Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Litany of God's Deeds

In the spirit of praising God, allow me to post a (partial) list of great things God has done in my life. It being Valentine's Day, this is also my love letter to God, more or less.

1. Unlike some people, I had awesome parents, who loved me.

2. They gave me the best possible religious upbringing, with both the sacraments and the focus on truth from the Catholic Church, and the community and focus on personal relationship with Jesus from the Charismatics.

3. He gave me my friend Kathryn.

4. I got to live with my grandfather for two years, so that I had the chance to get to know him well before he died. I also got to know other relatives better, while living in the beautiful city of Seattle.

5. God gave me Ken.

6. He healed my dog Saddle.

7. I got a good education - both at the private high school I went to, and for my bachelor's in college.

8. I had a beautiful wedding, that came together, despite my personal ineptitude at planning, in a beautiful way. (The church still had the Easter flowers everywhere - a particularly nice wedding present from God.)

9. God gave me Kyrie. And I got to share the experience of my first pregnancy at the same time as Kathryn went through hers. Thank you for that, God.

10. He gave me Elijah.

11. He gave me Savi.

12. He called us out to the Pacific Northwest again, and arranged a home for us here in the suburb of Portland. Only God could have arranged our blind leap into one of the few well-kept, pleasant, and affordable apartments in this neighborhood of crappy complexes. And just to make it particularly clear that this was where God wanted us to be, when I walked into the local parish for the first time, half a continent away from where I had spent most of my life, the priest greeted me by name before I had the chance to introduce myself1.

13. Through a set of crazy coincidences2, God hooked me up with friends here in my new home.

14. He led me to the charismatic prayer group at my parish. During one Life in the Spirit Seminar, I felt God telling me, "Look around. I give you these people."

15. He gave me Gabe.

16. My nausea with Gabe's pregnancy was worse than usual. Someone in the prayer group got a word for me, that God wanted me to sleep more. I started sleeping in, and my nausea decreased dramatically.

17. With guidance from the book Waking the Dead and from my prayer group, I began to learn how to hear what God is telling me. His guidance in even little things has been invaluable.

18. When I asked God if he wanted me to have an epidural with Gabe's birth, He healed me of a painful childhood memory that was inhibiting me from enduring physical pain. Then he gave me a sense of freedom at the thought of not having an epidural, and pointed me at some Bible passages about the pain of birth leading to glory. And then he made Gabe's birth a quick, interesting, and relatively easy one.

19. A person in the prayer group with a gift for discerning others' gifts informed me that I had the gift of understanding, which has greatly enriched my life and given me something to contribute to the group.

20. During a time when my husband was unemployed, God taught me how to trust that He would take care of us, and gave me repeated encouragements to help me do this.

21. He gave me Julie.

22. He gave Ken his current job.

23. When we visited Minneapolis, and Elijah left his backpack on the light rail, we got Pooh Bear back.

24. There's so many little things God has done in my life, and the overall effect of many of them is that I am slowly - ever so slowly - becoming a little bit more disciplined and growing in virtue. (I think; this might be an illusion brought on by not being pregnant for over a year.)

25. He gave me Mary to be my mother.

1. Turns out he was the guy who had taught my 7th grade science class, back in the Twin Cities. It took me 5 minutes of talking with him before I finally placed his voice and figured out that I hadn't recognized him because he'd grown a beard.

2. My brother Ben went to college in Texas with a girl named Hilary who has a sister named Ursula who lives in the Portland area. Through that, I met up with Ursula once, but I did not have a vehicle at the time to get together any more. Months later, a woman named Faith saw a comment I had posted on a blog, and we started chatting. At a gathering at her parents' house in Salem (I had a van by now), I met Faith's friend Sia, who invited me to a Moms & Tots gathering in Portland. I was pleasantly shocked to discover the gathering was at Ursula's house. I brought with me a book that Ben had borrowed from Hilary.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why You Need To Praise God

An imaginary reader1 writes in, asking the following question in reference to my post about thriving:
When you are talking about prayer, what do you mean by "praise & adoration"?
Good question!

1. The Most Important Prayer

Praise and adoration is the most important way to pray.

Yes, I see you rolling your eyes. Miss Biddle down the street told you that if only everyone prayed the Rosary we would have bunnies everywhere, and your Baptist neighbor Mr. Hill sternly informs you that the only prayer that matters is the Salvation Prayer where you first accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

You have a million people telling you that their favorite way to pray is the absolute best way to pray in the whole bleeping world.

But I'm right.

Because Jesus said so.

Our Father in Matthew 6
Our Father in Luke 11
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive
everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.

This is Jesus' carefully crafted masterpiece on prayer. Its short-and-sweet appearance is just the icing on a very deep cake. For today, what you need to know is that these phrases are arranged from the most important to the least important2.

And what's right at the top?

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

That is praise and adoration.

2. How do you DO praise and adoration?

Mostly, you do it by doing it.

You can start with thanking him. Thank Him for creating the world, thank him for not making you shovel snow out of the driveway yesterday. Especially remember to thank him for answered prayers. It's like thanking your aunt Hilda for the $50 in your birthday card, so that there will be another $50 next year.

Or, you know, if you've achieved higher levels of sanctity than I have, you might just thank him because you're purely grateful, without any hint of self-serving-ness about it.

Move on to telling him how mind-blowingly amazing he is. Pull out a thesaurus, make a list, get ideas from the Bible3, steal lyrics from praise songssing praise songs. If you run out of words and are just sitting there being in awe of Him, awesome.

Lifting your hands also fits in with that whole "incarnational theology" thing that some people are into.4

3. But what about ...?

...But what if I don't feel any of these things? Isn't that lying?

Do you only make your kid say "Sorry for slapping you upside the head and then kneeing you in the groin" if he feels sorry? If so, you're a jerk and you're doing it wrong. Mature, decent adults say "thank you" for a present they don't want, because the gift-giver deserves the thanks, even if they suck at picking out presents.5 God deserves your praise, whether you feel like giving it to him or not.

...But isn't it vain or self-serving of God to ask for praise?

No. It's vain and self-serving if we ask for ridiculous amounts of praise, because we aren't that awesome and we don't deserve it. He is, and He does.

And we probably get more benefit from it than he does, anyhow.

...But I feel so awkward about it!

Yeah, cause all of the greatest things in life - sex, marriage, friends, kids, work - they all go incredibly smoothly right from the start.

Oh wait, no they don't.

They're all as awkward as bleep when you first get started. That's life. The only way to get over the awkwardness is to keep doing it until it gets easier.

...But how long and how often do I need to do this?

The Our Father is a daily prayer, so "every day" is a good bet for how often. Jesus does not, however, say how long you have to do it for, so let's not set too many rules about it. If you need some sort of guideline to get you started, I'd guess I spend about 5-10 minutes of my prayer time on this, most days. (On an occasional bad day, all I have time for is a quick, "I love you, God". And there's probably people out there who praise God for 30 minutes straight, so maybe I'm doing it wrong.)

1. I'm not letting the lack of a reader who actually asked me that question get in the way of me answering it. ;)

2. "The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of prayers. . . . In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired." [CCC, quoting Aquinas] If you are not fully convinced by this Our-Father argument, consider also that when Jesus was asked what the most important thing to do was, his answer was basically "love God with all your being". (see Matthew 22:37 and Luke 10:27). There are many ways to show love for God (serving people, studying the Bible, etc.), but the most direct way to show your love for God in prayer is to tell Him (with words or without) that you love Him and how great He is. This is the essence of praise and adoration.

3. Some places to start: Psalms 98, 100, 113, 117, 146, 147, and 150. Acts 13: 16-39, Ephesians 1:3-10, Hebrews 7:26, Rev 4, and Rev 15.

4. See 1 Tim 2:8 and Nehemiah 8:6.  The latter also mentions praying with your face to the ground before the Lord... if you haven't tried that, you should.

5. I find the fake it till you make it principle applies here, too. If I don't "feel" it, saying it anyway goes a long ways towards getting me to feel it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

First, See What You Can Do With What You Have

That's the other big theme of my life right now - besides Mountain Climbing.

Here's a bunch of examples.

1. Camera

I mentioned before that I will need a better camera to take really quality photos, but I did the 30-Day Photo Challenge to see what I could do with the camera I had.

2. Clothes

In a video-chat with my sister, she complained that I was wearing a man's flannel top. I explained that I had two blouses that umm... fail to go all the way to my jeans in the back; two sleeveless tops that were too cold for winter; and one other top that I had worn the day before. I have only 3 jeans I can wear in public, and 3 skirts, two of which will not fit me at the same time. We agreed that if she ever wins it big with all those lottery tickets that she never buys, she'll get me a new wardrobe.

I need to catch up with Ken.

Until then, I am learning what I can do with what I have. For instance... one cute sweater1 solves the too-cold and too-short blouse issues 2.

3. House

I dream of getting a house, and we will be looking into the possibility of buying one later this year, but in the meantime, I have been learning what can be done with the space we got, by getting rid of the clutter, arranging things nicely, and generally trying to make the apartment a more pleasant place to live.

My latest obsession. Doesn't it just scream "home" to you?

4. Writing

I sense, too, that God has future plans for both my blog and for whatever book-writing I do, but that for now, I'm in the phase of learning and experimenting to find out what works best.

5. Gifts

I often have gift ideas in mind for people, but ever since I became an adult, I've generally been too poor to act on them. This year, I felt God leading me to buy my dad a gift on Epiphany. I think this betokens a dawning age in which I participate in this foreign ritual that other people do... but for now I still can't go crazy with it.

Dad got a Kindle version of this. I'm not quite sure how my copy got so abused.

6. Skin Care

I mentioned I was working on taking care of my skin. After finishing off the bottle of vanilla lotion that I loved, I was frustrated by my lack of funds to buy more. Then it occurred to me that I should see what I could do with the lotion I already had. Turned out I had another four or five bottles of lotions, which nicely lasted me until I had could buy more last Friday.

I don't think I'll use the baby oil again, except as last resort.

7. Phone

I've been lusting after an iPhone lately, despite the fact that I really don't need one. I decided that if I ever want to be a serious cell phone owner, I should start by seeing what I can do with the little prepaid cell that I have. Things like...
  • Charging it each night instead of waiting a week for it to die.
  • Not putting it in the same pocket with my watch that will scratch it.
  • Getting in the habit of silencing it at appropriate times, and then remembering to turn it back on.
  • Actually, like, maybe using it some of the time.3
I put a sticker on it to tell it apart from Ken's identical phone.

(I also saw a version of this clip about appreciating the awesomeness of limited technology, which made a very good point.)

8. Bible

The various Bibles I had been using have been falling apart for ages. When Ken started RCIA, I bought him a new Bible, but didn't have enough money left at the time to buy myself one too. His was so pretty and the translation was so much better than the one I had been reading from 4, that I really wanted my own pretty Bible. I kept finding my money needing to go towards other things, however. When I got frustrated and prayed about it, I felt God's answer was essentially to see what I could do with what I had. So I started reading from Ken's. It turns out, reading from a Bible that's not "mine" forces me to practice being extra careful with it. So my next Bible, down the road, might not get destroyed so quickly as my past ones.

Plus, his is just awesomeness layered on awesomeness.

So what about you? Is God telling you to see what you can do with what you have, before moving on to a better version?

1. Ever so slightly like this one.

2. Other bits of learned wisdom: When cleaning with bleach, the professional thing to do is change into grunge clothes, to preserve the nice ones. And qhite patches in umm... protruding areas of a shirt, wink wink... get grubby faster than colored patches elsewhere.

3. Because I am one of the 5 remaining people on the planet with a home phone, the prepaid cell phone doesn't get much use.

4. Even though they were both St. Joseph Edition NABs. Two or three times, though, I would look up a passage on biblos.com to get a feel for the Greek, and find that the phrasing in the old NAB was distinctly lacking in nuance, but that the new 2nd-edition NAB that I bought Ken had captured it perfectly.

Friday, February 3, 2012

She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes

I used Jen's Saint Generator to pick a patron saint for this year, since last year's saint1 had seemed appropriate enough.

Woe is me.

I got St. Bernard of Menthon, patron saint of mountain climbers and other things that sound like mountain climbers.

Alpinists; Mountain Climbers; Mountaineers; Skiers; Travellers in the Mountains

This began my landslide into the terrible, horrifying world of getting lots of things done.

Of course, on account of this Urban Ranger thing, I thought St. Bernard's patronage would be quite appropriate for my walking efforts.

Little did I know just how appropriate.

It soon became clear that God had more in mind than just encouraging me to walk more. References upon references piled in about certain topics. Left and right, I would come across things that struck me in that particular HELLO. THIS IS THE HOLY SPIRIT. CAN YOU HEAR ME? HELLO? way. God gave me more and more to do, and I started to wonder if he was a little insane for thinking I could do this all. More than one friend suggested that the things I was doing were preparing me for greater things, and I thought,"Greater things? You mean there could be more?! Oh bleep!"

And then it would occur to me that what seemed to me to be impossibly difficult might actually be things that a normal person would consider the bare minimum of a healthy lifestyle. They might, in fact, be more equivalent to taking a 5-mile walk down straight and easy city streets, and not so equivalent to scaling the Alps, St. Bernard-style. Ah well. Such is life.

Here are some of my mountain-climbing, or not-so-mountain-climbing, efforts.

1. Cleaning

I've actually been trying to "intensely" work on cleaning my apartment for the better part of the last year, I think. And by "intense", I mean I was aiming to get in an hour of cleaning every day. And by "aiming" I mean that I was lucky if I got in an hour each week. Despite this utter failure of discipline on my part, my attempts did somehow manage to achieve minuscule forward progress instead of the steady backwards getting-a-bit-dirtier-every-day that had been the norm before. Over many months, this minuscule progress actually added up, and after Ken steam-cleaned the carpet before Christmas, I started to think that maybe the place could be mostly clean2. It certainly wasn't clean, and still isn't, but it at least has reached the general vicinity where I could at least imagine it being clean.

One thing I started just recently was washing Julie's hands and face off nearly every time that I take her down from the table. It always feels like such a chore, but then I end up not having as many little peanut-butter smears on my jeans and the furniture, so it really helps.

If I don't feel like carrying her to the sink to wash her off, she can just nap there!

2. Exercising

As I was cleaning out old papers last year, there was this one little scrap of paper that I just could NOT throw away.

This was it. I'm pretty sure I had papers a lot older than 2003 in that stack.

More than once I stood there, holding it in my hand, telling myself that I was an idiot for not throwing it away. It didn't have anything important on it. Why would I possibly keep this paper? And yet, as my brain was screaming at my hand to toss it, my hand just kept adding it back in the pile.

It was like a scene from Bodysnatchers. That's the one where people's bodies get taken over, right? I don't know; I don't watch horror movies.

When I ran again into the 14 minutes of any kind of exercise concept, I thought of the scrap of paper, and thought, "oh. Maybe I should, you know, do that."

So I started dancing. Right that moment in front of my computer. No, I'm kidding. I started dancing in the morning for about 14 minutes. After St. Bernard showed up, I tried to make this "most" days instead of once or twice a week3.

3. Eating Fruits & Veggies

Or drinking them. See, it did not escape my notice that that scrap of paper also said "Vitamin B" on it. And the cuticle on my right pinky finger has been missing for some months now, which googled websites inform me may be related to vitamin deficiencies.

And then I ran into this Juicing 101 post. So I started making juices.

Mostly fruit-and-spinach juices.

I've also discovered that I like steamed carrots with butter and salt, steamed broccoli with parmesan, and spinach in various forms. Did you know it's basically impossible to get too many vitamins from fruits and veggies?

4. Taking Care of My Skin

People always tell you to put lotion on after you shower. I tried that a couple times, and gave up. Putting lotion on your whole body takes for. ev. er. Especially when you, um... have as much body to cover as I do. But the thought kept bothering me, and I was taking a lot of showers on account of all that dancing, so I decided to give this another go. After a week or two, I was surprised to notice that my skin was softer.

Seriously, who gets surprised by that?

Here's a couple points I discovered along the way:

  • It takes a lot less time to put on lotion if you do it fast. (It's amazing how dumb that sounds when I type it out. But it was a discovery for me how much less tedious it was when I just slathered it on as fast as I could.)
  • Lotioning your legs is a lot easier if you keep them shaved4.

My skin-care regimen. The facial routine is a recent addition too. That Paula's Choice BHA has noticeably improved the little-tiny-red-acne on my forehead.

Now if I could just de-frizz my hair, I might look halfway cute. I plan on working on that, too.

5. Writing

God keeps giving me commands hints about how to be a better writer, and apparently I'm supposed to actually write a book. Not only that, but he seems to be insisting I make a better blog, too. Specifically by (a) taking better photos and (b) being funnier5. That was why I did the 30 Day Photo Challenge, and hopefully I'll be able to keep including good pics in my blog posts. Although I'm frankly confident that I will shortly fall flat on my face in that regard, too. It's just a matter of time. Only God can do something about that. Hear that, God? It's all up to you, buddy.

As for being funny, if you can't tell that I was aiming for humor in this blog post, then I've clearly failed. In which case, you should tell me so, so that I can make it better. I will drown in bitter anguish at my loss of self-esteem and I will hate you forever, but it will all be worth it because it. will. make. my. blog. better.

And 20 years from now, Gayle will finally find out whether the young man comes back or not6.

6. Working on my Marriage

This one first came to my attention when I noticed that I was more or less attempting every single one of the items on Jen's list except "Put special effort into your marriage." I thought, huh, you know, maybe it's not the best idea to go around neglecting the love of my life and ignoring the one person who means more to me than anyone short of God. So when I came across a Romance Challenge by Betty Beguiles (her tweet conveniently pointed out when to start it so that it would end on Valentine's), I said, "Sign me up." Today's challenge involves "date night", which is ironic, because Ken has to work late tonight, and I don't know when he'll be home. But whenever he does, there will be date night.

I'm pretty sure I've had this since we were married 9 years and 10 months ago, and I never put photos in it.  That will all change on Day 6 of the Romance Challenge.

1. St. Teresa of Avila, patron against headaches and against the death of parents, patron of people in need of grace and of people ridiculed for their piety. And patron of lacemakers. Not all of these apply to me.

2. With the exception of my bedroom.

3. Right now I'm on a two-week hiatus because my foot started to hurt after one morning of trying to dance tippy-toe-like. I made a few feeble attempts to substitute push-ups and crunches and squatting in the place of dancing, but that kept petering out. I hope be able to go back to dancing by next Monday, though.

4. I'm also grateful to LMLD for pointing out that if you shave your legs often, you don't have to be careful about it.

5. When I read Cracked.com every day, I'm not addicted, it's just research into how to be funny and make a poignant point at the same time. Really. I could drop it any time. Really. Why won't you believe me, anonymous reader? 

6. So as not to make this an inside joke that no one understands except Gayle, let me point out that she is a friend from my prayer group, and after reading my short story about Agatha and the Young Man, she twice came up to ask me whether the young man in the story came back to Mass or not. Since I hadn't continued writing the story yet when she asked, I said I didn't know. Her little question has been a major impetus inspiring me to keep writing the story. When I say God wants me to write a book, that's the one I'm working on.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Simple Guide To a Camera's Manual Mode

Part 1.
Why should you go beyond auto mode?

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Avoid red-eye.

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Get more natural coloring.

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Avoid shiny reflections messing with your photos.

(No equivalent)

Take cool time-delay photos.

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Take photos in situations that auto mode just can't handle.

Part 2.
How To Use Manual Mode

A) Know the Three Basic Settings You Can Change In Manual Mode.

Aperture determines the range over which objects show up in focus. These numbers have an "f" in front of them, like f3.2 or f22. Use low f-stops (like f3.2) for close-ups, but for landscapes, use high f-stops1. For this purpose, "close-up" basically means everything in the same room as you, unless you're in a giant hotel party room or something. If you were at a football game and wanted both the guy right next to you and the player 50 feet away to be in focus, you would use as high of an f-stop as you could. To get a blurred background, you set the f-stop low.

Shutter Speed determines how long your shutter stays open for. These numbers usually show up as a fraction of a second, like 1/8 or 1/1000. My camera will go as high as 16 seconds2. You want fast speeds to take a sharp, clear photo of a moving object, aka a wriggly child. You want a slow shutter speed (1/8 is slow, whole seconds are very slow) to take one of those "long exposure" shots or if you're in a really low-light situation, like the snow at night. The slower your speed is, the more important it is that the camera be held still, or else everything ends up blurred. I find that right around 1/30 to 1/20, I reach the limit of my hands to hold still. Anything slower than that, and I have to find a stable surface to set the camera on. (Like, say, a tripod. Oh that's right, I don't own one. A number of my photos would be better quality if I did.)

ISO is just about light. A higher ISO will make a brighter picture; if there's lots of light in the surroundings, it may be too bright. And if your ISO is too high, there is a risk of making the picture grainy, although I only ran into this problem once or twice during the 30 Day Photo Challenge.

B) Have An Order to Set Them In.

It helps a lot to have a default order that you set those three settings in. Different people use different orders, and that's fine. Here's mine:

1. ISO. I set this first. 1600 for in my dim apartment, because that's as high as the ISO goes on my camera. 200 for outside on a cloudy day in the Pacific Northwest during winter. I'll probably use 64 for a bright summer day.

2. Aperture. Since I'm usually taking indoor shots of the kids, I tend to leave this on the lowest setting it will go, which is usually f2.8, but sometimes f3.2 or f3.6 if I've zoomed in. If I go outside and want to take a picture of something farther away than, say, the length of a room, I will ratchet this up to f8.0 (which is as high as my camera goes).

3. Shutter Speed. Now, since I have wriggly kids, ideally I would set this to 1/125 or lower/faster. However, since I also have a not-very-well-lit apartment and limited ISO, those settings can be relied on to give me some very dark pictures. At this step, I use this amazing thing called a light meter3, which gives me a number ranging from maybe -7 to +7, to tell me how much light is hitting the camera right then. The idea is to aim for the light to be as close to 0 as you can get it4. So this step consists of me aiming the camera, and then setting the shutter speed as low as I can get it without making the light meter drop below the general vicinity of 0 to -1. This usually puts my shutter speeds at about 1/40 to 1/30, which means I have to get the kids to hold still, or else they may blur.

There's a ghost in the room.

C) More Random Advice.

  • Take lots of experimental photos to get a feel for your camera. 
  • It's ok to pose your subject material to get a better photo. Having something worth taking a photo of matters as much as, if not more than, how well you take the photo. 
  • "Scene" modes can be a very useful middle step between full-auto and full-manual mode. The snow-at-night photo above was taken in "night landscape" mode, because it was way too cold for me to take the time to fiddle around with the manual settings.

*For more reading on how I came to figure out enough to write this post, check out the 30 Day Photo Challenge that I did with my daughter.

1. A lower f-stop number actually means a larger aperture which means a smaller field of focus, in case you want the confusing version of how low numbers = close-ups.

2. Which is displayed as 16".

3. It's not something you buy separately. It's a feature on the camera. If your camera has manual mode, I'm guessing it also has a light meter somewhere. Mine just displays the number (which flickers as I point the camera around different spots); some cameras may display the light meter as a number bar with a marker that moves along it?

4. Some photographers find that they have a preference for lighter or darker photos, and will aim for the light meter to read whatever their preference is. You can experiment to find your tastes. If you're a beginner, just start with aiming for 0.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 30: Self-Portrait

In the 30 Day Photo Challenge series ...



Frankly, these are probably worse portraits than the ones we did on the first day of the challenge. But that's what happens when you're too busy celebrating a little girl's ninth birthday to take additional photos.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Day 29: Black & White

In the 30 Day Photo Challenge series ...



She picked up her first pair of glasses yesterday.

I learned that my camera does not have a black-and-white option, and I learned how to make it black and white on my computer.