Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

(Photo courtesy of mormon.org/christmas.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Average and Amazing

Well, 17 hours later, and . . .  I am in Georgia.  My parents and I drove here for the week.  This is what I learned on the trip:
  • My dad gets worried when I drive.  He must've asked me twenty times if I was okay.  "Are you tired?"  "How are you doing?"  "Do you want to stop?"  The thing my dad doesn't know is that my mind hits its peak around 10:00 at night.  I easily drove for 200 miles straight in the middle of the night.
  • My dad likes the song "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen.  "Is she saying 'Call me maybe?'"
  • Neither one of my parents knew about Shazam or Spotify.  Spotify was a big hit.  My dad looked up all kinds of songs from the early 60s and seemed surprised every time he found what he was looking for.
  • My mom makes more noise than anyone I know.  Even when she isn't talking.
  • I come from a family that has a deep and abiding love for movies.  I guess that was something I re-learned, actually.  (We have impeccable taste!)

The most interesting thing I learned, though, was during a round of get-to-know-you questions.  The question was, "What would the title of your autobiography be?"

Dad's answer: "Mr. Average."
Mom's answer: "The Most Amazing Woman!"

Interesting, no?  Interesting that two people with such different levels of self-esteem could be married for so long.  Or maybe that's what has helped them?  I dunno.  Their answers weren't surprising, really, but they were unexpected.  That is, I never heard my dad so explicitly say he thought he was average.  My mom, on the other hand, talks about how great she is all the time!  :)  I think it's good thing, though.  'Cause here's what:  I think my siblings and I all have a pretty realistic sense of who we are and what we're good at.  I mean, I'm nothing, if not extremely self-aware.  (I like that about myself.)  My five siblings and me are six adults who know we're average in most aspects of life, but exceptional in a few.  As a result, we are good at recognizing -- and not feeling threatened by -- others' exceptional qualities.  Everyone is average, but everyone has at least one special gift.

Me?  I think I'm smart, but not brilliant.  Not gorgeous, but not completely unfortunate-looking.  Funny, but not a riot.  Good, but not holy.  I work hard, but probably not harder than others.  And I can be creative, but I'll never really be an Artist.  There are things I'm downright horrible at: team sports, public speaking, consignment-store shopping, punctuality.  But there are also things I excel at: baking, conversation, and making people feel good about themselves.

What do you excel at?  Leave a comment about it!  Do!

Thing I'm thankful for: my new Longhorn hoodie

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


I need to go to bed.  But my desire to write is greater than my need for sleep.  (Or so my head tells me right now.  In the morning, it will tell me I was an idiot to stay up and blog.  Quite the predicament I'm in.)

Lately, I've been feeling something that is difficult to put into words.  I suppose I could use art to try to explain it . . .  For example, the 1994 version of "Little Women" captures the feeling extremely well.*  It's a feeling of longing, I think -- the wish that things could stay the same and yet a hunger for the greatness ahead.**

In the beginning of "Little Women," Jo wants everything to remain as it is.  She cares only for the company of her own family and Laurie, the boy next door.  If the future were up to her, none of the sisters would move or marry, and Laurie would always be her best friend.  Days would be passed by play-acting in the attic and by running around on dusty roads.  "Why can't things just stay as they are?" Jo laments.

When Meg gets married, however, and Amy goes to Europe, Jo begins to feel restless.  She wants to change, but she doesn't know how.  She wants to write and learn and travel.  Though she doesn't yet know it, she is on the verge of doing something incredible -- of finding love and of writing the work of a lifetime.

I think, if I compare myself to Jo, I'm just slightly right of the middle.  On one end is a fear of change and a desperate wish that life could maintain the sense of laughter and wonder and joy that is childhood and youth.  On the other is an anxiousness for life to be exciting and to play an exciting role in it.

Perhaps people get to this point much earlier in life, or perhaps people are constantly experiencing a struggle between sameness and change.  Regardless, I am here.  I am in a moment between wanting to always be where I am and wanting to step into uncharted territory.  I want to forever live among the people I have come to love, and I want to fly away to a place that is scary precisely because it is unfamiliar.

How can I do both?

*Thomas Newman wrote perfect music for "Little Women," by the way.  I think it's a masterpiece.  Here's just one composition: Orchard House.
**Two other movies come to mind as well: "Sense and Sensibility" and "The Fellowship of the Ring."

Thing I'm thankful for: being able to say goodbye

Friday, December 14, 2012

Another Friday Song

This song has been on my mind a lot lately.  It's a happy song, and I needed a happy song today.

Thing I'm thankful for: a home

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The 10-Page Paper

A couple of nights ago, my roommate had a 10-page paper to write.  She had spent hours and hours doing prep work for the paper -- making outlines, reading, pulling quotes, organizing her thoughts, etc.  Around 1:30 am, she announced that she was going to bed for a couple of hours and would get up early and finish.  I said good night and good luck and continued doing whatever it was I was doing (probably blogging), but what was going through my mind was, "Gosh.  I hope she finishes . . .  At this rate, she's gonna have to write 10 pages in 13 hours!  That's a close call.  A very close call."

It takes me at least an hour to write one page, and if it's the introduction?  Fuhgedabouddit.  That alone requires a couple of hours.  The body of the content is easier to write, but it still takes the bulk of the time.  The conclusion is by far the easiest, yet a lot of finesse is needed to pack a punch at the end.  (I really hate cheesy -- and therefore usually meaningless -- last sentences.)  All in all, I'd estimate that a 10-page paper takes me about 10 hours to write, and that's on the low end.  This doesn't even include the amount of time I spend on prep.  Why, just over a week ago, I had a 10-pager due, and it took me maybe 10-15 hours of prep and around a dozen to actually write the thing.  But here's the kicker:  I didn't even make it to 10 full pages.

As an English undergrad, I never, ever, ever (like everrrr) wrote on the high end of a range.  The required length for most pages was 8-10 pages, and I was always somewhere around 7 and a half.*  I'm just so dern laconic.  It's kind of a problem, actually.  I can't seem to shut up in person, yet on paper, I have an extremely difficult time putting words on a page.  These blog posts I write?  They're usually fairly short, but don't let that fool you -- they take hours to write.  Hours.  (Why I do this -- blog, that is -- is beyond the scope of this post.)

Imagine my surprise -- nay, shock -- when I heard Brooke's response to my question the following morning:

"What page are you on???"
"What time did you wake up?"
"4 o'clock."

I think my eyeballs nearly fell out.  She had written seven pages in five hours!  Apparently, Brooke's writing style is not laconic.  By 2:30 in the afternoon, she had written 12 pages and the bibliography.  This is how I feel about it:

*Don't worry; my papers were so good that the professors didn't care about the length.  ;)

Thing I'm thankful for: answered prayers

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Now It Really Feels like Christmas!

Thing I'm thankful for: Brooke, for her creativity, and Jon, for his toughness

Monday, December 10, 2012

Oh, Christmas Tree

Today was good.  It started out with a bust, but as the day progressed, I felt less . . . anxious.  I think I just needed to be home.  So after church, that's what I did -- I stayed home.  I made a yummy and healthy dinner and watched two Christmas movies as I (finally) put up my Christmas tree.

There's nothing quite like sitting in the glow of a Christmas tree late at night.  It's so peaceful and relaxing.  It reminds me of all the wonderful blessings I have in life and of the things I want to accomplish.  It makes me want to write and bake and play boardgames all night, and yet it also makes me think of things that are . . . bigger and more important than what's going on in my little corner of the world.

Thing I'm thankful for: decorations at Christmastime

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Open Letter to Men, No. 3

Dear Men,

(This letter is mostly aimed at married men, but single men may want to take note as well.)

When I was old enough to notice my parents as a married couple, I paid attention to the strength of their relationship.  I wondered why their relationship was truly successful during some periods and downright miserable during others.  There are a multitude of reasons, of course, but here's one I think my dad misses a lot:  My mom needs to know she is wanted.

It's easy to recognize why there might be an argument or uneasy feelings when the cause is disagreement.  Or when one of you didn't clean up after yourself.  Or when someone has an annoying habit.  But sometimes there's just no clear reason for the slightly negative tone in the relationship.  In my opinion, this nearly unidentifiable reason is that the woman doesn't feel wanted or desired, and it isn't obvious because it's difficult to put into words or even to admit.  But take heed, men.  Women will be happy as clams, if you let them know you want them in your life, and if they know that, they'll do so many things to make your life pleasant.  Here's the third guideline, then:

Let us know you want us around.

Remember when you were trying to date your wife?  Remember when you were courting her?  You probably were a perfect gentleman.  You probably brought her flowers and called her on a regular basis.  You probably took her on thoughtful dates.  You probably helped fix her car or run errands with her.  You probably went over to her place to study together or even to take a nap.  Everything you did was to let her know you liked her.

Women love that.  To us, it says, "Hey, I want to be around you, and I want you around.  My life is better when we're together."

I think it's the most important thing in a relationship -- to let each other know you are wanted.  Heck, I think it's the most important message any human being can convey to another.  In fact, I think it's so crucial that I initially thought it'd be my last "Open Letter" post -- you know, to build up to that all-important guiding principle.  I changed my mind today, though, because I thought it too important to hold off.  The earlier you can understand this guideline and implement it in your relationship, the better.  So just take some flowers to your wife.  Tell her you're glad she's around.  Spend five minutes thinking of a way to show you care in her love language.  Call her just because.  Take her on a planned date.  Woo her.

Good luck,

*In case you missed the others, see Open Letter to Men, No. 1 and Open Letter to Men, No. 2.

Friday, December 07, 2012

In Other News . . . God is Alive and Well

That's what Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, says.  Here are his key findings:

  • Religiousness increases with age, albeit not in a smooth path but rather in stages. Americans are least religious at age 23 and most religious at age 80. 
  • Women are significantly more religious than men, at all ages and within all race and ethnic groups. This is not an American anomaly; women are more religious than men in all but a small number of the more than 100 countries around the world in which Gallup has measured religion.
  • Blacks are more religious than any other race or ethnic group in America.
  • Mormons are the most religious of any specific religious group in America; Jews are the least.
  • Religiousness is highest in Southern states, including Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.
  • Religiousness is lowest in states located in the two northern corners of the country, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.
  • Upscale Americans are less religious than those with lower levels of education and income, but better-off Americans attend religious services just as often.
  • There are substantial political differences in religiousness. Republicans are significantly more likely to say that religion is important in their daily lives and more likely to attend religious services regularly than either independents or Democrats.
  • Blacks are a major exception to the significant correlation between religiousness and Republicanism. They are at the same time the most religious and the most Democratic race and ethnic group in America.

Interesting, no?  Read the full article: Seven in 10 Americans Are Very or Moderately Religious.

Thing I'm thankful for: white chili!

Mormons and Gays: A New Church Website

Yesterday, the Church unveiled a new website: Mormonsandgays.org.  It's actually more of a Web page than a site, though, and it's called "Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction."

I've heard a handful of people talk about how it's a "really good" or "cool" site.  That it's about time the Church publish something like this.  In my mind, though, the Church has already published a lot of stuff about how we ought to treat others with love, respect, and kindness.  Maybe the thing that makes this particular page so exciting to people, though, is that it's an online space where information about mormons and gays can be aggregated.  As a bonus, there are lots of videos of regular Church-goin' folks and not just Church leaders.

Here's a question I have running through my mind, though:  Why did we even need a Web page that instructs us to love one another?  That's really the main message of the whole thing.  The Church didn't change its stance on gay marriage or say it's a happy thing to be mormon and gay.  Instead, the tone is more like, "Hey, everyone -- be understanding and loving."  It never hurts, of course, to remind people of that, but I guess I'm just wondering where those people are who are not understanding and loving.  And to the point of needing Church leaders to so explicitly tell them to be?

It's just interesting to me; that's all.  I certainly am not perfect, but I guess what I'm saying is that I'm grateful I grew up in a place where people were different than me and believed things so wholly unrelated to my own approach to life.  It forced me to see people in a way I might not otherwise have -- in a way that made my reaction to the new website go something like this:  "Love one another?  Yeah, aaand . . . ?"

Anyway, check it out.  See what you think.  And then come back here and leave a comment!

Thing I'm thankful for: messing up sometimes

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Hottest Year

Remember my free associations?  Probably not, 'cause I haven't written like that in a long time.  Yesterday, however, upon hearing that 2012 is slated to be the hottest year on record (That's 118 years!), I felt inspired.  So here you go; here are my free associations to heat:
"The heat was enough to drive a man mad."  That's how the story began, anyway.  I remember thinking that was true -- that heat could drive a man mad.  It could certainly drive me mad.  But could it drive me to murder?  It did for the man in the story.

When I was a little girl, my favorite dress was a pale pink wool number that looked good against my tan skin.  I loved to wear that dress, even in the middle of summer.  One warm and lazy Sunday afternoon, I walked out to the backyard and sat on the swing.  Apparently, I fell asleep because what must've been at least an hour later, I woke up, drenched in sweat.  I'm sure I've experienced higher temperatures since that day, but it still stands out to me as perhaps the hottest I have ever felt.

But the coldest?  The day I felt the coldest was the day my sister Lexia was married.  We walked from the Manhattan Temple to Bethesda Terrace in Central Park.  I was proud of myself for picking such an elegant spot to photograph the newly-married couple.  (I had only walked inside a small portion of the park once!)  It was the second day of January and maybe the coldest day that Winter.  It was windy, too, and so cold that no one stayed for pictures; they went straight to Marquette for brunch.  In the end, it was just Lauren and me trying to snap pictures with our frozen fingers.  The pictures still turned out alright, though; people posted compliments on Facebook.

I wonder if it could ever be cold enough to drive a man mad.

Thing I'm thankful for: a soft and cozy bed

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

My Side of the Camera

Last weekend, I went to a masquerade with some friends.  We dressed up all fancy-like.  We wore colorful masks.  We arrived late and stayed late.  We danced.  You know the drill.

What was unexpected was the model shots.  Rachel went crazy with her phone and took tons of close-up shots of everyone, which was fun until it was my turn.  She was moving my head this way and that, and Nathan tried to help.  Turn the corners of my mouth up a bit.  Don't smile, but don't look sad.  Tilt my head.  Look up with my head.  Look up with my eyes.  Open my eyes more.  Move my face more toward the camera.  Do this, do that.  Yada yada yada.

It stressed me out big time.  I was starting to break a sweat.  I felt so uncomfortable and self-conscious and not at all pretty.

It was then that I knew my side of the camera is solidly behind it.  I guess I've known this for a while; I was just reminded of it this weekend.  Let me take pictures any day; I'm actually fairly decent at it.  Put me in front of a camera, though, and I have no idea what to do.

I don't enjoy being the center of attention for more than say, three or four people at a time and for a handful of seconds.  (Ideally, I'd really only want to be the center of attention for one person.)  This does not mean I begrudge people who like to be in the spotlight; in fact, I like to be part of the supporting cast.  I like to help highlight the stars and the charmers.  I just don't want to be a star myself.  I feel okay about that.

Let's take a look at what I'm talking about, shall we?


Not a star
(See how I don't really know how to accomplish interesting poses?)

I did have some good shots, I guess, but the point I'm making here is that it didn't matter.  Even if the picture was good, I was stressed about taking it.  I have a much better time when I'm laughing, as I am in the following photo.  Laughing is my favorite.

Thing I'm thankful for: weightlifting.  It's feels good.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

I Believe in Christ

There's a Sunday during my high school years that particularly stands out to me.  It was the day I saw my brother's testimony.  Brooks had been . . . living on the edge?  Partying a bit too hard?  He was often late to church or not at church at all, but this Sunday, he was there.  It was the rest hymn, and the chorister had motioned for us to stand while we sang.  "I Believe in Christ" was the hymn, and somewhere in the middle of the second verse, I noticed that Brooks had quit singing.  I glanced over and saw tears filling his eyes and streaming down his cheeks.  It was a powerful witness to me that he believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He believed in Christ's atonement and it's ability to save and to change.

Even now, whenever I sing that hymn, I see my brother's tears, and I feel a stirring in my heart.  I can't get through it without choking up a bit.  My mind goes to the time when my brother understood the atonement in a way I hadn't yet, and it prepared me for a time when I would need his testimony.  "I Believe in Christ" is my favorite hymn now -- for that memory and for the words.
I believe in Christ; he is my King!
With all my heart to him I'll sing;
I'll raise my voice in praise and joy,
In grand amens my tongue employ.
I believe in Christ; he is God's Son.
On earth to dwell his soul did come.
He healed the sick; the dead he raised.
Good works were his; his name be praised.

I believe in Christ; oh blessed name!
As Mary's Son he came to reign
'Mid mortal men, his earthly kin,
To save them from the woes of sin.
I believe in Christ, who marked the path,
Who did gain all his Father hath,
Who said to men:  "Come, follow me,
That ye, my friends, with God may be."

I believe in Christ—my Lord, my God!
My feet he plants on gospel sod.
I'll worship him with all my might;
He is the source of truth and light.
I believe in Christ; he ransoms me.
From Satan's grasp he sets me free,
And I shall live with joy and love
In his eternal courts above.

I believe in Christ; he stands supreme!
From him I'll gain my fondest dream;
And while I strive through grief and pain,
His voice is heard:  "Ye shall obtain."
I believe in Christ; so come what may,
With him I'll stand in that great day
When on this earth he comes again
To rule among the sons of men.
(For the sheet music, see I Believe in Christ.  For a good rendition, listen to The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing it.)

Thing I'm thankful for: Brooke, for letting me cry

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Open Letter to Men, No. 2

Dear Men,

Before I get to the meat of things, let me tell you about dancing.  Tonight I went dancing.  It was an English country dance, and because that type of dance is based around a fixed series of movements, it's imperative that there is a clear male lead and a female follow.  I had not gotten through three complete dances before it was obvious to me just how important it is for the male lead to be strong.  Sure, I'd noticed this before when dancing, but tonight, I was reminded of it again.  I enjoyed the experience so much more when my partner knew what he was doing.

So to you I say, make your relationship with a woman like a dance.  Be a strong lead.  How do you do that?  Here, I'll write it in bold:

Be decisive.
Be decisive, be decisive, be decisive!

There is perhaps no quality more attractive in a man.  Seriously, there have been about a bajillion studies that show that women are attracted to confidence, and I think it's because on a practical level, confidence is instantiated in decision-making.

Does this mean you can't ask your date or wife what she thinks about something?  Of course not!  (See Open Letter to Men, No. 1.)  Does it mean what you say always goes?  No!  It does mean, however, that sometimes, women just need you to make a decision.  If your date gives you a few ideas for dinner, make the final call.  If you're both bored and don't quite know what you want to do, pick an activity and plan it.  If your wife can't decide what to wear for your work party and she shows you some examples of what she's thinking, pick one.

The point is, a woman wants a man to be able to make decisions.  She wants to know that if she needs help with a decision, her man can actually help.  She also wants a man to take charge once in a while.

Think your crush or girlfriend or wife is the kind of woman who likes to wear the pants in the relationship?  Think again.  The sexual revolution of the 1960s created all kinds of confusion about gender roles that I personally think we're still feeling the dizzying effects from, but when all is said and done, women need men and vice versa.  We need each other to help each other make decisions, and all things being equal, it's nice for a man to take over and say, for example, "Yes, let's just take a cab" or "Let's eat at [restaurant X] over [restaurant Y]."  Heck, sometimes I wish I had a man around to say, "Sara, quit doing homework for the night.  You need sleep.  Go to bed!"  And then I want him to stand there and wait for me to start getting ready for bed.  Because sometimes, it's too late to think, and I need someone to just tell me to go to sleep.

I really can't stress this one enough, men.  Just learn to be decisive.  If you have to work on your confidence first, do it.  Just get to the point where you can make decisions.

I'll end with a special note for single men:  If you can make decisions for yourself in your own life, women everywhere will notice.  Do you struggle with the fear of missing out on the multitudes of social events you could be attending?  Well, stop it.  Stop it right now.  As soon as you learn to make decisions confidently, two things will happen:  1) You will be happier, and 2) Women will be attracted to you.

Okay.  That's it for now.  Be decisive!

Good luck,