Wednesday, December 31, 2008

i see dead people

yesterday cou and her cousin sylvina took pierce and me back to the capitol to see one of my favorite places... recoleta. the cemetary in recoleta is reason enough to visit, though cou hates being there and pablo was glad he missed it. i don´t think they like to be around dead people. but the cemetary is unlike anything we have back home! i was just as fascinated by it this time as i was at age 16. pierce also loved it. many famous people are burried in this cemetary, including eva peron (evita!!) and presidents and military leaders. often people are burried close to the very man that killed them! but the structures in the cemetary are what interest me most. like miniature chapels all over, some with stained glass, some with huge angels atop marble, some with little ventilation fans! it´s a maze of culture, and i love it.

after cruising the tombs, we stopped by the adjacent church and then visited various artists´ booths, buying a few souvinirs for ourselves and our friends. we stopped for an afternoon snack (as is customary), people watched, and talked about life. pierce and i are really enjoying this leisurely pace.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

the good stuff

last night we ate pizza (my favorite international food), empanadas and dulce de leche ice cream. ahhhh, the good life.

pierce and i went shopping with cou and her cousins (who look the same as they did 11 years ago) yesterday. probably wasn´t pierce´s idea of the perfect day, had had to take a nap afterward, but it was a cultural experience nonetheless (where else can you smoke IN the mall) and he was a good sport. and every one of us bought something, so a successful day overall.

there´s a 3 hour difference between here and home, so pierce and i have taken to living as if we never left the states. we stay up till 2am (11pm back home) and sleep till 11am (8am back home). lovely.

and now it´s time for lunch!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

don´t cry for me

argentina!!!!

the truth is... i´ve been away 11 years.

pierce (my not so little bro) and i are in argentina visiting the family i lived with 11 years ago, when i was a mere sophomore in high school. it´s been awesome. my family hasn´t changed a bit. corina (cou... the girl who nick named me lau) married pablo 2 months ago, so that´s different. it´s also the purpose of my trip. we made a pact waaay back to go to each others weddings. i´m just 2 months late. cou and pablo live in a darling house they just built, but they only have their bed and a table and chairs for furniture. pierce and i are sleeping on cots. it´s great.

luisa and ernesto (my argentine parents) live in the exact same house with the exact same furniture. it was crazy to walk into my old room yesterday! like i´ve only been gone 11 days. i love it. and luisa still coddles me as if i were her own baby. she also keeps encouraging me to eat... i´m pretty sure she´s responsible for the 30 lbs i gained when i lived here! that won´t happen again.

some things have changed, though. it´s not quite as safe, mostly because people are less sure of their circumstances, i suppose. i used to be able to walk on my own... now cou get´s nervous at the thought of me running with pierce, though i keep telling her i´ve done much worse.

today we went to the capitol city, buenos aires (cou lives in a suburb about 45 minutes north). we visited la boca (the brightly painted italian slums where the tango orignated) where we people watched for hours as we waited for our lunch to arrive. pierce was excited to split a parilla (meat plate) with pablo. he´s pretty pumped about 10 days of the best red meat in the world. we also went to the plaza de mayo, where we walked the plaza, visited the buenos aires cathedral and the casa rosada (that would be the pink house, like our white house, where evita sang her lovely songs off the balcony in movie life). while at the casa rosada, i conned pierce into taking a picture with me and one of the guards... who, by the way, is smiling because his hand is on my butt. very friendly! then we went to the puerto madero, the old part of town, where we boarded a boat and watched a catholic mass (on the boat) and walked all over. it was a full day.

pablo is a great addition. pierce and i like him a lot. he and cou dated for 8 years before marrying in october, so they´re like best friends. pablo can COOK! he stuffs more food down my throat than luisa. he´s got a great sense of humor, and the 4 of us travel well together.

anyway, the argentine adventures begin!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

facebook official

one of the perks of being a youth minister is talking about sex.

and i talk about sex a lot... like... every month at least. it's very important!

in a recent conversation with some very savvy 10th grade girls, i posed the question: what defines a "couple?"

a few answers percolated to the surface... including, "if it's on facebook, it's official."

and there you have it.

"couples" according to a 16 year old.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

out with a bang

i know this will come as a disappointment to many a reader, but i have suspended my eharmony subscription. it's just not how i roll. here's one last nugget of gold from the countless hopeless matches i received (not that they are hopeless... but the match most certainly is). typos in quotations are authentic.

meet filipe.

filipe is a truck driver.

filipe's passion: "relaxing in my front lawn by my flag pole" and looking at ants.

one thing filipe wishes more people would notice about him: "i am really cool. just wait until i rig an october corn maze in the garden for our children IF an eharmony lady says 'yes' before my viagra days arrive."

one thing that only felipe's best friends know is: "many ladies here at eharmony want to know what i'd like my spouse & companion to enjoy doing with me? cooking together and i do mean cooking in ever since of the word... i just bought an american made, cast iron, dutch oven."

some additional information filipe wanted you to know: "i want you to be a 'career woman' if you choose to be, BUT if you live your life by living on credit (i'm strong-willed about it) then i'm not your man. i'm not a penny pincher. i roll the pennies."

told you. golden. farewell eharmony. it's been... err... real... somethin'.

why not to blog

i haven't so much been delinquent on blogging the past 2 weeks, as i've been sick and busy. but i did accomplish a thing or two... took my final exam (think i did okay), made a gazillion cookies with girlfriends one night, decorated the christmas tree, made a ginger bread house (though it's actually 3 baltimore row houses because you know how i <3 b'more), iced a gazillion cookies on my own, watched a few movies, hosted a small dinner gathering, all while fighting back strep with lots of vitamins, tea, and homeopathic remedies. i've got an acupuncture appointment friday. then i should be on the up and up.

Friday, November 28, 2008

study in contrasts

i was driving up to virginia earlier this week (where i am now, visiting family) and i couldn't help but contemplate the differences in this thanksgiving and the last. for one, my whole family (including both divorced parents) came together for the first holiday in almost 3 years. that was definitely cool. and easy. and natural, even?

but really, what got me thinking, was listening to african music while driving a car (something i didn't have last year) by myself (versus a jam packed bush taxi) on very smooth paved roads (no pot holes) through the mountains (not the beach) on a cool fall day (no 60% humidity here)!!

the music took me back to a very different place and time. the always present feeling of sand between your toes. the never very cold beer. the lost sense of time. but what was it that made it feel so very different? not these details... something less tangible.

finally it occurred to me. i think it was this feeling of being in a forgotten land. kinda feeling like you don't matter. not in a bad way. just in a all-that-matters-is-this-moment-and-how-i-live-it kind of way. here, it's always what's leading to the next thing. there, the next thing won't come along till you're finished with what you're doing now. it's very very different. and so distant. like you're not just in a different geographic location, but a different time altogether.

sometimes i really miss it.

which isn't to say i don't appreciate the paved roads and time spent alone thinking in the car, fully equipped with a seatbelt.

just different.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

f-f-f-frigid

last night 23 high school kids made shelters from cardboard boxes on the front lawn of our church. our first official lock OUT. the idea was to sleep outside in boxes in an effort to bring attention to homelessness in our community the night before the annual homeless awareness walk. the idea came about last spring or summer, though, in much warmer weather.

i don't think anyone expected the 16 degree chill.

parents called the church saying their child couldn't come (that's fine). our numbers dropped a little.

but 23 brave souls still showed up.

and so did 4 news trucks.

awareness accomplished.

a few events in the evening that helped drive the point home:

1. mark, a homeless neighbor, came to the church to share his story and answer the kids questions. he gave us pointers on how to set up our boxes. he told us the key is to keep your hands, feet and head warm. he said he had no idea we were actually going to sleep outside ALL night, and he was so touched by what we were doing. gayle, a homeless lady i ran into at the coffee shop said the same thing, as did the mother of a homeless family sleeping IN our church last night. their appreciation made it a little easier to bare the cold with my kids.

2. one of our youth has been interviewing homeless people for two years, working on her gold award project for girl scouts. we watched a documentary she had put together. it was cool for the kids to hear from one of their peers how they can make a difference.

when all was said and done, 1 kid went home early, 13 kids went into the sanctuary (all curled up around the altar... pretty cute), and 9 kids braved the cold all night... along with 3 adults.

and then we walked 5k.

and then i went to class, fell asleep during the lecture, and got sent home :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

you are my sunshine

i'm at caribou right now... working on my LAST theology paper (for this term anyway) and procrastinating (obviously) as i wait for one of my 10th grade kids to meet me for coffee (to discuss a recent break-up). good times.

and i've been working on my paper the better part of today, as i will be doing tomorrow, because the material is so dense that i can hardly make hide nor hair of it, despite my love for karl barth.

anyway. whenever i'm feeling down... like i'm failing as a writer... i look at this:and all my sorrows and self-doubt melt away. keegan has that effect on me. the little boy i call my nephew, who (whom?) i love to no end.

thanks keegster.

Monday, November 17, 2008

who needs sleep?

well you're never gonna get it.
who needs sleep?
tell me, what's that for...
(lyrics from a bare naked ladies song... where in the world did that band get their name anyway?)

friday night was our middle school lock-in. we had 84 kids. sometimes i forget the magnitude of our youth program, but it's hard to ignore when you have to rent TWO charter buses just to get to the mini-theme-park at the mall (after it closes) so the kids have their run of the laser-tag, go carts, games and climbing wall. oh, sure, we did the more traditional lock-in stuff too... like playing sardines... nothing like hide-and-seek in a big dark church!

ah, memories.

what i had forgotten, though, is how COOL it is to stay up at that age! one kid came up to me toward the end of the movie we watched (cheaper by the dozen) to ask what time it was. i looked at my watch and said, "almost 3am..." her face lit up in wonderment, "wow... coooooool."

the following day i watched a kid tell his mom, "we had church at 1 in the morning!!!"

awesome.

needless to say, none of us were very rested for the service projects we participated in the following morning. hundreds of church peeps did work all over the city. pretty cool.

and this weekend will be our lock-OUT, when the high schoolers sleep outside in boxes. me too. good times to come.

Friday, November 14, 2008

not the juan for me

deep down inside, i know i probably shouldn't write this post... that it will bite me in the butt someday. but i'm going to anyway because i think it's a good story. my fear is that it'll come across as if i'm making fun of someone... of juan... but this is really a story of how i am a complete idiot.

see, i have this kinda outgoing personality. and sometimes that can be misconstrued as being flirtatious when i meet men. i suppose that was the case with juan, because he started calling me last week (after getting my number from a friend), making good conversation, and eventually asking when we could hang out.

now he never actually asked me on a date.

so i wasn't sure about his intentions.

hence my entirely ridiculous response.

juan: you got plans thursday?
me: yep. going to a benefit.
juan: drinks afterward?
me: nope, may be out late.
juan: how about this weekend?
me: i've got a lock-in with my kids... really busy.
juan: sometime else?
me: i'm pretty much booked till mid-december.
juan: how about mornings?
me: mornings work. i can do that.

**awkward pause while i'm figuring out how to dodge a bullet i'm not sure exists**

me: um, juan, i gotta tell you... i don't want to sound presumptuous, but i just have to let you know i'm not interested in dating you right now.

**shoot!! right now?? that doesn't sound right?!?!**

me: errrr... or... ever.

**ahhh! what am i doing?!? or ever?!? how mean is that?!?!**

me: i mean, i know i sometimes send mixed messages unintentionally, so if that's the message i've been sending, i just want to correct it.
juan: ok. are you seeing someone?
me: no.

**i'm the worst person ever!**

juan: ok. so you want to grab coffee friday?
me: sure!

**how can he be nice when i'm so mean?!?! why wasn't i born knowing how to do this??**

and then we had a lovely coffee this morning. no real surprise there. he's a great guy. smart, funny, conversational, nice, handsome. i'd set him up with one of my friends in a heartbeat. hey, there's an idea...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

religulous

i went to see religulous last night with a group of friends from various faith backgrounds. it was about what i expected from bill maher. some parts were hilarious (everyone had to put up with my snorting), some parts were offensive, and some (especially the ending) were extremely depressing. i definitely wouldn't tout it as a documentary. the cuts and editing were way too much in favor of bill and his agenda.

and what is bill's agenda? to put an end to religion before it puts an end to the world. to take up the banner of doubt. this assumes two things: 1) faith and doubt don't mix, and 2) doubt would end all conflict.

i think it's sad that bill is under the impression that faith leaves no room for doubt. that faith and certainty are synonymous. isn't it the opposite? is it not certainty that leaves no room for faith? yes, hebrews 11 says, "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see," but this is HOPE we're certain of. faith is the beginning of knowledge, not the the end of it. st. augustine says "i believe that i might understand." the theologian paul tillich says, "doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith." the scientist dr. francis collins says, "doubt is an unavoidable part of belief." speaking from personal experience, the two go hand in hand... creating this back and forth conversation with God that grows me as a person every day.

and how would pure doubt end all conflict? is it not doubt that sends our economy spiraling downward? doubt that causes paranoia? faith in nothing? hope in nothing?

overall, i wouldn't suggest watching religulous to learn anything. but it does spark some great conversation. so if you do go, make sure you follow up with beer and pizza.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

my butt hurts

i went to my first spin class today.

i may have mentioned that i've fallen into a very athletic group of friends... mostly triathletes... lots of them "ironmen." it's just the thing to do here. and after months of saying i wouldn't get sucked in, i'm now saying i'll start training, and maybe one day do a little baby triathlon. i bought a new pair of running shoes that i actually do enjoy running in (amazing the difference a good set of shoes will make!) i have plans to buy a roadbike later this winter... maybe february? but in the mean time, it's spin class for me. so i went with my girlfriend julie this morning, and it was... boring. other than the fact that i got to talk to julie here and there. that IS why i'm falling for all this nonsense--the social aspect of it. i think i'll maybe warm up to spin class eventually. in the mean time, i can at least enjoy the fact that i think it's building up the muscles around my knee, which will really help me run.

now i just have to buy a swim suit.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

useless blither

stealing that one from furst.

i feel like i should post something today since it is election day and voting is important (get out the vote!)

i did vote, and my ballot would confuse just about anyone.

so rather than confuse you all as well, i'll tell you about how much i like to go to the park.

i was dogsitting this past weekend. ollie is the best dog. i should take a picture next time i stay with him. for one, ollie is a great cuddler. he keeps my feet warm, but doesn't get in my way... perfect. secondly, ollie sits and contemplates important things while i'm reading. he can be so stoic. he's also my muse. he sat on my feet while i typed a paper sunday, and i'm convinced that's why i finished the whole thing in one sitting.

ollie is also a smart ass. at one point, as i stretched out on the couch reading homework on a friday night, loving my class and the reading, but lamenting how it encroaches on my social life... i turned to ollie and said, "you know, even if i were to really like a guy... i don't have time for a boyfriend." ollie, in his infinite wisdom, rolled his eyes at me.

but this is supposed to be about parks, not dogs. ollie lives 2 doors down from one of the entrances to a great park. it is so much fun to walk there, and ollie is the perfect excuse. the breadth and depth of humanity you encounter at the park is amazing! all different people, all different shapes and sizes and colors. and dogs. everyone is so different, and yet they all come to the same spot. a spark of commonality between us all. and this weekend, with the especially lovely fall weather, i couldn't help but be awed by the beauty of all God's creation... the people, colors, smells, animals, sounds, feels... like it was one great big church.

and now i've said something about parks.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

oh, snap!

just checked to see how many matches were omitted by my friend the other night, at which point i discovered he dumped the ONLY guy i was in communication with! and the reason he gave?

"i think the difference in our values is too great"

thanks, man. a whole month and a half of investment down the drain. hilarious.

Friday, October 31, 2008

just be

wednesday night we held a candlelight vigil for kids that had come in town for greer's funeral. we weren't sure how many to expect... maybe 15? maybe 150? over 200 students showed up. over 1200 attended the funeral the following day.

at the vigil, each person was invited to come to the front of the church and light their candle from the pascal candle, the candle used in easter tide to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. john left a small mic (the kind you attach to your shirt) at the candle for people to speak into if they wanted to share a blessing from greer. because the mic was small, people had trouble finding it and getting it to work. lisa (another of the clergy) turned to me and said, "why don't you go up there and hold the mic?"

so i did. which isn't saying much. but i got to look into the faces of every person lighting their candle, whether they spoke or not. what i found was that just standing there was actually a huge deal. people wanted to make eye contact. to be acknowledged. they sought from me looks of empathy or encouragement, even without knowing me. some mouthed 'thank you' as they passed by. others, including greer's mother, reached out and touched my arm or squeezed my shoulder as they spoke. what might have been a mundane job of holding a mic turned into a meaningful and totally needed means of connecting. this is a need we share. and all you really have to do is just be there, be aware, and be open.

e-harmony update

nothing to report, except that i let one of my guy friends into my e-harmony account last night and he dumped half my matches.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

and sometimes it sucks

it's no secret i love my job. who wouldn't love a job that requires you to eat pizza 4 times a week... minimum! but sometimes even the best of jobs can get you down, like when someone dies.

i met with a group of 12th graders sunday, and the topic on everyone's mind was a guy named greer who had fallen off a mountain ledge, punctured his lung, and was in critical condition. i didn't know greer, since he graduated from high school before i came here, but all the kids knew him. just as we were ending our time together, the phone rang. the voice on the other end told me greer had just died, and then i turned to the kids to give them the same news. kids i'm only just getting to know. it sucked.

yet, there's something beautiful about watching a community come together to cry and laugh and be angry and remember. i didn't know greer, but i'm touched by him as i hear the kids share stories. and i'm touched by the kids, too, that they'd let me into their space during this time.

so yeah, sometimes it sucks. but even then, and especially then, i love my job.

Friday, October 24, 2008

b'more & buffalo

okay here it is... the weekend roadtrip synopsis.

it started in baltimore, where i landed just in time for a lovely dinner with christina and andy (soon to be married) at pazo. sadly, christina's car broke down, so i had to leave them to wait for the tow truck while my friend john picked me up and took me to the ole' neighborhood standby, ropewalk.
From 2008 Fall
if you don't know it already, ropewalk is a "republican bar" which really just means that the owners are republicanists and they aren't afraid to show it. doesn't really describe the clientele, though. anywhoo... a picture with the gipper is a must. lots of great friends came out to catch up (laurel and david came up from dc!) and that was awesome.

mike and i hit the road early saturday, bound for buffalo. we arrived just as mollie's plane from denver landed, so we picked her up and drove to canada (yes, we all had our passports) in time to see niagra at sunset.
From 2008 Fall
we did get lost on the way. we accidentally drove north of niagra, but didn't realize it until we were crossing the (wrong) bridge into canada. there was no way to turn around, so we just waited in line. the security was so chill (and cute!! mollie and i wanted to steal the guard and take him with us!!). he laughed once he figured out we were lost (such a cute laugh it was, too) and pointed us in the right direction. the drive was beautiful! all the changing leaves and rolling hills, ahhh. finally we made it to niagra falls.
From 2008 Fall
one thing about canadians... they love their snails. snails have the right of way!

we drove back to buffalo for a little party at the "love shack" (the bride's maiden name is love... it's cute) where we caught up with lots of friends that i hadn't seen in months. awesome.

sunday we stopped by the anchor bar, birthplace of buffalo wings, for some yummy finger lickin' food.
From 2008 Fall
this came at the recommendation of susan and others, and i have to say, it is a must when in buffalo. my mouth is watering now just thinking about it!

finally, the big occasion was upon us... the start of adam and bethany's marriage. i have to say, this was one of the neatest weddings i've ever witnessed, even before it started. their invitations were thoughtful, true, and humble. no response cards were used, saving lots of paper and expense. over and over again, throughout the engagement, wedding and reception, adam and bethany continually pointed to Christ in their relationship.
From 2008 Fall
it was (and is) beautiful.

then dancing ensued...
From 2008 Fall
and the shenanigans began.

eric, the best man, did an awesome toast. our table was literally reeling with laughter, though some of it might have gone over the general public's collective heads.
From 2008 Fall
i have since learned that you can look at best man speeches on youtube... this is apparently how the modern best man gets all his toast material. very unoriginal, and yet hugely successful! i imagine eric was the only one to quote both emily post and amy vanderbilt, though, paragon of etiquette that he is.

monday we made our way back to baltimore, so excited to stop at sheetz, the best gas station in the world, along the way.
From 2008 Fall
where else can you order a side of mac & chili? yum. erin and i had lots of girlie talk and catch up time in the car, which was awesome.

we came home to keegan!
From 2008 Fall
the best little nephew in the world.

christina joined us all for dinner and then she and i went back to her place for hours of uber productive wedding planning (she's the bride, i'm the maid of honor) and just good ole' sister time.

it was, by far, the best weekend ever. and there you have it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

PENIS!

one of the privileges i have as a youth minister is to talk to kids about sex and sexuality and how it pertains to their faith. i spent a lot of time this summer developing a sex curriculum with lots of help from various books, experts and friends (the friend conversations were definitely the funniest).

so we had a sex talk with 11th and 12th graders a few weeks ago, and the whole first half of it was pretty painfully awkward. finally one kid said, "it's not that this isn't relevant to us. it's definitely relevant. we just don't want to talk about it."

last night we talked with 10th graders and decided to squish all the awkwardness into the first 5 minutes. john started by saying, "we're going to play a game you all know and love... a game you probably played in the middle school lunchroom..." one girl raised her hand and said, "the penis game???" YES! the very one.

for those of you that don't know, the penis game goes a little something like this.

one person whispers "penis."

the next says "PEnis" a little louder.

then "PENIS" and "PEENNIISSS!!!!!!"

kids find this especially entertaining in public spaces... like lunchrooms or during spanish class. each person that says "penis" is basically daring the next to say it louder. i totally grew up playing this game. sometimes even in sunday school... the mother of all dares.

next time you've got to talk to kids about sex, try out the penis game, if it's age appropriate. definitely breaks the ice.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

so excited

this time tomorrow, i'll be on a plane to BALTIMORE! the city that claims my heart. i'm headed to adam & bethany's wedding, which is actually in buffalo, but i'm flying into b'more JUST so i can get an extra 20 hours of quality time (in the car) with my friends. AND i get to do some wedding planning with the lovely christina, due to be married in may! i'm so excited about his weekend, i can hardly stand it!!!! start warming up the beer taps at ropewalk... lau's coming home.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

lessons from a 14 year old

i was talking to one of my youth last week, discussing the high school dating scene over a cup of coffee (have i mentioned that i love my job?) at one point she said, "every one of my guy friends likes at least 3 girls. they just can't make up their minds!" she was lamenting the fact that even her boyfriend was into other girls. and i thought, ah, poor high schoolers. they just don't know what they want. i'm so glad that's not MY dating scene any longer...

but perhaps i was wrong.

i visited my friend carolyn (and her wonder dog molly!) last friday in chapel hill. we met up with my rock star (literally) friend, alex wilkins, and then went to his gig at a bar across from UNC. it was fun.

but during the course of the night, a guy named ryan professed that i was his soul mate. maybe this is because we were talking about theology and linguistics in a bar. i mean, it is rare bar talk. but soul mate? and it was especially discouraging, as ryan happens to be ENGAGED. how can an engaged man mistake me for his soul mate? really?

the real kicker was when i came home to find an email from engaged-man-ryan, who i suppose found my email address on my blog, stating that he's really a very nice and faithful guy, but that he'd like to start up a conversation type relationship with me. over email. and i'll add that his email address seemed to have been made up, strictly for this purpose. s-k-e-t-c-h-y.

point being... do 14 year olds never grow up?

here i thought the "liking 3 girls at once" problem was reserved to the dramas of high school, but it doesn't seem to be a safe assumption.

the evening still rocked, though, since i got to see carolyn AND even did an impromptu duet with alex. i'm lovin' me some tambourine.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

fall fashion

so, bachelor numero dos responded to the "thoughtful" (thanks suzz) question regarding homosexuality, and his response was not only reasonable... he could relate. seems "esteban" (as we'll call him) has a gay brother. go figure.

it's the latest accessory.

esteban is a bit of a paradox to me. some things he says make me think, 'this guy is real and has lived and i think we could be friends.' other things make me think, 'are you brainwashed?' so we'll see what's behind door number 2, i suppose.

Monday, October 06, 2008

pablo peters out

seems the pablo story ends before it really begins.

see, i was at lunch with a girlfriend and guyfriend from work. we'll call them lindsay and tim (since those are indeed their names). i was updating them on the latest in the eharmony saga. oddly enough, both of them were "familiar" with eharmony already. i'm telling you, it's everywhere!

anyway.

when i mentioned i was in "open communication" (ie: emailing) with this new guy, lindsay said, "huh... what's his name?"

i said, "well his profile says *pablo* but he signs his emails *brad*" (just go with the made up names).

lindsay's eyes just about bugged out of her head, "don't talk to him!"

"you know him?"

"i told you i'd tried eharmony before!" she gave me a few reasons to steer clear of pablo... so that's that.

small world.

i just emailed pablo to say, sorry man, but you've been matched with one of my friends, and i've got to bail.

another one bites the dust.

whoa whoa whoa

apparently the fact that i'm blogging about eharmony is not a deterrent. i'm now in "open communication" with a guy we'll call pablo. you know how i love nicknames (not so special bryan... blind date bob... etc.)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

cat's out of the bag

i got a response. and i think it was more than reasonable. and that's all i'll say about that because it's really not fair for me to broadcast some guy's thoughts on homosexuality, right? it's not his blog.

but it is mine, so i will tell you what he asked me in response, and how i answered (and then you'll know why the cat is indeed out of the bag).

1. What are some things you've done for fun in your free time over the last few weeks? (doesn't have to be anything crazy, just an snapshot of what you do for fun)
I'm headed out to grill with some friends now, went to a movie with girlfriends last night, high school football game Friday (that's job related, but fun too), dinner with friends Thursday night, and I was in South Africa the week before that. Fun usually involves eating, drinking, or something active (like wall climbing or salsa dancing). I like to be with my friends. If I'm alone, I read for for fun too.
(note: just to keep things honest, i didn't actually grill out tonight, but had cheese and crackers with friends instead. and i don't wall climb often, but it's an example of "something active" and i would go more often if i could.)

2. Describe your spirituality.
That's broad. My relationship with God is very important to me and informs just about everything I do. I read the Bible and journal (pray) every morning. Not because I think that's how "spirituality" ought to be done, but because it feeds me. I'm enrolled in a theology class, which I enjoy. I also have a lot of non- "spiritual" friends, which I also enjoy. Both challenge me in very meaningful ways, and both keep me growing and authentic. I think spirituality is personal, but it's not something I'm reluctant to share in the least.

** and here's the kicker! **

3. Why did you join eHarmony?
Honestly, some friends and I decided it would be funny for me to give it a 3 month trial and then blog about it. That said, it's something I've taken seriously, as it wouldn't be an honest "try" otherwise. I do desire to be in a meaningful relationship, but I thought surely eharmony would take the fun and romance out of dating... so this experiment of sorts helped me to take the plunge. I suppose you can google me now.

wonder if that'll get me dumped?

Friday, October 03, 2008

1 down, 2 to go

well i've exhausted the first month of my eharmony membership. i only paid for 3, and i'm not keen on renewing. so 2 months to go before i'm back to... more of the same... ie: not dating. but i'm okay with that.

perhaps that's the problem? i mean, if asking authentic questions gets you nothing but crickets, maybe this kind of thing is meant for peeps that are SO eager to date, that authenticity falls by the wayside. i think eharmony doesn't really jive with my M.O.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

awkward silences

alright. let me explain "guided communication" on eharmony.

step 1: guy sends me 4 pre-fabricated multiple choice eharmony questions (i never instigate conversation... call me old fashioned).

step 2: i answer 4 questions and respond with 5 pre-fab questions.

step 3: guy answers my questions

step 4: i send "must haves/can't stands" or "mhcs" in eharmony speak (yes, they have their own language).

step 5: he sends his mhcs.

step 6: i send 3 questions that i actually get to make up myself...

and that's as far as i've gotten... because 2 guys have yet to answer my questions. i think this is the one that stumps them:

how do you feel about homosexuality? a member of my family is gay. it's hard for me to wrap my head around at times, but i love this person dearly. just thought i'd put that out there.

one of the guys hasn't responded in almost 2 weeks. i only blindsided the other guy just yesterday. and the jeopardy theme song plays on...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

and i'm back

south africa was awesome, though i took very few pictures (it wasn't that kind of trip) and bought nothing while i was there (other than decongestants for my cold... why do i always get colds in africa?)... i DID get to see 5 of my students from benin!pictured are anthelme, alexis, yves, jonas, pelagie and me.
i stayed in a "luxury tent" 2 hours north of jo'burg. i wasn't sure what that meant until the porter at the hotel ushered me to my room, at which point i exclaimed, "holy crap!" (i have a way with words.) the thatch roof made it a "tent," while the heated floors, huge bathroom, plush furniture and chandelier made it "luxury." it was a paradoxical week to say the least. worlds colliding on so many levels. thanks for your prayers; it was quite the blessing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

off to africa

i'm leaving for jo'burg, south africa, tomorrow morning. i haven't packed. i'll be gone 9 days. i have a theology test 2 hours after i get back to the US, so i'm typing my little fingers off, trying to get as much information into my computer as possible so i don't have to lug the dictionary of christian theology and the dictionary of the christian church along with me. good times. i did do laundry this morning, so at least i've got that going for me.

i'll be staying in a "luxury tent." i can't wait to see what that means!

i'm pretty psyched that i get to spend a week working with YFC again. it'll be great to work with youth from all over the world (it's an international youth leadership conference), and it will be great to see some missionary friends too.

i'll admit, though, that i'm really going to miss my kids here, and the peeps i work with, and my friends. i'm so glad i'm going to miss them. it feels good.

please pray for my safety, thanks.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

picture perfect

a few words about posting pictures on eharmony.

first off, you probably don't want to post a picture of you hanging all over a girl (if you're a guy)... and you certainly shouldn't post a series of pictures of you with the same girl over and over. no one wants to see how hot (or not) your ex was.

if you do post a picture of you with a girl, there's no need to add the caption "i'm on the left" if you're standing on the left. chances are, we can figure that out... one would hope.

shirtless pics (for guys) are a little risky. they appear especially stupid if it's clear that you're taking a picture of yourself... shirtless. really?

beware of cheesy captions. "it's 5 o'clock somewhere," "i'm too sexy for my shirt," or "i love kids!" to name a few.

if that really is who you are, then keep it up. i'm all for authenticity. some girl (not me) will totally dig it.

that said, i probably ought to post the lone picture posted on my profile. i'm sure it's worthy of critique as well. it's not on this computer though. i'll just tell you, it's a semi-profile pic, my hair thrown up in a mess, no make-up, and a couple of discreet elephants in the background. it's how i normally look, minus the elephants... which i really posted to see if anyone would notice the context of the picture in the first place.

addendum:
here is said picture...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

i love my church

this isn't a new phrase. i've been saying it since i moved here, but friends in baltimore know i used to say it there too. what can i say. i'm a church lady.

but really, my church is amazing. last sunday was parish day, when we celebrated the beginning of the church program year. we had blue grass, fried chicken, games, face painting, and of course... a climbing wall.
seriously? yes. and if that's not cool enough, the wall was donated in thanksgiving of... me. i mean, some people get altar flowers donated in their honor, but what says "we're glad you're here" like a rock climbing wall? pretty much nothing. my church is awesome.

i found myself thinking the same this morning, as trumpets heralded the start of the worship service, a string quartet played during eucharist (the music just about made me cry), john preached a great and thoughtful sermon, and everywhere there is a sense of "we are so glad you're here..." whether you're a kid or an old man or a youth minister. and the altar flowers smelled nice too. i love it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

online dumping

i was a little surprised the first time i got an email saying, "there comes a time in every relationship when one must decide whether to continue or move on... so-and-so has decided to close communication with you for **insert reason here*** at this time. we feel it's important for you to have the opportunity to respond, should you choose to do so." that's a paraphrase. anyway, i was like... 'i got dumped?!? but i don't even know you! i haven't even read your profile yet!' but then i was like, 'wait a sec, this means i can clean the losers out of my inbox. woohoo!'

i've been on a cleaning spree.

every day, around 3am, i get a new crop of matches. usually 5-7 guys. the matches are ridiculous. today i had 5 guys from georgia. georgia? next they'll be matching me with peeps in oregon! two of today's matches also happened to be 40, meaning they are closer to my mom's age than my age. unfortunately, that's not one of the reasons you can select for closing a match... "lauren has decided to close communication with you because she thinks you ought to date her mother." and really, i wouldn't let them date my mom. i'm just making a point.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

initial thoughts

i'm going through matches about as fast as i go through a bag of m&m's. i try to shoot 'em down before they even get a chance to look at my profile. that's because eHarmony, in it's infinite match-making wisdom, keeps setting me up with crazy fundamentalist types. i mean, were i to date a guy, i'd like him to be a Christian. definitely. but where are the normal Christians?

okay there is one that contacted me. he actually skipped past all the cheesy questions in "guided communication" and requested "fast track" so we could go straight to emailing. i was a little wary to accept his fast track request, but then decided it's all part of the experiment, so i gave it a shot. he'd actually sent me a nice email, saying that he, as a minister/professor, understood what i meant in my profile when i talked about wishing people didn't get weirded out when i tell them i'm a youth minister... that they start rewinding the conversation we've just had in their heads, trying to remember if they've said anything incriminating. the subject heading of his email was "beer and jesus." he said that when he encounters that situation, he invites the person to talk more over a cold beer, and then they usually chill out a bit.

that's todays update. also, i will say, this is slightly time consuming.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

taking the plunge

it's official. i'm experimenting with online dating.

see, it started with little nudges from my friends, little jokes or threats here and there. nothing persuasive, though, since i'm honestly content as is. then i was talking to a friend last weekend about her online dating experiences, and we agreed that even if you don't end up dating someone, it's a good way to learn more about yourself and others. that got me thinking.

i filled out the personality profile. mostly so i could just see how they described me. it all seemed accurate, except when they said i could be described as "avant-garde," going against the norm, pushing the boundaries of what makes most people comfortable. what? but i'm so traditional! oh, yeah... i guess i did travel to pakistan (and hope to go back soon)... and i did live in africa... and i did quit my steady job to be a missionary. maybe that's "pushing it" a bit. fine. just because i think that's normal doesn't mean everyone else does. who gets to define normal anyway?

after finishing my profile, i was sent a few matches. whatever. but then two of them tried to contact me! they asked a few pre-fab questions, i tried to respond, but wham! i was shut down. apparently you have to pay to respond. hmm... is it worth it?

well, i took a vote over dinner with friends. really, i didn't have to take a vote because everyone was on board. i will indeed try this online dating nonsense, and i will keep you posted on the drama that ensues. don't get your hopes up. right now i'm just answering questions. i wouldn't consider dating a single guy i've been "matched" with so far.

two side notes: 1) apparently this online dating thing is quite common. two of my dinner buddies tonight had personal experience to add to the mix. 2) from what i can tell so far, guys like to post pictures of themselves with nieces and nephews. is that supposed to be endearing? boy, this is going to be a long 3 months.

Monday, September 01, 2008

keep back!

yesterday i went wall climbing, which happens to be a ways out of town, so that provided some driving practice with friends. i did alright, except when i stalled out 3 times at the same traffic light... watching it go from green... to yellow... and red again. when i finally did go, i peeled out a bit. later in the same day i had a solid 3 second peel-out. you could smell it. i was beginning to think i'd made a huge mistake purchasing a 5-speed vehicle.but today was a new day, and i had to get out on the road. i mean, i HAD to. apparently i left my last name off one of the gazillion forms i signed at carmax, so i had to make the long journey back out there... on the crazy expressway... all... by... my... self. i took a deep breath, grabbed my roll of blue masking tape, and put a big sign across the back of my car that reads "KEEP BACK... i'm learning." i ventured over to the church parking lot for a bit of a warm-up, feeling my way in and out of that tricky first gear, and off i went.

and i made it! without a single stall-out or peel-out! no one got on my back. i watched in my rear-view mirror as one lady died laughing after squinting to see the fine print on my home-made sign. ah, what a day.
then, on the way back to my house, i put the hatchback feature to good use with a trip to home depot. i needed a big piece of wood (2 ft deep, 4 ft long) to finish making my desk before school starts this week. can i please tell you how easy it is to fold down the seats in my groovy mazda3? oooooh so easy. i slid my desk top in, pulled the door shut, and thought, 'that, missy, is why you have a hatchback.' it made my day.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

the car

i bought a car today. a mazda3 hatchback with a sunroof. i like it. sure it's a 5-speed... and sure i didn't know how to drive a 5-speed (until an hour or two ago)... mere minor details.

the purchase:

i bought the car at carmax, which i have to say, was a pleasant experience. the guy that worked with me was definitely a car salesman, a tad annoying at times, but he was not one bit slimey. he wasn't clever enough to be slimey, and i mean that in a good way. very what-you-see-is-what-you-get. he'd say things that were very not-smooth, which helped his credibility. it sounds like i'm trashing the guy, but seriously, i liked him. also, carmax is bending over backwards to work with my out-of-state credit union. the credit union lady told me over the phone, "girl, are you lucky. i've never known carmax to treat someone this good." maybe it helped that i brought john (a priest) to test drive the car for me (while wearing his priestly collar). so john test drove it, i bought it, and then my friend aimee drove it home. woohoo!

the lesson:

i had a crash course in driving standard. lat ran to my house, we drove back to his house, did a couple laps around his neighborhood (i stalled maybe 10 times on my first left-hand turn), picked up friends for dinner, drove back to lat's... and then i was on my own. it's only a 3-4 mile drive, but it's not direct. anyway, i made it home without stalling once, thanking God for the lack of traffic. 1st gear is really tricky, but the rest isn't too bad.

so now i have a car, but i'll be riding my bike to my morning appointment... maybe driving standard will keep me from driving too much. the bike life has been good.

Monday, August 25, 2008

rains: then and now

i knew when i walked out the door to work this morning that it was going to rain. i was surprised the skies held back as long as they did, finally unleashing their wet fury as i started the walk back home from the office. i didn't mind. i had a ridiculous grin on my face as i walked, glad my umbrella would hide my elation from not-so-considerate drivers, sloshing me in their wake.

i think the rain here is funny. i know it will soon be the start of the shorter rainy season in benin, where the rain seems to shoot up from the ground rather than down (or sideways) from the sky. here, the sidewalks and streets create rivers in a matter of moments. in benin, "potholes" the entire width of the dirt (really, sand) road form green filmed pools of various wastes. i don't mind walking in the rain run-off here. sure, it's full of harsh chemicals, but i've yet to see a man pee on the wall of my home in my nearly 3 months here, so i've got that going for me.

since i was reminiscing a bit, i thought i'd look up my journal from this day a year ago in benin. here's an excerpt on food.

I’m getting better about eating meat off bones and using my hands. Farhan would be proud. I don’t know if I was eating pork or goat tonight… it was tough enough to be goat. It was good though. Meals basically consist of some form of meat (whole fish, pork, chicken, goat, or “bush meat”) and a cheap simple starch. The starch could be couscous or rice, or more likely pounded yam or maize, which looks gross and gelatinous when first served, but then settles and changes to a consistency similar to powdered mashed potatoes. It’s actually pretty tasty. I had fish for lunch, and I tried tasting one of the egg sacs in the fish. It actually tasted kinda like pate, but I couldn’t eat the whole thing just because of what it was. The only thing not eaten here are bones. When you eat fish, that means the brains, eye balls, and everything. I always give Josue the head to eat. Bleh. They serve a whole lot of starch at every meal so you fill up fast and then get hungry later. I don’t always clean my plate, at which point I think of the expression, “There are starving children in Africa.” I know! But a girl can only eat so much rice! Sometimes we have beans, which are called “azingoqui” in Fon. At the camp, the beans came with a side of bugs. I didn’t mind when I found one bug in my food. It had been boiled. No biggie. I showed it to Augustin and he asked, “what is his name?” and I laughed it off. But after finding 4 more (in the same plate of beans, mind you) I decided I’d had enough azingoqui and friends for the day. Every meal, I pray in my head, “God, may this food make me strong and not sick, please. Amen.” So far, so good.

sometimes i miss life in the developing world. maybe you know what i mean.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

new wheels

no, not a car.

i gotta say, for having lived here only 2.5 months, i have some pretty awesome friends. one of which called the owner of "my" local bike shop today (who happens to train some of my triathlon friends) and filled him in on my situation. when i arrived with my poor bike (which is maybe 15 years old), mr. bike man hooked me up with a free (used) wheel and free (used) tires too. i told him i'd been considering moving over to a lighter tread tire, being that i was on sidewalks more than mountain trails, hoping to make my rides through town a bit faster and easier. my bike looks hilarious now, like a drag-racer, says mr. bike man. skinny tire on front, thicker tire on back, but it's a good combination for my needs. when all was said and done, he waved me out of the store with a smile, telling me to come back when i'm ready to buy a road bike... and start training... hmmm... train?

i'm suffering a bit of delayed shoulder pain today, i guess from bracing myself at impact, which i'm hoping is extremely temporary.

other than that, i'm back on the road tomorrow. score.

Monday, August 18, 2008

lauren splats... almost

so much for not blogging...

i got hit by a car tonight on my way to the gym. i was riding my bike on the sidewalk (i'm told this is not illegal and much safer than riding on the road), going against traffic (again, i'm told this is safer), when i came to an intersection. i slowed down, noted the stopped car, checked the green light and the pedestrian crossing, and continued forward into the intersection. i saw the stopped car start into a right turn, realized what was about to happen, swerved, and CRASH. they clipped my back tire, knocking me over, but i caught myself and the bike. i have a few minor cuts and bruises, but nothing major. sadly, my bike will need a little TLC before i'll be able to ride again (slight problem when it's your primary means of transportation), but still nothing major. the lexus that hit me will have to get a new bumper, though... yikes. i didn't get the driver's contact information since 10% of me was scared i didn't have the right of way. i can't afford a lexus bumper. the couple that hit me was more concerned about my ability to walk than anything. i think the little lady in the passenger seat was more shaken up than i was.

anywho... my dad thinks i should get a car.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

onion love

one of my favorite people in the world, who happens to be horrible at updating her blog or sending emails, yet wonderful at "superpoking" and keeping up with my blog, is engaged. i found out via text message last night... oh, how times have changed.

i'm going to call susanne as soon as i finish typing this post to check the facts, but i believe she and ryan met online... and not just any old internet dating service... but the classifieds on the onion. the onion, if you don't already know it, is one of america's oldest ironic news sources. it is the mother of all pop-culture political satire that has peppered our media this past decade. and thank goodness... one needs a sense of humor to survive.

i have friends that have met online and married before... but this is the first onion love i know of. makes me wonder if my friends' threat to give me an online dating membership for my birthday wasn't such a bad idea after all.

naaah.

Friday, August 15, 2008

time out

my readership has cut in half since i returned to the US... as have my posts... but i'm thinking i'll take the month of august off blogging.

that being said, here's one quick story that furst thought i ought to share.

i went to a wlu party last sunday (alumni function) and met lots of great peeps headed to lex to join the best student body in the world. i was often asked by other adults if this would be my freshman year as well, which made me feel better about my 28th bday last week.

anyway, i barely met this one guy, but he was kind enough to give me his calling card when we parted ways. no, i don't mean business card. i mean he handed me a card with his name and number, likely on crane's cotton paper... very nice. i looked at him and said, "seriously?" my friend lat said the same to me in the car when i said, "i'm intrigued. i think i'll have to call this calling card guy." "seriously?"

so i did. i called him wednesday and asked him questions like, "would you say you're an eccentric person?" still, i was intrigued, so i accepted his invitation to a theme party this weekend... maybe...

i'm curious if this calling card concept yields greater returns than business cards. i did google the guy before calling (i'm not stupid) and he's an investment banker with a major bank. they're a dime a dozen here. so maybe the calling card is where it's at?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

au naturale

i've been experimenting the past few weeks with deodorant. see, antiperspirants are bad for you. really bad. anything with aluminum is bad. this is an especially sensitive topic for peeps with close ties to alzheimer's, which definitely applies to my family. i've disposed of all aluminum pots and pans in my possession, and the next move is from antiperspirants to deodorant. i mean, honestly, i tend perspire with an antiperspirant anyway. i'm okay with that. i'm over it.

i'm currently trying out dr. hauschka's floral deodorant. it smells like roses. but i'm not sure i do. so a lot of effort goes into discreetly smelling myself (not that discreet if i'm blogging about it, of course). if you're near me in the coming weeks, feel free to comment on my aura, if you catch my drift. i'd appreciate the feedback.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

dog flips

i finally joined the ymca yesterday. it's a good 2.5 mile uphill battle on the bike to get there (and back... now i understand the "uphill both ways" concept), meaning i'm exhausted by the time i bike there, work out and bike back. but i'm hoping this will turn into a healthy routine.

i kinda shocked myself at the yoga class yesterday. this is only the 3rd class i've attended in over a year (though i toyed with yoga on my own in benin). this next phrase will make no sense to non-yogis... but we were in down-dog with one leg up and over when the instructor said, "now flip your dog if you want." boom! i flipped my dog! without even thinking about it! that move used to scare me, and here i just stumbled into it quite gracefully. always nice when your body surprises you. i wonder if anyone saw the look of shock on my face.

posts like this will probably lead to an increased drop in readership, but it was seriously one of the highlights of my week.

Monday, August 04, 2008

happy bday benin

benin just celebrated 48 years of independence, as this article states, in nonsensical english. the writer's last name is assogba... wonder if he's related to my friend mathieu? the famous singer and genius behind this video?

Friday, August 01, 2008

garden of the gods

being the international woman of mystery that i am, i run into friends just about everywhere i go. while staying outside of monument, colorado this week (near colorado springs) i had visitors just about every day. kim came up monday, sharing with me the VERY exciting news that she and scott are pregnant! then art and lois came up on tuesday, taking me to the exact same restaurant as the previous evening (but i didn't tell them that because i loooove mexican food). then leslie came up wednesday (she only just moved to colorado two weeks ago) and we ventured off to garden of the gods.

you may remember leslie visited me in benin back in march. it was great to talk to someone that had actually witnessed the craziness of my life abroad. we had a lot of good laughs. we also took a lot of ridiculous pictures, fitting in to tight crevices, acting like idiots, the usual. it's great to have friends all over.

Monday, July 28, 2008

totally sucks awesome hated it beautiful

yes, this week i'm exploring a series of paradoxes with a bunch of other missionaries just returned from the field. a little thing called "debriefing and renewal" in the mountains of colorado. some people have come "home" for good, others are just here for a year before returning to assignments abroad. all are totally grateful for their experiences and are struggling now with varying degrees of home-sickness (for "adopted" countries) and identity crisis. yet all have been burned, bruised, and battered; the side of being a missionary that is rarely shared outside the safest of circles. this place is definitely a safe one, and i'm glad i made it out here, albeit (slightly) grudgingly.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

perfect score

north carolinians everywhere might as well roll out the welcome mat to their newest resident; yours truly just got her license.

this is a big deal for 2 reasons... a) it's symbolic of the fact that i'm putting down roots here (though i confess my heart is still mostly in maryland), and b) in order to get a NC license, you must first pass a driver's test. the test is full of obscure questions like, "what percentage of driving accidents are due to drunk driving?" is it really necessary that i know the exact percentage to be a good driver? isn't it enough to know not to drink and drive?

lucky for me, someone in my office mentioned that one could find a "study guide" (i refuse to call it a cheat sheet) online. thus, this little lady got a perfect score... booyah!

(really, what ever happened to people saying booyah?!?)

when i got back to my job, at the church, i was amazed to find kids moon-bouncing inside. yep, you can fit two moon-bouncers in our "multi purpose" space (which happens to be used for our contemporary services). who knew? and when can i bounce?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

google hearts walkers

i use google maps a lot... mostly because i'm new to town. i love how when getting directions, you can use your mouse to drag your route onto smaller (less trafficky) roads. great for bikers. but NOW there's an additional option! when getting directions, you can click "by car" or "walking." not only does it automatically move your route to roads less traveled, but it also estimates your walking time! i think this change denotes some serious behavior changes in the US. i'm so proud.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

car shopping

really, i ought to say virtual car shopping... as i've yet to test drive a single vehicle... but in my imagination, i've narrowed down my options to the perfect car. the 2007 nissan versa hatchback sl... with a sunroof. i've only found ONE with a sunroof so far, and it's in dulles, which makes me think i should fly up to dc and visit lots of friends on the drive back south. sounds like a week of fun, right? and i'd need that week to learn how to drive stick, as the ONE versa sl with sunroof happens to be a manual. no worries. i actually think i'd be a great manual driver, given 2 or 3 days of roadtripping and couch surfing. sadly, i don't have time for such ventures... not for another 2 weeks, at least... and by then my currently "perfect" car will likely be sold... eventually replaced by another potentially "perfect" set of wheels. i mean, i'll be driving this car for the next 10 years, so it's got to be just right. for now, though, the bus and bike are still fun. liberating, even. still, the possibility of purchasing a car in the near future looms large.

Monday, July 21, 2008

recovery

it appears that for every day of hanging out/working/living with middle schoolers (that would be last sunday through wednesday), i need an equal portion of sloth and sleep (thursday through sunday). but finally, i have emerged from hibernation.

i did peek my head out the door a couple of times during the 4-day respite. i went to the cardiologist for an echocardiagram. those are fun! it's like an ultra-sound, except that i watched my heart beating on a screen instead of a fetus. small difference.

i later biked to the ymca (2.5 hilly miles), tried one of their yoga classes (i was impressed) and then biked back home. it pretty much felt like 3 workouts in 1, but i'm sure that will improve as i get back to an exercise routine.

finally, i went out with some friends and met some new peeps on saturday. always fun to meet new people. then two of us split off to take on the salsa scene. i'm pretty sure that in flip-flops, i could out-dance any girl there. they could all kick my butt in heels, though. which is unfortunate, as no real salsa dancer wears flip-flops. (sigh).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

burping

after spending this week with over 40 middle school kids, sleeping on the floor of a downtown church, fixing peeps houses (which is significantly difficult with 8th graders) in the sun... i'm too tired to write anything eloquent...
not that i ever do...
but i will say that i learned a new burping game this week. apparently, every time someone burps, it's cool to scream out random colors, "red! black! orange! canary yellow!" with no repeats... the last one to think of a color (and scream it) loses. the loser has to grunt. grunting is embarrassing. the end.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

kids and tattoos

i went to the movies last night with a group of middle schoolers. we saw "prince caspian" of the narnia series. it was good, though we had the entire theater to ourselves, which made for lots of noise and finger puppets.

anyway, before the film, we stopped in at mcdonalds for some nourishment. it happened to be connected to a convenience store which happened to have a tattoo machine--the kind where you insert 2 quarters and get a fake tattoo in return. seeing this as an opportune bonding moment, i invited the kids to pick out a tattoo for me to paste on my arm. after much deliberation, they decided i should get one of the "magic" type tattoos, hoping for a dragon. the less desirable options included silly flowers and hearts, sports and racing, or random "lovey" airbrushed types. i put my quarters in under the pictures of dragons and swords... but out popped a tattoo of two people embracing romantically, with the words "lets get it on" inscribed in cursive below. oops.

Monday, July 07, 2008

salsa hurts

i went salsa dancing last week... twice.

wednesday i went with a guy named ricardo. "lauren laughs" regulars will understand the humor in this small coincidence. anyway, ricardo took me to a place that starts with lessons before moving to just plain dancing. we did the first (beginner) lesson. easy... a tad boring. we asked one of the instructors if we could do the intermediate lesson too. she hesitated and said yes, but just to sit it out if we felt it was too advanced. psha. we rocked the intermediate class so well that the same instructor walked up to us later and asked us to audition for the advanced class that will be starting later this month: "just throw something together." okay. maybe...

i danced with the other instructor at one point, a man in pointy white shoes (mandatory for all male salsa teachers). sadly, i stubbed my toe on his shoes, breaking my toenail and spewing blood everywhere. that was fun. i really need to invest in salsa shoes.

but you can't let a broken toe nail keep you on the sidelines of life. no sir. thursday night i was back at it, only with a group of latinos. (ricardo is not latino... well, he's half... but it's a repressed half). anyway, my new latino friends all speak spanish. it was great to be in that environment again, and i understood everything, i just kept responding in french. shoot! till a moroccan guy joined us, then i had a french buddy. oh, the woes of a multi-lingual lover. still, i hope to hang with (and eventually hold a coherent conversation with) these new friends every once in a while, if only i could get used to the festivities starting at midnight.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

progressive kitchen 1

i don't so much have a "fully functional" kitchen yet. i'm reminded of this at odd moments... like when i bought a can of beats to eat on a salad, but then realized i had no can opener. nothing a pocket knife can't fix. or when i decided i'd make brownies this weekend, but had to do so without measuring cups. the result: brownie goo the entire staff made fun of.

so i'm on a mission this week/weekend to set up my kitchen. i've got dad's monster van parked in the driveway till sunday, so i might as well make use of it! so far, i've purchased a spice rack (including 20 spices), a liquid measuring cup and a strainer. odd mix, i know.

this would be so much easier if i were getting married. bridal registries are so discriminatory.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

musica

two awesome finds this week:

1. paste. the magazine. they send you a new cd every month with new releases! how cool is that? and it's only 20 bucks for a year subscription. awesome.

2. wrnr online! in case you didn't know, the very best radio station of all time happens to live in downtown annapolis. life without wrnr has been a sad void of sound, till carolyn told me to just plug-in online! it's so much easier to get out of bed in the morning knowing "planet alex" is just a click away.

good stuff.

Monday, June 30, 2008

i LOVE the vintage wallpaper that adorned my bathroom up until this weekend. it was so super cool, but it was peeling in the worst way... so it had to go. let me tell you, taking wallpaper down from the wall is no easy task. goodbye lovely little butterflies on yellowed background...
and then i painted, which was also a bit of a task... mostly because i had no step ladder so i did all kinds of acrobatics to get from one high corner to the next. painting has always been a social event for me, usually helping friends, but this time i was going it alone, and that was quite nice too. i kept thinking, 'i'm doing this just for me.' sounds silly, but it's a rare occasion that i put that much effort into anything that's only going to benefit me. i'm still debating if i like this blue, though...

Friday, June 27, 2008

go cats!

sometimes my mom likes to remind me that i was a cheerleader by thrusting her finger up in the air and shouting, "go keeaaaatts!" because that's how we used to say it in high school.

this is a different kind of cats. this is the city bus.

after my woe-is-me-i-have-no-social-life moment yesterday, i did indeed email some friends to see what was going on this weekend (the answer is EVERYone is leaving town), and someone tipped me off about an outdoor music venue downtown. so i pulled out my bus map and went downtown. easiest thing ever. even coming back in the dark and rain wasn't a problem. i kept thinking, i'm on a reputable city bus with lots of people, and that's got to be safer than riding on the back of a motorcycle with a stranger in benin, right? i am lovin' me some public transportation.

not to mention... i met someone last night that likes both biodiesel AND salsa. i mean, what are the odds. thank you city bus, for expanding my social horizons.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

where the hell is matt?

how cool is this video...

totally reminds me of an impromptu village dancing party in northern benin with peace corps friends.

snails pace social life

well i never thought the day would come when i was bored on nights and weekends... but it has. i am meeting lots of people and i have at least one social activity a week, but i'm spending even more time alone here than i did in benin. part of me knows i ought to enjoy the respite. in two months' time i'll be longing for the days when i could come home and do nothing but read. but when it's almost every day? it gets old. my eyes hurt from reading. last night i thought i'd give myself a break by watching a movie... but i only have one... love actually... yeah... great movie to watch when you're already feeling a bit lonely. yesterday, in a moment of weakness, i even agreed to babysit on a saturday night. this is serious.

ok. i will stop whining at start being proactive. i'm going to email my new acquaintances and make plans. right. now.

Monday, June 23, 2008

small town america

i went to home depot this morning to pick up paint supplies with my landlord. i'm in a really unique situation, where instead of having to track down my landlord and wait months for anything to be accomplished, i see mine every day. and every day he smiles and says, "how's the house? anything you need?" (tip for the day: if ever you can rent from the church... do it!)

while i was waiting at the paint counter, i noticed a slightly funny, slightly familiar, very friendly guy mixing paint. i thought to myself, 'huh. that guy looks just like mason... haven't seen him since high school.' then i looked at the guy's orange smock, which said: "my name is MASON" in big magic marker letters. no way.

yes way. an old friend from rockbridge county. because the world really is that small.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

soooo not in africa anymore

i spent most of yesterday at a theme park with 25 middle schoolers. i'll be honest and say i could have sat at a table in the shade all day and been happy... i'm not the biggest fan of rides and such. not that i mind them, it's just not my idea of a rockin' good time. but i did go on rides... lots of them. all of them. even the worst i'm-gonna-puke-my-brains-out rides. why? because i'm earning my stripes. those middle schoolers went home thinking i was cool, and i went home feeling a little queezy.

so i ate some week-old pizza, cold, and i didn't get sick. (i was making sure it was safe before telling everyone else at the church to help themselves).

at some point last night, i got a little bored... so i walked to the grocery store. it gave me some time to reflect on how FAR from africa i am.

1. there are no fences. everyone has big welcoming front yards, unencumbered by walls topped with broken glass. there are also no guards. you can look directly into most neighbors windows, and that's okay.

2. there is grass and it's pretty. in africa, grass is considered a messy yard. my guard was constantly pulling up my grass. granted, grass can look messy when you cut it with a machete. no machetes here.

3. there are street lights.

4. despite all the comforts of the outdoors... the safety, the grass, the lighting... everyone shuts themselves up inside. no one is out on the streets talking to each other. def not africa.

5. no one stares at me or sings the whitey "yovo" song.

6. the grocery store... ooooh, the grocery store! i don't even know where to start on that one. luckily, my grocery store is a smaller "express" version, so i don't get TOO overwhelmed.

7. lots of cars. no motorcycles. less pollution. more trees. no beach. fireflies.

i'm still far from all my close friends, though. peeps here are super friendly, but i know it will take 6 months to a year before i have any really intimate friendships, and that's kinda sad. but do-able.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

dc by storm

last thursday 29 9th graders, 5 adults and i all made our way to our nation's capitol via the overnight train. a little "urban adventure" of sorts. all 35 of us crammed into a youth hostel, toured the holocaust museum (after hearing a survivor describe his experiences the night before), rode a bus to the national cathedral (that was an experience... you try cramming 35 peeps onto a city bus during rush hour on a friday!), and then ate at the very chic "marrakesh" moroccan restaurant... complete with belly dancing... which the kids joined in on. of course.
the following day, we split up into 4 groups and sent the kids on a scavenger hunt... where they had to find various points of interest using only a map and public transportation. the boys started off "surfing" in the metro, thinking it was fun to be thrown around... but later were too cool for such childish games. i gotta say, i was impressed. the kids mastered the maps and metro, they walked for miles, the saw tons... they even protested in front of the white house. (that's one of my kids behind the bush mask). all in all, it was an extremely exhausting but very awesome 48hr trip!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

where it's at: american healthcare

i know there's a lot of hullabaloo about health care in the US, but i have to say i had the most pleasant, efficient, even surreal experience at the doc's office yesterday.

i hadn't been to the dr. in over a year (except for that little ekg back in benin), so it was time for a full physical, etc. i was reminded of the need for a dr's visit when my chest started hurting on monday--oh, not that again...

so i called up a medical office and got an appointment the very next morning. amazing!

once there, i was struck by the cleanliness of the building. and the privacy! no need to strip down in front of random non-medical peeps here! (as opposed to benin). my new doc handled all possible medical needs quickly and thoroughly. she even gave me an ekg right there in my room, which was a lot less scary than the last one.

then she (the doc) sent me over to do some labs and x-rays... and by "over" i don't mean across town... but across the hall! wow!

while i was waiting for my labs (like, all of 5 minutes) i noticed a woman come into the waiting room to check on the plants. live plants. she was checking the health of the leaves, watering them, dusting them... i mean, what is this place? with professional plant care-takers!?!

some peeps (or plants) don't know how good they have it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

almost perfect camping

just about every year, graham and i go camping. this takes quite a bit of coordination, since neither of us have lived in the same state for 5 years now, but we all make time for what we think is important. we've camped the beaches of maryland, the mountains of virginia and north georgia, and now we can add north carolina to the mix.

after getting some advice, maps and books from my new favorite outdoors store (it's local) we decided the 2.5 hour drive to horsepasture river (which runs through gorges state park and nantahala national forest) was a bit far, but do-able. we had plenty to catch up on anyway.

typically, our camping trips, though awesome, have been marked by some kind of drama. usually in the form of rain... once with the added fun of a sand storm. but this time everything was just so beautiful and easy! our gear was ready, the weather was perfect, our pace was good, the sites were well worth the trek. there are 5 falls along horsepasture river, of which we saw two. turtleback falls is about 1.4 miles in from the trail head. it's easy to see why it's called turtleback, with a short round slide that provides a 15-foot drop (depending on where you start) for those brave enough to go over the edge. this would be an easy spot for a day trip-and-dip. rainbow falls is just 0.2 miles further, with a 125-foot drop. there's a swimming hole at the base, which also looked like fun... but we hiked on, leaving everyone else behind. really, i don't think we ran into anyone past rainbow falls (till the next morning). about 2 miles in, we decided to swim. it was a lot like goshen, va (my favorite swimming spot in the world) and the water was surprisingly warm for a mountain hike. we hiked on some more, thinking we might make it to the 3rd cascade, when we stumbled upon the best camp site ever. the ground was flat and clear, logs were placed as benches around a campfire spot, fire wood had been gathered and left behind... it was almost eerie. a stream about 10-yards away was great for washing up and collecting water. so we stopped, unloaded and set up camp in no time. when has it ever been this easy?!? we feasted on couscous, tuna and chicken noodle soup for dinner. we made a fire. we talked, told ghost stories, got a little scared, told jokes, laughed, and went to bed tired. pretty much perfect.

graham was slow getting up the next morning, so i chilled out on a log for a long time, which is the kind of thing i like to do. once he got up, we went for a swim and stretched out like lizards on rocks. graham wasn't feeling well at all, and it didn't look like he'd be feeling better any time soon, so we packed up to hike out. on our way out, we saw lots of people enjoying the various water holes and slides. this looks to be a popular spot in the summer. about 2/3 of the way out, we threw down our packs and sat on the side of the trail. graham waited for hikers to walk past before vomiting directly onto the trail. so much for perfect camping. miraculously, the vomit soaked right into the ground, totally unnoticeable in less than 2 minutes. in typical boot-and-rally fashion, we loaded up again and didn't stop walking till we got to the car. i drove home, graham rested... and continued to rest till he could drive home the following day. being sick sucks, but being sick while you travel sucks a little more.

still, it was an awesome weekend, and a great way to christen the mountains of north carolina, of which i hope to see a lot more.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

hello south

after a month of US travels and adventures (college reunion, texas family, preakness race, awesome baseball, lots of coffee, tea and conversation)... i've picked up my roots and moved back down south. and by south i mean--i have a huge magnolia tree in my front yard and even the gas stations are closed on sundays.

i still have no car, and i'm in no rush to get one, as i can walk or bike to most places. that's awesome.

i have no tv or internet at home, and i think that will remain the case as well. it's nice to disconnect at times.

my house is huge, and it took me an hour to sweep and mop just the upstairs last night. tonight i'll tackle the downstairs.

don't let my evening cleaning escapades deceive you... i do have a bit of a social life gaining momentum daily. it's a small world.

work is too cool. i wear flip flops every day!!

i'm may go back to school this fall (nothing major) at a seminary down the road, still in walking distance.

the ymca (in biking distance) is huge and cheap and even has dry cleaning services.

there are 2 libraries in walking distance, as well as a grocery store, bank and pizza place.

people couldn't be friendlier.

lets hope something crazy happens soon so my blog will be interesting again!

Friday, May 23, 2008

mission (pretty much) accomplished

i just had a taste of benin right here in the good ole us of a.

last night i took the train down to dc to catch up with some peeps in our nation's capitol. it was a great cast of characters... melissa (friend from benin) and her boyfriend pedro, lily (old roommate), laurel (one of the previously inseparable b'more foursome... till we all left b'more), skye (college buddy), rhett (friend from benin), brian (old work buddy) and various innocent bystanders.

we met up at ghana cafe, which serves up some okay fufu (starchy mush) and a mean peanut sauce, among other things. they also have a good west africa music selection... all on the computer so you can pick your own songs... and i hear it's quite the place to be for live african music on weekends.

while people, food, and conversation were definitely the point of the trip and worth every moment... the kicker came later in the evening.

first off, rhett and i dusted off our salsa shoes (flip-flops in my case) and made our debut on the latino scene. i will say that the salsa here is quite different from africa, and i, for one, was a bit intimidated. but we danced, and i think we held our own. i actually danced with a couple latino men as well, and one of them (a kind old man) told me i danced well, and that he hoped to dance with me again... THEN he turned to rhett and gave him the thumbs up. ooooh, just like old times. why do peeps always assume two whities in a salsa club must be together?

next, we flagged a cab. and as soon as we started moving, the cab driver began to speak on the phone in what sounded like a familiar african language. i smiled at rhett as he asked, "is that yoruba or igbo?" "yoruba!" said the cabby. an excited conversation ensued about benin and nigeria. the cabby then asked, "are you two married?" he didn't seem to understand when rhett laughed and said, "no... but we would be if i loved Jesus." he gave us his congratulations, though neither of us is sure why.

so, yeah. good friends, starchy mush, salsa and yoruba all in one night. benin's not so far away.

Monday, May 19, 2008

sooo not what i expected

i felt kinda down friday night, which was ridiculous considering the very full day i'd spent catching up with friends. breakfast with lorraine, coffee with carolyn, lunch with laurel, dress shopping with christina and kim, going to the movies... not what you'd call a slow day. but still, i was feeling blue, and i was surprised when i figured out why.

i miss being the center of attention.

if you know me well, you're probably like, "what? that's sounds totally lauren-esque! what's the surprise?" for sure, i've always loved the spotlight. but i did get sick of the kind of attention one receives for being the only white person around. i was tired of being a spectacle in my own neighborhood in benin. and i used to think that the US was pretty well integrated in terms of racial diversity... but now i just look around and see white people everywhere! and i seem to blend in with them all. bummer.

so i know it's unreasonable, but i'm just being honest... i miss being the "ethnic" one in the room. now i'm just melba.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

i look just like buddy holly

a storm blew through lubbock right as mom and i were about to fly back to charm city... so we're stranded till tomorrow. lucky for us, the illustrious buddy holly memorial statue is situated right next to our hotel. score. in case you were wondering what's so special about lubbock, now you know... buddy holly.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

where's lau?

in texas...

visiting family...

too busy to blog.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

first impressions

i've been back in the US about a week now. i don't really feel like i've moved back, since i've done nothing but visit old stomping grounds. i won't actually move anywhere for a few more weeks, which allows me to suspend reality just a bit longer. right now the weirdest things i notice are the fact that my clothes are in the dryer instead of hanging on a line... that i can heat up my tea water in the microwave... that i can plug my computer into any electrical socket without worrying about sizzles and pops. and i really like to drive.

the two biggest changes concerning my closest friends are these: erin and brian have a son named keegan, and christina and andy are engaged to be married. both very exciting things.

this is my first real face-to-face time with keegan, my first sort-of nephew. we'd skyped a few times while i was in africa, but nothing makes up for the smell and feel of holding a baby. we're going to be best friends. though i'll admit, since i missed most of erin's pregnancy, it seems more like keegan just showed up... not like he was birthed by one of my best friends. the stork brought him.

then there's christina and andy... who have been dating since i introduced them about 4 years ago. i cried when she told the story of how andy asked her to be his wife. she cries every time she tells it. the three of us spent the weekend in lex for our college reunion.

before heading to lex, christina took me to her stylist in b'more... seeing as i hadn't cut my hair in over a year. wearing dresses and letting my hair down... that's culture shock.