Giving Up is Easy (aka: Why I don’t Lent)

Christians around the world have observed Lent, aka “The Great Fast” pretty much since Jesus ascended into the clouds. The idea is fairly simple: for the 46 days leading up to Easter Sunday, Christians choose to fast. The way that looks may differ, depending on one’s flavor of Christianity. For example, many Catholics choose not to eat meat on Fridays during the Lenten period. Orthodox Catholics take this to a whole new level, abstaining from all meat, oils, even eggs and dairy for every day leading up to Easter (They also celebrate a different Easter, but that’s another story). Evangelical Christians as a whole do not traditionally observe Lent in any organized way. However, many choose to “fast” from something else they consider important, such as alcohol, social media, or sex.

lent-cross-2

Regardless of how the fast is observed, the underlying principles are the same. Lent is a time to make oneself uncomfortable, just as Jesus was uncomfortable roaming about in the desert for 40 days with nothing to eat. And in our discomfort, we can learn to refocus our energy on God, to face our demons of complacence and gluttony, and to forgive the offenses of those who have sinned against us. It is not only just an exercise to see if we’re strong enough to give up something we hold dear; it is also a chance to hit “Reset,” to renew our spirits and get back on the right track.

I know that some of you readers may have already dived into your 40-Day fast with enthusiasm, and are already tweeting or blogging about your great journey through the desert after giving up coffee, chocolate, or texting. As for me? Well, I don’t plan to give up anything.

Yes, you read that correctly. I have zero plans to fast. (I know, I know. Sinner! )

abstaining

Here’s the deal. I have learned that I am a highly adaptable human being. Give up things that I once held dear? Break old habits? Abstain? No problem! I once spent more than a year abstaining from most food. It was oddly easy, and for the first (and last) time in my adult life, I got to unlock the achievement level of Skinny. These days, I eat food, but I’m abstaining from simplex carbs and real sugar, so that I don’t accidentally fall into the pit of Diabetes. I am also happy to eat mostly plant-based meals, so giving up meat is not a struggle, either.

Sex? Ha! I will win an abstinence from all forms of sex contest Every. Single. Time. Grandmaster level of sexual abstinence. Give up social media? Been there, done that. I even gave up the social without the media. Alcohol? Who needs it? Caffeine? I’ve been a decaf coffee and tea drinker for months now and don’t miss a thing.

fasting-noeating

I guess if I were going to really give up something I am attached to, then it would be giving up computers or reading. But these both have too many loopholes, like cell phones (technically not computers) and audiobooks. Also, giving up either would jeopardize my career goals, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the church has in mind.

Anyway, fasting doesn’t work so well for the highly adaptable. Giving up is far too easy to do when you refuse to become attached to necessities or vices. Don’t hold on too tight, and it’s easy to let go when the time comes. Even during Lent. The harder thing, for me anyway, is learning NOT to quit. Learning not to shrug my shoulders and walk away from everything and everyone. Learning that maybe, some things in life are worth holding onto.

Deep Questions (aka: One-Sided Conversations)

deepquestions

It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a good, deep conversation with another human being over the age of 18. Conversations in the workplace tend to stay on the shallow side, which is normal, I suppose, but unfulfilling at times, like snacking on fruit when what you really crave is a thick, juicy steak and a buttery baked potato.

foxtrot-too-deep

While browsing blogs on WordPress, I came across a post by Wendy, at Brilliance Within, which posed ten great questions that can help you to dig deeper, to get to know other people at a deeper level. Since I lack the social opportunities to use these questions in actual conversations, I thought I’d answer them here, should any other wandering souls want to get to know me a little better:

 

  • What are you enjoying most about your life at the moment?

 

At this exact moment, I am enjoying a Netflix Show, called The OA. It is a strange and mysterious program about a young woman who has near-death experiences, and through them is able to reach out and change the lives of other hurting people. But overall, I am enjoying the peace and stability of my life; of raising my children in a decent neighborhood, of working at a job I enjoy, of having good health, and of finding ways to keep learning, keep growing, keep becoming a better version of myself.

 

  • What’s your biggest fear?

 

I have two. One is the obvious and unspeakable fear of something bad happening to one of my children.

The other fear was already realized. My best friend, around six years ago, decided that she no longer wanted to be my friend. Before we parted ways, she confessed to me that our friendship had been uneven. I wanted a best friend, and she did not. She had felt for a while that I was like a dog, following her around. Just writing those words – even thinking them, unleashes such a flood of raw emotions that I am still unable to keep myself from crying, and I am a person who rarely cries. I thought that I had been a good friend, and kind, and generous, and loving, and that our friendship was reciprocal. I never knew that I was being too clingy, or that she had perceived me that way. Her words have haunted me so much, that I feel them any time I start to get to know an acquaintance. I am fearful of calling, fearful of texting first, fearful of reaching out to invite anyone to spend time together, because I don’t know how to keep from crossing that invisible boundary that makes people feel as though I am chasing them. When I sense that someone’s interest in me is waning, I run away, because I don’t want to hear those words again. Because of my greatest fear, I have become skilled at remaining cold and aloof, and skilled at letting people go. I have learned how to be content with loneliness instead of trying to build relationships.

 

  • What do you regret most?

 

This is related to #2, and cannot be expressed here.

 

  • What did you dream about doing when you were a child?

 

I dreamt of being a children’s book author (still working on that one) and a tap dancer (no thanks, haha). I also resolved around the age of ten that I would never get married, and would adopt a bunch of kids and drive a bike instead of a car (which I did until I finally got a driver’s license at the age of 26).

 

  • How do you feel about your job? What would be your ‘dream job?

 

I’m crazy about my job. It covers my favorite aspects of IT (creating, building, and administering computer systems and supporting users of those systems). I also hope to have my young adult novels published someday in the not-too-distant future, but my day job is perfect for me, and I look forward to doing it each day. The only thing that would make it even better is to be in a position where I can use my leadership talent and skills at my job, which I intend to work my way toward.

 

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

 

Hopefully in that position of leadership (see #4). I also see myself as a soon-to-be single empty-nester, as my youngest kid will be on the verge of graduating high school and heading off to university. That is a pretty lonely vision. It is hard to imagine life without my children.

 

  • If you could choose 1 place in the world to travel to – where would it be?

 

Only one? Seriously? My list is sooo long! Okay, then, I will have to choose England, so that I can travel to the places in the Harry Potter and Jane Austen and Charles Dickens and Shakespeare stories that I love so fondly.

diving_deeper

 

  • What is your ‘vision’ for your life?

 

I don’t have one all-encompassing vision. Just a series of smaller goals. Raise my children to be kind, caring, educated adults who contribute to society in positive ways and are content with their lives. See my future grandchildren grow up. Keep working hard at and enjoying my career. Keep finding ways to learn and grow and experience the good things in life. Share my stories with the world. Travel a lot.

 

  • How could you enhance your relationships/life?

 

I don’t know. Unless #2 magically fades away, I don’t believe that I will ever develop any close relationships beyond those with my children.

 

  • When do you feel you’re happiest/saddest/most in love?

 

I suppose I am happiest when everything feels at peace, like when reading a good book while lying on a warm, sunny beach while my children play nearby. Saddest when the darkness is too dark and the night lasts far too long.

better-conversations

Please feel free to answer questions in the comments below. After all, the point of asking deep questions is to start an authentic conversation, and to get to know other human beings.

 

Themey Awards (aka: Theme Song Karaoke)

Cameras are flashing. Crowds are cheering. The celebrities have finished parading down the red carpet. Are you ready? It’s time for the Themey Awards!

Yes, that’s a thing. Okay, not a legit thing, exactly. But it should be. With all the buzz over the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys (and oh yeah, Oscars), I just thought I’d use the momentum to throw in my plug for a new award shoe. One that celebrates some of the most entertaining, memorable music in pop culture.

Theme songs.

I have a huge thing for television show theme songs. Half the time, I never even watch the show. But you’d better believe that when the theme song begins, I am right there in front of the TV, singing along. Theme songs are like the Superbowl™ commercials of the TV world, and they deserve to be awarded. So here we go:

The Theme Song Karaoke Award – Given to the opening theme song that inspires the most people to grab their hairbrush microphones and sing along.

“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have THE FACTS OF LIFE! THE FACTS OF LIFE!”

Close contender: “Super-powered mind! But can it go canine as it rescues the day from sheer destruction? This is the theme song of Jimmy Neutron!”

jimmy-neutron-boy-genius

Okay, quiet down, everyone. No more singing. Time to move on to category 2.

The Bruised Arm Award – Given to the theme song that results in the most bruised arms, because our co-watchers can’t help but punch us during that one part of the song.

This category resulted in a two-way tie between the theme song from Friends (“So no one told you life was gonna be this way – PUNCHPUNCHPUNCHPUNCH!!!”) and the theme song to Beverly Hills, 90210 (Original cast).

The Top-of-Your-Lungs Award – For the theme song you just can’t sing – you have to belt out at the top of your lungs. And the winner is:

“Are ya ready kids? AYE AYE, CAPTAIN! I can’t heeeaaar you! AYE AYE, CAPTAIN!”

The Gotta-Play-Airdrums Award – Because there isn’t a single person alive who can hear this theme song without jamming along on airdrums, and possibly air guitar, too.

 

The Unexpected Blast-From-the-Past Award goes to a theme song that lots of you either don’t remember or have happily forgotten:

“Believe it or not, I’m walking on air. I never thought I could feel so free-ee-ee!”

(Close contenders included theme songs for The Great Space Coaster, The Patty Duke Show, and Fame).

And finally, we have the OMG, PLEASE GET THAT STUPID EARWORM FROM HELL OUT OF MY HEAD award, bestowed upon the worst of the worst addictive theme songs. First, the runners-up:

  1. “Grab your backpack, let’s go! Jump in! Vamonos! You can lead the wa-ay! Hey hey!”
  2. .”We’re Kids Incorporated! K! I! D! S! Yeah! Kids Incorporated…”
  3. .”I’m just a kid who’s four! Each day I grow some more! I love exploring, I’m Caillou…”

And the winner, by unanimous vote (of one) is:

 

You’re welcome. No, sorry. I really can’t help to remove that earworm. Maybe it only goes away if you find and rescue that poor animal in twouble somewhere.

Anyway, what was your favorite part of the First (and probably last) Annual Themey Awards? I liked that part, too. ¡Adios!

 

 

 

 

It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.

Wings (aka: Two Poems on a Winter’s Day)

Ode to a Caterpillar

 

Oh little caterpillar

who brought such color to the world!

How I remember

tiny fingers grasping

heavy Mason glass

swift

ready to catch, to observe

the free ones

the ones with wings

the ones who flew.

So much you learned, as you curled

safe

in your small, loved home

until today

fragile walls tearing loose

open crack of wide, wide blue

cupped in hands

to test new wings.

Oh butterfly

this world is yours.

caterpillar-to-butterfly

 

Night Angels

 

Eyes lifted toward darkened skies

strapped warm in leather womb

hushed voices mingle with

steady drone.

There I see it

flash of copper light

brief sight of wingless angel

flying in the night.

Warm sigh

fingers pressed, cold against glass

until

once more the darkness lifts

and angel glows.

One by one

on tall, steel legs

they dance

across the stars

halos burning in bronze glory

as my lashes droop

beneath watchful eyes.

street-lamps-shining

My Great-American Junk Drawer (aka: Getting Organized)

miscellaneous-stuff I was searching for a screwdriver today.

Yes, my toolbox is full of screwdrivers, but I was searching for the one I like best – a Phillips screwdriver with a grippy handle that feels just right in my hands. You see, I just got my bedroom back for the first time in six months. Six months! (Insert cartwheel here). My sister and her family moved here from far away and needed a transition home. So, like a good little sister, I loaned them my spacious bedroom to use as their hotel-away-from-home until they could get settled and move into their own house. Which happened yesterday.

So today, I had work to do.

It takes a lot of scrubbing and furniture-moving and reorganizing to get one’s bedroom back in shape after it’s been lived in by other people. It also takes a good Phillips screwdriver to repair your lopsided curtain rod, which has been yanked out of place by two rambunctious, preschool-aged kids. Which is why I was searching for one this afternoon.

After ransacking my toolbox and coming up empty, I began to rummage through various drawers and organizers. At last, I came to the large wooden IKEA desk that I keep in my bedroom. Our family has had this desk for nearly ten years, along with all the stuff that fills the drawers. Although I am mostly organized in other areas, desk drawers in my home have the bad habit of collecting all manner of odds and ends, until every single one comes to resemble that one drawer that everyone has in their home.

You know the one.

The junk drawer.

Junk drawer

The main drawer of our IKEA desk was a sight to behold. As NPR once put it, “The Great American Junk Drawer can be an accidental time capsule, a haphazard scrap heap, a curious box of memories and meaninglessness.” This one was no exception. Paper clips, old business cards from the home business I ran fifteen years ago, my youngest son’s missing library card, an unused $25 Game Stop gift card. I collected a few dollars’ worth of coins to add to our family Dream Jar, which will hopefully offset a future trip to Disneyland and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But there was no screwdriver. I cut my finger on one of a zillion push pins or rusty staples lining the drawer, then happened to discover a single toy Magnetix rod, which turned out to be a perfect picker-upper for push pins and staples. But still, no screwdriver.

I then came across a stack of old photos – a treasure trove of snapshots of my children when they were small and rosy-cheeked, and a few pics of old friends that instantly threw me into a nostalgic mood. I spent the next half hour flipping through more old photos, traveling back in time, the bedroom project forgotten.

At last I shook off the distraction. As much as I would have loved to clean out the junk and make it a neat, organized office drawer, I had a screwdriver to find. Which turned out to be in the toolbox, where I swear it wasn’t the first two times.

I have my room back.

The curtain rod is straight again, and my room is once again a cozy, clutter-free retreat of comfortable furnishings, soft lighting, and flickering candles. Everything is in its place – visitors snug in their own home, junk in the junk drawer, and yes, my favorite screwdriver safely returned to my toolbox.

I think.

cozy-master-bedroom

Play on Repeat (aka: 365 Days of New Year’s Day)

So I read on some wise, informative website today (Twitter, probably) that whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you will end up doing all year long. That’s 365 days of repeating today’s choices. Hopefully most of you didn’t just lie around, staring mindlessly at the television.

snoopy-and-woodstock-new-years-toast

Of course, I have no idea who came up with this zany idea. For all I know, it’s just some ancient New Year’s Day superstition, like not washing any laundry on New Year’s Day or you will wash away a person. I swear, I am not making this up. But still, I thought it would be fun to review how I spent this first day of the year, since it will foreshadow the remaining 364 days, it seems.

      1. I did a lot of cleaning and organizing. Seriously. I undecorated the Christmas stuff, scrubbed surfaces, tossed things out, and organized. This is one of my favorite New Year’s Day traditions — out with the old, in with the new. Sweep away the dust and pine needles and start the year fresh and clean. So far, it has yet to carry over to the remainder of the year, but I remain cautiously optimistic.
      2. I managed my home and family. As the one and only Head Honcho around here, I get a lot of opportunities to delegate tasks, call the shots, and make sure people are where they need to be at the right times. Today, this went pretty smoothly. I even got the kids to write a couple of thank you cards. (Gasp!)
      3. I went a little over budget. Eep! This is the opposite of my financial management goals for the upcoming year. To be fair, I mostly bought practical, helpful things, like plastic bins and cute matching organizers for all that tidying up. But still, a budget is a budget, and with plans to pay off old, pre-divorce debts and send kids to college soon, I’d really get a better handle on balancing the ol’ checkbook.
      4. I was active. Not as active as usual, since I’m healing from a nasty cold. But I count all of my traipsing around on foot today as much-needed exercise. The goal? At least 30 minutes of daily moderate exercise, whether it is brisk walking, jogging, or climbing the many stairs in the skyscraper where I work.
      5. I read. Okay fine, I only read the newspaper. But it counts. My goal this year? To read at least one book per month. Seems attainable enough.
      6. I was social. Sort of. I was social a lot with my kids. We talked and played around and cleaned together and finished our annual family slideshow. I should probably have social goals beyond just my kiddos and the occasional small talk with coworkers. But I am kind of at a standstill in that arena. How on earth do people get beyond the small talk realm and into that place where they do fun things together outside of work? (Do all those people even exist outside the building? What are they like when they’re not being all professional?)
      7. I made healthy eating choices. Low carb, low calorie, and yummy foods. I could totally live with that for the rest of the year.
      8. I accomplished most of my daily goals/tasks and planned for tomorrow’s.
      9. I relaxed. A little. I should have maybe increased my relaxation to productive work ratio, as I probably should most days.
      10. I wrote. Yes, I am counting this blog. But as long as I am writing something every day, I’m cool with that.

Happy New Year, readers! Maybe the new habits you began today carry over throughout the year, and may any laundry you happened to do today not wash away your family. Blessings!

new-year-same-me