Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Thanks for Being My Archipelago

Hey Long-Lost Sister!

Ok, so you're not really long lost, but over our blog, communication has been sparse. Let's just blame it on hibernation (a topic you can read about in my post next week), and call it good.

So, I sometimes feel that there is this weight on my shoulders to always be ok, to always be happy, to always be stable. I don't really know why that it is. It might be this mistaken idea that if I'm not ok, I'm not being grateful and I'm not being strong and I'm not being righteous--"Let the Saints be joyful in glory" (Psalm 149:5).

I think I also pride myself on being independent, and being mopey just doesn't fit independence. When I was younger, I honestly, sincerely believed that being single and 27 had to be the worst thing possible. I thought there was no way I could be happy and single. As it turns out, that is the furthest thing from the truth I live. Single life, I've come to believe, is just as happy and hard as married life (but I've never been married, so what do I know).

And because of this false belief from my childhood, I sometimes worry that people are feeling bad for me. I mean, I remember single women coming home when I was in high school who were 25, 28, 30, 35, and people saying things like, "Poor girl." Heck, I thought that too.

The idea of someone thinking that about me is really uncomfortable. I don't want anyone's pity, especially when it's typically hard to find something to pity about my life. So I feel this responsibility to prove them wrong if they happen to be thinking "Poor girl" about me. I feel compelled to have poise and to have a smile and to be fearless. I must stand independent and have it all together. Move along. There's nothing to pity here.

That fear of being pitied makes it hard to not feel shame when I do need help and I am not making it all by myself.

I think I have believed and still fall into believing that adults don't need anyone else. We use phrases like "Learn to stand on your own two feet," and it feels like you're weak sauce if you need a hug or you need someone to listen to you or you need a cheerleader.

But I think this is a falsehood. When God was creating the earth and mankind, he said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him" (Genesis 2:18). I think God saw the wisdom of two people walking on their own two feet but side by side, which brings me back to where I started.

I'm a single woman, and while I am independent and strong, I also need people and I need support, and there is no shame in that. I love this quote from English poet John Donne: "No Man Is an Island." And while quite honestly I often feel like I am an island, I like to think that I'm an island among islands, that loved ones are not too far off when I need a pick-me-up, and that in return I'm able to send waves of support their way too.

Background photo from Dmitry Teslya

All that said, thanks for being my archipelago, Steph.



Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Art of Keeping New Year's Resolutions

Hey Steph!

Hello people of 2015! Breathe it in, everyone. It's a fresh, crisp new year. What are you going to do with it? Oh, I love new years, just like I love new weeks and new days. Ah, what a relief it is that each year and each week and each day we get to start over. Like dear Anne Shirley says, "Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"

So what are you going to do with it? 

I, like many, make New Year Resolutions every year. And for a long, long time these resolutions lasted for about a week or two before I would give up and submit to all-encompassing depression called January. But for the last few years, I've been successful. I actually kept to my goals throughout the whole year. So now, as I'm creating new goals for this year, I've been pondering over how I was successful and trying to repeat the process. Here's what I've come up with so far.

  • Be simple. Have patience. You don't need to change your entire self in one year, so just pick one or two small things. A couple of years ago my goal was simply to lock my car all the time. That was it. No daily plan of how I was going to exercise, clean the entire house, and be the most awesome person ever. 2012 was just about locking car doors. It's a slow, year-by-year journey to perfection. You don't need to do it all at once.
  • Start a week late. I found the biggest enemy to keeping my resolutions was the fact that I wasn't quite settled into work and my normal life after being on vacation. So, I always consider the first week of the year as a test run. I expect failure in this first week, but it doesn't get me down because I know I'm still in vacation mode and trying to get used to doing the norm. 
  • Ask for support. Some goals need others' help. A couple of years ago I decided that I wanted to cut down on my use of the words "I'm sorry." I was (and am) one of those people that said it all of the time. I wanted to cut back on using it so that I was more sincere when it should be used. Fortunately, I had a few close and frank friends that I could enlist to call me out on it. Was it super annoying? Yes. Do I say "I'm sorry" less often? Yes. 
  • Go easy on yourself. You're going to mess up, but that's ok. You're just a human trying to push against the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That's tough business, so cut yourself some slack. The goal is to be a better you when you arrive in the next year in some incremental way. Instead of throwing away the beautiful goal or goals you created, hold fast to them and keep going. I've found that if you do, you forget those times that you didn't quite succeed and you feel like you kept to your goal 100% when you ring in the next year. 

Happy New Year, Steph! I hope you're drinking in the idea of a better, more educated, more orderly you.



Saturday, December 20, 2014

Confessions of a Teen Bride

So I got married at 19 and in a few days I'll be married 5 years.

If I was going to do it all again, I would still get married at 19.  Maybe I'm still too young to be able to say that with any authority. But really, who is old enough to say that with any authority.  

When I was 18, I was going to be a history major. I was going to serve in the Peace Corps for a few years after college, earn a master's degree in library/archival science, and then work up to a job at a major museum, preferably the Smithsonian.

 In the realm of college freshman, I was pretty good at answering the where do you see yourself in 5 years question.

Then I got married. Which my husband now jokes is "when I killed all of your hopes and dreams." I didn't do Peace Corps. I didn't get a master's degree. And I'm not currently interning in D.C. My "5 years from Freshman year" reality is essentially unrecognizable.

But this isn't a tragedy. My life plans have always been informed by reality. So in my original 5 year plan, I made sure to come to a nice compromise doing what I was interested in but still avoid being on food-stamps for my entire life.

So once I was in a committed lifelong relationship with someone with a gift and desire to work in engineering/programming, "Okay", I thought. We're never going to be no-heat-in-the-winter broke. So what do I really want to do.
  • I could be a novelist. 
  • Or a farmer
  • Or an assistant at a  Montessori school
  • I could start a family whenever the heck I wanted and not have to worry about "lifetime earning loss" or building enough credibility in a field before I was confident that I could return if I left. 
  • I could not go to grad school
  • I could study whatever was interesting
I could actually form a 5 year plan based solely on who I wanted to be, not what I wanted to earn.

My serious regret is that it took me so long to accept this. So I've kind of biffed it.

Dressing up during my first semester as my Peace Corps dream.
I still want to do a service mission. But, I want actual skills first. Like carpentry or agriculture.
Preferably both. With some language skills thrown in. 

I've spent the last 5 years mostly wrapped up in what I could get paid to do part-time, not what I wanted to master with my time. (Part-time, because seriously who wants to work full-time?) And I couldn't stop fretting about being jobless because I didn't want to be beholden.

 "Beholden" ---the whole idea of being emotionally and financially dependent bothered me. I was a complete addict to my husband and I didn't like it.

So I kept trying to solve the problem. Okay, I don't want to be totally reliant on my husband. So I started looking for a job. And by that I mean "a profession" because it wasn't so much about being reliant on my husband for money, but respect. is how most people quantify respect/admiration (there are no poor astronauts). So actually, yes, indirectly it was about the money.

I was worried about getting published, not just writing a novel. Or what it took to build a CSA, not just garden in my little 4x5 plot. Or build a blog people would be impressed by, not just one I wanted to write (haha...did I say that outloud? Let's just say there's a lot of behind-the-scenes projects that've never made it to "Publish"...and an embarrassing number that did. But that's a whole 'nother post.)

But after a million what-if-I conversations with anyone who would stand still long enough to have one, I asked the real question--what good is it to have a position or job-title to become less reliant on my spouse if staying unnoticed, unhired, failing, or getting laid off is more likely than getting divorced?

Well poops. Dependency is written into our nature. We crave social interaction thus we crave social approval. This is inescapable. We only get to choose which opinions matter most. And Adam is that for me.

So finally--finally--I've decided that it's actually good that I rely on my husband to manage my sorrows and to celebrate my victories. That it's a sign of a healthy relationship that if he died I would have to completely rework my life to reach a new normal.

I dunno, I've never been in anyone else's marriage, but isn't that the point of getting married? We exchanged a legal promise before witnesses and God Himself that essentially said "you can make 5, or 20, year plans based on the assumption that I'm not going anywhere."

And that is the hardest part of being a teen bride. Everyone has to sooner or later come to grips that marriage is a terrifying, liberating co-dependence, but everyone else does it with the illusion that they aren't quite as codependent as they are.

So yes, everything about being widowed or divorced would be devastating. But only a tiny part of that devastation would be the state of my finances, or even how much social cachet I have on my own. That's like saying it would be devastating if it never rained because there wouldn't be any clouds.

That isn't to say that I'd be happy if Adam was the only person on the planet who liked me. I'm just done, forever, worrying about whether I am the boring, financially-unproductive one in my marriage. So what if I am? That's not how my family sees me. People really are worth much more than their professions.

All the love,

P.S. Happy Anniversary Adam. You are the best spouse on the planet. I'd say for a million and a half reasons, but  if we took that literally that would be a reason for every second in the month of February. And if I only thought about all the reasons why you're awesome for a solid month, I'd die of thirst and sleep-deprivation. And that would be a pretty crappy anniversary present.

Besides. You and I both know that hyperboles are not your thing.  So just for you, just for today I'll be completely accurate. Adam, you're the best spouse on the planet for me, and for a number of reasons which is limited by the constraints of time. So realistically, somewhere around two-hundred. Even if that's boring.

I'll love you forever.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

5 Lessons from It's a Wonderful Life

Hi Steph,

Every Christmas I'm reminded of the man of my dreams. His name is Mr. James Stewart and with just a few minor caveats, I'd marry him right now; that is, if he didn't have a wife, was not born 79 years before me, and was alive, I'd be introducing myself as Mrs. James Stewart (yes, I'd even take on that abhorrent, old-fashioned practice of taking my husband's first and last name just so I could brag about the man I was married to.)

My love for Jimmy Stewart first came about in our perennial watching of It's a Wonderful Life each Christmas. It is hands down my favorite movie--not just Christmas movie. It's my number one pick of any movie I've ever seen. The movie combines engaging, complex characters, witty and humorous (and quotable) dialogue, and a message full of heart that will stick with you.

Hey there, dreamboat

Below are five lessons to take from It's a Wonderful Life, but here's a fair warning, if you have never seen It's a Wonderful Life, stop right now before the whole movie is spoiled and go watch the movie!

1) Be passionate.
So I think the reason Jimmy Stewart is so attractive to me is because of his deep passion for life and learning and experiencing. I fall in love with him every time I watch the scene below. I swear if a man spoke to me with as much creative vocabulary and overuse of hyperbole, I would swoon on the spot. Though It's a Wonderful Life is sort of a story of George Bailey's dreams not coming true, I believe it is George's love of life that makes him the charismatic and compassionate character that he is. Lesson 1: dream big.

2. Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously.
If you're going to talk as grandiose as George Bailey does, you need to add to it a bit of levity. The scene below is one of my favorites. It reminds me that when you think you're really impressive stuff but then make a total fool of yourself, it's best to make fun of yourself and laugh with it.

3. Find Happiness in the Successes of Others.
As others have posited, Harry Bailey just might be the villain of It's a Wonderful Life. While George stays in Bedford Falls being responsible and caring for the whole town, Harry gets to live out all of George's adventures. What I love about George is his sincere love for others and his happiness for other's successes. Throughout the film, George is the proud older brother, bragging about Harry's accomplishments. George teaches us that life might not always go the way we want it too, but our attitude can make us happy in all circumstances.

4. We All Have Bad Days.

One reason I like It's a Wonderful Life is that it presents a relatable tragedy. What happens to George is definitely upsetting, but it isn't one of those arising from the ashes sort of stories. George's struggle seems very close to my struggles, unlike say the storyline of Schindler's List or Pursuit of Happyness. I watch those films and think, "Man, I would not be strong enough to endure the things these people went through, let alone be happy and compassionate through it." It's a Wonderful Life is a story of a man brought down again and again by not fulfilling his dreams. Sound familiar? I appreciate how the film respects this struggle as real and also allows viewers to recall all that they do have going for them.

5. Being Rich Doesn't Mean You're Wealthy.
George teaches us that the exhaustion of life is worth it if you are living to help others. In true Frank Capra fashion, Jimmy Stewart delivers a powerful message on the worth of doing good even at your own personal expense in the video below.

The video below is of one of the most famous scenes in the whole movie. I love this scene because of the reason that George asks to live again. (Did I mention I'm in love with Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey?)

Merry Christmas, Steph!


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learning to See

One of my first drawings
It's a business card idea fro my future farm
"Queen of Spades"
Clever, right?
So I remember in 4th grade thinking I was bad at only two things: drawing and minute math.

All along I've assumed I was defective in hand control or coordination. That my art skills lagged because of my flubby fingers, or general awkwardness.

Nope. It wasn't my hand. It's my eyes.

It's weird that you could live so long on Earth and somehow be oblivious to something so fundamental as sight. But I'm serious. When I started learning how to draw I realized I've been moving through the world in a virtual reality of my own making.

And so is everybody else.

Because you draw what you see. And if you can't draw. It's because you can't see. Your brain hasn't learned to draw. Your hand is more or less ready to go.

It's a weird philosophical/physical phenomenon. In a very literal way, you assume you see things, but you don't actually see them. You only think the wheel is a circle. From this angle it's a pretty narrow oval actually. And you know you have five fingers, but sometimes you only see parts of three or four.  You only think the clouds are white.

Look, they actually have room for brains!
And this is why its valuable to learn new things. Because before I decided I was unhappy with drawing stick figures, I had no idea that artists had some kind of super x-ray vision, and, it was a superpower that could be taught...
The hand from Peter's statue in St. John Lateran's Basilica
I'm particularly proud of this one.

 ...gradually at least. I'm equal parts amazed at my progress and deeply embarrassed. On one hand, it's incredible how much better I've gotten in a just a few hours of practice. On the other, I'm probably on par with some 10 year olds. But comparison really is the thief of joy. So I decided to share a few of my sketches anyway.

via My Daily Six

I highly recommend Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain, if you're at all interested in psychology and would like to not completely embarrass yourself next time you play Pictionary. The first week doing her exercises I felt like the Grinch hugging Cindy Lou Who. Oh my heck, drawing can be taught!

Seriously, you can learn too.


Friday, December 5, 2014

The Homemade Challenge and Five-Spice Cinnamon Roll Recipe

Confession: I've had the same 5 lb bag of flour for the entirety of 2014. But--Huzzah---I've finally emptied it and I have made serious headway on a second bag. Because the only way to master baking,  is to bake.

And it doesn't matter how long it takes, I can only make headway by starting today. Sounds like feel-good motivational poster. I know, so I'm going to do something about it. Remember that time I was all mopeypants--well, that's never happening again.

My husband's super-impressive grandmother has a goal to finish something everyday, and it's definitely working out for her. She's nearing 80 and could possibly be the most productive human being I have ever met. So for the rest of 2014 I commit to completing two projects with my hands everyday. (Because I'm not as awesome as Grandma Lydda--I can't commit to every day for the rest of my life, so I'll just commit to twice as much for a limited time).  And for food to count, it must be made from scratch as far as I am capable. So I won't be buying a grain mill or butter-churn, but making pasta with a bottle of Prego and box of spaghetti certainly will not make the cut.  

So far I've made chicken stock, yogurt, mayonnaise, bread, squeezed orange juice,  cinnamon rolls, steamed buns with red bean paste (long story), soft pretzels, and Irish stew. 

And no, I don't plan on making only edible things. But between the bovine-scale task of completing a knit blanket and a case of the munchies--I mostly did my doing in the kitchen this week. And surprisingly, the cinnamon rolls were hella fantastic (Can Mormons say hella? I dunno. Add it to the list.) This good fortune was probably beginner's luck. But just in case lightening strikes twice, here's the recipe I hacked together for the miraculously delicious cinnamon rolls I made. I decided on 5 Spice because I was wanting something a little more spiced but am currently out of love with Pumpkin Spice--It's like the cranberry juice of baked goods--and I saw the bottle sitting in the front of my spice cabinet. Happy coincidences.   

Five Spice Cinnamon Rolls
For the actual rolls, I used half of my bread dough from this recipe.  I just rolled them flat after the first rise (second rise, if you're counting the "sponge" step as the first). But I'm pretty sure any old white bread dough would do.  The magic is in the glaze and the filling.

This makes half the amount of a traditional cinnamon roll recipe, but these are especially rich, and there's only two adults in my house. Thus, halved. 

1 stick (8 TB)  butter, extremely soft
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
a scant 1/2 tsp of McCormick's Chinese Five Spice (McCormick's is only notable because it's more like
Chinese *four* spice since they exclude chiles and instead use two types of anise but don't worry--it tastes nothing like the abomination that is Good n' Plenty. If you're curious, the other spices are cloves, cardamon, and cinnamon)

1. Combine all filling ingredients well. Roll bread dough into flat rectangle, spread thickly with filling and roll up the long-side into tight tube.
2. Cut tube into even 1.5" wide pieces, setting aside the nobby end pieces,  and place swirl side up in a butter-greased 8x11 pan. Make sure to keep rolls evenly spaced. (I had a little extra room in my pan so I put in my slightly undersized ends from the dough tube in the corners so that the other rolls had something to rise up against. Plus, they still tasted good for all their odd looks.)
3. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

4 Tbs Butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp Five spice

4. While rolls are baking whisk together glaze. 
5. When you remove rolls from oven, drizzle immediately with glaze to cover tops of rolls completely. Let ooze around the pan for a bit while you wait for the cinnamon rolls to reach not-quite-center-of-the-sun hot before you cut into them. 
6. Smile as you chew. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Punch Consumerism in the Kidneys

Consumerism is a cancer and the cure is more gratitude. 

This is easy for me to say. I'm quitting my job, and my husband is changing his-- it's easy to say we need to reign in the spending, because we don't really have another option. But as we prepare to move into cheaper housing and I've been giving away bags of unused things, I am so grateful for just how much I have. I mean there are mothers that cannot afford baby clothes, and I had boxes of clothes locked in my basement that no one was using. 

The strange thing is, that as I fill my car for the second time for the Salvation Army, I'm realizing that I'm not just more grateful for all the things I have. By giving away a tiny percentage of my excess, my life is just better. When you only own two pans, there's only ever two pans to wash. If there's only 10 toys in the living room, there's only ever 10 toys to put away. 

Suddenly I'm looking at my six loads of undone laundry thinking, "what if I only ever had three loads of laundry to do." 

Advertisers are geniuses. They are really good at their jobs, and their job is to convince you of a need you didn't know you had. An advertiser would look at my laundry pile and sell me a super efficient washing machine that can fit more clothes in the drum. But I could own less towels and clothes for free. I would have less loads of laundry to do; I would have less laundry to fold. Less messy piles. Less mental clutter. I would be free of the subtle guilt cringe I get every time I look at the laundry basket. And that is literally priceless.

This Christmas you will be sold gadgets and products that will reduce your stress and give you all your dreams. I recently saw an ad that by insinuation suggested that a voice-command computer would make you and your kids hang out together more, would make cooking at home easier, would help you connect more with your spouse---advertisers do not sell products, they sell an awesome life with that product in it.

Seriously. Play advertiser bingo this Christmas--family satisfaction, serenity, romance, laughter, adventure. Who knew kleenex boxes made your children feel so secure in your love. But seriously all of those emotions can be yours.....for free. Without buying a thing. That Echo commercial probably advertises features your smartphone already has, and you don't even use them. "Okay Google/Siri, set timer for 15 minutes" ---my phone does that but I still don't make homemade chocolate chip cookies. One, that saves me literally twenty seconds of effort over setting a timer by hand. Two, it's not for lack of a robot timer that I don't bake. I even have a robot dish cleaner, and I still don't bake. 

But it's not the cookies that make families tighter. It's spending more time reading library books, exploring trails at the park, packing a brown bag lunch to eat together down by the duck pond. Free memories are what make families, are what make lives. 

Buying stuff has never solved your problems. Or do you think that all the people leaving the Container Store with bags of merchandise will have a tidy closet six months from now. 

Be grateful for the stuff you have. Get rid of the stuff your not grateful for. Be skeptical of advertising. Do the things that make you happy, and acknowledge that "a lack of stuff" is never what keeps you from doing it. Too much stuff might actually be keeping you from it. So sorry consumerism you're not helping, you're hurting and I don't have room for you in my life anymore. 

Happy Thanksgiving-Independence Day