Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Life on my own #23: Changes

There’s a song about changes, I know. I just can’t pull the lyrics out of my muddled subconscious. Or maybe it’s just one of those things that there should be an ultimate song about, but I haven’t heard exactly what I’m looking for yet.

Change is a little scary. It’s like every kid knows—you undergo some change, it’s like starting all over from square one. Or falling down the chute in Chutes and Ladders and landing behind all your game opponents. I didn’t play that game much, but I wrote a scholarly essay related to it for a lit class one time. It’s much easier to do the same old thing you’ve been doing for weeks or months or years than to change it.

Take jobs, for instance. It’s scary now to think of switching jobs, especially when the one you’ve got is pretty decent and not particularly unstable (at least not in the immediate future). So when is it worth it?

Apparently, it’s worth it when I get to move from one Midwest town to another that’s nearer my cousins, possessed of a daily newspaper and occupied by a good many Hispanic folks.

I got a new job.

And I’ve been at my current one only… *counts on fingers*… nine months!

It was a quick decision—there weren’t even three weeks between submitting the application and getting the call that I’d gotten the job—but not lightly made. It means I’ll have to find another church, a new apartment, more friends and more business contacts. AAAAH!

I’ll miss my little town here very much. I’ve just begun to feel like I almost belong. I know exactly who I need to talk to for most stories I cover, and several folks are beginning to keep me in the loop about upcoming stories. I’ve felt part of the church family almost since the first day I visited, too—moreso than any other church I’ve attended. How do you leave that?

It comes with the territory. Single, carefree young journalist not even a year out of college. (And on a month-to-month rental lease.) I figured I’d move on sometime, though I wasn’t figuring on doing so quite this soon.

But it’s cool. I figure, if I don’t have the guts to make a good change like this—where I’ll still be very near family, and have already found a likely church—how will I ever get back to Costa Rica?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Compendium of Links #25

I’ve been in the middle of some exciting developments about which I’ll write a blog post… tomorrow. Hopefully. But in the meantime, here are a few of the links I found interesting this week:

Anatomy of a Tear-Jerker, or why certain songs invariably make people tear up. A Wall Street Journal article that Challies put me on to.

You think you have a budget problem? You’re one of few people, maybe the only one, that’s having to make the money choices. Imagine having thousands of lobbyists bugging you about your budget. And having to deal with a penny that’s technically worth more than twice what it trades for. Via Challies. (Actually I think I got most of the links this week from Challies… must remedy that next time!)

Now from Challies himself: A podcast on introversion, with transcript. Being my visual self, I haven’t listened to the podcast, preferring instead to read his thoughts.

In the end I see introversion as simply a descriptor, something that states the reality that at heart, in my natural state, I am a shy and quiet person. It is intensely difficult for me to be with a lot of people for a long time and it is incredibly draining for me to stand in front of a group of people. It can feel like death to preach a sermon. Being alone or being with just my wife is life to me. In this way introversion describes my natural inclinations and predispositions. I don’t expect this to ever change. But what I demand of myself is to ensure that I do not allow my personality, my introversion, to have a negative impact on my life and ministry. I want to emphasize and enjoy the ways that introversion is healthy for me and effective in ministry, and I want to work hard to deny what seems to good and natural when it will have a negative impact.

Seven marks of humility as described by a writer on a Christian counseling website. All based on Jesus’ example.

God’s leadership principles are the complete opposite of man’s. Consider just one. If a man wants to go up then he goes up. If he wants to climb the corporate ladder then he climbs (often stepping on a good number of others in the process). If a man wants to sit in the most important chair at the banquet then he sits there. It’s as simple as that. But in God’s economy of glory the way up is not up; it is down. It is the one who sits in the most obscure chair in the room who may be asked to sit in the chief place (Lk 14:7-10).

And the requisite slightly girly link: Tim Tebow takes a nine-year-old out for a date. The circumstances make it not-creepy and oh-so-admirable. Here’s hoping his influence rubs off on some of our culture’s young male sports fans! P.S. How many Christian girls have celeb crushes on this guy? I’ve heard the fever is rampant but I don’t think I’ve met anyone yet who admits to having fallen ill of it. Maybe I just haven’t asked enough people about it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Life on my own #22: Road tripping

Two weekends ago I experienced a strange, almost extraterrestrial circumstance. A hundred bright red eyes kept blinking at me, in unison, as I took a highway off-ramp.

Blink. Blink. Blink. At exact intervals, for equal amounts of time, the sky lit up with the gaze of a hundred stationary Cyclops.

I mean, windmills. Or whatever they call those monuments to Energy 2.0.

The highway off-ramp was a byproduct of an impromptu visit I made to my cousins in Indiana. These are the same cousins to whom I’ve only grown closer as we’ve matured into adulthood, and some of the few people on earth I’m completely comfortable around. So even though they live almost four hours away (by car), it’s worth the eight-hour round trip to see them more than the minimum four times a year. And now that most of us are of driving age, we can exercise our free will to make that happen. Three cheers for Wesleyan Arminianism!

Partly because the visit was relatively unpremeditated, I could not take either of my siblings, or my parents for that matter. No biggie—there are just two bad things about taking a road trip by myself. One is that I have to drive the whole way. I’d much rather be chauffered around my whole life. In fact, one of the absolutely-imperative-non-negotiables on my “perfect husband” checklist is that he must enjoy driving. And filling up the tank.

The other thing about road tripping alone is that I have to entertain myself. My sister can’t sit in the side seat and tell me silly stories if she’s stuck back home in clinicals or wherever. But the CD player really saves the day here.

First came the Billy Joel CD. I’ve probably listened to this thing enough to sing the lyrics to all the songs on it, except for the first track, which isn’t so much my style. (Why do we still call songs on CDs or mp3 albums “tracks”? Audio hasn’t been played from physical tracks since, like, the 1980s.) I thought, later, that it might not have been the smartest thing to sing along to everything I heard from my CD player on this road trip. I could’ve ended up with a raspy voice the whole weekend.

But that didn’t stop me from popping in a Rich Mullins CD or one from The Association. Probably a Stephen Curtis Chapman compilation too. He sounds overproduced though. (See how audio-savvy I am? tossing around the technical jargon like I know what it means!)

Almost an hour and a half before my journey’s end, I decided to quit the CD kick and catch up on my podcasts. This one podcast I follow has episodes over an hour long, so the only other time I listen to them is when I’m washing a week’s worth of dishes or trying (and failing) to go to sleep.

No headphones allowed on the driver when she’s driving, you know, so I’ve learned to prop my iPhone-cum-iPod on my shoulder, sometimes anchored by the seatbelt, sometimes in my collar. That way the speaker is close enough to my ear to be heard above the 3,000-plus revolutions per minute.

I wish I had one of those doohickeys that plugs your iPod into the cigarette lighter and broadcasts its signal on a short-range FM channel. (The range? Probably about six inches. You don’t even need a ham radio license.) I could listen to podcasts over the car’s audio system and spare myself a shoulder ache from balancing the iPod. Go-go-gadget personal audio haven! But you know what? Being creative is cheaper than buying gadgets.

I might even be able to wait until iPod Doohickey 2.0 is released before my shoulder locks up. It’ll be the green version—getting its power from miniature windmills propelled by your car’s heat/AC system.

It’ll even have a little red light so the miniature planes don’t smash into it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

When you don’t feel love toward God

There’s no way I could say this better myself, so for this blog post, I present you with a lengthy quote from one of my favorite devotional writers, A. W. Tozer:

“One of the puzzling questions likely to turn up sooner or later to vex the seeking Christian is how he can fulfill the scriptural command to love God with all his heart and his neighbor as himself.

The earnest Christian, as he meditates on his sacred obligation to love God and mankind, may experience a sense of frustration gendered by the knowledge that he just cannot seem to work up any emotional thrill over his Lord or his brothers. He wants to, but he cannot. The delightful wells of feeling simply will not flow.

Many honest persons have become discouraged by the absence of religious emotion and concluded that they are not really Christian after all.… They do believe in God; they do indeed trust Christ as their Savior, but the love they hoped to feel consistently eludes them. What is the trouble?

The problem is not a light one. A real difficulty is involved, one which may be stated in the form of a question: How can I love by commandment? Of all the emotions of which the soul is capable, love is by far the freest, the most unreasoning, the one least likely to spring up at the call of duty or obligation, and surely the one that will not come at the command of another….

To find our way out of the shadows and into the cheerful sunlight we need only to know that there are two kinds of love: the love of feeling and the love of willing. The one lies in the emotions, the other in the will. Over the one we may have little control…. Such love was not in the mind of Christ when He told His people to love God and each other. We could as well command a butterfly to light on our shoulder as to attempt to command this whimsical kind of affection to visit our hearts.

The love the Bible enjoins is not the love of feeling; it is the love of willing, the willed tendency of the heart….

God never intended that such a being as man should be the plaything of his feelings…. Religion lies in the will, and so does righteousness. The only good that God recognizes is a willed good; the only valid holiness is a willed holiness….

To love God with all our heart we must first of all will to do so. We should repent our lack of love and determine from this moment on to make God the object of our devotion. We should set our affections on things above and aim our hearts toward Christ and heavenly things. We should read the Scriptures devotionally every day and prayerfully obey them, always firmly willing to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourself.

If we do these things we may be sure that we shall experience a wonderful change in our whole inward life. We shall soon find to our great delight that our feelings are becoming less erratic and are beginning to move in the direction of the “willed tendency of the heart.”…The whole life, like a delicate instrument, will be tuned to sing the praises of Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.

--A. W. Tozer, “True Religion is Not Feeling but Willing,” Man: The Dwelling Place of God (emphasis original)

Life on my own #21: Cleaning

Cleaning is fun, if you don’t have to do it.

That’s my theory for why little girls actually enjoy playing with plastic vacuum cleaners. They go “vroooooooom,” imitating their big brothers, only they’re using a pretend suction cleaning tool, not a Tonka truck. And they do so while wearing some cute little apron their grandmother gave them. If only their zeal for cleaning were paired with capability.

About once every other week, I decide there’s too much hair hanging around my bathroom sink and it’s time to clean. (The peanut butter smudges on the kitchen counter can also trigger a cleaning spree.) I even have an apron if I decide I don’t want to change clothes beforehand. It has brightly-colored cartoon flowers on it. Yes, it’s cute as far as aprons go, but no, my grandmother did not give it to me.

So I pull out various all-purpose cleaners and attack what grime and dirt I can find. Of course, most of the all-purpose cleaners contain some bleach in them… so I have to open a window about a minute after I’ve sprayed one of them. In winter, that’s no fun. But it’s either freeze or suffocate—which fate would you rather suffer? And when you’re cleaning, you work up enough of a sweat that it feels like a balmy 50 degrees, not the 30 it really is.

Unfortunately, sometimes the window also lets in a bit of a breeze, which wreaks havoc with the tidy little pile of dirt I’ve swept from various corners of the floor. Sigh. Freeze or suffocate, freeze or suffocate…

To keep my mind occupied while my hands are thus hard at work, I turn on the radio. Sometimes it’s to the local Christian station, or rather, one of the three that I’ve so far identified. There’s K-Love, of course, plus a couple of local ones, one of which (as I just discovered) runs some talk shows. But usually I go for the classical station. You’ve no idea how motivating a duet for two pianos can be!

After maybe an hour and a half—during which time I might have also decided the bathtub needed a soak, only adding to the strong bleach scent—I’ve finished all the cleaning I intended to do, including wiping off the grime from the stove and putting my couch and floor books “away.” (In reality, that means leaving them in neat stacks on either the couch or the dining table.)

By then, though I’m thankful to have done, my blood is pumping and I’m in the mood for another active project. Last time, maybe three weeks ago, that project was creating a new picture frame out of some miscellaneous bric-a-brac and the pane of glass from the broken frame. This time it was sewing. (See LOMO #20.) Why is it that cleaning brings on creative spurts?

Anyway, at least I don’t have to vacuum. Thank you, landlord, for not installing wall-to-wall carpeting.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Life on my own #20: Patterns

Patterns are worse to fold back up than maps are. “Don’t fold the maps. Roll the maps,” I hear one of the sidekicks in the movie Twister sighing. And I picture him standing with a thin pattern-paper hanging from his upraised hand, a puzzled look on his face. I’d like to see him try to roll up a pattern.

Mind you, these aren’t tool and die patterns I’m talking about here. I don’t even know what those look like, or if they are flexible. For all I know they’re half-inch-thick steel or something. Anyway, the kind I’m talking about is the so-thin-you-can-almost-see-through-it kind that tells you where to put the seams and the darts. They have numbers, too, and a lot of other information printed on them that I may or may not pay attention to.

Last weekend, I decided on a whim to sew one of the patterns I recently bought. Sewing is one of the few entertainment options open to this small-town girl—right up there along with reading, watching a movie, and taking a hike at the nature preserve. All thrilling, I assure you, but I’d already had my share of those other activities. And after all, there’s nothing like a sewing project to brighten up a snowy Lord’s Day, right?

I even had the perfect fabric for the project already: An old sheet. Not old as in worn-out; it had only a small bleach stain somewhere on it. But it was a poor orphan flat sheet that didn’t have a fitted sheet to go with it. It was the perfect color. (Oh, and it didn’t require spending three bucks a yard, plus gas, for a measly bit of material.)

So I decided to make myself a new blouse out of the sheet. I suppose it would’ve been easier to cut a singular hole in the middle of it and wear it that way, if I was going to wear a sheet. But that style is so 1980’s.

The blouse pattern I picked was what’s called a princess-seam blouse. In other words, it has twice the number of pattern pieces a normal blouse needs, thus requiring twice the amount of work. No exaggeration there; just ask any sewing-conscious person. (I almost said “any sewing-conscious woman,” but there was one boy in the 4-H Style Revue when I was 14, so I have to be all inclusive here.)

The upside of the princess-seam pattern, besides that it makes me feel like royalty, is that it fits better than a regular kind of blouse. If you are a guy, you wouldn’t understand. Get over it.

So I cut, instead of one nice round hole, a whole lot of strangely-shaped holes in my sheet—oh, but that was after I ironed the thing. I once heard of somebody who actually ironed sheets regularly, for a bed-and-breakfast I think. I’d never ironed a sheet before in my life, having chosen a different profession than bed-and-breakfast manager. And if I ever were to own a bed-and-breakfast, I would buy sheets that were self-ironing. There’s got to be a magic polyester chemical somewhere in a set of sheets, the same kind they put in the men’s dress shirts that say you don’t have to iron them.

Then, sheet ironed and shot through with holes, I had a lot of pieces of fabric pinned to pattern pieces. By the way, pins are dangerous if you abuse them. Don’t pin and drive.

Then it came time to sew the pieces together, like a puzzle. Except this puzzle doesn’t have just one nice picture to go by; it has about twenty pictures and step-by-step directions. Wouldn’t it be nice if all puzzles came with step-by-step directions? Then you wouldn’t have to hunt forever for that one piece of blue sky that fits in this certain spot. I hate skies in puzzles. Also tree foliage.

Puzzle pieces together, and lots of little pieces of thread littered around my sewing machine, I had a shirt. More or less, anyway, and it took several hours because I’m slow. And I still have to trim the extra fabric and threads off, like when you even up the edges on your homemade Valentine’s card. I could make a thread wig from all the little thread bits I’ll have by the end.

I was thrilled when I figured I’d about finished the blouse. And that’s when I looked around and said to myself, “oh, right. You need to clean up.” So I threw away all the little bits of pattern-paper that I had cut apart (to get to the actual pattern printed on the pattern-paper) and all those little threads I had so far discarded. Then I folded up the pattern. Unlike 99% of seamstresses, I am foolish enough to store most of my patterns in their original envelopes. Which are only about 50% the size they need to be.

Let this be a lesson to you. For heaven’s sake, don’t wear your sheets.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Life on my own #19: Pets

I got a pet back in November. It was very small. Actually, it adopted me. And it wasn’t a cat.

Let me start over. I don’t have a cat because I’m not allowed to, in this little apartment that I rent. Poor me—my family has had pet cats ever since I was, like, six, and we had dogs before then. I thought about getting a small dog instead, to keep me company—somehow dogs do not present the same problem to the landlords that cats do. But I couldn’t in good conscience get a dog because I’m not around nearly enough to cuddle with such a people-loving animal. A cat wouldn’t care.

My dilemma was solved one November night as I sat typing away at my novel-in-a-month. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap, I heard… and it wasn’t me! For once I hadn’t started clicking my toes against the floor or snapping my pen onto whatever noisy surface was at hand. The tapping came from the ceiling.

It sounded too close to be the tenant upstairs, so I glanced up, and seeing nothing I returned to my work.

At first I figured the tap-tap-tapping was just some new noise this old house had started to make as the weather got colder. It wasn’t constant. But it was more persistent than the old-house noises usually are, so I looked up again, and noticed a tiny dot bumping up against my ceiling. Aha!

The little bug then started flying in circles around the fluorescent bulb lighting the room. Round and round and round, like it was running as fast as it could while hanging on to the chain on an old playground maypole. I felt like warning it not to skin its knees.

It landed on the lampshade, just for a split second, and I saw it for what it was—a round insect, orangeish with black spots. I call them June bugs. Several years ago, one of the little critters flew a kamikaze mission right into my forehead, smacking me between the eyes during church youth group and thereby disrupting the lesson. This new little bug had apparently decided I need to adopt him as a pet and had taken up residence on my ceilings. What am I, a June bug magnet?

I saw him in the living room regularly and occasionally in my bedroom, hanging upside-down from the ceiling tiles as if watching me go to sleep. I’ve heard of cats watching you sleep, but not bugs.

Then, one day, he landed on my glasses and tried to take a field trip into my hair. I swatted him away. I didn’t frighten him much; he decided to investigate the mirror instead, and hardly noticed when I stuck my camera in his face for a (very blurry and unpresentable) photograph.

He was apparently a tame bug, so I named him Dionysius. Doesn’t that sound cool?

Unfortunately he abandoned me not long after. Such is the life of a June bug. Its interruptions no longer grace my evenings.

Maybe I should get a bird. I hear cockatiels are lovely things.