Cheap: Clothing Confessions and How to Buy Better

Cheap. adjective. Relatively low in price; may describe an object that is worth little.

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“Where is that shirt from?”

This should be a simple question. It is not.

In high school, I hated being asked about my clothes’ origins. They were often thrift store finds, which was not hipster cool in my small town. “Oh, my mom found it somewhere,” was my default answer.

I don’t mind owning up to my thrift store duds now, or to the LOFT 40% off sale or the Gap clearance rack.

But recently, I’ve learned just how complex the answer to “Where is that shirt from?” could be. My t-shirt’s origin is much more than the store from which I purchased it.

I’ve been researching. And now, I can tell you that the cotton that makes up each fiber of your t-shirt was grown somewhere, likely Texas, maybe India or Uzbekistan. It was then shipped to a factory, spun into thread, and woven together into fabric. Another factory sliced the shape of sleeve and trunk. Those pieces were sewn together and ironed and packaged before they were shipped away for me to pluck from a pile.

Real people, in Vietnam and Bangladesh and China, helped.

I do not think about this process or these people when I scout bargains. Instead, I think about how much I’m paying. Most of the time, I wish it were less. Clothing companies know this. Consumers like me are one of the reasons that clothing prices are dropping, especially at retailers like Forever 21 and H&M. I’m not the only one snatching up camisoles for $1.99 or t-shirts for less than $10. Even I, with student loans and a teacher’s salary, can afford these! These prices seem too good to be true!

Mostly because they are.

There is a cost to all this cheap fashion.

It’s no secret that the quality of these bargains isn’t stellar. Take, for example, the Old Navy dress I snagged for $10 last spring. I loved it. I wore it nearly once a week. And now, less than 6 months later, it has not washed well. It’s pilling. The arm holes are sagging. It feels tired. I can already predict its fate: it will languish in my closet for a while, being worn less and less, before it gets tossed in the Goodwill bag. Its story is not unique. The average garment in a woman’s closet is worn just 7 times before it’s tossed. Seven. That number seems ridiculous, but if I think of how many times I wore that dress before it started fading, it doesn’t seem so outrageous.

Beyond causing me wardrobe angst, cheap fashion also has huge consequences for workers around the world. In the pursuit of lower and lower prices, most companies have moved their production overseas. Overseas labor isn’t all bad. It provides work to people in developing economies, and garment work is often one of the better options for people living in poverty. But shifting production overseas also removes many of the regulations companies must follow to protect workers. Nearly all companies claim to follow countries’ minimum wage laws, but those laws mean very little. Minimum wage is different from a living wage, where workers can meet all their needs with the wages they receive. For example, in New York, a sewing machine operator would make about $1660 per month. In China, it’s $147 per month. In Bangladesh, it’s a mere $43 per month. That means that $1.43 per day has to cover rent, food, and all other living costs. Bangladesh may be an inexpensive place to live, but it’s not that inexpensive .[i]

In addition to the terrible pay, garment factories are often less than pleasant places to work. Disasters like the Rana Plaza factory collapse are unsettling proof. In 2013, employees complained to management about cracks in the building’s structure. Soon after, the eight story building in Bangladesh collapsed. It killed 1,135 garment workers. [ii]

It’s hard to determine who is to blame. Factory owners may seem to be shirking their responsibility to their employees, and that’s certainly true in some cases. However, factory owners often feel powerless themselves. Fashion companies may demand that factories pay their workers more or update factories without increasing the prices they are willing to pay for goods. Other times, they ask for clothing to be produced on tighter and tighter deadlines, for cheaper and cheaper prices, leaving factory owners few alternatives than to work their employees for more hours or lose the job entirely.

The clothing we want, at the prices we expect, is hurting garment workers around the world.

So what do we do?

Great question.

The world economy and political sphere is complex. The more I learn, the more complications I see. Does decreasing the demand for cheap fashion hurt those same workers we want to protect? Is it better to support them, even when they’re getting ripped off, than to take our business away entirely? Do better working conditions mean that fewer jobs would be available overall? Is there any way to fix this issue, beyond eliminating greed on the parts of corporations and consumers?

I don’t have those answers.

But I do know a few things. I know that I, with all my Western dollars and sensibilities, cannot dictate how the world should work. It is not my job to say what the Bangladeshi government should set as its minimum wage, or to tell China what rights its workers should have. These are countries with cultures and economies and people much different from my own. And besides, it’s unlikely that I alone will convince even one clothing company, much less an entire country, to change the way it audits its factories or the prices it squeezes from its manufacturers.

On the other hand, I also know that a better way is possible. Proof? A bunch of college students were enraged by the conditions under which their campus t-shirts were produced. They convinced their campus stores to purchase from Alta Gracia, which is known for its humane work environment and the living wage it pays its workers.[iii] Another example: ABLE, formerly known as FashionABLE, is launching its AccountABLE campaign to actively publicize how its employees are treated, in every element from the safety of its factories to the wages and benefits employees receive.[iv] These are just a few of the companies who are committed to treating every person in their supply chain with dignity and humanity.

I also know that I have the power to consciously choose how I spend my dollars. It’s tempting to complain about being a poor, student loan-saddled teacher who can’t spend the money on sustainably sourced clothes. But that’s not true.

First, a reality check: I am not actually poor. Not in the slightest. I need nothing. Not food, not shelter, not even clothing. My closet is full of perfectly good outfits that are functional, and even sometimes attractive. I may want a flannel dress or a cozy cream sweater, but not obtaining them does not threaten my health, or even my true happiness.

Then, there’s the issue of my spontaneous (read: unnecessary) clothing purchases. I may consider myself a budget-conscious shopper, but a $16 sweater? Or a $10 tee? I’ll snag those with little hesitation. And those deals are often the items that get begin to look shabby after a few wears. Instead, I could save those dollars for purchases that are more purposeful, for both my closet and the world’s garment workers. Rather than nabbing the first cheap black dress that looks decent, being frustrated by its quality, then replacing it every spring from now until forever, I could be more intentional. I could consider the ethics of the company, the materials, and whether my investment will last longer than one season. This will take a little more care and a whole lot more self-control. But if my actions can help create a more sustainable supply chain, and a better wardrobe to boot, it seems worth it.

Will I ever again set foot in an H&M? Yes. Will I ever buy clothes that are not fair trade certified? Yes. But will I also do my very best to be a responsible consumer, who truly understands where my t-shirt came from? Yes.

 

P.S. Want to join me in supporting sustainable clothing companies? Check out a big ol’ list of my favorite resources here.

 

 

 

[i] Overdressed – Elizabeth Cline

[ii] The True Cost documentary

[iii] Overdressed – Elizabeth Cline

[iv] That Sounds Fun with Annie Downs podcast Episode 57 – Barrett Ward and FashionABLE

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Adulting: 8 Tips for Graduates

Adulting. verb. “To behave like an adult; to do things that adults regularly have to do.”

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Photo by Megan Sugden Photography.

Dear Andrew (and other graduates),

Welcome to the real world. I’m still not sure how you got here.

When I graduated from high school, you were a pipsqueak with chubby cheeks and shaggy hair and a propensity to laugh until you cried.

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You still laugh until you cry, and until recently, you had even longer, shaggier hair. But you also look like a sort-of adult, and you run faster than I can, and you stay up later than any of us. You’ll wear a mortarboard on Saturday, and the women in our family will cry, and you’ll be so glad to be done.

Then the fun begins.

Henceforth you must be an adult, or at least pretend to be one. Adults have to do hard things. For example, they must get out of bed even if no one forces them to do so. They must ensure that they eat, because no one else will buy bread when it runs out. They must do the laundry, at some point, maybe. Target will tell you which hangers to buy, and your advisors will tell you what classes to take. But only your oldest sister can tell you this – the random list of advice that you will probably never read (but definitely should. Oldest sisters always know best.)

  1. Learn how to cook at least one thing well. You will sometimes be asked to bring food to events. Or, perhaps, you might someday want to wow someone with some nice home cookin’. (Guys – girls are really, really impressed by men who can cook.) Have at least one recipe that you know won’t embarrass you. (If you really are hopeless, Ghiradelli brownie mix works miracles.)

 

  1. Track your spending. You really need to. I didn’t do this until after college, and I wish I would have started sooner. Seeing cold, hard numbers and realizing exactly where you throw your hard-earned cash is sobering.

 

  1. Find a hobby that is not Netflix. Binge-watching is easy and entertaining. It is not fulfilling. You will be a happier (and more interesting) human being if you step away from the screen for a while and actively participate in something. Sing. Lift weights. Paint. Yarn-bomb trees in parks. Start a paintball league. Bring back planking. Take walks after dinner. Just do something.

 

  1. Meet deadlines. You don’t run the world (yet). That means that you need to respect other people – and their time. Showing up on time and meeting deadlines makes you seem mature, which is especially valuable if you aren’t so certain that’s true. It also saves you money. Let’s be honest – no one likes late fees.

 

  1. Do not begin a new relationship in your first semester of college. In your first few months in a new place, you need time to adjust. You need time to establish a solid friend group. You need time to let yourself change and adapt to your new surroundings. Don’t spend all of your time pursuing one person and neglecting the rest of your life. You need healthy balance and other healthy relationships to be ready to date someone, and trust me, it will take all of your energy to develop those in your first semester. Make yourself at home, then work on snagging that dreamboat.

 

  1. Remember your need for community and find it. We are not meant to meander through life alone. We need community. We need people to watch movies with on Friday nights, to laugh at dumb YouTube videos with, to sit in coffee shops with. Get out of your room, to events and churches and clubs and classes, and talk to people. Take the initiative and ask someone to grab dinner, or to attend a hall event with you, or to toss a Frisbee with you. You are not bothering them or wasting their time by asking them to spend time with you. People want to make friends, generally, and you are an interesting person who is worthy of being someone’s friend.

 

  1. Do not compare yourself to the Internet. Your life must amount to more than your Instagram feed or your number of Twitter followers. Otherwise, the most enjoyment you will get from a walk around the lake or a nice latte or a brunch with friends will be the likes you get on photos afterwards. That’s a piddly amount of enjoyment compared to the quiet thrill of being present in the moment and enjoying your life as it is, not as you want people to see it. And when you get snarky and jealous over the person who’s Instagram famous, remember: do not compare someone else’s public life to your private life. They don’t post the snapshots from the nights when they are convinced they’ll be single forever, or that time they failed a test, or that argument they just had with their girlfriend, or those times when they were so homesick they could cry. We are all human. We all have terrible days, and we all have good days. Filtered pictures do not change that.

 

  1. Know that everyone has one really terrible college semester. Mine was fall semester, freshman year. I didn’t feel like anyone truly knew me, or like I would ever find my place on that big college campus, or like I was any good at anything. I literally counted the days until I could go home at each college break, and I sobbed every time I had to return. But I kept showing up (I was paying tuition, after all), and tried to form deeper relationships, and gave myself grace. And like all terrible life seasons, it got better. If you’re going through one of the nasty seasons, you will not stay there forever. Things are not hopeless. Hang in there.

 

Many blessings to you, Andrew, and to all of those headed off on new adventures. May the transitions be smooth, the chances to do laundry for free be frequent, the backpacks light, and the memories stupendous.

Remember

Remember. verb. “To have in one’s mind an awareness of something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past.”

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Fall is here. The school routines have found us. I’m awake before the sun now, and I wear mascara every day. We fell easily into these rhythms. It feels like what we’d always done. (It is.)

Already, the easy breezy days of summer seem long gone. They were sweet, full of ordinary surprises. Sometimes I fear that I will forget them. The memories will disappear from my head, poof, like the definition of cosine and the way to fold a fitted sheet. So I write them down, just as I send myself reminder emails of online resources and copies to make. This is my to-do list: do not forget these moments.

I toted books to the park most days. I used to live minutes from the one with the lake. I brought lemonade and a blanket and, in the pages of a mystery, stopped fighting the quiet gift of rest. Teens playing Pokemon walked by, and I peeled back the layers of memory lying over the grass and walking trail: walking with the boy when our relationship was young, running long laps around the lake, eating sugar-laced beignets, following my brothers on rented bikes, paddleboarding at sunset.

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We slept outside on the dock one weekend. The air was clear and cool, and scattered stars kept us awake. We found constellations, and talked sleepily as sisters do, and listened in the pauses to the chatter of two teenage boys on a dock further down. We curled up under our sleeping bags and drifted off to the lullaby of shooting stars and waves against shore, the one composed just for us. I woke early, to bright sun and a lake shining like glass.

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We went sailing one afternoon, on the bowl of a lake. I sat near the bow, ducking as the boom swung and tripping over the keel every time we tacked. The boy sat in the stern calm and confident, framed by blue sky and blue lake and blue polo shirt. We’d talked of going sailing, just us, for years. When we finally did, I wanted to freeze time, bottle it, to return to sun and sweetness on lonely winter days.

We drank iced tea and ate tuna tacos at our favorite restaurant, up the shore on Lake Superior. When we were no longer hangry, we tripped down the steep shore, climbed rocks, skipped stones, snapped pictures. The water was clear enough to drink. Stones – heart-shaped, striped, perfectly round – loaded our fists, just as they did 17 years ago when we looked on the same shore together.

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I hold these moments as I look at the end-of-summer sunshine out the window. It reminds me there is still time left: time to go outside, to wander, to rest. So I strap on skis during our last lake weekend, even if the water is cold and the air colder. I bring my book to our tiny patio after school. I walk through parks, avoiding the geese headed south, on Sundays. The slow, sweet moments return. I won’t forget them.

Launch

Launch. verb. To send forth, to set in motion.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at my university’s Teacher Appreciation Dinner. It was an evening to celebrate and thank the cooperating teachers who helped launch student teachers into the education world. This is the speech I shared. As I step into my own classroom, I have never been more grateful for the mentoring I received from my cooperating teachers during student teaching. However, in the spirit of Teacher Appreciation Week, I want these words to go out to all teachers. You are all incredible individuals whose heart and perseverance matter, even when you don’t see it.

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Last summer, my younger sister visited the Johnson Space Center and brought me back a t-shirt. It says Mission Control Center. I will never work at NASA – there’s a reason I teach English – but if I did, this is where I would want to be. And in a way, I already am. To me, teachers are the Mission Control Centers of a classroom.

This is what the Mission Control Center does: The NASA website simply says, “Mission Control Gets Us Into Space.”

A real Mission Control center is a giant room, full of many different stations and computer monitors. Each has a different function. At NASA, they are lucky. There are individuals who man each station, each with a specific job. As teachers, it’s different. One person does everything. We are the ground controllers, who oversee activities. We are the data processors, who make meaning from test scores. We are the surgeons who monitor health – and hand out band-aids. We are the Public Affairs Officers, who give commentary on missions to concerned parents. We are the guidance navigation system that notices impending abort situations. (There have been a few of those in my classroom, I know.) And we are the flight directors, who make sure the overall procedures are safe and successful.

I recently started my first teaching job, working with 7th and 8th graders, and I am continually amazed by how many of those roles there are to fill – at the same time! Someone is bleeding while someone else has a question on how to start the assignment everyone else has finished while two kids in the back are plotting an alien invasion. It takes amazing skill to make the everyday classroom mission safe and successful.

And you, our cooperating teachers, have gone one step further.

You have been the Mission Control for us, the student teachers. You have launched us into the world of education.

I first realized the challenges of teaching as a third grader. I was playing teacher to my younger siblings, and I was almost immediately frustrated when I sat down to make a multiplication worksheet. My parents are both teachers, and I was amazed that they chose to do something like that every single day.

Fifteen years later, while student teaching with elementary ESL kiddos, I found myself in exactly the same spot. I was trying to teach kindergarteners, and I had spent what felt like hours planning for a fifteen minute lesson. I remember calling my mom and asking “Why is it so complicated to teach something so simple?”

You, our cooperating teachers, are the reason that we’ve pushed through those moments.

I was fortunate enough to work with two incredible cooperating teachers. My first one sharpens everyone around her, in the best way. She watched me teach a few lessons, and told me, “I could leave you alone and say you’re doing well, because you are. But I want to make you even better.” I learned to pace lessons “boom-boom-boom-boom,” as she would say, and it has helped me – and my students – thrive.

My second cooperating teacher is the kind of person who would run an entire marathon with someone, just to encourage that person. That’s not even a metaphor – she’s actually done that. She did that in the classroom for me as well. One day, early on in my placement, I left school feeling completely incompetent. Later that night, she sent me one of the most encouraging emails I have ever received. She made me feel more confident and like my ideas were valued. I’m lucky enough to be working down the hall from her now. When I pop in on a near-daily basis to ask questions, she still does.

I want to leave you with my favorite image of what mission control centers do. This footage is from when the Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars. This is what you, our cooperating teachers, do for us.

When I found a full-time teaching job after graduating in December, this is the kind of support I felt from the teachers I worked with. Our successes are celebrated like they are your own. And in a way, they are.

You’ve guided us. You’ve given up your prep times to go over our lesson plans. You’ve made extra copies of every assignment you do so we could start building our resources. You’ve written letters of recommendation. You’ve inspected us and made sure we’re ready.

Thank you for helping us fly.

 

 

Image from Sweetie187 via Flickr

Ditched

Ditched. verb. A word I made up for driving into the ditch. Not to be confused with being left behind on a social outing.

snowy road

‘Twas the day after a raging good blizzard. The wind was still howling, as it is wont to do on the prairies of northwest Minnesota.

The roads are fine when I drive the three miles to my grandparents’ house in the afternoon. When I leave later that night, I give travel conditions less than half a thought. It’s all of three miles. Roads should be fine, since this afternoon they were totally clear. Even though the wind has been whipping for six hours I shouldn’t run into any drifts, right?

Wrong-o.

I’m a mile from home, nearing the spot where the road is almost always drifted over. Even in June. I see one snowdrift, hit it, no a big deal. I might drive like a grandma, but I’ve got this. There are more ahead. Oh well. We’re already committed, Dora the Explorer and I. (Dora the Explorer is a car, for context. A Ford Explorer, if you were wondering.) So, like a good country girl, I gun it. Hold the steering wheel with loose control, go through a few, no problem, see that bump ahead and also see that I’m almost through, so go, go, steer a little to the left to avoid that biggggger tidal wave of snow and I’m bouncing and that one was harder than expected and almost there and a little more left and –

Ooooh – shhh – zmmm – vlumpt – whump.

My car has stopped. It’s still in drive. But we ain’t goin’ nowhere.

I throw it in reverse, just to see if miracles happen and I can get out the easy way. Nothing. Jesus does okay with water, I know, but he must be less experienced with snow. I leave it in reverse. (Whoops. Oh well, didn’t matter ‘cause we didn’t move anyway.) I call home. I tell my mom that I’m in the ditch and that this fair damsel needs rescuing. While I wait for the knights in shining…mittens? I assess the situation. Out the driver’s side window, snow is half-way up the door. It won’t open. I text my boyfriend a picture, forgetting that maybe he might freak out that his girlfriend is in a ditch, in the dark, and that she has not mentioned the state of the vehicle or the rescue plans. I decide to shimmy over the center console and out the passenger side door. I click the unlock button four times, because I am not getting locked out of the car that is still running after I just drove it in the ditch. The universe is not that cruel. I step out, and sink in snow up to my shin. Special. I don’t know why I got out of the car in the first place, actually. Examining my tracks will accomplish zero things. I’m not dumb enough to start walking home, because there’s a -25º wind chill. No exaggeration. The wind might be blowing express from the north pole.

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The phone photo. Should the boy have been worried?

I get back in the car and watch for the car lights from home. I’m so close that I can see my yard, half a mile away across the field. I check Instagram while I wait, because avoidance. Avoidance of thinking that well, this was stupid and how in the heck did I do this and why does it take so long for them to put on boots and come and get me?

Car lights leave our yard. The dad and the brother pull up and admire how I very clearly drove right off the road, in a straight, angling line. My dad points out that I did, at least, clear all of the drifts. The ditch just got in the way. We do not attempt pushing the car out, because we know a hopeless case when we see one. We drive home. I reassure the boyfriend that all is relatively fine. Except my pride, because I feel mighty foolish. I am supposed to be an independent country girl at heart who does not drive into ditches to avoid drifts.

My grandpa comes with his pickup. We go back out onto the frozen tundra with two shovels and a chain and more horsepower. My brother hands me an ice scraper. This is symbolic of my helpfulness in this entire process. They move a lot of snow. I, again, wonder what in the heck I was doing. The pickup, chained to the underside of the car, bucks all over the road, to no avail.

Time for plan B: the tractor. We drive to my grandparents’ to retrieve it. One hiccup: it doesn’t have lights. Oh, and it might not start. And it doesn’t have any heat. I thank my lucky stars that my grandpa has more sense than the rest of us and is wearing snow pants. And that he and my dad and my brother are nice to me.

Miracle of miracles, the old tractor lives. We drive, very slowly, behind it, our headlights blazing. No one in our ungainly procession drives off the road (except me, an hour earlier. But I had lights). The tractor plows straight through the troublesome drifts. The guys hook up the chain, and I try to helpfully hold the flashlight. The stars are nice tonight, at least. But my legs are popsicles. The car pops out. Halleluiah. It’s only been an hour and a half since I left my grandparents’ house.

It all works out. Everyone (and all vehicles) make it home. Not before I pray that, while driving my grandpa back to his house, I don’t lose control on the snowy parts and slide off the road. Again. And not before I contemplate for a nanosecond trying the drifted-in road again because there are tracks now! and I almost made it through one time! and OH MY GOSH, ANNA, ARE YOU AN IDIOT, JUST TAKE THE OTHER ROAD, my rational side says.

When I park the car, in the driveway where it’s supposed to go, finally, I question whether maybe I should have a chauffer for the rest of my life. I also wonder, not for the first time, at the irony of being voted the “safest driver” in my senior yearbook. It hits me anew, most striking of all, that my closest people don’t love me because I am a good driver or because I never require them to spend an hour and half standing in Arctic windchill fixing my messes or because I am flawless. I didn’t earn their love. It’s not gifted to me based on my merit. They show up when I need them, even when it’s not convenient.

And that is a miracle. Maybe Jesus can work in snow, after all.

Sweat

Sweat. verb. To perspire; the body’s natural reaction to heat, exercise, or occasionally embarrassment. I am naturally gifted at this.

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New Year’s resolutions are dangerous.

As we swung into January, my life was (is) in a state of flux. What else is new. Casting a vision for the whole entire year felt lofty, since I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing in two weeks, much less six months. So I decided to take it one month at a time. A few goals, manageable ones, that would inspire me to live my best life now [insert air quotes], to do the things I’m always meaning to do but never actually get around to doing.

I was realistic in January, I thought. My goals were:

  1. Go to CorePower yoga at least once using free one-month pass
  2. Try one new recipe
  3. Go out for coffee with a friend
  4. Finish an online art class I’ve had access to for a loooong time
  5. Watch the BBC Pride & Prejudice

I was making progress and thinking sweet thoughts about my brilliant strategy. I’d tried not one, but two new recipes within the span of a week, I had a coffee date scheduled, and I’d taken two relaxing beginner yoga classes before the month was half over. Not too shabby, right?

And then I got cocky.

I decided that beginner yoga was nice and all, but I was ready for a challenge.

So one day after work, I shimmied on my leggings and headed for Yoga Sculpt class. The class description cheerily claimed that we would “boost metabolism and build lean muscle” as we “move to upbeat tracks.” We would combine yoga moves with cardio and strength-training to “intensify each pose.” I’m kind of an athlete, I thought, and I don’t suck that bad at yoga. What could go wrong?

A heck of a lot, it turns out.

Bad sign number one: I walked in five minutes before class starts, and the room was full. I was forced to awkwardly scootch between two mats. On one was a shirtless guy who responded cheerily when I asked if there was room for me. On the other was a girl who brought her boyfriend and stared at me silently. How cozy. I hoped I didn’t smell weird.

Bad sign number two: it was killer hot. All of 95º. This is not hyperbole. I was already feeling sticky, and all I’d done was grab weights (yep, weights were involved) and sit down on my mat.

Things did not improve when the instructor came in to actually start the class. She was short, tattooed, and looked like she should be bench pressing rather than sun salutating. She turned on the playlist, which she claimed was inspired by David Bowie and space, and began shouting instructions over the blasting space jams. “Give me 8!” she’d say, “And count. LOUDER!” “How are you feeling?” she’d holler, and the scary yoga girls in Lululemon sports bras would whoop. I might have grunted. By our second down dog, I was already shiny. It was not the glisten of endorphins. It was sweat.

We lunged and squatted and pressed. My high-to-low plank sucked compared to the girl next to me, whose boyfriend ought to have been impressed by her push-up form. We did jumping jacks and high kicks. After too many leg lifts, I tried to “Pulse! Pulse! Out and hooooold!” I thought my glutes might rupture.

In retrospect, this hour of my life is mostly a humid, sweaty blur. I may have blocked it out. This is what I do remember thinking:

  • This is my sister’s exact version of hell. Working out with scary fit people in a hot room while an intimidating woman yells at you.
  • I might pass out. I think I need to sit down. What would happen if I fainted? Would that guy catch me? Gross. No one should touch me when I’m this sweaty.
  • In high school didn’t we stop having practice in the gym if it got this hot? Didn’t our coaches say it was actually dangerous?
  • Ah ha. That’s why people have towels on their mats. Because if you don’t, you slide all over your own sweat when you try to lunge. Lovely.
  • This hand towel is not cutting it. I should have brought a beach towel.
  • If she tells me to hold it up! one more time, I’m going to swear.
  • I am choosing to laugh about this. I am choosing to laugh about this. I am choosing to laugh about this.

Eventually, finally, we ended in savasanah. Normally, lying on my back, I feel peace as my breath travels deep. Here, I felt sweat dripping down my face into my ears. When it was over, I peeled myself off my mat. I tossed on my jacket on the way out the door, and it instantly stuck to me. When I took it off in the car, it released such a cloud of heat that I steamed up the car windows.

This was not what I anticipated from my New Year’s resolution.

Go figure.

Basically, nothing is what I anticipate anymore. Life keeps teaching me that I have zero control over anything, except how I respond to what I’m given. So I’m choosing to view this interlude as an experience (admittedly one that is more entertaining in retrospect).

May 2016 find me responding to further challenges with an intact sense of humor and the knowledge that any and all suckiness can’t last forever. Here’s to a little sweat and a whole lot of adventure.

 

prayers

Prayers. noun. According to Google, “A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God.” Whoops. I missed the solemn part.

chicks57 via Flickr

chicks57 via Flickr

First, Father, I must confess. This post did not spring forth uninfluenced from my brain, and, since the 12th commandment of Christian colleges is “Thou shalt not plagiarize,” (preceded by the original 10 and the ever-popular 11th “Thou shalt seek a ring by spring to the best of thy ability”), I must here acknowledge Micha Boyett’s book Found. It is beautiful, and it is teaching me to pray in the midst of, not in spite of, my ordinary life. You created my voice, and you celebrate when I lift it to you. Did you know what you’re in for? For here is what spills from my lips, the psalm of my life.

Lord, please, in your provision, give me patience, for retrieving the zipline again and withstanding all this whining. Or just give these children longer, stronger legs and zipped lips. Especially zipped lips. Because how can this child be bored? She just got here five minutes ago. Is it inappropriate to tell her that only boring people are bored? Perhaps I need some discretion, as well.

Jesus, please help me to resist the temptation to be one of the staff who yells. I want to, when the boys don’t clean up after I’ve told them four times or when those two start fighting again and when the 6th graders whine that the 1st graders aren’t playing the game fairly. I want to pretend I’m menacing (I’m not) and surly (I am, occasionally). Oh, one who was tempted in all ways, help me be strong.

Prince of Peace, I pray your blessing over our home. May our electricity bills be low and the skateboarding kids cease their racket at a reasonable hour. Please prevent those people smoking outside the door to the building from being stalkers or creepers. Protect our garden-level apartment from anything more harmful than the occasional spider. And help me remember to lock the door behind me, for the love of all that is holy.

Almighty God, could you keep my hair from looking atrocious when I skip my shower this morning? I know you said that my beauty should not come from outward adornment such as elaborate hairstyles, and I’m taking that lesson seriously. But I would also prefer to not lead a brother to stumbling away from me in disgust. Thus, bless whoever invented dry shampoo and deodorant.

Holy One, bless those whom I love who are far away from me. Be with my sister in Texas and my boyfriend in DC and my friend in the middle of an injury and my mom in the boondocks where there are only males at home and said males at home. Let them know how loved they are. Thank you for leading me to my people, even though they’re scattered throughout the country. And bless those friends near me, who I so often take for granted, from the friend whose marriage I get to celebrate soon to the roommate who puts up with my long Skype calls.

Yaweh, keep me from road rage against those idiots in traffic. Get them off their cell phones, for we both know that it is only the fools who text and drive during rush hour. And help me not be one of those idiots, for we both know I remain the country girl who preferred encountering two cars and one tractor on the average rural commute.

Alpha and Omega, protect me from food poisoning, for my timing when cooking chicken remains inexpert. Thank you for not yet blessing me with a family, because evenings when I eat frozen vegetables and two hard-boiled eggs for dinner remain perfectly acceptable.

Abba, would you keep reminding me of the beauty in my very ordinary existence? I know it’s there. Sweet kids hold my hands and ask for piggybacks in the pool. Phone calls and emails and Skype connect me to the ones I love. There is ice cream in my freezer. I have time to walk to the library and read the many books I tote back. But sometimes, when I still have 3 hours of work left on Monday afternoons, I forget. Forgive me. Thank you for your blessings.

Half-Marathon

Half-Marathon. noun. A race consisting of 13.1 miles, which leaves runners dripping in sweat, questioning their life decisions around mile 11, and craving chocolate milk. Also a race that is entirely worthwhile.

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Ten days ago, I and two great running buddies survived a half-marathon. (I hesitate to say ran, because by mile 6 my mom could keep pace with me for a block, which should tell you something about my speed.) This 13.1 mile jaunt was unlike anything I had ever done before. The furthest I had run before training was a 5k, and this was…longer. Significantly longer. Like long enough I had to start training 10 weeks before. And though running a half was possibly the longest 2.5 hours of my life, honestly, I’d do it again. But first, before I seriously reevaluate my sanity and the last ten weeks of peeling feet, sweaty sports bras, and runner’s fanny packs, let me share what I learned and how I survived.

Tell everyone so you don’t chicken out.

When I began considering running a half last fall, I asked a lot of opinions to see if everyone thought I was insane. (The verdict was split.) When I actually started training, I told tons of people so I could make sure I didn’t flake. It worked, apparently.

Have running partners so you don’t chicken out.

I did most of my runs solo (except for one time I went running with my boyfriend and wanted to kill him because he kicked my butt with no training whatsoever and talked the entire time), but I talked two other half-insane friends into signing up for the race with me. Knowing that my younger brother and friend were training and then getting to run alongside them made everything way more fun.

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Use a schedule to track your runs.

I taped mine to my wall and crossed out each run in Sharpie. Drawing big black x’s across the boxes was almost as rewarding as the endorphins.

Birds might attack your head.

On one of my long runs, I was attacked by a bird. Literally. Here I was, foolishly admiring how close I was to wildlife like the little bird perched on the fence, when I must have wandered a little too close to that dumb bird’s nest. As I passed, I heard a squawk and a flutter and felt a jab on the crown of my head. I squawked right back and kept running, a little more panicked. It happened again, same squawking and jabbing, right above my ponytail. I started to sprint while flapping my hands over my head (neither of these are natural around mile 4), watching over my shoulder like I was in the Hunger Games. The suspect bird eyed me reproachfully but kept its distance. Dang bird. But at least I have now survived a milder version one of Tris’s worst fears in Divergent, so that’s something.

Measure your mileage in manageable bites.

Don’t think about the 5 miles you have left – think about how you can totally handle the next half-mile. Ooh, life metaphor right there.

A good cheering section makes all the difference.

I had the best people supporting me. They got up early and waited at water stations to cheer and take action shots and jog alongside me for a few paces. It made the whole thing feel more motivating and epic.

Not pictured are my parents, grandma, and the brother who hates running

Not pictured are my parents, grandma, and the brother who hates running. But they were there and they were great.

Find what works for you.

This race was made possible by the TED Radio Hour podcasts, Aasics running shoes, and post-run McDonald’s blueberry pomegranate smoothies.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Actually, not really. I was mostly happy not to be last. But it does make death less likely and smiling more possible.

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Use common sense.

If you used the bathroom 25 minutes before the race and have a suspicion you might need to go 15 minutes later, for the love of God, just go. Having to pee for the last 7 miles of the run is about as fun as it sounds. And do other logical things like drink water and tell people when you’re going on long runs so they can find you if you collapse and eat lots (and lots and lots) of healthy food.

Basically, have fun and don’t die. That about sums it up. See you at the next race?

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Okay

Okay. adjective. According to me, saying that something is satisfactory or that you can accept what’s happening.

When life gets you down because it’s a Monday and it’s colder than last week, here’s a thought that will make things seem okay:

You are not in middle school anymore.

Halleluiah, glory day. This should make anyone excited. And if it doesn’t, you’re probably in middle school right now, and I’m sorry. Life gets better.

I’ve been in and out of middle school classrooms for the past few semesters, and I’ve realized a few things. Namely, I am incredibly grateful that leggings weren’t a thing in 2006. Also, that these poor, tortured souls are going through a lot. And that for some reason, I like working with these kids.

Maybe it’s that I know I won’t be any more awkward or uncoordinated than they are. Or that I’m not intimidated by the rowdy boys because I’m at least a foot taller than all of them. Or because I want to tell these kids that it will be okay. One day, they’ll be out of middle school and girls won’t be so demonic and boys will be able to have actual conversations and it will be okay.

I can only imagine that my authority on this would be questioned, like all authority in middle school. Prove it, they’d say. There’s no way you’d understand because you wear cardigans and don’t have Snapchat and are old enough to get married (in theory).

But I can prove it. Here are the stories I would tell. (And the pictures I’d share, because pictures of middle schoolers are worth at least 3,000 words.) If I can survive, so can you.

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It was my birthday. I’d had a girls day, pedicures and shopping, and I got makeup from my friend who knew about such things. That fuschia shiny gloss and the fresh coral sparkle on my toes felt like the epitome of glam. I didn’t know yet that I shouldn’t wear that color brown, that those eyebrows should make friends with a tweezer, that sandals fancier than Old Navy flip-flops existed. Soon it would bother me when I was forced to go bare-faced while other girls in my class had been sporting eyeliner since fifth grade. But it’s okay. One day, my mom will finally let me wear mascara, and no one asked “You don’t have eyelashes, right?” again. (I have been asked that. I do have eyelashes, I swear to Covergirl.) But defined eyes and perfect skin aren’t the key to feeling gorgeous. That takes something more and deeper than makeup.

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This was my first recital with a new piano teacher. I’d just moved beyond the numbered primers into real music, by composers whose names I remembered from the wall in music class. I nervously plucked out songs I never thought I’d be capable of playing. I still numbered every mistake. They proved I wasn’t good enough, just like my braces and that long, messy hair I didn’t know how to deal with and the math scores I didn’t think were high enough. That was a lot of weight to carry. I thought if I’d just try a little harder, I could be perfect. But I couldn’t. And that’s okay. I wish I would have given myself some grace, and let others give me some grace, and let God give me some grace. Sure, I wasn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t talented and kind and curious and hard-working.

 

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This was my last dance recital. In a few months, I’d have volleyball four nights a week and leave my jazz shoes behind. I wasn’t sad. At dance, I was self-conscious, slouching, the only girl who wasn’t tiny and cute. Even after I left those high-waisted pink pants behind (praise the Lord), I kept fearing that I’d always be the gangly, tall girl on the edge of group photos. That fear came true. I learned to always stand in the middle of photos with short people, but I was not, and will never be, tiny and cute. Instead, I was 6’0″ by seventh grade and heard loud freshman boys comment about my height in the halls. Even ten years later, a woman at a concert stared. She stood in front of me in the post-concert mess, looked me up and down, saw that I wasn’t wearing heels, and nudged her friend to turn around and gawk at the Amazon woman. But it didn’t hurt so much. I smirked and hoped that Scotty McCreery would notice me because I stood above the crowd. (He didn’t. But that sure would have proved her right. And been generally awesome.)

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My dad snapped this after the band concert themed “A Night at an Eighties Prom.” I wanted so badly to look beautiful that night, among all of the high schoolers dressed to the nines. I borrowed a dress that was almost long enough, and my mom’s friend said I looked like Cinderella. I didn’t quite believe her. After all, even though I was the only female in a section full of boys, they never seemed to notice me. (In hindsight, this shouldn’t have been a surprise. The trombone is not a sexy instrument.) They wouldn’t seem to notice me for a very long time. That was okay. Middle school boys were dumb. High school boys were possibly dumber. It took most of the way through college for me to feel like things might come out all right. But they did. Just give it time.

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I tossed on my dad’s old sweatshirt because the day we launched rockets in the playground was cold and crummy. I had no idea I’d go to college there, years later. There was a world waiting that I couldn’t have imagined, one where I didn’t have to go to bed at the same time as my six-year-old brother and where I wouldn’t have to add black olives to the spaghetti sauce I cooked and where I’d discover that I might want to teach awkward, gangly middle schoolers someday. And where I’d still wear that same sweatshirt. And still need to be reminded sometimes that it will be okay.

Résumé

Résumé. noun. According to Dictionary.com, “A brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.” According to me, “The paper on which I try to make myself sound smart, qualified, and professional. It’s a struggle.”

This is my "Hire me!" face, if you couldn't tell.

This is my “Hire me!” face, if you couldn’t tell.

Lately, I’ve been polishing my resume and sending out applications for summer jobs. Unfortunately, in the interest of being professional, many of my best skills, developed over years of training, had to be left out. It’s quite depressing. Just think what kind of jobs I could have snagged had I been allowed to present potential employers with this, the honest version of my resume:

Education

  • Degrees: Communication Arts and Literature Ed (grades 5-12) and ESL Ed (grades K-12) – Able to stay up really late and appear chipper with small children the next day. Reads lots of YA lit. Remembers maybe 7 words of Mandarin Chinese.
  • Attended small Christian college – Knows big theological words like predestination and transubstantiation. Still doesn’t know what she believes about most issues.
  • Member of the Honors Program – Interested in everything, apparently.
  • Writer for the Examiner (spring 2015) – Sometimes able to be concise.
  • Speech team (spring 2013) – Performs Prose Interpretations without crying or throwing up.
  • Member of the women’s basketball team (2011-2012 season) – Willing to demonstrate the proper way to box out. Able spotter in the weight room. Was once in really good shape.

Work Experience

  • TA for Honors Program and Advanced Grammar – Anal about proofreading other people’s stuff (her own, not quite as much). Spends semesters writing sentences about the adventures of class mascots such as grapefruits named Ruby and koalas named Ace. Knows what a subordinating conjunction is. Good at bulletin boards.
  • Pool manager, swimming lessons instructor, and lifeguard – Can be in the sun from 8 am to 9 pm and not get sunburned. Able to catch small children jumping off the diving board over and over (and over and over and over). Treads water for very long periods of time. Tried really hard to keep accurate accounts, with occasional success. Can yell at that kid, in the blue trunks, hanging on the slide, without knowing his name. Quickly learns the names of troublemakers. Confident enough to wear a swimsuit and towel to the grocery store after work.
  • Assistant Resident Director – Loves her staff. Knows how many lamps it takes to make a classroom appear cozy. Patient attender of meetings.
  • Resident Assistant – Able to plan allllll the events. Takes irrational pride when her residents become friends. Can decorate an entire hall for $50.

Additional Experiences and Skills

  • Maintains personal blog using WordPress – Good at finding “productive” ways to procrastinate. Willingly reads lots of other blogs for inspiration.
  • Completed research in collaboration with professors – Can accomplish an amazing amount the night before a meeting.
  • Has nice handwriting.
  • Follows schedules to the letter.
  • Just learned how to add the accents over the e’s in “résumé.”
  • Able to put together a resume that looks nicer and is better organized than this one (hopefully). Whether it lands some employment for the summer is yet to be determined.