already been suffering from an uncomfortable sweat for the last 24 hours which only seems to be getting worse and worse. So I get up to the scanner and I’m struggling to get my sweaty, semi-swollen feet out of my boots. My mother’s voice echoes in my head from earlier that morning, “Don’t you want to put socks on?” I could slap myself. In case there was any question about this over the last 22-23 years of my life, my mother is ALWAYS right about this kind of stuff (even if we ALWAYS tell her she’s wrong). As I’m writhing on the floor in an all out battle against my Calvin Kleins, I can hear a collective sigh out of the seasoned travelers.

I wanted to ease their minds and assure them, “I know what it looks like, but I know better—I swear. I’m one of you, truly. All I wanted to do was save a little weight in my luggage.” Was it worth it?? No, nope, not a bit. I motioned for the man behind me to move ahead of me, but he politely declined, “We aren’t going anywhere fast, anyhow.” Secretly, I think he was just enjoying watching me struggle with the suede beasts unrelenting in their attachment to my feet.

There was a moment where I thought I’d be stuck in Los Angeles, unable to pass through security and falling victim to my own vanity. It would have served me right. But, it worked out, as things tend to do. After hobbling down the line, pushing my four trays, I cursed myself, sat down on the floor and with a firm yank I finally pried my foot free of its fashionable prison.

Finally able to look at the security line ahead of me, I discover that instead of the usual metal detector, LAX has finally begun using the dreaded and highly contoversial body scanner. The women in front of me opted for a pat down, and were awaiting a female attendent. “It’ll be a few minutes,” the security agent alerts them.

I’ve been a little skeptical about the scanner, on one hand believing in the paramount importance of national security, on the other holding a strong libertarian belief in personal liberties. I know what David Morse is going to say about this, and so let me defend what I was about to do.

#1- In order to preserve national security, sometimes a minor “violation” of personal freedoms is necessary. There is a line, of course, a line between the reasonable and unreasonable restriction of freedoms. I believe in the power of the people to act as a check to determine for themselves which liberties they are willing to sacrifice. Blahdittyblahblahblah. It is obviously a very complicated issue which I’ve been weighing in my mind and I’m willing to admit that you (David) may be right, in fact, you probably are–but that brings me to…

#2- After the epic battle royale with my shoes, I was not waiting around in security anymore. The judgement of the 200 people waiting in line behind me (no exaggeration) was burning into the back of my skull. If that means that some lucky TSA agent gets a glance at my lady bits, so be it!

It’s amazing how quickly personal values get thrown out the window for something as simple as public humiliation.

#3- Last year, I had a particularly invasive pat down in Frankfurt, Germany by a very aggressive and masculine young woman. I’m talking under the bra and partial gynecological exam… I’m still trying to decide which is a larger violation.

 Update: As I was writing this David told me to opt out.
A) You are SO predictable
B) I fail.

Judge away public-at-large, I am at your mercy.

And so, as has become the custom, I leave you with a toast. After looking around the airport, I know who has truly earned this drink.

Here’s to you, TSA Agent who looks at the body scans, may the sight of naked travelers not force you to poke your own eyes out.

“If God really had intended men to fly, he’d make it easier o get to the airport.”
~George Winters