November Goals Wrap-Up

It’s hard to believe November is already over (though I definitely say that at the end of every month). Sadly, I did not do as well on this month’s goals as I should have.

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1. Clean my house thoroughly, one room at a time.

Trying to complete this goal this month has made me realize that cleaning my house is an ongoing, never-ending project. Between cat hair/sand/residue from the cat tower, loose papers, shoes, stuff that used to live in the car we donated in September, and random tech equipment, it may be that our house will never truly be clean. I may need to rethink this goal and break it down into more manageable chunks in the future.

2. Get cast from one of my auditions this month.

Of the three shows I’ve auditioned for thus far this season, I’ve gotten rejected from all three. Ugh. I have an audition tonight and another one next Saturday, one of which will hopefully be fruitful.

3. Save another $300.

I’m happy to say I have rocked this goal and even exceeded it! It helps to be getting an additional paycheck every two weeks now that I’m conducting our church choir (more on that some other time).

4. Finish learning music for Don Giovanni.

Nope. Not even close. Moving on.

5. Plan a January retreat for my church choir.

It’s in progress. I’m still working on getting a venue, but I’ve definitely informed my choir members about it and I’m making sure it gets on their calendars. Once Christmas is over, I’ll get to do a lot more detailed planning, which will be fun.

How did you do on your November goals? Better than me, I hope!

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Giving Thanks(giving)

Well, here we are, Thanksgiving Day. I’ll admit that I have a tendency to view this particular holiday as just a speed bump on the way to Christmas. Sure, the food is good and all, but CHRISTMAS! Starting tomorrow, holiday music will officially be acceptable, as will T’s and my slightly crazed excitement about putting up our stockings and getting a tree.

As much as I can’t wait for this weekend when we can start working on those things, it’s definitely important to recognize what we’re celebrating today. Many of us are enjoying time with our family or closest friends, watching the great American sport of football (go Niners!), sitting down to an elaborate, home-cooked meal, and expressing our gratitude to God for all the blessings we have in our lives. Whether it’s for our loved ones, our health, our homes and jobs, or something else entirely, we can all find something to be thankful for.

During this time of year, it’s also important to remember that there are people in our communities who may not have as much to be thankful for as we do. So many people are struggling with so many different things right now that make the holidays a tough, emotional, bittersweet time for them. We need to find ways to reach out to those people during this season.

Every Thanksgiving season, our youth group does an event called Thanksgiving Baskets, where we put together food “baskets” (actually boxes and grocery bags) for several needy families in our community, then go out and actually deliver them. We’ve been doing this since I was a student in the youth group (and probably before that too), and now T and I participate as leaders. This past Sunday was our annual Thanksgiving Baskets event, and I’m glad to say that we successfully delivered food baskets for thirteen local families.

It’s always a fun event, but also very exhausting. For weeks we’d been collecting donations from our church congregation of dry goods as well as money. On the day of the event, the first step is always to sort the donated goods and figure out what we still need to buy.

Students sorting food.

Students sorting food.

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Tons of canned veggies, and most of them weren't even expired!

Tons of canned veggies, and most of them weren’t even expired!

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T and a student.

T and a student.

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Me and several of my students.

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After the food is sorted, our youth director figures out what we still need to buy, based on the needs of each family we’ll be serving. Then he comes back with a big shopping list, divided into several groups by leader. This leads to what is usually the most fun part of the day: walking across the street to Safeway as a big group, dividing up, and taking over the store as we empty out shelves of flour, sugar, milk, yogurt, cheese, bananas, lettuce, frozen turkeys, and anything else that we didn’t get donated to us. The students always love the looks they get from regular Safeway customers as we take over an entire checkout aisle and rack up over $1,000 worth of food (in many smaller transactions, to circumvent the director’s credit card limits).

So many turkeys!

So many turkeys!

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Part of my team's haul: yogurt and mini marshmallows. Not pictured: sacks of potatoes and blocks of cheese.

Part of my team’s haul: yogurt and mini marshmallows. Not pictured: sacks of potatoes and blocks of cheese.

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The director and cashier deep in action.

The director and cashier deep in action.

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Once we get back to church with a van full of food, we have to unload and re-sort everything before we can begin packing the baskets. Each anonymous family has a list of items and quantities, and the leaders and students pair up to work on packing the boxes and bags. Once all the food has been packed, we divide up into cars and head out to deliver the baskets.

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Let the packing begin! Students hard at work.

Let the packing begin! Students hard at work.

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All packed up and ready to go!

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It’s amazing to see our students hard at work serving the families of our community. I’m always so proud of what they accomplish at Thanksgiving Baskets and how they touch people’s lives through their giving hearts. We always pray that the people we serve will understand the love of Christ a little better because of these teenagers and their love for him and for his ministry on earth.

Five Secrets for Rocking Public Transportation Anywhere in the World

I’ll just be real for a second: I’m the master of public transit. I’m honestly not sure where, when, or how I gained my ridiculous skills for navigating a transit system, since my hometown is far from a model city in that particular aspect. But regardless, I’ve always been very confident in my ability to get myself around on public transportation, even in countries where I don’t speak the language. This year alone I successfully directed myself and various friends around Rio de Janeiro, London (and outside), Paris, and eastern Germany, and only one of those systems was actually in a language I speak fluently.

The Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Erfurt, Germany.

The Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Erfurt, Germany.

So what are my secrets for successfully finding my way around foreign cities?

  1. Do your homework. Before you venture off into the unknown, take a little time to prepare. First, figure out the best way to get to the exact place you want to go, then backtrack to find each step of transportation. Look up the bus schedule online beforehand and note times, bus numbers, and directions. Download an app with an offline map of the subway system (here’s the one I used for the London tube system, and the comparable one for the Paris metro). Know which color line you’ll be taking. Figure out where you will need to transfer from a train to a bus or vice versa. And most importantly, write it all down if you don’t trust yourself to remember every step.
  2. Have the right type of currency. I don’t just mean the correct kind of money for whatever country you’re in––that’s a given. If the bus requires exact change, make sure you’re prepared for that. If there’s a chance that the ticket machines in the subway station only take cash, get some in advance. Being ready with the right payment method will help you blend in like a local.
  3. Understand the cardinal directions. Or at least know what major landmarks, stations, or cities are in the same direction as wherever you’re going. Your particular stop may be too small to show up on a train station marquee, but if you know which direction you should be traveling, it will save you a lot of headache.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes your common sense and preparation will fail, or you will need to buy a train ticket at a foreign airport right after you land, or your language skills will be shaky. It’s helpful to learn how to say phrases like, “I am learning [local language],” or “My [language] is not very good, do you speak English?” Those sentences have earned me a lot of sympathetic smiles from locals, followed by much more assistance than I would otherwise have gotten. There’s no shame in asking which platform your train is on or whether the bus makes a particular stop. It’s better to ask than to end up somewhere you didn’t want to go.
  5. Act like a local. If everyone walks fast, try to keep up with their pace. If people are standing on the right of an escalator and walking on the left, do the same. Pronounce places, stops, and stations with as correct of an accent as you can manage. Keep your eyes up and look confident, like you do this every day. The more you pretend you know exactly what you’re doing, the easier it will be.

By relying on these things, I’ve grown to be quite confident in my ability to find my way around unfamiliar cities and countries, even without ever having been to them before or speaking the language. Public transit is nothing to be afraid of, it just requires a little bit of advance effort. May your next travel adventure be that much less stressful because of it!

Orange is the New Black

While I was in Germany this summer, T started watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, but abandoned it after a few episodes because he kept thinking, in his words, “My wife is GONE! She’s in JAIL for a whole YEAR and I’m never going to see her again!”

Obviously neither of those things was true, but it did spark my curiosity about the show. When I stumbled upon the book at Barnes and Noble on my lunch break one day, I couldn’t resist picking it up.

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It took me about three pages before I was completely hooked. From the very beginning, Kerman’s writing is simple and honest, thoroughly descriptive but not flowery. It’s easy to see where she is coming from––she’s young, experiencing true adult freedom for the first time, and she wants an adventure. Unfortunately, that adventure ends up involving a drug ring, and even though Kerman eventually escapes, she is busted several years later and finds herself spending a year as an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Connecticut.

Orange is the New Black offers a rare look inside the U.S. prison system. Kerman describes the stresses, restrictions, and sometimes even horrors of prison, things that she acknowledges most Americans are very curious about. She writes about inadequate physical facilities, lack of any sort of training programs to prepare inmates for their future in the outside world, and verbal abuse by prison staff. At the same time, she expresses deep care and gratitude for the women who were her fellow inmates, and I got the sense that she really wants to communicate to the reader that prisoners are human beings too, no matter what they have done in the past. The end of the book has a somewhat surprising twist, but I won’t spoil it for you.

After I finished the book, I read several negative reviews on Goodreads arguing that Kerman and her cast of real-but-protected characters weren’t believable, that she was a snotty white girl with entitlement issues, and that the story was too much of a narrative. I have a hard time taking those comments seriously, since a) everyone in the book was in fact a real person, even though she (understandably) wanted to protect them, b) Kerman does recognize that she had a much easier prison experience than most of her friends, and c) the story, by definition, is a narrative.

Obviously everyone can form their own opinions, so I highly suggest you read the book for yourself. Personally, I can’t wait to start watching the show!

November Goals: Mid-Month Check-In

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not doing as well on my November goals as I did last month.

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1. Clean my house thoroughly, one room at a time.

I don’t know about “thoroughly” or “one room at a time,” but I’ve done a fair amount of cleaning. I put away the giant portable air conditioning unit that was taking up half our dining room, cleaned up our bedroom closet a little, and done a few other small projects as well. By the end of the month, I hope to have cleaned OUT the bedroom closet as well as the linen closet in the bathroom, and I want to clean out the pantry and the fridge as well.

2. Get cast from one of my auditions this month.

I already know I definitely did not get cast in one of the five, so now we’re down to four. However, I haven’t even auditioned for three of them yet, so there’s that.

3. Save another $300.

I’m right on track! $150 down, another $150 to go.

4. Finish learning music for Don Giovanni.

Ha! It’s funny that I thought this would happen. I’ve started working on the Act 1 finale, but there’s just so much other stuff to do instead, like spend evenings and weekends watching Friday Night Lights.

 5. Plan a January retreat for my church choir.

I have started working on this, if minimally. The ball isn’t really in my court at the moment, as I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of different churches to see if we can use their facilities.

How are your goals going this month?

Currently…

Sometimes your blog just has an uninspiring couple of weeks.

T understands and supports my struggles.

T understands and supports my struggle.

That’s my life right now. When you get into a routine, it can be easy to miss the unique little moments in each day that are worth taking note of and holding onto. That’s not to say that nothing good is happening… in fact, quite the opposite. For the most part, I’m quite content with how life has been rolling along lately, and I’m really looking forward to the upcoming holiday season and spending tons of quality time with my family and friends.

Here’s what has been occupying my time lately, and the things that are receiving my mental energy.

  • Reading: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. Did you guys know this was a book before it was a Netflix original series? I didn’t until I was browsing Barnes & Noble one day on my lunch break and came across it. I was a little hesitant to dive in, but I’m enjoying it so much that I’m already almost done with it. Her writing is so straightforward and honest, and she’s very candid about the emotional facets of her prison experience. I’ll be posting a review as soon as I’m done, which will probably be by this weekend. It’s that good!
  • Binge watching: Friday Night Lights. Holy cow, people. T and I are fully aware that we are super late to the party on this one, since our friends have been telling us about it forever, but we started watching it last weekend, and by the end of the pilot episode we were absolutely, 100% sucked in. I think we probably spent 8 hours on Saturday on it, and when we weren’t watching, we were thinking about it. Neither of us can get it out of our heads.
  • Planning: My church choir’s Christmas extravaganza. We’ve done Christmas concerts of varying sizes and difficulty levels since I was a kid (under the direction of my dad for many years), but this is the first time I’ve been fully in charge of it. It’s a little nerve-wracking, especially since I will be conducting an orchestra as well as the choir, and that involves a whole extra level or three of preparation. There’s a lot that goes into this, including preparing the choir during our weekly rehearsals, hiring orchestra members (thankfully my mom is a fantastic orchestra manager), prepping and distributing their music, making sure I’m completely familiar and comfortable with the score, rewriting the narration for our speakers, arranging the logistics and movement of people throughout the program, and more. The performance is on December 14th and I’m anxiously counting down the days (exactly 31 to go).
  • Looking Forward To: Taking the train up to Sacramento at the end of next week to join T at a conference… which really means he’ll be going to seminars while I go to coffee with a couple of friends and get in some snuggle time with our baby nephew. We may or may not also drive around and window-shop houses for sale.
  • Buying: Christmas presents! I’ve already bought a few things for T, my mom, and my brother, and I’m marinating some ideas for my dad and T’s parents. I love coming up with the perfect gifts for people.

What have you been up to lately?

10 Surprising Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

1. T’s nickname for me is Toots. He’s been calling me that since we were in college. It doesn’t rhyme with Boots, which incidentally is my nickname for him.

Classic T&B on our wedding day.

Classic T&B on our wedding day.

2. My drink of choice at Starbucks is a grande soy chai latte.

3. My biggest pet peeves are sitting in traffic and when someone says that being around someone else’s baby is “good birth control.” Ugh.

4. I am probably overly emotionally attached to the Harry Potter series.

What a fun experience!

Visiting the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studios by myself while in England in May.

5. In college I sang alto in choir and was on the verge of becoming a mezzo, until I graduated, moved home, and started with a new teacher who set me straight. Turns out I have notes above the staff.

6. The center diamond in my engagement ring is actually from my mom’s engagement ring. She got it removed and gave it to T while we were dating.

7. I still cry when I have to get shots.

8. I find doing laundry to be mildly enjoyable. It’s warm and smells so good when it’s done!

Clean laundry, not so clean anymore.

Nora appreciates clean laundry too.

9. My dream role is Christine in Phantom of the Opera.

10. I’ve never been stung by a bee.

What’s a surprising fact about you that most people don’t know?