Tuesday, April 26, 2011

100 Things

I've been thinking about my writing lately. I used to love to write, insomuch that I would spend much of my time after school writing short stories. By the time I got to high school, there was no longer any such thing as "creative" writing, and it has all but disappeared in the course of my pursuit of higher education.

Sooo, I'm going to write a short post (300 words or less) EVERY day in the month of May. Your task, dear readers, is to challenge me! What do you want me to write about? Any topic (fair warning: I'm not going to research anything, so if I don't already know about it, I will be B.S.-ing). You can suggest characters, scenarios, settings, conflicts, etc.

Today's challenge was suggested by the lovely Liz.

(in no particular order, and not including people):

100. bare feet
99. The Adventures of Pete & Pete
98. extra-sharp Vermont cheddar cheese
97. spring rainstorms
96. reaching into my pocket and finding surprise money
95. Christopher Guest movies
94. The Daily Puppy
93. coming home and changing into fat pants
92. Skype video chats
91. Saturday NPR
90. breakfast for dinner
89. Groupons
88. running in Frick Park
87. public libraries
86. the smell of fresh basil
85. speaking Spanish to Spanish speakers
84. payday
83. listening to NPR podcasts
82. The Denton Jazzfest
81. pedicures (though I've only had three in my whole life)
80. old movies and classic TV shows
79. watching my nursing home residents make funny faces
78. kids who climb onto your lap
77. text messages
76. sunny days
75. when they play good music on the radio
74. Trololo

73. the entire process of baking a loaf of bread (but especially the baking, slathering in real butter, and eating part)
72. real conversations
71. eating out
70. having friends just stop by
69. bad movies / MST3K-ing
68. making someone laugh
67. using office supplies
66. people-watching
65. cooking and baking
64. Pizza Fridays
63. little baby smiles
62. really good writing (but, like, REALLY good)
61. Hawai'i
60. birdsong
59. woodland creatures
58. Reese's PB cups (even better: Reese's PB eggs at 6 / 99 cents the day after Easter)
57. wide streets
56. left turn signals (both this and the above are hard to come by in Pgh)
55. Brazilian music
54. warm, clean laundry from the dryer
53. the shower after a good workout
52. the feeling of the sun hitting my skin
51. good, healthy, "I mean it" hugs
50. Tuvan throat singing
49. one of the greatest musical comedy numbers of all time, Make 'Em Laugh
48. Funk music grooves
47. snail-mail
46. sno-cones
45. English, spoken with an accent (any accent, domestic or foreign)
44. documentary films
43. mockumentary films
42. the human touch
41. sunsets
40. picnics in the park
39. dinner parties
38. word games
37. poetry
36. animals
35. art museums and galleries
34. live music
33. jazz combos
32. things that are handmade
31. the quirks that make us who we are
30. listening parties
29. A415 and gut strings
28. cuddles
27. clean sheets
26. the beach
25. Blue Bell ice cream (the only real Cookies 'n Cream there is!)
24. Scottish fold kittens who look like they don't have bones
23. free things
22. running, but usually only after the fact
21. Noxema face cleanser
20. comments on the blog *ahem*
19. probably every nice thing you've ever said to me
18. a clean apartment
17. Peanuts classic TV specials
16. trying new recipes
15. the Bach Cello Suites
14. observing experts in their field of expertise
13. languages
12. open windows and a cool breeze
11. lip balm
10. traveling
9. magazine subscriptions
8. silliness
7. dreams
6. peanut butter and jelly on a toasted English muffin
5. bike rides on a pretty day
4. walking the dog (and our crazy cat)
3. hearing children outside my window
2. getting non-business emails from real people
1. using chopsticks

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Honesty / Vulnerability

I've been thinking a lot about honesty and vulnerability lately. Aside from the fact that our lesson in church today was about honesty, and aside from the fact that my friend Sallie posted this great TedTalk on her blog about vulnerability, it's just been on my mind lately.

I've come to the conclusion that I am completely averse to weakness. Of course, I have plenty of weaknesses. I could list hundreds of them--but if you ask me to my face what I'm struggling with, I probably won't tell you. Vulnerability terrifies me. As a music student, I would routinely cry my way through my private lessons because they exposed weaknesses, and that made me very uncomfortable.

Maybe I'm afraid that I'm too weak to withstand any criticism that may arise as people discover the chinks in my armor. My walls are protective.

Moving to a new place has left me pretty vulnerable in itself, but I avoid the bulk of it by shutting myself off to people. I sit by myself at church. When people ask how everything is going, I say "fine," despite what might really be going on (though most of us do this at least to a point: we recognize that the cashier at the grocery store doesn't really want to know our life challenges).

Recently, I realized what a mistake this has been.

Vulnerability is endearing. When first you realize that someone you admire has faults, weaknesses, and personal hurts in his or her life, you don't shun that person--you feel more connected to them. They become human, like the rest of us.

The problem is, it requires a great deal of trust to willfully expose your weakness to others. I have problems with that. I do really well at accepting the weaknesses of others, and in different stages of my life, I've been a trusted confidante who heard many deep secrets and painful realities. Unfailingly, when someone revealed to me what was troubling them, I felt more love for them as a person. It never had a negative effect on our relationship--always, always brought us closer. So why do I deny myself the same kind of strengthening power to my relationships?

To pretend that I am without weakness builds a wall around me. Yes, it may protect me from being hurt, but it also keeps out any potential friends. You can't pick and choose, really, what the outcome will be when you build that wall. The funny thing about it is that no one will really believe you anyway, if you pretend to be without weakness. News flash: we ALL have weakness!

Part of honesty is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It means giving an answer because that's how you feel, instead of answering how you think the person asking the question might want you to answer. Honesty means that you'll be wrong sometimes. Honesty means that you are willing to accept the consequences of your actions. Honesty means failing. Perhaps the most difficult: honesty means coming to terms with yourself as you are, not as you wish you were, or as you wish others would see you. You can't make any improvements in your life if you don't know where your starting point is.

I'm well aware of this. And I want to grow. I want to allow others into my life. But after so many years of hiding my weaknesses, I don't know how one goes about letting others (i.e., aside from my sweet husband and my family, who thankfully know pretty much all of my weaknesses) see who I really am.

Sunday School Cookies

So we've been teaching a youth Sunday school class since about last September. The average attendance is about three. They're not the liveliest bunch we've ever worked with, so we try to entice them to participate with treats. Today we're bringing chocolate thumbprint cookies.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I'm happy to report that I found summer employment this week: a seasonal gig working a kayak rental concession*. It's not exactly career enhancing, but it's decent work with an organization I respect (the kayak program is a revenue-generating venture for a local outdoors recreation nonprofit). Plus, I wanted to spend as much of the summer outside as possible anyway. Why not get paid to do it, right?

This new opportunity is definitely a financial stop-gap, but it will nonetheless allow for some additional saving that we wouldn't be able to do otherwise. If anything, it'll help buy some time before we figure out our next move, which may or may not literally involve relocating to another city, state, country, etc.

*Interesting factoid: This will be my sixth job since Rach and I got married in 2009. It's my seventh if you count 'informal' work (For those of you who remember, I'm referring to the Clubhouse Bakery).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rachel and the Case of the Anonymous Book

Yesterday, I got a package in the mail, addressed to my maiden name. The return address was from a company called Green Earth Books out of Portland. It seemed like it might have been ordered from Amazon, and I was excited to see that it had arrived.

Then I remembered that I hadn't ordered anything off of Amazon.

I opened the package.

Inside was this book:
Obviously, I thought, someone misses me. Andy thought it must have been sent to me by mistake, that it was intended to another person sharing my maiden name. He thought I should send it back. I, on the other hand, believe that there is only one course of action when you receive a book that has no explanation.

Read the book.

I figure maybe it's a message from the Universe. (It may be more likely that it's from one of my family or friends, and the message was simply lost by the company, but the Universe works in mysterious ways . . . )

It turns out the book is about a family from Pittsburgh, which says to me it was definitely intended for me, by the Universe or otherwise. By now, I'm baffled.

The book, having received 3.5 stars on Goodreads, seems totally unexceptional. It was published in 2002--not recently--hasn't really received any critical acclaim of note (the front of the book hails it as the "perfect summer by-the-lake read," which I would call lukewarm), and wasn't even one of those pesky Oprah book club books. The writing, so far, is fine (not great!), and the plot is pretty mundane. (I have just started the book, so maybe it gets better. I say that for the benefit of the person who may have sent it. I don't hate it--but I am a pretty picky reader.)

Now then--who would send this book? Obviously, they would have to know about it to think to send it. They might have read it, or they might have just heard someone talk about it. My father would send me a book simply based on the fact that it was set in my current city of residence, but this isn't the type of book that my father reads. My mother might read it, but probably wouldn't be inclined to send it to me. It was addressed to my maiden name, which says to me that it's someone from my at least slightly more distant past (more than 2 years ago)--or in the very least, someone who has known me longer as Rachel H than Rachel R.

So, whoever you are, thank you. In a way, I almost hope that the mystery never gets solved. Mysteries are much more intriguing when they're unsolved. Then I could go on this show . . .

I'll let you know if it ever gets solved. In the mean time, I'm going to enjoy the Spring weather that has finally decided to grace us here in the 'Burgh, and finish baking my homemade English Muffins.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


In the aftermath of the TOMS Day Without Shoes event, I figured I would weigh in on why some people (myself included) argue why such campaigns are utterly pointless and potentially harmful.

But wait, isn't doing something better that doing nothing at all?

Not necessarily. Just because an activity makes you feel good about yourself doesn't mean it is in any way helpful to the poor. TOMS B1G1 model create the false assumption that social change is easy. Its not. The reality is that TOMS shoes fight poverty about effectively as a LIVESTRONG bracelet fights cancer.

But by going barefoot, I'm 'raising awareness' about all of the shoeless children.

Maybe so, but this method of 'awareness raising' is so focused on the supposed good work that TOMS does in the third world that it seems more like a for-profit marketing campaign than a social statement.

Wait, free shoes can actually be harmful?

Sometimes. An infusion of free goods in a fragile market could crowd out local businesses owners trying to make a living. These type of goods are referred to as SWEDOW (stuff we don't want).

Well, what should I do then?

Educate yourself about poverty at home and abroad. Learn about aid projects that actually work, and find a way to support them in a meaningful way.

There are many, many other good criticisms of TOMs, Project Red, Susan G. Komen, and other 'commercial philanthropy' initiatives, but we'll leave it at that.

Now, before you get too self-conscious about that church project you're helping with that plans on sending 1,000 used sweaters to Uganda, here's a good SWEDOW flow chart to help ensure your 'help' does more good than harm.

*Update: Great post on how cause-related products may lead us to give less to charitable causes courtesy of View From the Cave.*

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stuff I Miss About the Little D: Jazz Fest

Sometimes I wish I could just take a week off and hang out in Denton. This would be one of them. *Sigh*

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Life is so unpredictable.

A week ago yesterday, Andy and I saw one of my former UNT colleagues, Derek, perform as the Evangelist in Bach's St. John's Passion with Chatham Baroque. Yesterday, as the eventual result of my attending that concert, I performed with the Pittsburgh Baroque Ensemble.

It all started with a Facebook ad.

It's taken us a while to get out to concerts since we've been in Pittsburgh. The very first musical performance I attended was pretty underwhelming, so maybe that was keeping me. Lots of them have been cost-prohibitive, as we're not exactly carrying around large sacks of money these days. Part of me, too, was afraid of how going to a concert would make me feel--that maybe it would remind me of my feelings of total inadequacy. For all of these reasons, I stayed away.

I happened to see an ad for Chatham Baroque on the sidebar in Facebook one day. Since the early music community is a small one, and the ad boasted of guest artists in the upcoming performance, I decided to click on it and see if I knew anyone who would be performing. Sure enough, I saw Derek, with whom I've performed on a number of occasions. Figuring he'd want to know there was a familiar face in the audience, I sent him a message letting him know we were planning on going. He replied, saying he'd comp our tickets (which ended up being a VERY good thing, because it turns out we wouldn't have been able to go otherwi$e).

After the performance (which was great), he and I chatted. He said he'd been telling some of the instrumentalists that there was a baroque cellist around, and that they were surprised and always happy to find local musicians. "You should contact them," he said.

Yeah, right. That is so not me.

But, I did it anyway.

I sent out three quick emails, and I only got one reply, from the Pittsburgh Baroque Ensemble. They were really excited to know I was around. I sent the email on Thursday, I think, and received a reply the same day. Friday afternoon, I received another email, saying that their cellist was sick; would I be able to come to a rehearsal this afternoon for a gig tomorrow? How's that for timing?

So (not having a baroque instrument), I tuned Gus (steel strings and all!) down to 415, and off I went to the rehearsal. It went well, and the director decided that whether or not their cellist was better by the concert, since I played the rehearsal it made more sense for me to play. (Unfortunately, the cellist didn't get the three messages left for her on the topic, so she showed up right before the downbeat, instrument in hand. Awkward all around. I felt bad . . . kind of.) Turns out it was a pretty cool gig--a benefit concert in support of Japan. The emcee was one of the hosts of the classical music station, and there were members of the Pittsburgh Symphony and other really good local musicians. It restored my faith in the music scene here.

A perfect confluence of events. If I hadn't seen that Facebook ad and decided to see who was performing . . . if I hadn't contacted Derek (with whom I was only barely acquainted) . . . if he hadn't offered the comps . . . if we hadn't had that little conversation . . . if I'd sent the email a day later . . . if the cellist hadn't gotten sick . . . if I hadn't been at my computer (I got the email an hour before the rehearsal) . . . if this hadn't been the perfect "experimental" gig to try out a new cellist . . . if if if . . . !

So, who knows what will come of this, if anything. But, the gig went well, and I think everyone was pleased (except the other cellist, probably). Just goes to show you the power of a little initiative, being prepared, and perhaps a little divine help.