What are we talking about today?

I'm on hiatus (in case you hadn't guessed). Sorry! I miss you guys.

31 May 2011

Teaser Tuesday #11


Contact, Carl Sagan

"There must be some number," Ellie said, "that measures the total population of intelligent beings in the Milky Way."

"Sure. And then you can calculate the galactic production rate of Gauloises and Twinkies and Volga sedans and Sony pocket communicators."






Since this is one of those rare books that I read after watching the movie (a long time after, in this case; I hadn't even bothered to investigate and find out there was a book, and only ran across it accidentally), I'm afraid I must award it the dubious honour of receiving this piece of flair that I swiped from Facebook. As usual, the book was much better than the movie. I'm going to keep this flair around and give it out more often, I think.


teasertuesdays32
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingAnyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

30 May 2011

Congress Avenue Mile

Once a year, the fastest mile runners in the state of Texas all come to Austin in late May to show what their hard work has brought them to. They start in front of the state capitol and zoom all the way across the river, a gradual downhill mile. They grimace, they sweat, they dig deep, they probably don't even bother breathing more than necessary as they race each other, as they race themselves, to the finish line.

In under five minutes.

I've been hearing about this little race for months and wanted to watch. There are a whole bunch of categories: 40 & over, 39 & under, elementary school, middle school, family fun run, and elites. But the highlight of the day, the crown jewel, is the high school championship at the end. Students get into this race by invitation only, and they are divided into four teams: West, East, North, and South. Now Chad and I have spent all but one year of our Texas lives in West Texas, so that's who we were planning to cheer for. As we walked down the street to our chosen cheering spot, we saw three of the four teams warming up, and were wondering where our West Texans were, when from around the corner came a young lady with a West singlet who had obviously just come from warming up.

Just imagine this street
with running teenagers
instead of cars. That's
what it looked like.
Chad: Are you the only West Texas runner?
West: No, but I don't really do group warm-ups. I had to go do my own thing.
Chad: Cool. We'd seen every team except West, so we wondered where you guys were!
West: giggles
Me: Good luck! We'll be cheering for y'all.
West: Thanks! (She ended up finishing second, by the way, so warming up by herself seems to have been a good choice.)

There were not many spectators at this race, which really surprised me. Apparently one only goes to the Congress Avenue mile to run or to watch one's child run, and for the general public to turn up and cheer is unusual. Just doing our part to Keep Austin Weird, I always say. But really, I can't understand why anyone who likes running and lives nearby would want to miss it. Watching the fastest teens in Texas was so inspiring-- these young people have worked so hard, early and late, to get where they are. They're the living answer to those who would write off "kids these days". My only regret after watching them is that I can't get to Indiana often enough to watch one of my young cousins-- Eldest Cousin's (yes, it's a terrible nickname) firstborn is also a runner, and could hold his own with these Texan teens. So since I can't watch Running Cousin (another terrible nickname), I watched these students instead. It was remarkable. And when we went running afterwards, Chad kept warning me against being so revved up and going out too fast. Oops.

What inspires you to work harder? Doesn't have to be running related-- it can be anything!

29 May 2011

Let Us Open our Hymnals...

Okay, that's a joke. I haven't been a member of a church that actually uses hymnals since I got married. Churches are mostly using powerpoint now.

I was a teen when I first
found out that I was
allowed to own a hymnal,
too.
I was a teenager when someone pointed out to me for the first time that most hymns have a story behind them. (Probably all hymns do, actually, but I hate to make that kind of totalizing claim.) There's the very well-known story behind "Amazing Grace", for instance: After being saved from a storm at sea, John Newton went from being an atheist slave-trader to a believer in Christ and a minister. Hence such phrases as "I once was lost, but now am found" or "through many dangers... I have already come". The tune, I've heard, was taken from a song he had heard the captured people, soon to be slaves, singing as they travelled.

So when we sing a hymn, it isn't just instructional (although they can be) or encouraging (although I've found that to be the case) or praise (which they certainly are). It's a little slice of someone's life that has been set to music. A heart that cried out to God found solace in writing it down, and the cry now echoes through the ages as it is sung again and again. Or joy bubbled up out of a soul and spilled onto a page, recorded and rejoiced in again by people who never witnessed the writer's happiness but share in it now.

If I were to start listing off my favourite hymns, this would turn into an insufferably long post. So instead, I turn it over to you: What's your favourite hymn?

28 May 2011

Sweat is Good for You

I hope.

It was only a matter of time before this came up, so let's get it out of the way since we're at what most consider to be the beginning of summer (in the northern hemisphere, that is; those of you in the southern hemisphere should probably do the opposite of what I'm suggesting). What temperature do you have your house thermostat set to?

As you all no doubt know, it will save energy and save you money to set your thermostat as high as you can stand it. Here in the Cheeky house, we set it to 80 when we are awake and at home, and 85 when we aren't. (And actually, if I'm at home and Chad isn't, I'll put it up to 85. I like it warmer than he does.) Of course, in Austin, this still means that our air conditioner runs more than we'd like, but it runs less than if we went for the recommended 78 degrees.

I'm just going to pretend that my
windows are this awesome. Source.
Do take advantage of cooler times of day-- if I'm on top of things enough to get up while it's still cool outside, I'll open the windows. And sometimes the doors. Also, fans will do wonders for using less air conditioning. And while I'm on the subject, I'd like to dispel the old myth that your air conditioner will work harder if you raise the temp during the day, then lower it at night. What's the difference between the AC coming on and off for a few minutes here and there all day long, and the AC being off all day and then running for 15 minutes once you get home? Here's the answer: There isn't one. Actually, if there is a difference, it may be in your AC running less efficiently with all the stopping and starting if you leave the thermostat at the same temperature all the time. I wasted a lot of breath trying to convince people of this when I first started college; I wonder if any of them have since come round. And more importantly, will my intrepid readers see this logic and go with it instead of thinking of their AC as being run by tired gerbils?

Anyway, rant over. What do you do to save the AC or the heat in your home from sucking up too much energy?

27 May 2011

Great Books

I started reading this book a year and a half ago. I'm not kidding. This is a book best taken in small chunks; otherwise, it gets a bit tedious. But it was still a brilliant read, for all that I had to go slowly.

A quick synopsis: David Denby returned to Columbia University for one year in 1991 to go through the Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization courses, two of the core curriculum courses that had come under fire for their hegemonic view of the past. He wanted to remember what all the fuss was about, so he re-enrolled. The book, all 463 pages of it, is the story of his experience with the texts and with students 30 years his junior (thank goodness I'm not that much older than my peers at UT).

From beginning to end, this book made me want to read the texts that he read. Mostly. Mr. Denby is a good storyteller, and he does a great job of making the readings, and the class discussions thus provoked, come to life. Perhaps I will go through the reading list one of these days, after I finish with my still overly-long to-read list (currently holding steady at 145 books, since I keep finding more that I want to read).

But that's not what made me want to blog. No, I'm actually not quite finished, because I got to the epilogue and was so struck by the first paragraph that I had to write about it. Mr. Denby says, "American students rarely arrive at college as habitual readers, which means that few of them have more than a nominal connection to the past ... For there is only one "hegemonic discourse" in the lives of American undergraduates, and that is the mass media." I probably could have skipped straight to the end and still overwhelmingly agreed with this point. And this was 20 years ago! Apart from Harry Potter, which hardly fits into the the canon of the great books that have shaped our culture (yet), things have not changed since 1991.

And here I thought I was on a break from blogging about college. The last day of my Creative Problem Solving class (yes, the one that annoyed me), the prof was taking the class' temperature regarding the required readings. At one point, he commented, "Your generation just doesn't like reading history", to a chorus of agreement from the class. He went on to speculate aloud that perhaps he should drop the more historical readings from the text, and I wanted to shout, "No!" Because I don't think that readings should be dropped just because the students liked them less than other readings. If it were time constraints, or a complete change of material, sure. But "these readings were boring!"? No. Not a valid reason (especially since we're talking about a chapter each; they weren't long readings).

I probably sound like a much older person saying that, but hey. It's where I am, I suppose. But I do despair a bit for our future, since reading is so unappealing to the next generation and history is relegated to the closet of dullness-- where do we go from here?

What do you think?

26 May 2011

What's My Genre?

It's okay to make up your own genre, right? Because I'm pretty well stuck as to what it is I'm writing.

First of all, I don't want to write sex scenes. I sincerely don't. Call me Prudence McPrude or what you will, but that's not my thing. (FWIW, I also skip sex scenes when I run across them in books.) In today's market, I think that points to Middle Grade books, but I'm not sure that writing for kids is really my thing either.

The other genre it kinda points to is Christian. I usually define myself as a Christian writer anyway, considering that I'm a Christian who happens to write, and that genre is a good way to steer clear of the sex scenes. Mostly. I still see plenty of Christian novels that describe steamy, married, monogamous sex. Are there really that many Christian women who want to read this stuff that the authors keep writing it? It would seem that there are, and yet I still don't want to read OR write it.

Then there's the matter of swearing. (Sarah wrote an excellent post about whether or not to swear in YA, if anyone is interested in joining that discussion.) Stephen King is right when he says in On Writing that more people swear than don't. Between hanging out with college students and riding the local bus, I get enough exposure to how regular people talk to know that I can't expect to publish for any other market except Christian or kidlit without including a heavy dose of "normal" language. (Amusing diversion: I have an uncle who seems to think that one particular swear word is the verbal form of punctuation. He uses this word at the end of nearly every sentence, regardless of whether or not it relates to the subject matter.)

I have to agree that since I'm frequently exposed to language of all sorts, both in life and in the range of genres that I read, I find it jarring to read a book and not find any swearing in it, not even at times when one might expect a mild expletive or two (for instance, a non-Christian character who is on drugs but still uses pristine language). So I see Mr. King's point. And therein lies my dilemma: Do I write in a way that's true to life, or do I keep everything squeaky-clean for the Christian market? Do I use the device that other Christian authors often bring out, and write "a string of expletives came from the man's mouth" or something along those lines?

When in doubt, have a cuppa.
At this rate, I may cause a
world tea shortage.
I have no answers to these questions. Yay me. My gut says to write books I would want to read, and I honestly don't mind some swearing in my literature. So I really don't know what market I'm writing for. Maybe I'll just stick with Chick Lit and let the readers find out for themselves that there are no scenes that require de-fogging the glasses, as it were. And I have read the advice over and over again to not chase the market. So perhaps I should go with my gut and accept, like every other writer, that what I want to write may not find someone who wants to publish.

Writer friends: How do you know what genre you are writing in? Do you not-quite-fit into more that one category?

25 May 2011

Getting Around

I'm fortunate enough to live in a city where car-free life, while not yet the norm, is not quite the freakish deviation that it can be in some places; larger cities in the U.S. seem to be finally shifting away from the "You WHAT?" reaction to voluntary car-lessness. The car-free lifestyle is gaining some traction as a valid option, rather than the badge of poverty or senior citizenhood that it once was (and still is, to some).

And for that, we have some help. If we had to rely solely on the bus or walking to get everywhere we wanted to go, I admit that I would be pretty discouraged at this point. We live far enough out from the city center that the bus commute, even with the most lively of companions, can be a drag. Fortunately, those are not our only options, since we have bicycles and a car2go membership.

Source.
Carsharing, such as car2go or Zipcar or whatever your local option is, really opens up car-free living. It expands the distance that the user can go and is also perfect for times when cycling or public transportation aren't really an option. For instance, I'm taking a car2go to a job interview this afternoon, with the plan to bus/cycle there as a regular thing if I get the job. Or, it can just be a welcome sight for tired feet: On Saturday, after running on the local hike & bike trail and then walking to lunch, Chad and I were headed for a bus when we spied an available car2go. Result!

So, this wasn't actually meant to be an advert. But, if carsharing is locally available, it might be something to consider if you'd like to live car-free or even just car-light.

Have you ever tried carsharing? Is it available to you?

24 May 2011

Solstice

A few months ago, I read P.J. Hoover's middle-grade trilogy much too quickly (if you missed my reviews: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3) because I enjoyed them immensely. So it was with great delight that I read a few weeks ago that her next book, a YA dystopia, was coming out. And now, I'm happy to say, it's out and available on Kindle or Nook for only $2.99:



Isn't this cover gorgeous?
So, this book is on my extremely long to-read list, and the only reason it's not yet on my read list is because I've had other books an the list longer and I'm trying to have some equity in my reading life. ;) Seriously, I'm working on it, but I can only read so fast.

And while I wish I could say that this blog post is entirely from the goodness of my heart to promote a writer who I really enjoy, it isn't. No, P.J. has totally bribed us all with "the mother of all giveaways" to help her promote her book. And since I do think she's a fab writer and I am so looking forward to getting completely lost in her book (did I mention it's set in Austin? Woohoo!), not to mention how much I'd love to win the giveaway, I'm totally happy to go along.

So, there you have it! Have you read Solstice? Do you plan to read it?

23 May 2011

Why Run?

I pound the pavement, push myself uphill, savour the downhills. I cherish the sweat and relish the accelerated heart rate. Every sight, every sound, every smell makes me feel more alive.

While running, I work through my demons. Fear and anger, frustration and grief, envy and doubt: one by one, they lose their hold on me. I pound them into the ground, stomping on them as they try to grab on again. On the roads and sidewalks, on the hills and trails of Austin, I leave them bleeding on the ground. They will not conquer me. At the end of a run, the demons are gone, replaced by exhaustion and elation, joy and accomplishment. And only the tear tracks on my face are the memorial to the fight it was to leave them all behind.

And I run on. Every hill a new challenge. Every day a new chance. Every step a new victory.

Why run?
It's cheaper than therapy.
It's available without a prescription.
It makes me more fun to be around.
It makes me better.
I can take it as often as I want.
And at the end of the day, I am the boss of my demons instead of them being the boss of me.

My name is Su, and I'm a runner.

22 May 2011

The World May End, but This Blog Will Go On

Since everyone in the world is sure to be noting that we're all still here this morning, who am I not to join in? Yeah, my resolve not to jump into current events has really been strained lately.

I'm sure this completely failed to
happen yesterday. Whatever this is.
Source.
I don't mind someone thinking that he's found some message that no one else has noticed for 2000 years. Really, I don't. Once something is written down, people are bound to misunderstand it (for example, all the people who insist that Lord of the Rings is allegory when J.R.R. Tolkien said it most definitely is not). I can't even write a couple of sentences on this goofy little blog without my husband, the person who knows me best of anyone in the world, asking me what the heck I meant. People began sniping over what religious works of all sorts meant pretty much as soon as they were written, so it's not likely that sort of thing will end any time soon.

No. That's not what bugs me about this whole scenario. What bugs me? 1. You cannot, and should not, scare people into thinking the same thing as you, and 2. This is the kind of thing that makes all Christians look really dumb/useless/not credible/jerky (choose your favourite adjective).

Back in the day of hellfire and brimstone sermons, ministers used to have success with this tactic, notably Jonathan Edwards. But a major difference there was that his hearers already believed what he had to say, and he was just scaring them into slightly better behaviour than before. What have non-believers been doing these past couple of weeks? Shrugging off doomsday predictions, planning "Yay, the annoying Christians are gone" parties, and otherwise having a laugh. Great job, doomsayers. This doesn't make all Christians look stupid *at all*. Grrr. The one (rather dubious) upside to all this was the mileage we would-be comedians got from mocking. Which, I suppose, was also not helpful, but it was the only way I could refrain from sending ugly emails to the perpetrators.

So, how was your non-Rapture weekend? Did you do anything special?

21 May 2011

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

It's probably pics like this that have
me confused. Source.
So, after last week's post, I searched high & low for the origins of the waste hierarchy to find out if I was just imagining a time when the "recycle" came first. The closest I came was the Wikipedia article linked above that reads, "the waste hierarchy has taken many forms over the past decade". I other words, I may have totally imagined the "recycle, reuse, reduce" thing, or maybe not. If I did, it wouldn't be the first time.

Regardless, I'm here today to talk more about reusing. I was reading BikeHacks the other day and they have some great stuff about reusing all sorts of old things as fenders, bumpers, or other functional bicycle parts. I am totally inspired now to make my own bicycle fenders (which I need, badly, unless I'd like to continue being covered in grit and mud every time it rains) instead of buying. I'm eying some water bottles we've managed to collect to see if I can do something with them.

Source.
And speaking of water bottles... If you don't have a reusable one yet, maybe it's time to think about getting one. They'll go in the dishwasher, they come in every colour and interest imaginable, and they're cheaper than buying case after case of bottled water. If you just can't handle tap water, you can even get one of those nifty filter pitchers (we have one because the Austin water is icky) and still save money. Or, get a reusable water bottle with an itty bitty filter inside, so you're good no matter where you are.

This is an easy, easy way to cut back on waste. Plus, it's kind of trendy and stylish right now, so you don't have to worry about looking like an enviro-nut if that's not your thing. Or, if you're opposed to all things trendy but do want to reuse, get your hands on a simple glass bottle (I have a couple of Tazo and Snapple bottles that I use) or pull out an old Mason jar from the cupboard. See, not only is this one easy, but it's also versatile.

And to go along with your reusable water bottle, don't forget about coffee mugs. The reusable travel mugs have come a long way in the past five years-- I have to admit, I'm waiting for my current travel mug to bite the dust so I can get one of those pretty ceramic ones. I think they're fab. And this one comes with a bonus: Starbucks, to name but one that we are all familiar with, gives a discount to any customer who brings in any reusable mug. Many of the local coffee shops in Austin do the same; your mileage may vary. Call up your favourite local dispenser of caffeinated happiness to see what they will do for you.

Do you have a reusable coffee mug? A reusable water bottle? Are they the trendy new kind, or are you an old-school use-what-I-have-hand type of drinker?

20 May 2011

Happy Birthday!

One of the many, many things I appreciate about my mother is this: She was born in May. After writing three birthday posts in six weeks a few months ago for the other 3/5ths of the family, I'm feeling especially happy that my mummy's birthday is on the other side of the year.

The sunny, warm, pleasant side.

It doesn't count as a birthday pic if
the person in question doesn't call me
up and threaten me with something.
This should do it.
It's kind of funny when I think about it: Grandma (mum's mum) had three children, all of whom have birthdays within a couple weeks of her own June birthday (two in May and one in June). My mum, on the other hand, sent two of her three to the opposite end of the year. Mind you, I'm not sure that either of them planned ahead. And as a further contrast, my dad's mum has eight children, with birthdays scattered all year long.

Anyway! I'm sure my mum will celebrate with wild partying and disorderliness, possibly leaving her plate on the table at Grandma's for someone else to pick up or even-- the horror-- staying up past 10 PM.

I kid! She already stays up past 10. No, I actually have no idea what my mum does to celebrate her birthdays, except that Grandma is sure to make some really yummy cake that I'll be ├╝ber-sad to miss out on. And those are the breaks when you live three states away from your family. Perhaps I'll purchase a celebratory cupcake to make up for it.

Happy birthday, Mum! And many more, of course.

19 May 2011

Endings: Very Important

WARNING!! This post contains spoilers about this week's NCIS episode, which was also the season finale. If you haven't watched yet, then do not, under any circumstances, press that button. (My apologies to non-US readers; I imagine you haven't had the option to see it yet. But I'm writing this now while I'm still thinking about it.)

18 May 2011

Another List: This One's About Cycling.

So I was reminded today that not everyone wants to hear the "cycling is good for the environment" or "alternative transportation will save us all" or whatever angle of cycling. Which is good, because while I am a bit of a green-living nut and enjoy my multi-modal lifestyle, I'm not anti-car. (Although I keep reading that some of the NYC media is getting a lot of mileage by shouting about the non-existent "war on cars", which I think is hysterical.) Okay, well, I'm anti- the cars that haven't been maintained and are spewing exhaust all over the street where I happen to be breathing, but I've always been anti- those cars. This is hardly a new thing for me.

So! Ten non-green, non-alternative, non-liberal reasons to ride a bike:

1. It saves you money.
This isn't partisan, is it? Geez, I hope not. If you're lucky enough to live within a couple of miles of a store, or your kids' school, or your gym, or wherever you go, taking a bike instead of the car will save you some gasoline. Which saves you money. They tell me gas prices are running amok again. Fight back!

2. It's good bonding time.
Grab the spouse, the kids, the roommate, Toto-- whoever is living in your house-- and give them a shove toward the bicycles. Take a spin around the neighbourhood. Ooh and aah at the neighbour's flowers. Find out where the rises and dips in the road are. Chit chat about nothing and everything. And keep an eye on Toto-- he's a flight risk.

3. Or it's good alone time.
Leave all those people at home and ooh and aah over your neighbour's flowers all by yourself.

4. And it's stress relief.
Seriously. Take out the bike and leave the day's nasties on the road.

5. You probably need more Vitamin D anyway, right?
But do wear sunscreen. I know, I know, contradiction. Use your good judgement.

6. Your bike gets lonely without you.
After all, how would you feel if you had to live in the garage and only got attention every few months? That's what I thought. You don't want a neurotic bike on your hands.

7. Besides, you don't want it getting rusty.
You paid good money for that bicycle, right? May as well use it, or it's just a pile of money sitting around.

8. It's good for you.
Okay, maybe this is slightly liberal. Kinda. Your heart & lungs enjoy a good challenge from time to time. And regular cycling is a great way to get nice calves.

9. It's not required that you wear spandex.
Really, it isn't. Just wear whatever you want. I've gone cycling in a suit, for goodness' sake. (Okay, it was for a special event, but you get what I'm saying.)

10. It's fun!!
Really, it is. Remember when you were a kid and loved riding your bike? That joy doesn't go away when you get a driver's licence. It's especially fun if you find a good hill to ride down (although I admit that getting back up the hill is less fun, but hey, everything's a trade-off). Recapture some thrills in your life. Get the bike out.

I know I missed something-- what are some other reasons to ride a bike?

17 May 2011

Teaser Tuesday #10

The Tapestry of Love, Rosy Thornton


"'And what would you do?' 'Oh god, I don't know. Sleep for a week. Learn the saxophone. Read War and Peace.'"

"She's usually good value, is Bryony. It's not everyone has an aunt who can drink him under the table and insist on paying for every round."







teasertuesdays32
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingAnyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

16 May 2011

College Life

As if I know anything about college life, eh? I'm busy being a strange non-trad! ;)

So, you may have read my cousin Amanda telling us the truth about college back in November. And I read an excellent article yesterday by Megan's sister, likewise comparing the myths of college with the reality. So now that I've spent a full school year on a major university campus (no disrespect intended to my community college that I loved, of course), I'm ready to step up and add my voice. Kinda.

It's funny that there is such a mystique about college. People go to them all the time. There are college graduates walking around everywhere. Nearly everyone I know has pursued some sort of higher education. We all know the realities of college life, and yet the mystery and fascination remain.

It's still exciting for me to walk around campus. I smile when the tower chimes. I giggle at the protesters doing their chant o' the day in the designated rally area. (I giggle because there are so many of them, with a new cause nearly every day, not because I don't think they're serious.) I get a thrill at each new assignment, which generally lasts until I sit down to actually work on said assignment.

College is an exciting time of life for most people. And even though I'm seeing things from a different perspective than most, I've found it's still exciting, albeit in a different way. My priorities have shifted and other things are important to me now, but the joy of being in a university is still there.

And that temporarily brings me to the end of blogging about college. I'm taking an internship over the summer, but that's it. I'll resume in August with more non-trad tales.

What do you think of first when you think about college? The parties? The classes? The friends?

15 May 2011

There's a Complaint for That

"Do all things without grumbling or disputing, so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world." - Philippians 2:14-15

I gotta tell you, this verse is a bit rich coming from me. Yes, I blog today as a shining example of what not to do in the area of complaining. I have days when I am aware of what comes out of my mouth and I manage to stop talking before complaints erupt, but I have a lot more days when the grumbling pours out. Not my best quality, I'm afraid.

Yesterday, Chad and I worked the polls for a city election. Now, I'm sure everyone in the US has heard from an early age the rather unfortunate adage, "If you don't vote, then you have no right to complain." And the reason I'm sure everyone has heard it is that I heard it over and over again from voters yesterday. I even read it in a news article this morning. Sigh...

Ah, the old days of voting.
I'm going to take an unpopular stance here and suggest that if preserving your right to complain is your motivation for voting, you probably should stay home. Honestly, we'd all be happier if more people gave up their right to complain (including me, remember?). And then there's that minor detail that we have no "right" to complain to begin with-- it's not in the Constitution, and as you already read, it's certainly not God-given. Now, if your reason for voting is that you want to use the rights that you have and add your voice to the decision-making process, and then if your elected officials don't deliver on what they said when they were looking for your vote and you want to call them on it, by all means, go ahead. But please, please don't approach the ballot box (bit of a quaint word, that, isn't it?) bent on seeing to it that you preserve your right to complain until the next election comes round. That's hardly productive.

Unfortunately, I fear that this is an area in which many Christians are as bad offenders as anyone else. It's so easy, and in our culture, it's the path of least resistance, to start grumbling when things aren't 100% perfect (which, by the way, is all the time). But I'm sure there's a better way. I'm sure we I can try harder to restrain the complaining. And I'm sure that complaining could be replaced by encouragement.

What do you do to avoid too much complaining?

12 May 2011

What's Going On Back There?

The semester is over and I'm now free to turn my attention back to writing! Yay! And other things, too-- my running needs some new life, I need a job, and I have that summer internship at Bike Texas to look forward to (and I am, too-- I'll be spending 2x as much time there over the summer as I do now).

But, today is the day I write about writing. I never have much to add on this front, sadly enough: there are so many fab writing bloggers out there that I hardly feel like my paltry experience is worth blogging about. However, I'm never one to stop talking just because I run out of things to say, so here goes:

Bet you'd like to know the backstory
to this. Truth is, so would we.
Backstory! There are lots of things to say about backstory and world-building and so on, and I always read that stuff with great eagerness. You see, the backstory is one of my favourite parts (since I don't write fantasy, I don't really have a need for much world-building). Chad is the same way, even though he doesn't do a lot of writing: he'll spend as much time coming up with a character sheet for a role-playing game as he does the actual playing. We are just people who love to know what's behind our character's actions.

But sooner or later I have to stop with the backstory and start with the story. And that's when things really get interesting. Here goes.

Do you like coming up with a backstory? Or do you prefer to start writing and then figure out what's wrong with your characters? And if you aren't a writer... um... how far should I run today?

11 May 2011

These Are the People in my Neighbourhood

I may not have mentioned before that I live in a low-income neighbourhood, one that people from other parts of town regard as the "bad" neighbourhood or a high-crime area or whatever. And I can't dispute that bad things happen-- there have been some car windows broken out recently, for instance. But the bad part of town? Really?

When we moved here, I was determined that I would greet my neighbours whenever I met them, which is pretty frequently, being car-free as so many of us are. This may go down as the first time in my life that I've made a reasonable resolution and actually stuck to it-- it isn't easy to tell on a blog, but I am a bit reserved in public and rarely talk to people I don't know. (This makes me a real hit at church, btw.) However. New city, new neighbourhood, new personality, yes? Turns out it's fun to talk to the neighbours, and of course, it makes me more of a known part of the neighbourhood-- something that I think is pretty important as a runner, should any difficulties ever arise.

So. Here's what I see in my neighbourhood: Parents walking their small kids to school (not driving). Older kids getting themselves to school or to the bus stop. School-age kids running quick errands or getting themselves to the swimming pool. Neighbours who greet one another at the bus stop or at the grocery store. Nothing is perfect, and certainly our part of town isn't paradise, but we do get a bit of a Mayberry feel around here from time to time.

Look at all these happy people! ;)
Anyway, a couple of things brought on this train of thought: First, I read Free-Range Kids. A lot. Lenore is a genius. Second, a conversation came up the other day in which someone told me I'll have to give up my car-free ways once we have children. Now, I know for sure this is a load of balderdash, since there are plenty of families around here who are car-free and managing just fine (which is my usual response to that sort of statement: "Not in my neighbourhood."). And if that weren't proof enough for me, I keep running across all sorts of blogs or news stories about people who likewise heard this prediction of car-filled doom, and yet are managing public transportation, walking, or bicycles with kids in tow. Sometimes quite literally.

That's not to say that things won't change. We might end up getting a car again. We might have to get ourselves equipped with a car seat and all those other fancy gadgets. Or, we might move to a city that is even more accessible when car-free than Austin is, and continue to enjoy our neighbourhood without the aid of a motor. But that's hardly a decision I'm going to make now, all naysayers aside.

But for now, the Cheeky household is happily car-free. And happily engaged with our neighbours. And whatever your mode of transport, I hope you feel as at home and happy in your little slice of the world as I do in mine.

Do you know your neighbours? Have you gone outside today to experience your neighbourhood?

10 May 2011

Teaser Tuesday #9

Passenger to Frankfurt, Agatha Christie

"She was curious to know what oratory could do."

"It was one of the rare occasions in his life when Sir Stafford Nye was taken aback."


So technically I'm finished with this book, but I couldn't resist sharing a snippet anyway. This was my first Christie book-- I'll definitely be back for more! I quite liked her voice, and her characters were brilliantly fun.




teasertuesdays32
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingAnyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

09 May 2011

Little Bit of a Couple of Things

So! I spent my university-free weekend catching up on blogs and following back all my new-ish followers. I hope I got everybody! If you've been hanging around here for a couple of weeks & you don't see that I've been by your blog, it might be best to mention it so that I can high-tail it to your place for some virtual tea & comments.

This ought to do for the
first couple of weeks, yes?
Besides the massive amount of time I spent reading blogs, I also got a jump on my summer reading: I read Across the Universe by Beth Revis on Saturday. Yes, all of it. That's how much I liked it. Now, I suppose it could be said that I like every book, and that wouldn't be too far from the truth, except that I only read books that I like. If I don't like a book, I don't finish reading it.

Hence the reason that if you friend me on Goodreads you'll see that I give a lot of 4-star ratings. So I guess for me to rate books on Goodreads is kind of useless, except that if it gets 5 stars you know that I think it was incredible, and 3 stars is only merely "yes, I liked it". Four stars is "oh-this-was-great-but-not-quite-incredible", and most books I read fall into that category. See also: Books in 2011. I try to stick like glue to the descriptions of my rating system on the bottom of the page, so that I don't give an A rating to something that I enjoyed but had no qualms about putting down for a couple of days.

And speaking of Goodreads, I'm doing my best to keep my "read" list longer than my "to-read" list. I think they're tied right now. Alas, I can only read so fast, but the blogosphere keeps recommending so many books! And they all sound wonderful! And I can't resist adding them to the list so I don't forget! Sigh...

So, other than reading for fun and doing a bit of studying for my only final on Wednesday, I'm also doing the job search thing. I'll let you know how that turns out. :/ I do have an unpaid internship procured for the summer; turns out it's not that hard to say to the non-profit for whom I volunteer, "Hey, can I make this an official internship for class credit?" Unfortunately, as much as I live doing stuff for Bike Texas, it won't pay the bills. So, I'm going to juggle a part-time paid job with a part-time unpaid one. Yay!

Are you on Goodreads? (If so, click that link above & let's be friends.) Have you read Across the Universe? Where do you think I should get a summer job?

08 May 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due

I debated with myself at some length about writing this post. It's possible that the person concerned will be very embarrassed. He might stop reading my blog, and in fact, may never want to talk to me again. Having thought it over, I've decided I'm willing to take that chance.

Chad and I have a young friend who we've known for many years now. I didn't know until this week that he was reading my blog, though. The short story is, after he read Monday's post about my thoughts on an appropriate reaction for Christians to Bin Laden's death, he was emboldened to speak up amongst his friends and take the stand that it is ungodly to exult in an enemy's death.

Unfortunately, his friends turned on him like the proverbial pack of wild wolves that young men can be at times. I was sickened when I read some of the things that were said to this young man. He asked what he should do, but I gotta tell ya, I'm a bit short on the wise words when it comes to males in their late teens.

I at least knew what not to do: I'm not completely ignorant of interpersonal relationship dynamics, so I didn't dash over to his Facebook page to (virtually) shout, "Hey, this is my brother in Christ, and nobody talks to my little brother like this!" I really, really wanted to, but I also knew that would likely cause more harm than good. So I sat at my computer and prayed for my friend as he has to face this, and I prayed for his friends to wise up a bit. Or a lot, if need be.

I wouldn't be a rhetoric major, or a blogger, or a writer, if I didn't believe in the power of words. But on Monday, seeing what my words had started, I was torn between guilt at having given my young friend the impetus to put himself in this situation in the first place, and pride that he did it. I had visions of his parents asking me, "What were you thinking??", but I know for sure that his parents want nothing more than for him to stand up for what is godly and right, and to stick to his principles.

(By way of aside, I was thrilled at the response that I got on Monday. It's nice to see people agree with something I said, of course, but even those who disagreed did so with such a tone of kindness & respect for the opinions of others that it hardly felt like a disagreement. I have the best blog readers ever.)

And so, my friend, I have to tell you that we in the Cheeky house are very proud of you. And I'm willing to bet that the readers here at Cheekyness are, too. In the words of Paul, "I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect until the day of Christ Jesus." Well done.

07 May 2011

Recycling Shows a Lack of Imagination

Completely unrelated: Michelle has given me a blog award! Actually I got to choose between the Stylish or Versatile Blogger, but since I already have both, I'll just skip straight to: Thank you, Michelle!

We all know the cute little saying, "Recycle, Reuse, Reduce", yes? Well, if you haven't been hanging around with the environmentally mad people lately, what I'm about to say may come as somewhat of a surprise: They're in the wrong order.

Yeah, when they (this would be the mysterious "they") came up with the saying in the 90s, they didn't bother telling us that recycling should be a last resort, not the first step. Don't get me wrong, recycling is important (without it, I wouldn't know what to do with all my milk jugs), but it's better to exhaust all other possibilities first.

So, living with this idea in mind has caused me some issues. Bread bags, for instance. We get at least one bread bag a week. They aren't recyclable. They are flimsy. I hate to throw them away, but what should I do with them?

Solution #1: This is a favourite of my Grandma. My grandmother doesn't put anything in her rubbish bin that might smell or attract pests (unfortunately, she also doesn't compost). Instead, she saves her bread bags, and puts the banana peels or whatever else into them, and stores the bag neatly in the freezer until trash day, when the whole thing goes into the rubbish. At least the bags get one reuse.
Solution #2: I've started using them for getting my grains from the bulk bins at the store. My mesh bags are no good for grains (since they're mesh), and despite all my best intentions, I haven't gotten round to making some canvas bags yet. In the meantime, I've appropriated bread bags for getting oats or whatever. Turns out the clerks at the store are totally okay with this (I marked out the original UPC to make sure they would stay okay with it).
Solution #3: Now that the semester is over and I no longer plan to do six hours of homework per day, I think I'll go back to making my own bread. And do you know what would be perfect to store our homemade bread in? Yep, bread bags.

Now, I know just about everyone reuses margarine containers for cereal bowls, but what other creative solutions are out there? How do you cope with non-recyclable-but-still-usable rubbish?

06 May 2011

Okay, I Get It. Be More Interesting.

I'll round out my week of "wait-- what did I use to talk about before the A to Z challenge?" with another cycling story for you. Take it or leave it, and with a bit of luck, I'll be back to normal tomorrow. Or possibly the next day. Actually, I'll probably make some changes to my blogging schedule (yes, again) for the summer. Upon further reflection, I'm not sure why I think the universe needs to know ahead of time about my blogging schedule changes. Never mind.

So, I rode the train from Bike Texas again (I think I mentioned it once before, but taking the train one stop cuts out 50% of the uphills for my ride home) to my usual stop. Two other cyclists also got off at this stop, which has nothing to do with anything except that seeing other cyclists makes me happy. Anyway, we all sped out of the station toward the street, where traffic was massively backed up because the signal gates for the train were down (there's something wrong with the timing of the train signals in Austin). The train was just pulling out of the station, and so I had another of those moments that I always hope for: I weaved a bit in between the traffic that wasn't going anywhere and got across the street. Seriously, every time I come that way I hope that I can beat the train to the street, and today I finally did. Because once the signal gates are up, there is no way to stop traffic at this intersection, so it can be a long, long wait before there is a break in traffic again.

By way of aside, a pedestrian asked me for directions to a convenience store yesterday. And sometimes a driver will roll down the window and chat. It's really remarkable how being on a bike makes me more--how should I describe it?-- available for conversation, perhaps? Remember those "Life Takes... Visa" ads from a few years ago? There are times when I feel like I'm participating in life more than other times, and being available to chat with everyone who goes by is one of those things that makes me feel that way. Like I'm more in tune with the pulse of the city, kinda. I don't know-- it's just a weird feeling I get. I like it.

When do you feel the most like you are participating in life? (Nothing is too dull, I promise-- let's hear it!)

05 May 2011

How to Write Four Essays.

Step 1: Read the assignment prompts early in the semester and resolve to get started early this time.
Step 2: Lose the assignment sheets 10 minutes later.
Step 3: Forget about the assignments for several weeks.
Step 4: Realise that the essays are all due in a week.
Step 5: Panic.
Step 6: Begin carrying a stack of research materials with you everywhere you go. Read while eating, while sitting around, and in the loo.
Step 7: Don't tell anyone about reading in the loo.
Step 8: Do the fun paper first.
Step 9: Decide to leave the hardest paper until last.
Step 10: Flip a coin to decide the order of the next two papers. Finish the second one.
Step 11: Finish the third paper. Forget to save it.
Step 12: Finally start on the hard paper. Realise it wasn't as hard as you thought it would be. Feel silly.
Step 13: Finish the hard paper. Celebrate by dancing round the living room.
Step 14: Realise that paper #3 is lost to you.
Step 15 (Optional, depending on time pressures): Throw an adult temper tantrum.
Step 16: Summon the muse to rewrite paper #3.
Step 17: Realise the muse, thinking that she was finished, has already departed for the muse equivalent of a week in Malibu.
Step 18: Rewrite paper #3, despairing that it is not as good as it was last time.
Step 19: Turn in all four papers. Start interviewing new muses.
Step 20: Recover with food or drink of your choice. (Chocolate frozen yogurt, if you're me.)

So, that was my week in writing! Of course, I left out the part about having to miss the last day of my two rhetoric classes that I really love, and then sending a mea culpa email to my instructor. But hey, it's done! One final left and that's the game on my first year at UT.

Is your essay-writing (or anything-writing) style similar to mine? What do you do when your muse skips town? Do you have any chocolate frozen yogurt?

04 May 2011

It's A Roller Coaster

Two posts in one day-- oops! Didn't do it on purpose!

This second post is to announce that I'm guest-blogging at Austin on two Wheels again, and I like today's article much better than the last one. :) Here's a snippet; click anywhere to read the whole thing:

I still don’t like things that go fast. And that includes my bicycle. We moved to Austin last summer from Lubbock, a region for which the expression “pancake-flat” may not be adequate. I’ve been totally accustomed to riding on the level, and had no way to prepare myself for riding in Austin.

Raindrops Keep Falling On... Well, Pretty Much Everything

Hey, Blogger has been making changes again! Cool. I can now add a location to my blog posts. This will only be interesting, I fear, if I go on vacation. But hey, I'll join the ranks of those who make it easy for the stalkers and let you see my neighbourhood, shall I?

While my intent for Without-A-Car Wednesday is to share with you some of the fun and joys to be found in leaving the car at home, I can't really be genuine if I don't occasionally include the travails. So, here goes:

Monday we were visited by a cold front and some rain. Now, I don't want to sound like I'm grumbling about the rain; goodness knows we needed it. However, I came out of Bike Texas in the afternoon to head home and was greeted by gusty winds, low (for us) temps, and a steady drizzle. I hopped on the train, got off at my usual stop, and wondered if it would be worth it to just wait for the bus to take me home instead of riding home in the wet. Such hopes were dashed, however, when I got near enough to the stop to see the bus pull away. My options were then: Wait in the rain (30 minutes), or ride in the rain (about 20 minutes). Naturally, I chose option #2.

This is what my glasses
looked like.
Now, I'm extremely nearsighted (20/200 vision, or something like that) and I have astigmatism. You know what happens when a nearsighted, bespectacled, astigmatic woman rides her bicycle in the rain? She becomes a nearly-blind woman riding in the rain who has no idea how close the cars are. So towards the end of my nearly-blind, soaked-through, rather-chilly ride, I made a good choice and stopped off at the store for some hot cocoa mix. So, the moral of the story is: If you're going to ride a bicycle in the rain, get some of those glasses with the windshield wipers that all the cartoon characters have.

Do you have astigmatism? Do you like the rain? Would you like a cup of hot cocoa?

03 May 2011

Yay, Awards!

I've totally been collecting these awards. Not on purpose; it's just worked out this way. But I am finally getting around to acknowledgement & thanks for these lovely people. And since today is my 33rd birthday (or 25th, as one kind Facebook friend said), I'm calling them all birthday presents, but not in the "Dang, I have to throw this thing into Mount Doom" kind of way. Usually, these awards come with rules, to which I say, "Oh, there were rules? Oops." So if you like these awards, please grab them, put them in your sidebar, pass them on, whatever you want to do. Because it's my birthday, and I'm like a hobbit, so I'm handing out the presents.


Many thanks to Misha and to Giggles for my Stylish Blogger award times two!


This Lovely Blog Award comes from the lovely Heather. Thank you!


Grandpa wanted to remind me, and by extension, all of you, that Life is Good. Thanks, Grandpa!


This rather gorgeous award comes from Dierdra, who is rather inspiring herself. Thanks!


And finally, Elizabeth very cleverly came up with this award for all of us who joined in on the A to Z Challenge. Brilliant award, Elizabeth! Thanks!

And now, what are you doing hanging around here? It's my birthday; go party! ;) But first: What should I do to celebrate #33 (besides showing off blog awards, that is)?

02 May 2011

We Can Do Better

As you may have noticed, it is my usual practise to avoid major events in the news, controversies, and anything else that might make the tone of Cheekyness a little too serious for me to handle. Also, I like to keep my Biblical thoughts to the weekends, when (presumably) my readers are already in a spiritual frame of mind. Today, I'm going to break all those rules. Yes, I'm giving in to the rest of the blogosphere and writing about Osama Bin Laden.

If you missed it, just go to Google. I'm sure someone there will be happy to give you all the details. My concern today is not the event, but rather our reaction to it. Specifically, the reactions of Christians. I concern myself with my Christ-following brothers and sisters because we've voluntarily taken on the name of Jesus, and our actions reflect on him. And we've voluntarily put ourselves to a higher standard than those who haven't named Jesus as Lord of their lives. So if you aren't a Christian, this post is probably not for you (although you are, of course, welcome to read to the end), and what I have to say certainly isn't directed at you. You must live your life as you see fit.

But my Christian friends, we have taken on Jesus' name. We have chosen to live to a higher standard. And so it was with a heavy heart and mounting disappointment that I watched the reactions of some of my Christian friends scroll across my Facebook page last night. We serve a God who has specifically said, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; or the LORD will see it and be displeased, and turn His anger away from him" (Proverbs 24:17-18, NAS). And who also said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44, NAS). It is not right, my friends, that we should put on such a public display of happiness, nor exhort others to praise God, when an enemy of our nation is killed. You can't help the emotional reaction-- I'm not saying that any feeling of relief or happiness that first came over you when you heard the news was wrong-- but you can control what you say. And what you type.

In short, we had a chance last night to show that our hope is not in this life alone. We had a chance to be the light of the world. And we blew it. We can do better, brothers and sisters.

A lovely story came across my Twitter feed right before I went to bed: A 9/11 widow was on an airplane when the announcement came through. The tweet told about how the entire cabin was comforting this woman in her moment of emotion. That is the kind of story I can get behind. That is the kind of thing that it would have been great to see more of.

I realise that many of you feel differently, and probably want to say so. While I don't object to disagreement, I ask that you keep comments clean and civil.

May the LORD bless you and keep you; may he lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.

01 May 2011

Ode to Joy

I just finished reading The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. And it was fabulous, and I think you should all go read it. After you finish reading and commenting on this post, of course. :)

When I searched stock.xchng
for 'happiness', this pic
came up. Who am I to argue?
One thing Gretchen realised toward the end of the project is just how much work it takes to be a cheery, upbeat person. She noticed that the path of least resistance is not, surprisingly enough, happiness, but rather crankiness. (Which, I suppose, totally explains why I enjoy it so much.) Apparently there's fun to be found in contradicting, in deflating, and in bringing a cheery person back down to earth. Or, as my pal Brandon put it once, in being the last great critic of our time.

Which, as Gretchen says, makes it hard to be joyful. It makes it hard to appreciate the small things, to genuinely be happy with life, to enjoy the silly and the absurd, and-- this is a big one-- to keep cool when things go a bit awry. This isn't about being Pollyanna (although Gretchen does reference Pollyanna). It's about not going around poking holes in someone else's joy just to make one's self feel better about life. I'm sure we all know someone who does this regularly. (I hope that someone isn't you.)

What with it being Sunday and all, I have a verse for you: "The joy of the LORD is my strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). This is one of those verses that seems to have different meaning to different people, but it tells me that I don't have to get upset about every little thing that happens here on earth. I have the luxury of remembering that this life is but temporary. Traffic jams and mixed-up orders at restaurants need not cause a meltdown of my day. And for the bigger, more major life catastrophes (and unfortunately, I've heard about several among my family and friends this week, and we all know about the massive disaster that is the Southeast), it's okay to be upset, even while drawing on the fact that God is still in control.

(By way of aside, this is the kind of post that tends to draw negative comments about my religious beliefs. Since today's post is about not deflating someone else's joy, please be forewarned that I will delete overly-negative comments.)

So! What brings you joy? What do you do about Negative Nellies (or Nelsons)?

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