Thursday, June 28, 2012

Story Time: "The Price of Admission"

So one of my favorite podcasts is hosting a Halloween story contest that I'm thinking about entering. I went through my portfolio and actually found a thematically-appropriate piece of short fiction I wrote a few years ago. I think it could use some polishing though, before I submit it, so I'd welcome any feedback! Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

The Price of Admission

Bill, Tina, Jennifer, and Zach piled out of Zach's pickup, laughing. The boys held brown glass bottles that glinted in the dim light of the parking lot. Bill took a swig of his, almost snarfing the cheap beer in response to another inane joke Zach cracked. The girls stayed close to each other, like static clung them together at the sleeves. A wicked wind swooped through the dirt lot, ruffling their sweatshirt hoods and hair. Tossing their empty bottles into the bed of the truck, the boys gestured for the girls to join them. “C'mon, you two, let's go!” Zach shouted, voice barely rising above the tempestuous wind. The girls stepped forward in sync, like Siamese twins, and each of the boys slipped an arm around one of their slender waists.
“Okay,” Tina sneered, voice pitched into a whine as she twisted in Zach's grip. “Are we really going to do this? I mean, isn't this a little juvenile?”
“What do you mean?” Bill insisted. “What else are we going to do on Halloween?”
“Would you prefer trick-or-treating?” Jennifer chimed in, and received a laugh from the two boys. Tina just glowered, tucking her delicately manicured hands into the pockets of her jacket. She shrugged, then responded,“Obviously no. I just thought we were all going to go to Bradley Mason's party tonight.” She pouted her crimson-lacquered lips for effect, looking like a disappointed Cupie doll. Zach sighed. “Babe, we are going to the party, later. But we wanted to do this first. Nothing like a good haunted house to start off Halloween.”
“Besides,” Jennifer added. “There's probably nobody even there yet. We'd look like losers walking in this early.”
Tina just sighed and rolled her eyes, the absolute picture of tried patience.
The foursome had reached the edge of the expansive, car-packed dirt lot now. Patches of dying weeds bordered the dirt, and a thin strip of crushed grass marked the trail up to the main attraction. A huge construction resembling a warehouse loomed in the distance, with a trailing, shifting line of people assembled in front, waiting for entry.
“Look at this place!” Bill remarked. “It must be awesome. Look at all the people waiting to get in!”
“Yeah, look at how long we'll have to wait in line,” Tina sniffed. Jennifer shot her a frown, which she carefully ignored. “Seriously, guys,” Tina pleaded. “We're gonna miss the party!”
“What's wrong, Tina? You scared the boogie-man might get you?” Bill chided.
“Nah,” Jennifer contributed. “She just can't wait to get with Bradley tonight.” Bill and Jennifer laughed at the barb, but Zach glowered, glancing first at Jennifer, then at Tina.
“Whatever!” Tina growled. “You guys are so stupid.”
“Oh, Bradley!” Jennifer sighed dramatically, planting an enthusiastic kiss on her boyfriend's lips.
“Shut up!” Tina squealed, hitting her friend sharply on the arm.
“Ow! Geez, would you lighten up?” Jennifer complained, rubbing her stinging arm.
“Come on, you guys,” Zach insisted, striding ahead and towing Tina along by the waist.
The ticket counter was a tiny little shack, with an equally tiny figure sitting behind a smudged window. “How many?” the kid asked. Its voice was muted both by the glass and by the rubber Halloween mask it wore, a wrinkled red thing with stubby horns that was supposed to look like a demon but gave more the effect of a burn victim with bad teeth. “Four,” Zach shouted at the form behind the window, and the figure busied itself with a roll of red tickets on the counter. “Cash or cans?” the kid asked, and Zach shook his head in confusion. “It's twelve dollars cash or two canned food donations per person,” the kid shouted back over the wind, which buffeted the window like a crazed animal. “Cash,” Bill offered, and Zach paid out the admission for the whole group. “Thanks, Zach,” Jennifer said, and the rest of the group hurriedly echoed the sentiment.
“No problem,” Zach muttered. “Let's go get in line.” The line was halfway back to the parking lot by now, and the erratically flashing headlights of more patrons pulling into the dirt lot lit up the sheet metal front of the warehouse like spotlights. The friends hurried to the back of the line and stood in a small huddle, shoulders hunched against the wind. “Geez, it's freezing out here,” Bill chattered.
“Yeah, well let's just hope it's worth this,” Tina griped, but this time nobody responded. The line was moving at a decent pace, and soon they drew close enough to the building to hear screams, howls, the roar of chain-saws and other mood-setting sounds echoing from the big building. Concert speakers set outside the main entrance played eerie music, and other patrons in the crowd among them were beginning to jostle to see up ahead.
“This is gonna be awesome,” Bill said, excitedly. The others nodded, except Tina, who was checking her lipstick in a compact mirror she had pulled from her jeans.
“Ugh, this wind is totally trashing my hair,” she muttered.
“What's the matter, Tina?” Jennifer teased. “Worried what Brad might say?”
“No,” Tina replied primly. “I just don't want to get to the party looking like the rest of you.”
“Owch,” Bill exclaimed, fluffing his hair like an awkward primadonna. “Is she saying my perm is unattractive?”
Zach laughed, shoving his friend. “No, just your face,” he retorted, and all four snickered at the joke.
Finally the four friends had reached the front of the line. A caped pale-faced actor stood at the entrance, collecting tickets and grimacing in the faces of the patrons, some of whom laughed good-naturedly while others squealed in exaggerated terror. As the friends drew near, the actor's pale hand reached out for Bill's ticket first. “Ticket, please,” he hissed, through a mouth stuffed with convincingly realistic fangs. “And your soul, of course!”
Bill laughed. “No problem, man. Here ya go!” The boy slapped his ticket into the vampire's hand, giving him a hearty hand-shake before releasing it.
The vampire repeated his tired line for each of them, and Jennifer and Zach followed suit, giving up their tickets and souls as agreeably as children at a carnival. Only Tina ignored the actor, depositing her ticket gingerly in the clammy hand without making eye contact. Attempting to pass the man, she gasped as he locked a grip on her arm. “Your soul, girl,” the vampire wheezed, glaring intently at her. “Okay, sure, whatever,” Tina snapped, yanking her hand out of the tight grip. “Freak!” she muttered, hurrying to catch up with the others.
Drawing back into the company of her friends, Tina caught the end of an extravagant speech given by a thick-set man who stood on a small stage raised slightly above the crowd. The man had a gory axe protruding from the crown of his head, and it flopped as he talked and gesticulated. Fake blood ran in clumpy chunks down his made-up face, and he was saying something about “welcome to the gates of Hell” and “enter at your own risk” and “kiss your souls goodbye.” Tina rolled her eyes.
The crowd pushed forward past the man, who resumed his speech for the next group, vaulted voice fading into the background. In front, Jennifer clung excitedly to Bill's arm, and Zach, noting that Tina had rejoined them, slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Don't worry, baby, I'll protect you,” he whispered, lips brushing against her ear and neck. She shifted irritably out of his grip. Zach frowned, snatching his arm back like he had been bitten, and busied himself with his surroundings. They were jostling along a skinny hallway formed by walls of black cloth, and lit only by a few black light bulbs overhead. Zach glanced at Tina again. Her blond hair glowed unnaturally in the black light, and her white tennis shoes stood out against the cement floor. She glanced at him questioningly, and he looked away. The hallway was gradually widening, and they jumped at a sudden scream up ahead. Jennifer pressed herself against Bill, and he grinned, teeth glowing in the dark like a Cheshire cat. The cause of the scream revealed itself as a hockey-masked actor wielding a butcher's knife at the patrons as they passed. He crouched in a niche of the hallway, surrounded by lumps of dripping meat that hung from the ceiling and sported an occasional recognizable limb-- a hand here, a foot there. Jennifer yelped as she passed the crouching figure and he took a swing at her with his blade, snarling. Close behind her, Tina hesitated, then stuck her chin in the air and strode confidently past the actor, carefully resisting the urge to flinch as he swung the realistic-looking knife toward her. She felt a light tug at her sweatshirt sleeve, and glanced back, but the figure was already menacing another customer.
Suddenly, Tina felt something light and sticky brush her forehead and she gave a short shriek. Jennifer and Bill glanced back at her and grinned maniacally. Zach laughed. Tina brushed at her forehead, glancing up. Fake cobwebs dotted with tiny plastic spiders were strewn across the ceiling. The strands that had brushed her head hung down into the walkway like a curtain. Tina huffed out a breath and impatiently crossed her arms. “This is so stupid,” she insisted. The others rolled their eyes at her and turned back around.
A reddish glow began to light the dark hallway, worried by the flashing white of a strobe light somewhere up ahead. She could hear the buzz of a chainsaw, and several more squeals and shrieks filled the air. The hallway opened up into the chamber lit by the erratic flickering light and fake flames. A gory scene met the patrons, with steel tables and benches strewn with bloody corpses, some of which were alive and reached feebly for the spectators with sawed-off limbs. A bald, blood-streaked man in a spattered white lab coat brandished a roaring chain-saw at the crowd, gleaning a few panicked yelps and gasps from his audience. The actors on the table and benches groaned feebly and beckoned for aid from the delighted spectators. As they watched and flinched, some emitting squeamish gags, the bald actor attacked one of his victims with the chain saw, hacking off a limb as the victim shrieked in pretended pain. The severed leg dropped wetly to the floor, and the actor playing the victim collapsed back onto the table while his attacker cackled evilly. “I think I'm going to be sick,” Tina shouted over the noise, grimacing. Zach opened his arms in offering, and she pressed herself against his chest.
“It's just a show,” he murmured into her ear.
“I know that!” Tina snapped, shuddering. “It's still disgusting.” Zach just smiled, nuzzling her neck with his cold nose, and she pushed him away. He wiggled his eyebrows at her, and she shot him a self-conscious grin, tucking her hair behind one ear, grabbing, his hand and turning to follow the crowd back into another dark, narrow hallway. A few apprehensive moments passed, and the spectators shuffled warily down the dim hallway, chattering amongst themselves. On one side, a lighted display featured a wrapped mummy in a glass case, and as a few people leaned over the display case for a closer look, the mummy's bandaged hands slammed against the glass, startling them and winning a shriek from a girl with red pigtails, whose friends promptly burst into laughter at her expense. A little further on, on their left, clawing hands exploded from the black walls and clutched at the passers-by. Desperate voices and screams came from behind the wall, pleading with the patrons for help from some unseen danger. One pale hand found purchase on Bill's face, and held on. “Ow!” Bill yelled, flailing at the attacker and succeeding only in whacking his girlfriend and a few others. “Dude, watch it!” He shoved the hand forcefully away from his face, and it retreated back into the darkness of its hole. Bill thumbed a thin line of blood on his cheek incredulously. “The idiot scratched me!” he exclaimed.
“It was probably just an accident,” Jennifer replied, inspecting the scratch. Bill just shook his head, glowering back at the arms which snaked from the black wall like pale blind serpents.
This section of the dark hallway was drafty, and Tina clutched her arms, rubbing roughly. Her thumb snagged in a small tear in her sweatshirt, and she twisted to inspect it. The edges were curled and cut clean through to her long-sleeve blouse underneath. She tugged at the tear, confused. Tapping Jennifer on the shoulder, she showed her friend the slit in the sweatshirt, which was now allowing the cold air to jet through to her arm. “Did I have this when I came in?” she asked. The brunette shrugged dismissively. “I don't think I did. In fact, I think that guy back there-- the one with the hockey mask-- I think he had a real knife! I felt it catch my shirt!”
Jennifer smirked in reply and rolled her eyes. “Come on, Tina, they can't use real knives in here! Do you know how many lawsuits they would get?” Bill turned and asked Jennifer what they were discussing. Briefly she explained Tina's misgivings, and he laughed out loud at her naiveté. “Right...” he sneered. “And that was a real chainsaw that guy just lopped the person's leg off with back there.” The couple laughed and turned to ignore her. Nonplussed, Tina showed the tear to Zach, who shrugged. “You probably just snagged it on something,” he offered, and Tina dropped the topic.
The next curve in the cramped hallway opened out into a wide open space, with dimly lit stairs at the far end. All around the patrons, random objects dotted the room, and the crowd had to thin out to move between the clutter. Occasionally a scream echoed from one corner or another. Tina and Jennifer both screamed in turn when a huge evil-looking clown loomed out from behind a collection of manikins and greeted them with a high-pitched giggle, raising an axe over it's flaming red hair. The friends parted, running around the specter, and broke for the stairs where the line resumed. “Good grief,” Jennifer puffed, leaning on her knees. “That was creepy.”
“Aw, it wasn't so bad,” Zach replied weakly, and Jennifer raised a mocking eyebrow at him. Bill watched them both with a crooked grin, leaning against the railing to catch his breath.
“Hey,” he chimed in. “Where's Tina?” The three glanced around them, searching the dim room for their friend. Most of their group was moving toward the stairs, and a few actors still prowled between the dark inanimate shapes. They couldn't distinguish Tina from among the remaining stragglers. In fact, she was nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe she got up the stairs ahead of us?” Zach suggested.
“Or maybe she decided to go back outside and wait,” Bill said snidely. “You know how she's just too good for the rest of us juvenile people.”
Jennifer smacked a feeble blow against Bill's chest. “Shut up, Bill. I'm worried about her, too. Where could she have gone?” Jennifer surveyed the room again, squinting against the darkness.
“Oh, come on, Jennifer, she's fine. Don't you start wimping out on us, too.” Bill gave the petite brunette's ponytail a playful tug.
“Yeah, she'll probably wait for us at the end,” Zach agreed. “Let's go. We're holding up the line.” They turned and climbed the flight of metal stairs, which clanged and echoed under their feet. The crowd swept them on into a bedroom scene, where they watched as a hideous creature slip from a closet and pounce on a young girl who slept in the bed. Her screams bounced around the chamber as it clawed at her. The hallway leading out of this scene was slightly wider than before, hung with big columns of something wet and slimy that forced the crowd to weave their way through it. Realizing what they were, Zach grunted in disgust and wiped his wet hands on his jeans. The things were body-bags, oozing reddish liquid. Occasionally a damp hand darted out of one and swiped at the patrons, eliciting appropriate reactions of surprise and fear.
Finally the hallway opened into another staircase, this one leading down into a deep, dark pit. The three strove to see past the dark cavern, but no lights were provided, save a few small LED things placed at intervals along the stairs to avoid accidents as people picked their way down. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, Bill groped a hand out for Jennifer who had been behind him. His hand landed on something soft and warm, and he heard a woman's voice-- not Jennifer's-- shriek. Grinning sheepishly, Bill pulled his hand back and stepped forward a few paces. He bumped into someone else in the dark, and Zach's voice said “Hey, man, watch where you're going.”
“Sorry,” Bill mumbled. “You seen Jennifer?”
“I haven't seen anyone. In case you haven't noticed, it's kind of dark in here.”
“Right,” Bill answered, feeling sheepish.
The dark tunnel began to lighten, and they felt themselves pushed along faster now by the flow of the crowd. The same flame effect from earlier began to light the hallway as they entered into a big cavern, realistically decorated to look like a convincing underground cavern. As the crowd thinned out, Bill glanced around for Jennifer. She didn't seem to be among those who had accompanied them into the dark tunnel. “Hey, man,” Bill said, prodding Zach. “Something weird's going on. Jennifer's gone now, too.” Zach glanced around, confirming Bill's observation. He frowned at his friend. “Maybe they're both outside?” he offered, knowing as well as his friend that it was unlikely they both would have slipped past the group and left without warning. Bill shook his head, brows knit in confusion. Zach shrugged, glancing around the room again.
A couple impish kids up ahead danced around in red leotards, the red paint on their faces split into wide, fanged grins. Holding onto the bars of a big gate, they ushered the crowd through, in a morbid imitation of a welcoming committee. Little iridescent bat-wings and thin barbed tails fluttered behind them, and realistic horns coiled delicately up from their foreheads. These two must have spent a fortune on their costumes, and they flaunted it, parading on their delicate goat-feet like satyrs. Bill and Zach allowed themselves to be swept through the gates. Glancing up, Zach saw a rustic sign marked with charred black letters. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” the last line read. Zach frowned again, rolling his eyes.
“Welcome!” boomed a sudden voice, echoing off the fake stone walls like a megaphone at a football game. “Welcome to Hell!” a great creature loomed up from what appeared to be a chasm of lava, and it's ruddy skin glowed in the heated light. The spectators shrieked in delight as the creature swung massive clawed hands over the crowd.
“Must be animatronic,” Bill heard a man behind them remark. He inspected the thing critically. If it was mechanical, it was miraculously well done. The thing's movements were smooth and catlike, and it's glowing yellow eyes twitched and blinked down on the crowd like a giant inspecting its meal. Huge folded arcs of flesh heaved behind its back, wings topped with wicked black barbs. The thing looked real. Bill glanced around them. All around the crowd little pockets of demonic imps were pulling away people from the crowd—probably planted actors, he reasoned-- who screamed and struggled against their new-found captors. The little devils pranced off, dragging their victims to rock outcroppings and pits, dropping some into the depths and tormenting others with what looked like heated metal brands. Zach heard a familiar voice and craned his neck to see around the people who surrounded him, pressing in on every side, some still laughing and pointing in entertainment, others pale-faced and silent. This was beginning to feel a little less like lighthearted fun.
Zach finally saw the source of the voice, which was now peaked in a long, tormented wail. Tina was ten feet from the throng of onlookers, held captive between several imps while one prodded her with a glowing orange rod that sizzled when it met her flesh. She sent up a bloodcurdling scream that reverberated off the ceiling. Immediately, Zach pushed his way to the outside of the crowd. Two preteen boys stood pointing at Tina and laughing. “Shut up!” Zach screamed frantically, shoving them. “Shut up! That's my girlfriend!” Zach started to run toward her, but another demon grabbed his leg with surprisingly strong claws and felled him like a dead tree. Screaming like a child, Zach felt himself lifted from the stony floor and propelled by reeking demons back toward the gate. Writhing vainly, he was handed off to the evil axe-bearing clown who clasped him by the shirt collar and dragged him back down the pitch black corridor. The last things he heard before blacking out were Bill's pleading cries and a woman's long scream.

Zach awoke on a metal table. He blinked. Flashing lights were all around him, and he wondered briefly if he were in an ambulance. Had he been hurt? Then he heard the noise, the mechanical buzzing undercut by shrieks and laughter, coming hazily into focus. Lifting his head weakly, he glanced toward the source. A throng of people stood at the far end of the room, gazing raptly at him. As though drugged, his eyesight seemed bleary, hard to focus in that wild, frenetic light. He heard the buzzing noise coming closer, and he lifted a hand, trying to shade his eyes. Jennifer lay limp on another bench, eyes closed. Zach strained to call her name through a raw throat, but she didn't move. Where was that buzzing coming from? He craned his neck to see. A flash of white and red caught his eye. He looked up to the left, squinting hard to focus. A man stood over him, brandishing some kind of box with a slender metal part protruding from it. The man seemed happy, a broad smile cut across his bald head, and Zach felt momentarily cheered by his face. Then he remembered.
The chainsaw began to come down. Zach shook his head, reached a pleading hand to the spectators. “No... no!” he moaned. The chainsaw bit into his leg.
The audience screamed with delight.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Company Girl Coffee

I'm pretty content with my day so far. I baked a blueberry pie, some low-carb peanut butter cookies and some pancakes, and shared them all. I also swept the whole downstairs and did all the dishes... twice! The pie and cookies are for a family in our church who recently lost their husband/stepdad. The pancakes were our breakfast, but my friend came over with her daughter to help us eat them. That was fun, but not in a lighthearted way it normally is. We talked about some heavy stuff. She and her husband are struggling financially-- it's this darn economy rearing its ugly head again! Anyway, if one of them can't find a job soon, they may have to move, splitting up their family, just like my parents did, and I'm a witness to that not being a good idea for any marriage, not to mention a couple with a young child. So we talked and hugged and laughed and tried to brainstorm solutions. I got her hooked up with some of my favorite sites: Freecycle, and Craigslist jobs. I'm praying and hoping that they can stay, because as our two daughters (born the same week) grow closer, so do we. She is definitely one of my best friends at this point.

I keep trying to think of verses to encourage her, but I keep drawing a blank. I'm not sure if they're believers or not... they don't attend a church anywhere at least. All the verses I can think of apply only to believers as far as I know.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Those verses have always been encouraging to me when the future was uncertain. But can someone who has not yet given their life to the Lord take hope from them as well? I think so... what do you think? I think especially the first one can apply to anyone, because God's hand is over everything, and He plans for both the believer and the nonbeliever.

Anyway... (Sorry, I'm a bit distracted right now. The kiddoes are running around like manic midgets!)

So potty training is going well! Baby has gotten to the point where she has pretty much started going to sit on the potty on her own when she feels like she has to go. I've only cleaned up one pee-puddle today (I'm probably jinxing it by saying that). She hasn't gone #2 in there yet at all, though, so I'm still kind of in limbo with regard to buying her big-girl panties. We're going RV camping with the in-laws this weekend, so I'll probably make a stop at the local Walmart sometime tomorrow to buy her some, provided she keeps going in the potty. Cross your fingers! (And please say a little prayer for us! The RV is partially carpeted, and I'm nervous.)

Anyway, I definitely ran out of my 5-minutes about ten minutes ago, so I'll wrap this up and get back to trying to figure out how to download my audio-book from the library: Miss Peregrine's Home for PeculiarChildren, by Ransom Riggs. I've already read the first three chapters, and it is awesome so far! Looking forward to listening to it on the way down to Virginia tonight.

Good grief! Tonight! I need to pack! Eesh! ::scrambles off to find clean clothes::

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Potty Training: Take Two (Day Three)

Today's Priority Check brought to you by Frigidaire...

I wish my spiritual life looked more like my fridge.

No seriously!

Not the outside of my fridge. That's easy to keep looking presentable: wipe it down once in a while, and then plaster it from corner to corner with pictures of friends and family and drawings of the kids.

I'm talking about on the inside... the important part, where all the really vital stuff is. The sustenance, if you will. Now the inside of my fridge isn't particularly pristine or uber-organized or anything. It gets a good deep cleaning maybe twice a year, and wipe downs when things spill. But beyond that it doesn't really need any real work, because it gets regular attention.

Take tonight for instance: I made a big cast-iron skillet of chicken pot pie for dinner, since I had broth and carrots I needed to use up and was making a blueberry pie for a friend on Friday (I like to make as many pie crusts at one time as I can, since they make a pretty big mess in my kitchen). So after we'd eaten and while Hubby was giving Baby her bath, I went to put the leftovers away and do dishes. I put a lid on baby's bowl for her to eat it for lunch tomorrow, then stacked it with the leftover's of her PB&J from today's lunch. In front of that I put Hubby's lunch portion of pot pie, packaged up with a drink and a cookie (just cuz I love him) in a neat grocery bag. Behind those, I stuck my own small lunch in the very back.

Then I proceeded to clear things out and rearrange to make room for the big container of leftovers. Out came the several-weeks old spaghetti sauce. Out came the container of congealed chicken gravy which is all that remained of a chicken and vegetable dinner it had gone with. Both went directly into the trash. The fruits and veggies and breakfast meats that had managed to float about the fridge over the past week went back into their assigned drawers, and the leftover peas and broth not used up by tonight's dinner went in the front of the bottom shelf to remind me to use them. The water jug came up to the front of the top shelf, the juices all shoved to the back in an effort to force me to make more healthy beverage choices first. Finally, the leftovers went in, placed neatly on one side in the front so I would remember to use them up. The pan holding the blueberries and the pie crusts I made earlier went in front of it, and I closed the door, turning my attention to the dishes.

Okay, so maybe you're raising your eyebrow and wondering when exactly I'm going to get to the point. Presently, I assure you.

First, let's look at the lunch line-up. You could make a case for this showing a set of perfect priorities. First is my husband's lunch, lovingly packaged. Behind it is my child's spread, mindfully planned with an eye toward teaching her not to waste and to eat reasonably healthy choices. Last of all comes my own lunch, not too much, but just enough to give me the energy I need to get to the next meal in my day. I put my husband first, then my child, before I thought of myself. How I wish it were so easy to prioritize my daily attitudes and actions to put my husband first, and then my child, and to die to my own desires! How I wish I could lay out my husband's need for a relaxing home environment and my daughter's requirements for a patient and encouraging atmosphere before my own longing for respite and rest, like so many neatly packaged Tupperware containers!

Secondly, let's examine the things I threw away: old spaghetti sauce, and useless gravy. The spaghetti sauce got thrown out because it was past the point of being nutritious, and would only start to go bad and stink things up if left alone. The gravy got the boot because it was purposeless; we have nothing in the house from which I intend to plan a meal anytime soon that would go well with chicken gravy. I see these as being analogous to things in my life that, similarly, need to go. Constantly, I seem to find myself in real life holding onto things that are either approaching the point of being bad for me, or which have grown useless and would be better gotten rid of to make room for new things. Romance novels, for instance, or less-than-godly music. Perhaps they were no big deal once, when I was a weaker Christian, and had bigger fish to fry. When I was too busy focusing on the “Big Sins” to find time to look into the minor details. Or maybe some of them are even still okay, for people who don't have an impressionable toddler wandering around getting into everything, and repeating every word she hears. But for me, they're only time-bombs, sitting around, waiting to go rotten and make a big stink in my life when I least expect it. They're better gotten rid of now. And my chicken gravies? Time wasters. I am a horrible time-waster. I love me some PC games, and I like to play for hours without a break. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with enjoying something that has no real-life value (except mayeb stress-relief). But when they start to take up space that could better be used for the important things, the pot pie and fruit and water and yogurt... that's when I need to really assess things and evaluate how valuable this thing is that I'm holding onto.

Finally, there's just the general organization of my fridge. I do this almost without thinking about it: anything I want to remember to use or eat or drink, I put in front. I'm trying to lose weight right now, so water is a big one. Every night, and several times during the day the water pitcher gets filled and placed back on the top shelf to chill, blocking easy access to the sweeter, sugary choices like juice, soda, or wine. The fruit and veggies have their drawer, as do the meat and cheese and lunchmeat. They tend to migrate around during the week because breakfast is a hurried affair in our family, but I try to make sure they always get put back where they belong. And everything else has its own general area where we all expect to be able to reach for it. Everything has its place, and just by looking at where I place it, you can tell how much we use it, how important it is to our daily schedule. Eggs are used almost daily, milk several times a day, likewise water. What would my life look like if I arranged it so that the things that were the most apparent were also the most important? If just looking at my life and my daily schedule and finances, you could tell that I spent time with God and in the Word, that I loved on my daughter and husband constantly, that I wrote as often as I should, and volunteered for my fair share of nursery duty on Sundays? And what kinds of things would start moving toward the back? Maybe cleaning... much as I cringe at the idea of my house going a day without a good sweep and mop (especially lately: potty training has made a urinal out of my living room floor-- eesh!), sometimes spending time with my Baby reading an extra Bible story before bedtime is more important. Or what if I started cutting out Facebook time to spend face-time in the Book and in prayer with Hubby? Wow...

The funny thing is, I don't know if I've ever mentioned this on here before, but I am an addict of variety. I love change. I adore rearranging. But I've never really thought about rearranging my life. Pushing the unimportant things back in order to bring forward the priorities. But just now, thinking about it, I started getting excited about it. It's a new project! And I love projects. I think I'm going to start working on making my spiritual life resemble the interior of my fridge. Because right now, it more tends to resemble my Tupperware cabinet. Stacks and piles of stuff here and there, in no particular order, with some missing lids, and all the really important stuff way up where I can't reach it. :-/

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work".
John 4:34

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Potty Training: Take Two (Day Two)

Here we are on day two of Bare Bottom Boot Camp potty training, and Baby hasn't gone once-- in or outside of the potty-- since she got up two hours ago. I fed her a huge breakfast, so I'm expecting a number 2 sometime soon, but so far no sign of anything. Hmm... [Amendment: Okay, so she just went pee as I was finishing this up...on the floor... ::sigh::]

We went to a viewing last night of a friend of the family's husband. He died suddenly in his sleep while on a business trip, and he was pretty young. His death was a shock to his whole family. We didn't know him that well, but Hubby and I are close with his stepson and granddaughter and her mom, so we drove the hour out to Indian Head to attend the visitation. When we got there there was almost no parking left. We had to circle the funeral parlor and finally park along the grass on one side. There were people everywhere, and very few were crying or even sad. Most of them were happy and laughing, hugging each other and exchanging words of encouragement. There was just such hope there, hope that comes with the knowledge that the deceased is waiting for us in a better place. I just thought to myself “Wow! I hope when I go, there's a turnout like this.” You can tell he must have been a great guy, to be so well loved.

Matthew 6:19-20 says Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Seeing what a huge turnout a guy like Chris received for a life in which-- to my knowledge-- he never did anything famous or momentous by worldly standards, it makes me wonder if he indeed took this verse to heart, and lived in such a way as to store up his treasures in Heaven. Instead of storing up wealth, did he give it to those who had need? Instead of coveting his time to do things he enjoyed, did he spend it with his family and friends, encouraging and loving on them? Instead of seeing to his own needs and desires, did he put others first? I think he must have, to have so many friends. Maybe that's one way to look at that verse.

Everyone wants to have a legacy, something to leave behind so they are not forgotten. Some people try to do this through great works, writing a novel or making a movie or storing up wealth so that future generations will remember them. But such a thing is almost entirely based on luck. Who knows whether you will write the great American novel, or even one that sells well? Who knows if your movie will be a blockbuster or just a bust? Some people might go a different route and try to support a cause, or give money. That's a little more likely to work. At the very least, you might get a plaque or a park bench with your name on it. If you donate enough, you might even found a scholarship in your name or something. But, again, whether or not people remember you down the road is anyone's guess.

And I guess really you could say the same for living a kind, virtuous, generous lifestyle; there's no guarantee that anyone will remember you several generations down the road. People are fallible and memories degrade with time. But you know who will remember? The only memory that will never grow old or degrade: God will remember. Not only will He remember, but He will reward you, should you accept the gift of eternal life He offers through the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. He will reward you with so many things as you enter Heaven: praise (Matthew 25:20-22), eternal fellowship with him (Revelation 2:10), a new home (John 14:1-3), a great feast (Luke 14:14-16), even a crown (Revelation 4:10)!

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Potty Training: Take Two (Day One)

So yesterday was both Father's Day and Hubby's and my 6 year anniversary. But things just didn't work out for us to be able to really celebrate the latter. In the morning he went out to play disc golf with a friend and in the afternoon his family was all getting together to have lamb burgers and celebrate the dads. By the time we got home we had to put Baby down for a nap and clean up a bit to get things ready for making dinner, and after dinner we had a vid-chat with Pappy (my dad). So when we were crawling into bed exhausted at 9pm, we agreed to celebrate our anniversary some other time. Hubby mentioned wanting to go away to spend a weekend at a cabin in the snow in WV, but I'm not so sure I'm okay with waiting six months to celebrate our anniversary...

Meanwhile, today marks Baby's and my second attempt at bare-bottom boot camp potty-training (Mommy was a little overly ambitious and tried it back when she was only 14 months old, which didn't work out too well.). So far, we're doing okay. She has sat on the potty several times today, with only one successful pee, for which she was awarded with one of Gramma's famous chocolate chip cookies. Our success rate started to wane the closer we got to naptime, which I suppose I should have expected. But she seems pretty enthusiastic about it, so that's a good sign. Thank goodness for hardwood floors, at any rate! Cleanup is so much easier! Big Boy (the 2-year old I watch in the afternoons), on the other hand, was far too busy playing to stay on the potty. Perhaps when Baby is potty trained, she will translate the coolness of it to Big Boy and he will be more excited about it?

I'm making some white chili for dinner tonight. I'll post the recipe tomorrow if it turns out well. Meanwhile, since I'm suffering from sleep deprivation brought on by Baby's middle-of-the-night playfest last night, I think I will just leave you with the slide show I made for my dad for father's day. Enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Little Daily Blessings

Yay, another entry! Huzzah! (Yes, I do need to keep cheering myself on with every post, otherwise, I'll fall off the bandwagon again.)

So I have no big earth-shattering or deep thoughts this morning, except to say: God is good.

My in-laws are watching Baby's sick cousin this week in order to keep him separated from his new baby brother until the contagion is past, so their house is kind of off limits for Baby and I to do laundry in, so instead, yesterday I went to a friend's house to do laundry, and it was a pleasant afternoon spent chatting about kids and my latest shameful habit: "The Vampire Diaries." I... I was weak... (Yes, that is a Firefly reference, for you astute nerds out there).

When I got home and got Baby put to bed, I discovered a neat little surprise: I lost another 5 lbs! I don't pretend to know how weight loss works, but for the last three weeks or so I've been stalled out at around 18/19 lbs, and could not move forward no matter how hard I tried. It was a big deal to me because 20 lbs was a big milestone for me. So when I discovered that-- of all things, after missing three karate classes in a row-- I had lost five pounds and finally passed the 20 lbs lost mark, I was just ecstatic. That's 23 lbs total!

Then, this morning, I had to run errands, so I packed baby up in the car with the promise of chocolate milk if she was good, and ran off to the mailbox (yes, I have to drive to get to a mailbox: it's about a mile away. DUMB!) and the bank. Then, as promised, I took my exemplary model of a well-trained 20-month old (for today, anyway) in to the Starbucks I used to work at. We got her a chocolate milk, and Mommy got the same, with some added legal addictive stimulants, and a pound of coffee as well (woot!), then we went to sit at the bar for awhile. 

My old boss and my Starbucks Angel (a guy named after one of the Biblical Archangels, and possibly the zaniest Catholic I've ever met) both happened to be working, so I got to sit and chat with them for a while in that broken 2-sentences-interrupted-by-calling-drink-orders way that we used to do all the time, and which we concluded must be, when combined with the constant stream of free espresso, excellent for staving off early-onset Alzheimers (since you have to work your memory to remember what you were just talking about before the fifty venti no whip extra shot three pump vanilla lattes came in-- okay, so maybe it's just working at Starbucks in general that's good for one's memory). 

I also got to meet a most pleasant young man, nicknamed Patch by my former coworkers due to his profession: he is a local journalist covering stories happening in the Severn/Odenton area, and publishing to an online publication called the Odenton Patch. “Patch” was quite pleasant, and of course, how can you not be enchanted by a polite little toddler saying “hi” and smiling at you between sips of chocolate milk? 

So we struck up a conversation about his work and whatnot, and somewhere in there he mentioned he was reading The Screwtape Letters, one of my favorite books and a quintessential C.S. Lewis classic. This was, in fact, the very book that, along with the prayerful intervention of several Christian friends in high school, introduced me to my Lord. Anyway, it was just cool to meet a fellow Christian out there.

Maybe it's silly, but I still get a kick out of meeting other believers, as if we're all in a big club together and there's some secret password that identifies us as members of a family. I'm glad that in the ten years I've known and pursued Jesus, that little feeling of exciting cameraderie has never left. Of course, in order to know that they're a Christian, it's often a requirement that I put myself out there first, and not everybody reacts well to a mom saying her parenting priorities are that her child “Love Jesus and be polite”. But I blurted it out anyway, and it paid off with that warm fuzzy feeling of comfirmation that I am not alone in this big world. ::happy caffeine-frenzied grin::

Also, I was musing over doing a post on prayer, seeing as a friend tagged me specifically in a link to a blog called Godspace, who is asking about views on prayer and how we can make it more meaningful. For now, my surface thoughts on it are regarding my daughter.

We have been teaching Baby to pray before meals and at bedtime, and she's starting to reach the age where she reminds us to pray. Let me tell you, it is convicting and humbling to be reminded by a child who cannot yet form coherant sentences to speak to the God of the universe and thank Him for the blessings He has poured out on us. When praying with her I, of course, have to simplify the words I am saying so that she will understand, and in so doing have found that it also helps me to really appreciate the basics: “Thank you God for the fun day we had, the wonderful friends we have and made, the beautiful weather that grows our plants. Please keep Daddy safe as he travels. Please help Mr. Finch get better, and thank you for our new baby cousin, Shaun. Please help Mommy be good as she tries to get healthy, and help us to sleep well and behave tomorrow and have fun with our friends. Thank you most of all for your son Jesus who died for us because you love us sooooo much. Amen.”

Amen indeed. So simple, yet so profound. While my prayers when solo seem to be so much more me-focused, praying with my daughter suddenly and inexplicably has me focusing more on God and all the wonderful things He does for us everyday. In fact, motherhood, for this very reason, may have been one of the most spiritual moves I ever made...

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

In the World

Wow, look at me go! Two posts in two months. At this rate, I could write a whole novel... before I die...

So we have had some absolutely gorgeous weather recently, We had a big ol' rainstorm which then ushered in a weekend of mid-70s and sunny weather that has lasted until today. I have never enjoyed popping outside to take out the trash nearly so much as I did this morning. I even did it twice! (More due to my faulty memory than anything.)

I made the most of the beautiful weekend and went to a Darkon event down in Virginia with my friend Cas. Hubby has been traveling a lot for work lately, but God bless his company, they keep letting him come home for the weekend, and this was the last Darkon event I'm going to be able to make for at least a month, so after some hopeful pleading, Hubby consented to watching Baby so I could go. I had a blast of course. I'm developing a reputation as “the chick who brings cookies”-- because, let's face it, I'm not really good for much else!-- so I was able to share those around. I ended up hanging out in the “old dogs” camp, made up of a veteran mix of Elidor and Forgotten Ones, so instead of lazing around drinking booze or “role-playing” all day, we were patrolling around looking for fights, then took it easy and relaxed by the campfire at night. It was fun listening to these mid-thirties to mid-fifties guys talking about how Darkon used to be. You never really think of things like this having a history, but they really do, and it's a rich one. There are legends in the game that people still talk about, whether for their fighting prowess or ability to turn a witty phrase, and apparently there's also a lot of skill involved in the proper wielding of a blade (albeit a foam one), which probably explains why I get hit so much. Working on it! ::grumble::

Anyway, I'm back with a fresh set of bruises from that, and this morning I was just reading a blog a friend linked to on Facebook when I realized something:

Ever notice how much “good Christian women” look alike?

It's something that's been niggling at my subconscious for a while, but this morning it finally broke through. It seems every time I read a womens' Bible study or blog by a Christian woman, their bio and photo all look the same. Blond or blond-highlighted, thin but soft woman wearing a pantsuit or nice peacoat and scarf, with her hair nicely permed and her Sunday makeup on. She's smiling and sprightly, and never seems to be wearing glasses or overly large earrings (unless of course, they match perfectly with her other accessories) or have dreads, or be ethnic in any sense of the word. Her bio reads pretty much the same every time, too: loving wife, stay-at-home mom, writer, enjoys dogs, cooking, baking, maybe sewing, blogging, and playing with her fifteen wonderful children (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little bit now).

Do you see it? Or am I just being overly-sensitive? I never see anything about the Christian wife and mom who enjoys writing science-fiction, or playing D&D, or takes martial arts. Maybe I'm just a rarity among women in general, but it sort of saddens me that all these women seem to be interested only in the domestic affairs of their own households. Not that there's anything wrong with taking care of your home: I myself am a stay-at-home mom who likes to keep my house neat and tidy, and I love to bake like nobody's business.

Proverbs 31 even says “She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family, and portions for her female servants,” implying that a woman of noble character is, in part, one who is attentive to the affairs of her own household. But in the very next verse it also adds: “She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard,” and, later, “She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes” (Proverbs 31: 15, 16, 24, NIV)  Obviously this is not a woman who stays at home all day, but one who goes out into the world on a regular basis, buying, selling, trading, and interacting with others besides her own family and her MOPS group. Again, I'm not knocking MOPS or SAHMs or any of that: I'm just wondering why it is that Christian women, and the church in general, seem to feel this need to center women's lives around their homes and family, to the point that I have heard it preached from the pulpit that every mother should stay at home with their kids and not work (I am not even going to begin to address the economically privileged bias in that statement, or I'd be here all day). Yes, home and family are hugely important, but I've also seen cases of moms getting burnt out, and families being torn asunder by boredom that blossomed into sin, simply because mom didn't have anything else to focus on besides cleaning, cooking, and changing diapers.

I've experienced this phenomenon myself actually, and it used to drive me crazy and make me feel so guilty that I couldn't “be like other women” and just content myself with caring for my home and kid and husband. Why did I still long for excitement and social interaction and change? Those are things I should have left behind me in college, right? Well, once I finally started making a habit of getting out of the house and into things like Tai Chuan Do and Darkon and RPGs, I suddenly realized how much happier I was. A selfless life is a beautiful thing, but it's dangerous to mistake self-deprivation for selflessness. When I started trying to fit myself into a mold of what I thought the “good Christian woman” should be like, I was miserable. But when I finally threw away the mold and indulged in my nerdy, geeky, escapist passions with abandon, I found how much life truly can be a blessing. Yes, I still love being a mom, and having a home to care for, but you know what's so great about those things? Entertaining others in my home, whether with Saturday night Star Wars role plays, or Firefly movie nights. Introducing my daughter to playing with Daddy's toy lightsaber, and looking forward to the day when I can equip her with a foam short sword and have her charge into battle with mommy!

A life centered around one's family can easily become a life turned inward, I feel like. And if the command we have is to love our neighbors and go out and tell the world the Good News of Christ, I think the first most important part of that is getting out there and meeting people, and taking our families along with us for the ride!