What a sweet opportunity to share a bit of my heart and encourage others to delight in their faith and heritage! Thank you so much to the Religious Studies Departments of the University of California, Santa Barbara; San Diego State University; California State University, Fresno; California State University, Chico; and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Between working for a publishing house, filming for several start-ups, and studying for the GRE, I've been craving a change of scenery and a bit of a break. Luckily, flights were cheap, and my globetrotter of a brother has never been known to say "no" to a trip...
We packed our bags and headed off to Portland, Oregon, for a little soul food. Here are some of our recommendations from what turned out to be an incredible visit.
Stay - The Society Hotel
My oh my. I can't even begin to express how utterly obsessed I am with this hip little hostel. The building originally functioned as sailors' lodging in the late 1800s and then transformed into a Chinese dance hall, movie set, and housing for gypsy royalty. (Luckily none of these transformations damaged the absolutely stunning original wooden staircases...swoon). The Society Hotel now serves as a dreamy little landing place for the adventurous and community-minded traveler, and it will completely change your perception of hostels. They offer a few different boarding options ranging from a hostel-style bunk in a communal room to a private (read: tiny) room with communal bath, to an entirely private bed and bath. The space also boasts of several communal living areas, including a homey reading room (complete with gorgeous leather chesterfield sofas and a fireplace), a rooftop deck, and a cafe. The aptly named Society Cafe was so wonderful, I was tempted to list it below as one of the best places to eat and drink, as Kyle and I kept stopping back in during our adventures for iced coffees or slices of avocado toast.
Eat - Ned Ludd
Ned Ludd was quite possibly the best meal we had all week, which is a tall order since Portland is such an excellent food destination. The restaurant only cooks with fire (!) and uses local ingredients, which pairs nicely with the very eclectic pioneer-esque decor. Kyle and I split an order of spring radishes with green garlic butter (life-changing) over fluffy spiced flatbread, and I also had the handkerchief pasta with local zucchini, fresh cheese, pine nuts, and mint (...are you drooling yet?). It was the kind of place where the chefs make you extra food that you didn't order just so you can try whatever it is that they're perfecting at the moment. Bliss.
Savor - Salt & Straw
Although I'm a chocolate lover to the core, the gal behind the counter at this (mega-famous) ice cream shop gently bullied me into trying "sea salt" (And no, not caramel with sea salt. The ice cream was actually sea salt), and it rocked my world. I also tried "olive oil" (which was stupidly delicious) and ended up with a generous portion of "honey lavender." We were bummed that we discovered this shop on our last day in the city, as we wanted to go back for seconds, thirds, and fourths (although I think Kyle mostly wanted to go back because he took a liking to the girl working there...).
Sip - Heart Roasters
Heart was a refreshingly understated little shop that served as our pivot point between a morning of shopping and an afternoon nap (if you know us, you'll know it was Kyle, not me, who did both the shopping and the napping). I'm still thinking about that basil iced tea that I downed much too quickly.
Shop - Alder & Co.
This sweet shop was pure magic. For starters, it smelled heavenly, and the ambiance was something out of my most decadent daydreams (think Anthropologie, but about seven thousand times more lovely and soft and pure and wonderful). Every item had me absolutely in love, and if I weren't a penny-pinching college student, I would have bought the entire store. (Also, Alder & Co. houses just about the sweetest little flower stand in all of Portland.)
Wander - Horsetail Falls
We were trying to get to Multnomah Falls, but we couldn't find parking (it was a perfectly blue, sparkling day, so everyone else in Portland had the same idea as we did). In looking for a place to turn around, we stumbled across Horsetail Falls, which is where we ended up spending the most soul-nourishing afternoon. We picnicked beside one waterfall, munching on Oregon berries and creamy bites of brie, before packing up our knapsacks and heading up the trail. I wasn't wearing hiking shoes, so I wasn't sure how far I could make it before the soles of my trusty white sneaks gave out, but the hike turned out to be more of an uphill stroll. During the hike, we turned a blind corner and were faced with the most spectacular sight of a huge waterfall and pond nestled amongst the forest. Jaw dropping. We sat behind the roaring water, soaked up the perfectly green, lush foliage around us, and thought about how crazy beautiful this world we live in is. How's that for a little soul food?
P.S.: You can find Kyle over on his site, Edward Imaginative.
Now that school has resumed once more (bittersweet), I find myself lingering over photos from winter break and wishing I could live it twice more. Here are some of my favorite moments from the season...
Happy 2016! I hope your year overflows with love, intentionality, and lots of dreamy seaside mornings.
2015 was a year of humility and change. It was a year of growth and of character over comfort, of postcards and patience and a whole lot of prayer. But amidst it all, 2015 was a year of unexpected joy and the most precious of blessings. Here are five lessons I've learned along the way this year...
1. Treasure your health (and your mama).
Brain tumor. Two words that I never thought would become rooted in my vocabulary and daily life. When my mom was diagnosed with a plum-sized brain tumor in September, life underwent a radical change overnight. Our “new normal” consisted of MRIs, appointments with specialists, hospital waiting rooms, and taking endless phone messages. Dinnertime conversation revolved around the anatomy and function of the temporal and parietal lobes. And after my mom’s brain surgery—which, by the way, was beautifully successful, and she handled everything with such grace and bravery—I found myself thrust into the position of nurse, pharmacist, caregiver, chauffeur, and housekeeper, while balancing college finals and dealing with a sprained neck. I was running on empty. Exhausted and stressed to the core, I still knew undoubtedly that I would do anything for that sweet “patient” of mine. That’s what love is. Though this season of life has been a bit trying, it’s shown me just how much I treasure my family. Now that my mama is beginning to recover, we are so joyful. We laugh at her punk-rock haircut (half shaved, exposing a rather gnarly horseshoe-shaped incision). We joke about her fifteen prescription bottles. And, most of all, we talk with new urgency about what changes we want make in our lives and how we will more actively pursue our passions. Brain surgery has been a wakeup call for our entire family. Cherish your family, cherish your health.
2. Buy the plane ticket. Take the long drive.
Part of having a non-linear college path means that my closest friends are dotted all across the country. As someone who tends to have fewer but closer friends, I’ve realized the importance of having highly intentional friendships. For me, this has meant saving my money for train tickets, or spending long, percolated hours in the thick of Los Angeles traffic—doing whatever I have to do just to get there and be with people that I love. My “love language” also happens to be quality time, so I’ve found it incredibly fulfilling to be able to see faraway friends and spend the weekend or even just the afternoon together. This intentionality in friendships has also meant more emails, text messages, and written letters exchanged (with emphasis on the latter... I love writing and receiving letters in the mail).
3. Savor the little things.
Everyone goes through a period of inevitable drought, when the finances are tight, morale is low, and things feel hopeless or just monotonous. In such times, savor the small moments—the golden retriever napping next to you, a catch-up phone call with a friend, a steaming mug of something delicious paired with a well-loved book. This year, I’ve had to rely on God more than ever, and I know that he’s blessed me with an abundance of beautiful moments in return. The little things have kept me feeling joyful, blessed, and grateful for each day.
4. Forge ahead, even if you can't see (literally).
With my sprained neck in November came an influx of vision disturbances—a catalyst for several MRIs, neurology appointments, ophthalmology appointments, and blood work (my family has gotten quite comfortable at the doctor's office this year!). At first it felt like life was on pause as I was waiting to heal. But my normal vision didn't return, or at least not yet, so I’ve had to learn how to adjust and forge ahead. And the crazy thing is that forging ahead has made me feel more normal; some of my symptoms have become mere annoyances that I can forget about. Although I have to take extra good care of myself, I’ve actually found more relief from pushing myself to do more, even when I don’t feel like it. Every day is much too precious to be wasted (I think that’s been one of the overarching themes of the year).
5. Let yourself dream.
As much as I advocate living in the present moment, I’ve recently found a lot of joy in letting myself just dream—of being completely impractical and getting lost in daydreams about the future. And I’ve found that it’s maybe not so frivolous after all; dreaming helps me better understand where my heart is without that pesky practicality getting the way. I dream about being an author (...without thinking about the unstable paycheck). I dream about my future vegetable garden and neighborhood and family, of the books I’ll write and the people I’ll meet. I also like to dream about the future that’s right around the corner: 2016. How will Friday, January 1st look different from today? What can I do to actively make 2016 excellent? What does this fresh, new year have in store? 2015 was a humbling year with some jagged edges, but it also was a year of wonder. I am wonderstruck at how everything—the good and the bad—worked together seamlessly in 2015. Looking back, I see God’s hand in every single moment, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store next. After all, "we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).
Happy New Year, friends!
This past year marked my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. In light of this, my older brother, Kyle, and I reflected upon the life lessons our parents have instilled in us over the years. Without getting too nostalgic or saccharine, here is an A-Z list of some of our favorites.
A: Allow for U-turns.
Plans change and interests shift. Be compassionate toward yourself and change direction if need be. High school, college, jobs—these are all evolutionary experiences, and adjustments are sometimes necessary.
B: Be a Good Samaritan.
Be kindhearted, and go out of your way to help others. Do things that make Jesus smile.
C: Character over comfort.
I can't emphasize enough how many times I've heard this phrase. My parents were all about pushing us to do the right thing, do the hard thing, do the uncomfortable thing on our own so that we could learn (rather than them rushing to our aid and fixing all of our problems for us).
D: Doing what's right is probably not the same thing as doing what's popular.
I am such an unabashed rule-follower. Although rules can feel superfluous at times, they usually exist for a reason. And even though blatant defiance is "cool," it's usually not right (unless it is—use your best judgment).
E: Eat your veggies.
...and your fruit! Especially if it comes from the garden.
F: Follow your passions.
During her first year in a biochemistry Ph.D. program, my mom realized that although she liked science, she didn't love it. Prior to college, her parents told her she could only pursue math or science, even though her real passion was writing. So when I wanted to change majors (and then change schools), she was nothing but supportive.
G: Gossip is destructive.
Stick up for others, change the subject, and walk away if need be. Gossip isn't worth the repercussions.
H: Hold others to a high standard.
Sometimes my brother and I can take this to extremes, but for good reason. Build a community of accountability. Hold yourself to a high standard, humbly accepting critiques on your poor judgment and actions, and do the same for those around you. Push one another to be better.
I: Intentionality makes for strong relationships.
Back your words and actions in careful thought and lots of love, and watch your relationships grow deeper and stronger.
J: Jump on opportunities.
Admittedly, my brother is much better at this than I am (I am much more cautious, which comes with the territory of being an introvert). But when I voiced interest in transferring high schools to the brand new one, trying out for varsity cheerleading, going to college out of state (and subsequently transferring to a college in state), my parents encouraged me to try new things and say "yes."
K: Keep your standards high.
Don't settle—in friendships, academics, jobs, and certainly don't settle in romantic relationships. Keep heart, and keep your standards high.
L: Look for the intention behind words and actions.
Thinking about why people behaved the way they did makes for increased empathy and understanding. Did they have good intentions but bad execution?
M: Make it a great day.
My dad would always say this when he dropped me off for school (that one glorious year in elementary school that I didn't take the school bus). Make it a great day. Actively make your day excellent, rather than passively letting the day happen to you.
N: No TV on weekdays
I was rather unpopular for this in middle school and high school, as I was that one "weird kid" who wasn't up-to-speed on Pretty Little Liars or what have you. My brother and I weren't allowed to watch TV during the school week, which encouraged us to spend our time outside, in the pool, or with our nose in a book. And although I could watch TV on the weekends, I still wasn't up-to-speed on the trendy television shows—I opted for Scooby Doo, Phineas and Ferb, and Lizzie McGuire reruns.
O: Offer kindness.
Be kind, be kind, be kind. It's so simple.
P: Pray unceasingly.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Q: Question your motivations.
My brother and I have always been encouraged to be introspective about our motivations. Why did I want to take singing lessons in the seventh grade? Because I loved to sing? Or because I wanted to be Hannah Montana? (It was, undoubtedly, the latter, and the dream didn't last very long.) I ask myself the same questions now. Why do I want to post Picture A on social media? Because I genuinely want to share it with my friends or because I'm searching for attention? Be honest with yourself about your underlying motivations.
R: Remember birthdays.
Send a card. Send a text. One minute of effort can brighten someone's entire day.
S: Send thank you notes.
This was such a strictly enforced rule in our household that it eventually became second nature to me and my brother. I know that I feel warm and fuzzy inside when someone sends me a thank you note, so I want to extend my gratitude to others.
T: The clock keeps ticking.
I hated my first "real" summer job—working retail at a beachside surf shop. The hours were long, the breaks were short, and the tourists were both plentiful and generally unpleasant. Although I felt lucky to have a job at all, I dreaded going to work every day. My mom reminded me that whether I'm having fun or not, the clock keeps ticking. Even if I was having a lousy time, I could trust that the seconds were still ticking by, one step closer to closing time.
U: Understand the opposing point of view.
Be it small disagreements, political debates, or the world religions, understanding the other side is extremely valuable. While this understanding may help you better argue your case, it can also deepen your feelings of empathy toward the other person/party.
V: Verbalize (“use your words”).
I was, admittedly, a bit of a quiet pouter when I was little. Instead of sticking out my lower lip and sulking, I was encouraged to "use my words" and verbalize what, exactly, was upsetting me. As an INFJ and an HSP, I tend to feel and think deeply and internalize those thoughts and feelings, so the reminder to use my words is still significant.
W: Wear sunscreen.
Growing up in a family of swimmers (sans my dad), slathering up in orange-scented sunscreen was part of the daily regimen (and for good reason: skin cancer runs in the family).
X: Extend compassion.
Push yourself to extend compassion even when it takes a great deal of concentrated effort. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, "it is easy to be heavy, hard to be light." (Can you tell that empathy, compassion, and kindness were the major themes of our childhood lessons?)
Y: Your sibling is your greatest supporter
...and competitor. :-)
Z: (Get your) Zzzzzs!.
Early to bed, early to rise. As you can see in the photo below, we have always taken our naps very seriously (I was three; Kyle was seven).
Hello friends! I spent this past weekend in San Francisco, so I took the opportunity to film another little lighthearted video.
I seem to be on a sort of video kick as of late! As with the last video, I used a Canon Rebel T2i camera with a 50mm lens, and I edited the footage in Final Cut Pro. I'm still just starting out with cinematography, but I feel like the practice is already paying off in subtle ways (i.e., I actually understand some of the buttons...). Enjoy!
"The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk" (Cain).
In part one of this small series on introversion, I explored the extrovert ideal that is engrained in American culture, and I shared my experiences of “faking” extroversion as a sort of survival mechanism in the high school halls. I have, since high school and early college, embraced my own introverted tendency, delighting in it, rather than fighting it. This post is about solitude, meant for likeminded introverts or curious extroverts who have an introverted friend or family member (half of my family is of the ultra-extroverted, hyper-gregarious sort; I do hope they’re reading).
I must preface this discussion with a few things: firstly, I am not a scientist, I am not a psychologist, I am not a doctor. My credibility lies only in my experience of being a highly introverted person with highly extroverted friends and family members, as well as being a decently well-read person. Secondly, I am also an HSP—Highly Sensitive Person—so my introversion is colored by this quality. This means that I have a high sensory processing sensitivity; HSPs are hyperaware of subtle changes in environment, process sensory input on a deep and thorough level, and, consequently, are easily overaroused by sensory stimulus that the majority of people aren’t bothered by (or don’t even notice). It is, essentially, a biological difference in the nervous system. About 15% of people are Highly Sensitive, and it’s also important to note that not all introverts are HSPs, and not all HSPs are introverts (if you are interested in learning more about this, The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron is a great read, as is The Highly Sensitive Child, if you have children). All disclaimers aside, let’s continue our look at introversion and solitude.
The life of an introvert is the life of the mind—rich, quiet, imaginative, thoughtful, and internally focused. The life of the extrovert, by contrast, is the life of the party—lively, vivacious, highly social, and externally driven.
The extrovert feels energized and inspired by networking events, endless chatter, and parties bursting at the seams with friends, acquaintances, and strangers (the latter, of course, are not really strangers by the extrovert’s standard—a stranger is a friend that is yet to be met). But introverts leave these experiences feeling depleted; in these situations, introverts spend their energy, and extroverts gain it. The common misconception? Introverts are antisocial. The reality: introverts do enjoy being with others, nurturing deep relationships, engaging in meaningful conversation (with a general abhorrence of small talk), and cultivating community. When I attend (read: get dragged along to) my dad’s entrepreneur networking events, his goal is to talk to as many people as possible, bounding around, making new connections and having a grand old time. My goal? Find one really nice person to talk to (and maybe find some snacks) and eventually retire to a quiet corner of the room to recharge and reflect.
A highly simplistic comparison of introversion versus extroversion from my non-scientific and experience-driven perspective is as follows: while the (college-aged) extrovert opts for weekend-long music festivals, theme parks, and standing at the fifty-yard line at college football games, the introvert seeks solitude, preferring quiet mornings at the beach, unhurried hikes (picnic lunch included), and wandering through bookshops. The introvert sees the extrovert’s activities of choice as exhausting, overly stimulating, and just plain noisy. The extrovert sees the introvert’s activities of choice as quiet, overly tame, and painfully boring. This is simplistic, as some people may enjoy activities from both categories, but the example is still helpful in painting the contrast.
To put this into a work-related context, “introverts enjoy shutting the doors to their offices and plunging into their work, because for them this sort of quiet intellectual activity is optimally stimulating, while extroverts function best when engaged in higher-wattage activities like organizing team-building workshops or chairing meetings” (Cain).
Cain uses Stephen Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, as the creative, introverted paradigm:
I love Cain’s discussion on Wozniak, because it highlights the importance of solitude as a catalyst for creativity (and I'm also an Apple fan). Woz himself encourages people to “work alone”—in his experience as an engineer, innovative breakthroughs are the product of quiet, solitary, intense focus, rather than of group brainstorming sessions and team meetings (Cain’s book also provides an excellent dialogue on how working in a group might not be as beneficial and efficient as schools and workplaces make it seem—perhaps more on that another time).
Cain's more unlikely example of this creative, solitude-seeking introvert? Dr. Seuss.
I was drawn to the Dr. Seuss example, because his cheerful, bouncing rhymes and brightly colored illustrations seem to radiate an equally unreserved, quirky, splashy, bouncy sort of extroversion (Tigger from A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh comes to mind). This contrast between Geisel's temperament and his books' content emphasizes the rich, imaginative inner life of the introvert. It also reaffirms that introverts need to seek time alone to recharge, reflect, and create; Geisel's creativity was nurtured not by rambunctious meet-and-greets with his readership, but by the peace and quiet of his own home. (I'm sure his unobstructed ocean view was also helpful. I have kayaked past his house before, and it's stunning—if you ever find yourself on a kayak in La Jolla, California, I recommend paddling out near the cliffs and caves to see it from the water.)
Extending the example of the introverted writer, Cain says, “...it’s always been private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrows of the world, often in the form of communion with writers...[that] I’ll never meet in person. Proust called these moments of unity between writer and reader ‘that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.’ His use of religious language was surely no accident.” Besides their wisdom and creativity, Geisel and Wozniak are bound by their common introversion and the brilliant work that unfolded out of solitude. The mind of an introvert is intellectually fertile—both a sanctuary and a stimulus—and can produce great things if given quiet, even in a world that can’t stop talking.
Joyfully (and quietly),
1. Finals are [finally] over:
After taking six finals (six finals...21 units was rough this semester), I am relieved to be free of the burden that is finals week. I don’t mind school (okay... I actually love school), but I do suffer from mild bouts of test anxiety and a (not-so-mild) case of perfectionism, making for a stressful testing situation. Of course, most of the relief comes when the grades are finally in the books and submitted, but being able to have free time now is exhilarating. I love waking up in the morning and thinking, “So Rachel, what shall we do today? Surfing? Baking? Peruse cute neighborhoods? Take a road trip?"
2. The weather turns drippy and cold:
Living on the California coast means that we have a 0% chance of snow (unlike the many ice and snow storms I got caught in when I went to school in Texas). Despite the snowless forecast, I love winter on the coast because the sky turns grey, and the weather gets “cold” (think mid 50s-60s) and rainy—perfect for curling up by the fireplace with an old Nancy Drew book and a mug of decaf.
3. Decorating the house:
I love nesting—carving out my own little niche wherever I am. I’ve moved several times over the last few years, which has helped me fine tune this nesting habit. One of the sweet parts about the Christmas season is getting to unload the (several) dozen plastic boxes from the attic or garage, as I put those skills to use and transform the home. With warm, rich tones and soft fabrics, the house becomes cozy and inviting during December.
4. Wrapping gifts:
As a creative little soul, I am always searching for projects (today I painted black chalkboard paint on a wood slab...). And though gifts are absolutely not the foundation of the Christmas season, I love being tasked with wrapping. Patterned paper, endless supplies of pens, ribbons, and tags... drool. I think I’ve asked my mom every day for the past two weeks if she needs anything wrapped. ("Brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favorite things...") My fondness for detail means that all of the gifts match, ornamented with sprigs of pine needles or tied up neatly with burlap twine. So satisfying.
5. Christmas music (on repeat):
I’m one of those people that listens to Christmas music all year long. I definitely have a lot of friends that are opposed to this, but from my layman’s perspective (Polar Express reference), celebrating Christ’s birth through song should happen all year. I love sitting down to the piano or grabbing my guitar and pouring my heart into Little Drummer Boy or The First Noel. Christmas music is classic and pure; the soft sounds of Sally Harmon's Cozy Christmas instantly warm my heart and the home.
6. Light, light, light:
I’m scared of the dark (admittedly). But falling asleep to the subtle twinkling of the neighbor’s Christmas lights or going down for a snack at night and being greeted by the glittering Christmas tree is incredibly soothing.
7. Christmas newsletters:
My family sends one out every year; each person in the family writes a few sentences about what’s been going on in their life the past year, and we slap it all together on cute paper and add a letterpress Christmas card. It’s so neat to get Christmas newsletters in the mail from friends and family both near and far. Since I have moved so much (and I don’t have a Facebook), it’s a little harder to keep up with past neighbors, elementary school friends, old sports coaches, etc. But the sweet thing about a newsletter is the small, albeit significant, effort to stay connected at least once a year—to share the joys and triumphs and delight in friendship.
8. Advent calendars:
A piece of chocolate every day keeps the sadness away.
9. [Old] Christmas movies:
I don’t really like movies... my inattentive ADHD + highly sensitive soul + hatred of any sort of conflict (even just in a movie plot) means that movies are not my favorite thing, but my favorite movies happen to be Christmas ones (and are played all month on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas). My all-time favorite is Eloise at Christmastime—Julie Andrews, Gavin Creel (I would quite like to marry his character, Bill), Christine Baranski (Martha May Whovier in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Cinderella’s stepmother in Into the Woods, Tanya in Mamma Mia, etc.), and Sofia Vassilieva make for an incredible cast. Also, one of the main character’s names is Rachel, which makes me very, very happy. Did I mention the movie is set in the 50s? Swoon.
10. Quiet time:
Because of item one—no more finals—I finally have time for quiet, soul-nourishing, time-consuming activities like puzzles and baking and painting. Happy heart.
11. Christmas Eve Festivities:
My family is Norwegian, so our Christmas celebration is a little different than that of other American families. As is tradition, after church we eat dinner (tacos... not sure where that came from) then open all of our presents under the tree—Christmas Eve is our “main” Christmas celebration. On Christmas day we open our stockings, have brunch with family, and spend the rest of the day together (usually in pajamas). One of the things I love about the holiday season is that it makes me feel connected to my past; by upholding our Norwegian traditions generations after my great-great-grandparents immigrated from Norway (and great-grandparents from Italy), I’m reminded of where I came from. (Fun fact: On the Italian side of the family, my great-grandfather never even learned how to read and write in English! E' pazzesco... that's crazy!)
The alpha, omega, beginning, and end, He very well could have been numbers 1-12 on this list. Christmas has become increasingly commercialized—Santa Claus and his elves, though a lovely symbol of generosity and love, have overpowered the Christmas season, shrouding the real reason we celebrate. I was shocked the other day whilst watching the old Lizzie McGuire episode where Lizzie is building her Christmas float. She forgets what Christmas is all about, and her brother Matt quotes the book of Luke (as does Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas Movie). I was surprised in the best way that the gospel was on Disney Channel, even though the episode was also laden with images of Santa Claus (played by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, no less). The sad part, though, is that I don’t think that would happen on any mainstream TV show in 2014. But I hope, hope, hope it will. Christ our Lord is the reason for the season.
“ ...And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
If months were our children, and playing favorites was shameful, I would still unabashedly choose December. Spilling with joy, warmth, and little cold-nipped noses, December fosters a special sense of togetherness, genuine love, and benefic interaction. She graces us with her tender charm, lacing the world in a thick, white blanket. Her song is a symphony—she alone is a simultaneous consonance of winter carols, swirling wind, and hearty laughter by the fireplace. Her eyes are twinkling Northern Stars, and her lips are frosted with tiny flakes of snow. Deep-set laugh lines frame her kind complexion—though eternally youthful, she is well versed in tradition. She wades through the world each year—through mangers in stables and teetering trees in campus commons. She’s ethereal and wonderful and gentle. December is a perfect way to end the year—we soak up the blessings, hug tightly, and laugh freely. Then, quietly, softly, gently, we shut the door to the year, allowing December to sleep peacefully behind us. In her place comes January, gifting us with fresh chances and renewed hope.
For all of the reasons that I love December, I adore January for just the opposite. January is a balls-to-walls (origin of the phrase is benign, see here), “out there” kind of gal, absolutely itching to shake the world. She wants change. She craves it.
I love her for her wild spirit. Tangled hair blowing in sea-salty air and a mouth wide-open and smiling, she swallows up life in big, happy gulps. Her zeal is contagious. Her eyes sparkle with confidence, and her mind brims with innovation, creativity, and brilliant new ideas. Life is her canvas, her imagination the paints. Her ideas splash and dance all over the world. She touches people’s hearts and blesses their souls. She prays with grandmothers on the subway, and gives pennies to the little wishful girls with their patent shoes and pink dresses. January dives into academia, swimming through textbooks and literature, as she drenches her mind in the intellect of others and consequently nurtures her own. She likes to keep her pencils sharpened.
Her body is her temple, and is mindful of what she feeds it—wholesome, nourishing food for kick-butt, save-the-world kind of energy. She has big plans. As soon as she awakes in the morning, she thrusts open the curtains, saturating the room with golden sunlight. She lives for the light. She spreads the light. She is a light. Stretching her limbs and naked toes, and basking in the warmth of the sun, she smiles. From under her pillow she pulls out a small notebook and turns the page, synchronously delighting in the crinkly sound of the paper.
“To Do Today,” she inks on the top of the page, with loopy O’s and crossed T’s.
“One - Learn calligraphy.”
She stares up at the ceiling, lost in visions of dipping pens and crimson inkbottles.
“Two – Buy tulips.”
“Three – Polish my Italian compliments.”
She temporarily caps the pen, thinking of cobblestone streets and the charming men selling tomatoes on the corner. “Buongiorno Principessa,” they coo, gifting her with snappy asparagus stalks and richly hued bottles of wine. She would blush a little and glance at her toes, secretly delighting in being Italy’s own little princess.
“Four – Stich together words. Write a book. Find a publisher.”
“Five – Entertain the art of conversation.”
She caps the pen again.
That’s good for today.
I’ve always been active. Growing up in such a sports-worshiping, nature-loving, outdoor-obsessed family, there was no way I could escape it. Throughout my schooling years, I was “lucky” enough to take part in over ten different sports, whether dedicated club teams, summer-long clinics, or weekly classes. Even then, I was always the odd one in my family. My brother is a swimmer in college. My dad runs marathons. My mom was a college water polo player and is now a masters swimmer and a self-proclaimed hiking enthusiast. Then there’s me: cheerleader; dancer (hip hop and Irish); swimmer; cross country and 5k runner; lacrosse, water polo, soccer, basketball, volleyball and softball player; and even synchronized swimmer. That was the difference—I never had a single, constant identity that defined the rest of the members in my family.
And then there was that other weird thing about me—an aspect called creativity. The concept of creativity was understood by my biochemist mother, computer engineer father, and my brother, who now majors in business and finance, but often my ideas were a little too innovative. I was the weird child who wanted to dress up and run around, pretending to be an undiscovered animal in an uncharted land. For example, one day at the ripe age of three, I had an imagination breakthrough while sifting through my dress-up bureau. I quickly donned the clothing I needed for my big announcement and galloped downstairs. “Mom? Dad? Kyle?” I called. I waited till I got their complete attention before continuing. This was a crucial announcement. “I am the separator.” I shook the stacks of bracelets on my arm for dramatic effect. My parents, kind as they were, held back their laughter and simply smiled, while my brother just kind of looked at me strangely. I didn’t know why they didn’t understand. I would have to explain. “I give candy to the bad people to make them good.” And that was that. Following my rather concise explanation, I proceeded to flounce back upstairs to my bedroom, which I decided would be a magical land for the day.
That was the epitome of my childhood. I was imaginative beyond comprehension, and I was a dabbler in numerous sports. Perhaps I was just searching for myself. Perhaps that was (and is) my identity. Not a single word can describe me, but more of a concept—variety.