Friday, December 19, 2008

Messy Snow

Pete pulls up to the Meijer entrance and opens my passenger door from the inside; I kick the slosh off my red boots and throw my bag in the backseat, after retrieving the greeting card from my purchases. It is not a very good card, but I am an hour late to work on account of the snow plow getting stuck at the end of my driveway, so I didn't have time to browse. The front of the card shows two rather adorable cartoon elephants, one giving flowers to the other with her extended trunk. It says, "Some friends make your day better..." (the inside:) "... and some friends make your life better. Thank you for doing both." It's for my boss, Renae, on her last day of work. My handwriting is hopeless on these slippery roads.

"I love this song," I say to Pete, even though he already knows how much I love this song. "I know," he says, even though he knows that I know that he knows, which is why he is playing it. I am trying to invert the u and l in wonderful (which I have spelled "wonderflu") when he says, "I have a confession to make."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Okay. So, you know how I don't like a lot of the music you like, and how I'll make fun of it?"


"Well, sometimes when you're not with me, I listen to it. Not because I like it, but because I miss you. That's my confession."

It is one of the sweetest things he's said to me. "Pete. That's one of the sweetest things you've said to me. I wish you would have said that to me some other time, because right now I need to finish writing this card." I can't think of the next sentence to write, so I stare at the elephants. Suddenly my face is contorted and I'm crying. I'm crying thinking about my husband listening to music that I love while he pines for me. And I'm crying because I finally realize that today is Renae's last day.

It's not just that she's a great boss. It's that my boss has been making my day better for two years. It's that on my first shift, Renae casually said, "I feel like I've known you my whole life instead of a few hours," which was exactly what I had been thinking at that particular moment. It's that Renae can sing either "Delta Dawn" or "One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus," and I immediately laugh, every time, for reasons that remain funny even though I've long forgotten them. It's that though I claim to like change, the truth is that I count on a few mainstays amidst the change, and Renae was a mainstay. Realizing that she is leaving while I think of Pete listening to Regina Spektor (whose voice grates on his nerves) is unbearable from a dry-cheek standpoint.

Crying would be sweeter if it didn't streak my face with mascara. The snow would be lovely if it weren't getting mauled by dirty tire tracks. This whole day has been one big mess of a storm, starting with the snow plow getting stuck in our driveway. It's been a mess of a storm, and I'm blessed to be weathering it.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Home is Where Your Airplane Is

Ever wonder what it would be like to live at an aiport? Me neither. But now I know.

This is how it happened:

When the door of opportunity in Virginia was closed, Pete and I decided to peek into some other doors. In particular, we were looking for doors that didn't belong to smallish one bedroom loft apartments with no closet space. So I called a landlord through a connection and started dreaming about a little two bedroom duplex in Grand Rapids.

Then Pete said, "Would you consider living at the airport?"

I said, "No."

Then the deal maker: "It's free rent."

I snapped my finger in that "gosh darn" fashion, because of course I should consider anything with free rent, even if it is an airport in smalltownville.

We walked through two flight offices, a little cubby room dubbed "the cave," a "parts room," an empty room with various large outlets, and a bathroom with a toilet and stall shower. These rooms were all my blank canvas, Pete explained, for (respectively): an office, a bedroom, a walk in closet, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

"But there's no oven, sink, fridge, or countertops!"

"Uh huh."

"I could maybe deal with this shower for five months, tops."

"Joy, you're going to be a missionary."

"I could fix it up however I want?"

"However you want. Except, no weird colors on the walls. Eventually intern guys will be living here."

So we went out to lunch and ran some calculations. Within a few days we had a fridge, countertops and oven for a total of $100... at which point I considered possible careers in craigslisting. A little later, Pete's family came and helped me put paint on the walls. Two weeks after that, Bethany drove up because I told her I needed help sewing. What I really needed was my best friend and a little sanity. She provided both.

"It's cute, hun. It's going to be really fun. You will totally survive."

"Beth? Did you see the shower stall?"

"It's cute, hun. It's going to be really fun. You will totally survive. Let's get to work."

And after weeks of work and a sad goodbye to apartment 302, we moved in.

Last night Pete and I finished dinner, played some cards, then settled into the living room for The Office. I turned off the overhead lights and opted for our two floor lamps, which is when Pete said, "Hey! You did it! This is a living room!" I surveyed the work of my hands, and agreed. The "oyster shell" walls glowed warmly, the bookcase was filled with colorful spines, and my favorite craig's list find--an eleven foot couch--stretched out before us. It was home. We finished our hot chocolate and our episode, and then Pete said, "Let's go to bed."

So we stepped out of our living room, passed three airplanes on our left, and walked up the stairs to our bedroom.

Home is wherever I live with Pete. And right now, home is rent-free.

(Pictures to come.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Practicing Hospitality

(Pictures from Thanksgiving 06)

My mother is the best hostess I know. She's relaxed, she can delegate, and she can cook. But most of all, she has an authentic desire to show hospitality without at all needing to impress her guests. I wish that her attitude had been passed down through genetics; instead, I watch my mother in her role as a hostess, and I take note.

These are the notes I have taken thus far:

1. When it comes to the guest list, view your home as a duffel bag, not a suitcase. My parents home is relatively small, and there were times when our three bedrooms and one bathroom made our family of seven seem like a party with an inflated guest list. But the square footage of her home never seems to sway my mom from inviting that one extra person. In the summers, she would throw backyard barbecues with upwards of 75 people. For my 16th birthday, we fit some 40 people in our house.

Every November Pete's family joins my extended family in giving thanks, and we set up rented tables right on through the living room. Last year, after admitting that the house was going to be packed, mom invited a WalMart employee named Jose who didn't have anywhere to go for the holiday after his divorce. This year my brother is bringing three international students home with him, who otherwise would spend the holiday at the school. It only took five minutes of brainstorming before we figured out the new seating arrangements. A suitcase may only have so much room, but you can always reconfigure the items in your duffel bag to make room for one more.

2. Don't apologize for the state of your home. Before any party, all of us were given chores so that the house would be in proper condition for company. But as soon as I would start freaking out my brother's bedrooms, mom would say, "Joy, they are coming to our home and this is our home. Just do the chores I gave you." This isn't to say that she keeps the door to the disastrous closet open for viewing. But if someone were to accidentally open the closet in search for the bathroom, she wouldn't begin blushing and mumbling about the difficulties of raising five kids and working full time. She would say, "The bathroom is the door at the end of the hall."

This point is intricately tied into the reason my mother is such a great hostess. "If you apologize for your home," she once told me, "it's because you're trying to make yourself feel more comfortable. And you do so at the expense of your guest's comfort." An apology for the state of your home doesn't put your guest at ease; instead, it places a burden on your guest to make you feel at ease. Every now and then I slip and start making excuses for my apartment, but almost immediately I picture my mother rolling her eyes. So I shut up and ask if I can get anyone something to drink. I'm trying to get better, but it's hard.

3. Always use proper signage. My mother is a big believer in signs and labels. A week before any event, the signs begin appearing throughout the house. Most are attached to various food items and say things like

For party or

Don't eat, this means YOU or


Other signs include chore sign-up sheets, which I always tried to happen upon first so that I could reserve the most desirable chores (think: dusting the living room v. cleaning the fridge). And on the day of the party, she puts up signs to help facilitate.

Don't take off your shoes, socks may get wet from tracked snow! and

When not in use, keep bathroom door open.

When deciding if something would make an appropriate sign, ask yourself, "Is this addressing a question that more than two people will be asking?" (such as whether or not to take off shoes), or "If people leave the bathroom door closed, could it get stinky?" (Yes.)

And finally,

4. Never underestimate the transforming power of candles. As soon as the first guest pulls up to the house, mom hands someone a lighter and directs him or her towards every exposed wick in the house. Once the task is complete, the bathroom smells of something warm and vanilla, the living room is aglow with festivity, and the carpet never looks quite as dated. Sometimes she accidentally buys a bad batch of candles, and the evening ends with sooty stains all over the walls and ceilings. But that always seems beside the point after a fun evening with friends.

Invite that last person, clean but don't mask your home, use signs when they help, and light candles even if they're cheap. It's not exactly a winning episode of the Martha Stewart show, but it's how I want to practice hospitality.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Joy Ride

You know how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness? Well, I am currently being tested on page 73 of the new J. Crew catalog. It helps to know that Jesus understands what I am going through.

Just for some background on this story, let me say this: I am not a shoe person. I do not buy shoes. The following is a list of my entire shoe inventory.

- Black Mary Jane heals
- Brown flats that I wear to work
- Black boots that my mother gave me for my birthday
- Gym shoes that I bought at Wal Mart for under $15 in high school
- Tennis shoes that my parents-in-law gave me for Hilton Head Island clay courts
- Champagne heals that I wore to my wedding
- 3 pairs of Old Navy Flip Flops

I have spent approximately $30 on shoes this year, and about $60 on shoes in the five years prior, combined. Shoes simply are not a priority for me. However.

About a year ago I read about driving shoes. Some character in some book put on a pair of driving shoes, which I thought sounded pretty cool. So I looked up driving shoes online, and I fell in shoe love. It was the kind of shoe love that I thought was only possible in fairy tales or for my friend Bethany. Driving shoes are kind of like moccasins, kind of like loafers, and they look so comfortable. I started daydreaming about throwing on my pair of driving shoes, tying a scarf in my hair, and leisurely walking through a bookstore or the supermarket. All of my mundane life seemed much cooler in a pair of driving shoes.

Over this last year, my vision of these shoes has morphed into something very specific, the way years of looking at wedding magazines formed a mental design of a dress that nobody happened to make the year I got married. Tumbled leather or suede (I'm talking about the shoes again, not the wedding dress), gold buckle, minimal detail. Yellow. At first I thought white, which would be more practical. But a deep, mustard, perfect yellow... yes. Yellow.

And so yesterday, as you can imagine, I almost dropped the J. Crew catalog when I flipped open its center page, and there on page 73 was a pair of suede, gold buckled, simply detailed, deep mustard-yellow driving mocs. My name was on it. Literally. The top of the page reads like this:


The glossy page seemed to turn suede as I fingered over the image. Behind the yellow shoe was a perfect white driving shoe, which I paused to admire before returning my gaze back to the golden object of my desire. After a few moments of unfettered lust, I reluctantly skimmed the 5 pt. font in the bottom left corner until I found the price.

In the wilderness, Jesus said, "Get behind me, Satan."

On page 73, Joy said, "Well, if I divide that price by the number of times that I'll wear them..."

After about three minutes of mental justifications and false entitlement arguments, I gave up. Now I'm just staring at the page that I've torn out and hung over my desk in a method of self-torture. It's not about whether it's okay to buy nice things for yourself, or whether my friends are right or wrong to buy expensive shoes or lots of shoes. There are plenty of things that I could stop spending my money on. The only thing that this comes down to is the fact that the shoes are too expensive, and that I should not buy them. And that's really the end of that.

After a lifetime of Loreal commercials telling me that "I'm worth it," it's hard to remember that I don't deserve good things. I don't deserve any of the good things in my life, and I don't deserve these shoes; everything that I have and that I buy is a gift. Someday I will probably buy a pair - not because I deserve them, but because I'm at a different season in my budget or find them on sale. For now, page 73 is serving well as a free piece of wall art.

Satan is nipping at my heals, but he's not biting off any yellow suede.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I like to live on the edge as much as the next girl. In fact, I think I like life on the edge even more than the next girl. When Pete asked me if I would marry him, the underlying question was, "Do you mind living in Grand Rapids while I fly airplanes for an undetermined amount of time before I take you and our children to a yet-to-be determined continent for another undetermined amount of time?"

And I said, "Show me da RING!" (Actually, that was the underlying meaning to the sweet "yes" that I gave him.) Living in the moment is something that I signed up for, and something that I take pleasure in.

But after five months of limbo, here is why knowing where I am going to live for the next three years is so much better than not knowing where I'm going to live for the next three years:

Because in every way, it is.

Hands down, no contest, it is so much better.

Today Pete got the We're Going in a Different Direction letter that he's been dreading from a flight company in Virginia. By all accounts he should have gotten the job. They said they were hiring, he has the experience needed, he went to apply face-to-face, the interviews went well, and they've been encouraging him all along to finish his requirements. The only thing that would make sense of it is if God actually answered our prayers for a clean "no" if the job wasn't best for our marriage and our future.

There are a lot of reasons why this job was potentially bad for our marriage and our future. For one thing, Pete would have had to travel up to three weeks at a time, and I'm sorry, but we sucked at long distance relationship. 14 hours is a long car ride from your family, friends and support system, especially when you're thinking of having your first baby in the next couple of years. And the surveillance work that Pete was going to be doing... well... he told me once, casually, that it wasn't "the safest thing" that he could be doing. So if any of those things would have caused unnecessary damage (or, you know, death) I am deeply thankful for the We're Going In a Different Direction letter that Pete got in the mail today. And he seems okay, too.

The first thing that we decided to do is update our car registration. Next, we're going to move to an apartment with more space and a washer and drier, because two years is a long time to live in essentially one room with hardly any clean underwear, let me tell you. After we update our car registration and move to a new apartment, we're going to go ahead and get really attached to a lot of friends, instead of preparing to say goodbye. And in January, we're both going back to school.

Knowing where you're going to live is so much better than not knowing where you're going to live, especially when you get to live next to a church you love, a community you've invested in, friends you enjoy, and an afternoon's drive from family.

And to top it all off, I woke up this morning knowing exactly who I am going to vote for.

I haven't felt this settled in a long time.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


Every fall I think about getting older. My birthday is in December, but December is when I occupy my mind with hateful criticisms of American consumerism. By mid-December I am considering donating all of my earthly possessions save a bowl, a spoon and two outfits; by December 21st I am rushing to the mall, realizing that I've waited too long to knit 17 scarves or learn how to write decent poems. So my birthday month is much too busy to contemplate the fact that my finite life is progressing with alarming consistency.

Autumn is a better season to think about aging, anyways. As kids, fall was like a group birthday when you and all of your friends instantly turned a grade older. But more importantly, it is during fall that you can turn onto a street and see that a tree has turned flame orange overnight, even though you know it must have shown signs of changing on all the previous days that you passed by. If that doesn't capture the same shock of aging then I'm not sure what does. Time moves visually through fall; nature glitters robustly, then dies at warped speed.

As a teenager, I decided that I would rather fear 'dying young' than 'aging'. To fear dying young means that I drive carefully; to fear aging is a very helpless feeling. So I try not to text while I drive, I put on sunblock, and I look forward to each new age. Now that I've passed all the young milestone birthdays, 30 is the next big birthday to consider.

I asked my mom if she was depressed on her 30th birthday, and she told me that she wasn't been depressed at all; in fact, she had been quite pleased with herself for turning 30. I think I already know what she means. If 21 was when I started to feel like an adult, 30 is when I expect to feel like an honest-to-goodness woman whom people should really take seriously. 30 is the age that I'm going to start subscribing to magazines. I'm holding out hope that my voice may deepen a little, as though I have a slight cold. I also hope to wear glasses when I'm 30, but only for reading.

It's still about 8 years too early to think about which magazines to subscribe to, so this autumn I'm taking a step back and sizing myself up and my current age: 21. 22, come December.

What am I in my early 20s that I will never be again? Is this the thinnest that I'll ever be without having to diet? Is this the most carefree my marriage will be before retirement? Is my last chance to travel Europe with Pete, and stay in Greece by myself after he returns home? Are these my last couple years before I am a mother, and thus my last couple years to draw untroubled breaths? I don't want to breeze past my early 20s before truly understanding what they offer me.

This past Friday, Pete and I went to a high school football game at East Grand Rapids. On our way back to the car, Pete held my hand even though it was pulled up into the arm of my fleece. He always gets nostalgic about high school because he loved those years. I loved many things about my teen years, but high school was not one of them. "I would do High School all over again," Pete said, and I agreed. I would do High School all over again - but this time I would join tennis, write for the school newspaper, and relax a little about my grades. Pete would do high school all over again, I suspect, exactly like he did it in the first place.

I want to look back on my early 20s and know that I would do it all over exactly as I did it in the first place, starting with the little vacation we're taking this weekend to enjoy the fall colors. Soon the trees will give into winter, crisp and golden, leaf by leaf. And I will be happy that I spent time and gas money to drive by them in their glamor.

Friday, October 3, 2008

6:00 am.

No one has ever accused me of being a morning person, but if they did, I would be ready to go toe to toe with my accuser. Because the facts are on my side.


This morning Pete woke me up as we was leaving for work, and I looked up at him with the same puffy, bewildered eyes that I always greet him with early morning, along with my bad-breath kiss for which I always apologize.

But this particular morning, something was wrong. Terribly wrong. There was this... this... strange sensation in my neck! It felt like, sandpaper? No! Well, kind of. But also like I had swallowed something very sticky, like honey, followed by a mouthful of teeny tiny thorns.

"Pete! There's something wrong!"

"What's wrong?"

"I can't - I can't tell. It's like..." I swallowed twice, very intently. "It's like I swallowed something terrible that sticking to the sides of my neck and it feels AWFUL."

He waited a moment, then asked, "Do you have a sore throat?"

I contemplated this.

"Yes. I have a sore throat. That's right."

Pete: "Well, I hope you feel better."

"Thank you."

And this is why I don't think I should for any reason be forced to wake myself before nine in the morning. Because before 9, I forget words and basic concepts, which I think are very important in knowing when and when not to panic, especially when you wake up feeling like you've just gulped a handful of teeny tiny thorns.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Campaign Advertising

In one of my previous posts, my good pal Nick corrected me and said that the campaigns are not spending millions of dollars to earn my vote, because I don't live in a swing state. Either Nick forgot that I live in Michigan, or else he was plain wrong. I do live in a swing state, as evidenced by the yellow glove in the above map, wikipedia, CNN, and the fact that I have been subjected to a mind-numbing volume of campaign advertising.

Every commercial break contains at least one ad that starts with "I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message," and another that ends with, "I'm John Mccain and I approve this message." Obama sound authoritative, "I'M Barack Obama and I APPROVE this message," whereas McCain comes off rather matter-of-factly: "I'm John McCan and I approve this message." Sometimes the commercials run back-to-back, so it sounds like this: "I'm John McCain and I approve this message." "I'M Barack Obama and I APPROVE this message."

Now, see, when it comes to suffering the reprecussions of approving these sometimes less-than-factual messages, I think that Barack Obama has a better strategy. He approves the commercial before it even airs. I think that this is in case it turns out to be a total crock, he could always say, "Well, I had approved a different message, but then they played that one instead. I did not see that one coming." Whereas John McCain is sitting there in black-and-white with heroic lighting bathing him from the window, having heard the message we all just heard, and then he approves it. Later when reporters probe, "Senator McCain, we all know that Barack Obama did not vote for 'comprehensive sex education for kindergartners,' and that the same article quoted actually said that you didn't have an impressive education record, either. Did you really approve that message?" He has no choice. He has to say, "Actually, it is true that Obama voted for comprehensive sex education." This digs him deeper in a hole, which is why he should be approving those messages at the beginning of the ad, like Barack Obama, who I suspect is saving the I-didn't-see-that-ad-coming tactic for a real doozy.

Here is what I think. I think that if these two men (who worked together in the Senate to reform campaign finance) really want campaign finance to be reformed, and if they want an election to be won based on the issues, then they should get together for a grande latte and make a pinky-swear pact that they will not run any more commercials. Seriously. No one is becoming better educated by a 30 second commercial skewing the facts and then three days of talking about which parts exactly were "almost true" and which parts were "pants on fire" (a phrase that I read in USA Today which is still providing me with amusement).

This campaign advertisement business has been a supreme waste of my t.v. viewing time. Just buy some stage makeup and have a DEBATE already! (But remember not to buy that same blush that Al Gore wore. He looked like a pretty little girl. Just a peach-ish hue will do fine, gentlemen.) If campaigns were run on radio broadcasted debates and stump speeches (I mean real stumps, like find-a-cut-down-tree-and-stand-on-its-stump speech), I would be a happy voter. Of course, back when that was campaign strategy, I wouldn't have been allowed to vote. So I suppose I should be a little less picky.

My point is, television commercials are no place for real issues and hard truth, and we all know it. I mean, you don't see reporters asking the CEO of Cheese-Its, "Is it true that you really run over an entire city with a gigantic ball of cheese in order to get all of that cheese-y flavor into one little bite?"

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Story of Monday

There are some stories that need to be told, and some days that need to be preserved in memory. This is not that kind of story, and this past Monday was not that kind of day. But I'm going to tell it, regardless, because it was such an entirely useless day that I feel I need to put it to some kind of use, if not just as material to practice telling stories.

"The pizza should be out of the oven at 7:30," Pete said at 7:20 pm on Monday.

"You'll be out of the shower by then, no?" I asked. The apartment was stifling and I had no desire to go near the hot oven that had been 'preheating' for the entire hour that I had been at Target.

"Yeah, I should be out of the shower by then."

"Pete?" I asked.


"I have a request. No, a demand." I sat on the bed, crossed my legs, and tossed the Target bag aside. "I demand that you play the High Society Music."

The High Society Music is a wonderful trick that I just discovered Pete can do. We had been watching the John Adams story, and Pete started "playing" along with the music in a party scene. He motioned like he was playing a little flute, then a little tiny mandolin of some sort, and a bunch of other instruments that I don't know the names of but always hear in the kinds of movies where men in wigs are dancing. Soon Pete started making noises like the instruments, and then his eyebrows raised really really high on his forehead, and it was just about the most fantastic spectacle I have ever seen: him humming and whistling and pantomiming about 10 instruments at once.

"I demand that you play the High Society Music," I said again. "Right. Now."

"Joooyyy," he groaned. "I'm not going to play the High Society music. I'm going to shower."

"No! Play it!"

Reluctantly he started playing a little air flute, then slowly added new instruments, until he was playing an unidentifiable brass instrument with a great amount of gusto. I laughed and laughed and laughed and rolled on the bed and laughed some more. Soon we were both laughing and being altogether silly, and a whole slew of inside jokes and bits started pouring out, until it was 7:30 and the pizza was ready.

Pete said, "Okay, go get the pizza. I'm going to shower."

"I don't want to get the pizza," I said. "Will you go get it before you jump in the shower?" He laughed, scurried into the bathroom and locked the door. I was instantly furious.

I knocked on the door and yelled over the noise of the shower, "I'm not getting the pizza! You said YOU would make the pizza! I always end up getting it out. I'm hot and I don't want to go near the oven."

I went back to sorting my Target items. 7:31. "I'M NOT GETTING THE PIZZA!"

7:32: "I told you, I'm NOT getting the PIZZA. It's BURNING!"

7:34: (Knock, pound, knock): "I told you, I'm not getting the PIZZZAAAA!!!"

I heard the shower turn off, and Pete said, "Wait. You mean the pizza is still in the oven?"


"You didn't get the pizza out of the oven?"

"No. I did not. Just as I've been telling you."

"Joy! I can't hear anything in the shower!" He got out of the shower, wrapped himself in a towel and went to get the burnt pizza out of the oven. "Thanks a lot," I heard him mutter as he stepped back into the shower.

By then I was feeling pretty stupid. But I still had my pride, unfortunately. So when Pete got out of the shower and asked, "Okay, now why didn't you get the pizza?" I was fully prepared to stand by my actions.

"Because I am hot, and the oven has been preheating for an hour. You said you would put in the pizza an hour ago. I came back from Target and it was thawed on the counter. You could have put it in the oven before you got in the shower, and I TOLD you that I wasn't going to do it. You got in the shower anyways, and I didn't take it out of the oven."

"So you let our dinner burn out of spite."

"Well, you ran into the bathroom even though you knew I didn't want to take it out. And I thought that was spiteful."

"Joy," he said patiently, as though I were four (which, at this point, could be logically argued), "Even if I were spite-ing you, why would you want to spite me?"

"Because, Pete. I'm not a better person than you. I'm just the same or worse."

At 9:00 pm on Monday I put a pan of brownie batter in the back of the car. I hadn't had time to bake them since we had made two frozen pizzas, but I would put them in our friend's oven and we'd have hot brownies halfway through the Heroes premiere. Pete got into the driver's seat and we made conversation as he turned out of our apartment complex, onto East Paris, and eventually onto 44th st. "Now," he said, "It's one of these little neighborhoods on the left."

"You have the address and directions, right?" I asked.

"No. I've been here before."

I took a deep breath. "Pete, we came here one time a year ago. It was daytime then. And we were coming from a different direction."

"Joy, it's fine. Well, it's not this one..." He turned back onto 44th st.

"Would you please call Joe?" I asked.

"I don't have my cell phone with me."

"Fine, I'll call." I looked through my purse, then remembered that i had changed jeans just before stepping out the door, and my cell phone was in the pockets. "So," I set out to clarify, "You are driving in the dark, depending on your memory from a year ago, and you didn't check to make sure you had your Blackberry with its nifty Mapquest feature that we are paying $30 a month for."

40 minutes later we pulled back into our driveway. The brownie batter had slid to one side of the pan. We walked up the stairs to our apartment and returned calls to let our friends know that we were alive. Barely.

"Well, what do you want to do?" Pete asked.

"I want to go to Family Video and get the next season of Seinfeld." So we went to Family Video, but they didn't have the next season of Seinfeld.

10:30, back at home, Pete presented me with my catalog that had come in the mail. He said, "You know what I think? I think that you should look through this catalog and get anything you want. And I'll pick up extra hours at work to pay for it. You work really hard and I'm sorry about tonight, and I want to do something to make you feel happy."

I leafed through the catalog at the wide-leg jeans that I've wanted and the winter coats and blouses, boots, cardigans.

"I'm sorry I let the pizza burn."

"I know."

"I really wish you would plan ahead with things."

"I know."

"I'll try to stear away from the $200 coats, even though they're really cute."

"I said 'anything,' Joy."

Softly, meekly: "Will you play the High Society music?"

"No, I'm going to bed." He started up the stairs.

"But I DEMAND it!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Other People's Customers are Jerks, Too!

As Layla (a blogger friend I've acquired) would quote Eliane (of Seinfeld) in saying, "I'm the QUEEN of confrontation!" (Or did Seinfeld say that of Elaine? Help me out, Layla.)

Apparently I love confronting rude behavior so much, I am now seeking opportunities in society to confront OTHER people's customers. I don't know why I haven't thought of this before! I can say whatever I want to whomever I want, AND I don't have to worry about poorly reflecting my company.

I came to this delightful realization at the post office the other day, when I was waiting patiently to weigh and send my envelope. The man in front of me asked for a label to put on his envelope. The post woman said, "I'm sorry, Sir. I can give you a pen to write directly on your envelope, but I can't give you a label. The post office is making a lot of price cuts to keep postage as low as possible."

I thought: That is nice. I'm sick of postage going up. I'm glad they are doing all they can to keep it down. But the man in front of me said, "Well. You're really cheap, aren't you? I think that's really cheap of you to not give me a label. I've been getting labels at the post office for years."

The post woman said, "I'm sorry sir, but it's a mandate from the top. I can't give you a label, but I would be happy to lend you a pen to write directly on the envelope." (We all have to pause here and wonder: Who puts labels on their envelopes?)

I was visibly rolling my eyes and groaning at this point, hoping to make enough noise that he would turn around. But when he continued on, I interrupted.

"Excuse me, sir," I said. "She is not cheap. She is working for a company that is cutting costs." I said this before he even turned around, which he eventually did. He looked at me like I was crazy, even though he was the one asking for a label to put on an envelope.

"Did you say something?"

"Yes. She is not cheap. She is working for the government, and the government doesn't want to give you any more free labels."

This is when the gentleman glanced down... not to look at my chest (which would have been further reason to put him in his place), but to look at my name tag.

Joy Neal
Guest Services
Staybridge Suites Hotel

So the moral of the story is, if you don't want to reflect your company while out in public, take your name tag off.

Friday, September 5, 2008

I Guess I'm Allowed to Blog about Political Stuff, Right?

What is it, 60 days till the election? I'm still one of those registered, undecided voters who both campaigns are spending millions of dollars and working themselves into frenzies to win over.

I used to make my decisions based solely on the issue of abortion, which was the only one I was certain about. But it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to vote even based on that singular issue. According to my calculations, we have had republican presidents in the white house for 24 of the 35 years since Roe V. Wade was instated, and it has remained in tact. And while I am entirely opposed to Roe V. Wade, I am compelled by the potential of the democratic platform to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and provide more support for mothers who chose to keep their babies.

I have one comment and one concern, and then I'll shut up (for now):

Comment: I think both sides of the argument need to be more fair when arguing. Pro-lifers are not driven by a perverse desire to inflict suffering on poor, single women or victims of rape and incest. By that same token, I don't believe that pro-choice advocates are go-lucky murderers, content to know that fully born babies of unwilling-to-be-inconvenienced-parents are being left to die in utility rooms. I don't believe that Barack Obama is a go-lucky murderer who is content to know that fully born babies are being left to die in utility rooms*. I do think that he strongly wants to protect Roe V. Wade, and I strongly disagree with him.


Concern: I believe that our abortion-rights law reveals the poor moral state that our country is in. But the reality is that without Jesus, people are without hope. Women are going to have abortions whether they are legal or not, or women are going to continue having babies who they didn't want and won't adequately care for. I believe in the right to live; I also believe that babies have the right to be fed, loved, and parented. I admire John McCain for his pro-life voting record. But I'm confused as to why republicans (including John McCain*) continually vote against safe-practice and teen-pregnancy education.


Abstinence is an obedient response to God and his Word, but it doesn't seem practical to base our national policies on that conviction. My public high school had an "abstinence only" approach to education; we also had a "Student Parents" club with over 20 members in my senior year - and those were just the teen parents who had decided not have an abortion, and who had also decided to join the club. Abstinence is the only sure-fire way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but I don't think that abstinence-only education works in lowering the rate in unwanted pregnancies. Liberals seem to be the leaders in providing education and resources to lower the rate of unwanted pregnancies. Also, they are more willing to put money into programs (welfare, health care services, etc.) that could support a woman in choosing to keep her baby.

Overturning Roe V. Wade is only one of the ways to improve the situation at hand, and the least likely to be accomplished. Thus: I want a candidate who believes abortion is wrong, who will talk about it fairly, who will lead the way in providing education and resources to lower rates of unwanted pregnancies, who will improve programs designed to assist women in difficult financial situations, who will simplify adoption processes, and who will appoint a pro-life supreme court justice.

And while I'm naming my terms, I would also like this candidate to have a platform that favors the poor, the religiously persecuted internationally, sex slaves, and the environment. Solid plans to tackle the energy crisis and the national debt would also be appreciated, as both ENERGY CRISIS and NATIONAL DEBT sound very big and bad. And don't get me started on the WAR, because I have no idea where to start, and I don't think anyone knows where to end.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Evan is a boy who I baby-sit, and my primary beef with him is that he doesn't play correctly.

For example: last time I took him to the Children's Museum, he refused to play with the bubbles, instruments, and craft supplies, and instead planted himself at the rather dull sandbox near the entrance. So the following morning, I took him to the Meijer Gardens and charged straight towards the giant sand play area, complete with construction scoopers that you sit on and man with handles.

But Evan didn't want to play with sand. Evan wanted to push his stroller up and down the same sidewalk, mowing over an occasional rare flower.

"Evan, do you want to go play with the sailboats and water?"

"No, I want-a push my stroller."

"Do you want to go back to the sand-box?"

"No, I want-a push my stroller."

"Do you want to go climb in the big FUN treehouse?!?!"

"No! I WANT-a push my STROLLER!"

Sometimes Evan doesn't listen, which is a common enough issue at two years. Sometimes he kicks, which drives his mother mad. But what really gets under my skin is the fact that Evan plays however he wants to play. Not with bubbles, craft supplies, big sandboxes or the big FUN treehouse. He does what he wants to when he wants to.

I hardly ever play exactly like I want to when I want to. Even when it wouldn't really matter... I still feel the weight of what I should do, even how I should play. I should watch the movie that we rented instead of watching 8 reruns of Friends. I should read my book instead of People magazine. I should play cards with Pete instead of suggesting that we jump in the pool afterhours. Sometimes I need to get very quiet to even determine what it is that I really want to do, what will actually relax and recharge me.

I want-a push my STROLLER!!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Whites in 143

This is my new least favorite thing: watching an old man cry while his wife screams in pain as she's lifted onto a stretcher with a broken hip.

Mr. and Mrs. White (who are approximately 200 years old) moved into our hotel for a 90 night stay. It wasn't more than two minutes after they checked in that they called the front desk with their first request. Could we remove the french doors separating the bedroom and living room? They're just in the way.

It wasn't more than ten minutes after they checked in that Mr. White came to the front with (what he deemed) a Very Big Problem. His key to the room wasn't working. "Well, that's an easy-to-fix problem!" I said, cheerily, as I reauthorized the key card. "You may have put it near a cell phone, which deactivates the card."

"Well, the card is in my pocket with my cell phone," Mr. White said.

"Yup, that'll do it!" Forced patience.

"Well, where will I keep my cell phone now?" He asked.

"You can put it anywhere or in any pocket that isn't with your room key," I suggested.

"I'm going to put them in the same pocket. I don't believe you." Now he was teasing me. I smiled.

Two mornings later I got a phone call from 143, it was Mr. White, and he asked me to call an ambulence. I called 911 on my cell as I rounded the corner to the room. Through the french-doorless entryway was Mrs. White, lying crookedly on the ground. "You have something under the bed, and I tripped on it," she said.

"Vivian," said Mr. White, "You tripped on the bed legs. Every bed has legs."

"Well," she said gently, without even a hint of accusation, "They must stick out more than most. I tripped and fell across the room, and now I can't move." The back of her hand was laid in a Scarlett-O'Hare fashion across her forehead.

Mr. White was pacing, so I suggested that he wait for the ambulance near the south-east entrance where I had directed them. I called the houseman to wait by the front door, just in case. And then I sat with Mrs. White.

"Are you starting to feel a little more pain?" I asked, and she nodded.

"Would you like me to pray with you?"

"Oh, would you dear? Thank you."

I took Vivian White's soft hand in mine, and prayed a slow, short prayer. When I finished, about 7 men were piling in the room with a stretcher, and Mr. White was right behind them. I left as they started lifting her and as she started crying out. As they rolled her out of the room, she reached for my hand and patted it with her other. "Thank you, dear. You're a sweetheart."

Mr. White was trying to get the door closed behind him, but a walker was in the way. "I'll make sure the door is closed, Mr White," I told him. He nodded, and walked out to his wife as fast as I've ever seen a 200 year old man walk.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Customer is Often a Jerk


I was checking a woman into the hotel, and she handed me her Visa credit card. Then she asked, "Now, if I want to put the last night on a different card, what would be the best way to go about doing that?"

I had to think about it for a moment, because there are a few ways to go about doing that, and I couldn't remember the best way. In an act of 'pondering, I placed the tip of the edge of the corner of her card to the bottom on my chin, and said "hmm..."

"I'm sorry," she said, "But are you touching my credit card to your germ-y face?"

I was stunned. I looked at her disgusted face, and I removed the tip of the edge of the corner of her card from the bottom of my chin. I said,

"Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking. Oh... and uh oh... it looks like I accidentally touched it with my filthy fingers, too."

In other words, Go Dig Yourself A Hole.


Saturday, July 26, 2008


I was reading through some old stuff and found these last two little pieces about Max, Pete's bird... thought I'd post em. They actually go before "Animal Hospital Walls," but oh well. The bird is dead. Chronology doesn't matter so much anymore.



Max is Pete's Cockateil that he's had since he was 12 years old, after his dad accidentally killed Max 1 by leaving the blanket over his cage while the family vacationed. Birds don't eat in the dark, so Max 1 starved himself in a dark cage. The story of Max 1 is very tragic, but Pete's dad made up for it by buying Max 2, who looks just like Max 1 but turned out to be a girl. Maxine is her full name. She reaped the benefits of her predecessor's demise and was taken on the family vacations.

About two months ago, Pete noticed a small growth on her left wing. She'd had one before, but it had fallen off shortly after it developed. This one did not fall off. It grew to the size of a jelly bean - and not like the yummy little Jelly Belly kind, but like the big, sugary, nasty kind that grandmas set out around Christmas. It surpassed the size of the Christmas jelly bean, and then Pete got nervous. He researched bird tumors online. Most of the forums said to take her to the vet. Others explained that it would be highly unlikely for a bird of her age to make it through any kind of surgery. Another suggested that he tie off the growth and let it die, which he did. The growth turned dark by that night, and shortly after Max began pecking at it. Max now looks like a warrior that has barely survived battle. The left side of her face is coated in dry blood, and her growth is inexplicable. Pete cleans her off as best as he can and he continues to tie off the growth because it is dying. Unfortunately, Max may as well.

Pete dressed for work tonight in my favorite pinstripe button-down and blue tie. I asked him if he was Okay, and he said Not really. Then he asked me to take his picture with Max. We closed the closet doors for a basic background, and he carefully extracted Max from her cage. Lifting his finger level to his face, he positioned her so that her good side faced the camera and he smiled. It was a proud, sad smile: a man and his bird. He smiled again, a tender smile, and I took that picture too. I said, One more, and this time he couldn't lift the corners of his mouth very high. He looked at Max, and I captured that sweet exchange. And then he started to cry. He put Max back in her cage and I held him while we cried together. I tried to wrap my arms around both the 12 year old boy that picked Max out in a pet store and the 24 year old man that now is worried that she's suffering and that he's not doing the right thing.

I prayed and thanked Jesus for seeing the small parts of our life, and asked him to alleviate any pain that Max may be feeling. I asked for wisdom as to whether or not we should put her down tomorrow, which I know is all Pete will be thinking about while he works tonight.I promised to call him at work if anything happens, and I told him to be at peace. Max is now huddled in the corner of her cage, sleeping, I hope. And even though I never wanted this bird in the first place, and even though I know she has never liked me, I wish with all of my heart that I could mend her and give her back to Pete.

See? I would say. All better, now.


I took off my boots and ran upstairs to the sound of Max's wings flopping in her cage. She was tossing as if some invisible force was throwing punches and beating the shit out of her. Her head craned back into an unnatural arch and then she suddenly stopped, panting. I called Pete to tell him that Max had seizure, but he walked in the door before he could pick up.

Pete sat with Max, his bird of 12 years, as she continued to have seizures in ten minute intervals. I couldn't watch, but I returned upstairs now and then to put my arms around him as scratched the back of her neck with his fingertip. After about forty-five minutes he looked at me and said, "I guess I should kill her."I looked at Max and her bloody tumor; she was shivering slightly and looked scared. I looked at Pete and his full, watery eyes. He looked scared, too. I called animal hospitals, but the only one open past six didn't accept birds. I googled terms like: "most humane way to kill a bird" and kept clicking, hoping to find something that didn't suggest cutting off her head.

Finally I called the pet store in Chicago that Max came from, and talked to a bird expert named Julie. She suggested that we put Max in a box, tie up the box, and place her in a freezer. The cold would drop her body temperature so drastically that she would quickly fall asleep, and die shorty after.

The only box I could find around the right size was a Victoria's Secret gift box leftover from a wedding shower. It was a little big, so we lined one side with a bag of frozen peas, then laid one sheet of paper towel along the bottom. We put on our shoes and coats, and Pete grabbed his wallet. With a last goodbye, we placed her frail bird body into the pink coffin, tied it with a ribbon, and placed her on the bottom shelf of the freezer. We ran down to our car, and went out to eat with our friends as planned.

Two hours later, I was giving our friends a tour of our apartment. I came back downstairs and gave Pete a hug and asked how he was doing. He hugged me back and said uncertainly, "Well. Max is still with us. " I lurched out of his arms and covered my open mouth. "Yeah," he said, "I opened the box, and she peaked her head out as if to say, 'Hi. Can I come out of the freezer, now?'"

Max is now sitting in her cage and responds with a whistle whenever Pete says her name. The tumor is still there, and so is the fear that her seizures will start up again. But as far as I can tell, the freezer cured our bird.

The freezer cured our bird.

We put our bird in the freezer.

We placed Max in a lingire box, tied it with a satin ribbon, and set her on the bottom shelf.

"It shouldn't take very long," Julie said. "Her body should fall asleep within ten minutes, and shortly after, she will die. This is probably the least traumatic way to handle it."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Joker Devotional

Every time the Joker was on screen, my insides were thrilled. I found myself moving my tongue briskly in my mouth, just to see how he did it. He must have practiced that one trait for days; I hadn't nearly perfected it by the end of the two and a half hour film.

The Joker was the reason I loved and hated the film. Without him, it wouldn't have had much depth. But the depth that he provided was one I wasn't willing to take in; I left feeling more compelled by darkness than by any shred or subliminal theme of goodness. I left feeling like goodness was the surface, simple cover up for the greater reality of evil.

There was one monologue in particular, near the end, when the Joker is talking about chaos. I remember the essence of it, if not a few direct quotes:

No one is fearful of anything that fits into the plan, "even if the plan is terrible." If it were announced that a truck of soldiers was going to blow up tomorrow, you wouldn't panic. There would be no chaos, because it fits into 'the plan.' But threaten "one little mayor..." and suddenly there is chaos. Because things aren't going according to plan.

This is why I hated the movie: the personification of pure evil was the most clear thinking and insightful character. Because he's right.

My fears all revolve around those things that are out of my control. I don't truly fear things like failure, because I feel like failure and success are within my control; I would regret failure, but I do not fear it. The things that I fear: death of a loved one, physical pain, being tied down and tickled, my own death.... these are the things that I can't control.

The Joker only confirmed what I already knew, even before I sat to watch The Dark Knight.

To release myself from fear is to release my control. And when I truly submit myself to the Lord and His will, I am free of the chaos waiting just outside my own plan.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Getting the Love You Want

As I was checking in an elderly couple at the hotel, the gentleman glanced at my book laying down on the counter. "So," he asked kindly, "are you getting the love that you want?" He was referencing the title.

This would have been somewhat embarrassing, but I was actually able to tell him that I in fact am getting the love that I want. "My husband and I are taking a marriage class," I explained, "and this is the book it's based on."

"A marriage class?" His wife asked. "Well isn't that wonderful, dear." She looked at her husband. "John, isn't that wonderful?"

Before Pete and I married, we read a lot of books about marriage and we talked a lot about our relationship. Regardless of how in love and perhaps blind we were, a rational part of us wanted to make sure we covered all of our bases so that we wouldn't make a terrible, binding mistake. It was exhausting being so passionately in love while remaining open to the possibility of breaking it off and seeing other people.

Once we finally got married, it was like a huge weight had been lifted. The decision had been made. And for once, it was nice just to be in a relationship without constantly having to analyze it and weigh it and discuss it. So we didn't read any books, and we didn't talk with any older or wiser couples. We just ate breakfast and went to work and watched movies and had a lot of sex. Bliss.

Now, about a year and a half later, it's time to start discussing our relationship again. We're taking a class with our church based on the New York Times bestseller, Getting the Love You Want. Each class starts with a "romantic interlude," which this week entailed of whispering to your spouse a memory from the first time you made love. Pete whispered so quietly there that I could barely hear him myself. I think I caught, "You looked beautiful, and it was kind of complicated."

Next we watch videos of Hendrix and Helen, who are married, but maintain several separate professional last names. Helen has so many last names that I can only assume she kept her mother's, her father's, and her ex-husband's, but chose not to take Hendrix's. Hendrix and Helen both are prototypes of male and female psychologists, in that he has glasses and a beard and she has an unruly head of curls. They sit in opposite chairs and they demonstrate the Couple's Dialogue.

The Couple's Dialogue has three parts: mirroring, validating, and empathizing. I will now demonstrate a dialogue that Pete and I practiced with at class.

Joy: I would like to tell you about a dream that I had last night.

Pete: What you are telling me is that you had a dream last night which you want to tell me about. Did I get that right?

Joy: Yes. I had a dream last night that I was eating breakfast with Abraham Lincoln, and he was just now leaving office in 2008.

Pete: So, in this dream, you were eating breakfast with Abraham Lincoln. It struck you as odd that he was leaving office in 2008.

Joy: Almost. It didn't strike me as odd in the actual dream. But I think that it is odd now that I am consciously thinking about it.

Pete: So Abraham Lincoln was leaving office in 2008, but this did not seem odd in the dream. Did I catch that?

Joy: Yes.

Pete: Is there more?

Joy: Yes. In the dream, I asked Abraham Lincoln what he was planning to do after he left office, and he said that he was going to move to New Zealand because their stock market was good, as well as the weather.

Pete: In your dream Abraham Lincoln conveyed his plans to you, which were to move to New Zealand because of the better stock market and climate. Is that right?

Joy: Yes.

Pete: Is there more?

Joy: Well... now that you ask... I'm remembering that I had a hard time falling asleep last night. And at some point I thought that maybe I should take a sleeping pill. Thinking about sleeping pills made me think about that commercial with Abraham Lincoln and the groundhog who are missing from people's dreams because these people can't sleep. So I think that's why I had a dream about Abraham Lincoln.

Pete: If I'm getting this right, you thought about Abraham Lincoln before you went to sleep, and you think that may be the reason that you had a dream about him.

Joy: Yes. Also, I think that I couldn't fall asleep last night because I took that long nap. So maybe I should cut back on naps and just depend on a good night's sleep.

Pete: Is there any more?

Joy: No.

After Pete summarizes the conversation in whole, he asks, "Did I get all of that?" And then I say, "Yes, I think so."

Joy: Yes, I think so.

Pete: Well, I think that makes a lot of sense that you would dream about Abraham Lincoln after thinking about him. And I also think it is valid that you may have slept poorly because you took a nap. I feel your dilemma, because I think I sometimes don't sleep as well because of the naps that I take. If you want to try skipping your naps, I'd be happy to help you in any way that I can.


So, basically, the Couple's Dialogue is a great tool to make sure that the one partner feels respected and heard-out before the other partner tries to either defend him or herself or offer solutions. It is also a great tool to drive you a little crazy.

Of course, what it is actually good for is providing structure around heated discussions. "I would like to tell you about a dream I had last night" is one thing; "I would like to tell you about how you made a complete fool of me in front of everyone" is another. It takes great patience to parrot back, "So what you're saying is that you felt as though I was being a jerk to you and trying to expose you in front of everyone," instead of saying, "Honey, you got this all wrong; it was a joke." You can always just wait until there is no more, and say, "I would like to have a dialogue about why I think that you should lighten up a little."

Helen, Hendrix and Abraham Lincoln aside, it feels really good to be back in our groove, analyzing and fine-tuning our relationship. Marital bliss can get a little boring. Sometimes you need to throw in some couple's dialogue to spice things up.

- January 08

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Intellectual Vanity

Often when I read mindless entertainment like The Devil Wears Prada, I find myself folding the cover back when in public. I do not do this with titles like Les Miserables or The Corrections.


Clean House

Whenever I clean a room, a small part of me believes that I've really done it this time, that the room will stay in a perpetual state of clean.


Dream Lives

I always love when I show up in someone else's dreams. It makes me feel like I'm secretly living extra lives.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

2 Stories Worth Telling


A friend of Pete's and mine, Dominick, is a helicopter pilot looking for a job, which as you may imagine is difficult in Grand Rapids. A few months back he was driving home and he sensed very clearly from God that he was supposed to turn left on an upcoming street. He turned left, and God pointed out a house that he had never seen before. He heard God tell him to knock on the door, so he knocked on the door. No one was home and Dominick left.

A couple months later, Dominick felt very strongly that he was supposed to go back to the house. This time the man was home, though he was thoroughly confused as to why a young man with a Swiss-German accent was at his doorstep. The owner of the house turned out to be a Christian who believes that God can speak to people like Dominick. He also happens to work for Air Med in Grand Rapids. They had an awkward conversation, and they said goodbye.

After the man shut the door, Dominick knew that something wasn't complete. He asked God, Was that it? And God said, That wasn't it. So Dominick knocked on the door for the third time. This time, the man gave Dominick a number of a contact person, but warned that the company hadn't hired a new pilot in the 15 years that he had worked there. Dominick called the contact person and learned Air Med was officially looking for a new helicopter pilot. His application is in process.


Some friends of ours are praying for a second child. They were told the first time around that they would not be able conceive naturally, but God blessed them with their beautiful son.

They have been praying and considering In Vitro this time around, and have felt peace through every step of the medical process. At an appointment last week, the doctor reiterated that their chances of conceiving naturally were slim to absolutely none.

"Like I tell everyone in your situation," he said, "I have only heard of one couple who concieved naturally with this particular condition." He rummaged through some files in the back, and returned with wide eyes. "And you were that couple."


Why would God tell Dominick to knock on the door of an empty house?

And which is further against the odds? Their chances of conceiving a baby? Or: the doctor relaying an impossible statistic, unknowingly, to the one couple who had experienced the impossible.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


It is important to be hard-working and productive, but I have profound admiration for people who take vacationing seriously. Because it is a serious matter. Vacation requires an entire rearranging of your scheduled life; you must cancel weekly appointments, create special outgoing voice mails, and otherwise arrange for your absence. Vacation requires an understanding that everything can and will go on without you, the way it will when you die. As I said, vacation is a serious matter.

My husband's parents are vacationing role models. When Doug (my father-in-law) was going through graduate school, him and Kathy lived in a double-wide trailer and spent their college loan money on travels. My husband has no early childhood memories of video games (they didn't own a system), but he has seen every state minus Alaska and Washington. He also has been to Disney World 21 times in his 24 years (which, yes, I agree is excessive).

The best thing about spending your time and money on vacations, I think, is this: unlike material things that break or burn or get phased out, you will hardly ever regret a vacation. Even the terrible ones where you get into fights and break your ankle just turn into funny stories. So even though it's more difficult to plan a vacation than buy a new entertainment system, the memories never become out of style, and their value only increases as life moves on and seasons change.

I call that investment, not spending.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Heaven and Birthdays

For my 8th birthday I had a tea party. By noon on December 14, the table was set with a white table cloth, flowers, a platter of pink cupcakes and my mom's eclectic china set. I looked at the beautiful spread, admired my floral dress in the mirror, and threw up on the kitchen floor out of sheer excitement.

I've cooled down a little since then, but I still anticipate things pretty intently, and I enjoy doing so.

Which is why I hate surprises. At least, the kind of surprises when I know something is coming but can't know what it is. It's juvenile, it's silly, but it's true. My husband wanted to surprise me with our honeymoon location, but there was no way I could have let that happen. I annoyed him to a breaking point and never regretted it. We poured over travel books and I bought about a dozen bikinis that I haven't worn since.

I think this is why it's hard for me to anticipate heaven. Heaven is like God saying, "Listen, I'm planning our honeymoon. That's all I'm telling you. Nope - no pictures. Nope - no travel books. I'm not even going to tell you if it's tropical."

He probably figures that if I knew, I would throw up all over the kitchen.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I am so thankful that Sarah Barlow convinced me to get StatCounter, because otherwise I would never have known that people have accessed my site after searching the following phrases on Google:

Living like Anne Shirley

1 Month of Starvation


I'm pooping out water whats wrong with me

(Don't worry person who is pooping out water! I can't tell who you are, so you have nothing to be embarrassed about. And I'm sorry that my blog didn't have any information about what is wrong with you; I suggest you eat more fiber and see a doctor.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pleasant Boundaries

Growing up, I had neighborhood boundaries that marked the precise lot of land that I was free to roam. My world was squared in by a fence, a street, a sidewalk and the top of a hill. Within the boundaries were my house, my best friend's house, my bike-riding sidewalk, a yard to play tag, a porch to play Boxcar Children, and a green electric box to stand on and shout, "I'm QUEEN OF THE WORLD!" when my parents weren't watching.

I was content with three of my four boundary lines; I didn't have any real desire to cross the road or sidewalk or jump the fence. But one summer I grew a particular resentment towards the line that separated me and the hill. Despite my passionate plea, my parents failed to grant me an extension, and I was resigned to standing at the top and staring forlornly at it's exotic, descending enticements. My friends were overjoyed to exploit their liberty by running, skipping and rolling like barrels to the bottom while I watched.

Eventually I was allowed to go to the bottom of the hill, at which point I realized that my friends had been pretending to have a lot more fun than what the hill really had to offer. But I remained suspicious of boundaries and what they might be keeping me from, particularly boundaries like time and money that keep me from traveling more, giving more, and spending more time investing in more relationships. I understand boundaries that keep me from sin, but why are there constraints that keep me from good things in life?

Boundaries will always exist around the finite things in life such as time and money. But what I'm learning is that boundaries are necessary in order to explore the infinite within the finite.

I can introduce myself to every single person in my town, but I will never know my husband Pete all the way through.

I could visit every country in Europe, but I will never be able to experience and learn everything about Atrani, Italy.

I could give away every dollar that I make, but I will never get to the end of what it means to be generous.

I could roll like a barrel to the bottom of the hill, but I could never stop finding ways to play in my front yard.

Psalm 16:
Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup.
You have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely, I have a delightful inheritance.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Animal Hospital Walls


I've only been in a veterinary clinic once before, but I remember a similar motif to the one I visited today: uncoordinated wall colors, and random framed drawings of assorted household pets. We were the only ones in the waiting room, but it still took about five minutes for Pete to sign papers authorizing the euthenatia, and another five for the vet to prepare. I started at one side and worked my way around the walls of the animal hospital.

First picture, first question: why would someone draw a picture of such an ugly cat? He or she must have really loved the cat. Still, wouldn't this artist realize that even though she loved the cat, no one else would value a framed picture of such a hideous looking creature? An inscription was printed on the bottom right corner of the matting: It's always hard to lose a family member. Thank you for easing my pain. With love, Cindy.

I moved on to a picture of a man with a fishing pole, glancing over his shoulder to his trailing dog. It was the very picture of man and his faithful companion - I don't know when artists will realize that this picture has been painted a thousand times over. I told Pete my theory that a dog is everything a man wants in a woman: good listener, rapt audience, non-argumentative, adoring. He nodded but didn't smile.

Across the room was a bulletin board smothered in animal-themed note cards and holiday pictures. One picture was of of a 30-something couple and seven rottweilers. I wondered if this couple had security issues or if they couldn't have children. The names of the dogs read like a top-10 baby names for the past ten years: Emily, Isabelle, Ethan, Ava, Michael... I decided that they couldn't have children. They looked really happy. The Christmas card said Happy Holidays from the Wilson Family!

The private waiting room was the color of a kiwi and had a couch covered in animal fur. Pete sat on a stool and I sat on the arm of a chair. "She was a good bird," he said, and I agreed. The vet came back with Max, who was still moving slightly but quickly stiffened in her hands. "She went to sleep very easily," she said. "I don't think she had a lot of blood left."

We wrapped Max in a cloth and placed her in a box. We thanked the wonderful vet who had said all of the right things and carried Max with such care. I glanced again at its walls covered by the affection of a rare breed of people: animal lovers. I thought, If I were to make an addition to these walls I would inscribe this verse:

Matthew 10:29: Are not sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.

I have always had a somewhat sarcastic bent towards animal lovers. Yet somehow, I think their Christmas cards and ugly cat drawings - and our tears over Max - illustrate a small portion of God's love for his creation.

His eye is on the sparrow.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dreams of Jesus


When I was a little girl, my mom would push my hair back with the palm of her hand and pray over my dreams. "Father, give Joy good dreams," she would say. "Dreams of Jesus."

I don't remember very many dreams of Jesus Himself, but most of my dreams were fun and colorful; I feel fortunate that I escaped childhood nightmares. What I have suffered most of my life have been pre-sleep nightmares. I've had them off and on ever since I was about 12 years old.

My pre-sleep nightmares occur when I get into bed and close my eyes. An image will come to my head - sometimes from a movie, other times from an article or book, and sometimes just from the recesses of my brain (those are the scariest). The image is of someone doing something terrible and atrocious and painful to me or someone I love. Usually I am in another country, and it is tied up in missionary work.

I don't really trust God to keep me safe. Pete said, "I'm trusting that God will take care of us in whatever way that He sees fit." I said, "I don't really know what that means." Sees fit? I trust someone if I think that he will take care of me and protect me to the best of his ability. God has the ability to keep me and my family safe, but the truth is, He may or He may not. And He hasn't promised to keep me safe; in fact, he promises that there will be hardships.

Right now, I care about my body and my emotions and my life more than I desire to glorify God. If bringing God glory required me to be abused or tortured, I'm not sure that it would be worth it to me. I would wish that I had stayed home.

But I'm going because I don't want that to be the case. I want to somehow see outside of myself; I want big picture vision. I want faith. I want to trust. Maybe I'll never trust that God will keep me safe, but I want to trust it's really worth it. I want to trust that I have a strength available to me that isn't my own.

I think that my dreams have been very much protected my whole life. I don't fear sleeping. These images that I allow myself to fall asleep to... I have control over that. I can take control over that. I can fight them, change them, refuse them.

I want to get into bed and have good pre-sleep dreams. I want to fall asleep to visions of Jesus.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Poop Water

I woke up at 10:30 am and calculated the hours before I had to leave for work. Pete had just fallen into bed three hours prior after his overnight shift. I kissed him lightly and scooted out of bed. I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and went to the bathroom.

The last part of this daily routine, however, turned out to be a colossal mistake. Because if you ever have spicy chili for dinner, you can pretty much bank on the fact that the toilet is not going to work in the morning. If you also ate the greasy appetizer, you should probably just find an outhouse or secluded bush. Which is exactly what I wished I had done as I inspected the toilet tank and began plunging a swamp of dirty poop water.

After about ten minutes of plunging and pulling on ever lever in the tank, it became pretty apparent that I wasn't getting anywhere. So I took a break and checked my email. Around 11:00 I went back into the bathroom, secretly hoping that poo fairies would have snuck in and taken care of it for me. Instead, I realized that the toilet bowl was slowly filling with more water. I plunged it down to a safe level, trying to use my peripheral vision to make sure that I was plunging accurately. I nearly barfed at the site of my own crap. 20 minutes later, I was angry.

"What's wrong with the bathroom door?" Pete asked.

"I slammed it," I said. "That's what's wrong with the door." I didn't care how juvenile I was being.

"Why would you slam the door?"

"Because I've spent half my freaking morning trying to get the freaking toilet to flush, and it's disgusting and I can't do it, and I need help." I plopped on the bed with childish dramatics. Then I followed him to the bathroom.

"Okay," I said, "but can you fix it without looking in the toilet bowl? Just, you know, lift up the tank lid and figure out what's wrong."He looked at me a little sideways. "Joy, why does it matter if I look in the toilet bowl? It's just poop. Do you think your poop is more gross than my poop?"

"Yes. I do."

He was being extremely patient. "Well, I want to help you, but eventually I'm going to have to look to make sure it's not overflowing."

Very suddenly, my face contourted and I started to cry. I cried big, loud sobs. I cried hiccups, gurgles, and spilling tears. "It's just so gross, and I don't want you to see it. I need you to fix it but I don't want you to see it. It's disgusting, nasty poop water and it's probably more gross than anything that has ever come out of you."

"Are you really crying because you don't want me to see your poop water?" he asked. I nodded yes, and he pulled me into a hug. Then he started laughing. He laughed big belly laughs... rolling and overflowing laughs. This made me sob even harder, so we stood together in the stinky bathroom, him laughing and me crying, and meanwhile the basin continued to fill up little by little. He took the tank lid off and began filling it with a lot more water than I had thought necessary. Then he pressed the flusher and lifted the lid to the toilet bowl. He saw me cringe and said, "Joy, it looks just like my poop water." The swamp began to swirl, and then it dissapreared. I can't imagine a dessert wanderer would breathe a deeper sigh of relief than I did at the sight of clean water. It gurgled up triumphantly and settled in the bowl

Sometimes I need someone to help me with my shit, but don't want them to actually look at my shit. It doesn't really work that way. What I need is for someone else to open the toilet bowl and then hold me.

"Your humantiy looks just like my humanity," I need to hear. "And I can help you.".

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

License and Registration, Please

I've been driving a car with expired registration for nearly two years now, and let me tell you that life as a fugitive has been rough. In the past when I saw a police officer in my rear view mirror I would simply check my speed and remind myself to keep a special eye out for stop signs and school buses. (Because, of course, the only time you don't notice the big yellow bus in front of you is when there is a police car behind you). But now that I've had this neon-reflective sticker on my license plate with the numbers "06" irrefutably printed, everything is completely out of my control.

I know it doesn't have to be like this. At least, I know this at a cognitive level. But between my out-of-state move, the missing title and registration to my car (as well as my missing birth certificate, passport, marriage license, and every other documentation proving that I am alive), I have started to lose hope of this process ever resulting in current license plates. Probably it will end when the government finds out that I don't exist, and they put me in exile or something, after I file my taxes, of course.

The bright side is that I have become an immaculate driver through this experience. This is because I treat every vehicle as though it were an unmarked police car, even the mini-vans with hand smears on the windows. All that this has really done is piss off the people behind me as I drive precisely one mile under the speed limit at all times. But the hand-smeared mini-vans have had no reason to pull me over and smack me with a ticket for expired plates, that's for darn sure.

My husband has joined me in my life of crime; his plates expired just a couple months after mine. I suppose some couples have worked out who the responsible one is going to be, but we're still battling it out to see who will cave. He did get pulled over the other day. I was in the car with him. When the lights starting swirling and he pulled over into a lot, I patted him on the knee and said, "I'm right here, honey." What I was really thinking was, Thank God we took his car, because he is going DOWN. In the end, the officer gave him a Promise to Comply, which is just like a Super Duper Promise with a dotted like to sign on. He'll probably get his plates taken care of, and I'll be forced to continue my unlawful ways alone.

Irregular Postings

Maybe now I'll get on the ball. I just read my comments from my Anne posting two months ago and realized I missed out on $90 tickets and an excuse to go to Prince Edward Island. I didn't think anyone read my blog, and come to find out that the production peeps from Anne and Gilbert the musical did.

I think one post a week sounds manageable. You can count on it. (I'm talking to you, Samantha, you encouraging and pesty woman, you!)

Suave and Death

As far as shampoo goes, I usually buy knock-off brands or Suave, which is basically a branded knock-off brand. (As an aside, it bothers me that Suave now has commercials, because I imagine they hiked the price a couple cents without my noticing for their new marketing campaign.) A couple months ago I was browsing the hair care aisle and I decided, against all of my childhood training, to treat myself with a pricey salon brand. I would use it only once a week, I decided. I chose Mondays, because it feels nice to start the week off clean and pretty. Suave and I would maintain our routine the other six days.

So every Monday around 6:00 am, I would rub approximately 25 cents worth of shampoo into my scalp, which really is a lot if you think about the people living for less than a dollar a day. And since I stayed faithful to my rationing schedule, the bottle seemed to last a long, long time. The line of liquid didn't seem to be diminishing at all. In fact, I started to think that it was like the endless bottle of oil that Elijah gave the widow; in a way I actually accepted this could be true.

But a couple weeks ago I noticed that the bottle was getting lighter. And then very suddenly, it was empty. I shook the bottle upside down and bewilderedly poured the last bit of expensive-smelling potion onto my palm. It was as I tossed the empty bottle onto the bathmat that I came to a new conclusion within myself:

Someday, I am going to die.

The eternal bottle of oil is my soul; as it says in Psalms, eternity is written on my heart. But on this earth, my Mondays are numbered just as finitely as my shampoo.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

anne shirley

I admit that I am prideful about the natural color of my hair. This is not because I think the color itself is anything altogether special. Plenty of other women have auburn heads, and some even have eyebrows to match, which I do not. No, I am proud of my hair color because of how I attained it. When I was 12 years old, I gave myself red hair using only the power of my imagination. It happened in a moment of deep connection with Anne Shirley of Green Gables. And it hasn’t washed out since.

I wish that my miraculous transformation occurred as I was reading Anne of Green Gables, but truth be told, I prefer the movie. This is partly because Meghan Follows embodies the character of Anne Shirley so honestly, and also because Prince Edward Island, (to quote Anne), "is more beautiful than even I could imagine it." Also, the first sentence of the book runs exactly 152 words long, and I do not believe that a sentence of that magnitude was ever permissible, even in Canadian literature.

Watching the movie is nearly a half-day commitment, and one I never made half-heartedly. Even in my early days of Anne, around the age of eight, I would plan out my viewings with great intention, and would pause only for bathroom breaks. Despite the poor quality of VHS tapes, I remember feeling entirely transported into her world from my living room couch.

In fact, the feeling of transportation was so complete that I reflect on Anne's story as though I lived it alongside of her. I remember sitting next to her at the orphanage as she stared into the windowpane at the friend she had made in her reflection. I remember ducking under the blossom-laden branches as she rode from town to Green Gables, soaking in the sights of Prince Edward Island for the first time. I remember feeling like the future bloomed with promise when Marilla told her that she could stay at Green Gables. I remember the flame in my girlish heart that lit up when she met Diana and finally had a true friend. I remember feeling a different kind of flame in my heart when Gilbert first entered the scene.

Anne lived her story repeatedly throughout all of my girlhood. And eventually I realized that I was not simply living alongside of her, observing her. Eventually, my memories read as though Anne was looking into the windowpane, and my face was the one reflected. And the fact that I would say something so dramatic is mere proof that Anne is somewhere inside of me, or that I am somewhere inside of her.

There was one detail that Anne and I thoroughly disagreed upon. Anne considered her fiery head of hair something to despair, while I thought it a gift to be coveted. Here is how it happened:

I was 12 years old. I was lying on the couch, holding a glass of 7up while a pan lay poised on the floor in case I needed to hurl. Anne’s eyes were glazing over as they often did when she imagined the world differently than it was. She could imagine she had a “beautiful, rose-leaf complexion,” she said, and “starry, violet eyes.” But then she looked straight into reality and said, “But I cannot imagine my red hair away.” I thought for the umpteenth time how Anne's hair perfectly reflected her passion for ordinary life, and how lucky she was to have it. And while Anne couldn't imagine her red hair away, I closed my eyes and imagined myself with hair that glimmered like a new copper penny.

That summer, mysterious red highlights began forming out of my brown hair. And by August, someone called me a red head for the first time. "You think my hair is red?" I had asked. My friend looked at me suspiciously and said, "It is red. Right?" I agreed, "Yes, it's red. I just didn't know if anyone else could see it." I had successfully imagined my red hair into existence. Actually, the result of my imagination was more of an auburn, which is what Anne had always hoped would eventually come of her hair. My eyebrows are still a dark brown, and I'm not sure if that means that the red is temporary. But I've had it for nearly nine years now.

Shortly after I married last September, I watched Anne of Green Gables and the sequel, Anne of Avonlea, for the first time in nearly two years. For some reason, I felt close to tears throughout the whole film. I cried at the appropriate times, like when Matthew dies or when Diana is forbidden from seeing Anne. But I also cried at parts that I had never cried over before. I cried when Josie Pie falls into the lake and Anne says with jealousy that it would be "such a romantic experience nearly to drown." I cried when Anne gets Dianna drunk on what she thought was raspberry cordial. I cried when Anne nearly did drown as she acted out a scene from poetry in a little boat.

It wasn't until the end of the sequel that I understood exactly what was going on inside of me. At one point near the end, Anne tells Marilla that she is “18 now, and just as stubborn as ever.” And the last scene finds Anne and Gilbert standing on a bridge at the onset of their overdue romance. It was then I realized that I was older than Anne for the first time, and that I had just spent five hours mourning the end of my childhood with her.

I still see traces of Anne inside of me, but when I watch Anne of Green Gables, I am remembering when my life ran parallel with hers. In that sense, I miss Anne. And this is okay, because every season eventually moves into our memories so that a new one can unfold. And maybe someday I will have a daughter who I can share Anne with. If she doesn't connect with Anne in the same way, that will be okay too, because this world is full of characters who we can find parts of ourselves in.

At the end of the first of the first tape, Diana is forbidden from ever associating with Anne again, and they swear to be secret bosom friends for all of eternity. With tears running down her blotchy, tormented face, Anne asks Diana for a lock of her black tresses. Diana wails, "I don't have any black dresses!" and Anne says, "I mean your hair." Diana snips off a lock of her hair, which Anne tucks into her pocket before they depart to live separate lives.

Of course, my adult self knows that my red hair was genetically destined to reveal itself in the summer that I was 12 years old; perhaps the sun drew out highlights that had been forming all year. But the girl inside of me likes to believe that they are locks of Anne's tresses that she gave to me at a time when our lives coincided. I believe that I imagined my red hair into existence. And the Anne inside is proud of the creative power of my imagination.