Monday, November 28, 2011

Palindromes: A Word-Nerd's Friend

In 2009 comedian Demetri Martin published a very unique poem that circulated around the internet and thoroughly impressed a lot of people. And I must say, I am seriously jealous--not because he wrote a poem or because the poem actually became popular, but because this poem was a 224-word...


See, I kind of have a thing about palindromes. My fifth grade teacher Mrs. Rhymes introduced me to them with "Pam A. sees a map" and I've been hooked ever since. (By the way, isn't it apropos that her name was Mrs. Rhymes? And also by the way, I've never considered this before, but I wonder now if she was related to Busta?) Anyway, whenever I'm driving or waiting at the doctor's office without a good book to read, I try to think of palindromes. Most of them are stupid. Very few of them make sense. But the wonderful thing to remember about language is that every day we say numerous sentences that no one else has ever said or written or heard before. Isn't that great? You're so original! Every single day! So with that in mind, I'd like to think that my little gems are sentences that somewhere, somehow could actually be uttered in real human discourse. Because you never know, maybe someone really needs to ask their cats if their roommate Marc ate all their tacos….right?

So here are a few of my favorites, most of which contain names, for some reason:

1. Crap! Ned got an oil lion at Ogden Parc!

2. Rae's deer tap at Reed's ear.

3. Salad elf fled--alas!

4. Enid did dine.

5. No lava nixes sex in Avalon.

6. So cats, Marc crams tacos?

7. Wow, Olga's aglow--ow!

8. Sad? I'm not a ton, Midas.

9. Have gnus and Edna sung, Eva H.?

10. Llama deified a mall.

Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week. Keew lla ere eb lli. Uoy knaht, Uoy knaht!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Of Carols, Callbacks, and Kids

A couple of weeks ago, I did something rather out of character. A friend from my playgroup had suggested that we get a group together to go see our local theatre's production of A Christmas Carol as a date night with our husbands. I went on the theatre's website to scrounge out ticket prices and other details, and came across a tab that said "Auditions." I clicked on it.

And clicked.

And clicked.

And clicked.

And somehow found myself facing a page that said, "You have reserved an audition slot at 7:10 P.M. Monday, October 17th."

I have to say, I really had no intention of ending up there…not unlike Lucy Pevensie poking around in a coat closet and arriving unexpectedly in glittering white Narnia. As in, how did I get here and where is my familiar lamppost? But once I had reserved an audition, though I waffled a bit the following days, I figured I might as well go ahead with it, for the experience, if nothing else. I grew up around stage productions (my mom having been a high school drama teacher during my childhood) and have had a handful of bit parts in a handful of plays, including bot not limited to: baby spider in Charlotte's Web, Bielke, one of the two younger, insignificant daughters in Fiddler on the Roof (Bielke--how's that for a winner of a name?), and Gracie Shinn in The Music Man. Thank you very much for not telling me you've never heard of any of these. Destined for greatness, I tell you!

At any rate, this Monday night, I arrived, knees knocking, at my first real-deal audition ever. There's a pretty significant difference between playing baby spider when you're six and your mom's the play director and trying out for a large-scale production with the primary purveyor of live theatre in the eastern suburbs of the nation's fifth largest city. With sixteen prepared bars of Till There Was You rolling around in my head, I waited my turn to read for the Ghost of Christmas Past. (Funny, by the way, how many hours of anxiety can be devoted to a process that takes all of three minutes.) When my name was called, I passed through the heavy stage curtains and gave what I thought was actually a decent rendition of Scrooge's first apparition--not too fast, bit of humor thrown in. Buoyed by this confidence, I moved on to the singing portion of the audition, where the music director ended up asking me to sing not only my 16 prepared bars, but the entire song. Wish I had considered this a possibility when I spent the entire drive there trying to get those first two phrases right, chanting "Bells-hill-never-heard-singing…birds-sky-never-saw-winging…" Thankfully, the piano was placed such that I could look over his shoulder and, like the song says, he "never saw me winging" it. I walked to my car feeling pumped. Maybe, just maybe, I might get a callback.

Much to my excitement, I did! Moving right along in the world from Bielke and baby spider, I was called back for…Woman #2! Hey, it must be an important role, since there's a Woman #2 in just about every stage production out there, right? The phone call went something like this:

Girl on the phone: "We'd like to bring you back in for Woman #2 in the [garbled, sounded like "pauper"] scene."

Me: "Woman #2 in the what scene?"

Girl on the phone: "The Auper scene. You know, like, Auper?"

Me: "Yes, of course. Okay, see you then!"

I had no idea what she'd said, but I figured I'd get it straightened out when I arrived on Wednesday night. Because who cares what scene it was? Callback, glorious callback!

Upon arrival at the callback, I saw piles of mini-scripts (which all the cool people were calling "slides"). None of the slides said anything about paupers (or "aupers," for that matter). I was stumped and finally had to ask someone for assistance. Thus was I informed that I was there for the "Topper" scene--Topper apparently being a character who attends Scrooge's nephew's Christmas party. Finally I was invited back with a group of others also being sized up for parts in this scene. It was fascinating, exhilarating to be in an arena performing something other than finger puppet antics and feats of bravery involving poop. It's been so long since I've experienced something so unapologetically competitive--and it felt really, really good. Even though I didn't really know what I was doing, and quite likely looked like a major idiot, and tried to take my cues (literally and figuratively) from the other more experienced performers there, I had a great time…which was the point in the first place.

So now I await the final word, due tomorrow, of whether I am woman enough to be Woman #2. I find myself really wanting to be a part of this play. But as I consider the reality of the commitment--rehearsals several nights a week, seven shows a week in the month of December--I find that Doubt and Guilt are knocking at my door just as surely as Scrooge's ghosts. Doubt says, "Will it really be worth it to miss out on all that time with my kids? Will I be able to care for them properly if I'm committed so many hours a week elsewhere? Won't they miss me if I'm not there to put them to bed every night?" Guilt picks up where Doubt leaves off, telling me I couldn't possibly be a good mother if I leave my kids that much, that I'll have to wean the baby if I'm going to be gone that many hours a week, that I'll ruin Christmas for all of them, all because of my own selfishness. Surely I can't do this play…because (did I forget?)…

I have kids.

And I realize that's the excuse that trumps everything, all the time. It's the sign I might as well have tattooed to my forehead, the limitation I have placed on myself in so many ways since I stopped working four years ago. Over and over: I couldn't possibly do (fill-in-the-blank-thing-I-think-I-want-to-do). I have kids. Like they're some debilitating disease that keeps me home-bound. The truth is, they're not. They're wonderful little people with a wonderful dad who supports me pursuing my passions. So why don't I? I'm starting to think that the "I have kids" line is something a lot of us moms throw at anything that threatens us, anything we're afraid to try. We do kids and kids and kids all day long and we start to be afraid that maybe we won't be good at anything but kids anymore.

But I don't want to be like that, and I'll bet you don't either, mom-friend. I have to believe that by showing my kids that I have passions, it may teach them to have passions, too. If I get out there and use my God-given gifts (not just the baby-rocking and/or Spiderman-web-throwing ones), I have to hope that my children will see that as important, a value we hold in this family.

And frankly, if you can do kids, you can do anything, mamas. Kids are the hard part. Everything else is cake.

So woman #2, it's on. I am ready to step into your uncomfortable Victorian shoes. I think it's worth it and it's gonna be okay. And (have to conclude with this) God bless us, everyone!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Surprise! It's your hero!

I've been a Mac user since 2002 (and like most other dedicated Mac users, yes, I say that with a certain sense of smug superiority) but I'm no big Apple nut. I've never watched a Keynote, don't have the sticker on my car, didn't rush out to replace my iPod Touch when my toddler threw it in the trash, and my main interest in Apple's line of operating systems is when they're going to run out of species of large cats. So aside from Steve Jobs being an obvious cultural icon, you wouldn't think his death would matter much to me. I mean, I'm just this suburban stay-at-home mom, right? What do I care about the passing of some CEO? Some incredibly brilliant, world-changing, paradigm-shifting CEO?


The weird thing is, I find myself caring deeply. I never followed Jobs' career very closely, his ascent and descent and then mega-skyrocket, and until I googled him tonight, knew next to nothing about his personal life. What I have seen, though, is his tremendous inspirational impact on my husband. For years, Anthony has talked about Jobs' genius for innovation, his simple yet effective approach to design, and a variety of other qualities that have made Apple a totally unique business and brand. And through our discussions about Jobs, I have come to recognize (who wouldn't?) why he has long stood out as a hero for my husband. Because truly, someone like him, someone who SERIOUSLY changes the world, only comes around every great, great once in awhile. Articles online are comparing him to Edison left and right, but in far fewer years than Edison, he revolutionized this world. And I don't even care about the revolution itself so much--in many ways, I'm your quintessential Luddite clinging to my Discman, and I still refuse to type on the wee, beady iPad keys--but I simply have to stand in awe of the power of the individual. Marking Jobs' passing is one of those strange moments when you know you're living out history. I don't know if people during the Renaissance thought, Wow, this is one heck of a renaissance we're experiencing here! but 21st century me knows I am living in a technological revolution, and I know (although I'm sure he worked with a team of great minds) Steve Jobs was largely responsible for that revolution.

I know I'm not saying anything new. I know that a bo-jillion other bloggers out there are eulogizing and weeping and teeth-gnashing over this guy's demise, heaping upon him the same kind of adulations I just have. The difference, to me, is perspective. If even I, Mrs. Joe Schmoe American Housewife, am touched and saddened by this stranger's death, I think he must have been something very special indeed--an unlikely hero for this unlikely fan.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hostess Schmostess

Now that we've been in our new, mega-mondo house for a few months, we've had the opportunity to host several events, some of them large-scale, some of them small. I've always enjoyed entertaining and have dived into it with even greater effort since the move. I thought I'd share a few things I've learned about host/essing over the years, such as...

1. Being a good hostess is, in part, a lot like being a good waitress. Does anyone need more wine? Have we run out of forks or ice? A well-provisioned guest is a happy guest. This is the behind-the-scenes stuff that people shouldn't even notice. The wine and the forks should just keep appearing, like loaves and fishes out of your proverbial basket. So your job is to a.) be prepared by having more than enough of everything to begin with, b.) notice when a lack appears, and c.) then do something about it.

2. Hosting is an honor, and oddly enough can be a very humbling experience. You'd think that as the person showcasing her fabulous house and entertaining dozens of people with (hopefully) some charm and grace, I'd feel some smug superiority. Yes, you peons, enjoy my abundance for this one evening before you go back to your squalor. For me, it is rather the opposite. I feel so humbled that all these people would even want to come to my house, so blessed that God has gifted us this house and allowed us to be the ones opening it to so many people, so pleased and satisfied to be living the dream of entertaining large groups. As people left an event we recently hosted, they were all saying thank you, almost as though they had inconvenienced us or were indebted to us, and I found myself responding with the phrase "my pleasure." I never use this phrase because it always seems to come off insincere and reminds me of Chick Fil-A, where they make their employees say this instead of "you're welcome" (and I just have a hard time believing it's truly their pleasure to get me more Polynesian sauce). But truly, it is a pleasure to provide the space for people to deepen their relationships with each other and enjoy themselves--for that place to be our home is a remarkable gift.

3. Forgive and forget. People are going to cancel 15 minutes prior to an event you've already paid good money and spent good time preparing for them to attend. They're going to grind Cheetos into your carpet and "forget" to tell you about it. And someday, someone is going to drop a serious deuce in your bathroom during a party. This comes with the territory, so if you're going to continue to host events (and enjoy it) you just gotta deal. Like anything else in life, there are drawbacks. But in my mind, being a gracious hostess is a ministry, a little way of extending an attribute of God to others. God always throws his arms wide, accepts us just as we are, and says, "With me, you are home." I know I want to be treated this way--and I know I would want to be invited back for next year's party even after the dropping of a great and terrible deuce.

4. It's not a party without food--good food. Inviting people to a "party" and providing a $5 Little Caesar's Hot-N-Ready reminds me of the words of the immortal Judge Judy: "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining." If I'm calling it a party, I'm going to spring for at least two Hot-N-Readys. Or maybe a carefully selected menu of tasty goodies.

5. Last but not least, vacuum afterward, not before. No one's looking at your carpet. Unless it's covered with crushed Doritos. Then vacuum before and after, because those can really stick in your toes. Word to the wise.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Don't go too far, don't stay too long, don't do too much

Over the years, Anthony and I have learned that vacationing with little kids can be something of an oxymoron. Like many parents before us, we've come home from time away feeling like we need a vacation from our vacation. Have you ever tried discreetly breastfeeding a screaming, kicking baby in the middle seat on a plane flanked by two beefy seatmates? Have you ever huddled over a laptop in a dark hotel room sharing a pair of earbuds with your husband so you could watch a movie while your kids sleep? Have you ever visited a new place with exciting sites to see only to find yourself at the kids' play area at the MALL? Well, friends, I have done all of these things and I can certainly say they don't fit my definition of a dream vacation. (And yes, I know, in the grand scheme of things, this is what they call a "white whine" sort of problem--yes, I am grateful to get to go on vacation at all.) The good news, though, is that even if you're not some jet-setting celebrity who can bring along a nanny entourage and you actually have visions of enjoying travel with your children rather than apart from them, I do believe there are some things you can do to make vacationing with kids a success (by the way, my definition of success is "fun and not completely, soul-suckingly stressful"…I'm not saying you're ever going to feel super rested and refreshed after a trip with kids). Our family just returned from a getaway that I feel was the first successful (by the above definition) trip we've ever taken. Here are three things I've learned…

1. Don't go too far. As in, don't travel longer than you can stand to listen to whining…just kidding…sort of. In the past, we've taken the kids as far as Illinois, and I know people who have even traveled internationally with little ones, but for this family, if it takes longer than a couple of hours to get to the destination, it just might not be worth it. I think a flight to France with kids 4, 2, and 2 months would land me in L'hospital Mental by the time we deplaned. This weekend, we traveled to Prescott, AZ, a 2.5 hour drive from our home in Mesa. We stopped once each way and the kids did great.

2. Don't stay too long. Children are creatures of habit and routine. Take them out of that pretty soon you'll feel like you're staying at the Bates Motel. Our trip to Prescott was just two days, but you know what they say…leave wishing you could have stayed just a little bit longer.

3. Don't do too much. This is probably a good rule for vacations in general, but little kids especially simply have their limits and need time to rest, chill out, and play. In Prescott this weekend, we took the kids on a hike at Thumb Butte. For some reason, I was under the impression that my 2 and 4-year-old could do the 1.75 mile trail. So of course I was disappointed to realize that this was a totally ludicrous expectation (2-year-old + switchbacks = disaster). Thankfully, we had the option of a shorter tromp on a different trail. We didn't see the view from the top of the butte, but we also didn't lose anyone in a ravine or have to carry 30 pounds of 2-year-old down precarious ground. The stress averted was greater than the disappointment incurred, and I'll wager that's true for a lot of activities that sound like fun on vacation with kids.

Essentially, each of these little guidelines have the same root meaning: adjust your expectations. Until our kids are older, I've come to expect that vacations with them will not be action-packed or particularly rejuvenating. I see them now as opportunities to get out of town, go places and do things we don't normally get to do, and find teachable moments along the way. Even the littlest things can be adventures for small children, and there is magic in that--magic I really enjoyed this weekend.

Above all, I say GO! Don't let inhibitions keep you from ever traveling with your kids. And if at all possible, stay at the Motor Lodge in Prescott, AZ. It is one funky-awesome place.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

When Personal Ceased to be Private

Hey, you.

Yeah, you, perfect stranger. Let me ask you something.

Can I get your phone number? No? How about your email address? Why not? It's for demographic purposes. Hey, why are you walking away?

Is it just me, or is giving your phone number or email address to a total stranger NOT something you do on a regular basis? At a bar, on the bus, even at church--under what circumstances are you willing to part with these particulars? Doesn't someone usually have to earn your trust (or at least your acquaintance) to gain access to them? For me, the answer is yes, they do. And yet, with increasing frequency, I have lately been asked at retail stores to provide both these personal identifiers upon checking out--as though this is no big deal.

What makes this so unbelievable to me is that all around us are are stories of stolen identities, hacked accounts, fraudulent credit card charges. This is the golden age of identity theft. Who doesn't know someone who has been touched by this? You can even hire companies now whose sole purpose is to protect you against this crime. As someone who's seen the devastating effects of identity theft firsthand, I'm not likely to verbally give out much more than my name within earshot of total strangers. But, against all reason, retail stores expect their customers to blithely spew out their personal information like candy out of a broken pinata.

It's become so pervasive and obnoxious that I find myself driving away from these encounters fantasizing about the preposterous information I'm going to give next time--the fake addresses, spelled out one letter at a time. "My email address? Sure, it's You did ask me for my private information, right?" Or " Can you read it back to me to make sure you got it?" I know it's not really the employee's fault for asking. I'm sure they're trained to do so and probably even policed by their managers about how many they can get in a shift. But I have had the occasional run-in with an employee who seems genuinely affronted that I won't supply my private information upon request. Like this exchange I recently had at Pier 1:

"Can I get your phone number?"

"I don't give it out."

"Oh, but it's just for demographic purposes."

"Sorry, I don't give it out."

Look of confusion and offense.

"Can I get your email address?"

(Laughter) "No, I don't give that out either."

"Oh, but it's just so you can receive coupons."

"I'm not interested, thanks."

"Okay. Would you like to sign up for our Rewards Card and receive X percent off your purchase today?"

Primal scream; I climb over the counter and throttle salesperson.

Seriously, though, when did personal information cease to be private? Is this the path our culture of exposure leads to? If people I've met once or twice can see my family's vacation photos on Facebook, maybe the amiable stranger behind the counter at Bed, Bath, and Beyond is entitled to give me a call on his next break. But last I checked with my wrong-o-meter, that's just not okay.

So what do you think? Is it reasonable for a retail chain to expect people to issue forth their phone number upon request? Or is it totally presumptuous and an invasion of privacy to even ask? For now, I'm just going to be the broken record that keeps saying no.

And if they have a problem with that, they can reach me at

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Telling Myself the Truth: the Experience of a Hypnobirth

Nine days ago I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl, Christine Hope. Unlike my first two deliveries, with this one I opted to do a natural, unmedicated birth. Otherwise known as Insanity--(or some people would have me believe). I'm no glutton for punishment and (surprise!) I don't actually like pain, but I had my reasons for wanting to at least attempt to do this crazy crunchy granola thing, and now that it's all said and done, I feel so pleased with and moved by the experience that I wanted to share about it here on my Soapbox.

So…why would any woman in her right mind choose to endure hours--in my case 15 hours--of unparalleled physical pain with no medical relief? To earn some weird badge of honor? To atone for the sin of Eve? To manipulate her children in years to come by bemoaning the X amount of hours she spent in labor to bring them into the world? It's somewhat hard to explain, but no, no, and no. For me, the desire to give birth naturally stemmed from a few (non-martyring) factors. First, because I had already experienced giving birth to two other children with the support of our friend Mr. Epidural, I wanted to try a different experience--perhaps to unite myself with those billions of women who have for centuries given birth in this way. And because there were a few aspects of my first two births that I felt dissatisfied with, this time I selected a midwife instead of an OB doctor. Knowing that the midwife's general philosophy runs along the lines of nonintervention, I decided to go with that flow as well. (Not that she would/could have stopped me from receiving pain medication; I did, after all, give birth at a hospital.) Also, to a degree of much less importance to me, I knew that an epidural carries with it some (very minimal) risks to both mother and baby and can make the baby quite a bit sleepier after birth. I would argue that babies are sleepy after birth no matter what, so this was not a huge deal to me. But there you have it.

The main reason, though, that I felt such a keen inclination to go without pain medication this time around has to do with my perpetual obsession with the interplay between mind and body--or, more aptly in this situation, the power of the mind over the body. As I've alluded to elsewhere on this blog, in the two years since my last child Elliot was born, I've been fighting the mindbody battle against my own funky version of fibromyalgia. This means I have roving muscle and joint pain that comes and goes in correlation with my levels of stress and negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and depression. Basically, my body is a total drama queen that likes to act out my emotions on its own. As I began to understand this underlying connection (believe me, I was tested for every known disease, disorder, and allergy and experimented with diet, exercise, and sleep to no avail) I was able to mitigate my pain by meditation, relaxation, taking time for myself, and simply being aware of my circumstances. Having achieved this success gave me the confidence to believe I could use my mind to deal with pain on any level--even the "10 out of 10" pain of labor and delivery. If I could do that, I knew that on my days of doubting whether all that mumbo-jumbo works (because some days are harder than others), I could always look back on unmedicated, mind-tempered childbirth as a victory--possibly the greatest mindbody victory of all.

Enter Marie F. Mongan's book, Hypnobirthing. I purchased this book after reading positive reviews online and decided to use it as my guide to accomplishing this goal I considered so worthwhile. Upon reading it, my primary takeaway was Mongan's premise that fear is the enemy during childbirth. (And isn't that true of life in general?) Fear gives rise to tension, which gives rise to pain. And truly, in a normal childbirth, there is nothing to fear. Mongan reiterates many times the fact that the female body is meant to do everything it does during labor. Your uterus is supposed to contract--how else could it let the baby out? You're supposed to feel pressure--there's a seven-pound bundle of humanity about to come out of you. Thus, through a combination of meditation/visualization, breathing techniques, and simply telling yourself the truth, fear can be eliminated and pain drastically reduced.

And guess what? It worked!

As contractions came rolling down the hatch, I was able to maintain a state of mental calm, reminding myself that there was nothing to fear, that this was a perfectly natural and appropriate process. I reminded myself that soon after I had made the decision to try a natural birth, I was praying about it when I felt a strong assurance from God that I would accomplish this. I put on my iPod and, to the tune of some of my favorite ambient music, visited a place I've been many times in meditation--floating on a raft in brilliant sunlight on a perfectly tranquil bay. (Yeah, I know it sounds cheesy, but you can't argue with success.) And I must have appeared to be in some kind of tripped-out state, because when Anthony told the admitting staffer at the hospital that I was in labor, she looked at me--headphones on, eyes closed, practically slumped over in the wheelchair--and said quizzically, "Is she all right?" But I really was all right. Only two or three times during the labor did I start to feel fear--and let me tell you, when I did, those contractions were ten times worse than the others. When I kept fear out of my mind, the pain was present but bearable. And about 35 minutes after arriving at the hospital, the whole thing was over and I was holding our precious child.

In the nine days since this experience, I've had some time to reflect upon what it taught me, and yes, it does serve as a touchstone to remind me of my mind's power over pain. It also has instilled in me irrevocably the truth that fear can either cause or compound pain, and reminds me that I am not powerless against fear. This has spiritual as well as physical value. I can choose to tell myself the truth about any situation, even if it is just to say "God is in control" or "Jesus, I trust in You." I don't want fear to be an inevitability in my life, and this birth experience was a powerful reminder that it doesn't have to be. I am thankful for all of these lessons…though I almost always run from pain, it always has something to teach.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What I've Learned from Less Facebook

This Lent, I was inspired for the third year in a row by a priest friend of ours who recommends a fast from "words and images" (i.e. media that distracts us from God or is not edifying). This time around, I decided to refrain from two such media: radio in the car--which usually results in the harriedness of constant station-surfing and yelling at my kids because I can't hear them and I want to hear the music--and Facebook. I've known for awhile that Facebook is a huge distraction and time-waster in my life--probably one I could do with a lot less of. Confession: on an average day, I probably normally look at it ten times a day. That's a LOT. Just think of all the useful stuff I could do with all that time, I thought. And I must say that even in just this first half of Lent, going without Facebook except for Sundays (Catholic tradition), I've learned several things, good and bad, about The Social Network, its impact on young adult culture, and myself. Such as….

1. For me, Facebook is one more way to benchmark myself against others--not so much whether someone else had another baby or got a great job, but (petty and narcissistic as it sounds) I find myself caring about being an interesting Facebook post-er. If my posts idle forlornly in the news feed with maybe one "like" from my husband, while other people's garner tons of comments, I feel all lame and boring.

2. In other ways, however, Facebook can really boost self-esteem. The feeling of blasting out good or exciting news to a large number of people can buoy me for the better part of a day. For my extroverted side, this is a giddy trip, and is probably the main thing I've missed in my FB hiatus. "Only connect."

3. Speaking of connection, I also realize now that if something is important enough to someone who's important to me (and vice versa), I'll hear about it without Facebook. I might not hear about it instantaneously, but not being on Facebook doesn't mean falling off the planet.

4. In these last three weeks without Facebook, I've improved vastly on keeping up with direct communication like email. Without the perpetual influx of "communication" via status updates making me feel connected to anyone and everyone on FB, I'm remembering to actually communicate one-on-one.

5. The word "friend" is a real chameleon. Facebook has, of course, forever added a new definition of this word to the English language, and I'm starting to re-think who should and should not compose that constellation of smiling faces of my profile. (I predict in ten years the OE Dictionary will have to include an entry under "friend" that explains what it means on Facebook…if anyone can even nail down such a fuzzy concept.) My new idea, after a break from Facebook has made me realize how few of my FB "friends" match my definition of that word in real life, is wouldn't it be ideal if they offered one-week trial friendships? You could one-week trial "friend" those people you'd like to catch up with at a high school reunion so you could get a general idea of what's going on in their lives, and then that's it. They don't have to forever after have access to all your pictures and status updates. Eh? Eh? Are you listening, Mark Zuckerberg?

6. Facebook truly is the ultimate social convenience. I don't have to remember anyone's email address, birthday, place of employment, or even their favorite music--just their name. I enter it into a box and there they are, the most flattering picture of them ready to supply most anything I ask. Having gotten used to this, it would be tough to do without long-term. I will say, however, that I'm pretty sure this is making us all extremely lazy (real) friends. My birthday isn't listed on Facebook, and you know how many birthday wishes I got from friends last year? Three. Yeah, um…that kinda hurt. If we can't be bothered to actually remember friends' birthdays or any other relevant personal information simply because we care enough to do so, I call that a degradation of true friendship.

7. Lastly, without limits on my Facebook-ing, I waste a LOT of time absorbing meaningless information that doesn't edify and which I soon forget. With a one-day-a-week limit, I can keep myself from misusing my time so egregiously throughout the week and get caught up in one day on what I've missed. Then again, I of course don't like limits. They remind me of draconian curfew times and painful weight loss and NO FUN. But with certain things, I guess I just have to accept that moderation will not naturally flow forth to keep me in appropriate balance. Unlike other areas, where years of experience have conditioned me to self-regulate healthy boundaries (eating fast food, spending too much, swimming in vats of chocolate, hiring the dancing boys--wait, where were we?) Facebook is a relatively new phenomenon in my life. I think I need to put this puppy through a little obedience school before I let it run around the park without a leash. Maybe after a period of imposed limits, the habit of self-regulation will set in and I won't need to be so strict. I look forward to that day. But until then, I think I'm going to (even after Lent) stick to my Facebook fast. And in the meantime, I'm enjoying all this extra time I can use to play Bricks Breaking and Angry Birds.

Just kidding. ;)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Creativity and "The Northernness"

If you've ever read C. S. Lewis' Surprised by Joy (which I had to for a class in college--these days I'm nowhere near that ambitious in my spiritual literature) you might recall a concept he calls "the Northernness." When Lewis was young, he came across a headline and an image in a book that inexplicably filled him with a sense of longing of the profoundest kind--"a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity…almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that…I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country." He named this visceral emotion "Northernness" and, deeply inspired, wrote a poem on the spot (which, with typical self-deprecation, he in retrospect essentially called garbage).

Though I remember very little about the rest of Surprised by Joy, I have never forgotten the Northernness because I, too, have had experiences of it--almost impossible to describe, those rare moments in life when a pin pricks the universe and you feel utterly transported, standing on holy ground. The stillness of a frozen lake in winter; a first discovery of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry; the moon rising over empty desert. The other reason I recall this concept so clearly, though, is that Lewis goes on to discuss later in the book his disappointment in the course of life that this mystical emotion or experience, the "old thrill" seemed to become rarer and rarer. "To 'get it again' became my constant endeavor; while reading every poem, hearing every piece of music, going for every walk, I stood anxious sentinel at my own mind to watch whether the blessed moment was beginning and to retain it if it did. …But far more often I frightened it away by my greedy impatience to snare it, and, even when it came, instantly destroyed it by introspection." This, too, I have experienced first-hand. The desire to capture a moment of mysticism can overpower the experience of mysticism itself and thereby tarnish it, obliterate its natural occurrence. Still (and forgive me, I can't find the reference in the book) I remember Lewis going on to say essentially that the desire for the Northernness is, in a sense, the Northernness itself. In other words, even if we're not being struck by these thunderbolts of awe on a regular basis, and even if we feel lesser and lower for having lost the ability to consistently have such experiences, it is our desire to have them that matters, that attests to their existence and our connection to them.

Lately I have been feeling this same way about creativity. Anthony and I have long talks these days about how much we want to be creative people. He wants to write and perform music; I want to write something, create something--I just don't know what. Neither of us feels inspired at this time in life. We repeatedly attribute it to the constant stress and drain of having two small children and another on the way, not to mention work and church and sick parents and selling our house and moving into another. (As I mentioned in my last post, this window of life feels like a bit of a holding pattern.) But I've come to relate this situation to Lewis' summation that the longing for the Northernness is the Northernness. Meaning that even if Anthony and I are not currently living out our potential as creative people or are not currently feeling that creative spark very much, it doesn't mean we've ceased to be, deep down, creative people. The desire to create, in essence, is enough proof for me to keep believing that we are creative people. Not that I want to sit around making excuses and clinging to this claim of creativity with nothing to show for it. After all, I am also a big believer in what Anne Lamott calls the "shitty first draft"--as in, sometimes, you've just got to park yourself down someplace and crank out something, anything, and go from there.

Hence this blog post.

Regardless of how I feel (or don't feel), how inspired (or uninspired or unmotivated or just plain lazy), the show must go on. Though the longing for creativity represents the genuine creativity underneath, I've still got to sit myself down and create. So, in the midst of this gap of boredom, I've determined to make at least a weekly habit of creating, be it a collage for a friend, a nonsensical comic strip, or...yes, even a blog post. The "shitty first drafts" will continue until morale improves. ;)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bored, Season One

It almost defies belief, but lately I've actually been……bored. After finishing a giant, months-long transcription project that consumed most of my children-sleeping hours, I found myself somewhat uncomfortably awash in a sea of time. Weird, right? After any stretch of busyness, having time feels like paradise found, and you loll about in a contented, deep-breathing haze of movie watching, book reading, and neglected house cleaning. (At least that's what I do.) But after awhile, the movies you've been wanting to watch get watched and the books you've been wanting to read get read. Your house gets clean to the point of acceptability, so that what remains is the really deep cleaning stuff you didn't really want to do anyway. This is what's happened with me, and now I find myself unsure of what to do next. Two nights ago, telling myself I might as well, I actually spent a good thirty minutes cleaning my kitchen cabinets. Right, the exteriors of them. I can see your finger poised on the back button of your internet browser as you think to yourself, "Get a life, woman! Go make some new friends! Get a job or serve the poor!" I know, I know. That's what I tell myself half the time.

And yet….maybe this season of boredom is an unexpected gift. Being six months pregnant, I'm not exactly in a position to get a job, train for a triathlon, or start a new ministry with guns--er, spiritual gifts--blazing. Maybe bored--for now--is a good thing. Maybe bored is a privileged, sacred break from crazy. A break I shouldn't go stuffing crap into just to re-create a comfortable chaos. When my kids are blessedly napping during the day and I have no pressing tasks to complete, I've been trying to simply remember that silence is an experience I am usually whining about not getting enough of. Well, here you go, Miss Whiny Ungrateful-pants. Oh, yeah…thanks, God.

So even as I sit here on Sunday night wondering if it would be just plain lazy to watch yet another movie or read yet another book, to choose something leisurely over something constructive, I realize that all too soon my life won't look like this at all anymore. Three more months and a little pink-clad person will be demanding my time, my energy, my sleep, my milk. And sooner than that, more freelance work will probably come my way and I'll be wondering how I'll ever manage to finish that novel before the book club meeting…let alone clean the pee stains off my guest bathroom toilet. So for now, my hope is to shake off the guilt of un-productivity and enjoy this free gift of time. To just be okay with just being.

Friday, January 7, 2011

TV Without TV

People's responses vary when I tell them we don't have TV at our house. Some people give me an awkward smile and a look that says they think I'm probably also still breastfeeding my four-year-old and growing some mary-jane in my back yard. Sometimes, it's, "What, did your kids break it or something?" (Not an illogical assumption, but not the reason why.) Others give me a once-over to ascertain why I'm not wearing a long skirt and my hair in a bun. Still others make consolatory sounds, understanding me to mean that we simply don't have room in our tiny budget for anything pleasurable.

The reason we don't have TV at our house, though, is none of the above.

We're not trying to be revolutionaries; we're not trying to be saints. We possess neither a hydroponic garden nor a 12-inch mid-90s Sony in our basement for the purpose of viewing Veggie Tales. Our kids also did not break the TV, though one of them did recently scratch the screen (oh, that big, beautiful, last-year's-Christmas-bonus screen!) beyond any hope of repair. And, fortunately for us, our budget could stand to include a cable bill.

Truth be told, the story of our transition from TV to no TV is not terribly exciting, and actually reveals more about our moral failings than our moral superiority. When we first moved into our house 4 1/2 years ago and had the cable installed, we noticed that we were suddenly getting about 50 channels more than we had gotten at our previous residence. I justified this by telling myself that in Mesa, everything is cheaper than in Gilbert. (Badum-ching for East Valley residents.) So for four years, we blissfully enjoyed 70-some channels for $22 a month, never bothering to find out exactly why we had been blessed this delightful free upgrade…UNTIL my dear husband had to go and get the cable company to send a guy out to fix a problem with the internet. This astute employee happened to detect the extra channels, and our tidy little setup was nixed. Lo and behold, for four years, we had indeed been receiving $50 worth of cable for free every month.

The loss was sudden and shocking. I think I actually went through a few stages of grief. I specifically remember, that first night, watching a full five minutes of a soundless, fuzzy, black-and-white Lifetime movie--the only remnant of the former glory that used to stream gratis into my living room at the touch of a button--before accepting that it just wasn't coming back. A decision had to be made: would we now pony up the extra $50 a month or do without? Well, if you know us very well, you probably know we're way too cheap to may $1.50 a day for ANYthing other than food or rent. So no, we decided we couldn't justify paying to get the channels back. Then we realized that we were still paying $22 a month for the basic channels we never watched anyway. Well, heck, that's almost $1 a day for something we wouldn't use at all! And so, in an act of either defiance or frugality, we cancelled cable completely.

This was six months ago. Since then, for the same price we paid for cable, we've opted for a combination of a Netflix streaming plan and the TV shows we can get on (If you haven't heard of it, don't worry, it's legal.) The transition has been oddly meaningful. While I miss TV on a regular basis (like, um, every single day) I get the feeling that my life is much better without it. There are several reasons why.

-Since I'm now the master of my own viewing destiny, the stuff I watch these days means a lot more to me. Nothing is left to chance.

-Therefore, if I'm going to watch anything, it's a complete show or movie that I've picked out--it's a commitment. Since I can't just sit down and watch 5 minutes of something, I don't.

-When we had cable, I could totally justify watching trash. Like, "Oh, I just turned it on and it happened to be The Girls Next Door, and it was lewdly fascinating, so I kept watching it." Without TV, there would be several more (probably devious and sneaky) steps involved for me to end up watching anything so raunchy.

Overall, without TV, I waste less time and feed my brain less garbage. And as much as I miss my old pals the Real Housewives, that's an outcome worth keeping…for one LOW-LOW-LOW payment of $22 a month!!! Call in the next ten minutes and receive a genuine leather Chia Head juicer ABSOLUTELY FREE!!!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The O.T.

Wow…it's been awhile. If you've noticed a lapse in posts around here, let's just say that life is crazy AND I've been reading through the Old Testament. (Both are true.) I always try to keep myself reading a particular book of the Bible--I'm more likely to stick with it that way--and one day in September, I sat down and started Genesis. And like Forrest Gump, who "decided to go for a little run" and ends up running across the country for three years, I just kept on reading. Truth be told, after almost four months, I'm only at the end of Numbers. It would appear that, like Forrest, I'm on the three-year plan…however, one of my New Year's resolutions is to get to the finish line of Malachi by the end of 2011. I'm pretty sure I can do it. If you can get through the Pentateuch, I think you've pretty well proven your commitment and the rest is a home stretch. It's been 12 years since I read through the whole Bible, and from what I recall from back then, my 10th grade self did a LOT of skimming. Like most of Leviticus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel…well, probably most of the entire Old Testament. So this time, four books in, it's provided several eye-opening insights.

Here is a chronicle of my revelations. I'll try not to include too many lamentations. Yuk yuk.

The good/easy to swallow/fits in nicely with my faith paradigm stuff:

- Getting the whole picture of who the Israelite people were--their overarching story from the beginning--gives me a much better lens through which to view Jesus, the early Christians, and the Bible as a whole. I'm even learning significant little factoids, like that they're called the Hebrews because Abraham lived in Hebron. Never knew that before.

- A lot of the rules and regulations in the Law make a lot of sense in ways the people of that day couldn't possibly have understood, like not eating certain animals that probably carried numerous diseases or not touching dead bodies, which would have of course caused contamination. Obviously, God was protecting His people, and they just had to trust Him for His good reasons....much like I have to do about a lot of things today.

- Such a huge sense of relief--and a sense of just what a big deal it is--that Jesus' death on the cross constituted THE ONE sacrifice acceptable to God for ALL sin. When you read 100 pages of all the offerings and sacrifices the Hebrews had to perform, it really leaves an impression of what a burden we as Christians are freed from.

- Certain stories are really exceptionally moving. I developed a whole new affinity for Joseph after reading his story straight through. His continued depth of love for his brothers, even after they sold him as a slave to a foreign country, is challenging in the best way. I love the fact that he's always running off to a corner to weep with love for them.

The bad/challenging/kinda faith-shaking:

- Is it just me or was Moses a total megalomaniac? It's hard for me to buy that he was "more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3). To me, he appears pretty ego-driven and power-hungry, and since he's the only one hearing directly from God, it seems somewhat suspicious that God is always on his side. When Miriam and Aaron dare to oppose him, God yells at them and strikes Miriam with leprosy (why only Miriam, by the way?)

- The blatant sexism, such as the "Test for an Unfaithful Wife," in which if a man suspected his wife of infidelity (he didn't even have to have any reason; maybe he ate a bad quail taco and was feeling cranky) he could bring her before the authorities. She would be forced to drink a bitter liquid intended to make her barren or miscarry. If God intervened and the concoction didn't work, the woman was innocent. If the liquid did indeed function as expected, she was deemed guilty of sleeping around. (Numbers 5)

- Having to make atonement even for sins that were unintentional. This really rubs the wrong way against my understanding of God as gracious and compassionate, or the gentle Messiah who wouldn't even break a bruised reed (Isaiah 42).

- The number of times God totally destroys people, even His own people. With all the references to God as "slow to anger" elsewhere in Scripture, He sure is depicted as a hothead in the Pentateuch. It seems like Moses is constantly scooting off to the Tabernacle to pacify this volatile God who is about to wipe everybody off the face of the earth.

Anyway, these are my honest thoughts. I'm sure I should probably be reading with a good scholarly commentary that would explain some of the passages I find offensive--add that to my New Year's resolutions, I guess. I still believe, of course, that the Old Testament is the inspired Word of God…but it does seem to raise almost as many questions as it answers.