Saturday, May 19, 2012

First Graduation

Today I went to my first graduation, not as a graduating student, but as a member of the faculty.  I sat with the other faculty in the front, facing the graduating students and the audience.  There were twenty graduating students.  You might think that with only twenty students, the ceremony would be short.  It was two hours.  I suppose that's short for a graduation since small colleges and large universities will have graduations that last three hours or so. 

Out of the faculty sitting in the front, I was one of two women, bringing some girl power to the school.  I looked elegant from my head to just below my knees, where I have a large black boot on my right foot because of a stress facture, and a shiny white sneaker on my left foot.  During this graduation, I learned that it is impossible for pastors and preachers to pray or read a scripture verse without preaching first.  They preach. And they don't just preach for a minute or two.  It's more like ten, fifteen, twenty minutes.  And all he originally had to do was read a few Bible verses.  This graduation, like the others I have attended, was good, but I was glad when it was over.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Look at that Hair!

As my parents and I sit down to dinner with my cousins and aunt and uncle, I actually think that it might be nice having a pet.  A little dog might be a good companion when I’m home alone.  Even a cat might be possible.  It doesn’t take long for this vision to end though.  About halfway through the meal, as my cousin lifts his arm slightly to grab a roll from the middle of the table, hair—dog hair, cat hair, either is possible—falls off his sleeve and onto his plate. He doesn’t notice.  The hair just sits there: now a part of his dinner.  Suddenly I lose my appetite.  Quickly, I finish what is on my plate, then exclaim how full I am—can’t possibly eat any more. 

This family gathering comes to mind when I reflect on the essay entitled, “Pet Therapy for Heart and Soul” by Kerry Pechter.  A piece that enumerates the benefits of living with an animal, it almost has me convinced.  Having a dog would lower my blood pressure if I had high blood pressure, which I do not.  Owning a cat would help me relax, as if I haven’t several relaxing activities already.  Conversing with a parrot would lift my spirits and help me from becoming depressed.  Certainly the health and emotional benefits of owning a pet are rewarding.  But the author failed to the mention the maintenance, which can actually raise blood pressure.  Someone needs to go home to let the dog out and then to take it for a walk.  Everyone in my family is busy; therefore, whose job will it be to walk the dog around the neighborhood and then pick up its poop.  Call me prissy, but I don’t want to pick up any animal’s poop, and especially in public.  In working with a tight budget, we would have to worry about the money spent on the pet: food, veterinarian, toys, and other necessities.  Animals can be enjoyable, but can cost a pretty penny.
However, being a woman, I am constantly changing my mind and what I want.  While reading this author’s essay for the second time, I was once again swept up in the idea of having a pet.  I had never really thought of owning a bird, so a bird might be possible.  Or maybe a lizard?  Or I could stick with my ever-faithful idea of getting a Westie.  Or I could be daring and buy a cat.  But hair—lots of hair—comes to mind.  I remember sitting on the sofa at my friend’s house, watching a movie, when their huge cat jumps onto the sofa to sit between us.  The cat isn’t doing anything, so I pet her, then watch the movie.  Then watch the whirlwind created by the ceiling fan lift a large glob of hair from off the cat’s back to swirl it in the air in front of the TV.  What a lot of hair from just one cat!  Double check: make sure my mouth is clothed and that I’m breathing through my nose.  I can’t get cat hair in my mouth, preferably not in me at all.  The box of snacks my friend brings in does not look appetizing anymore, at least not with possible hair bombs contaminating it.  Indeed, we open the box, but neither of us eats from it. 
And so I remind myself that I could have a pet if I wanted.  I just wouldn’t be able to move past the shedding.  Even if I could push on through the trials of shedding by getting a dog that doesn’t shed, I would then be stopped by its bark.  In a largely silent house, a dog’s bark would drive me crazy.  The odor of wet fur from when it comes in from the rain or dew would make me want to hold my breath so that I would probably suffocate.  Even though there is no denying that relationships with pets can contribute to better health and can help manage stress, I must admit that I am just one of those people who will need more persuasion.

When it comes to owning a pet, I fluctuate back and forth, but fortunately, it isn’t my decision to make since my mother has the final say when it comes to bringing animals into the house.  For the time being, she has allowed enough animals inside, namely: my dad, my sister, and me.  And as much as I hate to admit it, I agree with her.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Gaggle of Men--Sestina Style

Her first blind-date date ever was with Jason.
At swing dancing she met Derrick.
In a young adult Bible study she first met Jeff.
In a young adult Bible study she met Mark.
Through an online dating site she met Aaron.
At a new ballroom she met the small man Kirk.

The only man who asked her to dance was Kirk.
He was writing a story and the protagonist was himself, Jason.
At their first date her parents trailed at a distance as she met Aaron.
She realized there are some good men out there because of Derrick.
After going out she asked about a relationship and dating Mark.
She tried to be flirty and cute because she really liked Jeff.

After church she went to lunch with her mom and Jeff.
She ended up introducing Christianity and church to Kirk.
“I plan on moving back to Michigan,” said Mark.
In the story, she would be a vampire and the love-interest of Jason.
She stopped going swing dancing because of Derrick.
Upon performing lifts at dancing she was dropped three times by Aaron.

After dancing she shared books with Aaron.
She didn’t care what she said or did anymore because she no longer liked Jeff.
She sent an “I like you” email to Derrick.
When practicing an easy lift she was almost dropped by Kirk.
At dinner she ate more of her cheeseburger than did Jason.
She doesn’t remember, but her mom said she cried over Mark.

After months of no contact, she heard from Mark.
She was uncomfortable whenever around Aaron.
When walking in the mall she had to hold hands with Jason.
She needed a dance partner—just a dance partner—so she asked Jeff.
“I have a good job, a house, money—just looking for a wife,” said Kirk.
She took up swing dancing again because of Derrick.

She still can’t decide if she likes Derrick.
She berates herself for she still likes Mark.
She still needs to figure out how to dump Kirk.
Some men don’t get it—she thought she had dumped Aaron.
She has yet to dance with Jeff.
Two months later she split up with Jason.

She doesn’t want to dance with Kirk because she wants to dance with Derrick.
She didn’t dance much with Jason and Mark.
She wants to stop dancing with Aaron but give it a try with Jeff.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cooking Solo

Berry Trifle
I’m standing at the stove, stirring cocoa powder in butter when my mom decides to help me by sifting the powdered sugar.  The chocolate icing recipe calls for sifting powdered sugar; therefore, it must be done.  I had made this icing several times successfully without sifting the sugar, so I want to ignore this piece of advice, but my mom insists.  This is the woman who had once told me that this practice isn’t necessary—no one would know whether the sugar was sifted. 

For the person who has never worked in a kitchen or made icing, powdered sugar can become messy fairly quickly. You don’t want to sneeze around it or else there will be white everywhere.  You will have to be careful when opening it, because like flour, it can poof! all over the place.  In addition to the sugar poofing, it can poof even more when sifting, which is grinding the sugar through tiny holes to make the sugar even finer than it already is.  There are sifter contraptions which make sifting easier, but there is still some mess involved.

Wanting to save my mom from the hard work, I decide to do the sifting and let her stir the chocolate mixture.  Well, she immediately criticizes me for being too messy, sugar is getting on the stove, not in the saucepan.  Therefore, she takes the sifter away from me.  I contemplate pointing out that she was the one who spilled that large blot of sugar on the counter.  My glancing at the clock reminds me I could have finished making this by now, but again, I don’t mention the waste of time.  It occurs to me how much faster I can work when by myself.  The mess I make when cooking is not as large as the mess when a second or third person is added.

But it occurs to me that cooking alone can be lonesome.  There is no one else to talk to, no one to help with the heavy pan or to get a missing ingredient.  Cooking with other people can be a good way to spend time with someone.  Little, random things can be discussed.  You get to know a lot about a person by how they approach cooking.  Do they follow the recipe?  Indeed, do they use a recipe or start doing something and then root around for the instructions?  Do they follow measurements precisely?  Or do they follow their own: eyeball it, a pinch, a handful, just enough?  Do they have to control everything—worrying if the extra sugar you added would be too much?  Do they follow the instructions in order?  It took me a while before I learned that I was adding the baking powder too early to a certain recipe.  I didn’t notice any difference, but I’m not a connoisseur.

There are more questions I could ask about a person’s cooking style.  I could tell you that one who likes to fudge it and go with the flow, is well, a go-with-the-flow-easygoing-laid-back person; and that one who follows everything exactly likes order.  In fact, the interpretation is up to you.  It also depends on what cooking traits you find desirable.  When it comes to my future husband, I don’t care how he cooks as long as he can.  But you may be more picky.  That’s okay, we have picky eaters, picky dressers, so of course we can have picky bakers.
Handmade Truffles
From my limited experience of cooking I have already learned several things: (1) it’s okay if you don’t follow the recipe exactly, most ingredients are forgiving, and as long as you don’t forget the chicken in the chicken pot pie, you’ll be ok; (2) if you have an electric stove, you don’t have to worry too much about starting a fire.  I once babysat a six-year-old boy all day, so lunch was my job.  I gave him most of the items on the lunch list that his mother left: leftover pizza, cookie, popsicle.  So imagine my horror when he said he was still hungry and wanted cheese and shells, a fancy, devastating phrase for macaroni and cheese.  At the time I was twenty-one years old and the last time I had eaten macaroni and cheese was when I was a kid.  And of course, when I was little, I didn’t make it.  Hence, I didn’t know how to make this boy’s lunch.  After reading the directions numerous times, I decided that it could actually be quite easy.  Then I looked at the stove, which was not electric.  I had never used a gas stove and so carefully turned the knob a little. A flame popped up.  Putting my hand closer to it I could feel the heat, and thanked whatever made the stove light that I did not have to light a match or anything else.  Minutes later, I served the little boy cheese over shells that were still a little hard.
I have learned that something cooked can get better if you wait a little after it is finished, such as chocolate chip cookies, but it doesn’t help other foods, such as the shells and cheese.  Baking items more than once does help you get better.  For years I couldn’t make my own pancakes because I could never tell when they were ready to be flipped.  That meant I usually tried to flip them early so they fell apart mid-flip and appeared mangled and deformed in the pan.  Then, one day, I was manning the pancakes.  Miraculously, I managed to wait long enough and flip them perfectly.  I ate one and it was tasty.  There is hope!
Thereby, putting my cooking knowledge to use, I have created my own recipe which still needs to be tested.

                        One man
                        One woman
                        A medium-skill level recipe
                        Background music

1.      Decide to make something together.
2.      Share the work, don’t do everything yourself and don’t be bossy.  Let him take the lead sometimes (imagine you’re dancing where the man takes the lead).
3.      Analyze his cooking style.  If he lives up to your expectations, then keep him a bit longer.  If he doesn’t, then decide if you can accept his ways of doing things.
4.      Repeat as necessary.

When I get a boyfriend, I plan on suggesting (or insisting) this as a potential date. We will both probably end up testing each other, but that should be part of the fun.  And of course we would have something to eat afterward.

No matter how large is the kitchen, it will never be large enough for even two people: it is inevitable that you will bump into each other.  That is the nature of partner cooking—some of us will probably just have to get over it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Collecting Tags

His name is Bongo—the cute little thing that is so dear to me.  Bongo is a little stuffed animal—a Ty beanie baby to be exact.  He was my first beanie baby, and since he was my first, I had not known of Ty or of his potential value.  Being a little girl pleased with her find at the museum during a field trip and eager to play, I had thought nothing of cutting off the red and white heart-shaped tag.  I would not have kept it, except for the fact that inside it contained a little poem that described him.
Shortly thereafter, I learned to my horror that I had just ruined a perfectly good collectible.  There was an entire underground, fantastical world of collectibles that centered around Ty beanie babies.  I don’t know if this craze still exists, but ten years ago it was strong.  These beanie babies of different colors and species weren’t just little stuffed animals, cute to admire, but worth a lot of money and time.   Every time we went to certain stores my parents would let me get one which would hold me for a while.  Then it picked up speed as collecting these turned into competitions.  I heard other girls talk about how many they had and which ones they had (bears were the most sought after and expensive).  I became a member of the Ty club which came with a plastic kit, cards, stickers, and of course, a Ty bear.  After years of disuse, I started using the zipper kit as a traveling bag for cosmetics.  When McDonalds released their mini Ty beanie babies, my mom and I raced there to scarf them up to collect such valuable items.  The most dedication I had shown came several times when I got my mom to take me to Ty fairs where I could procure rare items, such as the Princess Diana bear. 
As I became more engrossed in my collection, I read books about the various animals: noting how much certain ones were worth and learning to be on the guard for counterfeits.  I studied the images provided of the authentic next to the copies, and I read numerous times the descriptions and ways to discern if a supposed Ty beanie baby were a fake.  No matter how hard or long I studied, I couldn’t see what the experts saw. In order to remain sane, I decided to forget about the counterfeits.  After all, I hadn’t gone through the trouble of finding the beanies just to turn around and sell them.  To me, they were all originals, and that was half the battle.
The other half of my hobby resided in maintaining the collection’s condition, which entailed protecting the small red and white heart-shaped tags.  Since the tags were one of the most important parts of the beanies, I bought clear tag protectors that snapped over the tag, encircling it in a safe, plastic embrace.  But I always seemed to be running out of the protectors.  I would stand in front of my collection and stare at the beanies without tags.  Which would be the lucky ones that would be saved the fate of a ruined tag?  Years later, however, as I stood in front of my collection, gently rubbing their fur to dislodge the dust, even those beanies with tag protectors lost tags.  It wasn’t the animal or the tag of paper or the protector, but the thin strand of plastic attaching the tag to the ear.  There was nothing I could do but gaze at the fallen tag on the floor.  I kept the detached tags anyway.
As I grew older, I decided that I wanted to use the beanie shelves for something else, for something other than stuffed animals.  Moving day arrived for them as I placed and crammed each one carefully into a large plastic bin.  They would still be my collection; they would just be hidden away, waiting for the next right time to emerge.
Then one year my mother decided to change the Christmas tree decorations.  Instead of hanging the usual ornaments, she wanted to populate the tree with the Ty beanie babies—and not just any of my babies, but the most valuable ones: the bears.  I refused to bring them out and actually took the few she had already borrowed off the tree.  These were valuable, fragile bears, and they did not belong on a tree.  This caused a tiff between us, until I finally decided that even though it would hurt the bears to be placed on a Christmas tree, it wouldn’t kill them.  Some tags fell off as I placed the bears on the branches, and I made sure to retrieve them so I would have them anyway.
This Christmas, and other times, has led me to wonder about the notion of collecting items and working on a collection as a hobby.  Why did I feel led and inspired to collect small beanie stuffed animals?  Why, at times, was I almost possessed?  Obsessed?  Was it because others had collections so therefore I felt I needed one also?  Was it the in-thing to do?  The need to believe that I needed a hobby?  But clothing with the tags still on them indicates that they have never been worn and still do not really belong to us.  As long as the tag is still attached, the item can be returned, exchanged.  One doesn’t really own something until this step is taken to remove the tag and use the item: in the case of the beanies, to cut off their tags and play with them.  But I never did that.  They sat on their shelves: clean, perfect, distant, strangers.  They had never been used, and I wasn’t taking any steps to use them.  And then there was Bongo—my first beanie.  Always remaining separate from the others, Bongo has had experiences the others haven’t.  He got to view my bedroom from different vantage points and even got to lounge on my bed.  Sitting comfortably on a bookshelf, he looks like he belongs.  He may appear a little more worn than the others, but his wrinkly little belly, stitched elbow, and dull pelt make him the cutest beanie I own.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sing Along

Let’s face it: you don’t want to hear me sing; and I don’t want to hear you sing.  For the majority of normal people, our voices are always categorized as too something.  Too soft, too loud, too sweet, too nasally, or just plain tone deaf.  Some of us lack the lung power to sustain notes without taking a breath every word or two; and some of us just lack the motivation to make ourselves better singers.  Let’s also face the fact that most of us could probably be better singers than most recording artists.  At some point some of us may have wanted to become a famous singer or soloist, participate in a band, perform concerts, record albums, and become famous.  But for many of us, we have realized that only a select few get to that point, and let’s be honest, this dream isn’t our dream, but someone else’s.  Nevertheless, there are those of us who would still like to sing, not just in the shower, but in front of people too.  But what exists that could allow us to sing anonymously?  We could sing badly and only the few people surrounding us would know.  The answer to this conundrum lies in choirs and choral music.

One of the best choirs I have heard was an a capella choir from William and Mary College.  They were walking the historic area of Williamsburg singing Christmas carols.  My parents and I stood there for several minutes and listened to them sing, enjoying their voices.  I had never heard anything like it.  The choir was small—ten singers at the most.  Each voice complemented the other voices; but the sopranos, second sopranos, altos, basses, tenors, and baritones sang notes that became complex when intermingled with the other voices. 
Singing in a choir may sound old fashioned, but indeed, it is something we should promote in the future.  In a choir, everyone is on the same level.  Of course, stronger singers’ voices will carry more than a puny voice, but puny voices tend to gather strength from the strong singers.  When each section of a choir—soprano, alto, tenor, bass—is singing in unison, voices don’t stand out; instead, they blend together.  Of course there is always the problem of that one bad singer with the loud, awful voice.  When that happens, the director makes sure that singer is away from the microphone.
In high school, I joined my school’s concert choir.  I had no problem singing in the choir during the first year.  I stood in the front and sang along with the altos.  Trouble arose when at the end of the first year the choir director decided to make everyone audition, and if we did not pass the audition, then we would be given one more chance to prove ourselves.  After both our chances had been used, either we would find ourselves in choir, or out.  I failed the first audition and was devastated, so devastated that I did not audition again for the next semester.  But I began to miss singing in the choir—it was a fun period that could relieve me of the pressure from intense math and science courses.  Therefore, I auditioned again, and almost did not make it.  What saved me was my determination to get into the choir, and that my voice suddenly became louder when singing in the soprano range, hitting the high notes.  The choir director’s eyes almost popped out of his head when I sang the next highest note.  After making it into the choir, my next mission was to move from the first row into the second row, since stronger singers were placed in the second or third rows.  I finally made it into the second row, and was happy.
Now, some choirs and choir directors take auditions to extremes.  If the choir is state or nationally renowned, then by all means, make would-be singers audition.  But some small choirs tend to get too big for their britches and humiliate people before turning them away.  One music director that I was so unfortunate to encounter specialized in humiliating the people and singers he did not like.  Immediately after I sang my solo, he assigned it to someone else.  Thinking that perhaps our relationship would get better, I continued volunteering for this choir.  Things went from bad to worse as the director yelled at me one day for not listening in practice.  He had been talking to the band, and I had been talking quietly with my friend.  I could not repeat what he had said to the band because I had been talking, and because of this I was upbraided, and my friend was so shaken she never came back to practice.  It may have been wrong of me to talk while he was working with the band, but his yelling was unnecessary since other people talked without getting into trouble, and since I was a volunteer.  Volunteers can be berated during a life and death situation, but singing a few off-notes in practice never hurt anyone.
Choirs can have their perks.  Even though the pieces sound polished and perfect when performed, there may be a lot of goofing off during practice, making it fun.  some choirs go on tour, sharing their music and talents with other people.  That was how I visited the west coast: entirely emerging in the Pacific Ocean, visiting Universal Studies, and enjoying Las Vegas from a hospital because of dehydration in the desert.  That was how I visited the Midwest: eating fried pig skin in Tennessee, eating in a restaurant in a high tower, and going to Cedar Point.  The bus rides were fun, and it was thrilling to discover who we would spend the night with—would our host family be fun and friendly and take us for ice cream or would they be kooky and wonder what happened to the friendly raccoon they used to feed?  We returned from these choir tours having learned more about each other and having gained enjoyable memories.
Of course, if a school or church choir isn’t for you, well, don’t complain, because you have at least one more option.  You can join or start a complaint choir: the new choir that sings complaints about their lives and government.  We all have something about which we can complain or rejoice, so either way let’s make a joyful noise.