The End of Human Decency

As I have been reading a lot of blogs lately, I have noticed an unfortunate trend: the use of both blogs and their comments sections as a forum for disrespect.  I understand that if you’re writing a blog, you must have something to say and you have to expect both praise and criticism.  Nevertheless, I don’t think the comments section should be an excuse to insult other people.  The same problem occurs on youtube.  It drives me crazy.  I just want to ask why people can’t find anything better to do with their time than comment on their hatred for songs.  (Don’t bother listening to it if you don’t like it!). It’s one thing to share opinions that are different from those in a blog post, but it is quite another to hurl deprecating remarks.

One example: one blog about writing offered some advice for writers, and the first comment I saw was someone saying, “I was going to take you seriously until I saw that your book was nonfiction. That’s not writing, dude.”  First of all, excuse me?  Since when is nonfiction writing “not writing”?  Even if you set aside the ridiculousness of that statement, why do you need to be a jerk?  If you didn’t find his advice useful, then stop reading, or accept that not every single piece of text you come across is going to be applicable for you.  Don’t waste your time or the author’s time in bashing what he does.

Other comments I’ve found while perusing various posts are similarly rude.  I just don’t get it.  I guess it’s because of the same reasons I don’t get kids bullying other kids, or CEOs ripping off their employees.  If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.  Unless your comments are actually constructive for the writer, then keep them to yourself.  (Okay, one other exception: when the writer has been deliberately offensive, it might be fine to lash back.  Like maybe to the woman who “looks down on young wives and mothers and isn’t sorry”.)

My husband reads a lot of product reviews before buying anything, and he often remarks on this as well.  People tend to jump all over each other online.  They have a much shorter fuse and an apparent lack of basic decorum.  They start off with relevant reviews of cell phone carriers or car parts or restaurants, but quickly deteriorate into name-calling and petty arguments.  My friend who moderates the website for a law review magazine can attest to this online rudeness epidemic, too.

Why do we become so ruthless when we’re online?  I mean, obviously, there is that sense of distance created between us and the people to whom we communicate online.  But how is it that we lose or ignore our moral compass just because we don’t expect to deal with others face to face?

I think that, deep down, most of us just like hearing ourselves talk.  Even I do–and I’m a very shy and introverted person.  Perhaps this is true of many of us who enjoy writing.  It gives us the chance to speak out when we normally would remain mute.  We become bolder through our written words, particularly when we can publish them online with just a tap of one button.

It just feels like we’re becoming meaner and meaner to one another.  It’s pretty disheartening.

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Hot meals or hot showers?

 Which would you rather have: a really delicious meal or a long, hot shower?  Or rather, let me rephrase that: which would be harder to live without?

If zombies invade your town and life, the opportunities for both of those luxuries will be few and far between, if they exist at all.

I’m not talking about just having enough food to survive, enough to get you through each day.  During a zombie apocalypse, finding sufficient food to fill you up and sustain your energy would be challenge enough.  Who could worry about the pleasure of a culinary experience?

I’m talking about the pure enjoyment of eating.  Wouldn’t you miss it?  Being able to sit calmly, eating a delicious meal, perhaps one that includes multiple courses of salad, appetizer, entree, and dessert.  Eating more than just the calories and nutrients needed to keep you going.  Enjoying a wide variety of flavors and savoring every carefully prepared morsel.

Then again, imagine your life without the opportunity to take a nice hot shower or bath at the end of a long, hard day.  Instead of regularly washing away the day’s grime, you have to sit in that filth as it multiplies day after day.  You don’t get to use your fruity or flowery scented shampoos and bath gels or stand under a hot spray of water just because it feels good.

The closest I have ever come to that situation was while volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti for a few weeks in 2007.  Due to the cost of water, we were only allowed to shower every two days, and only “Navy-style”, where you turn water on for a few seconds, then turn it off while lathering up.  It was an adjustment, but perfectly bearable.  That first shower following that trip, though?  Heavenly.  The brief period of slight deprivation gave me a new appreciation for that luxury.

While watching  The Walking Dead, Nate and I sometimes let our minds stray  from the survival aspects of the plot and wonder about these luxuries.  The show does touch on food needs fairly frequently, but rarely does it mention the showers.  I wonder how long it would take living in the post-apocalyptic world before you’d get used to the smell (both yours and of those around you) and the gross, icky feeling that must pervade your skin and body without proper showers.

I wonder how long it’s been since Rick and Glenn and Maggie and the gang have tasted cookies or cheese or anything they’d consider especially tasty. I suppose you would have to redefine your idea of a really great meal.  Perhaps after a year or two of running from zombies, you’d be pretty excited about any food that didn’t come from a dusty can.  You’d probably be missing your comfort foods and drinks–maybe hot coffee in the morning, or bacon and eggs, or pizza.

I waffle (uh-oh, reverting to food again!) between the two.  Usually it’s right after a great meal that I want to pick the food option.  La Sardine in Chicago is a fun little bistro I take my students to for our yearly field trip.  That saumon and tarte aux pommes  are so awesome, I can’t imagine never having the opportunity for another  meal like that. I tell myself, I’d get used to the dirt, and it wouldn’t be so bad going without showering.  Well, except for the pervasive germs from rotting zombie corpses.

But then, after a tough, sweaty workout, spending an extra couple of minutes in my nice warm shower sounds incredible and I go back to thinking that would be my favorite luxury.  The soap and water seem to take on magical powers on certain rough days.  They turn me into a new person, refreshed and ready to face life.

So, I put this question to you:  if you had to make the choice between a terrific meal and a hot shower, which would you choose?

Snow

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Such a serene scene.  Tranquility and quietness.  Snow blankets the earth in soft, dangerous beauty.  I breathe a prayer of gratitude that I have nowhere pressing to be, that I am able to remain safe and warm with loved ones as the temperatures continue to plummet.

Watching the flakes fall steadily for hours all Saturday afternoon and evening conjured the voices of Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, and whoever dubbed Vera-Ellen’s part in White Christmas.  “Snow…snow…snow…snow…snow!”  I also think of my former student, Wade, and his beautiful crooning of the line, “I’d love to stay up with you, but I recommend a little shut-eye, go to sleep, and dream of snow…”

As a teacher in my twelfth year, I can honestly tell you that I get more excited about a snow day than I did as a kid.  Oh, sure, it was always fun when I was younger.  I remember the old days of having to tune in on the local radio station or the news broadcast to find out the answer to the big question: was it enough snow to get out of school?

I still think I love these emergency days more now.  I never worry about getting bored during extra time off.  I love the fact that I get to still feel like a kid even now, as an adult.  It’s completely magical.  My school district’s phone number is saved in my contacts list as “Snow Day!”

After two additional days of Christmas vacation, I suppose it’s time to get back to regular life.  We had a couple of “cold” days rather than snow days, with the wind chills in the -40s.  They were our first surprise days to spend at home with the little person who has changed our lives.  In just a few short years, he’ll probably be bored during these extra days off, but for now, I’m just loving the fun of snuggling with my baby boy, reading him dozens of books. It was the perfect end to the sweetest Christmas I’ve ever known.

The magic engagement number

Maybe you’ve read the recent blog post by a young lady entitled “23 things to do instead of getting engaged before you’re 23” (or something along those lines).

The title caught my attention.  I thought I’d be reading a happy-go-lucky post focused on the fun stuff singles can do more easily than marrieds.

Instead, the author quickly digresses into a bitter diatribe (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase) against marriage and anyone who dares to tie the knot in their early twenties.

She claims brazenly that she has already experienced more of the world in her 22 years than her married friends will.  EVER.  In their ENTIRE lives.  All right, so she’s traveling in China right now.  Big deal.

She reassures herself that nothing is wrong with her for being single at this point in her life (totally in agreement on that) by stating that her married friends will soon be pregnant and fat.  What a sweet friend she must be.

She calls marrying young a “cop-out” for those who are too scared to face life alone.  Okay, honey, you need to talk to some married folks and see whether marriage really made their lives easier.  Some things are easier with a spouse, definitely (my husband always takes care of snow blowing the driveway and fixing things around the house).  Some parts of life are much more difficult.  Blending two lives into one is no easy task.

I truly want to believe this girl had good intentions in writing this post, and simply got carried away, not realizing the utter rudeness and lack of respect for others her comments displayed.

I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and try to express what I’d like to think this girl actually meant to convey:

Marriage is a huge commitment and should never be entered into lightly or without serious consideration.  Perhaps she does (or more accurately, did, now that she’s insulted them all) have lots of friends who approach marriage as simply a way to get an extravagant party with the perfect dress, followed by a houseful of trendy new gadgets from her gift registry.  If that’s why you’re getting married, it’s simply not going to cut it.

Another point I assume she was trying to make: society can be way too judgmental when we don’t follow standard timelines for when we reach certain milestones.  Maybe she has been asked too many times, “So when are you going to settle down?” or has received one too many pitying looks from her engaged or married friends.  It gets old, it really does.  Whether a young single person is longing for marriage or perfectly content to remain single (for a few years or permanently), these questions and attitudes are frustrating.

The saddest aspect of this article, to me, is the general disrespect of marriage that is conveyed.  Although the author claims, in the beginning, that she does want to get married, someday, every other bit of her writing says exactly the opposite.

If she genuinely believes that married people can never “experience” the world the way she wants to, then why get married at all?

I personally have found that marriage can in fact be filled with amazing experiences!  My husband and I travel a lot: we’ve been to Jamaica, France, Spain, and Myrtle Beach in just three and a half years.   We’ve also experienced the gut-wrenching pain of miscarriage, eventually followed by the unimaginable joy of welcoming our precious son into the world.  It’s already been incredible, and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us in the years to come.

Life does not stop when you walk down that aisle.  Other than the several rather promiscuous activities she includes, most of the things on her list are perfectly  doable within a marriage.  You can still travel, take risks, try new challenges, together.  

Yes, some things are just more complicated when married.  You have to make decisions that include another human being, not just yourself.   It’s not so easy to take a spontaneous vacation or move cross-country.  It doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

There are some experiences this girl will never have as long as she is single, and some singleton experiences those of us who are married won’t have either.  Both lifestyles involve choices.  Neither is inherently superior to the other.

On my wedding day, I was twenty-nine.  Was this because I had to “find myself” before giving up all my independence and adventurousness?  No.  I  quite simply didn’t have the right person in my life until then.  Both of us encountered some bumps in the road.  I would have loved to meet him when I was twenty-two, but that wasn’t our journey.  I watched a ton of my friends get married right out of college, and they’re all still together and happy.  I’ll admit I was certainly envious at times, but not once did I ever feel that my friends were “copping out” or “settling” by marrying young.

Marriage is a covenant to do life together.  Can single people lead fulfilled and adventurous lives?  Absolutely!  Can married people do the same?  Without a doubt!  I love being married.  I love my husband, I love making plans and decisions as a team, and I love that we’re building a family together.  Whatever the timing of any relationship, it’s all about what’s right for those two people.  There is no arbitrary number for success or failure of a marriage.

Homemade pasta

Yesterday, I made fresh pasta for the first time.  Ever.

It was a big deal.  I’m pretty proud of this accomplishment.

It seems almost foolish,  in this day of prepackaged convenience, to actually take the extra time to mix ingredients and make something like pasta from scratch.  Why would anyone want to do this?  I can buy a boxed pound of pasta in any shape, from around a dozen local stores, for a mere dollar or two.  That box can sit on a pantry shelf for months, even years, without going bad, so I can cook it up at my convenience.  Trust me, I have at least eight or nine boxes of spaghetti, rotini, farfalle, and macaronis in my house at this moment.

So why would I decide to go the homemade route with this staple?

Well, one reason is that I have three sisters-in-law who have Julia Child and Martha Stewart pretty well channeled.  They use fresh, organic ingredients.  They grow their own vegetables and herbs In backyard gardens.  They make their own almond milk, tortillas, pizza sauce, and Popsicles.  Every meal I’ve ever had that was made by one of these ladies is amazing, and they do all of this while somehow also managing households and raising awesome children.  I am under no illusions that I may ever catch up to them in their super-cook (and super-mom) skills, but they inspire me to attempt a fraction of these things nonetheless.

Reason number two is this cookbook I have.  It’s entitled The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making.  Author Alana Chernila paints such idyllic images of her whipping up mozzarella, granola, and golden-brown bread in her country kitchen that it makes me want to pack up and move to a farm.  I love her personal anecdotes of how and why she came to love making most of her family’s food.  (It’s a great cookbook–you should give it a look if this interests you, too.)

Besides these reasons, I’ve just been really wanting to adopt a more natural lifestyle, with fewer processed foods and more whole, real foods in my diet.  Being fairly attached (addicted?) to cheese and bread, I don’t envision myself ever following the Paleo diet; however, I can definitely see a lot of merit in its  precepts.  The more I think about the umpteen chemicals, dyes, and overall fake food-like items found in much of what Americans consume these days, the more it disgusts and frightens me.

All that being said, returning to a more natural way of eating is not easy.  Life is busy.  We all know that.  Saving time by purchasing quick groceries is hardly shameful (heck, I count it a victory just to make “semi-homemade” meals, instead of just buying fast food or a complete frozen meal that goes straight into the oven).

Fortunately for me, I have two full weeks off work this Christmas, so I was able to carve out some time for homemade cooking today.  My son also cooperated with this moment of motivation by napping for nearly two hours.

I turn to the recipe for basic pasta, and how wonderful is this?  Only two ingredients!  Flour and eggs!  That’s it.  Okay, that sounds about as simple as it gets.  I don’t even require a mixing bowl, Alana says–all I do is mix everything right on the clean countertop.  Sweet!  Not what I’m used to, but all right.

Make a volcano with the flour.  Ooh, that’s neat.  I never did build a faux volcano for an elementary-school science project, so this will make up for it.  I mix my eggs into the flour slowly, and lo and behold, the pasta dough does begin to come together.  Yay!  It’s working!

After I’ve divided the dough into six little pieces and let them sit for half an hour, it’s time to roll the dough.  Not possessing a pasta roller, I know I will be using the good old-fashioned rolling pin.

First mistake: using a sharp knife to cut out the dough directly on my dining table.  Oops.  It’s no family heirloom or anything, and it’s already scuffed in many places, but those scratches I added today hardly  improve its appearance.

Switching to a cutting board helps.  The dough is still sticking to the board after I cut it into strips, though, so with a light dusting of flour on the board, I am back in business!  I use a knife to cut the pasta, and only the next morning does it occur to me that a pizza slicer would be perfect for this task.  Oh well!

The question of where to lay out the pasta to dry is easily solved.  I find a little plastic slotted rack in a cabinet, which works just fine.  I leave the last two dough bunches for later use, as Alana says it can be wrapped and refrigerated up to two days.

A couple of hours later (you can cook the pasta after just five minutes or so, but I needed to wait until dinner time), my beautiful, homemade, irregularly shaped noodles go into the chicken soup that’s been simmering all day.

I feel like a little pioneer woman or something.  Homemade chicken noodle soup, with REAL noodles made from scratch!  I know it’s a small thing, but wow, did that pasta taste delicious…

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Prayer for my child

I pray my son will know, both now as a baby and into his future years, how crazy powerful our love is for him.  I pray he may sense even now that we would do absolutely anything for him, that we waited and prayed for him to join our family, that we know we’ll fail him at times but want only good for him.

I pray for my husband and I to grow in patience as we raise him.  I pray God fills us with compassion and understanding of the struggles he will face.  I pray we will listen to him as he grows up, giving him respect as an individual and as a child created in God’s image.  I pray he will always know, without a doubt, that his parents support him and love him no matter what.  I pray for God to grant us strength to love and support him even when we may not understand or agree with his choices.

I pray for my son to learn early on how deep God’s love is for him, that he will learn and believe in the power of Christ’s life and death, that he will trust In Jesus for all things.

I pray for him to trust in Christ for his salvation and forgiveness and sanctification.  I pray he will grow to be a man of faith, great faith, and that he will walk by faith and not by sight.  I pray he will learn to trust Jesus even in dark days.

I pray for God to grant us peace in our hearts as we know of the countless threats to our child.  We cannot protect him from all of life’s challenges and disappointments, but let us teach him perseverance through them.  I beg God to give us peace as we entrust our precious boy unto Him every day.  I ask God to watch over him, and to let us never forget or doubt that God loves him even more than we do.

I pray for God’s perfect will to be done in our son’s life.  I pray the Lord might use him in powerful ways, in ways I cannot begin to imagine.   Make him a person of faith, of passion, of grace and mercy.  Let him walk with Christ for all of his life.

I pray that the Lord will use the trials in his life to increase his faith.  Let him grow stronger through adversity.  Let him appreciate the blessings he receives and not take anything for granted.

I pray my son will be a light, shining the glory of Christ everywhere he goes and in everything he does.

New Year

What kinds of changes do I hope to see in myself in 2014? I know it’s said that probably 30-50% of all New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by February, but I still believe in the power of new beginnings.  Fresh starts.  Clean slates.

Being a teacher, my main “new beginning” of each year occurs in August, not January.  That’s when I revisit curriculum, revise lesson plans, reorganize my classroom.

I love the magical aura surrounding New Year’s, though.  Ruminating on Christ’s birth and subsequent perfect life, death, and resurrection reminds me of how blessed I am.  Being surrounded by family and other loved ones reminds me of what’s most important in life.   The extra vacation time leads to contemplation.

New Year’s motivates me to take risks, try new challenges, purge myself of the bad, and make improvements in many areas.

Spiritual:

As always, I want to read the Bible more.

Pray more.

Find a closer relationship with Christ.

I realize that’s very vague, and that’s the kiss of death with resolutions, but that’s how it is.

Physical:

I want to keep working out at my current levels (my own mix of running, elliptical, weight training, and P90X workouts, 5 or 6 days a week).

I haven’t done any races since maybe 2009, so a nice 5K or 10K would be great.  I miss the sense of camaraderie gained from running even one day with others.  I miss the energy of race day.

Keep having smoothies most days, but add more kale and less of sugary fruits.

Writing:

Write at least 500 words each day.  Any genre, any style, any subject.

Submit devotional meditations to Devozine (two per deadline).

Publish one blog post per week.

Interpersonal: 

Make time for friends in a non-work, non-church atmosphere at least once every month.

Attitude:

I nearly forgot this one, but it’s extremely important: be more positive.  I want to be someone who, rather than complaining about everything wrong with the world, does whatever she can to make it better.

I know these are probably too numerous to have a shot at total success, but why not have a lot of goals?  As the year progresses, I will figure out which ones are most feasible and which are most important to me.  At any rate, I’ll be making the effort.

How about you?  What’s your take on he concept of New Year’s resolutions?     If you’re making any for yourself, what are they and how do you plan to make these changes?

Cheers to 2014!