Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Free your music

There are hours of music--or if you're like me, something like five days' worth of songs--that are sitting in your living room, imprisoned within the confines of your CDs.

The one amazing Enya song on your Fellowship of the Rings soundtrack (yes, I know, you're not nerdy enough to own it, but I am) is not free to frolic with all the other Enya songs you bought on iTunes. Unless you've ripped all your music and reorganized it in iTunes, that is.

Smart playlists are one glorious breath of the air of freedom--but there's more. You don't sit at your computer all day, and let's face it: your computer speakers suck.

Last night, thanks to the fantastic consumer choice made by Mr. Incredible, I enjoyed music as it's meant to be enjoyed--in freedom.

I know this sounds like a commercial--and I guess it is--but I can't help it. I'm a Squeezebox evangelist, and proud of it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Post-vacation blues

It was, as the British would say, "a lovely week-end."

We made a pilgrimage to the hall of football heroes, and the city of my birth--a city with somewhat of an identity crisis--but somehow, that makes me like it more.

Photos will be up soon--we took more than 150 of them in only 3.5 days--but for now, I need to focus on my work and get the next issue of Seek planned, which should be challenging considering that I feel like crying about everything right now. . . .

Hormones. Ugh. Yeah. What are they good for? Absolutely nothin'.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Like a child

Okay, new goal: blog in 10 minutes or less. In my brief time keeping this blog, I've already gotten into the habit of taking too much time and care with my writing--which is sorta' what I wanted to overcome in the first place! So here I go . . . it's currently 8:06, and I've only got 9 minutes left!

Work has been brutal lately. For the first time in my life, I think I'm having a hard time growing up. I was always labeled "8 going on 30," and "so mature for your age." How I loved to be told that! I never thought of myself as a child; I was a capable adult, tragically trapped in a jr. higher's body.

But now, overwhelmed by the demands of my job as an editor and my many roles as a wife, hyper puppy owner, friend, daughter, housekeeper, and volunteer . . . I feel more childlike than ever. Because it's pretty obvious that I can't get everything done--much as I try, I cannot be Superwoman--I feel like a child in need of help.

And as frustrating as that is, at least I know there's someone who can and will fix it and make it better . . . in His time, at least. So I'm doing my best and counting on that.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Relevant tourism

Just in case you wanted solid (but belated) proof that I did, in fact, visit Relevant's headquarters . . . here you go.

It was a wacky, modern office -- the kind that is often called "collaborative" because it sounds better than "we didn't like the look of cubicles, didn't have the money for them either, and so we just put everybody in the same big room." Anyway, here I am (in the light pink sweater) lounging with my EPA friends, Allison, Jenny, and Martha.

Yes, those are Butterfingers on the coffee table. Enough for two dozen people. Could these be the source of all the mad creativity at Relevant? Mmmmmmm, Butterfingers.

And of course, there's the post-postmodern art on the wall. The scariest thing I've seen in ages -- those golden arches can haunt you in your sleep.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Flaming cheese

The thick, garlic-infused scent of lamb . . . fast, chaotic Eastern music . . . and ten different desserts made of nuts and honey . . . how could you not want to be Greek?

In comparison to such rich culture and food, my boring British Isles heritage is nothing but "dry toast" (to quote My Big Fat Greek Wedding, of course).

And partly because I have no time to sit and write today, and also due to my strongly held belief that everyone could use a little piece of Greece, I'm shamelessly promoting Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral's festival, coming up this weekend in the Harrisburg area.

You don't need to mow the lawn this weekend. You don't need to clean. What you need is a gyro dripping with warm, yogurty tzatziki sauce and some flaming cheese.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Figuratively speaking

Metaphors and similes cover our writing like chicken pox on a small child. Check out this amazing figurative language found in high school essays. Every year, English teachers from across the country submit them, and these excerpts are published each year to the amusement of teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners:
  1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
  5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.
  8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.
  9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
  10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
  11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
  12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
  13. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
  14. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.
  15. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  16. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.
  17. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
  18. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
  19. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
  20. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
  21. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
  22. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
  23. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
  24. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
From an e-mail forward (I'll try not to post stuff like this too often, but in this case I couldn't help it).

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The end of an era

I said goodbye to childhood friends today. After something like 17 years, a family that I grew up with is moving to North Carolina. They were my second family growing up; when my brother spent weeks at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., they took me in. And when I think back on 12 years of homeschooling, their home is always the setting that comes to mind. Writers' groups, music recitals, science experiments . . . they were all there, in that mid-nineteenth century home filled with books, eclectic antique furniture, and friends.

It was there that we staged impromptu plays, in which the characters were created and determined largely by what costume the actors selected. We stayed up late during sleepovers, talking about our favorite books and solving the world's problems. Saying goodbye to friends is difficult. I know I'll see them again . . . someday. But for me, it was even harder to say goodbye to that place, walking through the hilly yard, past the tree swing, the cherry trees, and the badminton net. The neatly stacked boxes lining each naked wall signaled, for me, the end of an era. I'm not a homeschooler anymore, and I'm certainly not a child. It's strange that this should affect me this way; I'm not usually one to get sentimental about every little thing. But this house was, for me, a place where I could always come back. And although it's been years since I last slept over, studied history, and snacked on tea and snickerdoodles within its walls, I can't help feeling sad that those doors are no longer open to me.

But (as I am so good at doing) I will move on. That house will be elevated to the rose-colored realm of happy memories, and I will enter a new phase, complete with new memory-making potential.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Home sweet Asheville


If you're not used to it yet, get ready: I'm addicted to the mountain city of Asheville, N.C.

I don't have much time to write this morning--I slept in 'cause I seem to have come down with a cold--but I wanted to share some of these photos from our trip to the Biltmore last year.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Name tag-ology

I want to thank all one of my readers for their sincere concern about the status of my name tag. It is a hardship I must endure. But I have a dream. A dream that someday, I will chuck my name tag in the trash and proclaim, "free at last, free at least, thank God almighty, I'm free at last!"

It is a very heavy-duty name tag, made of very thick plastic, with my full name, followed by Seek. But this is the good part: there's a rainbow-colored ribbon stuck to the bottom of my name tag (which is really big enough as it is) that says "first-time attendee"--a wonderful excuse to be confused, less-than-brilliant, and even flippant. Next year, though, I guess I better have my act together.

This is the most versatile name tag I've ever worn. Not only does it have a metal clip rivaling the claws of a killer scorpion, there is also an industrial strength safety pin attached to the clip. And finally . . . there are meal tickets (all fluorescent, all the time) concealed behind the card bearing my name.

But here's the upside: with a name like mine, it's easy for people to begin conversations with me, and we immediately have something to talk about. So thanks again . . . I think I'll make it through.

Pennsylvania mornings


A perfect picture of what I'm missing--the cool, dewy mornings of Pennsylvania spring.

Since Mr. Incredible, a blogosphere inhabitant, seems to be content with lurking, I've decided to promote his excellent photography for him. Enjoy.

Monday, May 08, 2006

(W)rite of passage

Greetings from Florida. As I’m sitting here, alone in my rather posh hotel room, I’m reminded of my first sleepover (which, I think, in typical 8-year-old style, I called a “spend-the-night”). It was an exhilarating experiment in independence; a full assertion of personhood. But it also forced me to think about choices I make regarding simple things like bedtime and food and more significant activities like which conversations and activities to participate in.

If my first sleepover was a sort of rite of passage as an adolescent, attending my first professional conference is a coming-of-age experience for me as an editor. Here, without my husband, home, family, or dog, I am not first and foremost a wife (at least, in the sense that I don’t spend most of my time and energy thinking about how I can make my husband’s life easier, etc.). Rather, I am an editor. I certainly don’t wish to become a prominent career woman, but I find it immensely helpful to be here, apart from my regular work environment, thinking critically about the way I do things as an editor.

The workshops have been great so far. I realized this morning, listening to successful, forward-thinking editors from other magazines, that my dissatisfaction with my role and job over the past weeks is really stemming from a need for a mentor. I’m only two years out of college, and I don’t know what I’m doing—and I’m pretty honest with myself about that! So I could really use some guidance from someone who’s been there before—whether that’s in the form of a book or a boss—to help me find my footing.

If I take that realization and dwell on the absolute dearth of potential mentors in my life, I’m likely to be disappointed and depressed. But I actually find this liberating; now I’m free to search for editorial guidance and inspiration (which actually sounds like fun)!

I also had the marvelous opportunity to see and hear Andrew Peterson in concert today! For some reason (I can't figure this out) I haven't really been a devoted fan of his. But geez, if you know me at all, you know that I'm a total and complete sucker for titles like "The Far Country," and I'd love to sit and talk with anyone for an hour or so about whether we're in the far country, or whether that's where God is. And so, I suspect, would Andrew Peterson. If you're interested, check out his songs, "Loose Change," "The Havens Grey," and "The Queen of Iowa."

I also went to great seminar about communicating in the media of web 2.0, which seems like it could take forever to penetrate the BICmosphere, but we'll see . . . for the first time in a long time I actually have a couple of ideas.

I miss Mr. Incredible and Lewis, and am a little sick of wearing a name tag . . . but overall, this is a great experience for me. Now if I can just keep from getting eaten by alligators. Seriously, downstairs next to the pool there's a murky lake (although I think they call it a lagoon) that has signs all over the pier warning people not to feed the alligators. I'm going to make another visit down there later today to see if I can catch a glimpse of one of these magnificent reptiles . . . if you don't hear from me later this week, you'll know what happened.

Concourse B

Is there a lonelier place in the world than an airport? Considering that I typically view writing as the absolute last resort when there’s no one to talk to, I must be desperately lonely, sitting here at The Great American Bagel & Bakery, an amazingly overpriced carbohydrate café in Concourse B of the Charlotte International Airport.

There’s something tragic about thousands of people, weighed down by a week’s worth of personal belongings, all trapped together in a place where they don’t want to be.

Except for the frizzy-haired children, whirling dervishly on the vast expanse of gray carpet, no one really looks happy. But shouldn’t they be? I just watched a hundred or so people board a plane for Cancún, and judging by the gaudy floral prints, huaraches, and sundresses, they were headed to Mexico not for business, but for pleasure.

I wanted to shake the young women, obviously honeymooners and romantic getaway-ers, who turned away from their husbands to read Us, Allure, and People. And, by the way, they even looked bored with their magazines. Shouldn’t they be filled with anticipation, whispering to themselves about their upcoming scuba adventures? Or poring together over travel guides? Or marveling at the miracle of flight as planes take off every few minutes?

But then I realized that they viewed this time as a waiting period, not to be enjoyed, but to be endured. And, well, let’s just say that I’ve been there before, so I’m probably not in a position to be shaking anyone for their foolishness. But it sure was a good reminder not to cut myself off from joy and anticipation and fun during those waiting periods. Because after all, waiting can be just as much a part of the journey as the flight itself—it just depends what you do with it. I sure don’t want to be reading People. I’d rather be pressed up against the huge windows, watching the planes take off.

Note: this was written yesterday; just didn't get a chance to post 'til today.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Dancing doggy ears

This is Lewis, the canine with ADD who sleeps under my bed at night.

And although photography can never truly capture the energy or charm of its subject, I think the glistening snot on his nostrils, the blurring around his enormous floppy ears, and his "oh, please, let me lick the camera lens" expression almost do him justice. Almost.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sit back and watch the show

An article I wrote about a year and a half ago, which appeared in Relevant magazine online. Read it below or on Relevant's site.

I pop a very familiar videotape into the VCR and collapse on the couch. About once a year, while curled up under a pile of blankets in an attempt to recover from a bad cold or the latest bug that’s going around, I watch The Princess Bride. When the gray lines of overuse began to creep up the screen, I considered upgrading to a DVD copy, complete with special features, but at this point, it would feel like throwing out my favorite teddy bear when his stuffing began to leak out. No matter how many times I watch it, the corny lines, “No more rhymes now; I mean it … Anybody want a peanut?” still make me chuckle. But these days, I don’t always watch the whole film all at once. When I’m aching for a healthy dose of laughter, I’ve been known to simply fast-forward to my favorite scenes (such as the duel atop the Cliffs of Insanity). It’s not that I don’t like the rest of the movie; I’m just anxious to watch the next high point of this familiar comedy.

Movies aren’t the only things through which I like to fast-forward. In my life, the grass has always been greener in the future. I spent much of my childhood practicing to be a teenager and most of my teen years longing for my driver’s license. But, of course, when my 16th birthday rolled around, the keys to the car were only a fleeting source of happiness, as my gaze was now fixed on another milestone in the future. College, I thought, was where I could truly come alive as an intellectual and as an adult (naïve, I know). Milestone after milestone was reached and forgotten, as I grasped further into the future, in search of a fully satisfied life. My longing for the future became much like a cycle of consumerism—no accomplishment was ever enough to satisfy me; I always wanted something more. When I graduate, everything will be fine, I thought. Life’s hard now, but things will be easier when I get married.

Marriage and college graduation are two of my proudest accomplishments in the past few years. But as I look back, I realize that my gaze has been so fixed on each goal that much of the months and days in between have become a blur. I was living life in fast-forward, just getting by until I reached the next summit. By focusing so intently on the future, I was not allowing God to use me in the here and now. I viewed the present as nothing but a path to the future that must be endured, thereby cutting myself off from any joy that could be found along the way.

There’s little enjoyment to be found in fast-forwarding through a movie you’ve never seen before. You don’t know where the best scenes are, so you can’t tell when to press “play.” And even if you were to come across one of the film’s best scenes, it wouldn’t make much sense if you hadn’t invested time getting to know each character and situation. Taken out of its context, the most moving or knee-slapping cinematic moment can be absolutely meaningless.

Graduating from college is not inherently significant. It is only in light of the long hours I spent reading one page of Derrida’s philosophy and the tears that were shed over a Medieval-Renaissance research paper that my diploma means anything to me. My wedding day was only a joyous occasion because of the man I had grown to love—and such a deep, committed relationship does not spring up overnight. It takes time, effort and even some pain, but it is only through these things that we experience pure joy.

After decades of insulating himself from the pain of loss, C.S. Lewis’ character in the 1993 film Shadowlands comes to a similar conclusion. When he finally opens himself up to give and receive love, he does it with the knowledge that he is eventually going to lose his wife to cancer. Whether their time together on earth will last weeks or years, he doesn’t know—but he realizes that he will ultimately experience the deepest sorrow he has ever known. After his wife, Joy, dies, he finally allows himself to live with his grief, acknowledging that “the pain now is part of the happiness then [in Heaven].”

This is not to say, however, that we should wallow in our misery, never allowing ourselves to long for the future. We are a homesick people, waiting to be taken to our Father’s house! And though we grow weary of all the pain and toil we experience here on earth, we cannot fast-forward through the difficult moments of life. We ought to challenge ourselves to be like Paul, who said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12).

How I would love to say that I, too, have learned the “secret” Paul speaks of! But I think that one component of this secret is found in his next sentence: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Because Paul has a profound trust that God will strengthen him to withstand any kind of trial, he can face each day with joy.

Trusting God isn’t one my strong points (just ask my husband; he is constantly reminding me to do so!), but He is the only one who is completely worthy of my trust. I may not always enjoy each step along the journey, but with God in control, I can be confident that He is using each experience to make me holy. So, I’ll shakily hand Him the remote, sit back and watch the show.

Steel City . . . here I come

After months and months of having the "we really need to get away sometime soon" discussion, Mr. Incredible* and I have finally settled on a date and location: Pittsburgh, Pa. Not only is it the city of my birth (travelers who wish to visit my birthplace museum should go to the city's website for more details), Pittsburgh is, in my mind, the quintessential blue-collar city. If you've ever watched a documentary on Pittsburgh, you might notice that the locals have a very curious take on the English language, and as far as I can tell, it's the only city north of the Mason-Dixon line populated by hicks. And before you assume that I mean that in a derogatory way, check out some of my music preferences in my profile. Though "ain't" may not be in my vocabulary, I am a fairly well-adjusted product of small-town America.

So why would I even want to go the city at all? Well, despite its relaxed pace, rural life offers very few cultural events or interesting restaurants. We don't get out much here in the country. But what I LOVE about the city is that you're not dependent on cars to get you where you need to go. Between the feet you were born with and public transportation, the entire business of moving from one place to another is more relaxed (for uptight drivers like me, at least).

But even more important, as a country dweller, the city can be an in-your-face reminder that you're part of the human race -- a reminder that we rural folk need from time to time. Don't get me wrong; wide open spaces are what I'm all about most of the time (and last time I checked, crime rates seem to be most closely linked to increased numbers of people per square mile -- we all need our space)! But living in the country and small towns, we don't even need to talk to our neighbors most of the time. When we go places, we don't brush up against other people crowded sidewalks; the closest we come to human contact is tailgating on the way to work.

I don't mean to say that in the city, no one gets lonely; I know as well as anyone that groups of people can be the loneliest places on earth. But I can't help being attracted -- if only for a weekend -- to the city.

I could go on about how I love the gritty feel of Pittsburgh, and how the rivers seem to keep the city alive, but I'm really supposed to be working. On an unashamedly advertising-edly note, we booked our urban 3-star hotel using, and let's just say we realized maybe getting away wasn't so unaffordable after all. So thanks, Captain Kirk, for letting me know in your washed-up-manic-actor way, that priceline is the way to [boldly] go.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Making up for lost time

I sit here at the keyboard, fiddling with the font, trying to decide what "theme" I'm going to write on, afraid that my blog will be a poor reflection of my intelligence and sensitivity . . . and yet if I don't keep typing, no one will ever know what's beneath the surface anyway. I am a weaver, carver, and sculptor of words; yet I am afraid of their power. So to keep from embarrassing myself in front of my audience of two, I abstain. But as with many powerful forces, it is perhaps the absence of words that says more about me than any jam-packed blog ever could.

Nevertheless, my fingers are itching with guilt -- that I've kept quiet so long, that I very rarely do what I set out to do, and that I'm -gasp- human -- and I tap on the keyboard, wondering what I can do to make it all right.

Where did I ever get this compulsion to make up for all the time I've lost and the entries I could have posted? I could never make it up anyway, and what would be the point? Just like with all my other shortcomings in life, it's easy for me to see where I messed up, what I left incomplete, what I should have done. If only I could just go back and do it over, or pay for what I've broken. I'll do penance -- whatever it takes -- if I can just feel like I've made it right again. The trouble is, there is a redeemer, and it's not me. As God so graciously reminds me,

"The multitude of your sacrifices—

what are they to me?" says the LORD.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats" (Isaiah 1.11).

God really gets on my nerves. He actually has the audacity to forgive us and not require hardly anything of us -- in fact, He makes it very clear that there's not much of anything we can do to make up for our fallenness. So I'm just supposed to sit here? And I don't have to make up for it? Ugh.

But what really strikes me about this passage is the last part. Maybe I'm reading into it, but I think maybe God hurts when we decide our own sentences (or at least, He takes no pleasure in it). And that, more than anything, motivates me to leave the judging to Him.