Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spiritual Sunday - Virtues and Vices

 Last Week

Virtues and vices go with the duality of the spirit.  I remember having to memorize both the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Godly Virtues in my days as a Catholic Schoolgirl (tm).  Almost everyone knows the seven deadly sins thanks to Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey.  The virtues are always a bit harder.  But, when you look at them, it's just common sense.  Most religions simply tell us what we already know, but need to hear nevertheless. 

The Operative: What is your sin?
Mal: Aw hell, I'm a fan of all seven.  But for now, I'm going to have to go with wrath.
- Serenity

Lust, Wrath, Greed, Gluttony, Pride, Envy and Sloth.  The Seven Deadly Sins.  That's a scary name for these items. The names themselves sound horrible, using the words that have the most negative connotations attached to them.  Wrath instead of anger, lust instead of desire, and sloth instead of laziness. It is designed, in part, to make us feel better about ourselves, because we are all guilty of following those sins.  I have reveled in feelings of anger and let them overcome common sense at times.  And we've all experienced lust, though not necessarily in a sexual way.  Have you wanted a higher position in your job and been willing to step on someones fingers to climb that ladder?  Have you wanted something so bad you could taste it and been willing to do anything to get it?  Well then, hello lust. 

The virtues, on the other hand, are more difficult to remember.  Humility, Mercy, Chastity, Patience, Love, Temperance and Fortitude.  They are a reminder that too much of a good thing becomes bad.  It's fine to take pride in your work, but you have to be humble enough to accept that there are things you can't do.  It's fine to want more, but that wanting needs to be balanced out with an acceptance that there are certain things you can't have or are not good for you.  People have a more difficult time remembering them because we are hardwired to pay attention to the things that are bad for us.  It's the adrenaline rush that goes with being bad. 

We like to think of ourselves as creatures that are normally morally good.  But we do need to embrace and accept the not so good side as well.  That dark side has enabled us to survive as a species.  I'm not suggesting that you give in to every whim that crosses your mind, nor am I saying that it's OK to screw over your fellow man to get ahead.  I am saying use common sense.  For the most part, we know right from wrong because our society has instilled it in us.  Follow your heart, and if you have to stop and ask yourself if you've gone too far, chances are you probably have.

Next Week

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Looking at getting out

Big Guy and I are looking at houses to move into. Between the school issues and other things, we're just not comfortable here anymore and need to get out. The hope is to find a house that someone is willing to sell on a land contract. We talked last night and decided that this is our last year on the lease here.

Our idea is to make a list of what we want in our ideal house and then decide what we are willing to compromise on for a rental. Somewhere in all of this, we'll sort out what needs sorting out and figure out what will make us happy. We went and looked at a rental last night which really cemented our need to get out of here. However, Big Guy doesn't think that we should apply for this particular house and I can see why he feels this way. I've told him that I recognize my impulsivity and I am willing to defer to a less emotion-filled decision maker. But, I also told him I felt we SHOULD apply for the house. I am not going to push that issue though.

With the end of the month approaching, I am grading and preparing for the end of this class. Next month, I am scheduled for Comp II. I'm relieved that this year seems to be going so well, but we do have a few financial details to take care of. Once we do that, my hope is to go back to school for a Master's degree and increase my marketability. I love teaching English at a college level but I need more money and more reliability in this.

Tonight, however, is finals night for my class. I'll be grading and submitting grades tonight, and then I'll hopefully be going home. With class next month, we are going to start figuring out how to improve our situation.  Then we're going to do it. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

OMG U need 2 care 2 teach

Big Guy and I take education rather seriously.  Both of us have college degrees and recognize the necessity to have one in today's world.  While we do struggle financially, I can only imagine how much harder it would be without the education to back us up.  One of the things I have learned while teaching, however, is that there are schools that are not doing what kids need to prepare for the outside world. 

A while ago, I was told by a neighbor that the local high school allows students to write papers in "text speak".  Big Guy did not believe the story until I had it confirmed by a student in my class this month.  When I asked for the name of the teacher, she looked at me blankly and asked: "Which ONE?"  After that, Big Guy was much more amenable to the idea of homeschooling.  We've narrowed down which districts we are willing to send Little Guy to school in and which districts are absolutely a no-go due to their lack of concern or ability regarding education. 

I can understand being burned out.  I'm sure we have all been at a point in our jobs where going for just one more day seems impossible.  However, in a job where you have a direct impact on people, as in teaching, you need to force your way through it.  Allowing children to write papers in text speak is nothing short of criminal and reeks of sheer indifference.  When jobs are looking for workers that can communicate effectively, encouraging laziness in kids and their writing does no one a service. 

This month, several of my students have exhibited frustration that no one called them on their writing ability, that no one corrected their writing in the English classes.  Admittedly, in high school, you don't learn the writing structure.  However, you do have to write papers and your teachers should care enough to correct your mistakes.  By allowing the students to get away with using shortened speech is not doing your job as a teacher.  It may be easier rather than hearing the complaints, it may be simpler rather than fighting with them, but being a good teacher, just like being a good parent, means doing the difficult things. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Spiritual Sunday - The World Works as it wills

 Last Week

It took many years and many trials and tribulations before I learned to accept that everything truly does happen for a reason.  There have been many times that I have dealt with what I was certain were horrible situations only to discover that there had been a plan after all. The world works as the world wills and everything will work out for the best from the end of relationships to the loss of some dreams.

People can look sideways at this and shake their heads, but the fact remains.  You need to have faith and let go.  Have faith that the situation you find untenable, the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, is for the best.  Wipe down your face and stop fighting the inevitable.  Crying won't fix the job; yelling won't fix the relationship. Accept that in those situations, you are powerless.  And accept that there is a plan, you just can't see it yet. 

When the door closes, the window opens.  If the relationship ends, it wasn't meant to be.  There will be other relationships, and one of them WILL last.  If the job is lost, it simply means that a better job, a better fit and one that will make you happier, is out there.  And everyone, good or bad, has given you something to make you a better person, but it's up to you to find out what it is.  But that first step is acceptance.  Accept that it's OK that things did not work out the way you wanted, and really mean it. 

Most of us spend a good portion of our lives railing against the inevitable instead of accepting the plan we cannot see.  We can't accept it for a number of reasons: it doesn't fit with our plan, we were content with the situation as it stood, or even we are too set with that path that change is nearly impossible.  But, by relinquishing control to the flow of the planet, we will find our path. 

That is not to say that the right things don't require work.  I recognize that had any of my relationships followed a different path, I would likely not have ended up with Big Guy.  However, all relationships require work, even good ones.  Big Guy and I make it a point to maintain our marriage daily.  We talk to each other, help each other, and reinforce our feelings for each other every day.  A job that you enjoy needs the same care and work as a good relationship.  I spend a great deal of time thinking about what lessons need to be tweaked and what I can do to improve my class, another opportunity I would have missed had I railed against the unexpected course my life took.

Next Week

Friday, February 19, 2010

Love, constant across the years

I have "Sh-boom" stuck in my head thanks to Little Guy's Cars movie.  I love the cheery, romantic tone of the song.  In a lot of ways, I feel somewhat out of sync with the modern world.  While I'm not quite the pioneer my mom and sister are, in many ways I feel more in tune with bygone eras. 

A lot of that stems from my own romantic nature, I know.  Romantically, you picture the '50's as poodle skirts and milkshakes, low crime and suburban happiness.  Realistically, it was also the time of McCarthyism and racism.  And many "happy housewives" were housewives because they had no other options.  The Victorian era was also more than long skirts, roses, and the age of invention.  Illnesses ran rampant, Jack the Ripper plied his trade, and workers' rights were non-existent. 

The sad fact is I would probably feel I fit in just as well there as I feel I do here.  As I told Big Guy yesterday, humanity hasn't progressed as much as we like to think we have.  Shakespeare wrote a play entitled "Titus Andronicus" whose storyline would definitely be on par with a movie like "Saw".  However, because it's written by Shakespeare, people tend to discount the sensational aspect, forgetting that the man was an entertainer of the masses.  People have always loved a good, gory, revenge story. Literature has always been a reflection of humanity and what it enjoys. 

I suppose, though, that is also why one of the biggest selling genres has been romance.  Everyone, despite the enjoyment of the illicit and the gruesome, also enjoys the idea of love, true love, overcoming all odds.  I think even men have romantic sides, even if it isn't as well developed as women's romantic sides. I know Big Guy does, and every man I've dealt with has always tried to impress or "woo" the woman into believing them the best. They write poems, pick flowers, or compose songs to convince the woman that she is, in their eyes, perfect. And that is something that seems to have stretched across every era. 

I guess love truly is a universal language.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter is still here.

Winter is supposed to be coming to an end, not that you would know it around here. Yesterday and the day before we got hit by major lake effect snow, the sticky, heavy kind. It's blanketed everything in a beautiful white covering, but right now, spring seems very far away.

I don't mind too much though. I actually prefer winter to the other seasons. At the end of winter there seems to be a long period of greyness and dismal weather. The grey clouds reflect off the wet pavement and everything gets covered with a coating of dirt and blech before the sun finally comes out.

In winter, however, the snow covers those ills and the white blanket muffles the urban sounds. No car sounds, no urban hum, just silence and sometimes the whispery sound of the snow falling. However, despite the recent snow fall, I can tell that winter is coming to an end. For the past few days, after Big Guy leaves for work, I can hear a bird calling outside the window. I feel bad for that bird because there is no way it's going to get the worm, no matter how early it gets up. Not with all the snow on the ground at least. 

Right now, the sun is shining and I can see the tracks made by the melting snow on the window.  By tonight, we'll be back to cold weather and that melted snow will turn to ice.  Ahh fun. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Valentine's Day Recap

My Valentine's Day went pretty well.  It started rather oddly though.  I awoke to a rather strange rattling noise coming from the front of the house.  I nudged Big Guy and told him to go see what his son had gotten into.  He listened for a minute and then said he knew what it was and it wasn't Little Guy.  He also said I needed to get up first. 

So, I stumbled from our bed, made my way into the kitchen, and stepped into water on the floor.  It wasn't anything too terrible though .  Big Guy had gotten up earlier and set the coffee maker to brew some coffee.  Unfortunately, he had forgotten to put the top down and it sprayed some of the water on our floor.  After we fixed that problem, I went into the family room and was greeted with an adorable teddy bear and chocolates. 

I received a small box of assorted chocolates from Big Guy and a large Kiss from Little Guy, a 7 oz one!  We played games and watched TV and were generally happy relaxing together.  Little Guy went into the front room and played Lego Star Wars until he decided he wanted to play with actual Legos.  At that point, I had to put the brakes on relaxing. 

Big Guy and I told Little Guy that if he wanted to play with Legos, he had to clean up the floor in the front room.  Little Guy took us at our word.  With in five minutes, he came running back into the family room, telling us that he had finished.  Big Guy and I exchanged glances and then Big Guy went back to check.  Withing moments, he laughingly called me to the front room. 

Little Guy had indeed picked up the floor - and covered the sofa and his car table with his toys.  After I finished laughing, I told Big Guy we needed to do something about this.  So, a portion of our Valentine's Day was spent cleaning the front room. 

After we finished, Little Guy watched the Star Wars movies and played with his legos.  When Big Guy finished playing his video game, he went in there and "helped".  It was adorable.  I asked Little Guy what his dad was doing and got the response, "He's building!" Even more adorable, Big Guy and Little Guy came out to show me the "cool" space ship Big Guy had made. 

While my Valentine's Day may not have been red-hot and sexy, it was definitely a sweet day...  More a nice shade of pink. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The brighter side of being sick

Similasan and JuiceBoxJungle sponsored me to write this post, and they asked me to talk about the "joys" of kid-illnesses, and to mention this sweet contest for a $500 gift card!

As a mom and a step-mom, there have been a number of times where a child's illness has been "inconvenient" at best.  When my step-kids came over ill, it was never announced to us by their mother ahead of time, so we always had to change our plans at the last minute.  This would also often mean, since the information was passed through the memories of the children, that the rest of us would catch whatever it was as well.  However, as a parent, I simply sighed and carried on the best I could without letting the kids know of my annoyance. 

When Little Guy is sick, I obviously worry about him.  Mostly we've had to deal with the sniffles and minor bouts of flue.  He gets so miserable and cranky at night when he can't rest.  It's those times that I am thankful for children's medicine.  We also follow certain patterns during his illnesses. 

During the day, he and I will snuggle up on the sofa, under blankets, and watch TV.  He usually leans against me, kind of half-heartedly paying attention but just content to snuggle.  That's how I know he's REALLY sick.  At night, after a meal of something warm, filling and healthy (like my homemade chicken soup), we'll give him medicine and let it kick in.  Once he seems more comfortable, we slip him into bed and give him an extra blanket. 

While I hate when he's sick, there's something bittersweet about it too.  It's one of those times where I know for certain my son wants and needs me.  I also recognize that is something he will want less and less as he gets older. As a child, he will have his share of scraped, bruises, sniffles, and illnesses.  But the years when a kiss and a hug can heal these things passes by so quickly.  I suspect that, even when he's 30, I'll still want to go running to take care of him when he's sick.  Right now though, he thinks his dad and I hang the moon and stars and I am OK with that. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Utopia in our time?

I've been playing Bioshock 2. This game is giving the initial incarnation a run for its money.  It's also making me sweat more than a little.  There have been a couple battles where I was unsure whether or not I would succeed.  But, the more I play it, the more it is driven home that a similar situation could occur in any society. Wile I was playing this, Big Guy and I were talking about the meaning of a dystopia. 

A dystopia is a utopia that, for some reason, has gone horribly, tragically wrong.  As Big Guy pointed out, the Empire in Star Wars is an example of this.  All utopias start with the best of intentions, a desire to make the world a better place, an altruistic goal. But there is always a fly in the ointment. 

I blame those things on human nature. As Hobbes said, life is nasty, brutish and short and we, as humans, make it that way.  We are all flawed and those flaws will prevent us from achieving a utopic ideal.  We will always screw it up.  For example, a communist society where everyone helps seems a great goal.  In practice, however, human greed and our desire for power will prevent us from ever achieving such lofty goals.  This is where Russia failed.  The only reason Cuba is anything close to successful as a communist society is due to the tyrannical dictatorship. 

However, despite these flaws, we try to teach our children these ideals.  "Share with each other," we say.  "Take turns."  Are we setting them up for failure and disappointment?  I'd like to think not.  By teaching our children these ideals, we are demonstrating the better, brighter side of human nature.  That is our ability to cling to hope when it seems there should be none. 

Will we ever achieve the ability to gain a utopia or will we forever be doomed to their corruption?  I think that we have the ability to rise above our nature.  If we didn't we would not have reached our current level of civilization.  But I also don't believe it will happen any time soon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spiritual Sunday - The Duality of Life

 Last Week 

The idea of duality in religion is nothing new. The first chapter of Genesis deals with duality; light and dark, heaven and earth, wet and dry, male and female.  There are other instances of duality, generally serving the same purpose, in other religions.  The Taoist symbol of the yin yang represents many forms of duality, including male and female.  Pagan religions also embrace duality and the importance of balance.

In Neo-pagan religious ceremonies, it is important to note that both aspects must be honored properly. They are generally viewed as highly female oriented, but perhaps it only appears that way due tot he absence of a strong female figure in other, more organized religions.  What is important to understand is the necessity of both sides to life.  Without night, there would be no day; without female, there would be no male; and without the salt of life, we would not experience the sweetness. 

If there is one thing we must learn, it is the importance of duality.  If we did not have both sides of the coin, good and bad, our world would fall.  We need the balance of the seasons, summer and winter, to ensure the success of the crops as well as the continued existence of life on the planet.  We need the night to help us sleep and prepare for the day.  And, well, we all know why there must be two genders. 

Instead of complaining about Winter, remember the good that comes from winter.  Instead of complaining about your significant other and how different they are from you, remember that those differences balance you and serve as a counter to your weaknesses.  Remember that for every painful experience, you have likely experienced an experience that was just as sweet.  Accept and understand the automatic balance that life provides. 

Next Week

Friday, February 12, 2010

This is dedicated to the one I love

It's that time of year again, time to honor the sexiest, most handsome, sweetest, most mysterious and generous man I know...  Tall, dark and handsome, he's hard to resist.....

You know w ho I'm talking about...

Naveen Andrews!

OK, not Naveen...  He is cute, but he doesn't hold a candle to the man I married.  Big Guy. 

When I met hi, I never could have guessed the kind of relationship we would end up having.  This is probably a good thing.  Had I known the insanity that would come with a blended family, I may have run screaming into the night.  

He's an incurable romantic and tries very hard to spoil me rotten   And he always makes me laugh.  More often than not, an argument between  us will end up with both of us giggling. 
And I love him madly and wouldn't change anything. 

Happy Valentine's Day love.  I still find you sexy. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Like smartphones for money

Honestly, I would love to have a smart phone, but our budget for phones is generally on the low end.  I freely admit that I look at the phones and drool over the features, but in the end we just cannot justify the expense.  And, while the thought of ever being without my cell phone scares me, it does not justify the need for a smart phone.  I looked at some of the costs associated with the purchases and it would be too much money for something I wouldn't get that much use out of. 

What do I do with my phone now?  Well, I talk...  And I text...  And I might play a game or 2.  But I don't really use the calendar because I don't find it particularly user friendly.  I do use the alarm clock feature for many reasons, both class-related and personal and I like the fact that I can set up to 3 different alarms.  I text a lot, so having the keyboard was a big deal for me.  I suspect I prefer texting over talking because of the whole teaching things.  I talk so much that by the end, I am all talked out. 

Now, I've been with Verizon for almost 10 years and wanted desperately to keep the contract I have because it is the most cost effective plan we can find.  Plus, we have the "go anywhere" plan which means we rarely incur roaming charges. When we traveled to Virginia, we were lucky enough to never incur a roaming charge,  And I wouldn't want to change that. 

As it is, my current 2 year contract is up.  We're doing comparison shopping for our next phone, and I've managed to convince Big Guy to at least look at some of the smartphones. Who knows?  Maybe next time I talk about phones, I'll have one.

Verizon  and JuiceBoxJungle sponsored me to write this post, and they asked me to talk about why I don't have a smartphone.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Happy Birthday to me!

Today is my birthday.  I turn 21 for the 10th time!  Big Guy, with his adoration of me, bought me the special edition of Bioshock 2 and we received it last night.  I, of course, wasted no time in getting it open.

This is the outer cover of the box.  The special edition stuff lies beneath this innocent looking exterior.  

The box itself.  Oh joy, oh Rapture!  

Closeups of the butterfly wing and the game imprint.  

I then opened the box and was greeted with an LP from Rapture Records.  Yes, it came with an actual vinyl record.  It's the soundtrack to the original Bioshock Game and will likely be the only thing I don't open unless I find a record player.  

Underneath the vinyl was the art book and the rolled up mini-posters.  Those posters are going to Kinko's for laminating or to Hobby Lobby for framing.  

Lifting up the art book we find the final two items of the special edition.  On top is the Bioshock 2 Soundtrack on CD, 

The final piece in this puzzle, the Bioshock 2 game.  Be still my beating heart! 

I never anticipated to love a story as much as I loved the original Bioshock game.  The idea of it was intriguing, especially for someone who embraced and enjopyed 1984 and Brave New World.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that some of my favorite stories are dystopic in nature.

The story of Rapture brings you in and makes you pause.  It was started with the very best of intentions, but the gradual descent into madness and horror reflects the impact that humanity has on the best of intentions.  Philosophically, human greed will always screw up a good thing.  That's why communism and socialism will never truly succeed unless under the rule of a tyrant. 

Of course, the story involved in Bioshock also illustrates why I love literature so much.  Stories give us insight into ourselves.  Sometimes the mirror shows us things we don't want to see, but it simply reflects the darker parts we need to make sure do not take over.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What I've learned as a step-mom

Lolli from Better in Bulk details her experiences and lessons learned in Until I Became a Mom

The question Lolli posed, what has being a mother taught you, caused me to pause and take stock of my situation. I love being a mom.  I love the snuggles, I love the joy that my son expresses.  Even the annoyances, I love because I am all too aware of how fast they grow and how swiftly things can change. By the time my son was born, I had already acted as a mom for almost 3 years.  I married a man with kids and, while they lived with their biological mother for much of the time, when they were with us, I acted as the female parent.  Being a step-mom has been a bittersweet experience for me and is not one I would encourage many people to enter into.  In fact, I generally counsel that they run away.  Far, far away

Many women tend to look askance at step-mothers.  There is a primal instinct to protect husband and children from the influence of "another woman" and I have been criticized for acting "too motherly" to children who were not mine.  I did not understand that.  I understood they had a mother, I understood they loved their mother, but why would I not care for them as if they were my own while they were under my care?  SHould I have ignored their bad dreams, splinters, and scraped knees because I was not their mother?  And if I had done that, I would have been criticized for being a heartless, evil step-mother. 

Being a step-mother is truly a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.  And a great deal of difficulty stems from the adults in the situation.  In a blended family, you are expected to do what is in "the best interests of the children" and many courts abide by the idea that the first family comes first in all things, including financial.  When I met my husband, well over 50% of his take home pay went towards child support, preventing him from maintaining any sort of household on his own.  For several years, I was the only thing that enabled him to have a roof over his head that wasn't put there by his parents. 

And that's not even touching on the interpersonal issues.  One of the things you re never prepared for in a new relationship is the presence of another woman, particularly whent hat other woman is someone your boyfriend has had a relationship with.  And, as a step-mom, I learned that sometimes the ex, even if they were the ones to request the divorce, will be furious that their significant other has moved on.  When I met Big Guy, he had been separated from his ex for 2 years and their divorce was almost final.  When we became serious and I was introduced to the kids, his ex was furious and did whatever she could to try and end our relationship.  When we actually got married, she kept the kids from us for four weeks.  It was a horrible situation. 

But we worked hard and, much to his ex's anger, got his child support reduced and more time with his children.  Big Guy was so happy that he had more influence on the kids, hoping to counteract some of the poison that was poured into their ears about him.  We had thought we were succeeding.  We discovered that, not only were we wrong, but the kids had discovered they received more approval from their mother by throwing their father, brother and I to the wolves.  They chose not to see their father any longer. 

There were many lessons I learned as a step-mother, some of them I could have done without. 

 - I like being a mother.  I like interacting with kids and watching them grow into people.
 - No matter how good a parent you are, kids will always think you suck.  This is especially true if you have things like *gasp* chores or attempt to teach responsibility. 
 - You can be a great parent and do everything correctly and there will be people who think you are a horrible parent. 
 - Children will often tell you what they think you want to hear, truth or not. 
 - Never underestimate the power of crazy, especially to a child, especially from a parent.  If the parent is crazy, the child will do whatever it takes to ensure their own safety or to secure the crazy parent's love for them. . 
 - Child abuse is more than physical.  Parental Alienation IS child abuse and needs to be stopped. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Spiritual Sunday - The 'opiate' is necessary

Last Week's Topic - Learn to be Still

Our house is not the most religious of homes. I do not identify with any sort of organized religion and my husband is a devout agnostic.  When the kids were visiting, we allowed and supported their decision to attend church, even if we did not attend.  The view we held (and hold for ourselves and our child) was if this was something they felt they needed, so be it. 

Karl Marx is often paraphrased as saying: "Religion is...the opiate of the masses". He is correct, though not in the way people often portray his statement. Religions and religious beliefs are necessary for the human spirit.  As Marx also said in his much paraphrased quote, religion is "the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation."  We need to believe in something larger than ourselves, something more powerful than us, to give our lives meaning.  The alternative, a life where there is nothing beyond our life, nothing "in charge" of our destiny, no all powerful being(s) to guide or protect us, is rather terrifying. 

My beliefs tie in to the idea of energy.  How do you explain life and humanity without exploring the energy that runs through us?  And, as any science class will tell you, energy cannot just disappear, it must go somewhere.  It makes sense that as we die, the energy is returned to the world around us.  It is found in the growing things and the animals that surround us, so our dead are not truly gone nor are they on another plane, they are here with us and surround us.  Their energy fuels the gardens and trees and they are connected to everything. 

As Malcolm X said: "You need to believe in something, or you'll fall for anything."  Some sort of religious connection is necessary to give our lives some purpose.  But you also have to balance that belief with not taking it too seriously.  As we know, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  Look at the crusades, where thousands fought and died in the name of God.  For more modern examples, look at the war in Iraq or the Westboro Baptist Church.  Intolerance runs rampant once you take religious belief too seriously.  It causes you to dismiss the validity and hope that other religions can offer, and worse, it closes you off to the peace that other religions can bring.  Closing yourself off to those possibilities will not bring peace and only serve to further separate you from your spiritual self.  Accept and acknowledge that your religion, while the right one for your spiritual center, cannot apply to all people.

Next week's topic: Duality and Religion

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010

Characters of life

As a writing instructor, I have to guide my students to write properly in many areas.  This month, in the fundamentals class, I teach them how to construct proper sentences and paragraphs.  In Composition I and II we cover six other types, from a process analysis paper all the way to persuasive essays.  In there, as well, we teach them what makes up a good story and the basic elements of plot.  In my Comp II classes, I finish the month with a movie and a brief overview of interpretive analysis papers and how to identify whether or not characters are rounded or flat.

As humans, our lives tend to be filled with many rounded characters; they have their light sides and their dark sides.  Life falls into many grey areas and we are left to decide what is acceptable.  As a writer, I try to plan out all my characters.  I know their background and history, I know their likes and dislikes.  I know what makes them tick.  And, with all my characters, I always include a "fatal flaw".  And like most writers, my characters' fatal flaws are based on my own experience with such flaws. 

I recognize my weaknesses, whether or not I want to.  I recognize I suffer from a certain amount of hubris.  I don't think it's a large amount, but I can also recognize times where my pride can get in the way.  I can also recognize the good that pride can achieve.  It's that pride that allows me the confidence to stand in front of a classroom night after night and teach. 

I also recognize that, at times, I may be a little stubborn and headstrong.  I will throw myself eagerly into the fray if I feel that it is the right thing to do.  This can be bad since, in my headlong rush to join in, I don't take stock of the situation and will, quite often, find myself pitted against stronger foes than me.  Big Guy has been known to yank me out of situations he has decided were too dangerous, either for me or overall.  He's described watching me handle these situations as akin to watching a small kitten face off against a large dog where the kitten thinks it's bigger than it is and the dog doesn't know what to do with the little thing hissing and spitting at it. 

Really, our quirks make us who we are,  I am always looking out for those interesting quirks in people because they are fascinating and wonderful.  Big Guy, the love of my life, has his own share of quirks.  He has a "white knight complex" which has led to his share of hard times.   However, it also led to our getting together when he helped me move in a pinch.  People are such interesting things. 

What are your flaws?  What flaws, if you write, are always there in your characters? 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Let Me Call you Sweetheart Blog Hop!

Today's blog entry is part of the "Let me call you sweetheart" blog hop sponsored by The Frugal Housewife!  This is my first blog hop, so I am very excited!  It's sort of a pre-Valentines Day bash.  It's interesting to note that celebrating February 14th as a day of romantic love was unheard of before Chaucer (of Canterbury Tales fame) got a hold of St. Valentine and turned it into the hearts and flowers holiday we see today. 

Now, I've been married for the past 5 years and 11 months and Valentine's Day has definitely changed in meaning and likely will the longer I stay married. It's gone from the swooning, sweep-me-off-my-feet holiday to more of a "I still find you sexy even though I've seen you at your worst" kind of holiday.  Of course our anniversary has also changed over the years from a "Yay, another year married" to a celebration of "Holy crap, we survived another year despite the forces moving against us".

The key to this all though is that Big Guy and I make a point of celebrating these holidays and celebrating them together.  I think that our attempts to romance each other, even after 6 years of marriage, a child, and 3 moves, only strengthens our relationship.  It's one of those things that you have to work on in a relationship.  There are going to be days where you are unhappy, cranky, or just don't feel sexy and you'll still try.  If you have a good partner, most of the time they will pick up on the fact that you just aren't feeling it and will work to help get you in a better frame of mind. 

Fighting against your own blahs is difficult enough on your own, but it's worse when you and your significant other go through it together.  That has happened to Big Guy and I on occasion and we refer to it as our "downward spiral". It's the opposite of feeding off positive energy and we feed off the negative and just get worse and worse.  Luckily, after 6 years, we've learned to recognize when it starts and we will look at the other person and say: "Wait, stop, we're heading into our downward spiral."  Generally, that's enough to snap us out of it and work on finding the positive.  Noticing the beginning of the spiral, though, was no easy task. 

We did work hard at it and we learned to notice the clues in our therapy sessions.  And, let me tell you, in a blended family, marital therapy is invaluable.  We learned to communicate better and that helped us deal with issues that came with the ex and kids. And through all of that, we worked on making sure we still romanced each other. 

Some of the things we did weren't terribly romantic on the surface but were insanely romantic in context. One of the first Valentine's Day's we had together, we were dirt poor.  Those were desperate times, living hand to mouth and we had no way of getting out of it, but that day Big Guy came home with a heart-shaped pizza.  It was, for our budget at the time, a massive expenditure.  For my first Mother's Day, we were still dirt poor but Big Guy wanted to make sure I knew that he felt I was a good step-mother to his kids.  He brought home a case of Wild Cherry Pepsi.  Those were and still are big things to me. He worked hard to get something that we would enjoy and expressed his appreciation.  Always find someway to show your significant other you appreciate their efforts and find some way to make it something that speaks directly to them.

Valentine's Day isn't just about hearts and flowers, it's about being with and appreciating the one you love.  So, I love and appreciate you Big Guy.  Thank you for being there for me; for rubbing my back when I'm cramping, for letting me puke on your feet on election night, for standing next to me and seeing more of me than even I have seen during the birth of our son...  In return, I have rubbed your back as you puked, dealt with intestinal issues with you, and allowed you to slough off on your dish duty.  They may be the messy, gross times, but they are the times that are indicative of our love.

And I still find you sexy. 

Next Stop on the Hop - Lola's Diner!  Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Top and Bottom 3 worries of this parent

Today's blog prompt is sponsored by JuiceboxJungle and Kodak.  They asked what the top and bottom three things are that I worry about as a mom.  I had to think about all the things that I worry about (and there were a great many) and then I had to organize them by sheer amount of worry.  It was not an easy job and it took some time, but I think I have it figured out.

Top Three Things
1 - Health

We are one of the families that exist without insurance. The cost for insurance through Big Guy's business was just too much. Because we are forced to operate without insurance, I am always paranoid that he's going to get sick or injured and I watch carefully for those situations.  Luckily, I also try to feed him a steady diet of fruit, vegetables, and vitamins.  I also tend to hover to make sure that he doesn't put himself in a situation that could lead to bodily injury. 

2 - Money
Big Guy and I work very hard at our respective jobs, but money is always tight and there is usually very little left over at the end of the month. When we buy gifts, they are planned out well in advance and Big Guy and I have become expert bargain hunters.  I frequent Freecycle for clothes and we tend to shop for household goods and apparel.  If we're in the market for games, books or movies, I keep an eye on and will keep watch on particular items for weeks at a time to ensure I get the best price. In fact, my birthday gift this year is particularly notable because I am getting it brand new on release. 

3 - Education
I exist in an almost perpetual state of terror that my child will be the one left behind.  Because of that, I push him beyond his normal age range in subjects such as reading and math.  Admittedly, he is much smarter than I give him credit for and this should probably fall in the bottom three things, but he is both my and Big Guy's son and that means I need to worry to ensure I push him enough to succeed or else he's likely to try and get away from studying. 

The Bottom Three Things

This was probably harder than the top three items.  What do I worry about least with this child of mine?  These items aren't really worries because I have evidence of my success everyday. 

1 - Happiness

I don't worry about Little Guy's level of happiness.  His laughter rings throughout the house regularly every day and he still laughs himself to breathlessness at least once every 12 hours.  I have seen him collapse with the giggles over something his dad or I have said that is just silly...  It's wonderful. 

2 - Self-esteem
If there is one thing that my son does not lack, it's self-esteem. If you were to ask him if he has self-esteem issues, he will tell you no, he doesn't.  He doesn't seem to comprehend that there may be people out there who don't want to spend time with him or who may not like him.  He is a friendly, cheerful, gregarious child who is firmly convinced that everyone loves him and he is in charge. 

3 - His View of Relationships

I am nearly certain that my son will have successful relationships as he grows because of how hard Big Guy and I work to ensure that our own relationship is a success.  We've attended marital therapy and will readily say that it was one of the best things we could have done for our marriage.  We had a strong relationship before we went, but the therapy improved our communication skills and provided a safe haven to learn to deal with issues that would come up and serve to temper our strongly-forged relationship.  If we can continue to provide an example of a well-honed relationship, our son will b able to emulate the better aspects of our relationship and hopefully avoid the mistakes that his father and I made in previous relationships.

Attempting to narrow down worries into only six was a difficult task, but was actually helpful to me as a parent.  I can see where my focus is and measure how I am doing over all.  It also helped reassure me that I am a good mother to this amazing child.  He is happy, mostly healthy, somewhat sane, and has been sheltered from the worst of the events that we've dealt with.  He's confident, brave, headstrong, willful, smart and imaginative.  He expresses love freely and accepts affection as a matter of course.  How lucky I am to have him. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Writer's Belly

The first day of class went well.  The group seems, if not interested, at least energized for now.  This is a good thing because we'll end up feeding off eachother's energy.  I find that if the class is more energetic, I am more enthusiastic.  And that leads to a higher energy in the classroom!  It becomes a cyclical thing and keeps class interesting and fun. 

We went through the writing process last night which. I told them, is the reason that most writers are alcoholics, drug addicts or both.  I also explained that no one, not even writers, like the writing process and that writers have a love/hate relationship with their chosen profession.  I love writing, it's in my blood, and I adore it but oh how I hate the process. 

I've been working on my novel for 6 years.  Yes, you read that correctly, SIX.  I found out that there's actually a term for this process.  Unpublished Guy calls it "Slow Writing your story into oblivion". 

On the one hand, it's nice to know, as a writer, you aren't alone.  On the other hand, I really wish that I could find the wherewithal to finish the book.  Finding the time, the energy and the desire to write is difficult.  Of course, that's why I've gotten back into blogging.  I am forcing myself to write on a daily basis and perhaps, eventually, work on the book again.  Good luck to me! 

Yesterday was somewhat chilly despite the sunlight.  I woke up early and was unable to go back to sleep, so I got up and decided to make chicken soup.  We had ended up with 3 large chicken breasts thanks to Big Guy and his ideas.

The plan, initially, was a chicken marinara with melted cheese.  And it certainly sounded delicious...  Right up to the point that I realized Big Guy had bought the cheap chicken breasts, with the skin on them and bones still in them.  When I explained the work it was going to take to debone the chicken, he decided that, perhaps, the chicken marinara wasn't the right meal after all.  I assuaged his sadness with a promise to make my chicken soup though. 

Big Guy loves my chicken soup, and I try to make it most often in the fall or winter. It's a long simmering soup that takes about a day to cook and is truly worth it.  This one started out with a pot of water and some seasoning.  I added celery seed, black pepper, sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley, salt and garlic. I always kind of eyeball the addition of seasonings and taste often throughout the cooking process.  After I got the pot to a rolling boil, I added the defrosted chicken breasts and let that cook for an hour.

The house smelled so good during that hour, my belly was rumbling.  I was relieved when the timer went off and I was able to lower the pot to a simmer and pull out the breasts.  While the broth simmered and bubbled, I skinned and deboned the breasts and tore apart the largest one to add back to the pot.  The other two will probably be shredded into a cheese and chicken omelette for Little Guy and I for breakfast. 

I added the shredded chicken and chopped up a carrot and an onion to throw in the pot and let it cook for another hour, getting the carrots soft and the onion practically invisible.  I then threw in some frozen green beans and let it finish cooking.  I managed to nab a small bowl before I left for class and it was really, truly worth it.  While I was gone, Big Guy and Little Guy finished off most of the soup and then I had a couple more bowls when I got back. And not alone either, Big Guy had another bowl and Little Guy had two more. 

Kitten's Chicken Soup

Chicken Breasts (bone in & skin on)
Seasonings - recomm. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Bay Leaves
Veggies - Recomm. Carrot, celery, onion, green beans

This simple and tasty treat involves hours of simmering goodness

1 - bring water and seasonings to a rolling boil. 
2 - add chicken breasts and simmer for an hour, adding water as needed.  The skin will add all the fat you need to the broth
3 - Pull the breasts out of the water and let the broth simmer while you debone and skin the breasts.  Then, shred the meat and add to the broth.
4 - Chop and add the veggies and simmer
5 - Add water and seasonings to taste during the cooking time


Monday, February 1, 2010

An English Teacher's Lament

I began re-working on one of my projects last night while Big Guy played his Valentine's day gift.  It was a good gift, apparently.  I told him I was glad that my gift giving streak was still in effect.  He's been playing the game pretty much non-stop since Friday.  In the meantime, I was able to work on my blog, work on class prep, and prepare for the week ahead.  My class this month is about to have a change from classes in previous months, namely a vocab section. 

I work hard on class prep and doing what I think will best help the students.  I must admit, though, finding things that will improve their ability to write is difficult since the most vocal complain that they don't understand why they must know how to write nor do they wish to learn.  For someone like me, who adores English and the twists and turns it takes, it is horribly depressing and demoralizing. 

It is unfortunate that I have not yet had a student come to my class and say: "I can't wait!  I love English/Writing/Literature."  It is also not surprising.  Schools don't stress the importance of the ability to write properly and do not encourage students to do so.  When the kids were visiting, I was perpetually amazed and dismayed at how little the schools stressed proper style and grammar.  It was more that the teachers were relieved if the students spelled approximately half of the words correctly.  One of the most horrifying things I discovered about the school in our area, and a driving force behind my desire NOT to send Little Guy into this system, was the painful discovery that the high school students were allowed to write papers in text speech.  Of course, then they end up in my classroom, in a college level basics class.

And I am left with disenchanted students who are in school because they have no place left to go and want to get college over with quickly so they can get a better job.  I do what I can to make the subject matter interesting for them, but a great deal of the work has to be done by them.  One thing I am going to start mentioning on the first day of class is that their success depends almost entirely on them.  If they choose to come and not work, not be engaged with the material, not communicate with the class, then they will not pass.  If they come to class, ready to talk, work, ask questions, and learn, they will likely pass not only this class, but also the other English classes with flying colors.  Once they gain a comprehension of English, it will make their major classes easier as well as give them access to better jobs. 

Of course, then the question becomes, how do you engage and encourage students who hate the subject matter? In this particular class, I put together powerpoint presentations to make the discussion slightly less snooze-worthy.  I also have them watch Schoolhouse Rock.  The catchy music and the songs that get stuck in their heads seems to actually make a difference.  I was unable to use both those tricks last month and I noticed a big difference in the attitude of the students towards the subject.  Amusingly, after talking with a couple of other teachers about the Schoolhouse Rock trick, it's become a "done thing" now.  I'm glad that others are seeing it works too, I just wish I could get some recognition for the idea.  LOL

In the end, though, I love my subject matter and I am passionate about it.  I think that has affected more students then their dislike of the subject.  I still have students coming up to me months later asking if I will be teaching a particular level of class next month.  They seem to have left my class with an enjoyment and, hopefully, an appreciation of their language.