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Nov. 2nd, 2009


Meaningful and Coincidentally Frugal Christmas Gifts

We always fill our weekends with way too many activities, plans, and goals. This weekend was no different; however, I accomplished so many things that I’m beginning to feel giddy. I finished making the jam two weeks ago, and I made three loaves of bread and a batch of yeast rolls Saturday. I finished another Morsbag, and we took the girls to Houston Grand Opera for the second weekend in a row, this time to see Lohengrin. We really enjoyed it, but I don't think I will see live opera two weekends in a row again anytime soon. Especially not when one of them is Wagner. Holy cow.

I’ve now completed six out of twelve Morsbags for our Christmas project. Basically, I'm going handmade this Christmas. For all our parental and sibling sets and for our close friends, I'm making each family a Morsbag. So far, I've made one bag from fat quarters I had, four from a large-ish scrap of cloth I found in my craft room, and one from an IKEA pillowcase. The remaining six probably will be made from the rest of the IKEA sheet set. It cost $1.99, and I bought it to use in place of fabric on a different project.

We'll stuff each bag with a jar of homemade local jam, a bar of homemade soap, a hand-packed beer bread kit, hand-dipped chocolate spoons, homemade hot cocoa mix, and a mini-loaf of my homemade bread. If the girls feel like it, they can bake cookies or brownies or cookie bars and add those to the gift bags.

The Morsbags are by far the most time-consuming aspect of the gifts. Each one takes about an hour to make by myself, and neither of my girls knows how to sew or how to iron precisely enough for machine sewing. Of course, after a while, my ironing isn't terribly precise, either.

In the spirit of the Under $1,000 per Month blog, I calculated the cost of our gift bags vs. their value. The fabric for the bags themselves I consider free for two reasons. First, I already had the fabric in the house; likely, I've had it for a few years. Second, by using up the fabric, I'm saving on the cost of a decluttering professional to save me from my crafty hoarding tendencies.

  • Reusable grocery bags are usually on sale 10 for $10 at the grocery store, so I'll call it $1/each. My cost: $0.
  • A half-pint of homemade jam probably could fairly cost $3. My cost: $1.88/jar (including the cost of the jar)
  • A bar of homemade soap from Miss Hannah's Handmade Soap would cost $5 - $7, so we'll call it $6 even. My cost: About $2 (and many thanks to Miss Hannah herself for her kindness and generosity in teaching me.
  • I last saw beer bread mixes sold at a craft fair for $7 in a baggie or $10 in a beer bottle (a cute gimmick to be sure). I'll call that $7 because I won't be using beer bottles. My cost: $0.25
  • A six-piece chocolate spoon set was $6.50 on Etsy. My cost: $0.60
  • I found a three-serving set of hot cocoa mixes on Etsy for $6. My cost: $0.31
  • Finally, it disturbs a bit to say, but I found homemade bread on Etsy for $12 a loaf. Mine are mini-loaves, so I'll call them $3 a loaf. My cost: $0.34
So I will spend about $5.38 per family while giving each family a gift valued at $32.50. My family will love receiving these handmade gifts that they can eat and enjoy. Most of our family and close friends are very green-conscious and will love having their own Morsbag. And noone has to coo over another Christmas figurine that they didn't want and now can't re-gift.

Oct. 23rd, 2009


Autumn and Camp Eagle Fart

Oh, glorious autumn! The weather finally is starting to change a little. It’s doing the typical Southeast Texas weather mood swings, but we’re leaving the windows open at night and occasionally using a quilt on the bed! In Texas, the autumnal cycle is crystal clear: Five to seven days of 80-90F heat with stifling humidity. The humidity crescendos into massive 24-hour thunderstorms. After minor flash flooding (I guess it’s only minor if you aren’t affected), the rain subsides; the clouds blow away, and the sky fairly glows blue. The wind blows cold, refreshing air that seems to chill you right through; it feels like walking through a Mountain Dew commercial.

Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year. A sweet, chilly reward for enduring the hells of August.

Burgundy plays at a football game tonight, next Thursday, and the following Friday; after that, football season ends (glory, hallelujah; blasphemous, I know, to hate football in Texas), and concert season begins.

I organized another trip to the Boerne Fiber Festival this year. Last year I could not remember the name of the area of Texas where I proposed to camp, and I called it, “Eagle Canyon or Lake Eagle or Canyon Lake or Camp Light an Eagle Fart or WHATEVER.” Camp Eagle Fart stuck, and this year’s even has been dubbed “Camp Eagle Fart II.”

There’s been the very tiniest bit of drama around the trip this year. There was a little bit of, “I don’t want to sleep in a room with x person,” combined with, “Can we stay in nicer digs than we did last year,” which together resulted in, “Why do we have to pay more this year?” All in all though, it’s been very smooth, there have been no tantrums or anything like that. Everyone completely agreed they’d rather spend a little more and not stay in a cabin that could be a horror movie setting. I think the brown water last year tipped the scales for most everyone.

We had one problem with a bed and breakfast. We reserved rooms at this B&B in Boerne back in July. The person I spoke with refused to accept a deposit stating that, “Honey, this is Boerne; we don’t work that way.” I called back day before yesterday to confirm the rooms, and she told me the rooms were booked up for a wedding that weekend. I was LIVID. She did get rooms for us at the Holiday Inn for $20 more per night. I made my displeasure clear, but we took the rooms because with less than a month to go before the trip, we wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance of getting anything else for eight people, especially in that price range.

Our plan now is to wait until we’re checked into the Holiday Inn in Boerne, then go to speak with the owner of the Bed & Breakfast. I’ll ask him to feed us all lunch to make up for his company’s error. If he refuses, I’ll file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

Now I’m all agitated, and I started out feeling so great!

Oct. 20th, 2009


Christmas - It's in December This Year!

I have started planning for Christmas. You say it’s too early; I think it’s too late. I’ll never get everything done.

I always write a letter that I send out with all the goings-on for the family in the past year. I know I leave stuff out, but there’s so much to say! This year, we had 8th grade ending, summer school at Rice, PDR for Orion with all its attendant travel and overtime, Space School, hosting our first year-long exchange student, starting high school, varsity and junior varsity marching band, Dracula . . . the list goes on and on. Last year was a three-page letter; what will this year bring?

With Julia in the house this year, we’re cutting back on Christmas for everyone outside of the family in order to make more budget room for the kids. I’m making a Morsbag for each family (Mark’s parents, my parents, my other parents, grandparents, and close friends), and I plan to fill each Morsbag with goodies:
  • Homemade peppermint soap
  • Chocolate-dipped spoons and peppermint sticks
  • Lavender sachets (Mark has a metric crap-ton of lavender around from a previous project)
  • Blackberry Jam if I can make it
  • Maybe some hot cocoa
  • Beer bread mix, and
  • A mini-loaf of homemade bread

I’m really looking forward to putting together the bags with the kiddoes. I’ll have the girls help me make the soap (yay science fun) and the morsbags. If they want to, they can make the peppermint sticks and spoons on their own. The idea is to put together an inexpensive bag of goodies for all the people we love.

Oct. 9th, 2009


Yes, a real post

Well, for my first real update in a while, I guess I’ll start by telling what-all I’d like to update about. Yeah, sure, I know. What-all isn’t a word. Bite me.

Our lives have been very full. We have an exchange student this year from Germany. Julia arrived August 8 and has really rounded out our family. She’s a delightful young woman. Burgundy has started high school. I know that’s obvious from the twitter posts, but there are so many stories to be told just about her high school adventures that they’ll take up several posts. There’s band and its resident Drama Llama (really, I think there’s a fairy drama llama lurking on the field, and it anoints different kids on different days to do its nefarious bidding). Other parents believe their children are infallible and that this infallibility extends to their kids’ friends. The Algebra II teacher has a Ph.D. and its associated inability to function socially. Debate.

We’ve become more involved with our church since resigning from the Space School, and we’re looking forward to involving ourselves in local Habitat for Humanity projects. I’ve joined a new soccer team. We paid off all our debt (excepting the ubiquitous mortgage); we made the last payment September 4 and threw a party because that’s how we roll. I’m co-leading a Financial Peace University class now, and I’m thinking about becoming a financial counselor. I’m also working with the other FPU leader at our church to petition the church to let us lead the class for the youth group.

I’m planning Camp Eagle Fart II for mid-November coincident with the Kid ‘n Ewe Fiber Festival in Boerne, TX.
We have not been able to conceive since our miscarriage in May 2008. At this very moment, everything else pales beside this fact: I’m 34, almost 35. We’ve had one failed pregnancy in 19 cycles. We have 36 cycles remaining, 42 if I’m very lucky. I’m aging out of maternity, and it’s breaking my heart. I’ll write more about this, too.

My website effort, lillybell.com failed. I didn’t write in it often enough to draw people in. One of those bottom-feeding companies bought up the URL when it expired, and now they want $250 or something obscene to give it back. They won’t get it from me. I registered grohmanfamily.com and mslilly.com. I’ve done nothing with either of them. Soon enough, I’ll devote an hour a day to blogging. I’ll do it mainly at mslilly.com.

I’m going to work part-time. I currently work full-time for a contractor on the Orion Project. I’m working to get onto another project in the same (Constellation) program that is parent to Orion as a part time business process analyst. It looks very hopeful right now. Worst case scenario, I will leave this position no later than the end of this year, and I’ll take the 75 – 80% pay cut that goes along with substitute teaching part time. So be it.

So look for more updates soon. I’m a little depressed to be honest, but I’ll work my way out of it. The depression is almost entirely infertility-related; this too shall pass.

May. 15th, 2009


*Warning: Lots of FURIOUS ANGER. And bad language. Gratuitous, even.

I had a very difficult and emotional day yesterday as I went to a fertility doc for the first time. It’s also my first true gyno appointment in over 13 years; I’ve done my well-woman care with a local midwife. He was everything I hate about doctors: aloof, brusque, slightly dismissive. He didn’t listen very well. NO sense of humor. In listing all my symptoms, I laughingly added at the end, “Oh, and I’m bitter.” With a little laugh. He looked up and said (with no trace of irony), “About what?” When I tried to give him the paperwork from my surgery in 1993, he said, “Well, I don’t know that it’s going to tell us anything new, but I’ll look at it if you really want me too.” Asshole.

He must have noticed that I was crying after that, because when he and the nurse came in for the exam, he was a little better. He started with examining my thyroid. While he was at it I looked at the nurse and said, “I wish I’d known my the problem was in my throat; I think we’ve been doing it wrong.” The nurse cracked up. The doc, who was RIGHT BESIDE MY HEAD, noticed the laughter and said, “I’m sorry? What’s the problem?”

We had told him that we didn’t really have a lot of money to throw at this, so if it was going to cost thousands of dollars off the bat just to test (he was talking about flushing my tubes and doing a laparoscopy just to get started), then we probably should just devote the money to adoption and be done with it.

And his response was that he will look at the charts and info I brought him, we’ll run the thyroid tests (he found a tiny nodule), but beyond that, he probably can’t help me.

So I had a margarita (one of these cheap ass 3-oz 99cent happy hour deals; I was not drunk for the ensuing drama mess) and some glorious, greasy comfort food and called my mom to reschedule a BBQ she wanted to have tonight. She could hear that something was wrong, and she knew I had an appointment, and she badgered me until I broke. I kept trying to tell her I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet, but she wouldn’t listen.

So I told her that God is a capricious and sadistic son of a bitch (we both are Christians, but she’s ZOMGBLASPHEMYNONONONONODIIIIE! I feel fairly certain that if my god can become man, walk the earth and die for me, not to mention be resurrected, he can handle some grief and anger even if it’s pointed at him), and she kept trying to talk me out of being angry with damn worthless platitudes and agonizing rationalizations.

I finally told her I just wanted her to hear my anger. She said she could, so I started to let it spew, and she told me that this is my fault because I had screwed around as a teenager and gotten the PID in the first place (the reason for the surgery in 93). And at that, I flipped out. I told her that was the most complete fucking bullshit I had ever heard in my goddamn life, it didn’t even follow elementary guidelines for sixth-grade logic and she could cram it up her ass. Told her that if God’s choices about who gets to have babies are behaviorally based, then explain to me AIDS babies, fetal alcohol syndrome babies, crack babies, etc. She responded by telling me (AGAIN) the story of my older brother’s stillbirth. I interrupted and asked her how, after suffering so much pain, she could have the audacity to suggest to me that a) it’s the fault of the sufferer, and b) I should just get over it and not be angry. I told her that if it’s true that God loves us so desperately and cares about every intimate aspect of our lives, then he is either capricious or sadistic, and I just don’t believe that Baptist bullshit anymore. She told me to have some consideration for her.

Can you imagine? In the midst of processing the agony of knowing that because of goddamn money, bane of my existence, I can’t even find out why I can’t have any more kids, my mother told me to have some consideration for her.

I was so dumbfounded that I just said, “What in the world are you talking about?” She said, “Your language.”

“Mom,” I said, “You asked me what I needed, and I told you that I needed you to hear my fury. You know what my fury sounds like. If you couldn’t handle it, why did you stay on the phone?”

She was all apologies after that and told me that she just couldn’t stand to hear me suffer and not do anything about it, and I told her we needed to reschedule the BBQ and hung up the phone, turned over and cried some more. Then my husband – who usually is Mr. Sensitivity Pants and who sat through the whole fucking Dr. ordeal – told me to stop pouting! I told him to fuck off. I guess I’m not very nice when I’m upset.

He made me get up and go to the bookstore with him, then took me to pick up some yarn I’d ordered. He wouldn’t let me go to bed early. He did the dishes and the laundry and worked through Burgundy’s homework with her. And I vacillate between feeling hollow, despairing utterly, and battling barely corked rage. I have to see my mom this afternoon, and I am pretty sure that I’m using her as an object for my anger. You know, I’m so angry at the helplessness of it all that I’m looking for someone to blame even if it’s only blame for petty, irrelevant things that don’t enter into the real problem. Just something concrete to be angry about.

Dec. 11th, 2008



Now I know all my northern friends will roll their eyes until it hurts, but this here's Texas, and yesterday it snowed. For a long time. And stuck to the ground. All over the yard, the cars, the trees, and the Christmas lights. We had a white roof this morning, and Grandmama, who's visiting from Laurel, MS, asked at least a dozen times whether we were absolutely certain Burgundy would have school today. I think she would have stayed another day if Burgundy had been home. I admit to a temptation to keep Burgundy home, but we'll be there in two weeks (holy cow. Is that all?) anyway.

I worked past 8PM last night, and when I left the building at 8:15, I stopped just outside the door and under the building to take it in. The world blurred in front of me, and I stepped out into the melee before I confirmed that snow indeed blanketed the wide, grassy lawns at NASA. Snow blew all around me like I existed as a little weather vortex, drawing those soft, gentle flakes to myself. My face split into an unwilling grin, and for about 2.8 seconds, I struggled with my dignity in an attempt not to giggle, sing, laugh, or talk to myself. My dignity lost, and I giggled, laughed, and let slip, "oh, oh, MY! OH!" all the way to my car. In spite of myself, I stuck to the wet, drab sidewalks. Snowflakes melted before my feet all the way to my car.

I found my car alone in the lot snuggled under a blanket of snow. I scooped a pile from the windshield and crunched it happily, continuing to giggle and jabber through my bites. I saw white flakes all over my asphalt-colored cashmere coat and reflected happily on the wisdom of knitting the mittens and clapotis scarf I wore. Finally, I climbed into the car and drove off site.

I called Burgundy's best friend, Lauren, and spoke with her dad. Lauren lives about 1/2 mile away from us on the other side of the abandoned golf course. He consented to my bizarre request, and I turned down her street while I speed-dialed Burgundy at the restaurant where she ate with Grandmama. "Burgundy," I said when she answered, "Are you almost done?" She was. "Well come home soon. Lauren and I are having a snowball fight."

I pulled into Lauren's drive and told her dad I had arrived. I scooped snow from the edges of my windshield where the wipers had moved it in their fury and waited. Of course I nailed her the moment she stepped out the door, and would you believe she whined? "That was so not cool, Miss Melissa!"

"You're not supposed to gripe, honey," I shot back. "You're supposed to scoop up a handful and throw it back at me!"

Still the blase continued, "It's just a little snow," she sassed. "I used to spend my winters in Montana."

Now I just laughed, "Honey," I said, "I lived in New Hampshire as a kid. I have seen my fair share of 'real' snow. That's why I love this so much." Then I giggled and squealed all the way home. After a final jaded comparison of my snow glee to her own boy glee, she relented.

Back at the house, I put on my tennis shoes and a pair of leather gloves, then we walked outside just as Burgundy arrived with Grandmama. The snow flew immediately. Twice I had snow in my bra, and we squared off across the cars from each other repeatedly; the cars were the best source of pine-needle-less snow.

Eventually, cold, wet and tired, we turned away from shoving snow in each other's ears and lugged all Mark's plants into the house. Grandmama said something about citrus not liking snow. Then Grandmama took the girls to the still-virgin snowfall in the backyard, where she showed them how to roll snow, and they started a snowman.

While they worked on the snowman, I made hot cocoa in the kitchen using Hershey's cocoa powder, sugar, and soy milk. Sometime while it heated, the girls finished their snowman and came inside. By finished, I mean that they stacked three equally large balls of snow on top of one another and called it a snowman. No coal, no carrot, no scarf, and sure as shootin' no hat!

Burgundy hadn't had an opportunity yet to do her homework, including Algebra, Science, and Tuba practice. I passed out cocoa with marshmallows, but I put Lauren's in a plastic cup and took her home.

I drove home where Burgundy finished her Tuba practice. While she worked on Algebra and I played Guitar Hero III, Mark finally arrived after his final exam in Calculus III. Naturally he completed the test with ease; I love smart boys!

By the time we cleaned up, put Burgundy in bed, and crawled in bed ourselves, the clock read 12:12. A late night, true, but augmented by snow. Snow in Houston.

Dec. 9th, 2008



So last week while planning the party during multiple dull meetings, I employed my google-fu to find cake ideas for Burgundy. At one point, Satan prompted me to google "DIY Guitar Hero Cake." I can't imagine how else it would occur to me to type those exact words, for which this is the second entry. The moment I saw the cake, I knew that, a) I had no choice but to make the cake, and b) it was gonna be easy-peasy. Quit laughing.

So while dropping Burgundy off at Tabby's house Friday evening, I used a big piece of paper that Tabby had lying about to trace the outline of her husband's Guitar Hero guitar. Then I went to Michaels and bought fondant. And then I went home and set to work.

The immediate and brutal fallout from the inaccuracy of assumption b immediately went to war with the fundamental truth and reality of assumption a. In other words, this cake was a stinging, vicious, 8th-grade-girl bitch to make, and I still had no choice but to finish it.

I used three boxed double chocolate fudge cake mixes (cakes from scratch are all fine and good, but I only had about 18 hours to make the cake, and I needed to sleep, too!) and four tubs of double chocolate fudge icing.

I baked the first two cakes, then used the guitar shape I had traced to cut around the cakes. I iced and layered them, and on the 5th day I rested.

At this point, I realized that I could not use the detritus from cakes one and two to form the neck and head. Off to Kroger I went, where I picked up more cake and an extra couple of icing tubs just in case.

I baked the third cake, and from it I cut the neck and the head. I added a layer of boards next to the guitar on the cake board (in fact a leaf from our dining room table covered in aluminum foil) upon which the neck could rest. I did this for two reasons. First, everyone knows that the neck is not as thick as the guitar. This thing had to ring of reality! Second, I did not have enough third cake to make a two-layer neck AND head, and I could feel my insides threatening to explode at the possibility of baking cake number 4.

I put down the neck and head, iced them, and made yet another trip to Micheal's as I realized that at noon the day of the party, I did not have time to make an extra batch of chocolate fondant and dye it black for the neck, head, and accents. I bought a box of fondant with black, brown, tan and "skin-tone pink" fondant. An aside: The picture on the box showed a cake decorated with faces in brown, tan, and pink, all with black hair. So how come the brown and tan weren't marked "skin-tone brown" and "skin-tone tan"? Grumble.

Made it home and realized I had nowhere near enough black fondant to make a black neck, head, and decorations. I decided that the neck could damn well be made of wood because I needed a nap. So I used brown for the neck and black for everything else. Then I dyed bits of the remaining white fondant bright rainbow colors for the "buttons" on the neck. I used leftover black to make the knobs on the head, and then I made the knobs for the guitar and used a lollipop stick covered in aluminum foil to make the whammy bar.

I dusted the white portion of the guitar with edible pearl dust to make it shimmer like a real guitar, then I mixed more pearl dust with lemon juice and painted it onto all the black parts. That made them actually shine under the light instead of lightly shimmering. The results:

More pictures from the birthday can be found here.

Dec. 8th, 2008


Burgundy's Surprise Party

The party came off without a hitch. We had at least 20 kids there for the SURPRISE part, and 11 young ladies spent the night. Let's see. At least 6 girls came but did not spend the night. Mandy, Shelby, Anna, Faith and Joy, and at least 1 girl whose name I can't remember. So that's 18 girls. Then the boys: Trey, Jack, Casey, Kyle, Christian, Josh, Aaron, and that's all I can remember at the moment. So a minimum of 25 kids plus Ms. Buchanan (Burgundy's English teacher from 7th grade) and three other parents, me, Mark, and JB.

Tabby brought Burgundy over at 610 PM to "pick up a change of clothes." Burgundy spent the night with Tabby Friday night, and Saturday around 5 I called and told Burgundy that a pipe had burst in my bathroom and her bedroom was flooded with raw sewage. I know, I'm evil, aren't I?

She walked in the door, and Mark immediately started in on Burgundy to get her tuba practice done while she was home. All 30 or so guests were hiding behind the couch and in the blind corner of the living room. They stayed churchmouse quiet while we overwhelmed Burgundy with instructions and details, then I said, "Okay, I need you to come on in to the kitchen, I need to sit down and talk to you." Mark stepped back, I led her into the room, and everyone exploded with SURPRISE!

She shrieked and giggled and immediately was surrounded by a swarm of excited, goofy teenagers.

They played while Mandy grilled hot dogs and I heated chili. I also made spiced hot cider with cloves, cinnamon, an orange, and a lemon.
After the food, we opened presents. Her friends gave her everything from CD's to a purse to a plant to cash. Lots of cash. She opened our gift last: Guitar Hero III with the guitar. Then she opened the one from her dad: Guitar Hero Aerosmith with the guitar.

Finally, after all that, Mark and I lit the candles and carried out the cake. I spent about ten hours on that cake. It took three boxes of cake and four tubs of icing. Not to mention about 2.5 pounds of fondant. Criminy.

The kids yelled and screamed and loved it, and every time I started to cut it, someone yelled, "did you get a picture?" Kyle told me that my cake would be on TV whether I liked it or not!

Well meeting's over, so I'd better get upstairs.

Nov. 13th, 2008


Generic Update

I'm wearing my brown, cabled, hand-knit sweater this morning. My favorite part of it is the hood. I plan to put a hood on the purple sweater, too, which is coming along very nicely. I have completed everything up to the point of rounding off the sleeve cap. I should finish that part tonight and build up the back neck portion. After that, all I'll have left will be weaving the shoulders together, knitting up the hood, and (gasp) cutting open the steek.

As for finishing the front, I plan to knit a long, narrow strip of cabling and attach it to the front, including going around the hood. All told, I should be able to finish this weekend. Thank goodness, because I never want to see it again.

Tomorrow is payday, and we will be completely done with Mark's student loan. It's a measure of how hard we've worked that I'm more excited about making this payment than I am about Christmas.

After the first payday in December, I'll be free to quit my job if I want. Our agreement was that I would be able to quit after we had less than twenty grand to pay off, and we'll be there after December 12. However, if I work an additional three weeks, turning the corner into 2009, the company will deposit $1000 into our HAS, which is mine to keep. Also, I'll receive five full days of paid time off. So those three weeks are gravy. I can work three weeks, half of which will be spent on Christmas break, for an extra thousand in cash and week of leave.

Meanwhile, we figured out we can pay off everything by July at our current rate. If I'm working through January anyway, doesn't it make sense to work the extra six months to just be done?

What's really tearing at my heart is that I would end up working through the last half-year of Burgundy's Junior High year. I'd really like to be able to get involved at the school and focus on Burgundy for that time before she heads off into high school. Over the summer kind of doesn't count. She'll already be in high school through the German language course and the band stuff. This is a very tough call for me. I'm glad I don't have to make it for a couple of months.

I'm in another meeting that should be over right now, and I am ravenous. I've already demolished a box of raisins, and I'm ready to eat my badge.

Nov. 5th, 2008


Oh What a Night

I cried this morning listening to Obama's acceptance speech. I cried again listening to McCain's concession speech.

Gauging from my interactions with Mark, Burgundy, Babydaddy, and even my co-workers, one safely may infer that I'm in an emotional state anyway; however, that not one but both of our presidential candidates moved me to tears within seconds of each other tells the essence of this election story for me.

For the first time in my memory (I'm only 33), both parties fielded a viable presidential candidate.

Obama inspired me; he honestly moved me just as he did the rest of the country. I heard a man taking a stand, being the possibility of hope and movement for a country that believed itself doomed to stagnancy. He stands as the possibility of movement for the middle class. He stands as an example of a man who, given every reason to cry victim, chose integrity to the power of himself as a creation.

Meanwhile, I have deep, heartfelt respect for McCain. I honor him. He spent decades doing what he believed was the right thing at great cost to himself. I believe he could have had the Republican nomination in 2004 instead of Bush if he had not bucked the party line so often before. He knows the ugly truth of war and its costs in a way that Obama never will. McCain would have been a better military leader.

I disagreed with both of them, too, on some pretty key issues. I now stand in opposition to deregulation as we've known it. I cheered along with fellow conservatives during the deregulation of the 90s - passed by the Republican Congress and signed by the Democrat President - and those activities have landed us here in this gory recession. Mark and I are blessed; the recession hasn't touched us. We both have very good, very stable jobs, and we're nearly out of debt. We have short-range and long-term goals we fully intend to meet. All the same, there's no denying that the bulk of the trouble we're in right now is due to the deregulation of the banking industry in the 90s. Deregulation that McCain still supports.

Meanwhile, I believe all people should pay taxes. Wealthy people should pay their share without loopholes. Very poor people should pay their share without loopholes. Obama disagrees and plans to add taxation to the very wealthy and use that money to increase the Earned Income Credit for the very poor. I believe this is morally wrong. Having been the very poor, I used every resource at my disposal to climb out of that pit. I still am paying off the debt from college, but it is my debt, and the money I spent was my money.

At one point, I had decided that their bailout behavior - flip sides of the same coin - exhibited such flagrant disregard for economics and capitalist ideals that I planned to vote for Bob Barr. My resolution wore thin through last week as I understood more and more that in this election, my vote more than ever counted. My one vote.

I went to the polling booth yesterday with solid convictions on the Congressional, State, and local elections. I went completely in the dark about the presidential election. I felt that McCain deserved it and would lead better militarily. I felt that Obama had a better sense of the needs of the middle class. I prayed driving up to the school where I vote. Fervently. And was answered with an abiding conviction that both were good choices. I walked to the booth, now computerized, and of course, I had to make the hardest choice first. I chose Bob Barr. I then selected the rest of the candidates for whom I planned to vote. I flipped back to the beginning and changed my presidential vote to McCain. I flipped through to check that I had selected correctly on the State and local elections once more. I came to the cast ballot button, and scrolled back to the beginning. I looked at my choices, and I considered what would be best. In the end, I voted for intangibles: inspiration and hope. I voted for Obama.

I didn't go home light-hearted, and I've been anxious and restless. I did not sleep well. I am proud, even thrilled, to be a part of a country and to have been a part of elections that touched so many people so deeply. What a deep and profound honor to be able to make such a difficult choice.

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