Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 21: A Picture of Something I'd Like to Forget

Why does the Thirty Day Challenge have to require a picture of something I'd like to forget?  Isn't the whole point of wanting to forget something the idea that you avoid thinking about it?

I believe that each person has about a gazillion things she would like to forget, ranging from daily minutiae to big dark secrets that will never see the light of day.  And while the blog is very personal and yet protective, since I just have to tell my secrets to a computer screen without looking at the face of another individual, I don't think it's quite enough to get me to share least not all at once.  And so I will focus on smaller things that I will find important and nevertheless wish that I could forget.

Things like people who abuse animals -- I wish I could forget about that.  I wish that I could close my eyes and it would all go away.  I don't understand how people could do something like that.  And I certainly don't want to post a picture because every time I see it I run to my own furry babies and hug them and wish that somehow that hug will protect them from all the evil in the world.  If this sounds like you, too, you might want to check out Patrick's Law, a website that is trying to get harsher penalties for people who abuse and torture animals.

Along those lines (in a way), I wish that I could forget that my Hero, my darling cat, died in October 2009.  I do, actually, sometimes forget...and then when I remember again I am crushed.  Hero was the perfect cat and everyone, even dog-lovers, loved her.  She was a cute little 8lb Manx and had been my baby since she was small enough to fit in my palm.  She was named after a character in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, my favorite play.

My mother had her as an indoor-outdoor cat for the first two years, but when I got married and was no longer moving every few months, I brought Hero to live with us. Honey was never really a pet person, but he fell in love with Hero (and we eventually wound up with a house full of furry babies).
Hero liked being outside, but we kept her on a leash or within our sight in the backyard.
 When she was diagnosed with kidney failure at age 10, I was devastated.  We gave her kitty dialysis for months here at home and I took her in to the vet on a regular basis.  We gave her herbs and supplements.  Still, she became weaker and weaker until she was so tiny, only five pounds, and she wanted to sleep all the time.
Lotus and Hero used to sleep next to each other.
Thankfully, Lotus, too, liked to sleep, and we would find them together on a regular basis.  Hero had not liked the addition of Canvas, another cat, to the house years ago (it took her a long time to get used to the idea), but she was fine with Lotus.

I knew that once the vet told me she was in a lot of pain that I would have to give her up -- I loved my baby so much that I didn't want to see her suffer (a reason why I support my state's Death with Dignity law).  Thankfully I did not have to make that choice.  One night at 3AM I heard the most horrific meow.  I do truly wish that I could forget it.  I jumped up and ran to find Hero, who was so weak she could not stand, but she looked up at me and I knew it was time.  I picked her up, set her in the soft, new cat bed I just purchased the day before for her, and carried her to the couch where we curled up together.  We sat that way for three hours, when I finally woke Honey.  It seemed that with that last contact, Hero said it was time and that was that.  My furry soul mate was gone.

I still can't believe it.  I had her cremated and put in something that doesn't look so creepy-urn-like:
and then I bought some "Black Hero" tulips and planted them in the yard:
I cannot begin to express how devastated I was, but those of you who have pets who are like family will understand, I am sure.  Hero's passing did allow us to expand our family...a lot.  I was already planning on adopting two manx kittens (from a litter that a former student & his wife had, a surprise from adopting a stray summer of 2009), and then I saw a beautiful tabby who looked a lot like Hero (except this cat had a tail) for adoption at the local shelter.  We ended up with all three within about two weeks of Hero's leaving.

I love my fur babies.  I can't imagine life without them.  And I am so thankful for the additions.  But I still miss my Hero.  And I wish that I could forget her meow and that last awful night.  My mother says that even though the evening was devastating, it showed my connection with Hero, because she wanted to wake me up (and she waited for Honey to get up), rather than hiding as cats are wont to do when the end is near.  Perhaps that is true.  It is comforting to think that it is, and so I'll run with that idea.

There are many, many more things in life that I wish I could forget: corporate greed, wars, plagues, pestilence, famine, genocide, and people who are cruel and inconsiderate just because they can be. Just because they are selfish.  The world is filled with awful things that would be really depressing if one just focused on that side and didn't see any of the good.  We could look at people helping after natural disasters, or people helping others just because, and realize that life is not all bad.  There are certainly plenty of glimmers of hope and beauty all throughout the world.

Perhaps because all of these things play into who I am, who we are, what the world is, maybe it's best to remember the slogan of Holocaust survivors: Never Forget.  After all, if ever there was a group of people who should be allowed to forget horrors, it's that group, and they remind us every day of the importance of remembrance.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 20: A Picture of Someplace I'd Love to Travel

Today's task in the Thirty Day Challenge is probably the easiest of the whole month (that's good, I need a freebie!).  I love to travel.  Thankfully, Honey does, too.  We love people-watching, the excitement of the airport, the thrill (and slight terror) of flight, the adventurism that accompanies exploring a new place and trying to learn a modicum of new language in order to communicate.  The one thing that I do not like about travel (in fact, I hate it!) is leaving my furry babies.  Being gone for ten hours at work is hard enough -- leaving for days at a time is sheer torture!  If I could bring them with me everywhere I went, I would.  Since I can't, I try to plan well in advance and look hard to find someone I trust to stay with them 24/7.

This summer, we'll be returning to Vietnam.
We hope to make a stop in Thailand while there.  My furry babies will be with a brother, who has promised to care for them like his own.  (Truth be told, I'll probably return home and find my plants dead but my furry babies fat and happy -- this brother likes to give the babies extra food and spoils them a bit.)

I am happy to return to Vietnam.  But if I had my choice of returning anywhere, it would be to Prague, the most beautiful city in the world.  I love Prague.
Of course this post is not supposed to be about returning somewhere but about exploring someplace new.  New how?  If the answer is "new as a couple," then I would like to return to South Korea -- a place Honey hasn't seen -- or Israel -- a place we've both been to but never together -- or go to Greece, where Honey has been but I have not.  I might also choose Austin, Texas, but that is only for the food.  Specifically one restaurant. 

Honey raved about it enough that if I were a gazillionare with my own jet I'd probably hop over and check it out for myself.  I could say the same thing about going to San Jose, CA.  Honey has a beloved restaurant and I am all about food, so of course I want to go.

This picture of Mezcal was taken from their FB page.

If, however, I am "supposed" to be talking about a brand new place, someplace neither one of us has ever been, a place made for exploring, I have a few cities at the top of my list:
Found this via Google's image search
Istanbul.  Beautiful.  Historic. 

Ditto to the Google image search.

Buenos Aires.  "Paris of South America."  It has a large population of Jews and the only kosher McDonald's outside of Israel (as far as I know).

Unfortunately, both of these cities tend to fall outside our budget range, which is why we haven't had a chance to go yet.  But one day I hope to see these beautiful sights...and then maybe get around to the "new to us as a couple" locations as well.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 19: A Picture of When I was Little

I'm the oldest. These are a few of my siblings + our dog Blackie.
I don't remember much about when I was little.  That's probably the result of a somewhat stressful existence.  I have found, as I get older, that children are very resilient.  Pictures tend to show a happy side of childhood.  In fact, I had no idea how stressed and overwhelmed I was or how different our lives were compared to others because I didn't know any better at the time.

My brothers have a much better memory, and while I think that their experiences were less stressful than mine, they did have to deal with their own share of garbage.  Now, because they are good storytellers and they have good memories from this time, they regale us with humorous tales after dinner parties.  Of course one has to laugh to keep from crying. 

I didn't quite realize how controlled our childhood was until Bestie #2 pointed out that it wasn't normal for children to get a beating for getting into the fridge or cupboard between meals.  One of my brothers said that he remembers a shocking day in fifth grade when he was visiting a friend: the friend stood up in the middle of playing, went to the fridge, and got something to drink.  You can do that?!? You can just get something to drink any time you want??  It was a new concept.  Honey said that he was aware of this eleven years ago during the first overnight stay at my family's house (we were visiting for the weekend, I believe).  In the morning we had a pancake breakfast -- which meant, in my world, that everyone got one pancake.  Apparently this was a shock to Honey, who still put up with it nicely.

Yes, we were poor growing up.  But life was also quite controlled.  There is a reason why when I participated in a mini-boot camp as a teenager it felt like a week's vacation.  There is a reason why I knew how to wash clothes in a bucket when visiting Vietnam a few years ago and why I was okay with taking showers using two gallons of water in a bucket.  There is also a reason why I absolutely hate camping and refuse to "rough it" any more as long as I am in the States.  (I can be flexible elsewhere.)

I do not wish my former life --at least the few bits & pieces I can remember -- on anyone.  But in all honesty I have to be thankful for all of these experiences because they made me able to relate to the kids that I taught and the experiences made me the tough person I am today.

(At least tough on the exterior. Inside I'm a big softy full of insecurities.  But you probably already knew that.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 18: If at first you don't succeed [scream, shout, pout, and then], try, try again

Day 18 of the Thirty Day Challenge is supposed to be all about one's biggest insecurity.  How is a person just supposed to pick one?  My dirty little secret is that I have many.  Ask my Honey, who knows and still puts up with me.  Of course I have the "normal" insecurities about weight, hair, shoe size.  Then I have a few more courtesy of all the years that I was the weirdo girl that few people liked -- usually these revolve around the fear of offending people, fear of awkward silences, fear of interaction, fear of rejection, fear of still being the weird girl few people like.  Still more insecurities are courtesy of Crazymaker: when anything is out of place in my house, it causes heartburn.  There is a reason why the house is vacuumed at least once a day (and no, it's not just because we have five furry babies).  So what am I supposed to choose?

The answer came today as I was trying to do a few art projects.  It's been a while, and so even though I have plenty of other things I should be doing, I decided to take some time for art.  This was an appropriate choice for the day because it showed to me that I still have a long way to go on my journey to creative recovery.

My first project for the day was to take these two cupboard doors that I bought at the Habitat store for $1 each and turn them into art.
The wonderful blogger at I'm a Mom, Not A Professional posted a great how-to on making silhouette art with contact paper for those of us who covet a Silhouette Machine and can't afford it.  Genius!  And I love cherry blossoms.  I took this idea and the dark cabinet and ran with it.

First of all, I must say it probably would've turned out better if my contact paper wasn't old and wrinkled.  Lesson #1 of the day.  Then I realized that this would still take plenty of time and patience because I needed to use an x-acto knife to cut this detailed picture.  Yikes!
I pressed the contact paper on, sprayed the door, used some sandpaper to distress the edges, and then pulled up the contact paper...only to find out that it wasn't laying completely flat (see Lesson #1 for the day) and so there are smudgy/blurry parts.  I was upset.
Confession: I love doing art projects, but I like feeling like there's a point/purpose/usefulness to the project.  That is part of the reason why I get so disappointed when things don't turn out.

I turned my sights to other art.  I found a pretty tree silhouette and a pretty picture of a girl sitting down and thought "I wonder if I could paint something like that with both images."  And so I tried:
The first time I tried, I didn't even make it to the image of the girl because I messed up on the tree trunk.

So I tried again.
While putting on the "finishing touches" I accidentally smudged it, tried to cover the smudge with a branch extension, and ended up being displeased with the whole result.

By this time, I was getting frustrated.  Honey at first didn't even want to talk with me because of my mood, but then I calmed down enough to hear reason.  Honey pointed out that art is supposed to be fun and relaxing, so if it's turning into a stress machine then I should leave it.  I've never taken art classes and have no idea how things are supposed to work, so I should chill.  Why do I need constant validation?  And it's okay to have things not turn out the way I want them to the first time ("Not so!" says my Guilt Monster, who likes to remind me that everything should have a purpose.  Go away, Guilt Monster!)  Most importantly, I should be doing projects because I like them, not because of what other people think.

That is when it hit me: I'm still stuck in my desperate and ridiculous need for approval.  My biggest insecurity: not being good enough.  And that is what drives me to do a bazillion things, work 20 hour days, forget how to say no and put up boundaries, and do all the other crazy things that I do.  It's in an effort to say "I'm valuable! What I do has worth! I'm good enough!" even when I don't feel that way.  Sad, I know, but true.  And something I'll try to fix because it's not a good way to live.

In the meantime, I tried the painting again.  A third time.  And while I am not entirely satisfied with it, I did discover that foam board makes a good and cheap "canvas" (Lesson #2) and that I need to stop trying to overdo it with trees (Lesson #3) and it's okay to not have everything be perfect (Lesson #4).

That's a lot of lessons!  I think it's time for a nap.

Ginger-Bourbon Apple Butter

For years I hated even the mention of apple butter.  It reminded me of some of my less-than-pleasant growing up experiences.  While most of my pre-20 memory seems to be completely wiped, I have retained a few, generally associated with food or smells.  In this particular case, it's both.

I grew up as the oldest child in a very strange family in the middle of an odd community.  My parents believed that children were best when used as portable dishwashers and vacuum cleaners.  While some siblings believe that our parents did not let us out much because they were afraid of the terrible liberal world corrupting our teeny tiny conservative minds, I have another theory (at least today): if they let us out too often, we'd realize that not all children were mini-cleaning machines.  We might start to question it.  That would not do at all!  And so we lived a sheltered life.

Occasionally, after church in a tiny little town, my parents would let me out of their sight for a few short hours.  For these precious hours I could go stay with a friend and her family.  If I thought that my parents had neglected the memo about slave labor and children, the parents of this poor girl didn't even know the memo existed.  She worked all the time, cooking, caring for children, cleaning -- all tasks I knew and understood well, being responsible for them at my own home -- and it seemed to me even then, at age nine and ten, that she was very under appreciated.  And yet for some reason, every once in a while, our parents would take pity on us and let us spend a Sunday afternoon together.  (Even housemaids of 18th century England received the occasional day off, I suppose.)

The day was always spent at her house, this friend of mine, because her mother couldn't have her too far away.  And so we arrived at their house and would eat lunch after church.  We were inevitably starving, since church service seemed to last nearly three hours (at least to my sense of time -- I have no idea what it was really except that this place had the longest services of anyplace I ever attended), so any food should taste good.  Any food, that is, except the apple butter.  That we had to eat.  On everything.  Every. Single. Time.

Did I mention I hated apple butter for years?  It was not until a few years ago when I started cooking and looking at various baking options that I decided to try apple butter again.  Not on its own, mind you -- just in baked goods.  Eventually I gained courage to try it by itself...and liked it!

My brother gave me a jar of Ginger-Bourbon Apple Butter for Christmas.
 It was a locally made product and it was very good.  I enjoyed it on my daily toast for quite a while, but this morning I ran out!  Oh no!  And so I did what any desperate person would do in my situation: I bought a bazillion pounds of apples and decided to create it on my own.

I read online a bit and then got a few suggestions from friends and set about creating my own recipe.  First off, I knew that a blend of apples was best, so I bought three types and tasted the apples to decide what balance I wanted:
I had to be careful because I love raw apples, but I can't eat more than about two bites or my entire mouth will break out in sores.  Thankfully this is not the case for cooked apples!

After determining the qualities I wanted, I weighed the apples and then put together a recipe based on that.
Honey and I started the process at 8PM.  Lotus had no idea why we were starting a project so late, so she put herself to bed in the kitchen.
The recipe takes time and patience, but I think it's worth it!  Let me know what you think...

Ginger Bourbon Apple Butter Recipe:
5lbs Red Delicious apples
3lbs Pink Lady apples
3lbs Fuji apples
2lbs D'Anjou Pears
1/4 c. water
2 TSBP grated ginger (about a 2" root)
1/2-1 c. blackstrap molasses (depending on taste -- I originally put 2 c. in and it was very molasses-y, which was great for me because I adore molasses, but a bit strong for everyone else)
2 c. dark brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4-1/2 tsp. cloves (depending on taste -- I like lots of spices in everything)
3/4 c. bourbon (we used Old Crow)

I do not have a food strainer.  That would make this process much easier because I would only have to chop apples without having to peel/core.  This process is for people like me who don't have the handy tool.

We cored and peeled the apples and then ran them through the food processor to chop them finely.

Core & Peel


 If you don't have a food processor, just chop as finely as you can & know that the cooking process will last a bit longer.

Take all the chopped bits and place them in a big pot with 1/4 c. water and cook them down to applesauce.  This took about an hour on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Once the apples have cooked down to applesauce, use a blender (we used our immersion blender -- one of the greatest kitchen gadgets of all time) to create a smooth paste.  Add all other ingredients and mix together.
Place the whole mixture in a dutch oven (ours is 6.75qts.) and place in a 250 degree oven overnight -- about 10 hours -- to cook down.  It makes the whole house smell good!
If you don't have a dutch oven but do have a crock pot, that would probably work well, too.  (You can make this in a couple hours on the stove, but you have to constantly stir -- too much work!)

Homemade apple butter on homemade english muffins?  Yes, please!

I generally share my creations at these linky parties.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 17: A Picture of Something That's Made a Huge Impact on My Life Recently

As part of today's post for the Thirty Day Challenge, I could take a picture of the disaster that is currently dining room table dissertation work space.  But I don't think that the post is supposed to be about things that depress us (yes, it's depressing to work with statistics AND to have a messy space -- I hate mess).

I could also post a picture of the teenager living with us.  Going from a childless home to a home with a teenager is a big change.  I am not sure how long the arrangement will last -- anywhere from a few months to a couple years -- and we're just trying to take one day or one week at a time.  Then again, my life is used to major upheaval like this, so I am not sure that even something like this counts for the day's post.

For me, there is rarely a time when I experience something that is immediately life-changing or life-impacting.  Yes, there are the occasional deaths in families, major break-ups, disasters, and other bits and pieces of life's debris, but for the most part we all know to roll with the punches.  What I find is that it is often the little things in life that end up having the most impact -- even if I don't realize it for several years.

Take, for instance, this book, the one I'm focused on for 2011 (well, the train's been derailed a bit this month, but it will be back up & running in no time):

I started reading The Artist's Way a few years ago and never made it very far, but I did adopt writing "morning pages."  I had, at the time, an extremely stressful job.  Writing was a way to clarify what I wanted and needed.  I got out of the job and started looking for one that would be a bit more nurturing, healthier.  What happened after that is a long story, or even several long stories.  Suffice it to say I started reflecting more, listening to my inner self more, and eventually that led me here: to a year in which I decide to make it all the way through this book, embark on creative recovery, and embrace my crafty self.

I don't know where things will lead, but the joy of the journey lies in discovery, not in knowing the destination, and I discover new things all the time.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 16: A Picture of Someone Inspirational

I don't believe in heroes.  At least not most of the time.  But I do believe in inspirational people.  Most of the time, these people are part of my life in some way.  Of course I do admire people who lived in the past or are famous (more or less) for something today.  This is why it's rather difficult to narrow down my ideas for this post in the Thirty Day Challenge.

Perhaps one of the reasons I have such a difficult time deciding these things is because I can generally see multiple sides to a story, issue, person.  For instance, I could say I find Gandhi inspirational -- after all, who doesn't admire devotion to the peaceful overthrow of an imperialist power? -- but then I think that early in his life he decided that in order to be "pure" he couldn't have sex with his wife ever again, and that sounds a bit crazy to me.  On the other hand, choosing someone I know as an inspiration inevitably leads to panicky thoughts, like "Oh, I hope I didn't offend anyone because I chose this person and not him/her."  So I sound a bit crazy myself.  There is no winning.

And so I have decided to choose one famous person I find inspirational -- warts and all -- and one person in my life I find inspirational and let the chips fall where they may.

A good portion of my former students would be able to tell you right now who my inspirational famous person is: Vaclav Havel.
Author, playwright, and a leader of the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.  He was imprisoned numerous times (usually for dissident writing or the like), but still managed to lead the people of his country to peacefully kick out communism.  He was the first democratic president in the country, and when the country split into two and became the Czech Republic and Slovakia, he helped bring about a peaceful Velvet Divorce.  I first started reading his political essays in college and since then I have had a love affair with his mind.  We don't always agree, but it's a respectful (albeit one-sided ;-) relationship.

There is one person in my life who has been a constant source of inspiration.  She is amazing and everyone who meets her knows that.  I wish that I could share everything about her with you, but since I can't in this forum, let me give you a little glimpse that might help you understand:

Terri is the owner of MaMere's B&B and if you ever get a chance, you simply must stay there -- it's the most beautiful, comforting house I've ever seen.  And this is just one of the many things that Terri does in the small little town of Monmouth.  She is also very encouraging to everyone she meets, and she provides instant clarity to so many situations!  That's probably why she also makes a wonderful coach for parents and teachers struggling with challenging situations.  She's turned that into a business too -- the business of helping people -- through YAR: Youth & Adolescent Relationships.  She's helped people all around the country, and I respect and admire her more than I can say.

Okay, I have to throw just one more in just for the heck of it: Mrs. Obama.
Ladies, I don't care what your political views are, this woman is amazing.  And isn't it nice to have a first lady who is beautiful, fashion conscious, and intelligent in the White House?  I am totally jealous of her arms...and all her clothes.  Her focus on healthy children, good eating habits, all of it...a-maz-ing.  I want to be her when I grow up. :-)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

If I'm burned at the stake, you'll know why.

Today I had to write a "testimony" for a job application.  This is common within Christian circles, but I have not had to write something like this for years because I was so firmly rooted in public education.  Now I am looking for a job and one opening is at a place that requires a testimony.  There were no detailed parameters regarding it, and my life has been so far removed from that way of thinking that it took me a while to write.

I had two goals when writing:

1) Use language that the job site would understand.
2) Be true to me so that they can't say I've deceived them.

My third goal, although not a writing goal, was to be okay with rejection.  It is something I get very used to -- it comes with the territory.  "Yes, we know you're perfectly qualified and the best candidate, but you just don't love Jesus enough/in the right way/go to church."  That's fine.  Each place needs to set its priorities, and often times even educational facilities don't have education as the highest priority.  I know that after years of experience.

I would not call myself a Christian by any stretch of the imagination, but after years of struggle I am finally okay with being spiritual.  In fact, I embrace my spiritual side.  And I think that it's closer to someone who might be religiously Christian or Jewish or Muslim or whatever than people might think.  A Dilbert comic from January of this year illustrates my point nicely:

Last week I met with a friend, an older woman whom I admire, and she shared that she stopped attending church, embraced her spirituality without box or boundaries or label, and she's been so much happier in these past few years than she ever was.  Growing up, I was told that people are only truly happy when they accept Jesus/go to church/"have a relationship" with Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit or whatever and I used to believe that, but my personal experiences have proved otherwise. I know the truth now: I am happier with my spiritual state than I ever was before.  And while I may choose to use words like God and Creator as I write this testimony for the job application, I want it to still show my true self, the part of me that embraces spirituality without religion or religious boundaries, without label or moniker.

And yes, they may burn me at the stake.  At the very least, I doubt that they will continue looking at my application after this (even though I've had good indicators up to this point that I would be the best candidate for the job).  But there is always the chance, the smallest chance, that they will embrace St. Augustine's All Truth is God's Truth and give me a chance.

Here's what I wrote for this "testimony":

Personal Testimony
March 2011

Some of my most profound learning experiences in recent years have come from courses I’ve taken on the philosophy of faith-learning integration.  While this may seem detached from a personal testimony, for me the  concept of testimony is inextricably bound with my beliefs regarding how faith and learning are bound. One of the first Christian scholars to broach the topic of faith-learning integration, albeit in sometimes more abstract ways, was St. Augustine, who was very clear that “all truth is God’s truth.”  If all things that are true come from God, then one can make the case that learning is a vehicle on which to build a greater faith in God through knowledge and discovery of the world.  Erasmus continued along these lines in the sixteenth century, writing about education with the assumption that one's faith will be visible in one's life and therefore “integration” (as we currently view it) is not necessary.  Melanchthon, a theologian, philosopher, teacher, and contemporary of Erasmus, believed that the Church and State were partners and that it was in the best interests of all involved to have citizens be well-educated spiritually and secularly.  As people of faith desire to know more about God, it makes sense to me to manifest faith through an innate curiosity about the world, a desire to learn and grow and through that develop spiritually.  And yet, for a good portion of my life, I felt like the concepts of “faith” and “learning” were separate, and my desire to meld the two would never come to fruition.

I was born into a house of conservative evangelicals with a bit of a “Jews for Jesus” vibe (from our heritage).  My parents were active in the local Calvary Chapel in XXXXX, and when we moved to XXXXX our family helped grow several churches over the years, sometimes Calvary Chapels, sometimes community churches, and all centers of conservative evangelical belief.  I accepted Christ at an early age, read the entire Bible through at least once by the time I was ten (and at least ten times by the time I left for college), was the model church-goer and Christian girl.  I took James 4:17 to heart and really believed that I had to always do my best and always do the right thing in every situation (even cleaning lint off the floor) because if I did not, if I was not doing everything I could to be good and do right, I was sinning.  I knew that God was forgiving, but in my experience people were not, and I did not want to give  myself or anyone else reason to be angry, disappointed, or stumble.  And so I became involved in as many evangelical pursuits as I could.  I studied and studied and studied to understand the Word of God, and for several years I seriously considered mission work as my post-college calling. 

As part of my education, I attended [a bible college that had a] Jewish Studies program.  I believed that this program would give me an even better idea of the scholarship behind biblical studies, it would integrate my Jewish and Christian heritage, and at the end I would have a better idea of whether I should pursue mission work.  I was naive.  The education was very thorough, an experience for which I am very grateful.  And while it did not provide all the answers I was looking for at the time, I can see now that my experiences started the seeds for my current beliefs about faith, learning, spirituality, and Christianity, although my life path’s results may not be what my professors intended.  I knew so much about the Bible, theology, and as I continued with my schooling and finished a bachelor’s degree I felt like what I knew about the world did not mesh with what I was told, growing up in evangelical circles, about God/Jesus/the Bible/Christianity.  Evangelicals, in my experience, wanted to be right: they didn’t want true knowledge.  They wanted to believe that people had to do certain things or behave a certain way or profess certain beliefs for God’s forgiveness.  They wanted to believe that some people, like Jews and Muslims who love God/HaShem/Allah and strive to be good and to gain fellowship with the Creator, are wrong and will thus go to this place called Hell because their vision of a relationship with God and religion is not the “right” one.  They want to believe in circular logic which says that the Bible (as we know it today) is the inerrant written Word of God because the Bible says so.  And, most damningly, they do not use their faith as a means of fueling curiosity to find the truth, even if that truth means reevaluating what one used to believe. 

It was for these reasons, and several other, more personal reasons, that I chose as an adult to stop attending church and to retreat for several years as I considered my personal beliefs regarding spirituality, Christianity, faith and learning.  For a time, I did not consider myself even a spiritual person, much less a member of any organized religion, because I could not reconcile my view of the Creator – loving, merciful, graceful – with the world around me.  This retreat turned into a period of renewal; I was happier out of the mainstream.  I could concentrate on learning Truth without always having to determine whether it was in conflict with what my education and upbringing told me was biblically true.  It was during this time that I started attending [my doctoral program].

My education at XXXXX created the opportunity for me to think critically about the concept of faith-learning integration and I was finally at the point in my life that I could embrace this concept – hesitantly at first, and then with excitement.  In my studies and personal reflection, I found that I could agree with St. Augustine’s assessment that “all truth is God's truth” and wish that more people currently could see things that way.  On a personal level, I find that I would describe my own “faith and learning” experiences and beliefs as “intellectual pursuits guided by moral beliefs.”  I love learning and my academic and spiritual sides are not separate.  Instead, I see my intellectual pursuits as a way to learn more about myself, my own moral code and compass, and deepen my awareness of life around me.  There is a purpose to pursuing and revealing truth in all its formsIn the Bible, a passage in John 17 implies that Christians should “be in the world but not of it.”  I believe it’s our responsibility as moral agents to make wise choices about the world in which we live based on our knowledge and understanding; as we learn new information we should adjust our beliefs and practices accordingly, resulting in constant self-reflection.  As I learn more, it contributes to my sense of moral consciousness and responsibility; for me “faith” and “learning” are entirely intertwined and play a critical role in my daily thoughts and actions.  My conclusion now is much the same as when I started (although I believe I have a greater depth of understanding): if “all truth is God’s truth” then faith and learning by their very nature are intertwined concepts.  I believe that living a spiritual life is not about what one says, it’s about one’s actions.  If we function as whole individuals our learning and our personal moral code(s) should function in tandem.  If my actions are Christ-like, then I am living the moral principles I hold dear.

My spiritual quest brought me into contact with several books that helped shape my ability to express my beliefs.  Rather than giving me specific knowledge that transformed the way that I think, these books gave me the words to express some of my inner thoughts about a relationship with the Creator, God.  Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way helped me to reflect on my life’s experiences and what that means about what I want to do with life, and more importantly what I think that means about what God has for my life.  I embraced my creative side and realized that I don’t always fit inside a box – my spiritual self can be nurtured in many ways, from long quiet walks conversing with the Creator to times spent in fellowship conversations with like-minded individuals, and while we’ve been told that attending a church body is necessary on a regular basis, I’ve found that this is not the case for me.  I feel more spiritually whole, connected to God, when I am out talking with Him in nature, when I am learning about the world around me, when I am helping others.

One of my questions when working with many people in my life is why some seem so quick to put up walls when they reach a piece of learning or an idea that conflicts with what they’ve long held to be true.  Rather than jumping at the chance to see if this new idea or concept can make one grow or develop, it is quickly dismissed.  Why, then, do people who do this still claim to want to learn?  John Hull, in his book What Prevents Christian Adults from Learning?, writes that Abraham Maslow describes two motivations for learning: deficiency motivation and growth motivation.  If people feel a lack of something, they are motivated by deficiency.  If they feel healthy and enjoy discovery, they are motivated by growth.  This seems to aptly describe the environment I’ve observed my whole life: many Christians operate out of a feeling of deficiency.  “I have a need, God fills that need.”  The issue with this is that once a person feels that the need is met, the search to fill that need stops and so does the growth.  On the other hand, if one operates out of growth motivation, from the belief that “I love God not because I have a need, but because God is lovable,” then growth is continual.  The desire to learn, move forward, grow, reflect is continuous because it is not based in lack, it is based in love.

Richard Hughes’s book, The Vocation of a Christian Scholar, was one I was hesitant to read at first.  After all, what is the difference between a scholar, a Jewish scholar, a Muslim scholar, and a Christian scholar?  I was pleasantly surprised – especially when I heard Dr. Hughes speak at a gathering in January – that his treatise echos my beliefs: a belief in spirituality, moral order and a belief that God encourages true scholarship because it supports the life of the mind.  Supporting the life of the mind cannot happen if one is bound and confined within a particular box. Human beings are finite and cannot possibly know everything; our knowledge of the world, each other, and God changes century to century.  The Bible is not a scientific treatise, but it conveys two theological themes that are present in other religions as well: the unfailing love and grace of an infinite God, and if God loves us we should love one another.  The Bible is full of paradox and mystery conveying the Truth of infinite Love through symbols, metaphors, allegories.  The task of Christian scholars – the task of spiritual scholars – is to be faithful to infinite truths and to accept paradox, nurturing it through critical thinking and further exploration.  The themes for life, life driven by a passionate love of God/HaShem/Allah, are the same – love, justice, service, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. 

One of my most recent experiences with the concept of faith-learning integration came from a book I read last year.  Viktor Frankl, a psychologist, Holocaust-survivor, and creator of logotherapy, wrote a book called Man's Search for Meaning.  This book is commonly assigned to psychology students (because of its obvious contribution to that field), but it is one that I found very valuable as an educator.  In the field of education we often have to use our understanding of people as individuals in order to make appropriate judgments or decisions.  Man's Search for Meaning is a clear thesis on why certain people survive difficult (or seemingly impossible) situations, while others do not.  Frankl's conclusion was that individuals need something to believe in that is outside themselves.  The belief in something greater than the individual is what helped people persevere through trying situations. I think that most people agree that they are living for something greater than themselves, and thus one's faith or belief in that greater thing (whatever it may be) and what one learns from life's trials meld into one's life and contribute to future thoughts and actions.  The way one's life is lived or exhibited is a demonstration of the faith and the learning working together.  With regards to my spiritual life impacting my practice, I take Matthew 25:34-40 to heart: my service to others is a service to God.  I realize that others may have a different way of looking at the world, at spirituality, at Christianity, and I accept that.  My job, my life, is to support others where they are in their journeys.  This is my calling and my service.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 15: A Picture of Something I Want to Do before I Die

Today's task didn't require as much mental energy as past days on this Thirty Day Challenge.  Thank God for that!  After dealing with a bazillion things that have made life beyond crazy (topped off this morning by Honey finding a dead shrew in our room, courtesy of one of our four cats -- how does a mouse get inside the house?!?!?), I could sure use an easy task. 

If I were talking about a crazy, never-gonna-happen something I'd like to do before I die, I'd find a picture of Glee and a picture of a principal and say that I want to be a cast member on Glee, one that sings, replaces the current principal (even if only for a few episodes), is not an idiot and comes in and gives Sue Sylvester a run for her money.  There are only a few problems with this idea, not the least of which being that I can neither sing nor act (although I've tried my hand at both and wish that I had talent in this area).

Instead, let's focus on a real dream, something that has a possibility of actually occurring in my lifetime.

I want to go to Istanbul.  And after several years of saying this, I think that Honey finally agrees it would be a nice trip.  Now all that is standing in our way is cost.  We tend to go somewhere each year between Christmas and New Year's, but we have a budget.  We choose our destination based on three criteria:
  1. Does this fit within the travel budget?
  2. Does the destination have good public transportation since we won't be renting a car?
  3. Is this a pedestrian-friendly place, since we'll probably be walking 12-15 miles a day to see the sights?
Honestly, I'm not sure how Istanbul rates on the last two questions because it's never fit within the budget so it's never been an option.  But for the past year or so I've seen more and more magazines and travel articles highlighting Istanbul and it only serves to make my desire to go there even stronger.  Fingers crossed for Istanbul within the next few years! 

Monday, March 21, 2011

What the heck is a mug rug?

The answer to the question "What the heck is a mug rug?" is obviously "A very good idea!"  Someone, somewhere, was a genius.  And this brilliant idea is spreading throughout the world.  Here is a picture of a mug rug that was made as part of a tutorial over at Sew We Quilt:
I am even more fascinated by this one, not because of its looks but because it was made by a man who is a funeral director and father by day and quilter by night! He even made his own tutorial.

What's a person to do with all this beautiful creativity floating around in the world?  Well, my BlogFriend over at Sew Happy Geek had a wonderful idea: a mug rug swap!!  Isn't that AbFab?  I thought so.  Join me and let's see what we can create between now and May 6!

SewHappyGeek Mug Rug Button

Day Fourteen: A Picture of Someone Without Whom Life Would Be Unimaginable

Trying to make a sentence sound (be) proper can make it rather cumbersome!  I noticed that, again, when I wrote the title to this post.  On the Thirty Day Challenge the wording is a bit more straightforward, even if the sentence ends in a preposition: "a picture of someone you couldn't imagine your life without."

There are many people who make a difference in my life.  I think that we all realize that the people who come into our lives for even a short while impact us in many ways, whether we realize it at the time or not.  It is for this reason that I spent a while pondering the person I would feature in this post: I know that my life would be different, perhaps in ways that I can't possibly imagine, had other people been the individuals with whom I interacted over the course of my life.

Family, friends, enemies, students, professors -- all have impacted my life in some way.  But the one person who has, perhaps, had the most profound impact is my Honey.
Near Taos, NM
We've known each other since high school (but I can't upload a picture of that because 1) it's too embarrassing, and 2) it was years before we even heard of digital cameras, much less owned one!)  We married a number of years after meeting, and it's been a wild ride.  We are both oldest children.  Our family backgrounds are very different.  We're both stubborn, opinionated, too smart for our own good....and we married so young so we've had to grow up together and figure out who we are.
We realize we've been pretty lucky growing and learning together because there was a chance that as we became our adults selves that we'd realize we were completely different and not compatible (a hazard of an under-30 marriage, if you ask me), but we haven't reached that point.  We've worked hard to figure out ourselves and each other.  At the end of the day, I know that there is no one for me.
We love to travel and cook and eat good food and have hobbies and interests in common.  How many people can say that?  And while we didn't have any good role models growing up, at least not the type that demonstrated what we want to be together, we are figuring things out.

Honey is very patient.  That is good.  I can be a bit crazy.  I think with my heart a bit too much (something I've grown into as I've aged), I take on the world and everyone in it, and all the while Honey is there, waiting, helping, supporting.  This summer we'll celebrate our tenth anniversary and it seems like an eternity and yet no time at all.

One time I was speaking to a student who had a rough life and she asked me about my own.  Without getting too personal, I did share some difficulties.  She asked if I would change what I had lived through and was a bit shocked when I said "No" until I explained myself.  Would I wish some of my life experiences and some of the people on anyone else?  No way!  But I like who I am and who I am becoming and every single person and experience in my life has shaped who I am today, so I don't wish for the past to change.  I like least most of the time.

And yet the person who means the most to me, the one without whom life would be completely different, is still my Honey.  He has seen me at my most nerdy, most annoying, most needy, and still puts up with me.  I can't imagine my life without him...or at least not for an extended period of time.  I'll survive tonight without him: he has a work dinner and I'll be home puppy-sitting...yes, the fun never ends.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My busy life is interfering with crafting

I wish that life wouldn't interfere with the crafts I have planned and would like to do, but that's the way things go, I guess.  My life has been a series of 18-20 hour days for about three weeks and I am exhausted!  Thank God for spring break, right?  I still have to work and do a bazillion things and we're puppy-sitting a tiny, not-quite-potty-trained dog during this time, too, so I wouldn't really call it a "break" but since I get to work from home that makes things a bit better.  All this goes to say that I haven't really had a chance to be crafting to my heart's content.  Over the past few weeks I've completed a couple projects very slowly, and I'm not entirely satisfied with them but thought I'd share anyway.

The first was a "book clutch," inspired by a posting from See Kate Sew.  Her's is so adorable, but my Goodwill did not want to cooperate.  After a few weeks of searching I found a clutch and a book that could work for a price I was willing to pay ($6 total), so here is my version:
After #1

After #2

I also found an old frame with a plastic to-do list in it that I updated into a place to hang keys.  This actually doesn't work for my house, so into the what-am-I-going-to-do-with-this box it goes (maybe I'll come up with a good idea).
I wish that I had remembered to take "before" pictures so that you could see how ugly and old it was.  I spray painted, put a flower in the top, and used a scrapbook page that had all the letters of the alphabet on it to cut out letters for "welcome" and then I used some embellishments for "hello" and "home."  Total cost: under $4.

Last but not least was a project using a couple TV trays I picked up at a Habitat for Humanity store.  I wish this place was closer (it's a two-hour round trip drive) because the price of goods here is so much better than the local Goodwill and the walking into the store is the start of a treasure hunt.  Here's what these old metal trays looked like when I bought them:
Helllloooo, 70s floral!  I can just imagine these in the home of a grandparent who believes sofas should be encased in thick plastic in case of spills.

I don't have a fancy vinyl machine.  (Oh Silhouette Machine, how I covet thee!)  Instead, for the first tray I printed out pictures/letters, traced them on to contact paper, placed the contact paper on the tray (after I gave it its first paint color), and then sprayed the second color onto the tray.

This was a lot of work, or at least it was very time-consuming to cut all of these things out.  I decided with the second tray to use post-it notes instead, but...well...I'll explain what happened when I finally post that tray.  It's not done yet.  And since starting this project several weeks ago we've had constant rain, so I can't finish anything involving paint.  At least one tray is done!

Update, 3/25/11:
Thanks to the lovely blogger at Sew Happy Geek, my little 'ol craft projects were featured!  You are too kind. :-)

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