Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Santa Myth


I've been thinking a lot about Santa lately. 

Working with ESL students from places like Burma and Bhutan means that many of our students have not experienced Christmas like we celebrate it here in the U.S.--and many of them have not celebrated it (or even known anything about it) at all.  Adults and children alike are fascinated by the story.  Imagine trying to explain Christmas to someone (with limited English) who has never heard of it before: 

"A special baby was born in a barn 2000 years ago, so now there's a fat old man in a red suit who flies all over the world in a car pulled by reindeer, one of whom has a red nose, and he lands on rooftops and goes down the chimney at night and gives presents to good kids, and we write letters to him and give him cookies and milk, but he's actually not real--but that's a secret, so don't tell your children.  Oh, and there are little people that help Santa, and he lives at the North Pole, which is near Canada."  

And yes, we have been focusing mostly on the secular side of Christmas.  Not because we don't like Jesus, but because it's confusing enough without the religious side of it . . . "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" is about as deep as we get into that aspect (and even that really only works with the Christian refugees anyway). 

So, I started thinking about my own relationship with the Santa Myth.  I, like many, was introduced to Santa at a young age.  There were certain things I never bought: I knew the Santa at the mall was not the real Santa (who was, of course, too busy making toys at the North Pole to go to malls--plus, it didn't make any sense that he could be at so many malls at the same time).  I knew it wasn't logical for Santa to be able to travel all around the world in one night, but I had to factor in the different time zones, plus a good bit of magic (and he could skip the houses of the bad kids, and the ones who didn't celebrate Christmas), so that didn't pose too much of a problem, either.  

One Christmas, we were vacationing in Florida, and I was very concerned that Santa wouldn't be able to find us.  My parents calmly reassured me that he'd know where to find me--he followed these things very closely.  I was similarly concerned that we didn't have a chimney, but I supposed that he could also come in through a window, or maybe the back door.  We put out the cookies and milk, and when we woke up, they were gone, our stockings were stuffed, and there were new presents under the tree.  I listened for the jingle bells, but never heard them.  I looked out the window as I drifted off to sleep, but I never saw the glow of a red nose.  

I realized the truth when I noticed that the wrapping paper, gift tags, and handwriting that Santa used were all the same as my mother's.  My suspicions might have been fueled by other kids at school, or perhaps my (mean) older brother, but in any case, I eventually put all the pieces together. I don't remember feelings of betrayal; I don't even think that I cried. In my memory, I let that part of my childhood drift away, silently, and without protest. 

I posed the question on Facebook to find out how some of my friends were brought into The Truth About Santa. There were some common themes: parental missteps, other kids at school, Some had parents who outright told them (or, in one case, a teacher).  Andy, for example, was told The Truth, and we recently found out that his mother has been carrying guilt around for 20 years.  She called to apologize a few weeks back, an hour after a conversation about Santa.  

Now, I'm not a parent myself, but I find the whole Santa Myth to be a point of ethical confusion.  Which is the greater crime, lying to your children, or robbing them of a childhood experience and rite of passage?  (I suppose the answer to that is obvious to anyone who never believed in Santa, and much less so to anyone who ever did.) And if you choose to indulge in the fantasy, at what point do you pull the plug? Is it more damaging to dash your child's hopes, or to wait until someone in their (middle?) school does? 

The truth of the matter is that Christmas is more fun when that hope of something magical exists.  And while The Santa Myth does not make any sense at all, I'm sure we'll be passing it to our children.  And as they grow older, I'm sure we'll be fighting to keep the hope alive in their little eyes . . . 

P.S. It will be harder and harder to conceal The Truth. Thanks again, Internet.   

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Long Time, No Write

For the past three days, I've been suffering from incapacitating back pain.

I came to work on Tuesday, my first day back after the Thanksgiving holiday, and halfway up the stairs I felt a spasm in my back, paused, and continued up.  By the time I reached the top, I could barely stand, and I felt funny.

Stupidly, I continued back downstairs to my ECE room.  Again, I pretty much collapsed when I reached my destination.  By this point, the students were coming in.  I felt paralyzed, both by the situation and by my pain, and still fuzzy.  At one point, after having stood for a little while to give some incoming children hand sanitizer, I broke into a cold sweat ("Why are you so wet?," asked one girl. "Maybe because of the rain," she reasoned), and my co-worker said that my face looked funny, yellow.  I was lightheaded, a little nauseous, and in a horrible amount of pain.

I went to lie down in the back room, and some of the children followed me (thankfully, a few were equipped with play-stethoscopes, so I got immediate medical attention).  One of my favorite little boys (who always gets scared when I play "hurt" with some of the other children) was watching carefully, though I think most of the children were unaware of what was going on.  After a while, I was able to stand up, go back up stairs to collect my things, and make it back to the car, praying I'd make it home safely since it was painful to drive (especially to brake).

Yesterday, I had some numbness in my left foot, too, and a stretching pain down my leg.  I could barely sleep at all.

A tribute to my sweet, wonderful husband, though.  He is the best.

He stayed home from work to take care of me.  He helped me out of bed.  He helped me put my socks on.  He helped me get dressed, take a shower, eat my meals . . . AND he brought me chocolate.  And though I was writhing in pain, he never stopped telling me I was beautiful, giving me kisses, and massaging my back and feet when it didn't hurt too much to do so.  If I've ever wondered what love looks like, Andy has just shown me.

From our honeymoon. He is so handsome, too! 

I'm now on a pretty serious battery of pain killers, so I feel a lot better.  I can walk, get out of bed, and make it to the bathroom without passing out (a marked improvement)!

All in all, today I feel very grateful for the little things in life.  You never know how blessed you are to be able to walk, sit upright, and dress yourself until you have those things taken away from you, even temporarily.  My heart goes out to anyone who lives with physical pain as a constant in their life, or who doesn't have the ability to take care of him or herself.  It is hard, in so many ways.  I've only had the experience for two days, and they have probably been the worst two days of my life!

So, be grateful if you can move under your own power, free of pain.  It is a blessing.  A huge blessing. Trust me.

And be careful with your backs!  Again, trust me.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why I Love My Life

So I realize it's been over a month since the last post, and things have changed.  Quick update:

1. Declined the DC Teaching Fellows offer.  Things are too good with my current position (more on this below), and the timing just wasn't right.  They won't defer, but I can reapply, and [probably] be accepted again for the Fall 2012 Corps.

2. Received (and took) a final interview with Teach For America, which I felt good about.  My 5-minute lesson went very well, as did the personal interview. (I got to talk a lot about my work at Prospect Park, which, again, I love--see below). I will know the results on November 8 (eeeek)!!!!  [Side note: I passed the Spanish test, which would qualify me to teach in a bilingual classroom, or to teach Spanish as a foreign language, if accepted.]

Okay.  So, there you go.

Now, back to what I wanted to post about:  PROSPECT PARK.

Prospect Park is the new love of my life.  At Prospect Park, I teach a pre-school class in the morning, lead an Interactive Literacy Activity with the children and their parents (who are in English classes while we are hanging out in the Early Childhood Ed room), and in the afternoon, I teach a small group of low-beginner Adult-ESL students.  We have a few immigrants, but most of our students are refugees--mostly from Bhutan and Burma, though there are other countries represented as well.  My colleagues and I teach out of three apartments in an area with a high concentration of refugees.  They (and my supervisor) are awesome, our students are awesome, and it is a fantastic place to be.

This, for example, is the Early Childhood Education (ECE) room.  The murals were lovingly painted on the wall by my predecessor.  The kiddos always love playing in the kitchen--they probably make me an average of 3 birthday cakes every day! 

Want to see more?  Let's take a tour: 

This is the book corner.  The kiddos like to crawl back there for peek-a-boo, to cuddle, or to "read" stories to each other.  

Here's our snack / coloring table. It's in the opposite corner of the book nook (above), in the back area of the ECE room.   You can see into the (real) kitchen--and just to the right of where the picture ends is where the play kitchen (first picture above) is found. 

 This is the story corner--on the opposite side of the room as the play kitchen.  We (mostly unsuccessfully) try to get the tiny humans to sit here in the bean bags or in our laps while we read stories, and then sing songs.  The kiddos get to choose their favorite songs by pointing on the wall.  (Right now, the favorites are "Old Mac Donald", "Twinkle, Twinkle", and "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes", with the Alphabet Song close behind.)  For most of them, English is not the language that is spoken in the home, so it is great to hear them sing these songs!  They love it so much, and it warms my heart.  

This is the wall adjacent to our front door.  Below the mural we have blocks and other toys, but I really just wanted to show the mural.  

I'd love to show you pictures of the adorable children, but this is not the place.  I'll just tell you that they are so loving, and they fill my heart every day.  I love how they sit on my lap (three, four at a time!), play "doctor" as they give me shots of who-knows-what straight into my brain (dubious medical practices, maybe, but they're very attentive!), play and share with one another, and just how they interact with the world around them.  I also love when they speak to me in their own languages--even though I have no idea what they are saying (though, mostly, they are very good about making themselves understood).  

Our relationships with the students are very special--they invite us into their homes quite often, and we have a great time learning about their culture.  This is me after having been "tikka'ed" at a Nepali festival called Dashain.  On my forehead is a mixture of rice and yogurt (I think), dyed red.  I received a blessing, sung to me by the eldest member of the household, and some "culture" ($5, which the family insisted I take. "It's not really money, it's blessings. Culture! Culture!"), along with lots of yummy food.  

Yes, I love Prospect Park.  Are you jealous?  You should be. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Times are Changing.

 There is a lot going on in our galaxy.  We have a lot of balls in the air, and we're waiting to see where everything lands. Nothing is certain, but ONE thing: next year will look nothing like this one. 

The first news was that I was offered an elementary education fellowship with DC Teaching Fellows, a teaching fellowship program based out of DC (I know, go figure).  Very similar to Teach For America, the program allows its fellows to receive training and certification while they are on the job, earning salary, and gaining classroom experience, while they teach in hard-to-staff schools (in case you're wondering, that usually means "low-income").  Admittedly, the prospect of no longer living from paycheck-to-paycheck (considering neither of us has ever been salaried) is a very inviting one.  Not to mention the full benefits, another thing that has as yet eluded us.  I know it is a difficult path, especially when you're coming in with little training to the hardest schools in one of the hardest districts in the country, but I am ready for a challenge.  Besides, DC would be a great place for Andy to be, as there are loads of non-profits based there.  There is a pretty major down-side to this, having to do with the timeline, which is virtually the only thing holding me back from being totally gung-ho.  (Details as they become available.) 

The second news is that I was also accepted to the M.Ed. program at Duquesne University here in Pittsburgh, with a bit of a scholarship.  Truth be known, my application to the school was definitely a whim, and was basically my "If Andy gets a job in Pittsburgh" contingency.  "Just in case."  School is definitely a less-appealing option, since it would COST money rather than EARN money, and then I'd graduate with the certificate, but little experience.  Besides, I think four degrees between us will be plenty for right now . . .

Lastly, I'm currently in the process of applying / interviewing with Teach For America.  I had my phone interview last week, and I felt pretty good about it, but I never know about these things.  TFA is definitely more competitive than DCTF, and carries with it more notoriety.  If I advance to the next (final) round, there will be an all-day interview, similar to what I did with DCTF, and I would find out about my status in early November.  I won't know about where they place me until I receive an offer (if I do, in fact, receive an offer), so there is some question there, as well. 

Andy will be done with school in April, which means that (other than the dear friends we've made here), there is nothing tying us down to Pittsburgh.  We are about to enter the next phase of our lives (so help us!). We've also discussed New York state, the Pacific Northwest, Austin, and Canada, among others. 

Anybody have any input? 

UPDATE: I did, in fact, make it to the final interview round with TFA (happy thoughts and prayers requested on October 20)!!!!  

Also, thanks for all your support and perspective on this.  In any case, it will be a challenge.  But I've decided that I am capable of doing hard things, and doing them well.  Making sure that every child has the right to a good education is something I believe in very strongly, so despite that things will be (I'm sure) much more difficult than I can imagine, I'll still be able to make it through.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Oh, Crap.

Oh, Crap Moment #1
Um, I'm taking the GRE tomorrow.  Do people usually study for this?  I mean, I've had the book in my possession for a while, does that count?? I even opened it up once!

Oh, Crap Moment #2
Andy and I will be running a 5k this weekend.  It snuck up on us.  It was going to be a quick-train, but somehow starting a new FT position has worn me out to the point of not training very much at all.  Whoops.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Birthday Wish List

It was surprisingly difficult to come up with my birthday wish list.  I usually try NOT to think of things that I wish I had, and instead concentrate on the many things that I am so fortunate to have.  These days, I'm so happy with the way things are going, I barely even have time to think about what I'm lacking.  I guess that's a good thing, though it makes for a pretty boring wish list (sorry).  So, without further ado:


First and foremost, I would ALWAYS welcome handwritten, kind, and thoughtful prose.  You know, sometimes I forget that people love me, and of anything else on this list, love is the most precious thing of all (go ahead and puke now, but I'm serious!). 

Okay, now that THAT'S out of the way . . . onto the materialism! 

Cute(ish), comfortable flats.  Shoes that I can wear to work, out walking around town, or anyplace I want to look cute and put-together.  I'm currently relying on my sneakers for any time I'm going to be standing for any length of time, which is very frumpy (I'm aware), but I'm not willing to sacrifice my knees and / or back for the sake of fashion.  These ones are from Keen, and fit the bill pretty well.  

Games for the game "closet."  Right now our collection is paltry at best: dominoes, Skip-bo, Bananagrams, and  Snorta (my favorite).  Cranium and Apples to Apples are, of course, favorites, but I would also like pretty much any word game thrown at me.  Or other classics like Clue, Monopoly, etc. 
A cast-iron skillet.  Yes, I want a cast-iron skillet.  We have a teflon skillet that is losing its nonstick power (which, apparently, is hazardous to our health), and a cast-iron skillet is a kitchen must-have.  This might be the most boring gift ever.  

The Cello-Phant.  This would help me teach my beginning students how to not have crazy bow-holds.    When did I get to be so practical?   

A New All-in-One Printer.  Ours is so temperamental, and it never prints anything of any professional quality.  We end up printing "important" documents at school or the library, and we'd really like to upgrade.  This is an HP, which had reasonably good reviews.  I haven't really done my research here, because it's not really in the cards for us right now.  

Like I said, this is a really yawn-inducing wish-list.  Maybe I should go a little more exotic . . . 

A trip for two to Galapagos.  Or India, Thailand, Patagonia, Paris, Rio de Janeiro . . . 

Or for experiences instead of things: 

Yoga or Zumba classes. That would be awesome. 
Cooking classes. Again, awesome. 
Pittsburgh Symphony tickets. We're too poor to go on our own. 
A makeover. Hair, makeup, facial, mani-pedi . . . yeah, I could handle that. 
A MASSAGE.  Hell yes.  I've never had a professional massage, and I think I could use one! 

There you go, that's better!  

And, of course, there are also gift cards: 
Old Navy
Restaurants (I don't really like chains, but I have to admit that it makes for a good date night) 
Starbucks (hot cocoa season is fast approaching) 
Shar (do they even have GC's?)

 So, woohoo!  There you go.  Any other suggestions?  What should I want??  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Should Be Asleep.

. . . but I'm not.  Please forgive any grammar or spelling mistakes, as my brain went to sleep two hours ago at least.

I also accidentally closed the tab I had open for this post, so we're starting over from ground zero* scratch. 

Things have been busy--I started orientation for my new position this week, so a lot is happening there. I've had a lot of good blog post ideas, but haven't had the time and / or energy (or focus) to turn them into real live posts.  So, I'll submit to you my teasers, and you can vote on which you'd like to see as a full-on blogstravaganza.

In no particular order: 

I. Service
How do you define service? Sacrifice vs. duty? Man-hours or dollars donated? Number of lives touched?

II. So Funny, Y'all Forgot to Laugh
I used to be funny, but now I'm not.  I don't know what happened.

III. Birthday Wish List
Heck, it's my birthday.  I'll be greedy if I want to.

IV. Introversion vs. Extroversion
Is one better than the other?

Vote away! And if none of those sound interesting, then I'm moving to Morocco.  Or something.  Or maybe I'll just ask you for suggestions on what you think would be interesting to read about.


*I guess I shouldn't say "ground zero" in the days approaching the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Transitions . . .

The 2011-12 academic year is looking to be an excellent one.  Lots of change--new jobs for both of us, new horizons, and new attitudes.  It feels good, for once, to be optimistic about the future. 

I had my last day at the nursing home on August 23rd, and I surprised myself by actually being sad.  I hadn't told any of the staff (except those in my department) or the residents that I was leaving, and had even considered not mentioning it at all, but finally decided that to just walk out on the residents would not be very nice of me.  I did get a little misty as I said my goodbyes, but the past week-plus of not working there have cemented in my mind that quitting was absolutely the best decision I could have made.  I feel better: more motivated, more like myself, lighter, freer . . . and healthier. 

Andy really likes his new internship, too, and it's been a good change for him to be working at a job relevant to his field.  He likes all his classes and professors this semester (it was the first week of class this week), so things are definitely on the upswing for him, too.  We will be busy, but we'll still have weekends, which seem such a luxury! 

Also, I finally joined the rest of the world and got a smartphone.  I got an email from my Pops (the technophile that he is) saying Best Buy was giving away an iPhone 3GS to anyone who signed on a contract with AT&T, so I did.  I gotta say, having an iPhone is awesome, even if it is the old school type.  The phone I was using before was a hand-me-down that Dad cast off when he got his first iPhone (2008), and while I kept waiting for it to kick the bucket, it just wouldn't die.   Unfortunately, I had to pass on the dinosaur to Andy, whose LG recently decided to stop taking a charge . . .  if anyone has an old AT&T phone they want to donate, it'll probably be in better shape than the Samsung (ca. 2006). 

The old Samsung A707.  Still kickin', but not too high. 

So, I guess that's about it for now.  Hard to believe it's September, and even starting to feel like Fall (though not in the past couple of days--it's been pretty steamy).  I'm ready for Fall, just not for what follows . . .

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Want to Leave My Comfort Zone, But It's So Comfy!

Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.
-Charlie Chaplin

Success is going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm.
-Winston Churchill

In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.
-Bill Cosby

Andy and I have been talking recently about what is holding us back. We are two young, intelligent, (graduate level) college-educated people. On paper, we look pretty good, but somehow, that hasn't yet translated into real life the way we'd like (i.e., instead of being up-and-comers in our careers, we're working multiple part-time jobs for little pay). Why?

We've come to the conclusion that we have one big handicap that is keeping us from being successful:

We are terrified of failure.

People who are terrified of failure don't attempt difficult things, because the more difficult the task, the greater the likelihood that they will fail. People afraid to fail will take what comes to them because it's there, and a bird in the hand is always worth two in the bush. So take the safe road, right?

Unfortunately, I don't think real success comes without the risk of failure--and probably, most successful people will tell you that they have failed, often and hard. Think of your favorite writer / actor / singer / composer / athlete / entrepreneur / musician / artist / whatever . . . was everything they ever put their name to an undisputed success? I think I've been under the (mistaken) impression that failure is the worst thing that could happen to me. Now that I'm thinking about it, though, that's so wrong and so limiting.

Athletes, for example, experience failure on a very regular basis, at both personal and team levels. Even the very best athletes miss free throws, lose tennis matches, don't stick the landing, double the triple lutz, and watch championships slip through their fingers. It happens, and it's disappointing, but if you're not failing, then you're not stretching yourself enough. (After all, who dreams of being the best pitcher in the minor league?)

How do you really know your potential if you don't find your breaking point? If you only attempt things you're already sure you can do, where is the growth? When you're doing strength training, you have to break the muscles down before you can build them up. That doesn't happen until your last rep, when you're at the point that it's difficult, and you don't feel like you can possibly do another. Growth comes from struggle. Success comes from struggle.

This is all very cliché, very trite. We've all seen these aphorisms posted on the walls of 7th grade classrooms and school libraries. Why is it so hard to believe and act upon? Are Andy and I the only people who haven't figured this out yet? I mean really, even babies learning to walk do so by falling--over and over again.

There's an old (Chinese? Japanese? Buddhist?) proverb: "Fall six times, and get up seven."

So, maybe falling isn't as bad as I'm afraid it is.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Big Announcement

Well, folks, it has finally happened!

Oh, wait. Wrong picture. (But you should check out these other great cakewrecks.)

Sorry, folks, that's not the announcement I'm making--at least not today.


I am officially moving on.

Yesterday morning, I accepted an offer to teach Early Childhood Education (under the age of 5) through AmeriCorps and the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council in a community of refugees and immigrants just outside of Pittsburgh. Despite the fact that I don't start until September 6, I promptly put in my notice at my current place of work.

Hooray for steady income! And even though it's a "modest living stipend," it's significantly more than what I'm making right now. And while I'll be working more hours, I will have a blessed, regular schedule. This means that instead of having seven possible work days in a week (and sometimes working all seven of them with no day off), I will have five like a normal person! Weekends off (I haven't been to a full 3-hour church block since May--you mean I can go now)?! Holidays too?!?!! What an amazing stroke of luck.

Not to mention that it's in a field of interest for me, instead of . . . well, a field of disinterest. Maybe I haven't told most of you this, but I'm looking to transition into teaching as a career. I've been taking my Praxis exams, applying for work-study fellowships (I've got an interview with one later this month!!!!), and exploring my options of ways to reach my ultimate goal. I feel more optimistic right now than I remember feeling in a long time.

Life is good. I am excited to have something in my life again that I can pour myself into. I've spent the past few months coming home from work just trying to forget about my day, and I'm looking forward to a change.

Thoughts? Advice? Anyone?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Change'll Do You Good

Life is a moving target. Just two weeks ago, I posted this.

Since then, Andy has been awarded a paid internship with the Student Conservation Association, doing program evaluation (i.e., using his education and experience). I have taken several interviews which would get me out of my current work situation. The most recent one (for my number one choice) went well, and I am going in tomorrow to see the site, and make sure I'm still interested. I don't want to jinx anything, but I feel pretty good about it.

Change will be good. In the past few weeks, we haven't been taking very good care of ourselves, and I think I've underestimated the effects that can have on one's physical person. I work in a high-stress environment (ask anyone who works there), and that, too, has been taking a toll on me. I've put on weight, I've been experiencing aches and pains that weren't there before, and my patience with myself and others around me is very thin. Having a schedule that changes from day to day and week to week doesn't help--there is no semblance of a routine in our house. Sleep patterns and mealtimes are subject to change on a daily basis. It's no wonder my body is rebelling. Enough is enough!

So, I'll petition for prayers and happy thoughts tomorrow afternoon. Change is requisite for my physical and mental health.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summertime . . . and the livin' is easy.

It has been hot here lately. Now, any self-respecting Texan would beg to differ, especially in light of the recent weather in my hometown:

Yeah, that's gross, and I am in no way trying to diminish that, but it has been gross here, too. Today's high was (only, I know) 93F, but with 68% humidity, it felt like living in an armpit. It wouldn't bother me so much, but there is no escape! We live in a small third floor apartment, with a window unit (ca. 1988--no joke--I looked up the serial number today) tucked back in our bathroom, which is the only room with the right kind of window to support it. As you can imagine, it gets stuffy very fast. Plus, it's really hard to look professional and well-kept for job interviews when you have a constant greasy film and / or sweat covering you at all times. So yesterday and today, Andy and I have been looking for ways to beat the heat.

1. Ice Pop Molds.
Our mixed berry yogurt pops, which were prettier before I wrapped them in Saran wrap (but we had to make way for the chocolate pudding pops, so we sacrificed).

I was a total skeptic. First of all, Andy and I are both really cheap (i.e., although we've had four lightbulbs burn out since we moved into this apartment a year ago, we have resisted replacing them until just very recently), so the thought of spending money on something so frivolous wasn't high on the list. Secondly, it is a unitasker, and we don't have the real estate to support lots of gadgets like that. However, yesterday, the heat had us both in grumpy moods, so I went on a quest to find an ice pop mold, hoping that would cheer us up. Found these at Kmart for the modest price of $2.99, which was just about my limit. (I found others online, but couldn't justify spending 10 bucks on one, much less $50.) We whipped up a batch of raspberry-strawberry yogurt smoothie, and froze it . . . with delicious consequences. We're currently freezing PB-chocolate pudding pops, and I am VERY excited about that.

We've been wanting a grill ever since the weather started warming up, but due to our aforementioned cheapskatedness, haven't taken the plunge. We just wanted something small, and the Smokey Joe had good reviews. $30 at Target! Still, $30 for us is a big purchase, and again, not justifiable.

Enter our wonderful friends, Hannah & Spencer! We dog-sat for their cute little Pomeranians while they were on vacay in Cali, so for our thank-you gift, we got our own little Smokey Joe! It's just the one we wanted. Are they great or what?? (I swear, we weren't hinting when we invited them over for the 4th of July for hot dogs and burgers cooked in our toaster oven [un-American, I know]! They're just thoughtful.)

Sooooo, basically, what I'm saying is . . . LET THE PARTY BEGIN!

Shish kebabs anyone?
Grilled pizza? (btw, if you've never had grilled pizza, DO IT.)
Grilled fish, chicken, pineapple, peaches, zucchini, CORN ON THE COB?!?!

It is summer now. Just listen to the Fresh Prince . . .

P.S. I know you love this post, because anything bookended by Ella Fitzgerald and Will Smith has to be good.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Who Knows?

Lately, I've been feeling excited and optimistic about the possibilities before Andy and me. We're young, oh-so-attractive, intelligent, and (after a difficult year) more motivated than ever to make our lives full of meaning and worth.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Allons voir un coucher de soleil . . ."

. . . I am very fond of sunsets.

I went to the grocery store this evening to pick up a few sundries. As I checked out, I noticed the pink glow coming from outside--one of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in a while. One of those sunsets that makes you wonder what's wrong with people who are going about their daily business as if there isn't a miracle right before their eyes.

Why do I love sunsets so much?

They are so fleeting, ever-changing. Sunsets are a point of transition, and if you blink, you'll miss them. If you're not in the right place at exactly the right time, you can miss out completely.

Part of my route home was spent driving into the sunset--the last lingering bit of daylight--with all the colors before me. As I turned a corner, I was driving into the night, watching fireflies glow around me and cats begin to lurk in the darkness. The sunset itself is neither day nor night, but it's the point of connection between the two.

We rarely give our transitions enough credit. If you think of it, though, they are hugely important. In writing, transitions go a long way in taking a reader with you from idea to idea. In music, it's the transitions that set truly great musicians apart from mediocre ones, those moments that hold the audience transfixed, wondering what will come next. In life, though, transitions are most often viewed as something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Our time here in Pittsburgh was always meant to be transitory, and we haven't really tried to make anything beautiful out of it (even to the point of avoiding most attempts at building friendships, until recently). As uncertainty looms, and we (like so many other [soon-to-be or] recent graduates, and Americans in general) are left to wonder if we'll be able to "make it" any time in the near future, this transition time seems as though it's just an obstacle--something standing in the way of us and our successful, comfortable life ahead.

Maybe I've been judging our transition too harshly. Maybe I shouldn't be frustrated because I'm in the space between day and night, but I should stop and appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of my every moment of transition.

Tonight's sunset.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


We had some visitors this weekend. My folks came in for a quick jaunt over to see what our life is like in Pittsburgh. They kept us pretty busy; in just three days' time:

1. Went to the Phipps Conservatory. Something must have been funny.

2. Carnegie Museum of Art & Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

3. Duquesne Incline

4. Found "Kewpie Mayonnaise" (in a pouch) at the Asian market in the Strip District.

(More Strip District. I love my Daddy!)

5. Went to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. (I can't post any pictures of the actual place, so here we are at the Visitors' Center . . . )

6. Ethiopian Dinner

7. Andy got his PhD!

Look at those crazy kids and their iPhones . . . my parents are so much cooler than me.

Other events (not pictured): Shakes at the Milkshake Factory, Breakfast at Pamela's, Lunch at Uncle Sam's Sub Shop, visit to the Andy Warhol Museum, visit to the Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms, walk at Frick Park, play "special music" at church, and take a driving tour of the city. Also, my Dad bought me a brownie pan, so of course I had to make some brownies.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Sorry to have frightened some of you . . . I'm not as depressed as I apparently seem. I suppose I've just been in an introspective mood lately, trying to look at my life objectively. It's a form of problem-solving. And yes, it is certainly true that my life is not at all where I would like it to be, but I'm not too bent out of shape about it--I'm just really anxious to get to the place where things are better. Figuring out what I could have done better previously can help me not to make the same mistakes in the future.

The good news is that I feel improvement is imminent. The more I think of it, the more I feel like the Rachel that has been overtaking me for the past few years is not the Rachel that I really am. I never used to doubt myself so much, and I don't think it's a coincidence that success used to come so much easier. I never doubted that I could successfully complete any task placed before me. Somewhere along the line I lost that, and I'm ready to find my Mojo again. So there! Don't worry, just send me your happy thoughts and prayers. :-)

Hope everyone has a great Fourth tomorrow. I'll be working during the day (happythoughts), but come the evening, it's time to PARTY.

Grandma & Grandpa Higa, I love and miss you.
This picture was taken on New Year's Eve 2007, but I love it, and it has fireworks in it, so THERE.

(This was actually a New Year's Eve spread from Hawaii, 2007-08. Impressive, yes?)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On Being Poor, and Following Bliss

Liz, one of my colleagues from the BYU School of Music, recently wrote a post asking how we felt about majoring in music now that all was said and done.

Let me explain my current situation, and we can delve into the details from there.

I have Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Cello Performance from BYU and UNT, respectively.

I am working two jobs (one totally unrelated to music, another more related), and teaching privately . . . and living below the federal poverty line. I married an idealist like myself--and, to be clear, that is exactly why I love him--who would not be happy working at a job that wasn't fulfilling at some deep level, and so, we're holding onto our hope that we can find some combination of fulfillment and sustainability . . .

We live in a tiny, 3rd floor apartment, we buy our groceries on Food Stamps, and for "health insurance," we try to exercise, eat right, and pray that nothing will happen to us. We are the working poor.

I've rewritten that last paragraph several times already, trying to remove any twinge of bitterness that may still come across, but the honest truth is that when I see people who are the same age as me (or, better yet, younger!), who are living "grown-up" lives, I can't help but feel bitter. Alas, envy green isn't a flattering color on anyone (especially not half-Asians whose skin, already tinged with yellow, looks especially jaundiced by any green), so back to the discussion at hand.

Do I regret majoring in music?

The short answer is no.

The long answer is no, but I regret everything about how I did it.

Why music, anyway?

Both of my parents are musicians. Growing up, I knew one thing: I liked playing cello, but I did NOT want to be a music major in college. However, that all changed when it came time to actually choose my major.

During my senior year of high school, my youth orchestra played a concert featuring a handsome young piano soloist, Alessio Bax.

During that concert, in a flurry of handsome-pianist-playing-Rach 3-induced passion (that piece is sexy), I knew more surely than I've ever known anything else in my life that


It's the rush that I get when I'm onstage, the feeling that nothing else matters, the compulsion to expel every emotion I've ever felt and many that I haven't so that someone can hear me, understand me, and appreciate me. It's that feeling that made me cry when I last saw a Symphony orchestra performing live, and even sometimes when I hear a piece on the radio. Even as I write this now in the public library, my eyes are welling with tears. It means a lot to me.

So, what do I regret about majoring in music?

1. I shouldn't have done it at BYU. This is tough. I was looking at my old pictures from the HFAC this morning, and I *love* my BYU friends, and I cherish the memories we shared. At the same time, I spent a lot of time at BYU being very lonely, depressed, and self-hating. Aside from that, it wasn't a good place for me to develop as a musician. There are myriad reasons for that, only most of which I blame myself for, but I was never my best at BYU. Which leads me to . . .

2. I should have worked a hell of a lot harder. I gave my all onstage, but never in the practice room, where it would have reaped more reward. As a result, I've always been (by my less-than-humble estimation) a compelling but sloppy performer. I've always thought it was much better to be "compelling-but-sloppy" than "clean-but-boring", but I never really figured out that I could be "clean-and-compelling" if I just worked my tail off (and, to be sure, it's still just a theory).

3. I should not have allowed myself excuses. I am simultaneously too hard on myself, and too lenient. I berate and belittle myself while I'm working on something ("You are so stupid, why can't you get that bowing right?!"), and give so many allowances after the fact ("I've been too busy to practice lately, or else I could have nailed that audition!"). [In case you're wondering, that is always how I talk to myself. When it's negative, it's a "you" statement, and when it's positive, it's an "I." I can't even own up to my own weaknesses in my own thoughts!] I regret not having been more honest with myself, especially about my level of playing, and what I could expect from the amount of effort I exerted.

4. I should have dreamed bigger. I shied away from the dream of playing in a Major Symphony Orchestra--too competitive. I shied away from the dream of playing chamber music--too hard to come by. Everything I could have done seemed inaccessible, which left me with the reality of playing Pachelbel's Canon (all 8 notes of it) in wedding quartets (see below).

No musician can tell me that this doesn't sound familiar. Unless you're a musician from Utah; in that case, you're thinking, "Whoa! $30 to play music?! Cool!!!"

If I'd had a complete, envisioned dream, I think I would have been successful. Thus, I can't say it was a mistake to be a music major.

My mistake? Not having a plan.

As a result of my poor planning, I'm still trying to figure out the place music has in my life. Sometimes, I forget why I loved it so much. Some days, I don't miss playing at all. But some days, it aches so much that I cry, and I remember that a part of me is dead. Some days, it feels like no one can ever really know me again, because Musician Rachel has disappeared, and she's the only Rachel that really ever had anything interesting to say.

I believe that if you work hard enough, you can succeed at anything.

What do you believe? Are you happy with your career choice? How do you wish you'd done it differently?

(P.S. Here is another interesting take on the subject. I just read an adapted version in my BYU Alumni magazine.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Winner of 9 Tony Awards

[NOTE: I have not seen the Book of Mormon musical. I have read lots of reviews on it, I have heard and read interviews with the creators, and I have listened to a lot of the music. I don't claim any authority on the matter, but I also refuse to unilaterally declare it unfit for all human viewing.]

I'm sure many of you--especially my fellow Mormons--have read this article from the Washington Post about the Book of Mormon musical, calling it the modern-day equivalent to the Amos and Andy show.

I'm a pretty sensitive person--I get my feelings hurt if someone honks their car horn at me!--but this musical just doesn't bother me. Maybe part of it is because I heard an interview on Fresh Air that really led me to believe that there was absolutely no malicious intent to the creation of the show ("I don't think anybody would want to see a two-hour-long Mormon-bashing, and we wouldn't want to see that either."), but I just can't work myself up about this, like any self-respecting Mormon would.

It is caricature. And yes, we Mormons are portrayed as being naive, overly optimistic, and repressed. But what Mormon can honestly look him or herself in the mirror and say that at least some of that isn't true? Who has ever looked at a 19-year-old greenie on his way to PerUruGuateMexiCaliFiji without thinking about how innocent and enthusiastic he is, and how he's in for a harsh reality?

Here are two lyric samples. Which do you think portrays Mormons in a better light?

Example 1:
Crooked generation, we demand your veneration.
Will you shake your heel at us as we call you to your knees?

Crooked generation, will you scoff at ordination?

We are warriors by a rite, so respect us if you please!

Example 2:
I've always had the hope that on the day I go to heaven
Heavenly Father will shake my hand and say, "You've done an awesome job, Kevin."

Now it's our time to go out and set the world's people free.
And we can do it together, you and me – but mostly me!

Those of you better versed in Mormon Culture may have recognized the first lyric sample, from the song, "In Our Humble Way," from Saturday's Warrior, a musical written by, for, and about Mormons. The second is from the song "You and Me--But Mostly Me," from the Book of Mormon musical. Both are taken out of context, of course, but the sentiments of both songs are strikingly similar: "We are going to make the world a better place, because we are awesome!" Seems pretty innocuous to me.

Mormons do tend to suffer from a persecution complex, a result of our heritage of being tarred and feathered, unjustly imprisoned, and forced into migration. True, it hasn't been an easy road for us (though I take serious issue when people say--as they do at times--that we have had it as bad as the Jews and / or the slaves), but that doesn't mean that everyone is still out to get us.

We often talk about the difference between faith and logic, and any religious person knows that faith absolutely defies logic. The Book of Mormon musical shines a light on this fact (the song "I Believe" highlights it), but I get the feeling that people get uncomfortable with this kind of scrutiny just because they've been afraid to question things for themselves--or to recognize that, to an outsider (or even--shockingly!--some insiders you may sit next to in sacrament meeting!), the gospel presents some ideas that challenge previously held beliefs. But when these challenges arise, instead of confronting them head-on, we get defensive--and that actually pushes people away from hearing what we have to say.

Yes, there is explicit language. Yes, they literally curse God. Yes, Mormons are portrayed in a humorous light. But I'm still not offended, and I can only find one other difference between the Book of Mormon musical and Saturday's Warrior:

The music in the Book of Mormon is wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy better.

[P.S., I watched an episode of Amos and Andy, but I actually think that there are more offensive examples that have taken place much more recently in our history. See below.]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Date Night: Putting it in Perspective

I feel like I'm falling in love with Pittsburgh all over again.

Last summer, I began to love Pittsburgh for its temperate summers, endless community activities, and beautiful library. Winter put a quick stop to our honeymoon phase, but when the sun starting coming out again and there was green all around . . .

It's really a great city. Tonight, for example, we're meeting up with some friends to see a free outdoor jazz concert, and then to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in the park.

Yesterday was Date Night--our first in a while, since we've both taken jobs that require us to work on weekends, and neither of us has what you would call a regular schedule (oh, how I long for a M-F, 9-5!). Fortunately, though, Andy's job does come with connections: since he works with Kayak Pittsburgh, we get to kayak for free anytime we want!

We took out a tandem, me in front, and Andy in the back. It was a beautiful day to be out on the river! Perfect, in fact.
We then went to get an Italian picnic. Our friends Hannah & Spencer had graciously given us a GC for Buca di Beppo, so after we finished our kayaking, we called up for some Italian take-out. The original plan was to take our dinner up the Duquesne Incline and have a picnic at the top. Unfortunately, we figured out too late that they require cash fare, and we were starving, so we decided to have our picnic in the parking lot for the Incline. We roll with the punches.

After our dinner, we found an ATM so we could make it to the top of the Incline. When we did, this is what we saw:
Beautiful. I think Pittsburgh is a beautiful city, especially at night. We saw the city from so many different angles yesterday. It's amazing what a huge impact perspective has.

So, we paid $0 for our kayaking, $10 out-of-pocket for our dinner, and $9 for our round-trip tickets up the Incline.

Spectacular Date Night: $19.
Memories: Priceless.

Now then, who wants to come visit us in the 'Burgh?!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Pity the Fool . . . oh, wait--that's me.

You know what feels terrible? Being made a fool. I am not an aggressive person, but I felt like lashing out today. I would have written such an angry email . . .


I know--but I really was that mad. And next time, I'll press "send," I really will . . .

Having recently become disenchanted with our current landlord, who seems to drag his feet about things like cashing our rent check, getting our washing machine fixed, and / or sending us a lease renewal, I decided to see what was posted on craigslist.

I found what looked like a beautiful apartment in a great neighborhood, for less than what we're paying for our current apartment, in all its tiny, almost windowless, awkward, right-angle-lacking glory. My interest was piqued, so I sent the inquiry to the reply-address.

A lady responded, and gave me a pretty good story about how they thought it was going to be rented, but they haven't heard back from the couple, blah blah blah. If I am honest with myself, I will say that there was a lot that had me uneasy about the whole interaction--BUT, I ignored those feelings, because I *really* wanted that apartment to exist at that price. (And why is that smart voice inside of me so quiet, anyway?!) She said I just needed to do a credit report, and then we could set up a time to look over the place.

The link she gave me was to a credit-reporting site, which has apparently been running this scam for a while. As far as I know, they're not taking people for all they're worth, but they are taking out a $30 monthly fee and making it really hard to cancel. (Said company has an "F" rating at the Better Business Bureau.)

At least I figured it out quickly, and canceled my debit card. I eventually (after getting a busy signal [A BUSY SIGNAL. IN 2011]) got a hold of the company and "canceled" my subscription to the "service," fighting the urge to go Medieval on the poor guy on the phone who may not have even been aware he was working for a scam-operation.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Well, at least I can feel better about knowing that even Mr. T has, at times, been made a fool.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, dear Andy!

June 9th was Andy's twenty(cough)th birthday. Being that we are currently those "living from paycheck to paycheck" people, and his birthday (unfortunately) fell at the end of a long stretch between paychecks, we played it pretty low-key this year.

Last year, for Andy's birthday / our going away party, I designed a special cake wreck just for Andy. He likes Star Wars, and it's kind of a joke between us, since I don't really care at all for the series, but when he asked for a Yoda cake, I had to oblige.

"May the 4's Be w/ Yinz"

I made it without consulting any actual image of Yoda, and I was kind of disappointed. It just wasn't all that ugly!! It did bear a resemblance to Elder Dallin H. Oaks, though . . .

This year was a bit more random. Andy wanted a carrot cake. He wanted this cake wreck, to be exact. Unfortunately for me, it was harder than I anticipated to find weird tiny babies. I was still pretty happy with how it turned out, despite everything:

Again, it's not the wreckiest cake (only one misspelling), but Andy just wanted it to be funny. (Side note: we each picked out an element of the cake's wreckorations. Can you guess who chose what?)

So, we had some friends over to help us kill the cake. We only got one bit of photographic evidence that they were there, but it wasn't a very good picture. Boo! You can see, though, that it was a pretty killer par-tay:

Little Sidera was enjoying her first "big girl bottle" (no worries, fellow Mormons--it's only ginger beer!). We've been very self-conscious about having people over to our tiny, poorly furnished apartment, and so we haven't done it much, but it's something we've missed. It was nice to be surrounded by great people, and to just enjoy the good times. Thanks, Hannah, Spencer, Sidera, Neal, Cristy, Lisa, and Joseph for coming out! We love you guys.

So, happy birthday to Andy!