May 25, 2015

Pretty Braids...

Today I would like to talk about beauty and bada$$ery.

"Pretty" has historically been kind of a tricky term for me. Growing up I wasn't really interested in being pretty in the same way as a lot of the girls I knew. I was more of a tomboy. I pretty much hated wearing dresses and dress shoes, and wasn't interested in spending a lot of time in front of the mirror. I wanted to be presentable (usually...), but not at the expense of the other things I wanted to do, such as pretty much anything other than standing in front of the mirror. I didn't give too much thought about what this meant for my future, but I definitely felt out of place about it all, and wondered if at some point I would undergo some sort of transformation whereby I would suddenly start wanting to wear more feminine things, or stop wanting to be so dang comfortable all the time, or something.

Well, back troubles pretty well permanently destroyed my desire to wear heels, except in rare circumstances, and otherwise over the years my philosophy on dresses ebbs and flows along with my fashion sense motivation. Somewhere along the way I decided that maybe I just didn't care. Except when I did. It wasn't too terribly disturbing, just a little confusing. And I still married a good man, and built a family, and am living what I consider a full life, so it worked out alright.

A friend of mine in grad school said something that brought things into better focus for me, though. One of three sisters in her family, she told me something she thought her dad had done really well. From the time they were wee little sisters, whenever they'd get dressed for an occasion they'd go parade around for their dad and he would ask them if they felt pretty. And over time they developed a saying in their family: "A girl's gotta feel pretty." So when I would compliment her fashion sense she'd respond with "A girl's gotta feel pretty."

I love that because it doesn't define a "pretty box" for all girls to fit into. It leaves the individuality to the girl. If she wants to take the time to be more conscientious about her appearance, and wear accessories, and product in her hair, and heels, and whatnot--bingo. A girl's gotta feel pretty. If she's more like, say, me and prefers to wash, scrunch, throw on a tee and go--bingo. A girl's gotta feel pretty. And of course all the girls on either end and in between--bingo. Gotta feel pretty.

I'm not sure if it's because of my previous hangups with the word, but if I'm being honest I never cared all that much about "pretty." What I really wanted, even if I didn't have the words for a long time, was sassy. Or edgy. Or bada$$. I could say I wanted to be like a rock star, but I'm not quite that punk. Plus I'm part hippie, and I don't know any true hippie rock stars.

Besides, the number one adjective I've heard to describe me is Cute. I'm pretty sure I also have hangups with "cute" as a description of me...but as time goes on I think it's probably more that perhaps I define "cute" differently than a lot of the world. Because pretty much the only thing I'd call cute about me is my adorable petite stature. But whatevs.

After all of this, at the age of 37, my hair has finally grown long enough for braids. I mean, I've braided it before, but the ends were always kind of short and wouldn't really stay up in anything but a single French braid. Now my hair is at its longest ever, and the tails actually hang down properly. So when I'm in the mood I put it in two low side braids. And on the weekends for my long runs, I go all out and do two French braids, and as I'm trotting around the neighborhood with my two braids, and my sock-less feet in my zero-drop running shoes, and I think "Man, I'm bada$$."

I'm pretty sure I also define "bada$$" differently than a lot of the world as well. I mean, my hairstyle is closer to Laura "Half-Pint" Ingalls than Amanda (effing) Palmer, so I really can't explain how that translates to bada$$ instead of cute. But I can tell you that when I have those adorable braids, I feel taller, faster, sassier, and like I'm sticking it to the man in some greater way than my messy bun or boring low ponytail. Maybe it's something inherent about being a grown-up wearing braids, I dunno.

So now, our family has adopted "Do you feel pretty?" for Tiny E, and "Do you feel handsome?" for the boyz. Because regardless I think it's a good thing to encourage the young'uns to go for the look/feel they're hoping for. Most of the time, anyway (we did have to implement an underwear rule).  And for the moment, Tiny E's favorite look is to put on a twirly dress so she can be "bood-ful."

Which of course I can totally get behind. After all, everyone knows twirly dresses are bada$$...

May 22, 2015

Thank You...

The boys' school year is winding down this week. They've brought home grimy crayons and pencil/marker boxes, and piles of papers. One had a little container of grape jelly smushed in the front pocket of his backpack; the other a pile of crushed acorn shells.

For the most part, the papers went into the recycle bin, but they had something that caught my eye and made me pause. Each had his own grade-level equivalent of a journal in one of those mottled-cover composition books.

His Highness had a second grade writing/drawing journal. Each entry contained half a page of handwritten words with half a page of illustrations. There were several that were obviously started by a teacher prompt, several relating to dinosaurs, and, I assume, several teacher prompts which were expertly finagled into dinosaur-related entries. Because, dinosaurs.

The Littler One had a reading journal. There were some handwritten words, but mostly colorful worksheets that had been cut out and colored and glued into place. Little matching games connected words to pictures. Flaps lifted to reveal words, pictures, and drawings. The progress of the school year, new papers being carefully glued in each week, doubled the thickness of the book. I could see what my boys had learned; how they had been engaged and thoughtful in their work (some days more than others).

Look, I'm no Common Core fanatic; at best my feelings are neutral about the whole thing. What I want to point out, though, is that amid a lot of controversy and argument and OPINIONS about how kids should learn, about how things are SO different than when we went through school, and a lot of what's going wrong (and yes, there's plenty to work on), there are things going right too. There are lots and lots of caring, gifted teachers who are teaching these children like a BOSS, and there are lots and lots of kids doing hard work and learning well.

I offer this up gently, knowing friends who have struggled mightily to provide their kids with the right educational options for them, and public school was not it. People failed them and "the system" didn't come through for them when they needed it. It is real and true.

But still...for others, it works. I read an article about a sad tale of a kindergarten where the children sit at desks and write all day, and I think definitely we should go storming into that school and shake things up a little, because it doesn't have to be that way, and it ISN'T that way in many many places. In kindergarten this year I watched kids sit and write a little. I watched them move around the room to different learning centers, working with their hands, advancing those fine motor skills with cutting and gluing and folding and painting while they learned about numbers and reading and writing. I had the immense privilege talking with them as they sat on the alphabet carpet, bursting to tell me ALL THE THINGS about the story we were reading together. I helped them take reading quizzes about stories they chose themselves. I watched them dance and sing and move. I also got to chase a group of them running like banshees on a scavenger hunt through the hallways before we worked out the logistics of how not to do that.

In second grade I got to take them to lunch a few times. I got to read to them in funny voices. They showed me how to work the smart board so I could show them the pictures on the projector. I got to give them reward points due to compliments from other teachers about hallway behavior. I got to see how their teacher taught them to care for one another, and how their teacher cared for them. She sent them home with a memory book of the year. They wrote entries about their field trips and projects, and she added photos and bound them into real, actual books using donations and her own funds.

In both cases, the kids oogled over Tiny E, showing the little visitor how things worked in the big kids' classes. I saw two young teachers caring about their students, pushing them to do hard things and cheering for them the whole way. I saw them correcting and being strict, sometimes with humor and always with an underlying gentleness that said, "I am FOR you, and you need to stop this nonsense right now." Because these children are capable of a LOT of nonsense.

You know what else these children are capable of, though? These children are capable of doing hard things. They are capable of building reading and writing journals over a school year. They are capable of attending 3 schools in 3 years (not ideal, but reality sometimes), making good friends, and thriving as they grow and learn. It also turns out they are capable of catching actual fish using some twine tied to a paper clip with a piece of hot dog on it (who knew??).

This is all to say thank you. Thank you, teachers of my kids, for those little journals, and for all the things this year. Thank you for letting me in and sharing a little of the process with me.  Thank you, friends of mine who are professional teachers, for staying in this hard profession and offering up your gifts to our benefit. Thank you for managing them well, so that you can spend more time teaching. Thank you for putting up with the nonsense of standardized testing, and conflicts, and paperwork, and all the extras that drain the joy out of the good parts. Thank you for challenging them, and for doing more than what is required to make learning more interesting, and sometimes even fun.

May your summer include lounging poolside with umbrella drinks...

May 20, 2015

Ankle Deep...

I read this really great article today, which of course got me thinking about my own family because it fits us well.

I also read a comment by the mother of a kid who has indeed found a passion at a young age, and gets herself ready for practices and commitments and whatnot, even while her parents have kept options open for taking breaks or trying other things. I think it's totally cool when that happens, and I'm all for supporting kids' talents and such; but my experience has been closer to the article. Historically, we Skerribs are generalists. We dabble in many areas, and our knowledge is widespread and ankle-deep.

These are my big 3:

--The closest thing I have to a passion is running, and I didn't catch onto it until eighth grade or so. It didn't earn me any money for college (or ever--thanks for nothing, running!), and I devote at most a few hours per week to it. Still, it is the thing that has stuck with me the longest; the thing that I do regardless of our location or circumstance, and will keep on doing as long as the good Lord lets me (Please God let it be until I die, sharp and feisty, at age 85. Amen).

--I love playing the drums, and I enjoy being part of a music group...but I wouldn't call it a passion.

--I love keeping this blog and writing out my thoughts and ideas. I like playing with words and reading about grammar and stuff...but I wouldn't call myself passionate about it.

These are the things I am currently dabbling (or considering dabbling) in:

--Learning Dream a Little Dream on the ukulele

--Learning Spanish via Duolingo on my phone (and OMG I just learned that I can sign on to the website and my progress is there too!)

--Piano (sometimes)

--Geocaching (sometimes)

--Doodle Stitching

--Bullet Journaling

These are the things I have pursued (or dabbled in at least a teeny bit) before:

--Teaching high school math, and all things learning/education

--Sewing baby slings

--Painting basketball court-sized maps on school campuses


--Motorcycle riding

--Knitting (which I should never do again)

--Crocheting (which I will leave to those more capable than myself)

--Playing the flute (ugh, that was not for me)

--Cross stitch



As a friend of mine once said, there's a lot going on "in there," meaning my head. I love learning and trying new things. I watch Dirty Jobs and, with the exception of the episodes involving snakes, think "I could totally do Mike Rowe's job!" Sometimes I wonder, had I picked something earlier on and stuck with it, what that might have looked like. Sometimes I wish I could narrow things down a little, because I can get a little overwhelmed with all the things I still want to try out there.

I try not to get too worked up about it though. I've found that for the most part, if I take things a day at a time and be aware of opportunities as they float by, that I get to be part of some pretty amazing, if random, happenings. For example, when I have been talking about taking Spanish for years and then suddenly it turns out there's an app for that. Crazy.

That's all to say, if you or your kid has a passion, then I say go for it. I think it's a beautiful thing to love something enough to put your heart and soul into it. If not though, neither the above article or I think you should freak out about it. I'm not sure if there's some great conspiracy out there, but if you're not bent on only one certain college, it turns out there are plenty of quality schools that don't require a professional resume of achievements by the age of 18. Seriously, admissions will take care of itself (tuition, on the other hand, is a little more complex).  Go and enjoy what you enjoy.

After all, there's so much to explore, why not take in as much as you can?

May 12, 2015

We Interrupt This Post...

I'm working on a post which involves an indirect mention of Mama Cass Elliot, and I found this video of Mama Cass and Julie Andrews doing a duet medley of Simon & Garfunkel songs.

Mind. Blown. the question is how many more videos to watch before I cut myself off and go to bed like I should if I want to get a good sleep and kick this cold sooner than later.

The struggle is real, people.

Apr 30, 2015

Wave Quick, Before It's Gone...

Being a military family we see life through military-specific challenges (duh), but I think it's pretty universal that life is in constant flux. Even setting aside crises and big events there is NO WAY to take it all in. You could try to video-record all of it, but then the science says that if you're recording all the time you're actually not fully experiencing the thing, so then we're back at NO WAY to take it all in.

One of my favorite moments in The Office was during the episode where Pam & Jim get married.  They've received the advice that it will be impossible to take in and remember everything from their festivities, so they should take mental snapshots of their favorite moments along the way. So of course in their own nearly-cheesy-but-still-endearing way, they signal to each other with fingers and a "Click" when they are each taking their own mental snapshots.

I think this is a smart approach to a lot of things in life. Not that I recommend going around making camera-like gestures and clicking sounds all the time. Unless you really want to; I mean, whatever floats your boat. But I have made a practice of making note of little instances of gratitude and beauty and whatnot. Because this life flies by, and it's easy to miss. So you've gotta catch it.

This is all to say that a couple of mornings ago I caught the sunrise just right on my jog. My warm-up goes along a tree-lined road, and then I turn a corner into a wide open space before I duck behind a bunch of houses again, and that particular morning through the trees and cloudy skies I caught a sliver of brilliant pink and purple. Only, more like hot fucshia and electric violet, or some such crazy color names. What I could see was gorgeous, and I so badly wanted to get to the corner to see the full view of that piece of sky.

The only thing is, even though it's nearly imperceptible, that big old sun moves quick, and I suspected that the colors were diminishing as the sky around them brightened to a hazy grey-blue. I held my breath a little, and took a mental "Click" of the part I did see, and I told God "Wow, those are some really cool colors," just in case I didn't make it to the corner in time to see the whole picture.

Well I rounded the corner just in time to see the last hints of pink & purple waving to me as they faded. Kind of like when I have to say good-bye to friends just as we are getting to know and love each other, and we have to take in what is, instead of holding off for what will be. Kind of like when I send my kids off on a new milestone and I swear they have little baby-ghosts of their smaller selves, waving back at me as their more grown-up selves venture on just like they're supposed to. Kind of like when we wind up one location/season to move on to the next, and those hazy last few moments shout a cheerful goodbye and root us on toward our destination.

That pink & purple didn't have time to stick around & chat, but I knew enough to wave and take in the moment, and it was beautiful...

Apr 25, 2015

Skerrib and the Bullet Journal...

I've been messing with my journaling/planner system lately. Last winter, I found myself having to keep track of several things for keeping track of all my things, and I wanted to use only one thing to keep track of all my things, so I ordered a Monopoly Smiley Diary.

About three days (not really, but that's what it felt like) after I ordered the Smiley Diary, I saw a YouTube Video for the Bullet Journal (via the Art of Simple), and I was totally intrigued, but since my Smiley Diary was already enroute I decided that I wouldn't pursue it any further. I was committed to the Smiley Diary.

Overall, the Smiley Diary has been very good. I love the slightly-whimsical but still clean design, and it has given me both calendar space and daily pages to write down what I accomplished (incredibly interesting stuff such as back exercises and miles run).  The main drawbacks for me are the tiny list-making spaces, and the lack of scratch paper. So in addition to my teeny written list of main points, I've been using my Tasky app for ongoing and multi-step tasks.

Well, here we are a few months into 2015, and I couldn't get the Bullet Journal out of my head. It was just so mesmerizing, and I kept wondering if it would work better than my Smiley Diary. The best thing about it is that it's customizable, so I could see myself very easily setting it up similar to the Smiley, with added list space and pages dedicated to doodles, Brain Dumps, and other things I like to keep track of but don't necessarily have a set space for.

In a moment of weakness I went on Pinterest and searched "Bullet Journal," and of course it turns out there are a zillionty folks out there who have already taken the plan and run with it. Creative-types have added plenty of great ideas, little doodles and stickers, and Washi tape for texture and emphasis. Many of the ideas didn't interest me, but a few were just right to try.

Money held me back, or rather the fact that I didn't want to spend any money on something that may or may not work out, and a good Bullet Journal tends to use one of those fancy little Moleskine notebooks (or the Leuchtturm 1917, as I am learning about) made of graph paper. The graph paper alone makes my nerd-heart beat faster, but it also comes in, like, 20 colors. Colors and graph paper turn me into a puddle of goo on the floor.

Well, I didn't have a fancy little graph paper notebook, but it turns out I had a Moleskine lined journal that I'd gotten as a gift. I had started it a few months back, and then set it aside when the Smiley arrived, so I figured Hey, what better choice for a trial run than a notebook very similar to the very one suggested for such a task. Plus I figured I could keep two journals for a couple weeks and see if I gravitated toward one over the other.

It's not graph paper, but there are colors involved.
So I sat down with a ruler and pen. I folded a page to mark where I was beginning, and made my index page. I numbered a few pages and drew a calendar. I made a short list of symbols I could use to simplify entries. Then I thought of other reference pages I wanted to have and drew those in. Then I started making lists I wanted to keep. Then I started doing some daily pages. Then I bought a four-color pen (The black ballpoint did the job just fine; I just wanted to add some fun).

Within a week I'd stopped using my Tasky app, and by the end of Week Two I had set aside the Smiley Diary. I feel mildly guilty about this, but I keep reminding myself of two things. First, that these are notebooks, not people. My cute little red Smiley is not actually lonely in my nightstand drawer, particularly because certain small children still swipe it to doodle in. And Second, I can always go back to it if the excitement of the Bullet Journal wears off, and either way it gets recycled when 2015 is done.

The only remaining drawbacks are that a) it doesn't fit in my favorite purse, and b) my Bullet Journal interior is not as cute and eye-catching as those I have seen online. The Smiley doesn't really fit into my favorite purse either, so that issue is a bit of a wash. As for the latter, I'm not as artsy as some to begin with, and my system needs to remain very low-maintenance (to me). It's fine if I add little doodles and a few colors along the way, but if I make things too intricate, I'll never stick with it. So I've been looking for little ideas that would be easy to pull off. Mine will not have the quasi-scrap-book look that some do (not that there's anything wrong with that).

May Calendar with experimental not-quite-Washi tape on the corners.  It'll have page numbers by Thursday (long story).
Still, somewhere I have some cute little sticky doodads I can throw in to liven it up a bit. And in Office Depot today I saw (what I thought was) Washi tape, and grabbed it. After I opened the package I realized it was just colorful patterned regular tape, but I decided it would be workable since it's a practice journal and I'm still forming my system anyway. So Tiny E and I spent some time this evening playing with tape and putting it on pages in different ways to see how it could be visually appealing and/or even useful.

I love the Bullet Journal because it is relatively cheap. Fancy planning systems can be pretty spendy; even my cute little Smiley was around $30. Assuming I stick with it, once this notebook is full a new one will be $20 or under. And if you want to go super-cheap, you could grab the simplest spiral notebook at the back-to-school sale. The do-it-yourself approach is a bit of a tough call. Obvs it's nice if you find a system that has everything you need already printed out because, duh, there it is. But for customizability, you can't beat a pen and ruler or home-printed paper sized to fit in the notebook. Plus, if you're a creative, visual-type, you can putter with pens, highlighters, and paper-crafting products to your heart's content, making your journal awesome and fabulous.

At the end of everything, sometimes I feel a little silly talking about my planning system, like some sort of organizational guru who has lots of official appointments and meetings to keep, but again that's what is so great about the Bullet Journal. It tracks what you want it to track, which for me these days is home-running tasks and the Moving List of DOOM, and my strengthening regimen to keep my butt (and everything else) in line.

In conclusion, if you are into organization, or planning, or even just graph paper and colorful notebooks, go check out the Bullet Journal intro and see what you think. Then go make as many lists as you want--they'll be there waiting for you (as long as you enter them into the index)...

Apr 21, 2015

(Sarcastic) Letters to My People...

**Please put on your humour goggles, and remember that I love My People fiercely. Precursor done.**

I decided it was time for another edition of Notes, because they're fun and because I haven't done any since January. The following are notes regarding actual things my people have said to me. And by "my people," I mean any given member(s) of my family who shall remain nameless to protect the Meany-Pantses (deliberate or not)--

My People, thank you for asking me questions, and then when I do the intellectually honest thing and reply "I don't know," or "I'm not sure," responding by repeating the question. And then when I suggest we might look it up (depending on the question), responding by repeating the question Louder. And when I say, "Sweetie. I don't know," responding by YELLING THE QUESTION AT ALL-CAPS VOLUME. We all win here, people...

My People, thank you for licking your ice cream at a leisurely pace, taking a bite out of the bottom half of the cone before the top half of the ice cream is gone, and then handing over the entire dripping, goopy mess with the following challenge: "Quick! Eat it before it melts!!"  Thank you for sharing, my precious snowflakes...

My People, thank you for informing me that I smell anytime I complete the simple action of coming into the house from out of doors, regardless of activity or time spent outside, and THEN proceeding to insist that the AC be turned off and the windows open to "let the fresh air inside," even though the springtime air in Montgomery is of a sufficient dew point so as to make me sweat at any temperature above 70 degrees F. Thank you, sweat glands, and thank you, my people. I'll just be over here, sweating and smelling...

My People, thank you for telling me to feel free to turn the AC back on (after you leave), as long as I shut all the windows. And then rather than simply telling me which windows are open, making it a fun puzzle by telling me how many windows are open on each floor and sending me on a sweaty, house-wide journey to check them all. Thank you, my people...

My People, thank you for asking for help with your math homework, and then complaining when, instead of saying "You know, I bet that's an impossible question. You probably don't actually have to solve it," I begin going over the problem with you so I can check your understanding. You're probably right that my education and experience as an actual math teacher aren't sufficient here...

My People, thank you for making yourself sick by eating too much junk food, and then protesting when I instead tell you to eat some fruit or cheese. Please don't consider eating an apple instead of gorging on 13 granola bars and then suffering from digestive issues. Digestive issues are the best, my delicate flowers...

My People, thank you for suggesting that we begin to taper the pantry stockpile in anticipation of moving, and then complaining that "there's nothing yummy" to eat when I don't refill it to the previous quantity and selection of snacks. Please refer to the previous Note and have several granola bars. Please also crumble them on the carpet so the ants can have a yummy snack and I can find an ant in my bra as a sign of good luck...

All my love,

Mar 30, 2015

Not My Story...

I've mentioned in passing that I'm a fan of Donald Miller's writings, and in particular I enjoy his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which is all about looking at life as one big story, and the implications such a viewpoint brings.

I definitely recommend the book as a whole to most anyone. The first thing it did for me was to re-frame my views on conflict and difficult/sad times. I have a tendency to avoid such things like the plague because they're not pleasant, and who would deliberately and willingly embrace unpleasant things? But of course if you think of all the best stories you see that struggle is sort of part of the deal. Without something to overcome you end up with a bland story. So now, while I am still not big on conflict and struggle, I think about how I would want my story to read in dealing with them, and that makes me feel a little braver.

I think maybe the most powerful aspect, though, has been the concept of "Not My Story." I don't remember if Miller even distinguished it in his book, but it's been huge for me. There's a saying/meme making the rounds on Facebook that goes something like, "Not my circus, not my monkeys," which I LOVE as far as staying out of situations I simply don't need to involve myself in. It doesn't work on my own kids because it turns out they are, in fact, my circus and my monkeys, but it works great when I get an impulse to respond to OPINIONS and DRAMA on the internet and I need a little sanity check.

"Not My Story" goes a little further for me, though. It reminds me that my own story is the only one I am writing, the only one I need to worry about. My wheels have a tendency to spin a little fast in the "How-does-this-apply-to-my-life" Department. "Not My Story" slows the wheels a little, and frees me to see the beauty in and appreciate others' stories for what they are, rather than reading more into them than what is there. "Not My Story" keeps me a little less defensive and a little less prideful (and a lot less neurotic).

"Not My Story" reminds me that I get to choose how I do stuff ('cuz I'm a grown-up, dangit), and if I'm not feeling otherwise prompted by God, then I can relax and keep doing what I'm doing. And it's not that God doesn't prompt, either. In fact, when I do relax a little, I seem to pick up on God's promptings a little easier, sometimes even in conjunction with the very stories I'd otherwise be feeling defensive about. Which is weird, but whatevs. "Not My Story" frees me to appreciate the beauty in my own story, and to see the truth of what is there, rather than trying to forcefully manufacture what isn't.

"Not My Story" even works on my own circus, and my own monkeys. The Cat Daddy and I marvel at how the kids' worlds have expanded as they've grown and gone to classes, playgroups, and school. They have their own worlds separate from us, and their own stories which are of course intertwined with ours, and yet still distinctly theirs. It actually blows my mind a little sometimes, wrapping my head around that one. "Not My Story" helps me toe the line a little when I'm not sure how much to interferevene. I get it right for moments at a time, even. Moments!

There are so many principles and stuff we church kids learn along the way, that can be kind of hard to decode sometimes. For me, "Not My Story" puts sturdy walking shoes on "Don't compare yourself with others," without putting unnecessary distance between myself and others through dismissal or defensiveness. There's even a verse about it (Galatians 6:4, NLT).

So next time you are feeling condemned or less-than, or that someone is living their story at you, remember yours is the only story you're writing, and you get a lot of say-so in how it goes. At least your part of it, anyway. And your story has a lot of its own beauty to be discovered. Hopefully that is comforting to you. It is for me...

Mar 22, 2015

Boston, Baby...

I have a story to tell, kids.

Today's story is about Massachusetts, and how God works things out in wonderful ways sometimes. Not every time; but sometimes he arranges things in ways that make me giggle just a little bit.

It begins with the springtime, and this springtime is particularly exciting because we and friends around us are finding out our follow-on assignments; that is, where we are headed after this year of ACSC.

We had heard rumors of Florida. It's perhaps a little indulgent, but we thought about beaches, and relative proximity to some dear friends (and Disney World), and seafood, and investing in swimsuits and boogie boards instead of the snow gear and sleds we've accumulated in 4 of our 6 locations over the past 14 years.

The thing about rumors, though, is that you have to be careful how much stock you put in them. I mean in the military life, even official stuff that's in writing can change, so rumors have to be taken with a boulder-sized grain of salt. So we didn't sell any of our snow boots or anything, which is good, because when the assignment came through it was Massachusetts instead of Florida.

To begin with, I was surprised. I had known that Massachusetts was a possibility, but I didn't expect us to get sent there for many reasons (which have varying bases in reality). My brain had to make a bit of a paradigm shift from tropical drinks to shoveling snow, but the thing about that is that I was going from an imagined potential reality to a familiar and true one. What's more, it was going to a familiar and true reality that carries a wealth of fond memories for us. So as the day wore on and I started thinking snow pants instead of tankinis, I also got to think about dear friends and places we have missed for several years now. I got to send messages to a couple of said friends, one of whom immediately texted back "DON'T TEASE ME!!!" because we have a lot of trust and mutual respect, and have maybe been known to tease each other when important info is on the line.

It was when we got to tell the kids that really started the wheels turning. His Highness was born in Massachusetts, after all, and it turns out that for all the possibilities and excitement about beaches, he was even more excited to return to his birthplace. The younger kids haven't been there yet, but as we began to tell them of the sights and activities we had enjoyed, they (and we) got more and more excited as well.

It is also true that every place has its downsides. On the day we found out our assignment, it was 60 or so degrees in Alabama, but I believe there were something like a zillion feet of snow on the ground in the greater Boston area. This winter has been record-breaking (over 108" of snow this season), and maddening, and really unpleasant from all I can gather. Their winter days are really short, and really dark, and sunshine isn't guaranteed any time of year. So there's that.

But there is also SUCH beauty. There are the green summers, and the vibrant autumn leaves, the amazing amount of history in the area, and pretty much the coolest little-big-city ever. And (most) people there know how to use traffic circles. Plus, we're moving in the summer, so we will arrive to the best of all the things. We have a lot to look forward to.

Amid this swirl of memory and emotion, I began to think about work. I've been doing a mostly stay-at-home gig ever since we moved from Mass, and it's an interesting thing because in recent months I've started to sort of wonder and dream about what the next few years might hold for me career-wise. It hasn't kept me up at night or anything, but just a light "Hmmmm, I wonder..." on the back burner. Well long story short, Tiny E heads to preschool this year and while it's not the exact timing I'd have chosen, it's a really good set-up for me to return to work part-time with my same company (fortunately, they feel the same way).

So that's what I mean today, when I say that God works things out in weird and wonderful ways sometimes. I had a half-thought, but he already had things worked out in a way that will be an easier-than-usual transition for us. He decided that the next thing would be to send us back to a place we've already known and loved. And he doesn't always do things this way, so I've decided to see it as a gift, even though it will mean buggy summers, and snow, and dark mornings, and winter dates with the treadmill (but now there are PODCASTS!).

I see it as a gift that I get to feel truly excited about this move. Moving has so many different feelings that go with it, so it's a gift to know (at least somewhat) what you're getting into, and to feel excited about it.

In the meantime, we have an entire springtime season to enjoy in lovely Montgomery, and a lot of life happens in a season, so we have a lot to do before we head north. So carry on, friends. Carry on...

Feb 27, 2015

Lessons From a Dress...

You guys. The dress.

Got it here
Certainly by now you've seen it, at least if you are on Facebook or Reddit or HuffPost. It was one of the two viral-est stories in my feed yesterday, along with the runaway llamas (shout out to Arizona!).

It's ridiculous, really. Someone posted a phone photo of the dress, and said there was great debate amongst friends as to whether it was white & gold or black & blue, and then the rest of the internet took up teams to try to gain consensus (or at least to form factions; either-or).

Now, right away I saw white & gold. I took my cues from the back-lit surroundings and assumed it was in the shadows, hence the dimmed colors. I asked The Littler One, and he agreed that it was white & gold. There was also the slightest amount of irritated condescension in his voice as he asked, "Why are you asking me this?" as if I should know by now that he is really and truly solid on his colors. So we joined #TeamWhiteGold.

Then of course there were copious discussions and articles and so on, which made me go crosseyed until I found an article that actually answered the question. And I was very pleased indeed that I was right, that the dress was white & gold.

This all happened in the space of about 20 minutes last night, and by the time I went to bed I was beginning to see how the dress debate was going to take over much of Facebook for a while, and I sighed a little sigh of anticipatory boredom, and lamented all the sheeple in this world, and focused my attention on more interesting distractions (Yes, I realize I'm devoting an entire blog post to this "sheeple-y" topic. Thank you for noticing that).

I thought about the factors that go into our perceptions of things. I mean, Big Groups of People fight about how the other Side is wrong all the time, even over issues that many will agree are open to interpretation. When we are honest, we admit that it is possible to look at things differently from each other, and still maybe not reach a right and correct answer. And here was this dress giving us a concrete example of not only seeing things differently than each other, but somehow scientifically, physically SEEING actual objects differently than others would. I don't know much about eye anatomy, but I know it has to do with differences in our eyes and brains, and color wavelengths, and some stuff about chromatic bias and whatnot. And as far as I can tell, it truly is just differences, and not a matter of higher or lower functioning.

I thought it was a good & healthy thing to be confronted with, and I thought it was cool that something as lighthearted and simple as a bit of fashion could teach us something about overarching worldviews.

But wait...there's more.

This morning I woke to see that the dress had indeed taken over the internet. I rolled my eyes good-naturedly and scrolled right on by most of the "catch-up" posts of people who had joined the phenomenon more recently than I. I posted a deep thought on a friend's wall about the whole seeing-things-differently idea, and I congratulated myself for rising above the sheeple and reaching transcendence about the dress (and also for having superior rods & cones that could perceive the actual color of the dress, unlike some people).

And then.

Then Huffington Post published an article about the dress. And they found the person who took the original photo to begin with. And they found the actual company that made the actual dress, and posted a screen grab of the dress on that company's website. And guess what?

That's right, the dress is black and blue. For realsies. Whatever I was reading before, that said it was actually white and gold, was a bunch of nonsense.

And guess what else? My inner tone shifted ever so slightly. When I thought I knew I was right, I was thinking "Oh, how interesting that we all see the dress differently. I'm so glad my rods & cones work better than some." When I found out the verifiable truth, I shifted a little to "Dude, chromatic bias and my rods & cones really got me on this one."

Notice--even though I was wrong--that I still decided my rods & cones worked just fine (and my eye doctor would agree--they really do), whereas when I thought I was right, it was most certainly because of superior functioning on my part.  It turns out there's a difference between agreeing to disagree while retaining a bit of irritated condescension (who, me??), and agreeing to disagree and staying open to the possibility (or outright fact) that you're wrong. I mean, maybe there's room for both, but I certainly learned a little bit from my own experience here.

That said, I don't want to paint too broad a picture. I'm not suggesting overarching moral relativism, or the absence of truth, or anything like that. But I do think it's a good and healthy thing to leave room for humility and extend grace to those of differing opinions, and be aware that sometimes you might go to bed one night thinking one thing, and then read an article the next morning and realize everything you thought about that thing is fully and completely wrong.

As for my own perceptions, the more I looked at the picture within the context of the truth, the more I started to see the blue & black. It took some doing, along with looking at some of the images where the settings were adjusted and/or corrected, and looking at them on my computer screen instead of my phone, but I was finally able to see the blue (looking much lighter than its actual royal color) and the black (that was looking way out of whack due to the effect of the overhead lighting on the phone camera, but was still visible as black).

(And now, of course, I can hardly see anything except blue & black, or at least blue & brown. Cuz our brains can really mess with us.)

So keep that in mind the next time you see a phone photo of a dress of dubious color. Or, you know, if you're involved in a friendly debate that begins to get heated. No matter how much you see white & gold, there's quite possibly a chance that things are blue & black.

Got it here

You're welcome...