Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Year in review: Or, a Christmas letter

My mom used to write a page-long Christmas letter to old friends of hers, a lot of them people I never met.

She'd design it in the word processing program on computer and add photos like they were clipart. Once I got into writing, I wrote my own segment of the letter, then eventually wrote the entire letter a couple of years.

But I've never snail-mailed my own Christmas letter, apparently. In a digital age, there's little reason to, as most of my friends like to keep in touch via text message or Facebook.

In lieu of a snail-mail letter (I'll send cards instead, late as usual), here's a digital summary of my life this past year!

Sarah's Christmas Update 

God has been incredibly good to me this year. I promise this isn't a humblebrag. Here are the things I get asked about the most.

The most exciting: I bought a house in June! An adorable two-bedroom place with a garage and beautiful hardwood floors. Email me if you'd like to see pictures!

I'm now news editor at the newspaper where I work, which as of April means I am mostly in charge of deciding what news to cover - leading two reporters and the photographer - and editing each day's news sections, with some guidance from the managing editor. I've officially been at this newspaper for 21 months and it's a blast. They let me start writing a weekly column a couple of months ago, too.

My church recently lost its pianist to retirement/moving away, so in addition to playing guitar and bass, I've pitched in on piano for a few Christmas carols in the last few weeks. I can only play broken chords -  don't read music well enough to actually play from that - but it's giving me a good reason to try to learn to play piano properly. I began teaching children's church this summer, about once a month, and this fall began co-leading a weekly Bible study for middle school girls. If there's one thing I'd like prayer for, it's these girls - I love them to death and I want to be a good example to them, to point them to Christ. And, you know... It's middle school. Lots of drama in their lives. :P

It's been a little more than a year now since I began teaching English to a wonderful woman who moved here from Cuba a few years ago. She's an excellent student and always comes with tons of questions about idioms or turns of phrase that she's heard at her job.

This summer I became part of Big Brothers Big Sisters and was matched with a dear little 9-year-old girl who enjoys guitar, indoor games, biking and helping make cookies. She played peewee football and soccer over the summer, so I went to my first football game in probably 8 or 10 years.

That about sums up the highlights this year. I pray that all who read this have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!

- Sarah

Monday, December 16, 2013

Don't get addicted to coffee

I do drink coffee... On occasion. By which I mean, once a week, if that. I'm not addicted.

I plan to keep it that way after following a friend of mine's account of his coffee cleanse. The "cleanse," or cold-turkey coffee quittance, began Friday. Nearly all his tweets since then chronicle the trials and tribulations of an addict's sudden abstinence. And they're amusing.

Yea tho I walk thru the aisle of the freshly ground coffee, I will fear no evil #coffeecleanseday1

Who ever thought cheap church coffee could be so tempting? #coffeecleanseday2

Apparently there is a direct connection between drinking coffee and remembering to use deodorant. #coffeecleanseday2

Nerves are short. I got mad at a spatula. A FLIPPIN' SPATULA. #coffeecleanseday3

Can't read my own hand writing. Dialed five variations of the same numbers. Never did reach a real phone. I'm losing it. #coffeecleanseday3

Before you ask, I have no idea if the tweet about the spatula was punny on purpose.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Compendium of Links #49

It's snowing out, and it looks gorgeous, as the first snow often does. I've decided I really like the look of my adorable little house in the snow. It's like Little House on the Prairie, but 1920's city edition.

Wait, somebody still thinks Jesus was white??

The maker's schedule vs. the manager's schedule...
Most powerful people are on the manager's schedule. It's the schedule of command. But there's another way of using time that's common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can't write or program well in units of an hour. That's barely enough time to get started.
A psychologist explains online dating. (Hey, I read The Atlantic. So what?) And in the psychologist's words: "It can expand the pool of potential partners, making available a whole slew of people who otherwise would have been unavailable. That’s a huge, huge benefit. But, at least thus far, it can’t figure out who’s compatible with you" That's exactly what I've suspected for quite some time.

Journo nerds only: A news organization that rejects traditional conceptions of objectivity.

How to teach math to your children: Use Legos.

 A collection of great maps: What each country leads the world in (USA: "Nobel laureates and getting killed by lawnmowers"), a real-time map of the wind in the USA and all the world's earthquakes since 1898 mapped.

And for your viewing pleasure: Set to part of "The Nutcracker."
Cute, isn't he?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Big weekend

It's been a big, busy, exciting weekend.

Saturday was my state's press association's annual awards luncheon, and I got an award.

Not just one, though. Three! All I knew going in was that I was getting something, but I figured it'd be third place in some itty bitty category. But I actually got a little certificate for being... punny. That and the other particular awards I got were completely unexpected. (But the award for being punny was the best. Remember, editors love puns. Especially in headlines.)

And then today, I played piano. In front of people. And without reading music (because my musical-note-literacy is limited to reading one, maybe two, notes at a time). After years of plinking out notes and chords and then broken chords on the black and white keys, sans lessons, it's finally paid off. (Meaning, when church has absolutely nobody else to play the Christmas carols in December, it's not quite the disaster it could've been. :D )

Thursday, December 05, 2013

What I learned #8: About composers

I've realized a groundbreaking fact this week.

All the great composers were German!

Bach. Mendelssohn. Handel. Mozart. BEETHOVEN. Wagner. Etc.

Granted, there were also good composers who weren't German. Tchaikovsky, to name one. And Rimsky-Korsakov and Vivaldi. But it simply astounds me how many of the traditional classical composers weren't Russian or Italian or French.

They were German.

Weird, huh?

Monday, December 02, 2013

Life on my own #47: Birthdays

Note: The following was written three minutes before the end of my 24th birthday.

One of the things I hadn't quite figured out was how to celebrate a birthday as an adult. When you're not close enough to your immediate family to just do the whole special homemade-to-order dinner that you've been used to for years, that is.

In college, I usually made it home for some weekend around my birthday and we had my favorite dinner -- crabmeat casserole. When I turned 21 I spent half the day doing some spec work for the editor who would end up hiring me for my first job post-college. Then that first year after college, I volunteered at a church dinner on the day I turned 22 (and, of course, ate more than my full of delicious potluck food). I still lived near my family, but I think they were all working or otherwise inescapably occupied.

The day I turned 23 -- last year -- I had to work. I managed to escape for a lunch date with my two closest cousins at my favorite restaurant (go Fazoli's!). Good food and good conversation with two of the only people who've known me since I was a young child -- that was heavenly. (The long day at work was a letdown after that.)

But when I was turning 24, I couldn't decide what to aim for. I made sure I had the day off -- I knew I didn't want to deal with work-related stress (much as I love my job) on the day I was supposed to be celebrating. But beyond that -- well, what does one do for grownup birthdays?

It's not as if it's a big deal. 24 is just 23 plus one. It's not like turning 16 or 18 or 21 or 30 or any of those other culturally significant milestones. I don't even bother with birthday cards or gifts much (though I love that my mom still gets me things! I can't wait to see what she got me, as she forgot to bring the gift over when she was last visiting).

My birthday usually serves as an opportune time for self-analysis and developing goals for the next year. (New Year's never worked that well for me. Birthdays are far better.) It's a day I don't need to spend being greeted with felicitations from every acquaintance I meet. I'm quite happy with an hour-and-a-half Skype call late at night with my siblings, for instance.

However, I did rather want to give myself the chance to enjoy the entire day. So this year, I decided to help out with another church function -- one that partly involved supervising the middle schoolers I've taken on this year -- and later having my Amiguita (young friend through Big Brothers Big Sisters) and her cousin over for a supper of pancakes and a lesson in making homemade bread.

The day was glorious.

It was a coincidence, really, that any of that took place on my birthday. But the church function took my attention off of myself for hours, and ensured everyone else's attention would also be elsewhere. My evening with my Amiguita did the same. She had never tasted honey or seen bread dough kneaded (even in a bread machine, which is what I used) or watched it rise. She'd never put peanut butter on her pancakes, either. We rectified those grievous life omissions immediately.

At first I forgot to tell people it was my birthday; then I didn't see fit to.

Both occasions highlighted how service is stretching and yet fulfilling -- how sometimes (read: more often than not) I subconsciously dread getting out there and doing something, yet once I'm doing it, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Helping at church and working hard at being a mentor for a 9-year-old are intimidating, but in retrospect they were the best ways that I could have chosen to celebrate being one year older, and hopefully wiser.

They drew me out of myself and spurred me on to pursue spiritual maturity and wisdom. And here I am, capping the night with analysis of my own behaviors and motivations throughout this day, the anniversary of my birth.

My conclusion? On birthdays, introspection is invaluable. Celebration of self is optional.