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Things I dislike (and other people think I’m crazy for it): anything written by Charles Dickens

Imagine this:

You’ve just found out you’re pregnant.  Your hormones are all over the place, you’re nauseated all the time, food doesn’t taste good, and you can barely make it past 7:30 pm before you’re falling asleep sitting upright on the couch.

Sounds like a lot of fun, right?  Let’s keep going.

Not only are you pregnant, you’re a non-traditional student (aged 29) and just started your second semester back at college.  It’s really important that you do well, and since you’re majoring in English, you think a class on Charles Dickens might be just the thing for you.

Then you start reading Bleak House and Nicholas Nickelby, and wonder why you thought this was a good idea.  “Bleak” is now forever associated with feeling nauseated, flat, and tired.

Finally, you also work full time, so your Dickens class is from 6-9:30 pm.  Your professor, though really nice, is also a boring lecturer and has a habit of turning the lights out to show scenes from some of the movie adaptations of Dickens’ books.  It’s embarrassing, but you fall asleep in class most of the time.

Christmas was a few days ago.  You probably read or watched A Christmas Carol.  It’s traditional, quite possibly one of Dickens’ most well-known stories, and you’re wondering how in God’s name I could possibly not like Charles Dickens.

I’m sure you guessed that I was the pregnant, bored student reading Dickens too late at night.  Maybe it’s unreasonable to not like an author because of these types of associations.  True.  I’ve thought of that.

Maybe the most important reason I dislike is this: he prattled.  Why say something in fifty words when you could write it in 500?  Over and over and over again.  In the same book.

I adore a long book.  I have several books on my shelves that are at least 500 pages, and some of them are 1,000 or more.  It’s not the length of the books that matters, it’s that the story is actually being advanced by all of those words filling the pages.  J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, and Victor Hugo are all verbose, but when they could write something in fifty words, they wrote something in fifty words.

Dickens needed a good editor.

Dickens sucks.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the “Things I don’t like” series.  It was fun to gripe about silly things instead of politics.  Any thoughts or comments on this series?  Is there a series of ideas you’d like to see me explore in 2017?  Please let me know in the comments.

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The value of rebuilding when your life has been torn apart

Rebuilding anything, in general, kind of sucks.  Even if you wanted that thing torn down.

One year ago today, I was fired from my job of eight years.

While part of me would prefer not to put that out there, the other part of me wants you to know this story, at least the short version with only the really important parts mentioned.  The executive director and I didn’t get along.  He wasn’t the person that hired me, and he moved me from a job I enjoyed (mostly) to one I didn’t (mostly).  I knew I was going to get fired eventually.  I had been praying to be fired.  It was a good thing for me.  It really, truly was a great thing.  When he fired me, he called me toxic and told me I was terrible at my job.

I was happy to be fired, but I’d been dealing with his dislike for three years and had just been told I was an awful human being and employee.  A year later, I can still hear him telling me that.  It hurts a lot less now, thanks to being out of the situation, a lot of therapy, and lots of people I worked with telling me to ignore him.

I’m in the process of rebuilding that part of my life.  The foundation of my work life was completely destroyed.  I’ll be honest with you:  I’m only now beginning to lay the first few stones.  I sat in the dust and rubble for several months, dirty and hurting.

I have a new job.  I’m basically doing the same thing I was when I got fired, but I’m working for a church now instead of a state agency.  My boss, the church pastor, tells me I’m doing a good job.  His wife called to tell me how excited he was that they had hired me.  The people in the church are friendly and kind and happy to have me here.  It’s a part time job, it’s quiet, and I have three day weekends.

I wanted to mark the day because it’s the day I was set free.  But at the same time, my world was torn apart.

Shit happens.  I’m a Christian, but I don’t think that everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes shit just happens, our worlds are ripped apart, and all we can do is sit in the dirt and rubble, catch our breath, and rebuild.  We have to grieve, take care of ourselves, and begin to heal.  We have to understand that it’s much easier to say those words than it is to live them.  In the process of being gentle with myself, I’ve had to question if I’m being gentle with myself or if I’m just being lazy.  I quit writing,  I started writing again.  I quit writing again.  I sat on the couch a lot and binge watched netflix shows.  I looked at a lot of job postings and got frustrated nearly every time I did so.

Rebuilding is difficult and it sucks. But the value in it is that when you start to clean up what’s left, you can look at every single old stone and decide how it will fit into the new foundation.  Some of the old parts of your life are shattered and have to be discarded, but some of them are just scratched up.  You might have to polish them up for quite some time, but when you get done, you’ll have these gleaming, glossy, shiny stones that are stronger because they’ve been refined.

At least I hope so.  I’m still in the process of refining and being refined.   A year later, I’m a little stronger than I was.  I’m a little more hopeful about my life.  I don’t dread each morning anymore and marvel that there are still people in this world who are so nice to me.  I feel like I can breathe again.

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Things I dislike (and other people think I’m crazy for it): The Sound of Music

This month’s crazy thing I dislike is another movie: The Sound of Music.

When I was little, TSoM was shown every year during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays, I think on CBS.  When we were smaller, my brother and I would sit together in our dad’s arm chair and watch it.  I don’t ever remember my parents sitting down with us to watch it.  I don’t know if one of us chose it or if one of our parents turned it on for us.  What I distinctly remember thinking every single time I watched it was, “Isn’t there anything better on tv right now?  Why do we have to watch this again?”

In hindsight, it was probably the most intelligent thing on tv, as these were the days before we had cable.  The pickings were slim back then.

Now when I’m faced with the commercials for the yearly showing of this classic, this is what I sing:

the hills are alive

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Things I dislike (and other people think I’m crazy for it): Ohio

“How do you not like an entire state?” Jeff asked me.

“I mean, come on, it’s OHIO,” I replied.

I will admit that of all the dislikes I have in this series, this one is probably the most irrational of the bunch.  I have only been to Toledo, and of those three times, two were in the middle of winter.  First of all, Toledo is not a winter wonderland at the beginning of January; it is a harsh, bitter land of never-ending cold and despair.  It’s also an industrial hell.  Industrial landscapes have always seemed really dismal and bleak to me, and Ohio from Cincinnati to Toledo is a lot of empty space with spots of bleak industrial hell holes.

The other time I went to Toledo was in May, and it rained all weekend.  Imagine a gray sky to highlight the gray of all the industrial-looking buildings.  Yuck.

I’m sure Ohio is lovely and that the people who live there are quite nice, but honestly, I never want to go there again to find out.  And I live in the state that elected Brice Rauner as governor, so you’d think anywhere would be better than here.  But no.  Ohio, this is my space.  That is your space.  Don’t invade my space and I promise I won’t invade yours.

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Things I dislike (and other people think I’m crazy for it): art

I can hear all of you right now: how the hell do you not like art? Ohmygod, you’re what’s wrong with this world!

Now that I’ve sucked you in, let me explain.  I love looking at art.  Anything done in watercolors makes me unbelievably happy.  A friend of mine gave me a piece of art she’d made with red and gold leaves on an ivory background in a driftwood-type frame.  Liam and I have decorated his room with different drawings and paintings he has made since he was about three.  If I had my way, I’d have way more art hanging on my walls.

But creating art?

In fourth grade, we had to make those pictures where you colored a white sheet of paper in lots of different colors, then color a really thick layer of black over the colors, then make the picture by scraping the black crayon off the paper in any design.  I was bored.

When I was in first grade, I remember coloring in a Barbie coloring book one day before school.  I was bored.

In eighth grade, we had to do negative space drawings of a fern.  Have you ever tried to draw negative space?  It’s a pain in the ass.  I remember getting really frustrated with it and wondering “what’s the point?”

When I reached high school, we had to take at least two years worth of fine arts.  I chose chorus over art class.

I don’t know if it’s the repetitive motion of art, or if my brain just isn’t wired that way, but trying to draw, color, paint, or sculpt makes me nuts.  I get bored after about twenty minutes.

Adult coloring books are wildly popular right now.  I have several friends who love to post pages they’ve colored on Facebook.  They say coloring is therapeutic.

In November 2015, we made a road trip to St. Louis and stopped at Dick Blick on the way home.  Liam loves drawing, coloring, and painting, and he needed more art supplies like I need another ear piercing, but he bought some anyway.  Since I love watercolors so much, I bought some watercolor paper and watercolor pencils.  I hadn’t ever used the pencils before, so Liam showed me a couple of ways they could be used and I began to color.

Twenty-five minutes later, I remembered why I don’t color.  I don’t like it.  It’s not therapeutic for me.  It’s just boring.

I admire those of you who create art in any form.  You have the patience of saints and buttloads of talent.  Sometimes I wish I had that talent.  Then I just laugh at myself and go back to my book.

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Your productivity does not determine your worth.

Your Productivity

Your productivity does not determine your worth.

Your productivity does not determine your worth.

And one more time for the people in back:

Your productivity does not determine your worth.

(I want you to know, as I write this, my anxiety is ratcheting up so high I’ve given myself a headache.  I’ve been putting off writing this post all day long, and to be honest, I’m not sure where it’s going to go.  So just sit back, read, and take the journey with me.)

I’m not writing this for anyone in particular except myself.  So if I know you in real life, I’m not calling any of you out (:::koffexceptyou,momkoff::::) so much as I am writing this for myself.

Let’s take a trip down the rabbit hole.  Google “why do we need to be productive“.

If you did that, you found articles telling you how to be more productive, reasons you shouldn’t be more productive, productivity and happiness, things to stop doing to be more productive, why productivity is important… and that’s all on the first page.

In the United States, we have this unwritten belief that we are only valuable as individuals if we are working hard and getting things done.  I think that mindset starts in the workforce and bleeds freely into our non-work lives.

Things have to get done.  We have to work some.  I understand that.

But how many times have you worked a full day outside the home just to rush home and work another full day inside the home?  You start dinner when you get home because your kids need to have a good meal as soon as possible, and if that doesn’t happen you’re a bad mom.    You spend all weekend doing laundry and cleaning the house because if your house isn’t perfect for the coming week, you’re a bad spouse.  When you fall into bed utterly exhausted, you think of all the things you didn’t get done and conclude you’re a bad person.

Productivity determining our worth is so ingrained in our culture that if the to do list doesn’t get done, we feel like worthless failures.

But that’s not true.

You’re not a worthless failure just because the laundry didn’t get finished, you haven’t eaten a vegetable for days,  or the writing didn’t get done (again).

(I told you I was writing this as much for myself as for you, remember?)

You and I are not valuable based only on the amount of work this world and our lives can wring from us.  You and I are not valuable because of what we can do for others.  We are not commodities.

We are people.  You and I are valuable because we live.  You and I are valuable because God made us and breathed life into us. You and I are valuable because God loves us.

I forget that a lot.  I forget that I do a lot of things right when I did the one thing wrong.  Like right now, I’m sitting here berating myself because it has taken me almost ninety minutes to write this post instead of congratulating myself for writing something, anything, at all.  And when I’m done writing this, I’ll feel badly about myself because it won’t be 1,000 words long.  I didn’t get as much picked up today as I would have liked, so I’m beating myself up about that.  Never mind that I took an hour to help my kid clean his room.  It still needs about two hours worth of work, but I can see the freshly vacuumed floor now.

I am surely not the only person on this planet whose self-talk needs to change from “I didn’t do all the things today, so I must be a bad or lazy person” to “It’s great that I got some of these things done today, but even if I hadn’t, I’m worthy of love, grace, and acceptance.”

Your productivity does not determine your worth.

Your productivity does not determine your worth.

And one more time for the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” crowd:

Your productivity does not determine your worth.  

God does, and He thinks you are precious.

And now, a picture of my kid with a stuffed tiger on his head to lighten things up.
And now, a gratuitous picture of my kid with a stuffed tiger on his head to lighten things up.  Not seen: the dog hair that used to be all over the kid’s bedroom floor.
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Blogs I Love: Yes and Yes, Sarah Von Bargen

I’ve been reading Yes and Yes for at least four years now, and I don’t remember any of the details about how I found this blog.  That’s not terribly important anyway.  What I remember is how Yes and Yes drew me in with it’s fun, quirky vibe.

I think I was hooked in about three minutes flat.

Sarah is constantly positive, upbeat, and sassy.  Honestly, her blog is what I want mine to be when it grows up.  She’s a traveler, and has written about the countries she has visited and lived in and how to travel in those countries without sacrificing your bank account.  Every Sunday she publishes Web Time Wasters, a bunch of links she found throughout the week that she thinks are fun, educational, empowering, and encouraging.  In her True Story series, she interviews people who have interesting stories to tell about their lives.  My friend Anna over at Artist Adventurer was featured twice this year in the True Story series.

And in between all the different series she writes, Sarah writes stand-alone articles about business, self-improvement, how it’s OK to fail, how it’s OK to succeed, and tips for what we can do to feel like life is a vacation, even in the midst of staying home.  And everything in between.

I love Yes and Yes, and think you will too.  Go read!

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Things I dislike (and other people think I’m crazy for it): steak


July here in the northern hemisphere is grilling weather, and steak is the King of the Grill.

Before I became a bad vegetarian, I used to like steak, and when I first quit eating meat, I craved steak almost daily.  The first few years, I really started to hate grilling season because Jeff would put hamburgers or brats on the grill and I could smell them, but I wouldn’t eat them.

After I’d been a vegetarian for about six or so years, we were out to dinner somewhere–Alexander’s, maybe–and Jeff was eating a really nice steak.  It looked wonderful and smelled delicious, so I asked him if I could have a bite of it.  He consented and cut a small piece for me to try.

It had no flavor.  It was bland.

I said so to Jeff.  He looked at me like I had lost my mind.

Since then, I’ve tried bites of steak every once in a while with the same result.

I know y’all like steak, and logically, I get that.  I used to like it too.  I used to crave it.  But now when I think of beef, especially steak, all I can think of is that it’s just dry and flavorless.  Blech.

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Stuff that’s scary when you’re a horror lightweight.

I don’t like to be scared, so as you can imagine, I’m not a huge fan of the horror genre.

My two best friends, on the other hand, love watching horror movies and shows.  In fact, most of the people I know enjoy horror, so I get to hear what’s scary as hell and what’s not on a regular basis.

American Horror Story?  Never seen an episode.

The Shining?  Never read it, never watched the movie with Jack Nicholson.

Up until about six months ago, I’d never watched an episode of Supernatural.  People who know what I like to watch are always surprised to find that out, because Supernatural really is right up my alley.

It’s not that I’ve never seen a horror movie before.  When I was sixteen, some friends and I watched Pet Sematary.  I finally got to sleep hours later after wearing myself out and convincing myself that no undead cats were going to come into my room.  Several years ago I watched The Devil’s Advocate and it creeped me the hell out so badly that every time I’d think of the part where that chick’s face does the weird thing, I have to get up and turn on all the lights in the house.  And yeah, I know, that wasn’t really a horror movie.

I told you I’m a lightweight.

OK, so here are some things I’ve found scary over the years.  Feel free to laugh, I really don’t mind.

1.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Hush”

If I say “The Gentlemen,” what do you think of?  If you’re a Buffy fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  If not, watch this.  Or don’t.

2.  Supernatural, “Pilot”

OK, according to everything I’d read, Supernatural wasn’t supposed to be scary scary.  Teenagers were watching it.  It was on prime time television every week.  And since I like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural should be something I’d enjoy.

Yeah.  After I watched the Pilot episode in Netflix, I took like a one year break from trying to watch it again.  And only after several people told me that overall, the series really wasn’t as creepy as the pilot episode.  I just started watching it again a few days ago.  You can be sure I skipped the “Bloody Mary” episode.

3.  Haunted Houses run by community organizations

When I was little, my mom was in this Women’s Club that did a haunted house every October at a church CE building during Halloween week.  The year that I was nine or ten, they moved the haunted house from the CE building to the old hotel across town.  This hotel hadn’t been used for years, so it was the perfect place for a haunted house.

I had been through the haunted house the year before when it was in the CE building, and it wasn’t too bad.  I went through the old hotel in the daylight, and it wasn’t too bad.  I thought I could handle going through at night.

I tried to go through the haunted house on a Friday night.  I was OK in the first three or four rooms, which were mostly dark and had a couple of people jump out to startle our group.  Then we got to the fifth room.  Where my mom was being beheaded.  Yeah, I had to leave the group.

I don’t remember a lot after that.  I think they turned the lights on and had an adult escort me back to the beginning.  Dad took me home.  I slept with the light on in my closet that night, and every time I’d try to fall asleep, I started dreaming that vampires were coming out of my closet.

No, I haven’t been in a haunted house since then.

4. The Monster at the End of This Book

I’m 42.  Seeing this book cover still gives me the willies.

I can count the number I’ve times I tried to read The Monster at the End of This Book on one hand when I was little.  Usually I got to this page and had to stop.

Needless to say, Liam never had this book as a kid.

5.  Old dolls

You remember that old story about the china doll who comes to life in the middle of the night and kills people?

Somebody told me that story when I was six.  I had one china doll in my room at that time, and I think I hid her under the bed that night.  And then cowered with the blanket over my head all night long.

6. Weeping Angels

“Blink” is one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, and I thought the Weeping Angels were pretty cool.  But then Amy Pond meets them in “The Time of Angels”:

“are you looking at me?”

And she keeps looking.

“I said, are you looking at me?”

And looking…

And looking…

“Didn’t your mum tell you not to stare?”

I love “Blink,” but this scene creeps me out just enough:

7. Anything that startles me

I’m easily startled.  Usually I can end up laughing at myself about it, like the times my friend Kathleen and I would nearly walk into each other coming around the corner at the office (she’s easily startled too).  We’d squeal a bit, twitch, then laugh at each other.  This happened about once a week.

Or the times when Jeff will quietly come around the corner in the house while my mind is totally focused on a task.  As soon as he says, “Steph” I practically jump and my adrenaline is rushing.

I would be worthless in a horror movie.

The absolute worst though is this video I saw online about fifteen years ago.  It’s about three minutes long, and it’s like a cartoon type video.  A little girl and her dog are playing and it’s nice and soothing and then the end comes and all of a sudden the girl is just looking straight at the screen and screaming.  And then, unfortunately, I am too.

I hate that video.

So there you go. Some silly things that scare me because I’m a horror genre lightweight.

I will send the Weeping Angels after any of you who use this information against me.

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Blogs I Love: Rogue Priest, Andre Solo

I like reading good blogs, but to be honest, I don’t really read many blogs because I’m picky.  About four or so years ago, I was searching for something new to read, and generally when I search for new blogs, I search for religion or spirituality blogs.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Heathenry, New Age, or whatever.  I like to read about religion and how people apply it to their daily lives, even in a non-Christian context.  I’m secure enough in my own beliefs that reading about another religion doesn’t cause me to have doubts about my own.

So anyway, I was searching for a good blog about religion and somehow happened upon Rogue Priest .  The author, Andre Solo, is a writer, philosopher, and polytheist priest who is traveling through the Americas in search of the divine.  When he first started the blog, he was still in the planning stages of his journey, and reading about what he wanted to do was so interesting that I was hooked.

Andre started his journey through the Americas in Minnesota and is traveling each part of his journey solely on the power of his own body, via biking (primarily), walking, and some canoeing.  That’s not to say he hasn’t been in cars, buses, trains, or planes at all during the past three years, but if he’s actively advancing towards South America, he’s doing it by bike.

I honestly can’t say enough good things about Rogue Priest and Andre.  This is a man who is willing to test his faith, actively seek it out, and adjust his beliefs according to what he experiences on his journey.  Though he and I don’t share the same faith or beliefs, I have found that there are several things he has written about that fit quite easily into a Christian context.  If you enjoy travel blogs and don’t care that it’s heavily infused with religion and spirituality, you will adore this blog.  Andre describes all the places he travels to and provides some great pictures along the way.


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