The Homelanders: A Generation Born in Fear

13 10 2014

Every generation has their own “where were you when” moment.

For me, it was when the September 11 attacks happened.

I was a sophomore in high school, and I remember the day with crystal clarity: listening to our principal choke back tears as she informed us in a school assembly that our country was under attack.

Watching a classmate sob wildly as she received news that her father had missed his flight—which meant his life was spared, as he was originally booked onto one of the fatal flights.

Looking around at my somber friends as classes were suspended and we simply sat on the floors in our classrooms, crying and questioning what the future would look like.

Helplessly watching a teacher—who was born and raised in New York—fret inconsolably about her friends and family members who she couldn’t reach.

It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, and I’m now teaching teens who were infants when America was rocked by the events of that day.Worry

I was mentally unprepared for the comments of my teenagers a few weeks ago, when we discussed the recent terrorist activity in the Middle East that’s been sending shock waves across the world.

As we talked, one of my students said quietly, “The world of terror is all we’ve ever known.”

Please let the gravity of that statement sink in and affect you as profoundly as it affected me.

As I asked my students to elaborate, fears erupted from their mouths. Our kids worry like I’ve never even realized.

My teenagers told me about their fears of terrorists, saying how they get physically anxious—sweaty hands and tense muscles—when their parents watch the news about beheadings and threats against our government.

They also shared how scared they are of school shootings, and admitted that they’re equally worried that it’ll be a classmate or a teacher that goes berserk on them.

They told me how they battle back feelings of nervousness and uncertainty and apprehension every day, as they cope with the fear that the world as they know it may collapse at any moment, without warning.

For those of us who work with youth, this is a primary difference we must realize about this particular generation: it’s a generation born in fear.

More alarmingly, it indicates the deep-seated and unconscious distrust of fellow man.

You see, this generation doesn’t know when, where, or why terrorists might strike innocent people. They can’t fathom why evil individuals would barbarically decapitate and torture people who are trying to make the world a better place.

These kids also can’t understand what causes a classmate to methodically execute his peers in cold blood. They can’t wrap their brains around the reality of one of their own hunting them down.

As a result of not being able to understand the psychology of evil people, I wonder if this generation is growing up to be secretly afraid of everyone, never knowing who exactly might snap—and thus never really trusting anyone.

Backing me on this is White House this week dubbing those born after 2005 as the “Homeland” generation. Though they give no detailed explanation of why this moniker was selected, one can surmise that it’s directly tied to the popular television show that deals with—you guessed it—terror and fear.

Do you realize the profundity of this mindset?

Our teenagers may be growing up secretly afraid of us. They may be unwilling to fully trust anyone, not even trustworthy and beloved adults. The implications of not trusting mankind are complex and worrisome—especially when it comes to things like finances, security, national identity, and the corporate church.

Oddly enough, this generation hasn’t endured the same challenges that the previous generations have dealt with. In America’s past, we had few battles on our continent and thus our danger was more abstract. Our media exposure was limited and controlled by fewer voices, and our nationalism soared as we sought to conquer enemies together. Our country was proud to give up little luxuries and pitch in to help our soldiers.

As technology has advanced, people’s voices have expanded and more diverse populations have come to our country, and our identity as one nation has gradually been eroded. Today, we’re battling a more fragmented society with technology that brings all the evils of the entire world into the palm of our hand.

How can we possibly contemplate a threat from within if we are swamped with weeding out the vast number of evils we confront from all over the world, all day, every day, all the time?

Additionally, when we factor in the threat of widespread virus or disease, such as Ebola, we ratchet up the fear that our kids are feeling. Think of the sinking feeling we get in our gut when we turn on the news and hear about it. Now intensify that feeling and try to understand how an undeveloped brain feels about it. It’s pure dread to our teens.

Perhaps this is one reason why we’re seeing such an influx of clinically depressed and emotionally ravaged young teenagers. They perceive the world around them falling apart, yet they are expected to strive for perfection every day. They’ve had high standards set for their futures, yet they don’t even know if the world will be around in a decade.

Older generations are perplexed, admitting that they never grew up with the depth of fear that our children today are dealing with.

Perhaps one difference is that our past involved a clear enemy who attacked from outside of our country. Now, our enemy is often hiding within, disguised as patriotic Americans or even unknowingly lurking inside our own classrooms.

A primary distinction, of course, is the prevalence of social media and technology in today’s generation. Our students are faced with the bloody and horrifying violence of the news every day mere inches from their faces, on phones and tablets. They can’t escape from it, even as they try to do something as innocuous as chatting with friends online.

I wonder if dystopian literature and movies are trendy right now precisely because they hit on this fundamental fear our children are encountering. Could it be that our students are seeking a way to cope with their fears by projecting their worries into sci-fi scenarios with clearly defined good and bad guys battling against each other?

We often overestimate the emotional maturity of our teenagers—after all, they seem so adult-like in so many ways.

Reality paints a different picture, though. Our teenagers are worried about their classmates and teachers. They fear the future. They’re pained about the world around them. They’re physically stressed out and constantly on edge as they await bad news.

As adults, our tendency is to hug our children close to us in dangerous situations. However, perhaps that’s part of the bigger problem. Our kids are being kept stunted and dependent on us for longer than past generations, which is disabling them from feeling capable of handling these fears.

It’s not a matter of not wanting to expose our children to evil. It’s a matter of preparing our children to face the evil that they will unquestionably encounter in their lifetime.

As adults, our greatest challenge is to have the courage to be responsible adults. Our primary task is to prepare our children to be the leaders of tomorrow. In the words of Tim Elmore, “We must prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”

We can’t ignore the problems in our world by turning off the television, but we can wisely process the news with our children.

We can’t just snap at our kids to “get over it” and discount their fears, but we can demonstrate self-control and understanding to a generation that worries incessantly.

We can’t just spout off that it was different in our day and we managed to survive just fine, because this is a new world and the old way has already disappeared.

Every teenager I’ve ever met wants a trusted adult to confide in. Whether that means crying, venting, or processing matter-of-factly, it’s desperately needed. Most importantly, we need to comfort our teens with Christ’s unchanging love and His hope. In this generation steeped in fear, our teenagers will never know peace outside of Jesus—and it’s our job to help navigate them towards this Truth.

Our fervent prayers need to be surrounding this “Homeland” generation as it continues to grow up. These kids need strength and self-control that many generations before them have never exhibited. They’re navigating a world brimming with evil, and they need wisdom and understanding as they wade through these dangerous waters. We must teach them the true cost of freedom and the meaning of right and wrong.

I foresee a return to a united national identity and justice, but we must prepare this generation for the terrible cost of such a lofty goal.

True peace is an ever-constant effort, fraught with setbacks and detours, and it can never be abandoned.

In the words of Thomas Merton, “Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”


Theme Park Survival Tactics (by an Ex-Park Employee & Park Junkie)

26 08 2014

I likely suffer from a theme park addiction.

In the last decade, I’ve had annual passes to Disneyland, Disney World, Universal Studios, Six Flags, and the killer whale trifecta of SeaWorld Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio. I grew up hanging out at Mall of America’s theme park, and have visited theme parks all over the country–everything Busch Gardens to Cypress Gardens to Knott’s Berry Farm to Valleyfair.

I currently hold passes to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando and bounce around between the six different parks every week.

My first dates, work events, end-of-year parties, college extracurricular events, reunions, and bachelorette parties occurred at theme parks. Heck, I even got engaged at a theme park.

I also worked at Universal Studios in Orlando for a summer when I was in college, which I’m still too traumatized to talk about. Let’s just say working in felt pants, knee socks, and a wool jacket in 98-degree weather with 99% humidity and dealing with international tourists throwing shoes and purses at me while operating a high-capacity roller coaster isn’t my favorite way to spend the summer. That’s a different story for another day.

Basically, I’ve been at theme parks every week for the last ten years.

In the many hours I’ve spent regularly at theme parks–both as an employee and patron–I’ve seen a lot.

One of the most terrifying things I’ve realized is that many people don’t know how to survive a theme park. Tragically, with their arms and legs missing from paying sky-high admission prices at the gate, your average visitor doesn’t know how to cope with handling their time at the park.

Luckily, I’m here to point out some vital survival tactics for making it out of a theme park alive (and happy):

IMG_5738Dress for Battle.

Let me make this clear: you are fighting a battle here. Your children’s happy memories and well-adjusted futures depend on you wearing the right clothing.


Wear lightweight, comfortable shoes with good arch support. If you’ve lived in flip flops for at least a year straight (or you’re from California), your feet are automatically tough enough to handle wearing sandals. If you’re from the Midwest, you are not allowed to wear flip flops because you will complain about blisters by lunchtime. Texas, no one wears boots here and I guarantee you’ll have a trail of people laughing at you if you do.

Crocs are simply never acceptable for anything anywhere. Maybe if you’re taking a direct hit from a hurricane while walking around a park. Maybe.

Your clothing should be lightweight, flexible, and able to get soaked and dry quickly. Don’t wear black, don’t wear polo collar shirts with athletic shorts, don’t mix stripes and plaid, and don’t wear skin-tight tube tops. Fine, the last few are personal preferences–based on the fact that these are stupid things to wear in general.

You are not allowed to wear rival theme park paraphernalia, because that’s like wearing the wrong colors in the streets of Compton. You’ll also tempt the theme park employees to cut you off abruptly for the fast pass riders because they don’t like you.

Watch Out for Brazilian Tour Groups. 

You know that scene in Jurassic Park, where the slight jiggle of the jello indicates the presence of approaching dinosaurs?

That’s the same way it is with Brazilian tour groups. You always hear them first, shouting their happy Portuguese chants at the top of their lungs. Then you see them, en masse, like a herd of wildebeests careening over the plains. They’re always dressed in matching brightly colored shirts, which usually proclaim “BRAZIL” somewhere–like the foreign language didn’t clue you in. Often, someone has a flag on a stick that guides the group. If you stand still enough, they’ll cascade around you like a living waterfall, giggling and laughing and cheering loudly.

Bless their hearts, they’re happy to be there. But they’ll scare the livin’ daylights outta you if you don’t see ’em coming.

Strollers Aren’t Weapons.

Someday I’ll write a coffee table book entitled You’re Too Big for That Stroller. It’ll be a best-seller, along with its sequel Meltdowns at Disney.

In order to ensure optimal theme park survival, be advised on the following guidelines for strollers:

1) Strollers are not weapons. Please do not intimidate other guests by shoving strollers into the back of their legs while they are attempting to navigate a dense crowd after a fireworks show. It’s even more alarming  that you do this when your kiddo is strapped into the stroller.

2) Strollers should be small and portable, and able to be flattened quickly when getting on a ride. If you feel it necessary to pack two-thirds of your house onto your stroller, then wait this one out in Stroller Purgatory with the other ill-prepared parents instead of holding up the line.

3) Toddlers should be in strollers when not on a ride, not tottering around aimlessly into gigantic, fast-moving crowds who give you a patronizing smile while thinking, “Gee, that kid’s gonna be flattened and I sure hope their parents learn a lesson from this.”

4) Kids are too large for strollers when their knees reach their chins. They then need to be unceremoniously kicked out and made to hoof it.

Don’t Stop in the Middle of Traffic.

Please grasp the fact that this is the most packed, zoo-like, carnival-on-steroids Happy Place you’ll ever be in.

I know, the lights are so pretty. The air smells like cotton candy and there’s music playing everywhere. Children are actually smiling at their parents, as they whirl around on colorful rides. You’re slacked-jawed at the wonder of it all.

Wake up! This is a human stampede. You will get trampled and left for dead if you don’t clean up that drool off your chin and snap out of it.IMG_5723

Listen carefully to what I’m saying:

Don’t stop in the middle of the path.

Don’t stop in the exit.

Don’t stop on the side of the ride.

Don’t stop in front of me.

Glad we’re on the same page. I’ll happily remind you and bump right into you if it helps.

Don’t Bring an iPad. 

I’m pro-technology on all fronts. But there’s a time and a place for lugging your gigantic iPad to a theme park….and the time is NOT on this trip. If your kid can’t stand in line without being glued to an iPad at a theme park, holy cow…that’s scary. It’s your job as a parent or guardian to entertain them. That’s why you get paid the big bucks. Play a game, or–eeek!–try conversation. You might actually enjoy it.

Added bonus? You don’t have to tromp over to the lockers to get your iPad after every ride.

Oh, and please note that thrusting your iPad into the air to take pictures of the fireworks is A) distracting and impeding the thousands of guests behind you and B) causing snickers of derision from half of said crowd.

IMG_4004Time Your Photos With Military Precision.

Here’s the deal: you may be the center of your world, but that’s not the reality of Theme Park World. That means that the human stampede headed towards you is under absolutely no obligation to stop and wait for you to get the perfect family photo.

There’s a slight difference when you’re in front of a picture-worthy icon, though–say, the fire-breathing dragon at Diagon Alley or the castle at Disney World. However, I believe that polite theme park etiquette means you can hold up traffic for no more than four seconds to get a photo.

Count it: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, four-one-thousand…

Oh, couldn’t snap it in time? Guess you need more efficient fingers. That’s how you learn.

Leave the Social Media on the Back Burner. 

First of all, unless you’re Kim Kardashian, how many people are actually hanging on your every tweet? Chances are that no one looks at your social media posts any longer than it takes them to think, “Lucky duck, they’re having fun and I’m doing this”–which, of course, basically sums up the entire point of social media.

Yes, post a snap on Facebook or tweet a few excited phrases, but live in the moment. I can’t tell you how many miserable kids I’ve seen dragging along behind their parents, who are excitedly live-tweeting the entire experience and completely ignoring their kids.

Not to sound sappy, but you only get a few chances in life to see someone’s face light up with pure and utter joy–don’t miss it because you’re texting or tweeting to someone who doesn’t really care.

Don’t Be a Sidewalk Hog.

I’ll be fair and advise that you can walk up to three people wide at a theme park. If you dare walk six people wide, though, that’s unrealistic. Theme parks are crowded, busy, fast-paced places. Be sensible, and realize when you’re hogging more than your allotted asphalt.

Stop Being “That Guy”. 

You know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t be “that guy” who shouts business deals into his cell phone while waiting in line, the idiot teenager who screams incoherently trying to impress girls, the bonkers kid who climbs all over the queue with a parent who does nothing to control him, the broody athlete who incessantly bounces a basketball while everyone else stands dutifully still. And, heaven help us all, please don’t be “that guy” who passes gas while in line with a bunch of hot, tired people crammed into a tiny corridor.

Don’t be “that guy” who bugs the poor employee standing at the front of the line to ask, “Is the wait time accurate?” Don’t be “that guy” who complains to the food vendors about how expensive the park is. Don’t be “that guy” who sets up a camcorder smack-dab in the middle of the crowded walkway.

Simply put, avoid doing anything that can annoy anyone around you. If you can’t handle it, go park your rear on “Small World” and rot your brain there for the rest of the afternoon. Trust me, you’ll hear the music in your nightmares.

Don’t Turn Off Your Brain. 

This is the most crucial survival tactic, when it comes to theme parks. I won’t even elaborate on this, in order to give your brain more room to store this memo.

Remember these theme park survival tactics, and I assure you–you’ll not only survive your trip to the Happiest, Most Magical, Most Exciting, Most Eye-Wateringly Expensive Place in the World, but you’ll have fun, too.

If not? Rest assured, I’ll memorialize your poor decisions in writing for you right here















A Savvy Girl’s Guide to Sporting Events

28 03 2014


A few days ago, I went to a professional hockey game with my husband.

We had a great time.

I’m a big fan of  sports, you see, and have spent a good portion of my free time attending professional sporting events–everything from baseball and basketball to hockey and football, soccer and bodybuilding to volleyball and tennis. I’ve even been to my fair share of competitive swimming, cheerleading and dance,  and–oddly enough–synchronized swimming.

But in looking around at my fellow females at said hockey game, I realized something:

There were a lot of obviously clueless women at this sporting event.

Naturally, this prompted me to offer up this helpful blog post for all of you ladies out there who are oblivious on how to handle attending sports functions.

I’ve compiled all of my knowledge into one condensed list for your viewing pleasure.

So here you are, my Savvy Girl’s Guide to Sporting Events:

Rule #10: Don’t Dress Up.

I’d like to point out the obvious, that the people attending this sporting event have paid money to watch a fast-paced game–not to oogle you. The only reason you should ever curl your hair and wear a mini skirt to a sporting event would involve you singing the National Anthem on the field. Otherwise, bleachers and stadium seating and heels just don’t mix.

Is there a time and a place for dolling up? Sure! It’s called “every-other-occasion-besides-attending-a-sporting-event”.

Rule #9: Don’t Wear the Rival Team’s Colors.

You may try this as a diversionary tactic–“Baby, look how competitive I am! I’m rooting against your team!”–or you may honestly think you don’t look good in your team’s colors. Or, sadly, you might just be that clueless about sports. Do a bit of research (or spend some time watching guys at the local gas station) and figure out what colors you probably should be wearing. Be forewarned, too–some stadiums will actually boo you if you show up in the opposing team’s colors (St. Louis, I’m looking at you, my friends).

If you’re neutral on team allegiance, give ’em the old French classic: basic white. Oh, and it’s never “cute” to root for a guy’s rival–even if you want his attention.

Rule #8: Your Purse Doesn’t Get a Seat.

First of all, do you really need to bring a purse to a game? Ok, maybe you can’t condense your stuff down into a small clutch or your coat pockets for one evening…but keep in mind, your precious leather satchel will be sitting in its rightful place: on the sticky, popcorn-littered floor.  It’s not a small child, even if you’ve affectionately named your Louie or Jimmy or Dolce.

At an NBA game with my husband a few years ago...

At an NBA game with my husband a few years ago…

Rule #7: Get Your Own Food.

This principle will save you from endless frustration over the course of your entire life. Here it goes: men do not want to share their food with you. Ever. If they ever do, it means that they’re humoring you or aren’t really very hungry. If you’re choosing to eat at a sporting event, get your own food. And goodness gracious, definitely get your own drink. Asking to share a man’s drink with him is like trying to steal a meaty bone from a hulking dog.

This brings me to another point that needs to be stated–it is never, ever acceptable (or advisable) for you to ask a male to get up from the game and get you a pretzel or an ice cream cone or a refill on your Coke. Get it yourself, girl. You’ve got legs.

Rule #6: Focus, Focus, Focus.

Sorry, darling, no one at a sporting event wants to hear about what Jenny said to you at work today, and how frustrated you are about your sister’s boyfriend saying that stupid political baloney on Facebook. For all intents and purposes, Pinterest does not exist when you’re at a game. Conversation is fairly limited to sports-related topics and players. Be content to actually watch the game and ask questions if you don’t understand what’s going on.

And don’t just fill the void with constant cheering, either. Don’t believe me that it’s annoying? Watch the people sitting around a loudmouth at a game. Their eyes roll more than the dice at a Vegas roulette table.

Rule #5: Don’t Trash Talk.

I’ll give you a pass on this one if you actually understand the sport in which you choose to talk smack. For instance, I played basketball and soccer enough to intimately know both sports–to the point where I nearly got punched by an annoyed Lakers fan in Los Angeles a few years ago because my trash talking was a little too accurate when it came to Kobe Bryant. But in general, it’s never wise to jabber fiercely about something you don’t really understand…especially if you’ve been drinking.

Rule #4: Don’t Draw Attention to the Cheerleaders.

Let’s face it–when have the words, “Oh my gosh, look how short her skirt is!” ever had the intended effect on anyone, let alone any guy? Save your righteous criticism, however accurate it may be, and don’t needlessly point out the skimpily dressed cheerleaders any more than you have to. Besides, some of them are Harvard-bound law students…right?

Rule #3: Don’t Be Cutesy.

Don’t get me wrong, you can hold hands with your significant other while at a sporting event. If your honey puts his arm around you, by all means–that’s fine. But if you go into a sporting event expecting to be coddled and cuddled and hugged and kissed, you don’t really get what sports are all about. People love sports because they are competitive, raw, unpredictable–it’s battle. Unfortunately, smooching and war just don’t go together.

Rule #2: Don’t Get Up From Your Aisle Over and Over Again.

Nothing makes the people around you hate you more than traipsing up and down the aisle over and over again. I figure you get one or two chances to make everyone stand up so you can climb over them and step all over their toes, and that’s it. Push it to three times? You’re getting the evil eye from everyone you’re inconveniencing. Four times or more, you risk getting “accidentally” spilled with beer next time they have to get up. Or beat up in the parking lot, if it’s in Boston.

Rule #1: Don’t Make Fun of Sports Fans Geeking Out.

As you attend sporting events, the ultimate faux pas you can make is to poke fun at those fans who love geeking out. It’s not often that hardworking adults are able to paint their faces, pull on a colorful shirt, and wear a goofy foam hat on their heads while screaming themselves hoarse–so don’t take that away from anyone. Save your caustic wit for your inevitable arguments with your internet provider’s customer service representative, and let people enjoy themselves at games and events.

If all else fails and you’re truly bored to death at a sporting event, go buy yourself a pretzel and silently remember all the times your significant other has spent wandering around a department store, vainly searching for a chair as you try on endless outfit combinations. That should muffle your inner criticism until someone scores another goal and shuts down the game.

Just remember, ladies–if I see you wearing a lacy dress and playing Candy Crush at the next game I’m at, I’ll be lobbing some of these tips your way…






On Being a “Yankee” in the Heart of Texas.

6 05 2013

I’ve been called a “Yankee” many times since moving to Texas about 9 months ago.

A few weeks ago, I was called a Yankee 8 times in just a few days. I found  it slightly disconcerting to be so obviously an outsider in the state I now claim as my home. Growing up in Illinois and Minnesota and then attending to college in California failed to prepare me for the reality of the “glorious South”, I guess.

With my husband at the Texas State Capitol in Austin...

With my husband at the Texas State Capitol in Austin…

Which means I’m pursuing my Texas education in my own way, as a an intrepid and bespectacled scholar might study a native tribe in the wilds of Madagascar.

Do they have native tribes there? I don’t know. I don’t have time to consult Wikipedia on this one, so just go with me on it.

Without further ado, here it is…

Various Things this Yankee has Learned from Living in Texas:

  • Everyone really does say “bless your heart” and “y’all” and “fixin’ to”.
  • Yes, I have to be instructed on how to use a bootjack. And what the heck it is.
  • I’m open-minded when it comes to barbecue. I’m not ready to stab someone with a pitchfork when they claim that my homemade BBQ might not be the best they’ve ever tasted.
  • No, I don’t have a clue what “pearl snaps” are (to the rest of the world, it’s a complicated name for what appears to be fake pearl buttons on a western-style shirt).
  • Everyone has handled guns from a young age, and pretty much everyone owns one. And it’s not unusual to keep yours in your vehicle–even at church.
  • People dawdle on roadways, usually driving a few miles under the speed limit no matter if it’s 55 or 80. I wonder if it’s a holdover from galloping horses over the trails?
  • Two-stepping? I thought maybe it was a move you did to step over a rattlesnake.
  • Speaking of rattlesnakes, every single person in this state has had a close call with one…at some point. Supposedly.
  • The state capitol is holy. Even the grass, I’ve been told.
  • High school football is possibly even more holy than the state capitol.
  • I didn’t know what they did to the horses and bulls to make them so angry at the rodeos. Yes, I had to ask. The answer made me blush.
  • It’s apparently normal to have dinner at someone’s house and then spend the dessert hour perusing their gun collection.
  • People know livestock here. Even the city “folks”. Who knew how many people could factually instruct me on the finer points of a longhorn?
  • It’s socially unacceptable for a woman to drive a large pickup truck. My first vehicle was a pickup truck. Gulp.
  • There’s no such thing as a universal salsa or queso dip anywhere. Every restaurant and/or household has its own unique concoction, and each one is proud to proclaim their creation as the best.
  • Texans are serious about being a republic, and if this country ever falls apart, I’m pretty sure they’ll go back to defending it as such.
  • They consider it chilly when it hits below 70. And it’s incomprehensible to them that that used to be a nice summer day for me as a Minnesotan.
  • Hot sauce is served universally at every single restaurant.
  • Water moccasins do inhabit every lake, and they do swim towards your boat. And yes, it’s terrifying when you’re  alone in a kayak.
  • Everyone does own cowboy boots, regardless of age, race, or gender.
  • In the summer, the streets are devoid of life. Except for fire ants. They rule every inch of sod in this state all summer long.

However, there are some uniquely Texan claims that I must (somewhat begrudgingly) admit are true…and better yet, I actually enjoy…

Surprisingly True Things About Texas that I Love:

  • Spring in Texas–particularly the fields of gorgeous wildflowers dotting the landscape– is indeed the most beautiful thing in the world.
  • Without a doubt, the best ice cream in the country is here. And it is Blue Bell.
  • Men are more chivalrous. I don’t think I’ve ever opened a door on my own when I’ve been with a man.
  • Prickly pear juice is real–and delicious.
  • Children are incredibly well-mannered (“Good morning, Ms. Cassie” and “Yes ma’am” are phrases I’m still getting used to hearing on a daily basis)
  • Food is spicier, but a thousand times more delicious than any other state I’ve lived in.
  • The Texas state flag does indeed fly as high as the national flag. And it’s treated just as reverently.
  • It’s normal to eat tacos for breakfast. And every gas station and fast food joint has its own style of taco.
  • People love it when you play the banjo and/or harmonica in church.
  • There’s more fierce pride in Texans than any other state I’ve ever lived in. And it’s well-earned, when you manage to survive summer here.

As for what I’ll learn in the next few years? Well…I guess you’ll just have to wait and see how countrified this “Yankee” will end up being.

Bless your purdy lil’ heart…

A 21st Century Guide to Survival in the Wilderness.

9 11 2012

Trees, ferns, and woods–we go way back.

But how I navigate the wilderness now has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

I spent a large portion of my childhood living in the woods of Central Illinois, where most of my free time was spent wandering around in undisturbed acres of forest with my massive dog, Bomber.

I would venture off with a book in one hand (and sometimes some marshmallow Peeps that I would split with my furry guardian) and, after blissfully dipping my feet in a small creek or picking a bouquet of sweetly scented wildflowers, I’d sit down on a mossy log and read for hours.

I carefully researched plants and bugs, and listened with rapt attention to my grandmother–who had also grown up in the woods–as she pointed out edible plants and flowers and explained various uses for them. I also read books about explorers and adventurers, filing away useful information about how to build fires, forts, and skin animals. I even went through a phase where I carried around a knife everywhere with me, carving messages into trees for miles.

I’ve since traded in my muddy tennis shoes for more urban living environments, but I’ve always loved getting out into nature as much as possible. A few weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to return to a hallowed nature preserve that’s been a part of my life since I was a child and flex my wilderness survival skills once more.

We made a trek to The Cabin.

No, it’s not the name of a creepy novel, though that may be valid when you consider that The Cabin has no electricity or running water, so the only place you can use for a restroom is a neglected outhouse that’s been sinking slowly into the same spot for nearly 80 years.

The Cabin is a log home my great-grandparents built by themselves in the 1930s in northern Minnesota, sitting on a beautiful lake in what’s now a protected national forest. My great-grandparents lived at The Cabin for years, and our family has many happy memories of it. My brother and I used to visit often in the summer, and we’d wander through trails in the woods that my great-grandpa set up with little plastic critters lurking in trees and under logs, pick blueberries and make pancakes with my grandma, dig up clay from the lakebed and make statues, and learn how to whittle walking sticks.

The idyllic picture of The Cabin you just conjured up, though, is not entirely accurate.

The Cabin, in its full splendor.

The Cabin also a place of raw terror–the place where we laid in our bug-infested beds, wide-eyed and scared over the animals thrashing around in the woods behind us. It’s where we got lost in the woods at night, had to clean fish while combating thousands of buzzing horseflies, and ended up with aggressive leeches all over our legs every time we went swimming. We once spent an afternoon cleaning out a beaver dam, and ended up walking through a tick colony. You think you know horror? No, you don’t.

And, we had to drink warm cream soda every time we were at the cabin, to boot.

While at The Cabin a few weeks ago, however, our experience was remarkably different–probably because my cousins and brother and sister-in-law and I are all of the Millennial generation and tackle survival in the remote wilderness a bit differently than our parents and grandparents.

Here’s how a 21st century twenty-something survives a trip to the woods:

1) We always have an iPhone on hand.

Need a flashlight? Two clicks, and the flashlight app’s open. Grandma is trying to give complicated directions to the church fish fry? Record it as a video and play it back as you’re driving. Spot an interesting tree behind the cabin? Snap a picture and look it up online. Fact-checking someone’s tall tales? Search Wikipedia to find out the truth. Bored on the desolate ride out to The Cabin? That’s why they invented “Angry Birds”. Making a note on your next family vacation? It’s a cinch with your iPhone’s notepad feature.

2) No electricity? No problem.

Our vehicles are all equipped with electrical outlets. And just in case we happen to end up in an older model car, we have adapters that plug into the cigarette lighter. So we play our iPhone jams recklessly. And we can even plug in a crock pot full of wild rice soup, if we need to…and double-check the reheating instructions on Pinterest.

3) Forget living off the land–we have a supply of vacuum-sealed snacks.

Forget scavenging for berries and roots, or trying to shoot our own game. We may have grown up learning how to catch and prepare our own fish, but now we have coolers and containers full of delicious drinks, organic granola bars, and peach rings ready to tickle our tummies.

4) Hand sanitizer is our best friend.

Dig around in the woods, and then try to clean our hands before eating? No problem. Most people our age carry around at least one small bottle of hand sanitizer at all times–sometimes even clipped to our purses or man-bags. And it comes in such mouth-watering flavors, like sun-kissed raspberry and vanilla cupcake. You almost want to get dirty just to smell the heavenly scent of cleanliness on your palms. Almost. We don’t really like to get dirty, anyway.

5) Skip the “Kumbaya” and get to the s’mores.

We’re not like those darn hippy parents we have–we don’t like to sing by the campfire. Just give us some roasting sticks, a bag of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. That’s our feel-good bonding time together. And don’t worry, we know how to build a solid campfire…we’ve seen it done on shows like “Survivorman” and “Man Vs. Wild” plenty of times.

5) Cleaning up’s a breeze.

Collecting trash isn’t a problem for our generation. Since we all carry our own personal (and usually expensive) water bottles, made of hardy repurposed plastic, we don’t have to collect soda cans or clip plastic rings to save the eagles or turtles or whatever gets caught up in discarded waste. And we usually have a stash of large reusable grocery bags in our cars, which means we don’t have to chase down flimsy plastic bags that are flying around because we neatly carry all of our junk. Besides, we secretly like carrying around a stylin’ trash bag on our shoulder.

6) We share the experience in real time.

We’re the generation that overshares everything, and has absolutely no boundaries on our personal lives–as a labor and delivery nurse I was chatting with grotesquely reminded me on the last flight I took. On our visits to the wilderness, we carry our smart phones with us on canoes, into tree tops, and into caves…and our 700 Facebook and Twitter friends can keep up with our adventures as they’re happening. Not sure if that’s a grizzly bear chasing you through the woods? Tweet a description of that dark mass howling behind you and let your friends google the information for you as you sprint through the forest. And then post a picture (edited through a fancy filter in Instagram) of your lacerated torso and no doubt a few dozen people will comment on how you can dress your wounds properly.

7) We’ll either blog about the experience or get a tattoo to commemorate it.

I think you know what my choice was, friends.

Biggest Time Wasters of All Time.

24 02 2012

I wandered into my closet this morning in a sleepy haze. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I did a double-take as I gazed at my husband’s side of the closet:

It was tidier than mine. Stacks of crisply folded shirts were laid in neat rows, while every shirt was impeccably hung and facing the same direction.

I quickly glanced out the window to make sure pigs weren’t fluttering by,  nor asteroids falling from the heavens and signaling that the Apocalypse had indeed started. Then the realization hit me: my husband’s on break right now from his graduate school. He truly is that bored–bored enough to organize his closet while I’m at work all day.

As I gazed at his perfect stacks of clothes, I was reminded of how short-lived this burst of organization will be. You see, I’ve neatly folded his immense stacks of pants and shirts multiple times over the last few years we’ve been married. Once, in a regretful bout of energetic OCD, I even decided to organize his clothes in a color-coded pattern.

Guess how long that lasted? Yeah, about a week.

This naturally led me to ponder an interesting question: what things do we do on a regular basis that are actually a ridiculous waste of time?

I can think of several, right off the bat:

#1. Folding underwear.

Come on–no one will see creases in your undies. You’re probably the only one who really opens that drawer, anyway. Other than the occasional burglar who systematically checks under your mattress, in your jewelry box, and in your underwear drawer for valuables. Incidentally, I’ve come up with the absolute best hiding spot in the house for hiding my valuables. Not that I want to invite trouble, but I’d be happy to let a thief poke around and leave my place perplexed and penniless.

#2. Reasoning with the blitzed friends of your regularly too-intoxicated-to-walk neighbors.

Why do we attempt to reason with people who stumble down our apartment steps with only one shoe on, and try to talk them out of urinating from the second story onto the public walkway below? People who can’t even recite the alphabet or touch their fingers to their nose steadily simply won’t listen to our best arguments, as stellar as they may be. As the saying goes, “Don’t throw pearls to pigs”.

#3. Saving and organizing old magazines.

I’m sure most people I know commonly refer back to the 1984 issue of National Geographic on a regular basis, and are justified in holding onto old magazines. Interestingly, old magazines are the most frequently sighted and oft-ignored item at the local Goodwill Outlet I frequent. However, if you want to end up on an episode of Hoarders and have the entire cable world sigh in disgust at your filthy home, collecting magazines is probably a good way to start.

#4. Planning weddings on Pinterest.

I hate to break it to you, all of my single friends–wedding planning is actually pretty awful. The only truly enjoyable part is cake-tasting–and that’s paramount to getting your ear iced before you get a needle jabbed through (yeah, it pretty much feels exactly like getting a painful piercing when you realize how much you’ll be paying per slice for your “dream cake”). All those perfect pictures, gowns, and decorations you see online are beyond your budget and probably unavailable to you, unless perhaps you plan on marrying a royal (act fast, that’s a small market).

#5. Filling up toothpick and Q-Tip dispensers.

Call me guilty of participating in this addicting habit, even though I’ll readily admit what a waste of time it is. All those cute little dispensers are apparently made for humans the size of dolls (who, incidentally, don’t use Q-Tips). Would you rather have 15 Q-Tips displayed nicely in a glass jar and have to refill it every 8 days, or have all 750 Q-Tips in a handy container and restock it every 3 years ? I think we both know what the obvious choice is.

#6. Listening to your automated message system announce each new message.

Is there anything more frustrating than hearing that robot voice say, “You have 9 new messages. First message, left at 10:34 A.M. on Friday, March 19. Phone number, 314.555.9874…Message end. To replay message, press 1. To skip message, press 2. To listen to the next message, press 3. To hear more options, press 4.”

Hm. “To hear more options”–like perhaps a step-by-step guide to blowing up this confounded machine? I’m dialing right now.

#7. Waiting for people to finish pulling out in front of you when you have a green light.

I’m a big proponent for allowing the top 25% of drivers to carry around a set of  blow darts in their cars, just in case they need to pop the tires of the bad driver in front of them. How much time has been wasted waiting for those people who pull out halfway in your lane, give you the doe eyes in hopes that you’ll let them go in front of you, even though you clearly have the right of way and now traffic has halted behind you because you can’t get around this bloke? Lots.  

#8. Cleaning the junk drawer.

I don’t need to explain this one, because we’ve all done it and realized how futile it is. Those “organization experts” who advise that even your junk drawer be cleaned because “everything has its place” clearly don’t have to deal with real life and the complex issues of figuring out where to store Silly Putty, spare rubber bands, and batteries that may or may not be dead.

#9. Attempting to save old ribbons.

I think my mother and grandmother are probably due for an intervention, as they are the main perpetrators of this crime. They’ll argue and point out how much money they save; I’ll tell them that I’ve been secretly wanting to put my Christmas presents in decorative bags for years and haven’t been able to do so because their perfectly wrapped, beribboned packages make me ashamed to wimp out. How can I be the one that ends the family tradition of sitting on the floor under the Christmas tree, rolling up used ribbons for hours?

#10. Surfing Facebook.

Call me hard-hearted, but I really don’t care what the kid who sat next to me in 9th grade French is eating for dinner every night, or how his vacation to Aspen was, or even what he’s doing with his life. Aren’t we supposed to save that small talk for when we bump into those people we vaguely knew in high school and we run out of things to talk about besides the weather? It seems that Facebook has suspended high school into a strange, infinitely preserved specimen that we all study every day. I’d probably delete quite a few of my Facebook friends, if I wasn’t so paranoid about someone coming after me with a shotgun someday. Hey, it’s a stressful world–you don’t want to give anyone a reason, you know?

(Hopefully, that did not give you a reason…because you’re actually my friend. Gulp.)

That’s my list of things that waste time–what’s yours?

What is Social Media REALLY Doing to Us?

21 12 2011

I keep my finger on the pulse of real teen culture, all the time. I’m constantly talking to teenagers and preteens, surfing “teen” internet sites, reading articles and books about teens, reading the novels that teenagers are devouring, and researching what teenagers are in to.

So trust me when I say that I’m seeing some pretty strong red flags from today’s teenagers, when it comes to social media.

Much like the way that Abercrombie & Fitch lost its appeal when middle-aged moms started shopping there, Facebook and Twitter’s shiny newness and loyal adoration is losing footing amongst the teenage set, who increasingly complain to me about how “idiotic” the whole notion is, and how they are “so sick of hearing people say stupid things” online and in text messages.

Boy, I couldn’t have guessed that–kids would get sick of the drama that hounds them every day at school when it follows them home, in the form of Facebook, Twitter, and never-ending texts?

Doesn’t take a genius, folks.

But complaints and annoyances aside, I can’t help but ponder the effects of social media on our culture as a whole.

For one, a natural sense of privacy is being unraveled left and right, all over the place. People regularly carry their phones into the bathroom with them and continue texting and talking and posting, even if they’re in a public restroom. If you don’t believe me, then maybe you haven’t been to a movie theater or mall bathroom in the last year or two. I’ve seen teenagers do this in my own apartment. What should be arguably the most private place in your daily life is being infiltrated by people with bad manners and no sense of dignity.

I won’t even mention the fact that I know several teenagers who put their cell phone in a plastic baggy so they can continue texting while they shower…oops, I did.

Obviously, a lot is being discussed right now about how poor spelling, sentence construction, and even critical thinking skills are being dumbed down by people who text shortened words, slang, and half-thoughts more frequently than ever. But I sense that bigger issues could stem from communicating solely through short texts–we could not only lose the emotion behind words, but also the ability to truly decipher the meaning of others’ words. If all you ever do is text with someone, how do you know what they really mean when they say, for instance, “I’m going to kill myself?” Without reading their body language, tone of voice, facial expression, or observing their delivery of the phrase, one could easily misjudge the seriousness or humor of the situation.

Sure, social media is a valuable tool for sharing the often overlooked details of life with those you love. In my case, as someone who’s lived in 5 different states and lives apart from both sides of my family, I’m able to stay connected with friends and relatives all across the country. But it could be argued, overconnects us and gives us a false sense of importance. Why else do we think that others care what we had for breakfast, where we went shopping this afternoon, what we purchased, what shows we’re watching on television, and how our hair looks today?

As cute as it may be, do we really need to know what others think of their baby’s garbled sentences, or what books they’re reading, or that “we’re making chocolate chip cookies today with mini-chocolate chips–yum!”?

Isn't this enough for the world to know about me?!

I’m startled by the upcoming changes in Facebook’s new “Timeline” platform, which will splay my entire life across the internet–unless I take quite a bit of action to patrol photos, messages, friends, and status updates in advance. As Facebook’s Mick Johnson said, “As you scroll down, you’ll see your posts, photos and life events as they happened, back to the day you were born” and co-founder Mark Zuckerburg adds, “What Timeline does is show all the recent activity and then as you back in time it starts summarizing the things you’ve done in your life”.

Sure, on one hand, that’s compelling. No doubt many of us will have pleasant memories, inside jokes, and forgotten friendships drift back into the limelight. But since when do I need an automated system “summarizing the things I’ve done in my life”? Why does anyone want to see my entire life, “back to the day I was born”?

I’m more than the sum of my Facebook posts and photos–and I fear that the result of this may be just that: we’ll judge each other as the sum of our Timelines, and nothing more. We’ll know every detail of our days, every awkward stage, every like and dislike, every boyfriend and best friend, every family member–but will we actually know what each other’s laughs sound like? Or how we crinkle up our noses when we react to something unpleasant? Or how we sing off-key, hate when people chew on pens, or how we jiggle our foot when we’re antsy?

In other words, what happens when only the highlights (or low points) of our lives are on display to the entire world?

I don’t have enough time to sift through all the implications of the effect that social media will have on upcoming elections, careers, and reputations. But think about it–the future president of the United States is coming from my age group. No doubt he or she is deeply involved in social media right at this moment. All those silly inside jokes, off-color comments, embarrassing photos that they’re posting right now will be displayed for the world to see in the future.

Arguably, the campaign for public offices begins as soon as you activate your Facebook or Twitter account, no matter what your age–because once it’s out there on the internet, you can never truly take it back.

The fact that what you say in the heat of the moment, a drunken state, or in jest could permanently ruin a friendship, a run for office, your education, career or reputation, is a daunting one. 

We all have ups and downs in life, and we make errors in what we say and do. But when every thought that comes to mind is immediately transcribed and published to upwards of 700 “friends”…or when a stupid decision is broadcasted to your entire university…or when every co-worker sees the picture of you doing something idiotic…what’s the long-term effect?

Besides, as writer Dick Staub succinctly summarizes, we are now living in a world where “networking replaces craftsmanship”. As he writes in his own blog

“Today, thanks to technology, everybody can distribute written words, musical compositions or homemade films. Some of these are quite good and deserve a broader hearing and viewing; some are not, probably most. But most think they are worthy and good! (Think of the talentless contestants auditioning for American Idol). This monster of boundless indiscriminate self-expression is due in part to America’s educational philosophy of affirmation absent objective critique. Kids have been told they are really good at things they are absolutely not good at. Technology allows them to give it a go anyway! The elitist, snooty gatekeepers of the past are being displaced by the often intellectually and creatively clueless consumers of the present. They decide what is worthy, though generally ill equipped to distinguish craft from crap.”

So I ask again–what do YOU think social media is really doing to us?