Sunday, February 24, 2013

Super easy, super yummy microwave brownies

I was craving chocolate tonight, but the only chocolate in the house was a hot chocolate mix.  I was also not feeling well, so I didn't want to take too much time cooking.  Perfect solution?  Microwave brownies!

Ingredients
  • 6 tablespoons hot chocolate mix
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or melted butter
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • Handful of chocolate chips

Instructions
  1. Using a fork mix together the hot chocolate mix and flour in a coffee mug or small bowl.
  2. Stir in the oil, water and vanilla until all of the ingredients are wet.
  3. Mix in the chocolate chips.
  4. Microwave on high for 60-90 seconds. The center should still be molten.
  5. Cool for a few minutes, it will be HOT.

(recipe from http://www.alli-n-son.com/2012/02/16/hot-chocolate-microwave-brownie/)

It's super easy--I think I did it in less than 10 minutes--and also super yummy topped with vanilla ice cream!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Let's Change How We Talk to Young Women about Sex

This is a blog post I've been wanting to write for years.  I just recently was inspired to sit down and actually post it.  It will probably be long, but please bear with me.  I've poured a lot of energy into developing these thoughts over the years.

The other day, a facebook friend posted a link to an article called "Dress Codes Don't Teach Girls Self Respect, but Respecting Girls Could."  To take a fairly well developed article and summarize it: the writer argued that in nit-picking the details of dress codes, measuring the length between knees and hemlines, and shaming girls with ugly tshirts, dress codes do exactly what they claim to be against by reducing a woman to her sexuality.

To be clear, I have no problem with broad, general dress codes in high schools.  In our society, certain settings have certain dress expectations for both women and men.  But I think the writer uncovered a useful attitude that underlies dress codes and--although it wasn't mentioned in this article--evangelical Christianity.

Overall, the youth group program I went through at my church was strong.  I learned a lot and had some great experiences.  Looking back, one of the few problematic issues I can find is the way that we talked about sexuality.  I don't think it's much different than how many youth groups deal with sexuality.  The group would split up into guys and gals.  The young men would go off into one part of the building or retreat center or wherever we were gathering.  They'd talk about things like sexual temptation and pornography.  The young women would gather on their own.  And, in all the times I can remember, we talked about two things: modesty and how we were "worth waiting for."

I don't think anyone meant to communicate this, but what I (and I think many young women throughout the country) took away from experiences like these was that guys struggled with sexual temptations and that it was up to the women to keep that from happening as much as possible.  We needed to dress in such a way that kept the guys from feeling a certain way about us.  We needed to act in such a way that kept guys from acting on the feelings they had.

I do not mean to say--and I might get in trouble with strands of mainstream feminism here--that we should tell young women that they can wear next to nothing and still be surprised when guys expect something from them.  (Note--this is far different than the discourse which tells provocatively dressed women that they're more or less asking for it if they get raped--but I can deal with that issue in a different conversation.)  I am saying that the emphasis on modesty rather than sexuality is communicating to thousands of young women that they are, more or less, asexual beings and that something is wrong, abnormal, or even deviant about them if they have sexual thoughts, if they're as curious about pornography as their male counterparts, or if they're the ones who want to act on sexual feelings or even initiate a relationship.

This has nothing to do with whether something is right or wrong; it has everything to do with how we're communicating what we believe to be right or wrong.  We're doing exactly what the dress codes in the article are doing, we're reducing non-church-going friends who wear "slutty" clothing as sexually aggressive at best and as oblivious idiots at worse while reducing good-church-girls to--at some level--a lack of sexuality.  We're (perhaps unconsciously) influencing a generation of young women to judge others on a part and not the whole while simultaneously removing that part of the whole from their sense of self.

How to fix this problem?  Instead of focusing on modesty, focus on sexuality.  First, accept that young women are sexual beings.  Accept that the ones in our youth groups have sexual desires, thoughts, and feelings, and address those.  Let modesty be a subcategory under a much more important issue.  Second, get rid of the phrase "I'm worth waiting for."  It (once again, perhaps unconsciously) communicates to women that men are sexual predators and that they are the prey.  It overlooks that fact that women want men just as much as men want women.  If you have to use the phrase, use it in talking to both men and women.  Which leads me to my final point.  Stop saying things that start with phrases like "For women . . . " or "the way that men are . . .."  I'm not here (today) to argue about gender roles and gender traits.  I'm here to point out that when we use these kind of phrases, we create a type.  And, as I mentioned before, we set people up (both men and women) to feel aberrant, abnormal, if they don't fit the type.  I'm also not here to talk about right and wrong.  But if people think that something's wrong in the first place, but they want to do it, imagine how they'd feel if they were also told that they didn't fit in the group of people for whom it was expected or "acceptable" to want to do it.  Adding insult to injury.

These aren't all the answers, but I think they're a start.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Music Stuff (Read until the End for Music Videos)

So, as those of you who have read my blog forever know, almost three years ago, I discovered my favorite solo artist: Emmy the Great.  I was the only person I knew who liked her, so I did what any obsessed fan would do: I tried to get everyone I rode in a car with to listen to her music, sent music videos to other friends in private facebook messages, and wrote about her--a lot--on this blog.  (My word.  I just realized I've had this blog for three years.)  It was all to no avail.  Despite playing her music multiple time when I picked Shari up for work, she never caught my obsession.  Neither did the few facebook friends who actually watched the movies I posted on my wall.  Or the people who read my blog.  Until now.  Tricia wrote on my wall a week ago saying that she really liked Emmy the Great.  I was so excited!  Also, I hadn't listened to Emmy in awhile, so naturally I re-listened to every song of hers I owned.  And it was awesome.  Three years later, I'm still in love.  The only artist(s) that meet this level of love and have been loved this strongly for almost as long are Mumford and Sons.

I also recently fell in love with Jack White.  I know.  A decade late to the game.  I guess I never paid attention when he was popular because he was popular.  Yeah . . . I know.  I try my best to not be a hipster, but in doing so, I display a shocking amount of hipster snobbery.  But . . . I love White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and Jack White's solo stuff.  He's the perfect blend of cynical, snarky, and awesome.  I've also had fun listening to other recent alternative rock music.  I've got an awesome pandora station that's my current favorite thing to listen to.  (Other than Mumford and Sons--though they're on that station--and Emmy the Great.)

And since I've mentioned them twice in this post, can I take a moment to bask in the artistry of Mumford and Sons?  Though I still think Sigh No More is a stronger album than Babel, I'm loving elements of Babel.  Mumford and Sons write some of the greatest lyrics.  My favorites from Babel are "Holland Road," "Hopeless Wanderer," and "I Will Wait," but I've recently resonated the most with the verse from "Babel":

Press my nose up to the glass around your heart
I should’ve known I was weaker from the start
You’ll build your walls and I will play my bloody part
To tear, tear them down

I love that band.

Also, I figured I'd leave y'all with a few music videos after dangling thoughts about great music in front of you in this post.  Enjoy!

(I feel obliged to say I have complicated feelings about how this deals with disability.  I'm not sure if it's ableist or not.  Also, I'm not always sure if I'm comfortable with all the under-girding assumptions of anti-ableism.  I'm still working it out; let me know if you have thoughts.  Also, totally heard this song live before it was released!)

(This is one of my three favorite Emmy the Great songs.)

 (I like this song, though not as much as "Martyr for my love for You" or the popular "Seven Nation Army."  But "Martyr" doesn't have a music video, and the one for "Seven Nation Army" kinda hurts my brain.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Library Confessions of an (almost) Doctor of Philosophy in English

I went to the public library Tuesday afternoon.  I spent all of my time getting books in the YA and children's section.  And, no, I have no problem with that.

I got Katherine Paterson's second most recent novel.  Katherine Paterson remains my favorite children's/YA author.  Not only does she create engaging, complicated characters and not only does she have a beautiful prose style, but her work's also a part of who I've become throughout my life.  I was made fun of, bullied, and teased through most of seventh grade.  I'd come home in tears, and almost every day for a few months, I'd reread Bridge to Terabithia.  Usually from cover to cover.  I don't mean to be too melodramatic, but that book was a major part of what got me through that time.  At one point during the year, I wrote a letter to Paterson for a contest (that I happened to win at the state level! yay!).  I never sent it to Paterson, but looking back, I think I should find a copy of that letter from 12 year old me and send it along with a letter from 27 year old me.

I also got one of Brian Jacques' Redwall books.  I'm so sad Brian Jacques passed away, but I still am pretty excited about having gotten to meet him at The Red Balloon.  He was pretty awesome.  I decided to reread the Harry Potter series, so I got The Sorcerer's Stone (ooh--fun game, btw--read HP looking for inconsistencies in the changes made in the American editions.  they're all over the place.).  And I also got a couple of books I've had recommended to me but haven't gotten the chance to read yet.

 Until two weeks ago, I hadn't finished a single novel "for fun" since starting graduate school.  Four and a half years ago!  I read many novels in that time period, probably averaging 40-45 novels a year, and I loved many of them: The Years, Villette, The Wise Virgins, The Mill on the Floss.  They're some of my all-time favorite books ever.

But it's been fun to return to juvenile and young adult novels, too.  As I walked through the stacks and looked for the books that had been recommended to me, I'd pass other books I had read.  I remembered how much I enjoyed Island of the Blue Dolphin.  I hardly remember anything about the book itself, but I remember the feeling of beauty I felt after I finished it.  I remembered how The Great Gilly Hopkins made me cry for two hours, and I repeated the last sentence of the novel in my mind as I passed it on the shelf, the first "great last sentence" I ever consciously noticed in a book.  I remembered how I read Harriet the Spy so many times in a two week period that I got in trouble with my family for turning as sassy as Harriet.  I remembered how Little Women was the first book to ever make me cry.

I love how I've evolved as a reader.  I love the complex analysis that automatically and almost subconsciously works its way through my brain as I read (or, let's be honest, even listen to music or listen to people talk).  But I also love remembering the unbridled hunger for books that drove me to become an English major and, eventually, an English PhD student.  I miss the inexperienced awe I'd feel when discovering a plot structure, character type, or literary element for the first time.

I still have a passion for reading, but sometimes it's nice to return to the kind of book that kindled that passion in the first place.  I'm looking forward to reading my library books.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

It's Not Okay (Tornado Thoughts from Ps 18)

I've not been looking forward to the 5 year anniversary of The Tornado.  I've not been intentionally thinking about it and dreading it, but "February 5th" is etched in my brain pretty permanently and tornado warnings last week didn't help.

I went back through some old posts.  Last year, for the anniversary, I noted how many of my post-tornado posts went along the lines of, "Things suck, but God is good."  And he is.  He really, really is.  He was, he has been for five years, and he will continue to be.

But this year, something in me dreaded the onslaught of "Five years of God's Awesomeness!" posts.  Mainly because I felt obligated to write one.  Why the dread?  Not because I didn't believe God was and continues to be awesome. Until tonight, I wasn't sure why.  Was I being an immature Christian?

I don't think so.

"God is awesome" is a big part of any story.  In fact, I'd say it's the main point of any story.  But I think that, sometimes, we forget another part of the story.  For me, it's because I'm really eager to immediately fit any difficult situation into the "God ordains/allows all things and works them together for good" part of my theology.

I've been doing it with my current situation.  The last three months have been really hard, but I've done my best to trust God.  I've found refuge in knowing that not only does God work everything together for good; he works it together for best.  It's a sweet thing to know, but something was missing.  I was feeling guilty for being upset about the situation I'm in--after all, isn't God going to work this into part of his wonderful plan?  I knew on a human-therapy-like level that I needed to be upset, I even knew that the Bible says it's okay to be upset, but I struggled with knowing why it was okay.  Psalm 18 told me last night,

First David says, "The cords of death encompassed me/ the torrents of destruction assailed me."  I'd definitely classify that as the life-is-hard part.  But before jumping to the end of the story in which evertyhing works for good, David describes God's response to his situation:

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
The foundation also of the mountains trembled
and quaked because he was angry.

I cried a lot after reading that verse.  Tears of relief.  God was angry about what was happening to me.  Even thinking about it now makes me tear up.  God's not (only) standing back from my life at arm's length, transforming ugly colors and strokes into an integral part of a beautiful picture.  He dwells with me in the details and understand the finite, the hurt of this moment.  And it makes him furious when one of his redeemed suffers.

It's really good for us to remember how awesome God is.  To remember all the good he's done through things like The Tornado.  I will never deny that a few of the best things that happened to me during college happened because of The Tornado.  But I've also finally realized that it's theologically okay for me to be angry about it.  Because God is, too.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

When I Get Sick, I Find Things Disproportionately Funny

So, I caught my second virus in two weeks, which when you're already battling sickness is not fun.  It clearly and unfortunately meant staying home from church today.  Especially since the heat was partially broken in the theatre where we meet.  Except when I got the email from Seven Hills, I definitely read it as . . .

Important: One of the heathens in the DeSoto theater has gone out.  We look forward to seeing you for worship tomorrow morning . . .

Then there was something about dressing in layers, but I was too busy laughing at my mis-read.

Another thing I found probably more funny than I ought to have was this post called "Les Mean Girls" . . .

http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinlarosa/les-mean-girls-is-mean-girls-meets-les-miserabl

(Also, I can't discuss the movie version of the musical with anyone yet because--sadness!--I've been kind of sick since it came out and haven't been up to going to movies.  But I can discuss the musical sans movie just fine, and I definitely can appreciate mash ups of Les Miserables and Mean Girls.)