Friday, January 9, 2009

Can "A Charlie Brown Christmas" change your life?

I have always loved everything about Christmas and enjoy the entire season from start to finish. An important part of the season is the Christmas movies and specials, the most valuable being “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

However, this year, upon returning home from Thanksgiving break, I couldn’t muster the energy to put up my Christmas tree. This was not like me. Putting up the tree should be a ritual to celebrate and treasure, complete with holiday music, mulled cider, and frolicking cats. This year, the ritual seemed overwhelming. All I could think was, “This is going to take a lot of time to put up, plus I will have the unpleasant task of putting it away and facing the empty void the tree leaves behind in January. Is this really worth it?” Something was wrong.

The next day I forced myself to put up my tree and I tried to be cheery about it. It didn’t work. My cat usually finds the putting-up-of-the-tree a wonderful occasion because he gets to chew on the fake branches and chase the broken parts around the room. However, even he was not interested this year. I reflected, “Something is wrong with me. It is Christmas, but I’m not happy.” As the thought flew across my brain I made the connection, “Isn’t that how ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ starts?” I resolved to watch the special as soon as I finished with my tree. Perhaps the solution Charlie finds would work for me, too.

I popped the DVD in and settled in to watch with an intentionality I’ve never summoned before. Sure enough, Charlie feels there is something wrong with him; Christmas is coming, but he’s not happy. He doesn’t feel the way he is supposed to feel. Me too Charlie! As the story rolls on, Lucy attempts to cure him by naming him the director of the Christmas play. However, the other kids don’t want to listen to Charlie. Don’t I know about that. Finally, Lucy sends Charlie on a quest for a Christmas tree and he brings back a sad little tree, drawing mockery from the other kids. Charlie laments, “Everything I do turns into a disaster.” I know Charlie, I know. And I’m starting to worry a little because it is freaky how much I am identifying with Charlie Brown. Linus then offers his soliloquy taken from the gospel, which I had always thought of as being the point of the special. But as I watched this time, I noticed, the story doesn’t end there. Inspired, Charlie takes his sad tree home and places a single ornament on it, which forces it to keel over. “Everything I touch gets ruined!” he cries, and he walks off defeated. But the story doesn’t end there either. Linus brings the gang to Charlie’s house, and through the magic of hand waving, they lavishly decorate Charlie’s tree until it is beautiful. The tree is the point of the story.

Then I remembered a factoid I had recently come across about Christmas trees. Christians put up evergreen trees as a symbol of the eternal life we have in Jesus. Oh. I never knew that, or if I did, I had forgotten. I remember learning that Martin Luther was the first to put up a Christmas tree, but that had always struck me as an oddly pagan thing to do. Bringing a tree into your house and dolling it up? What? But, framing it as a metaphor, well I could definitely envision Luther being into eternal life.

As a gazed at my tree I was overcome remembering that gift I have been given. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ, but it is so easy to forget why He came. He came to give us eternal life.

From that point on, each time I looked at my tree, I remembered what this season, and my life, is about. As unhappy as I may be with my current situation, I have such an incredible gift to look forward to. I am so thankful to God for the future He has promised me. And I have some added respect for Luther.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An apology to my readers

I haven’t posted in a very long time. Partly it is because it has been a very busy season. And partly because I am finding it harder to find topics I feel safe writing about.

When I started this, it was to be for myself. I offered it up to friends and family thinking they might get something out of it, but really only expecting my mother to read it. Apparently, people have more time to kill than I anticipated. Several people, whom I never would have expected to bother with my blog, have commented on it. Whoops. Not that I don’t want them reading it. In life, I try to be an open book. But it puts the pressure on.

I find myself reexamining every topic I consider. If I write about my faith, does it come off preachy or arrogant or stupid? Or worst of all, heretical? If I write about work, will I get in trouble? If I tell stories about myself, is that self-indulgent?

I need to remember the pact I made with myself when I started this. If people don’t like it, they don’t have to read it. And if people judge me because of what I have written? Well, I need to apply the same rule I use in life. When people judge me, it says more about them than it does about me. Plus, if I stop writing for fear of what people will think then the terrorists win.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't Die a Stupid Death: Part II

The first dish I made after moving into my apartment in hilly was some sort f pasta. I remember because upon draining the pasta the resultant steam set off my smoke alarm. I made a note to self that the smoke alarm was ultra sensitive.

Shortly thereafter I attempted to bake something in the oven. Upon turning on the oven to preheat, again the smoke alarm went off. This would not do. So I solved my problem by installing a curtain between my kitchen and the hallway where the smoke alarm resides.

This all worked well until this past weekend. I try to resist turning on the heat for as long as possible because gas heat in Philly is wicked expensive. A problem that is exacerbated by living in a house that is 100+ years old and poorly insulated. But Sunday morning I reach my limit and decided to switch on the heat. A few minutes after the heat started flowing my super sensitive smoke alarm sounded again. I followed my usual drill of fanning the alarm with a cookie sheet since my alarm is located out of reach near my high ceiling. This time, my trick failed however. Thinking the alarm might have been caused by the burn off you get upon first turning on the heat I switched the heat off. And waited, and waited. “Fine, sound all you want,” I thought, “it’s got to stop eventually.” I tried to go about getting ready for church while the alarm wailed, but started to wonder, what would I do? Let it blare for hours while I was away at church?

Finally I called my landlord in desperation. I explained that the alarm would not stop and I didn’t know what to do. He instructed me to open a window immediately. You see, my smoke alarm is also a carbon monoxide detector. Say what? Gas heaters can make CO? How had I missed this in school? He told me to crank the heat up after opening some windows, then call him back.

After hanging up I cracked the kitchen window open and the alarm stopped immediately. Hmmm, should I feel relieved or alarmed? Next I turned the heat back on. Sure enough, within a few minutes the alarm was sounding again. So, I opened more windows and I googled gas heat and CO.

CO is produced as the result of incomplete combustion, which I knew, what I foolishly never realized is that when a gas heater doesn’t get enough O2, it makes CO. Oh. Gas ovens can produce CO too if not properly ventilated. Ooooh. So this is why my oven sets off the smoke alarm. I then realized that for the past three years, every time I pulled the kitchen curtain so I could bake I was trapping myself in with the CO. Brilliant. This is the sort of thing that inspired my former coworkers to nickname me ‘genius’.

The story ended with my landlord coming by to change the filter on my heater so proper air flow could be restored. And me resolving to crack a window when I turn on the oven. And me thanking Jesus for keeping me alive these past 3 years.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Rules of Dating - for Men

Ever since I turned 25 I have held certain expectations for my dates. I felt that, by the age of 25, men should KNOW certain things about dating. However, my current string of extremely bad dates has taught me that apparently a majority of guys (or at least the ones that date ME) don’t have a clue. So I have composed the following list with the intention of educating such men. However, I don’t know that any men actually read my blog, so I recognize that mostly, this list is just about me venting. Here we go!

  1. Before you ask a girl out on date, ask yourself, “Do I actually WANT to make a good impression on her?” If the answer is, “No,” save her and yourself the trouble. Stay home. If the answer is, “Yes,” then read on.

  2. Do not lie about yourself prior to meeting. This means you are not allowed to lie about your: age, height, weight, income, marital status, or appearance. Your photo can be considered a lie as well. Two years is the limit on photo age, and it may need to be more recent than that if, since the taking of your photo, you have: gone bald, gained weight, lost an eye, or in some other way significantly altered your appearance.

  3. Ask her out on a real date. No playing it off like you are getting together as buddies while secretly telling yourself it’s a date and hoping she’s thinking the same thing. Be a man and be straight about it. If you want to impress her you can’t play games and mess with her head.

  4. Do not presume she shares your interests. Surprises are nice when say, you know she loves a certain author, so you get her that author’s newest book. Surprising her with tickets to see a band she has never heard of, say, maybe, Hall & Oates. In the second row. At center stage. Surrounded by 40-something women in their finest going-out attire they picked up at Kohls. Not a good surprise.

  5. Shave. Stubble might be sexy on an Abercrombie & Fitch model, but on you it just looks lazy. Same deal for hair. If you are overdue for a haircut, get one before you meet her for the first time. And BTW, that haircut should cost you more than $20.

  6. Dress like you care (if you don’t, go back to item #1). If you own one new shirt, wear it. Women can tell. The exception to this is if your newest shirt has something printed on it, like say, wolves, or tree frogs, or Metallica. If you are reading this list, you are not permitted to choose printed shirts. This is also the time to bust out the one pair of jeans/pants that make your butt look good. Add a belt. If you are unsure on any of this ask a close female friend what to wear. Don’t have one of those? Ask your sister or buddy’s girlfriend. She will be thrilled to help. We never really outgrew our Barbies and real lifesize Ken dolls are way more fun than the little plastic ones.

  7. Do NOT insult her or yourself. This should be common sense. Then again, so should all of this. Actual lines I’ve heard:
    “Wow, you must be REALLY smart!” This is wrong because it only implies that you think you are not as smart as me. Not a turn on. Not sexy.
    “Unlike you, I have people skills.” This was actually his opener. He had never met me, so where this came from is beyond me. Maybe he thought it was witty? I don’t know.
    “Do you have really bad BO, or what?” This was in response to my revealing that I find good smelling men sexy.
    Instead try repeating this in your head, “I am smart and fabulous. She is smart and fabulous. Together we are even more smart and fabulous.” This attitude: sexy.

  8. Better yet pay her a compliment. However, it needs to be the right one. Keep it simple and be honest. “You look nice.” “I like your perfume.” “I really enjoy talking to you.” Avoid the following:
    “Your hair smells good” Comes off stalkerish. Why are you sniffing my hair?
    Avoid comments based on specific features, like feet or ears, it smacks of fetish.
    “Those are great shoes.” Some subjects are in the girl domain. Fingernails, shoes, and handbags are in girl jurisdiction. We don’t expect men to notice or comment on these. If you do, we are apt to suspect you are gay.

  9. Do not overshare. Again, some real life examples from within the first three dates.
    “Sorry I had to cancel our date. I’ve been having trouble with my colon.”
    “I have a tough time with women because my ex-wife used to beat me.”
    “I think God brought us to Philly just to meet.”
    Edit. Say it in your head first. Remove the creepy, pathetic, and sad comments.

  10. Pay. Yes, it’s old fashioned, but you still have to. Suck it up. If this seems horribly sexist and unfair to you just remember, for our entire lives we will make less money than a man for doing the exact same job. Feel better? Perhaps you don’t make a lot of money and are concerned about affording this. In this case, take her out for coffee. You should be able to swing $2 for her. If you can’t, you’re not ready to date.

  11. Clean your car and/or bring cash for a cab/the bus. You need to offer to help get her home and you need to be prepared to follow through. All of the romance of opening the car door for her is instantly killed if she finds old coke bottles and your gym shoes waiting for her in the front seat. (Yes, this happened to me too)

  12. Do NOT force her into a kiss. Grabbing her head with both hands to preclude her escape is not acceptable. Neither is inviting yourself into her house under the guise of needing to use the restroom. If you want to kiss her you lean in half way, let her close the remainder of the distance. This gives her the chance to opt for a hug instead.

Come on fellas. Prove me wrong. Show me just how fabulous you really are.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

And my real age is...

Since I’ve come to grad school, I haven’t been 100% honest about my age. When asked about my age, sometimes I outright lied, other times a played coy, “How old do you think I am?” Although, occasionally, the later approach backfired.

Why all the denial? Grad school was a tough shift. All my life I’ve been the baby. I am the youngest in my family and amongst my cousins, and the majority of my friends and boyfriends have all been older than me. Being the baby suits me well. I like being the entertainer and peacemaker. And I like the low expectations. Really, you just have to not screw something up entirely and people are impressed. And, if my appearance showed signs of age, they didn’t matter, because everyone else looked older.

All that changed when I came to grad school after working for 7 years post-undergrad. Suddenly, I was the oldest. Not just amongst my classmates, but among most of the graduate group. Suddenly, I was the one with experience, the one people went to for advice, the one that people expected to be prepared. What? Me? The baby? I also became the fat old one. Not glamorous at all.

And it didn’t help that I saw 30 as the end of life. Literally. Growing up, I never believed I would live past 30. I guess I figured I would get hit by a truck or have a heart attack (I’ve always loved bacon and butter). I just never thought this day would come.

I have also regretted the loss of some years in my 20s that I wish I had lived better. I thought by claiming to be the age I regretted, maybe I could erase those years and rewrite them. But the thing is, as you try to relive those years, you lose the ones you should be living now.

So, recently, something has changed in me. I think it might actually have to do with turning 30. I have found a peace with who and where I am. And my age. No more lying. I’m 31. There, it’s out there for the entire internet to read. For those of you in your 20s, aghast at the thought of being so old, let me assure you, it will happen to you, too. Let me also tell you, it’s not so bad. Here are some things to look forward to.

Yes, your body ages. However, fortunately, this happens at a time when you get some perspective and realize that all those little imperfections you spent your 20s worrying about, don’t actually matter. I can’t believe how much time I wasted fussing about and fighting against being pear shaped. I finally see, curves are hot. (The black men in Philly remind me of this daily.) And men are more impressed by a girl that likes herself and is comfortable in her own skin then some overly made-up hungry-looking girl. If some dude doesn’t find my full hips sexy, he’s gay.

I also wasted a lot of time in my 20s worrying about what people thought of me. I flipped out whenever I felt judged or if someone implied I was stupid. I guess I have to credit grad school with helping me get over that one. If I kept getting upset over those things, I would never calm down. I now see that only my opinions, and those of my closest family and friends, really matter.

Now that I’m in my 30s, I also feel more satisfied. I needed, or thought I needed, so many things in my 20s. Okay, my thirst for shoes has only worsened, but in other ways, I’ve come to realize, less is more. I don’t need an exotic vacation; I feel more rested after spending the weekend at my grandma’s. And the entertainment value of video games and movies pales in comparison to watching my cat chase bugs in the back yard.

I’ve finally got the basics figured out. I can cook a decent meal, mix a cocktail, and pick a wine to go with dinner. I can finesse most people at work into doing what I want and I don’t mind telling service staff what I expect. I’ve learned how to work with my hair instead of against it and how to pick flattering clothes. I can hem my pants, insulate my windows, and rid my home of various vermin. I can choose my friends and break up with a guy, though getting dumped still stings pretty bad.

I also see now, that it’s going to be okay. If this Christmas, or vacation, or football season sucked, that’s okay. There will be another one. If you don’t have your career perfectly planned, that’s okay, you can take another direction. If you fall on hard times, God will provide friends, or family, or even sometimes strangers to help lift you up. If you make a mistake, you can try again. If your life doesn’t go according to plan, you don’t own a home or have a husband or babies, you can make your alternatives work and be grateful for them.

So, in the end, I think I’m okay with my age. I can do this, and maybe even do it well. Just don’t ask me to think about 40…

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Don’t die a stupid death: Part I

This story is at Em’s request. Her version might be different. In which case, she is wrong.

A few years back, due to some unforeseen events, I wound up staying at my family’s rented beach cottage alone with my good friend Emily. I had known Emily since high school. We were a part of the same social group that hung out mostly because we didn’t fit anywhere else. Over the summers, Em was a life guard. I shelved books at the library. We possessed slightly different levels of athleticism.

Emily was also the adventurous type. Willing to pet bees and ready to touch the washed-up jelly fish. Emily liked riding the waves. I liked sitting on the sand watching crabs endlessly toss sand out of their little tunnels. Okay, and sometimes I liked kicking sand in their tunnels. Why am I mean to crabs? I don’t know. Maybe because I can be.

One day, Em came back from the water, completely drenched as usual, and announced that during her frolicking she had located a sand bar out a little ways from the shore. By her account, it was really cool and I needed to check it out.

I am not a fan of sea water in my eyes or mouth. When it gets there, I turn into an even bigger baby than usual. I am also always cold. This means that the sea water off the coast of NC, though cool to others, to me, is cold enough to make my feet ache. But Emily said I must. And I confess, I had experienced a sand bar once before and it was magical indeed. I agreed, I would go out with her to enjoy the wonders of the sand bar.

The next day we set off. It was mid-September and the beaches were mostly deserted. We walked a ways down the beach to where Em remembered the sand bar. We set off. “How deep does it get before you reach the sand bar?” I asked, as we crept into the water. “I don’t think it gets too deep,” she assured me. “Will my feet touch the ground?” I asked. “Um, maybe not. You have to swim a little, bit it isn’t far,” she said.


So we swam. And swam. “It’s just a little bit further,” Em told me. I was getting a little nervous, but I trusted my friend. Swimming, swimming. Every so often Em would go under the water to see if she could touch the bottom. No sign of the sand bar.

Eventually I looked back to the shore. “Um, we’re pretty far out.” I told her, starting to lose faith. But we swam a bit more. I don’t know how much time passed, but to me it seemed we had swum for a very long time. Finally Emily relented. The sand bar was not here. She agreed, we should head back.

I was relieved to be getting out of this. I was tired and cold and ready to feel sand under my feet. So we swam toward the shore. And we swam, and we swam. But we weren’t getting any closer. I said so to Emily, but she insisted, yes, we were getting closer to shore. Swimming, swimming. It was beginning to dawn on me that we were in a rip tide. I remembered those stories on TV about strong swimmers drowning in rip tides. I’m not a strong swimmer.

Then it occurred to me, I thought, “This is it. This is how I am going to die. I’m going to be sucked out to sea. The end. Brilliant Angela. Your mom is going to be so pissed. Your dad is in the coast guard. He makes life jackets for a living, and you are going to drown. Nice.”

I told Emily, “I’m scared.” She replied, “Don’t panic, that’s the first rule.” Right. I thought the first rule was ‘don’t swim in a rip tide’, but whatever. And somehow, someone telling you not to panic, kind of has the opposite effect. Now I really was scared.

We kept swimming, putting everything into it. Emily started getting somewhere. I, still, was not. Soon she was several feet ahead of me. “Emily, I can’t keep up with you.” I called. “Okay, I’ll pull you,” she offered. Yes, Emily is a lifeguard, she’ll save me I thought. So she grabbed my arm and pulled as she swam. However, with dead weight Angela in tow, we couldn’t make any ground. Still swimming toward the shore, still not any closer to the shore, still not a good situation.

At some point, I can’t remember whether it was before or after we started swimming back, a lifeguard showed up. On the OBX of NC they don’t have lifeguards at posts, they just ride four wheelers up and down the beach, apparently hoping no one will need saving until they happen to drive by. Or maybe thy just hope no one will need saving. You'll see.

Anyway, I remember watching him watching me. He stood on his four wheeler and used his binoculars to watch us. I watched him debate, “I don’t really feel like jumping in and getting wet. Then again, if those girls drown, people will probably blame me. I am getting paid to do this. Hmmm, what to do what to do?”

I debated in my mind, which is more embarrassing, dying as a result of getting sucked out to sea or being rescued by a lifeguard? Tough call. Either fortunately or unfortunately the lifeguard wasn’t making any moves toward saving us, so option #2 wasn’t looking very likely. Sucked out to sea it is.

My mind moved back to the TV show about rip tides. (20 years of school and the most useful thing I know I learned by watching TV.) The way to get out alive they said was to swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the rip tide and then you will be pushed back to shore. At that moment, I wasn’t sure how much faith I had in the TV program, but it was all I had.

I told Emily I thought we were in a rip current and we should swim parallel to the shore for a while to see if we could get out of it. She agreed we should try it. It felt like a gamble. I was pretty tired, what if I wasted energy swimming parallel and couldn’t swim to shore after?

So we swam north for a while. The lifeguard still stood there with his binoculars, not acting the least bit Baywatch.

After a while, the shore started to look closer. We decided to swim toward shore again and sure enough, we quickly closed the distance. ( Apparently, everything they tell you on TV IS true.) Halfway to shore Mr. Utterly Useless Lifeguard sat back down in his four wheeler and drove off to watch more swimmers drown.

The sand felt beautiful under my feet. I don’t remember much about the rest of the vacation, but I’m sure I slept well that night and we didn’t go searching for anymore sand bars.

I do recall some kind of fun with a flashlight and chasing crabs at night. What can I say? I do it because I can.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And they lived happily ever after

Some friends of mine received as a wedding gift a plaque with that phrase on it.

I just found out and old acquaintance of mine has gotten engaged. She is 22, lovely and sweet, and has just graduated from college. He is 25 (when they met he was a senior and she a freshman), tall, broad shouldered, handsome, dependable.

And I kind of want to gag.

It is so cliché. They don’t need a plaque, they have ‘happily ever after’ written all over themselves. They are straight out of some romantic comedy. Some crazy hijinx occurs along the way, but in the end (thank God!) they come together, blissfully happy. La-de-dah. On their way to 2.5 kids.

I don’t mean to sound bitter. I am happy for them. And it’s not that my life isn’t like a movie. My life is just more like one of those dramatic chic flicks, where the girl gets screwed a lot and realizes all she has are her girlfriends. I prefer those movies anyway. But maybe that’s because I can relate to them. Is that art imitating life or life imitating art?

I find myself wondering, “Where is mine?” I’m not looking to be rescued, but it would be nice to have someone help me unload the groceries or clean the grill after a cookout.

I used to think I was single because I was too nice. Am I now too hard? Is it me? Or is it him? Or is it both of us? Why is this so hard for some of us? I stare at couples of all ages in wonder. How did all these people manage to get together? Is there something flawed in me that prohibits me from joining their club? Or, as some friends have suggested, are all those couples simply not picky enough? I don’t get it.