Monday, March 30, 2009

Weekend Potpourri

Monday morning and I’m actually awake! I attribute this to the enormous amount of sleep I had over the most relaxing weekend I can remember. Too bad I don’t have anything to do, but that’s hardly unusual. My boss is currently canvassing other projects for more writing I can pick up, but until the work appears on my desk, it doesn’t exist. No shirt, no shoes, no charge code? No service! At least I can trust that my boss wants the official Tech Writer 1 title for me and is trying to help me get it. He’s a great guy. Working for an engineering firm wasn’t what I’d envisioned using my English degree for, but when it comes down to it, I had no idea that an English degree could be useful. I only knew it was smarter than getting an art degree, and then what did I do? Minored in art! It’s a wonder I’m not living in a refrigerator box. I like my boss and I work for a good company in an industry that milks my patriot glands, so I have it much better than a lot of people.

It was an eventfully uneventful weekend, if that makes any sense. Friday afternoon I sat with the invalid wife of a coworker. She had a stroke in early January, and when I saw her, I was horrified. She has no business being out of the hospital—she’s not even able to sit up on her own yet! I remember that Dad wasn’t released after his stroke until he could be propped up in a wheelchair. The poor woman has bed sores because the nurse only comes twice a week to check on her. Not to mention this is seriously hurting my teammate’s career because she cannot be left alone. He traveled for work a lot and he won’t be able to anymore. We’ve hardly seen him at work since the new year, and while the company is bending over backwards to make things easier for him-letting him work from home, taking up a collection to buy medical supplies, etc-there’s a limit to how much HR can do. Some of us on the team have volunteered our time, but again, we have our own lives. My teammate is a shell of himself. He’s lost ten pounds and is looking increasingly shabby. I can’t imagine the pressure on him trying to work full time and nurse his wife full time. Neither of those things can budge, either. He’s not well off, so he must work, and of course he must care for his wife. Prayers are needed!

While I sat in the sickroom, I read my work buddy’s favorite novel, Crown Duel (Sherwood Smith). It was like getting to know her better. It didn’t suit me, exactly, but I could see why she loves it. She IS the main character-physically short, hot tempered, fiercely loyal, scrambling to educate herself, etc. Makes me wonder why we like the books we do? My favorite books are That Hideous Strength (C.S. Lewis) and All Hallows’ Eve (Charles Williams). What do they say about me?

Saturday was leisurely. Will and I slept in to about 11, then I made pancakes and coffee. During brunch, we got a call from our friends Evan and Brittany, announcing their engagement. Totally knew about it ahead of time. We had a late supper with Evan Thursday night and he was definitely not in his right mind. Poor guy, but he seems to have lived. Grats to them! Did some laundry, planted snow peas in my three empty pots and went grocery shopping. We made it home just as the first gust of rain came down. I’d been warned about the storm from my parents in Pensacola who had hail! We didn’t get anything half so exciting-just steady rain all night.

Sunday was a break from cooking. For lunch we had Pillsbury Savorings spinach and cheese puffs. Yum! Supper was a DiGiorno thin crust pizza, and somewhere in between an entire box of Ritz Bits got eaten. Not going to name names, but the bulk of the Ritz gobbling wasn’t me. (Thanks for the coupons, Mom!) I know all of that sounds delicious, but the next time I get that lazy, somebody needs to smack me. From 6:00 pm to 1:00 am, a poisonous miasma settled over the office. I could feel everything I’d eaten actively compacting in my stomach. Every once in a while, I had to convince myself I wasn’t hearing Tetris music coming from my midsection during each gastric shift. Imagine with me, if you will, the opening bars of “Korobushka” followed by GURGLE, BLURP, SLUUUUUUP! Me: Ow! *burrrrrrrp* Groan…. And that’s just detailing my contribution to the air pollution. Yes, it’s good that I’m getting out of the junk food habit, but when I indulge, does it really have to hurt that much?
After midnight, the gas had subsided to merely embarrassing levels (but still wouldn’t let me sleep) and I was able to arrange my iTunes after a long, no-music deprivation. My computer got overhauled a while ago and I hadn’t gotten around to re-downloading things I used to have on there, iTunes being the main one. Will had backed up his music files on my computer, and of course they all dumped into my iTunes. I knew he had a ton of wonderful music from OCRemix, and from being around him over time I’ve learned how magical video game music can be, but wow! I’d never associated games like Metal Gear Solid 2 with beautiful music before. Will had to endure my off-key crooning for a while as I hummed along with songs I didn’t know. I’m sure that didn’t help his digestion any, but I enjoyed it. At least he knows I can sing. In fact, I have a smoky mezzo-soprano voice perfect for all those 1940s USO songs. These days it’s more husky than buttery, but that won’t change without the training I’m not getting right now. It’ll also improve with age. It always struck me as odd that the best opera singers are in their 40s and 50s, but they’re playing characters in their teens and twenties. Cognitive dissonance, but it’s not like I’ve ever seen an opera in person and I’ve heard girdles and pancake makeup work wonders, so the incongruity is purely academic…like a lot of things I ramble on about. Anyway, I’ve come full circle back to Monday morning and the drive into work with my right thigh smelling like acetone because I punched right through my stockings and had to patch them up with nail polish on the way out the door. Everybody sing with me! “I used to ruuuuuuule the world….”

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Redeemer Women's Retreat-A

The final letter of SPA is Adoption. Pastor's wife Kathy Bailey taught the final session. She described the characteristics of a true son or daughter of God versus someone who feels himself a slave.

A Son is confident of his status, feels protected and provided for, secure, free, uninhibited. He is transparent, assured of acceptance and has a sense of peace.

A Slave is fearful, relies on his own efforts, legalistic. He is self-conscious and self-judgmental. Because he judges himself harshly, he judges everyone else just as harshly. He is perfectionistic, anxious, lonely. He feels guilty about everything. Ultimately, he is completely defeated.

The clearest evidence of adoption is whether you can extend grace to others and don't need to bind them with your own hang-ups. A slave uses others to validate himself. Slaves obey out of duty; sons serve out of love.

Oddly, people tend to feel comfortable with Jesus but be afraid of the Father. Jesus is the first born of many brothers to make room for the brothers that will come under him by adoption. (Rom 8:29) God the Father makes us able to come and gives us full status as sons.

Redeemer Women's Retreat-P

The P of SPA stands for Physician. Barb Hildreth, MD, spoke on God the Physician. What do we need healing from? Sin, disappointment, relationships, hurts, sorrow, disease, selfishness, disconnection, loneliness, addiction, fear, abuse, physical/spiritual death.

Barb spoke about her continuing struggles with anxiety and depression. Here are some key points:
The spiritual aspect of depression is a lack of acceptance of the way God has made you. Depression is never only spiritual or only physical. You cannot pray your way out of an illness if your body is sick, and no amount of drugs will cure you if you are heart-sick or soul-sick.
Self-hatred severs reliance on God and fosters resentment of the people around you.
Luke 5:17-26-sins being forgiven is a prerequisite for any kind of healing.
Sometimes God doesn't heal our earthly symptoms, but he renews our trust and that is enough for us.
What has God really promised? To reveal himself.
What does healing really look like? Renewed trust in God, increased dependency on him, and dying to self. Sometimes God brings about healing through physical death.

The story of Jacob shows that wrestling with God can leave a permanent limp. Yes, our troubles may not heal for the rest of our natural lives, but they are a reminder of having been near to God. Being close to God is inherently uncomfortable. We are pitiful creatures, and we are not able to bear the refiner's fire without drastic changes to our metal.

Ultimately, any healing that occurs is because of God's grace and at his pleasure. All will be made right when his kingdom comes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Shall We Dance?

Dum da da, dum da da. One, two, three; one, two, three. I’ve been fascinated by dance ever since Mom took me to see some Flamenco dancers in Taiwan when I was four. Of course, I called them “Flamingo” dancers and after about half an hour, asked if all they did was stamp around on the stage. It’s a wonder Mom didn’t strangle me. It also didn’t help that Dad jokingly referred to dancers as “roach stompers” after that occasion. And then there was the waltz practice scene in Peter Pan with Mary Martin, though for some reason I found that embarrassing to watch. Can’t figure that out. Fast forward to about ten years old and I saw Beauty and the Beast for the first time. The famous ballroom scene was enrapturing. It still is.

So what is it about ballroom dance, particularly the western social and standard dances, that captures (women’s) imaginations? Part of it is probably a cultural memory of a time when dancing was a social grace, when women wore rustling gowns and men had to pretend they had manners in public. Social ballroom dance is also attractive because it has no height or weight requirements; only a reasonable level of coordination and an ear for rhythm. Anybody can learn the standard waltz or foxtrot without mangling it too badly.

Ballroom dance is also incredibly sensual, but the prescribed movements and distance from one’s partner keep it innocent. The restraint of the dance builds emotional passion, but keeps it in check. In contrast, grinding up against somebody leaves nothing to the imagination, but is far more awkward and tiresome than sexy. Social dance also brings a sense of community, as it is very easy to chat while performing a simple waltz or foxtrot. Ballroom isn’t self-conscious; everyone else on the floor is doing the same movements, unlike modern dancing where each person dances alone and spends the whole time wondering if (s)he looks like an idiot.

No doubt, some of the allure is the beautiful clothes. I watched some youtube videos last night. One was of the annual ball in Vienna. All of the women were wearing white ballgowns and elbow gloves. The men were in white tie. I love watched them whirl around the floor and change partners without missing a beat. In my own dance daydreams, I’m wearing a tea-length rose dupioni gown with cap sleeves, white gloves, and a spray of opals in my hair. It saddens me that only high-society and the military have any need to dress for formal occasions anymore. And with that thought comes the treasonable idea that a good deal of beauty in society was lost when women started wearing pants regularly. One would have to pry my jeans out of my cold, dead hands, of course, but there’s no denying skirts are more graceful. So is outward dress a symptom or a cause of the loss of general mannerliness in public life?

Music is the final piece of the puzzle. Waltz music, for example, can be poignant, inspiring, even gritty (Chad Kroeger’s Hero from the Spider-Man soundtrack). The music changes the whole tone of the dance from intense to romantic, to soothing, etc. The fact that the same dance steps can be performed with such a wide variety of emotions makes social dance enduring and consistently relevant to the human experience. Shall we dance?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ohhhh yeah.....

It’s funny how some of the best little moments in life have to do with sudden changes in temperature. Think about it a minute. Anyway, here is my list of ohhhhh yeah moments.
Getting into a clean, cool bed
A hot bath on a cold night
Going from a warm house to a crisp day and vice versa
Drinking white grape juice on the rocks when it’s 90 degrees in the shade
Biting into a cold Fuji apple
Putting one’s cold feet on one’s sleeping spouse….oh wait, never mind.

Monday, March 16, 2009

If you can't beat 'em, level a pally

I’m fed up with my guild. Folks on my server haven’t seen me on my druid in quite a while. She doesn’t deserve to be so neglected, but I have a new love: my paladin. It’s a huge problem when your guild makes you hate the game. Frankly, they’re a bunch of juvenile, misogynist jerkholes. They’re not even funny, which would make some of it forgivable. They’re also the best Alliance guild on the server, and as Will has said frequently, playing Horde is Communist. So there’s really nowhere else to go. And no, I’m really not just complaining because my gear is lousy and I keep early hours, so I don’t go on raids. I would rather not raid, thank you. Raids make me incredibly nervous. I do have a gripe that it’s hard to get groups for Heroics, but I also don’t see that changing because there are cliques that do things together. I have no problem with dungeon cliques; I’d just like to be in one.

Renewed zest for the game has come from leveling my paladin (who is not in the same guild as my druid). Maybe I’m so excited about it because leveling as balance spec was 70 levels of miserable drudgery. 70-80 wasn’t bad. Remembering 1-70 still makes me want to kick small animals. My pally is probably wearing the plate equivalent of a paper bag, but hey, it’s plate! Aggro three mobs 4 levels higher than you? No problem, you’ll live to loot ‘em! Just beat those Gibbering Ghouls to death with a nice spiky [Mace of Bludgeoning]. Aggro more than you can handle? Bubble, grab the quest item and skip away shouting Nyah nyahs over your shoulder. Nyah nyahs are also so much more satisfying when delivered by a shapely lavender squid alien with neck tentacles, hooves, and a tail. Hooray for the Draenei!

So remember, when the game sucks, level a pally!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bury me in a shoebox

It has come to my attention that I'm sick. Several things clued me in: the fact that my skull has felt too tight for my brain for the last three days, the fact that I can't breathe, the fact that every time I manage a weak cough, I'm afraid I'm going to puke up my toenails, and the fact that when I saw Will off this morning, steam radiated off my exposed skin. So here I am at the computer with a bag of frozen rice balanced on my head wondering what I'm going to do with myself all day because WoW is down for Tuesday server maintenance. This doesn't look good.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Redeemer Women's Retreat-S

A few weeks ago, I attended my second women's retreat at Redeemer. It was held at a big, open, comfortable house smack on Folly Beach-the sort of house that says "yeah, we're loaded, but we're regular people." I admit, I had to make a concerted effort to pay attention and not just stare outside at the beautiful beach-and the few idiot tourists in bikinis. The wind was sharp and I was wishing I had a windbreaker instead of a soft cloth jacket. Perfect setting for our SPA theme.

S stands for Suffering. Christine Alele from Uganda taught in a style that reminded me of Mom's. She compared Job's, Jehoshaphat's and the late Bill Bright's (Campus Crusade) responses to adversity.


So what does suffering look like? Unfortunately, there is no way to quantify it. You know it when you feel it. Circumstances vary so wildly that it is unjust to say that one person has it much worse than another.

Does God trust us with suffering? God allows it-in fact, God set Job up. Suffering should be received like any other blessing.

What does Satan want from our suffering? To make us question God, to destroy God's character, and to convince us that God buys our love with toys and when the good times end, God doesn't love us anymore.

What sustains Job through the ordeal? The hope that God is good and the knowledge that God is sovereign. "I know that my Redeemer lives..." "Christ learned through suffering to be the obedient son..." "Through suffering we possess our faith..."

Can we prepare for suffering? We have to. Once we're in the middle of the storm, it's too late to decide what we believe about God. Suffering reveals the correctness (or not) of our theology.


When something big threatens, human instinct is to form an alliance with somebody, anybody, whether or not they or it are good for us. Instead, Jehoshaphat declares a national day of prayer and fasting. When we see trouble coming, it is important to set aside time to pray. In this circumstance, God promised to fight for Israel. Immediately, the nation praised God, even BEFORE the deliverance occurred.

Bill Bright:

Suffering calls us to teach others how to live and die. Dr. Bill Bright and his wife Vonette founded Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) in 1951. During the next 50 years, CCC grew to a full time staff of more than 26, 000 in 190 countries. In 1993, Dr. Bright was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As a result of a malfunction with the radiation treatment, five years later, he developed an incurable pulmonary fibrosis. In his last book, "The Journey Home, Finishing with Joy," Dr. Bright chronicles his journey from the doctor's office where he was told "this is worse than heart attack or cancer. You will slowly die by choking." His response was, "Thank you Lord Jesus. You called me for the past 50 years to teach your people how to live, now you are calling me to teach them how to die."
It is an indictment of modern Christians that we do not know the names and stories of contemporary saints the way we know our celebrities. We can learn from those who have trained their relationship with the Lord so that when suffering inevitably hits, we respond faithfully. We all are given separate gifts from the Giver, but God remains good and supreme.

More to come on the P and A of SPA as I get around to it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Writer's Block

Amy Jane over at Untangling Tales made a post called “Don’t trust yourself.”
She’s writing about humility and I get what she’s saying. Everyone likes to work with humble people. “Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, etc.” Or, like Mom used to say to squelch bragging, “Let others praise you.” But I’m really wondering what you do when you know you’ve done something good? The people around you are not always equipped to recognize the quality of what you’ve done. When that happens, how do you keep from losing confidence in your work while still recognizing that maybe the people you were hoping would give you your strokes don’t have the education or the artistic eye or whatever to give you honest praise and feedback?

Anybody who writes has had somebody close to them misunderstand or laugh at something they felt deeply about. In my case, it was an old boyfriend who read a novelette I was working on without my permission and then verbally tore it to shreds. I knew it wasn’t any good, but the characters were dear to me and I had put a lot of time into it. Another time, a person whose approval I wanted read an article I wrote for Among Worlds magazine about the difficulties of going out on one’s own after living a missionary life where someone always meets your plane. He thought it was funny and I was hurt. Those are the only two circumstances I can think of where somebody has laughed at my writing, but they’re definitive. The mind and heart tend to gloss over a hundred instances of approval and focus on the times criticism wasn’t deserved.

Yet, the writer needs an audience. What’s the use of “writing for yourself?” You’ve already thought of it; it’s all in your head, so what’s the use of putting it down? Unless you’re writing to communicate something to somebody else, there’s no purpose. Still, it’s hard not to let the fear of misunderstanding and harsh criticism stifle the willingness to share. (I do differentiate between positive and negative criticism. But in this case, I’m using criticism in the negative sense and the word “feedback” positively.)

Obviously, it is essential to select your (positive) critics carefully. Just as you wouldn’t let a child play with your great-grandmother’s crystal, I would say you shouldn’t let people whom you know don’t have the background or education to appreciate your work even see it. They’re simply not going to understand it, and if you persist in trying to make them like it, you’re going to end up with worthless feedback. Their suggestions may even damage the piece and will probably leave you feeling like the wounded artiste oppressed by Philistines. That said, you may want to collect several writing (helpers?) who are for you and can bring different viewpoints to the table. One person will probably not be able to critique your Epithalamion (Marriage hymn. I’m most familiar with the epithalamia of John Donne.) written in the byzantine style of Charles Williams. (Yes, I have written one of those. No, I’m not posting it. Nobody would understand it.)You’re either going to want a graduate student or college professor, or a self-educated Lit nut who is very familiar with Williams and Donne to critique that. But that first friend, perhaps someone with a lot of small children, will be perfect to review your children’s stories and illustrations.

Problem one: where do you find these friends to help you knead your work? Problem two: How do you punch down your attitude to be able to take it well when someone dislikes your work? Problem three: How do you differentiate between somebody just not connecting with your writing and when the writing is genuinely bad? Problem 4: How do you maintain the nerve to keep putting your work in front of people?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

She doesn't want much, just the world with a fence around it

I’m having one of those days where I’m afraid my head has been swapped with a less intelligent body part. I’m not quite bumping into things, but it sure was hard to leave the flannel sheets this morning. I’ve been creaking around like an Ent since then and I haven’t been useful at all. Did I mention I’m not a morning person? I made it to work late (for me, that is. My company doesn’t really care when you show up as long as you log your time.), since my hair wouldn’t cooperate and I had to hit level 300 in Fishdom before I left. Once I got here, I wandered to the break room to fill up my giant yellow cup and ran into my lead engineer. He was in a good mood. Maybe it was because he hadn’t had coffee yet, and therefore was too fuzzy to find anything to gripe about. Anyway, we started talking about how nice it would be to be rich and have a housekeeper to serve breakfast every morning. That started my mouth watering thinking about my ideal breakfast. It’s not too fancy-I’ve never gone for steak and eggs (Scratch that, I’ve never HAD steak and eggs)- but it would be labor consuming and regrettably, I’ve never eaten any of these things at the same time. Let’s see: Chai or coffee, cantaloupe, Cream of Wheat with maple syrup to stir in, and a big pile of scrambled eggs and bacon. I can see it now, laid out on fine china (Nana’s Lenox, naturally) on a sunny deck. Nobody pinch me. I really should do this once the weather is reliably in the 70-80 range this spring. I have the china and the wooden deck; just need the lazy Saturday to put the rest of it together. The problem is, I want to eat like this EVERY morning. And once I’d had breakfast, I’d start dreaming about lunch. A BLT (extra bacon) on a French baguette with mint sun tea and cheddar Sun Chips. Now we’re drooling! Late afternoon snack of gourmet Swiss cheese on wheat crackers with sugared frozen grapes. Dinner would be at 7 and would be…let’s see…rosemary or sage pork roast with mixed vegetables sautéed in a light balsamic vinaigrette and small helping of mushroom alfredo.
Having described the food, now I’ll describe the ideal day. Since this is a dream, let’s say I wake up at 8. I do some stretches, take a long shower, then make myself that breakfast and eat it slowly. After I wash Nana’s Lenox and stop feeling guilty about using it on a random Tuesday, I ride my vintage Schwinn (yellow, with a basket and bell) over to the grocery store and buy everything on the day’s menu. I prepare the pork and put it in the oven and freeze the grapes for later. Then I put on breezily quaint gardening clothes-probably a sleeveless smock or babydoll and capris, and a wide straw hat with long ribbons- and head out to terrorize the dandelions. No shoes, of course. I don’t dream about fire ants. I don’t get sunburned in my dreams either. My yard is a fantasy of Japanese cherry, ornamental pear and dogwood trees, hydrangea and azalea. There is an herb garden and a koi pond. A red Chinese moon door separates the kitchen garden from a Chinese garden that’s all cool bamboo and black and white pebbles. My BLT lunch gets eaten outside under a big tree. Back inside after lunch, I putter in my sunny workroom overlooking the garden. I sew or write while the light is good (And nap. There’s no accident there’s a couch in there.) Once the afternoon fades, I wander back outside to the big tree and swing a little while as the fireflies come out. The pork is nearly done and I can smell it from yards away through the open windows. Evenings are a little sharp even though the days are warm, so I kindle a fire with the twigs I picked up from the yard. Dinner time, then curling up on the couch to watch TV or read. Dessert is a cup of hot chocolate and a plate of shortbread cookies. Bed around midnight.
Of course, to make this romantic scenario remotely possible, I’d have to be wealthy and probably retired. But long, slow days filled with good food, moderate exercise, and plenty of creativity really appeal to me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Most Latest Vegetable?

*Disclaimer: I can be very abrasive, so please bear with me as the Lord softens me. I’m growing up (painfully slowly for those who have to put up with me, but the alternative is worse) and learning what’s important and what is sacred and what is fair game. Furthermore, if I do keep up this blog and you find yourself continually offended, please consider that this blog may not be for you. One can know a lot of people and don’t have to be chummy with all of them. My purpose in posting is to entertain and dialogue with a few close friends who are already used to me.

So what’s with the Engrish title? “Most Latest Vegetable” is a tribute to Taiwanese buses, Taiwanese orthodontics, and my soft-touch Daddy. I had braces from 5th grade until … well, it was a long time and I had to have them twice. My international Christian School (Bethany Christian School) was downtown, and so was my orthodontist. Mom would meet me after school and we’d ride the bus across downtown together. After I had my teeth prodded and clucked over, we’d ride to Tien Mu, the halfway point between downtown and Christ College, where we lived and my parents taught. Dad would be waiting at the stop in front of Fang’s Restaurant. Fang’s had giant plate-glass windows in front that looked into the kitchen on the left side. I’d press my nose against the glass and watch the cooks rolling dough, stuffing dumplings, stir-frying veggies. Then we’d go inside and I’d gum down plates of jiao tze and bao tze (steamed pork dumplings and veggie buns) and go home with spinach stuck in my freshly-adjusted wires. Fang’s had a menu that was trying to be bilingual. It mostly succeeded, but we always had a gentle chuckle over the “Most Latest Vegetable” entry. It meant “Vegetable of the Day” or “Seasonal Vegetable,” but the way it was phrased, in such earnest Engrish, made it charming.

It probably doesn’t follow, but “Most Latest Vegetable” has seemed to take on the larger context of the English “What you see is what you get.” Maybe it’s just because I’ve used it as a Gchat status for so long. “Most Latest” = up to date and random. Hot off the presses and probably strange. As for “Vegetable,” nobody needs to be told that I spend a lot of time wandering around in my own mind. Me: now with your recommended daily intake of Vitamin C.