"I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself." -CS Lewis, The Great Divorce


Thing #26: The Best Gift

I thought about this post all week, and of course, I failed to post it yesterday, but I don't think it's too late today. There are 12 days of Christmas after all.

Over the week before Christmas, I get stressed out about gifts and things of that nature, which caused me to ponder the ultimate gift - the sacrifice of God's son, whose birth Christmas is said to commemorate (but with all this red and green and Santa fluff, who would know?). Anyway, it occurred to me that I don't always feel worthy of this gift, yet God knew that each person would be worth his sacrifice, and so he sent His son (himself) to be human and die for us. Perhaps my greatest wish for this year is to recognize in myself the qualities that God felt a certain urgency to preserve. The good in me must be evident if God himself sacrificed for it.

While I often feel unworthy, I can easily understand the wonderful sacrifice and gift when I look at others. My dad's compassion and genuine hunger for knowledge, my mom's selflessness and unconditional love... they are qualities that are certainly worth a gift like Jesus.

So this thing to be happy about is more of a wish for all...
I hope that for Christmas, you are able to recognize in yourself and in others the wonderful things that made the birth of Jesus necessary. On this holiday, we celebrate the hope of our salvation and the ability we have to lead lives with certainty that God loves us.

I am happy for the greatest gift of all time. Happy Birthday, Jesus Christ.


Thing #25: Everything I have

Christmas is wonderful, but these two weeks before it are always overwhelming to me. I start to let my anxiety take hold, and then I have no fun. But, always, the day or two before the actual holiday, I get a perspective check.

Today, as I was driving my sniffly and uncaffeinated self to the ridiculously crowded mall, I saw a family walking down the street with a shopping cart full of things and a child who looked to be about two-years-old. I wanted to pull over and ask what I could do, but my America, selfish sensibilities took over, and I kept driving. But I did realize one very important thing: my life is amazing.

I don't have to worry where my next meal will come from. I do not have to worry that my children may not have a place to sleep at night. I do not have to wonder if my family will call or send me a card this Christmas. I do not struggle to pay my power, water, cable bill, or car loan. I have everything I need and almost everything I want. I am one of the luckiest people in the world.

I often feel like I don't deserve the many blessings I have been given. At times like these, I think of Grandpa Ed's question, "why was I born in America and not a poor man in Africa?" Regardless, I know that I deserve the blessings less if I fail to acknowledge them.

So today, I am happy for EVERYTHING I have - the material things and the emotional comforts I truly need to survive. Life IS good.


Thing #24: A working washer and dryer

I'm officially old (as the previous entry asserts and the gray hairs sprouting from the back of my head attest). My new washer and dryer are fabulous. The LG pair play a little jig when they turn on and off as well as when the load is done, not to mention they get my clothes clean. The best part, however, is that I don't have to leave my apartment. Oh, and the dryer allows me to once again fluff clothes a normal person might consider ironing. This renders my wardrobe larger, once again.



Thing #23: feelin' fine

I have an REM lyric stuck in my head that goes, "it's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine." You may have heard it before. In case you did not, a pink-haired, brace-faced Gwen Stefani sang it on New Year's Eve 1999 on MTV. You may be able to youTube it, but you may not.

Anyway, the song itself is unimportant, but the line is not.

I have moments of awareness when I realize that things have changed irrevocably. I always think that I'll catch the moment that things change, like it's a spontaneous sort of switch, but it's not. It's gradual, and we wake up one day and realize, "Oh, things will never actually be the same."

I realized that at Thanksgiving this year. It was my first holiday not living or staying at my parents' house, and it was weird. Drew and I both ate two Thanskgivings, and though we retained the Midland traditions, it's clear that things have shifted. We've grown up, and we're beginning to ease into our new adult patterns that will require balancing multiple families and multiple traditions. We've reached a new stage in our lives where it's no longer just us, the four Midlands; it's the Midlands plus others. It's different. And I recognize that this new different will become our old pattern in a matter of years. The change has occurred, silently but somehow swiftly. We are adults.

Similarly, I realize that my parents and grandparents are simultaneously altering in my perceptions. Grandma Pat's surgery tomorrow and Grandpa Dale's recently placed pace-maker are both doses of reality. As my previous entry states, we are not actually invincible, and the people we love are surprisingly fragile. Everyone seems to be reaching an age where doctor's visits are approached with greater caution and irregular test results can spell disaster. It's humbling to know that my heroes are human.

But, despite the lump in my throat as I write this, "I feel fine." I have been raised for this adulthood business, and I know my parents were raised to be strong and courageous support systems for their parents who have been supportive of them. We are a web, interconnected and stronger because of it. And our web gets bigger, too. While I am sad to have missed saying goodbye to childhood, I know that this will be good. Maybe even better. Definitely better.

Thing #22: People who love me and people to love

The week of thankfulness came and went, and I published nothing "to be happy about" in those days. That's simultaneously silly and stupid because I have many things for which to be thankful (numerous and almost uncountable).

When it comes right down to it, though, very few things (edit: nothing) in my life would be worthwhile without the people I love. Simple pleasures like the lights on my Christmas tree are empty and meaningless without someone with whom to share them. Thanksgiving dinner is just food without the company. Life is just a passage of days without people to share our joys and successes.

My life is certainly richer and fuller because of the people I love and the people who love me. My mom reminded me today (as things tend to do frequently) that life is short and as I told a freshman during 2nd block, we are not as invincible as we imagine ourselves to be at 14. So, to those of you who love me, thank you for making my life better and worth living. It's for you that I work hard to make a good name for myself, because I know that my legacy is also a tribute to the impact you have had in my life. And I am unspeakably thankful for the power of your influence in and on my life. Thank you.


Thing #21: Christmas trees

I love Christmas, and I will probably include several items on this blog that center around my love of all things Christmas. If this bothers you, get over it. I feel no sympathy, and I make no apologies.

Christmas trees are spectacular. Not two are the same, whether they be freshly cut pine or artificial plastic. Each one has unique lights and decorations and branches. They say so much about the people or places they are found. Trees can be sparkly, monochromatic, country classic, 40s retro, or scattered and bright. My two trees say a lot about me, I think. I have two that are very different, which shows, of course, that I am indecisive with different tastes in decoration (which my apartment also displays with the country traditional rooms and the bright pink room).

They're just so fun. I could drink my hot cider and stare at my trees for hours. In fact, I may resort to that tonight when I should be reading or cleaning or grocery shopping. I get kind of caught up in the wonder of it all.

Ah, Christmas tree...


Thing #20: Peppermint Scented and Flavored things

The holiday season is upon us. I am (as mentioned before) excited about this. One aspect of the holiday season particularly makes me happy: peppermint. I really dislike peppermint normally. I prefer wintergreen or any number of other flavors to peppermint. However, when the weather turns colder and leaves fall from trees, I begin to have an interest in peppermint. Peppermint bark, peppermint candy canes, and peppermint flavored lip gloss are all things that I enjoy.

Right now, I am wearing a lovely lip gloss from Bath & Body Works that is both scented and flavored like peppermint (in fact, the label states that it contains peppermint oil, whatever the heck that is). Ah, winter.

I also want to provide an update on a previous entry: Starbucks has Christmas products on their website. They include a delightful mug that looks like the cup sold in the store as well as a cold beverage cup with a candy cane striped straw. Fantastic.


Thing #19: Starbucks Holiday Cups

As previously mentioned, today is a teacher work day, so I stopped by Starbucks on my way to work for a motivational treat. Today's cups? Holiday. The saying on them? "We invite you to listen to your desires and to renew your hope, to see the world not as it is, but as it could be. Go ahead. With. It's what makes the holidays the holidays."

I liked it. I just hope they sell cool holiday stuff as well. In fact, I'm going to the Starbucks website right now. Afterall, I did just grade two class sets of tests. I deserve a little motivational break.

Thing #18: Teacher Work Days

First, let me be clear - my job has countless perks. I have breaks at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, as well as the entire summer. My hours are 7:15 to 2:35 by contract. I reliably work only Monday through Friday. I get to read and write as part of my job. I'm entertained daily by 14-18 year olds.

But the great unspoken perk is the Teacher Work Day, at least in high school. On this day, I am able to arrive at my contract hour and not hysterically run around seeking the things I need to teach. I can leisurely enjoy coffee in the morning. I can wear jeans and my pink Converse without fear of administrative reproach. I am able to enjoy hours of planning, cleaning, organizing, and/or grading without the interruptions of a normal teaching day. Plus, let's not forget that there is often some kind of sustenance involved, whether it be breakfast, a snack, or lunch.

I am happy that today is a work day. I needed to wake up at 6, wear jeans, and grade papers. Today will be a good day.


Thing #17: Lime Candy

I was innocently eating my SweetTarts the other day when I realized that the green candies were apple flavored. This has been occurring for quite some time, I understand, but it still strikes me as odd. From childhood, my favorite flavors were purple (grape) and green (lime). But somehow, green began to mean "green apple" and my happiness when eating green candy dissipated.

There are a few candies that hold fast to the original and better flavor, and for those delicious hold outs, I am happy.

Bring back lime-flavored candy!


Thing #16: Freshmen and their hall decorations

The Class of 2013 at Ocean Lakes is truly phenomenal. The faculty and administration can hardly believe that so many freshmen continue to show up to meetings. We even chose an executive board of 19.
Most recently (last Monday, when I should have posted this), they decorated the hall for homecoming week. Their theme was "Aladdin: A Whole New Class," and they did an outstanding job coming in second to the seniors. I'd like to take a moment for you to enjoy their efforts, in particular, this lovely Jasmine and Aladdin on the magic carpet ride that hung from the ceiling all week. I couldn't really imagine what they had in store, but what they accomplished certainly surpassed my expectations. I've also shared the market they created. It's 3D. That's right. Legendary. Just wait until their ring dance and prom. Goodness only knows...

Thing #15: Pear Cider

In college, many of my friends were not "beer people," so on mug night, a night that required they drink a 32 oz mug of something alcoholic, they drank cider. I tried drinking 32 oz of cider once, and it was a terrible idea. The carbonation added to the sugar plus the alcohol was nearly enough to do me in. I never tried again.

Last year, on a particularly enjoyable girl's night at the Leafe, I discovered PEAR cider. This concoction is the same as apple cider, but it tastes exactly like sparkling pear juice...but it's alcoholic. What a delightful combination.

Today at Harris Teeter, there was a display of Woodchuck Draft Pear Cider at the front of the store. I purchased some. Today needed redemption after beginning with an apartment at 59 degrees (though the space heater and dehumidifier have SIGNIFICANTLY improved my predicament, as well as the fact that my warm clothes are now all clean). Regardless, the pear cider was a perfect drink for a day like today. It's almost a fall beverage, and it's delicious. And, in case you missed it, it has 4% alcohol/volume. This is a good thing.



Thing #14: Leftovers

When I lived in Maryland, I didn't cook much. I threw together sandwiches and frozen meals, and sometimes, I put some bag rice in the boiling water and added ranch dressing and cheese when it was done. I was lazy (and I spent a lot of time on the couch and not in the kitchen). Anyway, Trader Joe's and Safeway made plenty of good food so I didn't have to. My waist line paid the price.

Last year, I ate frozen meals like it was part of my job description. Teach class. Take your 2nd block break. At 10 AM, uncover the frozen meal and pop it in the microwave for 5-7 minutes. Let it steam. Eat. It's difficult, too, to claim leftovers when there are two other people who may want to enjoy them. I didn't want to hog the deliciousness that is (or can be) a snack made up of leftovers.

Now, I cook a lot more. And when I cook, I always have a portion to put into a Ziploc container to cart to work with me the next day. When it's lunch time, I take my Ziploc container out of the mini-fridge in the office, slightly pop the lid, and put it in microwave for a maximum of 2 minutes. This leftover routine has several advantages. The first is obvious: I'm cooking my own meals at home, so I eat more healthfully there. The second is the time saved on waiting for the frozen food to heat. Three minutes in a wonderful amount of saved time. The third is that leftovers are delicious, because, who knew, I can cook!

It's the little things (and the comment "Something smells good in here") that really make life grand.


Thing #13: Behind the Music

In my younger years, when I was first introduced to music television (or what was formerly “music” television), I watched, with great interest, musicians and family members of those musicians unravel their famous lives on a little show called Behind the Music. Aerosmith, Nsync, and Bon Jovi – all commemorated with their very own episodes of television goodness with 1 hour to explore the birth of lead singers, creation of the perfect bands, temporary demises caused by booze, drugs, and women, and reunion tours. It molds all interests – music, history, and idle gossip – into one fabulous hour.

And it’s returned.

Yesterday, between fitful after-work sleep, I listened as Pink (ne Alicia) all too carefully dissected her life story. The story begins with a drug-addicted and dealing 13-year-old and follows her to her rise as a Philadelphia club singer, to signed artist, to miserable famous person, to clean/semi-sober, un-separated current rock star (whose talents are as of yet, untested and largely unknown). I listened (kind of) intently as the images and sound clips passed on the screen.

I, for one, am happy to have my dose of Behind the Music again. It’s almost as righteous as MTV would be if they actually played an entire music video during daylight hours. Almost.


Thing #12: Waking up to exercise

It rarely seems like a good idea when the alarm goes off an hour or an hour and half before I actually have to be awake, especially on these precious weekend days when I hoard hours of sleep like a Springsteen fan might hoard sweaty guitar picks from concerts. But once I'm awake and moving, it seems genius.

Get the blood pumping before the day begins. Enjoy the burn. Burn some of the calories I'm going to eat regardless of the status of my physical fitness regimen. Spend time alone with my head before the noises of the day crowd out the voice that sometimes tries to give me guidance.

Waking up to exercise really is fantastic.

And though I've sworn off long runs in the morning (especially as the main means of half-marathon preparatory training), I still enjoy the early(ish) morning walk or jog or bike ride. It's refreshing.


Thing #11: Corn pudding

Drew has a teammate named Skeeter. Skeeter has a mom who makes corn pudding, corn pudding sent from God, or something akin to that. She's also delightfully entertaining and kind. I like her AND her corn pudding.

And for chatting with her today about Farmville's most recent crazy quadruple homicide and for her tasty corn pudding, I feel as though it must make my list of things to be happy about.

(and for the record, there have been countless things to be happy about in the last month, but I brain farted and completely forgot I had a blog. I guess those things'll happen.)


Thing #10: Being a tourist in your home town

I created an "End of Summer To-Do List," which includes randomness such as a bike ride down the entire boardwalk, skinny dipping, and other such nonsense. On this list was a little item known as the "be a tourist in your home town." Really, what the list said was to "shop" like a tourist. All summer, I've coveted a Virginia Beach t-shirt, the black one with neon splatters. I also realized that I needed a VB shot glass for my ever growing (and relatively unused) shot glass collection. So today, I took a very long walk (see the entry below about physical activity), and on the way back from the walk, I decided to do a little tourist shopping.

It was thrilling. In a "I just shopped at cheap stores where I feel slightly dirty" kind of way. I did find exactly what I wanted...a dolphin bottle opener (I previously was sadly lacking a bottle opener), a child's sized XL Virginia Beach t-shirt (cheaper!), a shot glass with flip flops and "Life's a Beach," and a VB sticker to put on my school cart.

It felt anonymous. It also reminded me that I'm glad to live here, not vacation here. Seriously sketch-tastic. Seriously.

Thing #9: Kids (and the things that make them happy)

On the aforementioned long walk, I happened to walk by a little kid playing with either his father or grandfather (who can really tell these days). Anyway, the kid, maybe 3, 3 and a half, was running from the water to his mom with something in his hand saying, "Look what I found, mom. Look what I found!"

For some reason, the joy in his voice and the expression of pure happiness on his face just about made me cry. It's hard not to accept the world as a beautiful place when seen through the eyes of a little kid seeing it for the first time.

And for that kid's wonder, I have to be happy. I have to know how blessed I am to live in a place where small wonders and discoveries can be shared freely and openly.

Thing #8: The Time Traveler's Wife

Delightful novel, and the original purpose of this post.

I read it quickly, energetically, and with purpose. It brought joy to my life, but it also caused me to ponder what would change if I too knew the future before I lived it. Or what would happen if I met myself at 6 on the street somewhere in San Diego. Those sorts of thoughts, inspired by reading, are always fantastic.

So here's to #8 - a good book that I enjoyed for fun.

Thing #7: Physical activity

It's good to remind yourself, occasionally, what your body can do.

Lift things that may be a bit, oh I don't know, heavy beyond your strength.

Run a little farther than you ran before. Don't die. See how it feels to have legs of Jell-O, burning lungs, sweaty shorts, and accomplishment.

Walk a long way. Just walk. Know that the car could have taken you there in about 1/10th of the time. Know that your healthier mentally and physically for doing so.

Ride your bike a bit further, with no real destination. Just let the sun beat on your back a little. Feel the breeze. Pedal a bit faster.

I did a few of these today. I took a walk from 63rd street back to my home nearly 40 blocks away. It felt...liberating I think is the word. The weather was beautiful, and it was fun to lip sync to the iPod music and slash on the edge of the water. Earlier, I took my bike down the boardwalk (I figure 6 miles of bike riding MUST be good for my soul and body). It was a lovely morning, and the breeze smelled perfectly of salt water and the early-going-beach-visitors' sunscreen. I feel better. Calmer. Happier.

It's nice to know I can. And that I did. Possibility and actuality meet.

Thing #6: My mom

I don't know if it's all moms or just mine, but she calls when I need her to. She wants to get coffee or hang out when I need to talk. She just knows. She lets me cry. She lets my whine. She puts up with a lot of crap that no one has any right dishing out (my role), let alone taking (her role). She sees my point-of-view when no one else seems to. She knows when there's more to the story than I've told her. And she loves to shop.

And the older I get, the happier and happier I am to be like her. It's tough sometimes to admit how much you're like someone else, especially when that person can be as stubborn as you are, but it's also good to know that you're like someone who is kind and generous and giving of her time and energy.

So here's to my mom, and the way she picked up the phone today and asked if she could come to the beach. That was a good thing she did for me. I hope she knows it.


Thing #5: the sound of the ocean

I woke up in an unsettled mood, and despite my plans for a long, thorough, and rewarding run, my mind and body refused to cooperate resulting in an aborted attempt (a pathetic 3.5 miles in 38 minutes). Still, despite the pessimism in which I was destined to wallow, today has become surprisingly positive, my outlook optimistic. I have a trip to the beach, coffee, and thing #5 to thank for this.

The sound of the waves, to me, is a bit like cockroaches: timeless. As long as there have been land masses that meet water, there have been waves crashing against shorelines. When I walk away from the beach, the ever dimming sound of the waves will continue despite my absence. Everyday, the sound goes on and on, echoing to the past and into the future. It's comforting in that way, and the sound is just plain comforting, kind of like a lullaby or "Edelweiss" from the Sound of Music. I am safe when I hear it. I am grounded. I feel like I can hear God. I always imagined he could speak through the waves - the gentle roar as the water wells up and the crash as the peak meets the water again - it's the way I would talk if I were God.

I'd like to know that I brought peace to someone, after all.


Thing #4: Adulthood

Right. This is an odd thing to be happy about, perhaps, considering plenty of American "adults" spend their lives seeking some mythological childhood and adolescence they may or may not have actually enjoyed. And while I may jokingly theorize that my life peaked at 8, I enjoy growing up. And today, I am happy to be an adult.

I like the dishes organized in the cabinet. I like looking out the window at the car I pay for each month. I like the responsibility that I meet each week.

Sometimes that fulfillment is rewarding. And for that, it's something to be happy about.


Thing #3: Free lunch

I've heard it said that there's no such thing as a free lunch, and I suppose that's true. Most lunches come with some kind of stipulation, task, or duty attached to them. The free food from the senior "picnic" in June required that I sit around and pass out sandwiches to the seniors. Lunch with the parents on Sunday is all part of the bond of familial love. Lunch at work means "stay here - we'll give you food as an enticement."

But I don't care that there's no such thing as a free lunch. If free merely means monetarily free, I'll take it. Even better, though, is when you don't expect the free lunch, and there it is, complete with sandwich, cookie, chips, and a beverage of your choice. And best of all? When you're starving, and the announcement is made, "lunch is served in the summer school office."

Little things, people. Little things. Little free things.


Thing #2: Homemade salsa

I ate at my parents' house tonight, and when I walked in, Drew was cutting corn off the cob into a very large bowl. The bowl, I learned, contained the goodness of fresh vegetables and fruit - also know as fresh salsa. In the bowl's depths were peaches, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, peppers, onions, and a healthy helping of cilanto. To the mix, he added lemon juice and the mix was complete. And it was delicious.

So here's to real, garden-grown goodness mixed together to form a happy combination of delicious. Mmm.


Thing #1: Microsoft PowerPoint 2007

I am always behind where technology is concerned with the rare exception of Facebook, which I joined immediately upon its arrival at W&M. For the record, that was well before its national and global domination. That was when membership required a college email address from a registered college. Which makes me way ahead of the game. Once. Only once.

Which takes me to thing #1, Microsoft PowerPoint. This lovely software has presumably been available since early 2007 (a quick Google search reveals a Wikipedia entry that says the software was commercially available on January 30, 2007 - you be the judge of the reliability of that information). Still, despite the relative availability of the software, I have been putzing around on my Microsoft Office XP 2003 era software. Microsoft Office 2007 has been loaded set by set onto the laptops at Ocean Lakes, so I had my first glance into its depths last week.

Oh, and it was glorious.

Word is pretty standard. Excel will take a bit of getting used to. PowerPoint was sheer joy. The backgrounds have finally been updated into more professional and functional models. The color choices are extensive and easily changes. The changes you wish to make preview as you scroll over the options. But the best part is the photo editing. You can change the tinting of each picture. You can change the shape, halo effect, frame, and tilting.

Written out, that looks pathetic. Still, I simply cannot divulge here for you the extensive joy I felt when experimenting with the pictures. I am thoroughly enamored.