Friday, May 24, 2013

Hard and Wonderful: A Mother's Story

Do you ever find yourself accidentally blogging in other people's FB status comments? A friend of mine, a mom of a stubborn little one, expressed frustration and hope that it would get easier somewhere along the way. And after some light joking around, this came out...

I think, in truth, that every age is wonderful and every age is hard. They're just different kinds of wonderful and hard. When my girls were little, I was so physically exhausted and was sure I was going to die between all the diaper changes and feedings and everything you have to make sure gets done... but you got the baby snuggles and the smell of baby head.

And then they got a little older and we passed by the diaper changes and feedings, and got to potty training and 3-year-old stubbornness and trying to kill each other and the necessity of duct tape. But instead of baby head smell and baby snuggles, I got chubby little girl arms around my neck and the childhood thrill of exploration.

And then they got a little older and we left 3 year old stubbornness behind, but stumbled across the challenges of school. Gone was potty training and duct tape, but instead we dealt with homework anguish, the heartbrokenness of friend trouble, and the reality that our circle was getting bigger and it was no longer something I could just control all the time. And gone were the little girl chubby arms, but instead I found my little girls turning into people with thoughts and questions and the ability to carry on a conversation that didn't center around Elmo or the Teletubbies.

And then they got a little older and now we are leaving behind that tender school age and entering teenage hormones. The homework and friend troubles are still here but we've learned to adapt. And now we're dealing with early teenage craziness with random bouts of insanity. In fact, even as I type this, Alicia is banging around the kitchen in an attempt to punish me for asking her to let the dog out while she was in the middle of getting her water. No, don't worry, that shouldn't make any sense to you either. But, I also get to spend time with these wonderful little girls-turned-young-women and have interesting conversations and fun times and read books together and listen to music-that-isn't-too-awful together. Just yesterday, I took Alicia and one of her friends out to ice cream. I offered to sit at a different table so as not to taint their ice cream date with my old-person-uncoolness, but I was invited to stay.

And then will come high school, which will have its own struggles, but its own blessings. And college. And young adulthood. And not-so-young adulthood.

And if there's anything I've learned from observing my mom, it's that this thing doesn't ever stop. My sister, with a 2 year old boy and a newborn baby girl, is getting ready to pack up her entire family in a couple cars and move, by car, from Alaska to Oregon. A 5 (at least) day drive. We all think she's insane. And, of course, my mom is neurotically worried... because she's the mom and you don't ever stop being the mom.

And being the mom comes with hard things that change all the time. They don't get easier, they just get different. But being the mom also comes with equally wonderful things that don't ever get less wonderful, but they do get different.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Be Different: Be Amazing!

Be Amazing!

To go back to the beginning, why do you join the crowd? Why do you even desire to be a part of the crowd? Why are you worried that they'll think you're weird?

Guess what.

You're weird.

You're weird and I'm weird and he's weird and she's weird. We're all weird!  And we're each weird in different ways... but that's not what makes us weird.  That's what makes us awesome. Really awesome.

Don't be a part of the crowd. Don't even want to be a part of the crowd. The crowd is defined by conformity and sameness and a religion that there is power in numbers. Even if what they're powering is dead wrong.

Don't change who you are to be part of it. Don't cover your awesome. Don't tweak it to fit in. And, for heavens sake, don't change it.

You are awesome and amazing in all your quirks and differences and passions and hopes and dreams. I want to see those. I want to know them and love them.  And I want to be proud of my own just as much as I'm preaching at you to be proud of yours.  I change mine, too. I change them and cover them and try to erase them-- all the time.  And then wonder why I find myself unhappy.

We are amazing. It's time to let ourselves be just that. 



"Be Different" Series

Friday............ The Desire to Fit In
Sunday..........  Like What You Like
Tuesday........  Making a Difference
Wednesday...  Be Amazing!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Be Different: Making a Difference

Making a Difference

Think of the people that you really admire for something.

There are some people in my life whom I really admire because of their kindness, some for their wisdom, some for their patience.  I have friends that have taught me a lot about not getting so wrapped up in what other people say about me, others who have taught me about acceptance, others who have taught me about picking up and moving forward.

The thing about all these people and their traits that stand out...  They stand out because they're different. They are kinder than anyone else I've known. They are wiser. They are more patient.

They have made a difference because they have had the courage to be different.

When I was younger, more than anything, I dreamed of making a difference in the world. I don't think that's so uncommon, and I think that maybe that's born into us. We all start out with a desire to make a difference somehow.  But we can't influence the world by being like the world.

We have to be different.

We each have a unique opportunity to change the world around us... whether that's one person at a time or many. But we can't make that difference if we aren't willing to step out and be different. We have to have the courage.

We also have to be understanding. You were given a passion... maybe it's buried now and you're not sure what it is, but somewhere in there, you have a passion.  With that passion, you have a responsibility to follow it. But, understand that someone else has their own passion, but it may not be the same as yours. We have to allow for that, understanding the difference that we make... the difference that we find so overwhelmingly important... may not be the same difference that someone else was made to make. Does that make any sense? Your passionate cause may not be the same as everyone else's, but that's what makes it your passion. That's what makes it their passion.


"Be Different" Series

Friday............ The Desire to Fit In
Sunday..........  Like What You Like
Tuesday........  Making a Difference
Wednesday...  Be Amazing!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Be Different: What's So Great About Normal?

What's So Great?

Normal.  Synonyms: Common, usual, general, ordinary, standard, typical.

Remind me again why we would want to be normal?

We weren't meant to be "normal." We weren't designed to be like everyone else. There is no everyone else. There's only a standard that we all try to conform to. But, what if the standard was "different?" What if being like everyone else wasn't the goal? What if being your real self was?

I read recently that being normal denotes a lack of courage.

It's being afraid to be who you were meant to be. I know a girl who does everything she can to not be noticed. You see, she knows she's not quite normal. She knows that she's not like everyone else and she is desperately afraid that someone will notice that. She is afraid of what will happen to her if everyone else sees just how different she is. So, she hides. She stays against the outer wall and she prays that no one will see her.  For if they see her, they might see the way she is different.

She is afraid.

Are we afraid? Are we afraid that people will see us... will really see us... and then know that we are different, too? It's all nice and pretty to champion being different and really being yourself, but we all kind of know that the pack attacks the anomaly. One on one, different is good.  But, in the pack? In the mob?  Different is penalized and we know it.  We know it because we've been part of it. We know what the pack is like because we've been the pack. We know what happens to people who are different.

But, what if we were all different? What would the pack penalize then? If we all stood up and we all refused to be the pack, if we all refused the normality that defined the pack, if we all embraced the ways that make us... us.  What would the pack have to hate?

The hard thing is that "all being different" starts with one. One person who has the bravery to stand up and refuse the shackles of the pack. One person with the courage to face the pack down and draw a line in the sand. Someone with the strength to say, "No.  This is who I am. This is who I will be."

Will you be the one?


"Be Different" Series

Friday............ The Desire to Fit In
Sunday..........  Like What You Like
Tuesday........  Making a Difference
Wednesday...  Be Amazing!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Be Different: Like What You Like

Like What You Like

What do you like?  I mean, what do you really like? And it doesn't matter if it's cool or uncool. It doesn't matter if your friends like it or if your mom likes it or if your husband likes it. When you're not worried about what people will think of you, what do you really like?

I like country music.
I like young adult fiction.
I like college football.
I like Celtic Thunder.
Sometimes I like teenage boybands and secretly dance to One Direction.
I like line dancing.
I like The Dark Tower.
I like Robert Downey Jr.
I like The Avengers and Firefly and Joss Whedon.
I like Dr Horrible.
I like ice cream and peanut butter.
I like all things Lord of the Rings and Narnia-y.
I like make-up and I like shopping.
I like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and I like John Green and I like Natalie Tran.
I like quotes and feel-good-y sayings.
I like pictures that make me see stories.

That's just off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more.

What do you like?

Are there ever things that you like and you feel that you can't like them?  Maybe it's not cool to like them. Maybe it's not cool to like them as much as you do.  I have experience with that.

As evidenced by the number of times I write about them, I really like Celtic Thunder. And I like country music.  And I've been ridiculed for both of those. So, there is a part of me that wants to downplay how much I like them. There is a part of me that doesn't want you to know. There is a part of me that wants to hide who I am because I've been told that those things about me aren't okay.

But, hiding them doesn't change them. It doesn't make those things about me untrue. They just make them... hidden.  Hidden and shameful.

I recently watched a video of Wil Wheaton that I'd like to share with you. He was at a conference, and during a panel, a new mom asked him to record a message to her daughter about what's so great about being a nerd.  I loved his response, and I'd like you to listen to it.  Nerd or not, it applies to you.

Like what you like. And like it passionately. Don't be ashamed of it. EMBRACE it. And if people make fun of you for that, that says far more about them than it does about you.

Like what you like.  Be proud of it.  Don't like what other like just to fit in. Follow your own heart.

Follow it passionately.


"Be Different" Series

Friday............ The Desire to Fit In
Sunday..........  Like What You Like
Tuesday........  Making a Difference
Wednesday...  Be Amazing!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Be Different: The Desire to Fit In

The Desire to Fit In

Have you ever just wanted to belong? To not feel like you're on the outside all the time? I have.  I have longed to be inside. To fit.  To walk into a room or a group of people and not feel judged or ridiculed or just... different.

There is something about that belonging... an affirmation that you're okay. That who you are is accepted and that it's okay to be you.

But, the thing with the desire to belong and to fit in is that it can manifest itself unhealthily.  When you're in a place where you don't fit in, but you have nowhere else to go, what do you do?  In my own experience, I have changed.

When I was a girl in school, my mom taught me that the best way to get good grades was to find out what your teacher wanted, and to give it to them.  Brilliant school advice and it worked. I think we also follow that advice, to our detriment, in life. We find out what it takes to be part of a group that we want to be a part of, and we become what it takes.  Even if "what it takes" isn't us.  We become something different so that we can fit.

Maybe that's saying that we like the right music, or even that we hate the right music. Maybe it's reading the right books, watching the right TV shows, wearing the right clothes. Sometimes it's acting in a certain way, associating or deliberately-not-associating with the right or wrong people. adopting the right philosophies, beliefs, and politics.  It goes on...

We tweak ourselves to fit in. But enough tweaks here and there and we are no longer us.  We become some weak caricature that remotely resembles who we used to be, but isn't real.  And when we tweak ourselves over and over, sometimes this way/sometimes that way, eventually we wake up and aren't even sure who we are and how to get back to something more authentic.

The pull to fit in is a strong one. But, the need to be authentic is even stronger.


"Be Different" Series

Friday............ The Desire to Fit In
Sunday..........  Like What You Like
Tuesday........  Making a Difference
Wednesday...  Be Amazing!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thursday Tales: A Life Consumed by Fire, Chapter 2

Read Chapter 1 here

Chapter 2

One time, I was "house"-sitting for my grandparents. They had an old farm that they usually rented out. But, this one month, they didn't have any tenants, so they asked if I'd go look out for the place for awhile. It sounded fun, out by myself with the chickens.  Who wouldn't want to play farm girl?

It was fun. I spent some time going through old closets and looking at things from my grandma's childhood. I wandered through the fields. I napped in the meadow under the sun. I fed the chickens (not as glamorous as it sounded). It was fun.

In the evening, I sat on the swing and watched the stars come out. My mind started to wander and I began to think about school. Rachel had been pretty mean that week. I could feel the stares of the other girls as I walked down the hallway and I wondered if I'd ever really belong, if there would ever be anyone out there who would be willing to jump past the weird to be my friend. To be my anything.

A tear spilled down my cheek.  And then another.  And then another. I didn't think anything about that... until I smelled the smoke.

I looked down and where each tear had fallen, the porch had begun to singe. One tear might have been okay.  The ten or whatever was... not.  A flame had sprung up out of my sorrow. A flame on my beloved grandparents' porch.

Panicked, I bent down and blew on the flames, trying to snuff them out like you would a birthday candle. But, it was the exact wrong thing to do. The air blew the flames higher, and they began to lick their way across the porch to the outside of the house.  I ran around the side and tried to fill a bucket with water to douse the flames.  But, by the time I got back to the front, the flames had--  There were just too many of them.

I could start fires. I just couldn't put them out.

Eventually, I gave up.  I retreated to the top of the driveway and I watched what I'd done burn itself out.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Celtic Thunder "Heritage" DVD Review

Heritage album cover
February 2011 brought the release of Celtic Thunder's something-th DVD release, Heritage. It was filmed the same night as their previous DVD release, Christmas.  So, if the audience and stage look similar, that would be why. Heritage is unique in that it highlights a set of duets and, like the Christmas release, is pretty deliberate in bring guitarist Neil Byrne to the forefront. (Neil will later be brought forward permanently as a principal singer in the show.)

Let's talk about audience for a bit with a little bit of admission and confession first. I am a longtime Celtic Thunder fan, but I would be the first to admit that, as a group, we can be a bit odd. I've brought glowsticks to shows before to wave around and I've brought signs, though it's been a long time since I've done either, so it absolutely feels a bit hypocritical to criticize. I admit that.  But, I'm going to be honest and admit that this DVD makes the fanbase look a little cuckoo.

There are glowsticks waved in the air in time to the music (or not in time to the music), which absolutely draws attention away from the stage. There are glowing sunglasses, flags... I wouldn't be surprised if there were entire wardrobes made of glowing necklaces. I suppose none of this would really be that weird if there weren't so many audience shots, and the worst for me, so many shots of the audience singing along. Words cannot express how much I hate that.  The saving grace is the knowledge that, eventually, this practice of putting the audience on camera all the time dies off with the introduction of Mythology.  Saints be praised.

Audience aside, the music in Heritage is fantastic.

The Great

One of the definite highlights of this release is the ensemble song, Place in the Choir. a great song made popular by the Clancy Brothers, is a fun piece and a favorite with fans. It's entertaining to watch with lots of movement and features a great piece of linedancing-esque footwork. I'm being generous. But the attempt at dancing is a source of great amusement and shouldn't be missed!

As aforementioned, Heritage features three duets and all three are wonderful.

Damian McGinty Paul ByromPaul Byrom and Damian McGinty come together to croon a beautiful Just a Song at Twilight. Paul and Damian's voices complement each other very nicely, and it's one of my favorite tunes from both of them. George Donaldson and Ryan Kelly join to sing Gold and Silver Days. I unabashedly admit that George and Ryan are two of my favorites in the group, so to see them come together in song has always been a source of happiness for me. They blend really well together and the song is sweet and tender. Finally, Keith Harkin and Neil Byrne perform a very energetic rendition of Whiskey in the Jar. This one is fun, folks. Both performers are extremely talented guitarists and it is fantastic to watch them work the stage together.  All three duets are a huge plus.

The Good

Ireland's Call and Steal Away are both solid ensemble songs. Ireland's Call is always a fun rousing rendition, while Steal Away is typically beautiful. This arrangement features Damian's grown-up deep voice with George accompanying on guitar and later taking over the lead voice. There is a moment where the camera catches George's gaze on Damian that translates as very sweet and paternal-- makes me smile every time. However, both of these songs have been either recorded or performed often in Celtic Thunder, and part of me wouldn't be sad to see their spot filled with something new.

Ryan kelly Black is the Colour Heritage
Ryan's Black is the Colour is an old folk song that no one can quite decide which nation to attribute it to. Ryan's version is pretty disco'd up, to borrow a friend's phrase, but it's very enjoyable to watch. Ryan gives it a signature Dark Destroyer treatment, complete with an entertaining bit where he beats his fist in the air in time to the lights and music (truly a pretty cool effect), but the Dark Destroyer treatment has its pros and cons. Ryan is good at it. He's fantastic at giving a song a bit of a rakish bad-for-you-but-oh-so-tempting feel and I wouldn't criticize his talent for that. But, at the time Heritage was released, Ryan had also been doing "The Dark Destroyer" for a long time, and I began to be ready for something new.

Home from the SeaThe Ones I Skip

Both of the songs in this category are ones that aren't bad songs; they're just not terribly memorable for me. Home from the Sea is a seafaring ensemble song. It doesn't really have a ton of harmonizing going for it. On the plus side, it does make you want to sway back and forth and talk in Pirate. Paul's My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose is also one that I'm not in love with. It's pretty, tender, and a nice match for Paul's tenor voice-- just not my favorite of his.

If You Can Only Afford Three Tracks

  1. Place in the Choir
  2. Just a Song at Twilight
  3. Whiskey in the Jar

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday Tales: A Life Consumed by Fire

I always wondered what it would be like to walk into a meeting and say, "Hi. My name is Angela.  And I'm a pyromaniac." Only that wouldn't quite be true. I'm not a pyromaniac.

I just set things on fire.

consumed by fire
It's not with matches or with a lighter or kerosene. It's with my mind... like that girl in Stephen King's Firestarter book.  To be honest, I've never read it. You'd think I would have... but I know that he writes horror and about things that are evil. I've just never wanted to read something where I might be the thing that was evil or worthy of horror.

I'm just a girl... who sometimes sets things on fire.

Sometimes I can do it on purpose... if I summon up enough control of my own mind, I can set something on fire.  That's great for camping trips.  But, most of the time, it's something involuntary.  I get mad or upset, and it just happens. It's not intentional. No one sets out in life hoping to be the freak. It's cool to be Katniss Everdeen, The Girl on Fire.  It's less cool to be Angela, The Girl Who Accidentally Ruins Everything With Fire.

No one forgets the day in kindergarten when you accidentally envelop the class hamster in flames.  No one forgets and no one forgives.

Chapter 2!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thursday Tales: An Accidental Conversation with the Bad Boy

Story banner

"Are you ready yet??"

I smacked my lips at the mirror, smoothed my hair one last time, and ran down to the car. "Let's go!" 

My friend, Emily, was dragging me to a concert of her favorite music, some boyband by the name of Celtic Thunder. She was always going on and on about how great they were. In an effort designed purely so she'd stop hassling me, I had agreed to go with her... just one time!

HeritageI had to admit that it wasn't awful -- better than I expected. The music was good, the singers were handsome. There were worse ways to spend an evening, for sure. I couldn't really decide which of the vocalists was my favorite... there was the tall bald guy with a Scottish accent, the cute teenager, the blond surfer, the romantic classical guy, and the dark-haired rogue. A role for every taste, I suppose.

As they gave their final bows, we clapped enthusiastically. Emily said that she wanted to get one more thing from the merchandise tables, so I told her to go ahead and that I'd meet her back at the car. Not wanting to stand in the long line to get out the main doors, I wandered out another one that no one seemed to notice at the base of the stage. 

I somehow found myself in some hollow hallways. I wasn't really sure where I was or how to get back to the car. But I wandered around a bit, trying to find a door that would lead to outside. As I approached a corner, I heard an accented voice talking to... nothing. 

"But Mum!"  A pause. "Yes... yes... " He must be on the telephone. "I just don't see why I have to--" Peering around the corner, I saw a form leaning against the wall, faced away from me. He was wearing.... a dark grey kilt, a microphone headset still attached to his ear... He must be one of the singers in the show.

"But it's not fair!" he continued. "I know." He sighed sadly. "I'll talk to you soon. Take care." He snapped his phone closed and banged his fist into the wall he was propped against. Sliding down into a sitting position, he muttered dejectedly to himself, looking the picture of pathetic. 

Celtic ThunderI knew I probably wasn't supposed to be there, but I couldn't help trying to comfort the poor guy. I cleared my throat "Excuse me, are you alright?" 

His head snapped up quickly and he frowned. It was the one who'd played the bad boy-- I think they called him the Dark Destroyer. "I didn't know anyone else was here... what ARE you doing here?"

"I'm just lost," I shrugged. "But you seem troubled. Can I help with anything?"

"It's my mum," he began. I sat down next to him on the floor to save him from having to crane his neck up as we spoke. "She's making me-- She said--" He took a deep breath and spoke quickly to get it out as painlessly as possible. "She's making me sell my STORM TROOPERS!" 

I raised an eyebrow. "The... toys?"

"They aren't toys. My STORM TROOPERS. She's making me sell my STORM TROOPERS. Something about me leaving them all over the backyard again."

I peered at him, thinking that this bad boy was perhaps not quite so bad. I took a breath to speak and stopped. What do you say to that? "I-- I'm sorry? That sounds... awful." Was he 12?

"I. KNOW!" he ranted.

"Well... aren't they YOUR storm troopers?" I reasoned. "And you seem to be of an age that you could just decide... NOT... to sell them if you really didn't want to?"

"You don't understand... she said I'd have to start walking my OWN dog if I didn't!" 

I smiled and joked, "And cook your own breakfasts, no doubt?" 

"YES! Exactly!!! How did you know?" he inquired seriously. I tried not to roll my eyes.

A door down the hallway opened suddenly and a woman came toward us. "Ryan! What are you doing down here?" She stopped as she noticed his dejected expression and looked at me "Who are you and what have you done to him?"

"Don't look at me, lady. I'm just lost. His mom told him he has to sell his storm troopers. Apparently this is a travesty?"

"Oh hell," she swore softly. "Now there'll be no living with him." She pointed to a door at the other end of the hallway. "You want to go that way." 

Bemused, I followed her directions and made my way back to Emily's car. "You are never going to believe what I just saw," I told her. "Not in a million years."
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