Sunday, August 3, 2014

The L Word

As most of you surely know, today is Esther Day, the day that we take the excellent advice given by Esther Earl in 2010 and tell the people we love that we love them.

(I don't want to bore regular readers by rehashing the things I've said multiple times before so if you don't know about Esther, or even if you do but you want to read my previous Esther Day posts anyway, you can find those here and here.)

If you know me very well at all (or, you know... if you read the posts I just linked...), you know that saying "I love you" is pretty hard for me most of the time. I can say it easily to a few people but most people rarely, if ever, hear it from me. And that's doubly sad because I do love a lot of people very much.

I think I'm getting better at it though and, like so many things in my life, I have Esther to thank for that. In 2011 I was determined to pass the gift of love that Esther gave me on to some people in my life. So I did it. It was hard and there was a part of me that hated it, but at the same time it was good to reaffirm that connection with the people I love, to be sure they knew. I did it again in 2012 and it was a little easier because now I'd done it before, and it was better still in 2013. Not easy, mind you. I don't know that it'll ever be easy for me. But Esther Day created a way for me to say it without just randomly blurting it out, and that helps a lot.

The trouble now is that, with most of the people in my life, I only say it that one time each year. I know that sounds shocking to many of you, but it's the plain truth. Esther Day is great, but I find that I've begun using it as a crutch, and I'm certain that wasn't Esther's intent. (In fact, I'm also certain that she would scold me soundly for misusing it so horribly. I'm easily old enough to be her mother, but Esther always had a way of putting me in my place when I was being stupid. Which happens more often than I like to admit.) So this year I'm doing it differently. I am telling people that I love them today, but it's my goal to tell them more often throughout the coming year, too.

In Esther's book, This Star Won't Go Out, her father, Wayne, says, "She was a champion of the lonely, a welcomer of strangers, an inviter." I can't imagine a truer description of Esther. She welcomed me and pulled me gently out from behind my wall when I was a lonely stranger, and it changed my life. I'd like nothing more than to be that point of connection for someone else. I honestly don't know whether I'm capable of it -- my personality is very different from Esther's -- but I want to try and I think one step in that direction is simply getting more comfortable with what I usually call "the L word": Love.

The best way to get better at a new thing is to practice it, so I pledge to you, dear reader, that I'll say it more than just once this year. My goal is to be able to write a post a year from today telling you that I've used the word often enough to be at least moderately comfortable with it. Who knows; maybe by Esther Day 2015 "I love you" will be as easy for me to say as "Grande espresso Frappuccino, please." A girl can dream, right?

Have you said "I love you" to anyone today? If not, it's never too late! Esther Day is fantastic, and I hope you'll celebrate Esther's life and legacy by saying "I love you" on this day. But more importantly, I hope you'll join me in saying it over and over throughout the year. It can only make life better for all of us.

If you want to improve even more people's lives, consider donating to TSWGO, the organization started by Esther's parents to help families of children with life-threatening cancer. You can also support them in any number of other ways, such as by purchasing their products at DFTBA Records or by following them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Tumblr. I know it would be appreciated.

And, as always, thank you so much for reading. I'd love to see your thoughts and comments here, and you can also find me on Twitter if you'd like.

I love you guys. Best wishes! <3

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Flaws in Our Stars

I saw a video today called "I Dislike 'The Fault in Our Stars'" by Rebecca Brown, known as Beckie0 on YouTube. I found several of her points to be very interesting and I started to comment on the video but I soon found that I had more to say about it than I thought so I transferred it to my blog, and here we are. You should probably watch the video before you proceed. My thoughts will make a lot more sense that way.

I agree with some of the content of the video and disagree with other parts, but I absolutely respect and support Beckie0's right to express her opinions regardless. She shouldn't have to be nervous about negative comments because we should be holding ourselves to a higher standard of discourse than that. Of course, I'm not naive; I've read YouTube comments before in my life. But I won't tolerate that kind of thing here. Feel free, as always, to disagree and to state your own opinions, but comments that I feel are abusive or inappropriate won't be approved. My readers are mostly my friends and family, and everyone's always been civil around here so I doubt I even needed to say that, but I felt I should just in case someone who doesn't normally read the blog wants to have a rant. Please have it somewhere else.


Also, I haven't yet seen the film (I know, I know) so my comments are based only on the book.

From this point on, I'll direct my comments to Beckie0 because I'm talking about her video, but rest assure that I'm really addressing all of you.

Ms. Brown:

Most important: I'm sad to hear that you've been criticized for having a differing opinion. This would be a boring world if we all agreed on everything, and we should feel comfortable expressing our opinions under any circumstances. And honestly, I think John Green would welcome the discussion. Those who put you down for expressing your opinions aren't imagining you complexly and therefore I think their ill-conceived "defense" of the book would only make him sad.

Having said that, I agree with many of your criticisms of TFiOS. That is, in fact, the reason your video interested me in the first place. I've written about TFiOS here before and one of my criticisms was, in fact, the same as one of yours. However, for various reasons, I'm a bit more forgiving of most of its flaws than you are and I do, in the end, like the book. With that in mind, I'd like to address a few of your points at more length.

I've followed John Green since 2007 and, while I think he's super cool and a very good author, I'd be lying if I said that his books aren't predictable. They absolutely are, and I complained about it myself when TFiOS came out. But upon reflection, it seems to me that almost all authors are pretty predictable when it comes down to it. Give me books that I've never read by 10 authors that I'm familiar with (and a list of the authors), and -- as long as they're not actively trying to disguise their writing styles -- I can almost guarantee that I'll be able to tell you which one is written by whom. It's just the way our brains work.

And I personally like John's style very much so the predictability doesn't bother me as much as it might from someone else. I love the literary, artistic, and cultural references, I love the way he puts words together, and I even enjoy his tendency to make his teen characters very articulate. I taught high school for 20 years and I promise you, while it's far from typical, some of them do talk like that some of the time -- and switch between that and modern vernacular at high speed. So even though I more or less knew what to expect from TFiOS, I enjoyed it just the same. 

(Last warning, guys. I'm not kidding about spoilers!)

Spoiler buffer. Also: Was I or was I not ADORABLE?! :D
Like you, I knew very early in the book that Augustus was doomed. (For me the first major clue was on something like page 17, when he says that a leg is a small price to pay to keep his life.) The fact that it's telegraphed so broadly annoyed me a little, I have to admit, as did the bit in the Anne Frank house. The constant screeching "foreshadowing" regarding Gus bothered me more though, as the kiss feels like a simple lapse in judgment on John's part (and he's human, after all) while the other is just plain bad writing in my opinion and should have been toned down in editing.

Similarly, while I agree that Hazel's mother should have gone to van Houten's house with them, it didn't bother me from a writing standpoint because I don't think John is saying that she (or anyone else in the book, for that matter) always makes the right choices or does the right things. It's possible for an author to report things without condoning them, and John has spoken and written about some of those issues in this book as well as his other books. His characters often say and do things with which he -- as a real, nonfictional human being -- doesn't agree, either because they're patently incorrect or because John personally disagrees with the notion.

I don't feel that the book "romanticizes" cancer, exactly, but I do agree that it somewhat softens the impact of the harder truths regarding terminal illnesses. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, though. I don't mean just truths about death and grief, but day to day truths about watching someone you love waste away physically, and about things we don't like to think about, like vomit and pus and thick, infected mucus and bedpans and times when the bedpan maybe doesn't get there soon enough and sponge baths and terrifying seizures and sometimes decreasing mental function or loss of the ability to communicate effectively, and the fear and confusion and frustration that goes along with all of that. I've been through this process in an intimate way with two close family members (once with cancer, once with a different condition) and I'm honestly glad the book didn't go too far into that stuff. There's a place for it, certainly, but in my opinion this book isn't it. I think John did a reasonably good job of showing the reality of the condition in a way that is appropriate to his audience without dragging readers into the most horrifying corners of that reality.

I don't think your analogies to the cigarette metaphor are exactly accurate; I think better (but still imperfect) analogies would be matches that aren't lit at all and guns that don't have bullets. Also, you talk in this section as though the book and film are targeted toward pre-teen children when in fact they're meant not only for teens, but for older teens. That's a very different audience, obviously.

However, even if we agree that it's not the best metaphor for Augustus to use, it doesn't feel to me like irresponsible writing on John's part because, as I said earlier about Hazel's mother, John doesn't necessarily condone everything his characters do. I don't think he wants teens to get the idea that walking around with an unlit cigarette in your mouth is a smart or cool thing to do. I think he's purely making a point about Gus' attitude toward life and his illness and he chose this particular (possibly flawed, but undeniably powerful) visual to do it. I can accept that in a book for older teens.

I wouldn't call TFiOS a "condition story", but I absolutely agree that the character development, including the romance, is rushed and sometimes weak, and that this is sorely disappointing. I certainly couldn't do better, so I have no specific suggestions, but I would hope that a professional author working with a professional editorial team could do better. Maybe the book needed to be a little longer. Maybe some passages needed to be dropped to make room for more character development. Maybe the story should have unfolded differently in places. I don't know the answer, but I too felt that things were hurtling headlong toward the inevitable ending without enough solid connection for the reader.

To be honest, I find this to be the case for a lot of young adult literature. I love YA as well as the next person but, with some notable exceptions, the story lines and the character development generally do not have the depth and complexity that literary fiction usually has. Most YA novels leave me feeling that I've experienced a good, engaging story and glad to have done so, but they also leave my brain feeling a bit left out. I am, admittedly, weird and I enjoy reading deeply and in an attentive, detailed way that challenges my brain. I fully understand that most people don't read like I do. But for me, most YA feels emotionally engaging and creatively stimulating but intellectually weak. I definitely don't think this makes YA authors bad writers, though! A balanced "diet" of books includes all sorts of things, from picture books to classic literature to nonfiction to poetry. I love it all!

I think that covers my thoughts on your video. I hope none of it felt inappropriately critical. I only want to share my perspective with you and thereby maybe alleviate some of your disappointment with the book. In my experience, excessive hype almost always leads to disappointment and I know how frustrating it can be to want to like something but not find much in it to like.

Thanks so much to all of you for reading this far! Feel free to leave comments here, or to find me on Twitter. Either way, I'd love to hear what you think.

Best wishes! <3

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My 2014 Goals and Plans

I know this may seem a little late for yearly goals but I've been doing this odd thing for a long time. However, I haven't explained the reasons for several years so I guess I'll do it now for the benefit of the new people.

For most of my life I didn't make new year's resolutions of any kind. My parents never did it so it wasn't something I grew up hearing about and I never got in the habit. Then several years ago -- about 2005, I think -- I met someone who would later become one of the best friends I've ever had. As I got to know him, I learned that he'd had kind of a complicated life but that at a certain point he'd made a decision to turn it around and start over. It so happened that he started his "new life" on a February 1, so in some ways that was like a second birthday for him.

My friend's story inspired me and I decided the time had come to reboot my life too, so I stole his day as well as his story and now every February 1 I reassess my life and make changes as needed. I still don't do new year's resolutions, but I do set goals for myself every year, and I do it on this day.

Those who have been around for a while will know that I normally start with a review of the previous year's goals, checking how well I did at meeting them. I'm skipping that step this year because it's easier just to tell you that I failed miserably. I don't see any point in going into details because the story is the same on every goal: Fail. Fail. Fail.

So let's start fresh, shall we? Here are my goals for 2014:

1. Eat right and get some exercise. I always set this as a goal because it's an easy thing for me to overlook, and for many years I did pretty well at it. The past couple of years, though, I've been terrible. There are reasons for it, but they don't matter. I just need to get back on track. I've already started in some ways, but I want to ramp it up asap. By the end of the year, I'd like to feel as strong and healthy as I did a couple years ago. There's no reason I can't, if I just keep my head in the game. Dance! :-)

2. Be good to the people I care about. I'm terrible at maintaining relationships. I'm ashamed to admit (but I will because it's an excellent illustration of how bad I am) that I've basically lost contact with the person who inspired this yearly re-assessment, and it's entirely my fault. I regret it with all my heart but I've failed repeatedly at that friendship and he's therefore probably better off without me.

I've wondered all my life why it's so hard for me to keep up with people and I've come to realize that I'm only good at maintaining 3-5 close relationships at a time. I've tried to do more and I just can't. Someone always gets left out. And 3-5 would be perfectly fine, but I keep meeting more wonderful people! Unfortunately, every time I meet someone that I like, I seem to make an unconscious choice: Do I relegate this cool person to the sidelines or do I get to know him/her better and risk letting one of the others slip away?

But I know I can do better. There has to be a way, and I intend to find it. So this year is going to be about finding ways to connect and re-connect. I don't think it'll ever be my strong point, but I'll figure out how to show people how much I care about them or I'll die trying. I'm determined.

3. Get my house really, really clean and organized. This probably doesn't sound like a year-long task, particularly because (other than dust, always) my house appears to be pretty clean on the surface. But over the past few years I've completely let the deeper issues go, and that must be remedied. Believe me, there's plenty of work to do and hopefully it will include several trips to the dump and to various charitable organizations, as well as maybe one or more garage sales. By the end of the year I'd like to have a clean, organized, comfortable, and attractive home. It's ambitious, especially considering my work situation, but it can be done.

I'll stop there because I find that three goals is just right. Any less and I get lazy; any more and I don't do all of them. I've set myself some tough but achievable and important goals, and I've shared them with you to keep myself accountable. Feel free to call me on them or ask about them at any time. That's what friends are for!

Did YOU make any goals or resolutions this year? I'd love to hear about them. And if not, was there any particular reason? Do you feel like resolutions are pointless and made to be broken? Have you just never gotten in the habit? Some other reason? Tell me all about it in comments!

As always, thanks for reading and best wishes! <3

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Week the Thirty-First: Physical Pain

Ugh, I've fallen off my blog schedule in a big way lately, and I apologize for disappointing anyone who came around looking for it. I've been super busy with work-related writing the past few weeks and haven't had time to type anything else. I even took pictures for Wednesday's planned post, but then got a surprise assignment and couldn't do it.

Anyway. Moving on. Today work is getting shoved aside so I can write a new Introvert Social Hour post. I'm not sure whether it'll be a very picture-ific post because there are, after all, only so many hours in the day, but I'm writing the post if it's the last thing I do, dagnab it.

This week's topic is the worst physical pain we've experienced. I'm not sure how interesting this will be because, like Frieda, I've been pretty lucky in my life and haven't hurt myself very often. And I wrote about most of them in my post on five facts about me, so that doesn't leave much here. I shall, however, do my best to entertain you with my suffering starting in 3... 2... 1...

I guess the worst pain I've ever had was when I broke my hand. It was a horrific break of multiple bones and let's just say it was not much fun. My other broken bones were pretty minor in every way compared to that. However, it was only the worst for a fairly short time. After a few days it eased back some and became my second worst long-term pain.

The second worst pain I've ever had, and easily the worst in terms of extent, was when a cheap rent-a-dentist who was supposed to give me a root canal didn't believe that my mouth wasn't numb after three shots of local anaesthetic. I don't know why it wasn't numb because I'm normally very easily medicated -- over-sensitive to it, if anything -- but it wasn't. He was convinced that I was only feeling pressure and was determined to drill. I was young and stupid, in pain, and so poor that I didn't have any alternatives so, against my better judgment, I let him do it... for about one second. When the drill touched my tooth, I screamed like I was being flayed and jumped almost literally out of the chair.

I wouldn't let him touch me again and left immediately. I cried all the way home and most of the night because I was in so much pain, and the next day I started looking for another dentist to help me. I didn't have any money, but I would have sold anything at that point to get the tooth fixed. Unfortunately, it turned out (I later learned) that the trauma had damaged the nerve, and no dentist in that town would touch it. I started looking out of town, but it took me over a month to find someone, a three hour drive from where I lived, who would look at it. And even he couldn't get me in immediately.

In the end, I spent six weeks with a constant headache, neck and shoulder spasms, earache, tearing eye, and swollen face, eating an almost-entirely-liquid diet, and taking three aspirins every three hours 24/7. Not a fun time in my life. The new dentist gave me a general anaesthetic and that was the first time in weeks that I was able to get past the pain. Everything still hurt for a few weeks after that, until the inflammation went down, but at least I could feel it decreasing. I don't even have words to express the relief.

The third thing that comes to mind is my right knee. When I was in college, I was playing a casual game of touch football with a few friends when one of them decided it'd be hilarious to tackle me. That would have been ok, except that he hit me from the side while my foot was well planted, and my knee bent in a direction that it was never intended to bend. Fun times.

I should have had surgery at that time, but I was young and stubborn and decided to power through instead. I let it go for years, periodically re-injuring it due to its increasing instability as well as my own clumsiness. Every time I got hurt, the knee just got weaker, making it easier to hurt, and so on, a vicious cycle. I never have had surgery on it but I'll have to have it replaced eventually. It's pretty terrible. It randomly dislocates on a regular basis and sometimes it's hard to get it back in place, and it hurts like crazy until I do.

That's really about it. I have the occasional headache or minor injury like anyone, but overall I really haven't had a lot of catastrophic pain. Here's hoping my luck will hold out.

Thanks so much for reading this post! Be sure to leave any questions or comments below. I love hearing from you, you know! And if you're interested, you can also find me on Twitter.

If you haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are:

Jill, Kristina & Frieda

And that's it from me on this Saturday. Best wishes! <3

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Esther Day 2013

Most people who read this blog probably don't need to be told that today is a special day. It's the birthday of my friend Esther Earl, a day that many people simply call "Esther Day". If you don't know about Esther, you can read about her here. I also wrote last year about my relationship with Esther and how it's affected my life. I don't want to repeat the same information today; instead, I want to use this post to express my love and to remind others to do the same. The way we make sure that Esther's star truly never goes out is not only to remember her personally, but also to celebrate her day the way she wanted us to: by making sure that the people we love know that we love them.

I love lots of people because I feel love pretty easily. And when I love, I love hard and strong and true. But unfortunately I'm terrible at expressing my love in any generally recognizable way, and I fear that many people in my life either don't realize that I love them or are convinced that I don't. That's not how my relationships should be and it's not how I want them to be.

I'm not going to say all of my "I love you"s here because I want it to be more personal than that, but I do want to make a public commitment to say it today to some people who don't hear it often enough from me. I don't know why it's so hard to tell some of the most important people in my life -- my mother, my brothers, my husband, people like that -- that I love them, but it is. I love all of them very much, but saying it makes me feel shy and vulnerable and it's terribly hard to force the words out. But thanks to Esther, I now have both an excuse and a motivation to say it, and say it I shall, even if it makes me highly uncomfortable (and it will). Because it's important enough to be worth the discomfort.

And while I'm at it, I also want to express once again how much I love all the people that I'm honored to call friends. I won't name people because undoubtedly I'll just leave some out and I don't want to do that. But if we're friends, I guarantee that I love you. And even if you're not sure whether our relationship is close enough to count as a real friendship, the odds are that I love you too. It's hard for me to talk to people, so if I interact with you in any small way, even if it's only on Twitter or in the comments of you blog or something like that, it's because I care enough about you to pull out of my shell and talk to you. So yeah. Whether you like it or not, I love you.

I don't think any of that is the most important part of this post, though. It's great that I'm telling people that I love them today, but it won't mean much if it's only me. Esther's dream was for people everywhere to celebrate this day by saying "I love you", and I'm committed to doing what I can to make that dream come true. Not only for Esther, but for all of us. There's so much sadness and loneliness in this world, and sometimes it's not enough just to be around. Sometimes we need to hear the words, to feel a touch, to see that someone has taken the time to make us feel loved. Our families and friends need to hear that we love them and, just as importantly, we need to say it. As difficult as it might be sometimes, there's no doubt that it strengthens relationships, and thereby enriches our lives.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, [but] didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy [and] knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Right now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture. But when... perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

For now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

-- I Corinthians 13:1-3, 8, 13 (NLT/NIV)
So take some time today. Stretch yourself to reach out, maybe more than usual, maybe so much that it makes you feel awkward and weird. That's no big deal; it's just how growth feels. Tell someone "I love you" today, and then push the message even further by supporting the This Star Won't Go Out foundation. They're reaching out to help people you'll never be able to reach, and your support is like love to those people. Do it for Esther, do it for the people you love, and do it for yourself, too.

This star won't go out. We won't let it.

Thank you so much for reading this very special post. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below and, if you're interested, you can also find me on Twitter. Best wishes! <3

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Week the Twenty-seventh: Songs that Make Me Think of You

This week's topic over at Introvert Social Hour is songs that remind us of specific people. What a fun topic! I only spent a little while thinking about this and I came up with way too many examples. I'll keep it as brief as possible, I promise, and I'll do it by using categories.

Artists that remind me of specific people no matter what they're singing:
  • Weird Al Yankovic, as well certain '80s pop/new wave bands like Human League, Tears for Fears, and the Pet Shop Boys remind me of my middle brother. We listened to a TON of Weird Al together when he first got famous, and we're still big fans to this day. On the other hand, he listened to the other bands more than I did so I associate them with him because it was stuff I listened to mostly when he was around.
  • Jethro Tull, Tori Amos, and Rock Sugar make me think of my friend Patrick because they're his all time favorites. He likes lots of different music, but time pretty much stops for  him when those three artists come on.
  • Anything by Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer, and anywhere else he pops up) or anything by Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and his solo work) makes me think of my friend Shawn because he introduced me to both artists and they're now two of my very favorites (as I may possibly have mentioned before in this blog!).
  • Anything from the Grease soundtrack or by the Bee Gees remind me of a particular group of people I knew in high school who listened to that stuff pretty much 24/7. Not that I minded; I like it too. But seriously. They never listened to anything else.
  • By far the saddest one: Every time I hear anything by Judas Priest I think of a friend who was murdered while Judas Priest was blasting out of his truck. (Now there's a little known fact about me...) I don't actually listen to them at all, myself, because I can't hear them without re-living that. I only hear them when someone else is playing something.
Do you KNOW how hard it was to not put another picture of Jack White here?!

Stupid boys:
  • Rosanna by Toto always reminds me of my first boyfriend because he always sang it to me. Which... turned out to be pretty ironic when I wasn't the one who went away. Hmph.
  • When I Need You by Leo Sayer makes me think of the #@*%$! who "didn't think it was important" to tell me that he was married until I accidentally found out after dating him for several weeks. He sang it to me all the time AND he was a disc jockey and he played it for me on the radio all the time (just because he wanted to, not at my request).
  • Be in Want by Meghan Tonjes makes me think of a friend who has on several occasions had to deal with stupid game-playing boys.
  • Bali Ha'i makes me think of my parents. Really any film adaptation of a Rodgers & Hammerstein or Rodgers & Hart musical does because they loved that stuff and I grew up watching it (and lots of other musicals too, like Fiddler on the Roof, to name just one), but South Pacific was their favorite, and Bali Ha'i was their favorite from that.
  • We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, and Another One Bites the Dust by Queen, and YMCA and Macho Man by the Village People will always make me think of my younger brothers because we spent a lot of time singing those songs together. That's a happy memory.
  • Keep On Loving You by REO Speedwagon always reminds me of my husband because it's one of his favorite songs and he sang it and talked about it all the time when we first met.
  • Duet with Myself by Charlie McDonnell is SO my song with my niece, Emily, because she is the absolute image of me in more ways than I can even explain, both physically and otherwise. We even joke all the time (just like in the song) about how much we hate each other when in fact we're the best of friends and love each other completely. I realize it's actually about a person's relationship with him/herself, but it works perfectly for us, too, because we may as well be the same person.
  • Two songs make me think of my nephew, Andrew. First is That's Amore by Dean Martin because one time when he was tiny he got dressed in a tiny tuxedo and sang it (the whole thing, all by himself, with a soundtrack that didn't have vocals!) for a Valentine's Day dinner. It was adorable! And the other one is Serpent-In-Claw by Gary Jules because the chorus says exactly how I feel about him.

Other nice people:
  • Several songs from the '80s make me think of the kids that I nannied because I listened to that stuff all the time at their house, but for some reason the songs that do it most strongly are Safety Dance by Men without Hats, Lawyers in Love by Jackson Browne, and True by Spandau Ballet.
  • Blonde over Blue by Billy Joel makes me think of my friend Peggy. I've always had a lot of throat and breathing issues, and when we lived together she loved to get me to sing the chorus of that song when I was hoarse. I can't hit high notes when I'm hoarse and we would both laugh when I sang "Blonde over -----..." because no sound came out on the world "blue". Hey, it's hard to explain in text, but trust me: It was hilarious. You just had to be there!
  • Bad Romance, and specifically Searchlight's cover of it, makes me think of my friend's little girl, who loves it. I think it's adorable that a tiny kid likes that type of song.
  • You Make Me Feel So Good by DJ Thoka always reminds me of my superhero. It may seem an odd song to be sentimental about, but he gave it to me at a particular time that made it super special to me.
  • Cannonball by Damien Rice and Breakeven by The Script both make me think of my friend Tony because he used to sing them all the time and I miss both him and his beautiful voice (which is better than either of the original vocalists, if you ask me).
  • And finally, Farewell by Doctor Noise (Bill Martin) always reminds me of Esther Earl, which is kind of odd, I guess, because Bill wrote a song specifically for Esther but I always associate Farewell with her. I guess it's mostly because I have Farewell on my mp3 player and hard drive so I hear it a lot, whereas I only hear the other song when I look it up on YouTube. In any case, they're both great songs.

There are many more, but I'll stop there. I've had a lot of fun thinking about this topic. I'd love to hear about any songs that make YOU think of people in your life. Be sure to leave any questions or comments below! And if you're interested, you can also find me on Twitter.

Thanks again for reading! If you haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are:

Jill, Kristina & Frieda

And that's it from me on this Saturday. Best wishes! <3

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Week the Ninth: Five Facts

It's Wednesday, the day I write on a vintage topic for Introvert Social Hour! Today's topic is five facts about me. I could tell facts all day but most of them would be boring, so I've tried to choose five things that most people don't know about me. Enjoy.

1. I'm fluent in sign language. I've never taken a class; I just had some deaf friends when I was a teenager and I picked it up from them. I'm not a certified interpreter just because I've never bothered, but I've interpreted tons of events and meetings and stuff, and I've taught classes, so I'm very confident about my mad signing skilz.

I don't have a picture of me signing but you can use your imagination, right?

2. I've broken bones three times in my life. First my right arm when I was 11 (fainted because of going out of a hot, stuffy classroom into chilly outside air and fell on it), then my left hand and fingers when I was 16 (fell out of a swing because the chain was broken; chain wrapped around my fingers and crushed them then I fell ~12 feet to the ground, landing on the same hand), and finally one toe when I was in my 30s (sandal made me trip and the toe hit a concrete step at high speed). This "fact" is only interesting, I think, because of the horrific hand incident.

No picture of my broken hand either, but this is basically how I looked for two months.
3. I've fainted two other times, in addition to the one above. Once was about 20 years ago while I was driving to work after taking painkillers. Genius, I know. Fortunately, I was in the country and I just drove into a cotton field. Also fortunately, I was maybe 300 meters/yards or so from my work so I just walked over there. Had to call a tow truck to get my car out, but I was ok. The other time was also a bad reaction to medicine, just fell over while I was walking through my house maybe 5 years ago. I was ok that time too. Again, only really interesting because of the idiotic driving thing.

This, on the other hand, is TOTALLY me. OBVIOUSLY.

4. I've never smoked (a cigarette or anything else) even once in my life. Furthermore, not only have I never smoked weed, I'd never even seen it anywhere but tv and movies until a few months ago when I saw a small amount that was confiscated from a student. I've never seen any other kind of illegal drugs either, and I've never been given or offered drugs in my life. I guess either people have always thought I'm not the type (I'm not) and/or they haven't liked me enough to offer it (they probably haven't).

5. The one time I got drunk it was a total accident and I didn't even know I was drunk. I went to a wedding in... maybe around 1993 or something like that?... and at the reception the only things they had to drink were beer (ewww) and wine coolers (sweet and tolerable). No water, no punch, nothing else. Extremely irresponsible of them, but what's done is done, I guess. Anyway, I don't drink at all, never have, but it was hot and I was thirsty so I started drinking wine coolers. I wasn't wild about them, but they were small (and did I mention it was really hot?) so I drank a lot of them.

I knew they contained alcohol, of course; hence the word "wine". But they're only, like, 5% wine and 95% sweet fruity stuff so I didn't worry too much. I guess it added up after I drank like a dozen of them. I'd never really experienced alcohol before and it didn't occur to me that it was the culprit even then, so when I started feeling dizzy and weak, I honestly thought I was getting the flu. That was confirmed in my mind when I woke up even sicker the next morning. My (future) husband had to explain to me that I was hung over, and I didn't believe him at first. I learned my lesson though. I've never done anything like that again and don't plan to in the future. Do not like.

There you go, five fun facts. That was simple enough. Remember to leave your questions and comments below 'cause I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested, you can also find me on Twitter.

Thanks again for reading! If you haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are:
Jill, Kristina, Frieda, and Amy

And that's it from me on this Wednesday. Best wishes! <3

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Week the Twenty-Sixth: Positive Words that Stick in the Brain

It's Saturday, time for a current topic from the Introvert Social Hour. Before I get started, I want to apologize for missing my Wednesday post. Not only have I been super busy recently, but I'm away from home at the moment and I completely lost track of what day it was. Dry your tears, though, because I'll catch up with it in time, I promise!

This week's topic is positive things people have said that have stuck with us. (Sorry there aren't any pictures this time but I'm away from home. I'll do better next time!) I've honestly had a hard time thinking of specific statements because I've been fortunate enough to be told lots of kind things in my life. I've been told many, many times that I'm nice, or smart, or organized, or whatever, and those things are important to me. Every single time someone takes the time to say something positive to me, it makes my day, and sometimes my week or year. But instances that are special enough to stay with me for many years are rare and I can only think of a few.

The earliest one that I can remember started when I was about 16 or 17 and a friend who was a couple years younger asked me to help her run away from home because she was mad at her parents for disciplining her. I refused to do it because in my opinion her parents were only being strict, not unfair, and I felt that she was better off with them than trying to make her own way at that age. She was shocked that I refused her and was mad at me for a few months. Eventually we started getting along again but nothing more was said about that situation for several years. Then one day when we were both in our early 20s, she said, "I want to thank you for not helping me run away that time. Looking back on it now, I can see that it would have been a stupid thing to do and it was courageous of you to love me enough to protect me even though I was mad at you." That meant a lot because it really did upset me to hurt her feelings like that, but I was glad she confirmed that it was the right thing to do. By telling me that, she helped me feel more confident in my decisions about life and braver about standing my ground when I believe something truly important is at stake.

The second thing that comes to mind happened when I was training to become a teacher. I didn't go the traditional education degree route. I had a degree in biology and chemistry and had been to medical school and done other science related jobs when I decided to go into education. I got my teaching certificate through an alternative training program that was basically a ton of education courses crammed into one summer of training -- 8 hours/day, 6 days/week. At the end of the program, everyone had to present a lesson to the whole group (about 100 people, both participants and trainers) in our field of expertise. I felt like I did ok on mine, but the next day when I had to go before a panel of trainers and hear my evaluation, the head trainer said, "You were amazing! Your presentation was easily the best one we saw all week. You may not realize it, but you are a natural teacher."

Maybe he said the same thing to every person that went in the room; I have no way of knowing. But that doesn't matter and, actually, the idea that my presentation was the best doesn't matter. What has stuck with me the most is him saying "You are a natural teacher". To be honest, I think now that he was right, but at that time I didn't feel that way at all and the confidence that evaluation gave me made a huge difference to my first year of teaching. I didn't do everything right, and I knew it, but I kept thinking about what he'd said and somehow it made me believe that I could do better. And eventually, I did. I still don't think I'm the best teacher ever, and if the truth be told I don't think teaching is the very best career for me. But I do have a way of explaining things that helps me connect with kids and guide them along the often unfamiliar pathway of scientific thinking. I don't think I ever would have had the perseverance to discover that without those words of encouragement to lean on.

My third example is a little more lighthearted and a lot more recent but it means a lot to me and I really believe it's going to stay with me. I've never thought of myself as a very funny person. A few people have told me that I'm funny, but they've generally been friends and family, people who like me a lot to begin with so I've seen their opinions as biased. But recently someone who actually is very funny, and who I don't know very well at all, told me that I'm "hilarious" and that I should have the confidence to joke around more often because I "have a knack for subtle humor, which is the hardest kind". I can't tell you how good that made me feel. I love making people laugh (I mean, really, who doesn't?!) and that bit of affirmation has made me feel great for weeks now.

It's amazing how much one little statement can mean to a person for very long time. Thinking about this topic has reminded me of the huge impact our words have on each other, even when they're thrown out in a thoughtless, offhand way. I hope to be the kind of person who says things that remind others how awesome they are. That would be the greatest legacy I could leave behind, in my opinion.

And I hope the words in this post have meant something to you. Remember to leave your questions and comments below 'cause I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested, you can also find me on Twitter.

Thanks again for reading! If you haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are:

Jill, Kristina & Amy

And that's it from me on this Saturday. Best wishes! <3

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Influenster Review: Rimmel London Lash Accelerator Endless Mascara

I've just finished reviewing my latest product from Influenster and now is the time that I tell you about it! The product in question was Rimmel London Lash Accelerator Endless Mascara and, just for the record, I received it completely free of charge from Influenster and was asked only to tell others honestly about my experience with it. There's no pressure whatsoever to endorse the product.

I was honestly a little worried about the Rimmel mascara before I received it. I normally use Maybelline Great Lash Mascara, which is very simple and basic, and when I've tried "fancier" mascaras in the past I've had trouble with tiny fibers everywhere, or clumpy stuff trying to give my lashes volume, or some weird shaped brush, or some other problem that my very unsophisticated, sadly non-girly brain couldn't handle. But this time was a pleasant surprise.

The mascara goes on beautifully. It's a tiny bit thicker than what I'm used to, but not enough that it was a problem after the very first time. And the brush! Just a nice, simple, straight, thin brush like a normal person uses! That made me very happy, I must say. My joy was slightly tempered by the fact that it was unnervingly flexible. I got used to it pretty quickly, but after being used to a rigid brush all my life (and not being all that good at it in the best of circumstances) it was very awkward at first.

The point of the Lash Accelerator formula, as I understand it, is twofold: It contains fibers to make the lashes look longer when it's applied, and it contains conditioners to make them grow and be actually longer. Well... I regret to say that I didn't particularly see either of those benefits, at least not any more than I do with my regular mascara. The Rimmel does make my lashes look longer, but any mascara would do that.

The picture above (completely makeup free) was taken after using the product for several weeks and, while it is slightly blurry, I think you can see that my lashes are essentially nonexistent without mascara.

Immediately after I took that picture, I applied mascara: Maybelline on one eye and Rimmel on the other, with no other makeup whatsoever, so as not to distract from the mascara. This is the result. See if you can tell which is which.

I honestly can't see a difference, and if you can I'd love for you to point it out to me. (I'm not being sarcastic at all. I'm admittedly not a terribly girly girl and maybe I don't know what I'm looking for. If you have any insight beyond mine, I truly would like to hear it.)

So what do you think? I'll even give you a clue: The Rimmel mascara is black, while I normally wear brown. Can you tell? Have you made your guess?

Ok, here's the answer: My right eye (on the left side of the picture) is the Rimmel; my left eye is the Maybelline. And I can't tell any appreciable difference at all. Congratulations if you could!

So there you go. In summary, I'd say Rimmel London Lash Accelerator Endless Mascara is a very high quality product and I wouldn't mind using it forever. In the interest of full disclosure, however, I probably won't buy it because I don't see any real difference from Maybelline Great Lash, and the Great Lash is cheaper. Cheaper (for the same quality) is good.

Speaking of which, I have a prize for anyone who's read this far! Along with the mascara, the nice people at Influenster included several coupons for $1 off any Rimmel product. They expire August 9. I have three available to give away and I'll send them to the first three people who ask for them in comments below. Good luck!

If you're interested in reviewing products through Influenster, let me know and I'll send you an invite. It's a lot of fun! In the meantime, remember to leave any questions or comments below. I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested in such things you can also find me on Twitter.

Best wishes! <3

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Week the Twenty-Fourth: Thoughts from Places

Today's Introvert Social Hour post is a switch up. If you're a regular reader (and who isn't?!), you'll recall that I did a vintage topic on Saturday because I wasn't able to take the pictures I wanted for this post until Monday. But now I'm ready and it's time for my version of... Thoughts from Places.

Odessa, Texas, where I lived for several years, is kind of a middle class paradise. Right in the middle of West Texas oil country, it's 20 miles from what might be considered its "twin city", Midland. People say that Midland is where the oil money goes and Odessa is where the people live who work on the wells and in the refineries, and that's pretty much true. It's not what you'd call a high class town, generally speaking. It's blue collar through and through.

I still live close enough to Odessa that I go there often for various errands and I think a lot about the town and the people who live there. I think about why they're there and how they feel about it, and about how all of them together make up the character of the city as a whole. And recently I started thinking about some things that they've built over the years, things that have become major landmarks.

In 1972 the proprietors of the popular, family-owned steakhouse called The Barn Door bought the main building from the old Pecos depot of the Panhandle-Santa Fe Railway and moved it to Odessa, right next to the restaurant. They restored it, added a solid mahogany bar that legend says is from an old house of ill repute, and opened it as a bar. (I wasn't able to get interior photos because it wasn't open when I was in town.) It's filled with local historical artifacts and, while it's obviously not entirely restored to its original state, it's about as close to an old railroad depot as a bar can be. But it makes me wonder... why?

In the 1960s*, a nonprofit group raised money to build a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. It's not a perfect replica, the interior furnishings are a Texan's fantasy of Ye Olde Englande, and the ancillary buildings (ticket office, etc) are mediocre, but it's pretty cool just the same. Like the Pecos Depot, it wasn't open when I was there so I couldn't get any interior shots, but this website provides a pretty good idea of what it's like. Still, though, I can't get past the question: Why did they do it?

In 2004, the art department at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (in Odessa) built a near-exact replica of Stonehenge. It's about 85% vertical scale of the real thing but it is equal in size horizontally and, like the original, it is astronomically aligned and does mark the solstices. I understand that it's an educational tool for disciplines including art, math, astronomy, literature (for instance, I never think of Stonehenge without also thinking about Tess of the d'Urbervilles), and more, but beyond that... why here? What is it about historical structures that make people want to re-create them in the most unlikely of times and places?

As I was researching dates for this post, I noticed statements about each of these sites claiming that it was done just to draw in business or tourists. That's probably at least partly true, but if that's your only motive, why make a historical replica? Why not create something new and interesting, something that people can't find anywhere else? Is it laziness? A lack of creativity? Ignorance of the possibilities?

I don't think it's any of those things. I think people recreate the past in order to re-connect to it, and they do that because it just plain feels good. I mean, think about it.

The present is hard. There's work to do and headaches to have and bills to pay and people to interact with and a bologna sandwich for dinner and it just doesn't feel like any fun at all. Of course we'll look back on it later and think it was great, but that's only because we'll remember more of the fun, exciting times than we will of the boring, day to day routine. The present is a sleight of hand artist.

The future is scary. It's unknown and unknowable, and it's rushing toward us at breakneck speed. Will my investments make money or lose it? Will I stay healthy as I age? Will my kids be ok? Will I ever get the job I deserve? Will my marriage fail? Will people laugh at my new haircut? All questions and no answers, and every tiny thing can be fuel for worry if we let it be. Stress kills, and the future has basketfuls of it, just waiting to be picked up. The future is a bully.

But the past... oh man, the past is great, isn't it? Remember when we were young and strong and free and had nothing to do all day but laugh and play, and adults took care of us? And even when we got older and started school, most of us spent way more time with friends than we do now, and we stayed up all night listening to great music (wasn't the music GREAT back then?!), eating utter crap that wouldn't affect our bodies even a tiny bit, and talking about our crushes.

And as an adult, you can think back even further. Remember The Brady Bunch? Family Ties? Maybe Full House or Seventh Heaven? Don't their lives seem simple and happy compared with the complications of today? What about when our grandparents were young? When they went home from work in the evenings, they didn't have to worry about their bosses texting them with questions about the current project. They didn't have to juggle a schedule that requires a spreadsheet to organize or take every kid to practice for a different sport or clear dozens of emails out of their inboxes every day. It was an easier time, right?

How about the 18th century? Surely Jane Austen's life was quiet and simple. Or the ancient Greeks? All they did was sit around and feast while philosophers talked and entertainers performed, then it was off to an orgy, right? The further we go back in time, the less the average person knows about the everyday lives of the people who lived then. And since we forget the drudgery, the parts that remain sound exciting and stress free.

It wasn't, of course. Everyday life has always been everyday life, and it always will be. But the replicas and re-creations that we build transport our minds to that concept of a better time. When people in Odessa go to the Globe, their minds are filled with their own ideas of what it would have been like to attend the original Globe in Shakespeare's day, and it seems wonderfully exotic and scintillating. But they forget the stink and the mud and the fleas and the noise and the chaos. And that's ok! That's how it should be, I think.

If the past can't be a refuge, what hope do we have for the present and the future? After all, they both will someday be past, and I'd rather the trickster and the bully grow up to be a nurturer. Wouldn't you?

So that's my thoughts from my place. Remember to leave your questions and comments below. I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested, you can also find me on Twitter.

Thanks again for reading! If you haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are:

Jill, Frieda & Amy

And that's it from me on this Wednesday. Best wishes! <3

*(I'm not being vague; it literally took nearly the whole decade because they built it little by little as they raised the money.)