Sunday, November 23, 2008

Flat out cool!

I'm a bit of a tomboy. Yet I've always had long hair, maybe as much because it is easy to put it into a ponytail as it is to do fun "up-do's" with. A couple of months ago, I was in getting a semi-annual hair cut, and asked my stylist (again) for some much-needed style tips. Her first tip was - you've got to have a flat iron. Hmmm, I always thought those were for people with really curly hair who straightened it. Not for people like me, with a just-barely-obnoxious wave!

Well, I went out and got my first flat iron a month or so ago. It has changed my life! In about 5 minutes, I can now go from ponytail hair with a big crease in it, to smooth straight hair for an evening out. WOW. Why did I never know about this great new tool before?! The just-barely-obnoxious wave in my air-dried hair can actually be made to disappear for the first time in my life. If you have survived for 28 years like I did without a flat iron, it's time to give in and get one. In case you are like me, or are a boy and have no idea what a flat iron is, here you go:

Added bonus? This morning in our bathroom, I frantically got the last couple creases out of my hair and John smoothed the creases out of his un-ironed dress shirt. He glanced at my flat iron. Hey, he said, do you think that would work on the hem and buttons on my shirt? It worked beautifully. I'll iron my hair, but I guess I no longer have to iron his shirts! That's flat out cool.

Friday, November 21, 2008

One whole month of blogging

I took this random little risk and started a blog one whole month ago. A few observations on how it's going...

- I was most worried that not a soul would read it and my inexpert writing would be criticized. Well, in addition to Dad, quite a few of you have visited, commented, emailed - and none lambasting my grammar mistakes or loopy logic. I thank each and every one of you!

- One big reason I wanted to write here was to lay a bit more myself out there for you all to see and share, including (and especially) my family and friends. And in doing so, maybe inspire you to see and share more of yourself with others. So far, OK!

- It's kind of fun to have an outlet for actually thinking, a reason to process some of my thoughts and write them down and think that they are possibly interesting or inspiring. Mothering two little kids and/or teaching chemistry doesn't always lend itself to that, so this writing is fun. Previously, my only outlet for philosophy was my amazing husband John. Now I can debate with him and then some!

- Suddenly having a vested interest in the world of "blogging" is kind of distracting and obnoxious. Yes, I'm more willing to read/comment on someone else's blog than before, but I'd still much rather invest in the interesting people that I see face-to-face every day. So I'm getting the hang of being a fairly selfish blogger I guess, not feeling compelled to obsess with the blog-o-universe just because I have a teeny bit of it.

- Being brave is contagious. My thinking this last month has become, "If I can write a blog that who knows who will read, I can certainly open up about myself a little more to other people I meet, and try other little things that I've been too shy to do."

So I guess I'll stick with the writing experiment for at least a little while. Thanks for reading!

What's your world view?

Recently, a few books and these quotes got me thinking about why I should clarify my own world view. I hope it's a topic that might get you thinking too...

"How we understand ourselves and the world around us determines the kind of life we make."

"If we don't know what we can we live it and defend it? Our ignorance is crippling us."

So, what's your world view? Is your view mostly based on faith or religion, is it based on the subjects you've studied, based on someone else's view (agreeing or disagreeing with them), based on your life experiences?

Rachel (my two-year-old) is just learning to ask - "why?" But the only answer that she knows to give yet is - "Because." Our conversations go something like this: "Why Mommy?" "I don't know, what do you think Rachel?" "Because!"

I want to work at going a little further than that - not only being unafraid to ask "why?" and "who?", but also having more to answer than "I don't really know, just because." Today, I've only got my own questions to share (answers and ideas are swirling!). I hope these questions get you thinking too, about what your world view is, and why it matters.

Who is god? One being, creator, in everything, near or distant, constant or changing?

Who are you, and who are the other 6 billion people on the earth? Immortals, reincarnations from another life, equal or inequal beings, responsible for each other or not, connected to people in current, past and/or future generations?

What is your view of time? Is time cyclical or linear, with beginning and end or not?

What do these things mean - forever, love, purpose, justice, good?

They're hard and defining questions, if you stop and think about them... Do you have a question to add? I'm not ready to give you a pat list of good Christian answers, but I'll share more of my big and small thoughts in the days to come.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wanted: Woman running through park, pushing blue and yellow sleigh. Possibly stripping. Definitely freezing.

Did I catch your attention? Did you happen to drive past Hessel Park and see her this morning?!

Well, it was me. After a two week break from walking Abby to school and running outside, I'm back! So here I am with a quick shout out to Jim/Ana/JingleBells5K and two moms from Abby's school. See, it had been a very mild fall, and then suddenly autumn began her quick descent into winter, and the temperature dropped to 30F or colder in the mornings. I relegated myself to the treadmills at the gym.

But then something strange happened. I enjoy the solitude of jogging, but I'm always up for a little competitive (athletic?!) challenge. In spite of the weather, the two girls I've met that walk or bike their kids to school every single day kept doing it. One brings her one-year-old along, the other continues biking three miles to her son's preschool. And then brother-in-law Jim asked if I'd run a 5K in a few weeks. I couldn't help but rise to the challenge.

So, this morning, I made my first foray back into the cold, pushing Rachel in a giant bike-trailer-turned-jog-stroller (a.k.a. sleigh), wearing a heavy coat and eventually "stripping" off my hat and gloves because I was actually warming up! I ran miles of random quick intervals, and just the thought of what I must have looked like barreling quickly around town makes me laugh. (Unfortunately for you, I couldn't find the camera this morning to share the moment.)

Moral of the story - just keep doing whatever that great little thing is you're doing - you never know who you might inspire to step out into the lonely cold and copy you!

Thanks Jim, Ana, J, and L!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When a stereotype is not enough....

"I do not like that man. I must get to know him better." Abraham Lincoln

I'm a Christian. Regrettably, I've sometimes allowed that to color my viewpoints of other religions, other people, other worldviews. I found Lincoln's insight on a box of tea a couple of months back. I've been thinking about getting past my stereotypes and first (flawed?) impressions ever since.

I attended a professional development seminar at work yesterday, discussing "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz with about twenty other random colleagues. I expected it to be a book about achieving better communication skills with my students. It was that, but it also turned out to contain a significant amount of "new age" and "relativist" type ideas that I don't really agree with. With a strongly Christian background, I've actually never sat down with a book on either of those topics, considering them more or less devilish. I decided that rather than cancel out of the reading and discussion, I'd try and get to know the ideas a bit better.

I don't like most of the worldviews that Ruiz put forth in the book. But because I read the book, and then sat down to discuss it with others, I discovered a few things -

1) For all of the differences I saw, there were a striking number of similarities between Ruiz's beliefs and my own. I am sure that we could talk for hours.
2) On the other hand, allowing myself to be confronted with such a different belief set helped me sort through what I believe surprisingly clearly.
2) Our discussion at work wasn't at all "weird" or "anti-God" - in fact, others tied in what they had read to verses from the Bible, sermons on Sunday.
3) Talking about the text gave me a chance to get to know many other people from work, who were drawn to open up about their life views, values, experiences. I am certain that a fairly different group would have shown up at a "Bible study".

The thought that I took away from the book and the day? It was the third agreement: Don't make assumptions. Have the courage to ask questions.

Don't like someone, don't like what they believe, don't like what they said? I'm going to continue to work at following Lincoln's example and do the really difficult thing - get to know them better.

Friday, November 14, 2008

All in the neighborhood

There's this corny Sesame Street song that comes to my mind... "Who are the people in your neighborhood?" I've been working a little harder than usual at getting to know my neighbors this past year or so. We moved to a new house a year and a half ago, and now Abby goes to school less than a mile away. Good excuses to branch out.

Neighbors, I'm thinking, are one of life's treasures. Just this morning, I had a few other moms and kids over to our house, all from within a mile (or a block!) of my house. One from Korea, one from Virginia, one from Pennsylvania, one from Texas. The one from Russia couldn't make it. I love visiting with each of them, and also just sitting back and watching them love their kids, take pictures, share stories. Who needs a road trip on a foggy, rainy day when you can take one in your living room?!

My neighbors introduce me to people I'd never get to interact with otherwise. Just in our immediate cul-de-sac, I've gotten to know a handful of the over-80 bunch, a Korean family and their nanny, a high school math teacher and her nieces, a family with two ten-year-olds and a thirteen-year-old. As much as I love the "small group" that I am in at church (full of young families), getting to know my neighbors gives me a great opportunity to talk about and do something other than kids and sermons!

Abby's class at school is a part of our "neighborhood" too. I was there earlier this week, and I get to interact with kids from around the city. They are from different countries, different socioeconomic classes, different types of families, and have different strengths and weaknesses. They remind me of the variety in my city, and that we all live side-by-side, working together to get our kids to school, get them through K, 1, 2, 3....! Being in the classroom helps me put a face and a value on the many families in my city.

My neighbors remind me everyday that the world is a much bigger place than our little family, our little church, our set of friends. I've got a slice of the world right at my doorstep, a glimpse of the world to explore, learn about, and love. They may be different than me, but what better chance to experience the "diversity" of the world and get to know it face to face?

What kind of random neighbors do you have? Have you talked to them lately?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You try it!

My dad has a saying I think of often - "To criticize is easy, to do better may be difficult."

I don't necessarily criticize a whole lot of things, but I do try to copy them. Writing (a blog, lately), throwing a party, trying a new exercise at the gym, taking pictures of kids, to name just a few. Lacking my own creativity, I guess that I am a shameless copycat!

Almost every time, two things happen - 1) I fail almost completely, 2) I suddenly respect the person and their skills much more.

Lately, my tidbits of writing have opened my eyes to all things written in a new way. I've started to pay close attention to the words of my daily heroes: an interesting novel author, a faithful blogging friend, a journalist. Two of my main hobbies, taking pictures and cooking, are like that too. The more I attempt and fail at them, the more I respect those who do them better than me!

Tempted to criticize? Try the task first. Gain some respect for another person. Pass on a compliment.

"To criticize is easy, to do better may be difficult."

Turns out, who am I to criticize? I'm off to share some compliments!

Monday, November 10, 2008

So far so good on a Monday...

I put out more recycling than trash this morning (from the past week). That's a first!

I ran intervals and biked a little at the gym. Sucks to be inside, but I'll deal with it.

Although it is only 31F, at least the sun is shining.

No diapers changed yet - my two-year-old's poop in the toilet is a wonderful thing!

Almost every dish in the house is clean (all waiting to be put away).

Almost every piece of clothing in the house is clean (all piled on my bed).

What are you happy about today? Even if it's a Tuesday, Wednesday, ....

Friday, November 7, 2008

Too little faith

It is difficult for me to write about my faith in God. Why? On one day, it is lacking. I study science, and I am more unsure all the time what to think about the beginnings of the world. On another day, I don't want the stereotypes of Christians, God, or the Bible to turn you off to reading or considering. On yet another day, I am sure that something I read in the Bible impresses powerfully on my heart, and yet am also aware how absurd it sounds that a God in heaven could really have left us a spiritually alive book. I long to have an unshakable confidence and faith in my God, but I don't.

Today is a day where my faith falters, and yet God's words somehow encourage my heart. Two of Jesus' good friends, Peter and Thomas, watched a real life flesh-and-blood Jesus for three years. They saw his miraculous healings, heard the first-person version of the Jesus' words. While Jesus stood trial, just hours before he would be killed, Peter denied that he knew Jesus, that he'd ever been with him. Once, twice, three times, all within around two hours, he did this with Jesus only around a stone's throw away. Just before that, Jesus himself cried out in prayer - more or less - Father, please don't make me go through with this! Almost nothing about that makes sense to me. Just a bit later, as he was dying, he called out, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Thomas, well, he is forever known as "doubting Thomas" - and all because he wouldn't believe the rumors that Jesus was resurrected until he saw him for himself. Not that unreasonable, really.

In these three people, who had much more real experiences with God than I have, I see embarrassment, fear, despair, loneliness, doubt. Their faith failures and struggles happened. I identify with that. Their faith failures and struggles were also not the end of the story of how God used them.

Jesus said this to Peter, knowing that Peter would deny him, but before it happened. "...Stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon (Peter), I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out [that your faith would not fail]. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start." Luke 22:31-32

Jesus, pray that for me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Family pictures - the good, the bad, the bumpy!

This is my family: bumps, discolorations, odd shapes and all. Wow, you think, I never would have guessed that you were a gourd! Well, here's the story...

We've been needing new family pictures for a few years now, and I've finally gotten around to it this fall. I envisioned pictures of us out in the leaves at a park, until I asked around about prices and quickly changed my visions. Sears with a coupon for us!

In order to keep a shred of my dreams alive, I decided to take this little family of gourds (my farmer's market decorations) out to the backyard for a little photo shoot. You can see the results above. John is the tall one who claims to be bronze, and the three of us girls, well, we all look a little alike in a weird sort of way!

My gourds got me thinking about how bumpy, oddly shaped, and strange each of us are. And yet, we belong in our families (we're oddly shaped look-alikes?!). Our families love us, listen to us, celebrate us. My family loves me in spite of my big feet, the incredible volume of my nose-blowing, unruly sarcasm, endless new recipes, and other great qualities!

My dad, moms, brother and sister love me. Eight years ago, John's family welcomed me, giving me an Illinois home for the first time. I am blessed beyond words with my dear family in John, Abby, and Rachel. Churches in each of our cities have welcomed us as family. It's truly amazing, considering that nose-blowing thing.

And yet, I have to admit that sometimes I forget how oddly shaped I am, and instead notice that you look kind of funny. Ironic, considering how crooked and lumpy I look in the picture above.

God, give me more and more love instead of criticism for all of the family that you have blessed me with.

And to my many families, thank you for loving me.

Photo editing provided by, suggested by Dina! Your work is way cooler than mine... If you lived closer, I would have commissioned you for our photos! Thanks, D.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama won... now what?

A quick 5 minute trip to Facebook this morning reminded me of the variety of emotions that people are feeling about the presidential election results from yesterday. "An historic event" happened (I love the proper "an") - you may be crying tears of joy, worried about the takeover of a liberal communist, apathetic, or somewhere in between.

Over the past two years of presidential campaigning, I've thought long and hard about what issues are important to me, about what kind of country I would like to live in. For me and many people around my age (20-somethings), this election was one that engaged us more than any other politics so far. As we processed our thoughts, a few most important values or issues floated to the top for each of us - what a great opportunity to think through them! And then we voted yesterday.

Obama won, and whether that is a dream come true or a nightmare, those values and issues shouldn't go away. Now that each of our votes are over and done with, what do we do with those values and issues?

I want to act on the things that I decided were most important to me. I cast my vote, but now it's really up to me. For example, I'm passionate about showing care for the poor, including health care and education, nutrition and family building. I contribute to those causes in small ways, but I'm challenged now to do more.

How about you? What values or issues defined your vote? Life? Peace? Education? Environment? Economic stability? Can you help at a crisis nursery, make peace at work, help in a local park, spend your money more carefully? You expected your candidate to do more - can you do more?

Obama won't fix (or break) the country, in spite of our hopes/fears. We will never fix all the problems of the world. But I will live, work, and pray hard at it.

Weakness: a window to strength

Last week was Abby's first parent-teacher conference. My one question for her teacher was how my shy daughter was adjusting to the social complexities of kindergarten. "Well," her teacher replied, "she has grown a lot over the past few months. Just today, we read a book about a shy bug, and I asked the kids - who knows what "shy" means? Abby raised her hand, and gave an excellent definition." Defining our own weaknesses is pretty easy to do.

Later, I was talking with John about Abby, and he made an interesting observation - she is a girl of deep caring emotions, and can easily have her feelings hurt. She guards herself carefully to avoid being hurt. However, she also shows remarkable kindness and tenderness to other kids, babies, and her little sister. The tender heart that makes her struggle with shyness is also one of her greatest strengths.

John is a great teacher, gives incredibly clear talks at his professional conferences, and sends easy to read emails. He is a good communicator - and he has become that way because he isn't so good at being super-animated, entertaining, or flashy when he speaks.

As for me, one weakness I always struggle with is insecurity, wondering what others might think of me. When someone shares a word of encouragement, it really lifts me for days. As a result, I try to make an effort to share encouraging words with others - my family, an old friend, the cashier at the grocery store. Lately, I've been seeing that sharing encouragment is one of my strengths.

So next time you're wondering what you are really good at, pause to think about what one of your weaknesses is. Our weakness is often a window to a strength.

Another slant on this - I'm reminded of this comment from Paul, whose vision problems humbled him and showed him that ultimate strength can come only from God.

"'My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.' Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, adn with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size - abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become." 2 Cor. 12:9