Morning thought

I woke up to answer a text. A friend wishing me a great time on my journey to China. I responded:

“Thanks! Things are starting to fall into place. Or become unraveled. One of those two.”

I put the phone down, continued to lie in bed, and thought:

Or both.

I think that’s closer to the truth.

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My bus ride home from work last week.

Why I love John Scott

John Scott is a hockey player. He made it to the NHL by working hard and adapting his play. He’s worked with what he’s been given (which is a lot, admittedly), and accepted who he is and how he’s been treated throughout his bumpy career. He didn’t get mad (at least in public) about what was happening to him – when he was bounced from team-to-team; when people voted him an All-Star as a joke; when he won that vote and was promptly traded; when he was demoted to the minor leagues; when the NHL told him to not accept the nomination and just go away. He rolled with the punches the whole time – ironic, given his reputation as a fighter in the NHL – took it one step at a time, not knowing how it all would end.

No one could have predicted this end.

His whole hockey career was a risk and a dream. He took a gamble trying to be in the NHL in the first place. He was never one of the better players trying to make it, considered too big and slow to go far. An engineering grad from Michigan Tech, Scott always felt that he would simply be “sitting in an office at GM back in sleepy Ontario, in my suit, and happy as hell about it” when he was done with school. But one day he had the chance to try to become a professional athlete, and he took it. Put the security of a cubicle aside, and gave it his all.

Scott worked hard in the minors before getting the call to be in the NHL. He changed his style of play from stay-at-home defenseman to goon (“I embraced [the role], because it was my way forward, not because it was my nature”). This role both helped him carve out a niche in the NHL and position himself as a player never to be taken seriously. So people didn’t, and it was because of this that fans decided to mock the popular vote and choose him to play in the All-Star game. Fans chose Scott to be an All-Star because, well, he wasn’t one. He was a guy who, since 2009, moved from Minnesota to Chicago to New York (NYC, then Buffalo) to San Jose to Phoenix so he could play the game. He’s scored five goals in six seasons. On the ice, he was a fighter, not a lover, and not a scorer.  Throughout the All-Star voting process, Scott knew who he was. He knew he wasn’t an All-Star – at least not in the commonly thought of sense of the word.

Then John Scott became an All-Star. He won the popular vote, which meant he was to become the Captain of the Pacific Division team. Then he wasn’t an All-Star, because he was traded to Montreal, then demoted to the minors, and thus to Newfoundland. John Scott was an All-Star with no team – not even a place in the NHL. The League Commissioner even said he didn’t belong.

But John Scott is an All-Star. He continued to capture the hearts of the public not by asking for pity, but by simply not giving up. He took each day as it came, seeing each moment and taking every breath. He reverted back to his original self – the gentle giant – and eventually the NHL let him go to Nashville to lead his team.

Then John Scott became an All Star. He scored two goals in the elimination game, contributing to the upset of the Central Division. The public behind him once again, voted him the MVP of the tournament. His teammates carried his 6’8” self on their shoulders to celebrate (photo credit).

John Scott

Now, Scott has reported to Newfoundland. He may never play another game in the NHL. Soon, he may take an engineering job where he sits in a cubicle and be “happy as hell about it.” His fifteen minutes of fame has come and gone.

John Scott is still an All-Star.

Singing Oregon (#5)

Note: It’s my goal to karaoke in all 50 states. I’ve done 20 so far, and although Oregon was the 5th state in which I ever sang, I am reflecting on a time that happened just last weekend. Because, you know, I karaoke all the time here.

The Facebook notification intrigued me: “Julie posted a video on your time line.” Since I was on my phone, I didn’t look right away, waiting until I got to a computer to see what it was. I saw the video was of me, singing “It’s Raining Men” at her birthday party. I clicked “play.” The first thing I heard was me singing off key, and I cringed. I actually couldn’t listen to the whole thing the first time around. I debated on taking it down; I didn’t need anyone else hearing that. Only three people “liked” it, so I placated myself to the idea that not many were seeing it and, if they were, not many were actually playing it all the way through.

I felt embarrassed. I thought I was a better singer than that. I had other data in the form of compliments from both friends and random strangers that leads me to believe I have a decent singing voice. The voice in my head sounds pretty darn good, too. But listening to this video made me think differently: reassess how I feel about singing. It didn’t feel right, but at the same time, how can one argue with evidence?

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I sort of thought I sounded more like these lovely ladies. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

After a while, I got up enough courage and played it again. I swore I would let it go the whole way through. Again I felt uncomfortable – why is it that we tend to sound so much better in our heads than in reality? – but powered through, fighting all desires to stop it.

And during that time, I took a deep breath and really listened.

I heard people having fun.

There’s dancing, singing, laughing, shouting, cheering.

Those are the important sounds – not my flat belting of the strong notes, or throat-dominant chorus. I still gritted my teeth and winced a little (OK, a lot) as I listened to the whole thing, but try to see through the imperfections and focus on what really mattered. That night, a bunch of people gathered together to celebrate a birthday. We crammed into a room and sang, and laughed, and had a great time. There were Jello shots and cupcakes. People had a good time when I sang, and they didn’t just sit back but they participated in the joy. And, while I was up there, I was having a great time too.

keep calm and karaoke

 

I am still not happy with what I hear, and I probably will never listen to the video again. But I am doing my best to look beyond it and refocus my energies on what karaoke is about. I am not at all critical when others sing – I enjoy lovely off-key renditions of so many songs sung from the heart. Yet, here I am, feeling embarrassed by what others heard from me. I recognize the hypocrisy here, and I will try to be more forgiving of myself. Karaoke is entertainment, not because of the quality of the vocals, but because it brings people together. One giant sing-a-long.

Someday, I’ll be able to apply the message I give to others to myself as well.

You can read very different posts about singing in WyomingPennsylvania and New Jersey too.

I took the day off (almost)

I strongly considered not posting today, yet here I am. Blogging every day is definitely challenging;  I anticipated it would be, and as the month wears on I come to the realization that I don’t think I could write every day. At least not in this manner. Perhaps if there was a goal, a specific project I had instead of a more free-floating target, things would be different. Nevertheless, I appreciate what this exercise is teaching me about writing, inspiration, and myself.

I almost didn’t post today because I take commitments very seriously. While overall I am proud of this trait, there are some times where I take it to an odd extreme. Take the promise to blog every day as an example: Who did I make this promise to? Me. And if I don’t feel like writing one day, who am I letting down? No one, because I am listening to myself — the self of today — that is requesting a break. Past self will understand and my desire for perfection will have to get over it. In fact, I think it’s a good idea for me to practice striving for not-perfection, to get used to the idea that if something doesn’t actually happen, more often than not it’s OK. I know the difference between important things and unimportant things. I know myself enough to know that I will follow through on the important things. The less crucial stuff can slide now and then. I say that, but I’m not really sure how much I mean it.

Meanwhile, I laugh at myself because essentially I am writing about not writing, and how it might be good for me to not write. But I feel good writing these words, so it’s all good in the end.

Maybe I’ll play hooky tomorrow. It’s nice to know I can — and will — give myself that option.

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These people know how to take a break: Samgeori Park, Cheonan, South Korea.

Reading, writing, and cooking

For years, my mother and father have insisted on no presents for Christmas. I try to abide by this, and for the most part I am successful (every once in a while, I sneak in a small gift when I see something that resonates – a photo, or book – when I simply can’t resist). Instead, I donate money in their name to a cause that I believe reflects their values. For many years, I donated to the Oregon Humane Society in my old dog’s name since that’s where we found each other. My parents also met their most recent dog when he was found wandering the roads by their former country vet.  My brother and sister-in-law found their dog at the pound. We are a family of rescuers.

Lately, however, I’ve been donating to local classrooms through Donors Choose; my parents have always encouraged educational pursuits, so it only seems fitting. Oregon has some of the worst educational outcomes in the country, despite high levels of spending, so perhaps giving money to classrooms here seems like a somewhat a foolish decision. Still, I comb over the wish lists of 100s of teachers across the state – most asks revolve around technology. While I agree that classroom tech can result in better learning and better preparation for the workforce, I find I am not really drawn to those requests. I instead give to those asking in order to provide materials for less fundamental educational needs: Not math, but art; not tablets, but science equipment that allows students to mimic the analyses they see on countless crime shows. I want to support student learning in ways that foster connection in themselves and the world around them.

Last year, I gave money to a rural classroom teacher so she could buy cooking supplies for her middle-school students. In her request, she stated how her kids lack the basic skills needed to make a meal, and how the school no longer supports this sort of learning (does any school now, I wonder?). While I never learned how to cook in school – pretty much figuring it out through reading, watching, and trial and (lots of) error – I see cooking as a skill that should be taught. Cooking meals improves nutrition and eating habits and therefore overall health. It can even help with math skills when the need for doubling or halving a recipe arises; I’ve never seen a recipe without fractions.

Cooking slows a person down and allows them to focus on the now, and the people they are with. Preparing a meal can bring a young person closer to their family or culture, or help them learn about others. When people cook together, it requires communication and coordination. A home-cooked meal shows love, whether it is made for a large family or just one. When I sit with a meal I have made, I feel less alone.

When I was younger, I had the reputation for being a horrible cook. I’m not sure where that came from – possibly because I was such a tomboy, or perhaps I went to great lengths to place that label on myself, finding it a source of pride for whatever rebellious adolescent reason. Maybe I didn’t want to try to cook because I was afraid of failure. It’s taken a while, but I am less concerned with the idea of something not turning out right now. Yes, there are some great cooking and (especially) baking disasters,  but I’ve learned that oftentimes a culinary mishap can be salvaged. And, even if it can’t, the process itself proves to be relaxing and enjoyable to the point where I can actually say, “I like to cook.”

What I tend to eat for breakfast/lunch and sometimes dinner too, if we don't go out.

What I cooked for myself in Korea; I bet it will be a staple during Portland winters.

A few days ago, Dave and I tried our hand at jackfruit carnitas. A friend of his had made them a couple of weeks ago, and he thought they were great; websites touted that this vegan option was indistinguishable from the “real thing.” For some reason, he advertised our experimentation on social media and a friend, who is an excellent cook, wanted to taste the results; the invite was given.

I followed the recipe almost exactly, and even consulted with a friend who is known to put together excellent meals to make sure the spice combination sounded right. Seven hours in the slow cooker, and the result was bland. In a knee-jerk reaction to fix things, I added too much chili powder, which created a paradoxical spicy-boredom. We warned our soon-to-arrive guests of the preliminary results. They didn’t care and I believed them. When they got to our house, the cook came in, tasted the concoction, and simply stated “needs salt.” One quick fix and things turned out well (his amazing contributions of ceviche and caipirinhas made for an amazing meal).

I wonder if school cooking classes can incorporate lessons on failure. The practice of trying, the experience of things not working out, and the trouble-shooting of solutions; learning to adapt to an unexpected outcome. When we teach a young person how to cook, we teach them more life skills than simply providing sustenance.