"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.

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.

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.

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!

pablo

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.

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.

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.

 

I'm 42, and I've not yet really learned how to drink alcohol like an adult.  Back in February I talked about how I don't like red wine.  But I don't like most white wines either.  I tolerate them a little better then reds, but not by much.

When we were first married, Jeff had me try different drinks with marginal success.  I think White Zinfandel was the first attempt.  The first sip was sweet enough that I could do a second and maybe even a third swallow, but after that, it was too dry for my tastes.  I kept trying from time to time, but never really acquired a taste for it.

Me trying Chardonnay for the first time was a disaster for my tongue but made Jeff laugh quite a bit.

After we'd been married several years, he brought home a Riesling and told me it was a sweeter white wine.  The first sip wasn't too bad, and I could get through a few more swallows without making funny faces or needing a drink of water.  However, it was more difficult for me to get through a full glass of it.  I managed, but just barely.  And then we'd have almost a full bottle of Riesling left that would remain undrunk because neither of us wanted it.

Fortunately, someone had the good sense to have me try Saracco, a sparkling Moscato, a few years after that.  Success!  It was sweet, bubbly, and light.  It didn't have a lot of alcohol in it.  It didn't taste like vinegar or sour grapes!  Hurray.

After that I tried a still Moscato and liked it too.

Before you think I've solved my wine-drinking problem, you need to see this:

moscato

Yes, this is a picture of three unopened bottles of Moscato.  I've had all of them for at least a year, and two of the bottles may have been in the pantry for about three years.  I took one of them out of the refrigerator, where it has been for about three months because I thought I might have a glass.  Three months ago.  And I still haven't opened it yet.

What's worse is that last week we went to dinner and I ordered a glass of moscato.  It wasn't a very good moscato, and I had trouble drinking all four ounces of wine.

And this, my friends, is why I will never be a wine connoisseur.  Or even a wine snob.  Or probably even a proper adult.  Oh well.

 

ETA: If you're viewing this in Safari or Firefox, the picture of the wine bottles is upright, as it should be.  If you're reading this in Chrome, the picture of the wine bottles is sideways.  My camera was oriented the correct way when I took the picture.  I can only conclude that Chrome hates me.

"A new commandment I give to you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another."  (John 13:34-35)

Please bear with me.  I have stuff to say, but it's not going to be flowing or terribly coherent.

I have a tattoo on my left wrist that says "love one another."  Originally, I was going to get all of verse 34 (above) on my wrist, but decided that those three words were enough and it would be a succinct reminder of the rest of those two verses.

I hope that those three words are written in my mind and on my heart so that I remember them in everything I say or do.  In reality, I know I still need to work on how I talk and act.  Having those three words written on my wrist is a visual reminder when my heart is too hurt or my mind too angry to stop me from doing or saying something stupid and unkind.

I'm not telling you this to convince you that I'm perfect and loving all the time.  Far from it.  But I don't understand hatred.  There are some people I strongly dislike in this world, but I deal with it by not thinking about them at all instead of stewing about how strongly I dislike them.  I don't understand utter loathing and stewing about it.  I try to remember that love isn't always a feeling; in fact, love is usually a way we act.  I use the definition of love from 1 Cor. 13:4-7 as my guide so that even if I'm not feeling loving towards someone, I can still act loving by being patient, kind, trusting, and hopeful (among other things).  The kindest thing we can do is forgive people who hurt us.  Failing that, the kindest thing we can do is to not think about certain people at all. It's better to not think about them than to stew in your hatred.

So I don't understand why people are so horrible to other people.  I don't understand how you can hate someone because of the way they look, the color of their skin, who they're attracted to, who they love, or who they worship or don't worship.  I don't understand wanting to harm someone because they're different from me.  I don't understand wishing a whole group of people would die because of the way they've chosen to live their lives (if those choices don't hurt anyone else).  There are some ways people choose to live their lives that I don't understand and would never do myself, but if what they're doing isn't hurting themselves or anyone else, then why is it any of my business?

So I don't understand why the individuals who have committed acts of terrorism in the United States over the last several years have done so.

I don't understand how someone can hate the members of a whole community because of one thing.  Because they're gay.  Because they're transgender.  Because they're African-American or Chinese or Indian or Latino or Jewish.  Because they're Muslim or atheist or pagan or another Christian denomination.  Because they wear turbans or burqas or all black or dresses.  Because they're women.

What kind of hatred must you have in your heart that the sight of two men kissing incites you to pick up a gun and kill people at a gay club?

This upsets me on two levels.  On a general level, I wonder how someone can have that much hatred for any individual and that much more hatred for a whole community.  On a more personal level it upsets me because I've lost a sibling to cancer  and my very best friend in the whole world, who is practically my sister, is a member of the LGBTQ community.

How many people lost siblings yesterday at The Pulse, and what if it had been this woman I love as a sister?

As a person who has lost a sibling and a person who loves someone in the LGBTQ community, this is just a nightmare.  And it didn't even happen to me.

Tonight there are people grieving because some guy hated homosexuals.  Tonight there are people, like my sister-friend, who are living in fear because other people, who also hate homosexuals, are calling the shootings yesterday "God's will."

And I don't understand because the God I worship loves everyone so much that He sent His only Son to earth.  And I don't understand because that Son, Jesus, told us to love God and love our neighbor.  And this Jesus told us to love one another.  And I don't understand how people can think that this same God hates certain people when the Bible says He loves everyone so fiercely.

I don't understand and my heart is broken for all the parents weeping for children they lost and all the siblings who are in shock because their brother or sister isn't ever coming home and for all the people living in fear because they're gay, transgender, African-American, Muslim, Jewish, a girl, or anything else that might make them the victim of bigotry and violence.

I asked my sister-friend yesterday what I could do to help her besides pray.  She said "Keep speaking up and standing out."

So this is me speaking out.  Condemning the hatred and violence in this world.  Encouraging others to remember that God wants us to love one another and not hate.

And it starts here, with me, and this little reminder I have on my left wrist that simply says, "love one another."

2

If you're like me, you feel like you have to spend as much time with your family as possible when you're visiting them, they're visiting you, or you're on a family vacation.  If you're only with them for one day, then that's understandable.

But what if you're with them for at least two days?  How does an introvert work her time to unplug into family time?  Here are some of my pro tips.

  1.  When everyone else takes a nap, stay awake.  Watch some tv, read a few more chapters in the book you brought with you (because of course you brought a book with you), take a walk, stare out the window, grab a cup of coffee and drink it while doing all these things.  Drink as much coffee as you can and enjoy the silence.  Hopefully no one's snoring.
  2. When everyone else is waking up or about to, declare that you're now ready for a nap.  Go take nap.  If you're really lucky, everyone will leave the house and you'll be alone when you wake up.  If you don't want to rely on luck, tell them to go do their fun things while you're comatose.
  3. Stay up late and write blog posts after everyone has gone to sleep for the night.  Use a load of laundry as your excuse.  "Oh, I'll come to bed as soon as I throw the laundry into the dryer."
  4. Go to the store to buy snacks.  Take at least thirty minutes to walk around the store searching for chips that may or may not exist.
  5. Drive.  When you drive, you're paying attention to the road.  It's like an automatic wall.  And if anyone gets too chatty or loud, you can say, honestly, "Hey, could you please be a little quieter?  I'm trying to concentrate on the road.  Thanks!"

And now my family knows all of my secrets...