Shirtless Chris Hemsworth

Ha! I got you to click just with that title. I suppose I ought to show you shirtless Chris Hemsworth so you don’t accuse me of false advertising.

Ages ago, I put a reminder in my phone that it should show me pictures of shirtless Chris Hemsworth whenever I’m having a shitty day. It never follows through on it, but the reminder’s existence in my phone never fails to make my day.

It’s actually kind of funny because Chris Hemsworth isn’t really “my type.” I can freely admit that he’s a handsome man, and his kids are adorable. He’s in some good movies. He seems like a nice bloke. But he’s not really my type. (If you need a refresher on my type, please click here.) I just don’t really go in for the muscly blonde dude type. Regardless, one day, I clearly felt that he could make my bad days better. And the thing is that a random thought I had one day continually brings a smile to my face weeks and months after I had put that random thought into my phone.

And that’s the real point of this post. I’ve been thinking lately about how the little things in life can be the most important things. The little things in life can end up as the ones that bring us the most joy or have the most value. Shirtless Chris Hemsworth was a thing that I wanted once, but that one-time desire has turned into a long-term source of amusement. It started as just a little thing on a rough day, but now it’s a delightful source of amusement.

In my experience, that’s how life works. Little things appear inconsequential in the moment, but they end up being so valuable. Small comments can make more of a difference than big comments. Friendships are often built through the little things rather than the big things. Small shared interests can be the bedrock of important relationships. Miracles are found in the mundane more often than in the grandiose.

That means that we have to keep our eyes open. We have to look for the shirtless Chris Hemsworth moments in our daily lives. If we’re not looking for them, they’ll float past us unseen and unnoticed. So keep your eyes open; you never know when you might see a shirtless Chris Hemsworth.

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My Love of Indie Bookstores

Last Friday, I went to my favorite local bookstore in pursuit of a specific book. I also planned to browse, and I wasn’t limiting my book buying that particular book. But I wanted the book.

I went downstairs to the basement where nonfiction lives. I found where I thought the book would be, and it wasn’t there. I poked about for a few moments but quickly decided that they must not have it. I’d ask at the desk about it when I checked out, but I wasn’t terribly upset.

As I started to walk out of the basement, I ran into one of the store’s owners. She asked me if she could help me and I told her what I wanted. She immediately walked over to the correct area (ie not where I’d been looking) and found the book. I took it, thanked her, and bought the book-along with a few other items.

This reminded me of something that I love about independent bookstores. The stores are about the books. They want to foster community and literacy AND be a part of the community. (There’s nothing quite like chatting with a bookstore employee about a book you both love as you check out) I love going into bookstores and seeing recommendations or reviews from the employees. A few indie bookstores I frequent feature areas dedicated to books that the store’s employees recommend. This isn’t just about what publishers recommend or what is hot on the New York Times book list; this is about what other people who live in my city like. These are people who are my peers.

A few years ago, I had a delightful chat with a bookstore employee about the time she met Julia Child. I love to cook, and I love Julia Child. Hearing about how Julia Child had been so interested in computer and the internet, that just made my day. It fits with everything that I know about Julia Child, and I loved learning more about her from someone who had met her. That sense of relationship draws me back into the bookstore.

Even when I’m in a hurry, it’s hard to avoid a conversation in the bookstore. I dashed in today to quickly grab two books that I need to teach a couple of lessons this week. (The library couldn’t get me my books in time for my lessons, so I had to suck it up and buy the books.) But then I found three more books that I’d been thinking about buying for my classroom library and…down the rabbit trail I slid. As I checked out, the clerk and I had a conversation about how much we both like B.J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures. It was brief, but it was a reminder of why I love that shop.

I’ve ranted before about my dislike of Barnes and Noble becoming more of toy stores than book stores. I love going to indie bookstores because they are not a toy store. I won’t find puzzles or dolls in my local bookstore, but I don’t need those things. I need the sense of community and relationships that can only be built by people who love reading and great literature. They’re there primarily not to make a buck but to share books with fellow book-lovers.

Make It Last All Year

As the twelve days of Christmas draw to a close, this song is on my mind and my lips. My Christmas season began in the heat of Arizona and is ending in the bitter cold of Michigan. This Christmas hasn’t felt quite right to me, but I’ve come to realize that is more my fault than it is anyone else’s. I kind of forgot what Christmas is all about.

Christmas isn’t about gifts or where you are or who you’re with. Christmas is about love. The other things are wonderful, and they help to make Christmas what it is. But ultimately, Christmas is the season of the spirit, as the song says. It’s about your heart. It’s about love. The first Christmas was far from ideal by almost everyone’s estimations. But it was beautiful. Love came down, and love is the focus of the holiday.

One of the things that I most love about The Muppet Christmas Carol is that focus on love. Let’s make like the Muppets and carry that love beyond the Twelve Days of Christmas and out into the rest of the year.

“It is the season of the heart
A special time of caring
The ways of love made clear
It is the season of the spirit
The message, if we hear it
Is make it last all year.”

Merry Christmas!

Why I Wear Makeup

Over the years, I’ve heard various arguments in favor of and against wearing makeup. I think about it every now and again because I wear makeup pretty much every day. It’s just a part of my morning routine.

But why do I do it? Why do I take five or ten minutes almost every morning to put on foundation and eye makeup? Well, it’s simple. I do it for me. I like the way that I look when I wear makeup. It evens out my skin tone, and I use foundation with a built-in sunscreen. (That sunscreen is crucial for protecting my fair skin.) I like wearing eye makeup because I think that my eyes are my best feature and I like drawing attention to them. Also, I think that eye makeup makes me look more like an adult and less like a teenager. I get asked if I’m a teenager more than you’d expect from someone knocking on the door of thirty.

I’m not doing it because someone else expects it of me. I had to go bare-faced for a week earlier this fall when I had pinkeye, and almost no one noticed the difference. One of my coworkers commented (knowing of my frustration with wearing my glasses and bare face) that she thought I looked cute. Cute is okay, but it’s not what I usually strive for. I usually aim for sophisticated or lovely. That’s my personal preference.

I don’t think that everyone needs to wear makeup. I don’t think that anyone needs to wear it. I wear it because I think it’s fun to put on. But at the same time, I like knowing that I don’t have to wear it. I like knowing that I wear it by personal choice and not by outside mandate. Above all, I think that each person needs to make his or her own decisions about physical appearance rather than being fussed about what other people think about their appearance.

The Quiet Beauty of Eliza Hamilton

Like many nerds out there, I’ve fallen in love with Hamilton over the past year or so. Generally speaking, I self-identify with Angelica Schuyler Church, and I love the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda allows this strong woman to be, well, strong. The play’s Angelica speaks her mind-as she did historically, and is not intimidated by much of anything. I find myself connecting to her wit, to her desire to the make the world a better place, and to her attraction to intelligent conversation and companionship.

But while Angelica is the most vocal strong woman in the musical, she is not by any stretch of the imagination the only strong woman. Her younger sister, Elizabeth “Eliza” Schuyler Hamilton, is equally strong, but she shows that in a different way than her sister does. Eliza shows her strength more through her actions than words. However, there is great beauty in Eliza both as a character in the play and as a historical figure.

I’ve been struck recently by the way in which Miranda has Angelica describe her sister. “You will never find anyone as trusting or as kind.” That’s a pretty impressive description. She is a remarkably kind person, and that’s undoubtedly something that both Angelica and Alexander see in her. Eliza’s kindness is one of her strengths-as a wife, a sister, and a mother. Her kindness motivates her behavior during the action of the play and the way in which she perpetuates her husband’s legacy in the fifty years between his passing and hers.

Angelica is an immensely passionate woman, and her passion motivates her to action. She is interested in the Revolution. She reads things that were not acceptable for women to read at the time. She wants to include women in the liberty that the Revolution will procure. She speaks her mind freely. She is a unique and wonderful woman.

But her sister is equally wonderful. Eliza and Alexander move to marriage quickly, and she works to be a good wife to the man with whom she has fallen hopelessly in love. It is clearly not easy to be a newlywed in the midst of a war, but Eliza tries. She continually reminds her husband that she (and later their children) exists, and his family needs him. In many ways, Eliza’s quiet persistence is what Alexander needs. He is a strong willed man who can have tunnel vision, but his wife doesn’t just let him go off and forget about his family when the Afterbirth of a Nation consumes him.

That quiet persistence remains one of Eliza’s leading features throughout her marriage. She doesn’t have down and out fights with Alexander; she knows that she’d have no success there. Instead, she keeps her counsel and waits patiently for her husband to remember his duties. This isn’t to say that she never gets mad at him. She is furious with him when he cheats on her, and he deserves the wrath she issues. They may not have terminated their marriage, but at least from what we see in the play, it is no longer a real marriage but rather just a social facade to appease society.

Some might say that it is their shared grief after the death of their first born child, Philip Schuyler Hamilton, that saved their marriage. It decidedly contributed. But another contributing factor is Eliza’s patience with Alexander’s attempts to win her heart back.  She lets him woo her. She allows him to come back into her heart and her bed. Eliza is almost perpetually with her husband.

Eliza did have to take action ultimately. After her husband’s death, she had to be the head of their household. She had to make active choices rather than reacting to her husband and only making decisions that internally impact the household. She acts well when she has to, but this is not what she would have chosen as a  younger woman.

Eliza Hamilton serves as a reminder that while there is a need for strong, outspoken women like her sister, there is also a need for women who take action in quieter, less obvious ways. Our world desperately needs the outspoken (I hate that word; it’s so negative.) activists like Angelica, but we also need the women who work quietly behind the scenes like Eliza. Quiet action has its value and place, and it should not be mistaken for subservience. Some women are meant to be activists in public or obvious ways while others are not. For example, I do not like being the public face of anything, but that does not mean that I’m sitting back and letting the world pass me by. I prefer to act behind the scenes, in less obvious ways. Eliza reminds me that this is okay.

I think that we need both Angelicas and Elizas in our world. We also need to make sure that both of these kinds of women are supported and encouraged. We cannot tear one group of women down in order to build up the other. To me, one of the greatest strengths of Hamilton is that it puts these two types of women front and center in such a way as to allow us to see the complementary nature of their strengths rather than seeing them as opponents. We need to see this more often; we need to encourage women to work together in such a way as to support their strengths. If it worked for Angelica and Eliza, it can work for us.

The Most Disagreeable Month of the Year

At the beginning of Chapter 15 of Little Women, Meg March declares November to be the most disagreeable month of the year. Jo returns some comment about that being why she was born in November.

But as I get older, I begin to think that Meg and Jo are wrong about November. November gets a bad rap-probably because of the weather. But if you try hard enough, November doesn’t have to suck. You might have to work on it a little, but you can totally find ways to alleviate the bleakness of November.

Personally, I try to make a concentrated effort to make February and November (my two least favorite months of the year) suck a little less. That means that I try to do things that make my life a little more exciting and distract me from the bleak state of the natural world. When the natural world has a tendency to make me sad or just feeling blech, I’m trying to actively seek out things that give me joy.

One small thing that I’m doing is knitting with brighter shades of yarn. It’s hard to feel gloomy when there are bright blues and greens in your hands. It might be dreary outside, but surrounding myself with bright colors inside helps me to feel more cheerful. I do have a piece of “obligation knitting” that’s in a less cheerful color, but I try to work on that while watching movies or reading things that make me happy.

I’m also seeking out activities that make me happy. Knowing that I have a concert and my cousin’s fall play this weekend and a beatification Mass for a local Saint the following weekend is helping me feel like November is flying by. Sure it’s only the eighth, but I’ve got plans! There are exciting doings ahead of me. I’m not going to let November get me down; I’m going to enjoy it.

Two important people in my life have November birthdays, and that’s another source of excitement. (It’s also a source of stress. What am I going to give these people for their birthdays?) I get to celebrate people that I love. That’s something that I enjoy.

And then there’s Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. It’s a great holiday. I love the food and the family time. I love the emphasis on gratitude. I enjoy getting to talk about gratitude with my students. I love getting to be with my family. It’s a good day.

In short, Meg March is wrong. November, when properly considered, is not the most disagreeable month of the year. It’s a great month; you just have to look at it through the right lenses.

Praying for Unfulfilled Desires

About a year or so ago, a friend of mine recommended that I begin praying once a week for women struggling with unfulfilled desires. I took the challenge thinking primarily about women who aren’t married but want to be and women who are struggling with infertility. This intention has challenged me and has shown me that struggling with unfulfilled desires is far more than just those two desires.

There are so many types of desires, and so many women struggle with unfulfilled desires. While one friend might struggle with unfulfilled desires for a child, another friend struggles with unfulfilled desires for a better job. To someone who is longing for a child, the desire for a job (especially coming from a woman who does have a job) might seem petty. But to the one seeking the job, the unfulfilled dream or hope causes an immense ache.

The reality is that each of these aches is real and intense to the one struggling with the longing. My longing to be married may seem selfish to someone seeking a job that better allows the woman to serve the Body of Christ. But that doesn’t mean either of our longings is any less real to us or any less present to the Father. We as women feel the pain of our unfulfilled longings, and the Father knows that pain intimately. He knows that we suffer, and he longs to use that suffering to act in our lives.

As I’ve prayed for this intention, I’ve found myself led to pray for comfort and peace for these women. I ask the Lord to fulfill these desires according to His Will. But primarily, I pray for the peace of the women struggling. If I’m to be a good wife to my maybe-possibly-someday husband or another woman is to be a good mother to a longed-for child, we need grace. We need peace abiding in our hearts. Before anything else, I need to surrender my dreams and desires and goals to the Lord and trust in His perfect plan. (Am I good at this? No. I pray “God, make me good and do it now” often. I pray for a husband to come “soon because I just can’t do this anymore” but who said that I was ever supposed to do this alone?) Unfulfilled desires are not easy to bear. They just aren’t.

We have only to look to the Bible for examples and role models. Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth each longed for a child. Leah longed for the love of her husband. Ruth longed for stability. Esther wanted to save her nation. Deborah wanted to lead her people well. Abigail wanted to be loved. Did Leah ever really get what she wanted? Rachel died when Benjamin was young; she gave birth to two sons but didn’t live to see them grow to adulthood. God’s will doesn’t always line up with our plans. I may never get married. Or if I marry, I may never have children. Esther saved her nation, but that didn’t permanently eliminate suffering from the lives of her people.

Mary washes the feet of Jesus

Ultimately, the biggest thing that I’ve learn is that when I’m praying for women struggling with unfulfilled desires, I’m really praying for all women. We all have unfulfilled desires. We all feel empty or abandoned at times. But we have a God who sees and knows our desires. He loves us, and he longs to give us good things. Sometimes the things we desire are not right for us. (I’d like to thank the Lord for saying no to some prayers that my younger self prayed.) Sometimes the season isn’t right even if we don’t know why it isn’t. (Some questions will never be answered on this side of Paradise.) But at no time will we be unloved or unwanted by the Lord.

Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD your God, he it is that does go with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you.

-Deuteronomy 31:6