Just Right

I head directly south for most of my morning commute. This morning was like many I’ve experienced since starting my job a month ago, where the sun shines on me and the mountains in the most perfect way as it rises in the east. It’s not too far in front of me to blind me. It’s not too far behind me to blot out everything in the rear view mirror. It rides along beside me like a passenger on my commute, warming my face, not straining my eyes but softening them into an eye smile. Its rays are magnificent. Beams of light pass through the foggy, tree-filled mountains so that the entire landscape is softened too. The sun’s warmth is so cozy and inviting. I’m sure I accelerate during the brief moments when the mountainside blocks the sun so that I can get back to relishing the long stretches where it radiates the most. This morning sun is not blistering. It’s not bleakly absent. It’s present and inspiring. It’s just right.

Today I am so grateful for such a beautiful commute. Without the sun it would be drab and cool. Without the mountains the warmth and light would have less dimension.

Until we move closer to the university, I have a long drive covering over fifty miles. I am grateful that I have this time set aside to experience the glory of my surroundings, to relax my shoulders, to pause the consuming, new job-related mental exertion, and to reflect on relationships and God. Today there are no complaints about how this long of a commute is wasted time or excessively burdensome. Right now, I have this commute because it is what I need. Right now, fifty miles is just right.

Four Easy Steps to an Unsuccessful Blog

I don’t do everything well. But enough about that. Let’s focus here on my skills. One thing that I’ve done very well recently is kill the readership on my blog. It required a lot of effort and hard work on my part, and now that I have the tools in hand, I thought I’d share my wisdom with all of the people that aren’t reading my blog, which is everyone. If you follow these four easy steps, I truly believe that you can have an unsuccessful, unread blog as well. Godspeed.

You might think that a key ingredient in unsuccessful blogging is to have shoddy writing. Well, that’s just simply not true. It might help, but there’s a lot of unpolished writing out there that gets quite a bit of attention. No no, writing style alone will not plummet your page view stats. The first thing you might consider is what I did:

Step 1. Post very infrequently. I did this gradually with only a couple posts in a year’s time, and then I let an entire year pass with no posts. Of course, at first I was still updating my masthead regularly. What was I thinking? That could attract people to the site! Thus the second step in squelching a blog was born.

Step 2. Do not update your masthead or any feature of the blog. This was very effective in dropping site visits. Unfortunately, after the couple-year hiatus of little to no blog activity, I was ready to start writing again. How was I to balance the conundrum of wanting to blog with not having a successful blog? Easy.

Step 3. Don’t tell anyone that you have started writing on the blog again. Don’t put your posts on Facebook. Don’t Twitter them. Don’t tell friends about them. Mum’s the word. However, this step is not full proof, so we cannot stop here. Inevitably it will leak to a friend or two that you wrote something relating to a conversation you’ve had with them. You also have the problem of random search engine searches that land on your site. In my case, I can’t help but get hits on praying mantises and gallbladders. My blog serves as a leading source on both topics (if leading source means that I posted a couple of anecdotes about a praying mantis and my gallbladder). So there’s only one surefire way to handle friend leaks and random searches elevating your stats into the single digits.

Step 4. Have your site blocked for containing malware. You know that page you can come across online that says “Report of a possible attack!” where at first you freak out that you were attacked and your whole electronic life is going to crumble before your eyes and maybe the attack will even crawl out of the computer and give you an actual disease, but then you realize that it is actually just the internet cops saving you from such destruction with a warning page, and you’re allowed to proceed anyway, but that destruction will most definitely occur if you proceed onto the site of possible attack? Are you familiar with that message? I am! My blog had that message associated with it for two months. Expecting someone to proceed onto a site with possible malware is like asking someone to drink a cup of germs. No one is going to take that risk. I couldn’t even access my own posts, let alone have anyone else access them.

There you have it. My summit to the pinnacle of unsuccessful blogging.

Now that I have mastered the unsuccessful blogging arena, I think I’ll try my hand at having a blog that a handful of people may visit from time to time. I want to have the best mediocre blog out there. Here goes…

Above the Clouds

We disembarked our small plane in Mendoza, Argentina, picked up our luggage from baggage claim, and passed all of our items through a security scanner. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and gloriously sunny. As I waited for Brian on the other side of security, I began to run through the schedule for the rest of our day.

We’ll take a taxi to our bed and breakfast, quickly freshen up, and then connect with our driver who will take us on the half-day winery tour. Where do we grab a taxi or shuttle? We should take whatever is faster, we want to make sure we have plenty of time at the wineries.

I scanned the open lobby.

Look at the chauffeurs holding signs with names. Wouldn’t that be nice, both time efficient and a luxury.

Still scanning the lobby, my brain processed what my eyes saw three seconds earlier.

Wait, was that my name?

I looked back. There it was — my name spelled incorrectly and scribbled very non-luxuriously on one of those handheld signs. When the owners of the B & B had scheduled the private wine tour for us, I had given them our flight information via email. I thought this was so they had an estimate of when we’d be arriving at the B & B. Maybe I had misunderstood the intent of the request for flight information. I guess the B & B owners had arranged for our driver to pick us up from the airport.

We greeted the driver and without question loaded our luggage and ourselves into the car. Conversation was minimal. He didn’t speak English (which was odd because the owners had told us that we’d have a bilingual driver), but more than that, I was still perplexed that we were picked up at the airport and not the B & B. Ah well, I’m just grateful and relieved that I happened to read my name since my standard protocol is to ignore those signs completely.

As we drove and drove, I began to worry that I had once again miscalculated the situation. All I said to the driver was hello. Why didn’t I clarify who he was there to pick up and where we were going? How dumb will I look if, after fifteen minutes of driving, I ask him if he has the correct passengers?… Why is it even harder to ask this after twenty minutes? Why did it seem like we drove through the whole city, and now we’re on the city’s outskirts? Why isn’t anyone in the car talking?!

Eventually I interrupted the silence that I was sure was awkward, “Are we near our B & B?” (I spoke in Spanish, of course).

Our driver responded (in Spanish, of course), “Oh no, that’s way back there.”

“Oh.”

Brian and I quietly discussed what this could mean. We aren’t going to the B & B first? The email didn’t have any of these details. Oh well, it’s probably fine. Or maybe we should throw out some pointed questions to ensure we aren’t being kidnapped? Yeah, that’s what we should do. It might feel uncomfortable asking such untimely questions, but better safe than sorry.

I clear my throat. “Incredible mountains.” Whoops. Not a pointed question at all.

“Yes, they are.” And on he goes telling us about the mountains and the region. “This road we are on is the road to Chile.”

Here was a prime opportunity to get answers and finally I capitalized on it, “But we’re not going to Chile today, right?”

On a more exciting blog, this is where the story would escalate to the adventures of the couple who was unwillfully held captive and forced to shovel llama manure for some wealthy Chilean. On this blog, however, the story ends happily and somewhat anti-climatically. The driver laughed. We laughed. And a very easy conversation followed about the afternoon plans.

There are over a thousand wineries in the Mendoza region, our driver took us to two of them that day. Both experiences were lovely in their own way. The masthead from this month was taken from the first winery, Ruca Malen.

Here we sampled wines over a five-course lunch. I’m an amateur at wines; I drink in moderation on infrequent occasion. Yes, the meal was truly exquisite, but the experience was so greatly enhanced by the view. The Andes. In fact, I could hardly take my eyes off the mountains from the moment we started driving on the road to Chile. This was our vista during lunch…

I have stood at the summit of Pike’s Peak in the Colorado Rockies and I have ridden a train through the Swiss Alps. I have seen these mountain ranges stretch to over 14,000 and 15,000 feet tall, which is nothing to sneeze at. But oh, the Andes. I was so wooed by the Andes — not the relatively puny peaks but the ones that were over 20,000 feet and reached beyond the clouds. How can a mountain range overshadow the clouds like that? How can those peaks really be real? (On our second day in Mendoza we took a day trip into the Andes to hike. Those peaks are quite real).

That afternoon in Mendoza is set apart as one of the best afternoons I have had in a long time. It wasn’t because of what we were doing, it was because I somehow let go of the everyday stresses and worries and annoyances and over-planning and goal-setting and general overwhelmedness that I so often throw into a bag and carry on my shoulders. I was lighter, freer, and more present than even the vacation version of myself. I was peaceful and giddy (which was not from too much wine). I can’t help but think the Andes provided some of the inspiration in reaching this release, this freedom. Perhaps the stunningly high peaks stood as a reminder that life’s hindrances are small and rather dull when contrasted with such majesty.

I frequently stare at this last picture of the mountains high above the clouds. It reminds me to take some time to leave life’s baggage full of distractions at the foothills so that I can relish, peacefully and joyously, in all the great things that surround me.

Leap Year

I was sitting at my desk at work when lightning struck with multiple pops in varying pitches. The endless pellets of the downpour followed. Today was different from other thunderstorms in which I’m compelled to retreat indoors. Today the storm was so inviting. Our office blinds usually remain closed day and night (a horrible way to treat an office window), nevertheless I kept looking toward the window like a cat transfixed by a chirping bird just a pane of glass away. I was longing to be outside during the storm. I envisioned an escape — running to a park and collapsing in the grass. If there were a rock big and smooth enough for me to lay on it, then I would. I wanted to lay flat on my back with my arms outstretched and the rain beating at my body.

I am in transition, moving to a new state from a bigger city to a college town. Our home and church will change. Our grocery store and bank will change. I’ll look for a local doctor and hair salon. I’ll learn to navigate streets that totally confuse me right now. Hopefully we’ll find a church that fits, and in time I’ll serve there in some capacity. It may not look anything like how I’ve contributed at our church for the past seven years, or it may. And even with a great PhD program experience, the move to a tenure-track faculty position at a research university still feels like I’ve been promoted from being a sorter in the mail room to CEO. This aspect of the transition will be the most challenging new territory to navigate.

I have started to pull away from my current life but haven’t moved to my new city and new life yet. It’s that moment of time in the middle of a leap where the hind foot has left the ground but the front foot hasn’t landed. In this moment it might look like I am flying, but all I notice is that I’m not touching the ground.

I wanted so badly to be drenched by the rain today. I wanted to lay in the soaking wet grass to cry and pray and probably even smile. Mostly I just wanted reassurance from the gravity of the downpour, to feel grounded when I’m groundless.

On Marriage

I’m in a phase of updating and organizing and pitching out and cleaning. This afternoon I was going through some files on my computer in a folder titled “Journal.” The “Husband Moments” document caught me eye, so I opened it and read some conversations that Brian and I had exchanged years ago.

***

December 31, 2005

Brian and I were in the car together running several errands. We were quiet. My mind wandered as I contemplated love, life, marriage, divorce. Eventually we parked at the next stop on our list.

Walking into the department store, I asked with no pretenses attached, “Brian, have you ever thought about leaving me?”

His immediate reply, “Leaving you where?”

***

March 1, 2008

Driving home from the dessert-house in a progressive dinner organized by a church group, I reflected on an earlier conversation with another woman about wives submitting to husbands.

After a few moments of silence in the car, I asked, “Brian, do I submit enough?”

“Submit what?” was his reflex.

***

And they say that men and women approach relationships differently. Pshaw.

Still Learning

The masthead for October 2010, “A Work-filled Fall,” perhaps could be better titled — “So What If It’s Late November and I’m Just Now Posting an October Masthead.” The photo was taken at the Philadelphia Convention Center with a cell phone that I’m eager to replace. Under one of the escalators/staircases was this huge wall of chinaware magically secured in place. I nearly blew right by the artistic expression as one who is distracted by her thoughts might do, but after I frustratingly tried to dodge a small crowd of people taking photos of it, I got out of my head long enough to see what they were actually taking a picture of.

Until someone pointed out to me on Facebook that none of the bowls and cups have handles, I thought this was a massive collection of coffee mugs. I’m going to go ahead with that initial impression and dedicate this masthead to the night in mid-October when I went to McDonald’s at 9pm and ordered a large mocha latte. I very rarely order a coffee-based drink, let alone an espresso-based drink. It’s more to do with taste preference than to do with caffeine. Actually, I’ve always purported that caffeine doesn’t affect me like it does others. That is, until I ingested 20 ounces of liquid adrenaline on an empty stomach that night at McD’s.

I entered the restaurant already exhausted but in need of a quiet work place because earlier that day my advisor had set a lofty deadline for the next morning. I worked there until 1am, then headed home for another 4 hours of dissertation bliss. Mid-all nighter, the shakes started. And the muscle tensing. And the heart pounding. I thought I was having a heart attack; of course I wasn’t in the mood to die, but it did cross my mind that I would at least have a good excuse not to meet my deadline.

Well, I didn’t die, I did meet my deadline, and I did realize that I am not impervious to a caffeine high. Just when I think I’ve figured myself out, there I go and surprise myself all over again. And I’m not just talking about the caffeine here.

Rocks

Twenty-five days in to the month and I have finally managed to get a new masthead up.  As with writing, I am not up to speed with my picture-taking, so I thought I’d dig in to the archives for this photo.  This month’s masthead is a shot from the Australian Outback at Uluru, or Ayers Rock.  Because the Outback is so flat and desolate, and because this monolith is so grand (the largest in the world of its kind, in fact), you can easily see Uluru from a couple dozen miles away.  So majestic.

“There, in the middle of a memorable and imposing emptiness, stands an eminence of exceptional nobility and grandeur, 1150 feet high, a mile and a half long, five and a half miles around, less red than photographs have led you to expect but in every other way more arresting than you could ever have supposed…You cannot stop looking at it; you don’t want to stop looking at it. As you draw closer, it becomes even more interesting. It is more pitted than you had imagined, less regular in shape. There are more curves and divots and wavelike ribs, more irregularities of every type, than are evident from even a couple of hundred yards away. You realize that you could spend quite a lot of time — possibly a worryingly large amount of time; possibly a sell-your-house-and-move-here-to-live-in-a-tent amount of time — just looking at the rock, gazing at it from many angles, never tiring of it.”  Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

However forced or cliché it may seem, I cannot help but to compare the most impressive rock on Earth and the Rock of the Bible.

“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” I Samuel 2:2

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:1-2

God is like Uluru, but living, bigger, more powerful, more dependable, holier, more personable, more loving, full of grace and redemption…  Okay, so they’re nothing alike, but I do love the imagery.  “See this magnificent rock that is so awe inspiring you can’t stop staring at it?  Yeah, well I am the unshakable, eternal Rock that is exponentially more arresting and majestic.”

In the midst of a cold and bleak Midwest American winter, here’s one small reminder of the warmth, inspiration, and fortitude that comes from standing at the foot of the Rock and gazing tirelessly.

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

A wedding, a birthday, a cousin reunion, a bizarre trip to the allergist’s office, a day with Mom, the National Anthem at a ball game, a 10th wedding anniversary, a mountain biking accident, a couple photo editing projects, some really good days, some really hard days, some spiritual nuggets, laughable moments, a couple fleas…and, yes, my comprehensive exams.  I certainly cannot attribute lack of material as the reason why I haven’t written any posts for nearly the entire summer.  I told myself – in an attempt to channel all writing energy towards my comps – no posts until my paper was turned in, which was supposed to happen in June until I had a little meltdown in my advisor’s office and got an extension.  The second deadline was again a soft one – no specific date was set, but the new game plan was to be done mid-July.  Well, it is officially August and still no paper.  Still a lot to go, in fact.  So I will keep not posting until I get relief from this project, which hopefully can be completed within the next ten days, though I’ve completely surrendered any attempts to mark a specific date.

I’m writing a little blurb now, however, because I posted a new masthead this month, a slice of a painting, and I wanted to give props to the artist.  For our TENTH anniversary last Friday, Brian and I were simply going to celebrate with dinner and a movie.  Because we are exciting people.  All day long I anticipated the movie theater popcorn.  Because I like to think about exciting things.  But then, at the last minute, we spontaneously slipped away from our world and spent the night at a high class resort.  It was a rare opportunity to experience the type of luxury the rich and famous experience on a daily basis (and to spend more money than we normally would ever pay for a bed and a couple meals).  For the twenty-four hours we stayed at the resort I was sure that I would run in to either the Queen of England or Jessica Simpson.  Didn’t happen, though.

Our hotel was named the Chateau LaFayette.  It was designed to replicate the Ritz Paris, which is slightly ironic because nearly twelve years ago a bellman kicked me out of the Ritz in Paris, yet last weekend the bellmen anticipated and met my every hotel and traveling need before I could even ask.  So I guess the Chateau is just like the Ritz Paris only kinder.

I cannot speak about every floor of the hotel, but our gorgeous hallway was lined with artwork by Boyer.  Just outside of our exquisite room – decorated with a recessed ceiling, crystal chandelier, and marble in the bathroom – was the painting that I used for the masthead.  If I were Boyer and someone posted my artwork on their blog then I think I would want people to see the entire piece, so here it is:

01-chateau-painting

I wanted to find out more about this artist so I could cite him (or her) appropriately, but according to Google there are a lot of Boyers out there who like to paint.  This makes you wonder, are all of these Boyers related?  Wow, what a testament to genetics that would be!  Anyway, Boyer, if you are from this century, are currently alive, happen to be a faithful reader of Moore Tokens, and recognize your artwork that I posted, please give us an “About the Painter” blurb in the comment section!

Boyer?  Boyer?  Boyer?  Boyer?

Making Room for Truth

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-talk lately.  I’ve been more sensitive to the lies I let in about my capability and my worth, and have realized how poisoning these lies can be.  I like what others have said about this issue…

A college friend, Sarah (Gale) Evers, wrote sort of a New Year’s resolution in January, 2009 on Facebook:

I’m calling 2009 “The Year of Kindness.” What could life look like if I treated myself with kindness? What if I worked out not because I ought to, or as punishment, but because I wanted to, or it was the kindest thing to do for myself? What if my self-talk was more kind and gentle? What if I relaxed in my expectations for myself and lived in grace? And what would happen in my relationships as that sense of freedom and KINDNESS overflowed from me?

***

myjoy, a commenter on the Stuff Christians Like website, wrote:

My anthem right now is Ephesians 4:29, it’s everywhere around me, in sermons, in studies, on TV, everywhere! God is clearly trying to tell me something.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

God is challenging me to have everyone be better off than before they talked to me.

And today I just had a revelation. It’s not just directed at other people. It’s also about what I tell myself. Is my internal dialogue helpful for building me up? Or am I tearing myself down? Am I better off after hearing my own voice, than when I started? Or do I remain dejected, discouraged?

So I pray God will use this verse to change my heart, to tame my tongue, that the same mouth I use to bless His name I do not use to curse others or myself.

I too am challenged to add more kindness, more grace, and more truth to my internal dialogue.  When my head hits the pillow each night, I want to look back over the day knowing that I was better off after listening to my own voice all day long.  After all, if the God of the Universe can forgive me, love me unconditionally, and see me as completely worthy in his eyes, surely I should do the same.

I’ll Have a Pepsi, Please. And Super-Size It.

This past weekend I had a chance to chat with my grandmother (my dad’s mom) on the phone for almost an hour.  I always enjoy our conversations.  Usually there’s a story or two that is recounted, like the time when I was a toddler and, as soon as my grandmother came over to our house, I grabbed her hand, took her to my room, and closed the door, apparently wanting to keep her all to myself.  “Do you remember that?” Grandma always asks, smitten by the story.  I don’t remember the incident when it actually happened, but I do remember it from the previous conversation when she shared it with me, and from the time before that, and each time before that. It’s a favorite memory of hers, so I’m glad to listen as many times as she’d like to share it.

We also talked about her life as a navy pilot’s wife, a young widow after 20-some years of marriage, and a mother of three.  She told me about the people for whom she’s cared and about her faith over the years.  For her it’s just her story, it’s just the hand that she was dealt and the life that she’s lived.  For me it’s this example of strength, of endurance, of sacrifice, of devotion.  Sometimes you just need to hear perspective from someone who’s been doing this for 85 years.

Oh, and there’s a matter-of-fact quality to my grandmother.  If she has a question about your bowel movements, by golly she’ll ask it without lowering her voice or using delicate language.  No sugar coating here.  This straight shooting usually makes me laugh, more so when someone else is in the hot seat being asked how often they wash their face or if they use the quilt that she hunched over for months to make for them.

I told her about my recent state of overwhelmedness.  Trying to make headway with my comprehensive exams while juggling work in the lab and a big load of personal stuff at times leaves me falling short in all I do.  When these feelings of defeat peak I can become almost paralyzed, leading to, among other things, inefficient use of my time, which of course feeds in to the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and falling short.  To this Grandma responded: “When I start to get that way I drink a Pepsi and it helps me to get going.  And I know that it’s not good for you, but it’s either that or shoot myself, so I figure the Pepsi’s not so bad.”

She’s funny and she’s blunt, but she’s right.  I have dozens and dozens of pages to write and only a few weeks until my deadline, so yeah, I need to get going.  And maybe life for the next four weeks (or five or six weeks) is going to be a little disjointed and wearisome and out of balance, but this is my spring.  It’s either get going or give up, so even if I need to cheat here and there on my healthy eating plan, ignore a few emails, or let the bathrooms stay a little dirty, it’s not so bad.  It’s worth the trade off of not giving up, of meeting another goal along this (sometimes very painful) journey, of knowing that I never really was defeated after all.