Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nostalgic musing

It's Christmas Eve, and inevitably, as family gathers and conversation flows, memories float to the surface and bubble out in stories. They are the same stories we tell every year. Some details change from year to year, or depending on the person telling the story, but the spirit of the stories is the same. It's all about reliving those years gone by, which seem even better the further past them we get.

I know I have shared my favorite childhood Christmas tradition before, but this year it seems especially dear to me as I hear from friend after friend that they are considering doing away with Santa for their children. It's deceitful, they say, and I don't want some strange fat man to get the credit for the presents I bought for my kids. And to that I say...seriously? I don't remember really ever believing in Santa, so maybe I don't have a fair perspective. My sister told me when I was very young that Santa was not real, but I don't remember being all that upset.

Not believing didn't stop my siblings and I from having what we term "Santa drills." We all remember things slightly differently, but this is what I remember. Starting probably in early December, my brother, Ben, would begin calling "meetings." My sister, Emily, was to take notes on the meetings, so we wouldn't forget what we discussed, of course. After these meetings, we progressed to the actual drills. Now, the rule at my house was that we were not allowed to check our stockings until after 1am. So the main purpose of our drills was to make sure that we could find the quietest route downstairs so we didn't wake our parents with our mid-night wanderings. Emily and I would go to our room and feign sleep, and my brother would creep in and "wake" us. We would find the least creaky floorboards and only place our feet on the outside of the stairs, where they made little noise. We would do this time and again until it was perfect, at least according to Ben's standards. When the big event came, we were a well-oiled machine, and we would sneak stealthily (in my eyes) down and silently exclaim over the treasures left in our stockings. Our excitement temporarily satisfied, we would go back to bed and sleep until we were allowed to wake our parents at 6am. It wasn't until years later that Ben confessed to Emily and me and he used to sneak down before waking us and go through all our stockings to see what we got. Big brothers...

Tonight, as we were were talking over a delicious feast of lasagna, I made some confessions of my own. You see, my own personal Christmas tradition was to always find the stash of Christmas presents. Even back then I was employing my ninja skills, as I would usually need to sneak into my parents' bedroom to do my searching. The presents were usually in the closet, and I would climb back as far as I could go and search through the pile in the dark. One year my sister got a "teacher stool," and I would go sit on it in the dark regularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Tonight I recalled one time when I was in the midst of searching when my parents came into their room. I was so deep in the closet, they had no idea I was there, and I froze like a frightened bunny. My dad reached into the closet to change clothes, and still I remained invisible to them. I stayed that way for several minutes after they vacated the room, just in case. Tonight they learned for the first time that I was there, when I stopped giggling long enough to tell them. Of course, there was always the old-fashioned ways of finding out the gifts too...shaking the presents, or peeking through the keyhole when my mom shut herself in her room to wrap the presents.

It has been fun watching my nieces and nephew create their own Christmas memories, their own stories that, twenty years from now, they will be laughing about with their families over Christmas Eve dinner. As much as things change, they still seem to stay the same.

Merry Christmas to all of you, and may your holidays be blessed and full of love.

Laugh on, friends :)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Texting with Daddykins

Today I was texting with my friend Nik, and she was having some difficulties with pain in her back and hips. I, being the generous soul I am, offered many suggestions, such as acupuncture or a faith healing by the Pope. Nik told me that the Pope was creepy, and I realized he is probably pretty busy around this time of year, so I offered my dad's services instead. After all, he is an ordained minister, which is almost like being the Pope. Plus, I decided a few months ago that any water taken from a pastor's house is holy water, so it would be readily available to Dad/Pope. That's how the following conversation started. Now, my family knows me pretty well, so it only fazes them a little when they get texts like this from me. But seeing my dad's responses, you can understand where I get my sense of humor...

ME: On your way out of town, could you stop and sprinkle Nik with some holy water from your house? And wear your beekeeper suit so you look kinda like the Pope?

DAD: What??????????

ME: Well, her back and hips really hurt, and she needs healing, but she thinks the real Pope is creepy, and he's probably pretty busy around this time of year anyway, so we thought you could stand in.

DAD: Can I drive the Pope mobile? BTW can I wear jeans to worship at your church? (he is easily distracted just like me!)

ME: No jeans. We are a kilt church. Or you can wear your Pope suit. But I'm not sure I can get the Pope mobile for you.

DAD: Black pulpit robe?

ME: Yes, I think that would be lovely. And your beekeeper hat.

DAD: And my knee high rubber beekeeper's boots?

ME: That would be awesome. But be careful...you don't want to steal ALL the attention with your snazzy outfit.


And that's where I get my sense of humor. And my fashion sense.

Laugh on!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thank you, autocorrect.

Even though today is Friday, I was having an absolutely awful morning. Usually I love my job, but lately there has been one thing after another. I try to have a tough shell, not let things get to me, because I wouldn't be effective if I did. However, this morning I hit my max point, and felt like curling up under my desk in the fetal position and rocking gently for a few hours.

ANYWAY. This is not about my bad day. This is about how it was saved. Well, at least made a little brighter. I had been texting Nik, asking her stupid questions about sympathy pains, when I disappeared from the conversation for a while. When I came back, I did what all good friends do and unloaded all the crap that I was dealing with. Her response...well...it made me reevaluate my own troubles in view of her son Spencer's plight:

Photo by Nik, since my picture quality sucked.

Now, I had to read this once or twice. Bloodthirsty poo? Like a vampire? Or was this a hip new term for explosive diarrhea? When I figured out what happened, I couldn't stop giggling. Which was surprising, given the quality of my day. I seriously went back and read it about five times during the rest of the day. Oh autocorrect, you slay me.

Laugh on.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Like cheap origami


I saw this picture on Facebook tonight, and it immediately sent me back in time, specifically to my freshman year of high school. Do kids even do this anymore? I would spend my study halls, not working on homework, but writing detailed notes, sharing what happened in each class, with my closest friends in the form of a note. Of course, it wasn't enough just to write the note, you had to fold them fancy. There was always some new way to try to fold them, and that was half the fun.

Of course, my friends and I couldn't just do notes. Of course not. We actually evolved to a NOTEbook, in which we could write and pass to the next person to read. The notebook caused less drama, because you didn't dare put anything negative about a friend who was involved in the exchange, which was pretty much everybody in our little clique.

One of my favorite and most cringe-worthy memories of high school involves the notebook. I was ready to die of embarrassment at the time, but now I still giggle when I think about it. You see, our lockers were very close together, in rows, so there wasn't much room to maneuver as people jostled to get their things and make it into class before the bell. The notebook was in my possession, and it was one of the cheapo types, with the wire hanging off the end, not neatly bent over like those fancy Five-star notebooks. I stacked my books on top of my locker, shut the door, retrieved my books, and turned to leave. As I turned, the wire on the notebook, which was on top of the stack, got snagged on the jersey of the football player whose locker was next to mine. Mind you, this was a guy on whom my group and I had all had on and off crushes, and whose name appeared numerous times in the notebook that was now dangling from his sleeve. I tugged, and nothing. He just looked at me, but I couldn't meet his eyes, as I was busy turning red from the roots of my hair to my toes. "I...it's st-stuck," I stammered, in case he hadn't noticed, still tugging. I'm not sure how I managed to extricate the wire from those tiny jersey holes, all while balancing the rest of my books in one arm, but eventually I succeeded, turned, and dove into the suffocating crowd of people jammed into the locker area. I think he may have tried to say something, but the ringing in my ears would not allow for hearing, and my fight or flight response was fully in action. My friends awaited me outside the crowd, and I immediately collapsed into a fit of nervous giggles. It took me several minutes into study hall to tell them what happened.

I wish I could say that the next time I saw the football player, I had something cool and sophisticated to say, some snarky comment or joke, and that we became good friends who could laugh about the incident, but in reality, I just avoided eye contact for a week or a month or so. I was a wee bit shy.*

Isn't it funny how a picture of notes can bring back all sorts of memories, both good and bad? And some in between. That was the first of many incidents that occurred in that locker area...most of us had no padlocks on our lockers (they cost $5 to rent), so it wasn't unusual to find a random note or a nude picture taped to the inside or stuffed in a book. Or to find a padlock on your locker that you didn't pay for and which blocked your way into your locker.

Did you ever pass notes in high school or middle school? Were they fancy folded? What was the strangest thing you ever found in your locker? (Mine was either a gummy octopus or a picture of a naked man.) Oh youth...

Laugh on :)

*Understatement of the year

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

She handed me what?

Today I got the opportunity to spend some time with a dear friend from grad school, Kelly. I've known Kelly for...a little over four years, as she started her program a year after I started mine. We suffered through the anguish of papers and endless pages of reading, and I had the honor of standing as a bridesmaid in her wedding wearing a pretty dress. We don't get to see each other nearly enough, so when she was going to be in the area, I jumped at the chance to see her.

We are too cute!


Can you spot me?

Initially, our plan was to hang out at my place. However, the cleaning fairies are on strike, and wanting to feed Kelly's illusions of my perfection, I suggested that we meet at Panera instead. Good food, nice ambiance...seemed like the perfect plan!

I was running late as usual, but found Kelly and greeted her as I peeled off layers outer clothing meant to protect me from the harsh elements (but which really just make me bulkier than I already am). I hadn't even sat down when a lady toddled up to us and handed us each two business cards and a foil pouch containing something juicy. "Here you go, ladies," she said, as if we had been expecting her. "Errrm, thanks!" was our reply. I saw pink and flowers and was like, "Oh cute!" I figured it was Mary Kay and she had given us moisturizer or something.

Actually...no...

Pure Romance? Was she hitting on us? And...oh my...that foil packet definitely DID NOT contain moisturizer. "Arousal cream." I read aloud. "Is that for waking up in the morning?"


....Not quite...

I immediately took to Facebook to brag about my latest acquisition. I mean, really, how many people can say they have been gifted arousal cream in Panera? Only two that I know of.

It was clearly my lucky day, as an hour or so into our visit, the fire alarm and lights started going off, a piercing sound that tried to incapacitate my ear drums. The staff simply turned up the music and kept taking orders. Ten minutes later, the fire department showed up.

*Insert inappropriate joke regarding the firemen and my earlier gift*

The alarm ceased...for about 10 seconds. It went for another five minutes or so, and then quit again. This time for maybe a minute. Once again, the alarm screamed for five minutes, before finally being silenced for good.

Or so we thought.

Kelly and I had some good old fashioned PTSD, and kept looking at the alarms to make sure they weren't going to start blaring again. Just as we finally relaxed...ahhhh, there they were again! At this point I couldn't stop laughing. I told Kelly that the normal thing to do would be to leave...but that at this point I really just wanted to stay and see how it all turned out.

Thankfully, it was a happy ending, except the part where the firefighters left. I didn't even get to show them my arousal cream. My ears were ringing like they only can after a really good concert. All in all, a very good visit. Except...have you ever had to try and have a conversation with someone who is doing this?

Love you, Kelsers!

Laugh on!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Easy money

I went to spend the weekend with my parents a couple of weeks ago, and we went out for dinner for my mom's birthday. (She's 29, just ask her!) We had finished eating, and I was sucking up my second glass of Mountain Dew (sweet deliciousness). My dad started giving me a hard time about my "addiction" to pop, and talking about how much money and how many calories I could save if I gave it up. Meanwhile, he was enthusiastically downing a cup of after dinner coffee (...not to be confused with his before dinner coffee...or his midafternoon coffee...or his after lunch coffee...or his midmorning coffee...or his coffee with breakfast...). So I offered him a deal. I would quit drinking pop, cold turkey, if he would do the same for coffee. He had to think about it over night, but in the end, he said yes, and then raised the deal. He said he would give up BOTH coffee AND pop. I told him I would gladly give up coffee too, just so we were even. (Coffee tastes like a skunk's rear end.) The entire weekend he made a big deal about it, telling his house church as he wept over one of his "last cups" of coffee, and making sure my grandparents knew when we went for lunch that he was making the ultimate sacrifice. (And you wonder where I learned to be so dramatic.)

Skip ahead a week. No, not even a week. Like 4 days. I'm doing alright, actually didn't even really have headaches, just a little more tired than usual. MEANWHILE, I am getting reports of CHEATING on my dad's end! When I called him on it, he admitted to it, and then confessed that he was PLANNING to cheat again over the weekend! I KNOW! My dad then had the audacity to suggest that we actually include one day per weekend that we could have the "illegal" substance of our choice, to make the rest of the week easier. (By the way, did I mention that it was also his idea to cut out candy, along with pop and coffee?? He dreams big, I'll give him that...) So, that's all the background info. This is what transpired on Facebook over the next few days. (I'm only including comments pertinent to the discussion, although there were other comments as well.)

ME:
Dear Mr. Olsen,
Your request for a change in terms of your verbal agreement (i.e. promise) with your daughter has been received and reviewed. Unfortunately, it is the decision of this committee that under the terms of the original agreement (i.e. promise), the term review was already scheduled for Christmas, December 25, 2011. It is impossible at this time to move up a renegotiation of terms. Therefore, any consumption of coffee and/or other caffeinated coffee-like beverage will be regarded as cheating, and you will be ridiculed and/or shamed accordingly, until such time as the terms of the original agreement (i.e. promise) are up for renegotiation, on or following December 25, 2011. Thank you for your feedback, and we look forward to your continued input and participation.
Best regards,
The Committee for Renegotiation of Agreements and Promises (CRAP)

DAD:
As founder and supreme high mug holder of CLUCK ...Caffeine Lovers Underground Coffee Klatsch... I will need to consult with CLUCK lawyer I.M. Buzzed about my absolute parental rights to renegotiate all terms and promises.

ME:
Mr. Olsen,
It is incumbent upon me to inform you that as you and Miss Olsen were both adults at the time of the verbal agreement (i.e. promise), the parental role can not and will not be taken into account. We cannot, of course, make your decision for you, but please be advised that breach of this contract will be considered in an future agreements. Please consider your options carefully before bringing Mr. Buzzed into the picture.
Regards,
CRAP

OBSERVER: (woman my dad works with, also one of the whistle blowers to his cheating)
...As communications specialist and current student of ethics, I believe a revisit to the original document is necessary. If, indeed, the focus was to eliminate caffeine, then Rev Cluck was in violation. If the goal was to eliminate those items that are unnecessary for human function, then he was not in violation. One does have to be aware of the adverse effects of eliminating multiple agents at once. While it was a valiant effort to eliminate half of his daily intake of food and caloric count, it might have been more than he anticipated. Recognize too, that with increased age comes and increased chance of dementia and alzheimer's, which clouds judgment.

To summarize, both parties may need to reach a clarifying standpoint to assure that all are on the same page. If the situation continues to escalate, a third party mediator may be necessary to speak to the dispute. Until then, may this serve as notice that others are watching and taking note. Best regards in your future endeavor.

MOM:
The following is a message from the JUDGE!. After careful study of the information provided to me in the case of CRAP vs CLUCK, the following facts have been gathered: Whereas the Plaintiff, Rena Olsen (represented by CRAP) states that the original agreement was set to be renegotiated on December 25th; Whereas Rena Olsen has abided by the terms of said agreement; Whereas the Defendent, Tim Olsen (represented by CLUCK) states that he was not aware that Chai tea had caffeine in it; Whereas Tim Olsen freely admitted to the JUDGE that he did, however, willfully drink 2 caffeinated carbonated beverages and 3 cups of coffee;

The following judgement is rendered: As to the count of drinking Chai tea, the defendent is found NOT GUILTY. As to the 2 counts of drinking carbonated caffeinated beverages, the defendent is found GUILTY. As to the 3 counts of drinking coffee, the defendent is found GUILTY. It is the judgment of this court that the defendent shall pay the plaintiff $5 per incident, for a total judgment of $25 that the defendent owes the plaintiff.

...

And that's how I made $25.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Welcome!

Hello and welcome to my new blog home! All the entries from my old blog, "Rena's Random Ramblings," are below. It's time to spend life laughing...especially appropriate given the most recent entry imported from RRR below ;)

Laugh on, friends :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Furious

I am not a violent person. I don't believe in the death penalty. I don't think violence solves anything. However. Today, I think that all monsters who think that hitting an innocent child is acceptable should be drawn and quartered. Twice.




And maybe I could watch.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My brain is full

Sometimes you read something, and it causes a sort of paradigm shift in your brain. An avalanche of sorts, wherein your comfortable life is suddenly thrown into chaos, where the way you are used to thinking and acting is suddenly in question. It seems silly, I suppose, to those who have never had such an experience. How could one book/story/article have such an impact? How could something so small be so significant? Now, to those who are not fans of reading, I will warn you, you may not enjoy what follows. I have no idea how lengthy my thoughts may become, and I begin writing this knowing full well that I may lose every last one of you by the end. After all, we are all far too busy to take time to read such ramblings and rubbish. There are far too many other important things to be doing. But I begin writing anyway, with this paragraph as my disclaimer, because I feel the thoughts bouncing about in my brain are too important not to piece together in some way. This may be the epitome of the title of this blog, full of random ramblings, or it may become the least random and, in my wildest dreams, most thought-provoking entry of all.

This morning, I woke up without the help of an alarm clock, because I forgot to set it last night before collapsing into bed. It was too late to get to church, too early to get up and be productive, so I burrowed under my covers with a book bought in a moment of childhood nostalgia. A book I had read when I was younger, and apparently loved, though I had since forgotten many of the details. Rereading it, I wonder how much the girl I was really understood of what she was reading. The ramifications of such a book, written so long again, yet so salient in today’s culture. I read it straight through, along with the notes from and interview with the author, and then just sat, thinking, rolling everything around in my head, trying to make sense of my own thoughts. I have since made it to the living room, but I dare not turn on the TV for fear that the spell will be broken.

The book was Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury.

If you have not read this book, I strongly suggest you do so. It was written 50 years ago, so it may not flow in the same way as books of today might, but it is only just over 150 pages, fairly short for a novel, and has plenty of breaks and stopping places, though once the action starts it is difficult to put down. This entry will be a major spoiler, but hopefully will add to the desire to read the book instead of detracting from it. In fact, I plan to put many quotes in that I found fascinating, though I will surely miss many of them, since I, unlike my dad, do not read with a highlighter and sticky tabs next to me. For this book, I wish I had. But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those who have not read it, I will start with a general synopsis and a snapshot of the world of Fahrenheit 451.

The book is set in the future, though exactly when is never revealed, which I think lends to an underlying message of the book: it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. In this future world, cars travel at speeds hovering around or exceeding 100 mph, even in the city. Billboards have been stretched to be readable at such speeds. Houses are equipped with television walls, with which viewers can interact and become part of the fictional world. Gone are front porches, where people might sit and talk and discuss ideas, or sit and get lost in their own thoughts. Houses have been made completely fireproof. And reading has become an offense punishable at the very least by jail time. Firemen are now in the business of setting fires, rather than putting them out. Friends and neighbors become spies and report any suspicious behavior. Murder and death have become almost negligible aspects of society, with no time spent on remembering or mourning. Bodies are incinerated immediately, their memories gone as quickly as the smoke from the fires where they are turned to ash. Marriages are simply a matter of convenience rather than connection, two strangers living in the same house, going about their separate lives with little interaction, and if a divorce or a death occurs, they simply move on to the next placeholder.

The main character of the story is a Fireman named Guy Montag. He is about 30 years old and has been a Fireman for over 10 years. At the beginning of the story, it seems he has never questioned his vocation, but quickly the reader realizes that he has never been quite happy, though he may not even realize it. He has simply always done what was expected, and never questioned, because to question is to arouse suspicion, to stand out from the crowd as an “odd duck.” Coming home from work one day, Montag meets a neighbor, a 16 (almost 17) year old girl named Clarisse, and she turns his world upside down. She is the proverbial straw the breaks the camel’s back, and all of Montag’s hidden feelings, desires, thoughts break free from the dam of propriety he and society have so carefully constructed. Though Clarisse exists in the book for just a few short pages and conversations, the impact she has on Montag shapes the rest of the story. Montag starts to realize he is not happy, and begins to see the things that society does not wish people to notice. The sense of disconnection in an overly connected world begins to grate on him, and he becomes angry when his attempt to breach that disconnection with his wife is a miserable failure.

Through foreshadowing, the reader realized that there is more to Montag than was originally presented, and we find out that he has his own stash of hidden books, though he has been too wary to actually read them. An attempt to bring his wife into his confidence ends in her betrayal, and Montag’s flight into the unknown. He picks up another confidante along the way, a retired English professor by the name of Faber, and in Faber Montag finds that slight hope that he is not alone, and that there might be others of similar thought, though many, like Faber, are too frightened to do much about it, with good reason.

That will do for a summary, I think. After all, I can’t give it all away! The part of the book where I really started to feel the shift was when the Fire Captain, a man named Beatty, visits Montag at his house when he is staying home “sick.” He gives a lecture that explains somewhat how books came to be banned. Some of the highlights are below. I apologize in advance for the length of the quotes, but it is important to read them to try to understand.

“Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending… Then, in midair, all vanishes! Whirl a man’s mind round about so fast, under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary time-wasting thought!”

“School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped. English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts… The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour.”

“More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don’t have to think, eh? Organize and organize and superorganize super-super sports. More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less. Impatience. Highways full of crowds going somewhere, somewhere, somewhere, nowhere.”

“ The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines become a nice blend of vanilla tapioca.”

“It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.”

“… the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike.”

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?”

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. .. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy… So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your daredevils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex. If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is hollow, stick me with the theremin, loudly. I’ll think I’m responding to the play, when it’s only a tactile reaction to vibration. But I don’t care. I just like solid entertainment.” {emphasis mine}

(Fahrenheit 451, The 50th Anniversary Edition, Ray Bradbury, 1953, Ballantine Books, New York)

I know, I know. That’s a lot to trudge through. Believe it or not, I cut what I wanted to share. In short, the idea is that by the time books were actually banned, the majority of people barely noticed because there were so many other things to capture their attention. They had already, bit by bit, begun to turn their backs on the written word, so it was a natural progression to simply do away with books, especially those that might upset people, or step on toes. It was decided that people would be happier if they were just told what to think, rather than deciding for themselves.

How much of this is reflected in society today? It seems like everything needs to be maximized to keep our attention. There’s a new commercial out now for a car, and most of the commercial shows people in every public arena saying, “Bigger, bigger, BIGGER” over and over, until someone realizes that less is more, and a smaller car might be the way to go. It seems like everything needs to be more colorful, more outrageous, louder, more extreme than ever to try to fulfill us. We need to dance faster, laugh louder, play harder, and be busier than ever before. The country spends billions on violence and entertainment, which feed each other in equal turns, while children become more and more illiterate. Recent SAT scores are at an all-time low for the reading portion. And yet, we dance on, ignoring the glaring inconsistencies in what we deem important. The most important thing has become entertainment, yet even with the technology available to us, we are harder and harder to please.

If I may take a sidestep to branch off this topic, which of course I can, because it is my blog, I attended movies the past two weekends, and things stood out each time. Last weekend, I took my nieces, age 6 and (almost) 4 to see The Lion King. The Lion King originally came out in 1994, when I was 10 years old. At the time, it was spectacular, and I watched it numerous times, until I had most of the lines memorized. What was interesting about watching it with my nieces was that they were almost bored halfway through. Allie leaned over halfway through and asked if it was almost over. Now, these girls can sit in front of the TV for hours if they are allowed, but cartoons and movies these days, just seventeen years after the original release of The Lion King, have become so full of bright colors and action that anything more tame is simply unacceptable and boring.

It’s no wonder so many kids are diagnosed with ADHD.

This weekend, I went with a friend to see the movie Drive. The first part of the movie was intriguing. The main character didn’t say much, but sent messages through facial expressions and body language. I was actually quite impressed with Ryan Gosling's ability to convey so much visually. And then, halfway through, someone’s head exploded. Literally. And the movie spiraled into sequence after sequence of bloody gratuitous violence. I kept my hands in front of my face to block out the images that were splashed across the screen without warning, that I had no desire to see and have stamped into my memory. As the final credits rolled, all I could do was turn to my friend and say, “What the hell?” All the build up in the characters from the beginning of the movie was lost, even the storyline became shaky, though I gathered we were supposed to be cheering for The Driver, as he was called throughout the film, even as he stomped a man’s skull to mush.

Now how can I be writing about the dangers of censorship and talking about the unnecessary violence in a movie in the same entry? Really, just to illustrate my point that it takes so much more to get a reaction out of people anymore. There is no emotional connection to the characters in this violent movie, and every scene is followed by nervous laughter, a tension breaker, a reminder that it’s not real, just a clever trick of special effects and makeup. How did we get so desensitized to violence? How is it that we hear about murders, real murders, daily, and have but a fleeting twinge of remorse for a life lost, if that?

Clearly the message of my writing and of Ray Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451” is not just about books. It’s about society. It’s a warning to not let yourself be drawn in and convinced that you don’t need to think for yourself. Don’t become complacent. Try to slow down. Spend some time just sitting. Take a day with no electronics. Do away with Facebook for a weekend. Disconnect from technology and reconnect with real people. Spend time listening and learning, instead of filling silences with empty words and meaningless gossip.

If you’ve made it this far, bravo. I have more to say, but it will keep for a few days. I would love to hear about times when a book/movie/song has touched/rattled you the way “Fahrenheit 451” rattled me. As always, I encourage you to read read read. But at the very least, think. :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A letter to my friends

Dear Blog Readers,
How are you? I am fine. I know I do not update much, but I think of you lots. Sometimes I think about writing an entry, and then I see something shiny and I forget. I would say I am too busy, but that would be a lie, because I am not busy at all most evenings. In fact, I have lots and lots of time, I'm just very lazy. I remember how I used to write letters like this when I was little. "How are you? I am fine." Those were the days.

I have had a very fun weekend. I got to eat at Olive Garden last night with some friends, and then we saw the movie "Drive." The movie was very bad. I will never trust critics again. They love movies I hate, and hate movies I love. Maybe I will go see the Taylor Lautner movie tomorrow, because the critics really hated that one. It could be my new favorite movie. Today I woke up very early and that made me sad. Also, I woke up with a chip of one of my caps on my teeth floating around my mouth, which was very weird, and now I have a rough edge on the tooth that keeps cutting my tongue, but I can't stop feeling it with my tongue. Like when you have a bruise and you just have to push on it every once in a while to see if it still hurts. My tongue will be shredded by the time I call the dentist. It's a major bummer because I just went to the dentist on Thursday. Oh well. They like me there anyway. My nieces came over this morning and we watched TV while my sister and her husband went house hunting. I also got to see Maddy play soccer, which is fun because some of the kids are very into the game, and others prefer to practice ballet or do the splits out on the field. Quite entertaining. Maddy's team scored about 30 goals, and the other team didn't score any, which was kind of sad for the other team. It was a beautiful day for a game though. And tonight I went and saw Daphne Willis in concert, which was also fun.

It is fall now, which is my favorite season. I like to crunch the leaves. And the changing colors are awesome. And pretty. And beautiful. And amazing. If I ever get married, it will be in the fall.

Well, dear friends, this is quite long enough, and I have to go paint my nails and go to bed. I think tomorrow I will write some real cards to people and try to write more in my novel. Maybe you will all read it someday. Write back soon. Lots of love. Best Friends Forever. Call me.

LOVE, RENA

Monday, September 5, 2011

We all have our reasons


The picture above was taken in the staff bathroom at my school. Weird, maybe, but there are often questions written for people to answer, which is sometimes the most interaction we get to have throughout the day sans kiddos. This one struck me, because it brings to light all the different reasons people do what they do.

Teaching is similar to social services in that no one goes into it for the money. Whether it was a revered teacher or a family tradition, a surprise passion or planned from childhood, everyone has their own story. Working with people at all can be difficult, and working with kids can be especially trying, for a variety of reasons.

What I also like about the responses is that it shows the variety of people who choose the same career. From the serious responses to the fallback plan after failing as the fifth Beatle, people's personalities come out when asked questions like this. It's interesting walking around the school and hearing just bits of the teaching going on in each classroom. I might walk past a class where all the kids are sitting still as the teacher commands their attention with a firm voice, or a class where the kids are all hopping around the room like frogs. I hear laughter as kids walk in wobbly lines through the hallways, always accompanied by the "shhhh" sounds from other kids and adults.

I feel like a celebrity walking through the halls of my school. My clients go out of their way to give me hugs, or wave wildly from across the library. Sometimes they just give a small wave, not to be too uncool in front of their friends. There is always the question, "When are you coming to get me?" which I try to answer diplomatically as I pass. Many times even kids I have never met will run up to me and say, "Hi, Rena!" and grin as I return the greeting. When I sit in my office, it is not unusual for kids to run in and draw something on my chalkboard, or just run in and stand in front of me, smiling a little smile and waiting for me to say something brilliant. Sometimes they ask why I have so many toys, to which I always reply, "For me to play with." They tell me that I'm an adult and can't play with toys, and we argue back and forth.

Kids are unpredictable. They're hilarious. They are my passion, and as hard as it can be sometimes to work with them, there is nothing else I could see myself doing. What is your passion? How did you choose your path?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Generations

I have always been somewhat of a history nerd. I find it fascinating to learn about how people used to live, how they did everyday things, what would have been the norm for them. It's no wonder, then, that I find even the differences in the generations surrounding me to be interesting. For example, I never owned a cell phone until college, and now elementary schoolers have nicer phones than I do. I got my first CD in middle school. Now my 3 year old niece has her own iPod Touch. I realize that these are not just generational, but cultural norms. But I have already turned into that old lady that says to kids, "Why, when I was your age, I had to go sit on the basement stairs to talk on the phone because that's all the further the cord would reach!"



In recent conversations with my mom, I have discovered that in some cases I am even more of a crochety old lady than she is! Not that my mom is a crochety old lady. Not in the least. Of course I didn't mean it that way. (Hi, Mom!) Here are just some of the ways that we differ in opposite ways than you would expect.



BOOK VS KINDLE

I inherited my love of reading from both my parents, but my mom and I share a similar taste in reading materials. For her birthday last year, we all pitched in and got my mom a Kindle. Since then, my mom and I have had many debates over which is better: a real book or a book on Kindle. I totally understand that a Kindle is lighter than most books, and you can put hundreds of books on a Kindle, so they're all right there. Easier to carry around, easier to hold in many cases. Definitely quick and easy access to books. But for me...I love the smell of books. I love buying new books that have that "new book smell," and I love going to the library and smelling the old books. (Shut up, it's not weird.) I like to be able to hold a book in my hands, turn the pages, know at a glance how far into the book I am. I love the ink stains on my fingers after spending hours immersed in a book. I will confess that I'm a flipper...I like to sneak a peek at the end of the book, just to see what names are still around...and I'm not ashamed. :) I like marking my place with momentos that I use until I lose them. (Currently, a musician's business card) Even though I'm all for instant gratification, there's something fun about the anticipation of waiting for a book to arrive from Amazon. Clearly, I am a big dork, and it's possible that if I had a Kindle I might be swayed, but I don't know...



PHONE CALLS VS TEXTING

I worked with teenagers for two years, and one of the common complaints from parents was that their teenagers wouldn't pick up the phone and call, but resorted to text responses. It also seems like it's parents who tend to feel slighted when their kids don't call them. Not so with my parents. They are busy little beavers, and I'm pretty sure, much as they love me, they probably wouldn't call me unless they hadn't heard from me at all in over a week. Several times I have called my mom to chat, only to receive a text in response, asking what I need. I have joked with my mom about this, so she made an effort to call me to tell me I got her hooked on a new book series I forced her to read (REAL books, mind you). Again, total role reversal, as I would talk to my mom several times a week if it was my choice.



MARRIAGE

Okay, so this isn't a versus topic, and my mom and I actually don't disagree on this one. Much as other mothers might needle their 27 year old daughters about being married, my mom could care less. That sounds mean, but it's true. Not that she doesn't want me to get married. She wants whatever will make me happiest. Now, my niece Madelyn, on the other hand, plays the part of the interfering mother quite well. Almost every time I see her these days she comments on my marital status, and makes suggestions about how I should go about 'fixing' the fact that I am single. She's even got the passive aggressive guilt tripping down: "I'll just live with Auntie Rena when I'm in high school...she probably won't be married by then anyway." Yeah. Hilarious. Mostly ;)



In conclusion (this is how you end essays), the way generations look at things can be extremely different, but clearly there are abberrations, as is the case with my mother and me. (Yes, I called us abberrations.) But my mom is my best friend, and anyone who knows me knows that you have to be somewhat bizarre to be my friend, even if you're my mother. Yes. Crap, I have no good way to end this.



Oh! The other half of my brain and I started a blog together. It has exactly one entry. But there will be more. Hopefully. We need topics, so if you read this, check it out and leave a topic or question for us to ramble about. (Unless, of course, weird and random doesn't 'do it' for you, in which case, disregard this paragraph.)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Like the Tin Man. You know, from The Wizard of Oz?

I have been practicing therapy in some capacity for almost five years now. First in grad school, then as a Functional Family Therapist, and now as a school-based therapist. In the grand scheme of things, that's not very long. In many ways, I still feel very ill equipped to deal with some of the things that are brought into my office, and I know that I have much to learn as I continue on in my career. (That's why they call it practice, eh?) The thing with therapy is that you can never be fully prepared for things clients might bring to you. Each case is different. No two kids/families are alike. Even within the same families, there are different perspectives and dynamics. One of the reasons my job never gets boring. There's always something new coming up, a new challenge to conquer.



I have to wonder though, if I have come to see clients more as challenges than as people. I feel in some ways as if I have been jaded in my short time dealing with the problems of others. I went into this field because I feel for people, because I wanted to be able to help them through difficult times, help them to find ways to cope and to see things in a new and more hopeful light. To be able to improve their world even in just a small way, and thereby help improve the worlds of others as well. The ripple effect and all that. But again, I wonder, have the past few years built up a wall? Have I become someone heartless in all my magic therapist wand waving? Has the challenge of solving everyone's problems started to dehumanize the people with whom I work?



This isn't a new question. I have often had people ask me if it's ever hard to hear the things I hear. I have to be honest with them when I say, no, typically I can distance myself. Uncomfortable, sometimes, yes, but it doesn't do the client any good if I go to pieces when they're telling me their story. The other day, though, I went to talk to one of the teachers about a student who will be starting in her class. I wanted to let her know about some very traumatic things that have happened recently and are still happening, so that she would be prepared to deal with a kid who has the potential to act out when things are tough at home, but who is such a sweet kid otherwise. As I was talking, the teacher dropped to her seat, hand on her heart, and listened with tears in her eyes. She was truly feeling all this trauma that I was explaining to her, and it brought me up short. I don't remember when the last time was I truly let myself feel like that for one of my clients. So what does that mean?



This is where I have always been torn. I care about my clients. A lot. I will fight for them with parents, teachers, other therapists, whoever, to do what is best for them. But I can't honestly say I spend a lot of time thinking about them outside of work. They cross my mind, as surely as any other coworkers or acquaintances with whom I come into contact regularly. But they rarely even enter my dreams. Sometimes that has made me feel uncaring and, yes, heartless. I have talked to other therapists who care so deeply for their clients that they dream about them constantly. But would that be helpful, for me, or for them? I don't think so. I have had to build that boundary, that wall, to keep out the emotions that could drag me down and prevent me from doing my job, which is to help clients and families work through their trauma. How can I help them if I am feeling traumatized myself?



I worry, though, that this is leaking into my personal life as well. How do you separate how you operate in your career from how you operate the rest of the time? They are bound to overlap. I don't have the answer. I just pray that I am not becoming as heartless as I sometimes feel.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Back in the day

When I was younger, I always hated it when adults would talk about how fast time was going. For me, it was going sooo slooowww!!! A week seemed like an eternity, especially if I was looking forward to something. However, I have now become one of those old lady types who constantly comments on how fast time is moving. I am shocked when I realize that my youngest niece will be three next week, or that my oldest niece will be in first grade already. My nephew starts kindergarten, and little Allie will be attending preschool. What?? When did this happen? I'm not even their parent and I'm amazed at how quickly they have grown.

This past weekend I spent some time with my extended family at our (sometimes) annual reunion. The first part of the weekend was spent at the Presbyterian Camp on Okoboji. I worked at that camp during the summer of 2003, and it was one of the best and worst summers of my life. I loved working at camp. It was a ton of work, but it rarely seemed overwhelming. Of course, that was eight years ago, so who knows how accurate my memory is.

Wait.

EIGHT years ago???

See how quickly time goes? It's always fun to get together with my mom's side of the family. We have gotten together almost yearly for as long as I can remember. Of course, as we have gotten older, not everyone is able to make it. This time, eight of the ten cousins were able to come, which was nice. After Okoboji, we headed up to Windom, MN, where my grandparents live, and where I was born. The first day we were there, we started pulling out old pictures. Pictures of when our parents were younger, before we were even on their minds. And pictures of each of us as we came into the world and into our crazy family.

So much has changed since many of those pictures were taken. I remember long summer days at my grandparents' cabin on Fish Lake outside of Windom. I would be in the water as early as possible, and stay in until I was threatened to be left, only taking breaks for lunch and cookies. I loved the lake. There were two metal flights of steps down to the dock, and if you were especially tough, you would do it without shoes on. Some of us would run and jump into the freezing water all at once, while others might take an hour to fully submerge, preferring to acclimate a little at a time. Hours were spent having underwater tea parties and doing underwater acrobatics. We would make special trips to Pamida to buy floaties and noodles, and then wait expectantly for one of the few boats on the lake to whiz past and create perfect waves for floating. When we were younger, my younger cousins and I were not allowed past the end of the dock without an adult present, and we would grumble as we watched the older cousins trek out to the middle of the lake to find the dropoff, or just float where no trees could create a cold shadowy area on the water. As we got older, we would make the trek ourselves, toting large rocks that would pull us down down down, our goal being to touch the bottom of the lake and bring back a handful of sand as proof of our accomplishment. We rarely achieved the goal. This weekend we were discussing the fact that our parents couldn't possibly have known what we were up to, or they would have put it to an immediate stop. My grandparents sold the cabin years ago, but the time spent there is one of my happiest memories.

Back in town, when we were little, we would spend hours in the basement at my grandparents' "house on the hill." We would have ping pong tournaments or play on the piano. The best thing to do was raid the old clothes in the laundry room. Prom dresses and other clothing that had been kept for one reason or another became our costumes for the plays we would write and act out every summer. We found pictures of a group of us dressed up in such costumes, and as soon as I get it scanned, I'll post it, because it's too great not to share. As we got older, my younger cousins and I would spy on the older cousins as they met up with other teenagers around Windom. I remember being extremely jealous when my brother and another cousin would take the youngest girls to McDonald's to pick up girls. I wasn't cute enough to be bait. My grandparents sold their house and moved into a condo more their size several years back. There's not nearly as much room for kids to run and play, but since everyone is only around once a year, it hardly made sense for them to keep such a large house. I don't even drive past the old house on the hill anymore. It's changed almost beyond what I can recognize.

There are so many memories I would like to write down, to share with others and to keep for my own. Memories of walking to the Pine Inn while it was still open and getting ice cream. My grandparents were part owners of the Pine Inn back in the day. Now there is only a dealership where the rustic old restaurant used to stand. Memories of walks to the park and downtown shopping. Windom's downtown has gone the way of so many small town downtowns. I don't even make it there when we are visiting anymore.

There have been so many changes just in my lifetime, and I can't imagine how it must be for my parents and aunts and uncles who grew up in a completely different Windom. One thing that is always constant, while still changing, is my family. They are the type of people who I can barely say boo to for an entire year, and pick up again right where we left off. People I am never uncomfortable around. These people have seen me through my awkward stages, including the current one, and (mostly) love me anyway. I love my family. They drive me crazy sometimes, but I love them all the same. I'm already looking forward to next year's reunion, where we will celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary! The amazing couple that started it all :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

I slay me

So today I checked my hotmail account, which I rarely use, and found that I had a comment on my livejournal blog, which I haven't used in...ohhh...five years or so. I clicked on the link and was plunged into nostalgia. Right smack in the middle of my senior year of college. I spent far too many hours reading through those entries, and then suddenly they ended. My 23 year old self decided to post exclusively on myspace! So I followed the trail to myspace, and was skimming through my entries, trying to find my place, when I found this beauty of an entry. Some things will never change...

You'll never guess what happened!

The craziest thing happened tonight. I was in my apartment and I had just finished talking to my grandparents. I like them a lot, they are fun talk to, and I learned a lot. I learn a lot at school too, although sometimes not as much as I should. It's cuz I play on the computer, and I love it, but it distracts me. Like bubbles. Bubbles are fun and remind me of sparkly things. My ring is sparkly. Sometimes I stare at it for hours on end. Then I realize I was supposed to be doing something else...

Oh yeah! So anyway, after I hung up, I decided to check the mail. I love snail mail, even though I don't get much. I don't really love snails though. They are slimy. One time I found a snail shell on a gravel road. That was when I lived in the country and I would ride my bike down to some mulberry bushes. I loved those mulberries. I would eat a lot of them and my whole face and all my fingers would be purple. That would have been better if purple was my favorite color. I don't remember what my favorite color was, but now it's red. I'm wearing red pants. They're comfy. I love comfy pants. I have to wear dress pants a lot of the time now and they're not so comfy. But that's part of the job, I suppose. Jobs are hard. And annoying. Cuz sometimes I just wanna lay around and do nothing. But I can't. Cuz I work. But I don't whistle while I work. Kids and clients would find it annoying. Actually sometimes I whistle for the kids and they try but they can't do it and if we have crackers for snack they spew crumbs all over. I don't like the word spew...

So I got Jill's mail and was headed back to my apartment when I saw that the door to an empty apartment was open. It was dark inside. I don't like the dark. Or open doors when it's dark. Nothing good can come from a dark open door. In scary movies there are always dark rooms and the people always go in and that's where the bad guys are always hiding. Bad guys are not funny. Well sometimes they are, but not in real life. But real life sucks sometimes. I would rather live in the not real world. But not really cuz then it wouldn't be real. You know what I mean, right?

So I ventured into the apartment cuz I was wondering why the door was open. It was cold in there. Cold is no fun. I am not happy that it's winter. Christmas is the only good thing about winter. I love Christmas. We have a Christmas tree. Trees are nice. They give us air. Air is nice, it keeps us alive. Being alive is nice because you get to eat chocolate. I really like chocolate. I went through a phase once when I always craved chocolate cake. I also went through a phase when I did my hair differently every day. I like my hair. It is growing long. I used to have long hair when I was little, and it was cuter then cuz it was thinner, not big and bushy. Bushes are nice, but they can hurt if you try to play in them.

I turned on the light and have you ever wondered how electricity works? I mean, wow, those people are SMART. Like computers, or any technology. I can't believe what they've come up with. I doubt I will ever come close to being that smart. My sister is smart. She is probably a genius. Maddy will be a genius too. She talks a lot. The other day she was calling her doll Auntie Rena and feeding her rice crispies. I like rice crispies, but I don't eat them very often. I prefer honey nut cheerios because they don't get soggy as fast. Soggy stuff is gross. It reminds me of the word moist, which I really don't like. Ya know the grossest sentence ever? The gynecologist had a moist uvula. Yeah it just sounds dirty, but it's not at all. Actually that would be quite healthy, cuz a dry throat is no fun, and you would assume if the uvula was not moist the rest of the throat wouldn't be either. One time I had my tonsils out. They used to be big enough so that I could touch them together. They were right by the uvula.

Anyway, I saw...oh crap, I need to get to bed! Goodnight!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The anatomy of a surprise

I love surprises. I love the planning and the sneakiness and especially the reactions of people when you pull it off. Just a couple months ago my friend Angie and I surprised our friend Kristen with Angie herself. They hadn't seen each other for almost a year and a half. I thought Kristen's jaw was going to fall off her face. It was awesome.

A couple weeks ago, my brother in law, Martin, texted me to ask if I could watch my nieces on Mother's Day so he could take my sister out. Unfortunately, I had plans already, so I suggested a Saturday overnight instead. Martin quickly made the reservations, probably so I couldn't change my mind ;) Then came the waiting. This is the planting seeds phase. I watched the girls for the day last weekend, and was joking about how it wouldn't happen again until next year. When Emily inquired about my weekend plans, I told her it was cleaning day, but I might need to come to laundry. She had no clue. None. I got up this morning and did not clean. Whoops. I texted Emily to see when they were going to be home so I could do laundry. A couple minutes later I received a text from Martin that read, "She suspects nothing." We're like surprise ninjas. I arrived home before the family did and Emily stood outside as I took my laundry inside. "Whoops, I forgot something in my car," I said, and got my duffel from the car. Emily suspected nothing. Martin and I looked at each other and shrugged. I made a show of turning around and locking my car, duffel in full view. "Man, it's so nice. I just want to stay out," Emily commented. "Well then let's go out," Martin said. Blank stare from Emily. This is about when I started laughing. Emily finally caught on. "You guys are both dorks," is about the extent of the comments we received. Could have been much worse :P All in all, pretty fun.

I love watching my nieces. They are so funny. We have the best conversations. Allie never wastes an opportunity to let me know that she's three and a half. Maddy usually follows with the assertion that she is six and a quarter. Just to be sure I don't forget. Allie wants to be a princess, so Maddy decides to be queen. Maddy is the quintessential older sister, always telling Allie what she's doing wrong. It reminds me of my days as the little sister. Emily always got to be in charge. She would force my friends and me to play school with her and give us extra worksheets she got from her teacher. She would send us out for "recess," fill in the worksheets with the incorrect answers, and then mark them all wrong with her red pen. But that's a sidenote. Allie doesn't take Maddy's crap. She marches to the beat of her own drummer. It is funny how the two of them seem to be patterned after Emily and me. I guess there is something to that birth order stuff.

I took the girls to see the movie Rio tonight. As we were leaving, the sky was beautiful. The sun was setting in the distance, which I pointed out to the girls. "Can we drive there?" Allie asked sweetly. "No, Allie, it's too late to drive anywhere!" corrects Maddy. "Can we drive there in the morning?" Allie wanted to know. "No sweetie, we can't drive to the sun." (Words I never thought I'd say.) "It's way out in outer space." Allie took a few minutes to think about that. "I think I'll be an astronaut when I grow up!" she declared. (How a three year old [excuse me, a three and a half year old] can put that together is pretty impressive!) Maddy was alarmed. "No, Allie!" (she says this a lot) "You can't be an astronaut! If you're an astronaut you have to stay in space for a year!"

The conversation went on, including a gentle reminder from Auntie Rena to Maddy that her sister has time to decide what she wants to be an it's okay for her to dream. These are the sorts of conversations we have frequently. "Look what I can do!" is said so often I can barely turn my head quick enough to watch both of them. They are always trying to marry me off one way or another, whether by offering to come with to search for a husband, counting money out to try to buy me a man, or attempting to get me engaged to the furniture, there's always a new plot with them. In fact, they are always plotting. Lil scamps.

So it's a double-win weekend. I love surprises and I love my nieces. I get to live vicariously through my sister being swept away for the night, and I get to pretend to be a mom for a little while. On Mother's Day, no less! My life is pretty much great :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Let's get traditional


Yesterday, while running to Hy-Vee for a few basic grocery staples, I was sucked in by the half price Easter candy. Now, I'm not a big candy person, but there are a few things I have a hard time turning down. Pretty much anything foil wrapped is my weakness. Chocolate eggs...Reese's peanut butter cups...yum! So I carefully picked through the mountains of chocolate, selected a few favorites, and skipped merrily on my way.

While consuming just a couple (handfuls) of the brightly foiled chocolates, I began to make a foil ball from the wrappers. It is second nature to do so, and I got to wondering how on earth such a habit had begun.

When I was a kid, we never had Easter egg hunts. Well, I shouldn't say never. I don't remember having them. Mostly because we had pets, and pets get into things. My dog Maggie would have LOVED to get a chance to have some of those treats! Instead, we just had Easter baskets in which candy-filled eggs would magically appear. I was never a fan of jelly beans (Starburst being the exception!), so I concentrated on the chocolates. I'm not sure who started it, but my brother and sister and I would have competitions to see who could make the largest ball of foil. I think we were inspired to PeeWee Herman, who had a giant foil ball (AND a giant rubber band ball). I always thought if I saved my ball of foil for years, maybe I could get one as big as PeeWee's. Of course, if anyone has seen me try to keep track of something for a year...well...it was pretty much a big fail. But I started over with good intentions every year.

We have had some other holiday traditions, but the best was Christmas. Since we first lived in New York, which was 24 hours away from family, and then my dad became a pastor, which made it impossible to travel on Christmas, we created our own little family traditions. We always opened one gift on Christmas Eve, and the rest Christmas morning. We went in order of age with opening presents, and had to watch each other. This was especially difficult when it was my sister's turn, as it seemed that to rip the paper would result in a Christmas disaster, so she carefully peeled back every bit of tape until she freed each gift.

Now, the absolute BEST part about our Christmas when I was a kid was our practice drills. That's right. Practice drills to check our stockings. See, the rule was that we weren't allowed to go downstairs until 1am to look in our stockings. I guess that's because Santa was scheduled in the window between bedtime and 1am. My brother would run drills with us weeks in advance. My sister and I would pretend to sleep, and he would come in and wake us up, and we would sneak down the stairs, picking out the least creaky parts (the outside edges), and making sure we could get past my parents' bedroom door. I remember feeling so proud when Ben would turn around and tell me he didn't even realize I was behind him I was being so quiet. Good times. It wasn't until years later that Emily and I discovered that Ben actually snuck down and checked out the contents of all of our stockings before waking us up. Punk. Wish I'd thought of it.

Now that I'm all grown up, things like Easter baskets and stocking practice drills are a thing of the past. I'm watching my siblings and their families create their own traditions, and my nieces and nephews create their own memories. I had so much fun watching them hunt for Easter eggs this past weekend. I can't wait to have my own kids someday and create traditions with them as well. A little old and a little new. What are your favorite traditions?


Lyle picked a special container for his hunt.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I am socially awkward

You know those people who can walk into an unfamiliar situation and instinctively know exactly what to say? The right amount of humor to use, the safe topics and taboo. The ones who have never met a stranger, only a potential friend, who everyone loves immediately just because of their aura.

I am not one of those people.

I'm not exactly sure what happens to me in social situations. It's like I forget what basic conversation should sound like. I tend to not speak, which is usually pretty safe, except then I am forever labeled as "the quiet one." It's when I start speaking that the problems really begin. You see, I tend to speak as if everyone in the room is hard of hearing. I haven't found my volume button yet. I also talk very fast. And make stupid statements. My freshman year of college, I was hanging out with some people, and somehow I realized that one of the guys had the same last name as me (though he spelled it wrong.) I hadn't really had this experience before, though I know it is fairly common. So I said (yelled), "Your last name is Olson? MY last name is Olsen!!!!" with a big cheesy grin. Cue the blank stare. "And?" "And..well...I just...uhhh...not used to...uhh..." Awkward...

I am not good at jumping into conversations when there are several people in a group. By the time I carefully formulate in my brain what I want to say, the conversation has moved three topics forward.
Them: I really think the government needs to pay more attention to education spending.
Me: Last time I was in Colorado I went white water rafting!

Part of my problem is that I have quite a bit of crazy that needs to be shored up until people get to know me better. Some may say that it is important to let at least some crazy out so people know what they're getting into, but I can't just let a little out. So I become bland and boring, like toast. "Hey, so this weather is awesome, eh?" "I'm a therapist!" (That's always a conversation stopper...)

Speaking of being a therapist...you'd think I'd be better at conversation as a therapist. It's what I do all day. Between coloring and playing board games and playing with action figures. But most people would take offense if I started asking them if they were naughty this week or not. I mean...I guess I've never tried it...but it's just a hunch that it wouldn't go over well.

So how can I fix it? Practice! Who wants to run social drills with me?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The PK Life, yo

It's Easter. Another holiday, the most important one on the Christian calendar, in my opinion. I spent Saturday and Sunday at my brother's house this year with the rest of my family, and I couldn't help but ruminate (yes, ruminate) on how different holidays are in my family than they were when I was growing up. Yes, I know, duh, because I'm like an adult (psh) and there are Littles running all over and all that, but I grew up a pastor's kid*, or PK. (*May also be referred to as TO, or Theologian's Offspring.)

My dad decided to become a pastor when I was in Kindergarten, and we moved that summer from upstate New York to Iowa. I was too little at the time to realize exactly what that meant. The most important thing to me was that we took a train to get to Iowa. Of course, that dream died as we piled into our two car caravan and headed west. It was kinda like the Oregon Trail. No, really, it was. Anyway, so suddenly life was very different. I grew up not getting to take trips for weekends, or be anywhere else for holidays. My dad was gone almost every evening at one meeting or another.

That's not the point though. The point is the as a PK, you are on the inside track of everything. My dad's first church was a tiny country church, and I had the run of that place. We would play hide and seek or "Indian princesses" in the cemetary, run up and down the aisles in the sanctuary, and make prank calls from my dad's office (sorry, Dad! He doesn't read this anyway...). After communion on Sundays, I would slip down to the kitchen and pilfer the remaining bread and grape juice. Sometimes I would share. I always felt like hot stuff. Everyone knew who I was. That was awesome when I was younger. Not so much when I got to be older, and felt slightly like I was under a microscope.

Holidays were always interesting. I was reminded of this at my church's Good Friday service. Two of the readers were the pastor's wife and oldest son. I remember being roped into doing readings for holidays. Not only readings, but any time special music was needed, I was up to sing, even if I had little warning. Easter morning when I was growing up I wouldn't see my dad until well after the service was over. He was up early and off to his office to do last minute tweaking/practicing.

This morning I got up and my dad was one of the first to wish me a Happy Easter. He gave me a hug, kissed my head, and told me he loved me. Even at 27, those things mean a lot. I know that my dad has touched many people with his preaching. He is amazing. But I'm glad he has moved out of that capacity. I like that my parents can come visit on weekends, and that we can spend holidays doing whatever and know that my dad will be with us every step of the way.

I am a PK for life, and I know that it has helped to make me who I am, but I'm glad for the stage of life my family is in now. Our time in ministry brought us closer together, but being out of ministry has added to that closeness tenfold. My family rocks :)

(PS - So sorry for the last blog entry...I remember thinking it was absolutely hilarious...until the cold meds wore off...)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

You're never gonna believe it

YOU GUYS!

So I know it's been a while since my last blog. Apologies. But you'll NEVER believe what happened to me. See, right after I finished my last blog, I was attacked. By ninjas. See, they'd heard about my mad ninja skills, and they whisked me away to their super secret ninja cave hideout tower place thingy and forced me to teach them my ways. Of course, I could have escaped, but I felt so bad for them (they couldn't even go grocery shopping without being seen), so I chose to stay on and help out. I also helped them out with their taxes, which were a MESS. (Even ninjas have to pay taxes.) By the time I got home, my apartment was infested with nargles (shout-out to all the HP fans out there!!!) and my pet alligator had run away. I don't blame her. Nargles are not the best roommates. They never do the dishes or change the toilet paper roll. ANYWAY. By the time I found Eugene (the alligator), she had laid a nest of alligator eggs. They hatched soon after I arrived, and I had to travel around the country and find homes for all the baby gators. (The ninjas have a cuddly new pet!) You wouldn't believe how difficult it is to find homes for lil alligators, even when you dress them up in cute outfits. I mean, come on, who wouldn't want a little sailor alligator? Really?

So anyway, I finally got rid of the nargles, Eugene is back in her tub, and now I have a huge mess to clean up.

Seriously.

I told you you wouldn't believe it.

(In completely unrelated news, did I mention I'm on high doses of cold medicine?)