Posts in Me-ology
Geek Girl's Guide: Giving Speeches

We get lots of opportunities to present our ideas to other people, either formally or informally. I've been thinking about this for a few days, because my beautiful girl Rowen just turned 12, and was asked to speak in church last Sunday. Terrifying, right? Getting up in front of roughly 250 people to expound, even for a couple of minutes, can be downright overwhelming. 

I've given a lot of talks & speeches. I did both speech and debate in high school, and participated in speaking contests outside of school for VFW, Farm Bureau, National Young Leaders, and others. I won prizes. I got to travel. It was awesome, and speaking has become one of my favorite things. I want to share a few secrets I've developed over time. In fact, these are the rules i use every time I prepare and deliver speeches.

image source: colleen simon, opensource.com

image source: colleen simon, opensource.com

divide Your Content into 3 segments

Preparing for and delivering speeches is a LOT easier when you divide up your main idea into a few sub-topics. Sometimes the points are explicitly spelled out ("I'd like to share three ways we can improve our racquetball game."), and sometimes they are implicit, simply by the verbal transitions you make.

I recommend that if you're going to spell out your points, that you use no more than 3. The reason for this really comes down to the short-term memory of your audience. You aren't giving a quiz at the end. They should be able to write down a few of your statements, but nobody can be expected to remember more than 3 "topic headings," because these aren't what stick. What sticks in the heart and mind are your stories. Even your most sympathetic audience member will get distracted, even if your speech is only 10 minutes long. 

By your 5th point I'm wondering again what the first one was, and then I'm thinking, ok, they said they had six, so just one more and then we're done! 

I know, not cool of me. But there it is. The exception to this rule is if your speech is accompanied by a PowerPoint that lists all your points and repeatedly refers back to the list as you step through them. Content plus context is king of them all.

Explain/quote/explain

Every great speech has outside references, whether they are specific quotes, scriptures, song lyrics, or more oblique references to world evens or history. Quotations are necessary. Use one in every segment of your speech. Remember from above, that what sticks in the heart and mind are the stories. Each quote is a story. You can even consider framing each segment of your speech around a quote or its main idea. Here's how.

When you're speaking without additional aids (like a PowerPoint), you need to guide your audience carefully through your points using repetition and reinforcement. Think of it like a sandwich: 

  • Explaination #1: In the first explanation, you'll provide backstory, as well as context and a lead-up to the content of your quotation. Do not underestimate the power of backstory.

  • Quote: Deliver your quotation with power, verbally emphasizing the keywords. Do not quote anything for more than ~30 seconds straight. 

  •  Explanation #2: In the second explanation you can provide analysis - why you chose this, as well as the all-important link back to the lives and circumstance of the audience.

Here's an example from a talk I gave this past February, for the explain/quote/explain method as I illustrated the relevance of the hymn, "Onward, Christian Soldiers":


(Explanation 1)

Here are the words of the great Christian battle-hymn, “Onward, Christian soldiers,” The first verse: “Onward, Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe, forward into battle, see His banners go!”

This beautiful song was written in 1865 by an Anglican curate named Sabine Baring-Gould. She needed a song to use as a processional for the town’s children to march to during Whitsuntide - the Anglican celebration of Pentecost - and sat and wrote this song in 15 minutes. It now has a place in Christian hymnals around the world. 

At the height of the second world war, with Britain embattled by German bombing, and just four months before the United States would officially enter, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met to agree the Atlantic Charter. As part of that meeting, a church service was held for which Prime Minister Churchill chose the hymns. He chose "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and afterwards made a radio broadcast explaining this choice:

(Quote)

We sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers" indeed, and I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we were serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high. When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals ... it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation. 
— Winston Churchill

(explanation 2)

Mr. Churchill’s words apply to us beautifully. Just as there in 1941 sat the congregation that represented the hope of the world - allies gathered in defense against a worldly tyrant, so sits here in this congregation today the hope of the world, gathered to the Standard of God against the spiritual tyrants, in the defense of our homes and our families.


The backstory for this quote is fascinating, both the story of the writing of the hymn, and then the story of its use at the height of World War II. in fact, i would say the backstory is what gives the quote its real impact in its implications for us today. I probably did an hour of research after I found this quote, and I am SO GLAD I did - my own life is better for knowing this, and I'm happy I was able to share it. 

Do as much research as you can on the story behind and around your quote. More than just who said it, who were they? Where was this said or written? What other things did they say ore write? what connections can you draw from their life or circumstance? what did other people say about it?

The quote itself, of course is from one of the great orators of the 20th century, so it has power on its own. But when that's spoken with the same conviction it was said originally, hundreds of people can be stirred by it again.

You can see the second explanation is pretty short. Essentially the task here is to provide that final connection between the life and world of the quotation itself, into the lives of your listeners. My goal was to draw a comparison between the circumstances of war as it was fought then, and the spiritual war we're fighting now.

As a side note, this is the beginning and middle of the second of my 3 points in this speech. Transition-by-quote is an awesome way!

like you mean it

It sometimes helps to read or listen to great speeches of the past as you're preparing. There's a reason these are great speeches, and that doesn't dim over time, regardless of how antiquated some of the words might seem. You've been given the rare opportunity to have the undivided attention of your listeners (10 or 1,000, doesn't matter), and you can change them forever by what you say. Connect your words to the WHY and the HOW - to them. 

One of the finest speeches I've ever heard was given by Suze Orman, the author and personal finance expert. She talked about personal finance, sure, but also about self-direction, self-love and perseverance, and I was moved to tears by the end. Not only is she a great speaker, but she was able to connect ideas for me, and sent me home a stronger person for it. And she was talking about checkbooksYour topic isn't dull, and neither are you. Prepare it like you mean it, and say it like you mean it, and they'll remember.

Save the Opening for last

In your preparation, I recommend saving the opening for last. Here's mine:

My 5th great grandparents, Caroline and John Butler, were baptized in 1835 in Simpson, Kentucky. At the Prophet Joseph’s command, they gathered to unite with the Saints in Iowa, and then in Nauvoo. They crossed the plains and finally gathered to Utah, where they settled in Spanish Fork. They faced persecution and poverty, and remained stalwart to the end. So with all our ancestors, literal, or spiritual. It is in that spirit - that legacy of gathering, of love, of unity, that I would like to speak today.

I actually wrote this opening about 10 minutes before I stood up to give my speech (not that I would recommend saving it THAT much). The last line of your first paragraph is the key transition from opening to the core of your speech. Here's where you say, "I'd like to provide three tips on how to improve your racquetball game." I was a little subtler, but connected the small story to the topic right there at the end of the opening. 

Make sure your opening doesn't weaken your speech. If it does nothing but "make the audience more comfortable," leave it out. As far as an opening joke, if your audience doesn't know you well, you have a 50/50 chance of a joke falling flat, and I wouldn't risk it. Your opening should take no more than ~10% of your speech. So for a 10-minute speech, think 45-60 seconds. And now for the most important bit, which I've saved for last.

DON'T EVER APOLOGIZE

We were actually in the car on the way to church while she was trying to figure out her opening (hm, did she inherit that?). And I've been thinking for days about this exchange.

I said, "Maybe just introduce yourself, and then go into your first thing."
She said, "What about, 'Hi, I'm Rowen Sprague. I am giving my first talk in church, so I know it isn't...'"
"No. Don't apologize."
She tried it another way, "'Hi, I'm Rowen Sprague, and I don't know why I was asked...'"
She was frustrated when I interrupted her again. "You don't ever need to apologize for what you are about to say."

As women, it's a sort of social instinct to make ourselves less - maybe it feels ingratiating, or polite, or that if we lower ourselves by apologizing for our work, we'll lower their expectations of us. But no. They won't like you better because you told them your stuff was crappy. You own that stuff, you have a right to be where you are, you're prepared for it, and you have a message to deliver. You didn't come share this just for their approval. Don't hide your light.

I mean it. This goes for any time you stand up in front of more than 2 people, write on your blog, post a photo in an online gallery, or talk in a meeting. You can never use any of these phrases ever again:

  • "I know this isn't..."
  • "I didn't..."
  • "I'm sorry, but/because"
  • "I can't (insert some technology reason)"
  • "I did this at the last minute" (or any reference to how little time you had, or even how much time you had, but that it still isn't any good for whatever reason)
  • Blaming your own shyness
  • Blaming your own inexperience at presenting/speaking/showing up "I'm not very good at..."
  • Blaming anyone else, even as a sort of joke (i.e. the boss told me I had to)
  • Comparing yourself or your presentation/material a great master.

Okay, I think you get it. Yes? You are not more by seeming less. You are more by preparing with that audience in mind, and then delivering with conviction. Don't hide your light. And don't ever, ever, EVER apologize for it.

xo

-JS

Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? Not for me.

Okay. So Jared heard this really sweet Japanese lady on NPR a couple months ago, talking about her book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," and he thought (not with any side-eye at me, I double-checked) this sounds really cool, kinda like mindfully decluttering, yah? Honing down your stuff to the stuff that really matters so your mind can be clearer. Cool philosophy, yah? So he ordered it. I got my hands on it first, because that's what always happens when books come in to my house.  

JAPANESE CLEANING CONSULTANT MARIE KONDO TAKES TIDYING TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL, PROMISING THAT IF YOU PROPERLY SIMPLIFY AND ORGANIZE YOUR HOME ONCE, YOU’LL NEVER HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN. MOST METHODS ADVOCATE A ROOM-BY-ROOM OR LITTLE-BY-LITTLE APPROACH, WHICH DOOM YOU TO PICK AWAY AT YOUR PILES OF STUFF FOREVER WITH DETAILED GUIDANCE FOR DETERMINING WHICH ITEMS IN YOUR HOUSE “SPARK JOY” (AND WHICH DON’T), THIS INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER FEATURING TOKYO’S NEWEST LIFESTYLE PHENOMENON WILL HELP YOU CLEAR YOUR CLUTTER AND ENJOY THE UNIQUE MAGIC OF A TIDY HOME—AND THE CALM, MOTIVATED MINDSET IT CAN INSPIRE.

JAPANESE CLEANING CONSULTANT MARIE KONDO TAKES TIDYING TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL, PROMISING THAT IF YOU PROPERLY SIMPLIFY AND ORGANIZE YOUR HOME ONCE, YOU’LL NEVER HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN. MOST METHODS ADVOCATE A ROOM-BY-ROOM OR LITTLE-BY-LITTLE APPROACH, WHICH DOOM YOU TO PICK AWAY AT YOUR PILES OF STUFF FOREVER WITH DETAILED GUIDANCE FOR DETERMINING WHICH ITEMS IN YOUR HOUSE “SPARK JOY” (AND WHICH DON’T), THIS INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER FEATURING TOKYO’S NEWEST LIFESTYLE PHENOMENON WILL HELP YOU CLEAR YOUR CLUTTER AND ENJOY THE UNIQUE MAGIC OF A TIDY HOME—AND THE CALM, MOTIVATED MINDSET IT CAN INSPIRE.

The rest of this review/outrage is without actually referencing the book, because I kinda never want to see it again. So this is the gist, coupled with probably a whole lot of my own insecurity and need to hold on to stuff.

So just like most organization books (like everyone, I own several), she lays things out in the steps you're supposed to follow. I've seen them start in the kitchen, in the master closet, in any closet, so this approach was interesting:

Step 1: Start with everything.

Get out all the clothes in your house. ALL of them. Now put them in a pile, like the living room. Now start throwing stuff out. If you missed anything during the initial gathering phase, that automatically gets dontated or trashed. You should end up with (some miniscule number, I forget, of) clothes and shoes. SHOES! (See my entire Pinterest board about shoes)

Step Whatever: Now put that stuff back nice, you hear?

(I actually lost consciousness for a little while there, while contemplating the enormity of step 1, and how with my 10-second attention span and my inability to put away more than EVEN ONE LOAD OF LAUNDRY, this would be a complete disaster and everyone at my house would be naked.)

Now there ARE some interesting ideas in here. You must handle each piece of clothing, do the inner check of whether this sparks joy in you. That's cool. And then when you put away, you should treat your clothing with kindness. I am ALL for the little details of feeling good (she recommends putting your bras upright with the cups tucked together so you can see all the pretty when you open your drawer in the morning. LOVE THAT. But still groggy from the whole let's throw everything else away mmkay? All in one big shot? Ok.

Step Whatever + 1: Now throw away most of your books

And now you know why it has been a couple of months since I read this book. I'm actually just waking up from the coma. 

Gotta say here, that right after grownup-girl school supplies (ahem: scrapbook and crafting supplies) and shoes in my Constellation of Things I Love, comes books. Possibly those are even interchangeable. 

So when Mama Bear (albeit sweetly) says "take out all your books and pile them around (also see above for the despair this already caused me). Then touch each one, ask if it sparks joy, and give it away if it doesn't."

Honestly, I like that idea. Keep the books you like and/or that make you happy. What I don't like is what comes next.

Limit yourself to 30 books. Because how many times are you going to read a book after you've already read it once? So come on now, heave ho!

Uh. What?

Exhibit A: My Main Bookshelves

My books on the right. Fiction in the middle. Reference books below.

My books on the right. Fiction in the middle. Reference books below.

Yup. They could use a little tidying. As long as if by tidying you DON'T mean GETTING RID OF ALL OF THEM. Because I like books. I like being around them. I like owning the books I like. 

First off, how can ANYONE say you can never own more than x number of books? They don't know me, mang. My undergraduate degree is in English, and the English department at BYU sure as hell cared that I owned more than 30 books. Why would I part with those after living in them for so long? Those (see down the middle shelves there, as well as the two bookcases up in the living room) are part of me. They remind me of me

Honestly, I stopped reading after this point.

Because next she is going to tell me that I should erase my external hard drive and enjoy the fresh air that 2 Terabytes of blank space will give me. 

Let's Look at the Introduction

And ya know, this might be a quibble, but surely we should be more selective of the reviews we include in the book's introduction? This one:

"Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don't. So I got a divorce. Now I am much happier."

Welp. Looks like that woman needed a whole other kind of tidying. But seriously? Throwing away all your books and clothes will help you see that you've been gasping for air in your marriage and burying your real feelings among your excess of tin foil (okay confession: I read the part about throwing away all your extra food/family storage. Not eeeeeven gonna go there)? Maybe. But is that something to brag about in the introduction to your book? Let's toss out the dead weight. Even if he is the father of your children. Maybe therapy first? But those three sentences are so awful I can hardly believe they were written to her, let alone something she'd be so proud of that it's included in the introduction to her book. 

Wow. So are you almost tempted to buy this book? Because based on almost 9000 reviews on Amazon, it has really struck a chord with a lot of people who feel like they are drowning in their own stuff. With people who believe only a radical change will really save them from themselves. A Facebook group, too.

And I totally get that most of the reason this book struck such a negative chord with me, is my own insecurity and wrong-headedness. I actually wrote a whole journal entry about it, and got to take a look at myself SELF in relationship to my belongings. If for no other reason, I'm glad I read this book (the first 2 chapters anyway, ha!)

The Opposite Side of the "Tidy" Coin

On the other hand, this whole thing (I seriously griped about the "Life-Changing" book for 3 days, but that was weeks ago) was brought back again by a picture Jared showed me, and which I then looked up on Amazon:

 

The anti-clutter movement is having a moment. You may have heard about a book―an entire book―written on the topic of tidiness and how “magical” and “life-changing” it is to neaten up and THROW AWAY YOUR BELONGINGS. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s time to fight that ridiculousness and start buying even more stuff and leaving it any place you want. Guess what, neatniks? Science shows that messy people are more creative.*

I laughed my face off at the description. I have no idea whether that's just parody, or whether it's validation for the author, offered to all the cluttery Americans out there. Who just own too much stuff, dammit. Too much! But I intend to take a look. Maybe it'll spark the same kind of conversation with myself as the Tidying-Up book did. :)

Maybe it'll find a place on my bookshelves. There'll always be room.


Farewell, David Bowie.

In Memoriam

David Robert Jones | David Bowie
1947-2016

I wasn't even alive when David Bowie first got started. - he was, after all, my parents' age. I was in high school when Changesbowie came out (1990), and it was on permanent repeat (or the analog version of it, since it was a cassette) for months. My best friend Share and I pretty much wore that thing out, interspersed with Billy Idol and the soundtrack to Lost Boys, during the summer between our Freshman and Sophomore years. 

That the album itself was a compilation of earlier music was lost on me, despite the album cover showing so many of his varied personae: 

He was beautiful and theatrical and strange, thin like Jack Pumpkinhead from Nightmare Before Christmas, and with an impossibly haunting high-low voice. I would catch glimpses in magazines of the pink hair, the shadowy makeup, the sculptural or strange or barely-there clothing. This was Sugar City, Idaho, now. People wear regular clothes, not crazy clothes. Boys don't wear makeup, or a pink wig that was possibly not even a wig. We don't do things that are weird, and it is not ok to be weird.

Trouble was, in my little town of 1200, in 1990, I WAS weird. Angry and lost and weird. And hell, I thought his pink possibly-not-a-wig was amazing. His androgyny was alluring, and scary to me for its allure.

Changesbowie was ABOUT change, in a time when I myself was changing. He was a master of invention, and every song on this album was different because each was a snapshot in time of an ultimate musical chameleon. And that voice. How could such a voice - so gorgeously and hugely glam, turn dance-pop in Let's Dance, and haunting in Space Oddity, and never sound inauthentic?

Because he - at least what we all believe is the real he, really was all those things. Theatricality and complexity, showmanship without self-aggrandization, earnestness and unresolved feeling and that body and makeup captivating like an otherworldly sculpture. 

I've been reading a lot about him today. And remembering that within a few years of the first time I was singing along to Changes:

“Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Oh look out now you rock and rollers
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older.”

And belting the gorgeous chorus of "Let's Dance":

If you say run, I'll run with you
If you say hide, we'll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower
Let's dance
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues,

I myself would be turning to face strange changes he was only hinting about. I, who didn't even OWN a pair of red shoes, would indeed learn what it means to dance the blues - that it would be a lifelong dance (maybe danced to Space Oddity, even, because if you really listen, WOW.). And yes, of course, I would need red shoes for it. (I own 3 pairs now, btw).

I especially enjoyed this New York Times article about him. 

Can You Hear Me, Major Tom?

I guess I was as shocked as everyone that he suddenly dropped an album after seeming to disappear for so many years. What! A new Bowie album. And then to find out this morning that this gift of new music would be (as he knew) his parting gift to the world.

I think his most haunting song for me is Space Oddity. That crazy slant-harmony, and the bittersweet ending, with the anxiety and peace and not-quite knowing what happened. Beautiful. Here's the original:

And here is the first music video ever recorded in space, Space Oddity by Commander Chris Hadfield, aboard the ISS.

The stars look very different today, Major Tom. 

"The Stars Look Very Different Today"   Cartoon by Benjamin Schwartz, New Yorker

"The Stars Look Very Different Today"

Cartoon by Benjamin Schwartz, New Yorker

Put On Your Red Shoes

Changesbowie was one of my growing-up albums, and in some ways, he was the alter-ego to what I had around me. His message to me was that it's ok to be absolutely, wildly, creatively, boldly YOURSELF - seeing layers of joy and sadness and future and past and what could be, with a little loneliness, yes. But with an acceptance that your very strangeness is what makes you. That complex emotion is ok. That it's ok to earnestly be and think and believe and relish a million things authentically. That reality is our own to make, if we can envision it. And that if we want to wear red shoes, we should damn well wear them.

Through the deep waters.
Photo by Selover from Pexels

Photo by Selover from Pexels

In memory of Robin Williams, 1951-2014. 

Whose work made me think, and laugh, and try harder, and whose hidden sorrow and untimely death brings me here, in the hope that together we can save a few.

Rest in peace, Lonesome Robin. 

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. 

-Isaiah 43:2

I don't talk about depression very often around here - or specifically about my depression. I'm actually not that sure why, except that, especially here, I choose to focus on happiness, optimism, my blessings. And laying this stuff out there is hard, I'll be honest.

But man. For the second time in two days Mr. Robin Williams has propelled me to step back out. So I will provide fair warning: heavy stuff ahead.

Yesterday I cried.

I cried for Mr. Robin Williams, along with the world's world's cries of shock and bewilderment and sadness. But I also cried a little harder for him. Because for me, it is terrifyingly easy to imagine the level of pain and loneliness and darkness that surrounds such a decision, such a deliberate act as suicide.

And so here I am talking about it. And please, If this post gets to you somehow, consider it a sign:

Do not end it. 

I was first treated for depression when I was still in high school. So let's say 20 years, give or take. And on and off until about 7 years ago, when I went on (treatment) in a long-term way. Like a for the rest of my life kind of way. I've had a long time to assess the situation, a long time to figure out and accept three things:

  1. Depression is not our fault. Not weakness of will or lack of faith or lack of nutrition or effort. It can be deadly, and should be treated and monitored like any chronic physical illness.
  2. Depression is so, so much more than melancholy, or a passing squall of grief and tears. It can be deadly, and should be treated like any other life-threatening illness. 
  3. Depression is treatable, but it's like walking on sand. It changes states and degrees over months or even days, evading 'cure' and requiring (for many) lifelong treatment and vigilance. 

Depression is Not Your Fault

I've experienced a lot of misunderstanding in the last 20 years of dealing with, suffering through, and accepting the fact that this simply IS a part of my life. And I will say that it takes a really long time to come to the point where you can look yourself in the mirror and say, this is not my fault. This dark and desperate and powerless way I feel, this going-through-the-motions-of-life way I feel isn't because of something done or undone. It is a rock to carry, your rock to carry, and possibly to carry on and on, stumbling til you lay it all down in the end. The hills ain't going away, and the rock gets so, so heavy. Other people have other rocks, and this one is yours. That must be said with acceptance and not with despair, and that's a fine, fine line.

And I will say also, that YEARS of careful self-acceptance can be undone by a single breathtakingly insensitive comment like, "Well, maybe if you could just pray a little more?"

Or, "I'm sure if you just get moving then it isn't so bad? More exercise? Vitamins? Positive thinking?"

And this: "Maybe you're getting TOO MUCH sleep and that's what's wrong?" 

No. That isn't what's wrong. 

That isn't what's wrong. What's wrong is that I need real help and I'm reaching out because I'm hurt, and I'm being insulted in return.

Nothing but the fact that you have depression is ever what is wrong. Put away the lie that you have mental or moral weakness, or that you simply don't have enough willpower or that you were born to be a terrible housekeeper. What's wrong is this outsider perspective that sees depression as something that can be "powered through." That can and should simply be sucked up with gritted teeth. Like walking on a sprained ankle, maybe. Maybe you put a brace on it, walk it off, it'll be fine. 

Major depression is really like diabetes. Your body doesn't make enough of something it needs, or isn't using what it has in a way that works enough. There's no permanent fix. You get really, really sick if you don't treat it, and so you must spend a lifetime handling with great care and constant vigilance. Management, not cure. Support and not scorn.

And I cried for Mr. Robin Williams yesterday because his decision to end his own precious life full of humor and influence highlights a terrible misunderstanding in our society: That untreated or poorly treated depression cannot be as lethal as untreated diabetes. Do not ever doubt that we're talking about something as serious on either hand. No one in their right mind would tell a diabetic to suck it up or power on through, and chronic depression is no different

So if you are privileged to be one of the Trusted Ones that your person reaches out to, (depression is still a pretty embarrassing thing to admit to out loud, and it takes an immense amount of courage for a grown-ass, independent woman to admit to needing help), please, for the sweet love. Put away the thoughts of the ankle brace and focus instead on just listening. And do not walk away until you're sure your person is safe back to the shore.

So Much More than Melancholy

I've been sad a bunch in my life. We all have. Shocked or grieving or hopeless or blindsided or betrayed or wandering through a desert of doubt. Everyone wades through dark water, everyone. And it's the worstFather Lehi says in the Book of Mormon, that our trials on earth teach us the difference between joy and sorrow - that there actually isn't any song of joy to sing at all without its accompanying bag of rocks to carry. That's the way the world and mortal education just works. And we come back out of the deep water and find our way to some joy again, so grateful that we know the difference.

And then there is chronic depression. Major depression. Bipolarity. The long-term stuff that sends your psyche into a tailspin a thousand times worse than any other doubt or dark water, because it seems endless, the rock infinitely heavy.

What It's Like: My Journal

In my personal reflections I like to hand-write a journal, that I don't share with anyone, and wouldn't normally share here. But it seems important to tell what really is in my mind during one of the dark times. Don't ever let anyone tell you that psychic pain is any less exquisitely painful than broken bones or a severed artery. Or that it isn't real because it can't be seen.

This is from October 29 of 2013. It's also very, very tear-stained.

The rock is heavy tonight. It is both infinitely weighted and invisible, so when I look inside all I can see is just flatness. No desire. No love. No hope that doing anything will make it better or make any difference. 
Tears - hot shameful tears of self-pity and self-loathing and hopelessness, and - I think - grief - for lost years and all my stuck-ness and suffering and battle against something massive, invisible, impossible to describe. It is formless and so only feels like emptiness. Only feels like failure, and such deep, deep mourning. 
So here I am at the bottom - nearly as far down as I ever get, only hearing echoes in my head and not comfort, or answers, or peace. Only more tears. 
Eventually the tears will go quiet and I will go quiet, and stop writhing in invisible pain, and just sleep. It's the only answer I've found to get on by and back up the hill a bit. Back up to a place where I can at least believe in the sun even if I can't see it - too far down and all hope if light gets swallowed up in the unending, unfathomable, suffocating dark.
Drink the bitter cup and be strong. There is a Savior who went before me, who bore this grief and carried this nameless abyss of sorry, and who even if He will not or cannot take it from me, will at least tread down the long dark road with me, until the higher ground comes and there's a hope of sun on the horizon. 
I know at some level it's the devil's lie to think they're better off without me, that ending my own suffering would end theirs, too. A convenient and easy-to-belive lie that always surfaces during the worst of the psychic vulnerability when the idea of disappearance sounds so, so appealing. Rest. Anything to stop the present pain, bleeding like an amputated limb, collapsing like a deflated hot air balloon. And in the ashes around me, ashes of dreams and hopes and curiosity and desire, now all seemingly, everlastingly burned away - just giving up, turning off the cold dark path and lying down forever right over here.
Perhaps my people up on the ridge won't notice and come looking to shake me out of my stupor of living death, for what is life without hope?
 Perhaps they will move off into the distance, my bright little caravan, capturing the joys of their life together and no longer weighed down with watchfulness hoping that this time I can stay out of the dark valley. Disappointed, maybe, that I return here again and again needing rescue. 
I'll be rescued, if I wait it out. Time and sleep and some chocolate and maybe a bath will ease me back to life, back up the ridge to carry on. But my footing's unsure, and my rock's a tricky and unbalanced weight. So the real rescue - a permanent place among the caravan on the ridge is a hopeless dream. 
That's ok. The times on the ridge - out in the sun with a little warmth and perspective help me leave the valley to itself for a time. But tonight, among the ashes on this dark and familiar and neverendlingly infinitely dark road I want to lay down and disappear among the ashes. To not need the immense amount of effort of simply trying anymore. But I will and I always will, sometimes more and sometimes less. More's the pity. So I'll sleep while it's dark and hope for a bright morning.

Depression Is Like Walking on Shifting Sand

One of the things you might have noticed there is that I've known about this and been in treatment for this for two decades. Intensive treatment with therapy and meds for more than 7 years, and yet that journal entry from the abyss of darkness, that frightened me even as I copied it down, is from less than a year ago. That's because depression is a shifty bastard. No other way to put it.

See, the truly sucky part (there is no word to describe the level of suck, actually) about depression is that it requires not only vigilance (taking its daily toll as though collecting the cover charge at the door of every morning), but it requires that you be rescued - not just once, but over and over again. As if asking for help once weren't excruciating enough.

And despite all your care and vigilance it'll just happen and you won't be able to control when or for how long, or how bad it will be this time, no matter what you do. That's what that journal entry means. Seven years in, twenty years in, good meds and therapy, and still it happens. It is what it is. But what I do know, is that the chances of feeling better in the long term increase with meds and therapy in combination. It's uncertain and slow, kind of like going to the eye doctor for new glasses, but it takes a year to get anywhere close to a prescription that works. "Do you see better with A or B? Come back in a month and we'll check on it." Depression is all the more painful because treatment is so difficult. And what worked a year ago, might not be entirely working now. 

If you're like me, it'll never truly pass, and that shadow will live there all your life, sometimes growing and sometimes receding. Meds and therapy. Sunshine. Prayer. A text to a friend. Getting out of your damn bed even though you need a running start. 

Don't disappear. Please. 

I'm not gonna lie, 2013 was a beast. It was a near-daily struggle with physical and mental illness, imbalance, confusion. I was helped through it - rescued from that instance of it - by a very kind counselor (who at one point during last summer, made me do daily suicide watch check-ins). It isn't my fault. Meds and therapy. And it will get better.

I know this is seriously heavy stuff. Frightening, actually. But I need for two things to happen by sharing this:

  1. If you are suffering, I'm over here, ok? I know a little of what the valley is like, and how excruciating the pain is. And how lonely that desolate place can be. When the rescue comes, recognize it for what it is, ok? Sit tight and wait for it.
  2. If you love someone who has been in the valley, or who has gone there again and again, they need your strength. They need your hand in a practical way, and it's impossible for you to be too concerned about this. Say "here, tomorrow I'll sit with you while you call a mental health center. Tonight I'll bring you the laptop so you can email your therapist that we'll be at their office first thing. I see you and your suffering, and I'm here." You'll be the rescue. 

On Rescue From the Valley

Every time I've been in the valley, I've been rescued by something, or someone, that pushes me back up toward the ridge and into the hope of sunlight again. Here are a few.

In an Emergency: Call the Hotline

This is really important, okay? If it is really bad, and you are thinking concretely about pills or ropes or your car's exhaust or whatever, stop whatever you are doing, ok? Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Call right now 1-800-273-8255. Right now, man. I mean it. Please, do not end your infinitely precious life. 

Step 1: Call A Mental Health Clinic

Go online or to the phone book and look up a local Mental Health clinic, call them and ask to see a psychiatrist. They're MDs who can evaluate, prescribe, and recommend what additional therapy is needed. And they'll become your Someone if it ever gets really bad and you need to go somewhere to get safe. 

Make the phone call right now. Not tomorrow, or after your other to-dos are done, okay? You know you've already put this off too long. Your life will change forever when you do this step, I pinkie-swear.

Reach Out

And while you're waiting for your appointment, which honestly should be less than a week away or you need to call someone else, text a friend just to say hi. I've been rescued by Heidi, Kristen, Tori, Tristina, Erin, Sherrie, Heather, my dad, another Heather, Greg, Carol, and a lot of others. And of course, my soulmate Jared. Rescuers all, and they probably don't even know it. They represent contact with the world, a tie and a touchstone that says yep. If I reach, only reach.

Sit Still

Sometimes, some of us are only rescued from desperate acts by putting ourselves in a place where we can't act - we can just ride it out. Lock up the pills. Get in bed. Get in the (empty) tub. Lay in your closet. Squeeze those eyes shut and sleep or ask for a milkshake or for someone to hold on to you til the pain gets easier.

Also, if you get to this place, you should have calls or emails in to your professionals.

A Beautiful Sermon: Hope is Never Lost

I was rescued by a just-in-time sermon by Jeffrey R. Holland from the LDS Conference in October, which I'm embedding here because maybe it will rescue you, too:

Put Pen to Paper

Write. Write write write. Get a pen. Sob it out. It sucks, it hurts, oh sweet baby Moses in a basket it hurts. But if your pen is on the page and your thoughts are here, they aren't over there where the water is a little too temptingly deep. And when you get back to the lighter place, maybe a few weeks or months from now when the meds and therapy are making it easier, you can read that thing and know, if you go to the valley again, you'll come back out. Your little bright caravan on the ridge will not leave without you. If they didn't back then, they won't the next time. Proof.

Find Hope in Music

Get a song or two that really speaks to you. I have been rescued by the great Pioneer anthem Come, Come Ye Saints more times than I can count. I can picture those stalwarts there on the plains, walking and freezing and dying for their cause, and echo, 

Why should we mourn, or think our lot is hard?
Why should we think to earn a great reward, if we now shun the fight,
Gird up your loins, fresh courage take!  Our God will never us forsake!
And soon we'll have this tale to tell,
All is well! All is well!

Incidentally, here is that very hymn as sung by the magnificent Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Take a minute to watch it, ok?

So. We are called, sometimes, to go through the deep waters. To tread down into a valley that seems only full of desolation, and the most exquisite pain imaginable. And we may go there over and over again before the journey's through. 

If you're there in the valley or you find yourself nodding to the journal entry above and you haven't gotten help, get help. I hope that I can be proof that hope and help are there. And I want you to know that I know what real courage is: taking the step. You don't have to go through the motions anymore. There can be a day when you don't need a running start to get out of bed. And when the light comes again, it will be breathtaking.

If you are a Trusted One, fight the urge to lecture or suggest, or judge or become impatient. This particular rock is excruciatingly heavy at times, and although it's probably completely baffling from the outside, all you need to get right now is that your person is hurting. Call in the troops. Get those wagons of mental health professionals circled up around them. Your bright and beautiful person will come back up the ridge, and you can carry on into the dawn together.

With so much love,

-JS

Moving House. Your help?

Okay, so I mentioned that we're moving, right? We've lived in our cute house on Bristol Blue Street for almost NINE years. Sheesh, that sounds like a long time. When we moved here, both my kids were in diapers. Elliott couldn't walk yet. We had a double stroller, two carseats, and a lot of gratitude for our new home that wasn't in Minnesota (where it was 1000 degrees below zero when we moved).

I want to spend at least one post with photos and memories in general, but I have photos of me stripping wallpaper. Of us chasing in the backyard. Of each of the kids' birthdays right up until 9 and 10. It has been our shelter and refuge and a place of healing and hope, and love. And it's also time to give it over to someone else to love. :) 

We've also found a new place. You know how you have that list of what your PERFECT house would have? It's like the perfect hand in a deck of cards. Some are the aces you know you have to keep. And some you'd be willing to trade if you got enough other things to make up for it. So I had been looking online and driving to see houses for something like 3 months, and had gone with our realtor to a few, but nothing really was like, YES. They say that happens, right? I had actually started to feel like that wouldn't happen. But went to check on a listing for a new construction home. The salesman took me to see the house, which was only sticks at that point, and I walked in the front door (of sticks), looked up at the two-story foyer (on the list!) and through the other sticks to the backyard, and said, YES. We put our offer in for it the next day. So I'm really, really excited.

Well, let me be truthful. 

We've had such a hard time selling our current place that we haven't let ourselves be over-the-top excited yet, but all the main hurdles are over, so now we can get excited! I am still frankly finding the whole thing a little hard to believe. :)

Here's Where You Come In

So, as I mentioned, the last time I was in this position was 9 years ago? We are closing on THIS house (Bristol Blue) on the 28th, but won't close on the new house (on Henderson Rd.) until the 29th. So even though the new house is only about 20 mins drive away, there'll be some logistics about what to do with the truck and/or ourselves in the intervening.

And of course aside from that I don't even know what I don't know - what I won't even think of. So now I need your help.

Let's start with these: 

  • Have you found a good list somewhere? Like of what to do when? 
  • Utilities. Do I transfer them to start on a certain date?
  • Who should I be telling our new address to? 
  • Have you hired packers and/or movers? Was it worth it?
  • Did you rent a U-Haul or another truck? How did you decide how big your truck should be?
  • Clothing: for a drive this short, all in cars, or into boxes?
  • What were you so glad you did in your previous moving experience(s)? 
  • What would you do differently from your own moving experiences if you had it to do over again? 
  • Anything else?
Also, are you busy on Friday? And can you bring some boxes when you come over? I'll make the Hot Pockets. Kthx.
And YOU may contribute a verse.
Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, Dead Poets Society

Just now. Like, five minutes ago, I was shocked out of my bloggy silence by the news of the death of Robin Williams. I know, people - and even celebrities - die all the time. But this one, this news? Was the signal that I really need to end the silence I've held here for so long.

It isn't that I haven't thought about writing here in my blog. It's been my journal for years. It isn't as though I haven't laughed at something or thought of something and thought - I should ... but for all this time it hasn't gotten further than that. 

Confession: I've been hiding. 

Granted, lots of things have been going on this summer - with getting the kids out of school, the agonizing experience of selling our cute house (44 showings. That's right. 44.) Organizing endless repairs. Visiting grandparents in Idaho and Oregon for 2 1/2 weeks. Finding a new house to move to. Getting the kids settled into their new year-round school. Trying to make a list of all the stuff we have to do before we close on August 28 (my birthday!). And pain. And the always, always tiredness.

Whether they're reasons for silence, or excuses, the fact still remains: I've been hiding. It's so much easier to just disappear, don't you think? You don't have to talk to anyone, be responsible to anyone, and if you set no goals and account to no one, you don't have to face failure. Oh, failure and guilt niggle in the back of the mind, of course, but if you hide, nobody can see. And if you don't blog, you don't have to think about it.

Part of this has been the confusion and turmoil of slowing down teaching classes at JessicaSprague.com. If I am not this anymore (or not all the time), then what am I

Cue identity crisis. The resulting tailspin. The desire-and-yet-not-motivated-enough-to-overcome-the-fear of finding (creating?) something new in myself put on hold over and over again. And instead of facing the lack of answers with humility and care, cue hiding. From you. From myself. A lot of knitting. A lot of Sudoku. And a lot less introspection.

And then, (Mr. Keating) Mr. Williams. And one clear call for me. 

Is there anyone here who saw Dead Poets Society and whose life wasn't changed forever? I know Robin was talented (they're saying it all over the world now). And I know he played other roles. But his performance as Mr. Keating changed me. He was Mr. Keating, he inhabited that role. And as terrible as it is, his death made me remember: 

We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. 

How, in the face of this, can I stay silent? How can I keep from singing?

I've only got a bit, a little bit of life (relatively speaking) - to be on the stage, and I've been pretending I don't exist, hoping that people forget and don't look for me too closely. Well, just like always, no matter what I've ever done, there comes the point where I can't pretend anymore. Where the words and thoughts, the beauty and poetry and patterns and photographs and fonts have build such a pressure behind my heart I have to let them out, have to write it or glue it or cut it or edit it in Photoshop. Have to make the marks. Risky business, that. But it is the creative life. It demands attention, and it can never be completely ignored. (And I'm not the only one, mama: you feel it too, don't you? And if you ever doubt, please watch this video. As many times as you need to. Take two, call me in the morning.

And so I'm called up by this today, called to come back to the creative well and dip in again:

You are here ... life exists, and identity; ... the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. ... The powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

After so long afraid of whatever the answer to this might be (or maybe even more afraid that I actually had no answer), I've decided I don't care. Doesn't have to be great or grandiose, or even worthy (this whole idea that what we write has to be worthy of a post has held a lot of us back, hasn't it?) It does have to be spelled right, and it does have to be honest and earnest. here I am.

Long Time No See. You've Been Having Fun?

Well! That was an interesting two+ month break, right? Lots has happened, man. Let's see... 

  • I opened the digital shop at SnapClickSupply.com, which is the new home for digital goods from my partner designers, and provides an awesome shopping experience. Seriously. Go get ya some.
  • I've started writing again. I'll share a poem in a bit if you promise not to laugh ok? Promise and pinkie swear. Sharing that stuff is hard for me. Which is weird because I've spent pretty much the past 10 years photographing and sharing all my deets, but the super-secret words I pen in the dark of night? Feels a little naked, you know? Like, if you came and looked in my closet or my dresser drawers (please, for the love, dont!), I would feel about the same way.
  • I'm also writing a book. There, I said it out loud, so now it's real, right? I'm at about 43,517 words (but who is counting?), and I'm using Scrivener on my Mac, which is pretty much the best writing software I've ever used ever, and not just because it's the only one. Seriously. More on that as progress continues. :)
  • I'm in the process of redesigning JessicaSprague.com - I've got a lot of projects going on (i.e. SnapClickSupply, StoriesinHand, Etsy) and I'm excited to have one place to access them all from - plus the classes and our awesome community which will stay put!
  • Oh, and we've been cleaning and prepping like crazy
  • Because we're selling our house. It goes on the market next week. Eek! (Main reason: We need one more bedroom. Right now when we have visitors they either have to stay in a hotel (my parents) or they have to sleep on our couch (Jared's mom - who refuses to take our bed despite years of us begging), and we are SO.VERY.DONE with that action. 
  • So now we are also house hunting. Beady eyes on Zillow.com and the really cool Zillow iPad app. :)
  • I also was invited to be part of the Google Glass explorer beta, which means I have been rocking a Google Glass for a couple of months, but hadn't ordered the new prescription frames, (I'll give you three guesses which frames out of the 4 that I picked ;) and I received them today! YAY! I'll be having the prescription filled this week or next I think, and I'm really excited! The Glass itself is so cool, but as a glasses-wearing girl, I've had to put contacts in whenever I want to use it.
  • And that's right, I really can take a picture by winking my eye. Yes I can. And now I can die happy, for all my fondest wishes have really come true. 
  • And in all that time, I have only purchased one! new pair of shoes. And also a dress to match the new shoes, because that's the order any outfit goes together. 
Happy New (February) Year!

Happy New Year!

That's what I meant to write one month and six days ago, and somehow January disappeared. So the fact that I didn't even START my New Year's Resolution (this one, and a couple of others) doesn't really mean I broke them, right? Just - delayed for a month. :)

What I do know, is that I'm really glad that 2013 is over. Whew. I know that December 31 and January 1 are just days, and not really that different from one another, but a new year feels like a new opportunity. Maybe to start something we've intended to do, or to get better at something, or to shed the scales of routine and drudge and try to see the world with new eyes again. To learn how to be patient with the process. To get back to joy. 

I got a new case for my iPhone from Uncommon for the new year, and after thinking long and hard I decided to put a Bible verse from Hebrews 12:1 that has felt really apt the past few months. Here's how it turned out: 

IMG_0523.jpg

(I will say that the difficulty of taking a quick picture of my iPhone without the actual phone took a couple of minutes of figuring out. ;)

Do you have a quote or a verse on your phone case or something else you carry everywhere? 

The Business of Being in Business

 First I must share a quote:

“Everybody go back to work…Because this is a business, and we’re in the business of being in business and we’re doing business and nobody’s business…Do it!  Business.  Good!  I want business done…Just the way it should be!”

- Monty Brewster  |  Brewster’s Millions (1985)

Pretty much sums up the last oh, 3 months of my working life? Things are a lot different with me since finding out about lupus. Some of it has just been acceptance. Learning to run with patience. Learning that there are good days and bad days, good hours and bad hours. There wasn't much equilibrium in my life before, what with the working and traveling and teaching and mama-ing and wife-ing and whatnot, and there certainly isn't any more now, but somehow the past few months have felt like permission. Yes. It's ok. Sleep. Feel better. Let it go.

I taught a digital organization class in January, which will be going up for sale as a self-paced class soon. There are other classes in the works. Photoshop isn't going away, memory-keeping isn't, and I'm not. I'll have more to say about this a bit later, though. It IS a slowing down process, for now. Not 9 new classes, like I did last year - but maybe 5 or 6? 

I've been reading a lot of books, designing some new stuff, and taking naps And it feels really good. Especially the naps. ;)

The Business of (Being Afraid to Share My) Writing

I've also been writing. A lot. Trying to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard every day. And I'm finding something interesting there - I have discovered that my writing is one of the very few parts of myself that I'm really shy about sharing. Weird, right? I mean I share my scrapbook pages without batting an eye. I've told personal stories in dozens or hundreds of classes, given talks and speeches since high school. I've blogged for almost 8 years. But my own stuff - the writing like poems and stories? Terrifying

I've been writing (a writer? one who writes?) since I can remember. It's part of the reason I decided to take English as my undergraduate major. I love words.  I love reading them both out loud and silently, savoring the best of them with closed eyes. I'm moved by them, and when they are put together well, they resonate in my soul like nothing else does.

I remember the first time words made me cry. I was sitting on the floor in 2nd grade, surrounded by my classmates, learning the words to the song Puff the Magic Dragon from a flipchart (I assume we were planning to sing it at some point, but I can't remember). We came to the third verse:

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys 
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys. 
One grey night it happened, Jackie paper came no more 
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar. 

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain, 
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane. 
Without his life-long friend, puff could not be brave, 
So puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

All I remember is that this part was so - hard to bear - that I could only cry. Tears ran down my face, in grief at these two friends parting forever. I couldn't believe we were learning a song that was so tragically sad, and that I seemed to be the only person who saw that. I know for a fact I was the only 8 year old in the room who was sobbing her face off. Even now that last refrain makes my heart constrict and my throat close. 

This certainly wasn't the last time - everything from Gone With the Wind (high school) to scripture (also high school), to Annie Dillard's The Writing Life (about 5 years ago or so), to The Lord of The Rings (I cried unashamedly through almost the entire Return of the King - all four times I've read it) to Harry Potter (Snape in Book 7! *sob*) to the third book in the Infernal Devices series (maybe a month ago?), words of poetry and prose, song and scripture and "high art" and "low art" has had me crying my whole life, it seems. Tears of resonance, of recognition, of grief or longing, of humility in the face of great deeds or great sacrifice. 

What I do know, is that there are words inside me. Maybe that's part of the resonance. Sometimes I'll read something or think something, and I must respond to by writing. With this year's new adventure I'm trying to make the writing part happen that more often than those occasions when I can't NOT write or I'll explode. 

So I've been writing. But the fear hasn't gone. 

We shall see. 

As for the rest, Rowen celebrated her 10th birthday on Tuesday. Jared left this morning to attend the Tucson Gem and Mineral show. I bought new shoes (although really, is this much of a surprise?), Elliott got FOUR new Lego sets over this past couple of weeks and has put them all together. 

So, friend, Happy New Year. Let us run with patience.

xo,

-JS

Monday Mashup! Clothes, Apps, Recipes, More.

Today I'm sharing a set of awesome stuff I've found - game-changers in their own way, whether that is a small way or a BIG way. And I'd love to hear YOUR game-changers, too! And in true mash-up style, these are completely random :

Zenana Outfitters Layering Camisole

Amazing camis of life. $4.99

If you wear camis a lot, you will understand how HARD it is to find one that:

  • Is high enough in the neck to actually do its job
  • Is long enough that it covers the boo-tay when you bend over, or to give extra length to some of your shorter shirts
  • Optionally has lace at the bottom for the extra sparkle of cuteness

I've been getting the DowneastBasics camisoles for years. But of course, since I live in North Carolina and not Utah/Idaho/Arizona, I have to order these suckers online, and they are ALWAYS out of stock in the white ones. WHY? WHYYYY!?

So I went on a really major hunt. This stuff is important, man! If you don't have the right underpinnings, the whole thing can fall apart (or show your butt crack) in an instant. Right?

So I stumbled on this Zenana Outfitters cami on Amazon, and ordered a couple to see how they'd work. i was afraid that the neckline was too v-shaped, but it looks awesome, more of a little scoop than a V. Also, the straps are adjustable. Crank those things up as tight as you want for more chest coverage. The length is perfect. Best part? These come in.. hang on let me count... 44! colors.

Oh and the BEST part: These are $4.99 apiece! Shipping is ~5.00 and doesn't go up if you get a bunch. Holy heck, Batman! Go grab ya some!

Unstuck.

Genius iPad app for helping you unstick in your life. Free.

Unstuck iPad App

Unstuck iPad App

Unstuck is an app designed specifically for the iPad that is based on the philosophy that we get STUCK in our lives for different reasons and in different ways, and sometimes can't see the way out. By asking specific questions and summing up the data you provide, Unstuck helps you discover and define what is holding you back, and helps verbalize (well, write) what you can do to get unstuck. Brilliant. The graphics are cute and informal, the mood is super-approachable, and best part? It works.  Here's the link to Unstuck on the App store.

Ease Brain Fatigue with a Walk in the Park

NYT article. Free.

The critics of this article (in the New York Times) say, "Once again, science has proven what we all already knew." Walking in the park, or even being in, or looking at nature, provides calm and stress relief.

But I do think it's a great reminder that screens (which, let's admit, in the last 5 years have come to occupy more and more of our attention) and traffic, noise, hectic lifestyle, can cause our brains to simply wear down. The cure? Go sit in your backyard for a few minutes. Walk at the park. Look at the ficus in the corner of your office.

I really do think that humans have an inborn connection to nature - a sort of getting back to the roots (ha!) that happens when we head out into the trees and the grass and the growing things and just BE.

The article is an interesting read. Even more interesting will be your feedback when you go outside today, listen to a bird or two, grass or trail underfoot, sun dappling through trees, and tell me how it feels. :)

How to Scan, Absorb, and Process Information

Web Designer Depot article. Free.

Transient

At the other end of the spectrum - this time on how to crunch information into your brain during working/learning/research time - this article from Web Designer Depot provides some cool techniques, both for scanning information, and for creating scannable content. Worth a ... ahem... scan.

Lemon Chicken. Eat This Now.

Recipe. Free. Plus, invite me over.

Now, I'm not much of a cook, I don't pretend to be. But I have made this dish for my family at LEAST a dozen times over the past couple of years, and every time, it is so delish. The last batch, I added a couple of items. So here's how it goes:

Lemon Chicken TDF (To Die For)

1.5 lb or ~12 chicken breast strips (sometimes these are called tenders)

1 lemon, juiced, plus 1 T. zested peel 

1 c. fresh green beans, tips cut off (leave them long)

1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips, then cut to ~2 in. long 

1 c. heavy cream

2 T. white grape juice concentrate (you can also use apple juice, or concentrate if you have it, this is just to sweeten a bit)

6 thin pats butter/margarine

1-2 c. Parmesan cheese (shredded is my favorite)

Salt & pepper

~3 c. cooked rice

In a buttered skillet, cook chicken tenders, green beans, and red pepper until the chicken is browned and cooked through and the vegetables are crisp-tender. Place chicken and vegetables in one layer in a glass casserole dish. In the same skillet over low heat, combine lemon juice, lemon peel and juice or concentrate. Add cream, salt & pepper to taste, and heat through. Pour heated sauce over chicken and vegetables (sauce will be thin). Put pats of margarine over the chicken and shake Parmesan cheese on top. Place under a broiler for 7-12 minutes until cheese melts or browns. Serve over rice.

Adding the vegetables was a huge win. So, so yummy. Please let me know when you try this! Take a pic! :D

Have a wonderful day!

xo

-J

Piratical.

I spent today recording and editing video, hanging out with my family, and watching the rain come and go. It has been beautifully, springishly warm here for the past few days - like in the 60s. Warmer than usual, in fact, but awesome. I’d prefer year-round 70s if I had it to pick, but North Carolina with its range from 40s in winter to 100+ in summer is pretty much second best. :)

For today’s photo I chose my newest pair of Fluevogs, which I got from the Chicago store last summer.

01-02-2011.jpg

This is the stonework on our front porch, spotted with water from the rainstorm that passed through today. Also, these shoes (and some cute black capris) make me look like a pirate. Bonus.

I’m heading out on Thursday to visit none other than Heidi Swapp! Yeah! We’ll be spending two days hammering out the details for our upcoming Mouse, Paper, Scissors hybrid scrapbooking/crafting class, and I can’t wait. Heidi is super-inspiring, and pretty much one of my favorite people. Plus, I’m excited to collaborate with her on this big project! I’ll come home with project photos and a much better idea of the class details, but you know if Heidi is in on it, it’s gonna be GOOD. Can’t wait! I think I’ll wear my pirate shoes.

Stars and Mountains, and Pappy says hello

So today, we all woke up (thank you to Grandma Carol for playing with the kids and letting us BOTH sleep in!), and decided that after the planetarium we’d just head on to the cabin for a couple of days. So we threw some clothes in suitcases for ourselves and the kids, and headed out.

We arrived at the Morehead Planetarium in time to go downstairs and see the science exhibit hall for a few minutes before the seating started for the planetarium show. Among the activities in the small one-room exhibit hall was a computer where you could select a “viewing” of a particular space object, seen through a remote telescope in Chile, and have the viewing emailed to you. WAY COOL. And I learned that astronomers at UNC in Chapel Hill discovered the largest space explosion ever, back in 2005. Also, almost ALL of the astronauts for the space missions until 1975 trained at the Morehead Planetarium. A pic from the early 1960s:

The projector in the background of this shot is called the Zeiss 2, and it’s the one that is in the middle of the planetarium dome where we sat for the show. The show! It was so awesome. Rather than a projection from the Zeiss seen above, it was their newest technology called “full dome video”, which spread across the entire dome above us.

And wow! It was beautifully shot, wonderfully put together, and just the right length (about 40 mins). I learned a LOT about black holes, and about how they warp time and space, and some of the crazy mysteries surrounding them. Graphically, the show was amazing, and of course my sweet Elliott was crazy-in-love. He held my hand the whole time, and every few seconds would either shout, “WHOA!” or else identify what was going on in the show - “Jupiter!” “We’re going through a black hole!” “Whoa!” “The Milky Way!” while squeezing my hand. Loved it. The recommended age was 8+, but they don’t know my kid. ;)

We even came away from the gift shop with a new solar system poster and a planet t-shirt, and athe second in the Star Gazing series of DVDs because seriously, how often do you get practically a whole store full of space stuff, there for the picking? I mean, ordered most of his Christmas gifts at a teacher supply store online. Is that an excuse for showering my kid with space things? Maybe. But still fun. ;) Rowen and Grandma picked out soap shaped like moon rocks, and a Little Yellow Schoolbus DVD.

After the planetarium and a quick stop for lunch, we were off to the cabin. I love driving westward into the mountains, watching the landscape change, feeling the altitude change, anticipating arrival at our little place in the woods.

We have a steep driveway and then a flat landing to park in. Cross three large stepstones and a wooden bridge onto the deck, and this is the view:

There’s a pile of collected sticks from the kids on the bench, and a really cool iron star there on the outer wall. The rock on the right side of the photo is the front door surround. Which is my favorite part - stepping up to the door, this guy looks you right in the eye:

This was actually the first thing we bought for the cabin. Who needs a fridge when there are hand-forged iron dragon doorknockers to find? So where does one find such a thing? On Etsy, of course! As soon as I spotted this guy, he was ours. And he welcomes us home every time we arrive at the door.

I’ve never had a second place - many families I know have one that belongs to someone in their family, and memories of visiting. Even Jared has lots of fond memories of spending winter weeks at his uncle’s ski cabin in Washington state, and we really wanted to have somewhere we could go with our family to spend time just us. Every time I see the dragon on the door, and turn the key in the lock and open it to the beautiful windowed view out, I sigh and say “We’re here.”

We drove on down the road to Pappy’s for dinner, which has some of the very best Southern barbeque I have ever tasted - plus baked beans and baked sweet potatoes to make your heart melt, and THREE varieties of sauce: hot, mild, and Carolina-style, which is vinegar based and oh, SO delicious. I am still full to bursting 3 hours later, but I wouldn’t say no if someone handed me more. Which makes it a very good thing that we don’t actually live down the street from Pappy’s, to be honest - how can a girl have any self-control when this kind of food is around?

And I know what you’re asking - Jes, did you take a picture, like the camera-wielding crazy that you only appear to be, but really aren’t? Well, not TOO crazy?

To which I say, yes. Yes, I did. And in fact, I did one better. I took a video. Which like a total tease, I have to go find on my phone and upload so I can’t give you the goods tonight. But seriously. SUCH GOOD FOOD. I cry a little every time I put that first bite of pulled-pork sandwich on buttered toasted bun with a mixture of hot and vinegar sauce and a little on the side for dipping in my mouth. Oh sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found thee. With a side of baked beans.

Mama.

So Wednesday, it was Crazy Hair Day at Kindergarten. They were all reading this book, Crazy Hair Day, and were invited to come to school with their own Crazy Hair. Rowen woke up extra-early on Wednesday, SO EXCITED to go to school with crazy haIR! She can’t finish that sentence without it going up an octave and about 30 decibels.

We decided that we’d do pigtails on the sides and one on top, and “tons and TONS of hair clips”. Thusly:

I also sprinkled some sparkly powder (normally used for face) into her hair, and it turned out so cute! She was so excited!

She came off the bus at 3:30 with only the topknot still intact (no surprise there - her hair is so fine that she loses almost everything I put in it on the first wearing). But here’s what she said:

“One of my pigtails came out during gym class. My friend Alexandra had pigtails too and hers came out too and she was SO SAD. So I went and sat by her and showed her my hair, ‘See? Mine has fallen out too, it’s ok.’ And she felt better.”

Aw. So proud of my crazy-hair girl. :) I love being the mama of this amazing kid. Kindergarten has been a wonderful experience for her - she has learned to read and write, LOVES drawing all kinds of pictures, and the only thing that stuns me is that my six year old has this whole life outside of my line of sight. Mamahood is a journey of mixed feelings.

And speaking of mixed feelings - our congregation held the funeral today of a 30-year old mama of three who lost her battle with cancer this week. I was asked by the family to take photos at the viewing, around the chapel, and at the luncheon afterward. It was easily the most wrenching time I’ve ever spent behind my camera. She leaves behind three small ones - two, four, and six. And being myself the mama of a four and a six-year-old, this hit particularly close to home. I’m exhausted by the day, by the tears I didn’t do a good job of holding back as I shot, and by the unimaginable - just unimaginable. I believe with all my heart that God is good, and that earth life is only a moment in eternity, of testing and  building our faith. But I don’t think faith gets harder than this - when you really have to work to give over the Why and try to humbly just say OK, and let go.

And to answer your question, YES. I did run right home and squeeze on my two small ones for about three hours. Squeezed and kissed and smelled soft blond hair and wrapped my arms around and held them close, told them I loved them, and thanked God for this privilege. With all the heartache - and possible heartache that fills this world - another day, every day is a blessing that is worth it for the chance to live this life.

Reminds me suddenly of this incredibly beautiful song, Calling All Angels. Especially the 2nd verse.

Want to hear an exquisite version sung by the Wailin’ Jennys? I know you do. Slap on those headphones and grab a tissue:

Lyrics:


a man is placed upon the steps, a baby cries
and high above the church bells start to ring
and as the heaviness the body oh the heaviness settles in
somewhere you can hear a mother sing

then it’s one foot then the other as you step out onto the road
how much weight? how much weight?
then it’s how long? and how far?
and how many times before it’s too late?

calling all angels
calling all angels
walk me through this one
don’t leave me alone
calling all angels
calling all angels
we’re cryin’ and we’re hurtin’
and we’re not sure why…

and every day you gaze upon the sunset
with such love and intensity
it’s almost…it’s almost as if
if you could only crack the code
then you’d finally understand what this all means

but if you could…do you think you would
trade in all the pain and suffering?
ah, but then you’d miss
the beauty of the light upon this earth
and the sweetness of the leaving

calling all angels
calling all angels
walk me through this one
don’t leave me alone
callin’ all angels
callin’ all angels
we’re tryin’
we’re hopin’
we’re hurtin’
we’re lovin’
we’re cryin’
we’re callin’
‘cause we’re not sure how this goes

 

Loved that one? Try here, too - Jane Siberry (here with k.d. Lang) has an angel’s voice:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2n9ko_calling-all-angels-jane-siberry_creation

Ah. :)