Monday, December 29, 2014

Year in review 2014, or, A Post-Christmas greeting

My mom always said better late than never. So, here's hoping you all had a very merry Christmas and are looking forward to a happy New Year!

Sarah's Christmas Update

Imagine a year full of a number of crazy things. Multiply by 4.5 and you'll get an idea of what my life has been like in 2014. ;)

Highlight of my year? Travel to China to visit a good friend from college and see some of the sights with her: the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, the Terra Cotta Army... it felt like a dream, it was so surreal. I haven't been disciplined enough to write much about it but I hope to do so this winter as I work on putting together a photo album from my trip. (The few posts I've written are here.) If you'd like to see the digital photo album, email me (readersis at gmail dot com) for the link and prepare yourself for the onslaught of more than 900 photos... :) But seriously, it was the trip of a lifetime and I'm thankful to God and to my friend for giving me the opportunity.

I also got to take a quick trip to visit St. Louis back in February to meet up with my former roomie, and we went up to the top of the Gateway Arch while we were there - it was the farthest west I've ever been in the U.S. I made a stop in Springfield, Illinois, on my way over, too.

On a sadder note, my grandpa (Mom's dad) passed away in October rather suddenly. I was able to go back home for the calling hours and appreciated being able to spend time with Mom and the rest of her family then.

As in past years, I participated in a historical reenactment this past fall, and though I didn't sew a new dress for it I got plenty of ideas for next year. I also got the signatures of 50-plus schoolchildren who were amazed they were allowed to write something in my period-correct journal using my period-correct fountain pen. :)

I've begun teaching U.S. civics and history to my ESL student in preparation for her to take the U.S. naturalization test. I have high hopes that she'll be able to face the 100-question test after several months' work. She's already a strong user of the English language, with a few speaking hurdles left to overcome. It's been really interesting to talk about history with her, since she's already aware of most of the contemporary history covered on the exam, but from a Cuban perspective.

My "Little Sister" in Big Brothers Big Sisters is 10 years old now and in the middle of fifth grade at one of our local middle schools. She and I play a lot of games together - board games, trivia games, puzzles, you name it.

I'm still co-leader of a group for middle school girls at my church, and love these girls to bits. :) Some have "graduated" or matured to feel more comfortable in the general high school group, and we've gained one younger girl this year who entered sixth grade. When you think of me, remember to pray for all the little girls I have somehow found myself to be an influence on. And don't tell them I called them little. ;) I also continue playing guitar weekly at my church (or occasionally bass guitar).

In June I hit my first anniversary as a homeowner, and over the past year and a half or so I've experienced some of the "joys of homeownership," as my mother jokingly calls them - like the clothes dryer quitting on me, or the water heater springing a leak. Thankfully, I've been able to deal with everything that has come up (or at least knew a trustworthy repairman to call), and let me tell you, buying this house has turned out to be a fantastic decision, not least because I had a garage to shelter my car through the unusually harsh winter we had a year ago. :D

I remain the news editor at my local paper, editing the next day's news each night and writing a weekly column whose readers I'm hugely thankful for! The column is a lighthearted one that is published each Friday. If you'd like a link to the page that's automatically updated with each week's column, email me and I'll send it to you. I can do that now because the newspaper rolled out its new website in late August, which has been a huge boon to us behind the scenes! Also, I received a couple awards in December through the state press association, recognizing my work covering the local business beat.

As always, feel free to email me or add me on Facebook if you'd like to hear more about any one of these happenings!

- Sarah

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?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

I have a new bike

I kept telling myself I needed a few more gears than three.

And I finally did something to fill that "need."

In the first world, a bike with more than 3 gears isn't much of a need. But it's one of those things that would give me a little more motivation to get outside and go biking, which a) improves my health and b) gets me off of Facebook. :D

So when my aunt offered to give me a bicycle that was just what I was looking for -- the right size, 10 gears, everything -- I jumped at the chance. A mini tune-up later, and it was ready to rock!

I took it out on the first group ride of the season yesterday, looking forward to tackling the hills on the 17-mile route with ease (or, at least more easily than I tackled some of the same hills on a 10-mile ride last year with my 3-speed). I was nearly halfway through the ride, quite happy with how the bike was working out and how sure I was I'd have the energy to finish the ride, when the unthinkable happened.

OK, maybe it wasn't the unthinkable. But I did land on the pavement with a badly skinned knee and a bike out of whack.

Another rider helped me straighten out the handlebars, which had been knocked askew (Google it!), and I proceeded on my way. I shortly realized that my wheel had been knocked out of whack, too. I'm fairly certain the spokes are out of true, which means some of them need a good tightening so the wheel doesn't rub up against the left brake.

Only later did I also realize how badly I'd hurt my knee. It was numb and swelling by the time I drove home and cleaned it up. (TMI, I know. :P )

So my goal this week is to re-straighten the front wheel and nurse my knee back to health (by which I mean, don't do much besides take care not to, say, knock it into the side of a table).

And then, it's back on the bike with me. Because not even a minor accident can keep me from a sport I actually enjoy!

Compendium of Links #57

The past few weeks have been going by in a blur. It's likely to only worsen until about the end of June. I know there's something going on every weekend until at least Memorial Day. And I don't know whether to be extremely excited or tired just at the thought of it. :P Fortunately, the weekends all involve people I love dearly so I think the excitement will overcome the fear of getting tired out.

New Age Bullsh*t Generator - The computer algorithm spits out a lot of gibberish disguised as New Age enlightenment, much to my amusement: "The complexity of the present time seems to demand an awakening of our chakras if we are going to survive. Suffering is the antithesis of understanding. Bondage is born in the gap where joy has been excluded." And so on.

Test your European geography knowledge with this interactive map! You get points for naming a country on the first try! I've gotten pretty good with the Slavic countries, surprisingly enough - which I attribute to having heard a speaker from Bosnia-Herzegovina recently.

It's Always Spilling Over the Edges - Sometimes there's something serious on BuzzFeed. Here, an essayist reflects on empathy, pain vs. suffering and the shame of telling one's story. (I.e., the kind of telling that might evoke the rebuke "stop wallowing in it! Move on!")

A new book teaches Chinese characters via memory games that turn the characters into pictures that you can actually understand. It's probably a great approach, especially for visual people.

Surprised by N.T. Wright - Christianity Today published a fairly lengthy profile of theologian N.T. Wright. I read a quote of Wright's in a book recently, "Christ the King" by Tim Keller, and was impressed with the eloquence (marriage of meaning and beauty in the words he chose) and have decided to see if I can't find Wright's book on worship.

Why I Defend Muslims - Yet another serious article. I know, I know, but this one is probably the one most worth reading! Skye Jethani, author of "With," explains why he represents Muslims differently than a lot of evangelical Christian speakers and how it pertains to living out the Christian faith and bringing others to it.

Lastly, here's a tongue-in-cheek crash course on how to ask about adoptive families: The basic rule is, "if you wouldn't say it about a boob job...." Enjoy. Haha!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Compendium of Links #56

I'm such a baby when I get sick. All I have the energy to do is sit on the couch and read... if that. All I've got is a bad cold, and I slept till 11 a.m. today. I blame it on my sister. :P

A Japanese architect won an architecture prize for his beautiful temporary structures built in the wake of major disasters. Check out the photos of the buildings made of cardboard... paper... you name it! (HT: A cousin)

An addicting math-y game featuring Doctor Who! It's called 2048... I think because 2048=2^11 and there are 11 Doctors. So far I've only been able to get to the seventh doctor, I think.

A really neat GIF shows the progression of history through the borders of U.S. colonies, territories and states!

Tim Challies shares 8 ways to get more done this week -- very commonsense stuff but often overlooked or pushed aside! (I'm talking to myself here. :P )

Jon Acuff finally distinguishes between "haters" and sincere disagreement.

A quiz from Pew Research: How millennial are you? I got a score of 65, pretty close to the average millennial score. The spectrum also marks the general scores of Gen-Xers, Boomers and the Silent Generation.

How to make your own pop -- carbonation included! It takes a bit of experimenting to get it so it doesn't taste too bitter. I'd add a lime for flavor, too.

If you've seen the movie "Frozen" (which I recommend, by the way), you'll probably get a kick out of this parody.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Compendium of Links #55: Good advice edition

I took my Amiguita (my Little in Big Brothers/Big Sisters) to the YMCA pool today, but had the morning all to myself to get some chores done and take care of other fun things. Like blogging!

The Art of Manliness sounds off about what it means to pay attention and remain focused. Pretty good advice, too.

Speaking of my Amiguita, here's a list from of 20 ways to mentor in your 20's. This business about "finding yourself" and such isn't what life is all about. It's about finding God, and investing in others is part of that. You're never "too young" to start (unless you're, say,  9 months old).

A friend of mine is battling sterility and trying to have children. A blog she wrote a few months ago is a piercing insight into what she feels when she's surrounded by women with cuddly little ones, and how she must remain tenderhearted toward their joys.
Watching someone else live the life you thought you’d have is painful. You can easily become discouraged and even resentful. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the person or people living how you thought you would are deserving (which is arbitrary anyways because what we deserve, we don’t want!) or not, it can still feel like stinging reminder that something feels off.

The NSA had an advice columnist. Seriously! Apparently she went by the pseudonym "Zelda."

And for your entertaining video... a widely known pop-dance tune played... in a very country style!

First bike ride of the season

Yesterday I took my first bike ride of the year. Just a short one -- 3.5 miles was all I had time for -- but it was blissful to be back out on two wheels, taking in the fresh air and the gorgeous scenery in the setting sun!

This year I'm going to try to ride at least 6 miles on days when the weather is decent. And by decent, I mean at least 50 degrees out and not raining. There's a thoroughly shaded pathway I can take if it gets above, say, 85 degrees out -- in fact, you can see the general area of it in this photo (it's the part directly ahead with all the trees). Not the best when it's impeding snow melt, but great if you're trying not to dehydrate in summer.

Monday, March 03, 2014

A.W. Tozer on the necessity of creed

AMONG CERTAIN CHRISTIANS it has become quite the fashion to cry down creed and cry up experience as the only true test of Christianity. The expression “Not creed, but Christ” (taken, I believe, from a poem by John Oxenham) has been widely accepted as the very voice of truth and given a place alongside of the writings of prophets and apostles.

When I first heard the words they sounded good. One got from them the idea that the advocates of the no-creed creed had found a precious secret that the rest of us had missed; that they had managed to cut right through the verbiage of historic Christianity and come direct to Christ without bothering about doctrine. And the words appeared to honor our Lord more perfectly by focusing attention upon Him alone and not upon mere words. But is this true? I think not. ...

While we may worship (and thousands of Christians do) without the use of any formal creed, it is impossible to worship acceptably without some knowledge of the One we seek to worship. And that knowledge is our creed whether it is ever formalized or not. It is not enough to say that we may have a mystical or numinous experience of God without any doctrinal knowledge and that is sufficient. No, it is not sufficient. We must worship in truth as well as in spirit; and truth can be stated and when it is stated it becomes creed.

-- from "How Important is Creed?", That Incredible Christian by A.W. Tozer

My own two cents: That essay was published in the early 1960s. And it still seems like I run into lots of professing Christians who carry a disdain for theology, preferring ... I don't know what in its stead.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Compendium of Links #54

I woke up at 7 a.m. to shovel new-fallen snow off my driveway before heading to church for praise band practice. That's a good hour or two before my normal wake-up time. I think a traditional Sunday afternoon nap is in order!

But before I get to that, here's this week's Compedium of interesting stuff I found on the Internet. It's kind of like the questionable trinkets children come home with. "Mom! Look what I found!"

Ham on Nye: The high cost of winning an evolution/creation debate - A really interesting, long take on the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, published on the Ars Technica website. The reporter appears to have done excellent research.

Courtdate: A generation of courtship culture on trial - Benefits and unseen consequences of the "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" culture, and how one may right the imbalances.

If men got the Titus 2 treatment - A hilarious reminder from Rachel Held Evans that we oughta be careful to exercise good hermeneutics when we're trying to make rules out of what the Bible says!

"I am still called by the God I serve to walk this out" - Lucia McBath's teenage son was shot and killed in an altercation over loud music. An Atlantic editor interviewed her recently, and the resulting article speaks volumes about forgiveness amid overwhelming pain. More of the quote that gives the article its title: "Forgiving Michael Dunn doesn't negate what I’m feeling and my anger. And I am allowed to feel that way. But more than that I have a responsibility to God to walk the path He's laid."

If you think you're anonymous online, think again - NPR talks with an author who says, basically, that in order to remain anonymous in the Internet age you'd pretty much have to live in a hut in the Yukon. Data is the currency of the decade.

What happens when placeholder text doesn't get replaced - Placeholder text, often starting with "Lorem ipsum...", is the gibberish that designers use as pretend-text when they're trying to see how a design would look when they're in the drafting stage. And... sometimes... they forget to make it real text. The results are hilarious.

Ask Dr. Boli - "The 'poem' your English teacher desires you to write, however, is a prose composition hacked into short lines. You will often find that what you are taught in school is the exact opposite of reality, but as you grow older you learn to adapt to it instinctively." Dryly amusing pseudo-advice on writing a poem for school!

For your video entertainment today, David Tennant talks about being the Doctor and his first three cars. Also how he picked his stage name (his real name's David MacDonald apparently!).

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Road trip to St. Louis

Since I moved to Indiana, I've been overwhelmed with the realization that I'm so much closer than I've ever been before to certain major national landmarks.

Like Chicago. When I realized Chicago was now within reach of a day trip -- not a 7-hour drive away or more -- it was a revelation, and I promptly convinced a friend to accompany me on just such a trip to see the city. I may or may not have gotten overly excited about a Bean.

Another friend of mine was interviewing at a university in St. Louis this week and invited me to visit her while she was there. I then realized that the city was a feasible weekend trip away -- again, not the daunting drive it's heretofore been. And I could even swing by the Illinois Statehouse to make it a circle. What could be more fun?

Thus, I present: An album, because everybody needs a road trip once in a while.

(Check the album for more photos!)

Monday, February 24, 2014

I've been thinking melancholy songs lately

This is the song I want to play for the musician's jam next month, if I can make it that weekend.

For the technically curious: I sang it and played simultaneously on my new-to-me Washburn guitar, recording it on my Samsung Galaxy SII phone using the app PCM Recorder and the built-in mic. Did no post-recording manipulation, as I don't really have the programs for that.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Congrats, Abby, on writing comment #1,400

If my Blogger comment dashboard has any semblance of accuracy -- and there's no guarantee it does -- my beloved sister Abby was the author of comment #1,400 on this blog when she wrote the inaugural reply to Compendium #53.

For this accomplishment, she gets a blog post dedicated to her glasses!

I hereby dedicate this blog post to Abby's glasses. Because she'd have a bit of trouble driving without them. And we can't have her stranded where she can't visit me, now, can we?


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Compendium of Links #53

I have not slept well all week. Last night I think I slept for maybe 45 minutes, woke up, and then proceeded to spend the next 6 hours trying to go back to sleep. However, today's nap and tonight's sleep will probably set me back to rights.

In the meantime, you may entertain and inform yourself with the following random links!

Annoying Things in Worship Songs - you know, like being simplistic, repeating endlessly... oh wait...

Buy a beard! Or a mustache! You can even get a two-part beard that looks like ram's horns.

To Dwell in Possibilities - A friend o' mine started a blog geared toward young single Christian gals. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Unknown mathematician proves elusive property of prime numbers - "Written by a mathematician virtually unknown to the experts in his field — a 50-something lecturer at the University of New Hampshire named Yitang Zhang — the paper claimed to have taken a huge step forward in understanding one of mathematics’ oldest problems, the twin primes conjecture."

On Buzzfeed: Which Jane Austen heroine are you? A few apparently silly questions claim to give you an accurate description. I ended up with Elinor Dashwood - "You’re mature and know when to be serious, but you also have a snarky sense of humour that makes you fun to be around. You’re creative and artistic, and appreciate pretty things. You’re a great listener and really good at keeping secrets, which means you’re a fabulous best friend." Well then.

Also on Buzzfeed (via my sis): 26 reasons babies are pretty much just tiny drunk adults!

Russell Brand reflects on a decade of fighting drug addiction - "Even if it began as a timid glass of chardonnay on a ponce's yacht, it would end with me necking the bottle, swimming to shore and sprinting to Bethnal Green in search of a crack house. I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me; unchecked, the call of the wild is too strong. I still survey streets for signs of the subterranean escapes that used to provide my sanctuary. I still eye the shuffling subclass of junkies and dealers, invisibly gliding between doorways through the gutters. I see that dereliction can survive in opulence; the abundantly wealthy with destitution in their stare."

In case you were curious to know what it takes to get yourself your first U.S. passport, here's your answer! Assuming, of course, that you are a U.S. citizen.

Wolfram|Alpha answers your most pressing questions about your use of Facebook - including how your Facebook friends are connected to each other, their demographics, and of course, the words you use the most in your status updates:

And for your closing video, audio play of the original Cups song.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review: Real Men Don't Text: A New Approach to Dating

Real Men Don't Text: A New Approach to Dating
Real Men Don't Text: A New Approach to Dating by Ruthie Dean

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not part of the notorious "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" camp of Christian non-daters. But I'll admit, it's hard to find solid ground where I can date with a clean conscience, given my understanding of being called to Christlikeness, but without the legalism. And how in the world do you find a guy willing to do the same?

A friend put me onto this book on the day the Kindle version was free. I figured, why not? I was pleasantly surprised to read some advice from a woman who didn't pretend she'd done it all right. In fact, a lot of the advice comes from having first done everything wrong -- and the bits her husband adds provide valuable clarity from the male perspective. Drawing on those experiences, sociological research and biblical morals (it's written primarily for women who are Christian or Jewish), she distills her advice into concrete do's (and don'ts), with clear and specific examples and a dose of "do this 'cause it works, not just 'cause I say so" ... which for a gal like me, who's unsure how to date well, is gold. For the record, there's a lot in here a guy may benefit from learning, as well -- if only because of the glimpse it provides men into the feminine psyche!

Gems like this keep you laughing through much of the book:

"KEEP ME UPDATED?! I read his last sentence at least nine hundred times and copied and pasted his message into an email to ten friends begging them to tell me "WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?" --in all caps, mind you. I remember reviewing over and over that he wrote "Hi, Ruthie" with no exclamation point, which clearly meant he wasn't excited after writing my name -- which could only translate that he just wasn't that into me. ..."

Spoiler (well, not really): The guy emailing that to her? She ended up marrying him.

I don't recommend it without reservation. Only about five books exist which I would. There are obviously situations in which breaking her rules is about the wisest thing to do -- and there always will be. But the author does an excellent job explaining the whys behind the hows so it's easier to discern when the hows don't necessarily apply. And for someone wondering how to date "in the world of texting, Twitter crushes and online dating," it's an easy read with a lot of food for thought -- and probably a good kick in the pants for some of us gals to build our confidence and shore up our identity instead of trying to find it in relationship with a guy.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Compendium of Links #52: Video edition

I spent most of this week not sleeping well. Whether I just couldn't fall asleep until 2 a.m., or woke up earlier than I wanted to, or couldn't nap... it was just tiring. I finally got something close to eight hours last night, I think. And man, I feel far more awake this morning than I have for some time.

For this edition of the Compendium I'll merely have videos, since I've amassed several! Most of them are fun ones with a serious one or two mixed in. (Actually, looks like it's just one serious video.)

What does it look like when you mix paint with an audio speaker?

School administrators pretend they're Queen to cancel school.

HAHA! A while back I saw a video that made fun of stuff Christians in general say (or a lot of Christian guys). This one's for the gals.

Serious video: Inverting men's/women's experiences with sexist treatment. Or should I say, disrespectful treatment. Because that is the problem: Men who act the way the women behave in this video are sinning against their fellow human beings. (Notice: Trigger warning.)

A British TV show makes fun of Pride and Prejudice and it is hilarious! (Mom, there's an F-word.)

The folks from Bad Lip Reading bring us the NFL... again. And they don't disappoint! I laugh every time I watch this.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Being an INTP part 2: When acquaintances get married and you're nowhere near it

A question has been running through my mind the last several days, or months or years: Are some people's personalities simply less likely ever to fall in love?

I wonder this because in the cursory reading I've done about those with my personality type (which I'm fairly certain is conveyed by the Myers-Briggs letters INTP) I've seen that people with these characteristics tend not to do relationships easily (or well). Friendships are hard enough, but romantic relationships tax us such that sometimes we wonder whether they're worth bothering about at all (as one website notes).

I firmly believe I have never been "in love" and I sometimes doubt if I'm even capable of that kind of love... and it's rather disheartening. Because at the same time, I feel (not think, feel) that a committed romantic relationship constitutes an emotional dimension I am completely ignorant of. And if I ever do fall in love, it'll be completely new territory... I'm slightly afraid of how I might react.

Now back to your regularly scheduled commentary on links and small-town living. Carry on. :)

Friday, January 31, 2014

Compendium of Links #51

I quite literally spent more than two hours early this week cataloging my library. I've recorded 170 of the ones I own, with probably another 100 to go in another room. I'm pretty near the estimate of 300 that I had guessed I owned.

And if you're curious, you can check out my shelf of owned books on GoodReads.

Relevant Magazine addresses why it's so hard to make friends after college.

Proof that the average American is obsessed with money. Or, the top 10 best and worst places to live measured by chances of upward mobility.

Probably the best essay I've read about leadership in quite some time. If you only read one link out of today's list, read this one, "Solitude and Leadership," delivered to West Point freshmen (or, plebes, as they call them). A very short quote from it: "...[W]hat I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. Any goal you set them, they could achieve. Any test you gave them, they could pass with flying colors. They were, as one of them put it herself, 'excellent sheep.'" However... "...[T]rue leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions."

The 5 stupidest habits you develop growing up poor -- surprisingly enough, a really good first-person-style account on It's got some fantastic insight into the thought processes of those who know nothing but poverty. And that's apparently a lot of people in the U.S.

A hugely sarcastic list of 8 pieces of Christian dating advice keeping people single. I feel like those who've been single longer than comfortable will appreciate this. Warning: Maniacal laughter may ensue.

And for your entertainment today, my favorite video about kittens!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Compendium of Links #50

This... has been a busy week. Good, but busy. You already know about the guitar. What you don't know, also, is that my siblings were over to visit last weekend and I lost about half my sleep every night because I decided instead to spend time hanging out with them and with my cousins. I managed to make it through this week, though, despite the sleep deprivation!

But, in honor of this blog's 50th Compendium, I present the first collection of 2014, which is neither more nor less eclectic than all the Compendia before... and every bit as nerdy.

The electricity-generating bicycle desk that would power the world - You know, I could get into using this. Really, I could. I stand up at my desk half the time already. And fidget.

LOL My Thesis - Masters' and doctoral theses distilled into one or two basic, often snarky sentences. Like Truth is, Nurse Practitioners are a band aid solution to Canada’s broken health care system.

Have American parents got it all backwards? - An argument in favor of letting kids do dangerous things because, well, how else are they supposed to learn how to tackle dangerous things safely? And other commentary on American vs. Asian child-rearing.

Steve's Lutheranism FAQ - One Lutheran writes out a pretty thorough explanation of certain characteristics of Lutheran theology and church management, which I find helpful in distinguishing Lutheranism from, say, Calvinism.

Instagram may be allowing us to forget - From ReadWriteWeb...
" fact, we’ve always had bad memories. In the past, we relied on our significant others, family members and friends to help us with recall. Turns out, Google, Facebook and Instagram aren’t making you stupid, they are acting as a supplement for your real-life memory banks."

How y'all, youse and you guys talk - Take the quiz and see what your words say about your origins! From the New York Times, a pretty cool combination of data, mapping and linguistics.

What does "intentional" mean in dating? - A Gospel Coalition writer takes a Mars Hill pastor to task when the pastor recommended some prescriptive rules for guys and dating. Good observations.

Three things you don't know about your children and sex - Important for parents and those who mentor children to read and understand. The three things are that Google is the new sex ed, if your kid was ever molested you probably don't know it, and your kid isn't the exception.

15 questions your hairstylist should be asking you - I really need to get around to finding a good hairdresser, and this seems like pretty solid advice for doing so. (And I think Leslie Mann and I have the same hair... proof is in the pictures.)

And for your video pleasure, check out a Scottish guy with a thick accent reading a poem written by Robert Service!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When a guitarist gets an instrument

I've thought for months, maybe years, that I should probably consider getting an electrified acoustic guitar. I've played guitar for some time, yet always an acoustic, and when I play for church it's always been on that same acoustic, with a little passive pickup fitted into the soundhole.

That's changing.

I finally went out and bought an acoustic-electric from one of the local pawn shops (the reputable one). The shopkeepers told me they'd just put out a lovely Washburn acoustic-electric that day (here's specifics about the model), and when I played around with it, I realized it would be a good bet for what I was looking for. Good acoustic sound that still sounded acoustic when plugged in (at least, more than some acoustic-electrics).

Sometimes I wonder how to tell the difference between simple serendipity and genuine Providence. Is there one? This was one of those times I wondered if God hadn't inspired me to look for an acoustic-electric at just that time, in just that shop. Because it was even better than I had originally thought of seeking. The sound is just right. It had an extra touch of decoration, subtle, to make it more elegant in a way I didn't even know guitars were made. It even came with exactly the kind of case I wanted -- a hard-sided case with shoulder straps. I could ride my bike with my guitar on my back. I've heard from a fairly reputable source that the guitars at this particular pawn shop hardly ever have cases.

(It was the same way when I bought my house. I had thought and thought, then all of a sudden went and checked a house out, and it was perfect. I'm a case study in the exceptions to the rule about not buying the first one you look at.)

On top of all that, I can't find this model of guitar even online for less than twice what I paid for it. And that's not counting what a case would have cost.

I won't be getting rid of my first guitar. No siree. It was a gift from my grandmother on my mom's side, who died my freshman year of college. It was my great-aunt's before it was my grandma's. There's some sentimental value in it.

I've picked a couple of new songs to practice playing and singing: "Wild Montana Skies" and "Darcy Farrow," both by John Denver (links go to YouTube videos). I'm highly pleased with how this new guitar handles finger-picking (the technique I chose for my rendition of "Darcy Farrow") but I'm looking forward to trying out the built-in pickup when I next play guitar for the church worship band -- Jan. 26, I think.

An electrified guitar is a whole new world for me. I'm just now learning what to do with a preamp and how to use it to make the guitar sound acoustic even when it's plugged into the PA system. And I'll have to bring an extra 9-volt battery with me like I bring picks, since the built-in tuner and preamp runs on that size battery.

So many things to learn. Such a pretty instrument to learn on.