Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Thumb is Turning Green!

I did it!  I finally kept a plant alive!  Look!


I have killed more plants than I care to admit.  (I think my problem is that I tend to over-water them.)  When the guys at church passed these flowers out to all the girls on Mother's Day, though, I was determined to keep my little plant growing.

One day passed, and it was already starting to look sad.  The lone flower at the top turned a slight brown, and the petals began to crumple.  Instead of giving up, I watered it only when the soil was dry and made sure I put it on the kitchen windowsill every morning.  Every day after work, I checked to see that it was still alive.  I was a little worried about it when I went to Dallas for a day, but on coming home, I saw that another delicate flower had blossomed during my absence.  I can't remember the last time I was so pleased.  That's when I realized why people love to garden.

Carrie, my last Atlanta roommate, is one of the smartest people I know.  She reads books well, and she reads people well.  She is practical and talented in all sorts of ways -- so much so, that she reminds me of those accomplished women in Austen novels.  She sews, plays the piano, fights epidemics, and I know not what!  She also spends a significant amount of time cultivating her land.  That's right; she owns a house.  She does all the landscaping and gardening, and it was so fascinating to watch the front and back yards change over time because of her handiwork.  I always wondered, though, why she spent so much time doing something that seemed so boring.  "Why would anyone," I thought, "find pleasure in something like watering plants every day?"

And yet, there had to be something to it.  My mom grew roses and tulips in the flowerbed in front of my childhood home.  My friends Michelle and Alissa and Heather made a living by tending to plants.  What was the fuss about?

I've decided the fuss is about helping something flourish.  There is a small place somewhere in the tissues of my heart that jumped a little with excitement each time I came home and my plant was not only alive but thriving.  It feels good, and it feels important.

I think this is the beginning of a favorite hobby . . .


Thing I'm thankful for: a good day at work

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Case for Watches

Minus a hamburger dinner with my roommate, I spent two and a half days in solitude.  (It really wasn't long enough.  I could spend another week completely alone, and I think I'd be happy.)  I wrote and edited, spent two hours trying to connect my desktop to my wireless network, and listened to The Bends.  On Friday night, I went to Nordstrom Rack and bought this little gem for $24.99:


I sent a picture to my sister to get her opinion.  This was her response:
It's funny that you wear watches. I always like the idea of it and tried in middle school, but they just kind of bother me and seem useless because clocks are everywhere.

To my sister I say:  Useless?!?  Useless?!?  Indeed, they are not!  Clocks are not everywhere, unless you count cell phones as clocks, and in that case, you can't see all of them, anyway.  You could use your own cell phone to check the time, but sometimes it's a hassle to get your phone out of your purse or pocket, when all you'd have to do with a watch is quickly look at your wrist.  And if you own a smartphone, the chance of getting distracted when you check the time is probably pretty high.  Also, what if you want to be cellphone-free for a little while?  (It's a shock that anyone would want to, I know, but it does happen from time to time.)  A watch would help you gauge the time.

But these things are all secondary, really.  In my opinion, the best reason to wear a watch is to "see" time.  It's so easy to forget about time because we can't see it.  I, myself, waste hours on the Internet, watching videos and reading articles that probably aren't that important.  I'll look at the time after a few of these videos and be amazed (and disgusted) at how much time has passed.  Sure, that probably still happens to people who own watches and analog clocks, but I wonder if it happens less.  The ability to visualize chunks of time makes me, at least, more aware of it.  In as concrete as time can be represented, a watch shows me how much time has passed, and how much time is left.  If a watch-wearer is very observant, he can even hear time pass; each tick of the second hand serves as the watch's voice, which seems to say, "Are you spending this time wisely?"

It's been years since I wore a watch, mostly because the last watch I had broke and I never got around to getting it fixed.  At the same time, cell phones were becoming ubiquitous, and I thought maybe I could save money by using my own phone to tell time.

It's been two days since I bought this orange watch at Nordstrom Rack, and I feel better about that purchase every time I think about it.  I daresay it is the best purchase I've made this year.  I wonder if it will help me use time better.  We shall see . . .


Thing I'm thankful for: my comfortable bed

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Nothing is Final

In the summer of 1998, an old fable with a clever twist was projected onto the silver screen.  Generation X women remember it as Ever After: A Cinderella Story, and they are able to quote at least a couple of lines from it.  They remember Dougray Scott's fifteen minutes of fame as Prince Charming and Drew Barrymore's wonderful performance in the title role.  They recall the ornate dresses and hairstyles, the angel wings, and Da Vinci's painting.

I remember all of those things myself, but more than anything else, I remember a line from Angelica Huston, who plays the evil step-mother.  She says, "Nothing is final until you're dead, and even then, I'm sure God negotiates."

Here, watch it yourself (at the 5:30 mark):



I'll write it again, so you can let it sink into your bones:
Nothing is final until you're dead, and even then, I'm sure God negotiates.

Although I believe there are some basic moral rules everyone should live by, I also believe that Ms. Step-Mother was right.  I believe in a God who encourages change, but who knows how long he'll give each one of us to actually change?  I like to believe that it will be longer than we live on this earth.


Thing I'm thankful for: movies!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Just a Quote and a Thought

Philip Glass is a composer, and this is what he says about style:
In order to arrive at a personal style, you have to have a technique to begin with. In other words, when I say that style is a special case of technique, you have to have the technique—you have to have a place to make the choices from. If you don't have a basis on which to make the choice, then you don't have a style at all. You have a series of accidents.
When I heard it, I loved it, but mostly because I changed the quote around in my mind to this:
You have to have a place to make choices from.  If you don't have a basis on which to make choices, then you don't have an identity at all.  You have a series of accidents.

I think there are two reasons why I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ:
  1. I believe in the reality and sanctifying power of the atonement of Christ.
  2. It gives me a basis on which to make choices.
In the same way that technique lends itself to style, as Philip Glass described, following the gospel of Jesus Christ lends itself to the creation of my identity.  Lots of things probably stand as the foundation for other people's identities—Catholicism, Judaism, Agnosticism, Atheism, etc.  Christianity is mine.  More particularly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is mine.


Thing I'm thankful for: a mid-afternoon Dutch baby pancake

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Accents and Impersonations

Every day at the main UT library, someone talks into the loudspeaker and says something like this:  "Attention, library users:  Thefts in the library can happen at any time.  Please do not leave your belongings unattended for even a moment." Usually a man says it, and it's hilarious because his voice sounds  like a really slow- and low-talking Fez.  I wish everyone could hear it as often as I get to.

This brings me to impersonations.  Every time that voice booms loudly through the cold, white halls of the library basement where I work, I want to repeat it exactly as it sounds.  I get the deep urge to imitate the slight lisp and masculine tones out loud.  I never do, though.  Sometimes I lip-sync to it or whisper it under my breath, but I catch myself before it's an embarrassment.

Here's the thing:  I love to impersonate accents and interesting ways of talking.  I have a friend from New Zealand who has an incredible accent, and lately, I've been repeating words in my mind in his voice.  For example, sometimes when I think of my name, I say, "Sirah Sno."  Or I might say, "whativvah" for "whatever."  It really needs to stop soon, or he'll think I'm making fun of him, as the English girl in my sister's college ceramics class thought.  Really, though, it's a compliment!  I wish my voice sounded more interesting!  I would say words like "fo-word" for "forward," as my friend Aubrey does.  Or I would say "COMf-turble" for "comfortable," as Lauren does.  I might want to enunciate everything perfectly, like Brittini, or say my S's like a snake, the way Carrie von Bose does.

I just like to watch the way people make sounds with their lips and teeth and throat.  It fascinates me to no end that some people mostly just move their jaw when they talk, and yet some people use every part of their lips.  I find myself being mesmerized by things such as this on a regular basis.

Here's another thing:  The people I impersonate don't know whether to be offended or pleased, and the people I don't impersonate often want to know why I don't impersonate them.  What can I say?  Some people are easier to impersonate than others, but rest assured, I pay attention to nearly everyone.  (Even you, person-I-don't-mimic.)

Just for fun, here are some famous people (and movie scenes/interviews) I pay attention to because of the way they talk, not the way they look:

Thing I'm thankful for: warm cookies

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Snows are Alive with the Sound of Music!

Something I like about my family is that we all appreciate music.

Just yesterday, my brother posted something on his blog about music he's been listening to lately, and I thought about how music means so much to everyone in my family.  What I figure, is that my parents taught my siblings and me a lot through music.  Let me show you; here is the music I learned to love because of my parents:
  • Golden Oldies -- I'm talkin' 50s and 60s, here, folks.  Stuff like Elvis, Buddy Holly, Santo and Johnny, and Sonny and Cher.  I guess I'll include Motown, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys here, too.
  • Classical Music -- I'm including Baroque in this.  And opera, too.
  • Country and Folk -- From the likes of Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and The Kingston Trio.
  • Classic Crooners -- Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra . . .  You get the idea.
  • Random stuff throughout the years
In turn, my parents listened to (and liked) the music my siblings and I played:
  • 70s Rock and/or Psychedelic -- Mostly I'm thinking of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.
  • 80s Bands and One-Hit Wonders -- My dad particularly liked Hall and Oates.
  • 90s Alternative Rock -- Yes, my parents listened to some Nirvana songs and Weezer, too.  Gosh, I love it when my mom bobs her head to "Pink Triangle."

They only liked the good stuff.  The good, clean stuff.  Their approach to music is similar to their approach to life, I guess.  They taught us what they knew, were open and respectful of our ideas and opinions, and let us know when we were pushing the limits.  As a result, my older brothers and sisters and me are fairly open to new perspectives, and at the same time, we are able to stand our ground on principles that mean the most to us.  I'm grateful for that.  It makes living in this world a whole lot easier.

Thanks, mom and dad.  I love you both a lot.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pedernales Falls

Texas is not all flat and dry; there is lush foliage in some areas, and luckily, those areas happen to be almost in the dead center of the state, where I live.  (I have a fortunate life.)

About a month ago, some friends and I celebrated another friend's birthday by camping at Pedernales Falls State Park.  (In Texan, you say "Per-der-nal-iss," not "Ped-er-nall-iss."  Gosh.  Get it right!)  It's such a beautiful place, and I can't wait to go back, when the weather gets really hot!  Here, look at the loveliness that is Central Texas:



Who doesn't love a good twisted tree???


Here is where we swam.  (Or watched other people swim.)  The shore isn't just dirt, though; it feels more like a beach, with sand and everything!


Bottom line:  If you're in Central Texas, take a drive to Pedernales.  Pack a picnic lunch and eat it on the beach after you go for a swim.  It's lovely.


Thing I'm thankful for: hearing the UT Tower bells peal while I walk around campus

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I Used to Play Softball

That's right; you read that correctly.  I played softball.  For about two practices and part of a game.  I remember the game well.

We were late.  (We were always late.)  Dad told me to hurry to the dugout; it was my team at bat.  It would soon be my turn, and I was so nervous.  I hated playing sports because I knew I was inadequate.  Even as a child, I knew when my performance was lacking.  Lots of kids don't know the difference.  They paint a sloppy picture and hand it over to their parents proudly.  I, on the other hand, could point out the problems with it.  I am a member of a family of perfectionists, after all, and if there's one thing we're good at, it's knowing when we are less-than-great.  And so it was with softball.  I knew my dad had started me late.  Kids just don't start learning how to throw and hit a ball at age 9.  They start when they are toddlers.  They work up to a certain level of comfort with balls before they even enter kindergarten.  I did not.

I felt like I was thrown into the game without knowing what I was doing at all.  So when the coach called my name, I anxiously walked to home plate.  I swung once and missed, of course.  I swung again and missed again.  I felt my face blush, and tears were a mere blink away from sliding down my face.  I pretended like I was hot and had to take my sweater off.  (To this day, I cannot comprehend why I was wearing a sweater . . .)  I took my time.  I looked out through the tiny holes of that navy sweater and swallowed back tears.  I watched the world outside and swore to myself I wouldn't come back to another game.  Perhaps that's what gave me the courage to make it through that night.  All I know is that I don't remember anything after I took my sweater off and tied it around my waist.

I never did go back.  I quit playing sports completely.  Of course I had to participate in the general embarrassment that is Physical Education, but besides one gloriously happy game of soccer with my family one summer's eve, I made up my mind that team sports was not for me.

It's not something I like to admit.  I wish with my whole soul I had stuck it out that night at the softball fields.  I wish my dad had seen that I needed to learn how to play sports in order to gain confidence, especially in my formative years.  And who knew the world of Mormon Young Single Adults would revolve around ultimate frisbee, ward softball, and basketball?  If only someone had told me . . .

I am not as embarrassed about my lack of sportiness now.  It still bothers me, but I can confidently say that I am outdoorsy.  I like hiking, rafting, tubing, kayaking, and paddleboarding, and I am fairly adept at shooting an arrow.

I even like watching sports.  I just don't want to play them.


Thing I'm thankful for: an artistic side?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

For Mommy



Happy Mother's Day, Mom. You is kind, you is smart, and you is important. I love you.


Thing I'm thankful for: my mom, of course!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Lessons on Love from "Romeo and Juliet," the Ballet


I saw Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" tonight, and what a treat!  A little Prokofiev goes a long way; I am still thinking about it now!  Here's a sampling: Dance of the Knights.  (Seriously, listen to it.  Now.)  I like Prokofiev's version of the play better than Tchaikovsky's, actually.  There are some incredible violin/brass sections that are so dark and dramatic; I just love it.

Until tonight, I had only seen two ballets in my life: "The Nutcracker" and "Sleeping Beauty," both by Tchaikovsky and both very strict classical ballet, of the Russian variety.  The focus on this type of ballet is on pointe work, turn-outs, high extensions, and from what I remember, there is a lot of spinning . . .  Precision is key.  When I saw "Sleeping Beauty," I remember being amazed at that precision.  No movement seemed out of place; everything was perfect.  I left the performance thinking about how the human body is one heck of a machine.

Tonight, however, I walked away from "Romeo and Juliet" thinking about love.  Not because of the plot, but because of the dancing.  This particular ballet was coreographed in the neoclassical style, which is less rigid than classical ballet and emphasizes mime and drama.  There were two scenes, in particular, that stood out to me.  One was the scene in which Romeo first visits Juliet.  Juliet all but floats down the stairs to him, and they dance and dance and dance.  They move in complete synch.  There is a beautiful fluidity to their movements -- a gentle push and pull, with neither character ever overpowering the other.  Later, when Romeo mistakenly believes that Juliet is dead, he lifts her off the mausoleum bed and dances with her.  He moves her body for her, and somehow, it's not strange; it's magical.

In contrast, when Juliet dances with Paris, the man her parents have arranged for her to marry, the movements are stiff and standoffish.  There is absolutely no expression of connection or unity.

So what am I saying here?  I'm saying a few things, I guess.  I'm saying that Prokofiev's music is wonderful, that neoclassical ballet is surprisingly gripping, and that love should feel as naturally fluid as it looked for Romeo and Juliet in the ballet.  Forget strict and rigid and hesitant; love should be responsive and reciprocal and sure.


Thing I'm thankful for: a conversation about ballet with my brother-in-law

Friday, May 11, 2012

Is This Real Life?

Yikes!  Apparently, school teachers in England are told not to correct spelling errors.  I hope this non-educational practice doesn't cross the pond!


Thing I'm thankful for: comfy brown boots

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Academia vs. Business

Here's a little bit of xkcd for you . . .



Thing I'm thankful for: hot dogs!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Cars, Trucks, and Motorcycles

I recently had a conversation with a few people about driving. More particularly, it was about guys and driving. I explained to my friend Danny that manual cars are the most attractive vehicles guys could drive. If they drove trucks and Jeep Wranglers, it was even better. We worked out some of the nuances, and I came up with a hierarchy of attractive vehicles. Here they are, in descending order:

1. Big truck
2. Jeep Wrangler
[3. Motorcycle]
4. Any manual car
.
.
.
20. Small truck

I put the motorcycle in brackets because I do not approve of motorcycles. Apparently, I am alone in this; most girls at the table were all for them. In my personal list, they would be at the bottom.

Except for the stick shift part, here's a theme song to match this post: Stick Shifts and Safety Belts.


Thing I'm thankful for: grad student lunches

Friday, May 04, 2012

Bon Vivant

It is purely coincidence that today's post is about a French word . . .  I had forgotten entirely that my last post was about how much I love German.

Anyway, I thought it was a wonderful word and wanted to share it.

bon vivant: a person having cultivated, refined, and sociable tastes especially in respect to food and drink


I suppose the American English version of "bon vivant" is "foodie."  It doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but the meaning is the same.  It makes me think about my own gastronomical tastes.  I think about this a lot, actually.  About how I have countless friends who are bon vivants.  They are always up for a new and non-American restaurant, they always talk about the best dish at a place as absolute fact, and they sometimes take pictures of what they eat.  I admire them, actually.  I want to know which food is the best and what to recommend to people when we are dining out together.  I want to have the ability to read a menu and know what is going to be yummy.  It really does seem like clairvoyance sometimes.

I have siblings who are bon vivants.  My oldest sister Cami, my brother Brooks, and my sister Lexia.  Lexi is married to a bon vivant, and my sister Summer is, too.  They all enjoy a colorful plate of sushi on occasion, and they all have an answer for the question, "What's good here?"

Here's the thing, though:  I, myself, am not a bon vivant.  Sure, I know what looks good when it comes to baking, but how can anyone really go wrong with sugar, butter, and flour?  It's nigh impossible.  So I wonder what makes people bon vivants.  Are they supertasters?  Is a refined taste in food just something white people like?

Obviously, I don't know the answer, but if you are a bon vivant, leave a comment.  What do you think distinguishes you from the lay taster?


Thing I'm thankful for: new shoes from Payless

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Ich Leibe Deutsch

In the 4th grade, I fell in love with German. My classmate Will was half-German; he was a blonde beanpole. His dad spoke German fluently, of course, and he came to our class one afternoon to teach us basic vocabulary. We learned how to count to 20, and to this day, my favorite number in German is 20, "zwanzig." He taught us colors; I liked red and green, "rot" and "grun." (Grun should have an umlaut.) He taught us goodbye, "Auf Weidersehen."

Something lit up inside me that day, and I don't know why. What makes people attracted to one culture or another? In my experience, nearly everyone hates German, and nearly everyone loves French or Italian or some other Latin language. While many people think German is cacophonous and harsh, I think it sounds utterly beautiful. Forget about soft trills and Romantic cadences; I like the structure of German, the dropped R's, and S's that sound like Z's.

Just listen to the opening monologue of Mostly Martha; it is wonderful. Or wunderbar.


Thing I'm thankful for: sunlight and breezes

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Whistling

I practiced whistling all morning, and guess what?!?  I was able to do it just a little bit!  I mean, I'm not incredible, but it's a far cry from what I was able to do yesterday.  Or the day before that or the day before that!

I've wanted to whistle my whole life.  My dad is a whistler.  He walks around the house whistling a lot, especially on Saturday mornings.  I think whistling must indicate happiness because he loves waking up early on Saturdays and completing chores.  He especially loves when other people are up early with him.  That's when he whistles the loudest.

Anyway, I always thought that was a neat skill to have.  (Or is it a talent?)  I love listening to people whistle.

Last year, a friend introduced me to this whistling kind of song, and I wanted to learn it:



So that's what I practiced this morning.  And I will keep practicing.  We'll see what happens.


Thing I'm thankful for: my Nalgene water bottle!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Making Sense of Things

If there's one thing I've learned in my cognition class this semester, it's this:  The human brain is amazing at creating a unified picture of the world when, in fact, there isn't one.

Last week, a friend said I "wasn't very good with ambiguity."  He meant it in jest, and I laughed, then subsequently snapped something sassy back.  "You know what?  Most people are not okay with ambiguity!"

And so it is.  Even with something as simple as perception.  The visuospatial system of the brain does not work like a camera, catching every single thing with one blink of the eye.  We see what we want to see.  Our short-term goals and motivation affect what our eyes perceive.  We cannot attend to everything, and as such, we do not see every object or event in the world around us.  Almost like magic, our minds fill in the blanks and close the gaps.

General cognition is the same way.  The human brain is uncomfortable with unfamiliar things, so it attempts to make sense of events that might not literally make sense.  This is actually a good thing most of the time.  There's a lot of information in the world, and the amount of cognitive load would be too heavy for anyone to get anything normal done, were it not for the brain's capacity to make up stuff.  It also makes us feel good about ourselves or events in life that elicit anxiety.

Take for instance, the recent events in my life.  My apartment was broken into.  I was scared for days.  I had (and still sometimes have) nightmares.  I was sad and angry and worried.  Despite such negative emotions, here's the thing people said most that week, "Well, have there been any silver linings?"  And so I looked for silver linings; I even found a few.  In this context, I found patterns and meaning where perhaps there was none, and yet, it was important for my sanity and happiness that I "saw" them.

I've been thinking lately, about other kinds of meaning we find, in order to deal with incomplete pictures and anxiety.  The idea of soul mates is one.  The idea that God has a specific plan for each of us is another.  The latter one, in particular, seems preposterous, and yet, for the first time in my life, I feel very strongly that He does.  That is, Austin, Texas, is the city I need to be in at this very exact moment in time.  I tend to think that God has flexible plans for us -- more like overarching goals, really -- but I've come to realize that there is the possibility of checkpoints along our individual timelines that God has specific interest in.  For me, Austin is one of those checkpoints.  I'm sure I've said it before, but I think it's worth recording again, if only for myself.


Thing I'm thankful for: a new apartment