Friday, September 28, 2012

Life on my own #32: Camping

Do you remember going camping with your family, growing up? I don’t. Unless you count church camp, with its primitive ( = you’re lucky you had a toilet) cabins and its delicious dining commons food. (Said without sarcasm, by the way. This particular church camp had its food prepared by a Cadillac-driving chef, no joke at all, who volunteered his time for the week.)

But the tent thing? My mom couldn’t sleep in a tent. She had the hardest time picking out a mattress, what, eight years ago? And had to have that pillow top thing to make it comfortable. My dad, too, would probably have scared the deer for miles around with his snoring.

So the closest I got to tent-camping when I was little was the quintessential backyard parties. Sometimes we even stayed out there all night… notwithstanding the stray cat that jumped on my tent and scared one of my siblings half to death.

When folks at church mentioned they’d be at a churchwide camping weekend this fall, I got excited. Enthralled. Exhilarated. I love the outdoors and I love testing the boundaries of life – seeing how many of the “necessities” are simply the comforts we take for granted – proving that I can live without them for 45 hours straight. (Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. Hey, at least it’s more than a full day.)

I still had that blue-and-yellow two-man dome tent some relative gave me for Christmas a decade ago. My sleeping bag was in working order – no stubborn zippers to frustrate my plans – and I even had a set of camping cookware. You know, the Boy Scout metal pan and lid that turns into a bowl, hiding another little pot with a lid that can double as a plate? That thing.

So I arrived at camp little more than 45 minutes after getting off work that Friday. All by my lonesome in my loaded car, I pulled up behind an RV that stood between the campground road and a large circle of camp chairs and church members I could sort of see between camping vehicles.

I wasn’t the only tent camper there. But I was certainly the only one there on my own.

A couple generous guys put up my tent for me after dinner, and other folks repeatedly told me to let them know if I needed anything. Ever. Yep, I like these people.

Still, it was just a bit weird to be there on my own. I chaperoned more than one children’s excursion to the woods or the lake or the playground, taking care that the four-year-old twins didn’t get too tired trotting along after their teenage (or tweenage) elders. But I also stayed up half the night chatting about those very kids, or about church doctrine and other grown-up subjects, with a 39-year-old former radio DJ and some teachers and homeschoolers whose children are very few years younger than me.

I was in between worlds. Too old to be a kid, though I could jam on guitar with the older teens for an hour; too young to discuss child-rearing with any experiential take, though I could tell folks quite a bit of the latest gossip about town (not that I approve of gossip). Or, not too young, really; simply following, for now, a different course in life. Because I know at least one woman in this town who’s exactly my age and already has a kid who’s about six years old.

In the afternoons, a few of the women would sit and gab with their longtime friends. It didn’t feel right to butt in most of the time, especially since their conversations took rather intimate/personal turns that I thought would be rude to interrupt. (A bunch of the guys wandered off to the frisbee golf course at some undetermined point. I might have enjoyed myself more there, who knows.) I amused myself much of the time by keeping a two-year-old girl occupied. That girl was adorable and completely illogical.

Church campout was a fantastic trip. I’d go again, no doubt about it. But I wouldn’t mind having my own family to do it with… if only because I could talk about something besides family that way. Ironic, isn’t it?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Books for single girls

I sat down tonight to update my reading list. I haven’t written down the books I’ve been reading since… JULY?? How can that be?

Noticeably, several of the books I’ve read in recent months (well, within the last year, I guess) have had to do with being single. Blame it on the local Goodwill, maybe, where suddenly a slew of books showed up having to do with being single and being Christian. Oh, and being a girl. My guess is somebody got married and thought, “hey! These have absolutely no use for me anymore, so I can make some room on my bookshelf!”

That’s on top of the book I already owned (well, two now) and the ones I’d found via handy local libraries.

So, for your edification, a rundown of the books I’ve read and what I thought about them. (They’re in no particular order and their inclusion doesn’t necessarily mean I recommend them, as you’ll see.)


What is He Thinking?, Rebecca St. James

“What guys want us to know about dating, love, and marriage.” What gal wouldn’t be interested in that, despite the Oxford comma? St. James interviewed 16 guys ranging from fresh out of high school to a settled-down 35. Sounded promising, but it was kinda heavy on the idealistic 19-year-old wisdom, I thought. And on the cliché things like “modest is hottest” (see pg. 88). All in all, it was mildly interesting, but mainly a scrapbook of quotes from St. James’ guy friends. Which is, I suppose, all it claimed to be. I’m just not so sure that those guys were very representative of Christian guys in general, or that they were really thinking what they said they were. ** of five.


Singled Out, Bella DePaulo

Talk about attitude. This woman insists that singles are not generally more selfish, lonely or carefree. She does it armed with a lot of research that, being a Ph.D., she says she’s highly qualified to explain. While she builds a solid case for some of what she says, what she’s picked are just some of the thousands of sociological studies that are out there. In my opinion, a sociological case can be made (on the basis of study after study) for just about anything. Just reading the book gave me the feeling that she’s spoiled and has a very narrow view of life. (She really thinks singles have exactly the same quality and quantity of responsibility as married folks and parents…. even I know that doesn’t make sense.) But it’s worth reading to get the secular take on singlehood and how a secular single stereotypes married, conservative folks – and to determine, maybe by contrast or argument (as I did), what your own thoughts about singlehood are. ***


Revelations of a Single Woman, Connally Gilliam

This is actually the most recent one I’ve read (finished it, oh, probably a month ago). It was like a draught of cold lake Erie breeze after the stuffy stench of downtown Cleveland. I bought it at Goodwill only because the author – whom I’d never heard of – was a “life coach” for the Navigators. I have a lot of respect for the Navigators organization so I figured, hey, it’s got to be worth at least 75 cents. It was – if not for the impeccable literary consciousness with which she writes, then for the profound insight she has into living life as a single, Christian girl. This is the one I might give some married friend for insight into single life beyond college. *****


Dating and Waiting, William P. Risk

And of the books on this list, this is the first I read. Several years ago, in fact. And I’ve re-read it at least twice since then, since it’s chock-full of Biblical insight into “looking for love in all the right places,” as the subtitle says it. I first picked it up because it had a blurb from Elisabeth Elliot Gren, author of Passion and Purity (which, incidentally, I’ve never read). The author himself was single for many years (though he did marry partway through writing the book) and led a singles’ Bible study for some time, plus he has his fair share of Bible school training, so what he’s writing isn’t just off-the-cuff anecdotes about living single. The last portion of the book, “A Psalter for Psingles,” is especially worthwhile.  *****


Table for One, Camerin Courtney

I was hoping this would be a Goodwill gem. Oh well. She’s a Christian, she’s single, and somebody thought the world needed another book full of anecdotes and cute sidebars with tips for surviving singleness. It reminded me of one of those “Idiot’s Guide” books, as if singleness were an issue to be troubleshooted, solved or understood in five easy steps. But it’s more than that. It’s a stage in life to be lived with a view to God’s glory. “The Savvy Girl’s Guide to Singleness” is how the book’s billed, but sorry, I can’t recommend this one. Sure, there was some good stuff in it – but there is that in nearly every book. The trick is to find the books in which 95 percent of the content is “good stuff.” ***


The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis

Just because I can’t bear to make a booklist without including something by C. S. Lewis. But honestly, he has a lot to say about stuff that single girls wonder about. Love, mostly, but friendship too. And I suppose that reading this will help you – and me – understand what it is, exactly, that we think we’re missing, and realize the value of the loves we already have. Lewis puts them in the context of God and his love toward us, too; one of the explanations I remember best is about how friendships idolized become the clique that’s the bane of middle schools and Kiwanis clubs everywhere. But friendships and family relationships are more important than some realize, I think. You’ve seen those dropped like hot coals by some girls, haven’t you, when “the one” finally came along? So this book is one way to open your eyes again to what you’ve got to be grateful for. *****

So. Have you read any of these books? What other books have you read and thought about as a book peculiarly suited for singles?

P.S. Yes, I’ve read I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Everybody has. Who cares?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Wall-flowering at a family reunion

Yesterday I placed several miniature pumpkins – each about five inches across – atop plastic-covered tables in preparation for the annual Grandma’s Side of the Family Reunion.

Now that I’m a Hoosier, I can actually attend these gatherings…. even with just a week’s notice. So much for advance planning, eh?

Just about everyone who came was my aunt’s age or older. Mostly retired folks, it looked like, with the exception of one man who said he worked at Target; a son-in-law to one of my dad’s cousins… or something like that. I’m not entirely sure how he was connected to the family tree. I had one sibling and two cousins there to keep me company, but otherwise, all the cousins a generation older than me started gabbing about the Indianapolis Colts game or various and sundry family happenings that even my aunt (who is a bona fide member of that generation of cousins) couldn’t follow.

The dirt pudding (an Oreo/vanilla dessert, for the uninitiated) was delicioso, though, and the Waldorf salad I mixed together early this afternoon was nothing to be ashamed of, thank goodness.

I spoke with at least three relatives I didn’t know from Adam. One is apparently my grandmother’s older sister (and seemed far saner than my 81-year-old grandmother). The other two were the aforementioned Target guy and his wheelchair-bound wife. They are thinking of moving to Chicago because the public transportation there is very accessible for those in wheelchairs.

That’s the most substantive conversation I had; then Target man returned to fiddling with his smartphone, seated at a plastic-covered table opposite a young cousin of mine – who was also engrossed by the workings of some tiny electronic device. (He was not included in the tally of cousins who kept me company, as he remained in said position the entirety of the evening.)

One of my cousins – I shall call her Happy Face – had some homework to do, so I kept her company up in a computer lab type place, a hallway and a staircase away from where I had no doubt five longsuffering relatives were still chatting away about the various members of the family and their comings, goings and general doings. Who knows how accurate the information is, or how many long-forgotten relatives were left off of the two whiteboards where we started drawing a family tree (with its roots beginning at my great-grandparents, who must have died way before I was born).

So, Happy Face was sitting there working on research for a rhetorical analysis (five to six pages, double spaced, please, draft due Wednesday) of a short passage from one of G. K. Chesterton’s works. She suggested I write about the family reunion while I kept her company (and made sure she stayed on task), so I did. Notwithstanding the fact that the wireless Internet, which had cooperated with Happy Face’s computer, was throwing a fit when my computer asked politely to join. Sounds like middle school, doesn’t it?

Or so I would imagine. I never actually went to middle school.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The fellowship of believers

I decided last month that I had found my home church here in my new city and that I’d become a member there.

It’s the same church I’ve been attending since I moved here, but it takes a little time to get to know the members – to really discover if you and the church family are a good “fit.” Well, we are, it seems, and I attended the church’s membership class a week ago to learn more about some of this congregation’s distinctives (I’m already familiar with the denomination as a whole, the Christian and Missionary Alliance).

Then last weekend, I went along with several families for a churchwide campout at a local campground. It’s an annual campout the church holds each year, but this was the biggest group, according to several families who’ve camped for several years in a row.

Church campout (picture pilfered from Facebook)

Friday and Saturday nights were potluck dinners and Sunday morning was an informal worship service. (A couple gitfiddlin’ high schoolers and I were drafted to lead the singing.)

The rest of the time was free time… we hung out with whoever was around, did whatever we wanted to do (even the weather was cooperative) and generally spent extended amounts of time with other folks from church.

Now, a church campout is not something I’ve ever really been part of before. My cousins’ church (not far from here) has done a churchwide campout for many years, too; I’ve been visiting with cousins during that, but since their church is not my own – not my “family,” if you will – I don’t consider that to have been real participation in a church campout. Here, it was my own church family, mostly folks I’m acquainted with at some level but not really close to (yet).

Well, I met many more of the children than I had yet known. One little girl, three years old just about two months ago, climbed up on my lap and curled up there for quite a while as I made shadow puppets in the morning sunlight. Several kids jogged as quickly as their little legs could carry them as some older kids and I chaperoned them on a walk over to the pond (and on a detour back to the playground). We played Mafia (fun game!) on Sunday afternoon until most of the kids had to go home.

And I talked to several of the adults, too, of course. About our church backgrounds, about parenting, about Christian radio and music, about stuff that’s happened lately in the news (I’m the resident reporter, remember), about cooking parties in China. I met several people I didn’t know from Adam, some I may rarely see again, and got to know some other faithful church members whose very faces I’d have been lucky to recognize before. (And I’ve connected most of the kids to some parents. That can be challenging!)

I didn’t come out of that weekend having formed a slew of new, deep friendships immediately, nor did I expect to. However, I think the bonds forged in the heat of the late-night campfires may lead to such friendships. That’s what I’m thankful for and that’s what I want to work toward.

That’s the fellowship of believers… developed one conversation at a time.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Life on my own #31: Jane Austen movies

Y’know, I can hardly imagine that many girls spend their Friday nights watching obscure movie renditions of classic Jane Austen novels.

This girl? Well, if it was Friday, Sept. 7, that’s exactly what she did.

I plucked a BBC version of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” from the top shelf of the library’s “P” section in the DVD collection on my way home from work. Somehow, this particular movie had escaped my notice in the tens of times I’ve poured over the movie section, wondering what movie to watch this or that evening. Fun fact: I’ve never been to a movie rental store on my own and can’t fathom why anyone would pay to watch a scratched-up DVD.

What makes me giggle about these movies, first, is the blurbs. You know, the puffy promo quotes from publications that people-wh0-sort-of-care-about-movies are supposed to pay attention to. Ergo:

“A fairy tale for adults! A splendid motion picture!” –from some woman named Georgia Brown writing for The Village Voice. !!s original.

“The best picture of the year.” –from an anonymous writer at Time Magazine. Why are you anonymous, writer? Why not stick your name right there with the publication, like Ms. Brown was brave enough to do (notwithstanding !!s)? Oh, maybe because you were overstating your case. Or maybe you have a name like Cogglethorp and are just too ashamed to admit it. You’re doomed to a life of anonymous writerly misery. Hmm, that’s probably it.

“Two Thumbs Up.” – from the renown Siskel and Ebert TV movie review show. You remember watching that? For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out which one was Siskel and which one was Ebert. And when I did finally solve the riddle, it was because the show changed to Ebert and Roeper. I still thought Ebert looked more like a Gene than a Roger. And Gene Siskel didn’t look like anything at all. Or at least more like a Richard or a Bert than a Gene. Yeah, Bert would have done nicely. Maybe that’s why I always mixed up their names?

So. With such splendidly thumbs-up review blurbs, I figured it couldn’t be too bad.

Gah. I love the book, and even that wasn’t enough to make me desire to watch this movie a second time. Unhappily, it wasn’t even quite bad enough to make it laughable, like the Utah version of Pride and Prejudice. Nothing against Utah, not at all. But some screenwriter decided to modernize the classic novel and set it amid the culture of the western U.S. Half-baked hilarity ensued.

The poor actress playing Persuasion’s protagonist, Anne Elliot (clearly a well-bred Anne with an E), looked like she was constipated the entire movie. For that matter, Anne’s sister Mary could’ve used a face massage, her muscles were so tight. My theory is, she brought it upon herself, fretting so much about etiquette and what was “due” her as the wife of Charles Musgrove. She always did grate on my nerves.

Oh… I just now noticed the “Masterpiece Theater” notation on the back of the DVD box. I suppose that should’ve been a clue to the kind of movie I could have expected.

If only Kenneth Branagh could get his hands on one of these books… I might actually pay to see that. Not at a movie rental place, though. I still don’t quite understand their existence.