Monday, March 31, 2008

Domesticated Diversity

I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so Suzie Q. Homemaker. (Why the Q? Anyone know?) I helped to throw a baby shower this weekend and ended up spending most of Friday decorating and baking. I wore my apron most of Friday and even kept it on during the shower on Saturday morning. As I piled up my car with blueberry coffee cake, monkey bread, flowers, presents, prizes, cameras, and a pair of shoes to work in and one to hostess in...I began to wonder how some people just LOVE what I was doing. I did enjoy the time, but it was absolutely exhausting. I went straight from the shower to work and didn’t make it home until after 7:00pm. I threw the dishes in the sink and then crashed.

I worked until late afternoon yesterday and decided to not do my dishes or laundry, but to quickly pack up a lunch and adventure to the nearest patch of green. I sat on a blanket and enjoyed lunch by the greenway at my library. Like my father, I have a hard time staying still for long. I did manage to lie and read for the better part of an hour before even checking my watch. Lunch, a pleasant read, the bright Arizona sun all made for a lovely experience. I only feared being taken out by a stray fly from the ball fields a few times.

I went hiking this morning and then determined to make another batch of monkey bread to deliver to some dear friends. I revealed my plan and they promptly invited me for lunch. I pulled out the bunt pan and my trusty apron once more and threw the bread into bake. The cake cover rolled around in my front seat once again and I arrived at noon to enjoy chicken salad sandwiches and monkey bread in their delightfully green backyard. Motivated by their garden, I stopped at a greenhouse on the way home and picked up my own kit for enriching my bare patio. A planter of various flowers*, watering can, and a bag of miracle grow are all I have to show for my trip, but my patio is improving. I would say this is the end of my little dip into housekeeping, but I hear laundry calling. I'd better go do something drastically irresponsible and have ice cream and an orange for dinner.

*Those are my new flowers in the photo. Let's hope I can keep them alive for over 2 weeks.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bracket Ball

So today I'd like to talk to you about...brackets. Basketball brackets. Why do they matter? It's almost impossible to always do really well on them, right? And no matter how much research you put in, or how many opinions you have on the top teams, someone who knows absolutely nothing about the sport can just as easily be the one to win it all.

Case in point: me. No, I'm not winning the bracket I'm currently entered in, but I am in second place, which is not bad for someone who doesn't know what an SEC is or who still wonders if Xavier really is a real school.

Aside from picking all the schools with a little "one" next to their names to go to the final four, my picks were all at the height of randomness. My process involved reading the team names, closing my eyes, and trying to visualize someone telling me who had won. So I guess I was quite literally attempting to predict the outcome of the games. And judging from my current standing, I would say that that technique worked even better for me than actually knowing anything about basketball.

So the question returns: why does it matter? If you can know everything about the NCAA and still not be able to rack up as many points as I, a person who still doesn't even really know when March Madness ends, then why bother?

I guess it must end up being for the same reasons that I would agonize over my own picks for the Academy Awards. Just scroll a few entries down and you'll see just how much time I put into my Oscar preparation. It doesn't matter, really, and I won't get everything right. And left up to chance, someone who knows nothing about movies or the Oscars could possibly even do better than me with predicting the winners. It can be frustrating, but I still do it.

This all to say-- even though we may think we know everything about a subject, the odds could be that anyone at all could randomly do better than a so-called expert. So why do we bother, when there's nothing stopping a person who knows nothing about your passion from making a few blind picks shaming you on your own bracket? Possibly because it makes watching more fun. Maybe because we want to brag about our expertise when it's all over. Most likely though, it's probably just the oldest answer in the sports manual: for love of the game.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sticks and stones

I can’t imagine that anyone has escaped from this life without at least once feeling as though they didn’t fit in and therefore either stood out or simply blended into the patterned wall paper. I was one of those children who wanted to be noticed. I wanted to present my projects first, to volunteer to read aloud, or to audition for the solo or concert. As I prepare to address the topic of beauty from the inside out with first through sixth graders, I'm reminded of how quickly comments from others could zing away at my confidence level. The unkind boy at my grandmother’s swim club, the girl I overheard in passing at camp. The comment that has come to mind most often over the years was actually spoken by a child, but given life by an adult.

I remember the start of 4th grade as if it were yesterday. Our classroom was oddly located overlooking the school gym, making concentration next to impossible if any other class happened to make their way to P.E. during a test. The carpet was peach and we had windows that also faced the back parking lot and soccer fields. The room was on the second floor and had a long closet where we could hang our backpacks and lunch boxes or travel down to the computer lab at the other end of the hall.

I can’t recall what I wore on the first day of school, but I vividly remember Aaron walking up to me quite candidly and piping up that “My dad said you got fat this summer.” Not, “How was your summer?” or “I wonder what 4th grade will be like?” or even “I don’t like Mrs. So and So already.” Not only do I wonder what compelled Aaron to share this information, but I also wonder what made his father decide to proclaim such a message to his son. I have seen my 3rd and 4th grade photos, and there is no denying that my face goes from petite to round.

One sentence and I carry it always. Our words must be more than censored or filtered when speaking with children. Our hearts must be in tune to the ways their ears pick up and record not only our word choice, but our tone of voice as well. Our words, spoken and written, have so much power…to build and to break.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

love list.

I love cold mini Reese's cups. I love behind the scenes featurettes and blooper reels and commentaries. I love the smell of anything on the grill or in the smoker. I love checking to see what's new on Mugglenet. I love my blue Reefs flip flops I got from Ginger. I love board games. I love cherry coke. I love trivia-- asking the questions or guessing the answers. I love sitting outside in pretty weather. I love getting non-junk mail. I love going out to eat. I love the stars. I love making lists-- of things to do, of favorite movies, of places I've been, of songs to download, of ideas, of everything in between.

I love my $10 Target sunglasses. I love working someplace that is Good. I love making homemade chocolate chip cookies. I love singing along to musicals in my car, full out as if I'm the one on stage standing in the spotlight. I love painstakingly reading my Entertainment Weekly, cover to cover. I love lying in bed and throwing the sheet up and letting it float back down on me. I love Sudoku and crossword puzzles. I love a full DVR. I love my red microwave. I love going to Agatha Christie plays and trying to guess 'whodunnit' during intermission (and I love when I'm wrong and they surprise me!).

I love going to The Beach House. I love movie montages. I love getting out the familiar Chrismas ornaments. I love Sonic. I love getting a new Netflix movie in the mail. I love seeing people be nice to strangers, like letting someone who has only two items go in front of them at the grocery store. I love Fridays. I love building and playing with campfires. I love gchat. I love that there is a park right next door to my apartment where I can go walking. I love the shuffle function on my iPod. I love a hot chai latte. I love watching Lost in complete darkness and letting myself get thoroughly creeped out. I love reading about, discussing, and predicting the Oscars.

I love white twinkle lights. I love warm, soft cinnamon rolls. I love my cool swivelly cell phone. I love knowing every word of dialogue from Gilmore Girls. I love sleeping in. I love Kid Blink, my zippy silver Elantra. I love chocolate malts. I love it when Mugglecast makes me laugh out loud while I'm working out. I love a new purse. I love keeping my giant dvd collection alphabetized. I love Original flavor Trident gum. I love everything about local fairs-- the lights, the rides, the sounds, the crazy people, the greasy foods. I love reading books that I know I already love, even if I've already read them 3, or 7, or 12 times before. I love being barefoot.

I love writing this list!

Thanks to Brandi (friend of a friend of a friend) over at On Our Way to Crazy for the idea.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Easter on the Thames

As Easter approaches this week I can’t help but remember one of my most interesting Easters celebrated. I was living in the basement of a Victorian home at 9 Canterbury Lane, Oxford in the UK. My roommate Joy and I found our little cave to be quite dreary and decided to spruce it up for the weekend. Saturday morning we filled the “dungeon” with all sorts of flowers before setting off on a walk down the Thames River. We dined at a favorite spot, “The Trout,” before slowly making our way back into the city. We showered and then found St. Mary’s Cathedral as the sun was going down. We then traveled to St. Aldate’s for an evening service before hurrying home to try and sleep knowing our alarm would ring at 5:00am.

Sure enough, I couldn’t fall asleep and felt as though 5:00 came even before I had closed my eyes. Joy and I dressed and then ran to the Thames…quite literally. Joy is my dear friend who was quite clearly born in the wrong century. I even refer to her as “Joy the hopeless romantic.” We raced the entire route in hopes of watching the sun come up over the spires of Oxford. Within 15 minutes it became clear that the morning would not be presenting us with the magnificent sunrise we were hoping for. The mist rolled in and the cows were beginning to become quite comfortable with our presence. Joy pulled out the Gospels and we read of Peter and John running to the tomb. We sat bundled along the path, our teeth chattering, and growing wetter by the minute.

As we sat, thankful for the day, but quite miserable on the wet ground, we began to see a figure in bright orange drawing closer to us. The woman had shoulder length grey hair and looked to be in her 60’s. She walked straight up to us and said, “You look cold and wet. Would you like some coffee?” This was intriguing on so many levels. We weren’t used to having any of the British approach us and speak in such a way, and to offer coffee instead of tea no less! We took one look at each other and agreed to follow this woman. We soon learned that the woman’s name was Barbara and that she was 64 years young and had been born in Blackburn, Lancashire. She had one brother and one sister and was divorced with two sons and a daughter. She had called Oxford her home for the past 24 years, although she had never been there for more than 2 years at a time. Barbara studied German at University and was now teaching Latin, French, English, and German at various schools around the world. Her travels and positions had given her seven years in Bangkok, two in Frankfurt, one in Australia, and six months in Mexico. Thus her studies and travel had also taught her Tai, Italian, Hebrew, Spanish, and a bit of Arabic. She had lived the past three winters in Jerusalem teaching English.

Joy and I couldn’t believe our luck. What an amazing person to run into. When we arrived at her small flat she asked us to remove our shoes. I thought it was to preserve her lovely hard wood floors, but soon came to find out that it had become habit for her since living in Bangkok. Barbara told us to make ourselves at home and we began to poke about the place. I remember the room being very light and airy with plenty of windows. The walls and shelves were filled with pictures and art from all of her travels. Joy and I kept looking up at each other and mouthing “Oh my goodness!”

Barbara finally called us to the table after a bit. Not only did we find coffee, but we were also delighted to find a spread of scones, jams, fruit, olives, and breads. As we enjoyed our breakfast, Barbara allowed us to continue with our very American questions. I asked her what the three most important things were in the world to her. She proceeded to explain that her choices included family, friends world-wide (languages and travel), as well as moral principles. She explained that she did not hold to a religious faith, although she sometimes attended the local cathedral. When she has a bad day she turns on her classical music and makes herself a cup of coffee and then proceeds to go through her pictures and memories of her journeys. She also said that she wakes up early in the morning and reads her old journals before taking her clearing walks along the Thames.

Eventually Joy and I had to make our good-byes in order to at least change for morning services. We thanked her repeatedly for such a delightful morning and she responded to say that perhaps she would go to mass that day.

Happily I returned to visit Barbara several more times before leaving Oxford. It really feels like the whole thing could have been a dream. Had I been on my own that cold morning, I might be inclined to think that I had dozed off with the cows. Thankfully the experience and the memories are real.

Happy Easter! He is Risen indeed.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What else is there?

I heard about a woman who was dying of cancer. She had only nine months to live, but instead of the usual sky diving or visiting fun countries or other 'bucket list' type things, she spent almost all her time reading the Bible. When the person who told me this story remarked to the woman that she sure spent a lot of time in Scripture, the ill woman just looked at her and said, "I've only got nine months to learn this. I only have until God takes me home to get this." So morning, noon, and night, she could be found in the Word, just drinking in the Lord.

The pastor of a church I recently visited told the congregation about an old man who was a friend of the pastor's family. One day the pastor and his wife took the friend out to lunch at a restraunt. The pastor and his wife soon found themselves carrying on the bulk of the conversation, with the old gentleman being very quiet and rarely speaking up. Finally the subject of Jesus came up, and he lit up and began talking non-stop. For at least an hour the old man spoke about his love for God and about the wonders of the Lord. When he stopped, the pastor's wife smiled and said, "You sure like talking about Jesus, don't you!" The older gentleman paused, looked at her, and finally just asked, "What else is there?"

It's this kind of devotion to the Lord that encourages me to strive to change, learn, and grow in my faith. As someone who's been "in the church" virtually my whole life (as I know many have), I've certainly gone through periods in my walk where I feel like I "know it all" or there's just nothing new to learn. Which is completely ridiculous sounding-- it's impossible to know everything about God. But surely others have experienced the feeling that sometimes our Bible studies are too predictable, our church services too boring, and our religious books too quasi-deep. Even though I know I'm serving an incomrehensible and almighty God, it can be far too easy to slip into the "been there done that" mode of Christianity.

Which is why it's so important not to just be a Sunday Christian, or one who has a set 15-minute Bible study a day, or one who just shows up for Bible study to check "fellowship" quickly off the list. It's not even about balancing those great things and having a walk that's measured and planned and scheduled. It's a right now, every day- even while I'm sick or talking about movies or angry or facebooking or tired or on the phone or relaxing or blogging- type of thing. It's always.

We have such a short time to know God. To share God. To try and fathom God. To know God. To know God.

What else is there?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The only thing we have to fear...

I purchased a “No Fear” t-shirt in junior high. I had one about baseball, the bases were loaded with two outs…something like that. Then, the Pastor at my church preached a mid-week sermon on why “No Fear” wasn’t such a great thing. We were told that a healthy dose of fear was what the doctor ordered. Then I bought a “Fear Not” shirt and wore that around for a few years. I would roll the sleeves and wear them with denim shorts…jorts if you will.

Yesterday I was speaking to a friend who has been encouraged to apply for a discipleship program that she feels "may be too much for her". I started wondering how often we make decisions based on what we feel we cannot do. I’m not referring to over-committing ourselves; sometimes we must say “no” to things in order to say “yes” to what is really important. But when we have the opportunity to take a risk and try, how often do we dismiss the thought because we don’t feel we are up to the challenge, or the idea frightens us.

Just this Monday I went up to the mountains in northern Arizona where there is snow. The high may be 78 degrees here today, but there was plenty of snow in Flagstaff. We pulled out around 5:30am to be able to make it to the slopes in enough time. The last time I skied was in 2002. I skied sporadically through high school and college, but never frequently enough to push myself. I think that I’ve skied a few blues, but never a black run. Monday I was skiing with a family who was pretty much raised on the slopes. I took two runs doing pretty well before we jumped on a new lift. Half way up the lift Brian said, “Uh…I don’t think this is the right lift.” How did he know that? When we reached the top I discovered the only way down was a black run. They tried to encourage me by letting me know we would stay clear of moguls, but that didn’t really help at the moment. I was doing fine for about the first five minutes, and then we came to the steepest portion of the run. My immediate thought was “No way. No heck way. I’m not doing this.” As my two skiing companions headed down I had a discussion with my self that seemed forever but probably lasted less than 5 seconds. I made the decision that I would never let fear alone be a reason for not experiencing something in life. I will let common sense be a factor, but not fear. I bent my knees, hugged the mountain, and kept my snow plow at the ready. I was fine, and the feeling at the bottom was amazing. I didn’t fall, didn’t injure myself, and I had accomplished something that I was initially terrified to do.

When I spoke with my friend I encouraged her to think all the way through her “no” response to the program. It would be one thing for her to say “no” if she really wasn’t interested in it or thought it didn’t line up with what the Lord had for her. But to say “no” because of fear of failure or simply fear in general…I wouldn’t let her get away with that.
Next time I'm going for the moguls.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Before Tomorrow

Things I can be found doing daily:

  • Catching up on my blogs with Google Reader. It's a fantastic invention, and it not only ensures that I'll never miss a new post, but also that I don't have to listen to the loud music blaring on your site. Sorry.

  • Listening to: either Mugglecast, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, or a shuffle of the random mix of music on my ipod (musicals, old jazz, classical film scores, etc.)

  • Trying to drink as much water as I can. Is it possible to drown from the inside?

  • Surveying the many photos that cover the top half of my fridge. The audience of this blog is quite small, so chances are if you're reading this, you're somewhere on my fridge.

  • Trying to keep up with the Gilmore Girls trivia on Facebook. Even if it's just a few minutes before I go to bed, I've got to answer a couple questions. Hey, I'm ranked #16 out of 154,509 players! I'm not about to let that prestige slip away. :)

  • Missing friends and family that are flung all over the US of A. To quote Beth in 'Little Women': "Why does everyone want to go away?"

  • Talking myself into getting out of bed in the morning. You already had your five more minutes! But it's too dark outside to get up! But you don't want to be late! I don't care-- my comforter is too squishy! Get up. NOW. (Bold faced Val sounds a bit like Dr. Claw)
  • Writing in my journal. It's been over three years, and I still have an entry for every day. Don't ask me why in the world I do this, because I don't have an answer. It's a mystery to me as well....
  • Keeping track of how many fruits and veggies I've eaten (or, more likely, have yet to eat). Four vegetables? Is a lot. I don't care who you are. That's a dang lot.

  • Being sarcastic. It's bad when the guy at Brookshires helping you put groceries in your car is calling you out on your sarcasm.

  • Attempting to comprehend a God that puts up with me and my sarcastic self.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Drum Fill

I work with an amazing team of people. I feel very lucky to not only enjoy what I do for a living, but also actually enjoy the people in my office. After a rather long meeting yesterday we were all preparing to head to lunch together. Carey ran up on the stage and sat behind the drum set. She disclosed that as a child she had always dreamed of having her own drum set and had even presented a plan to sound proof the attic in her house. Unfortunately, that dream was never realized. Fernando joined her on stage to give her a crash course in the drums. After 10 minutes she was able to hit a drum, cymbal, and the kick drum on beat and keep a rhythm, at least for a few seconds. Once at lunch Carey asked us all if we had hidden dreams as kids or even adults that we were one day hoping to achieve. The results of the conversation were quite interesting.

Beth hopes to one day own her own business. She wants to own a specialty pet store, and even has a clever name to boot. I think she hopes to sell collars, dog clothes, and offer grooming. She definitely lit up when talking about the store, but what I love seeing is the way that Beth dreams for her son. She lights up when she talks about him and really dreams of the ways she can bring a smile to his face.

Virginia has always wanted to play the drums or the guitar, but what she really wants to do is continue her passion for ice skating. She skated all the time as a kid and would one day love to get back to it. Virginia reminds me of a kid sometimes. She’s a loving friend, and one of her greatest gifts has been the way she plays with her daughters. I’ve loved watching her use her own imagination to instill a sense of wonder and play in her girls.

Erin has found that she loves sewing and would love to sell some of her own creations. She’s started out small, but with her new sewing machine in tow, I’m pretty sure she’s going to start having more orders than she can handle. She crafts memory books for each of her kids and saves anything that might come in handy to them one day. You can find some of her creations already for sale here .

Fernando couldn’t quite vocalize his dream. He felt really lucky to have a job so young that allows him creative freedom in art, music, and organization. He’s had the chance to do short-term missions and travel. The thing about Fernando is that his dreams don’t stay dreams for long. He writes songs for his son and turns home videos into music videos as soon as he captures them. He lives every day doing exactly what he wants to do and doesn't wait for the time later down the road.

Carey, my boss who started this whole conversation, is constantly encouraging us to really do what we love. She loves to write and create, to dream and design. She has a baby on the way in May. That child is in for an adventure.

Dreams are fascinating. Some of us are born with dreams that we wait our whole lives to take hold of, while others find that the dreams take hold of us and shape the way that we live every day. I think there was a time in my life when I worried that my dreams would somehow conflict with my calling as a believer. Although my preference on timing may not line up, I’m convinced that the dreams within me have been placed for a reason and will one day come to fruition. I have this huge list of dreams, a bucket list if you will. But if I don’t get to them all it will really be ok. I just want my life to be about accumulating experiences and not possessions. I may not climb Mount Kilimanjaro before I die but that doesn’t mean I have to miss out on all the mountains around me right now. Who knows if I will learn to play a drum set (apparently everyone shares this) or write a manuscript – but dreaming is way better than just shuffling along. So dream on my friends, dream on.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Looting and Polluting is Not the Way

You know what's scary? The idea that, at any time, you can see what other people are searching for on the internet. And they can see what you're searching for. Yeah. Freaky.

However, I have now decided that this is more fun than scary. Because have you looked at what people are searching for lately?

What's interesting is that a large number of people seem to be searching for an actual web address. So instead of searching "Oprah Winfrey New Earth book" or something, several people seem to be searching I don't understand that. Don't you already have the address? So what are you searching for?? Someone did search for " anewearth, though, so in that case... well, I guess they need all the help they can get!

Another popular search seems to be "leprechaun trap." I just don't have an answer or a reason for that one....

"Odd girl out." Tell me about it.

"Secret life of a soccer mom." If I didn't already know that was a new reality show, that search would be a whole heck of a lot more entertaining.

"US soldier throws puppy off cliff" is a popular search. Ginger, if we started writing about dead puppies, we might be able to increase traffic on our blog! You up first?

One of the searches was for "Sam Aiken." Sadly enough, my first thought really was: "So is that Clay Aiken's dad?" (Answer: No. It is not.)
"mlb 2k8 review." This is like a foreign language to me.

"Earth Liberation Front." Thought this sounded way cool, like some sort of real life Captain Planet organization! (Earth! Wind! Fire! Water! Heart!) But then I realized this was the group that torched like 5 houses today, so...yeah. Not quite as philanthropic as Captain Planet, then.
*Edit* Shortly after posting this entry, someone found this blog by searching "" Hmm... Maybe this should be our strategy to reach new readers: just string together all the common phrases that are most often searched. Or, better yet-- just mention Oprah, and I'm sure we'll be golden!