Friday, May 25, 2012

Summer Reading

 Another school year has passed, and another summer break has begun.  I've enjoyed the last week just relaxing, and though I've been semi-productive, everything I've done has been on my own time.  I didn't have to worry about what time it was, ever.  The freedom from my usually beloved schedule has been the best vacation so far.  But because my nature still needs some sort of task to accomplish, lest I slip into introversion and self-analysis that can only lead to misery, I have been devouring books like it's my job.  Here are a few snippets of my thoughts so far.

The Submission by Amy Waldman
Sometime last year the peeps revived book club after a long hiatus, and although I opted out of several selections because of the busy-ness of last winter, I have read the last few and have surprisingly enjoyed a few books that I never would have picked for myself.  The Submission was one of them, chosen by our dear friend Martha.  It is set just after the attacks of 9/11, and a jury of artists, architects, and one widow are given the task of choosing the design, and designer, of the memorial.  After an arduous process that kept all candidates anonymous until chosen, it turns out that the jury has selected a Muslim architect.  Of course, the shock of this reverberates throughout the country, and to call thought-provoking  Waldman's speculation on how a grief-stricken America might react to the idea of a person who claims the same religion as the attackers creating a memorial to the attacked is a vast understatement.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I had read this beautiful story once before when I was very young, too young to remember and understand the most touching and teaching parts of it.  So, when Rob and Tracy and I ventured across the country to DC in March (how appropriate), Rob and I took turns reading it in the car.  I won't tell you how many times she had to stop when she found me shamelessly sobbing in the back seat. We got about 2/3 of the way through it, but then I was back at school, and life didn't slow down, so I had to wait until early last week to pick it up again.  The story of the precious March family and the trials and victories the girls encounter while growing up is a classic masterpiece.  One can't help but fall in love with them all and rejoice when they rejoice and weep (literally) when they weep.  I haven't read the subsequent stories of these characters, Little Men and Jo's Boys, yet, but they're on my list to tackle as soon as my fragile emotions have recovered.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
This was another book club selection, chosen by Becky.  The idea in iBooks' blurb (because I read nearly everything on my wonderful iPad now) of a young boy being trained as a soldier to fight off an alien invasion did not appeal to me in the least.  However, the intense struggle of Ender, a young, empathetic genius in a futuristic universal world, to overcome his circumstances, and often himself, held my interest to the end.  I am often irritated by books that begin in medias res, dropping me down in the middle of the action (especially in a world so different from my own), but the way that the characteristics of this new place were gradually revealed was exciting because I was always searching for clues in the text.  It was very well written and nearly thrilling and had me rooting for the young genius until the End(er).

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I have been told by many people that I am perhaps the last person on the planet to read this book and its sequels.  It's been on my reading list for at least three years, but I've never been interested enough to pick it up because I feared it was another Twilight, and don't get me started on the ridiculousness of that phenomenon.  However, I had several beloved students this year who were super in love with The Hunger Games (so much so that the girls all braided their hair to be like Katniss's on our Senior High Retreat, which was the day after the movie's midnight premiere), so I had to find out what all the fuss was really about.  I didn't expect to really enjoy it, and I won't say that I'm sucked in.  But Collins did make me care about her characters, and I'll say this for her:  She knows how to sell a sequel.  The cliffhanger at the end of The Hunger Games makes me thankful I waited so long to read them because I'd be miserable if I were waiting for Mocking Jay to finally be released. 

Well those are the books I've finished this week.  Don't hold me to this high weekly standard for the rest of the summer, but I do plan to finish several more.  I'm also reading/listening to Les Miserables along the way, but I don't have the focus it takes to get through those roughly 3000 pages without several breaks.  I've seen the musical, and I have been saying I was going to read it someday for sometime.  Rob and I are planning to see the musical again in October, so I thought this was the perfect time.  I like a task I can check off of a list, and setting a goal of getting through Hugo's magnum opus by then seemed perfect.  I'll keep you updated on how it's going.  So far I'm on page 86 of 2820. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Not all those who wander are lost

Did you miss me?  I know it's been just over a year, a long rollercoaster of a year, since I gave you some insight into the pickle jar that is my life, but I'm going to risk mixing my metaphors and get back on the horse.  I've learned so many lessons over the last year, and I miss the catharsis that regular (haha) writing used to bring.  So, no, I haven't been lost since April of 2011.  I've simply been wandering and have (no promises) made my way back to you.  The biggest part of my journey this year, other than teaching, has been purposefully being more healthy.  I have a hard time even talking about this with many people because I've been so embarrassed of my weight for as long as I can remember, but as my body continues to change, and I continue to reap the benefits that hard work has accomplished, it has become a little easier to accept the generous compliments and sweet smiles from the people around me who love and encourage.  On that note, I thought that I'd share just a few things that I've learned about lifestyle changes (because I have no plans to go back!).

1. You don't have to keep doing it just because it's who you've always been or what you've always done.
My shame and embarrassment that was developed and cultivated over the course of about 10 years or so kept me from changing my life for so long.  I would set a goal and decide I was going to really change things, but then the disappointment that came when it didn't happen as quickly as I wished would send me back to my old habits.  I'm still, daily, having to remember that I don't have to do the things I have always done.  I don't have to eat dessert just because that's what's supposed to come next.  I don't have to go back for seconds just because there's some left.  It may sound simple, or even silly, but that is an empowering revelation for me. 

2.  Your body is smarter than you think.  Listen to it.
It took such a long time for this one to really change because I didn't love or trust my body, but our perfect and amazing Creator has given us all the tools we need to be the healthy and beautiful people He created us to be. He created our bodies to know when we are full and to let our brains and hands and mouths know when to stop eating, but a lifelong habit of eating what whatever was around had corrupted my ability to do that.  When controlling when I stopped eating with my brain finally led me to a place where my stomach began to recognize it again, it was like someone turned a key in a lock and the chains fell off.  

3.  Nike was right.  Just Do It.
I have wasted a ridiculous amount of time "feeling bad" or being "tired" or just not wanting to exercise, but each time I go ahead and tough it out, I always feel better.  I can always be proud of working through that psychological mess and of doing just one more thing to get me closer to my goal.  Imagine all that I could have accomplished if I had just gotten out of my chair and done it without all the internal discussion!

4.  Enjoy the journey.
If you can't be happy with the small milestones, how can you expect to be happy at the end?  I often worry that I will work this hard for this long and still not be satisfied once that "magic" number is finally on the scale.  I am still learning this one.  I have to think about and reflect on all of the changes that have been made in me and in my life, all of the mountains I have had to overcome, just to get to this place.  I have now lost about 60% of my goal, and those numbers, ever so slowly, keep climbing.  The light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to glimmer into view.  As excited as I am to get there, I need to maintain focus on today so that I can keep moving forward, and continuing to allow myself to relish in the compliments and to smile when I look in the mirror is a huge part of that. 

I want to say thank you to all of you who have encouraged and supported me along the way, even those of you who may not even have known it.  I could never have gotten this far without you and my patient and loving Lord.  As part of my reward at the end of my weight loss journey, I have been planning a big party, and you will all be invited to share in the celebration of the success story that I know God is giddy to give me. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Although I'm not Catholic and have no desire for "high church," I do have many non-Catholic friends who regularly observe Lent. I'd thought about it for the last several years but have always felt that I ought to be sacrificial all year round and didn't like the idea of allowing myself to believe that my work was done at Easter. That's not to say that Lent observers feel or think this way, but only that I would be tempted to if I wasn't careful. Along the same lines, however, I have had a difficult time adjusting to my new grown-up single life in the past 8 months, and my spiritual life has taken a real beating. So this year, after some really hard conversations with good friends, I realized that a scheduled sacrifice to recenter my focus might be just what I needed.

Then came the internal conflict about what to give up. It had to be something tangible that I could feel and experience and miss regularly. It also had to be something I could actually do without for forty days. And it had to be something that would help me find and feel God again.

Finally, after a really late night of tears and trying and trembling, it came to me on my way home. I decided to give up listening to the radio in my car. It met all the criteria. With all of my driving back and forth to Beebe at least twice a week, in addition to the driving that I do around Searcy regularly, I could definitely miss it. But I also felt that I had enough self-control to make it through. I also decided that because I didn't want to sweep my house clean only to have seven more demons return, I needed to pray regularly in the car to replace listening to music. This was how I was going to find God again.

Now comes the confession and report on just how well I've done. First of all, I did stick to it. (And since my revelation came about a week too late to begin on Ash Wednesday, I've still got 3 days left.) Some car rides were harder than others, and I didn't always pray as much as I should. But practicing the self-discipline of Silence has really helped. It's helped me be more self-controlled about my eating habits and more self-disciplined about working out. It's helped me to really appreciate and almost look forward to the quiet times when I can just rest and think. I think it's helped me remember more. When I have more room and time to think, I forget fewer things. But the ultimate test is "Has it really brought me closer to my God?" I really think it has. I think the prayer and quiet time has created a way of life for me that reminds me that God is around. I am much more likely to remember to stop and pray than I was at the first of the year. I'm more content (usually). I'm more comfortable being alone and silent (most of the time).

I don't know what will change next week when I'm allowed to listen to the radio again. I hope it's like when I stopped drinking Cokes for a year and a half. Now I can't stand the taste of a regular soft drink. I hope I won't like it anymore. I hope I at least don't want it on all the time. I hope I'll still be able to remember how precious quiet can be and how calming it can be to not have a thousand different inputs in my one tiny brain.

Regardless, God is good. And I can't explain how it wonderful feels to regularly feel Him with me again. So, if the testimony of a Lent neophyte is worth anything, I'm in favor of yearly sacrifice. It's one step closer to the daily sacrifice we're all called to.

Friday, March 25, 2011

8 Questions

I have been asked several questions since becoming a teacher that have completely left me speechless. These aren't the kind of questions I don't feel qualified to answer; they're just the kind I never expected to hear.

1. Can I go out to the parking lot? I left my car running this morning.
2. Can I turn my homework in tomorrow? I got hit by a car yesterday afternoon.
3. Can I go to the office? My tooth just broke off.
4. Can I go get my book? I left it on the wrong side of my locker, so I forgot to pick it up.
5. Can you tell us about your first kiss?
6. Do you know who invented the dog whistle?
7. Where does the peace sign come from?
8. Do you know how to fold those paper chain people who all hold hands?

Needless to say, those of you who think that teachers only need to know about teaching their particular subject matter, think again. I've half a mind to write to the dean of my college and demand to know why the English Department didn't teach me who invented the dog whistle. I'm sure he'd take that into consideration and create a class designed specifically around that. In the meantime, Wikipedia is at my frequent disposal.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sweet River Fool

When I finally moved into my first grown-up apartment, realized that my budget was still up in the air and that would mean I'd have to wait for a while before committing to a monthly cable bill, my years of studying and keeping busy in college meant that I was actually rather confident in my ability to refrain from television. I'd have movies after all, and could borrow whatever I didn't own, and this would finally give me the time I'd been craving to read whatever I wanted. Another one of those things that they never tell you about growing up is that teachers have to read a ton of stuff they wouldn't necessarily choose to read. About 80% of the material I have taught so far this year was brand new to me, so all that time I thought I'd have to read whatever books I wanted was initially taken up with planning and grading for school, and the time that remained left me so drained of energy that I'd rather sit in front of the tv than expand my literary horizons. I have consequently (yes, Senor Allen, people do use "consequently" in everyday conversations) spent the last six months watching movies and all of the tv series on DVD that I could borrow or get on Netflix. But in the past several weeks, I have finally gotten tired of tv and have returned to my once great love. I haven't read as much as I'd like, but I'm working on it, and the internet is helping me do that.

Sometime last Spring, I got an email from one of my favorite English professors at Harding, letting me know that he had just gotten his novel published. At the time, I was a poor college student, so I saved the email for a time when I'd actually be able to afford to buy it. Last week was exactly the time for it. I dug out that old email and ordered Sweet River Fool by Dr. Larry Hunt.

On Friday afternoon, when I was finally able to pick it up from the post office, I was super excited to delve into this new story. Being on Spring Break this week has given me ample opportunity to read whatever I like, so on Monday morning I finally picked up the tale of Snody (pronounced "Snow-dee"). For those of you who don't know Dr. Hunt, he's a really fun guy with a wide array of interests. (Incidentally, as the Tolkien expert on staff, he was my advisor for my Senior Symposium.) After reading only the "blurb" on the back cover, I knew that this was the perfect combination of his deep south Georgia upbringing and his delightful love of medieval literature. Snody, the protagonist, is a homeless drunk, who after a failed suicide attempt, finds an illustrated book about Saint Francis of Assisi in a dumpster and decides that he is going to model his life after Saint Francis. His story is beautifully woven through the lives of the residents of the small Georgia town of Sweet River, and it is inspiring to see the way this unlikely Christ character touches the lives of so many who are suffering and lonely. The writing has a light, yet tender feel and a subtle morality that makes it difficult to find its equal (or even its younger brother) on my bookshelves. I devoured this story in just a couple of days and slept very well on Tuesday night as I imagined being able to lay my head down in God's lap just like Snody did. I'd recommend this book without hesitation, and am hoping that this won't be the last of Dr. Hunt's books I'll be able to add to my collection. If you're interested, I'm certain that he would love for you to buy your own copy here, or I'd be happy to let you borrow mine.