Friday, December 31, 2010

Jackie - You Are Uniquely You

I have great news! And I can't believe I forgot to share it with you a few weeks ago. My check engine light turned off! I added some oil, talked to her gently and the check engine light is no longer staring me down every time I drive my car. Maybe you're like me and you're thinking, that car is pretty old, is it possible the light just burned out? Except that whenever I start my car and all the lights in my dash come on, it let's me know it still works. [Unlike my gas light, which really did burn out.]

Here's the bad news: my car got totaled last week. I was in a small accident, but my 13 year old Honda Accord took the brunt of the damage and the estimate to repair her is over $4,200. The upside of this is that they think my 13 year old Honda Accord is worth almost $5,000. I'm sure I won't get the whole amount, but that's a great start to a down payment. As far as it affects my financial goal - I don't think it will too much. I chatted it through with Financial Guru Lisa and if I can keep my car loan payment less than my current credit card payments, I'll be just fine. [Spoiler Alert: That means those credit card payments are about to go away soon!]

The other good news is that my cousin, Kaleigh is going to be flying in on Sunday to spend a few days with the family. She is one of my favorites so I'm looking forward to spending a few days reconnecting with her. I'll let you know how it goes.

The last day of the year is a great time for reflection. So I'm including a piece I wrote for the current issue of the magazine I work for. As you're considering the year behind - all the things you wanted to accomplished and all the things you wish you'd accomplished but didn't... and as you're considering the year ahead - all the things you'd like to accomplish and the items from that list you might be doubting... consider the fact that you are who you are on purpose.

You Are Uniquely You
Consider this.
And really take the
time to think about
it. You are unique.
There will never be
anyone else who can
fit into your mold.

And that was on

Reflect on the detail
put into creating
your physical body.
Think about the oneof-
a-kind way you
taste food, make
and grow babies and
see color and all the
complex processes
your body carries
out every day.

Examine the way
your mind works.
Ponder the individual
way you experience
emotions, think
about complex
ideas, enjoy others
and love deeply.

Contemplate what
makes you — you.
The combination of
your genetics, life
experiences and
choices are exclusive
only to you.

And consider that it
was all on purpose.
You are uniquely
you. And you are
loved for exactly
who you are.

-Jackie Alvarez
Originally appeared in November/December 2010 MomSense magazine. Used with Permission.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jackie - charity: water

Christmas is over and now it's back to real life, huh? It's amazing how fast it comes and goes and then the day after Christmas is left in an erie silence of "normal" we haven't seen since the middle of November.

In an effort to keep a little bit of the Christmas spirit alive, I'll tell you a little about my holiday this year. And it even relates to a goal. You're impressed, I can tell.

Over Christmas I got involved globally. What? Over Christmas? Yes. It's not the grand jesture I had imagine when I wrote my goals almost a year ago, but it was a step. I little step toward engaging people across various borders. At TNL [that's my church], we got involved with an organization called charity: water [] for the holiday. The premise was this: give one less gift to someone who doesn't really need it and donate the money toward building a well so that somewhere across the ocean people could have a basic necessity of life: clean drinking water. And not just one sip of cool, clear refreshing water, but a well that will provide water for 20 years! They're a fantastic organization and you should check them out!

This year, I set my Christmas budget, went minimal on the gifts and gave everything left over toward the cause. And I'll tell you what, it felt fantastic! I've given to other organizations before, but this time it felt different, more significant. Maybe it's because I'm in this season of financial limits, but it felt like I really gave of myself toward others who have even less. It gave this year's Christmas more purpose than usual.

I'll leave you with a couple things you might be interested in checking out:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jackie - Things Are Moving ... Slowly

I'll start by saying I have quite a few things to write about. However, since I'm already struggling to get all my posts in, I'm going to save the significant things for their own posts. [Did I say that last time, I feel like I did... ] It feels a little like cheating, but think of it as getting out of reading one really, really long post.

First, GOOD NEWS!! My financial aid came through! I'm a little late with the news but I received my full financial aid for the fall semester that just finished. AND, they awarded me full financial aid for spring semester. The letter [which I didn't receive until a few weeks ago] explained that I will continue receiving financial aid on a term by term basis as long as I'm working toward completing a goal and my grades are good. Woo hoo!!

On that same financial note, I think I got my second job back. Which is a blessing and a curse. They couldn't manage without me [ha, ha] so over break I'm going to be putting in some extra hours and earning some extra money. The problem is that my school schedule next semester isn't going to be easy and I'm not sure how I'm going to make it all happen successfully. But I'll deal with that when it comes.

Also, I decided it's time to tackle my spiritual goal. I'll be honest, for the past few months I have been intentionally ignoring this goal. I haven't been in the right place to engage my questions and I wanted to do my best to give this whole process a fair chance. But for the past few weeks I've felt something in my heart and now I can't ignore God whispering to my heart any longer. It's time. So, I actually drafted up 5 proposal letters to people I'd like to "interview" with my spiritual questions and sent them out. By the amount of time I took writing the letters I can tell that this goal is going to be very humbling.

In an effort to enhance creativity I've committed to working through The Artist's Way. The book has been sitting on my shelf for quite some time with the intention of working through it, but I always put it off. It's a 12 week adventure [that's not the right word, but go with it] and for that reason it would be more appropriate to do over the summer, but I'm decided it can't wait any longer so I'm delving in. I might also have some other creative news, but I can't say. Which is kind of rude for me to even bring up, but I wanted to let you know that something is happening.

So... my box of random papers. Christmas break. I'm going to make it happen if it kills me.

I realized that I've been putting off posting my photos until I can sort through them on a new, better computer I was hoping to have had by now. However, my 2005 Dell that doesn't recognize Word documents and says "YY23E21" instead of "My Computer" has to stick around for awhile. So I'm going to have to get over it and just go through my photos.

And last, though it pains me to say so, I think I am going to concede on Goal 1:: Start teaching. I did some work talking to other music teachers about books and what things work for them, but I'm afraid that it just comes down to enough hours in the day. This is something I'd really like to do, but I think it's going to have to be something for a future year.

So that's where I'm at.

Thanks for sticking with is this long. 
You're support is appreciated!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mansfield Park- an Incestuous Tail of Impropriety, and What Sarah Learned from It.

We start with the sweet, humble, and good Fanny Price.  Her wealthy uncle, Sir Thomas, brings her to Mansfield Park at  a young age, in hopes of avoiding an unfortunate love match between Fanny and his own sons-- should they meet later on in their older, more attractive, and passionate years of the mid-twenties.  The idea is that they will grow up as brothers and sister and, therefore, never consider one another as a love match.  I'm sure you already know where this is going.

Sir Thomas is married to Lady Bertram, a rather lackadaisical woman with good intentions but very low motivation.  They have four children- Tom the playboy; Maria the diabolically flirtatious, easily bored trollop; Julia the immature, overly excited sidekick; and Edmund the righteous, moral, soon-to-be-clergyman.  As they grow together, Maria and Julia torment Fanny, Tom stresses her out with his unscrupulous behavior, and that leaves Edmund.  Fanny finds solace in their mirrored values and he takes her under his attendant wing from an early age.

Sir Thomas ends up having to leave the Park for an extended amount time to see to some business in Antigua.  Enter the Crawfords.  Henry and Mary Crawford are the siblings of the local clergyman's sister.  Earlier I described Maria as "diabolical" but, compared to these two, that's a bit unfair.  Perhaps I should just say she's bored and kind of bitchy.  Henry is rather short and really quite ugly.  All he has to rely on is his charming personality. And, to compensate for everything he's lacking, he makes women fall in love with him for sport.  Despite Maria's engagement to a rich oaf, Henry takes her on as any good sportsman takes on a challenging prey,  And all the while, he leads Julia on by both insulting and complimenting her enough to make her irreversibly devoted to him.  The beautiful Mary Crawford decides to sink her teeth into Edmund (because he's seemingly rich and handsome).  But when she hears of his plans for the cloth, she immediately begins to belittle him in hopes of guiding him in a more profitable direction.

Eventually they all make some bad choices- they put on a play (apparently an immoral thing to do back in the day), Edmund falls in love with Mary, Fanny gets jealous but she hardly ever speaks so he has no idea, Henry breaks Julia's heart, Maria gets married to said rich oaf, Henry falls in love with Fanny but has an affair with Maria leading to her divorce, Edmund is still in love with Mary, Tom falls and hits his head in a drunken stupor- this inexplicably leads to a fever and a near death experience, and Julia runs off with the guy who suggested the horrifying play 200 pages earlier.  Eventually Edmund realizes Mary is a waste of time and a horrible human being in general.  He finally decides that he's totally in love with Fanny because she's lovely and good and everything Mary is not.  And the two cousins who grew up together as brother and sister lived happily ever after.

Incestuous, right?

Okay, so now you're up to speed on what took me about 10 times as long to get through.  But what is Jane Austen's point in all this?  Is she really into "keeping it in the family?"  Does she have a thing against beautiful girls?  Or perhaps she was feeling especially dramatic and bitter at this point her life and wanted to write about rich people mucking up their boring, spoiled lives.

All of those things could very well be true.  However, without having to make rather large inferences about Jane's personal history, we know that virtue is a big theme in this book.  Good morals are rewarded, while those without seem to get their comeuppance.   Fanny is constantly attempting to find the correct reaction to situations.  She has to walk the fine line of knowing her place and standing by what she knows to be right.  When the idea of putting on a private play at Mansfield comes up, she is desperately against it.  But, knowing no one will listen to her opinion on the matter, she lets them do as they will.  However, when asked to participate, she staunchly refuses, despite seeing Edmund and Mary growing closer during every rehearsal.  Her internal dialogue is a constant debate of what she ought to do.

I've been feeling like this a lot lately.  An unwritten goal of mine has been to be more intentional in my relationships.  The further in I get, the more I find myself constantly searching for the "appropriate."  What should I say, what choice is best, and how can I impact this situation to the betterment of both people involved.  That kind of inner dialogue presents a constant dilemma- when does an intentional relationship become simply a checklist of do's and don'ts?  Always trying to do the "right thing" often leaves me feeling non-present and detached, clinical even.  And, in a frightening revelation, that's kind of comfortable to me.  If I always fly above the relationship/friendship/dating weather, I'm really not in danger of feeling any sort of disappointment, rejection, or [insert negative feeling here].

This is not to say I don't get attached to my relationships, or that I don't care about the people in my life.  Because I do- sometimes to a fault.  And it is because of that I always want to "do right by them."  It all comes back to my constant inner struggle to be real and open and vulnerable, but also mature, responsible and "virtuous" (if I may use an Austen term).

Honestly, I didn't like Mansfield Park much.  And if I handed in this "analysis" to an English professor, they'd hand it right back to me and say I'd missed the boat.  But it's not about that.  It's about these weird, unrelated-to-the-plot messages I get from Miss Austen as I read her stories.  I sat down to talk about the dangers of making bad choices out of boredom, and ended up with this recently unearthed truth: that I still really struggle with being intentional with people and what it means to truly invest and be present in relationships.

So cheers to Jane for keeping my eyes set on living a well-balanced life.  And here's to not flying above or below any sort of relationship, but right through the crux of it.  If you have any thoughts on how you live intentional lives with intentional relationships, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sarah's Feeling Prodigal

Oh well hey there!  It has been a shameful amount of time since I've written.  And would you like to know why I've been so absent?  I'm tired of this intentional living situation.  I know, you're not supposed to say things like that out loud. But I am.  I'll be honest with you all, I'm tired.  Tired of looking at my list of goals and knowing that most of them are not attainable by the end of our time here at Shake the Dust.  Tired of constantly feeling guilty about what I'm avoiding.  And tired of knowing people are reading this and seeing my shortcomings in real time.

The last couple months have been a jaunt into the realm of selfishness.  And trying to live an examined and intentional life hasn't exactly gelled well with that mind set.  I'm having a hard time finding that zeal I began this journey with.  Moving to Portland was such a huge soul searching event on its own.  When I'm not dealing with homesickness, missing friends desperately, or trying to assimilate into this new city, I rarely want to delve deeper into more self examination.  During that time, I mostly want to have fun.

And on that note, my final excuse is that I've had copious amounts of friends in town for the last three weeks.  Good friends are wonderful distractions.   I have no regrets.

But now is not the time for excuses.  Now is the time to focus on living a good story again.  My story currently is getting a little stale and I for one wouldn't want to read about myself.  So, dear readers, let's renew our vows, shall we?  I promise to do my best in attaining my goals and living a story worth talking and reading about.  I promise to respect this chance I've been given by filling it with all the meaningful experiences I can.  And I promise to remember and appreciate all the magic wrapped up in this inexplicable thing called life.  All I need is for you to promise to keep reading, to send me your thoughts and quips from time to time, and to not judge me too harshly when I get to the end of this and have to reconcile all that I did not accomplish.  Because I have a feeling that no matter what gets checked off the list, I'll come out the other side with a richer and deeper story that may even be worth sharing.