What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

30 April 2011

Z is for Zebra Crossing

There are so many words that I thought about for today! Zoology, which was one of the few times I've enjoyed a science class (and as a shout-out to my fabulous instructor, who I now know better as a running friend); Zigzag, in acknowledgement of the fact that I can't walk (or run, or cycle) in a straight line; Zero, for the amount of homework I get done while thinking about my blog; Zoom, because that's what I do on my bicycle (ha ha-- kinda); or Zeitgeist, just because.

Source. See the stripey poles with the
fancy lights?
But since I have a bit of a UK theme going this week, zebra crossing it is. For my non-commonwealth readers, that's a fancy word for crosswalk, so named because of the stripes-- you know, like a zebra. (There are other animal-themed names for the various places and devices used for crosswalks, but I'm just going with the basics today.) Most UK zebra crossings that aren't at stoplights have stripey poles with yellow blinking lights on them to alert drivers to watch for pedestrians. And, as it turns out, we have a couple in Austin with a very similar setup. Makes me happy, just like most things in Austin.

I didn't think much about zebra crossings when I first moved to Scotland; it was just one more thing that was a little bit different from home, and that was about it. But when The Parent Trap (the new version) came out, my sister suddenly had all sorts of questions about life in the UK, among them: "Do all the stoplights have those wavy lines?" I was a bit confused when she asked, so I got her to clarify, and she explained that she saw zig-zag lines on the ground leading up to stoplights in the movie. So I said, "Oh, yeah. Those are to let people know they're coming up on a crosswalk. Yeah, they're pretty much everywhere." A statement which, by the way, is more or less true, but it's also one I made up on the spot because it sounded good. Shhhh... don't tell my sister.

A slightly more literal interpretation
of the term 'zebra crossing'. Source.
As with many, many other expressions I used in the UK, 'zebra crossing' has stuck with me, and I still say it from time to time instead of 'crosswalk'. And, also true to my own bizarre form, I never say it when around someone who would know what I mean-- no, only when I'm with a never-been-out-of-the-state Texan do I bring the outlandish (to them) vocabulary. Of course, I can never remember the US word at those moments, either.

And that, my friends, brings us to the end of the A to Z Challenge here at Cheekyness. Join us next year, when I have to come up with a completely new set of words.

Did you enjoy the A to Z Challenge (if you participated)? Do you use zebra crossings? Can you think of other fun words we might use, besides 'crosswalk'?

29 April 2011

Y is for Years

The days are long, but the years are short, they tell me. Too true! I generally hear this expression as it relates to parenting, but the years are plenty short enough on my own, without any wee ones to help speed time along. Although watching everyone else's children grow up before my very eyes is scary enough!

Anyway. I set my alarm last night so I could get up early and watch the little shindig in London this morning (I guess if I really wanted Google hits, I'd write it out in great big letters-- too bad I'm not that into search engine optimization), and realized that it's now been 11 years since I called that country home. At about the time that the gorgeous bride arrived at the church, the anniversary of me getting on a plane came & went.

What's remarkable (to me) is that this is the first time in years that I've even noticed the date going by, and I would have missed it again if not for today's commission of matrimony. While there's not a day of my life that I don't think of Scotland, there is also no need for me to go into mourning once a year for having returned from there.

Anyway. In related news, my 15th high school reunion is coming up this summer, which makes me feel a little bit old. I see my classmates on Facebook, and in my mind we all still look exactly the same as we did in 1996, just with the addition of spouses & children. That more years have gone by since last we met than all the years we spent together seems pretty well impossible. I keep thinking of that bit in Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion when they talk about how these people have known them since kindergarten-- it's kind of unreal that yes, thanks to the miracle of Facebook, there are people in my life who have known me almost as long as my family has. Yikes!

I think I was going somewhere with this post, but I seem to have gotten lost on the way. Ach, well, never mind.

So, here we are in 2011: What in your life happened so long ago but also just yesterday?

28 April 2011

X is for Xanthophyll

You know what I love about the letter X? Two pages in the dictionary. That's it. Very easy to read through!

I learned the word xanthophyll from some cute little science books that my parents had kicking around the house when I was little. But it was really cemented in my brain when I finally got around to reading Little Town on the Prairie, my favourite of the Little House books: The town has a spelling bee, and the final three standing are Pa and Laura from Team Ingalls (although it's not exactly put that way in the book) and Mr. Foster from Team Someone Else. Laura gets the word 'xanthophyll', misspells it. Mr. Foster misspells it. Pa spells it out, very slowly, for the win.

And ever since then, I've loved the word. Unfortunately, I have a hard time loving the actual substance referred to: You see, xanthophyll is that stuff that turns leaves yellow in the fall. And while I acknowledge that it's quite lovely to see trees of all sorts of colours, I'm not a fan. I love spring & summer, and the leaves changing colour means that cold weather is coming. I'm perfectly happy with the bright green of the chlorophyll, thank you.

Which do you prefer: xanthophyll or chlorophyll? (Autumn-loving friends, it's your chance to speak up!)

27 April 2011

W is for Writing, Walking, and Without-a-Car Wednesday

I had a hard time deciding on today's topic. Which is why it's 9 PM and I'm only just posting.

So! Since I am car-free, I spend a lot of time on my feet. I do a lot of my commuting via bicycle or bus, 'tis true, but for shorter errands or just getting around on campus, I'm a pedestrian. You know what cycling everywhere does for your walking skills? Nothing. It just makes me cranky when I have to walk, since I know for sure that cycling is faster.

I bet I'd think all sort of deep thoughts if I went walking
here. Thoughts like, "That spider just tried to eat me!"
But, cranky or not, here I come. Because it turns out I do some of my best writing while walking. So good, in fact, that I should probably get myself a dictaphone so I can stop forgetting all those brilliant things I thought out while walking. I keep thinking of that West Wing line that I shared with someone (or possibly blogged? I'm not looking it up) not long ago, when Toby tells Charlie, "Paper is for wimps." By golly, if Toby only needs to have his brain with him and can write while doing other things, then so can I.

And it's not just me, of course. I keep reading that taking a walk has this effect on other people, too. So much so, in fact, that last week in the writing center I told my consultee that she needs to take walk breaks whenever she feels overwhelmed by her writing assignments, to get the thoughts flowing again. (And she was such a sweet person; she agreed right away!)

Do you go for walks when your brain gets stuck?

26 April 2011

V is for Vicar

Because I want to tell you an an amusing story.

This is not the church from the story,
but it is only a few streets away.
When I first moved to Scotland, I would see the word "vicar" around, but for some reason never caught the pronunciation. I told you once before about my difficulty with new words and how I inevitably pronounce things so horribly, laughably wrong that I should probably just stick to words I know and never try to increase my word power (many apologies, Reader's Digest). So one day, I was waiting with a friend to pick up her daughter after school. We were standing outside a church across the street from the school, and there was a large notice board outside with the usual things you see on church notice boards: Sermon title, Jumble Sale, etc., and at the bottom it read, Vicar Whatever His Name Was.

So, seeing an opportunity to find out what this mysterious word meant, I asked my friend, "What's a vie-car?" She almost fell over from laughing (I'm not kidding-- I was worried for a second), and once she recovered, she explained that it's pronounced vick-er, and it's the Church of Scotland word for minister. Mystery solved.

And this is probably as close as I'll get to blogging about that little event happening across the pond on Friday (of course, it's an Archbishop, not a vicar, doing the honours that day). And since I'm sure you're all dying to know: Yes, I'll probably get up and watch. It's a bit far south in the country for me, but hey, I'll take what I can get.

Are you going to be watching TV Friday morning? Do you have an amusing story of a time when you pronounced something badly? Are you a vicar?

25 April 2011

U is for Umbrage

This is not going to be a Harry Potter-related post. While I have many, many things to say about the character of the similar-sounding name who made me want to scream (geez, JK Rowling has such a gift!), I'm writing about the more common kind of umbrage. The kind that you can find on the internet, without even having to try hard.

For instance. Last Friday, I saw a few Facebook friends mention the Earth Day promotion at Starbucks (if you brought a reusable mug, you got free tea or drip coffee. If you missed it, mark your calendar for next year). So I went to the Starbucks website to confirm this before dropping by, mug in hand. And sure enough, there was the post announcing the promotion-- and a whole bevy of comments below. I generally avoid comments on the internet (except for on blogs, of course), because I find that a "comment" section is generally a soul-sucking vortex of incoherent ranting. My instructor Do Not Cross says that the comments on YouTube make her worry about the future of humanity. And that's pretty much how I feel.

But on this day, I had my guard down and let my eye wander. I don't think it took two comments for this really brilliant promotion that included free drinks to devolve into an argument about politics, religion, global warming, and how stupid such-and-such commenter is. Really? Starbucks is handing out free coffee, and all people can do is argue about left-wingers and whether there is such a thing as a 'true' Christian? I had no idea that free coffee was so controversial.

Now, I believe all my readers to be lovely people who leave intelligent, reasoned comments. So I realise that I'm preaching to the choir when I encourage you, with all the strength I have in me, to refrain from such nonsense. Seriously, let's not go around taking (and leaving) umbrage. Let's see if we can continue raise the level of conversation on the internet. I know you all are brilliant writers, because I've visited your various blogs, and the general tone of your comments also seems to be within the realm of common sense. Good job, writing and A to Z bloggers!

Do you bother with internet comments? Do they drive you crazy? Or do you think I'm ruining all your fun?

24 April 2011


Very original that I should do an Easter post on Easter, yes?

There's a lovely bit in The Sound of Music (the book, not the movie) when Maria is describing Easter weekend and she says, "Children who still believe in the Easter Bunny are told that on Holy Saturday all the church bells fly to Rome, where the Holy Father blesses them, and afterwards they fly back to their places, freshly blessed."

How apt, because the whole world seems freshly-blessed at Easter. That's partly due to the season, of course: Spring makes all things new and opens up a world of possibilities. I get a bit sappy about spring, since it's my favourite season, but really, what's not to like about fresh air, new leaves, baby flowers...

So this week, everyone has been talking about life. My Jewish classmates have been talking about Passover. (I had a great conversation about unleavened bread with a Jewish classmate the other day-- he says it's gross, and I told him that's because he's never had my grandma's unleavened bread, which is fabulous. Also, he mentioned Matzo pizza, and I am totally all over that idea.) Christian classmates of all stripes have been talking about Holy Week. And of course, I know a handful of people who celebrate Passover and Easter, which is not as strange as it may sound when you first hear it.

Lives saved. Lives reclaimed. The new life of spring. Easter fills us with such promise. A blessed day to you.

Which (if either) do you celebrate: Passover or Easter? Do you have any special traditions?

23 April 2011

T is for Travelling

Okay, kind of a lame title, but I feel a bit guilty that I missed the chance for an "S is for Scotland" post. I was just way excited about a chance to write a cycling post... Anyway. Today, I make up for it by telling you about my favourite place on earth.

So, while most of the Cheeky travelling is done to visit our variously scattered relatives, we also visit Scotland from time to time. I call it "home" as often as not, and considering that life in Glasgow is the source of my odd accent, non-American expressions (and spelling, now that I'm thinking about it), and occasional confusion about which country I'm in, can you blame me?

So! I'll just go whole hog and turn this into a little Scotland photo album (photo selection is limited, because I'm not wrangling with the scanner when I have piles of homework to do, so all these are from our last visit in 2006):

As you can plainly see, I took this picture while we were on the road.
At the time (since we lived in Lubbock), I was totally in awe of the
technicolour green all around me.

We were headed toward these hills. Perhaps not this particular one.
 And we were also headed for the really scary-looking clouds in the background.

Loch Lomond. As in, "You take the high road and I'll take the low road."
That Loch Lomond.

You wouldn't know it was Scotland without seeing a kilt shop, right?

Scotland Street School Museum. Once a working school, now an education museum.
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Definitely worth a visit.

I'm really embarrassed that I had to look up the name of this street.
This is the corner of Argyle & Union Streets, looking up Union.
It's one of the busiest intersections in Glasgow.
And I only had to look it up because the street name changes here; in the other direction,
Union Street is Jamaica Street. And that's the name I always remember.

Looking west from King's Park, near the center of the city.
That's the Sleeping Giant in the background.

A hill I walked down nearly every day when I lived in Glasgow.

So, this probably happens in other countries, too, but not in the US.
When the light is about to turn green, the yellow light comes on
again to let drivers know,then both red & yellow
go out when the green comes on.

The National Rugby Stadium. Also a venue for concerts and that sort of thing.

Edinburgh Castle.

The Scottish Parliament Building. Most people say it's hideously ugly,
 but I have to admit that it has grown on me
and I kind of like it. Of course, it helps that my tax money didn't pay for it.

And the debating chamber (I think) inside Parliament.
There you are-- a brief trip around Scotland. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

22 April 2011

S is for Speed, Sweat and Safety

National Bike Month is coming up! Bike To Work day is May 20th! Are you ready?

Does your city have
one of these? If so, you're
I'm going to suppose that at least a couple of you said "no", because otherwise this post is going to be darned short. I want to briefly address three major concerns that beginning cycling commuters have, in the hopes that it will make your road a bit less bumpy. (Hee hee hee.)

1. Speed: "Won't riding my bike take a long time?"
The easy answer is "maybe." It depends on the length of your commute, the traffic, the speed limit, and how fast you cycle. If you are travelling less than five miles on a congested freeway in traffic that crawls along every morning, then you could conceivably get to work faster on a bike. If you live farther away, don't have to cross large chunks of a city, or drive in light traffic, it may take longer by bicycle. Find a nice, quiet route away from the freeway and try it once on a Saturday. If your city has bike lanes, a greenway, or any exciting stuff like that, you may be in for a great ride to work. And I have to admit: One of my greatest joys in cycling is crossing over the congested motorways in Austin when they are doing their best impression of a parking lot. It makes me feel free.

2. Sweat: "Won't I get to work gross?"
Yes. That is, unless your ride is really short or completely downhill, you'll probably be sweaty when you stop. Before you try it, do some research: Is there a bike shop in your town with resources for commuters? Near your office? Does your office have showers? What can you do for clean-up? I made do at my office for years with a change of clothes, a stick of deodorant, perfume, and a washcloth. (Not in that order.) Many cycling commuters recommend driving to work on Monday with clothes for the week and cycling the rest of the time. You may need to experiment a little and see what works for you-- there will definitely be some virtue in arriving at the office 20 minutes early so you can clean up.

Look at all these happy cyclists!
3. Safety: "Isn't it dangerous?"
I'm no expert, but if you stick to relatively quiet roads and obey the traffic laws, you should be okay. I'm a helmet user myself; not everyone is, so you have to decide that for yourself. Studies have shown that when the numbers of cyclists increase, the number of cyclist accidents decreases-- there's something to the "safety in numbers" thing. Use lights to make yourself visible, be predictable so the traffic around you doesn't freak out, and use your common sense. Given the high number of accidents and fatalities in cars, I'm not certain that you're any safer inside a car than on a bicycle-- but again, a lot of it depends on you paying attention to what's going on around you. Don't expect to take a conference call while on your bicycle. (And you shouldn't be doing that in the car, either.)

There you have it! Su's quick and dirty guide to bicycle commuting. So, have you tried taking a bicycle? Public transportation? Carpooling? How did it work for you?

21 April 2011

R is for Reading

And what else would I write about on 'R' day?

I love sharing the story of how I learned to read, so here it is: The Electric Company. With some help from Sesame Street. Yes, I learned how to read from watching public television. It didn't hurt, of course, that my parents kept the house full of books. Reading was my first hobby, and it's one I'll continue until my last day (even if I lose my eyesight-- they have books on CD now, you know!).

So it comes as no surprise to me that the most frequent advice given to would-be writers is to read a lot. And that's advice I'm happy to take, naturally. (Some of my classmates take issue with this advice, I've noticed-- maybe it works for them to write without reading. I couldn't possibly do it, that's certain.) I do read across a fairly wide range of genres, not just my own. Actually (and this is probably a terrible thing to say), I'm not that wild about reading in my own genre. There aren't that many writers in Christian women's literature who can pull it off without being really sappy. (We can't all be Francine Rivers, alas.)

That's not to say that I'm going into this genre hoping to "fix" it. No, my main goal is to produce a book that I would want to read, and never mind what everyone else is doing. If other people want to read what I've written, too, then so much the better. Erica and Christy have a great quote from Toni Morrison in the sidebar of their blog: "If there's a book that you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." A great ambition, methinks.

Do you like reading? Do you remember when you learned to read? Do you have a favourite book that I must read right away or the world will come to an end?

20 April 2011

Q is for Quorum

You know, there are a lot of "Q" words that are math-related. That's just bringing me down.

My Webster's says that the third definition of "quorum" is "a select group or company"... much like the group at the Austin Bike Summit last Saturday.

First of all, the day was brilliant. I got to meet a lot of people whose names I had heard, but who I had never seen in person. Plus, the casual networking with other Austin cyclists was also very cool. And since I've only just started volunteering with some cycling advocacy groups, it was also a great opportunity to see what is coming in the future as far as cycling improvements in Austin. For instance: A bike boulevard, bike sharing, in-street bike parking... all sorts of fun stuff.

And there were giveaways! And a lunchtime bike ride! And free food! Free drink, too, but I only partook of the water.Which tasted funny.

One really cool takeaway for the day was the workshop on social marketing-- basically, we talked about ways to portray cycling as normal, instead of aberrant, behaviour. And someone put it very succinctly when he said, "We are the message as well as the messenger, by being on the street." A deep thought for us all, yes?

Do you cycle? Do you attend quorums based around your hobby (whatever that may be)? What do you do with funny-tasting water?

19 April 2011

P is for Pop-Tarts

I forgot my lunch today, so I went a bit more collegiate than usual and bought a box of Pop-Tarts. Breakfast of champions. And lunch of champions. And afternoon snack of champions.

I love, love, love Pop-Tarts. But in the interest of remaining a reasonably healthy adult, I try to limit my consumption. Which is a real bummer.

So I was beyond delighted when I went looking for images for this post and ran across this recipe for homemade  pop-tarts. I did a happy dance. My life of making things keeps getting better.

What's your favourite Pop-Tarts flavour? How many ways can you think of that they will send me to an early grave? Or, what flavour of homemade pop-tarts should I make first?

18 April 2011

O is for Omniscient

As in, the third-person omniscient narrative. Because as in life, the more I research writing, the more I find out that I know jack squat. (Sorry for the cliché. My originality-o-meter is broken.)

Now if I could tell you what the bear
is thinking, then I would be
What I've always thought of as third-person omniscient, it turns out, is actually third-person multiple. Or so says my friend Wikipedia. Kinda. Because the more I read, the more I think "what the heck?" about points of view.

So, here goes. I write almost exclusively in third person limited. First person only works for me sometimes. And I might just tear out my hair if I have to remember what every single person is thinking all the time, so I'm not wild about being omniscient, although I can see where it might have some uses.

Never mind. I'm going to go write something now, and see what point of view comes out. This should be interesting.

What can you tell me about point of view?

17 April 2011

Resting is Underrated

Did you learn about the Blue Laws in school? The ones that kept shops from opening or people from working on a Sunday, until about the mid-1900s? Some days I'm glad they're gone. Other days I think it might be nice to have them back.

Either way, I'm doing homework today. Lots of homework. Because since I spent the entire day yesterday at the Austin Bike Summit (which was totally worth it, BTW; it was brilliant), I got no essay-writing or other studying done.

So! A short post today to exhort someone to take the day off, since I am not doing so. Enjoy your free day on me.

How do you spend your Sundays?

16 April 2011

N is for Never

There's a reason why "never say never" is such a common expression. I can think of no better way to ensure that something will happen than to say, "I'll never (insert undesirable behaviour here)". So in the past few years, I've changed to saying, "Honey, please stop me if I ever do that." And he is overly-eager to agree.

It's remarkable how easy it is to say "I'll never". It's scary how it's even easier to forget the "I'll never"s when faced with the same situation. I remember when I would never be a runner... and never run a marathon... and never neglect my running for other things... and never buy fancy clothes just for running. Hee hee hee, joke's on me.

Of course, this applies to more serious things, too. Someone is bound to say it, so I'll just get it out of the way: Especially when you have kids. And even though I don't, I've seen enough friends make the transition to know that it's true.

Right now, for instance, I never want to have a car again. But I can go from "never" to "maybe" to "okay, then" in a hurry. So I'm reserving judgement, despite me really really enjoying my bike right now. And doing research on bike trailers for kids. Who knows what the future may bring for us? (FYI: this is not a twisted way of announcing that I'm pregnant. I'm just planning ahead.)

In the meantime, I'm never going to be a millionaire. And I defy the Fates to prove me wrong.

What do you do that you would "never" do? Or, what is your current "never"?

15 April 2011

M is for Memories (or, More Non-Trad Travails)

Okay, I admit it, this isn't a travail. But whenever the conversation turns to childhood television shows, I always feel a bit left out. Apparently there was a complete turnover between the early 80s and early 90s in children's TV (apart from Sesame Street, of course).

After spending a few days trying desperately to find someone else who remembers Square One, I finally struck gold-- by asking another non-trad. Professional Smart Aleck (she said it, not me, and she approved!) not only remembers Square One, but much like myself, she also loved Kate Monday. When they replaced Kate Monday with Pat Tuesday, I was completely heartbroken... only to find out that I like Pat Tuesday just as much. When I shared this experience with PSA, she agreed, adding "Kate Monday was my hero." Yeah. I think Square One was the beginning of all my friends being at least 10 years older than myself.

And then the conversation swung round from Square One to Electric Company (the original one, not the new one). I think I've mentioned before that Morgan Freeman taught me how to read, and finally, I found someone else with the same experience. The regular, 90s-baby students around us tried to make relevant comments by talking about Morgan Freeman's other work, but of course they don't remember the original Electric Company, and they're too old to have enjoyed the newer version. It's rough to be a member of the Millennial Generation.

What's your favourite childhood TV show (or movie-- don't want to exclude anyone here)? Do you have a friendly person to discuss it with when the mood strikes?

14 April 2011

L is for Last Minute

I had this great, profound blog post planned for today... but haven't been near a computer until now. So, this is all you get.

I don't usually intend to wait until the last minute, but sometimes it happens. With appointments, with the bus, with getting to class, with leaving for work... from time to time, the last minute is just more appealing than the first minute. (With my taxes, too. That's on the to-do list for the weekend, in the interest of avoiding arrest.)

And in my writing, that gets to be frustrating if I practise it too much. The day rolls by, full of this and that and the other thing, with errands and work and family dinners and laundry, and then here comes the last minute on the horizon. So I race to my computer, trying to beat the last minute to the finish line and get a decent word count for the day. Sometimes I win. Most times I don't.

Methinks it's time to embrace the first minute.

What about you? Do you like the last minute? Or are you at least resigned to it?

13 April 2011

K is for Kickstand

Okay, this story is actually kickstand-free, but I couldn't think of another bike-related "K" word.

For today's version of Without a Car Wednesday, I'm guest blogging at Austin on Two Wheels. Here's a peek; click the link to read the whole thing. Enjoy!

I got some confirmation that cycling instead of taking the bus had been my best decision—there was a striping truck, painting the outer line of the bike lane on Manor Road. And behind the slow-moving truck was a line of traffic, all unable to pass because they were going uphill. Finally, one of those opportunities I dream about: I didn’t exactly zoom past the traffic, but even though I was crawling uphill, I still crawled faster than the truck. I passed them all and reached the next stoplight feeling inordinately pleased with myself.

Story continues here...

12 April 2011

J is for June

Every now and then I remark that June is my favourite month. But I've realised in the past couple of weeks that actually, that's not true any longer. My favourite month for the past few years has been April.

"April?" I know you are all asking. "What's so special about April?" It's quite simple, really; April in Texas = June in Indiana. Hence the reason for my small shift in loyalties.

In Indiana, June mornings are fresh, sometimes still a bit chilly as summer is still getting geared up. The days are the longest of the year. And-- best of all when I was a kid-- it's the first half of summer vacation. There's nothing better than the first half of vacation, right?

In Texas, April mornings are fresh, sometimes still a bit chilly as spring is still getting geared up. The evenings are longer, thanks to the recent shift to Daylight time. And-- best of all now that I'm an adult-- summer vacations are no more, so I don't spend a lot of mental energy waiting for them. I've learned to enjoy (or not) each day as it comes.

So, June in Indiana, I loved you so. Don't worry; I'll still come to visit from time to time. In the meantime, my friend April in Texas and I are having a great time.

Which is your favourite month?

11 April 2011

I is for Ideas

...partly because I had so many ideas for this post. Inspiration? Invention? Irresponsible? Idiot? (I started making a list of potential idiots to showcase, then remembered that's not really in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie that I'm so fond of.)

So. Ideas. On a college campus, they are more plentiful than candy wrappers (and that's saying something!). They grow, they change, they collide. Sometimes they are strong enough to inspire students to stand in the hot sun and hand out literature or shout their support for ideas. Sometimes they are just discussed with roommates with the aid of late-night Red Bull. (For the record: My roommate does not allow me to have Red Bull. He only allows me to have caffeinated tea before noon, and even that is under protest.) Sometimes they bloom in the most unlikely of places.

Ideas are part of the reason that my blog schedule is so convoluted and why I can't seem to keep focused on any one thing-- there is such a spectrum of ideas in my head, all bumping and colliding and creating sparks to start whole new ideas that I need an orderly place for them to queue up and come flying out in turn. I was reading a recap of a The West Wing episode on Television Without Pity yesterday (it was research for a class, honest!), and the recapper shared a bit in which Toby insists to Charlie that he is writing, to which Charlie replies, "I don't see any paper." The recapper then went off on a tangent about how she's always writing something, with or without the aid of writing implements, sometimes even while physically writing something else. I agree. And so does Toby: "Paper is for wimps." Hee hee hee.

What do you do with your ideas? Or when do you find that ideas turn up?

10 April 2011

Why Can't We Be Friends?

This doesn't really have anything to
do with the post. But, you know,
it was all green and stuff, so it kind
of fit.
I just finished reading Better Off, by Eric Brende. It's the story of he and his wife spending 18 months in an Amish-like community that eschews motorized things and pretty much any technology beyond the bare minimum. It's a lovely read, which I do recommend if you're looking for a nice memoir.

One obstacle that the Brendes encountered was lack of a common faith; he and his wife are Catholic, but the community they were a part of are Protestant Anabaptists. Eric writes about various steps they made to reconcile the different faiths of themselves and their neighbours, including visiting the local church and having conversations about scripture.

A conclusion he reached over and over again was that the more he got to know his neighbours, the less it mattered to him that they didn't share a common faith. They still had their conversations, his friends still used scripture fluently in conversation, but their differences didn't stop them from being friends.

In the midst of a nation that is conflicted over every little thing that makes us different from one another, I find this perspective refreshing. What would it be like, I wonder, if we decided that what unites us really is stronger than what divides us? On every level, not just our religion? What would that look like?

So, there's my utopian fantasy of the day. What's yours?

09 April 2011

H is for Happiness

Happiness is having a sister.
Happiness is also having a brother,
but there aren't any cute songs about
There's a book that's been on my to-read list for so long now that it's pathetic, but other books keep pressing their existence upon me and then I forget just how long I've wanted to read this one.

And that book is The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Ruben. From reading a few reviews, I have a vague idea of what it's about, but rather than try to explain it badly or do more research and then end up hopelessly distracted from writing, let me just encourage you to go to the website if you want to know more.

I was thinking this morning about things that make me happy. And most of them are really simple, really goofy things: Today, I was happy about my Popsicle molds that I filled with Gatorade & stuck in the freezer in anticipation of us coming home hot & tired after a long bike ride. (Both of which happened, of course, and we enjoyed the Gatorade pops very much, thank you.) And then I gathered all my stuff and set out, and I was happy to be out riding my bicycle on such a nice morning. And as snags came up in my day, I was happy each time a solution presented itself.

It really doesn't take much to make me happy. I'm happy to see Chad at any hour of the day, happy to go to class, happy to do homework (usually), happy to finish homework, happy to blog, happy to read, happy to use my washing machine & to hang up clean clothes afterwards, happy to make tea and toast, even happier when it's time for a second round. I'm happy to go to bed and generally happy to get up again.

I don't know if I'm weird, or have low expectations of life, but it turns out that happiness is not to far to seek for me (although I generally claim to be cranky, just to keep my life amusing). So whatever quirk it is that gives me such perpetual happiness, I'll take it.

What makes you happy?

08 April 2011

G is for Gaffe

I rarely take a picture and afterwards
think, 'Hey, that's exactly what it
looked like!' But this is exactly what
it looked like.
So the bicycle and I were on the train the other day, as is our wont on days when we've been working hard at Bike Texas and want an easy ride home (taking the train removes most of the hills from my cycling route). I really enjoy the train for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is watching the scenery go by. Stuff around train tracks is off the beaten path, as it were, so you see a lot of graffiti or back lots or just slices of life that you wouldn't normally see while driving by. I love it.

The train in Austin starts out downtown, heads east for a little way, then swings around to the north, which means that it crosses some streets at an odd angle. Which further means that the signal gates are set pretty far back from the tracks on either side just to cut across the angle safely. Far enough back, in fact, for a car to fit between the tracks and the gate...

Yes, that's what I saw. I don't know if the car just got caught when the gates started coming down (because as I said, there is quite some distance between them; it's totally conceivable that someone might get caught), or if the driver was unwisely sitting on the tracks and didn't get off of them quickly enough, or if he didn't want the gate hitting the top of the car so he stopped behind it. Whatever it was, the nose of the car was right up against the gate (as you would be, if there were a train coming!), and fortunately the train had plenty of clearance, so the car was in no danger. I'm just sad that my camera was put away for the whole thing.

I don't know what the driver did once the gate raised and he was free to continue. He probably went home with this wacky story to tell. I do know if it had been me caught between a signal gate and a train, I would have had to pull over at the nearest open spot and have a lie down before continuing (fortuitously, there is a park very near this particular area). And then I'd have to get up and walk around a bit, thanking God that I was still alive and in one piece. And then I would finish my drive home, carefully avoiding all train tracks.

That's what I would have to do. What would you do?

07 April 2011

F is for First Drafts

You'll have to just draw a picture in your mind today, because I'm on the wrong computer and don't have my usual access to the wonders of free photography.

First drafts! I've written a lot of them in my lifetime. I've written many, many more first drafts than final drafts, and even turned in some first drafts as final drafts in my time (hey, I was in primary school; I didn't know that revision even existed back then!). For years I had this lovely lovely idea that Laura Wilder or Beverly Cleary wrote in exactly the same way I did-- start to finish, with everything "perfect" the first time.

Then I went to middle school and was disabused of such ideas. And now that I'm in contact with other writers all the time, any chance of such fantasies ever returning is blessedly nil.

But first drafts are fun, though. (Term used loosely; I do prefer revision.) Ideas flow from brain to page, unencumbered by such things as continuity. The muse, when she is cooperating, is hard at work. Words obediently line up into sentences that will later send me facepalming as I wonder what exactly I meant when I wrote "Greasy fingers aren't guitar strings". Vast quantities of caffeine are consumed, bedtimes are ignored, showers are optional, friends give up at attempting reasonable conversation.

It's wonderful. And then you can shove the whole thing in a drawer and not worry about it for a couple of months.

Is writing a first draft (of anything; doesn't have to be a novel) exhilarating for you? Or do you prefer revision? Editing? Share your writing preferences here.

06 April 2011

E is for Easygoing

They say you don't get road rage when you're walking. This tracks with my own experience, actually. I also don't get road rage when I'm cycling: not much, anyway. Or when sitting on the bus. So if road rage is getting you down, you might need to leave the car behind from time to time.

And that's the extent of my car-free message for today. You know what else I'm easygoing about? Homework. Writing. Running. Pretty much everything, actually. Which is only problematic when I want to get something done. Like, for example, the five papers I have due in the next four weeks. Or editing my NaNo novel by the end of May. Poor Word document hasn't see the light of day in weeks.

So, what do you do when your life is a bit too on the easygoing side?

05 April 2011

D is for Delivery

Yes, I'm temporarily renaming In My Mailbox for the A to Z Challenge. These are some books I've received, in the mail and in person, in the past month or so. Unfortunately, I haven't begun any of them, in a attempt to be a good steward of my time and my opportunities at university. So, some books I hope to get round to reading soon:

I won this book in a giveaway on Faith's blog. This was one of those nice
surprises that I had forgotten about until the day it arrived!

Another giveaway winner-- this time it was Sarah's blog.
And since Sarah and I live in the same city, no mailing was
required-- we had brunch together instead. :)

This rather-abused book came to us in a huge box of books
that someone gave us. I've never read Agatha Christie
(shame, I know), so I'm looking forward to it!

And this one I actually purchased. I'm afraid to start reading it
because everyone has been raving about it-- no homework will
get done while I'm reading it straight through, I can assure you!
What's in your mailbox?

04 April 2011

C is for Causes

One cause in particular, actually: Tomorrow, April 5th, is One Day Without Shoes.

A lot of "raising awareness" campaigns tend to disintegrate into empty gestures over the years (or just start out that way-- posting your bra colour on Facebook, anyone?). I hope this one doesn't. The point, as stated on the website, is for people to notice that you're barefoot... but when someone's curiosity is piqued, you don't wander off or smile knowingly. You engage in conversation about the millions of children worldwide who go without shoes every day, and how this day is meant to not only bring attention to the problem (I really do hate the phrase "raise awareness"), but also to move people to action.

"What can I do, then?"-- I hear you cry. First, as your lifestyle allows, go without shoes tomorrow. I'm planning to carry my one & only pair of flip-flops to put on when I board the bus (because you can't ride the bus barefoot), and also to put on when I'm inside campus buildings, if asked. (But only after I'm asked!) Otherwise, everywhere else I go tomorrow, I'll be barefoot. So... could you walk from your car to your office barefoot? To the park with your kids? Into a PTA meeting? Where can you imagine your bare feet striking up a conversation? And just remember, ladies: This is a great chance to show off those perfectly polished toenails.

Second: Go to the site and choose your favourite banner. Make it your picture on Twitter/Facebook/Friend Connect/Etc. for a day or two.

Third: TOMS brand already donates a pair of shoes to children in need for every pair that is purchased, all year round. So if you're in the market for a new pair of shoes, consider looking there first. They also have various other apparel available.

Finally, don't forget that no action is too small. If this isn't your preferred cause, that's totally cool. Find a cause that you can get behind. I'm a firm believer in the principle that "From those who have been given much, much will be expected." I've been given much, much more than I need, and a few hours barefoot in the hopes of getting some attention is the least I can do.

Will you be going barefoot tomorrow? If not, do you have a cause you want us all to know about? Let's hear it!

03 April 2011

Sweet Fellowship

If you aren't familiar with the Acappella album by the same name... well, that's a bummer for you. Here's what it looks like:
Singers.com says it was recorded in 1988. To which I can only say, "Yeah, okay." It's not like I was keeping track back then. I'm not sure that I knew Acappella existed until 1990.

So! The A to Z Challenge takes Sundays off (one A to Z blogger-- can't remember who-- says it's for good behaviour), so we're back to my regular nonsense instead of alphabetical nonsense. And while I'd love to make this post all about Acappella and my personal history with their very inspiring music... it's not. Because today at church we're having a potluck. And so I'm going to pull a page from JEFritz's blog, as it were, and talk about words-- minus the informative and careful research that she does.

The church I grew up in called fellowship meal "pitch-ins", because everybody pitches in something. Then I moved south and found out that down here, the same event is called a potluck. While this sounds slightly less messy, my cheeky self also finds it a bit worrying: Potluck? Why is luck required, exactly? What are they putting in their food? At least they don't all stand at the door and chuck it into the room, which was the image I had in my head for years as a kid (okay, it's still there, I admit it!). But I feel like I need to buy a lottery ticket to get into a potluck.

Then there are the churches that avoid all the confusion and snark altogether by calling it a "fellowship meal". Booooriiiing. There's just not enough to make fun of there to keep me interested.

Which would you rather go to-- a pitch-in or a potluck? And more importantly... what should I take?

02 April 2011

B is for Bills

This is one of those words that means different things in different countries, so just to clarify: I'm talking about the notices your various creditors or utilities or whoever send you to request payment for services.

So! Today's green-living tip is really obvious, but it's one of those that is so easy to do that it's also easy to forget. Go paperless! Pull out last month's bill from whoever and look for the website: most places now have an option to receive your bills via email, so that no printing and mailing is required. Your bank probably also has a spot for you to receive your monthly statements online and a place to pay your bills, so no check-writing or trips to the post office are necessary. This simple action saves paper, saves postage, and saves you from suffocating under a pile of notices in your living room (okay, that might be just me).

And (for my writing friends) it saves visual clutter and frees up your brain for reams of creativity to come flowing out.

As for me: When we made our last move, I was determined to go paperless. But it's taken until this week for me to finally remember to contact ALL my companies and request e-notices only. But I have to admit, I'm ridiculously happy to have fewer things arriving in my mailbox. Next project: Stopping the stores from sending me circulars.

Are you paper-free? Do you work for the post office? Can you call my local supermarket and ask them to stop sending me dead trees?

01 April 2011

A is for Atrocity

Yep, we're going to kick this blogfest off on a real happy note. May as well get off on the right foot, yes?

I spent my Wednesday evening volunteering for the White Rose Society at UT, a branch of Texas Hillel. While I'm not a member of either organization, they sent out a call for volunteers to get white roses ready for distribution on Thursday (to coincide with the the Holocaust Day of Remembrance), so I went. We dethorned each rose, then attached a flier explaining...

A sea of flowers. Source.
That each rose represented one of the 10,000 people killed in a single day at Auschwitz. And as I worked, I reflected: Each flower is a life taken. There are 50,000 students at UT: In five days, we'd all be gone. Add in the faculty, staff, maintenance workers, cafeteria staff, etc, and you'd still be looking at a completely empty campus in less than six days' time. And yet somehow there were always more people to take the place of those who had been murdered at Auschwitz.

And these students, the members of Texas Hillel, are just as Jewish as those who were killed. I can't imagine being caught at the beginning of an anti-Semitic frenzy, as a college student in the 30s in Europe, seeing my classmates taken. For my classmates they are: I saw a number of people I know at the event Wednesday. Would I have protested their treatment and (possibly) have died with them? Would I have hidden my friends from the authorities? I know what I want the answers to those questions to be, as I sit here comfortably in my persecution-free land; if put to the test, I hope I would make the right decision. More importantly, I pray that no test like that ever comes up again.

Yes, I went to bed depressed Wednesday at the visual I had just seen. There's a lovely statement on the Texas Hillel website: "Genocide is not just a Jewish issue, but a human issue." And so it is.

I promise to be back to happy topics soon, but I couldn't not share this experience. And I have no particular question to ask you today, so you're on your own with comments.

Grace and peace (Shalom) be with you on this Friday.