God and His Canvas

One evening when I was about seven years old, Grandma O. (my mom’s mom) and I were admiring the sunset from her kitchen window while she washed dishes at the sink and I ate a snack at the table.  The black outline of the trees in her back yard and the neighbors’ yards behind hers sharply contrasted against the pale orange sky.

“That’s a pretty sunset,” I said, after taking my first glance of it.

“It is,” Grandma said in agreement.  “God paints the sky every evening.”

By some people’s standards of beauty in nature, it did not have the wow factor that many other sunsets have had, but to seven-year-old me, it was pure beauty.   I didn’t know it at the time, but that evening was the first of many when the sunset would grab my attention and take my breath away.  I never forgot Grandma’s words about God painting the sky, and the more I’ve pondered those words over the years, the more I appreciate the beauty of sunsets and see how creative of an artist God is.  (The same could be said about sunrises too, but I’m not always awake early enough to see them.)  As I grew up, I wouldn’t hesitate to stop and stare at sunsets that I thought were particularly striking and attempt to take in every detail of their beauty.  Sometimes I would write about them in my journal, but my attempts to capture and record what I saw–striking hot pinks, calming pale blues, soothing lavenders, shimmering clouds, beaming rays of light, the fiery red-orange sun, and (finally) inky black with twinkling stars–were always futile.

When I was 13 years old, my mom gave me my first camera.  Neither of us knew that I would use it primarily to photograph sunsets, but it’s not surprising to know that now.  Capturing a vision on film is much more feasible than trying to describe it in words on paper.  I tried capturing as many sunsets (and sunrises) on film as I could over the years from as many places as possible, and was deeply disappointed on those few occasions when the film didn’t develop a picture at all.  I knew that I had only one evening to attempt to take a picture of that particular sunset; I would never see it again.

The more I think about what Grandma said about God “painting the sky,” the more I see how creative He is.  The sky He made is the ultimate canvas, and He brushes strokes of various colors across it however He likes.  He lets us in on this aspect of His creativity twice a day:  sunrise and sunset.  No two are alike.  Each masterpiece in the sky is unique to the time and day that He gives us the opportunity to see it.  They are in town for one morning or one evening only.  Not only that, but from start to finish, they constantly change.  The changes are barely noticeable from minute to minute, but from one half hour or so to the next, it’s obvious that the Artist is still at work on His piece, and that it’s all part of His design.  All of those subtle changes take place so that the art can fade away into darkness to make way for the next painting.

Grandma left us for heaven one year ago tonight.  As I watched part of tonight’s sunset from the deck door a few hours ago, I thought of the conversation that she and I had 22 years ago.  Tonight’s sunset of pale blue and pale orange didn’t take my breath away like others have in the past, and much of my view was blocked by the the numerous trees in the woods that haven’t lost their leaves yet.  Like the sunset I saw from Grandma’s kitchen window when I was seven years old, this one wasn’t particularly bold or striking, but it was still beautiful in its own way.  It was still a piece of art created by the Master Artist, and this piece was on display for one night only.  I’m thankful to have seen it.

The Scenic Route

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” –Arthur Ashe

“A straight line may the shortest distance between two points, but it by no means the most interesting.” –The Third Doctor in “The Time Warrior” (Doctor Who; Season 11, Episode 1)

I have a horrible sense of direction.

It doesn’t take much for me to get lost and lose any sense of where I am, whether I am performing a combination in a dance class facing the opposite wall where I originally learned it, waking up after a long nap with no concept of what direction I’m facing when I am lying in bed, or I am driving from any Point A to any Point B.

My sense of direction, or lack thereof, has been a lifelong quirk of mine.  After many years of fighting it, I finally decided to try to embrace it.  I just had to accept the fact that dancing while facing a direction I’m not used to will confuse me to no end and squelch what little grace I have, my brain will always feel a little disoriented for a minute or two when I wake up after a deep sleep, and I will always make at least one wrong turn while driving to a place I’m not familiar with.

Embracing and accepting these aspects of my personality has been a battle.  The lost feeling I sometimes have when I wake up isn’t a big deal.  (That happens to many people.)  However, I wish I could pick up a dance combination facing any direction on the first try, and I would love to drive somewhere without taking wrong turns or getting lost.  Even if I have driven to Point B multiple times before, “side trips” and “detours” are part of the travel package, whether I like them or not.  To save my sanity, I jokingly tell people that I like to take “the scenic route.”

Of my notorious quirks, my lack of navigation skills is what drives (no pun intended) me the craziest.  I have lost count of the many times I have taken a wrong turn, continued straight on instead of turning, unknowingly cruised right by my destination, doubled back to try to reach said destination (only to sometimes drive by it again), missed a highway exit, or stayed on the highway too long.  (I once drove I-270 in its entirety while traveling from Missouri to Illinois.  For those of you who don’t know, 270 is a somewhat loop-like highway that is 50.59 miles long and runs throughout the St. Louis area.)  It stresses me to the max, especially if I have to arrive somewhere by a certain time.  Doubling the estimated travel times that Google and Mapquest provide has become a necessity over the years.

Fortunately for me, my constant curiosity about the world around me eventually outweighs the frustration I feel after my 15th wrong turn.  Once I stop pounding the steering wheel and calm down, I can take in my surroundings during the drive.  I have passed through many small towns that, to outsiders, mean nothing, but mean everything to people who call them home.  Hole-in-the-wall diners, mom-and-pop stores, towering mansions, city parks, old buildings, historic landmarks, trademark industrial sites, local geography, quaint homes, and school banners unique to the town are just a few of the interesting findings I come upon during my many “side trips.”  Sometimes, I decide that I’d like to go back and eat at that diner or visit that historic landmark.  I’ve also seen trashed yards, crumbling houses, barred windows, shattered glass, rusting parked cars, littered streets, graffiti-ed buildings, shuttered businesses, and wandering people who maybe didn’t have a place to call home.  (I have a knack for getting lost in dangerous neighborhoods; my mom once said I was lucky to get out of a few of those places alive.)  Call me crazy, but if it was safer, I would go back and visit those neighborhoods, too; especially since my mom grew up in one of them and I’ve always been curious about it.   Both of these settings and every setting in between have shown me something that I never saw or knew about before.  I was exposed firsthand to the various ways that people live.

Even if I don’t get lost enough to drive through a different town or neighborhood that was not on my itinerary, many times I have learned how some roads connect to each other or lead me to a place that I needed to find later on.  I have also been able to find my way back to familiar territory by taking a road that was part of one of my previous “detours.”  In retrospect, getting lost and making mistakes along the way often helped me find my way in a later situation.  And on those rare occasions when I do make it to a place on time without making any wrong turns, the feeling of victory sends me on an express trip to Cloud Nine.

People have told me over the years that I should use a GPS when I drive.  I can certainly understand why they think one would help me, but I always refused for three reasons.  One, a GPS doesn’t know which neighborhoods are safe and which ones are dangerous.  I could still just as easily drive somewhere that should be avoided at all costs.  Two, I don’t want to be too dependent on technology.  Many people nowadays are so plugged into their phones, tablets, and other high-tech gadgets that they wouldn’t know how to function if, for some reason, they couldn’t use them.  I don’t want to be one of those people.  I want to be able to put my problem solving skills to use and think outside the box, rather than just have the information constantly spoon-fed to me.  Three, I’m a stubborn bonehead who doesn’t like to ask for help.

That being said, I recently realized that since I might be doing a lot of driving in unfamiliar areas this summer, a GPS might come in handy for at least some of it.  Yesterday, for the very first time, I used a GPS to drive from a town I’d only visited once to another town about 30 minutes away.  Yesterday seemed like a good time to break in my Garmin GPS that I’d kept in the box for about four years.  True to its claim, it guided me to my destination with no side trips or detours.  I was surprised, however, at how little I truly needed it.  As I left Point A to drive to Point B, I was actually confident that I would make it to my destination with no problem, and I almost always knew what roads to take before Garmin told me.  Using a GPS wasn’t life-changing like I thought it would be.

If you’ve seen the movie The Matrix, you may recall a scene toward the end of the film when Morpheus is held captive on top of a high building, and he needs to be rescued by helicopter.  Trinity does not know how to pilot one, but she instantly learns how once that particular information is downloaded into her brain in merely a few seconds’ time.  (You can watch that video clip here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AOpomu9V6Q.)  After seeing that part of the movie, I began to wish that such a method of learning existed for us people who never had the chance to take the red pill.  I could skip the frustration stage of acquiring new and difficult skills and instantly know how to put my newly found knowledge to use.  My productivity level for various tasks could skyrocket.  I could save copious amounts of time.  How could instantly downloading anything and everything I would want or need to know be a bad thing?

I found the answer to that question yesterday after turning off my GPS.  How many interesting places would I have missed seeing if I hadn’t accidentally taken those little side trips?  How many of those accidental discoveries of where certain roads lead me, that helped me later on, would I have missed if I didn’t take those unplanned detours?  It’s exactly like what I said to other people before: I don’t want information constantly spoon-fed to me.  It’s satisfying to figure things out on my own.

The same can be applied for dance, too.  It might take me all of class time–and in many cases, longer than that–to grasp the new steps I’m being taught, but once I get them, the feeling of victory after conquering those challenges is sweet.

The learning process for any knowledge or skills gained is more valuable than I realize.  I hate that I didn’t fully understand that while I was in school.  However, I still have numerous opportunities to learn about the world around me and put that knowledge to use in any endeavor I pursue, whether it’s interviewing for jobs, dancing, driving, or anything else.

As for my GPS, I have decided to only use it as a last resort in urgent situations.  Sometimes, it’s good to take the scenic route.

Open-Road-Wallpaper-6

Image from freedeskwallpapers.com

Surprise Regret

Why do some women wear mascara on a daily basis?

That was the question I asked myself numerous times yesterday.

I wore mascara yesterday for only the second time since last October.  (The first time since last October was last month for graduation day.  The last time I wore it before last October was probably the October before.)  I had no special reason to do it; I just thought that as an aspiring young professional trying to make her way into the working world after school, I should get in the habit of wearing at least a little bit of makeup, since apparently, that’s what female professionals do.  I decided that yesterday I would start to get in that habit of wearing makeup on days when I would have to leave the house.

For those of you who don’t know me well, I’ve never been a fan of wearing makeup every day.  Except for dance recitals, I didn’t wear it when I was a kid.  I only started wearing traces of it to school when I was 17, and only once in a while.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve painted my nails in the last 28 years.  I’ve never had any desire to dye, perm, straighten, or highlight my hair.  I’ve never cared about keeping up with current fashion trends or what other people think of my mostly hand-me-down and thrift shop wardrobe.  I almost never wear jewelry.  I wore makeup for a few special occasions, and for dance and skating performances as I got older, but I didn’t want to take the time to wear it on a daily basis.  I’ve gone through short phases of wearing it daily throughout my adult life, only to call it quits because of how inconvenient it is for me put makeup on every morning, especially when the reasons to not mess with it far outweigh the reasons to put it on.

I spent too much time in front of my bathroom mirror yesterday as I tried to trace the outside corners of my delicate eyelids with a razor-thin liquid eyeliner brush.  After waiting a minute or so for the dark brown eyeliner to dry, I brushed only one coat of waterproof mascara on my upper eyelashes.  I used whatever was leftover on my brush to coat my barely-there lower lashes.  Just one coat of that black goop made all of my lashes clump and look fake.  To me, fake is not beautiful.  But makeup, at least a little bit of it, is what many young professionals have to wear just so that they look more, well, professional.  Supposedly, anyway.

I made the necessary adjustments with my eye makeup before I moved on to covering my face with powder foundation to “set” (whatever that means) the liquid concealer that I had dabbed onto my numerous acne scars on my face.  I also colored in my nearly-white eyebrows, just so it looks like I actually have eyebrows.  After applying clear lip gloss to my lips, I decided that I was ready to walk out the door to face (no pun intended) the day’s adventures.

I might have felt ready to tackle the day, but as I stared at my reflection in the mirror, I still couldn’t help but feel fake.  I didn’t look or feel like myself.  I’m not trying to say that anyone who wears makeup isn’t genuine, but me wearing makeup, at least that much of it, is a sharp contrast to my laid back and low maintenance (or lazy, careless, etc.) personality when it comes to fashion and appearances.  Maybe it’s all those years working outdoors part-time where makeup was pointless.  Maybe it’s from working in a blue-collar office environment for nearly eight years, where the dress code was somewhat casual and makeup was definitely optional.  Maybe it’s the numerous dance classes where I didn’t wear eye makeup, because I felt like I would dance better if my sweat didn’t smear my eye makeup and make me look like a hot mess.  Maybe I haven’t completely grown out of my somewhat tomboyish childhood traits.  Maybe it’s because I feel completely free when my face is clean and bare, and my hair is down and loose.  Maybe it’s because I’m finally confident in who I am as a person, and I see nothing to be ashamed of when I look at my bare face in the mirror.

I didn’t ponder these reasons before I left the bathroom.  If I had, I would’ve taken all of my makeup off right then and there (in about two minutes, tops) and saved myself some of the regret that followed later that afternoon.

I drove to Missouri yesterday to visit people.  While visiting with a lovely woman that I’ve missed dearly since graduation, I wished that I wasn’t wearing makeup right then.  I wished that I hadn’t spent so much time in the bathroom trying to conceal, powder, coat, and apply various cosmetic products on various parts of my face, especially when it wasn’t necessary.  I wished I’d only washed my face and run out the door so that I could have spent an extra 20 or so minutes (yes, it takes me that long to put makeup on) with her instead of the bathroom mirror and makeup brushes.  I wished that I had felt more beautiful and more like myself while I was visiting with her (and other people later that day), and that would’ve happened if I hadn’t put all of that makeup on.

I’ve always felt the dread of inconvenience of putting on makeup, but I’d never felt the sting of regret over putting on makeup until yesterday.

To clarify, I don’t like leaving the house looking like a slob.  I always leave the house with a clean face and brushed hair.  I also understand that dressing up for special occasions is sometimes necessary, and depending on the occasion (prom, for example; I loved wearing my floor-length prom dress), it can be fun once in a great while.  I like wearing clean, neat clothes every day, whether I leave the house or not.  But I’m going back to my habit of foregoing makeup unless my acne scars are particularly prominent on some days or if a special occasion requires it.  Even then, I will use only the minimum amount to address any issues I’m having.

Today, I have to run some errands, among other things.

And I’m going to relish this day of not wearing makeup.

Celebrating

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season excites and invigorates many people every year.  Baking treats, traveling to visit friends and/or relatives, shopping for gifts, wrapping said gifts, exchanging the same said gifts, mailing Christmas cards and packages, cooking meals, decorating the house and at least one Christmas tree (I would decorate three Christmas trees each year while I was growing up:  the big one in the living room, my tree in my bedroom, and my grandparents’ tree in their living room), and planning get-togethers make up the typical holiday schedule for most people.

However, just the mere thought of these festivities that give to pleasure to many people also suck the life out of just as many others.  Maybe you don’t like to bake but have to help with it, anyway.  Maybe you dread family time because you’re dealing with a loss, or you’re not looking forward to seeing certain relatives.  Maybe you can’t afford to shop for gifts or send Christmas cards.  Maybe recipes for Christmas meals might as well be written in a foreign language, decorating isn’t your thing, and get-togethers with lots of people make your skin crawl.

This year, I am one of those people who has had the life sucked out of her by the above mentioned activities.

It was somewhat expected.  Christmas last year was rough, and as expected, this one hasn’t been a highlight, either.  For my sanity’s sake, I’ve kept the baking, traveling, shopping, wrapping, exchanging, mailing, cooking, decorating, and planning to a minimum this year.  I’d planned on going to my aunt and uncle’s house for their annual Christmas Eve party for dinner and my church’s 11:00 candlelight service, both of which are–at most–a 10 minute drive from the house, but a splitting headache that I’d had all day forced me to stay home on the couch all afternoon and evening while my mom and brother went to my aunt and uncle’s party.

I turned off the Christmas music that my mom had been blaring (she’ll deny that it was blaring 🙂 ), covered myself with two fleece blankets, took off my glasses, curled up on the couch, and gladly welcomed the second wave of sleep that was about to hit me, hoping that it would squelch the throbbing pain that made my head feel ten pounds heavier than it was supposed to.  However, I woke up a short while later, my headache just as bad as ever.

Since sleep was out of the question for a while, I went to my room and got my iPod, colored pencils, new coloring book, journal, favorite pens, and a few books to keep myself occupied in the living room.  (I preferred sleeping in my bed, but I needed to keep an ear open for any mischief that my two dogs, Dusty and Kirby, might get into.  Thankfully, they were in the mood to nap in the living room, too, at least part of the time.)  Reading was somewhat difficult with the headache, so I decided to work on the picture I started in my coloring book earlier this week.  (Stay tuned for a blog post on that.)

While coloring the kaleidoscopic design printed in my coloring book, I soaked in the silence of the evening.  No loud music.  (I never did listen to my iPod last night.)  No TV.  No radio.  No ringing phone.  (I left it on, but no one texted or called.)  Just the hum of the timer for the living room light, the pencil strokes on the paper as I colored, and the occasional jingle of Dusty and Kirby’s dog tags when they stood up a few times to ask to be let out.  (They really do ask.  It’s the look in their eyes.  🙂 )

It was the first time all day that I could actually hear myself think.  I relished the chance to enjoy simple pleasures, to reflect, to pray for people I love dearly, to journal, to enjoy my dogs’ company, and to slow down from all of the holiday hustle and bustle.   Despite being home alone with what my mom wondered was a migraine headache (I don’t think it was bad enough to be called that), it felt like I was truly celebrating for the first time all day.

I’ve never been against all of the activities mentioned earlier in this post, but to me, they aren’t worth stressing over.  It baffles some people how little I socialize, attend parties, shop for gifts (I try to make unique gifts instead…”try” being the key word here), create a Christmas list (I can’t remember the last time I made one, because the “things” I really want can’t be bought), or eat fancy food.  I appreciate those things, but I don’t need them to celebrate and be happy.

As you make your way through the rest of this festive time of year, I hope you take some time to celebrate how you want to, even if other people think it’s weird.  I hope you’ll take time just to breathe and soak in everything God has given us, not just at Christmastime, but every day of the year.  I hope you’ll spend time with the people you love and relish every second of it.  I hope you listen to your favorite Christmas songs and spend time with people you love, but I also hope you’ll spend some time in silence, away from other people, to do whatever you need to do to maintain your sanity.  If you’re planning get-togethers or trying to find that perfect gift for the person who’s hard to buy for, don’t stress about it too much.  Your time and love mean more to people than how the turkey was cooked or what you bought them for Christmas.  And if anyone is upset over your genuine efforts, don’t blame yourself.  Maybe they need to change their perspective.

Today, Christmas Day, has been less than ideal, but I’m still thanking God for what He has given today and before now.  I did spend time with some people today, but I’ve had a hefty amount of alone time today, too.  I just finished watching Little Women (one of my favorite movies; watching this movie every Christmas break has been a tradition for me since I was 21).  The day is winding down, and I need to get ready for tomorrow.

Thanks for reading, all.  Merry Christmas.  Goodnight.

Toilet Paper Prank

Most people, when they hear “toilet paper” and “prank” in the same sentence, immediately think of someone’s tp’d front yard.  My friend and co-worker, Kristine, and I recently pulled what I would call a decent prank with toilet paper, which I just feel like sharing today.

A few weeks ago while Kristine and I were at work (we work in the maintenance office at our school), Kristine told me about a picture she saw on Pinterest of a cartoon someone drew on a roll of toilet paper.  The bottom square was partly torn off and had a panicked face drawn on it.  This panicked cartoon face was reaching up to the toilet paper square above it, where another cartoon face tried desperately to hold onto his toilet paper and ink companion.  We both decided right then that we should, and would, do this prank in our office’s one-stall bathroom when our wonderful boss, Joyce, went downstairs for a smoke break.

About 20 minutes or so after Kristine and I concocted this plan, Joyce unknowingly announced our opportunity to execute said plan when she grabbed her lighter from her purse and said, “Girls, I’m going to smoke.”

“Okay,” we replied nonchalantly.  However, we smirked at each other behind our computer screens, waiting like anxious track runners to begin our sprint to the back of the office to the bathroom.

At last, Joyce exited the office through the back door that led to the basement.  Kristine and I jumped up from our chairs and ran to the back of the office to the bathroom to grab the toilet paper from the roll.  We raced back to Kristine’s desk, where she got online and pulled up the picture she described to me earlier so I could draw the faces onto the toilet paper.  I did my best, but the markers bled a little more than I thought they would, so our cartoon drawing didn’t turn out as well as the one we were trying to copy.  We partially tore the last square of toilet paper along its perforation, sprinted back to the bathroom to put the toilet paper back on the roll, took pictures with our phones to record this epic moment in our work history, and raced back to our desks in a fit of giggles before Joyce came back upstairs from her break.

Joyce entered the office, not suspecting anything.  She placed her lighter back in her purse and sat down at her desk.  About 10 minutes later, she finally got up to use the restroom.  Kristine and I tried to wait patiently to see how she would react.  To our complete surprise, however, she didn’t say anything after she came back to her desk.  Kristine and I looked at each other, confused as to why Joyce didn’t say anything.  We decided not to ask her about it, but we wondered when she would react to it.

After a few minutes, Joyce finally held up the two pieces of marker-adorned toilet paper and asked Kristine and me, “Okay, what is this?”

Kristine and I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  We cracked up, and Joyce realized that it was us who did it.  We explained what we did while she was downstairs.  She laughed, too.  “I thought it was Steve!” exclaimed Joyce.

Kristine and I laughed even harder at her incorrect assumption, doubling over at our desks.  Steve is one of the maintenance workers who gives us all a daily dose of comedy whenever he checks in and out of the office.  (He is known for, among many things, the time when he pulled a ponytail’s worth of hair out of a student’s bathtub drain and yelled down the drain, “Are you okay down there?!”)

Joyce kept the two squares of toilet paper on her desk until the end of the day when all of the maintenance people checked in.  She wanted to tell Steve what happened and that she thought it was him who did it.  After telling everyone what happened, she gave the toilet paper pictures back to Kristine and me.  They are now taped on the wall above my desk as a memento of one of countless hilarious moments at work I’ve experienced in my seven and a half years there.

Kristine took this photo, the final product of our epic scheme.

Kristine took this photo, the final product of our epic scheme.

Who are You?

The semester I graduated from high school, I signed up for a full load of courses at a local community college across town from where I lived.  I was looking forward to my classes and what college would have in store for me.  I knew that some of my high school classmates would be attending the same college, but it was hardly a high school reunion.  It was definitely a new start for me, and I had to meet new people.

I think 99.9999 percent of the conversations I had with my new classmates, and witnessed among other students, started with a brief exchange of names and was followed by the same question that I would hear countless times for several years afterward:  “What’s your major?”  I’d had serious career objectives in mind since high school (a coach/choreographer for figure skaters, or a choir teacher), and I had some majors in mind (dance, physical education, exercise science, athletic training, and vocal music education), but I wasn’t sure which one would most likely help me get a job in my desired field or how much the practicality of the major should matter in case my dream job(s) didn’t pan out.  I always answered, “undecided” whenever people asked me that question and whenever I filled out my class schedule every semester.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but our majors became a strong part of our identities from the first day we set foot on that campus.  We all knew each other by our declaration of concentrated study.  I was just Sarah who sang Alto in Concert Choir and Chamber Choir at school, but I was happy and content with that.

After I left the community college and transferred to a four-year university across the state line at age 21, I finally declared a major:  dance.  I loved being known as a dance major by almost everyone I met on campus.  I also loved being friends with the people I hit it off with right away who were not dance majors.

I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in Dance two years ago last May, and I have been defined by other occupations since then:  graduate student, graduate assistant, student teacher, part-time ballet teacher.   Since leaving school, I learned very quickly that the defining question for adults in post-academic life is, “What do you do for a living?”

Answering that question nowadays is somewhat awkward for me.  It’s true that I’m a part-time ballet teacher, but at age 28, despite the several applications I’ve sent to various job openings, I haven’t found a full-time job, or even another part-time job besides teaching ballet.  At age 28, I still don’t know where I should work full-time or what I should be doing.  (Teaching dance full-time is not an option right now.)  At age 28, I’m still living at home, and although I enjoy seeing my mom, brother, and puppy dogs on a daily basis, I’m ready to get my own apartment in my “adopted” hometown, however tiny and cheap my abode may be.  I feel like what I’m doing right now isn’t enough, that I’m inadequate, that I’ve screwed up royally somewhere between my first breath and now, which as result has put me in circumstances that most people try to avoid:  28 and still living at home, lonely because most of my friends live in another state/my adopted hometown, not employed full-time, clueless as to what I should do next, and single with no potential significant other. (I mention my relationship status only because by now, most of my friends are already married, and some have already had kids.  For the record, I am absolutely in no hurry to date anyone, much less get married.  It’s just that my current relationship status can be another example of how behind I am compared to the rest of my peers.)  In a nutshell, according to those circumstances, I am not a young adult who has it all together by any means.

Do you know what I’ve learned, though?  My circumstances do not define who I am.  I am not a college major, an age, a job, a living situation, an employment status, or a relationship status.  I am much more than these circumstances that can change at the drop of a hat.

So are you.  Your circumstances do not define who you are.

Circumstances can shape our lives, test us, teach us, and help us grow, but they do not define us.  Whether they’re trying us or treating us well, they are not us.

So, who am I?  I am:

a woman, who sometimes still feels like a young girl.

creative; I dance, write, make art, etc.

patient (most of the time).

determined.

forgetful (if I forget your name after we first meet, I apologize for needing to ask you again…five more times).

goofy (at least I think so 🙂 ), once I’m comfortable around the person/people with whom I’m being goofy.

hawk-eyed, when I’m in editing mode.

imaginative.

hopeful.

playful.

a dreamer.

curious.

an introvert (an INFJ, to be exact).

desperate to make a difference somehow.

His (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Corinthians+5%3A17&version=NLT).

I like getting to know my readers.  Who are you?  You can tell me your occupation or about other circumstances, if you like, but I want to know more about you.  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Two Passions, Part Two

Life changed over the next few years.  After third grade, Jackie and I both moved.  I moved 12 blocks from my old house and didn’t even have to change schools.  Jackie moved far enough away that she had to go to another school.  I no longer “figure skated” on the concrete slab on the school playground.  I had no desire to share that experience with anyone else.  I stopped practicing skating jumps by jumping off of furniture or the slide because they really weren’t helping me improve.  However, when I was nine years old I got a pair of roller skates for Christmas.  As soon as the weather warmed up, I donned my knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, helmet, and roller skates every day after school and hit the pavement on the driveway (sometimes literally) and loved every minute of it.  I don’t think I attempted any jumps on roller skates, but I remember trying to perform in my roller skates on the driveway.  I also remember how fun it was to skate fast and do forward crossovers, although at the time, I didn’t know that’s what they were called.

I also kept up with figure skating by reading as many books on it as I could find.  My school district’s library had a grand total of two books about figure skating (maybe four or so if you count books about the Winter Olympics in general), but those books introduced me to Peggy Fleming, Sonja Henie, Dorothy Hamill, Dick Button, the pairs team of Tai Babalonia and Randy Gardner, and Irina Rodnina and her pairs partners, Alexei Ulanov and Alexander Zaitsev.  I still remember those black and white photos like I saw them yesterday.  Thankfully, over the years I got my hands on more figure skating books at school book fairs and through book order at school.  (Thanks, Mom!)  One of the books even described, in words and with pictures, the differences between each of the figure skating jumps and how to do them.  I never knew how to distinguish one jump from the other until I got that book when I was 10 or 11 years old.  (For those of you who are curious, it’s all in the takeoff in the jump.  Watch the skaters’ feet carefully the next time you watch skating.  You can also watch this:  http://www.monkeysee.com/play/2327-ice-skating-how-to-perform-the-six-basic-jumps)

I also kept dancing, but not always in a studio setting.  I took tap and ballet, but I quit in December during my fifth grade year.  I loved dance, but I was bored in class.  Due to circumstances out of my control, the class of three I was in had to become a class of two, so my fellow classmate and I had to merge with another class.  I wasn’t learning anything in this new class and was not enjoying it.

Even though I wasn’t dancing in a structured studio setting, dance and performing were still very much a part of my life.  I performed in my school’s variety show every year from fourth through eighth grade.  I performed tap solos every year.  I modified two of the pieces from my recital, but the others I choreographed by myself.  I also tried out for and earned a spot on the school’s pom pon squad during my seventh and eighth grade years (’97-’98 and ’98-’99).  I attended summer camp with the rest of the team, performed during half time at all of the boys seventh and eight grade basketball games, and marched in parades with the marching band as a flag girl.

I also danced outside of the school setting.  The day my family and I moved into our house, our next door neighbors, Dale and Arlene, had a barbecue in their back yard for us and everyone who helped us move.  As I sat at the kid-sized table, I stopped mid-sentence in a conversation with Arlene when I happened to notice the brick patio in front of me.  It was long, deep, flat, and elevated about eight inches from the ground.

“That would make a perfect stage!” I declared excitedly.

The summer before sixth grade, a new girl named Allison and her family moved into the house across the street from us.  It didn’t take long for us to become best friends.  She taught me a few of the things she learned in baton twirling lessons that she had taken before moving to the neighborhood, and I taught her what I learned in dance over the years.  She and I also put together an annual Backyard Variety Show for the summers of ’97 and ’98.  Looking back, however, “variety show” may not have been the best title since all of the acts were dance numbers.  We spent months preparing for these shows by listening to music, trying on our old dance costumes, dancing in our bedrooms, choreographing solos and group numbers to perform (my cousin, Melissa, usually came in town the same week we performed and contributed her dance costumes, as well), watching musicals and my dance recital videos to learn new steps, and making and handing out flyers to our neighbors to invite them to our production.  We didn’t charge admission.  The neighbors brought their lawn chairs and sat in the yard, facing the patio.  My mom helped my brother set up a lemonade stand, and he sold lemonade for 10 cents a cup.  The first year we did the show, Dale and Arlene made homemade ice cream for everyone to enjoy after the finale.  Each show was about an hour long and featured group and solo dance pieces. We were the dancers, the choreographers, the PR/marketing team, the sound engineers (we recorded all of our music onto one cassette tape to use for the show), the show order deciders (for lack of a better term), the makeup artists, and the costume/wardrobe managers. My mom decorated the back of the patio with crepe paper and garland.  She also assisted with special effects when we needed a lot of bubbles for our 1998 finale:  “Adios, Au Revoir, Aufweidersehn” from The Lawrence Welk Show.  That finale is one of my favorite memories of any Backyard Variety Show that we did because it got the best reaction from our audience.  Most of the people who watched were senior citizens and were familiar with that song, and it came as a surprise to them because we never printed programs.  Dale and Arlene graciously let us use their house for costume changes, which we could easily access by entering their house through the breezeway door directly behind the patio.  We performed our dances on that brick patio in their backyard, hence the title, Backyard Variety Show.

Allison and I also watched that figure skating tape from 1994.  She became hooked, and I rediscovered my love for the sport.  When 1998 rolled around, we couldn’t get enough of the figure skating coverage during those Winter Olympics, which Mom taped, and which I watched over and over.  My desire to take lessons resurfaced.

During the spring of ’98, I learned that lessons might be a more realistic possibility.  An indoor ice rink was being built in a town about 15 minutes from where I lived.  It would be finished by that fall.

Two Passions, Part One

“When I grow up, I want to be a ballerina.  And after a few performances, I will be a ballet teacher.”

–Me, age eight.  August/September, 1993.

At the beginning of my third grade year in Mr. Fahey’s class, one of our assignments was to draw a picture of what we want to be when we grow up and write about it.  I didn’t have to ponder my future career ambition at all.  I’d been taking tap and ballet class since I was six years old and loved it.  Moving to music felt completely natural to me, I loved learning new steps, and I always felt like I was good at it.  I was hungry to learn steps outside of class, so I would watch the older, more advanced dancers on my dance recital tapes and copy their movements in the empty floorspace in the living room.  Even though I was shy and wasn’t very talkative, I loved performing in front of people at recitals and showing my family the dances I made up by myself in my bedroom.  Sometimes I even asked if I could perform in the living room for company that my parents invited over.  Performing and creating movement felt as natural as breathing did.  I just had to do it.

On that warm, sunny day in 1993, I busted out my colored pencils and drew a picture of myself wearing a magenta romantic tutu and a light pink, long-sleeved (I think) leotard.  I wore pink pointe shoes, even though to this day, I’ve never danced en pointe. My long, dark blond hair hung down past my shoulders and was curly.  I have naturally straight hair, but back then I would put my hair in foam rollers to curl it for special occasions, and dancing, of course, was always a special occasion.  (Until the following June, I never had to wear a bun in my hair for ballet and never knew that it was the standard ballerina hairstyle.  My hair was either in a ponytail, half up/half down, or French braided.)  If I remember correctly, I was holding an arabesque position with my arms en haut, with my left leg as the supporting leg and my right leg as the gesture leg.  I was dancing in an open field, with lots of green grass and brightly colored flowers–tulips, I think–blooming all around me.  The vast sky was the most beautiful shade of sky blue, one of my favorite colors in Crayola’s colored pencil box.  I don’t remember if I drew the sun shining in the picture, but the sun was definitely shining as this ballerina danced in her outdoor paradise.

Below this colored pencil masterpiece (in my eight-year-old eyes), I wrote the words you read at the beginning of this blog post.  I wrote something else about dancing between those two sentences, but I don’t remember what.  However, I do remember writing that last sentence about teaching at the end of my enthusiastic declaration.

My creativity knew no bounds for this assignment.  Every five minutes, or so it seemed, I would add another flourish with my colored pencils and excitedly ask Mr. Fahey to come look at what I did.  I was so proud of my work, simply because it was mine and I had no doubts in my mind that someday, this ambition of my youth would become a reality.  I just knew it.

Even though I loved dancing, I fell in love with two other art forms during my third grade year.  Shortly after the “What I want to be when I grow up” assignment, Mr. Fahey showed me the joy that creative writing can bring.  I penned the first of many fiction stories that year about everything from quadruplet sisters to not sleeping at night to talking animals.  I also wrote and illustrated my autobiography (it was very short), dabbled in rhyming poetry, experimented briefly with news reporting when my church’s sanctuary burned up in a fire on Easter weekend, and faithfully kept a journal about whatever random topics I felt like writing about, which I still do to this day.   Even writing reports for regular school assignments was fun and did not feel like work at all.

The other art form I fell for (pun intended) was figure skating.

Figure skating captivated me that February, shortly before the 1994 Winter Olympics aired on television.  On February 5, 1994, “Nancy Kerrigan and Friends”, an exhibition featuring Nancy Kerrigan and some of her skating friends as they celebrated her recovery from a severe knee injury, was on TV.  My mom taped it.  The skating itself absolutely amazed me.  I thought Nancy was the best skater in the world, based on her performances in that show, and I wanted to learn how to do everything that she did.  I admired Elaine Zayak’s graceful performance as well, and after seeing how the silver sequins and beads on her royal blue skating dress sparkled and how her skirt moved so freely with every movement of hers, I decided that I wanted to wear a dress exactly like it.  Paul Wylie’s expressiveness and clean skating style made me want to see more of it.  Scott Hamilton’s solid skating skills and ability to entertain were second to none, and he won me over as one of his biggest fans.  I don’t know why Mom taped that show, because she had never taped skating on TV before, but I was (and still am) glad that she did.

For some reason, Mom taped the ladies’ singles and ice dance 1994 Olympic coverage on that same tape, as well as the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships.  Coverage of the 1994 Worlds gave me my first exposure to Michelle Kwan.  She instantly became a favorite of mine and still is.  Alas, after Worlds ended, there was no more room left on the tape to record anything else.  I watched that tape over and over and over again for years, even in junior high.  I still have that tape, but since junior high I’ve been afraid that it will fall apart if I try to watch it again.

After watching “Nancy Kerrigan and Friends”, I decided right away that I wanted to be a figure skater.  However, that dream was a longshot.  The only ice rink nearby was about 30 minutes away by car, and it was outdoor and only open during the winter.  Not to mention the fact that in the three previous winters that Mom took me skating, I was so scared of falling that I held onto the wall the whole time.  However, I was eight years old, head over heels in love with skating, and was not to be deterred or discouraged by such trivial obstacles.  I decided to go ahead and learn as many jumps, spins, and other moves as I could by watching that tape and imitating what I saw.  I practiced jumps by jumping off of chairs in the living room (when everyone else was in different rooms of the house) and off the slide in my backyard so that I had enough hang time to try to rotate in the air.  When Mom wasn’t home, I would put on my cheap, plastic roller skates and try to skate in the house.  (I had told Grandma C. that Mom was okay with me doing that.  I only did this one time.)  I would put on my leotard, tights, and ballet skirt that I wore to dance class, put on my skates, and stand on my welcome mat in my room so that I could feel like a real figure skater (Mom would only let me wear my skates on the mat so that the blades wouldn’t snag the carpet).  At school, I unintentionally got Jackie, one of my best friends, hooked on figure skating (and dance; she let me teach her how to tap dance), and day after day during recess we would watch each other “figure skate” on this flat slab of concrete on the playground.

That year, after seeing the Olympics and falling under figure skating’s magic spell, I was a different person.  I suppose seeing how beautiful figure skating could be literally changed my life, because I finally let go of the wall the next time I went skating.

Little did I know where that small step of courage and my new passion would lead me in the years to come.

Night Owls

As you may already know, I’m a night owl.  I am most productive at night when I’m supposed to be asleep in bed.  Right now, I should be lying down under the covers, but at this moment I’d rather get up from this desk and vacuum the house.  (I’m not going to.  My brother and our dogs have already called it a night.)

While working on my laptop late last night, I heard a barred owl hooting outside.  I live in a very wooded neighborhood, so owls, along many other different wild animals, are common around here.

I remember when I was 11 years old, one of my best friends at that time lived across the street.  Her parents had a cassette tape recording of barred owl calls.  Many a balmy summer night, our families and a very sweet married couple who lived next door to us, Dale and Arlene, would gather on one of our porches, usually Dale and Arlene’s porch or my friend’s porch, with a cassette tape player playing the owl calls.  We would listen to the owls in our woods call back.  It sounded like all of them were having a friendly conversation among themselves.  We never saw any of the owls (to this day, I’ve never seen a barred owl in person), but it was entertaining for all of us.  Of course, we would always talk and laugh during those nightly gatherings, as well.  The sound of a barred owl always takes me back to my childhood and brings back those short-lived (my friend moved out of state the following year) yet happy memories.

I learned that year that owls don’t always just hoot or screech when they communicate with each other.  The barred owl also makes this vocal sound that, when I was 11, I described as something like a human baby’s laugh.  It was sort of a half laugh, half screech sound.

Barred owls can also make sounds like nothing I would ever imagine coming from a bird.

I will never forget one night when I was about 14 years old, give or take a year.  For some reason, I went outside the house after dark.  All I heard were crickets in the eerie stillness of the night.  I walked into the backyard, and out of nowhere I heard an unearthly shriek coming from what sounded like Dale and Arlene’s backyard.  Think of R2-D2’s squeal (for lack of a better word) in Star Wars Episode IV when he gets shot by the jawas on Tatooine, except louder and longer in duration.  That one owl’s voice started a flurry of conversation among other nearby owls, who vocalized their hoots and screeches with abandon.  I didn’t stay outside long enough to know how long the noise lasted because as soon as that one owl’s fabulous R2-D2 imitation pierced through the darkness, I jumped out of my skin and bolted for the house.  From what I could tell, though, the ruckus didn’t last long.

I haven’t heard any barred owls tonight.  I probably won’t because, whether I like it or not, I need to go to bed now.  I have a long To Do list to attack as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning, and unfortunately, living on a night owl’s schedule is not conducive to being productive.

Before I turn in for the night, I want to share a recording of a barred owl for any of you who may not have heard what one sounds like.  This particular clip has the hoots and the “baby” sound I tried to describe, but you’ll have to use your imagination for the R2-D2 owl.  🙂

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5zc-NHIipw

Goodnight.

So…THIS is What It’s Like

In the “About Me” section of this blog, I told you that one of my interests that you will likely read about on this blog is Doctor Who.  I started this blog in November.  Despite the ideas and thoughts I’ve had about a Doctor Who–related post swirling around in my head since November, I haven’t written anything about it.

Until now.

I’ll spare you the story on how and why I became a Whovian because it’s quite long, but just know that it happened in November of 2012 when my brother showed me “The Time of Angels” (Series 5, Episode 4).  One episode was all it took to addict me.  Since then, I have seen every episode of the new Who, except for three of the four 10th Doctor specials aired between Series 4 and 5.  I have also seen a few episodes of the classic Doctor Who and would like to see more in the future.  If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you probably already know that quite a few of my favorite quotes listed are from Doctor Who.  I have watched as much behind-the-scenes footage as I could get my hands on, “liked” Doctor Who pages on Facebook to read what other Whovians have to say or share, and I never tire of discussing episodes or theories of what might happen next.  That said, I have found very few people who are willing to discuss the show as fervently as I do, so I don’t discuss the show much.  (I have surpassed my brother’s knowledge on the show; he has created a monster, and it’s driving him crazy.  :-))  Heck, I was alone when I watched most of those episodes and the recently concluded Series 7.

Matt Smith, who currently plays the 11th incarnation of the Doctor, was my first Doctor.  Since I started watching this show, I learned that Whovians have “their Doctor”, meaning that one of the incarnations, likely their favorite one, has impacted them in a unique way and brought something special to their Doctor Who experience that no other Doctor has.  All of the Doctors I have seen are great in their own way.  I’m not a fangirl, but I can say without a doubt that Matt Smith is, and always will be, my Doctor.

I’ve been a bit of geek/nerd for most of my life, and an introverted, socially awkward one at that.  I’ve been a Star Wars fan (of Episodes IV, V, and VI) since I was about nine years old.  I’ve always been a hungry bookworm.  I don’t watch much TV, but I like sci-fi shows.  When it comes to fun ways to spend time outside of work and romantic relationships, Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, and Raj of The Big Bang Theory and I have a lot in common.  That being said, I have never attended a Comic-Con (although depending on who’s there, it could be fun), dressed up as my favorite sci-fi characters, or felt devastated if I learned that one my favorite TV characters would no longer be part of a certain show.  I never grasped what it was like to be part of a fandom and ride all of the highs and lows that come with being dedicated to currently running TV show.  Until I started watching Doctor Who, I never knew what it was like.

I experienced the “riding highs and lows” aspect more than ever when I logged onto Facebook yesterday and came across this very low piece of news (NOTE:  do not read past the “Still So Exciting” heading if you haven’t seen the Series 7 finale yet):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-22741493

I’m not going to lie; the news really gutted me.  Last I’d heard, Matt Smith had signed on for Series 8, which would start after the Christmas episode this year.  I was looking forward to at least one more year with my Doctor.  It’s not going to happen.

I have known from the get-go that the only constant in Doctor Who is change.  No Doctor or companion stays on the show forever.  Change is what has kept the show fresh and interesting since it started running in 1963.  Once Matt Smith leaves, I don’t want him to come back as another regeneration several years down the road.  (That has never happened on the show, and I hope it never will, but some people still want that to happen with David Tennant [the 10th Doctor] someday.)  That being said, I’m disappointed that the change is happening again so soon.  Tom Baker (the 4th Doctor) stayed on the show for seven years.  It would be nice to have someone stick around for more than three or four years, as long as he’s a great Doctor.

Like thousands of other Whovians all around the world, I am anxiously awaiting the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special that will air on November 23rd of this year.  And like thousands of other Whovians, I am anxiously awaiting the Doctor Who Christmas special, but I am not looking forward to the end of it.  Like thousands of other Whovians, I have no idea what is in store for the show’s future, but I care a lot about it.  And as a new Whovian, I’m experiencing the “feels” (a term I’ve seen on the Internet) of learning of the current Doctor’s departure and dreading the moment when his regeneration happens.

I’ve only ever heard of highs and lows that dedicated fans of any show experience, whether they’re about the characters, the storyline, or anything else.  Since I have finally found a TV show that I’m willing and excited to watch on a regular basis (when I can; I don’t have BBC America at home so I have to rely on the Internet a lot), I’m no longer just hearing what those highs and lows are like.  I’m living them.

So…this is what it’s like.