the worst valentine’s gifts ever

This story is sorta like “The Gift of the Magi” if those characters had been sorta jerkish instead of altruistic and self-sacrificing.

Some time before our first Valentine’s Day together (at which point we’d been dating like 8 months), I was hanging out at Jon’s house watching TV when a Hallmark commercial came on. It was advertising whatever their cute plush Valentine stuffed animal was that year. I think I said something like, “Why would a dude EVER get an adult woman a stuffed animal for Valentine’s Day?” Jon’s face fell a little and he said, “You better be careful what you say!”

A few days later, on Valentine’s Day, Jon presented me with the gift he’d already bought *before* we saw that ad: a stuffed animal that looked like a chocolate lab puppy. He reminded me what I’d said, and of course I felt like a jerk. The truth is, I thought the stuffed dog was adorable. I named him Jack, I spritzed him with Jon’s cologne, and I slept with him every night because he smelled like Jon, who at the time was going to school 100 miles from where I was going to school. I still have him and sometimes sleep with him when Jon’s working the night shift.

Maybe a year after that, a few weeks before Valentine’s Day, I noticed that Jon’s wallet was totally falling apart, so I bought him a new one. A few days before V-Day, we were walking through the mall when we passed a special Valentine’s Day wallet display. Jon said something about how wallets are intensely personal and how they get better with age as they conform to the perfect fit for a man’s pocket. My face fell a little.

On Valentine’s Day, a few days later, I presented him with the already purchased wallet and reminded him of what he’d said. I bet he felt a little like a jerk. But the thing is, he liked the wallet. Years later, he’s still carrying it.

These days we don’t give each other gifts at all. It works out better that way.


rekindled flame

"Campfire" image via flickr user gmmail, Greg Morgan, under a Creative Commons license.

The night I met my husband, we sat around a campfire and talked late into the night.  We saw shooting stars (or were they fireflies?), were startled by a tail-less cat, and started the fall into love.

The day my husband proposed, he took me back to the site of that campfire and asked me to marry him, and then we sat there and talked about our life together.

Not too long ago, we hit a bit of a rough patch. Trust was damaged, hearts were hurt, and things got hard.

This weekend, we went camping with a group of new friends. We sat around a campfire, talking into the night. We debated the influence of the Beatles (why anyone would dispute their status as the single most influential band ever is beyond me), we laughed at the puppy snoring in my lap, and we got to know each other.  I caught glimpses of my beloved in the firelight, looking just as sexy as he did that night we met.  I smiled when, asked about his top 3 favorite movies, I guessed every one.  We walked through the dark to our tent, where we snuggled for warmth, heads under the sleeping bag, exhaling deep, hot breaths to heat the air inside.  He wrapped his arms around me and told me how thankful he is, how lucky he feels that we have each other. That we get each other. That we love each other.  I think that spark of gratitude might just be what we needed to get back into full flame.

Today’s post is inspired by the lovely Kyran Pittman’s question on her brand new blog, Planting Dandelions.

Side note: I’m in the middle of writing an epic paper on 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich, and it’s taking up a lot of my time. Please excuse my sparse posting as of late.

like riding a bike

My snazzy "new" bike.

Last night after dinner, as the sun started to go down, my best friend and I strapped on some helmets and sped off on our trusty cycles.  We zoomed down the streets of our neighborhood, racing the daylight and each other, to the soundtrack of a thousand cicadas buzzing in the trees. We made a lap around the playground, but decided not to stop and play with the other kids, instead zipping off in search of another downhill to give us a dose of speed.  As I flew down the hills, as much wind as the humid Southern summer air can muster in my face, I caught myself smiling wide, tongue half-out like an eight-year-old.  In my mind, I was popping wheelies, if not in reality. We perched at the top of a hill, wondering if the bright light streaking across the darkening sky was an asteroid or an airplane, and we marveled at the giant pink-tinged moon hanging over a shining state capitol building, smiling down on our city with its chubby old man face.  When we pulled up to our driveway, I half expected my mom to tell us to hurry up and get bathed before bedtime– tomorrow’s a school day.

It was a wonderful way to spend an evening.

It was also a wonderful twist to a bad situation.

On Friday night, after an all-ages dance party with friends and their children (complete with glow-sticks), we came home and, as usual, I opened the back door to let the dogs out into our fenced back yard.  Ten minutes later, a neighbor knocked at the door, Bessie collared in one hand, Olive running across the street.  “How the heck did they get out of the fenced yard?” Olive’s a runner, but it’s usually because she’s slipped past us at the front door.  We captured her and went to check out the back yard. The alley gate was open.  Neither one of us had been out the back gate, so we knew someone had been IN.  That’s when we noticed my bike was missing.

Let me tell you, I loved that bike.  It wasn’t fast, and it often wasn’t functional, but I loved it.  It was a petite black Parkwood (I thought the name was special because we used to live on a street named Parkwood) with silver fenders and a silver basket on the front, and we bought it off of Craigslist.  It had a sticker that bragged it was Made in the USA, and it was so heavy it must have been forged out of pure American iron.  It was mine.

I try to have a hands-off attitude toward my stuff.  I want to be the kind of person who would give my bike up to anyone who asked me for it.  And, though I loved it, the loss of the bike didn’t bother me nearly as much as the feeling of violation, that someone had come into my back yard to take my things, and the fear and worry that one of my dogs could have been killed or hurt because the thief left the back gate open.

Because I like to bike to my church, I wanted a replacement bicycle.  I started browsing Craigslist the next morning and found a listing for two matching, vintage French town bicycles, specifically 1974 Motobecane Nobly bicycles.  The seller lived so close to us I could have biked there had I had a bicycle, and Jon and I went to scope them out.  Just to see other options, we went to a bike store and I tested a cute little hybrid that rode like a dream and shifted gears with the click of a button.  Less cute was the $400 price tag, though, so we left without making the purchase and went to see the Craigslist find.  When we saw the vintage French bikes, we knew we had to have them, and $200 later, we were on our way home with our beauties.

I found a .pdf of the 1974 Motobecane catalog online. The bike in the background looks identical to my new bike, except mine has groovy lights on it.

The Craigslist image of our "new" bikes.

And they are beauties.  They’re painted a lovely copper color, and though the chrome was a little rusty, they polished up nice.  They have fenders and racks on the backs, still sport 1974 bicycle license plates from Wichita, Kansas, and my favorite features are the working head and tail lights operated with a friction generator activated as the bikes are pedaled. They’re a sort of bike you don’t see very often in a world that seems divided among road bikes, cruisers, and mountain bikes/mountain bike wannabes– they’re basically city commuter bikes, more upright than the average road bike and outfitted with a cruiser’s fenders and racks, on skinny road bike tires, with apparently unusual 27 inch wheels.

Isn't that headlight the cutest?

These crazy levers are how you shift the gears.

Looks like my plate's expired.

I like that the seat says "sat."

This is the mechanism that powers the lights. As the wheel turns, the little wheel turns and generates the power. So cool! Why don't "real" bikes have these?

Beyond the rust, the tires were dryrotted, the gears weren’t shifting, and the brakes were sketchy.  My best friend/biking buddy/bunkmate Jon happens to be pretty handy with bikes, and by last evening had my bike newly shod in fresh tires and tubes, tuned up to the point that 4/10 gears (activated with levers at the center of the handlebars) are now working, and had the brakes mostly fixed.  His Motobecane is still not up and running (the rear gears seem fully locked up and won’t move a bit when he pedals), but he hopped on his trusty day-to-day bike and joined me for our joyride.  My new bike turned out to be much lighter and faster than my last bike and was a downright thrill to ride in comparison.  Jon said he had trouble keeping up, and in truth, I left him in the dust a few times.  He says he can’t wait to have his speedy new old bike fully operational so he can give me a run for my money.  Maybe his will look as snazzy as this fully restored version.

I may never be Lance Armstrong, as I’m not particularly interested in cycling long distances, but I’m more than excited to have a time machine to transport me back to my childhood for evening jaunts around the neighborhood.  Maybe after that we can catch fireflies in a mason jar.

Dr. Laura & Racism

So, last night Jon and I happened to catch some of Anderson Cooper on CNN and learned about the whole Dr. Laura racism-on-the-radio debacle.  If you haven’t heard the scoop, here’s the basics: a woman called into Dr. Laura’s show for advice (if you ask me, anyone who would call that horrible woman for advice is less than bright, but certainly not deserving of what came next).  The woman, Jade, said that she’s in an interracial marriage, she’s black and her husband is white, and that she has been hurt by her husband’s friends and family making racist comments, while her husband does nothing about it.  Dr. Laura managed to call the woman hypersensitive, dismiss the idea that the comments were racist, make gross generalizations about black people as a monolithic entity, use the N-word many times, and suggest that people who can’t put up with racist comments from friends and family members shouldn’t marry outside their race.  While many outlets are simply focusing on Dr. Laura’s use of the N-word, as you can see/hear, the rest of the exchange is really what drips with racism.  You can hear the whole audio and read a transcript over at Media Matters.

Before I respond, here’s Jamelle Bouie:

What Dr. Laura said was RACIST.

Dr. Laura asks Jade, the caller, for an example of a racist comment she’s been hearing from her husband’s friends and family, and Jade replies:

CALLER: OK. Last night — good example — we had a neighbor come over, and this neighbor — when every time he comes over, it’s always a black comment. It’s, “Oh, well, how do you black people like doing this?” And, “Do black people really like doing that?” And for a long time, I would ignore it. But last night, I got to the point where it —

SCHLESSINGER: I don’t think that’s racist.

CALLER: Well, the stereotype —

SCHLESSINGER: I don’t think that’s racist.

Memo to Dr. Laura: that IS racist. Assuming that all people of a certain race think/act alike and expecting an individual from that race/group to be able to speak for/represent the whole group, well, that’s racist. Just like people who think all women are alike and expect any one woman to represent/speak for the entire sex are sexist. Seeing an entire group of people as if they aren’t as diverse and individual as your group of people is racist. Full stop. There’s no hypersensitivity there, and I can see where this woman would feel hurt by her husband’s friends and family constantly making generalizations and stereotypes about her race and expecting her to be the ambassador for all black people.

Then, after stating that generalizations about black people aren’t racist statements, Dr. Laura forges ahead and makes a couple of generalizations about black people, namely that they all voted for Obama simply because he’s black, and that they’re all good at basketball:

A lot of blacks voted for Obama simply ’cause he was half-black. Didn’t matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That’s not a surprise. Not everything that somebody says — we had friends over the other day; we got about 35 people here — the guys who were gonna start playing basketball. I was going to go out and play basketball. My bodyguard and my dear friend is a black man. And I said, “White men can’t jump; I want you on my team.” That was racist? That was funny.

Nope, Dr. Laura, that entire paragraph is racist. And after that, as if her words are a little racist snowball rolling down the hill, Dr. Laura decides to get something off her chest: how deeply jealous she is that “black guys on HBO” can use the N-word but she, a white person, cannot.  She literally says the N-word over and over again.  It’s a common racist/sexist tactic to get upset that minority groups take words previously used to oppress and hurt them and turn them into something they use for their own power.  It’s not quite the same as the N-word, but it reminds me the way I and some of my favorite blogger friends have reclaimed the word “harpy.” If some man called me a harpy, I’d be downright pissed. But I jokingly call myself a harpy all the time.

After a commercial break, Jade, the caller, makes some very wise observations about race relations in this country.  She points out that older white people in this country seem more frightened and emboldened about racism after Obama’s election to the presidency.  This isn’t crazy stuff, folks like the Southern Poverty Law center have been pointing this out for over a year now.  You only have to look to footage of Tea Party events to know that some racists in this country are flipping out and feeling comfortable expressing very racist ideas in public.  But Dr. Laura tells the caller that she obviously has a “chip on your shoulder” and suggests she has “too much sensitivity.”

After a bit of arguing about the N-word, Jade hangs up and Dr. Laura concludes:

SCHLESSINGER: All right. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Can’t have this argument. You know what? If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.

Talk about an epic fail from a professional advice giver!

If Jade had called me for advice, I’d definitely answer differently.  I’d validate her feelings that her husband’s family and friends are making racist comments.  I’d affirm that yes, expecting one person to represent her entire race, with the belief that the entire race thinks/acts alike, is racist.  I’d tell her that whether her husband agrees with her that the comments are racist, it’s her husband’s job as her spouse and as the one with the primary relationship with these people to tell them to cut it out.  If your spouse says your friends/family are hurting his/her feelings, you tell them to knock it off. You refuse to tolerate it in your house.  You inform them they will not be welcome in your house so long as they continue to say things that hurt your spouse.  Period.  It’s not that difficult to see that that’s the right answer to that question.

Because Dr. Laura did not take this opportunity to state the obvious, that spouses should have each other’s backs when someone is hurting one of their feelings, I can only conclude that she’s had these feelings of racial resentment, the ones that came bursting through in the exchange, for a while.  I’m not saying that Dr. Laura hates black people, or that, as a person, she’s a complete and total racist. But that exchange definitely revealed her racial resentment, and her words were racist.

To top it all off, Dr. Laura’s “apology” is of the “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings”variety rather than the I’m sorry I said what I said variety.  She primarily focuses on the use of the N-word.  Her use of the N-word wasn’t even the half of it! She needs to do more than apologize for using an abhorrent word, but for the entire hateful exchange.  And she needs to examine her issues surrounding race, perhaps with a licensed therapist.

pet peeves

I often tell people that I have one perfect dog and one very sweet but very crazy dog.

And then yesterday, I had the following exchange on Twitter:

Still thinking about this exchange as Jon and I went to bed, I said, “My friend says that people project their own personalities and issues on their pets. But we have two very different pets! And he says that one of them is probably me, and one of them is probably you.  But which is which?”

Very quickly, Jon replied, “I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m the chilled out, obedient one.”

To which I replied, “Are you saying I’m the cracked out crazy one in constant need of attention and affection and snuggles?”

His silence said all I needed to know.

Bessie, aka Jon. The chilled out, obedient dog with a voracious appetite who has never met a food she doesn't like. Her dad, on the other hand, has met two foods he doesn't like: olives and corned beef.

Olive, aka me. She's prone to run off chasing things that interest her, often lashes out at strangers, and is sometimes too smart for her own good.

But let's be honest here, this is how you normally find Olive, because she's a total attention whore.

mousetraps and crying jags

Friday morning I made a very disappointing and distressing discovery on the kitchen counter: mouse poop.  I’m not sure how any mice survive our neighborhood given the army of flea-bitten stray cats prowling around, but apparently they survive by hiding out in my house.  I called the World’s Greatest Landlord (no lie) and informed him of the discovery.  He told me he’d call the pest control people and asked if I was opposed to kill traps.  “Of course not! They’re mice! They have no natural habitat to be released into, as their natural habitat is my kitchen!”  He delivered a couple of mousetraps later that day.  They looked like this:

Image via Rennet Stowe's Flickr photostream.

Fast forward to about 1:00 am: Jon and I, sleepy and ready for bed, remember that we need to set the mousetraps.  We quickly realize we have no IDEA how to set them. In our sleepy state, we fumble around, trying to figure out these tiny death machines.  I finally get one set, when, just as I go to show it to Jon, SNAP! Right on my thumb. The dogs jumped a mile. Jon jumped a mile. I immediately burst into tears. It HURT.  But then I kept crying. I cried harder. And it wasn’t just because my thumb really really hurt.  I couldn’t bear the thought of that SNAP! happening to some little creature’s head.  I really lost it just thinking about it. I couldn’t handle the idea that I might be woken up in the night by a SNAP!, knowing what had just happened.  We went to bed, having given up on the traps for a while.

I kept crying. Jon started laughing his head off.  I started crying harder, thinking he was laughing at me. And, in all honesty, he probably should have been laughing at me, because who gets hysterical over mousetraps?  In reality, he was laughing because the SNAP! had really startled him, and for some reason his startle reflex is connected to his giggle box.  Eventually I splashed some cold water on my face and blew my very snotty nose.  We agreed we’d find some other solution than SNAP! traps.  I may or may not be hoping to get a kitty out of this deal.  I’m still not sure why the whole SNAP! incident got me so shook up, but all I know is, I can’t handle a SNAP! trap.

Anyone have suggestions for getting mice out of your kitchen without SNAP! traps?

Do I get a diploma now?

Today I have been married for four years. Or, as I like to say, I’ve put in enough time to have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marriage to Jon O. I’m thinking it’s a BA, because marriage is more an art than a science- what works for us may not work for anyone else, but 4 years in, I pretty well know what works for us.  I guess I’m now working on my Master’s, and I’m planning to go for a Ph.D. After that, I guess I’ll have to find a new metaphor!

I’ve been thinking about weddings a lot this week.  Last Saturday, I went to the wedding of a dear friend, a friend who had been a bridesmaid in my wedding.  It was a lovely, joyous occasion, and being there, I have to say the ceremony was just SO HER, so true to who my friend is as an exuberant, whimsical, beautiful, and loving person. I got teared up as they said their vows, and I grinned with true, shared joy as they walked down the aisle as husband and wife to the music of “All You Need Is Love” complete with live marimba, trombone, piano, and violin accompaniment.  Later, I told my husband that I think I need to arrange to go to a wedding the week of our anniversary every year, because they remind me what a special joy it is to be married.

Then, a few days ago, I tweeted something about my disgust at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding costing over $4 million.  Many of my “tweeps” joined in my disgust, and a few shared how they managed to pull off astonishingly cheap weddings.  Like, less than $50, cheap.  I like to think I had a pretty inexpensive wedding, but the truth is, our event probably cost our families around the national average when all was said and done. I’d like to see a poll of my tweeps’ wedding costs when controlled for an average ceremony and reception, because those who eloped were really throwing off the curve. And of course, all the cheap wedding talk led to someone wondering if she was a bad person because she had a more expensive wedding.  To which I say: of course not.  If you’ve got the money to spend and a vision to execute, more power to ya, enjoy your day. I certainly did. (And I’m not really as grossed out by Chelsea Clinton’s $4 million wedding now that I’ve been reminded that she’s throwing a shindig that will be attended by dignitaries and heads of state accustomed to a certain standard of accommodation.)

While I’m well aware that people in this country all too often focus on the wedding instead of the marriage, looking back at my wedding, I think it well-represented who we are as a couple, both then and now. I thought I’d share a few aspects.

In my life, I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family and a wonderful church family, all of whom had a hand in raising me, and all of whom share credit for the person I’ve become.  To grow up in a strong church family is a huge blessing, and everyone at Westminster Presbyterian Church really came together to make my special day a true “family” affair. We were married in the church I grew up in, and my church family had a hand in every aspect of our wedding.  As a small example, when, at the last minute, we realized the bouquets and boutonnieres had not arrived for the ceremony (long story, maybe I’ll tell you sometime), a woman of the church hurried into the reception hall, gathered up any extra flowers she could get her hands on, and stuck stems in the pockets of all the groomsmen.  She tied ribbons around white chrysanthemums for all the bridesmaids, and she quickly fashioned a bouquet for me.  While they weren’t the hand-tied mini white calla lilies I had envisioned, I had flowers in my hands and a smile on my face when I went down the aisle, and no one knew they weren’t the flowers I had planned on.  I had no time to worry, and no need to, because I was surrounded by people who loved us and who were taking care of us. I know that those people surround and care for us to this day.

Another thing that was very important to us was that our wedding be first and foremost a service of worship for the God who taught us to love and brought us together and blessed us so richly.  Led by a dear friend and Jon’s sister, we sang both modern praise and worship songs (more Jon’s style) and favorite hymns (more mine).  We were even beautifully serenaded by Jon’s best friend and best man, who sang “Ave Maria.”  After the wedding, several friends and even our wedding photographer remarked on the genuine and joyful faith they had seen on display both in the ceremony and over the weekend with our families. I’m pretty sure our photographer was introduced to Jesus for the first time at our wedding!

Jon and I met while working as counselors at a Presbyterian summer camp, so it was only right that the camp director performed our wedding.  Knowing David, who has a penchant for preaching parables entirely in alliteration, I knew we’d get a very unique message on our special day, and he did not disappoint.  He centered his message on lessons from camp that apply to marriage.  Here’s part of what he said:

(1) Feed the Untraditional. If there is any adjective we can all agree on to describe Jesus, it is that he was “untraditional.” He did things differently. He shattered traditions. He said things in new ways. I think this is what makes camp so powerful. The same message, but shared in a new context with a different vocabulary and lived out in community. I encourage you to finds ways to keep your faith and marriage fresh. Look for new wineskins. Hold fast to your faith, but don’t mistake the packaging for the real thing. Jesus had harsh words for the traditionalists. Those he hung with were the marginalized. Keep your faith untraditional and fresh.
(2) Find some wilderness places. Ask a camper what their favorite part of camp was and you’ll get a variety of answers, swimming, games, camping out, capture the flag, but ask a counselor, and one response dominates. They like FOB. Flat On Bunk, that time after lunch when you go back to the cabin for rest time. It is time to recharge and renew. Marriages need FOB as well. We may not get it after lunch each day, but we need to find it somewhere. Jesus had only three years of ministry to share the Good News and change the world, yet we constantly find him sneaking away for time away to reflect and renew; to step back and refocus; to be intentional about his relationship with God and listen for direction.
You two face busy times ahead. School, marriage, and real life are coming at you. Times of stress and times when the demands of the world seem to press in from all sides. Jesus always got away to wilderness and natural places….mountain tops, sea shores, desserts, and gardens. Find the time and places that help you stay grounded and well-rounded. Take FOB time to cultivate your relationship with each other and your relationship with your Creator.
(3) Finally, Form Your Own Family Group. One of the things about camp that makes it so impacting is that we form family groups and for that week of camp they share meals, activities, worship. They live together 24 hours a day in community so they see each other as they really are. Each person has to give of themselves to make it work. In a way it is a microcosm of life and of marriage. You are forming your own family group and God will now see you as one unit. You are giving each other the greatest gift possible – yourself – even as Christ gave himself for the church. It is the marriage relationship that Scripture chooses to use as its model for the relationship between Jesus and the church. With God’s help you can model the relationship. You will have challenges, but God promises to be with you through it all, just as you today make public your commitment to be with each other through it all.

Enjoy the gift of life. And enjoy the gift of each other. And don’t forget to have fun along the way. Roast a marshmallow or two and have a s’more. And remember, you have this huge community of friends and family here to root you on, to encourage and support you.

Four years later, I can say that his advice was right on. I’m even rather amused now at how apt it was. We are all about “untraditional.” On our wedding day, we spent our time before the ceremony smooching in the hallway, tradition of not seeing each other be damned. At the end of the ceremony, we were introduced as “Jon and Sarah [Lastname], husband and wife” because I absolutely despise the traditional erasing of female identity in announcing them as “Mr. and Mrs. Jon [Lastname].” And to this day, we strive not to fall back on traditional roles in our marriage, but to be who we are, completely and honestly, supporting and encouraging each other and playing to our strengths.

We are also all about FOB time. Through the rigors of residency and the trials of life, our time to relax and recharge together has been fought for fiercely and guarded closely. At the wedding last weekend, one of the bridesmaids, upon learning I was about to celebrate four years of marriage, asked me “Four good years? Was it easy?” I thought for a minute and replied: “Life has sometimes been very hard, but the marriage has been easy.” I know this might not always be the case, that sometimes marriage itself might get hard, but over the past four years, our marriage has been our sanctuary in a life that has sometimes been tumultuous.

And we have, over the past four years, been knit together as a family, one unit. While moving halfway across the country from everyone you know and love is a stressful and hard thing, it was also an immense blessing for us as a newlywed couple. We have been forced to forge together and rely on each other when we had no one else to rely on. We know we that no matter what comes our way, we’re in it together.

I am so happy to look back at how far we’ve come in our marriage over the past four years.  And I’m impressed with how perfectly our ceremony foretold our life together.  Now, I’m off to give Jon the gift I made for him. I promise to tell you all about that tomorrow!