Category Archives: Thoughts About Life

Bye, Sprwinter

Today I decided that I don’t have to like February/March.

I feel like I should. I mean, there’s the whole “live life to the fullest” thing. But even more, I always thought my least favorite season was winter, and my favorite season was spring, so should’t I love the moment winter begins to turn to spring?

And then every Sprwinter, for every sunny day and blooming daffodil, we get two weeks of rainy days and bare, ugly trees. It gets under my skin. I start feeling cold from the inside out.

When it’s properly winter, I am perfectly content to wrap in blankets and sip tea and read books and sew. In Sprwinter, I try to go on hikes, and then resent the rain. Or I go on a hike when we have a gorgeous 65° sunny day…

…and then feel tired and grumpy when it pours rain two days later.

Enough is enough. I am re-categorizing Sprwinter. I’m not going to try to like it any longer. I’m just going to survive it.

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The Way We Live Now

Every February the ladies at my church have a ladies retreat, and then a week or two later the youth at my church have a youth retreat, and I have to decide whether to go to one or the other or both.

It’s always at the coast. I don’t know what people do who don’t have a coast to go to. There’s a rented house, sometimes the one you used last year and sometimes a new one. And when it gets too small and loud you can slip away, barefoot in the cold, down the cliff on rickety wooden steps, to where the ocean waits; your friend.

This is the way we live now.

One week it’s all birth stories, and dark tales of the spiritual abuse from their past. Awful stories of evil, power hungry bishops who tried to control their weddings. Their weddings! I was so confused. What business was it of the Bishop’s? It wasn’t his wedding. You don’t understand, they tell me. You didn’t grow up like that.

Then, two weeks later, it’s a buzz of matchless energy and hormones, only I can never keep track of who is flirting with who because I’m over here chatting with the youth sponsors. We were all friends in high school, the youth sponsors and I. We’d go on the youth coast trip together, and back then I know who the flirty ones were. It was them, but only in the most subtle ways. Now they’re married.

I’ve barely arrived before I find myself driving down to Thor’s Well with Justin and Ben, the youth sponsor and my brother, respectively. We stand in the sideways rain and marvel at the natural wonders of the world, and talk about careers. I get soaked to the skin. I only have one set of clothes, because I’m not staying overnight, because I am no longer a teenager, and staying up is no longer a privilege; sleep is a privilege.

Back at the rental house, I borrow a change of clothes from Jenny and browse the bookshelves for a book to read. A thin, yellow paperback catches my eye: Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour, an Introduction. The only J.D. Salinger I ever read was Catcher in the Rye, which I deemed OK-ish. But I heard that he wrote stories about a family of geniuses called the Glass family, and I wondered if this was one of those books.

It was.

I was completely enchanted.

But then, I thought, about the time I’d reached page 3, the point of spending time with the youth is to spend time with the youth. Which you are not doing.

I looked at my enchanting book and my cup of tea and the sideways rain outside the window and sighed.

But books like these can be found at thrift stores and read, later, in the comfort of my own home. Time with these people is a precious commodity. And I genuinely like them. All of them. The ones who have found themselves and the ones who haven’t. The ones whose bishops ruined their weddings and the ones who subtly don the baseball cap of the boy they like and it becomes a BIG DEAL.

This is the way we live now; sometimes a naïve woman who has never suffered abuse or birthed a baby, sometimes a world-weary youth who goes to bed too early and talks about careers. But always someone who cares about being part of your world, even if I don’t slot into it quite as neatly as everyone else does.

What Goes Wrong Where I Work

Of course the first comment on my last post asked me, “So, where YOU work, what is likely to go wrong?”

I should have anticipated that this question might come up. I was basically asking for it. But I still have avoided writing this blog post because in order to say what goes wrong where I work I have to first explain where I work, and my job is enough of a cobbled-together position that it’s hard to explain.

Okay. Here goes. I work at a small Christian church school, and my official job title is “secretary.” About 1/3 of my work hours are spent doing secretary work, about 1/3 of my work hours are spent teaching, and about 1/3 of my work hours are spent tutoring.

We’re an ACE school, so my “teaching” consists of helping out in the classroom once a week, as well as substitute teaching when necessary. I’m also in charge of two courses that sometimes require me to teach in the traditional sense, but are mostly writing-based, so I usually “teach” by meeting one-on-one with the students.

If you have ever been involved in a small Christian church school, I am sure you can easily envision this type of position. If not, I’m kind-of sorry if you’re still confused, but I am tired of trying to explain.

Actually, that could be thing-that-goes-wrong #1. I have a hard time explaining my job to those who have no concept of the small Christian church school.

So, thing #2, and this is probably the main one: I’m the one who hears the most about things that are going wrong, but has the least power to fix them.

The secretary is kind-of like Switzerland.

Well, except for the time I told the students not to wear t-shirts after the school Christmas Program. The school handbook said the students were to wear white button-down shirts to the Christmas Program, but I didn’t see any reason for them to wear button-down shirts under their costumes. So, thinking I was being cool and reasonable, I told them they could wear t-shirts under their costumes. But I didn’t like the idea of them wearing grubby t-shirts after the program, when everyone was eating refreshments, so I told them they could bring nicer shirts to wear afterwords. Maybe a polo or something.

Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, it is totally in vogue for high school students of today to bring grubby t-shirts to Christmas Programs, just so they can change out of their fancy duds the instant the program is over. And I, the evil secretary, had just upset their plans.

That was the one time I was the center of drama. Instead, people usually complain to me when they’re upset at someone else. Which is fine. I’ll lend an empathetic ear. But it’s frustrating because there is usually very little I can actually do to help.

Okay, things that go wrong #3: I have an inconsistent schedule, but everyone else is on a very rigid schedule that I have to work around. And sometimes the people I help are on different schedules from each other.

Basically, grades 1-6 are on a completely different schedule from grades 7-12. The only time they kind-of overlap is at lunch, but even then, the older students are supposed to be finished eating and out on break by the time the younger students come out to the lunch room.

Last Monday, a friend of mine convinced me that the reason I’ve been so sick is because I don’t eat enough raw veggies. She suggested I bring salads for lunch. So, on Tuesday, I brought a salad for lunch.

It barely made a dent in my hunger.

Wednesday I brought an even bigger salad. It still didn’t fill me up.

Thursday was my day to help out in the older classroom, but I also had to tutor a 3’d grader. We made it work. But when the older classroom let out for lunch at 11:45 I was still tutoring, so I didn’t get to eat until the younger classes let out for lunch at noon.

I took out a plate and prepared my salad. It was a HUGE salad. The whole plate was heaped with kale and lettuce and parsley and avocado and beans and cheese. I began eating.

And ate.

And ate.

And ate.

The 12:15 bell rang. The younger classroom went out for break, and the older classroom came in from break. I was supposed to be back in the older classroom, doing my teacher duties, but my salad still loomed in front of me.

It took forever to chow the whole thing down. Have you ever tried eating a heaping plate of kale salad? I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, unless you like chewing and chewing for 20 minutes and not ever feeling full.

I mean, I feel healthier though I guess.

So. If you ever want to write a book about someone who had a job like mine, you can make them have a hard time explaining their job, and everyone can come to them to complain, and they can have strange scheduling conflicts that result in them not having enough time to eat their salad.

And everyone will think you know what you’re talking about.

Limping Through December

This year I learned one of the uncomfortable truths about post-college life: Most people don’t get a month-long vacation over the holidays.

I’m used to the terribleness that is the two weeks after Thanksgiving: Illness, dead week, finals week, giant projects you should have started on three weeks ago. But then, I’m also used to it all being over after the first week of December, giving me recuperation time amid holiday parties and shopping sprees.

Granted, in my current job as school secretary, I get a nice two-week vacation, which is more than many people can boast. But goodness me, this year it was not enough.

I got absolutely hammered with illness this year. The whole month of December I’ve been either in bed sick or just barely recovered and ready to be hit with the next onslaught of sore throat or fever or what have you. The worst of it happened in the two weeks leading up to the Christmas play at school. I’d drag myself to school, direct the play for an hour, and then go home and crawl back into bed, my quota of energy used up for the day.

And then, oh my! The play was happening in three days, and the sheep did not have sheep costumes, and the cows did not have cow costumes, and the angels did not have wings. Mom, Amy, and Jenny leaped into action. We congregated in the sewing room. I cut up old blankets that looked like animal fur. Mom sewed them together. Amy sat on the floor and cut angel wings out of foam board with a utility knife. Jenny bought a quarter yard of faux fur, came home, and fashioned it into a beard.

The play went well, all things considered. I can’t complain on that front. But the Christmas season was in full swing, and there were family gatherings and Christmas concerts and I still had to go to work until December 19, and then a friend came from out of town and then my Mom and sisters and I drove up to Seattle to watch Howl’s Moving Castle: The Musical.

Christmas Eve I had horrible insomnia. After three hours of sleep-ish, waking up every 20 minutes or so to cough, I got such horrible stomach cramping that I woke up for good. After a couple hours of pretty intense pain I threw up and felt a little better.

I went back to bed. I could hear my siblings start to get up, and I didn’t know if I should get up to or try to catch a few winks before breakfast. I went with the latter, which meant that I was woken up for breakfast during my first REM cycle of the night, which meant that I was so disoriented and miserable that I started crying for no good reason.

“No one cares if you go back to bed,” said Matt.

So I did. Not the greatest start to my Christmas. Thankfully it only took about 20 minutes of rest before my system re-set itself enough that I was okay again.

Despite being one of the most exhausting miserable Decembers to date, it has also been astoundingly magical. How often does one get the chance to write and direct a play? To see one of their favorite books get turned into a musical? To have their whole family home for Christmas? To take a trip to Seattle with their Mom and sisters, and only a few days later, to spend four days in the stunning beauty that is the southern Oregon coast?

I wanted to blog about all the magic, I really did. But all my energy went to other things. Like surviving.

Oh well.

After all, tomorrow is another year.

 

Thanksgiving

My friend Simone and I sat outside on the porch swing, with only a light blanket over our laps for warmth. The winds blew, sending wet leaves to the sidewalk with a splat. We watched the kittens peeking timidly at us as we sipped our tea and ate pumpkin cheesecake.

“It feels strange being out here in this weather,” Simone said as the rain began to fall. “Like walking on a dry riverbed. That feeling like you shouldn’t be able to be here, but you’re here.”

I first noticed this strange warmth on Tuesday. The sky was as cloudy and cold-looking as usual, and I did my indoor work without once wondering what the temperature outside was. But just before I was about to leave for the day, I saw that there was a row of garbage bags on the sidewalk. I’d asked parents and church members to drop off their empty pop cans, so we could recycle them as a fundraiser. And here they were, bags and bags of them.

I went outside to move them to the play structure, bracing for the usual blast of cold air, and what I got instead was a balmy 64°. Delightful. Of all the random things I do as secretary, moving bags of empty pop cans was the highlight of my week.

Unfortunately, by the time I got home that afternoon it was past 4:30, and the sun was setting.

Wednesday was lovely too, but again, I was working, and the sun sets so early these days. I prayed that this strange weather quirk would last just one more day, and then went out to read in the hammock by flashlight.

Thanksgiving morning I was in the kitchen, scrubbing floors and baking pies, when the sun momentarily broke through the clouds and flooded the world with light. I dashed outdoors. It was warm! So warm! Why the bunnyslipper was I still indoors? I grabbed tea and a book and took a break from the Thanksgiving morning hullabaloo.

When I finally came back inside, I mentioned the strange weather to my Dad. “It was 60° when I got up this morning,” he said. “That’s probably only happened ten times this whole year. Even in the summer it’s cold in the morning.”

I got dressed, and then decided to leave the cooking to those more skilled than I, and focus on making bouquets. That way I could be outside. I took a pair of sheers and cut flowering weeds from the garden, apple tree branches with their yellowing leaves, hydrangeas that were turning a rust red color, handfuls of calendulas, and the last of the roses. Then the sun broke through the clouds again, and it was just unfair to keep this beauty to myself. “Amy! Jenny! Do you want to come make bouquets with me?”

Apple tree branches

 

Featuring Mom’s writing cabin in the background


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Our Thanksgiving dinner was, as usual, a motley crew of distant relatives and people who have nowhere else to go. We ate dinner, had good conversation, and then Simone and I ate desert outside so that we could soak up the relative warmth while it lasted.

People hung around all afternoon, playing games and making jokes, but I was exhausted. I went upstairs and took a nap, and when I woke up, it was dark again.

I looked it up online. After December 9, sunsets will begin happening later and later instead of earlier and earlier. I can’t wait.

Note: After I published this, I remembered another story from yesterday I wanted to add.

Amy had printed questions on all of the place cards, and we went around the table and answered them. My great-aunt Allene had the question, “what moment from your past had the greatest impact on you?” (or something of that stripe) and began talking about working at a Children’s home in Kansas City.

“How old were you at the time?” Darrell asked.

“18 or 19.”

“Wow, you were young.”

“Well,” said Allene, “we could do whatever we wanted once we turned 18. The girls could at least. The boys had to stay at home until they were 21.”

We all thought this was really funny. “That’s not what they taught me in my family studies class!” said Amy.

It was a good Thanksgiving.

Why Personality Tests Always Misdiagnose Me

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I struggled through years of taking personality tests that gave me absurd results. They told me I was an ENFP, a Sanguine, a 9 on the Enneagram, and then I’d read the description for what “I was” and it never sounded anything like me.

“Don’t overthink it. Go with your gut,” people told me. So I’d take another one, get similarly silly results, and roll my eyes in frustration and annoyance.

I assumed that the problem was the false dichotomy of the questions. “Do you enjoy parties, or would you rather stay at home in your PJ’s?” they would ask. Can’t someone legitimately enjoy both?

I wrote a slightly rant-ey blog post about it, and all the Myers-Briggs-obsessed people came swarming out of the woodwork, insisting that I must give it another try, and I need to make sure I don’t overthink the answers, and I will get it figured out and feel so understood.

I thought they’d completely missed the point of the post.

It was inescapable, though. Once the personality people have you in their sights, they don’t let you go until they figure out what you are. During a sleepover with my friend Sarah Beth, we read over brief descriptions of every. single. one. of the 16 Myers Briggs types, until we landed on one that actually sounded a little bit like me: The INTP.

“The INTP personality type is fairly rare, making up only three percent of the population, which is definitely a good thing for them, as there’s nothing they’d be more unhappy about than being ‘common,'” we read out loud from the 16 Personalities website. Then we burst into gales of laughter. Finally, a personality description that fit me.

Once I’d “found myself,” so to speak, I became one of those personality people who tries to type everyone they meet. My friend Esta and I talked endlessly of personalities, typing all of our family and friends. Then we moved on to the Enneagram. Tests once again epicly failed me, but again, after studying the different types and discussing it with Esta I figured out that I’m a 5.

Last Wednesday I was at the ACE teacher convention, and I was listening to a talk on how to handle stress based on your personality type. The first thing the speaker did was have us take a short, 6-question test to figure out what Enneagram type we were. “Now don’t overthink it!” she said, pulling the quiz up on the screen.

For the first time, I was taking a personality test backwards, knowing the outcome before I’d even completed the questions. I saw the difference between what I knew my answers were and what my quick, automatic responses might have been. And suddenly I saw the problem. The reason I always got misdiagnosed.

I LISTENED TO THE PEOPLE WHO TOLD ME NOT TO OVERTHINK IT.

And you know what?

Every single person who ever told me not to overthink it was a Feeler, not a Thinker, on the Myers Briggs scale.

For example, one question asked, “What is your biggest fear?” Of the nine options, three stood out to me: not being loved, being overwhelmed, and being abandoned. I don’t like being overwhelmed, I don’t like it when people march off and abandon me, and of course not being loved sounds pretty nasty. In an effort to not overthink it, I probably would have scribbled down “being abandoned” and moved on.

However, after pondering it for quite some time, I realized that while abandonment and not being loved sound like they’d be nasty if they happened, I’m never actually afraid that they will happen. Ever.

But once, when I was sick with West Nile, I mustered up my strength and tried to go to a youth event. There was a fog in my head, and people were talking and laughing and I couldn’t follow the conversations or figure out what was going on. And it was awful.

That night I lay awake, terrified to my core that this would be my life. “I’m afraid of not being able to process amazing things as they happen.” I wrote in the dark corners of my diary.

I was afraid of being overwhelmed. But when that question popped up on the screen,  my “gut” didn’t immediately know that I’m afraid of being overwhelmed. I had to think about it for a while. Remember the incident. Recall that it was being overwhelmed that I was afraid of, even though I didn’t call it that.

So, the final point I will leave you with is this: If the results of your personality tests don’t make sense, try overthinking it.

The Death of a Beautiful Place

When people die we remember all the meaningful moments we had with them, even if we didn’t know them well, and when beautiful places die we do the same thing.

As the horrible Eagle Creek fire destroys the Columbia River Gorge, I remember the last time I was there, and what I felt, and how meaningful it was. I almost blogged about it at the time, because it was such a beautiful experience, but then it was the end of my very last term of college and blogging fell off the priority list.

At the end of last May I went to my cousin’s wedding in Michigan, and then road-tripped home with my brother Ben and my cousin Derek. We left after lunch on Sunday, drove straight through the night, and arrived home Monday evening.

Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana were pleasant enough, although I must admit I slept through a great deal of it. Scrubby at times, perhaps, but at least the temperature was fine. And then we descended into the desert of eastern Washington. What a ghastly place it was that day. Barren, and a thick blanket of heat that my poor failing air conditioner couldn’t begin to combat. We opened windows, and the hot air moved, but didn’t cool us. I spread newspapers over my lap because they absorbed less heat than my black skirt.

But though we were hot, tired, and travel weary, with un-brushed teeth and rumpled clothing, we held out hope for the gorge. Maybe, when we got to Oregon, it would be cooler.

We got closer and closer, and then, as we crossed the bridge into Oregon, across the Columbia River, I felt it. A cool breeze. A cool breeze drifting over the water and into my soul, just for me. All of the sudden life was, again, something manageable.

We drove along I-84 with our windows down. The hot desert was replaced by trees of all species and sizes, and the blue of the Columbia river, and the cool breezes that drifted into our windows.

There was a car accident on I-84, creating a traffic jam, so we zipped off at the nearest exit and drove along the Columbia River Highway for a while.

The Columbia River Highway was the first road through the gorge I believe, but as it was just a regular little road, Interstate 84 was built parallel to it when more and more people began traveling through. I-84, though it has beautiful views, is very much still an ugly man-made rode. The Columbia River Highway, on the other hand, looks like it grew out of the mountain, with trees growing right up alongside the road, and little stone walls instead of guardrails, with moss growing through the cracks.

There was a traffic jam here, too, but I didn’t care because in the shade of the abundant trees, everything was cool and beautiful. Inching along, we soon began to see that this traffic jam was caused, not by overflow traffic from the I-84 accident, but by the giant crowds of people who had come to Multnomah Falls for Memorial Day. The parking lots were filled and overflowing, and people were parked along the side of the road, narrowing it so much that only one lane of people could drive by at a time.

And when we did get a chance to drive by, it didn’t feel like driving down a road, it felt like driving through someone’s yard while they’re hosting their annual neighborhood BBQ. There were people everywhere, and as we inched through them and tried not to hit anybody, I leaned out my window and watched the tall, tall waterfall and felt like I was part of the same grand party.

Multnomah Falls is a funny place. I’ve gone there countless times, and once I even blogged about going, but sometime between my childhood and now it went from being a pretty place to being a TREnDy place, and now it’s splashed across Instagram and always overcrowded. However, once we were past Multnomah and driving down the road like it was a road, again, we passed waterfall after waterfall that were probably just as beautiful, but no one seemed to know about them.

We twisted and turned around the mountains, past waterfalls, over bridges, always under the deep green canopy. And there were views, always views around this corner or that, of the wide river. And such a cool breeze, after that abysmal heat! A simple concept, but there are no words to describe what it does to your soul.

And I thought that I would treasure this forever. I took a few pictures with my phone, because I wanted to remember. I never edited or Instagrammed them, and they didn’t begin to capture the beauty, but I still get an inch of that feeling back when I look at them.

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They say to tell your loved ones that you love them, because in the blink of an eye, they could be gone. It never occurred to me that places could be the same way. That one day, a fire might destroy these trees, and it would never again look quite like it did that day.

I don’t know what the gorge will look like after this fire.