Friday, March 30, 2012

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver

The Pursuit

Last night, after my Zumba, class a woman (who just finished reading my book) came up to me and said, "You are the happiest person I've ever met."

In shock, I laughed.

She continued, "After all you've been through, it amazes me that you are just such a happy person!"

"Well," I tried to explain, "that book was written four years ago. And let's be honest, when 60 people show up for a booty-shaking work-out, it's easier to put on a happy face even if it's been a really long day."

Her comment made me laugh because I'm sure that if she asked the people closest to me, none of them would call me "the happiest person they'd ever met." At least, I wouldn't. I can be quite cynical. I'm really selfish. I can look into a nearly, clear blue sky and only see the one cloud.

But I've been thinking much about happiness recently. That pleasure. That contentment. That joy. That confidence. That satisfaction. Oh happiness.

Last week, I read the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. One day sitting on a city bus in NYC, she recognized that she wasn't happy and set out the next year to identify what was making her unhappy and make resolutions to add more joy to her life. Things like going to sleep earlier, asking for help, enjoying the present moment, singing in the morning, indulging in a modest splurge, and keeping a gratitude journal.

Here's a few things I've learned:
-"They say that people teach what they need to learn."

-"When the student is ready, the teacher appears." -Buddhist saying

-"Although we presume that we act because of the way we feel, in fact we often feel because of the way we act."

-80% of success is just showing up

-"When money or health is a problem, you think of little else. When it's not a problem, we don't think much about it."

-"There are times in the lives of most of us when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday." -William Edward Hartpole Lecky

-small children may laugh 400 times a day, adults average about 17

I like this story:
"On our last day at the beach, when we were packed up and ready to leave, Jamie (her husband) and I sat reading the newspaper as we all waited for the ferry. Eleanor (her daughter) had wandered off to practice her stair climbing on a short set of three stairs, so I went to help her climb up and down, up and down. I considered going to get a section of the paper to read as I stood with her--and then I realized, this is it.

"This was my precious, fleeting time with Eleanor as a little girl, so adorable and cheery and persistent, as she went up and down those wooden stairs. The sun was shining, the flowers were blooming, she looked so darling in her pink summer dress; why would I want to distract myself from the moment by reading the paper? She'd already grown so much; we'd never have a tiny baby again." (199)

I've had those moments of this is it.

Of discovering a few sacred moments, sitting in my parked car, as the spring air wanders through the open windows. This is it.

Of catching the eye of a little boy, peeking out behind his father's knees in line at the grocery store. This is it.

Of hunching over a list of 59 things to do before our wedding day and realizing that I will never again plan another wedding. This is it.

Of dancing my little heart out with sixty strangers in a Zumba class that reminds me after a long day: it's going to be all right. This is it.

This is it. This is what we are: a people of highs and lows. A collection of flat tires, birthday parties, sobbing tears, and sunny afternoons. We feel. We experience. And too often we follow the masses and fall in line, we do as we're told and we take on a robotic, auto-pilot motion that makes us unaware, un-feeling, and so often, dreadfully unhappy.

This is it.
This is what we've got: one wild and precious life.
We do our best.
We pull through.
We take a moment to notice, to observe, to look with new eyes.

To choose happy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


A few years ago, I was laying on a mat at the end of my yoga class. The room was dark and quiet. My tummy rose and fell to the rhythm of my inhale and exhale. Peace.

The instructor then walked us through a full-body relaxation. She said, "Now, starting at the top of your body, sense any tension at the top of your head and your skull and your neck. And let it go. Now pay attention to your forehead, your eyes, your mouth. Release that tension."

This shocked me. I remember opening my eyes immediately, amazed that I had been laying here in a "relaxed" state for several minutes, but my face, my forehead, my eyes, and my mouth were contorted into some kind of worried state. The tension in my face (and the rest of my body for that matter) was so drastically noticeable, but only when I took the ten seconds to recognize it. Letting go often harder than hanging on.

I often hear people say, "I'm not stressed. I'm not high-strung. I'm just fine." Then they turn away to scream at their kid, "Sammy, stop fighting with your brother. And pull up your pants!!!!" I think most of us are more stressed, more tense, and more oblivious to our true state of being than we'd care to admit.

That's what I recognized in yoga that day. My chiropractor also suggests that by the state of my neck and shoulders, I probably spend most of the day with my shoulders touching my ears. And by hearing one doctor after another ask, "Do you handle stress well?" My snarky answer usually being, "Well, I don't know. I've never met someone who does handle stress well. I'm no more stressed than the next person."

My dad often has trouble sleeping because he can't stop the buzz of stress in his head. He gave me some CDs of short meditations that you listen to and focus on breathing and letting things go. This sounded like an excellent idea. So uploaded them onto my computer, hit Play, and dove right into my "relaxation" like a champ

After twenty minutes, I had to admit I did feel better. A little calmer. It was only that evening, when telling Jeremy of my recent accomplishment at meditation that I realized, I'm so high-strung, I couldn't even give meditation my full-attention. Because what I failed to realize during the meditation was that for it to be any ounce of effective, I would've had to stop simultaneously curling my hair, eating a bowl of cereal, and frying up some tofu on the stove. Which I did not do.

So with renewed vigor, I decided to add "Meditation" to my daily Star Chart of goals. I thought twenty-minutes would be a good place to start. But, because I know myself, I quickly changed the "20" to a "3" and went with that. And sadly, fitting in those three (yeah, count 'em, three) minutes of meditation has been...really hard (I've only gotten one star so far this week).

I think it's hard because I am only allowed to do one thing at a time, where I'm usually trying to do 3 and a half.

I think it's hard because it doesn't feel productive.

I think it's hard because it seems Who needs quiet? Who needs calm? Slowing down is for losers!

I think it's hard because I regularly applaud myself for how much I am doing instead of who I am being.

It's hard because it requires effort.
It's hard because I have to stop and think about it.
It's hard because I won't receive a paycheck, a pat on the back, or a report card for doing it.

So for now, a star on my Star Chart will have to do.

Until, of course, I recognize that it is usually peace, quiet, and calm that I need more than just about anything else.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Being a "Good" Woman

A few months ago, Jeremy stumbled upon this site called The Good Women Project. He sent it along knowing I may be interested. The tagline for The Good Women Project reads: "They do exist. And you can be one. This is the project."

I'm not exactly sure what that means. Anymore than I understand what a "good" Christian is or a "good" Republican. The word "good," doesn't necessarily tell me much because "good" is relative. It depends on who you ask. However, I find myself more often agreeing than disagreeing with their definition of a what a "good" woman is.

I've gathered that this project is a community of people (men and women) talking about stereotypes, gender inequality, and the sexes through the lens of Christianity. And I appreciate that it's not just the things I've heard before; that women must be "modest" (whatever that means) and that women must "submit" to their husbands (whatever that means).

I particularly like that they often feature male writers who share their views on the subject. This one, written by Hugo, shares a letter to a woman called, "Your Body is Never the Problem." I was instantly drawn to it because, frankly, it feels like my body is always the problem.

A few blog-worthy quotes from Hugo's letter:
"...the sad truth is that no matter how you dress, no matter what you wear, you will be perceived by some men as a target for their unwanted advances."

The bottom line is that there’s nothing you can wear that will guarantee respect from others. And the reason is that the root of this problem isn’t skin or clothing, it’s our cultural contempt for women and girls."

"Have you noticed the way this works yet? If a girl is thin, she’s accused of being “anorexic”; if her weight is higher than the cruelly restrictive ideal, she’s “fat” and “doesn’t take care of herself” or “has no self-control.” If she wears cute, trendy clothes she “only wants attention” and if she wears sweats and jeans, she “doesn’t make an effort.” If she’s perceived as sexually attractive, and — especially — if she shows her own sexual side, she’s likely to be called a “slut.” If her sexuality and her body are concealed, she’s a “prude.” As you’ve probably figured out, the cards are stacked against you. You cannot win, at least not if you define winning as dressing and behaving in a way likely to win approval (or at least decent respect) from everyone."

"Here’s a key point: As a father and a teacher and a youth leader and a feminist man who has been around a while (and worked with thousands of young people), I want you to know that while not all men are safe and trustworthy, men’s bad behavior is never, ever, ever, ever, ever “your” fault. Your miniskirt doesn’t cause guys (of any age) to do anything they don’t choose to do (no matter what they say to the contrary). It’s not your job to dress to keep yourself safe from men."

What Hugo writes is exactly what I've grown up knowing (and being taught) about what it means to be a woman: that my decisions about what I wore determined how men would responded to and treated me. And I should accept the consequences because they just can't help themselves.

I (and too frequently religious cultures) was reducing men to animals with no mental capacity to make decisions for themselves (which is to often what happens a.k.a. letting them off the hook). And I'm sorry for that. Many men are better than that. Men should be better than that. A woman is never "asking" to be treated like an object. That is a choice that a man makes.

It's become an all-out war where it's women who are the problem. They're the ones prancing around in booty shorts causing our "good" men to sin. It's all those strippers and prostitutes (sense the sarcasm?).

In fact, during World War II it was "loose" women who were to blame for the spread of venereal disease (or VD) in the military (never the men who were cheating on their wives with such women). Entire poster and radio propogandas were devoted to warning society about these immoral women, never acknowledging the equally immoral men. But hey, men aren't "loose." They're men. They're allowed to be sexual. So it must be the women's fault. Again.

I recently read Jessica Valenti's book He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. In it, she shares her discovery that nearly every woman she knows (and most I know) has been called a "slut." It's like this horrible title that no woman wants, but every woman receives at some point in her life whether she's a goodie-never-break-a-commandment religious or a stripper.

Because being "good" enough--no matter your behavior, your appearance, or your morals--is impossible for women. We're all sluts, apparently. And always will be until men and women take responsibility for their actions, behaviors, and attitudes related to sexuality.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Days are Slow, but the Years are Fast

At a young age, my Dad drilled into me the importance of forming good habits early. So I pretty much took that daily planner and ran with it. Now, as an adult, I still have many of these early-learned habits:
-Exercise. Every day.
-Drink 75 ounces of water.
-Eat 7 servings of fruits and vegetables.
-Make a list of the days activities.
-Complete the list.
(I know what you're thinking, I'm so cool right?)
-Get 8-9 hours of sleep.

Some people say I have so much will-power. I just think I have too much crazy.

I was thinking about this on Wednesday. I had a whole day to do whatever I wanted in Washington D.C. After speaking at Washington Adventist University for chapel, I set out on an adventure for the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in D.C. Long story short, three hours later, I gave up (a.k.a. got lost) and went to IKEA instead. In fact, I went to Old Navy. Just because. I bought myself an ice cream. I even considered going to be Barnes and Noble (but let's not get too crazy!).

I had a whole day where I didn't really need to do anything. There were no rules. Sure it was a week day, but I was kinda, sorta on a mini-vacation. I purposefully didn't plan to get things done because I didn't know if I would have time that day. I so enjoyed having no schedule. No commitments. No to-do lists.

The funny thing is, back in reality (i.e. Nebraska), I don't work much. I take sub jobs when I can, but many of my days are pretty open. You'd think I'd be having the time of my life. Taking full advantage of the wide-open schedule and lack of work. And yet, I often feel stressed and anxious that I'm not getting enough done and get really frustrated when I don't.

Here's the lesson I was reminded of (again): Peace and joy are available to me twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I can be happy when I'm healthy or sick. Whether I'm in Nebraska or in Hawaii. My life is my fault. So is my stress level. No one can make me feel any way I don't want to feel. So whether or not I choose to take advantage of calm, it's always there. Waiting. Patiently.

Sometimes, it feels like the days run away from me. I get overwhelmed with all the things to get done. I suck (let me repeat: suck) at making time for joy. I am a rock star at productivity, and a lemming at fun.

I want to schedule in an afternoon at Barnes and Noble.
I want to schedule in time at a coffee shop to just read a book I want to read.
I want to sleep in.
Or watch a movie.
Or waste time on-line.

In the past I've not done these things or made them a priority, but in the near future, I will.

I'm writing it in my planner right now: make time for joy.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Last Name

A gift at our shower/reception in February was for, "The future Mr. and Mrs. Sterndale."

In seventh grade, I wrote my name followed by my boyfriend's last name on notebook paper. It's not that I felt a longing desire to take another guys name, we're cultured. It's an expectation. It's just what women do.

I realize that it's an age-old tradition (dating back to the days when the woman literally became the property of the man she was marrying) for the bride to change her last name. In fact, 70% of Americans polled by USA today agree that women should take their husband's last name. But of course, when faced with this decision recently, that ornery question popped up again: "Why?"

Well, here are some reasons why I would change my last name:
-if we have kids, traveling internationally, dealing with schools, and proving custody will be easier for both of us
-banking records would probably be easier in the same name
-people will probably insist on calling me Mrs. Sterndale no matter how many times I correct them anyway. The assumptions will remain.

And here are some reasons why I would not:
-It's my name. It's my identity and has been for the last 24 years (a.k.a. my entire life). It's how people recognize who I am. It's how they search for me on-line. People who've known me since I was born will have a hard time finding and identifying me if we haven't seen each other in a few years. I may even be standing face-to-face with a new acquaintance who knows my family from Colorado, but we'll never come to that conclusion when I tell them my new name.
-I've published under my name. There'd be no continuity between articles or books if they are authored by different "Heathers."

Plus, the process of changing your name is not an easy one. Several things must be changed:
-social security card
-driver's license
-change your passport
-401K accounts
-car insurance/registration
-bank accounts
-billing accounts (credit cards, cell phone, electric, water, gas, etc.)
-club memberships
-dentist and doctor's offices
-employment records
-homeowner's/renter's insurance
-IRA accounts
-life insurance
-medical insurance
-pension plan records
-post office
-property titles
-safe-deposit box
-school records (alumni)
-stocks and bonds
-e-mail address and all on-line subscriptions


There are a few options for brides who are not so thrilled about losing their name/identity upon marriage:
-We could both retain our own last names
-We could both take his last name
-We could both take my last name
-I could use my last name as my middle name, but my current middle name, Rose, was my grandmother's name and I don't want to lose that either.
-I could hyphenate
-We could both hyphenate (but dang, it would be nice if one of us had a less-syllabled last name)
-We could both take on a new last name (but then we'd really be lost to our identities...)

Lastly, in this day and age, I think it's important to consider, why does this decision only mean loss for the bride? Why is it an "inconvenience" if she doesn't take his name? Why does this only lie on her shoulders as if both are not part of this marriage? Why isn't it an inconvenience if he won't take hers? Why is the bride who actually thinks about whether or not she will change her name labeled as difficult, non-conformist, radical, and disrespectful?

Gratefully, I'm marrying a good feminist (FYI: for those of you still stuck on the F-word, a feminist is someone who believes that all people are equal, not better). And when I brought this up to Jeremy, he looked thoughtfully at the ceiling, peered back at me, and said, "Geez, I've never thought about that. If someone demanded that I change my name, that would be hard. I'll support you either way."

Often times, writing out my thoughts helps me realize what I believe. However, writing this out has not helped me make my decision. At all.

So please, what do you think? If you were in my position, what would you do?

Friday, March 16, 2012


I just started reading a book called Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines. I cried during the introduction.

I care about porn. This matters to me. In the last two decades the availability of pornography has grown exponentially to where it infiltrates more and more of our popular culture and society. And I personally believe that it has done more harm than good. I wrote down a few quotes from the book here so that if any of you are interested in reading/learning more, you can.

WARNING: If you know porn is a sensitive topic for you and would rather not read this, it's okay. Because much of what I've read so far is painfully disturbing.

Preface of Pornland

"The big question is, What are the consequences of this [porn] saturation of our culture, sexuality, gender identity, and relationships? The answer is that we don't know for sure. One thing is certain: we are in the midst of a massive social experiment, only the laboratory here is our world and the effects will be played out on people who never agreed to participate." (ix)

"Porn is now so deeply embedded in our culture that it has become synonymous with sex to such a point that to criticize porn is to get slapped with the label anti-sex. As I travel around the country giving lectures on the effects of porn, the insults thrown at me by some people are telling: they range from uptight prude to uncool, old-time man-hating, sex policing feminist--the type of feminist who supposedly screams rape every time a woman and man have sex, the kind of feminist who has been derisively referred to as a "victim-feminist" because she supposedly sees all women as sexual victims incapable of enjoying sex." (x)

"Where, then, do you fit in the pro-sex, anti-sex dichotomy when pro-porn equals pro-sex?" Dines goes on to talk about how if someone wrote a book criticizing McDonalds, no one would label that person as anti-eating or anti-food. "So, why, when I talk about pornography, is it difficult for some to understand that one can be a feminist who is unabashedly pro-sex but against the commodification and industrialization of a human desire?"

Dines then says that when she talks about "porn" she is referring mainly to "gonzo porn": "that genre which is all over the Internet and is today one of the biggest moneymakers for the industry--which depicts hard-core, body-punishing sex in which women are demeaned and debased."" (xi)

The average age for first viewing porn is eleven years old. The implications are real for men and for women: as men are desensitized and women are scared. "Most college-aged women I speak with have never seen gonzo, but their sexuality is increasingly shaped by it as the men they partner with want to play out porn sex with their bodies. Whether their sexual partners pressure them into anal sex, want to ejaculate on their face, or use porn as a sex aid, these women are on the front lines of the porn culture. But even if a woman stays away from men who use porn--no easy task given its widespread usage--she can't insulate herself from it. Women's magazines, fashion ads, TV, music videos, and box office movies bombard women with images that could have, a decade ago, been defined as soft-core porn." (xii)

"Whether it be thongs peeping out of low-slung jeans, revealing their "tramp stamp," their waxed pubic area, or their desire to give the best blow job ever to the latest hookup, young women and girls, it seems, are increasingly celebrating their "empowering" sexual freedom by trying to look and act the part of a porn star." (xii)

Introduction to Pornland

Dines attends the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. "I am in the middle of a world that reduces humans to orifices and body parts, bled dry of soul, personality, history, and future, as life in the porn world is only about the here and now, where penetrating someone or being penetrated is all humans exist for." (xvi)

"As I wander around the hall, talking to pornographers, it becomes very clear that they are not particularly interested in sex. What turns these people on is making money...What they will admit is that porn is becoming more extreme, and their success depends on finding some new, edgy sex act that will draw in users always on the lookout for that extra bit of sexual charge. Not one of the men I talk to seems particularly interested in how these new extremes will be played out on real women's bodies, bodies that are already being pushed to the brink of their physical limits. No, these men want their piece of the pie, and their single-minded focus on the bottom line is evident." (xvi)

Dines has found, in talking to people, that their image of pornography is twenty years out of date. Mainstream Internet pornography means:
-vaginal, anal, and oral penetration of a woman by three or more men at the same time
-double anal penetration
-double vagina penetration
-and a host of other abuses I don't feel comfortable writing

I cried reading what Dines quoted from several pornography website users. You've been warned.

The men on the sites talk about the "need" to do what every man really wants to do to a woman (or as they prefer "bitches," "stupid whores," "cumbuckets," and "suffering sluts") Another site featured pictures of women, "some are gagging, others are crying, and virtually all have faces, especially their eyes, covered in semen. The user is bombarded with images of mascara running, hair being pulled, throats in a vicelike grip, nostrils being pinched so the women can't breathe..." (xx)

These pornographic scenarios tell stories about what it means to be a woman:
-always ready for sex
-enthusiastic to do whatever men want (irrespective of how painful or harmful it is)
-the word "no" is glaringly absent from her the porn women's vocabulary
-"whores" by nature
-do not need their own sexual desires to be met. It's a man's world, after all.
-not concerned with pregnancy, STDs, or damage to their bodies
-immune to being called sickening names
-enjoy men who express hatred and contempt for them
-an uncomplicated world where women don't need equal pay, health care, day care, retirement plans, good schools for their children
-one-dimensional women who are nothing more than a collection of holes

Porn tells a story about men too:
-soulless, unfeeling, zero empathy, respect or love
-to be feared and "loved"
-entitled to use women however they choose

"In a world populated by women who are robotic 'sluts' and men who are robotic studs, the sex is going to be predictably devoid of any intimacy. Porn sex is not about making love, as the feelings and emotions we normally associate with such an act--connection, empathy, tenderness, caring, affection--are replaced by those more connected with hate--fear, disgust, loathing, and contempt. In porn, the man makes hate to the woman, as each sex act is designed to deliver the maximum amount of degradation." (xxiv-xxv)

Yeah, let's keep up with this and see how we fare in the next few decades. Let's keep acting like this is okay, that it's "harmless," that it's not affecting the psyche's and hearts of men and women everywhere. Let's continue publishing these images of men "making hate" to women and pretend like it isn't assault.

Is this sex? These are people: human beings, daughters, nieces, friends; being abused physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually for the sick pleasure of these men. This pain, mutilation, and humiliation enacted on women is what millions of Americans today call "entertainment." And I don't know what to do about it.

Not all porn is gonzo porn. I'm not going to start picketing that all images and movies of sex be removed immediately. But this kind of horrific abuse and hatred toward women cannot continue.

I'm not buying it.
I'm not consuming it.

I will not "act out" what porn tells me I should be as a woman.

I will not "go along" with TV shows, magazines, and movies that endorse it either.

I will not dismiss the sexual harassment from high school as "boys will be boys."

I will not reminisce lightheartedly about all those times the guys would "playfully" shove my head toward their crotch (insinuating oral sex).

I will not laugh, or even smile politely, at rape jokes.

I will not join the "that's what she said" chorus (as most of those jokes end up being about a woman lacking power and a man having it all).

I will not apologize for being a feminist (as I am pro-sex, pro-women, and pro-men)

I will make-love wherever I can to extinguish those so destructively making-hate.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Job Satisfaction Dream

I am pretty much jobless.

Okay, I teach Zumba for a few hours a week.
Yeah, I substitute teach whenever I get calls (which has been a whopping total of 2-3 days a month).
As the process of doing my taxes reflected recently: I'm not making much money.

However, I'm happier than I've been in a long time. This is okay. I'm not on the street. I just graduated from college. And according to Wikipedia, most Americans between the ages of 21 and 75 spend at least one year below the poverty line during their lifetime (realistically, I'm expecting more than one year!). My parents have graciously assisted me financially through college. So this semester, when my income has been...low, it's comforting to know, I've got money in savings and it's going to be okay.

At the same time, not working is wonderful and I think I'm getting a little too comfortable with the lifestyle associated with not having a job.
As if it's realistic.
As if I could survive.
As if I just turned seventy and am ready to coast into retirement.
As if I came from a wealthy family.
As if earning an income isn't a necessity.

I think for many years, "making an income" and "having a job" have always been associated with existing at a job I will surely dread. Kind of Negative Nancy, eh? Yeah, maybe it has something to do with just finishing my degree in English Education and knowing I'd be perfectly happy if I never teach a single day of English. Whoops.

I don't know what else I "should have" majored in. I wasn't perpetually longing for something else. I just finished this degree and frankly, could take it or leave it. I'm leaning toward leaving it. However, "leaving it" may not be an option for me because, well, growing up requires having a job and making money in order to survive, afford health insurance, and have a place to live. Darn.

So, there's a good chance I haven't found my nitch yet. Because I don't want to merely exist in a job I tolerate for eight hours a day, five days a week. I may need to "serve my time" in a few of those jobs. But I don't want to do that for the rest of my life. As there are plenty of things I enjoy doing, I just need to figure out how to get paid to do them.

So, I know that I enjoy:
-writing words
-writing music
-playing piano
-being outside
-making things with my hands
-working with people

So a few professions jump into my mind:
-writer/author (what's the difference?)
-chef/baker (particularly of the vegan/gluten-free variety)
-personal trainer (but a nice one...)
-yoga instuctor
-Zumba dancer extraordinaire (I just made that up...)
-organic gardener/farmer
-greeting card maker (?)
-jewelry maker (a recent venture, I'd best not invest too much into that one yet)

Yeah, basically my list of "dream" jobs is just about the least likely financially profitable list I've ever seen. Probably not any careers I could pick up right now and earn a living and afford insurance. Shucks.

But when I let myself dream extravagantly, here's what I really want:
to open a book store/coffee shop/bakery/community center
(similar to what some of you might recognize called Indigo Bridge)

I like reading. I like books. I like baked yummies. I like community.

We could create a wonderful space for people to come together.
We could hire and work side-by-side with people who catch the vision.
We could manage the business side of it (paperwork, taxes, finances, etc.). Or get some help.
We could bring in musicians and artists, speakers and writers to share.
We could hold dialogues and discussions about social justice and political issues.
We could have "Learn Something New" nights where we'd dance or have pottery lessons.
We could have a "Help" board for people to post projects they need help with. Then, we'd help them.
We could have a "Offerings" board for people to post ways they would be willing to "give back" in some way.
We could do many things.
But these things require money.
And time.

Until then, I'll find work somewhere.
Doing something.
Hopefully, something I enjoy.

Trust, child.
Until then.

(P.S. "Until then" might come faster if any of you have great suggestions for a career path I'm missing. Go ahead. Tell me what I should do.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I've never received as much mail as when I was living in Cambodia. I know that my support system back home felt that it was worth it to send mail half-way around the world because I was struggling. And I greatly appreciated the cards reminding me they hadn't forgotten about me and care packages stocked with familiar foods and relics of home.

One box around Christmastime came with a package of 24 individually wrapped toilettes. These weren't like BBQ-restaurant-wipe-your-fingers-Wet-Ones, oh no. These were the gourmet of toilettes and came in grapefruit, lavender, and mint. I never would've thought to send toilettes to a volunteer overseas, but I was glad to receive them. What a creative idea amidst the heat and grime of living in Cambodia.

I never opened the package.
Not once.
I brought them home.
They're here in my room.
Over four years later.

Having a gluten-intolerance makes me hyper aware of having gluten-free food on-hand. Finding food that I can eat (and afford) is kinda tricky, so when I have gluten-free options, I want to save them. There are a few items that the gluten-free revolution hadn't touched until recently: puff pastry, veggie burgers (or any veggie food), and ravioli. So when I found gluten-free ravioli, I was beyond excited. I haven't eaten ravioli in years! How exciting.

But the package sat in the freezer for three months.

In November, for my birthday, my sister got me a gift certificate for a massage. She wanted me to have a moment of relaxation during the stresses of student teaching. But in my mind, I was thinking Well, who knows when I'll get another massage? I need to save this for a super stressful time.

So instead of using it during student teaching, I booked it for the day after Christmas break.
But then, I got this speaking trip set up and figured it'd be best after that.
But then, we got engaged, so I figured a few days before the wedding would be ideal.
I've rescheduled that massage appointment three times.

When my sister heard this, she said, "Don't you know, I would've happily bought you another massage closer to the wedding, even after you used the first one for your birthday?"

No, I didn't know that.
I didn't even consider that as an option.
That would've required trust.

It seems that I derive more joy and satisfaction from knowing that I have options than from actually partaking in those options. I gain a sense of security from knowing the toilettes are there for later, the massage will come eventually, and maybe someday I'll eat that ravioli.

It's like a sick and twisted version of delayed gratification. I seem to have no problem with it. Not because I'm particularly strong-willed. I'm probably just scared. Scared of not having enough.
Of not being taken care. Of the earth not supporting me and working things out. Of God not coming through. Scared that I may never again have so many good things in my life at one time, so I need to conserve them. To ration them. To store up for the long winter ahead. It's as if I'm perpetually dreading a time of famine, a bad storm, a bad day. I think what I need is trust.

Trust that the earth will hold me.
Trust that it's all going to work out okay.
Trust that I need not stockpile for the worst, I can take a moment and enjoy the best.

When I was home last week, my mom booked me a massage and...I felt like a doofus. Because alas, I couldn't have known back in November that I would get to enjoy a second wonderful massage. But if I just trusted that good things would come to me and I need not stockpile them, I'd be a much happier and peaceful person.

So in light of these recent revelations, I busted out the toilettes, people!
I ate the ravioli.
And...well, actually I left the massage scheduled where it was in May because, frankly, if I tried to change that appointment a fourth time, they might not ever let me in the door.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tossing the Garter

My favorite question has always been "Why?"

It's downright difficult for me to simply "do as I'm told" or continue with a tradition that holds little or no meaning to me personally.
If I'm asked to vote for a certain candidate, I want to know why.
If I'm considering a switch to veganism, I want to know why.
If I'm told that I should buy a certain product, I want to know why.

So this is the boat I find myself in: I'm getting married in May and suddenly have a piqued interest in what all these wedding traditions mean.

The tradition of the father "giving away" the bride has its roots in arranged marriages when the daughter was literally property--a dollar amount--meant to bring wealth and prosperity to the family.

The name/purpose of the "best man" comes from ancient times when the groom would literally kidnap the bride away from her family and needed his best man to fight off her family.

The bride usually stands on the right and the groom usually on the left. Why? Because in the Dark Ages of stealing brides, the man would usually hold on to her with his left hand and fight off the family with his sword in his better fighting hand--his right hand.

Bridesmaids today dress alike, but in our recent past the bridesmaids and the bride all dressed the same so that the evil spirits wouldn't know which woman was the bride.

The removing of the garter is symbolic of the groom demonstrating publicly that the bride was relinquishing her virginal status. Back in the Dark Ages, it was common for the wedding guests to accompany the couple to their marriage bed and watch them get it on. This custom became rowdier and bawdier until the guests were acting a little too eager to get the bride out of her dress, so they would tear of pieces of her dress. The garter was provided as an alternative and a distraction. In Northern England it was customary for the men to rush the bride after the ceremony to get their hands on the garter. This usually resulted in the bride being knocked over and trampled on.

The tradition of tossing the bouquet started in England. Every thing the bride wore was considered good luck and people wanted it for themselves. So to escape and appease greedy guests, the bride started throwing flowers over her shoulder so that they would be distracted.

What we now call the honeymoon, used to be the time when the groom would hide his captured bride away from her family so that she would already be pregnant before they found her.

Now, I expect that most people hear these wedding traditions and think, "Huh, I didn't know that. That's funny."

However, I look at these wedding traditions and think: "Huh, I didn't know that. Why do we keep doing them?"

Probably because some people find them fun. This is what we are used to. It's just something we do. We don't often ask why, we just do it. For me, that seems like the worst reason in the world to do anything.

Traditions mean something. Whether we like it or not, traditions are rooted in an event or a belief from our history. It would be strange for a Jew to act out Muslim customs. It's a tradition of someone else. Symbols mean something. And frankly, these traditions make me a little uncomfortable.

A woman doesn't have to look very far into history to see that our value and worth as human beings has not always been very high: from slavery, to being property, to lacking a voice, a vote, or an opinion, to being sex objects and commodities. Western women haven't always enjoyed the rights that they have today. Look no further than these wedding traditions which seem to say a lot about what it mean to be a woman in the past: weddings were about loss.

Loss of family.
Loss of autonomy.
Loss of safety.
Loss of clothing.
Loss of virginity.
Loss of last name.

So for me (the asker of "why?") it's really hard to imagine acting out these traditions just because they're "fun" when they're rooted in a history of discrimination and pain.

Throughout this process, Jeremy has been really patient. Because while my question is often "why?", his is often, "why not?" We've had a lot of discussions about what values are important to us on our wedding day: family, friends, joy, good food, fun. So we've come up with several other ways we can have fun with the people we love. And I'm pretty confident that no one will walk away thinking, "Oh wait, I didn't get the opportunity to be labeled "single" in front of a bunch of people and dive for a piece of fabric. I want my money back!"

Interestingly, I've found that many people cherish these wedding traditions and get mildly offended to hear that I'm questioning them. "Oh Heather, don't take this so seriously" (Seriously? It's my wedding! It's kind of important). And I want it to mean something unique, special to us and what we hold dear. A day that is filled with re-created symbols and new traditions.

So no, I will not be "given" away by my Dad. He trusts my decisions and I've been choosing my own path for quite awhile now. I think both my parents will "support" me down the aisle.

No, we probably won't throw things in the air and tell our friends to fight for them.

We may not feed each other cake (mostly because neither of us much care for cake).

But at the end of the day, we'll be married. And despite people's expectations, the politics, and what we "should" or "shouldn't" have done, we'll be driving away for a little, much-needed vacation.

(NOTE to my dear friends: I've attended many a wedding and I will attend many more. And never will I go to a wedding, roll my eyes, and think, "Oh geez, this again. Misogyny at its finest." I won't think that because I know that for most people these things we do at weddings are just that: things we do at weddings.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Learning Curve

A principal friend of mine told me recently about his job, “When I first started this position, I had not the foggiest idea what I was doing. I just kind of wandered around for 6 months.” He laughs, “I can’t believe they paid me with how little I was actually producing. I suppose it’s just that learning curve we all must ascend. And it’s steep.”

I spoke to a group of outgoing student missionaries on Friday night and I had similar feelings. They stood before me, and all I could think was: Wow, they have no idea what their getting themselves into. I don’t mean they’ll be miserable. I don’t mean they’re somehow immature or ignorant. But no one ever knows with 100% certainty what they are getting themselves into. Ever. No matter where these students end up, there will be surprises and unexpected turn-of-events. Traveling to a new country has a steep learning curve for anyone.

Before I left for Cambodia, I knew everything would be new, but I had no idea how very hard it would be for me to adjust to all the newness. Looking back on it now (and obviously revisiting it every time I speak about it), I can’t believe I did that. I struggle to understand how my bold little nineteen year-old self had the guts (or naivety) to sign up for a year in Cambodia. What was I thinking? Well, in a way, I wasn’t thinking. I couldn’t possibly predict what that year would hold. Ignorance is bliss.

I imagine if we could all somehow put our future experiences and feelings on like a hat, and just feel what it would be like to take that job, to marry that person, to make that left-hand turn, we’d probably never leave home. If we could actually know for sure what a future choice or decision would lead us to, we’d be stagnant. We’d never move.

Because I know, that if the day before I was to leave for Cambodia, someone put on the movie of what the next ten months would look like for me, I never would have gotten on that plane.

This makes me grateful and humble.

I can be grateful because it’s probably a gift that we don’t know the end from the beginning—what recovery from that surgery will feel like, what heart break feels like—because we’d live pretty safe lives as a result.

I can be humble because I walk into nearly every situation knowing full well that the best I can bring to it is a childlike awareness. That’s the best I’ve got. Your first time driving stick shift is just going to be bumpy. But once you get through those back country roads, you’ll drive without even thinking about how hard it was to learn. We usually get through it and forget about it.

There are good odds that I will look back on my life post-college and think, “Oh dear God, I had so much to learn.”

There’s a good chance that years from now, Jeremy and I will look back on our first, second, or eighth years of marriage and think, “Ha, we had no idea what we were doing.

In fifty years I will still be learning. And recognizing that any of the times I’ve thought I had life figured out, I was farthest from it. We show up. We do our best. We need not fret about the future, because we'll get through it and knowing ahead of time would only make us miserable.

The best I can bring is an awareness.

An open mind.

An open heart.



And humanity.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Father of the Bride

A few nights ago we watched the movie Father of the Bride with Steve Martin. Not on TV, not on a DVD, but on a VHS my Dad recorded at least twelve years ago, complete with commercials from the 90s. We've been watching this movie and other sappy 90s thrillers for as long as I can remember.

Seeing the wedding of Annie Banks unfold as a kid, I thought, "That's exactly what I want!" Now, if you're not familiar with the wedding portrayed in the movie, let me fill you in. Annie hires a wedding coordinator and the event costs $250 per person. She wears a big, poofy white dress and the bridesmaids wear big, poofy pink dresses. The men wear tuxes and the ceremony takes place in a church. There are swans and fancy food and dancing. When I was eight years-old, this is exactly what I wanted.
(Watch out, here comes much cheese)

Thank goodness things change as my current wedding plans look nothing like that. But one thing I still resonated with from the movie is the discomfort of leaving home, of moving on, of closing one chapter and moving on to the next. There's a scene where the daughter, Annie, is shooting hoops outside on the night before her wedding. She tells her Dad about the sadness of packing up her room and not feeling quite ready to leave. He's not quite ready to let her go.

Now, I haven't lived at home since I moved out for college six years ago, but we've lived in our current house for the past fourteen years. There are so many memories here. I like coming home and sleeping in my own bed in my old room. Sure, it's not really my room anywhere, but there's a certain peace to coming home to a place that rarely changes, that still holds those memories back to fifth grade like artifacts in a museum.

Like the time I saved rolly pollies from the rain by putting them on higher ground.
I mowed this lawn and weeded that garden.
We celebrated Christmas by that fireplace.
Our dogs, Trinket and Oscar, used to sit on the back of that couch.
We put our initials in that concrete.
I recovered from six different surgeries in that bed.
I came back to this house after returning from Cambodia and never felt more safe or more at home.

And now, sitting here at the kitchen counter, getting ready to leave for the airport, I'm not ready to go. I won't be back until after we're married in May. So much will be different whenever the next time is that I get to come home. I won't have my room anymore. Money for car repairs and college tuition won't just magically appear. My parents won't pay for gas so that I can come home on a weekend. We won't have a week or a spring break away from college. The comfort of knowing that at any time, no matter what, I could always hop in the car and come home if I needed to feels like its evaporating. The reality of adult life is slowly sinking in and I'm not sure I'm ready for it.

Starting a new life is scary:
How will we pay our bills?
What do I need to know about health and car insurance?
Are gerbera daisies annuals or perennials?
What is the correct temperature for canning peaches?
Which paint should I use on walls?
How do I use the DVR?
How do I put my student loans on hold?
What do I need to know before accepting a full-time job?
Which kinds of credit cards are the good ones?
What if my car does that funky lurching thing?

Whereas my parents have always been my go-to's for these sorts of questions, suddenly it feels like I need to have this all figured out because I'm getting married and officially moving out. That means something. That comes with its own territory. That's another stage in life where my expectations of what I thought this would look like are clashing loudly with reality.

My Dad drove me to the airport. We talked about changing my cell phone plan, transferring health insurance, paying bills, changing my name, moving out, and moving on. My Dad always gets a little teary with goodbyes, but this time it was both of us. I've spent the last few weeks planning details of the wedding day, but only the last few days thinking about all these changes that come with marriage and thinking: I'm not sure I can do this.

Granted, I love Jeremy, I want to get married, and living with my parents is neither a good nor healthy option. In three years, I may chuckle about my anxiety about growing up. I suppose that's the perks of writing: a good memory. There have been plenty of other times that I was sure I wouldn't be able to handle the changes on the horizon.
And then I did.

Deep breaths, young one.
Your physical age is twenty-four (even in your emotional age feels like fourteen).
It's gonna be okay.