Saturday, December 14, 2013

Embracing Introversion

I posted earlier this month on Facebook about the liberating realization that I am, in fact, an introvert.  I wanted to expound on that a little, because it has really, really made a difference in the way I see myself.

As a child and teenager, I was a great student, had a few good friends, and generally kept to myself.  I liked writing and reading.  I liked drawing.  I found that I liked singing and acting as well, and I did these things as often as I could, participating in school musicals and choosing chorus as my elective.  I was definitely counted among the “geeks”, as my best friends and I were far more likely to have a Star wars role-playing session than ever get invited to – or accept an invitation to – any party.  I never drank.  Ever.  Never wanted to.  Was never asked out on a date, which wasn’t surprising.  I was not particularly self-confident, nor was I considered popular or particularly pretty at the time (now, apparently geek girls are often treasured and coveted; I guess I was born a decade too early).  College wasn’t that different.  I still didn’t drink, but I did go to some parties with fellow music and theatre majors (frankly, it took quite a lot for me to build up to that point).  I slowly gained a little more confidence as I made my way through college, mostly via successful theatrical performances.
I had always assumed that, because I am comfortable directing, speaking, and performing before a crowd, that I was an introvert.  I’m fairly personable and have always been told by friends and employers that I’m “cheerful”, “energetic”, and “bubbly”.  I assumed that only extroverts possessed those traits and therefore, I certainly was one.  After college, several things changed in my life.  I got serious about my faith – and I lost a lot of weight.  The two together, I think, were a big boost to my self-esteem.  I began to understand that God loved me – really loved me – no matter what.  I also began to like the way I looked because I was taking care of my body.  Although I still dealt, sometimes, with body image issues (and, to be honest, they still creep up every now and then, years later), I was generally a happy person.  I led a Bible study.  I sang on the worship team.  I attended a young adults group at a local church.  I spent time with friends.  I began working with the children and youth in our church.  I liked it.


This past month, like probably thousands of others, I posted daily about things for which I was thankful.  Most days, I had no trouble at all.  I was thankful for a wonderful, loving husband; a great family; a supportive church; a good job; a working vehicle.  Some days, I became more introspective and thoughtful. At one point, I saw something on Pinterest that caught my eye, and decided that I would retake the Briggs-Meyer personality test I’d taken quite some time ago.  My result was INFP – The Dreamer.  (You sci-fi geeks may recognize INFP traits in characters like Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins.  The reluctant hero.  The moral one.  The goodie-goodie. The one plucked from a simple, secluded life and dragged into a world much bigger than himself.)  At once, I felt a rush of relief.
I’m an introvert. 

It turned my world upside-down, in the best possible way.

I used to beat myself up because I never really liked parties.  I thought there was something wrong with me because I generally tried to avoid social situations involving more than maybe four or five other people.  I preferred quiet evenings alone or with my husband to any kind of meet’n’greets or mixer events.  I get tongue-tied around people I greatly admire.  I express myself best through writing.  I generally prefer spending time with friends and family over meeting new people.  I thought I had a social anxiety disorder.  Or maybe a self-esteem problem.  But I don’t. 
I’m this way because I’m an introvert.

My “outgoing” hobbies of performance and public speaking are not limited to extroverts alone.  That would be like saying that extroverts are never good writers or never think philosophically.  I didn’t realize that at first.   I used to wonder what was wrong with me because I was great in front of a crowd, but hating being in a crowd.  I wondered if I was somehow less of a person because I needed more “recharge” time than others.
Nothing is wrong with me.  I’m an introvert.

It doesn’t mean I’m not sassy.  It doesn’t mean I’m not passionate and vocal about a lot of things.  It doesn’t mean I’m a pushover.  It doesn’t mean that I’m afraid of people, or that I hate them.  It also doesn’t mean that I hate myself.  I had a fairly high extrovert quotient, too, which I cannot deny.  But it was such a relief to realize that I’m not a failure as a human being.  Granted, having the “diagnosis” of introversion doesn’t allow me to shun social responsibilities.  I still have to do things I’m not terribly fond of.  I have to leave my house, when I’d rather finish reading a novel, curled up with my cats.  I have to talk to people sometimes, instead of, well…talking to my cats.
I don’t want it to sound as though I’m agoraphobic, or that I’m petrified to show my face in public, or that I hold other  people in disdain.  That’s not the case at all.  I love spending time with friends, and I do like people.  I just handle them best – and I’m at my best – in small doses. 

That revelation – and the acceptance of it - has made such a difference in the way I see myself.  Now, I’m not all about personality tests defining who we are.  We can make the mistake of applying the results to ourselves like labels with permanent adhesive, never allowing ourselves to move beyond a certain type or identity.  That’s not a good thing.  Personality-type tests should be a starting point, or for entertainment  – not a final verdict.  For me, it was a refreshing realization that there isn’t anything wrong with me. 
Although maybe I should hold off on collecting any more cats for the time being.
Or maybe just ask Santa for a self-cleaning litter box.  So I can get more cats.

Dear Santa...

I suppose, during a season which has sadly become a paean to commercialization, greediness and our general inability to appreciate what we have, it’s a good time to post my Christmas wish list. I admit, maybe it’s a teensy bit snarky.  But, the good news is, nothing costs a cent!  Will Santa deliver?  I’ll be listening for those tap-tapping reindeer hooves on my roof…
Dear Santa Claus,

I know it’s been a while since we’ve talked, but surely you can understand that I’ve been working full-time for years now, and volunteering and other things, so, well, my holidays have been busy.  I thought maybe I’d take it easy on you this year, seeing as how I’m getting back into this whole “wish list” thing.  Your elves can take their union break, because all I want is…

1.      For drivers to use their headlights when it’s dark out.  You, of all people, Santa, understand how incredibly important this is.  I’m sure you have annual inspections done on Rudolph’s nose just to make sure there are no loose wires.  You seem to take flying very seriously, and I’m certain that safety is vital to your success.   I’m hoping that those of us who don’t fly sleds can perhaps begin to follow your example.  And…while you’re at it, Santa, can you please make sure that all those expensive cars, the Jaguars and BMWs and Benzes…please, please make sure that they are being properly equipped with turn signals.  I never see them being used and I’m so afraid these people are spending all this money on these beautiful cars and getting cheated out of the most basic equipment.  It’s a crying shame.

2.      For new parents to stop naming their sons “Brayden”.  Seriously.  I work in a doctors’ office, Santa.  And like every third new baby boy coming in is named Brayden.  Or Braedan.  Or Bradeynn.  You get the idea.  Please, Santa, direct those moms-to-be some good old-fashioned baby name websites for Christmas?

3.      For my old professors to find great new jobs.  Jobs with dignity.  Since you see everything, Santa, you know that many of the administrators at Clarion University has been very, very naughty this year and retrenched a lot of my favorite professors and teachers, claiming that there weren’t enough funds to keep arts education alive.  I know you’d never do that to any of your elves – especially not the extra personable, talented ones who make you look really good.

4.      More of a “Peanuts” Christmas and less of a “Lady Gaga” Christmas.  You know what I’m saying, Santa.  More “we” and less “me” this year. And less nudity, I guess.  That would be cool.  Since even if people don't consider it a religious holiday, it's still supposed to be a family-friendly one, right?  I knew you'd understand.
 Thanks, Santa.  And sorry there won't be any cookies this year.  My oven broke last week.  Can I interest you in a bag of cheese curls and some Mountain Dew instead?  You're the best.
                                                                                                    Love, Becky

Friday, December 6, 2013

November Is the Awesomest Month

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, far more than writing.  Obviously.

I had signed up for this year’s NaNoWriMo and finally hatched what I thought was a great idea, but some (good) life circumstances threw me off track in November and I didn’t get more than about 500 words written.  I’m keeping the idea in mind, though, for a future project.  It’s called “101 Ways to Disappoint Your Mother” and it’s borne, in part, of my experience losing my mother earlier this year – and no, it’s not quite as snarky as it sounds.  It in an exploration of (mostly) female relationships: mothers and daughters, sisters, friends – and how they define women. The story starts with an engagement in post-WWII Alabama, and moves on from there.  I have a great deal to flesh out before I even share a lot more about it, so we’ll leave things at that for now.  Let’s just say that it’s in no way a man-bashing book, nor is it a pair of rose-colored glasses strapped onto a vaguely sappy  memoir.  I’m not all about that!
My birthday was on November 15th.  Early this year, my step-mom shared with me that she was convinced it would be my best birthday ever.  After my mom passed away in February, and Ross struggled to find a better job (while I was still unemployed), that seemed hard to believe.  When Ross’s grandmother died in the summer, it seemed even harder to believe. 
But things started to change.  Actually – things really began to change once we completed the Great Race in September.  It was almost as though we’d accomplished both this huge physical and spiritual event.  Our bodies were aching but we were so incredibly proud that we’d done something that we never thought we could do.  I thought a lot about running as it’s mentioned in the Bible, too.  Paul frequently refers to the Christian life as a race.  It’s all about discipline and endurance.  (If you’re doing it right, anyway!)  Although I didn’t train properly for the Great Race, I had a wonderful first-time experience as a runner and want to continue (once my doctor gives me the okay).  Once we hit that milestone, life started looking up. 

Our Disney vacation soon followed, and I can hardly begin to explain how wonderful it was!  The experience definitely deserves its own post, which I’ll work on soon.  After that, my husband sent me to the Pat Benatar concert on my birthday with one of my best friends, Jaime.  We were pretty much the youngest people there, which I can only guess was quite soothing to Jaime’s “recently thirty” mentality.  Can I just tell you why I have so much respect for Pat Benatar?  First of all, even though her life hasn’t been ideal (she married and divorced quite young), she’s been married to the same man for nearly 30 years.  She has two adult daughters and a healthy relationship with them both.  She’s talented.  She never got into the drugs and alcohol pop star scene.   She’s more than a pair of legs and a voice.  I love that she’s always had a heavy hand in writing her own material.  Her songs are more about female empowerment than about female superiority, which I personally think is awesome.  And she still sounds incredible.  Unlike a lot of pop stars today, Pat Benatar was never really gimmicky.
She sounds great without auto-tuning. 
Ross would have gone with me, but he’d already committed to a men’s weekend (with my blessing) before starting his new job within the company.  He’s still dreaming of his ideal job, and I hardly blame him, but we’re both pleased that he’s now working in Career Services, helping graduates find jobs, rather than trying to remind former and current students that they do, in fact, owe the school money…even if they didn’t complete their schooling.  My poor hubby probably heard the phrase, “What?  I didn’t sign nothing!  I never signed anything!” a dozen times a week a t least.  That can be an incredibly frustrating job, even for a perpetually sunny guy like Ross.  So things are looking up there, too.
We’ve gotten some other pleasant news lately but we’re not ready to share those little details just yet. 

I’m thinking of getting together via the interwebs with my old roomie Megs, who is one of the funniest human being on the planet.  She has three kids, I have three cats.  We both believe in God, but practice our faith differently. Megan is a vegetarian.  I’m an everthing-I’m-not-allergic-to-a-tarian (which means I am, in fact, open-minded in regards to vegetarian cuisine.  To a degree.)  We went to college at Clarion.  We’re both pretty cheesed off at the school right now for the retrenchment debacle, which has decimated all three of our fields of study and basically made us look like fools for choosing such “useless” majors. (psychology, theatre and English).  Together, we’re kind of like generally-not-angry superhero comediennes.  Maybe we’ll start a blog: The Bec and Megs Comedy Minute.  It’ll just be flashes of our status updates.    Kids and cats are funny on their own.  Put them together and you get comedy gold.

We’ve also brought our outdoor stray into our home, too, which is what officially brought the above housecat total to three.  Freyja goes to the vet tomorrow.  We’ve kept her in her own room for the past week, to get the other cats acclimated to her and also to protect them in the event she’s got fleas or worms (we suspect neither, but you can’t be too careful.  This kitty has been a stray for at least a year, according to our neighbor, and cats, you know…just pick things up.)  She is a gorgeous girl, very gentle and sweet-natured, and she’s never once scratched or bit either of us since she started visiting us in August.  Slowly we worked up to picking her up and cuddling with her, which isn’t her favorite.  But she tolerates it without a lot of fuss.  She has a conversational and very insistent meow, and she is affectionate and likes the infrequent belly rub.  She learned how to sit on command (yes, really.  Loki does it, too.)  She takes treats directly out of my hand.  She has the most beautiful green eyes lined with white fur  and a gray pretty face; she looks kind of glamorous.  She used the litter box immediately, leading me to believe that maybe she’d once been a house cat.  Who would ever want to get rid of such a wonderful little girl?
Problem is, we think she might be preggers.

Leave it to us to have pity on the unexpectedly expectant cat in the neighborhood, right?  I guess we’ll learn tomorrow if Tubbs, the fully-equipped, ugly-faced stray male who sometimes lurks by our house, is gonna be a daddy.  If it’s not him, I’m utterly stumped, since I haven’t seen a single un-neutered male cat in our area other than him.  Not since we found little Thor shivering in the rain two springs ago.
It’s the Christmas season, but I don’t think the acknowledgement of the Virgin Birth extends to local felinity. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pink Power

As we observe the final few days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (or Pinktober, as I like to call it), I wanted to share about some incredible women in my life -all of them with gentle hearts but fierce fighting spirits.

The first woman I want to honor is, interestingly, one of the most passionately private people I know.  Therefore, I will limit my story to the basics of her fight - not her personal life.  Laurie, my church's capable and always-smiling secretary (who easily does the work of at least three people), is a lady whom I have admired for years.  Her family and mine have been very close for probably about 17 years.  We joke that Laurie's sister and my dad are so similar that they must be long-lost twins.  Laurie herself is a beautiful example of God's redeeming grace, having gone through a very difficult divorce many years ago.  I think I would have handled things differently had I been in her situation (and by differently, I mean very, very poorly), but Laurie isn't the kind of person to raise her voice unless she is cheering someone on!  I never saw her lose hope.  I know her struggle was and is an internal one, and I don't presume to know what pressures she undergoes.  But I do know that she is a woman who exudes grace and dignity even as the storms of life are crashing all around her.

She will probably blush, shake her head and laugh when she reads these things, but she needs to know how deeply to heart I have taken her example all these years.  Although she certainly has a great sense of humor, what is most remarkable about Laurie is her quiet, gentle bearing.  She is a physically lovely woman with an easy, infections laugh (I think it's one of my favorite sounds ever, and all the women in her family share it), but she doesn't like to draw attention to herself.  She doesn't pretend things are okay when they are not, but she has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drama.  She is loyal. She is faithful.  She is kind. 

So when, several months ago, she shared with us - the members of Pastor Stephanie's small group - her diagnosis of breast cancer, we were stunned.  Laurie was one of those people who loved exercise, ate well (in part due to some dietary restrictions), and took care of her body.  How could this happen?  I, in particular, don't think it registered in my mind as fact until many weeks later.  Of course we prayed for her, but my heart housed some fear.  We had just lost two beloved ushers in our church very unexpectedly - and then I lost my mother immediately after that.  Another usher had a close call and landed in the hospital as well.  Being so deeply involved in our church, these ushers, to us, weren't simply smiling faces who handed out bulletins and guided us to empty pews.  Linda had been a friend who whore the same perfume as my mother, who lost her adult son within weeks of one of my miscarriages, who told me that her boy was already taking care of my babies in heaven because he loved children.  Steve was our head usher, patriarch of a family that I consider pillars in our church community - his widow, Kay, is a leader on the ministry team; his daughter, Sue, is one of our worship leaders; his granddaughter, Sarah, is an active and vibrant part of the youth group.  Brian, the usher who survived, is a newer member of the church with a big grin and goofy sense of humor.  We all held our breath as news trickled down to us that he was improving and, eventually, released from the hospital.

Would our precious Laurie be the next victim in this bizarre series of tragedies?  I admit, since my miscarriages, my relationship with God has sometimes been strained.  I don't blame him for "taking" my children, but I keep returning to Him like a needy child, asking again and again that simple but weighty question - "Why?"  I didn't know what to expect for Laurie.  Of course we prayed for and with her, but I feel like my faith is remedial nowadays, plodding forward with itty-bitty baby steps, rather than great soaring leaps.

So I hoped.

Laurie believed for her healing, but - like most folks in our church - had no issues with turning to doctors for support and treatment.  (Or general belief is that God has MANY ways to heal His children, and medical intervention IS, in fact, one of those ways.  We believe in prayer combined with medical attention.)  She underwent her radiation like a champ.  She lost all her hair.  She had to cut back on her hours at the church. 

Image from
Last month, she had her final biopsy and got the all-clear.

Laurie is cancer-free!

Through the whole process, the only complaint I heard from her was that she was frequently tired - which was, of course, due to the chemotherapy.  She did shyly mention, however, that her nurses told her they loved working with her because she was so full of joy.  She wanted her experience there to represent her love for Jesus and share it with others.

I think that's pretty amazing.

The other two survivors I know have come into my life only recently.  My direct supervisor at work, Mary, and the office manager, Karen, are both standing tall (relatively speaking, since they aren't much taller than me) after battles with breast cancer.  Although I don't know much about their individual battles, I know that they are part of a much bigger network of support and love for victims of breast cancer.  When I told Mary that my friend Laurie had been diagnosed, she asked about her regularly.  Both women were quick to sign a get-well card I got for her, even though neither had ever met her.  When I shared the news that Laurie was cancer-free, both ladies celebrated with me as if they'd just been given the same news for themselves.

What fascinates me about this awful disease - which strikes both healthy and less-than-healthy women...which attacks the very nature and identity of the female body...which causes women to struggle with their identities as women...which has no real cure...has also proven to motivate women to support each other with an unwavering and awesomely beautiful strength.  The mildest, quietest women become outrageously fierce warriors when they wrap their arms around the newly-diagnosed, when they strap on pink sneakers to raise money, when they don pink shirts and march for the cure.

While I hate the disease, I love that, although it was meant to main, destroy, weaken and kill, it has instead raised up a veritable army of both women and men who have given each other the strength to raise their voices as once and roar, "I will overcome!"

And I Would Walk 500 Miles...

...or at least, you know, jog for about three.

It was The Big Day.  As Pittsburgh welcomed the huge, slightly ridiculous but really adorable floating Rubber Duckie during its Festival of Firsts, people like me - first-time runners - were wondering what this 5K thing was all about...and, maybe, if it was worth it.

Oh, it was.

When I had signed up for the race several months ago, I didn't really know if I could do it.  Like many people (artsy ones in particular), I really struggle finishing projects that I start.  and this was a really big project for me.  I've mentioned in the past that I was diagnosed with asthma when I was a child and dealt with a myriad of respiratory problems during my youth.  Although I haven't had many issues as of late, I didn't know what starting a real exercise program would do to me.  

Turns out, it's actually been great for me.  Since I had started out very gradually, strolling for a half-hour on my lunch break, then slowly increasing it to a 50-minute power walk, I've built up my endurance.  I still need my albuterol sometimes, mostly during seasonal changes or extreme weather (ultra-high humidity and really brisk mornings are hard - and this past week has been particularly difficult), but most days I'm fine without it.  My bigger concern was that I had gotten drastically off-track regarding my Couch to 5K program.  That, coupled with an upper respiratory infection that had been clinging for the pat week, led me to the decision that I would complete the race, but as a walker, not a runner.  And I was okay with that.

Then something crazy and wonderful and magical happened.  As I was in Oakland, in my beloved city on an absolutely picture-perfect day, surrounded by a sea of people in brightly-colored Nikes and battered track pants, I realized that I had no reason to be nervous.  I guess I'd imagined that all 15,500 runners and walkers would be sleek and trim, with calves to kill for and perfectly toned arms.  I thought there was such thing as a "runner's body", but guess what?  There isn't! 

There were heavy-set women in their thirties; skinny, bearded old men who wobbled a bit as they ran; tall, athletic college students who hardly seemed to sweat; scrawny pre-teen girls; lithe, flexible twenty-somethings whose running shorts were a little too short; and young mommies and daddies jogging alongside their children.  And they were all there for one reason: to finish the race.

My former roomie Megan sent me a message encouraging me to do my best, whether it was by walking or running, but, she said, there is something very special about being in a crowd like that - you never know what you are capable of.

She was right.

I started the race with my husband at my side and we were walking briskly.  Almost immediately, I slid into an easy gait and the first mile was down - no sweat. I couldn't believe it.  I hadn't gone for a jog in probably almost three weeks, but there I had it.  Mile one in about fifteen minutes.  And I felt great!

Mile two started with a bit of a hill, and many of the runners and walkers around me slowed a bit.  I did the same, as did Ross, and I lost sight of him.  As I began to struggle a bit for breath, for the first time, I focused on the sounds around me.  The constant slapping of shoes against pavement.  The ragged breathing of the beefy guy behind me.  The nearby "good job, keep going" of the volunteers offering water just up ahead.  The members of Duquesne University's marching band rocking "Eye of the Tiger" to my right.  (No joke - you ever hear that played on a tuba?  So much awesome.)  The day was gorgeous and it was a strange experience to be running the path I had driven so many times when I worked at the Starbucks in Oakland.  I wanted to just gaze up at the bright blue sky, enjoy the crisp air and the sunshine, but I forged ahead.

Mile three, I swear, was going to be the death of me.  The fact that I had not stuck with the Highmark program was now painfully clear as I tried to measure my breathing, ignore the slight cramping in my side, and the sweat that was cascading down my neck and back.  On the sidewalk, here and there, were officials, family members, and volunteers.  I saw two older women who didn't appear to be there to support anyone in particular, so they were cheering for every single person who jogged by.  I thought that was great!  I played songs in my head to keep my feet moving.  I finally settled on "Overcomer", a recent Christian hit that has encouraged me in plenty of ways.  And my feet kept going.  My arms kept pumping.  My breath kept coming.  My heart kept beating.

As I rounded the corner, hitting the three mile-marker and seeing the finish line on my left, I felt tears well up in my eyes.  I had little breath to spare, but I said, out loud, "Mom, I'm doing it!  Mom!  I did it!" and felt that I had defeated my own fears.  I know she would have told me I was crazy (maybe I am).  And asked if I'd taken my inhaler (I did).  Then offered to make my favorite dinner as a victory meal (her oven-breaded chicken, wilted spinach salad [with bacon!], and great big gobs of gooey mac and cheese [with bacon!]).

As soon as I crossed the finish line, raising one weak arm in the air, I felt a wave of nausea overwhelm me and thought, "I am going to vomit here in the park.  With thousands of people watching me.  Oh, my God, I am about to be THAT person."  Thankfully, though, the feeling passed almost immediately and I began to search through the throng of exhausted runners for my husband.  He finally found me, and I noticed that he was holding a banana and an Eat 'n' Park Smiley cookie - and neither one was for me!

"Priorities," he said with a grin.

As our bodies recovered from the happy torture we had just endured, we made our way down to see that yellow duck in the river.  Was it art?, probably not.  But man, it was cute.  And it seemed to make the real ducks jealous.  The mallards floating by must have wondered why they, residents of the city rivers for years, had never been given any type of party at all.  We took some cute selfies and wondered how many peoples' pictures we ended up in.  Then we headed to the new coffee shop in Carnegie to celebrate our victory (i.e., survival).

Ultimately, I learned that I completed the race in 39:22, giving me about a twelve and a half minute mile.  I was fairly impressed with myself and thought - how much better could that number have been had I stuck with the program?!  Still - pretty great for an overweight asthmatic!

I haven't run since the Great Race.  Sadly, I pulled my hamstring and it is taking some time to heal.  Not to mention, the recent change in weather has been hard on my asthma and I've been having flare-ups recently.  Still, I'm bundling up at work and walking on my lunch break.  I've maintained my weight.  My PCP was proud of me at my recent wellness check when she learned of my weight loss and regular exercise schedule.  I'm planning on running the Race for the Cure in May to honor several friends, so I'd better get cracking, here.  Soon!

Thank you to all of you who cheered me on  - whether you really thought it could do it or not!  If you want to read my story from start to finish, you can click here, here and here.  I had the honor of sharing my journey via my employer's blog, too - I hope that it was a message of encouragement to everyone who got to read it!

(Currently, the internet isn't letting me post pictures on this blog so you can click on the links above if you want to see some.  I'll update as soon as I can figure out the issue!  -RG 11:00 AM 10/26/13)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Crazy Cat Lady

I do not believe in ghosts.  Or that the spirits of the dead can inhabit the bodies of the living.  I do, however, believe that spiritual gifts can be passed from one generation to another.

Freyja's new toy.  :-/
Now, granted, I don't recall that "talking to animals" is listed among any spiritual gifts in the New Testament.  Nevertheless, I'm thinking that, just maybe, upon her passing, my mom's uncanny and often freakish ability to connect with animals may have fallen upon my shoulders.

I mean, I held a chipmunk the other day.  That's, like, Disney Princess level animal communication, right?!

I guess maybe it's more of a mutant power than a spiritual gift.

My mom, to my recollection, was never a social butterfly.  She was certainly good with people, especially when she worked in the service industry.  But she was never, ever a "let's chat over a cappuccino" kind of girl.  Especially in her later years, I think she preferred the company of animals to people.  I mean, can you blame her?  Scroll through your Facebook feed for thirty seconds if you still wonder a person might like dogs better than humans.
My mom rescued a groundhog who had gotten his head stuck in a jelly jar.  My mom taught our adopted mutt to obey commands that she spelled.  My mom caught and freed panicked hummingbirds that had gotten trapped in our garage.  My mom had four neighborhood pups trained to line up on her porch for treats twice a day.  My mom nursed a mostly-dead tomcat back to full-fluffed, glossy and shiny health, despite repeated suggestions that she let the local vet "put that thing out of its misery".  I am fairly certain that my mom could have taught a fish to sing or a rabbit to brew her tea.  My mom had a gift.
Granted, I fell head-over-heels in love with my sweet Thor long before we lost my mom, and we adopted our snuggly Loki months before she passed away.  Yes, I cuddle them, even when I am wearing black (Thor in particular enjoys leaving his soft gray brand of fluff all over the house).  Yes, I have long, detailed conversations with them.  I also baby-talk to them.  I sometimes even let them sleep with me.  But. . .

. . .Twoper - now Freyja - didn't stroll back into my life until after my mom was gone.  I wouldn't be surprised if she'd asked God to send us just one more kitty to love - one cat to temporarily fill the void left after each of our lost pregnancies.  Three fur-babies to love.  Freyja will be getting a visit to the vet in the next few weeks, if we can set aside the money, and she'll be moving from Porch Cat to her rightful place as a Cat of Asgard.  She is certainly the gentlest cat I've ever met.  In the more than six weeks that she has been hanging around my house, not once has she scratched, swatted, or bit at Ross or me - or anyone else.  In fact, during our Geek Gala, she positioned herself like a tiny, loaf-shaped sentry in the middle of the porch and saw our guests out with a rumbly meow.  I love to cuddle with her and scratch her back.
Last week, when Ross and I were leaving Target, we encountered a man about our age holding an absolutely gorgeous gray and black kitten.  "You guys want a cat?" he asked.  I must have looked shocked, because he hurriedly continued, "I found her by Chick-Fil-A and I gave her some food and now she won't leave me alone."  Sure enough, when he placed her on the ground, she sniffed at Ross, then our truck, and rubbed up against me, but lingered nearby.  Of course I wanted her!  Ross even had the same look on his face that he did when we impulsivelyadopted Loki.  But four cats?  With one not even house-trained yet?  "I'm sorry," I said sadly, "We just adopted out local stray, or else we'd take her."  "That's what happened to us!  That's how we got our cat," the guy replied enthusiastically.  At least we could tell he was a cat-friendly person.  As we reluctantly left, I prayed that the little girl would end up in a home that really needed the unconditional love of a pet.
Loki is a Jedi.
That's the thing about cats, people.  Yes, they do have a reputation for being aloof, solitary, and, thanks to internet-sensation Tardar Sauce (AKA Grumpy Cat), even arrogant.  Some are, I guess.  Unlike those cats of world wide web fame, Loki is flat-out sociable.  She jumps into the laps of people who are trying to eat at my dinner table.  She spent all of last month's party in the middle of the living room, politely perched on a pillow or examining vacant chairs.  She plays fetch with her woefully ragged cloth mice (the last gift my mom had picked out for them before she died).  She is curious and desperately cuddly (some of the time).  Thor, I guess, is more your typical housecat.  He is irritated by changes in routine; he's possessive; he's often dismissive.  He thinks he's the alpha male, but he doesn't really act like it.  But with me, he's a bundle of loving fluff.  He curls up on my chest at night, before I go to bed, and demands that I put my phone down to nuzzle his nose.  He'll flop on the couch and watch television with me.  He lets me flip him on his back and stick my face in his bunny-soft belly fur.  He lets me clip his claws with absolutely no protest.  He even lets us bathe him
Thor is a superhero.
with minimal fuss.  And it was Thor who came to me when I learned of my friend
Linda's passing, and he sat with me on the bathroom floor until I was done crying.

Freyja will  likely have her own set of quirks when she moves in.  I can't wait to see how she lets us love her, and how she shows her love in return.
Yes, this formerly skeptical girl has become a full-blown crazy cat lady.  Apparently, contrary to popular opinion, being happily married does not prevent this condition.  Even my baby sis, dog-mom to the Unreasonably Huge Mutt, Tex, admits that her recently-adopted kitten, Ranger, has wormed his way into her heart and become a part of her family much faster than she expected.

All I can say is "told you so!"

Saturday, September 28, 2013


There are times when I listen to a lot of Christian music.  There are times, a lot lately, when I prefer oldies or classic rock - or a good dose of Pat Benatar or Billy Idol.  Still, I'd heard a lot of buzz about Christian pop star Mandisa's recently-released single, Overcomer.  I've developed a lot of respect for this woman since I had first learned about her.  

Foremost, she is openly and joyfully in love with Jesus, and that is a beautiful thing.  She is an optimist but is down-to-earth and readily admits her faults.  Yes, I base much of my impression on social media, but let's be honest: if you were trying to look more put-together than you really are, why talk about how much you love your bed on Facebook?  The girl is real.  Her very public dismissal from American Idol by Simon Cowell, who snidely insulted her weight - as well as her immediate, gracious, and loving reply - were what launched her career, rather than canning it.  While much of America looks to actress Jennifer Lawrence as their "everywoman" - unashamed to talk about food, prone to goofing around, and all-around decent, I relate more, I think, to Mandisa.  I could actually imagine sitting down with her and joking about clothing a zaftig figure, loving Southern-fried food, and how there are a lot of days when Christians don't even feel saved.

So, when I heard her new song for the first time, I cried.  The message, like many of hers, is both simple and essential.  The theme of overcoming is mentioned a lot in the Bible.  It can be found in 1 John 5:4, where is is clearly stated "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith."  

The concept of living victoriously because Jesus triumphed over the grave is not, as some think, a "bonus blessing" only to be received by an elite few.  I am learning that is actually a fundamental building block of the faith!  If you have accepted the already pretty hard-to-swallow idea that Jesus is God's son, that He died for your sins, that He rose from the dead, and that He absolutely and completely adores you, then the next step is to believe that He actually wants you to live a full and fulfilling life.  That doesn't, of course, mean that your life will always be comfortable, or that you will never experience stress, sorrow, or pain.  But it does mean that you have the power and the choice to look past your circumstances into the eyes of the One who created you, who actually wants you to experience peace and joy.  

Don't get me wrong, here.  I am not preaching or promising a life full of warm fuzzies!  I'm speaking from a place of, well, not a lot of warm fuzzies myself.  I'm missing my mom.  I can hardly believe it's been seven months already since she passed away.  I mourn the loss of my children.  Ross is having a very hard time finding a job that suits him better than his current one.  His hours do not allow for a lot of quality time with me or our families.  

I can focus on the things that make me unhappy, or I can focus on the fact that, in spite of everything that is painful and uncertain right now, God does have a plan for my future, and everything will be okay.

I listen to Overcomer most days during my lunchtime power-walk.  It reminds me that, according to God's word, I'm not an overcomer when I see, feel, or experience victory.  I am one now.  I am allowed and even encouraged to hold me head high, smile, and walk joyfully through any situation with the knowledge that my enemy cannot destroy me.  I am an overcomer, even though I have lost three pregnancies.  God is bigger than miscarriage.  God is bigger than the doctors' response of "we don't know what's wrong."  God is bigger than the fear that threatens to rise up and suffocate me when I think about trying to conceive again.
June 2012, at my sister's wedding.

I have not yet seen victory in that area of my life, but I my spirits are lifted by the victory I am seeing in another area - weight loss.  Like Mandisa, I have grown more conscientious of my health in the past several months.  In the past year, I have (slowly!) lost nearly 20 pounds.  I was a size 13 in Juniors' styles this January, and I'm now beginning to try on size 7.  
This is uncharted territory for me!  I have never in my adult life dreamed of it.  I'm having more fun with fashion - even embracing skinny jeans!  Beyond that, I know that I am helping my heart and lungs, and even possibly helping to prepare my body for a healthy
August, 2013.
pregnancy.  Soon, I hope!  While I may not reach my goal weight by my November birthday, I have proven to myself that I can make a difference in my own life.  God's presence throughout this process has been subtle.  He hasn't shown up with a loud voice and fireworks, but he has calmly and steadily given me the strength to stop believing the lies I've told myself, or let others tell me.  The lie that my asthma was my identity.  The lie that it was no use to try to change, because everything was always going to be the same.  The lie that I just had to accept my family's health history as my own, and just wait for diabetes to set in.  The lie that I never, ever accomplish my goals.  The lie that I'm not worth taking care of.

That's the key to really accepting the fact that you're already an overcomer.  It's to stop listening to the lies that whisper "you're not good enough, God doesn't love you enough, and he isn't big enough to help you."  Once you finally understand that his grace is enough, he does love you enough and more than enough, and he is big enough to handle your pain and doubt, you can start to live like an overcomer - even if you don't feel like one.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Party Like a Geek

Two weeks ago, I hosted my first party ever.  I don't count bridal and baby showers I helped with, because that wasn't solo work.  Here's how it came about: I "recently" realized that the majority of my close friends are, like Ross and me, unashamedly geeky.  

There's Ryan, who knows more Doctor Who trivia than, I think, Steven Moffat himself.  There are my parents and their besties Lee and Shelly, who made Friday nights their double date nights for years - because that's when Stargate: SG-1 was on.  Oh, and their daughter Shannon, whose fashion sense would put her on par with any splashy comic book villainess or heroine.  There's also Ross's buddy Matt, who has taken on the heroic task of raising his three daughters to be geeky princesses, despite any good-natured intervention on the part of their non-geeky mom Jaime.  Not to mention, my new pal Emily, a quirky young artsy-type who refuses to let her son drink out of her Spiderman mug.

Other people have Superbowl parties, where they chow down on high-fat snacks and celebrate big, meaty guys punching each other around.  Some folks throw parties for awards shows, all the while sipping on frothy alcoholic beverages and making snarky comments about gowns, hair, and jewelry.  Why shouldn't I throw a bash celebrating all the things that, in the past, made me a social pariah?

Girl-cat squares off with Catwoman!
I sent out handmade invitations.  I spent hours researching to create the perfect trivia challenge, relying primarily on the Big Five: Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, and a conglomeration of X-Men, Justice League and Avengers.  Yes, I realize that Harry Potter and Supernatural and about a million other franchises could have made their way into the mix as heavy hitters, but I considered my audience, and these were the fandoms that were most thoroughly represented among my nerdy kin. 

Totally retro. Photo cred: Emily G.
On the menu were Kryptonite Krunch (Chex Mix), Tribble Kibble (kettle corn), Iced SereniTea and Romulan Ale (blue Hawaiian Punch), Green Arrows and Black Canaries (celery sticks and pitted olives), T.A.R.D.I.P. (salsa con queso), Darth Taters (potato puffs), Obi-Wan Kielbasa (smoked sausage discs), Bowties Are Cool pasta and even chocolate-chip Wookiees.

I dressed as River Song, circa "Let's Kill Hitler" and sprayed my naturally curly hair into a huge hive of spoilers, and my husband donned his red captain's tunic (after polishing up his freshly shaved head).  

O Captain, my Captain!
I read the questions from my ThinkGeek T.A.R.D.I.S. journal as our guests observed our many geeky T-shirts, displayed as decoration.  Loki paraded her tiny little cat self around, getting into a bit of a tussle with Shannon, whose Catwoman costume might have intimidated her a bit.  Even Jaime, pregnant and dressed quite comfortably as a female version of Frodo Baggins, was pretty happy to win the doorprize - a Spiderman sippy bottle.

Loki lurves the Doctor.
Completition ramped up among the three carefully matched teams - The Terrible Tolkienators, the Raging Redshirts and the Kiss-My-Asgardians.  We learned that being a geek does not automatically mean that you've seen all the Star Wars movies.  We also learned that Emily does a beautiful whale impression, that most superhero themes sound alike, and that my dad didn't even need to wear the iconic orange hat for him to walk around the house scowling like Jayne, the hero of Canton.  We also learned that sweet Thor, despite his ultra-masculine name, is kind of a fraidy-cat and spend most of the party hiding.  He only appeared - as if freakishly on cue - when my dad and Emily were reading their hastily scribbled sci-fi story, about a race of catlike gods from the distant planet...Thorpiter.
The whole shebang - celebrate ALL the fandoms!

For one lovely evening, my house was full of heroes and villains, the whole Pond family, and one very photogenic little cat.  In retrospect, I think I would have made the trivia questions a little easier.  I also would have baked about three more batches of Darth Taters.

I got a request that our next batch have an 80's theme.  Which I can, like, totally handle.

Unless my dad shows up in legwarmers.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Looks like the family might be expanding very soon.

Why, it's another cat, of course!

For those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter, or who are friends with me on Facebook, you already know about the latest little four-legged sweetie to enter our lives.  But, for those of you who don't, I'll fill you in on the soft, fluffy details...

Three years ago, fairly soon after Ross and I got married and over a year before Thor showed up (literally) on our doorstep, a small, gray and tan female cat stopped by.  She visited over the course of a few weeks, staying long enough for a little snack and some kind words.  Once, she actually came into the house!  We didn't have any cat food for her, so we poured a saucer of milk.  Hence, her nickname: Two Percent Milk, or Twoper, for short, was born.  A few days after she came into our house, we saw her for the final time, sporting a fancy brand-new pink collar around her neck. 

I was crushed.  She had an ownerHumph.  If I had a cat, I thought, I'd never it roam the neighborhood.  I knew a lot of people did that; even my childhood pets were indoor-outdoor cats until they became old, but I never liked it.  In fact, one cat ended up dying from eating poisoned garbage and another was hit by a car.  No way were my fur-babies going outside unless it was straight into the car for a trip to the vet!

About a year or so later, Thor came into our lives, then we adopted Loki during a Humane Society event.  Both have turned out to be pretty amazing animals we can't imagine life without.  Thor is moody but a mama's boy and a real cuddle-bug, and Loki, while clumsy, has shown an incredible ability to learn tricks, just like a dog.  We're a perfect little family right now - Mommy-Cat, Daddy-Cat, and the two feuding fur-babies.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw the unmistakable figure of Twoper on my porch just recently!  Of course I fed her and pet her.  She's a sociable and very affectionate little girl.  She's talkative and purrs loudly.  And I noticed that she was not wearing a collar.  I didn't think anything at first - sometimes Thor, who does not wear a collar inside the house, slips outside unnoticed for a quick jog around the neighborhood (but he always returns to use the litter box; despite being born and spending his first weeks of life as an outside cat, he categorically refuses to use anything except his litter box for his business).  I pet her again, called her a good girl, and went back inside.

The next day she returned. 

In fact, in the past two and a half weeks, only one or two days have gone by without her visiting.  And it's not a quick stop by to suck down some Fancy Feast before she's on her way, either.  She is waiting for me in the morning when I wake up and she sits on a specific corner of the porch while I am at work, running down the steps to greet me when I come home.  She has tried to follow me into the house numerous times (once she succeeded!).  She lets me pick her up and hold her.  (For those of you concerned with diseases and whatnot, I wash my hands after every time I touch her and she has had no contact with my indoor cats; nor will she until the vet clears her for any kind of infection or infestation.)  In fact, last Friday, for kicks, I put a collar on her to see if her "real" owners would remove it when she returned home.  (Wouldn't you freak out of your previously naked kitty suddenly came home with a swanky new leather collar and a bell?  Wouldn't you wonder who was trying to steal your cat-kid?!)  Well, it's Wednesday night now, and the collar is still intact.

I'm starting to call her Freyja now.  Twoper is certainly a cute nickname with a cute story behind it, but if this sweet little girl is gonna run with my fur-babies, she'll need a name worthy of the other Cats of Asgard.

I've contacted my vet already to see what steps we should take, and also placed an ad on craigslist to see if anyone has reported her missing.  I'm trying to do the right thing before adding to my menagerie.  I think my parents think I'm nuts for adopting all these cats, but I'm stopping at three.  For me, I'm temporarily replacing each of the three biological children I have lost.  I'm not giving up on having babies, but right now I have a lot of love to give, and these little friends are a great way to do that!  Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if my mom, in Heaven, leaned over to God and said, "They look lonely.  How about another cat until it's time for the baby?"

I'm a proud cat-mom, right here, folks.  Twelve little paws pattering around the house?  I think it will sound beautiful.

(Get back to me around Christmas, though...when I'm lamenting all my broken ornaments...)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Numbers Game

I hand-wrote (!) this message yesterday during some down time at work (days before holiday weekends are generally very slow).  After talking with my relatively new artsy-nerdy friend Emily over coffee this morning, I felt it very important to post this today.  I am certain that there are a lot of women, and probably a lot of men, who are dealing with the same feelings as me, and this is something that needs to be addressed right away.

As I inch (literally) closer to my weight and health goals, I realize that I have reached a very dangerous place.  It has nothing to do with BMI or blood pressure or Daily Recommended Allowances.  It has everything to do with identity and self-image.

I have come to the jarring realization that I am on the brink of defining myself almost exclusively by my appearance.  And that terrifies me.

It's hard for me to admit this because I am a huge advocate of teaching the next generation, young women in particular, of the value of inner beauty.  It would be easier to pretend I was not having this struggle, to simply smile and say "thank you" when people notice how different I look now.  I hate what the media does to the value of womanhood.  I hate that we, as a culture, accept the cheapened version of femininity - the image of women as sexual objects, the condemnation of stay-at-home moms and working moms alike.  I hate that, as I myself eye my scale, I have begun to base my worth on how low the number dips.  The lower it goes, a little voice tells me, the greater my value.

I know this way of thinking is wrong on multiple levels.  First and foremost, it's shallow.  To assign a value to any person based on appearance alone is thoughtless, foolish, and often cruel.  How do we learn such injustice?  Look to Hollywood, full of scripts in which the well-meaning loser guy gets the gorgeous girl, but rarely the reverse.  Look to magazines, full of countless glossy pages of women so airbrushed they hardly look real.  (Can I also say here how much it pains me to see spreads in which the "affordable" clothing pieces top $400?  That's neither here nor there, of course, but man, that gets me riled up!  Moving on...)  My heart sinks when I think of all the truly talented, hard-working people who will never attain the "success" they desire because they don't have the right "look".  We are often chided not to judge a book by its cover, but it's something we do on a daily basis, often subconsciously.

And it hurts.

Another reason that this line of thinking is wrong is that it's simply untrue.  The Bible says that every person conceived has value, and nowhere does God indicate that any person is more important than another because of appearance alone.  In fact, 1 Samuel 16:7 indicates that God is speaking through the prophet with these beautiful and encouraging words: "But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him [a brother of David]. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  That's pretty darn clear that, although he designed our looks, they don't indicate value before God!  We don't have to think, act, speak or look a certain way before he gives us his love!

Yet another argument against these thoughts is a less profound, but equally important one: it robs me of my joy.  Instead of enjoying a hearty meal, I find that I eye it warily, mentally calculating the "damage" it may cause.  I have been, without even realizing it, labeling myself a "good" or "bad" girl depending on the amount of calories I've consumed and expended each day.  Why have I been punishing myself with insults when a chocolate craving attacks me or I don't count out each and every tortilla chip in a serving?

I don't exactly know.  In fact, the thing is, I absolutely know better.  I have both Bible verses and other words of encouragement to speak over myself.  I have a husband, family, and friends who loved me when I weighed almost 170 pounds and they'll also love me when I reach my goal of 126 pounds.  I'm not a model or an actress; I'm not in the public eye and therefore required to look a very specific way.  (I mean, come on, people, I wear scrubs to work.  Comfy, but hardly glamorous.)  I'm not trying to "shake my thang" in a bikini on a beach to drop jaws.  Even in regards to signing up for the Great Race, I am not trying to win - just to finish.  So why is this obsession getting the best of me?

I wish I could say.  All I know is that I am not alone.  While I do not have an eating disorder, I am aware that I don't have a healthy relationship with food right now.  I do wonder - would I feel the same way about myself if I'd been born tall and lanky, with a boyish figure?  Or with dark skin and kinky hair?  Or even shorter than I am now, with golden skin and almond-shaped eyes?  Do all women truly compare themselves to others?  Worse, do they compare themselves to those magazine models who don't even exist?  Are we all "just 10 pounds" or "just 4 inches" away from accepting ourselves as beautiful?

If my experience is any indication, I'm going to say that no, we're not.  You don't automatically gain self respect when you lose weight.  Oh, you find yourself more confident, more comfortable, but if you've developed negative habits before you lost the weight (or kicked smoking, or left an abusive relationship, or made whatever life change you needed to in order to be more healthy), you'll hang onto those habits until you realize they're hurting you more than the unhealthy conditions did.  Emily told me this morning that the things that wake her up at night aren't reminders of the physical abuse she had suffered - although that hurt, too.  She says what troubles her most are the psychological effects - including her own self-image, damaged by relationships that were not right for her.  

As with many of my more pensive posts, I don't exactly presume to have an answer.  I just wanted to be vulnerable and put this out there.  I strongly desire to be a good role model for the young ladies in my life - my friends' daughters, my nieces, the girls in my church's youth group.  And, when the time comes, for my own daughter (as bleak as things look right now, somewhere in my heart I still believe I will have a little girl someday).  It's the humanity of people who seem to be invincible that makes you realize no one's perfect, and although I don't claim to be a hero, my writings have brought me a lot of comments along the lines of "you're so strong".  

I don't feel strong right now, but I do feel like it's okay to admit that.