Monday, August 31, 2009

Prayer #79: Say Something

One question: do you need someone, or do you need me? ... Forget it, I don't really care. {Lloyd Dobler, Say Anything}

Prayer #79: Say Something

That feeling is back. You know, the itchy, can't-get-totally-comfortable one.

It's the feeling you get when you're caught in the middle yet out of the loop. When you're thankful for what you have but annoyed it's not exactly what you wanted. When you have no idea how anything's going to turn out, yet you struggle to control it anyway.

Such a bewildering, squirmy, gray state to be in. Your mind knows what is good, but your heart can't muster the strength to agree. Or your heart is certain, but your mind waffles.

You sympathize with the betrayer and betrayed. You yell and plead in the same breath. You feel guilty for nothing and everything.

Distinctive God, I sift through nuances of daily conflicts and questions to find the definitive answer. But what I really need is defining -- a glimpse, a word, anything that captures this feeling in an active moment and shows me its form, like a shadow caught on film against a wall.

And when the flash does go off, help me see this limbo emotion has limits; and grant me the strength to press on beyond them to find true illumination.

Amen.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How to move in your new roommate (without destroying walls or friendships)

Photo by dearbarbie

I've offered my tips on packing a suitcase in 20 steps. Now we move to moving -- specifically, how to move your new roommate into the house in 20 steps.

* First ask if he/she's going to offer lunch, aka beer.

* If answer is affirmative, then agree to help lift heavy things.

* Start working out again so you're actually capable of lifting heavy things.

* Realize working out will not achieve desired results in enough time.

* Call burly helpers (most particularly male, but burly females will work too). Insist they bring extra burliness, especially if there's a pull-out couch in need of transport.

* Clear out closet/basement/bedroom space/trash bin to store all boxes.

* Take opportunity to repack your own belongings. Make sure to keep things you won't ever use again on the premise of sentimental attachment.

* Ignore the dirt underneath everything you move, since boxes will soon be on top of it again anyway.

* Indulge fanciful daydreams of where all the new-to-you furniture and art will go. Gloss over the fact that two other opinions will need consideration.

* On day of move, confirm that beer is purchased and waiting.

* Direct your burly helpers with firm authority. Scream "Not the walls!" whenever they turn a corner to keep them on their toes.

* Cite possible back injury to back and/or manicure whenever asked to lift an item.

* If attention, strength, or patience wanes at any point, mention the beer.

* Offer advice to your roommate on how to arrange his/her room, solicited or not.

* Gallantly volunteer to place the phone order for pizza.

* Set aside one hour to pick up the pizza. When burly helpers point out the pizzeria is one block away, pretend you're deaf in one ear.

* Get back just in time to applaud everyone as they put the last chair/mattress/box in place.

* Direct the burly helpers to the pizza.

* Toast your new roommate while propping up his/her aching, stressed body on the kitchen counter.

* Enjoy a well-deserved beer. You earned it!

Welcome to your new home, Sus! Let the adventures begin. :D

Friday, August 28, 2009

This I Believe #5: How To Listen Up

Fifth installment of my unofficial This I Believe series.

Last night, I sat with my three closest DC friends around a table in a bustling restaurant and barely said a word.

Anyone who knows me knows this situation is rare. I LOVE to talk. Poor storytellers annoy me, because I want to jump in and save the tale. Wherever the center of the room or stage or phone call is, I want to be there, gabbing away. I don't do it consciously; it's just who I am.

But last night was different. I didn't have a sore throat or a lot on my mind or unresolved issues. I simply didn't have much to say.

At first, this bothered me. In my mind, talking gets me noticed. As long as I'm noticed, I'm loved. As long as I'm loved, I'm happy. Thus, talking = happy. No talking = illness, fights, loneliness, and the end of the world as I know it.

Yet I said little last night and still enjoyed the evening. I didn't tell stories, but appreciated those my friends shared. Nothing was lacking; in fact, the outing felt richer.

That's when I realized: I hadn't talked not because I had nothing to contribute. I didn't talk because listening was my contribution.

In listening, I was still. In listening, I came to appreciate finer details about the stories and storytellers. In listening, I sat at the periphery of attention -- and was surprised by how comfortable I felt there.

Don't get me wrong, I still have a lot to say. When I'm overjoyed or upset or solving a problem, you'll hear about it. But I see now how to best enjoy the moments between those extremes.

Let others take center stage. Be a willing audience. React with gusto. And listen deep to everyone and everything swirling around you. Because soon enough you'll be back in the fray, and you'll need your strength.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer reading, unassigned

The library bag groans with weighty
expectations -- its cargo
is escape, a heady promise,
thus so many spines on mine

to get me through a week.

My shoulder droops so my mind
can breathe above the doldrums,
shoo away the panting dog days,
and hold at bay incarceration

at least for 13 chapters at a shot.

Words excuse my postponed bedtime --
awake my dreams and wear me out --
make me wonder why classrooms
Suffer desks, chairs, boards

when all they need is ink and dog ears.

Now I'm on the downside of days, with
not enough light to finish the bag.
Yet I bury my nose deeper --
defiant in imagination --

for these days might not come again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prayer #78: Milestoned

Photo by Jram23

Prayer #78: Milestoned

Industrious God,

It takes a lot of work for us to reach a milestone --
a lot of late nights,
a lot of dedication,
a lot of sacrifice.

And it takes a lot of help from You to get us there --
a lot of forgiveness,
a lot of patience,
a lot of love.

But my real transformation happens between the mile markers, at all-too-brief pit stops, when I finally have the space to see how far I've come, how far I have left, and how far gone I'd be without You navigating.

At these moments, grant me stillness, Lord. And when I move again, may it be with faith rested and sight restored, so I can find my way to where You wait.

Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Look Ma, no cooking! Tonno Fagioli Insalata


That's Italian for tuna and bean salad, a fast, simple no-cook dish that I made up in the kitchen the other night. (I named it in Italian to be 'fenzy' [fancy], or so my Nona would say in broken English.)

This recipe is a great 'staples in the house' dish -- one you can whip together when you're absurdly low on groceries but don't feel like venturing outdoors in face-melting 1000-degree humidity to buy them. It's also helpful in the same face-melting heat to not have to turn on your oven or grill or pants.

Or is that just me in DC?

Anyway, this dish is heavier on beans than tuna, so it works well as a main dish on its own, side dish (in small portions), or on top on greens. If you wanted it on bread, you could always rearrange the beans-to-tuna ratio (BTR in scientific circles). Or, you could just balance all those beans on a slice. Which is weird, but hey, far be it from me to judge.

Tonno Fagioli Insalata (aka Tuna & Bean Salad)

Ingredients

1 can white beans (navy or cannellini), drained (could substitute 1 can chickpeas for some shape variation)
1 can red kidney beans, drained
2 cans tuna in water, drained (could also do tuna in oil and adjust the evoo later)
1/2 to 3/4 c artichoke tapenade or chopped artichokes
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil (to taste)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Fresh basil, chopped (to taste) (oregano and/or rosemary would be yummy too)

Mix it all together and let it sit for at least an hour so the flavors meld. It makes a good bit for one person -- I got 4 hearty servings out of it, and could probably have stretched it to 6 meals if I weren't being such a little piggy.

Let me know if you come up with any variations!

Friday, August 21, 2009

How to risk it all -- and live to tell about it

Photo by kool_skatkat

Drugs. Skydiving. Changing jobs. Going to a party where you don't know anyone except the host.

No, this is not my weekend schedule. These are all types of RISKs, which I put in caps because most of us are scared of it.

I'm certainly petrified. That's what being in the midst of your second quarter-life crisis will do to you. Yes, the second. The first was senior year of college. Now I'm four years out, just past my 26th mile marker, and I find myself here again.

No one is more surprised than I am. I mean, is it fair to have two crises before age 30? Or did I miss something in the Life & Living Manual that warns I'll really be having several of these fun upheavals each decade?

Anyway. The upshot is that I've been doing lots of thinking about next steps. And naturally, every step requires taking a RISK.

Now, I know that RISK means different things for different people. One person's adventure is another's path to anxiety meds. No one approaches it exactly the same way. Hence the opening list.

But the more I turn it over in my head and talk to others, the more I see a crack in the code. Though RISK varies in form, RISK-taking has three universal steps: discerning, deciding, and daring.

Let's break these out for a closer look:

1. DISCERN

Several months ago, I was venting to my mother that I'd never done anything exciting, never had a big adventure, never went crazy -- which for some reason in my mind all equated to living abroad.

My mother replied, "Is living abroad really want you want? What's at the root of all this?"

That stopped my rant in its tracks. I shut my mouth. Mulled it over. And answered, "I feel caged in. I haven't traveled in a while. I'm tired of being at home all the time."

And there was my answer. In this case, I didn't need -- or even want -- to uproot my life, grab a visa, and move to Timbuktu; I just had to plan an overseas vacation.

Takeaway: Identify the itch. Sometimes your intellect jumps the gun and takes you to a solution before you've diagnosed the problem. But what's really bugging you? If no solutions existed and your only recourse was to blurt out what was keeping you up at night, what would you say? What will make your heart stop tugging on your ribs to get your attention?

2. DECIDE

I enjoy being employed. I enjoy what I do. But recently I looked ahead five to 10 years, and realized I don't ever see myself as a nonprofit manager. I am a writer, so a writer I shall be.

It comes out so easy and neat in a blog post. But that simple statement -- that firm decision -- came after years of agita, questioning, and tip-toeing around the obvious truth.

Why the run-around? Because I wasn't committing to what I'd discerned. In fact, I was flat-out ignoring it. And not until I stuck my flag in the ground did my mind feel confident and calm about what my heart knew all along.

Takeaway: No one can make you stick to your guns. In the best cases, you'll know you made the right decision because you'll feel at peace. In less clear-cut cases, you rely on hope to see you through the worry. At the very least, choose liminality over limbo so that you keep growing, even if you're not sure towards what.

3. DARE

Here is my favorite discovery to date about RISK-taking: Once I made one big decision, every other decision has flowed more easily from that.

For example, I'm focusing on writing children's books in my spare time. So I changed volunteer activities from my known ESL class to an unknown kids & arts program. I've said no to more trips/engagements/commitments because I must leave time to write. And I'm putting myself out there to join writing groups and receive critical feedback.

All these decisions carry their own level of RISK. But I'm not fretting as much, because deciding made me braver. Indeed, I feel more comfortable taking incremental RISKs -- monthly, weekly, daily -- because I'm more certain and assured in the end game now.

A note on daring: I'm not a 'pack up and run' person. I have to research. I have to coordinate. But the prep work doesn't mean I don't take the risk ultimately. I just get there in the way that makes me most comfortable taking it.

Sounds paradoxical, I know. By definition, risks are supposed to push you out of your comfort zone. I'm just saying that you don't have to upend your entire M.O. to do it, because then you'll only end up stressed, confused, and unproductive. And what was the point of going in a new direction if you're a babbling wreck when/if you get there?

Takeaway: Act on your decision. That's all RISK-taking really is -- moving forward with a new idea. Besides, you already cleared two other hurdles when you figured out what you wanted and committed to it. Now you're at the doing stage, so run with it!

So where does this all get us? To the point where RISK becomes risk -- a natural, cyclical part of our lives, as essential as food and sleep if we intend to reach anywhere of worth.

The key is knowing how to risk well, often, and with intention, so that the results are not just what you get, but what you want.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How to write a smokin' boilerplate

Who was it who first said, "You know what, guys? Press release boilerplates should be long, unwieldy, and vague, so that no one has any idea what our company does?"

Oh right. No one. Because it's stupid. Yet a ton of organizations follow that exact maxim as if it were law. The result: anonymity.

Yes, yes, I know we're not all Google or Microsoft, whose elevator pitch barely matters anymore because they're household names. But if you intend to achieve even 1/10 of their success, a critical first step is making sure people always understand what you do -- in 30 seconds or less.

So, when you're writing a boilerplate for yourself or for your organization, here's a basic checklist to follow:

1. Give the facts. Tell them who you are, where you're located, and what you do. Include your mantra.

2. Keep it clean. No jargon, please. Just clear, factual statements that your grandmom would understand. (And for God's sake, please watch your grammar and spelling.)

3. Back up the big statements. Only say you're the #1 widget manufacturer in the world if you really are. If you're not, saying 'world-class widget manufacturer' smacks of delusion.

4. Short is sweet. The shorter and punchier your boilerplate statements, the more likely it is that the info will make it into articles and other press.

5. Include your web properties. Send people to where they'll find the most info about you -- usually your web site, but let's not rule out Ning communities, Facebook pages, etc.

6. One boilerplate does not fit all. Distinguish between products, divisions, or service lines. Example: Google vs. iGoogle.

Essentially, your boilerplate is a litmus test. If you can't make it short AND pack it with meaning, that's further proof you don't have a clear purpose/mission for your organization.

But if you can, then pat yourself on the back, because you do what you do well AND can articulate it. And that means you've likely created something of value that will carry you forward. Now, boil away!

Other good boilerplate tips here:
How to Write a Press Release Boilerplate
PR Tip -- Back to Basics with Boilerplates

Monday, August 17, 2009

Prayer #78: Choice Cut

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. {JK Rowling}

Prayer #78: Choice

Choices are a one-way ticket. They carry you forward, they set you back, but they never land you in quite the same place where you began.

Choices brought me to this point. Most were my own, though some came from others. In all cases, however, I only operated with the facts and faith I had available at the time. Thus, step by step, I have kept arriving at points unknown.

Choices, Lord, are Your regenerating gift to us -- the natural consequence of our free will. They make manifest a thousand daily victories and a thousand daily stumbles, so we may learn. They determine our immediate future but not our destiny, so we may revise. And should we not choose so wisely on one, we have infinite chances to redeem ourselves.

Thank you for choice, varietal God, and guide us in picking the best door.

Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Fourth Roommate, part 2

Yay! You came back. Settle in for part two of my mousy tale (background and part 1 here), in which I confront Pittsburgh rodents of usual size.

The Fourth Roommate (part 2)

Then came that fateful Saturday, the day Oswald made one fatal error. Tina moseyed into the kitchen, pausing as usual to make sure our buddy wasn’t underfoot, when she noticed that her hamburger buns on the shelf seemed unusually moldy -- odd, since she had eaten a fine one the day before.

She grabbed at the bag, only to hear the mold squeak and watch it fall three feet to the floor. So while I did not witness Oswald’s escape, I did experience the glass-shattering shriek that followed it.

Tina stormed into the family room.

“That’s it! The little fucker’s dead!”

Grossed out beyond belief, I echoed her cry for blood. And it was then I realized that one-on-one contact is all it takes to turn a person from St. Francis of Assisi into a sissy.

By nightfall we positioned traps like so many lethal bunkers throughout the kitchen. Though I certainly didn’t want Oswald to infect my groceries with any Third-World strains, I had lingering doubts about such a cheesy, snappy demise. How could his one foray onto a shelf so quickly dissolve my pacifist stance?

I suddenly acknowledged a cold, hard truth about myself: I didn’t want Oswald to live for his sake. I just didn’t want to have to touch his broken, lifeless body. Eeeewww.

When I, the murdering hypocrite, awoke the next morning, the sprung trap, missing cheese, and tightly tied trash bag imparted a sorrowful tale. Tina soon confirmed that Oswald had indeed “passed on” via a 79-cent trap from Target, and that she herself had performed the funeral rites, i.e. picking him up by the tail and tossing him in the trash.

I tried rationalizing his death -- it’s more hygienic this way, he took advantage of our mercy, we’re higher up on the food chain -- but I only felt gloomier. My little buddy was gone, victim to a modern culture far removed from natural elements. Oswald’s passing laid bare our species’ bullying arrogance. I was not sad, but rather, ashamed.

So you’d think Oswald’s death/murder had awakened my true Mother Nature instincts. Well, tonight as I was eating dinner, I once again caught movement in the kitchen corner. Sure enough, Oswald’s ghost -- or brother or sister or girlfriend -- sniffed its way around the corner. Vengeance from beyond the grave (or from the nest under the oven).

Again, I did not panic. Instead, I reached for my cell phone.

“Hi, Rob? It’s Julia. Yeah, we’re gonna need that exterminator after all...”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Fourth Roommate (or, A true tail of furry proportions)

A shriek, a moan, and then ... "MOUSE!"

That was the scene this afternoon when a furry critter decided that multilateral diplomacy was where it was at, and chose to make his appearance known at our office building.

The shriek, however, brought to mind a similar response I'd had when I was living in Pittsburgh fresh out of school and discovered I had a most unexpected roommate. So join me on a trip down mouse-infested Memory Lane with a piece I wrote at the time, presented here in two parts. (Look for part two tomorrow!)


The Fourth Roommate

I frequently hear renters’ horror stories about “unwelcome houseguests,” ranging from deadbeat boyfriends to neighborhood stalkers. Since my apartments have always been in safe, well-lit, heavily patrolled parts of town, I never worried about sharing stories of my own -- until now. My two roommates and I have discovered that our kitchen is not our own. Instead, it is home to an intrepid, audacious, foolhardy ... mouse.

The discovery was simple enough. I was eating breakfast at the kitchen table when I saw a small movement out of the corner of my left eye. Something rounded the corner, something short and quick and ... my, that’s an awfully furry bug, I thought to myself ...

Oh no. That ain't no bug.

It was a mouse. A living, breathing mouse, living and breathing right there in my kitchen, and more specifically, living and breathing under our oven. To the mouse’s credit, it followed the line of the wall directly to the oven, where it stopped only to pick up an piece of spinach, and then proceeded to its cozy home.

To my credit, I didn’t scream. Actually, I didn’t do much of anything, just followed this erstwhile fourth tenant with a tense eye. He was a very little guy indeed, with a tail as long as his body and shiny black eyes. Certainly not your usual suspect for bubonic plague. Once he disappeared under the stove, I congratulated myself for not leaping to the tabletop with my petticoats around my waist.

Then I called my landlord.

“Rob? Hi, it’s me, upstairs. Yeah, small problem. Haha! Small problem, get it ... ha ... anyway, there’s a mouse ... you knew? Tina’s already seen it? So she’s got some already. Ok then, I’ll just ask her. Thanks Rob.” ::click::

So my roommate already had the traps, which means she’d already seen the mouse, which means she hadn’t yet done anything about it. But I wasn’t angry. More relieved, to be honest. The minute Rob said “traps,” my heart had sunk unexpectedly. After all, he’s just a little guy, I thought. He’s respectful, sticks to his corner—why should I visit torrents of fear and death on his mousy skull? What gives me, the hulking human, such a right?

The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced the mouse and I were partners, bound together by feeling insignificant in a vast terrain, taking just one extra step each day along a familiar route, so that slowly but surely we would reach the horizon. I couldn’t lay a trap for him. God forbid some greater force was out there plotting the same demise for me, when I all wanted was a dry place to sleep, some tasks to keep me busy, and a bit of free spinach along the way.

In a fit of empathy, I named him Oswald. If Charlotte’s Web had taught me anything, it was that killing a creature you named becomes much more difficult, and thus less likely to occur. With this unofficial baptism over, I returned to my breakfast, with only an occasional glance toward the oven.

Over the next few weeks, Oswald appeared only once to each of my roommates, both times escaping under our oven. We were suddenly the Jane Goodalls of 11th street, forgiving all God’s creatures for scuttling around our kitchen. We set no traps. Everyone warned us, “Where there’s one, there’s five,” but we pooh-poohed them. Oswald was loyal, trustworthy, and most importantly, singular.

But then Oswald got bolder. Twice in one day, I watched him bolt clear across the kitchen floor and disappear under the radiator. Tina caught him fervently gnawing at a ValuTime cereal box on one of our lower shelves. Our friend spotted him scurrying along the family room wall. We even witnessed him, Houdini-like, vanish into a cabinet. Oswald was living dangerously, but he was still living.

Then came that fateful Saturday, the day Oswald made one fatal error.

To be continued ...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When Twitter was down: A 12-step plan to social media recovery

Photo by monstro

Last Thursday, a random cyber-warrior fighting in the digital ether unwittingly staged an intervention. For me. From Twitter.

I didn't even know I had a problem. Yet when my browser and Tweetdeck and bit.ly all said I couldn't connect to the hijacked site -- for a whole business day -- I almost passed out.

It was then I had to admit my powerlessness. I had to face the truth.

"Hi, my name is Julia, and I am a Twitter addict."

Such a dark time, a frightening time. The good news: After the darkness came enlightenment. Removing the source of addiction taught me some valuable lessons about the tool and how to approach it with greater balance, so that I don't run frantically into my boss's office again shouting, "Twitter is down! Twitter. Is. DOWN!"

So here we are -- the 12-step recovery plan for Twitter addicts, wherein we don't rid ourselves of the medium, but learn to live with it.
1. We admitted we were powerless over a system we believed we should control -- that our feeds had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that methods greater than ourselves -- sending an email, picking up the phone, walking to the next cubicle -- could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the vagaries of offline existence as we understood it, not just our online activities.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Why are we really using Twitter? For glory? Knowledge? Voyeurism?

5. Admitted to ourselves and to another human being (usually a coworker or confused roommate) the exact nature of our wrongs, in that we had lost the inability to converse beyond 140 characters.

6. Were entirely ready to have the Internets remove all these defects of character by never turning on again, and show us the sun would still rise.

7. Humbly asked the Internets to believe we could remove our shortcomings, and please turn back on again.

8. Made a list of all followers we had not communicated with, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, such as by going out to lunch or calling them up, except when to do so would injure them or others by forcing them to confront their own addictions to social media and a gross inability to go anywhere that wasn't in front of a screen.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it, such as when we Tweeted through FriendFeed instead of through Twitter.

11. Sought through reflection and meditation to improve our conscious contact with the "real world" as we understood it, asking only for knowledge of how best to discern what's worth sharing (questions, articles, wisdom) and what's not (breakfast choices, bathroom habits), and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other Twitter addicts, practice these principles in all our affairs, and show them that life does go on outside of microblogging's sphere.

And indeed, life did go on. I wasn't fired, I didn't ruin friendships, and I managed to make it through the day intact. But for all the tongue-in-cheek steps above, I realized two tell-tale things about my Twitter use.

First, Mediabistro asked if the outage made people more or less productive. What I attempted to reply (several times -- ok, 10 times) was that I was less productive.

Wait ... less? How could I be less productive with such a purported time-suck no longer tempting me?

Turns out that for me, the mere fact of Twitter -- its content creation, bursts of inspiration, ongoing conversation -- have become such a part of my routine that the inability to contribute caused more distraction and stress. And it also caused me to waste inordinate time trying to troubleshoot and fix the situation to alleviate said stress, instead of simply moving on.

That led to my second eye-opener: Though everyone was joking about "oh, what inanity lost" when Twitter was down (even leading to the hashtag #whentwitterwasdown), I didn't want to move on. I missed the facetime and familiarity. I missed the chatter. I missed the ideas.

And indeed, when I signed back in that evening, when all was fixed, I was able to congratulate a former colleague on her engagement, offer condolences to a respected blogger on her father's death, and send out a note encouraging help in raising malaria awareness ... all in under two minutes. No wonder I breathed easier. My itch to connect was scratched.

So deride my Twitter fixation all you want. Enjoy the ridiculousness of the 12-step Twitter program. Decry the whole system as shallow, fleeting, or inefficient.

All I know is that more of my interest and creativity is wrapped up in this flighty tool that I previously knew. And like all sustaining things, I will use Twitter in moderation so that it enriches -- not dictates -- my life.

Until it goes down again. Then I'll need a respirator.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Prayer #77: Champion

Photo by rogersmith

Beneath every good cheerleader is a stronger cheerleader. And some gawkers.

Prayer #77: Champion

Know what I need, God? A cheerleading squad. Springy, peppy, perky supporters who never question their loyalty to me, no matter my game-time decisions, and structure their whole lives around applauding my triumphs and distracting others from my botched plays.

Y'know, I don't even need an entire squad. One will do the trick. Just one cheerleader devoted to being my hawker, my agent, my champion.

It's not egotism driving this request, I swear. Ok, well, maybe it is, a little. I mean, who wouldn't want someone constantly telling them how wonderful they are?

But there is a shade of difference here I'd like to point out, God. Look, I am well aware I do plenty of stuff that doesn't deserve validation. So I'm not asking for an unthinking, blank-stare champion. It would just be nice to have someone around who, on those frequent occasions when I do miss the mark, would always say, "Don't worry. I still believe in you. You've got what it takes. Keep your head down and your arms out. Now get out there and WIN!"

And then do back handsprings around the family room.

What? Too much? Fine.

Anyway. The cheerleader. Can You arrange that, please? Find some good candidates, send them my way? Or, if that's too much hassle -- maybe You could do it?

Minus the handsprings, of course.

Amen.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Tazewell Garden Project, part 4: Bounty Hunters

We built the containers in April. We transplanted the seeds in May. We nurtured and hovered and did rain dances (though unnecessary) throughout the early summer. And now, in the heat of August, our efforts are paying off -- with FOOD.

Oh food glorious food, how delighted we are you've arrived! In this long-awaited phase of the Tazewell Garden Project, we are reaping what we've sowed (-slash-watered-slash-weeded).

Granted, it's a modest bounty -- several yellow tomatoes, a bunch of cherry tomatoes, 5 string beans, 3 peppers, and ongoing Swiss chard. But we have a reason, I swear! Because Jacob and I recently found out that a late blight hit the Northeast in July, damaging tomatoes particularly hard.

What is blight, you ask? Why, it's a highly contagious fungus whose spread is helped by cool, wet weather -- exactly what we experienced for the first two months of summer. (More in-depth explanation and examples here.)

Fun blight facts, courtesy of this post from Skippy's Vegetable Garden, include:

* Late blight was responsible for the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century. (And for the Tazewell Produce Famine. Oh, history's dreadful cycle!)

* It is one of the few plant diseases that can destroy an entire crop. (Damn spores.)

* The disease can wipe out entire tomato and potato fields within a week if conditions are wet. (Check.)

* Late blight spores can travel over 40 miles under the right conditions. (With a coffee, books on tape, and frequent bathroom stops.)

In any event, this all explains why only two of our five tomato plants are producing anything, and even they look sickly. And though I'm very sad we won't have anywhere near a bumper crop of my fave food, I'm infinitely relieved that I didn't kill them as previously supposed.

But enough doom and gloom. Let's put the LIGHT in BLIGHT with some beautiful pics (courtesy of Jacob) of the first real summer feast with all locally harvested food, minus the chicken. (The watermelon was from a CSA.) Correction: Watermelon was from a roadside farm stand and green beans were a combo of CSA and Tazewell Garden!

Enjoy! Try not to get too hungry. :)

Note on slideshow: Click on "full screen" icon in lower right and then "show info" in upper right corner to see the captions.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Why you can't nap when you swim

The only thing worse than not having a vacation is returning from a vacation you did have.

It's been 48 hours since I stepped back into my house, yet I'm still in the throes of vacation hangover. I just want to upload pictures, regale friends with anecdotes, and take lots of naps (presumably to recover from sleeping 10 hours a night while on vacation).

However, such inclinations are far from helpful when one also has countless emails, tweets, and blog posts to catch up on. So, I'm using this week of readjustment to do just that -- catch you up on some loose ends dangling around Italian Mother Syndrome.

Today's refresh -- my relay sprint triathlon training. I've taken like a fish to chlorinated waters, motoring my way up and down the slow lane at various pools. And in my travels, I've learned several important items:
1. You can't nap while you swim. Or, as one astute Facebook commenter pointed out, you can, but only once.

2. Do not open your mouth in the pool unless you want a bacterial colony to take up residence. Don't worry, this hasn't happened to me, it's just what I worry about every time I accidentally gulp mid-stroke, because yes Virginia, 1 in 5 Americans has admitted to peeing in the pool.

3. Swimmers elbow is a real condition, similar to tennis elbow and stemming from "improper pulling technique with certain swim strokes." Don't worry, I don't have this either, but my poor trainer-slash-friend Sus does, leading to one of those infrequent though appreciated instances where being a lazy slug keeps one healthier than being a hardcore trainer.

4. Swimming at high altitudes takes your breath away. And not because of the view. Though, do what I did and swim in high altitudes while at an Air Force base*. That way you DO have a view of all the buff patrons. Bonus: They can leap to your aid in the likely event your lungs give up and you sink like a rock.

* Yes, I was uber-responsible and trained while *on vacation* in Utah. You may kiss the ring now.

5. Reading 'my absolute worst nightmare-slash-why do people think this is fun?-slash-hehe she's funny' triathlon posts like this one from Abbyjaye provide excellent motivation for working harder so I avoid a)embarrassing my team and b) death.

Of course, to fuel all this activity and learning you need to be eating the right stuff, so be sure to read my next loose-end post coming up -- part 4 of the Tazewell Garden Project.

And in the meantime -- for the love of Pete, don't drink the pool water.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Prayer #76: Travel Guide


Vacation. n. From the Latin "vacare," which means "to be empty, void, or free." As in you empty your worries, void your calendar, and free your heels to set off on paths unknown.

Prayer #76: Travel Guide

By train or plane or bus or rickshaw -- go!
Get out of here! Don't stand around and wait
for Earth to gape her mouth and swallow you
so you end up in China just by falling.

The longer you keep put, the slower you
make plans to meet the world, the faster you'll
arrive at Nowhere-upon-Nobody --
a lonely intersection, rich with zilch.

Our God did not devote those seven days
to building a miraculous orb so we
could fritter off the hours, days, and years
ignoring it when we should be exploring it.

For if God saw fit to create this world,
then we have equal duty to hit pause
and re-create ourselves within it, new --
a divine arc of pure, essential links.

So by boat or skis or foot or llama -- go!
To stand still is to sin by omission.
God never wants to hear "Wish you were here";
Just send a postcard from the map's far edge.

Amen.