Friday, December 22, 2006

home for christmas

I always think of the holidays as such a happy time. I love Christmas-- the decorating, the music, the traditions. I love surprising people with gifts and being surprised with gifts. I love seeing Christmas lights on houses as I drive; I love seeing little kids' faces light up when they see Santa.

The only problem with the holidays is that they're so much the same every year and that they're almost always so happy. The traditions and memories are great, and most of the time it's good for the holidays to be happy... but having a ton of happy memories of things always being the same can make things hard when they're not so happy and somehow different.

I'm sorry if this entry is kind of depressing, but I've been less excited about Christmas this year anyway, and then a recent death in the family has kept me thinking.

The year my dad died, in '98, we went away for Christmas. Every single year we spend Christmas at home in Indiana, going through the same routine of Christmas Eve at church and my grandma's to celebrate with my mom's side of the family, Christmas morning opening gifts at home with my immediate family, and Christmas afternoon getting together with my dad's side of the family. The year my dad died, my mom decided she didn't want to be home, going through the same routine, where my dad's absence would be painfully obvious. Instead, we went to Disney World. We opened presents the afternoon before we left, got a family Christmas picture with Mickey and Minnie, and wore shorts on Christmas Day. Our dad was still on our minds, but Christmas felt so different in so many ways that none of us could dwell just on him.

Even eight years later, the holidays sometimes feel funny without my dad. Sure, in some ways, I'm used to him being gone-- I can remember about as many Christmasses with him as I can without (I was eleven when he died). Still, though, it's hard when he's not here, especially because his birthday is the day after Christmas.

This year, Dad's birthday is going to be even more emotional than usual. My aunt Lucy, my dad's sister, died yesterday morning, and both her viewing and funeral will be on my dad's birthday. I know it won't be fun for me this year, but I feel even worse for my cousins, whose holidays will forever be a little tainted by this year's events. Things won't be ruined, but I'm sure they'll never quite be able to forget. I'm just glad that they're old enough to have plenty of memories of merry Christmasses, too.

I don't mean for this to be a sob story for my family and me; we're just examples. A friend of mine recently had a grandpa die, and the season's been especially hard on her grandmother because the grandma is still receiving Christmas cards and letters addressed to both her and her husband. While going through his things, she found Christmas gifts that he'd bought ahead of time but not lived long enough to give. Even when there's not a death in the family, things changing are hard. My cousins moved to Florida, and the change in climate and lack of family close by has made the holidays feel a little lonely and strange, at least at first. I know another person for whom it hasn't been easy to adjust to the differences of Christmas after a divorce.

This feels like a really depressing topic, but... I guess the older I get, the more realistic I get, and the more I see the unhappy parts of the holidays. Some of the things that are great about the holidays are the very things that can make them unbearable. The traditions are fantastic until something changes, and suddenly they just make you sad. The special things you do together are so much fun until you can't do them together anymore.

It just makes me miss being a child, I guess. I like being smarter and older most of the time, but I think Christmas is one case where ignorance is bliss. I appreciate my childhood Christmasses so much more now that I'm too old to ever see it that same way again.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I have always loved stories and writing.

My mom tells me about times she'd take me to the grocery store. I'd entertain myself while we shopped by picking up the cans and food items and making them talk to each other, weaving a story out of green beans and corn.

She's saved many things I wrote as a child- books I wrote (usually on one of my dad's yellow legal pads), sometimes finished with illustrations, sometimes leaving space for illustration later, and sometimes not quite finished. A few of the books were saved after I entered them in Young Authors conferences or similar programs.

Writing was always something that came easily to me, and I enjoyed, and I know it was very closely related to my love for reading. One time, in second grade, I got to pick a prize from the teacher's stash for some reason, and I picked out Into The Land of the Unicorns. In the front of the book, my teacher wrote something to the effect of "Great job. I look forward to reading one of your novels someday!" Obviously, her belief in me was something that stuck with me. Maybe I have a little talent, but honestly, I consider any writing skill I have to be the product of tons of reading. I'm proud of my writing, but I don't think I really have the passion or drive to pursue writing as a career. A part of me wishes I did; I do enjoy writing, and I respect talented writers a lot. Plus, I'm a little jealous of people who have a strong 'calling.' I've had so much indecision in my career choice- and still do, to some extent- that I can't help but envy people who know what they want and are meant to do for the rest of their life.

Anyway, one of the books I read for my Media for Children class this past semester was Kate DiCamillo's The Tiger Rising. Although many people in my class didn't like it much, I really enjoyed this book- perhaps because I could relate to it in some ways. After reading the book, I read the author's page in the back of the book. Kate DiCamillo (also the author of Because of Winn-Dixie) wrote about her motivation for writing the story, and I realized that this was what was missing from my writing. This is what I'm jealous of.

Kate DiCamillo says of THE TIGER RISING, "Rob Horton first showed up in a short story I was writing. I finished the story, but apparently Rob wasn’t finished with me. He hung around for weeks afterward, haunting the other stories I was working on. Finally, I said to him, ‘What in the world do you want?’ And he said, ‘I know where there’s a tiger.’ Like Sistine, I said one word back to him, ‘Where?’ THE TIGER RISING is how Rob Horton answered me."

I surely couldn't pin down the feeling in a word or phrase, but ... I want that. I want to be such a great writer that my characters become real, even to me.

I guess I'm not really sure why I wanted to blog about this; I guess I just really liked the quote. I feel like that's the way writing- at least fiction- should be.

Friday, December 15, 2006

attention whore

I've mentioned PostSecret and other such websites before, and I'm a little ashamed that I enjoy them so much, but... I do.

Anyway, this is just a post because I feel lame. I submitted a couple of secrets to LJsecret, the Livejournal community much like PostSecret, as I've done a few times before. I was 'published' twice this week-- and there's something of a thrill in seeing your creation out there for all of the Internet to see. You wonder if anyone who knows you will guess that it's you, and you wonder what random strangers are thinking about it. The sheer fact that I have a secret posted kind of feels like an exciting secret itself; unless I tell someone, admit something very specific, use a recognizable picture, or, basically, choose to-- my secret being posted is another secret in and of itself, and kind of a fun one.

I honestly don't feel lame for submitting a secret, or feeling a bit of joy seeing it posted, but... LJSecret is somewhat different from PostSecret in that anyone can comment- either anonymously, or signed in- on the secrets posts, and the secrets are numbered to distinguish between them. I've commented myself, before- sometimes I can relate to the secret, sometimes I want to offer words of encouragement, sometimes I agree or disagree, sometimes the secret is just pretty... and when I've posted a secret, I always glance over the comments to see if my secret particularly stood out to anyone enough for them to leave a comment.

The last secret I sent in that got posted not only got a comment, but got a lot. It was simple, and vague, but apparently people thought it was really creative and awesome. And so, I feel incredibly lame because a bunch of people liked something I made using Paint and MS Word in about 5 minutes with a random picture I found on Google... and I'm proud.

I keep going back and checking to see if anyone left more comments about my secret. People posted that they loved it, that it made their day, that it's their favorite secret ever... and I am seriously proud of this.

I think I need a hobby.

P.S.-- I realize that, with only a little work, someone I know can figure out which secret I'm talking about. That's okay; this secret's vague enough that you won't be exactly sure what I'm talking about anyway! :)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

20 Things Guys Should Know About Girls- I Think?

Some groups on Facebook list things that guys and girls should know about or do to each other. Occasionally, I'll stumble on an interesting one. Often, there are some things I agree with completely, and others that I definitely don't. One major problem I have with these lists are that they often generalize both men and women like crazy. They did, however, get me thinking about what kinds of things I would put in a list. Here's what I came up with: a list of things that I think guys should know about girls.
It's not fool-proof; I'm sure some things won't fit with every guy or every girl. Still, I think it fits most situations and most girls pretty well. Let me know what you think, and thanks to any guy who's been awesome enough to help inspire my list! :)

1. We appreciate small gestures.

It might seem like all girls want five dozen roses or a diamond ring- and some girls do- but little gestures mean a lot, especially when for no reason at all. A single rose or a plastic ring you got from a machine for 25 cents may not seem like much, but it lets her know you’re thinking of her, and it’ll make her smile. Notes, especially, might not seem like much- but to a lot of girls, a random Post-It or text message is all it takes to feel special and loved. (Note: a 25-cent ring or similar gift may not be quite so appreciated on a special occasion.)

2. That said, a big gesture every once in awhile will also be appreciated.

Especially for a very important occasion, don’t be afraid to go a little over-the-top. You’ll want to make sure that it’s something the girl is okay with- if she’s easily embarrassed, she might not enjoy a personal serenade by you and five of your closest friends in the middle of downtown. A big gesture, especially one on which you’ve spent a lot of time, effort, or money, says that she’s worth it. (Note: I said a lot of time or effort, not just a lot of money—not all big gestures are expensive!) Sometimes you can use a talent or skill you already have, but personalize it!

3. Personal gifts mean the most.

Contrary to what some lists on Facebook will tell you, not every girl wants the same thing. While some girls would love you to buy them a box of chocolates and a teddy bear, not every girl would. Guys should find out what their girl likes- and if it’s one of the “classic” romantic gestures, fine. The important thing is that you’re getting her roses because they’re her favorite flower and you know she loves them, and not because she’s a girl and ‘girls like flowers.’ Giving a really good gift is hard, but it’s a great opportunity to show a girl that you know her and care about the things she likes and talks about.

4. We’re not all the same.

Try not to be sexist. Sometimes it’s not even intentional, but try not to assume things. Offer to take us fishing sometime; invite us to watch football with you. Yes, some of us are girly girls, and do things like stress over breaking a nail, obsess over Mr. Darcy, or not leave the house before our makeup is done. But there are girls all over the spectrum, and expecting us to be girly all the time is like us expecting you to be manly and macho all the time. Do you really want that?

5. Our friends mean a lot to us.

There may very well be times that friends come first, even above you. This isn’t because you’re not important; it’s just that sometimes it’s even more important to be there for a good friend. This also means that you should be civil, at least, to our friends. You may not get along with them well, but that’s not always a deal-breaker. If you are consistently rude or mean to a girl’s friends, though, it really doesn’t look good. She likes those friends for a reason, and she might just decide that anyone who can’t at least try to like her friends isn’t someone she should try to like. Plus, getting to know her friends can be helpful when you need a gift idea or some help to pull off a surprise.

6. Chick flicks are not always that bad.

Seriously—not all chick flicks are the same, and they’re not all terrible movies. If your girl really likes them, give them a chance. If you can’t stand chick flicks, even after watching a few, try to compromise! There are lots of movies that have a love plot as well as another one- such as comedy or action- that might hold the attention of both you and your lady. And if you do get stuck watching a chick flick and you hate them… my only advice is to try choosing one with a leading lady you find attractive!

7. Whether it’s a book, a ballet, a musical, a television show, a certain music artist, sports team, whatever- please show at least a mild interest.

You don’t have to like everything we like, but we love it if you take the time to find something out about an interest of ours. Be willing to try it- don’t knock a television show that your ladyfriend loves if you’ve never even watched it once. Even if you don’t like it, learning the basics about something a girl is interested in shows her that you actually care about the things she likes and talks about. As an extra bonus, learning about her interests may give you something to talk about with her if you’re struggling for conversation, and may give you insight on something that would be a great gift later!

8. Respect us.

I could list a million examples, but the important thing is this: treat us as an equal. We are not dumb; we are not incapable; we are not objects. On the other side, we are not better than you; we don’t deserve anything just for being a girl; we don’t need to be worshipped. We want you to do nice things for us because you want to make us happy, and not because you think we need or deserve your help or courtesy.

9. If something is upsetting you, tell us.

You don’t have to tell us what’s wrong, or talk to us about it, if you don’t want to. But it helps if you tell us at least that school’s stressing you out, a friend’s making you mad, or even just that you’ve got a lot on your mind. Especially once we know you well, it’s very possible that we’ll notice something’s wrong whether you tell us or not, and if you don’t tell us, it’s easy to assume that we might be part of what’s bothering you. Besides, we may be able to try to cheer you up, or try to help the situation if you tell us about it.

10. Don’t be afraid to compliment respectfully.

I think some guys get a little afraid of compliments being taken as “objectifying.” This kind of thing differs from girl to girl, I’m sure, but I know very few girls who don’t like to be complimented. The most important thing is that the compliments be genuine and respectful. Respectful may depend on the situation; ‘sexy’ might be more appropriate if she’s wearing lingerie and kind of going for that. Terminology can also help determine how respectful something is; obviously, ‘breasts’ sounds a little more respectful than ‘tits.’ Also, while any compliment is nice, sometimes specific compliments are especially great. “Your eyes look so beautiful when you wear that shirt” may sound more genuine than a vague “You’re pretty,” and helps add some variety!

11. Be proud of us.

You don’t have to show her off, take her everywhere, or talk about her constantly, but you should never act ashamed of a girl you like or date. Be willing to be seen in public with her, tell your friends you’re dating her... that sort of thing. If you’re not proud to be dating her, you either shouldn’t be dating her, or you care too much about what others think!

12. If you say you’ll do something, do it.

There are some valid excuses, of course, but really… it’s easiest to just not promise things you’re not sure you can do. It’s just plain disappointing, otherwise. If you consistently fail to follow through, girls (and, really, people in general) won’t be able to see you as dependable… and that’s definitely a great trait for a significant other to have. We’d rather you say “I might call you after work tonight, if it’s not too late” so that our expectations are at least realistic!

13. Listen to us- and talk, too!

Some people talk more; some people talk less. But, usually, when people talk, they want to be listened to. Listen to what we have to say, and then respond. Ask questions, state your opinion, offer advice; basically, engage in the conversation. Sure, listening can be informative and make her feel valued, too, but good communication is also just plain vital to a great friendship and relationship.

14. Be polite.

The definition of polite varies from girl to girl; I, for one, burp loudly and often, and wouldn’t at all mind a guy who did the same thing… other girls wouldn’t be able to stand it. Still- there are some basics. “Please” and “thank you,” for instance, are great. Most girls will be impressed by you opening a door for them or offering to pay for them, but not all—it’s best, I think, to get to know the girl you like. If she curses like a sailor, it’s probably okay for you to. If you’re not sure, ask her! If in doubt, be more ‘gentlemanly’ than you think is necessary. Extra politeness around family and friends can help make a good impression, too!

15. Treat us as a priority.

Every person’s priorities are different, and every girl probably has a different opinion of how high she needs to be on someone’s list of priorities. Family, close friends, academics, a sport—anything very, very important to a guy may top his girlfriend without much squabbling, depending on the girl. But, no matter what, we need to feel important too! Make an effort to make time to see us; be sure to talk to us; ask us about our lives, too. And… if you choose us over something else important once in awhile- it makes us feel really special!

16. Don’t get stupidly jealous.

You’re allowed to be a little jealous. It’s perfectly okay, and even a little sweet, to get slightly protective of your ladyfriend, but there’s definitely such a thing as overprotective. If you don’t have a reason to doubt us, don’t look for them! Many girls have guy friends, and it doesn’t mean that we like them as anything more than friends. Unless there is some blatant reason you shouldn’t, trust her!

17. Be honest.

If we find out you’ve lied, we’re going to wonder why- and, essentially, what you were trying to hide. It just doesn’t end well. A fib here and there- especially when it comes to our insecurities- is okay; optimism that’s a little unrealistic when we’re really upset might be okay, too. Most of the time, though, lies are just a bad idea. Honesty really is the best policy- especially if you want it in return!

18. Don’t assume it’s PMS.

There are plenty of reasons why a woman might be upset. Sometimes, PMS is one of them- but this is only true, at most, a fourth of the time. Even then, not all women get cranky during that time of the month. If you suggest to a woman that it’s just PMS, you’re minimizing our concerns (and probably making us angry). You should at least hear us out and consider what’s bothering us whenever we’re upset. It doesn’t mean we’re always right or that our concerns are always valid, but we do deserve the respect of you at least listening before you pass judgment.

19. If you’re wrong, admit it. If you hurt us, apologize.

I don’t mean to buy us things, though a lot of girls wouldn’t object to a gift; I just mean that you shouldn’t be stubborn if you somehow screwed up. A sincere, heartfelt apology does a lot to make things better and shows that you respect us. If you feel bad about something, even something little, it’s worth mentioning that you’re sorry. Willingness to admit mistakes is admirable and humble.

20. Don’t pressure us!

If you really care about and respect a girl, you won’t push her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. This definitely applies physically/sexually, but in other ways as well. The great thing about a relationship is that two individuals have a connection- but it’s important that you still remain individuals! Offering advice about what is best for a girl is okay, but she should remain true to herself, her values, and her morals (just as you should). If you like the girl already, as she is, why ask her to change?

Well, there’s my two cents. I realize, of course, that no list can apply in every situation, for every girl… but I tried!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I just saw an advertisement on TV for these things. How the heck do they work?

From the website's tutorial, I gather that Fly Pentop computers can "read" what you're writing. This seems a little incredulous to me, but apparently that's how it works. In the homework or calculator modes, it can then offer you advice or the solution. It sounds like it would be cool if it worked, but it might not work for everyone's handwriting. But maybe I'm wrong.

Apparently, the computer has a few modes, including calculator, algebra, translator, FlyTones, and Scheduler. (FlyTones is a program in which you draw a keyboard and drums, and then tap them with the end of the pen to 'make music'.) If that's not enough, you can purchase extra kits for use with your FlyPen, like FlyGreetings, FlyFriends, and FlyJournal. The company makes money through the pens themselves, these extra kits, and the FlyPaper, which the pen apparently doesn't work without.

I'm dubious that it works as well as in the commercials, but if it did, it sounds cool.

From a teacher standpoint, I think I'd have mixed feelings. The translator mode might be great in some ways, but if a kid uses it too much (like any dictionary or translator), they won't really learn the vocabulary. Although this particular model "talks" through the answers, if this kind of thing is ever changed so that it's silent, teachers would have to be very careful to check what types of pens and pencils their students were using during tests. The FlyTones was probably added as a feature to make a homework-helping device more appealing to kids, but it could also be very distracting while kids are in class or working on homework. Still, I think overall it's a pretty cool product, if it works as well as it says. I like the algebra mode, especially-- the idea of talking kids through each step doesn't just give them the answer; it forces the student to find the answer and helps them learn the process.

Anyway... has anyone seen one of these in action, or tried it? I want to know how well it actually works!

P.S.-- Probably due to reading some of the things my friend Erica has written about advertising, I noticed that their website is pretty much awesome. It helped me understand the product, too, after seeing a 30-second commercial on TV. Might want to check it out. :)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

writing you a symphony of sound

Inspired by a part of Erica's WonderBlog post, and a site I found via StumbleUpon, I'm going to make a random mixtape-themed entry. Weird, I know, but I've done quite enough writing today about my life, and none of it is really beneficial or interesting, and I was motivated.

While reading this entry, I'd like to suggest a fitting song: "The Mixed Tape" by Jack's Mannequin. You can listen to it here, if you don't have it. Looks like it's a live version, but it'll do. (On an unrelated note, the last 'blog' entry is kind of interesting, too. At least, I liked it and thought it was well-written.) If you don't think you like Jack's Mannequin, don't worry. There's more music to be found later in the entry!

When I was younger, I used to make mixtapes. Usually, I'd do this while I was working on something like cleaning my room, but near the end of a song, I'd go over to the stereo and get ready to press record if I liked the song. I ended up with tapes that have the beginnings of songs cut off, or the DJ starting to talk at the end, but they included the music I liked. CD burners and mp3 players have pretty much rendered this kind of thing obsolete. Kind of crazy- it hasn't been that long since I was a kid, and it makes me feel old when I think of how much some things have changed. Even so, listening to my old mixtapes makes me smile- I hear them and remember songs that I loved, lyrics that I sang wrong, meanings I didn't understand yet, and memories involving the songs. Sometimes I'll even hit on something like a DJ saying "Z93" (the station has been Z92.5 for years now), and it cracks me up.

Some people use mixtapes, kind of like in the Jack's Mannequin song, as a gift for someone- to tell someone something, or let someone know how they feel. Even though this kind of thing is much easier with today's technology, I think it still holds almost as much of an emotional impact. Sure, it might not take as long to make, but it still takes a lot of time and thought to decide what songs to include to say just the right thing. And while there are many ways of expressing something... music, at least to me, is one of the best. Sometimes it's the lyrics; other times it's the melody; sometimes it's the instruments. Maybe it's because I'm somewhat of a music nerd, but sometimes I agree with my old band director: "Music expresses that which cannot be said but must be heard." Sometimes, a song is the only thing that says it right, or can really express what you're feeling, and someone picking out a whole tape or CD of songs just for you... it's got to feel pretty special, and mean a lot.

So... even though technology has eliminated the need for mixtapes from the radio as a way of listening to a variety of songs in a row, mix tapes and CD's definitely still have a place, I think. In the mood to try this out yourself, quickly?

This site, the one I found using StumbleUpon, allows you to listen to some music, and send a song out to others (as a secret admirer, even). The intros to each song are mega-annoying, but some of the songs are fun. I haven't listened to all of them, so let me know your recommendations:
  • "Dangerous," "Kiss on My List" and "I Melt With You" are all songs that you'll probably know, even if you don't think you do from the title.
  • I highly suggest "Yellow" for a much unexpected and surprisingly cheery version of a depressing Coldplay song.
  • The song "Sandwiches" is also hilarious, which such lyrics as:
"I know you wanna do it
You know I wanna do it too
Out here on the dance floor
We can make sandwiches
You can be the bun
And I can be the burger girl"

So... go, listen to some music, if you'd like, and maybe send someone a song :) Show them how you feel, or just make them smile because they know you were thinking of them. It's like a mini mix-tape, via email, and it's a quick and easy way to brighten someone's day. Happy Mix-taping!

(cross-posted to my personal journal, because I felt like it.)