What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

31 March 2017

#AtoZChallenge Starts Tomorrow!

I had some things in mind for my final flurry of pre-A-to-Z-Challenge posts, but as anyone can plainly see they didn't happen. So I'll save them for May, and in the meantime, the A to Z Challenge begins tomorrow. I'll be sharing people, places, and things from my new city, Cincinnati.

In the meantime, since this is still green Friday, I'll share a bit of a challenge that some of you may have in common with me. I've noticed, since moving to Cincinnati, that my lifestyle is much less planet-friendly than it used to be--it's harder to recycle or compost here, the transit system is unreliable enough that I end up carsharing more often than I'd like (which is a sign of my privilege, by the way--plenty of folks don't have that option and are stuck waiting for a slow bus), and the local Kroger is, shall we say, much less committed to low-packaging options than my beloved Austin HEB is.

Really, Kroger? Really?? That's not what those are for.
All that to say, personal responsibility is all well and good, but it doesn't do a darned thing in the face of poorly designed systems. Okay, obviously that's not true, but that's what it feels like and that's why people get discouraged. (And not just about this, by the way.) When it's hard to recycle, people don't recycle. When everything at the supermarket comes triple-wrapped in plastic, that's what people will buy. When the bike racks at the Kroger are always blocked with carts (by store personnel, not by customers!), then it's less attractive as a biking destination. When transit only runs once an hour on the day most folks want to go to Walmart, then they'll start to feel like every driver in the family needs his or her own car just for the basics of life--a drain on family finances and a contributer to congestion. I'm aggressively into reducing my footprint on the earth, and I have trouble doing it when local officials don't support it. How much harder is it for someone who will only be earth-friendly when it's convenient?

It's good to remember that the Keep America Beautiful anti-litter campaign was started by companies that aren't exactly known for their commitment to reducing waste--what they did instead was shift the perception of responsibility to citizens and away from themselves. So, that being the case, it's up to us to put the pressure back on them to reduce their own waste and demonstrate their commitment to a clean earth, not by sponsoring PSAs but by doing it themselves. Want more recycling in your community? Your city council needs to hear from you. Want better transit options? Ditto, plus your local transit authority likely has publicly available emails for its board members and company executives. Tired of Kroger blocking up the bike racks with non-bike things? I already made the call (and the bike racks were cart-free yesterday; we'll see how long it lasts).

Let's show them we're taking our personal responsibility seriously--personal responsibility to hold them accountable.

28 March 2017

Teaser Tuesday #49

One last Teaser Tuesday before the A to Z Challenge begins and then I'll figure out something to do with my book day after April is through. I like the idea of a slow meander through the works of Pratchett, so maybe I'll stick with that.

Source: Goodreads.
In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume

She stuck a fork into the underside of her arm to see if the numbness was in her mind or in her body.

When Steve read about Kathy in the paper, when he read she was coming home to see a boy she'd met over the holdiays, a boy she really liked, he got into bed and stayed there for four days.








Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, once upon a time hosted by MizB from Should Be Reading (and now I just can't tell if it has a host at all. But why stop?). Anyone 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

27 March 2017

Brainwork

Just to be clear: slow and steady does not win any races. Slow and unsteady wins even fewer ones. Unfortunately, slow and unsteady is the best I can do most days.

I passed this Friday night, thought,
"Did I really just see that?" and
went back to look at it. It's one of
the local bike parking posts at the
end of someone's driveway, for
reasons passing understanding.
There are worse places to put these
posts, but not many.
On the other hand, since I haven't shortened my long runs in between my two halfs (yes, that's the correct spelling), I'm doing a lot of out-and-backs that give me a chance to choose a different street every week and find out what's within easy bike distance of my house.

I did one of those Friday night, for two reasons: 1) I didn't want to spend too much of my visit to Indiana running and shorten up what was a short enough weekend with Grandma, and 2) Friday was my most stressful workday so far at my new job (still love it, but it was a bit of a day) and I thought a long run would shake off the stress so I could go into Saturday morning with a fresh perspective on the universe. Which worked, if only because I woke up Saturday all creaky from running so late in the day. Fortunately, I started my trip to Indiana off with a walk to the bus stop, so I de-creaked a bit.

A lot of the reasons I came back to running 10 years ago still exist--holding my family medical history at bay for as long as I can, keeping my weight under some semblance of control (which is not really working that well, truth be told), and giving my brain a chance to clear out all the cobwebs so the world looks a bit better. Reason #3 is enough to keep at it even without the others.

Which is why I'll head out for five miles before I go to work tomorrow. Because I'm definitely easier to get along with after a run, even the slow and unsteady ones.

26 March 2017

Quietly Engaged

My word for 2017 is "creation," but I'm having a hard time applying that to Sunday mornings.

As I've noted before, any church I find in Cincinnati is going to be Red River Junior in my mind for a while, and there's no displacing such an amazing group of beloved brothers and sisters from their perch in my heart in such a short time. The church I've been attending is getting closer, though--I think it's safe to say I've found my people.

Probably not these on a Sunday
morning, either. Source:
Radu Fizesan on freeimages.com.
So what can I do, as the very new person, to bring creation with me when we gather on Sunday mornings? (I'm not gathering with them today, though, since I'm sitting 100 miles away.) Obviously I want to do my part to create and sustain a community, and for now that looks like desperately trying to remember everyone's names--I've fallen back on my old strategy of learning the women's names first, then figuring out who's married to whom (single people are actually easier to remember with this strategy--I'm not leaving y'all out!), and eventually I'll remember from one week to the next which bearded man is which. Seriously, that's a lot of beards in one place on a Sunday morning.

And despite all the exhortation that the worship time is corporate and participatory, there's a lot of sitting quietly on Sunday mornings--I did most of my sermon-time creating back when I was young enough to be kept occupied with crayons and paper. One reason I got in the habit of tweeting particularly resonant things that the minister says is to make sure I'm engaging my brain. I'm not sure that counts as creation, except that I'm adding to the noise of 21st-century life. Not the creation I was going for, but maybe right now that's the best I can do.

How do you make your Sundays an act of creation?

25 March 2017

Tick Tock

I'm in Indiana this weekend visiting my grandma. (Our usual hilarity is likely to ensue, if you're among her many Twitter fans.) Why? Because not only do I enjoy her company, but also because it makes her happy, and the time left to make her happy is short.

After my dad's mother passed away two years ago, one of my cousins wrote a beautiful Facebook post about being out of time--our mutual grandmother was her last living grandparent--and how precious hours and minutes become when there aren't that many left. This was one broken heart beautifully expressing what we were all feeling but hadn't yet articulated--time was up, and all we are left with are the memories we collected over a lifetime. It's not enough. It never is. (This happened back before the arrival of the Hamilton album and "running out of time" becoming a meme in its own right.) 

Source.
Of course we know in our heads that we're all running out of time, always, with our nearest and dearest as well as ourselves. We're not guaranteed any more time, no matter how much we try to stave off those thoughts with good intentions and grand plans to do better next time. And honestly, why would anyone truly want to live each minute like it could be the last one? I'm not sure how our human brains would hold up under that kind of stress. (Not to mention that no laundry or dishes would ever get washed again.) At the end of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, having seen how short and precious life is, Emily says, "Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you!" Mr. Wilder's insight burns with the intensity of a Bond villain's laser on the thing we're trying so hard not to think about--life is precious and fleeting, and it's too much to grasp in one go.

Now I'm the one with only one remaining grandparent. I still have some time, as quickly as it may be running out. It's not enough--it will never be enough--but it's all we have. When our last minute together arrives, I choose to be left with memories of the times I made grandma happy instead of empty regret. 

What are you running out of time for? 

24 March 2017

Slow Movers

Given that I was awakened yesterday by the fire alarm in my building, you'd think I'd steer clear of posts about hot appliances, but nope.

Summer is coming (a bit slower for some of us than others, but coming nonetheless), and no one wants to heat up their whole house by turning on the oven when it's blazing hot outside. On the other hand, not that many folks want to eat sandwiches and salads for four months, either. Enter my favourite kitchen appliance: the slow cooker. (Is this technically a green living post? I've heard slow cookers don't use much electricity, so I'm calling it green.)

I have two slow cookers, because of course I do, and this
one is invaluable when I make beans or rice, usually
both at the same time. However, I don't leave this one on
 while I'm out, since food cooks faster in the smaller crocks.
Let's get the hard part out of the way first: in no article that I found did any fire department anywhere in the U.S. agree that it's okay to leave your slow cooker on when you're out of the house. That just makes sense--it's their job, and they're not going to go around telling people to leave appliances running all day. On the other hand, plenty of people do it every day without burning their houses down (I use mine at least once a week, for instance), so think it over before proceeding.


Make sure your slow cooker setup is ready to go:

1. It needs to go on a heatproof surface. Check this by filling it half full with water and turning it on for a couple hours while you're there to watch it. If the counter under your cooker is hot, then maybe that's not the best place for it. You can also try placing the cooker on a baking sheet or a trivet.

2. It needs personal space. You'll notice this when you do the heat test--most heat comes off the sides. Keep it away from walls, your fridge, other things on the counter, etc.

3. "Low" is the setting you want. If you're leaving it cooking all day, only use recipes that call for 8-10 hours of cooking on low.

4. Don't use your granny's old slow cooker. Family heirlooms are wonderful things, but old slow cookers are best used for decorative purposes. If the slow cooker doesn't have a removable insert, treat it the same way you would an elderly space heater--leave it unplugged and get a new one.

5. Small children, pets, and slow cookers do not mix. Make sure the cord doesn't dangle over the edge of the counter--that's just basic safety, anyway--and that the entire setup is out of reach of kids. If your cat is a counter jumper, consider whether it's possible kitty could take the whole thing crashing down with her.

6. Err on the side of caution. If leaving a slow cooker on with no one in the house makes you nervous, then don't use one. It's not the only way to cook things, after all, and there's no point in spending your days worried.

If your cooker is good to go and the idea of coming home to dinner already cooked appeals to you, then it's time to start cooking. Pinterest is your friend for finding slow-cooker-friendly recipes (I have an entire board for just that), but any recipe site you use should have a wealth of choices just waiting for you.

What's your favourite thing to put in a slow cooker?

23 March 2017

Inflamed

The fire alarm went off in my apartment building in the wee hours this morning. (Okay, it was 5:40, so not exactly "wee," but still--today's not a running day so I was looking forward to sleeping for at least another hour.) Now, living on the ground floor facing the sidewalk, I had the luxury of pausing for a second to put on more clothes and real shoes, since it was 25° outside, and stopping to pick up my phone and wallet--had my door been blocked in those two minutes, I could have gone out the window.

That was totally unnecessary, since the fire was small enough that the fire department had it taken care of and let us back in the building within ten minutes. But in that interim, there was a bit of chatter amongst the neighbors about how long it took us all to wake up when the alarm went off (consensus: faster than our nightmare scenarios, but still not as fast as we were all comfortable with), as well as looking around and wondering if some folks had slept through the whole thing, since there fewer people slowly freezing outside than there are units in the building. So that was a bit of a fright to start our day.

This did not happen this morning. I saw not so much as
a single flame. Thank goodness!
Source: Rick Cowan on freeimages.com.
Once at summer camp we did that stupid "what would you grab if there were a fire" exercise, because I think the asker was trying to tease out our most prized possessions. (Why not just ask that?) I only remember it because I pointed out what a terrible exercise it was to casually chat about endangering our lives in case of fire when we'd been taught since birth to get out fast and leave everything behind. When the man leading the class pressed me for an answer anyway (because I was refusing to play), I said I'd grab my handbag and my Bible: the reason being that my IDs, keys to my parents' cars, and my calendar/phone directory all lived in my handbag, all of which seemed to my teenage mind practical things to have on hand in case of disaster. And at the time I was using a beautiful gift Bible I had received, you know, as a gift, and as a bonus those two things lived next to each other on my nightstand. So why not pick up both?

He laughed out loud, said I was clearly living in two worlds, and that he was definitely going to use me as a sermon illustration. I told him I didn't see what was so funny, pointing out that I would need IDs, phone numbers, and probably car keys in the immediate aftermath of a fire. Clearly, given what I stuffed my coat pockets with on my way out the door this morning, middle-aged Su agrees with teenage Su on this point. I don't remember the rest of the class, because I was so angry at being forced to answer a question I was uncomfortable with and then being ridiculed for it. (I imagine he was also annoyed at his little game being thwarted by someone taking him so literally.) 

So this was a long way round to say two things: 

1) Make sure you and your family have basics on hand for grabbing on the way out the door, down to the storm cellar, etc., in case of emergency. Shoes, phone, keys, wallet--all things that you need to know exactly where they are when seconds count. This might be a good time to think about creating a family launch pad.

2) Words matter. That class could have begun with a thought-provoking exercise that sparked a discussion about what mattered in our lives; what kinds of things we were devoting our time, energy, and thoughts to; or the kinds of values we were all developing that we would be carrying into our adult lives--if only the teacher had taken the time and mental energy himself to craft questions that would lead to those things. It was a good lesson for me, though, about the responsibility inherent in choosing to write or speak for an audience. A little bit of care and thought can go a long way toward a message being one of encouragement instead of destruction, or being useful instead of flip. Who doesn't wish they could take words back from time to time? And while no one is going to think before they speak 100% of the time, I know I could stand to try it a little more often. Maybe you can, too.

So. What got you out of bed this morning?

21 March 2017

Pratchettesque

The speaker in church on Sunday brought out a quote that was so close to a Terry Pratchett thing that I was in the act of tweeting my delight when he told us that it wasn't his quote and that it came from someone else (who was not Terry Pratchett). I stayed delighted but didn't tell Twitter. I tell stories like this so you'll all keep in mind that there are certain attendant hazards to being my friend, to wit: I may quote you on my blog or Twitter feed at any moment, possibly without context. (In fact, this isn't limited to friends. Basically being within earshot will do it.)

Anyway. Teaser Tuesdays no longer seem to be a thing, so I'm looking for other ideas for my Bookish Tuesdays, and since I handed one of my Pratchett books to a coworker with all my best wishes for a happy read just a couple days ago, I may as well stick with a winner.

This is the cover on my version.
Source: Goodreads.
Soul Music was not my first Pratchett book, although I have incorrectly identified it as such from time to time. It was, however, the last book I bought before leaving Glasgow, with the idea I would read it on the plane. Which I did not do.

My favourite thing about this book is the introduction of Susan Sto Helit, also known as Susan Death, who is a fabulous character, not only because we share a name. (Although she has a lengthy not-quite-rant about what a dud of a name "Susan" is that basically ensured my eternal loyalty.)

While I'm the subject, I'll put my list of favourite Discworld characters out there, even if it gets me some flack (although after considerable research on Goodreads, I'm pretty sure most Pratchett fans are in relative agreement about a few of these):
1. Sam Vimes
2. Lord Vetinari
3. Susan Sto Helit
4. Death
5. Ponder Stibbons & Mustrum Ridcully (yes, together)
6. Adora Belle Dearheart
7. Cheery Littlebottom
8. Carrot
9. Fred & Nobby (also together)
10. I could go on, but this will get silly in a hurry. 
This book also has one particularly incredible passage about why Death can't save everyone, or indeed anyone, including his own daughter and son-in-law (Susan's parents). And though Death does lighten up a bit before the end of the book, his wisdom remains:
You could say to the universe, this is not fair. And the universe would say: Oh, isn't it? Sorry.
You could save people. You could get there in the nick of time. And something could snap its fingers and say, no, it has to be this way. 
Incidentally, Chadwick also enjoyed Soul Music, and was known to quote it from time to time, which is more than I can say for most of the books I forced him to live with.

Discworld is a series, but you can jump in at any point and not require any back story to know what's going on--they all do pretty well on their own. Happy reading.

20 March 2017

#AtoZChallenge 2017: Theme Reveal Day

Normally, I share my A to Z Challenge theme on March 31, but this year the planners designated a reveal day. Which is, of course, today. So, here we go.

The A to Z Challenge kicks off on Saturday, April 1, by which time I have high hopes that spring will have arrived here in southwest Ohio. What better way to get to know my new city in my favourite season of the year than making it the theme of this year's Cheekyness A to Z Challenge?

So! Every day in April (except Sundays), I'll find something Cincy to share that begins with that day's letter. With luck, I'll have some fun and learn something along the way. With even more luck, the whole citizenry of Cincinnati won't suddenly discover my blog and come round asking why I didn't blog about ________ on __ day, because it's obviously a great local whatever. My personal discovery of Cincinnati is probably not going to hit the same highlights that hometown folks would. On the other hand, how boring would the world be if we all talked about the exact same things?

Let's do this.

19 March 2017

Righteous Anger

My poor coworkers had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they decided to be nice to me. But when I'm surrounded by people this amazing on a daily basis, it's hard not to tap into our great conversations when it's time to write a blog post. (That is to say, more coworker-inspired posts are coming. If y'all are reading this: ye be warned.)

It's nice to know, in these moments,
that God still has your back.
Source.
I don't remember how the conversation started, but my coworker told the story of a priest telling her, "Just go kick God in the shins and you'll feel better." The idea that it's okay to be mad at God is not a new one, of course (should you doubt that, try reading the Psalms), but it's not one I heard until I was an adult, when I had finally figured it out on my own and no longer needed that affirmation. This is information that would have been helpful at ages 12-19. (It's helpful now as well, of course. But it would have been good to know then.)

I don't know if it's the faith tradition I grew up in (although I have my suspicions); I don't know if it was the era, with former rebel Baby Boomers trying to get their Gen X teenagers to do the opposite of what they had done as teens and instead trust what authority figures had to say; I don't know if I happened to be living among people who had never been given this permission themselves. Regardless, the message I received as a young person was that God knew what he was doing, and any thoughts to the contrary were not only futile, but also a sin, and possibly blasphemous. And then they wondered why so many of my generation went running from the church once we hit college, when the more remarkable result was how many of us stuck around to see how this thing turned out.

Real talk. He's still there even in the kicking and
screaming moments. (I have no particular insight
on the hot dog.) Source.
Of course it's okay to be angry at God. Of course it's okay to tell him so. Of course he knows that we can't see the big picture on this side of eternity. Maria Trapp expressed it so beautifully in The Sound of Music: "It will be very interesting one day to follow the pattern of our life as it is spread out like a tapestry. As long as we live here we only see the reverse side of the weaving, and very often the pattern, with its threads running wildly, doesn't seem to make sense." (Yes, I find many uses for that book. It's packed full of wisdom and truth.)

Life is going to suck sometimes. Please, by all means, let God know how you feel about the sucky things. Rant and rave and even swear a bit if you need to. "He's a big God; he can take it," may be trite and slightly goofy, but it's still true. And please teach your children and everyone you know that this is okay, too. Bad things happen to people who are taught it's never okay to be angry. Give your nearest and dearest the tools they need to carry on without checking out through a world that's just going be outright wrong at times.

And trust that the God who holds all things in his hands is not going to be horrified if you get angry from time to time.

18 March 2017

Again and Again and Again and Again

I had my Pandora set to one of my Irish stations at work yesterday and was singing along, as I do, when this song came up. I had to take a break because it came at the end of a long succession of sad songs--the bit about leaving a wife or sweetheart behind gets me every time. But that's okay, because crying at my desk is totally a thing I do now, even if it frightens the coworkers.

"Green Fields of France" is sad from beginning to end, not the least because its message of the never-ending nature of war. Willie McBride's death didn't help every generation since, no matter how badly he may have hoped it would:
But here in this graveyard that's still no man's land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation were butchered and damned

And I can't help but wonder oh Willy McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause
Did you really believe that this war would end wars
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing and dying it was all done in vain
Oh Willy McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again
I learned this song from The High Kings, most likely on PBS, since that's where I tend to see The High Kings, but plenty of Irish bands sing it.



Related to my other interests: Someone's done a Les Misérables version of this song. Yes, please. Also, if you like The High Kings, see an entire show here (I believe this is the one that's usually on PBS).

16 March 2017

Calculating

I did algebra this week. Voluntarily. And the world hasn't come to an end, which admittedly is a bit of a surprise.

I do jokingly live in that dichotomy between words and numbers, the one that says you don't get to be good at both; you have to choose one. And I suppose that since I can't add or subtract with any real success that I have chosen one. But I also live in a world where I hang out with numbers every day and still have time to read a terrible opening sentence on a public-facing document to my coworker so we can both make fun of whoever wrote it. (The sentence, with some details changed, was "Acme Initiative for Quality Assurance is a quality assurance program." These must be proud members of the Tautology Club.)

All that to say, mathematics was not my favourite school subject, and if I could have hidden under my desk every day rather than look at numbers I would have. But that changed when I went to college and was determined to graduate with a 4.0 if it killed me. I did hours of algebra homework that first semester, and it worked, well enough that 12 years later I can not only still do it, but also explain it (kinda--I'm not a teacher by any stretch) to someone else. 

This is my kind of motivational poster. Direct, but
snarky. Source.
Motivation is a funny thing in the way that it comes and goes and sometimes comes again. I managed to get through 13 years of school barely learning to do basic arithmetic, a failing that still haunts me at the worst possible moments, and yet I learned to embrace numbers as an adult. All the things that nobody wants to do-- get out of bed in the morning, wash dishes, do laundry, pay bills, etc.--we still manage to get them done. And we even do things that aren't immediately necessary to sustain life, like checking up on friends when we're exhausted ourselves, or calling our elected officials, or exercising when the couch is so much nicer.

What is it that keeps humans going when we'd rather not? What's this script within us that kicks in sometimes and other times takes the day off and leaves us on our own? Is it survival? Because if the survival of the species is reliant on me having to add without the aid of a calculator, we're all screwed.

What's motivating you this week?

15 March 2017

Above Average

Somewhere around 90 percent of drivers consider themselves to be better drivers than the average driver. At least, until they honestly compare their own driving behaviours to expert guidelines, when suddenly their self-assessment gets closer to reality. Think about that one for a minute.

I have a crazy idea--how about let's all prove that we're above-average drivers, not by doing dangerous things to demonstrate how completely in control we are, but instead by being above-average drivers. Put the phone down. Leave a reasonable amount of following distance. Observe the speed limit. Pay attention to what's happening a few car lengths up the road. Don't forget to notice sidewalks and bicycle paths, too. Put the dang phone down.

See how cute and friendly this car is?
Let's all be like that.
Let's see if we can all out-courtesy, out-safety, out-friendly, and out-law-abide every other driver on the road. Being above average drivers might put a dent in those 40K road deaths per year.

(If you're itching to tell me about the time you saw a bicyclist or pedestrian do something you thought wasn't right, save it. When drivers all get their acts together and stop running red lights, speeding, rolling through stop lights, double-parking, etc., then you can tell me about that bike you saw that one time.)

14 March 2017

Ranked

In the course of a recent Facebook conversation, I mentioned that when it comes to book recommendations, I have a list more or less called, "Burn at midnight any books recommended by these folks." (The conversation was technically about the current crop of movie boycotts, which I don't understand at all. If you're that desperate to boycott movies, why not just choose another hobby?)

Does everyone have a ranking system for their friends and book (or movie, or TV, or whatever) recommendations? I can't imagine not having some way of sifting through all the book titles people throw at me on a daily basis. (Occupational hazard--and extraordinary benefit--of being the "book person" in basically all my circles.) By the way, if you are one of the people who regularly throws book titles at me, please don't stop just because of this post. After all, you're probably not on the "Burn it at midnight" list.

I do know these categories sound a bit judgy, but see above--I have to have something to sort through the volume of books people tell me to read. Also, I always presume that I'm on someone else's No Way No How list--probably several someones--which is why I don't feel bad about having a sorting method and sharing it with the world. That's the way of personal preference--what I love, someone else will hate, and vice versa. So do take this with many grains of salt and in a spirit of good humour.

My shelf of unread books. Many of them are ones
I'm currently reading. The Pratchett book I can't
bring myself to read yet, because it's his last one
and I'm still in denial.

5. Burn it at midnight. Drive a stake through its heart. Chant something, just to be sure.
Folks who have given me non-stop bad recommendations, folks whose taste in other forms of entertainment is so opposite from mine that I do not trust their judgment, and folks who annoy the living daylights out of me so that I just can't hear a recommendation from them, all land on this list. For as all-encompassing as those descriptions sound, it's actually a pretty short list, and since it's a one-way trip I don't put anyone in this category lightly.

4. Highly suspicious.
This list is "burn at midnight" lite--maybe they've given me some bad recs or maybe they told me once that Lord of the Rings is really boring, or similar offences that lead me to believe we do not like the same things when it comes to reading. If I get a recommendation from someone on this list, I look for confirmation from someone who is not Highly Suspicious before I put it on the to-read list.

I have a couple of litmus test books that will send someone straight to Highly Suspicious, should the titles thereof cross their lips in my presence unaccompanied by the words "I hated that book."

3. Go ahead.
People who clearly aren't recommending terrible books, so they aren't suspicious, but who maybe haven't quite got the hang of suiting the recommendation to the reader. If they liked it, I'll add it to my to-read list. If they loved it, I'll put it in the top 100 on my to-read list.

Another of my bookshelves. I've read
all these. Well, except the French-
English dictionary.
2. Trusted advisor.
This list is remarkably easy to get on--just two or three really solid recommendations will do it. People who ask me often for book recs tend to end up on this list, partly because if they trust me that much I can at least show the same courtesy, and also because if they keep asking me we probably like a lot of the same things.

Books from these folks go straight to the top 20 of my to-read list, which is where I look when I'm putting a batch of books on hold at the library. (The list is numbered, because that's how Goodreads is set up, but I don't generally read in strict Goodreads order. I look at the top 20-30 and choose five or so that match my reading mood.)

1. Read it right away.
If my reading list were a music festival, these are the folks with the Platinum badges. If it were a Broadway show, they'd be allowed in stage door. If it were a movie premiere, they're on the red carpet. If I need a good book in a hurry, I ask these folks, and they never disappoint. These are the only people whose recommendation could theoretically overrule someone from the "Burn it at midnight" list (although I will add that's never, ever happened). And it's no coincidence that these are book lovers who recommend in much the same way that I do--with great care, consideration, and warning labels when warranted.

If someone on this list--and it's a longer list than you'd think!-- recommends me a book, I put it on hold at the library the same day without bothering to consult Goodreads. I usually have it read within a couple weeks. There are some exceptions, but that is my MO for my best reading buddies.

I know I'm not the only one with mental lists--how do you sort through the things other people suggest that you read/watch/listen to?

13 March 2017

Quantitative Methods

Monday is usually the day I blog about running. Here's how my running is going:


With that out of the way, let's talk writing instead. Well, creating. I default to writing because that's kind of my thing, but I'm pretty sure this applies to other types of creative processes.

Are people still debating over quantity vs quality? I kinda checked out of that one sometime in the 80s (yes, I got an early start on this) after a series of teachers telling us to focus more on the quality of our schoolwork were matched with another series telling us that we'd get the quality only if we upped our quantity, i.e., with more practice. Yes, these were the kinds of lectures that went down at Weston Elementary School.

Anyway. I don't know if that debate is still raging, or if it's settled now, but my experience has been that the second group of teachers were correct, and quantity of creative output will result in an increase in quality over time. There are almost certainly exceptions to this, but practice really does, more or less, get you closer to perfect.

Kim Liao sets a goal of 100 rejections per year, because to get that many rejections means she has to do a lot of writing, and some of that writing is eventually going to find its way to the right publication. Upworthy, the website, encourages its writers to embrace failure as part of the road to going viral.

I said this to two different coworkers last week. They both
reacted the way you'd expect highly qualified and
dedicated mental health professionals to react, which is
why I gotta stop quoting The West Wing at work.
Source.
So I was already feeling well validated in my decision to blog every day, or at least as close to every day as I possibly can, even though some of these posts are bound to be duds. And then I was listening to an episode of The West Wing Weekly podcast with Aaron Sorkin as a guest. Mr Sorkin said a couple things that I find both amazing and comforting: 1) most of the time his first drafts were what they filmed (what???), and a lot of times they sucked, and he would like to have them all back again to rewrite; and 2) after finishing nearly every episode, he would realize that his well of ideas was run dry and he had used up all his words.

And this is Aaron Sorkin. The guy who has written some of my favourite lines of all time. If an award-winning writer can feel this way... well, I choose to let it give me hope instead of despair. And given how prolific he is, he ought to know something about the byproducts of quantity, and about the words turning up when they're needed most.

What are you practicing today?

12 March 2017

Become New

It's Daylight Saving, y'all. There's no 's' at the end.

My friend Ruthie, who is a font of wisdom as well as being an appreciative audience for my snark, said to me recently (regarding Lent, but it applies to oh-so-many things): "I love that the opportunity keeps coming around. ... I love that even if you've forgotten New Year's resolutions, you can start again."

You can start again.

The first time I ever went to summer camp (church camp),
this verse was our theme for the week. Thirty years later,
I remember only one other thing from that week: there
was a minor earthquake that rattled the cabin windows,
a thing I hadn't known was possible in Terre Haute,
Indiana. Maybe that's why this verse still has such sway
over my brain.
One of the great things about being on a spinning rock that's hurtling through space is that we have many, many chances to start again. Every 24 hours we get a new day. Every 7 days is a new week. Every 4-ish weeks is a new month. Every 12 months is a new year. And as if that weren't enough, we also have our seasons, our ways of marking time, our endings of one thing and beginnings of another. There's a reason why everyone likes to start a new diet or exercise program on Monday--we love the idea of a fresh slate. Anne Shirley is all of us when she says, “Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

Do yesterday's consequences still follow us into our new todays? Of course, and even though that can be unpleasant, thank goodness for it. You worked hard for that wisdom and insight, and to have to relearn it all again would really suck. But bringing old wisdom into a new day may be the best way to start again.

So I woke up this morning at what was 6 AM just yesterday, not at all ready to see what this season of daylight time will bring but really looking forward to a caffeinated beverage (two cups of English Breakfast, but I'm workin' on three). As I shuffled through my still-dark apartment, now that sunrise has been pushed back a bit, my brain went to the verse that is determined to be my personal theme song, 2 Corinthians 5:17.

We're going to be sleepy for a couple days, anyway, so there's no reason why Daylight Saving Time can't also be the start of something new. What will you do that's new today?

11 March 2017

More Rubbish

Related to what I shared yesterday--this set of images from a popular news network has been doing the rounds on social media this week. Actual complaint that so many poor people would dare to own refrigerators. You have got to be kidding me.

If these tomatoes go bad, they can always get a second life
being hurled at a jerk. (Don't put your tomatoes in the
fridge, though. That's not good for them.)
Source: Michal K on freeimages.com.
Yes, because having to throw out food because it went bad and end up spending even more of their too-tight budget just to keep their family fed is exactly what we should be expecting poor people to do. Because then we can judge them even more! What's the fun in being alive if we can't look down our noses at others?

Not that I think the other complaints in that photo set are any more valid, but this one is especially egregious. Why would someone seriously consider a refrigerator a luxury? Get a tighter grip on your indignation. We have real problems to solve and real needs to meet--there's no need for anyone to go around inventing ways to show off how uncaring they can be, not when we have ready-made ones to choose from.

Related to my interests: I notice that cars, which are a huge drain on a family's budget, are not listed. Because maybe it would be a step too far for a major news network to acknowledge that making car ownership a requirement for full participation in U.S. society is a burden to low-income families? They might have to give air time and serious consideration to real alternatives, and it might end with them calling on cities and states to make transit and bike/ped funding a priority. And goodness knows we can't have that.

10 March 2017

Pure Rubbish

The average American produces 4.5 pounds of trash per day. 4.5 pounds. (Some sources put it closer to 5.) That's a lot of rubbish, y'all.

Oscar is all of us.
Source: Muppet Wiki.
(There's a Muppet Wiki, y'all!)
Recycling takes a bit of a chunk out of that, and that's a good thing. But. But but but. There's a reason why "reduce" is the first step of the triangle. Recycling is great. Reusing is golden.

But reducing--that's magical. And not only because it lets you live lighter on the planet. It's also less stuff in your life--fewer things to keep track of, fewer things to pay for, less buyer's remorse, less stress over credit card bills--reducing can just make life a tad easier. And there's nothing not to like about that.

This is one time when it's great to be below average.

09 March 2017

Theatrical, Too: It's What We Do

Today's post is nothing but gushing praise for the local theatre scene, so save yourself while you still can.

I tweeted that this was as close as I was going to get to a
selfie with Brian d'Arcy James. He originated the role of
Nick Bottom and left the show last summer, but he's still
on all the promotional posters. 
Still here? Excellent! I've now bought tickets to three Broadway touring shows and visited the Aronoff Center soon-to-be three times, and every single person I've encountered so far has been wonderful. The box office staff, the ticket agents on the phone, the ushers--every single one of them should get their own standing ovation. I can't say enough good things about them, and they've gone a long way toward making me want a season ticket next year. Even farther than the promise of first dibs at Hamilton tix. (I'm debating a Broadway season ticket vs a Cincinnati Shakespeare season ticket vs a Blu-ray player so I can finally watch my LOTR extended editions. Stay tuned.)

Pretty close, yeah.
Last weekend I was gloriously reunited with the spectacular Something Rotten, which I've waited seven loooooonnng months to see a second time after I saw it on Broadway last summer. It was every bit--every inch--as wondrous as I remembered. I was pretty close to the front, so I could see all the actors' faces (also all their spitting), which is a nice improvement over last time. The principal actors are brilliant, the ensemble is a delight, and the jokes are fantastic. If it's coming near you, please go see it and be prepared to laugh a lot.

Also better than last time: I was surrounded by people who were also getting all the jokes, which was so much more fun than the calm and collected folks I was sat next to in NYC. After accidentally choosing a dud audience night for my Austin season tickets, I'm so happy to have been surrounded by audiences who came prepared to immerse themselves in the experience every time I've been to the theatre in Cincinnati. I can get used to this.

That's my delighted Cincy gush. What's an amazing thing about your town?

Post title is a line from the opening song in Something Rotten, "Welcome to the Renassiance."

08 March 2017

Pass it On

I work for a company that serves a largely transit-dependent population, to the extent that many of my car-owning coworkers speak Bus as a second language out of necessity to communicate with our clients, and could almost pass for being fluent in it. 

Almost.

So a non-bus person says something about a pass that works on both of the local bus systems (because Northern Kentucky counts as "local" when it's only two miles away), I get excited and say, "Wow, really? That's the pass I should buy?" and the non-bus person gets nervous. Y'all, don't ask non-bus people bus questions. It gives them a fright.

Not even remotely a TANK bus. This particular route
hasn't even existed in Austin since 2011. It was great
while it lasted, though.
Of course, in this instance it turned out that the information was correct, much to my delight, and I've now been on the Northern Kentucky buses a few times (their transit authority is called TANK, which is at least an improvement on Cincinnati's SORTA). And having seen the roads that lead from here to the shopping center I was aiming for, I also know the answer to my question, "Can I ride my bike there?" Answer: Not if I want to continue being alive. (Mind you, it was only one road. There may be a better option. OTOH, Kentucky has terrible laws about bikes and I don't want to ride there that badly.)

I have some bitter complaints about the TANK system, naturally, because what's a bus ride without a side of bitterness? Those, however, I'll save for another time. For now: my range of active transportation options just got a lot wider, all because a non-bus person mentioned the correct pass.

I'll take it.

07 March 2017

What I Read: February

I must have been doing something besides reading in February. (Don't ask me what!) Apart from those below and a larger-than-necessary "currently reading" list, I have one other thing: I finally gave up on Wicked and returned it to the library. It's a good thing I like the musical so much, because the book was not my thing.

Books are in alphabetical order by title. If you want to see them in a different order, let's be friends on Goodreads and you can peruse my shelves to your heart's delight. As always, book images and links are from Goodreads, and that's where you can read my reviews, too.


First-time reads:
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility, Zack Furness
What the Living Do: Poems, Marie Howe


Re-reads:
None this month


Books by women:
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
What the Living Do: Poems, Marie Howe


Goodreads challenge: 7 of 52 books in 2017


What are you reading?

06 March 2017

Living the Present

The great runs are the reason I keep trying.

I don't love running any less now that I did a few years ago when I was faster. But my love for running has been more theoretical than literal for so long that I often forget what it was like to love running up close.

So my first run after my week off was spectacular--maybe I was still in race mode, maybe it was the week of rest, maybe it was the brilliantly good weather--whatever the cause, I was cruising along, feeling great, and remembering why I started this thing in the first place.

These shoes. Preferably after that cup of tea.
(Unrelated: Cincinnati is growing on me fast, but seeing
a pic I took in my house in Austin bums me out.
I miss it.)
I still haven't gotten the hang of Cincinnati running. There's a local running club that I've thought about joining but haven't yet. I don't really know whether I'm running in areas that are safe or if I'm taking my life into my own hands every time I go out the door. (Nobody tell my grandmother.) There's a right way to run up hills that I haven't learned how to do. As with every other area of my life, I'm just stumbling through most days hoping not to get hit by a bus.

Past Su would probably be horrified if she knew how slow her future self would be after all her hard work. But Past Su no longer exists; she is but a memory, and I won't be held captive to a memory of a skill set that used to be sharper than it is now. Present Su is the one who is here now, the one who has to put the shoes on daily and head out. 

And presently, she's happy that morning running is sloooooooowly coming round again. I've missed that during the winter.

05 March 2017

Not So Fast

I think I've finally nailed down my Lent for this year, maybe. We'll see what this week brings. But unless something drastic comes to my attention, I'm ready to go--and only four days after Ash Wednesday. See, I told y'all I'm not an expert at Lent.

There's an adorable line in the Hayley Mills movie The Trouble with Angels, when the two main characters have sneaked off to smoke some cigars Ms. Mills' character found. Her friend says, "I don't think I like them," she responds, "So you have something you hate to give up for Lent," and the friend says, "Good thinking!" Cute for a movie, totally fine attitude for a teen who has not yet come into her own faith. Not really the approach I'm after--and I hope you're not, either.

Image source: freeimages.com.
The nature of this sort of fast isn't just in the abstaining. It's in the replacing. Long before he made the sacrifice that we honor on Good Friday, Jesus reminded his followers that God calls us to mercy. It's not enough to go to the temple and make an offering; it's also about how we treat others when we leave. It's about who I am at work, or at the supermarket, or while riding my bike. In my few extra minutes I find by not doing a thing, am I working to make the world around me brighter? A little kinder, a bit more pleasant to be in? Is everyone I encounter today going to walk away feeling that the world is not so bad, because I managed to put them before myself for a few minutes?

I'm pretty sure the answer is no, because I don't have this life thing figured out yet. But I don't think "goodwill to all" needs to be confined to the Christmas season. I think it properly belongs in Lent, too. There are real hurts, real needs, real problems in the people around us--what a better time to meet those needs than now, when the thoughts of so many turn to sacrifice? It's critical not to get so wrapped up in the giving up that mercy is forgotten. Without the mercy, the sacrifice is meaningless.

And neglecting mercy is an excellent thing to give up for Lent.

04 March 2017

Captured

A little bit of wisdom for your Saturday, that I picked up from a widows' group I'm in. (Yep, it's real wisdom this time, not my usual "go for it and hope" wisdom.)

Take pictures. Of your whole family together. Take pictures a lot, doing lots of different things, in lots of settings. Don't wait for a special occasion, or when you're better dressed, or to be less tired or less busy. Get everyone on the same side of the camera, hit the button, rejoice. Use a timer or a selfie stick or a stranger. Schedule a professional session every now and then. Do it!

We at Chez Wilcox did not have this problem. Don't
worry; I have other things to bewail in my spare time.
This was on our way to the Austin Marathon one year.
Why the sudden interest in photographs? Because I know people who waited until too late to get family photos, and now have only one or two. Because they're now lamenting not doing what would have been such an easy, simple thing. Because if you get in the habit of taking family photos and the worst doesn't happen, the only thing you'll be stuck with is a lot of captured memories of fun times and sweet smiles.

By the way, this also applies to other things you've been putting off for no particular reason. Dig those ideas out of your brain and get to work. Don't wait until it's too late. Do it now!

03 March 2017

Clearing with Care

Today's the end of my eighth week at my new job, and I gotta tell ya--I'm kind of sad it's Friday. I feel like I'm finally getting into my groove. Not that I don't appreciate weekends, of course. By the end of the day, I'll be okay with tomorrow being Saturday.

So, the weekend! The time reserved for taking on projects around your home, possibly running out of steam, time, or materials before the weekend is out, and then tripping over your partially-completed project on the way out the door Monday morning, yes? (Maybe that last bit is just people related to me.)

If your clear-out stack looks like this, you
might be spring cleaning on the prairie.
Source: Gary Romin on freeimages.com.
If your heart is yearning for a spring cleaning, and your mind is turning toward the parts of your house that have been untouched and harboring stuff all winter long, and you're ready for a bit clean out... yay! Great idea! But before you strike fear in the hearts of your trash collectors by piling your stuff high on the curb, consider your other options.

Giving: Yes, there are people on this planet who don't do secondhand stuff, and some of them may be offended at the suggestion. (If that's you, please lighten up. You can say "no, thank you" gracefully.) But plenty of folks will gladly take that old lamp off your hands. Consider who you know who can put your old things to a new good use, and offer it to them. Do them and your friendship a favor and clean it up a bit first, though.

Thrifting: So maybe you don't know anyone personally who needs what you don't. If it's still in good enough working order that you would be willing to give it to a friend, take it to a local thrift store. And think out side the Big Thrift Box--small local thrift stores, especially ones that are tied to small charities, can always use your support. Find them first!

Craigslisting: Good luck! Sending you positive vibes that no fights break out in your driveway. (Not that I have any experience with that. This is just what I've heard.)

Freecycling: If you aren't already a member of your local Freecycle group, the signup process may take longer than the weekend. (That depends entirely on your local group, its policy, how busy your mods are, etc.) This is a nice cross between giving and Craigslisting, because you can meet real needs but don't have to have a complete inventory of your acquaintances' current needs in your head. And you pick the person to give the stuff to, instead of random folks coming by.

Does this take a bit more time than just tossing? Yes, of course. But it's also more neighborly, and certainly greener, and helps build up your community (yes, I'm on a community kick lately. Bonus Friday tip: Tell at least one person today how much you appreciate them), all things that are worth an extra half hour or so of effort. Happy weekend!

02 March 2017

Tell the Best Story

I seem to find a lot of use
for this photo.
I'm kind of a halfhearted podcast listener, because most of my hobbies are ones that engage my brain in such a way that I can't turn on a podcast at the same time and really give attention to what I'm listening to. However, when I remember, I start my day with Theater People (I know you're all surprised to hear that). Last weekend I listened to the interview with Kevin McCollum, who produced (among many, many others) Rent, Something Rotten, In the Heights, Motown the Musical... a whole bunch of things I like, in other words.

Towards the end, he said something that took my breath away with its depth of truth and I had to lie down just to absorb what he'd said. (See? This is why I'm not good at listening to podcasts.) And then write it down to share with you. This interview was last summer, before the election, but has only grown more relevant in the intervening months. (Emphasis is mine.)
When you take arts out of the public schools, those young people grow up to be adults, and they look at conflict resolution only in a sports model. And that's what we're seeing in our government. We have three branches of government, it's a balance of how we tell the best story, and that's called a collaborative art form. Our government is a collaborative art form. Unfortunately, when many of the people running our country were younger, arts were not valued in their communities, because of money. But sports were. So what do you learn in sports? To win games, you have to have a good defense. We are running this country purely on defensive tactics. We have to start having an imaginative storytelling: how do we live better as a world? America used to have the best story. If we're in a sports model, we're not telling a story. We're just trying to beat each other. Let's stop that. Let's get back to storytelling. Let's collaborate, because collaboration creates the bottom line, not money.
 He's not wrong, y'all. Not only is all this mentality of winning at all costs bringing us gridlock and wasted resources, not only is it contributing to the deep ideological divides that keep people from even having reasonable conversations with one another, but it's also only spurring folks to dig in to their positions even deeper and lob ever nastier shots at the other side. This is why the arts matter--why literature and music and painting and theatre and sculpture are worth our while. Because they expand our minds and open us up to other ways and ideas and points of view. Because they hold a mirror up to our humanity. Because they connect us to other people. Because they ask us to tell a story.

This project at the Guggenheim was meant to be
books that were never written. Don't let that be you.
Write your part of the story.
I had an incredible literature class my senior year of high school, and I couldn't even tell you the name of it or what the theme was now, but I do remember this: by the end of the semester, our teacher pointed out that as a result of the works we'd read and the discussions we'd had, every member of the class had come to see ourselves as artists. (She had asked for a show of hands to this effect on the first and last days of class.) This was the gift she gave us, as newly minted adults about to make our way in the wide world: she invited us to join in the great story of humanity and write our part.

I should look her up and send her a thank you.

01 March 2017

Ashes to Ashes

For Ash Wednesday, this is going to be more like a spiritual Sunday-ish post than a Wednesday one, so if that's not what you came for, now's the time to bail. See you tomorrow.

Chadwick died on an Ash Wednesday, which even for him was a pretty odd gesture, but that made it difficult to conjure up any will to observe Lent for a couple years. This year, though, since I've given my life a hard reboot, it's time to rejoin the Christian calendar and see what this new era of Lenten observances will bring.

I searched freeimages.com for "Lent," and what I got was
this, entitled "Spring Church Exterior." I'm not super-
clear what that means, but it's pretty. So I guess this is as
Ash Wednesday of an image as I'm going to get.
Source: George Bosela on freeimages.com.
However, I do want to make it clear at the outset that I am no Lent expert--I started observing Lent as a teenager in an "everybody's doing it" kind of way. I've kinda become the local "expert" anyway for many Evangelical friends who've wanted to jump into Lent over the years, based solely on my experience on this journey that other folks don't have, but everything I know is also available to you via either Google or by diving in and experiencing it yourself. (Although I will add that the first time I read The Sound of Music, at age 20, it changed my view of Lent dramatically. That was the year I started taking it seriously as a tool for spiritual growth.)

One of my "new city" challenges is that I have no idea where there's an Ash Wednesday service near me, and I may not find out before it's too late. (Also? I can walk into anywhere in Texas with ashes on my face and no one will blink. I don't know yet if that's true in Ohio, so I kinda need an after-work service.) But that's a small thing, since I've missed Ash Wednesday service more years than not. Especially when I was still living in my parents' house--I can just imagine the looks on their very Evangelical faces if I walked in with ashes on my forehead. No.

Anyway, I'm here today to help, not reflect on my non-ecumenical upbringing. This FAQ is cobbled together from questions I've been asked often over the years.

1. You do what? But isn't that a Catholic thing? Do you judge people who don't do it?
a) Lent.
b) Yes. Also many other branches of Christendom. You should maybe get out more.
c) No. That would be ridiculous. You do what works for you.

2. Do you have any Lenten resources to recommend?
I don't, although I'm pretty excited about this Arts and Faith series this year. Google, friends. Google.

3. Should I announce my fast on Facebook?
This has been more of a touchy subject than I could possibly have anticipated, but this is what I usually say:
  • If you're asking me as a friend who's done this for a while and has some experience of the value of people knowing my fast vs not: then no, you shouldn't.
  • If you're asking because you're looking for some accountability, then I'd suggest you find an offline human, or if it must be online, that you approach someone you trust via private message.
  • If you're asking because giving up Facebook is your fast and you want to let everyone know where you're going, I'd still suggest not, but you need to do what you think is best if your absence will upset anyone. Again, you can probably do this via private message. (I've gone weeks without visiting Facebook before, and it's a nice exercise in humility when you find out how well that world keeps on turning without your presence in it.)
  • If you're asking for spiritual guidance, I refer you to Matthew 6:16-18.

4. Do I have to go meatless on Fridays?
Are you participating in Lent as part of your faith tradition, and if so, does that faith tradition ask you to go meatless? If so, in order to fully participate with your community: yes. If you're creating your own community or going it alone, then you have a bit more leeway to decide which elements of the traditional fast you're going to adopt. More on community anon.

5. Did you know it doesn't really add up to 40 days?
Yes. Sundays don't count as part of the 40 days because Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection on those days, and that celebration supersedes the mourning/fasting of Lent.

6. Does it matter what I give up?
Yes, it matters, but maybe not in the way you're asking. (And it's okay if you haven't decided yet.) What are you trying to learn from Lent? What areas of your life need growth? Think about that and let that shape your fast. Also keep in mind that your fast, if it's helping you learn/grow, may not be something you want to stop at Easter. You can absolutely use these six weeks as a starting block.

This is the thing about Lent that tends to get me the most angry/corrective comments, to be honest, for a couple reasons:
  • Some folks are under the impression that people only give up sins that they should have already been trying to remove from their lives. Now, if Lent helps you do that, I'm not about to tell you not to. Six weeks of focused intent may be you push you need to finally deal with that thing that's been nagging at you. But that doesn't have to be what you do, and I agree that only avoiding a spiritual stumbling block for six weeks per year is maybe not the ideal approach, if it's true life change you seek.
  • There are others who will say that giving up chocolate or TV or whatever is silly. Pope Francis made some incredibly relevant and thought-provoking comments on that very subject a couple years back. Here's the thing: It's not so much what you're giving up; it's what you replace it with. If you give up Facebook and replace it with a TV show, then maybe pause to ask yourself what you're trying to accomplish. If you give up caffeine and replace it with being unbearable for the entire month of March, you may not be sharing the peace of Christ with others quite as much as you intended.

7. What if I don't start on Ash Wednesday or fizzle out by the end?
It happens. That's why the Israelites prayed, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (That's Lamentations 3:22-23.) Choose your favourite cliché for making a new beginning every day, and go do it.

8. What else do I need to know?
Get in there and do it, and be open to what changes in you. If you have a community to do this with, by all means, embrace that community whole-heartedly and do this together. God has placed you in a community for good reason, and fasting together as a shared experience can multiply your joys and divide your struggles. Do not neglect your community this Lent. Embrace them.

No community to share with? Having to do this alone? I hear ya. We can be Lenten Twitter buddies, if you like (send me a Tweet or a DM to let me know that we're doing this, though, because "become a mind reader" is not what I'm doing for Lent). Growth and joy can still happen even on a solitary journey, so don't despair.

Have a blessed Lenten season, friends.