Monday, November 17, 2014

Older than I've ever been

I was interviewing a local business executive late last week and she made reference to others like me, young professionals in their 30s.

Except I'm not in my 30s.

I happened to reference that in passing in my reply and follow-up question, and she told me I was probably about the age of her children -- one of whom's 29 and the other in her early 30s (32, I think).

I turn(ed) 25 this month.*

It's not the first time someone has overestimated my age by a few years. But it is consistent in that it's always overestimated, never underestimated (except by 13-year-olds), and it's usually by about 4-5 years. It's been this way at least since I was 14 -- I distinctly remember being told I could pass for 18 at one point, and at another being asked what college I attended (that was when I was a freshman in high school).

I usually chalk it up to maturity. (It could also be half-baked fashion sense. I don't exactly know.) A friend from college said today that it was because of my confidence. If it's indeed because of either of those reasons, then hey, I'll take it as a compliment.

I mean that quite sincerely. After all, who wouldn't want to be thought of as a sensible, confident woman?

*Ambiguity intentional to preserve my privacy. :P

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why must it be so cold?

I hate the cold. I wish it would go someplace where it's really hot. ;)

But Indiana isn't exactly the most tropical state. Somebody is blaming the most recent cold snap on a typhoon out by Japan. Chaos theory and all that (except when you can use computer models to make educated guesses at effects, it's not so chaotic). But I'm pretty sure this is just how Indiana likes to spend its winters, trolling the populace. "Hey, look, one random warm day. PSYCH! It's gonna be cold for a month!"

I turned the heat on in my house back in October, probably three weeks ago now. I'm a cheapskate so the thermostat is set at about 67 degrees Fahrenheit -- that, friends, is as cold as I can take it. And even now, my fingers feel like icicles with central nervous systems.

This is where blankets come in. I have a blanket -- no, two -- on my bed. There are at least a couple strewn about my living room and another one on my reading chair in the sunroom. There's even one downstairs in the basement, waiting to be washed.

Oh, and there's an emergency blanket in the car, of course.

The problem is after I get myself ensconced in a nice, warm, floofy blanket. Then I don't want to get up. This is a difficulty particularly in the morning.

So far, I've mainly surrendered to the tyranny of the frost and stayed in bed for hours on end, reading or doing stuff online or watching/listening to a podcast. I know I probably shouldn't.

But it's just so nice and warm.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Life on my own #48: Fifth-wheeling

One ticket, please.

A friend of mine appeared in a local production of "Arsenic and Old Lace." I wanted to see her in it, so as usual, I showed up on my own at the ticket table.

The best part about going by yourself is that you can get a great seat even if the auditorium's packed. There's always that one odd seat smack-dab up front that is leftover after other groups have taken their spots. It's a perk of being on my own.

This auditorium, however, was far from packed. I sat myself down in the middle of the prime row and settled in, noticing a mutual friend of the amateur actress I'd come to support. I waved, she waved, she and her family came to sit with me. Score!

As if that wasn't enough, a pair of couples I know walked in, started to take seats farther back, saw me, waved, and decided to come sit in my row instead. Score!

Clearly I was in my extraverted phase right there. Don't worry, I went back to being introverted by the end of the night. ;)

Curtains up, acting under way, intermission, climax, denouement and curtain call. The two couples to my left -- one of whom is a fellow Whovian and Janeite -- invited everyone in the row to come along to dinner at Olive Garden. I thought it'd be fun, so I accepted. Score!

Olive Garden has decent Italian food, a cuisine I've come to appreciate over the years. What didn't dawn on me until much later was this: Olive Garden also appears to be the area date destination. The two couples basically considered the outing a double date for them; a kid from church brought his sweetie to a table immediately behind ours; and several other tables were occupied by similar small groups.

Being there without a "significant other" or whatever they're calling it these days, I might be expected to have felt out of place. If you thought that, you'd be wrong.

It would have been different had the two couples I dined with been merely dating. Dating couples are pretty ridiculous. They're absorbed in talking to each other, sometimes (read: almost all the time) can't keep their hands off of each other and generally make you want to roll your eyes.

By the time they're married, they've turned back into sane people.

We talked philosophy of church and cooking ideas and local politics and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." The others occasionally poked fun at their spouses, sure, but they also poked fun at each other and at me, and I did the same.

That's part of why I enjoy their company -- we treated each other like people. Not like "the married couple" or "the single gal" or "the one with kids" or "the one with a job outside the home" or "the guys" or "the womenfolk" or any other modifier that obscures the simple humanity we share.

Together, I believe we reflected the imago Dei -- the "image of God," in community.

That's the ticket to being a comfortable fifth wheel.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Whirlwind weekend

I feel more and more like an adventuress with each passing day.

This past weekend was a highlight of the year in two ways: I participated in an annual living history event with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other reenactors, and attended the wedding of a friend from college whose ceremony made me actually like the idea of a traditional wedding better than an elopement.

It was tricky, though. The events were taking place in two different states.

My solution was to skip out on half the reenactment Saturday in order to drive to the wedding, stay over at a friend's college apartment and drive back for the last couple hours of the reenactment on Sunday.

But nobody wants to miss much of a reenactment. I established an itinerary in order to stay as long as humanly possible on Saturday. It looked like this:

12:15 p.m. - Hide in the reenacting tent with women at each end to guard the openings. Change out of reenacting dress and into dress more appropriate for a modern wedding. Hope the smell from campfire smoke stays behind with the reenacting dress.

12:25 p.m. - Give snarky retort to reenacting friend's joke about my "scandalous" (by 1800s standards) dress. Walk out to my car. Take a mile detour around the one-way entrance to the reenactment during the height of the spectators' coming in.

12:40 p.m. - Apply lip gloss using the rearview mirror once I'm on the highway.

1:10 p.m. - Stop for gas as the idiot light comes on telling me my tank's almost empty. While waiting for the tank to fill, apply eyeshadow and mascara using one of the car windows as a mirror. Hope the gas station's restroom is decently clean. (It meant I didn't have to use the notorious port-a-pots at the reenactment.)

3:30 p.m. - Arrive at wedding venue exactly when I wanted to. Finally take off reenacting shoes and put on knee-high black boots while sitting in my car in the parking lot. Notice my knees look like they're slightly sunburned from the drive.

The wedding was beautiful, spending the night with two friends was great, the drive back to the reenactment Sunday was uneventful, and I still can't believe I managed to do decent eye makeup with a car window as a mirror.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Rain or shine in Beijing

Just after rain, as seen from the dumpling shop
Weather in China wasn't entirely what I expected. Then again, in some ways it corresponded exactly with what I had thought about the country.

The day I arrived, it was sunny and warm -- comparable to a fairly normal Midwestern summer day. My friend commented that it was the clearest she'd ever seen the city. Normally, she explained, the smog is bad enough to keep the views vaguely obscured by a haze.

You could see some smog that day -- I remember noticing buildings a few blocks from the Forbidden City were fuzzy and greyish --  but it still felt pretty sunny. I didn't feel like I was choking from the smog, like I thought I might.

It rained that day, too. Right after we left the Forbidden City and found a little dumpling place for lunch, the clouds dumped a short monsoon onto the streets -- again, not unlike a Midwestern summer storm. A woman outside was hawking umbrellas as she walked around; my friend commented she probably did pretty good business. Some people on bikes got drenched if they didn't park quickly enough to duck inside a shop. The dumpling place -- a hole-in-the-wall with a few booths -- had a full house.

The rain let up but sprinkled sporadically for a little while after, prodding us to venture inside a store filled with foreign books that had a music shop, an art store and a couple of other establishments attached to it. More on that later. Eventually the rain quit altogether but left in its wake a cloudy haze that reminded me of Cleveland, Ohio, for some reason. It was slightly depressing.

The visit to the Great Wall of China (Mutianyu section, outside Beijing) was on the most heavenly day my friend could remember. It was her... fourth time, I think? visiting the Great Wall, but her first during the summer, and what a day we were given for it.

The view. The clouds. The wonderful, anomalous weather.

Pollution was worse in Xi'an than in Beijing. A 12-hour train ride southwest-ish from Beijing, Xi'an is the ancient capital city of China where the Tang dynasty is celebrated and the Terra Cotta Army was unearthed. It was perpetually Cleveland-ish and, I think, caused me to get sick the second day we were there. I felt like I had a cold, and craved orange juice and sleep. Fortunately I seemed to have gotten enough of both, as I felt a lot better the next morning when we had arrived in Tianjin.

Most of my days in Tianjin, it was sunny but "cloudy," as I considered it, which was probably better termed "smoggy." You'd look up at the sun and realize it wasn't the blinding orb you were used to, but an orange disk no more worthy of being squinted at than the moon. The skyscrapers in the distance (and there were always skyscrapers) were barely discernible through the haze.

And when you were up in my friend's apartment on the 20th floor, the smog looked worse. My friend explained that was pretty normal, that the smog tended to be thickest a little above ground level. At one point I Skyped with my siblings and some of my extended family, and attempted to show them via webcam what the view looked like from my friend's window. This is what my family saw:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tozer on consequences

No man lives unto himself. Either directly or indirectly, you are deeply influencing somebody else. If you are a carelessly living Christian, there may be persons who will use your careless life as a shield, a hiding place for his own much more serious iniquity. Or there may be those who kneel at night and say, "God, make me like brother So-and-so, make me like Mrs. So-and-so." It can be both ways, for deeds have consequences and are the result of choices, whether they are impulsive choices or carefully thought out choices.

In the Bible, a wise man is not necessarily an educated man or one of high cultural level, although he could be. A wise man is a man who acts with an eye to consequences. He thinks, "What will the result of this be?" Then he acts in a way that will bring him consequences he will not have to be ashamed of or afraid of in the day to come.

--Paragraphs excerpted from "The Dangers of a Shallow Faith," A. W. Tozer

I'm not dead, but it's been a busy few weeks, and I hope to have some more blog posts written in the next couple of weekends. Especially with the three-day weekend coming up!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Prohibited zones, or, The Imperial Palace

There are two things I've associated with Chinese history for many years. The first, of course, is the Great Wall. The second is the Forbidden City.

But I didn't realize just how big this thing was. I thought, really, that it was just a humongous courtyard surrounded by about four buildings, each connected to its neighbor by a high wall.

I didn't know it would be this high.

I didn't know that it would have a moat around it.

And I didn't know that the outer wall surrounded several courtyards.

The Meridian Gate (see picture) was impressive enough, bigger than I'd imagined. It also looked more Chinese than I ever thought authentic Chinese architecture would really look.

See, I've seen examples of Mexican restaurants that are pretty well overdone. Think "Cinco de Mayo" (which is in fact a pretty minor Mexican holiday, on the order of Flag Day here). So I figured the most, what I'd call garish, Chinese restaurants I've seen in the U.S. were similarly exaggerated.

Nope. To wit:

The different rooflines really fascinated my friend. I was struck by the ubiquity of bright reds, blues, yellows and greens. The traditional Chinese aesthetic is so different from what I'm used to. So is the modern Chinese aesthetic of architecture, but that fascinated me to no end. (More on that later.)

And the distinct Chinese aesthetic extended even to the names of the buildings. The Gate of Supreme Harmony. The Hall of Preserving Harmony. The Gate of Divine Powers. The Hall of Earthly Tranquility.
The Hill of Accumulated Elegance.

The Forbidden City was the oldest thing I'd ever seen to that point. I never realized before how weird old things are, and how much the passage of time and the descent of generations can change things and at the same time leave some aspects untouched. And it's a little strange to think that some emperor had lived in these palaces years and years and years before I was walking around, snapping pictures of his house.

Monday, July 14, 2014

On hostels in China

Consider me sheltered. I'd neither seen the movie "Hostel" nor spent much time in said lodgings (with the exception of a couple of nights in a Costa Rican hostel). Come to think of it, I still haven't seen the movie. All I know is that it freaks everyone out when I tell them I stayed at hostels.

Our first Chinese hostel was a few subway stops away. Subways, for the record, are not like New York subways. They're clean, like Washington subways, and new, like no other subway I've ever been in -- there are light-up displays of the train's route above every exit in a subway car, with the stops on the map in red lights and turning green as you pass them. (The coloring choices threw me off every time.)

Beijing Saga front hostel entrance
Once off the subway, we walked to the street our hostel was supposed to be on. If you could call it a street. It was narrow, the road just barely wide enough for a car and a half, maybe. Sidewalks were for all intents and purposes nonexistent, whether because people were sitting there (mostly in daytime) or cars were parked up on them.

My friend had stayed at this hostel once before so she was sure of its quality. The room was spare and the beds mere mattresses on slabs of wood, but everything was sturdy and clean. As is apparently custom in China, no toilet paper or hand soap was provided (let alone little bottles of shampoo), but two pairs of shower slippers awaited us as well as sheets, a pillow and a light blanket on each bed.

The windows wouldn't open -- which was comforting to my friend, she said. And interestingly, you had to put your room key (an electronic card) into a special plastic pocket in order to enable the room's electricity. I'd seen that once before in a hotel room, I think, but I sure didn't expect it in a low-budget place like a hostel.

That wasn't the end of the hostel surprises.

Hostel room in Xi'an
Our second hostel, one in Xi'an, was a place my friend had never stayed at in a city she'd never even been to, so she relied on Internet reviews. They said it was a stellar place to stay. And they were right.

There was artwork hanging in the hallways and beautiful woodwork and lighting throughout. The rooms felt more like decent hotel rooms (not even like motel rooms) than they did hostel rooms. The furniture all matched and was a gorgeous dark wood texture in kind of a Mission style (I'm not entirely sure what this style was actually called, but this furniture would have looked at home in a U.S. home.) There was even a TV with cable on it, and we found CNN. Which means we watched a couple hours of a forensics show while we rested one day.

My friend said watching English-language TV was a huge treat for her. It's something I took for granted and honestly I usually consider TV an annoyance. (I don't have cable at home and tune out the cable at work when the sports guys are monitoring some game.) I had never given it a second thought before.

Like at our first hostel, there was no hand soap provided, and we still got a pair of shower slippers.

Breaking the silence, or, How to travel without language

Yes, I realize the most recent post on this blog is now more than a month old.

I've kept you in suspense long enough about my China trip.

It's the first time I've ever been wandering around a country whose language I couldn't at least make out a few words of. When I got there, I also realized that I'm not very good at reading the faces of people in Asian cultures. In other words, I'm not sure I could have even pantomimed my way through ordering a meal at a restaurant. Even with a pictorial menu.

My friend met me at the airport. She'd given me detailed instructions on what to do once touching down on Chinese tarmac (which is the same as American tarmac) -- follow the crowd to the customs kiosks, hand over your documents and basically just wait there. I wouldn't have to say anything, she said, and she was right. The signs were even in English in addition to Chinese.

Past the "Foreigners" sign at "Immigration," I just followed the hallways (and even a shuttle-train! the things you see at a huge airport!) to the exit. She and I found each other as soon as all of us airplane passengers emerged into the big waiting area -- for which I was grateful.

She helped me get some Chinese cash from an ATM and I got my first glimpe of "kwai" -- in 100-kwai bills, bright red and worth about $16 each. I kid you not, these looked like the money I used to play with as a child when I pretended to be an expert spy.

After a bus ride and a walk outside the Beijing West train/rail station (I think), we bopped into a restaurant that served pretty typical Chinese fare, as my friend described it. She wanted to get me her favorite dish -- green beans and red pepper things all tossed together and fried in some sort of vegetable oil, called gan bian dou jiao. Thank goodness she did the ordering. I sat there with a silly grin on my face, just glad to be alive and at my destination, while she handled the menu -- yes, with big, clear photographs of the dishes, like a paper Pinterest board -- pointing to what we wanted and saying "this" in Chinese (which to me sounded like "jigga.")

I don't have pictures from my first meal, but this is a later family-style one.
We ate family style, with little plates for us, seated opposite each other in a booth that felt like it could be at home in a Burger King or McDonald's, and the three big platters of food in the middle of the table. I was glad I'd already had some practice with chopsticks -- it's just not Chinese if you eat it with a fork, and some places probably wouldn't have had forks to give poor un-chopstick-coordinated foreigners anyway.

Germophobes beware. Family style means you pick your food off the platters with your chopsticks, sometimes including the rice, and when you finish the little bit you started with on your tiny personal plate, you pick up some more food. With the same chopsticks you bit from moments before. It's not quite as gross as it sounds but I do know friends who might not have been able to bring themselves to do so. From the first day on, nearly every meal out was family-style.

She paid for the meal with one of those 100-kwai bills, even though it totaled to only about 43 kwai, or roughly $7.

Friday, June 06, 2014

All my bags are packed

...I'm ready to go.

Who knew that you could travel to Asia using only carry-on luggage? Well, I didn't, until I found out I'd be packing for 80- to 100-degree weather. Then I realized... shorts and T-shirts take almost no room.

So I'm almost completely packed for my trip. Right down to the bags of delicious flavored coffee I'm taking for me and my friend to enjoy while we're there. Even with the coffee wrapped in two plastic bags (one shopping bag, one zip-close bag), I suspect its smell will rub off on my clothes. Is that a bad thing?

This is the farthest I've ever traveled. And the first time I'll be in a country in whose language I have no hope of making myself understood. I'll go through customs all by myself -- they'll even take my temperature, to make sure I don't carry H1N1 or SARS or MERS in with me -- and then I'll get to spend the next nine days hanging out with a good friend from college, almost the only other person in whose words I'll find meaning.

Despite everything, we've stayed in touch, and now she'll get to show me all the places that now feel familiar to her. Her apartment complex that alone is home to almost as many people as my entire city. Her school. Some of the little restaurants she's learned to order food at (how, I don't know, since everyone speaks Mandarin or some other dialect).

I'll even ride an overnight train with "squatty-potties."

It'll be amazing. I pray I'll grow to understand the country and its peoples in a deeper way than I possibly could just reading a book. (I also pray I don't catch some disturbing disease, haha!)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I got Pinterest?

So I interviewed someone for work about how she's using Pinterest for her business. Fact No. 1: She's not a wedding planner. Fact No. 2: I have heretofore refrained from signing up for a Pinterest account.

Well, I have one now.

What exactly does one do with Pinterest? I mean, besides waste time on it. I don't really know. And I waste enough time on Facebook. And I never was subject to that Pinterest mania I've seen so many other Pinners suffer from.

Compendium of links #58: Nerdy video edition

For once, it's a midweek edition of the Compendium! Mostly because I finished teaching ESL, mowing the lawn and generally getting things done so I want to do something that is fun. Like blogging. And sharing really fun nerdy videos.

Therefore, this entire compendium will be made up of nerdy videos I've found recently.

Doctor Who meets Rocky Horror Picture Show:

Another timey-wimey-themed video short:

Zelda: Ocarina of Time meets mariachi (or flamenco?) band:

How to multiply two (not more) numbers using lines: (Note on this one: It also makes you think about the possibility of a limitless number of dimensions... since you can always multiply by one more number... :D )

Batman meets Charlie Bit Me:

And finally, a Five Iron Frenzy song I ran across that is all about guys needing to take out their testosterone via nerdy video game pursuits and other seemingly pointless but competitive toys: (Don't miss the Lord of the Rings reference!)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: Getting Naked Later: A Guide for the Fully Clothed

Getting Naked Later: A Guide for the Fully Clothed
Getting Naked Later: A Guide for the Fully Clothed by Kate Hurley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a regular reader of Kate Hurley's blog, I knew before this book was even published that I'd want to read it. Her writing on the blog is poetic, piercing, sometimes filled with raw emotion but pretty much shot through with the desire to glorify God and love others despite -- or sometimes by way of -- her singleness.

Hurley is around 36 years old at the time of writing, a Christian songwriter who's slowly letting go of the fierce desire she feels for a husband and family. She becomes very vulnerable in sharing some of her stories, both in her book and on her blog, but those stories are often the very ones that single women (and men, in some cases) can identify with. Stories like how she's been in 33 weddings (take that, 27 Dresses!) or how she suffered from Lyme disease for several years, or how she got into ministry to urban homeless or how the youth group frenzy around Josh Harris's book "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" doomed a generation of young Christians like her to awkward friendlationships.

OK, I exaggerate on that last bit. A little. But her chapter on "90's Dating Gone Bad" is drawn in part from a series of posts on her blog that are worth checking into. If you like them, you'll like the book, a mix of therapy and wisdom for older singles... or even young ones like me who apparently are old at heart. (Old at heart? Is that a thing?)

For that matter, younger single gals would benefit from reading about her mistakes and what she learned from them -- especially if you younger single gals are interested in dating well, getting married and avoiding divorce. There's the standard stuff about looking past a handsome face to observe a guy's character, but there's also some advice on how to respond gracefully -- or even snarkily -- to well-meaning, but unhelpful, comments and advice from your friends.

To sum up: A certain demographic will love this book, most likely. If you're not sure that you're part of that group, don't take my word on her book -- just check out the most well-read posts on her blog and decide for yourself.

View all my reviews

Review: Jesus the King

Jesus the King
Jesus the King by Timothy Keller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you're looking to study the life of Jesus as told in the Gospel of Mark -- maybe you're Christian, maybe you're interested in biblical studies, maybe your name is Mark -- this is a great place to start, because of the author's clear and methodical exposition and attention to the text and its ramifications.

Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, is well known in Reformed Christian circles; he's a founding member and vice president of The Gospel Coalition, among other ties, and sometimes called the next C.S. Lewis after the publication of his earlier work "The Reason for God." Lewis he is not -- he's not Anglican, and holds to more evangelical Christian theology than Lewis did, not to mention his style is not as clear-cut as Lewis's -- but his writing is certainly worth the read. Keller does his homework, quoting from theologians, philosophers and novelists spanning hundreds of years (including a lengthy quote by N.T. Wright which has inspired me to seek out that theologian's work).

In "Jesus the King," first published as "King's Cross," Keller frames Jesus' life as the approach of the King to the crisis of the Cross, separating the book into two sections of nine chapters each. In a conversational style, he mixes insight into Jewish and Roman culture of the time with philosophical and theological conclusions he exhorts his readers to consider seriously. He tackles such topics as the problem of evil and pain, how God can be both loving and angry, absolute vs. relative moralism, and the Reformed understanding of the Cross as atonement, among many others. One of the more interesting aspects of this book is Keller's dives into the meanings of various Greek and Aramaic words used in the Gospel of Mark, along with the cultural connotations they would have held for the gospel writer's original readers.

Extensive quotations from the Gospel itself and Keller's attempts to keep them in context are commendable. In all, evangelical Christians will likely be challenged by Keller's book whether they're Reformed or not. As my youth pastor said over and over, the Bible is like a bowtie, with the Old Testament pointing to the Cross and most of the New Testament recording the Cross's impact. Given that, studying the Cross itself and the King who hung on it could not be more worthy an endeavor.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What I learned #8: About China

I'm going to visit China for a short while this summer.


Let that sink in.

Anyway, to prepare for the trip -- which is intended to see as much as possible while hanging out with a friend from college who's teaching there now -- I'm reading a book called "A Traveller's History of China" by Stephen G. Haw. And the book has taught me some rather interesting tidbits.
  • Ancient Chinese philosopher Yang Zhu subscribed to the ideal of Hakuna Matata, and the Daoist movement his ideas were incorporated into boiled down to "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
  • The dynasty that left behind its Terra Cotta Warriors and built the first Great Wall (later extensively rebuilt/repaired) lasted just 50 years.
  • One random Chinese Buddhist monk spent 16 years on a jaunt around India collecting Buddhist texts to take back home. Those texts got their very own pagoda for storage -- the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an.
  • The Khans (as in Kubla Khan... otherwise known as the Yuan Dynasty) were invading Mongols from the north, and gained control over the whole of China. However, they were driven back home by the Chinese within a century of their invasion. A century!
  • The Chinese pigtail was actually a requirement imposed by a Manchu (foreign) conqueror in the 1600s.
  • Tea was virtually unknown in Britain until the 1700s. But by around 1800, the import duties Britain imposed on Chinese tea amounted to 10% of the British government's total revenue.
  • "Kowtowing" literally means the ceremonial gesture that the Chinese dynasties expected of people visiting the Emperor's court -- kneeling and touching your forehead to the ground. It was a sign of submission to the Emperor, which the British ambassadors pretty much hated so they refused.
Interesting, huh?