Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dear Friends, Family, and Others...

Before there was Facebook’s NewsFeed, there were annual Christmas letters.

Once a year, it becomes socially acceptable for families to bombard hundreds of people across America with veritable tomes of their carefully spun triumphs and tragedies, successes and scandals.

I love them.

After years of poring over every one that comes to our mailbox, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur.  I’m working on the mathematical formula that determines the ratio of number of kids to length of letter.  It’s not what you’d think—early studies conclude that the more kids in the family, the more likely the writer-parent gives up on drafting an update and instead sends out photo cards sometime in mid-January.

I love these photos, too.  Since I was born, we’ve lived in five different states, and we still keep in touch with people from all of them.  For a period of about three years, my sister and I waited impatiently for the photo card to arrive from a certain family of attractive sons.  These were pre-Facebook days, so we had to wait a full year before we could see the progression of handsomeness in each of them.  We were never disappointed.

Which is a major reason why I feel a certain sense of veto power when it comes time to choose the family picture that will accompany our humble, succinct, and hilarious letter.  I don’t want to disappoint a fan with a photo that suggests I’ve developed a double chin or put on eighty pounds, all because of a poorly-chosen angle.  It’s vain—I don’t deny it—but that’s one of the main characteristics of a Christmas letter.

One of the most useful functions of a Christmas letter is that it serves as the common folks’ press conference.  It’s a chance to set the record straight, to let others know they know that others know their business, to State an Official Account and Proclaim an Official Opinion. Some parents allude to their child’s “rough patch” or “troubled times” without delving into any personal detail.  Others take a no-nonsense approach: Johnny got arrested for selling drugs. He’s doing time. We still love him.

One year, though, one family took their paper press conference to new extremes of discomfort. They told of the phone call they received from a crying son and his hysterical girlfriend, who confessed to having succumbed to the temptations of the flesh and engaging in premarital intercourse the night before.  And sure enough, a few weeks later the girlfriend discovered she was pregnant.  The letter explained that the wedding would be in a few months, and the baby would be arriving a few months after that.

I remember gingerly lifting the letter with the tips of my thumb and forefinger and setting it down as far from myself as I could reach.  In the past I’d been delightedly shocked at the length of some families’ letters, or cynically mesmerized by the tedious month-by-month timeline others’ felt sure would enrapture the multitudes. But to this day, that letter stands out as the first and only time I’ve ever felt horror and embarrassment as the predominant emotions after reading a Christmas Card Breaking News Update.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Tis the Season

“You always hear that people are nicer at this time of year,” my friend said to me last night. “But I swear, I’ve dealt with more crazies since Thanksgiving than I have since I started in July.” She’s an Executive Team Lead at Target, a store named after what my friend must become when a customer is feeling particularly rageful.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed not only that people in public aren’t nicer now than any other time of year, but also that I’m more annoyed with this behavior than I usually I am. I’m sure this stems from the naughty-or-nice-list paranoia engrained in us at a young age. In July, though, I usually forget that the jerk who cut me off in traffic will inevitably get coal in his stocking.

I’m not exempt from this Scrooge-like behavior, either.  On my lunch break earlier this week I went to the Plaza to buy a Christmas present for my sister.  My car speakers were pumping Julie Andrews’ Christmas album, but that didn’t counteract the road rage I felt when two cars blocked the entire street while waiting for other shoppers to get in their cars, rid their hands of bags, dig their keys out of their massive purses, start the car, tune the radio, adjust the temperature controls, and slowly creep backwards out of their spaces.  While Julie’s dulcet tones proclaimed the birth of the long-awaited Savior, I sighed heavily, threw my hands up in the air, and looked around wildly to see if there was a way around these cars. I’m trying to make Christmas merry, and you. are. ruining. it.

That night, I was at the grocery store. I was tired and frustrated and at the end of my Christmas spirit for the day when a young mom with three boisterous kids cut me off with an overflowing cart in a narrow aisle.  She realized it immediately and exclaimed, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” Such self-awareness motivated me to mumble, “It’s okay,” while giving her the pursed-lip-smile reserved for encounters such as this.

Later, I was trying to locate the shortest check-out line I heard someone yelp, “Oh, no! No no no!” It was the same lady, having just rung up all her groceries and realizing she didn’t have her wallet.  But she wasn’t saying “no” to the cashier—she was saying it to the older woman behind her.  “I just live down the street!” the young mom was exclaiming. “Really, it’s okay!”  The older lady shook her head and held her hand out in front of her, stopping the mom’s protestations.  “It’s okay,” she said. “Please, let me.”  I quickly figured out that this older lady was offering to pay for this family’s full cart of groceries, just so the mom wouldn’t have to go all the way home and all the way back with three little kids in tow.

I was so taken aback just witnessing this stranger’s generosity that tears sprang to my eyes. It takes a great deal of attention and intention to look outside of our own gift lists, party calendars, and baking schedules. This woman’s kindness will remain in my memory for years to come, and maybe because of her I can find some graciousness and generosity to replace the road rage.

Artwork by Colorado artist Dan Fraley

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Thing About Music

I know. It’s Tuesday. But you know, I was giving thanks with my family, then I was stranded in the Denver airport on Sunday night, and then I was so sleepy last night that I didn’t even eat. Today I wanted to write about the people that annoy me at the gym or the people that annoy me on the phone at work, but I got too annoyed thinking about it and didn’t want to annoy others by writing about it.

Recently, someone asked me, “Do you like music?” I replied, “Doesn’t everyone?” I was sure music held universal appeal, that only specific preferences varied.  Then I heard of someone’s uncle, who doesn’t “get” music.  Doesn’t care about it.  Doesn’t choose to play it for personal enjoyment.  This baffled me, and I wanted to write this long-winded opus on the importance music has in my life, on how even in my darkest days Concert Choir was always a sunny ray of hope, on the reasons why I was named after a hymnal and my dog was named after a country music star.  But I knew that I’d get carried away and start bragging on the number of songs in my iTunes, but forgetting to mention the percentage of them that I’ve never listened to.  Somehow I’d find myself arguing on the side of Pitchfork for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’s perfect score, but disagreeing with just about every other rating they’ve given and berating them for being such a pretentious gang of garrulous band geeks.  Before I knew it, I’d find myself making claims that I can in no way substantiate about the most underrated bands or the best lyricist of our generation.

And so, as I type this, I’m pulling up iTunes. In this Friday 500 exclusive, I shall bare my ears’ and my soul’s true preferences.

The first glance at the list of my Top 25 Most Played songs reveals to me that almost all of these songs wouldn’t be on the list in the first place if it weren’t for my weird penchant for putting songs on repeat.  Sometimes, no other song will fit my groove (see #19, “O Children” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds).  Sometimes, I’m trying to up my street cred by learning all the words (see #10, “All of the Lights” by Kanye West).  Sometimes it’s because I was studying for hours and didn’t realize the repeat button was on (see #21, “Dawn”—the first track on the Pride & Prejudice soundtrack).  Or sometimes it’s because I was studying and was very aware that the repeat button was on because I need to drown out the music in the Union and receive an uplifting message at the same time (see #2, “Don't Let Me Fall” by B.o.B.).  And sometimes it’s because I made a playlist of only four songs and played it every time I showered for six months (see #3-6).

But as far as I can remember, I’ve never put #1 (“I Feel It All” by Feist) on repeat.  It’s my happy song. The one I play when I’ve had a victorious day, or when I want to pretend my life has a soundtrack.  I must say—I’m pleased, and somewhat relieved, to discover that my happy song’s playcounts far surpass those of my weird-repeat-phase songs.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Half a Year as an Adult

As of this past Monday, I’ve been a college graduate for six months.  I’ve learned some surprising things since then. Here’s a sampling.

1.  Everything in my life is now my fault.  If I don’t have clean pants to wear to work, it’s because I didn’t do laundry.  If I have eaten nothing but beans and rice for three days, it’s because I didn’t go to the grocery store.  If I can barely see my face in the mirror, it’s because I haven’t replaced burnt-out light bulbs in my bathroom.  There are no work orders, no cafeterias, and no offices that will allow dirty and/or wrinkly pants.

2.  I should never live alone.  I have come to embrace my introverted self in the past couple of years, and I’m finding that it’s easy to disappear into my own world in the evenings, even when I live with three other girls and two dogs.  If I didn’t have them to interact with, there would be a strong chance of my semi-misanthropic behavior completely consuming my days.

3.  This is the first time in my life my friends aren’t readily available.  While it may sound contradictory to #2, I hate not being around them on a daily basis.  Seeing each other takes intention and planning—no more spontaneous dropping in or trips to Wal-Mart.  What’s hard, though, is realizing that this is the norm for adult life.  I haven’t made the adjustment well.

4.  Words are still the love of my life.  I haven’t been without a book since I graduated, although I haven’t had as much time to read as I used to fantasize about (see #1).  Last night I met with a friend who’s working on writing a book, and just going over her work with her left me giddy.  Times like that, coupled with the mind-numbing job I have now, strengthen my confidence in the fact that some day I will make money by writing.

5.  The new love of my life may very well be cooking, especially for other people.  When my right-hand man and I get a weekend together, we try to have at least one cooking adventure.  We’ve made some delicious things together, which motivates me to keep trying new things when we’re apart.  Some of our proudest achievements include a whole roast chicken, a hummus pizza, and chicken tikka masala.

6.  I’ve gotten to the point in life where I have to do math to remember my age.  And that number still confuses me some days.

7.  I will never ever ever ever ever ever ever be a morning person.  Ever.  I have tried for months to make this happen, but all it’s doing is turning me into a no-time-of-day person.  Early to bed and early to rise may be making me healthy, but it sure isn’t making me wealthy or wise.  Just cranky.

8.  Discipline is good for me, and I’m not as bad at it as I previously thought.  I’ve been to the gym nearly every weekday morning for over three months.  I went to a volunteer training session at the local community college.  I went to an eight-week class at my church.  I’ve written this blog every single week.  I’ve cleaned my room and bathroom, washed my sheets and towels, vacuumed my carpet and car more than once since moving in.

9.  I’m certainly not where I thought I’d be, and I still have no idea where I’m going.  Here’s to hoping the next six months bring more surprises and greater adventures.

Monday, November 14, 2011


For the first time ever, I'm responsible for feeding myself on a daily basis. I find therapy in preparing a meal, and victory when the first bite reveals itself to be exactly what I wanted it to be. It's like in Julie & Julia, when Julie is making a chocolate pie and says, "I love that after a day when nothing is sure-- and when I say 'nothing' I mean nothing-- you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate, and sugar to milk, it will get thick. It's such a comfort."

And in the fall, few things are more comforting than soup. One of our family's signature dishes is a Mexican stew called posole. After I left for college, cold weather always brought a hankering for Dad's posole, and I always requested it on visits home. I always assumed it was a complicated recipe, because we're the only family I've ever met who a) knows what it is b) eats it.

But this last weekend my right-hand man was coming to visit, and I wanted to cook to impress, so I asked my dad for his recipe. He said he'd never used a recipe, so he made a batch and wrote everything down for me. Turns out, it's pretty much a foolproof meal. And now, I'm going to share it with you. Make this the next time you feel like you'll never be warm again. It'll warm you up, fill you up, and clear your sinuses out. All measurements are estimates, so tailor them to your needs and wants.

The Cast of Characters
-Boneless pork chops (I bought 1.3 pounds)
-2-3 cups of vegetable stock or chicken broth
-2 16 oz. cans of red chili or enchilada sauce
-1 big can of white hominy (mine was some weird size like 29 oz)
-One large onion
-Spices: cumin, oregano, salt
-Minced garlic (not pictured)

Step one: chop the onion.
Fun fact: I only cry while chopping onions when I'm not wearing contacts. I like to think they act as little plastic shields.

Step two: cut pork into bite-sized pieces.
Raw meat always makes me feel weird. I could never be a cannibal.

Step three: drizzle some oil into a large soup pot. Cook onions with a heaping tablespoon of minced garlic. Giggle with satisfaction when your creation starts smelling magical.

Step four: add pork chop chunks (say that five times) and cook thoroughly.

Step five: pour in can of hominy, with juices.
If I had a British twin sister, her name would be Hominy.

Step six: pour in enough broth to cover the contents of the pot by about half an inch.

It should be this color.

Step seven: add spices to taste. I used a full teaspoon of cumin and about a teaspoon
and a half of oregano.
Look closely and you can see my awesome apron.

DON'T DO THIS. Leaving the lid on prevents extra water from evaporating. You want it not-too-runny and not-too-thick. If the latter happens, add boiling water a cup at a time.

Do this.
Step eight: bring to a boil and then immediately turn it down to a simmer. It can simmer while you finish make guac or shredding cheese or pulling some rolls out of the oven, but don't let it go much longer than 45 minutes, or the hominy will fall apart. I can't imagine hominy crumbles to be that appetizing.

Serve it up. I'd guess my pot could have served 4-6 people. That hunk in my bowl is part of a roll. I like sopping my soup. Sue me.
Typically, I also like grated cheese in mine. It gets all melty and stringy and happy.

I also made these Buttery Cloverleaf Rolls from How Sweet Eats, my favorite food blog. Mine weren't as pretty, but they were just as delicious.

Leftovers keep really well. I know because I just had some for dinner, and tomorrow I'll have some for lunch. And my heart and my lips will tingle with joy once more.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fright Night.

Short of sitting upright, I awoke in the middle of the night in the same fashion as every movie character victimized by a nightmare has woken up. I gasped for breath, eyes wide, trying to find comfort in the reality of my room. My ears strained to confirm the silence around me. But wait—there was a sound. It sounded like slow, sneaking footsteps on gravel—the gravel that surrounded our window wells out back. While we had neighbors, our house was remote compared to the tight security of a suburb. We were about to brutally robbed, tortured, and murdered, and no one would know for days. Then I remembered that Mom and Meagan were out of town, and tears sprang to my eyes as I imagined them coming home from their trip and being welcomed by the grisly scene. I had no choice but to wake up Dad. I knew he had a gun—I just prayed he could get to it and load it in time.

I counted to three and leapt from my bed, tiptoeing as quickly as I could without making a lot of noise. My parents’ bedroom was on the other side of the house, meaning I’d have to cross in front of the windows where the thieves were operating. I braced myself, waiting for a gunshot or the sound of broken glass, but I still only heard the crunch crunch crrrruuuuuncccchhhhh of the gravel under their feet. I made it into the bedroom and loudly whispered Dad! while shaking his shoulders. When disturbed, my dad always wakes with a start. “What? What?! What is it?” he said.

I burst into tears. “I think there’s someone outside and I heard people walking on gravel and I’m so scared and what are we going to do and will you go check and can you take your gun?”

“What?” he said, cocking his head in confusion. In this interest of full disclosure, this was not the first time my middle-of-the-night frights had interrupted my parents’ slumber. I took a deep breath and described the noise I had heard outside of the window. He got out of bed and followed me to the back doors. Sure enough, crunch crunch crrrruuuuuuuncccccchhhhh. But after a minute, the sound seemed to move, and we followed it to our left, pausing every two feet or so to reevaluate. After a few steps, the crunching was louder than ever. Surely only the wall was separating us from our inevitable attackers.

After one more step, Dad bumped into Shania's crate. She looked up at us with those sweet brown eyes, and we realized that the crunching sound seemed to be coming from a spot much lower than we had originally thought. I squatted in front of Shania, and I heard it again. Crunch crunch crrrrrruuuuuunnnnnnchhhhh. It wasn’t coming from outside. It wasn’t coming from the soles of serial killers’ combat boots. It was coming from inside my dog.

“Is that her stomach growling?” Dad asked.
I continued to stare at my dog and tried to make sense of these new clues.
Crunch crrrrruuuuunnnnnchhhh.
“Um, yeah,” I said. “I guess so.”
Dad sighed. “Did you remember to feed her today?”
My face flushed as the final pieces of the puzzle snapped into place. “No,” I said, shaking my head. “I forgot.”
“Well, give her some food and go back to bed,” he said as he walked back to his room.

I was fourteen years old.

[As a way to thank my indefatigable readers, I'm going to start doing giveaways every now and then.]
YOU COULD WIN a $10 Amazon gift card! Just post a comment that answers this question:
What are you afraid of?
One (1) winner will be chosen at random on Tuesday at 8pm. One entry per person. Make sure your comment identifies you in some way-- email address, website, name, SSN... I'll contact you and we'll figure out the best way to get you your prize! --M
edit: Caitlin W. is the lucky winner! Not so lucky for the whole kidney stone thing, but lucky nonetheless.

Friday, October 28, 2011

On Courage.

I sat on the wrought iron bench at the corner of Westport Road and Broadway, and I opened my book to read. I hadn’t made it through the first paragraph of the new chapter before I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a man approaching me. I glanced up and gave him the closed-mouthed smile reserved only for strangers whose eye contact you can’t avoid.

He was of Middle Eastern descent, I would guess, and squat, with his black hair combed straight back. He was dressed all in black, not in the goth way, but in the trying-and-failing-to-be-mysterious kind of way. He sported transition lenses, but the cloudy sky couldn’t convince them to transition one way or the other. And it’s worth mentioning that he was at least 30 years old.

He stopped in front of me. “Do you like poetry?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, hoping the open book on my lap communicated that he was currently interrupting my literary pursuit.
“Would you like to hear a poem?”
He began reciting in the style of slam poetry; it ended with “Touch. This. Word. [pause] Freedom.” He was now sitting on the bench next to mine, and he reclined, taking a sip from his coffee and looking pleased with himself.
“Did you write that?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “What’d you think? Am I right to be cocky about that one?”
It wasn’t a good poem, and I don’t particularly care for slam poetry, but I didn’t say so.
“I’m Josh,” he said, proffering his hand.
I shook it. “Melody.”
“Melody,” he repeated. “That’s a pretty name.”
“I didn’t pick it out,” I told him.
He asked what I did, and I told him and returned the question. “I’m a web developer,” he told me. “I’m also a DJ. But I haven’t DJ’d in, like, two months, so I think I’m really trying to fill that creative void.” I nodded sympathetically and he began rooting around in the inside pocket of his coat. “Here,” he said, handing me a CD labeled AMAZE in Sharpie. “This is my demo. You can have it.” I thanked him, slipped it in my bag, and started to wonder where the cameras were hidden.
“So do you have big Halloween plans?” he asked.
“No. It’s been a long couple of weeks,” I said. “I’m looking forward to a quiet weekend.”
There was a pause, and I could see the wheels behind his indecisive transition lenses start turning.
“I’m going to a poetry reading on Sunday,” he said.
“Do you like poetry readings?”
“I’ve never been to one,” I replied. Where was all this inconvenient honesty coming from?
Another contemplative pause. Then he gestured with his coffee cup and asked, “Would you be willing to take a chance on a random stranger?”
“I have a boyfriend,” I said, in a tone I hoped was confident and unapologetic. I mentally noted that this was the first time in my life I could use that sentence to say “no” and I wouldn’t be lying.
“You have a boyfriend?” he said, and I nodded. “Of course you do,” he said, sighing dejectedly. “That’s probably why I sat down to talk to you in the first place.”
“Thanks for the poem, though,” I said. He smiled sadly and bid me good day.

Oh, no, I haven’t listened to the CD yet.

[edit: I've listened to all of 1:12 of the 59:23 of the CD. Even that was a stretch.]

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Frosty 500

In high school, my friends and I coined the term panicky-hot, which can most accurately be defined by the sensation one feels in those moments between entering a car that has been baking in the summer sun and rolling down the windows. A secondary definition is the sensation one feels when one is wearing a hoodie that’s a little too snug, and one realizes one’s body temperature is rising rapidly, and one frantically tries to remove the garment causing the aforementioned temperature rise, and one gets an elbow stuck in the armpit and one’s head in the neck of the hood, thereby delaying the removal of the garment and relief from the uncomfortable rise in bodily temperature.

You may notice that a salient feature of both definitions is the anticipation of imminent relief from the uncomfortable temperature. The panic arises from not being able to attain that relief fast enough.

I’ve never used the term panicky-cold because for me, there is no anticipation of relief. When I get cold, I experience a long-term form of panic, more commonly known as despair, and it lasts from about this time of year until, oh, the middle of March. This week was mostly cloudy, with temperatures in the 50s, and until Thursday afternoon, our office didn’t have heat. The thermostat read 57 degrees. On Wednesday I layered a tank top, a t-shirt, a wool sweater, and a hoodie, but I was still huddled into a ball in the chair at my desk, trying to keep my body heat centralized. What if the heat never gets fixed? I found myself thinking. It’s only going to get worse from here and I can’t work under these conditions and I’ll have to quit but what if I can’t find another job and then I won’t be able to pay my rent and Jessica will evict me and I’ll have to spend the whole winter under a bridge or move back to Colorado  and either way I’ll never ever ever be warm ever again.

To cope, I started thinking about other times in my life that I’ve been so desperately cold, like every lacrosse game I ever played, the time in Oxford in January when our flat’s heat was out for two days, and every minute I spent touring Edinburgh.

And then there was the time over Christmas break in middle school that my mom asked me to check the mail after a significant ice storm. Our yard in Tennessee had a drainage ditch along the street, and the mailbox was on the other side of it. Happy to serve my mother in this small way, I immediately went outside wearing only pajama pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and tennis shoes without socks. I walked down into the ditch… and I couldn’t walk out the other side. The ice and snow allowed me no traction, and my hands went completely numb after the first twenty seconds of trying to climb out on all fours. I was stuck. And no one in my family noticed for twenty minutes. Entering the throes of hypothermia, I tried every way I could think of to get out of the icy valley, but to no avail. Tears froze on my cheeks as I awaited my end. Snippets of To Build a Fire and stanzas of The Cremation of Sam McGee bounced around in my head. Just as I was preparing to succumb to the Grim Reaper’s frigid grip, my father appeared and pulled me out of the abyss.

Back in the house, I received warm blankets, hot chocolate, and tepid apologies. No one got the mail.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I was running.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about running. But the thing I do like about running is that it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure story. You can run around the block, jog a few miles, sprint a hundred yards. You can train for a race or log miles in the name of maintaining fitness.

My adventure with running started about a year and a half ago, and I wrote briefly about it here. I started training for a 5K while also rowing 3-4 times a week, and I got into shape fast. In the summer of 2010 I ran a four-mile race and two 5Ks was content with my times.

Then school started, and I was faced with the choice of running or sleeping. The latter won out. The spring of my senior year was tough, and I was relying on calories for both comfort and energy. Coming down with mono in the last weeks of school meant that my first month after graduation was spent sleeping, eating, watching Say Yes to the Dress marathons, and crying when these three things exhausted me. Starting an office job zapped any tenacious remnants of fitness that had been doggedly clinging to my body.

One night I poured out my frustration to Clark, saying I wanted to be at a fitness level that would allow us to be active and adventurous together. At his suggestion, we signed up for events at the Kansas City marathon—the half for him and the 5K for me. Knowing I had the potential of disappointing someone else by not following through with training got my butt out of bed and my feet on the pavement nine times out of ten. Around the same time, my coworker got me a deal on a membership at the gym around the corner from our office. Since the beginning of August, I’ve been at the gym almost every single weekday before 7am. I’m seeing results with my appearance, but the real test came yesterday.

Race Day.

Even though I’d been running three miles for a couple weeks and even though I’d participated in races before, I was a bundle of nerves. “I just don’t want to disappoint myself,” I texted my mom. Because unless you’re a professional or intentionally competitive runner, once you cross the starting line it’s just you and your timing chip.

Once I started the race, my head cleared.With my special playlist blasting, I tried to focus on the run itself—not the thousands of people around me or the clock ticking at the finish line. I tried to push the pace, because I didn’t want to cross the line and feel like I’d held back. Earlier in the week I’d run three miles in thirty minutes, and I was convinced that the adrenaline, massive downhill, and flat finish would culminate in a time of thirty minutes or less.

But then the official results came in, clocking me at five minutes slower than I was hoping. Maybe I should have warmed up more. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten pizza for lunch on Friday. Maybe I should have gone for a run on Thursday rather than treat it as a rest day. Or maybe I should have gone to the gym less and hit the road more.

The best and worst part of being mad at myself is that I’m the only one who can fix it. I can quit trying and void the possibility of disappointment altogether, or I use my current disappointment to fuel the next challenge. And that’s what I like about running.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Stay tuned...

This week's post will be up tomorrow, because things are happening tomorrow that I'm going to write about.

And that's all you get to know for now.

To tide yourself over, why don't you click on the dates over there on the right and read some oldies but goodies?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Awkward is as awkward does.

Some people are born awkward, some become awkward, and others have awkwardness thrust upon them.

I like to think that I fall in that third category. There are few things in my life that I relish more than the elaborate re-telling of an awkward situation in which I was involved. But since the number of people with whom I interact on a daily basis has decreased dramatically since May, I've been rifling through the Awkward Files in my memory, trying to pinpoint the moment in time that I was the most uncomfortable.
This week, it’s a long one, but well worth it, so be sure to click on the “Read More” link to continue on this awkward journey with me.

We're jumping in the Time Machine and racing back to the year 2008.

It's July in Kauai, Hawaii. When my dad hit the five-year mark at church, the elders and congregation were loving enough to not only grant him a lengthy sabbatical, but also to raise money to fund it. Through their efforts and some others' connections, we found ourselves on the beautiful island for a full month. You would think such a lush set-up would be immune to the vexations brought on by other people's social ineptitude. Wrong.

We had attended the same church for the Sundays we'd been in Kauai, and toward the end of the trip I noticed a blurb in the bulletin that the college group would be having a movie night the next Tuesday. A night off from playing card games with the fam sounded nice, so I decided to go. It wasn't until I walked in the doors to the church that night that I realized I wouldn't know anyone there. I froze, frantically scanning the room, silently pleading someone would make eye contact with me and be nice to me. That person was a boy named Colin. He invited me to sit next to him and his friends.

Now, most conversations are like a game of catch. One person throws a ball (asks a question), and the other person catches (answers) it, and throws it back (asks another question). Not so with Colin and his cronies. I spent the fifteen minutes before the movie started trying to come up with every small-talk question ever uttered in an elevator, public restroom, or Starbucks.

Once the movie was over, I attempted to slip out, but Colin stopped me. He asked for my phone number, saying the college group was always getting together to do fun activities, and he could let me know the next time they had something planned. Smooth, right?

Two days later, he texted me. "Going to the beach. Want to come?"
Cool! I thought. College outing to the beach! I texted back and said that I'd love to, but that I'd need a ride, since my dad had taken our rental car to go exploring that morning.
"We'll be there in 20," he replied.
Over an hour later, he knocked on our door. Another guy was with him, who Colin introduced as Jeff. As I walked out of the house, I expected to see a large church van, packed to the gills with people my age. Instead, I saw a small car plastered with the Progressive Auto Insurance logo. "I brought the chick magnet," Colin chuckled.

Once in the car, I realized that we were the group going to the beach. Me, Colin, and Jeff. Colin asked what year I was in at school, and I told him I was going to be a sophomore. "So, you're, like, twenty?" he asked.
"I just turned nineteen," I said. "Last month."
I paused, not sure I wanted to know the answer to the question that was about to tumble out of my mouth. "How, um, how old are you guys?"
"I'm twenty-four," Jeff muttered.
"I'm twenty-six," Colin added.
Then we were turning into a parking lot, and Jeff got out of the car without saying anything. I got in the front seat and asked where he was going. Colin said, "He wants to get his boogie board. He'll meet us there. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't show up after all."

Yes. Colin, the twenty-six-year-old college group leader was taking me to the beach by myself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

So far.

It wasn’t your standard boy-meets-girl rom-com. It was more like this:

Girl decides to attend small liberal arts college in the Midwest. Boy decides to attend the same small liberal arts college. Said small liberal arts college randomly places Girl and Boy in the same orientation group for the first weekend. The first evening, Girl writes in her journal, “Boy is pretty cute, but probably thinks I’m weird.” Boy and Girl develop a friendly acquaintanceship based on their classmates’ absurdities. Girl thinks Boy is a run-of-the-mill frat boy. Boy thinks Girl is nice, but otherwise has no opinion.

In the winter of their sophomore year, they go on Outward Bound. Boy is in the same group as Girl’s mentor, and afterwards, Girl’s mentor mentions to Girl that Boy is really cool. Girl is surprised to hear such an evaluation and starts to wonder if she’s misjudged Boy. That spring semester, they have almost every class together. They sit next to each other, passing hilarious notes at inappropriate moments. They talk about deeper issues. They discover an uncanny amount in common. Sometime around Spring Break, Girl realizes that not only has Boy unexpectedly become one of her best friends, but she really likes him. The mental checklist of standards she’s always held is slowly being met, box by picky box. He reads books-- big ones, and fast. He makes her laugh, catching her off-guard with his wit.  He’s undeniably good-looking. They have the same faith and the same taste in music. He is indefatigably kind. He’s taller than her. He likes manly things-- knives and fishing and dressing well.

Then Girl goes overseas for junior year, and Boy goes to Officer Candidate School the following summer. They don’t see each other for eleven months. They talk frequently, and so their reunion the next fall is surreal-- they’ve both had some of the most significant experiences of their young lives, but it feels as though no time has passed. A few days later, they finally discuss the possibility of an Us. Boy says maybe. Girl assures him of her friendship, regardless. A couple months later, Boy says no. That he doesn’t think they’ll ever be more than they are now. Out of his sight, Girl cries. But she reminds him of her promised friendship, and they continue on. During the next semester, Girl’s head moves on, but her heart still regrets a lost chance. She has trouble believing that she’ll meet anyone like him ever again-- someone who also checks all the boxes-- but she tries to trust that God has it under control.

Toward the end of March, Boy and Girl are studying late. Boy gives Girl a ride back to the dorm, parks, and asks if he can talk to her about something. Girl freezes, convinced she’s about to be friend-dumped. Instead, Boy starts telling her about his trouble sleeping, that he can’t stop thinking about their relationship, that something has changed, that they’ll always kick themselves if they don’t give it a chance. Stunned, Girl asks, “So, what do you want to do?” Boy replies matter-of-factly, “Well, I think we need to go on a date.” And as a slushy, late spring snow falls from the sky and piles up on Boy’s windshield, Boy slowly leans over the center console and gently kisses Girl. All she can think is HE’Skissingmehe’sKISSINGmehe’skissingME.

Their first date feels the same as every other time they’ve hung out, except completely different because he kisses her again and she gets to intertwine her fingers with his.

A week later, they realize that the terms “Boyfriend” and “Girlfriend” now apply. They change their statuses on Facebook, and fifty people click the “like” button. After graduation and a long month apart, Girl moves back to her college city, three hours from Boy. They see each other as often as they can, and never seem to get bored of each other. They realize This Is A Big Deal.

Sunday will mark six months together. Girl knows it’s love because she finds herself wanting to employ all the cliches normally applied to these situations. Boy makes her want to be a better woman. She believes in his dreams, and she feels safe in his arms. Together is default; the rest of the time is spent in countdown. Girl still has moments of shock, of astonishment that this boy loves her back. And for that, she loves him all the more.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Scoop

I deal with a lot of crap in my job.

And I mean that literally.

There are three different dogs that hang out in our office on any given day. They have drastically different personalities, but they share one thing in common: All three of them have had accidents of the second variety.

The first time it happened was about a month after I started. Bella the bulldog was wandering around, and as I sat at my desk I thought I caught a whiff of something earthy. No, not earthy. Stinky. I dismissed it, chalking it up to a stuffy nose and the smell of the dog herself. A few minutes later I walked into the conference room to make a cup of coffee and missed a scattering of fresh turds by mere millimeters. I muttered a description of the scene before me under my breath, and then turned to go tattle on the crapping canine.

As I began my report to my boss, I realized halfway through that this could backfire. I could very well be on the verge of a Devil-Wears-Prada type scenario. Would my degree from the Harvard of the Midwest now qualify me to clean up bowel movements? I breathed a sigh of relief when my boss gasped and hurried to the conference room to survey and rectify the situation herself.

On Wednesday, Frodo was at the office. He’s a sweet little ball of yellow fur, but he doesn’t have a whole lot going for him between his fuzzy ears. While I worked at my desk he stood behind me and stared at me for a bit. He eventually trotted off, but a few minutes later another attorney jumped when he attempted to cross in front of my desk. He also muttered a description of the scene before him under his breath, and then notified Frodo’s owner of said scene. She shrieked in horror and began berating Frodo, who only looked at her and wagged his tail. “Bad boy!” she cried. “You know better than that! We do NOT poop inside!”

On Thursday, Neko visited. He’s my favorite—a sleek, docile Weimaraner with doe-eyes the color of celery. When his owner left for court, I put his bed and water bowl by my desk, but he refused to lay still. I could hear him pacing the hallway, and I kept calling his name and squeaking his toy goose to entice him back to me. Finally, I stood up to see where he was hiding. And that’s when I saw it.

Them, actually. Three glistening, cylindrical, olive-colored turds. Had they been attached, they would have measured roughly eight inches long. They formed a loose triangle on the carpet, mocking me, daring me to leave them for the next unsuspecting visitor to trod upon.

The sound of nails clicking against hardwood brought me back to reality, and I realized Neko was downstairs by the entryway. Never having had a public accident, he was recognizably ashamed of his delinquent defecation. I made my way down the stairs and stopped short. Sure enough, another gleaming pile was on the doormat. Neko walked toward me with his head bowed. Clearly, he hadn’t been able to hold it or to communicate nature’s call, so he got as close as he could to the great outdoors. Of the three dogs, he’s the only one to show remorse.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I stuck my hand in a plastic garbage bag, gently clasped my hand around each still-steaming unit of chartreuse excrement, and disposed of the mess in an outside garbage can.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


I’ve known this week’s topic since last Friday, when I was being jostled by drunks at the Bon Iver concert. Even though I got in a bit of a tiff with said drunks, and even though I stood for six hours straight, and even though all I’d had to eat since lunch was a palmful of almonds, I walked out of the Uptown thinking, That was a good concert.

What makes a good concert? Surely, if you like the artist, you’ll like the concert. In the past twelve months, I’ve gone to ten shows, and I can assure you that my level of enjoyment was pretty varied.
For example:

Sufjan Stevens: October 17, 2010 at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Missouri.
The concert was comprised of mostly Sufjan’s new, experimental album—complete with backup dancers wearing tinsel on their heads. I spent most of the show with my head cocked to one side, baffled by what was occurring on the stage before me. One song was twenty-five minutes long. I was being played at, not to. And it was evident that Sufjan was miserable. “Music left me,” he told us.

Josh Ritter: February 18, 2011 at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas.
Josh is one of the greatest story-telling musicians currently recording. His show still is the best I’ve ever been to. He played the full range of his discography, as well as some as-yet-unrecorded tunes, like the side-splitting “Sir Galahad”. He also sang “Thin Blue Flame” unplugged to a dark and silent room, soliloquized on winter ending and skirt season approaching, and led the crowd in a slow dance to “Kathleen”. His ever-present grin made it clear that he was having just as much fun as we were—if not more. “I’m singing for the love of it,” he sings. “Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.”

What made these two concerts—both put on by men I really like, and at similar venues—so vastly different? I had this discussion with my right-hand man Clark, who’s been to six of the aforementioned ten shows with me, and my friend Beej who writes music reviews for The Modern Culture Blog. Beej said, “If a concert sounds too much like the album, it’s nothing special seeing them live—but if the experience is enhanced via seeing them perform the music, then the concert is successful.” This was my problem with Sufjan. The only difference was watching him lose his mind, rather than just listening to the aftermath. Compare this to Bon Iver: while they played both old and new music, Vernon changed the way he performed some of the songs. He was able to showcase their musicianship and creativity while still preserving the integrity of the melodies and the familiarity of their distinct sound.

But even more important than the set list is the musician’s attitude. “You can tell when a band or a musician thinks they're doing you a favor by performing,” Clark told me during our conversation. Bon Iver was a confident but unpretentious performance, and this was Josh Ritter’s strongest quality. He was earnestly grateful—sincerely thanking us for coming, rather than using “thank you” as a cue for us to clap. As the review in the Kansas City star said, Josh “arouses a tide of energy and exuberance that sweeps the room. Resistance is difficult, if not futile. It’s like trying not to get wet while white-water rafting.”
To be carried away by the current and completely drenched, rather than standing ankle-deep in the kiddie pool—that’s how you know it was a good show.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten Years Later

I was in seventh grade, and it was a pretty Tuesday morning at Freedom Middle School in Franklin, Tennessee. During second period choir, we sang a sweet little song with the words dona nobis pacem. When we finished, our teacher asked, “Does anyone know what this song is about?” Someone ventured, “Peace?”
“That’s right,” Ms. Fuller said. “It’s an important song to sing, especially today.” She looked at us meaningfully and was met with blank stares.
“Why today?” I asked, voicing the class’s confusion.
Ms. Fuller looked briefly surprised, realizing she was the one who would have to break the news to us. “Oh, well, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York this morning.” More blank stares. Not many of us knew what that was.
“Was it an accident?” I asked.
She paused for a second and then replied, “They don’t know.”

Then class was over, and I went to the library for my next class. The TV was on. I saw footage of firefighters walking around in smoke and rubble, but the magnitude of thing was still lost on me.

By lunch word was out that it was probably terrorism, and, still not grasping the severity of the situation, I made the joke, “Yeah, I heard that the terrorists hate country music and are going to bomb Nashville next.” A girl further down the table heard the joke repeated and dissolved into tears, thinking it was the truth.

When Mom picked me up from school, I could tell she had been crying. She had that same strained look as all the teachers at school, the manifestation of trying to process her own emotions while combating the desire to protect her children from such horrific evil.

That night, we attended a prayer service at church. Thousands of people were there, and it was standing room only. We watched the newscast of President Bush giving his speech, and I remember thinking, “This is my Pearl Harbor. This is my JFK. My kids will ask me where I was today.”

After the speech there was a long silence, and then an old man in the back of the sanctuary began singing in a booming baritone, “God bless America, land that I love!” People hesitated, unsure if this was going to take off, but slowly the voices began multiplying and rolling towards the front of the room in a powerful wave of patriotism. For the first time, I felt a surge of American pride in my own heart, but I don’t remember feeling the weight of the injustice, or any initiative to take ownership in my American-ness.

If we’re callously honest, most of us were not affected by the events of September 11th, 2001. Geoff Nunberg notes that, ten years later, even our language harbors almost no vestiges of the day. As a nation, we quickly got over our fervor and resumed apathy, rendering it just another Tuesday. Initially I thought I’d write about 9/11 out of a sense of sentimental obligation, but the more I read and remembered, the sadder I got. I asked my family to e-mail me their personal accounts of that day, and reading them made a hot lump rise in my throat. For most of us, nothing has changed, but for thousands upon thousands of our people, life as they knew it was obliterated.

And so, because of them, and because of the thousands of servicemen and women who have willingly sacrificed their lives in two wars on our behalf, it is vital that we, at the very least, remember. This week, post your account in the comments. After the jump I’ve included the reports from my mom, dad, sister, and grandparents.

Finally, I encourage you to check out the National Day of Service and Remembrance to see how you can get involved.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Houses and Homes

About a year ago, my parents started throwing around the idea of selling our house once Meagan left for college. I didn’t really think they’d do it, but otherwise I didn’t have any kind of reaction to this brainstorming. At the beginning of this summer, we got rid of a ton of stuff, hired in a stager to arbitrarily declare that arranging the furniture this way and that would guarantee a buyer, and put the For Sale sign in the front yard. Other than being annoyed at the inconvenience of the whole ordeal, I still didn’t care. But last week, my parents called to tell me that they had received and offer and signed a contract, and I burst into tears. My poor father, on the other end of the line, was stunned at such a dramatic reaction, and I blubbered an explanation: “I won’t have a home!”
“It’s just a house!” he replied. “I would hope that wherever your mom and I are would be your home.”
“It’s not the same!” I wailed. “I’ll never get to come home! I’ll always just be a guest in my parents’ house!”

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I cried myself to sleep that night. The next morning my mom sent me an email detailing all the reasons they had for selling the house, but even thinking about it for more than ten seconds made my lower lip start to quiver.
I still don’t know why I had such a strong reaction to this news, and it makes even less sense when you consider the fact that yesterday, I moved here:

The older sister of a Jewell friend just bought this house in Mission, Kansas, and the three of us have moved in. It’s the next big step in my becoming an adult. I’m paying rent. I picked out all new bedding. I bought my own toilet paper for the first time in my life. I had to kill a spider the size of my head in the shower this morning. Last week I was talking to Abby on the phone, trying to orchestrate some moving-in details, and when I asked if something was okay to bring, she gently said, “Remember, this is your home, too.” Again, I felt my bottom lip start to quiver, and again, I couldn’t figure out why these irrational emotions were bubbling up.

I’ve lived a more transient life than most. Our first move was shortly after my first birthday, from Kansas City to Phoenix. Sixteen months later we moved to a small town in Arizona called Snowflake, where I attended kindergarten. On the last day of school we moved to a suburb of Chicago, where I spent first through third grade. Right after I turned nine we moved to Franklin, Tennessee, and then eleven days before my fourteenth birthday we moved to Monument, Colorado. There my family has stayed, but I’ve been to Jewell, to Oxford, across Europe, and back. I think I’ve clung to our Monument house because for once, it felt permanent. Like I had just been dating other houses and locations and this was my one-true-love house.

Visiting my parents will now always require a suitcase. Their house will be their house, and my house will be my house, but Abby and my dad were right—both will be my home.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Books I Remember Liking.

This week, I wanted to stay away from the more somber tone the past couple of weeks have taken on. I want to write about something I love. Having recently finished reading The Help and finding myself enamored with it, I thought about writing a review of the novel. But then I started thinking more broadly, and thought about writing a post about multiple books I love. As I starting jotting down titles, it occurred to me that I don’t remember much about the contents of the books—merely the sensation of having once loved them. So with that, I present a brief history of my love affair with books. This list is by no means exclusive, nor am I guaranteeing that you’ll like these books too.

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown: My favorite book as a baby. My mom would lay on the floor with me and hold it over our heads to read. She says my legs would kick with delight and my eyes would grow wide with joy. By the time I could talk I had it memorized.

The Little House on the Prairie Books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Laura Ingalls Wilder taught me how to read. My mom and I would spend whole days snuggling in the over-sized recliner, and she’d read to me the autobiographies of Laura and her family. One day, I asked her to use her finger to follow along with the words she was speaking. Words were a code, and I cracked it before entering kindergarten. Visiting the home of Laura and Almanzo in Mansfield, Missouri was like Mecca for me. My parents bought me a bonnet, and I wore it more often than was cool… that is, more than once.
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis: These books taught me lots of big words in early elementary school, like “centaur” and “vaguely”, which, I quickly learned, was not pronounced “va-joo-lee”. My second biggest regret in life is putting them down in the middle of the The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I got bored when the kid started turning into a dragon.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott: I attended fourth grade at Moore Elementary School in Franklin, Tennessee, and it heavily emphasized the Accelerated Reader program. By age 9, I had the reading level of a high school sophomore, and I began checking out the books with the highest number of possible points. Little Women was worth 42. The book moved me so much that I wistfully told my mom, “I wish I had a friend who I could talk to about books.”

Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling: I read the first book in fourth grade. I got the last book at midnight, the summer before I went to Jewell. I finished it by 4 pm the next day. I will always love these books.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: I’d seen the movie a few times, and Boo Radley always scared the weewaddens out of me. I read the book in 7th grade, and it was the first time I recognized that I was Reading An Important Book. I can practically guarantee that at least one of my children will be named accordingly.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Someone once told me that Fitzgerald didn’t waste a single word in this whole novel, that not one word was unnecessary or out of place. I think he’s right.

Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen: When I was assigned this book for my AP Literature class as a senior, I was expecting a boring period drama with convoluted sentence structure and pages of descriptions of carpets and mantelpieces and four-poster beds. Instead, I found myself lost in a witty social commentary brought alive by keen character descriptions and delightful quick repartee between Elizabeth and the other characters. And, naturally, Mr. Darcy made me swoon.

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy: Still one of my favorite books from college. It is beautiful, honest, haunting, and not for the faint of heart.

Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare: Here’s the obligatory Shakespeare entry. I’ve read roughly two-thirds of his plays, and this is my favorite—closely followed by Much Ado About Nothing. Julius Caesar, even while still on the page, kept me riveted, and I may have gasped aloud once or twice at certain revelations. I’d terribly like to see it performed.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis: Refreshing. Provocative. Made me wonder if 75% of Christians who “love” Lewis have read this.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett: I had to include this because it revived a love I didn’t know I could feel again. After being completely burned out on literature, thanks to the past four years, I still read a lot this summer. But this is the first book in years that I couldn’t put down, that I found myself aching to get back to. I read almost 300 pages in the first sitting. Read. This. Book. Stockett’s command of dialect and dialogue is astounding. Even more impressive is the fact that she’s developed a controversial, necessary story without being flowery, over-earnest, or demanding.