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Running, is once again, one of my goals in the new year. Perhaps there's a metaphor here?

Running is, once again, one of my goals in the new year. Perhaps there’s a metaphor here?

New Year’s has always been one of my favorite holidays. I like reflecting on the past year and looking forward to what’s ahead. I enjoy making New Year’s Resolutions but I rarely end up keeping them for the entire year.  Last year I set two goals for 2013:

1) Read through the entire Bible in a year

2) Run a 10K

Did I accomplish either of these goals? Alas, no, I lost interest in both. But — I did stay on track with the Bible reading for about 6 months. I realized I wasn’t getting much out of it because the reading schedule was too intensive. To read through the entire Bible in a year you need to read three or four chapters per day. Lately I’ve been trying to read one chapter a day and that is working well, so I plan to continue that.

As far as running goes, I have been running off and on throughout the year. I’ve noticed I feel much better when I run regularly. For about the last month, I’ve been running twice a week, but I’d like to increase that to three times a week.

So what was 2013 all about for me, if not completing my resolutions?

1) A Mommy Year

2013 (and 2012, 2014, 2015, etc.) was mostly about caring for my sweet little one. It’s been amazing to see all the changes she’s gone through in the past year as she’s changed from Baby Bear to Toddler Bear. In 2013 she learned to walk, clap, sign, talk, dance, run, and climb. From her first word (Mama) to her first sentence (“Read the book!”), it’s been a joy to watch her language development.

2) Becoming a Writer

In 2013 I’ve made the transition from being an aspiring writer to being a writer. Although it’s been years since I graduated from college with my BA in journalism, this is the first time I’ll be putting “writer” as my occupation on my tax return. And that feels pretty great, even if it doesn’t pay much – yet. I’ve completed two freelance editing projects and have published a collection of parenting articles on sites like eHow, GlobalPost Parenting and ModernMom.

3) Moving

This fall marked a move that has been very beneficial for me. We’re now in the same town as my parents, and have an apartment that boasts a dishwasher and is (mostly) mold-free. Hip hip hurray!

Goals for 2014:

Goal-setting is important to me, as it makes me feel like I’m purposefully moving forward in my life. Explicitly stating my goals helps put them into a clearer focus and greatly increases my likelihood of accomplishing them. I’d encourage you to also have goals for the year, even if some of them seem unrealistic right now. Dare to dream. Here are mine:

1) Write and self-publish my young adult novel.

I just completed an excellent online course on writing young adult fiction. I’ve wanted to write a YA novel for some time, but never knew how to structure it. Now that I’ve taken this course, it seems an achievable (though challenging) goal.

2) Buy a house.

I’ve already completely Step 1 towards this goal — just bought a book about becoming a first-time homeowner. Yay!

3) Run 3 miles in 30 minutes.

Currently I can run 2.5 miles in 30 minutes, but I think if I increase my running to three days a week it will be fairly easy to reach this goal.

4) Make new friends but keep the old.

Focusing on relationships is always important to me. I’m shy, so it is a challenge for me to make friends, but necessary since we don’t know many people in our new town. And I want to continue investing heavily in my old relationships — particularly with my husband and the little one.

A few of my favorite books.

A few of my favorite books.

As part of a recent Facebook game, I made a list of ten books — excluding The Bible — that have impacted me. I chose (in no particular order):

10 books that have influenced me

1. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
2. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
3. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
4. The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
5. The Poetry of Robert Frost
6. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
8. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
9. This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Also, I’ll share my favorite book I’ve read this year. I’ve read a lot of good books so the competition is steep and maybe I’m slightly biased because I had the chance to meet this author and take a writing workshop from her, but here it is (drumroll):

Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love by Debra Gwartney

I was also inspired to reflect on movies I’ve watched. I’ve seen so many movies over the years that I found it impossible to make one Top 10 list, so I had to break it up by category. Again, these lists aren’t necessarily in any kind of meaningful order.

10 documentaries that entertained, inspired and/or influenced my thinking:

1. Lord Save us from Your Followers
2. What Would Jesus Buy?
3. Jesus Camp
4. Grizzly Man
5. Supersize Me
6. Food Inc.
7. Sicko
8. An Inconvenient Truth
9. Encounters at the End of the World
10. Blackfish (just finished watching this yesterday but it was very impacting — fascinating, informative, and highly disturbing all at once).

10 comedies that really made me laugh:

1. Sideways
2. Little Miss Sunshine
3. Juno
4. Stranger than Fiction
5. The Princess Bride
6. Pretty Woman (well it’s not that funny, but I can’t resist the storyline).
7. Say Anything (I love you young John Cusack)
8. Office Space
9. Zoolander (yes it’s a terrible movie, I know).
10. I Heart Huckabees

10 dramas that have either entertained, allowed a good cathartic cry or led to a deep phobia:

1. Lord of the Rings trilogy
2. American Beauty
3. Jurassic Park
4. Jaws (is it safe to get back in the water yet?)
5. Romeo & Juliet with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes
6. The Breakfast Club
7. In America
8. A Beautiful Mind
9. Good Will Hunting
10. Dangerous Minds (had to include an inspirational teacher movie)

What about you? What are some of the books and films that have most influenced and inspired you, have made you laugh the longest and cry the hardest?

Karaoke + fake snow + elf hats = holiday awkwardness.

Karaoke + fake snow + elf hats = holiday awkwardness.

 

It’s that time of year again. The season of pine-scented family rooms, rum-spiked eggnog, stressed out store clerks, and awkward social gatherings. Awkward holiday gatherings come in many varieties, but I will focus my survival tips here on what is perhaps the biggest offender — the holiday office party.

Work parties can be uncomfortable because your co-workers may not be people you would normally choose to hang out with during your off hours. You’ve got Bill Lumbergh, the coffee-breath boss who makes you work unpaid overtime and drones on about — well you can’t remember because you weren’t listening. Then there’s Milton, your co-worker who clearly has Aspberger’s syndrome and keeps accusing you of stealing his stapler. Also you have Dwight Schrute who farms beets on the weekends and values his mediocre job above all else. Clearly you’re the only normal person at work.

However, as awkward as it may be to go to your own office party, it’s even more awkward to go with your significant other. You don’t even know their co-workers after all. So what to do? Do you end up spending the entire evening playing Solitaire on your smartphone?

I’ve been to my share of my hubby’s holiday work parties. My first was also the most, um, memorable. It was a dinner party at a local restaurant, complete with White Elephant Gift Exchange. The firm was generously paying for everyone’s food and drink. We hadn’t been there long, perhaps an hour at most, when our waiter informed my husband’s boss that they would no longer be serving alcohol.  Many of my husband’s co-workers were visibly intoxicated, and the restaurant staff didn’t want to be held liable for any drunk driving incidents. The boss got into an argument with the restaurant manager, who finally agreed to continue serving alcohol. Then came the White Elephant Exchange, which included a few bottles of liquor, which people started chugging. Time for my husband and I to make a graceful exit.

My advice would be this: Yes, you should go to your office party and/or your spouse’s office party. Try to be friendly and stay for at least an hour. After that, you’re free to leave. If you, like me, have a young child, you have the perfect excuse for leaving any social gathering early. If you don’t, try out one of these excuses:

* “I have a Festivus gathering to attend.”

* “I need to meet my World of Warcraft friends online.”

* “Well, looks like I just got a booty call.”

* “My hemorrhoids are acting up.”

Any other favorite excuses for leaving an awkward party?

Twice now I have thought that Little Bear had chickenpox, and twice I have been wrong.

The first time was last summer. She was feeling under the weather, had a low fever and a day or two later broke out in a rash all over her body. I immediately assumed it was the chickenpox, because the pediatrician had recommended she get that vaccine and I had declined for the time being. I called her doctor’s office to let them know my diagnosis, and the nurse skeptically told me I should come into the office so they could figure out, “what was really going on.” After checking her out, the doctor said Little Bear didn’t appear to have chickenpox, because she didn’t have any raised blisters. She told me that there are a number of viruses that can cause a rash in children. She then showed me some photos of chickenpox so that I would know what to look for in the future.

After that I intended to get her the varicella vaccination, but due to our move Little Bear has gotten slightly behind in her well-child visits. Last week she came down with a fever of about 102. I knew she was having chills, because she was shivering and seemed to be feeling awful. She went to bed early and then seemed fine the next day (Thursday), although we noticed she was scratching her tongue in the evening. The following day she also seemed to be doing pretty well, although a little less energetic than usual. That evening at bath time I saw that she had some bumps on her elbows and feet. These bumps were raised and I thought they looked like the pictures of chickenpox the doctor had showed me. The next day she had a red rash all over her feet, and also on her hands. She had a few spots on her legs, but none on her torso or face.

I assumed she must have a mild case of the chickenpox. One that didn’t appear to be itchy, and was only attacking very specific body parts. Strange perhaps, but what else could it be? We kept her quarantined, which was fairly easy to do since we were in the midst of a once-a-decade snowstorm and couldn’t drive anywhere.

The following Wednesday my aunt was telling my cousin about it, and my cousin said, “Are you sure it’s chickenpox? That sounds like what my daughters had last year — hand, foot and mouth disease.”

I googled hand, foot and mouth disease and it seemed to match Little Bear’s symptoms. At that point, she still had a mild rash on her feet and a runny nose. She had a well-child visit scheduled for that afternoon, so Grandpa graciously drove us through the still snowy roads to her doctor’s office. When I told the receptionist that Little Bear was recovering from hand, foot and mouth disease she seemed skeptical. “Is she on medication for that?”

But after examining her, our wonderful pediatrician said, “I agree with your diagnosis Ursula. This looks like classic hand, foot and mouth disease. It’s been going around.”

Case closed.

I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

Throughout my life I’ve often felt like an outsider, as if I could never be part of the in-crowd. Maybe you can relate to that, and then again maybe you can’t. Since we’ve just moved to a new town, we’re outsiders now because we don’t know many people. At our last church, even though we’d been a part of it for years, I felt like an outsider after my daughter was born because the church was mostly made up of younger people without children. In grad school, I was one of the few married people. In college, I didn’t feel like I quite fit in with the Christians because I was too liberal, and I didn’t quite fit in with anyone else because I was too Christian. Likewise, when I worked at Christian schools, I always felt I had to keep my liberal political leanings under wraps, so I couldn’t really be myself. As a kid, I didn’t know how to make friends, had uneven bangs and snaggle teeth, and was occasionally ostracized by the popular girls.

I assume that everyone feels like this at one time or another, that the sense of not quite fitting in is part of the human condition. Though maybe there are some attractive, outgoing, charismatic people who truly have never felt this way. There have been times in my life when I have fit in and it felt pretty great. In fourth grade, I attended a spring break sports camp where I somehow managed to be extremely popular — everyone wanted to be my friend. (I guess because I used to be good at sports? Or maybe I dressed well that week?). In high school, although not part of the “popular” clique, I did have a big group of nice and fun friends. And most shockingly in college my future husband (who when I’d met, I’d immediately dismissed as too good-looking and popular for me), wanted to date me. Thanks, but I don’t want to be a part of any club that would accept me as a member….(ha!)

The good news for those of us who don’t quite fit in is that Jesus didn’t fit in either. Jesus hung out with social outcasts and as a result was ostracized by the religious leaders of his day. Basically, if Jesus had gone to your high school, he would have been a friend to all those kids who didn’t have friends. He wouldn’t have worn the cool clothes or listened to the cool music. The popular kids would have teased him mercilessly and never invited him to their parties. And yet, Jesus forgives again and again.

The moments in my life when I do fit in and feel well loved are small glimpses of heaven. When my daughter wants to “nuggle,” when my husband asks me about my day, when we share dinner and laughs with friends we’ve known for years. In my mind, heaven is like a huge dinner party with all our best friends, and everyone is invited. And that’s good news.

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What about you? Can you relate to being an outsider? And what’s your idea of heaven?