Thursday, August 28, 2008

Playin' in the Big Leagues

For my sister’s birthday this year, I decided I wanted to give her something that would encourage us to spend some time together, since we’re generally not very good at that. After discussing a few ambitious options- i.e.: kayaking lessons or a small white water rafting class- we settled on a much more realistic option.

Golf.

I have only golfed once in my life (putt-putt aside). It was a few years ago, and I was with my sister and brother. My sister has her own set of clubs in a fancy bag (don’t be fooled, this is only a fa├žade). My brother had a few clubs that I think he got at garage sale, and he carried them in his own homemade bag that would make Martha Stewart applaud. The bag was made from a pair of old jeans. One leg was tied off at the bottom, and the clubs could rest securely inside. The other leg was looped around and tied to the other leg to form a “P” shape. This leg was the part he wore over his shoulder. Perhaps I should check with him before I publish this post, in case he wants to copywrite his design first. Upon arriving at the golf course, we were told that each golfer needed their own clubs to play, so I carried 3 of Meghan’s clubs around all day. I don’t remember our final scores at the day’s end, but I’m inclined to guess that our skills paralleled our classiness pretty closely.

So, why not give it another go, right? This time we were better prepared, knowing ahead of time that I would need my own set of clubs. My sister still has her fancy set, complete with fancy bag. Her husband has a fancy set too. He also has an ancient, stained, held-together-with-a-belt, sack disguised as a golf bag. Poorly disguised. Guess which one he decided to loan me for the day?
When we arrived at the golf course (I should mention that we originally had reservations at a much fancier club, but the above mentioned brother-in-law forbid us from proceeding with these plans, insisting we had neither the skills nor the class to show our faces on such a course. I thank God for his discernment in the matter.) we decided to purchase a bucket of balls to practice on at the driving range. I set my ball in front of me, stood in the most pro-golfer stance I could manage, and then made quick glances from my ball below out to the driving range ahead, like I’ve seen them do on TV on the rare occasions I’ve watched golf. Finally, I lifted my club behind me while maintaining my proper golf pose, then let it drop towards the ball with ample strength and perfect precision, following my swing all the way through to a finality.

Much to my dismay, my ball still lay at my feet. I tried again and again, missing each time. Finally on about the 7th or 8th attempt, I made contact. The ball flew directly up at a 90 degree angle (maybe an 80 degree angle), and after a few seconds it dropped down about 10 feet in front of us. Meghan’s luck was very similar to mine. She usually made contact on the first attempt, but our balls rarely landed as far as the very closest yardage sign.

Once our practice balls ran out, we reluctantly headed to the first hole. We were disappointed to find that there was a group directly behind us, which meant that we would no doubt be holding them up as we hacked our way out of lakes and marshes. Because of this, we decided to take on this hole with a “speed golf” approach. This is exactly what it sounds like: hit and run, hit and run… no time to set our bags down, much less wait for each other, as is proper etiquette. The end result? We scored 15 and 12 on a par 4 hole… in less than 3 minutes.

We then realized that the people in front of us were quite slow, as were the guys behind us that had intimidated us so. Thus, we decided to slow down and act like we knew what we were doing. It turned out to be a really fun day, and I’m proud to say that we both improved with each hole. Kinda. I still had to take several swings on each new tee, but Meghan was nice enough to only count one.

In the end, we both scored around 90, on a 31 par course (that means we’re less than three times worse than the average person!). We only lost one ball, but found two more. And as far as class goes… well, some things never change.

Thanks for going with me Meghan! I had fun!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Social Conundrums

For the most part, I like to think of myself as socially apt. Perhaps those that know me well would disagree, but it’s better for my self-esteem to not think about that. I do, however, admit that there are several social situations in which I have no idea how to appropriately respond. I decided I would throw a few of them out there, in case you too struggle with such conundrums. If anyone reading this has found a proper way to deal, please, do share.

Eating peaches and plums in public…
This dilemma may very well be mine alone. Plums, peaches, and other such related produce do not have cores. I have no idea what is socially acceptable regarding the manner in which you eat these. Do you eat down to the seed? Or do you eat as much as you would on an apple, even though you don’t have the hard, stringy core to tell you when to stop? I have no idea. For this reason, I make it a point to avoid eating such fruit in public places, lest I be judged by onlookers as I savagely nibble down to the seed.

Meeting someone on a long sidewalk…
I encountered this constantly on campus when I’d walk to class. I now encounter it daily in the halls at work. This is when you’re walking down a long sidewalk or narrow hallway, and you spot an acquaintance off in the distance. If you make eye contact, you’re then required to give a polite smile or wave. Once you do this, you then have several more seconds, bordering on minutes, before you’re within audible range to say hello or pass them. Do you have to maintain your cheesy smile and eye contact for the full length of the sidewalk? Is it rude to look away once you’ve given your obligatory nod? Both answers provide awkward results. My solution thus far has been to stare straight at my feet any time I enter a corridor or long walk way. (This causes people to often ask “what’s wrong?”)

When the dentist talks to you…

Perhaps this one is more a lesson in etiquette for the dentists themselves. You know when you go to get your hair cut and the hair dresser strikes up a conversation with you? This is ok. You know when you go to get your teeth cleaned and the dentist shoves a hand in your mouth and then strikes up a conversation with you? This is not ok. Are they really expecting you to answer? Maybe they're around it enough to understand your muffled and gurgly answers, like a second language or something. Or maybe they just think it's funny. Bill Cosby did a stand-up routine about this very situation. It was hilarious. I think the answer is to respond to the best of your ability, but fling as much spit as possible so they take cover and cease all conversation.

Returning a poorly aimed wave…

You know- when you're at the grocery store, or any other public place, and a stranger enthusiastically waves at you with a big friendly grin. You wave back, slightly caught off guard, slightly flattered, and slightly worried that this person knows you but you don't know them. Then you see from the corner of your eye that the person behind you is waving back with the same enthusiastic fervor. Realizing you've sheepishly returned a mis-aimed wave, is an apology required? Do you slink away pretending it didn't happen? Or do you proudly own your wave, telling yourself you're just a friendly, personable socialyte? I slink away.

Selecting Ripe Watermelons...
While writing this, I read a post from my cousin Amy regarding proper watermelon selection. It cracked me, and totally deserves a "Social Conundrum" catagory of it's own.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Excuses

If you look up the word “excuse” in the dictionary, you will find this: a plea offered in extenuation of a fault or for release from an obligation, promise, etc. If you’re looking in a recent dictionary, you will also find my picture. This bothers me more than I can possibly put into words.

I used to think of myself as extremely reliable and dependable, and prided myself in that. I was generally the first one to volunteer my time, show up to every invitation, and take advantage of every opportunity. A few years ago, a lot changed.

I was very involved in my church, happily living on campus and going to school, and working full-time in childcare. I was busier than was probably healthy, but I was enjoying every second.


Then I was blindsided.

Without going into details, I found myself in the middle of a situation that snowballed and left devastation in its path. It was fueled by my mistakes, the mistakes of others, rumors, selfishness, and fear. It left many relationships forever changed. It hurt a lot of people. It broke me beyond the point I ever thought was possible. I left my church hurt and burnt-out. I left my school a failure. I left my job exhausted. I lost a lot of friends, and I changed.

It has been almost 3 years since this all came to pass, and while God has been good in healing and mending the pain, I am still making excuses. I have an excuse for not being in school. I have an excuse for being absent from my friend’s lives. I have an excuse for not having found a new church home yet. While some of these excuses may be rooted in truths, for the most part they remain excuses- pleas offered for release from a promise.

I’ve been leisurely “church-hopping” for almost a year. One week going here, one week going there, the next just staying home. I haven’t chosen to call one home, for no better reason than I don’t want to. I’m afraid to plug in. I’m leery to join a small group. I don’t feel like being vulnerable with strangers. I don’t want to make them more than just strangers.

I don’t make a concentrated effort to see my friends and family. I have a difficult schedule at work, but not so difficult that I should cease to have a social life. I tend to isolate myself, and honestly can’t think of a reason why. It feels almost instinctual.

I haven’t been in school for two semesters. I claim I don’t have time, but the truth is that I simply don’t make time. I’m afraid to commit to it, knowing that if I don’t wholeheartedly commit, I will likely fail again.

Recently though, things have been changing for me. Thank God. The desire for a church home has started to outweigh my fears. I miss being a part of something larger than myself. I miss the support system found in a church family, and the accountability. I miss the passion.

I miss my friends and family. Every time I’m blessed with even a small dose of them, I can feel my cup overflowing. I want to make the time for what’s important. I know that it’s not in my God-given nature to live in isolation, and I want to conquer the recent need I seem to have for it.

If you happen to be one of those people in my life, and you happen to be reading this right now, I’m asking for your help. I want you to know, and maybe understand a little better, where I am at and what I am struggling with. I ask for your continued patience, for prayer, and for accountability in righting those wrongs that are still fixable.

I found it fitting when I saw this in that same dictionary- right below the noun definition of “excuse”, you’ll find the verb: to regard or judge with forgiveness; to pardon.


**************

I think there are some of you that read this and never comment (…eh hem, Ma, Meghan, Tara…) feel free to say hello so I know you’re there :)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fish, Worms, and Pistols

Jason's dad has been visiting from California for the past week, and it has been a blast. Since he lives in CA, the kids were ecstatic to get to see their Grandpa Craig and spend time with him. Which means it's been one busy, crazy, and fun-filled week.

The first thing we got to do together was go to the Denver Aquarium. Craig is an extremely smart man and knows a ton about...well...any given subject really. He's a scientist at heart, so it was really interesting to hear him talk about all the different things there. Jason is the same way, and Caleb is quick on his way to carrying on the tradition. Sit any 3 of them down with a book about the coral reef, or a special on the discovery channel, and they're in heaven. So the day was pretty much made up of them stopping at each and every informative station, reading every word of every plague, and then talking about it...and talking some more about it...while Jacob and I entertained eachother.

Next we got to go fishing. Again, Craig and Jason are both fishermen at heart- as well as scientists- so they loved teaching Caleb and Jacob all the ins and outs. Fortunately, the lake we went to had enough fish to keep us reeling them in consistantly. Unfortunately, they were all about the size of grasshoppers. Small grasshoppers. The kids had never caught anything before, so they were still excited with every bite they got. I suppose we're just lucky we weren't depending on those for dinner...


And finally, we got to spend one day out in the middle of nowhere shooting. Craig has several different guns, and he also bought the boys a bee bee gun. This was a new experience for me even, since I've never shot anything in my whole life. It was a little scary at first, but as it turns out, I'm actually a decent shot! The boys had a blast, despite the fact that we were stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a gigantic rainstorm (or perhaps that's why they had a blast). But other than the rain, everyone came home with 10 fingers and 10 toes, so I'd call that a success.


Which brings me to today, my day off. I am worn out and boy-ed out, but feel abundantly blessed for the past week and all the laughs and fun it brought. And on top of everything, Craig also announced that he will be moving out here for good in October. I don't think I've ever seen Jason quite so happy. Craig was recently diagnosed with cancer, and while the doctors think he still has several good years left in him, the diagnosis came as a sort of wake up call. Hopefully Caleb and Jacob will be able to soak up every second of their Grandpa once he's here, I know they have already.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

New Shoes and a Box of Tissues

Am I the only one in the world that would give anything to be back in elementary school again? I guess I don’t always wish so strongly for such a thing, but back-to-school time gets me every year. Something as simple as strolling down the grocery store aisle turns into an overwhelming onslaught of memory.

I absolutely loved getting new school supplies. Maybe more than Christmas. The fresh, clean papers, the colorful folders with bindings not yet cracked, the pencils…oh, the pencils… 0.7, 0.5 or #2… I can smell the sawdust from the electronic sharpener as I write.

There were always stepping stones and grades of success on the infamous supply list: The year I was allowed to have a mechanical pencil instead of the traditional #2… the year “ballpoint pen” appeared on the list, and it wasn’t just the customary red one for checking each other’s work… the year I graduated from wide ruled to college ruled. I hope my future children don’t mind me scrapbooking such moments- smiling proudly next to their new notebook with 9/32” spaced lines, rather than 11/32” (that’s right, I Wikipedia-ed it).

And as if the above mentioned wonders weren’t enough, you then throw new clothes into the mix. Namely, new shoes. That’s where the real thrill was for me. I was always careful to get something that looked new and crisp, but not so bright white that I felt I was drawing attention to my feet. I wanted people to notice my new shoes, but I didn’t want them to know that I wanted them to notice.

Armed with my subtle new shoes, reams of unsullied notebook paper, and surrounded by the aroma of all things new, I could conquer anything the upcoming year had to offer. Of course, that exhilaration and confidence never lasted longer than my dulled pencil tips or frayed peachy folders. By the time the rings in my Trapper Keeper bent and started hooking each paper, I was usually ready for summer. There’s a season for everything, right?

It seems unfair that this season still comes each August without fail, but passes over those of us no longer in school. What would life be like if we only got to celebrate Christmas for 12 years and no more? Blasphemy.

The other day at the grocery store, I became plagued by the need to partake in the festivities. I tried to control the urge by distracting myself in the avocado aisle, but that stand of glaring, new spiral notebooks taunted me from the corner of my eye. I could control myself no longer. I bought a notebook. A shiny, untouched, red spiral notebook. I’m not even ashamed of it. And, in what can only be ascertained as some sort of Pavlovian response, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be buying some new shoes tomorrow.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tales from the Cubicle

My job is not the most desirable job in the world. I love the company that I work for, and certainly feel that I am valued as an employee. But the work itself… well… (to better understand the tone in which that “well” was intended, read this).

For this reason, I’ve come to really savor those moments that make my job more enjoyable/entertaining/bearable. Few and far between as they may be. Here’s a few of my favorite moments that often carry me through the drudge of day-to-day…

***********

One night I received a call from a man activating his card. He sounded older and slightly confused. After accessing his information, I saw that he was 95 years old. We muddled our way through conversation and eventually accomplished the task at hand. At the end of the call I started into my routine script, which includes a reminder to sign the back of the card. He cut me off mid-sentence-
Old Man: Sign the back of my card!?
Me: Yes sir.
Old Man: I have to sign this card in order for it to work?
Me: Well, yes. Technically, the card is only valid if signed.
Old Man: (in a leery, incredulous tone) Ok… you’ll need to hold on a second…
>brief moment on hold while I hear papers shuffling and drawers opening<
Old Man: Ok, did you get that?

He thought that I had the ability, from my tiny little cubicle, to see the signature on his card. As if I’d witnessed it scrawled across my computer screen as his pen glided across the plastic. I didn’t have the heart to crush his imagination.

Me: Yes sir. I got that. Thank you very much for doing that.

Technology these days…sheesh…

***********

On another night I received a call from a man wondering why his gift card wasn’t working. The following is the best paraphrase that my memory provides (minus the excessive profanity that the original had been eloquently seasoned with)…

Man: Yeah, so I just got this card in the mail. I’m not sure why. I know all about these magnetic strips though, so I assume it’s just one more way the government wants to monitor everything I do. I can’t believe how unconstitutional our country has become. Ya know the average American has like 5 cards. That’s like, a thousand little homing devices just floating around in everyday pockets… (this continued for several more minutes, and included enough cuss words to fuel the entire country of Bulgaria, if cuss words were an effective source of fuel)… Anyway, so I microwaved my card. Now I’m sitting here with no gas in my car and my card won’t work.
Me: … >long, silent, flabbergasted pause< You microwaved your card, sir?
Man: Yeah. Why the *expletive* won’t this *expletive* card work?!
Me: … >longer, silenter, flabbergasteder pause< You microwaved your card, sir.
Man: *expletive* -- click --

**********

And finally… on yet another dark stormy night, I had the honor of receiving this fine call…

Me: Thank you for calling unidentified credit card company, blah blah blah, how can I help you?
Woman: Yeah, my jeep isn’t working.
Me: (mistakenly giving her the benefit of the doubt, and assuming by “jeep” she meant “card”) … Um, excuse me? Your jeep?
Woman: Yeah, it’s making a strange clicking sound, and then a musky smell started coming from the front.
Me: (now 88% sure she’s referring to an actual jeep, and not a card) Um, ma’am, you’ve reach unidentified credit card company, I don’t know anything about your jeep.
Woman: I know, but no one else is open at this hour.

***********

Oh, all in a day's work…

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Steward of My Sword

I went to an average elementary school when I was younger. As is the case with average elementary schools, it came with dorky kids, cool kids, mean kids, smart kids, poor kids, rich kids, and so on. I was lucky enough to fall safely somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. There was one girl in particular that was not so fortunate. She was quiet and shy, wore the same out-grown clothes each day and bottle-thick glasses, and had very few friends. People were so mean to her, myself included. I like to think I was kinder than the average bully making fun and throwing insults, but I was just as guilty of isolating her as anyone else. Whenever we had to form groups or team up in partners, she was always left alone. I didn’t personally have anything against her; it was all just a matter of saving face in front of the other kids. Reputation was more important than her feelings.

There was one day before school when everyone was waiting outside their classes for the bell to ring. I was sitting on a short wooden wall when I noticed her walking up in a new outfit. I remember it clear as day, and I have no idea why. She had new black jeans that actually reached to her feet, and a green t-shirt with Tweety on it. I’m not sure what led my third grade mind to abandon all cares of reputation, maybe God’s silent nudging. I got up off my wall, walked over to where she was standing alone, and told her I really liked her new shirt. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the smile she gave me right then.

Last week I signed onto my Facebook account, and she had left me a message. She also remembers that moment clear as day, and wanted to thank me for my kind words. 15 years later.

When I was in 7th grade I was as insecure as any 7th grader. I liked boys, but unfortunately boys didn’t seem to like me. There was one boy in particular that I fancied in my junior high way. After much gawking from afar and giggling with my friends, I worked up the courage to ask him out. Not by myself, of course (that’s way more courage than any 12-year-old girl has). No, I had my two best friends ask him for me. Over the phone. While I secretly listened in on another line. Courage at it’s finest. The conversation went as follows:

Friend: So you know my friend?
Boy: Yeah
Friend: What do you think of her?
Boy: Like, is she cute?
Friend: Yeah, would you want to go out with her?
>faint laughing on his end<

Boy: Um, no. Not even a chance. I would rather kiss Freddie Krueger.

I remember that moment, clear as day. 10 years later.

I think most anyone can say that they’ve been in every corner; the giving end of a kind word, the receiving end of a compliment, the insult thrower, or the butt of a cruel joke. Some of us are more resilient than others, letting things roll off our backs. Others of us are sensitive and absorb every word.

Recent events in my life have opened my eyes to the power of our words. They have the ability warm the spirit, for 15 years…or to bruise one’s ego for a lifetime. They can tear down, humiliate, and destroy reputations. They can lift up, encourage, and carry someone through the darkest season. There is no weapon or tool God gave us more powerful than our tongues.

Today I’ve decided to make this a major area of focus for myself. Not only that I guard my tongue, but that I learn to utilize it for the good it is capable of. Without the latter, we are missing out on an incredible gift.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Needed: Bulletproof Spandex

Jason is a comic book fan boy through and through and has made it his mission to convert me. I have been an easy convert though; superheroes fascinate me. There’s just something about superheroes and super villains and stories of fantastic extremes that appeal to me. I have always loved stories. I love hearing people’s stories, I love telling stories, I love reading stories. And superheroes always come with stories. They always have some relatable history or back story that brought them to their current place and circumstance. They are generally average people who discover they have a gift, and are then forced to make a decision: to selflessly use their gift for the good of others, or selfishly use it for their own gain. It’s deep stuff really. And to top it all off, it’s wrapped up in a tight, colorful spandex package. Beautiful.

Well, with that said, I have an exciting announcement to make. Tonight at work, I discovered I have a gift. It was an average day at my average job, and when least expected, I saw It. That’s right, I found my superpower. Are you ready for it? Brace yourselves…

I have mastered the ability to make the little tiny hairs on my arms rise up and lie down on command, using sheer willpower.

I’ll let you soak that up for a minute. I know it’s a lot to wrap your mind around. I too was in disbelief.

I find myself now with an impossible choice to make: to serve the public, or to selfishly hoard this gift for myself. And of course if I chose the former, there’s a whole new plethora of decisions to follow. What will my alias be? What will my costume look like? Where do I find a tailor that specializes in spandex? Will I be a hero that is loved my millions, like Superman? Or will I hide in the shadows and be feared, like Batman? Do I need a PR agent?

I have a long journey ahead of me.

This edit added after initial publishing: I have decided on a name… Follicle Phantom (but my comic books will read “The Fearless Follicle Phantom”. You know, like “The Incredible Hulk” or “The Uncanny X-Men”).