Monday, January 31, 2011

The Cathartic Effects of Vigorous Snow Shoveling

Well, La Nina is really rarin' her ugly head here on the East Coast, ain't she? I know that my dear Southern compatriots are being hammering with about 50x more snow than they are used to (i.e. more than 2 inches over 4 months), and here in Virginia, we are beginning to see Old Man Winter inflict his wrath on us, as well.
It was a very interesting week in the NOVA/DC area... we had our first real snow of 2011 and it was kind of a disaster. Who says that no one listens to the president? Well, the HR guy for the federal government certainly does; even though the forecasters were saying all day that the storm would hit hard and heavy during rush hour, Mr. Federal Government decided to prove that he is highly efficient and not let the fed employees out until 4pm (i.e. when the snow would hit). In consequence, the massive flood of federal workers, and private industry workers whose snow policies are tied to the federal government, poured out onto the road right as the gross wintry mix turned into gross wet snow. Result? Havoc.
It was at this moment that my inner Southern snow-wimpish soul served me well. Having received my work's email suggesting we leave at 3:30, I decided to leave at 3:15, thinking that even if it took me a couple hours, it would at least not be dark out while I was en route. This had happened to me a couple of weeks earlier, when I drove home in the driving snow, unable to see the interstate lanes. Seriously - it was one of the tensest drives I've ever had, as I depended on the crazy Maryland drivers around me to play ball and not do something stupid. I will write about Maryland drivers at a later date, but for those of you who don't already know, that's asking a small miracle.
Thus, having been burned once, I left early. It was slow going, taking me 1.5 hours to drive the 15 miles home. I watched the wintry mix get heavier and heavier, clinging to my car and beginning to cloud the lane lines. By the time I was a couple of miles away from my destination, one of the intersections on a side street was so confusing that a fellow motorist got out of his car and caucused with me and a couple of other people about the strategy to employ once the light turn green. Good thinking, buddy, because further on the road, I saw a pile up resulting from a similar area of confusion.
Finally, I arrived, cold but unscathed, at my house. I was surprised not to see my roommates there already, but I figured they'd be along soon enough. Wrong. Around 6pm, I got a call from one of my roomies, who was standing at the East Falls Church metro station in the cold. She was stranded, since the buses were stuck in traffic... so she ended up having to walk almost 4 miles in the snow. She arrived on our doorstep at 7pm, resembling a very chic Nanook of the North.
Our other roommate was not so lucky. She left the office at 4pm. Now let's keep in mind - she works about 5-6 miles away in Tyson's Corner. It's a straight shot home for her. She didn't walk in the door until almost 9pm. Her paralegal was riding with her, and at one point, she left Dawn to go get some dinner and found the car in the exact same place she left it.
There were horror stories the next day - 13 hour commutes, people who slept in their offices, people who abandoned their cars and walked the rest of the way home and then got up the next morning to go get it, people who just slept in the car and never made it home. It was nuts.
All this to say, snow has come to Virginia. And it, along with its buddies ice storm and hail, will be frequent visitors by the look of things, considering the federal government has already allowed its employees to work from home tomorrow due to the incoming ice storm tonight.
I'm okay with that. Once you get you and yours indoors, away from slick roads and crazy compacts trying to monster-truck it through a snow mountain, snow is really one of the best things there is. It's not just that it's pretty or encourages the creation of delicious, hot comfort food. My favorite thing about the snow is the silence. There aren't many cars out or people carousing or rain splatters to cut the quiet. It's beautifully absent from a distinctive sound and that's what I most love about it. I feel like I can forget about all the little tasks and noise of my normal life and curl up with a book, guilt-free. I sit by the window and read and occasionally glance up to observe the accumulation.
Once the snow has stopped, however, you have to deal with the loud cars skidding on the ice, the scrap of the shovels against asphalt, and the sound of sirens rescuing those too dense or unlucky not to be tucked into their own house. Resulting from the snow overload of 2010 (Past Snow), also known as Snowmegeddon, I used to hate this time, because it means that you can no longer sit on your duff and read, but are compelled to go outside and dig yourself out of the mess.
This year, however, I have embraced snow shoveling in a new way. Is there any activity, short of primal scream therapy, that is better for releasing stress and aggression? You are viciously striking at a pile of snow and ice, throwing it behind you, and striking again, all while listening to some good tunes. You get the satisfaction of seeing the progress as the concrete slowly reappears from underneath the grimy slush- it's the same kind of feeling I get when I do filing work, only I'm sweating and I get to grunt with effort.
In fact, I've enjoyed it so much this time around, I've thought about clearing some of my neighbors houses. But I'm pretty sure that's creepy. And I'm even more sure that if we have more than 1 or 2 more of these things, I will no longer be nearly as enthused on the sport. So I will save up my snow-lovin' mindset for the next snowy day.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Time Warp?

So, if you haven't discovered this yet, get ready to have you mind blown. In the iTunes store, at the bottom of the page, there is a section called "Free on iTunes". That's right, free. The first 3-4 items are usually the ones of interest... beyond that, there are free episodes of TV shows I've never heard of, choral recordings from the webmaster's 3rd grader, etc. I don't usually pay attention to that stuff. However, I religiously check those first few songs. Why? Because those are freebies from bands who are trying to promote their new stuff. And that new stuff is often awesome. I have saved myself some money doing this... "Bulletproof" by La Roux? "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry? Free for me, not to mention dozens of other songs that I never would have discovered otherwise and have come to love ("I Am Not a Robot" by Marina & the Diamonds, par exemple) Seriously, check this out and if you even kind of like any of the songs, download them. I am sure there are lots of other places for free music- this is just my preferred avenue.
Anyways, whilst I was making my weekly check of the land of free songs, I noticed that I didn't know a single song that was in the Top 10 list. This isn't unusual- the only time I pay attention to what the kids are listening to these days is when I poke my head out of my work hole and go to the gym. Which has not been happening with the frequency I would like, as of late.
I thought I'd take a quick listen- it'd give me a point of reference when reading the Music section of Entertainment Weekly. I started with Miss Spears... some of her past songs have been my go-to trashy guilty pleasure songs, so I figured this would be another addition to that list. Incorrect. I found some kind of weird, techno song that seemed to be a half-hearted, quasi-seduction of a fellow club rat. Without a genuinely catchy beat, it was impossible to ignore the crassness of the rest of the song, and really, what's the fun in that? Disappointed, I tried again with Pitbull's "Hey Baby." To my dismay, I now found a rappist belting out his misogynistic rhymes over a Euro-pop techno beat. What was going on? Enrique Iglesias, who I have such fond middle school memories of, was encased in a wall of Night at the Roxbury-esque electronic beats.
Did I hop into a time machine and end up at a house party in 1995? Or did I just sleep through the flight to Frankfurt? Seriously, I have not heard this much techno-infused groovin' since I was staying in a hostel in London.
I guess there's nothing really wrong with it. I just never thought that the modern youth of America would share musical tastes with David Hasselhoff in his Baywatch days. Color me perplexed. And ungrooved.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Just Hopeful

Nothing much to say - just that I'm really floored by and happy with what God is up to these days in my life and heart. It's weird, because my external life is a pretty steady routine with few variations, especially now that work eats up so much of my time. I feel rather inadequate when I'm talking to some people who are off having adventures or whose schedule is flexible enough for them to do new things all the time. I'm jealous of that, in a lot of ways, because that's simply not where I am. I am not the master of my own time and, even if I was, I'm not sure what kind of drama I would really get myself into. That's not my style.
My external life might seem pretty rote right now. I guess it is. But that's such a contrast to my inner world and my spiritual life. I can truly say that I have grown and changed more in the last year and a half than in the previous 4- which is saying something, because I would have said the same thing back then! I was really resentful of God bringing me to DC, at first. Now I increasingly see that it was to draw me away from many of the distractions from Him and to rewrite a lot of the perceptions I've had about Him. I'm basically a wreck a lot of the time; I'm so thankful for that. I'm a disaster because He's working in  me to make me less selfish, less enslaved, less materialistic, less prideful, less self-reliant. Don't get me wrong, because I am still all of those things and more! But I see my imperfections and my brokenness, and, for once, it makes me turn to Him, not myself. I love Him a little and I long to love Him more and better. I think that's happening.
I'm in a weird place, right now. I feel like I'm discovering who I am and what He has for me. I'm letting myself want things and be okay with that. I'm learning and relearning en masse and all the time. So I'm sorry that I don't have all of these dramatic and interesting stories about places I'm going out to and people I'm meeting. I wish I could give that to you. It's odd- because my life on paper is so boring (and I definitely feel that, at times)- but it's also completely not boring and filled with twists, turns, ups, and downs. I'm learning to be okay with a primarily internal plot. And I'm learning who my friends are that will listen to my inner crap and be just as engaged with it as if it were the most exciting story in the world.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Bachelor- This One's For You, Beth

My friend, Beth, asked me to write a post on The Bachelor in honor of her *cough*th birthday. Considering what a sweet friend she is, of course, I am happy to oblige her and do just that. However, you should know, I do not watch The Bachelor. I'm not above it, don't misunderstand. I love me my own share of reality TV. Flavor of Love, The Real Housewives of ____*, America's Next Top Model, Top Chef, Project Runway, Celebrity Rehab, Intervention... I'm a connoisseur. I've watched and loved them all.
However, though I have seen episodes of The Bachelor, I've never enjoyed it. In fact, I've disdained it. Why? For the very reason that most people feel okay about watching it. It is one of the only reality TV shows that people don't judge you for watching. For some reason (maybe because it's on network TV?), it does not carry the same stigma that other reality dating shows do. It is the Kim Kardashian of the genre- the one that everyone knows and likes. I think people feel like it's less tacky or more normal or just realer.
On the contrary- I would contend the exact opposite. See, there's an honesty to the camp of the Rock of Loves of the world. They aren't trying to pretend to be something that they're just not. No sane person really thinks that Bret Michaels and whatever anatomically enhanced bimbo he ends up picking are going to ride off into the sunset and sing "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" forever after. You know it's a contrived train wreck, beautifully concocted for your mindless enjoyment. People call it trashy, and it is. But so is The Bachelor. It just masquerades under the guise of "real love" and respectability.
Do you think that The Bachelor is any less contrived, fake, or trashy? Of course not. It's just missing some of the over the top kitchsy elements and the ironic editing (VH1 is the best at this particular skill... you know, someone saying, "I'm a really good listener" and then cutting to a shot of them ignoring someone who's weepily telling them about how they weren't hugged as a child, set against spaced out music- it's awesome). Rather than playing off the contestants and eponymous single guy as comedic characters to be enjoyed for their own lack of self awareness, the producers have wrapped the whole thing in a candy-coated shell of girl emotional porn.
Crazy as it seems, there are women out there who weep over this show. They wish their lives could work out so magically and think that whatever single guy is the star for the season is a dreamboat catch. All other reality dating shows' entertainment value is derived from the absurdity of situation and the lack of reality. The Bachelor's entertainment value is derived from their ability to convince you that the people are truly in love and that this is how real love should be. But what is real about it? Is it real to have 20 women living in a house together, denied access to TV, books, and the outside world, so that all they can do is obsess over a guy that they barely know, hoping to win his affections? The only remotely similar situation I've heard of is when Xerxes is choosing his bride from the populous in the book of Esther. That actually is a pretty good parallel, because The Bachelor does end up being a kind of sexless harem, where the king is able to take each concubine on extravagant dates and she must do all she can to impress him in the small time window that she has, before his attentions are diverted by a dozen other beauties who are equally desperate to capture his attention.
I guess what I'm saying is that I have no problem with this genre of television show- they can be farces and ironic commentaries on our culture's romantic values and pitfalls. And they're just funny, for the most part, and I don't begrudge anyone a little laughter. But what I do resent is pretending that the plastic product you're producing is the genuine article and then having women trying to measure their own love lives up to an impossible standard. This show emphasizes dating as a fairytale in ways that it just shouldn't be. Obsession, over the top expensive dates, exaggerated promises- these things are not the stuff of fairytales that a woman should expect in romance. But the true parts of the fairytale - the intentional, declared pursuit of one man for one woman, the setting, keeping, and building on of reasonable promises and expectations, the security a woman should have of a man's intentions and affections towards her - these truly magical elements of romance are missing from this show. And what woman really needs another reinforcement that she will not be enough to keep a man's attention so she better work extra hard to try to hold onto him? From my own life, the lives of my girlfriends, and the lives of the women I have discipled, I can tell you that the answer is a big fat zero.
Anyways, what do I know? I'm still single and one of these women is about to be engaged for at least 3 months. I guess they're the ones living the dream.

Happy birthday, Beth. :)

*Except for the OC. That one's a snooze. Give me NYC, Jersey, or Beverly Hills any day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Little Things in Life- Observations in the Midst of Delirium

I am drowning all of my brain cells at work right now. The assignment they've given me to set up Jira is turning into my 'Nam. Being unable to sustain focus on any one thing for more than 45 minutes, I've resorted to writing down my random observations and calling them a post:
  1. I really like hats. They're jaunty, they're decorative, and they're practical in either weather extreme. My vow this winter has been to wear my hats more. I look darn cute in them and they aid that vintage feel that I so desperately long to evoke. But as I've sported my hopeless adorable chapeaux this winter, I can't help but wonder- how did all of these people in the days of yore keep the stupid things on their heads? I mean, some of them, I get. The tiny little ones that were purely decorative were fastened by a hat pin. The gigantic, basket-like ones, brimming with any amount of tulle, flora, and fauna, generally have some kind of chin strap. But a straight forward fedora, beret, or cloche- what to do? Every time I step out into the cold, my hat tries to escape. I saw a documentary once where Harrison Ford had to staple the Indiana Jones hat to his head. Is that what it really takes? Or double stick tape? Someone save me and my scalp from the staple gun and tell me how the heck to keep these suckers on.
  2. I am so thankful for my bed. It's completely beautiful and oh so comfy. Check this out: start with a pillow top mattress. Add a foam layer. Wrap it in t-shirt fabric sheets. Add a pristine white quilt and then a beautiful aqua-silver cable throw (courtesy Maria from Christmas). Top it with a vintage-esque tufted gold bedspread a la 1920s boudoir, apple green pillows, against a padded charcoal headboard... help me. Gorgeous. So comfy. Every night when I go to bed, I am so thankful for the provision of each of these items. And every morning when I wake up, I curse them. They have settled into a perfect nest of comfort during the night that make leaving this nurturing womb pure torture when the alarm goes off. I have seriously considered making my bed less comfortable to make getting out of it easier. Anyways, I was made all the more aware of the luxurious comfort that I am lucky enough to enjoy in VA when I went back to TN. My parents have a lovely home and I was excited to sleep in the guest bed because it had this feather thing on top of the mattress that sounded so promising. False. Halfway through my visit, I, for the first time in my 23 years, experienced the annoyance of a bad hip. This crazy bed messed with my joints in a way that I still haven't recovered from. Moral of the story? I am remembering how blessed I am to not only have a bed in a warm home this winter, but to have an amazingly relaxing bed that does not turn me into the first hip replacement candidate under 75.
  3. Slowly but surely, I am learning the restorative powers of children. Okay, for those of you that have them, I understand that teaching Sunday school for 2 hours once a week is totally not the same thing as having to run after a 5 man crew of rambunctious tykes 24/7. I get that. It's not the same. I hope to one day share your pain; but I've never had a glamorized view of motherhood. I always kind of thought of it like a colonoscopy or detox diet - ultimately rewarding, but awfully painful along the way. Maybe that is true. But I think I just have never really experienced the rewarding part of the equation, and since I was raised like an only child in a childless neighborhood, I didn't really experience babysitting or anything like that. It's not that I didn't like kids or that they didn't like me. They just scared me a bit, because I didn't quite know what to do with them. Well, between my adorable and terribly sweet niece's birth* and my time teaching my 2nd graders in Sunday school this year, I am finally understanding why we procreate, beyond species propitiation, societal expectations, and the whole "be fruitful and multiply" bit. Yes, they can be frustrating at times and they are by definition dependent; but I just love them. Their problems are simple and direct. Their love is unembarrassed and whole-hearted. Their enjoyment is complete and freely shown. When I'm with them, it lets me forget some of my own problems or annoyances and I can be completely in the moment with them. I am so thankful for all the things that I am learning from them- and I'm just thankful that in a society that increasingly devalues children and childhood (consequence-free one night stands, careers above all else, obsession with extra-curriculars and achievement, etc), I am being given the chance to see that children in any circumstances or state are a blessing to be cherished. And I'm so excited to have another little one at my sister's house in July. 
  4. I am in "Real Housewives" overload. Don't get me wrong- I've always loved me some tacky TV. It's mind numbing at the end of a long day, and thus the best prescription from a day where you feel like pulling your hair out. However, I'm realizing that I am using the tawdry series as a gossip replacement. I might not be gossiping about people who are actually in my life- but I'm still gossiping about complete and total strangers. And isn't that a little bit sad? So my only new year's resolution is to dial back down on the gossiping about strangers and stick with gossiping about people I actually know. Or maybe just not gossiping at all- what a novel thought... 
Sorry for the disjointed post, but just trying to clear my plate of random thoughts that have drifted through the vacuum of my mind. For now, I'm going to sit back and enjoy the rest of this wonderful Monday off from work. 

*My niece said my name for the first time over the holidays - "ankie". Hearts melted.

Monday, January 3, 2011

On the Importance of the Coiffure

It truly amazing how much time and energy the human race puts into grooming the fur that grows atop our heads. Note that I say humans, not women, because as I have mentioned previously, men are surprisingly vain on the subject. I am officially the only girl left on my project team of 12, with 7 of us sitting in one tiny room together, so I hear plenty of boy talk. This includes a high volume of discussion on hair products, the pros and cons of spiking, etc. So, evidently, no one is immune from this particular vanity.

I will not claim to be less vain than the rest of my species. I spend an inordinate amount of time fluffing, drying, curling, straightening, and generally primping it- not to mention the amount of time I spend thinking about whether or not it looks alright during the day. I used to think this was completely frivolous - and perhaps it is, really - but then Beth Moore (of all people) pointed out that if you wake up and think you look bad, it puts a damper on the rest of the day. It's hard to run around feeling confident when the first and last thing you see during the day is a disappointment.

That being said, I have been terribly bored with my hair for a while now. I had blunt bangs at the end of college that I liked, but once I moved to DC, these were too much work to maintain. Since I refuse to pay twice as much for a haircut than I would in Knoxville, it evolved into a sassy side bang. Yet even the side bang required more upkeep than I was willing to pay for and my hair has become a mop of blah for about 4 months now.

I began mulling a major overhaul. Now, keep in mind, I have not ventured to cut it shorter than shoulder length since I was 13, owing to an unfortunate Peter Pan cut that evolved into a Mushroom- think Tootie from The Facts of Life:

You can see why I've been a bit gun shy to get another short cut. But as I watched old movies and longed for that old Hollywood glamor, it began to occur to me that almost all of these early leading ladies had short hair. It was the time in between Victorian strictures and the 50's return of primness, and fashionable ladies wore their hair short for the most part. After inspecting the usual suspects (Shearer, Garbo, Crawford, Harlow), I settled on this type of look:

This is a late 20s, early 30s type of look, interpreted in the modern style like these:

(I assume that the cleavage would not be a required accessory)

Cute, right? Short, but not too short, working with my wavy texture. I was psyched and ready to be free from Hair-Snoozitis. Alas, when I called to make the appointment, I learned that the woman I've been going to for two years had left Aveda. Curses! I would be sentenced to hair boredom for months! 

But when I got to the salon, I snapped. I just couldn't bear leaving with the same snoozer of a haircut, so I broke a cardinal girl rule of hair care- never let a new stylist drastically change the style you have already. She was just so excited when I mentioned that I wanted a long 30s type bob. "Ooo!" she squealed, "That's one of my favorite cuts! And it would look so good on you!" Well, with that type of flattery, how could I resist? I dove in- without my pictures, without a massive consultation on exactly what I wanted. I'm trying to get better about relinquishing control.

Well, the results weren't terrible. They just weren't what I was envisioning. See, she was thinking of the mid-to-late 30s bob, which looks more like these:

Perfectly cute options, but significantly shorter than I was thinking!

As I looked at myself in the mirror, I didn't know what to think. Some of it was just shock at having hair so much shorter than I have had in many moons. Some of it was trying to figure out what the wave would look like in that style. And some of it was mortal fear. I was very much afraid that I had just received Mom Hair. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. The requisite short hair cut that most moms get once they have either a 3 year old or more than one child. 

What had I done?!

I have been assured by several people since that I don't have mom hair. That it's complementary and that it looks good. But I can't help but wonder- am I now projecting the image that I am about 15 years older with at least 3 children and a mortgage? Not the best tactic for luring single young men into my web. 

Oh, well. I guess the beautiful thing about hair is that it grows. And I am definitely not bored now!


Update- I had many requests to see the actual cut referred to in this post, so see below. Disclaimer: I was taking this right before I went to bed, so these are sleepy bedroom eyes, not attempted seduction bedroom eyes. Lesson learned on photo ops at bedtime.