aquarium costumeIn general, children – particularly the things they say – are some of my favorite things. I love watching them think about an idea for the very first time, then come up with something to say about it. It’s like getting to watch the first reaction, every time.

So, children on Halloween are a special treat. Our elementary school hosts trunk-or-treat. Trunk-or-treat is where all the children dress up in their Halloween costumes and walk from car-to-car to receive candy from the teachers, who are also dressed up (and who happen to decorate their cars. I was Snow White, and my car was supposed to look like a castle). IMG_6291No child is more excited about school than on Halloween. Some are shy about their beautiful adornments. Others are bolder, walking quickly and holding their head high, excited to show off. And every child is thrilled at the prospect of receiving CANDY. Loads and loads of candy.

The childlike wonder that fills Halloween is lost somewhat as adults. You learn you can buy your own candy and store it on your shelf if you wish, eating it whenever you like rather than relying on the one time generosity of strangers. Rarely do you wear a giant ball gown or cover your face with itchy, sweaty paint. Carving a pumpkin often seems like a messy chore rather than an exciting adventure.

I still love Halloween. I probably always will. But my heart sinks a little when I see the creativity of Halloween wasted on slutty costume after slutty costume. Instead of remembering a childhood when they chose costumes that brought themselves joy rather than grabbing for empty attention, girls trot themselves out in everyday outfits that are shrunk down three sizes and reveal more skin than personality. A sailor, a fireman, a nurse… I’ve never seen these professionals wearing so little. And I don’t understand how, by shrinking the clothes down, they are suddenly a desirable costume. Why don’t all the women just go out in their underwear?

creative-halloween-costumes-2012-rock-paper-scissorsI don’t mean to offend all of those intelligent women out there who find themselves inexplicably clothed in a slutty costume on Halloween. I understand it seems to be the only option available. I just hope to broaden your minds and bring hope by saying that instead of a) rejecting costumes entirely, or b) succumbing to the pressure of the stores, if you put just a little thought into it, I believe you can come up with a costume that will get you far more attention and conversation, because it will show your unique personality rather than your generic cleavage. What would you rather be known for, anyway? (I think I read that idea somewhere, and I liked it. I apologize that I can’t remember where it’s from so I could honor the source). I am also not saying that all skimpy costumes are slutty. There are many tasteful, sleek costumes which I love, so I’m not negating the option of showing off your beautiful body through a smart, witty costume.

I like to see the creativity. I continue to be a huge fan of Halloween, I think it is really fun, BUT… my favorite are the children AND the truly ingenious costumes. It’s not every night you can wear your wit on your sleeve… literally.

At trunk or treat, one of the moms dressed up. I’m not sure why. She wore a skin tight, pleather, “slutty police officer” outfit. I think all of the teachers noticed her in the same moment. I was watching her, saddened, when I heard a small voice next to me, “Look at her!” said the pretty princess, dressed from head-to-toe in pink. “She’s Catwoman! I’ll bet her dad [husband] is Batman.” Good save, sweet little princess. That mommy meant to be Catwoman, probably. Someone independent and fierce and capable, not reliant on attention or affirmation of the weaker people around her. I agreed.

The day before trunk-or-treat, I worked at the preschool. I asked all the children what they would be for Halloween. I received the usual responses: all the girls would be fairies or butterflies or princesses. Although one extremely cute girl looked at me with her endearing, impish grin and said, “I’m gonna be a witch,” and her dimples shone as she said the last word. Heart. Melted.

All the boys would be Batman or Spiderman or Superman, with little variation. So I asked the boys, “Can a girl be Spiderman?”

Two of the three boys gave me a quick, adamant, “Noooo,” shaking their heads in refusal. The third boy looked at me concentrating, but said nothing. “Why can’t girls be Spiderman?” I pressed.

“Because,” one of the original responders continued, “Spiderman is for boys.” This was what I expected.

Finally, the third boy spoke up. “She could be Spider-woman,” he offered. “She would be pink.”

spiderwomanThank you, little one, for beginning to respect women. She might have to wear pink in your book, and to be fair, most girls around you are. But, she can be Spider-woman if she likes. She’s strong. She’s noble. She’s beautiful. And she’s wearing clothes that fit.

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Our future selves only get to see each other a few times a year. We are used to it now, having built a long distance friendship ever since she left for college. I was 17, she was 18. We talk on the phone every chance we get. We chat online all day at work. We’ve been friends for so long. I’m not sure when we went from being “friends” to “best friends,” but we probably transitioned sometime between when she brought her new puppy to Sunday school (we saw that puppy live a full, sweet life) and when I had a sleepover at her house the night before my sister was born (my sister is now almost 17). Our conversations feel as comfortable as a favorite pair of pajamas. “Did you notice pumpkin spice lattes are back?” “Did you hear that new song, ‘Royals’?” “How’s your brother’s wife?” “What do you think of the crisis in Syria?” “Would you ever move out of California?” We can cover any topic from boyfriends to the federal budget and back again without skipping a beat.

weddingGetting to see each other is the icing on the cake. We usually comment on how comfortable it is not to need to catch up. We fall easily back into conversation, talking about my friends having babies and her recent work trips. We laugh about the clothes we try on.

We buy sandwiches at Sprouts and take them to the beach. I eat roast beef, she eats chicken salad. We watch the waves roll in and out. The sound is loud, even for the smallest swells, and we talk about the power of the ocean. We can’t get over the fact that we live in a place where such beauty is so close. She tells a story about her lunches this week. She works at Pepperdine University, and if she has time she tries to take her lunch down to the shore. However, she realized this week that even sitting on the beach, she sometimes takes for granted where she is, what she’s experiencing. It’s an incredible place.

wayne's worldOne wave splashes up near our feet, so we glance around to see if it was a rogue wave or if the tide is actually rising and if the other sun-seekers decide to move for higher ground. That’s when we see them: our future selves.

They are pulling their red blanket back several feet. One is brunette, the other is blonde, and both shades conceal what would be graying heads. Their wrinkles tell of more laughing than frowning. They settle themselves down, bottoms on the blanket, bare feet in the sand. They each open their lunchboxes. One untucks the Bible from under her arm.

We glance briefly at them. Then we look again, longer this time. It’s not every day you get to see your future.

tumblr_lutro664rA1qdaeyxThey play a fun and unskilled game of Frisbee. One toss lands on our heads, which we’ve covered with T-shirts to prevent a sunburn (of course we forgot sunblock). The blonde laughs sheepishly as she retrieves the frisbee. “Sorry,” she says, “I didn’t realize how close we were.” We laugh good-naturedly in response. We understand completely.

girlfriendsThey put their feet in the water. They laugh, as we do, at a grown man who appears in full wetsuit and proceeds to frolic in the waves, all by himself.

We have to leave before they do. Our eyes meet and we smile across the years. I wonder if they see themselves in us the way we see ourselves in them. It was the most beautiful telescope I’ve peered through in a while.comic

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I am a Wildebeest

If I were an animal from the African savanna, I would probably be a wildebeest.

This isn’t the game from 3rd grade, “if you could be any animal, what would you be and why?” No… that is an entirely different game. That’s a great game. IMG_5377(Let’s play that one for a second. If I could be any animal on the savanna, I would be an elephant. They’re big and strong, basically without predators. They live up to sixty years, and they roll in families so someone always has their (broad) backs. Alert: they have trunks! If that wasn’t enough, they are incredibly intelligent. They celebrate births and mourn their dead, returning to the grave site for years. They can run, swim, and eat whatever they want, because why not? They’re elephants. I would definitely choose elephant.)

No no, when I say I would be a wildebeest, it’s from the game of, “if God was not merciful and had chosen to make you an animal dependent on instinct and physical prowess to survive, what would you be and why?” I would be a wildebeest. Let me explain.

IMG_5095First, there aren’t just hundreds of them, there are millions. The African plains are crawling with wildebeest. I have rarely seen a million of something, and looking across the landscape was staggering. lion and wildebeestNever again will I cry watching national geographic when a lion takes down a wildebeest. You’ll find me standing up and cheering like it’s the Super Bowl, “Yeah! C’mon, champ! You can do it! Get ‘em!” Now I know: wildebeest are a dime a dozen. Lions are scarce and skilled. There are approximately 100 wildebeest to every one lion, judging by my own highly sophisticated estimation. So I’m rooting for the lion every chance I get.

Second, wildebeest are not very smart. They will run a certain distance, then quickly forget why they are running, even when being chased. They follow each other. “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it?” If you were a wildebeest you definitely would, no questions asked.

IMG_5100To make matters worse, wildebeest are both ugly and not very fast. Have you looked a wildebeest in the eye? It’s like someone with a twisted sense of humor decided to cross a cow with a warthog, then dipped it in mud and gave it puny little legs. The baby ones are even uglier.

Finally, I would most certainly be a wildebeest because they cannot see nor hear very well. IMG_5234Because they can’t tell when a predator is coming, they have to rely on the zebra to know when to run. Apparently the only thing that sticks out on those grasslands are the zebras black and white stripes.

Yes. *Sigh.* I would be a wildebeest.

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The road from Nairobi to Masaai Mara

Masaai Mara is one of those places you should visit before you die. More than just a regular “should,” like, you should eat an entire package of oreos just once. This should actually happen. However, you might make it the thirty something hours from Los Angeles to Nairobi only to stop because you’re convinced you won’t survive the seven hour drive. But that’s not true. You’ll make it, along with the dozens of other tourists, and your life will forever be changed. Especially when you get to the lookout for the Great Rift Valley, and you hear James Earl Jones telling you about the land of your inheritance.

IMG_5029I want to talk about the road. We had a larger-than-average driver. Immense. Not fat, don’t get the wrong impression. Just a large man, like a mountain. His voice was low, rumbling like a storm in the distance. His name was Martin. He didn’t seem fazed by anything.

Martin wasn’t fazed by our safari vans, which looked like this:IMG_5062

Vans which, in my opinion, looked neither like four-wheel-drive vehicles nor like satisfactory shields against a charging rhino (which Martin told us he saw once. It probably didn’t faze him, although he said he was afraid, I think just to make us feel less like wimps). The non-existent shocks did nothing when we went from the “road,” which was dirt, to the “unpaved road,” which was rocky, dusty dirt. “Close your windows,” Martin called out, just before we hit the unpaved road. The vans driving in the opposite direction kicked up such a thick cloud of white dust that when we drove through, we couldn’t see inches in front of our windshield. I have never lived in fog, but I could imagine a thick fog felt something like that dust. Martin wasn’t fazed.

We drove with the windows rolled up for an hour. Then over an hour. It began to grow hot. Then hotter. I could see the sweat dripping off Martin’s forehead. Occasionally he brushed it away, as nonchalantly as someone brushing a crumb from his lip. We were all sweating profusely. It seemed like the threat of dust clouds had passed an hour ago, and still we rode on in our hotbox. Finally, one of our British companions spoke up from the rear of the van.

“Martin,” she inquired, with the politeness organic to the British above any other peoples of the world, “Might we roll the windows down now?”

“Oh yes,” he replied, with the accommodating tone found only in the Kenyans, who would apparently wait an eternity for you to voice an opinion and wouldn’t think to suggest their own, even if it is something as practical as rolling down a window, for fear of offending you. “Yes, of course. Roll down the windows.” Instant relief.

IMG_5074Martin probably would have rolled down the windows during the dust clouds if we’d suggested it. He would’ve kept them up forever without our desires. My first experience with hot and cold climate cultural differences. I wondered for a minute how anyone ever got anything done, but I didn’t have much time to consider this idea. We were in Masaai Mara, and there were animals to be seen.

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Wildebeest Eco Camp, Nairobi, Kenya

kenya.mapNairobi: hot topic today, in light of the terrorist attack in a mall where my husband and I shopped for shoes just a few weeks ago.  But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about how much we enjoyed the city, sans terrorist attacks (which I sadly remind you, could happen anywhere). We enjoyed Nairobi, particularly our one, brief night at Wildebeest Eco Camp. Even though we did not get a warm shower, not even close.

We landed at approximately 12:30am, which is typical for travelers coming from North America. We had flown through Washington D.C., Brussels (a painfully boring airport), and Rwanda, in order to get to Nairobi a mere 39 hours after leaving home. kenyaOur driver was waiting for us outside the terminal, something that we rarely experienced traveling in South or Central America (where if it is too late at night or your driver needed a snack, he would leave you stranded). Filled with the adrenaline of landing somewhere new and so utterly foreign, we barely felt the exhaustion which threatened to pour into the cracks in our travel-worn bodies.

Our driver took us immediately to Wildebeest Eco Camp. Of course, our arrival and drive were in complete darkness. I kept peering out the windows like a kid peeking into a Christmas present. Oh how I wanted to catch my first glimpse of East Africa! It was only of billboards and other lit signs.

Wildebeest is off a main road, but in the darkness it seemed like we were headed into the middle of nowhere. When the guard opened the gate and the porter greeted us, I could barely contain my excitement. He led us to our tented cabin. (Side note: I tried to explain a tented cabin to my grandma, and it was like explaining a coconut to an Eskimo. tentAnyway, it is what it sounds like: a sturdy, canvas tent that had windows and zips shut. It is set up permanently, with beds and a trash can, like a sparsely decorated cabin. Each bed has its own mosquito net. There may or may not be a rug on the wooden floor.) If you find yourself in Nairobi, even for 5 hours, I recommend this as a comfortable budget stay and somewhere that makes you feel like, “Wheeeeeee! I’m in Kenya!”

First we doused ourselves in insect repellant, then wiped our faces with the refreshing wipes every traveler learns to carry in her purse. After brushing our teeth with water we were apparently not supposed to touch with our fingers let alone put in our mouths (but remarkably, we turned out ok, like most children of the ’80’s), we fell asleep, our minds reaching with itching desire for the five hours of continuous sleep we hoped to get before leaving the next day. Peace.

In the morning, Justin walked the quarter mile from our tent to the showers to take his icy morning shower. spiderOn the way, a mosquito gave him a giant bit, his only bite in Kenya. I stayed cuddled under my thin layer of dirt, which I believe shielded me from the insects, the contaminated water, everything. The giant spider guarding the path lamp outside our front flap, proudly sitting in his throne of a web, was enough to keep me inside.

The sun barely peeked over the horizon as we left Wildebeest Eco Camp. Rarely do I get to see the muted shades of the early morning, bed-lover that I am. It looked like the entire world is coming into focus. playgroundWe could see the outline of play equipment and other tents as we pulled our suitcases out the front flap. I imagined the happy campers, resting blissfully before another day exploring Nairobi (as long as the rumble of our wheels along the stones didn’t wake them). It took hardly any imagination to picture the swings swaying to and fro, squeaking and whining from the children who just abandoned them so they could run to their next adventure. I hoped the families brave enough to take their young children on such an outstanding adventure appreciated the thoughtful touch of play equipment at the eco camp. wildebeest eco campThe air was chilly, much more so than I expected of East Africa (which I believed, probably stereotypically, to be universally hot). orchidThe orchids bloomed in the trees, bravely standing up to the dawn, proclaiming they can be exquisite even in just-off-grey shades of light. I made Justin take a picture of them just to capture the light, and perhaps the moment, of our first morning in Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa, other side of the globe.

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First day of school

classroomIt’s the first day of preschool. I walk into the room, baby bath toys under my arm, ready to teach the shining new students an important lesson: body parts. We are more than just a sum of our parts, true, but it makes things complicated when you can’t say something like, “My nose itches” or “my foot hurts.” Enter the speech language pathologist for a special education preschool classroom.

I see them, sitting in a semi-circle around what the teacher calls the “Captain’s chair.” She graciously offers me the seat of honor. Before I can even sit down, one of the young pupils is out of his seat.

“Moons!” He exclaims. “You have moons in your ears!” He points to my ears. One body part down.

waning crescent Moon lI reach up to feel my ears. Sure enough, I’m wearing my hanging crescent earrings. I suppose they do resemble moons. I thank him for what I assumed was a compliment. He sits back down, pleased.

I begin a simple round of “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” One student sings with particular gusto. His eyes bright, his hands moving to match mine, he shouts out the bridge, “and eyes and ears and mouth and nose!”

After the song, when my back is turned, he reaches out to wipe his fingers on my arm. I turn around to find him smelling his fingers, fresh with whatever my scent is. He looks up at me, grinning. Apparently my arm met with his approval. Another body part down.

We bathe the baby. I instruct the children to wash the baby’s hands, feet, ears. Then, I tell them to wash her eyes. “Ouch!” I surprise them. “There’s soap in her eye!” They stop what they are doing to stare at me. “What should we do?” I ask, probing for their fledgling problem-solving skills.

One student looks alarmed. “We should take her to the dentist!” He responds quickly. I smile. Of course! The dentist will help get the soap out of her eye. “Maybe we should try to rinse it out first,” I suggest. He agrees.

Baby-bath-toy-bathe-goods-toys-storage-rack-frog-image-multifunctonal-lovely-new-baby-1pcs-lotWhat a day. We finish washing and drying our baby. I think, for the most part, the day was successful. If you count ten little children winning over my heart a success. I love my job.

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Validate with a response

eleanorOk, here goes… I have opinions. This is probably no shocker to you if you know me and/or read my writing. One of my favorite pastimes is to learn about new things and form opinions on them. I’m not saying my opinion is always best or right, it’s just mine and I like it. I love hearing your opinion too. I’m open to changing my mind, or tweaking my opinion in light of new information. At the very least I like learning a different point of view. I feel most opinions are valid based on the aggregate knowledge and experiences of the person who formed them. As your experiences and knowledge changes, your opinions may change. You grow.

I think my love of opinions is why I love the entertainment industry; I find it a fascinating fertilizer for opinion creation (the same goes for food). On one hand, I feel a bit sheepish to watch others boldly create something, anything, and put it on public display, when all we do, as the collective, is create opinions about it. It’s brave and admirable regardless of the quality (just like any endeavors in the kitchen that require heating elements and more than 20 minutes).

So I understand my opinion only counts for so much… it’s a lot easier to critique someone else than it is to do something unique for yourself. And it takes a lot of knowledge and experience on the subject to give truly valuable criticism. If I was ever gifted or determined enough to enter my creativity into the public forum, I would hope, above all else, to make others think. And I pray I would possess the wisdom to ignore thoughtless comments and the spine to stand up to the opinions of others when they valid, thoughtful, yet differ from my own. The experience they lend would help me grow, I hope.

I realize not every artistic creator’s end goal is to inspire deeper thought. Some artists bow to their art form and are more of a conduit for pure genius: things happen inside their brains – colors, sounds, words – and they simply pass the insight on to everyone else because they can’t not. It takes dogged determination and a lot of hard work to make this happen. We either love or hate an artist like this because, as someone once said, “He articulated through the piece what I always thought but could never put into words.” Their work stirs up strong responses, accolades and criticism alike, because it is substantial. True art changes people, artist and audience. To those who execute this process, I have immeasurable respect.

Other performers are crap. Let’s call it like it is everyone. They know the right people and happened to be at the right place at the right time. They don’t try that hard – we can tell, because their product is terrible. Might I also offer this: there is a difference between mindless and downright bad. We’ve all halfheartedly completed an assignment at some point in our lives. These performers just made a public career out of it. Not everyone can be good at what they do. Yet somehow, we all eat what they slap together. There is something to be said about their mass popularity. Either we are brainwashed to think this is “good,” like McDonald’s, or we just don’t care whether it’s good or not. We are, collectively, as thoughtless and lazy as they are. Maybe they’ve hit on something that we don’t realize: most critics out there will accept anything, maybe complain a little, but then scarf it down. And for the performer, they get to rake in the rewards of an audience who doesn’t demand more.

Still other creatives may have had a glimmer of talent, and then became so greedy or starstruck they lose their aim and instead became obsessed with money or lifestyle.

With that introduction, I’d like to say that I read My friend recommended it, saying, “It’s soooo good.” A friend I respect. Now, interestingly, this project went viral and has drummed up quite a bit of feedback. I proceeded to read the feedback, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I have decided to dignify “FortyDays” with a response of my own.

Pros: The creatives are already designers, so the project was visually appealing. I liked that. Some people didn’t. They said it made the project feel contrived, which is valid. However, I’m not too concerned with whether or not the project was contrived. I don’t believe the content was the shining feature. There were three things that I highly appreciated.

1) The daily updates. It reminded me how Charles Dickens was a serial novelist at the start. Many now-famous authors had their beginnings in this style of writing. It’s engaging and exciting. Why do you think television became popular? I appreciated this installment style.

2) The medium. The authors used a blog, which is a sort of cheap publishing. Their story cumulatively became a short novel. One of the feedbacks I read said FortyDays has “redefined the modern, digital novel.” I agree wholeheartedly. I applaud the creators for their creative genius in essentially inventing a new style of art. I do not call this genius lightly. I am eager to see how it shapes future novels. Remember when the novel was invented? People criticized that too.

3) The side-by-side dialogue. This approach, particularly since the main topic was their relationship, was beautiful. It was delightful to have each of their voices parallel (literally) yet together, telling the same story from different perspectives. Faulkner was adept at using these parallel narratives, and I love him too. I believe character insight is the strongest motivator for plot. As experiences change the character, and the character changes, they have new experiences. To hear from multiple perspectives only adds depth and intrigue. It acts as a powerful force on the reader. Applause.

Cons: now for criticism. Something about the project just doesn’t sit right. I knew from the start I would be reading something shallow about love and dating, so that didn’t concern me. Unfortunately, the content of the story suffered from the sickness of many other mediocre stories: stagnant characters. The characters begin as utterly neurotic and narcissistic. As much as they talk about change, they don’t, in any direction, except for maybe their neurosis balloon into an all-encompassing view of themselves.

Woody Allen hit upon neurotic narcissistic change, and successfully executed this plotline on various occasions. However, in FortyDays, the authors wrote about themselves, completely and loquaciously, only to become tedious. How are people meant to move when they are belly-button gazers, with their eyes forever turned inward? I suppose I can’t fault them for not moving; they weren’t looking for anywhere to go. By the end, I was not wondering, “Do they stay together?” I was bored with them both and didn’t care what happened. I felt completely removed from the cyclical drama, because it lacked a driving force that would cause it to enfold. Who doesn’t love “love” or find the search for romance fascinating? Who wouldn’t want to connect to this story? But when it becomes neurotic, needy, and unmoving, there is no longer a character to cheer for and I feel an urgent desire to finish up and walk away.

As I said, character development is the keystone for plot development and engaging an audience. Even with a pleasing premise, without change, there’s nothing to keep an audience coming back for more. Yet I am disappointed to say I understand the popularity of the story. Many people can relate. They do not change, and they are not seeking an impetus for change. They live an uninspired life, and do not take the time to notice the similarities between the media they take in and their own existence.

I’m not claiming to be inspired. I’m saying that I seek change. In all this opinion-forming, rethinking, implementing, I hope that I do not stay stagnant. I wish to be the river, at the very least a stream that trickles forward. Sometimes swirling, sometimes lingering, but always moving. Not sure how that would happen if I was always focused on myself. Time to turn our eyes outward. Observe more. Seek more. Demand more. Enjoy more. Live more.


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