Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Planning Stuff vs. Not Planning Stuff

If you're anything like me (type A, oldest child, possibly a tad OCD) you love the concept of planning things. Events, schedules, trips, itineraries (I even love that word!), and more. I am a full-fledged weirdo when it comes to planning. While I sometimes say I enjoy the spontaneity of life, I often find myself stressing out when things aren't planned properly or when things don't go according to the plan I had already set out in my mind.

I have been doing a lot of planning lately. Plans to get my semester finished with my sanity (somewhat) in tact... plans to get the perfect Christmas gift for everyone on my list... plans to get said Christmas gifts while maintaining a graduate student budget (womp... sorry DIY receivers)... plans to make the most out of my short time in Seward and Wisconsin with my family... and there are even more to come in the new year. Plans for weddings (woo!) and bachelorette parties and another semester of crazy and whatever the heck I'm going to do with my summer...

The list goes on and on, as I'm sure yours does too. We can never plan enough, because let's face it, it's difficult to stop time from continuing on at the pace it deems necessary. Which is really unfortunate, because it often feels that if only I could stop time, I'd actually be able to relax and enjoy the moment. But that's sort of a shame, isn't it? We have this whole entire world and our whole entires lives to soak up and relish, goshdarnit! Why must we hinder ourselves with plans for the future when the future has yet to even arrive?? (The answer here is obvious: because otherwise we would go nuts never having anything ready.)

But seriously, planning is great to some extent, but I often find that the best moments are those that I somehow manage to relinquish my iron grip on control and let things flow. Yesterday, my dad announced it was time for the yearly trek down the hill from my grandma's house to Plum Creek (or Plum "Crick" if you're truly from Nebraska) to walk on the ice. For the past couple of years I have either declined the invite because I was too stuffed from Christmas food to consider doing anything as exhausting as walking or haven't gotten to go because it was too warm for anything to freeze over. Well, this year it was definitely cold enough (think single digit degrees - gross) and I figured I'd better take advantage. So I set aside my plans of A. napping and B. not getting frostbite, to slip and shuffle and slide down the iced over creek with my cousins and brothers. It was lovely.

The moral of the story is this, friends. Plans are good. Plans help us organize things and accomplish tasks. Plans make me happy. But what also makes me happy is spending time with the people I love and not necessarily having any end goal in sight. So I hope you get to truly relax and just be with those that you cherish. Most likely those are going to be the best moments you have.

Merry Christmas! Peace, Joy, Love, Hope abound.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Upside to Struggle, Or What One Should Remind Oneself When One's Bicycle is Stolen

If you don't follow me on Twitter (which obviously you should - @abbalange), then you may not have been informed of the very dire news that my bike has been stolen. Ripped it straight up off the bike rack where I HAD IT LOCKED UP. Right outside my apartment! Which apparently is more crime-ridden than I was aware of based on the window-bashing episode of a few weeks ago. And it's all the more painful because I was really falling in love with this bike. It was a nice old lady cruiser with a low seat so I didn't have to bend over while riding. It had a light and a rack and even a spot for a mile counting mechanism, thanks to the previous owner who totally pimped it out and then never used it. It was just the best bike! And now it's gone, off to live with someone who will surely not love it as much as I did.

As an aside, I'd like to take this moment and say that if YOU, person who stole my bike, due to a movie-worthy coincidence, are reading Sparkle, Sparlke, hear this: RUDE! If you had merely asked, I would have let you ride my bike around the block (obviously under my surveillance since you are not to be trusted.) But yeah, you're a big, fat jerk.

So, needless to say, I was struggling this morning. Monday always seems to punch me in the face, but today it just roundhouse kicked me in the gut. I spent most of the morning feeling totally bummed out, especially as I rode a different bike I borrowed from my parents which just wasn't the same, and was totally prepared to be thoroughly pissed off for the remainder of the day. But then I made remembered something I had heard on the radio this morning, and I'm going to pull it all together in that sparkly way you love so much.

The radio DJ this morning was talking about a woman who was studying differences between the approaches the United States and Asian countries take to education. Specifically the approaches to struggling. Through many conversations with both American and Asian families, she found that Americans tend to operate under the assumption that it's our intelligence that causes our success. On the other hand, in some Asian countries (they didn't state which ones), success is attributed to hard work and a "practice makes perfect" attitude. So when a person struggles with a concept or problem or idea, we Americans might figure the struggle is due to our lack of intelligence. Conversely, the conversations with these Asian families showed that they saw struggle as an opportunity instead of a detriment. The fact that one is struggling doesn't mean someone is dumb, it just means there's work to be done.

The obvious connection here would be to the fact that I feel that I'm struggling EVERY DAY in grad school, but no. I like to make things interesting on this blog, so I'm talking about how I'm struggling with the fact that someone took my bike! When these types of things happen, I just want to hate everyone. I struggle to remember that not everyone is a bike-stealer. But this is an opportunity to remind  me that for the one person who stole my bike, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of people who did NOT steal my bike! And that's kind of cool if you really think about it. For the most part, there are more kind, good people out there in the world. It's just those few jerks that distort our view of humanity. So if someone ripped you off today, try to remember all those people who didn't. Focus on the good. Revel in kindness.

And if you see someone on a black Pure Trek bike that looks stolen, get their address so I can send them a courteous thank you note for this life lesson.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Losing, Or... Not Winning.

Alright, I know my title isn't up to its usual clever goodness, but it's late, so give me a break, OK? I came to thinking about this post while watching the Cardinals vs. Giants game tonight. However, before I begin, I'd like to preface this by stating that I actually don't care so much about baseball, and generally I find it rather boring. (I mean, we could all save a little time if the pitchers didn't fake out first base every 3 minutes.) But I have to admit I found myself getting into the postseason last year and even more so this year, largely due to a significant person in my life who is a diehard Cards fan. So yeah, I was disappointed when the Cardinals lost tonight. I enjoy sports of any kind when they get super intense, and it's a bummer when it has to end.

Of course most of you do know that the Cardinals lost tonight. What you may not have known is that the St. John Junior Varsity volleyball team also lost tonight. (Slightly smaller headline on I would like to point out that I found some striking similarities and differences between the two losses that I think sheds light on life and humanity in general.

1. Losing isn't fun. I don't think that either the Cardinals or my volleyball girls enjoyed looking at the scoreboard and realizing that they were down by what seemed like an impossible amount. As I recall one of my 4th graders Molly who was out on the court and just about in tears after missing her second serve of the night, I think of David Freese, striking out for the 800th time, probably also almost in tears. David and Molly would probably have a lot to talk about after tonight. Sometimes you just can't get the job done, and losing doesn't feel good.

2. Losing is never fully lose-lose. Now, let me state for the record that I think it's ridiculous that anyone should be paid millions of dollars to swing a bat and take a lap every once in a while. But I can understand why you may think it feels worse to lose a game for a Cardinal than for a junior high volleyball player. There's a lot of money riding on those games! The whole franchise is worth millions! They should be delivering wins! Well, let me tell you what. There is a bag of Halloween goodies (including a pair of funky socks AND a pencil) that is waiting for those girls at their last practice on Wednesday. And there is probably a check for $56,000 waiting for each Cardinal when they get home, too. So it's not a total lose-lose. Everyone ends up getting what they were promised.

3. Losing doesn't last forever. There were more than a few downcast faces as the St. John JV team high-fived and "good game-ed" the other team. But a mere 4 minutes after our game was over, my volleyball girls were running around in the hallway, scrambling to get snacks from the concession stand. Now that's what I call resilience. I'd like to see the Cardinals running into the Giants' stadium after a loss, trying to snag a last-minute pretzel or hot dog. The day I see that, I'll think, "Hey. There's a guy who's got his priorities straightened out."

I guess what I'm saying is this: no one likes to lose. This much is obvious. We spend a lot of time practicing our craft to produce winners. If you're a Cardinal, you've been spending the last 20-30 years of your life intensely training for the moment when you get to make it count in front of the world. If you're a JV volleyball player, you've been spending the last eight weeks spacing out in practice and complaining that your canker sore is going to make it difficult to run laps. It's basically the same thing. So when it comes down to the wire and we can't quite nab the win, it's disappointing. However, I think if the Cardinals could all find the 4th grade girl deep inside them, they'd be better off for it. So if any of you Cardinals are reading this (Hi, guys), try to look at the bright side - there's usually ice cream waiting for you when you're done.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Just When I Thought Politics Were Getting Me Down...

... I found out the worst. You guys, it's true. Emily "blahblahblah" Maynard and Jef "Yep, one 'F'" Holm from this most recent season of the Bachelorette are over. As in, they will not be living the dream with Ricki-Tick for the rest of time like we all thought they would. No tying of the knot, no elaborate wedding with a 2-hour TV special, no sneak peeks into their lives when they have beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed children together! Color me shocked and disappointed.

The state of the world today is sketchy, to say the least, and now THIS. I don't know how I'm going to handle it. Just thinking of Emily fake crying while oh-so-conveniently showing off her perfect manicure is enough to bring me to my own fake tears. And poor Jef. He's probably so bummed it didn't work out that he can't even gel his hair into that perfect Greased Lightening coif. (Just kidding. That would never happen.) And let's not forget the star player of this ill-fated season of the Bachelorette - Ricki. That girl is probably so confused as to why her mother protected her like some sort of mama bear on steroids, only to bring a strange man into the house for a mere three months of lovin'. At least we know that Emily's not sending any mixed signals to her impressionable daughter...

And speaking of impressionable, I have to admit, I was the fool. I thought this love would last. It breaks my heart to see that yet another reality show couple has bit the dust. I only hope they can find some sort of consolation in the fact that they're each ridiculously beautiful, or the fact that they're both so obviously loaded (I mean seriously, what single mom lives in a house like that?), or in the fact that they'll continue to be D-list celebrities for the next seven years. Maybe Emily will wheedle her way back onto the Bachelor to win Sean's heart, this time for real, people.

I am so distraught. I keep thinking, "What could I have done to stop this from happening?" And I always come back to the same answer. If only they would have read Sparkle, Sparlke, they would have found the answers to life's questions and the solution to saving their relationship! So as my gift to the world, I will somehow find a way to make this blog visible to Sean Lowe as the new season of the Bachelor starts. I will give him my advice, encouragement, and a little Sparlke to keep him going during those taxing luxury vacation dates. And when the show ends in happily ever after, I'll know I did my part to fill the world with the true joy and love that only a strangers-to-engaged-couple-in-60-days can bring. You're welcome, everyone.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why People Go To School, Or What I Tell Myself When I'm Starting To Feel Real Dumb

So there's this theory out there that you go to school to learn stuff. Wacky, right? Apparently you don't waste your time in class if you already know everything. Which is weird because I inevitably have this moment during every class where I start to panic because I feel like I don't understand anything. My mind starts reeling through the following thoughts:

"Oh my gosh. That person just said something that sounded really smart. They used a word that I don't even know. I wish I could get out my cell phone and look it up. But then I would just look like I'm texting, and I don't want the professor to think I'm a slacker. Maybe I should start bringing a dictionary to class. But then I would look really dumb, like I don't know any of the words. I'd use context clues if I knew what the rest of their sentence meant... wait, I should be listening to the prof's response. OK, wait, what's he talking about now? How did we get from that to this? I'm so confused. Maybe I should just nod a little... yeah, that's good. At least I look like I'm on the right page. Oh my gosh, I totally don't get what that person just said, but it sounded really intelligent..."

Or you know, something to that extent. It's usually at this point where I have a small mental breakdown and question my ability to complete grad school and also my entire life. Then I move to the resentful stage, which goes something like this: 

"Ugh! I still don't get what we're talking about! What the heck is phenomenology anyways?? How is this going to impact my life? I mean, will I seriously not get a job if I can't explain the premise of this existential essay? I just want to talk about something that seems more relevant. I just want to say SOMETHING PERTINENT AND NOT SOUND LIKE AN IDIOT!" 

Please note that instead of "phenomenology," you could insert any number of words that have about eight syllables each. And sometimes words that only have one syllable but are still confusing anyway. After I get a little worked up (still in my mind, rest assured), I move into the stage of shame, which sounds like this:

"Oh man, I know this must be important somehow. It's not the professor's fault if I'm just not bright enough to get it. But everyone else seems to basically know what's going on. Is that true? Or are they just as confused as me? Definitely not that person... or that person... or that person... they all have insightful comments. If I could just follow this train of thought for like five minutes, I might be able to get back on track. Ughhhhh, I don't know anything." 

And eventually I'll circle 'round again to Phase 1: Utter Confusion. It's great! It strikes me that perhaps this process could be diagnosable as some sort of Perpetual Cycle of Perceived Academic Inferiority. I mean, if that's a real thing, I definitely have it... or am in it, or whatever. 

I have to consciously remind myself that I'm in school precisely because I don't know everything. If I did, I'd not only not be in school, I'd probably be out like, instating world peace or something. But instead, I'm here. In grad school, working my mind's butt off (nice image, eh?) everyday to understand what the texts are saying, what my classmates are saying, what the professor is saying, and how it all fits together to make that thing called "art history." And when I remind myself this, I get a little faint glow of hope in my soul that eventually I'll understand the things that I struggle with today. I won't ever know everything, but I'll know more things, and that's a pretty cool thought. For those of you who are still in school (or if you're not, but still feel clueless about your job or life), remember this: You don't have to know everything now. Remind yourself that life is a learning process and it's supposed to be that way. And keep your mind open! Because that's how the knowledge gets in there. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Day in The Life of an Art History Grad Student

Because I know you all were constantly wondering what it is that I do with my days, I will enlighten you on the daily schedule (more or less) of a graduate student in art history. Get ready to be very, very jealous. 

7:45 - Alarm goes off. Commence to snooze for appropriate amount of time. 

8:15 - Snooze one more time.

8:22 - Get up too quickly and immediately get massive head rush and almost fall over. 

9:13 - Leave apartment to head to the class I'm TA-ing. Spend one whole minute trying to get the lock off my bike. 

9:15-9:25 - Constant prayer mode that I do not get sideswiped by a bus while riding my bike. (Yes, I have an awesome helmet, but how much can that do when up against a bus??) 

9:30-10:50 - Sit in the back of TA class and periodically tell people to get off Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/etc. Feel really bad about this because I do not like confrontation. 

10:55-11:05 - More prayer on the ride back to my apartment. 

11:10-3:00 - Read various philosophical or theoretical texts. "Wait!" You say, "I thought you were in art history, not philosophy!" Yeah, I was under the same impression. However, it's all lofty theory at this point - how to achieve absolute knowledge and true self-consciousness and stuff. I'm sure it will all tie in at some point. Otherwise I will be just a little bit peeved. Oh, and I also eat lunch in here at some point, often accompanied by an episode of Friends, because seriously. I need to stay sane somehow.

3:15-3:25 - Wonder how long I will be able to hold out before I no longer want to ride my bike to class. As of now, it is still charming and pleasant, but come 30 degrees and slush, I may change my tune.

3:30-6:20 - Class. Hey remember when those 75 minute classes at Valpo used to feel so long? Ha! Those were the days. Usually we get a break, but not all the time! So that's a full 2 hours and 50 minutes of me feeling a little dumber every time someone says something really intelligent, when all I want is a dictionary so I can look up some of those big words they're using. 

6:30-6:40 - Ride home dazedly on my bike. Feel as though brain has turned to mush. Not much time to recuperate though because ...

6:45-7:10 - Dinner of some sort, usually of the sandwich variety these days.

7:15-whenever I can't stand it anymore - Read, read, read! OK, I'll be honest, I'm not constantly reading the ENTIRE time. Sometimes when it gets to the point where I feel like I'm just "looking" at the page and no longer "reading," I'll take a break to check every social media outlet, hoping I can find some posts with improper use of grammar so at least I can feel self-righteous about that! Then I head back to the arena where I no longer feel I understand the English language at all... it's a balancing game, people. 

12:00ish - Fall into bed and complete one Sudoku puzzle out of my little book, because I find it's therapeutic to end the day under the theme, "And now for something completely different..." 

So that's basically it! I bet all of you are already Google searching the application requirements for art history, right? I thought so. In all seriousness, it's not too bad though. I have always been a nerd at heart and I enjoy school, even when I spend most of the time feeling very confused. As Papa Lange always said, "Think of it as a game! A puzzle you have to solve!" Granted, he was talking about math and I never thought it was very good advice. Worst game EVER, Dad. But I digress. As much as I complain, I like the challenge of a good puzzle. And I have been doing a lot of puzzling thus far. I suspect I will continue puzzling to some degree for the next two years. But hopefully at the end of it all, I'll be a much brighter person and also be qualified for some sort of employment. (That's really the true puzzle right now, right?) 

I guess I forgot to mention all of the procrastination I do, too. That should result in an influx of Sparlke, Sparkle posts. Now you're really feeling lucky... 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Grad School, Or Why I Suspect My Eyeballs May Fall Out Before May 2014

Hello all! It's that time of year! I've turned the AC off and opened the windows to let the brisk fall air sweep through my apartment. The leaves are starting to turn their respective shades of red, gold and orange. Football season is in full swing (as is volleyball, but no one seems to care about that) and we Illinois fans are hunkering down for another long season of mediocrity. Isn't it great?! Oh yeah, also I will miss ALL of that because I will be reading until the END OF TIME.

Let me take about five lines of blog here to vent juuuust a little bit. How do the professors think we can get all this reading done?? I'm talking about hundreds upon hundreds of pages per week! It's crazy! And it's not like reading Harry Potter... it's reading Hegel! I thought Kant was really difficult to get through, and now I'm reading Hegel and Kant is starting to look more and more like Harry Potter... I'm not a slow reader generally, but I'm averaging about 30 pages every 2 hours. Yikes.

And scene! That's it people, that's the true story of my life. I feel a little bad complaining because how many times did I try to get into grad school? (Answer: more than once.) So I know that this opportunity is a huge blessing and I honestly do feel excited to go to class and see what the discussion will bring. However, it is pretty overwhelming at the same time. Maybe I'm just not quite back in "student mode" all the way. I still want my evenings to be free for relaxing, but alas, this is not to be so.

And yet of course I'm not literally reading every single second of the day. Of course I give myself breaks or I'd go insane. I hang out with friends or go see my fam because it changes the pace a little bit. It's just a lot of work and I'm still learning how to balance it all. But that's sort of just life, eh? Doesn't everyone have a big project at work or a huge paper to write or a house to clean or something and it just seems like it's taking over your life? I know they say death is the great equalizer, but I'm willing to debate that it might be stress.

As your fall gets into swing, I hope you find time for balance in your life. Try to remember that at the end of the day, you did what you could. And if you didn't really do what you could, you can try again tomorrow. No one can be motivated 100% of the time. It's OK to take a break now and then. Maybe I'm just trying to reassure myself, but I do believe the old saying, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." And I really don't want to wake up one morning to find the news talking about how one of my friends got so consumed by his or her work that they chased their loved ones around with an ax and ended up freezing to death in a hedge maze. I just don't! It's morbid. So, please, for everyone's sake and safety, do a little something you love at least once a day, even if it's just a for a few minutes. You'll thank yourself, and people will probably want to be around you more often too! (You know, because of the lack of ax.)

Well, now that I've gone on for a while here, it's time for me to get some reading done...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Re-Discovering Home, Or "When Did This Become A Super Target?!"

So I'm back in Champaign! For two years, at least. We'll see where the wind carries me after that. I'm not even starting to think about starting to think about that step of the road. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my first weeks back in my hometown. I love being close to my family. Not only because it means I can go home to mooch off the food at my parents' house, but also because I'll get to see them more than 4 times a year! Hooray! 

I have to say though, I'm finding it a tad strange that the city of Champaign thought it would be OK to change and progress with without me. For example, some stores that were in one place when I last lived here are in totally different places, and some are COMPLETELY GONE. Some have upgraded (i.e. the Super Target of this post's title) and others have just cropped up out of no where! Apparently there is a "Cactus Grill" near my apartment. I have not heard of Cactus Grill, nor did I approve this move-in. (However, they are hiring delivery people, so I suppose there might be a back-up career for me...) Other crazy things are happening here too, like my old grade school adding an entirely new set of swings! What's going on!?

Alright, I'm willing to admit I may be overreacting just a tad. (Just a tad.) But it does feel a little odd to have someone ask me "Do you know where ________ is?" and even give me the area of town, and I can hardly picture it in my mind. I did live here for a solid 14 years before college and then off and on in little chunks since then. Either I have to admit that my brain is turning to slime at a very early age or that, yes, things do change. 

Dang it! I hate admitting that change happens regardless of whether I want it to or not. I'm Type A to the core, and I like to control things. (Surprise anyone?) If I had my druthers, Champaign would be perpetually stuck in 2006 unless I OK'ed any sort of alterations. But I guess the thing about druthers is that you usually can't have them. (Although this may be alright, because if you picture the word "druthers"... well, it's not really visually appealing.) 

Anyhow, now I can tell I'm rambling a little bit. I guess the whole point of this is to say that while I'm so happy to be back in Champaign, it is still a little bit like moving somewhere new, and it takes adjustment. It's not perfect, but nowhere is. The best I can do is make this time beautiful by working hard and enjoying the small moments. Which I suppose is the only thing most of us can do anyway. In the meantime, I'll be dusting off my sparkle from wherever I packed it and looking for a place to hang it in my new apartment... 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Seward, NE: A Case Study in Love-Hate Relationships

I'm nearing the end of my time here in Nebraska and as promised, you're about to join me on the introspective adventure that is recalling the past two years of my life in the rural midwest. Hold on to your bootstraps, kids, these gravel roads are pretty bumpy!

Now, don't worry. I haven't been living THAT far out in the country. We do have paved roads here in Seward, and a lot of other great amenities such as electricity, indoor plumbing, and cable TV. It's all happening, people! 

Oh, I jest. As much as people probably think all of Nebraska is straight-up out of Little House on the Prairie, it's pretty much like everywhere else, except there's fewer people and less crime. In a lot of ways, Nebraska is exactly what you think it is: farms for miles and miles, slower way of life, and a freakish obsession with the Huskers. But there's other stuff going on here too. There's hipsters and minorities and all sorts of stuff you probably didn't think existed here! It's not as backwoods as you might assume. That all being said, I've got pretty mixed feelings about leaving this state.

When I arrived here in 2010 (SO LONG AGO), I was wearing my sludge-colored glasses. I pretty much disliked everything and everyone and didn't really want to be convinced otherwise. I'm not proud of my attitude, but life was kind of topsy-turvy for me at that point. If you'd like the really long version, just go back in the Sparlke, Sparkle archives. At first I just thought I would be here for the summer, then the summer turned into "no more than one year" and then "no more than one year" turned into "DEFINITELY no more than two years"... I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I was going to get myself out of this place.

But now that I'm about to leave (and going "home!") there are surely some things I'm going to miss. So instead of dwelling on the lack of Starbucks, Targets or decent grocery stores, I'll just touch on some of the things that I think I'll find myself pining away for (occasionally) when I get back to Champaign.

Lower gas usage! As long as I'm staying in Seward, a tank of gas in my trusty Cruiser will last weeks! My drive to work literally lasted less than one song on the radio. Going to Wal-Mart, which required a 3 minute jaunt on the highway, really started to feel taxing. In Seward, you will frequently hear people saying, "Eh, I don't want to go all the way out to Wal-Mart." AKA, I don't want to drive 7 minutes. But it was pretty nice living in a place where everything was within a few minutes.

The Movie Rental Store! And the Rivoli! If there's one place where inflation hasn't seemed to take hold, it's the Movie Rental Store and Seward's charming one-theater Rivoli. At the Movie Rental Store, you can rent 3 movies for 3 days for $3.50! Take that, Blockbuster! And if you're into immediate gratification, take that, Netflix! Catching a flick at the Rivoli costs about $7 if it's not a 3D film, but the concession costs are the real kicker. A medium popcorn and drink can be had for less than $5! Take THAT, every movie theater who thinks that $12 for popcorn is somehow justifiable. (And yes, sometimes I did go to the movie theater to buy popcorn and take it home to watch my own movie.)

The sky! OK, I know that Montana is the self-proclaimed "Big Sky" state, but I think Nebraska could give it a pretty decent run for its money as far as expansive atmosphere goes. When all you can see are fields for miles, the sky somehow seems to reach farther in every direction. And the colors that show up  in the evening are by far the best I've seen. They might not be the cliché beach sunsets that plaster calendar spreads, but the variety and brilliance of color in this huge Nebraska sky is just divine. Not to mention, we get a super long summer twilight here. So while states on the east end of the time zone seem to fade from afternoon to night in a matter of minutes, this region gets to relax in the most wonderful time of day from about 7 - 9:30, where the colors change by the minute and it doesn't get fully dark until 10.

Oh and there are more things I'll miss too... the nostalgia of everything that Seward has been to me through my whole life, everything that is tied up in my family's traditions at the 4th of July and Christmas, the way you can find places in this town where no one else is if you just need to be alone, the people that wave at you as you drive past - even if they don't know you, the old farmers who wear their hats perched right on top of their heads, the deep ties everyone seems to have with the land and the rain (my grandpa has a special calendar just to record each hundredth of precipitation), and the delicious donuts of the Bakery downtown.

One of my favorite things in Seward is this mural, because I think it sums up perfectly everything about this state:

So I'll leave here with mostly fond memories (I won't miss the relentless wind, extreme temperatures, or that claustrophobic small-town feeling). It's been a place where I changed and grew and became more of a real adult. So long Seward, Sparlke on. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Daily Inspiration

Courtesy of @cheitkamp, I have this sweet little message to pass on today. You know sometimes when you go to an antique mall (What? No one else does that? I'm the only secretly 65-year-old-lady here? OK.) and you're looking at the old-fashionedy Christmas ornaments that have glitter on them, but the glitter is sort of flaking off and not that glittery anymore? Well, friends, that's what will happen to all of us if we don't protect our sparlke like our lives depended on it! We may be getting older, but I'd like to think we're getting shinier too. (And not in a bad T-zone sort of way.) So don't let anyone dull your sparkle. And certainly don't dull your own sparkle. Polish it up, show it off, shine on. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Losing Your iPhone Contacts: A Life Metaphor

Hey, hey, hey! I bet that intriguing title really pulled you in to this post, eh? You're in for a treat. This is going to be one of those great sparkly posts where I take a dull, basically insignificant event from my real life and explode it into a genius analogy for the way life works. It takes someone reaaaally special to do this, I know, I know.

It all started last night when I was messing around on my iPhone and wanted to use the "Reminders" app. "What a great new app that I now have after updating to iOS 5.0.whatever!" I thought to myself, "I can keep track of my To-Do lists here, instead of writing myself a million post-its that inevitably get lost and don't actually help me remember anything."

Little did I know, the iPhone (coy little b-yotch that she is) was thinking, "Uh, yeahhhh NO. You're not gonna be doing that."

So this is sort of how our metaphorical conversation went last night:

iPhone: You wanna use the Reminders app, huh? Well SUCK IT! There's no way to add a new task!
Me: Hush, child. I will just be oh-so-computer savvy and Google search remedies for this predicament.
iPhone: *growling in protest*
Me: See?? Look! All I have to do is delete my iCloud account and the appropriate "+" should show up so I can add tasks to my list. Easy peasy!
iPhone: Hmm. Foiled again by the Apple Discussion Boards. You'd better watch your back. Soon I will exact my revenge on you. MWahahahaha.
Me: *Blissfully unaware of this last comment, adding new tasks to my To-Do list.*

Well, this morning started out like it normally does: Me hating life because I have to get out of  bed ... wait, that's irrelevant. Anyhow, I needed to call my dad at some point this morning and realized...


Me: *Smacking iPhone awake after its evil slumber* WTF have you done with my contacts, jerk?
iPhone: *silence*

"Fiiiiine," I thought. "I'll just go back to the discussion boards again and solve this problem." Unfortunately, there were about 50 suggested solutions, none of which worked for me and my cray-cray phone. At this point, I'm about to give up, when I realize that I can go back to my old texts and manually re-add everyone. Problem solved.

What does this have to do with life, you ask? Well, I realized today that sometimes you have to take the annoying, tedious route through life. There's not always a quick fix for losing all your contacts. Or making it as an artist/singer/firefighter/insert preferred career path here. When you want something in life, we always look first for the time-saving option (which isn't bad, sometimes you DO save a lot of time.) But other times, you just have to shake your fist at the iPhone/institution aka "The Man" and say "FINE. I'll do it the hard way, but goshdarnit I WILL DO IT."

So next time you have a goal in mind (restore contacts/secure financial future/achieve childhood dream/etc.), get after it! It won't be easy, and you might be tempted to give it all up in the process. But once you finally get that final contact entered using the irritatingly small little touchscreen buttons (for example), you'll feel soooo much better about yourself and life in general.

Final words of advice: Follow your heart, don't give up on your dreams, and for goodness' sake, don't get on the bad side of your phone. And don't use iCloud.

Sparlke on, pals.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Times They Are A-Changin'...

Yikes. It's been quite some time since I've updated Sparlke, Sparkle. I'm glad to see Deva has done some work since I've been gone... the tables have turned, eh? But here I am again, taking an hour of vacation time from work (I've accumulated almost 40, I can take 1 for no good reason, alright?) to update you with the meaningless meanderings of my mind. (Alliteration for the win!)

As the title of this post may have hinted, the times they ARE a-changin'. Even the blogger platform has changed, and I'm writing this with a little bit of anxiety because I have no idea if this is going to work. Have I mentioned that I don't like change? It makes my head hurt.

I'd better get over it however, because there are a lot of changes coming up for me. Like moving for the 13th time in 6 years. (Yes, I counted in AND out of each dorm room, apartment, etc. Packing is packing and it's always annoying no matter how far you're going.) This time I'm moving to an apartment that I've never even seen, save for a few photos that my mom snapped. The amount of trust I have put in my mother to know whether an apartment will be acceptable for living is astronomical, folks. Seriously, I would leave the job to no other person on this planet. That being said, I'm still a little nervous about the things that don't really show up in pictures... you know, the flaking paint, the grime on the sink, the caulk in the bathroom that desperately needs re-caulking. And I have to admit, I get a little real estate jealous when I see people on facebook in apartments with hardwood floors, fireplaces and crown molding. Oh well, I guess when you're going back to being a full-time student, you can't complain about the details.

And speeeeaking of being a full-time student again, did I mention I'm nervous about that too? As much as I get tired of my job from time to time, I do enjoy the whole "leave it at work" mentality. If I want to watch TV all night, I CAN. And I like making money! (Who would have guessed!) It's nice to be able to spring for a new pair of shoes just because, or like, buy food. I'm not sure these treats will be available for me come August. Well, hopefully the food will be or otherwise I'll be going on an unintentionally severe diet. At any rate, it's going to be an adjustment to get back to the college life without any of the fun parts of the college life. Seems as though when you get older you have to slowly extract from your life all the great stuff about being a young 20-something... staying out late for no good reason, seeing your friends every day, eating an entire bag of cheddar and sour cream chips and not caring at all... good stuff. I'm sure there are probably some good things about being a mid-20-something in grad school. I wish I could bring my friends with me to guarantee my sanity. Guess I'll have to settle for bringing the chips... if I can afford them.

And as for leaving Nebraska? Well that's an emotional hairball that demands its own post. So tune in next time for when I delve deep into the meaning of the "love-hate relationship." You know you're excited.

Sparlke on, pals.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Once upon a time at our local DCFS office, there worked a wonderful receptionist. You see, often times the people I talk to on the phone are not so happy. Either they are sad, they are scared or they are just plain annoyed to hear from me. But not this person, no "B", as we will call her, is always happy to hear from me.

I don't know how she does it. I want to be her.

This complete stranger not only goes out of her way to help me, but did so much as to mail me some releases I sent over to be signed weeks previously. Attached was a post-it that had written on it "Smile, Devin." Along with this message was a rainbow and a smiley face sun. I hung the post-it above my desk. (Do you think she knows how frazzled I am? haha)

Often times I feel vulnerable at work, but it's nice to know that people can be kind, and moreover, people can be unnecessarily kind.

I called her and thanked her profusely and she just giggled and said, "That tiny little sun took me a couple minutes. I'm glad you liked it."  I feel like she's my ally, but I don't even know what she looks like.  I don't know how else to thank this stranger, except to write a blog post about her.... and tell her I appreciate her  and her kindness, and send it out into the universe. (If anyone else has any more suggestions that are not creepy, please comment.)

I don't know about you, but I'm going to strive to send a little more "B" like gestures out into the universe.  Kind is in, didn't you know? It's like I tell the kids at work, "You don't have to like someone or even know them to be kind to them."

So, goodnight, dear B, whoever you are.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Excellent Boiled Potatoes.

Jane Austen is my Homegirl.

How does she do it? I've read Pride and Prejudice (only) twice, and am only beginning to dive into Emma, but I can't get enough of Ms. Austen's writing. I feel as though I may be a few years late to the party, but this will not stop me from giving a hearty shout-out to the lady who has become one of my literary heros. 

But in really analyzing what it is about Jane's (and yes we are close enough that I'm allowed to call her by her first name) books that I love so much, I realize that it was Pride and Prejudice  the movie  that actually sparked my love for Jane Austen. Have you ever seen the 2005 version with Kiera Knightly and Co.? You really should. I would literally watch that movie weekly if I had the time, and actually there have been weeks that I have watched it more than once. 

It is a comfort to me. The beautiful score immediately improves my mood, no matter what the mood is. The sun rising over the titles just makes me sigh deeply and I'm gone. I'm taken away, corny as that is, and I'm part of that world. I love the ball scenes when I can imagine myself making an idiot of myself dancing and drinking. I long to be Lizzy and Jane and Charlotte's friend. I so want to be in their club. I want to have sisters that annoy me but for whom I'd also walk miles in the mud to see. I admire Mr. Bennett's calm, sarcastic and then finally sweet mannerisms. I love Mary's secret love for Mr. Collins. I cheer every time Elizabeth "zings" Mr. Darcy at the ball that first time. I cry every time Mr. Bingley proposes to Jane, and I feel relieved when Darcy and Lizzy finally get over themselves and get together. God help me, I even find myself being endeared to that anxious Mrs. Bennett. 

The point is, I can recite this movie front to back, middle to finish, ten ways from Thursday. I know what to expect, I know how it ends, but I keep coming back for more. I also think it's extremely curious that in this case, my obsession is with a story that is told by film, although many people would argue that the book is a great deal different, and probably better. AND it's not even the ORIGINAL movie version. But I don't care. I think it's glorious. You can't help what you like, you know? 

And in my case, you can't help what you adore. 

I think my point here is that I am a huge supporter of whatever it is that you like. If you like a cover of Jason Mraz's cover of "Space Cowboy", do it. Like it. Love it. Whatever, you want, pals. Steve Miller doesn't mind and neither do I. Some things are so great that they need to be redone and revamped and re-shown and remade. It doesn't make the original any less important, or you any less important for loving the later versions. 

Thank you for going along with me on this little rant. I'm going to get back to P&P now. It's almost time for the "white" ball, and I love me some single-shot party scenes. 

Peace. Love. Re-makes. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bad, Bad, Bad.

Happy Spring, Sparkly Ones!  I'm hoping that these past few months have brought you all things good.

So, I'm here to bring you some perspective on something that not many people like to talk about: bad stuff. Yep. Negative, horrible, terrible, horrific, unfathomable, nasty, unbearable bad stuff.  Sounds like fun, right!?  

Well, I'm sorry. But here's the deal: it happens. It actually happens quite a lot, unfortunately, and I think we can handle it. Here's why: in my line of work I hear about some not only bad but disgusting things, and as of late, I've been witness to a couple of pretty traumatic events. Now, for confidentiality and legality's sake I'm not really allowed to disclose much about any of these things, which is fine... kind of.  I mean, what's the FIRST rule of trauma? TALK ABOUT IT! Oh, wait. Except if you're a social worker. If you're a social worker you should only talk to other equally traumatized people because that will give you the perspective you need. Sometimes social work ethics are about as effective as a jello sword. (Don't ask... it was just the first comparison that came to mind.)  

I just have to wonder if keeping these things to myself is really helping anything. I always tell my kids at work that they can trust me and come to me with anything, but that they shouldn't hold all the nasty stuff in because nasty stuff is not meant to keep. So, being that I am a fairly self-aware person (and I almost had a nervous break-down in November) I decided to start my own therapy in January and it's been a really great experience. In the words of my therapist: "If you're a therapist you need a therapist." And I do, I really needed a therapist. But sometimes our once a month appointments are not enough in the midst of all the muck and injustices. So! This is where things get... bad. 

And here it is, my perspective on bad: it is awful.  Groundbreaking, right? I know. That's why they pay me the big bucks. But here's something else: it's temporary, and it is the ever-important contrast to greatness, and in that way, I appreciate it. It makes me realize that good is extremely precious.

Now, before you go all "SHUT UP WITH THAT SILVER LINING CRAP, DEVIN!" may I just remind you that I am a professional problem solver, and I need to solve the problem of bad. I am compelled by something I can not label, touch, or diagnose to put an end to miserable feelings everywhere.  I need to rationalize these terrible things because if I can make sense of them, I can solve them. But it's a really, really, really, really hard job because most bad things are not rational, they're the opposite, actually. And on top of that, most people don't react rationally to bad stuff, they react emotionally, and wouldn't you know it? So do I. But I STILL have to solve it. I HAVE TO. Yes, I do realize that I will never fully solve "bad", but I sure as heck (censored for all you PG viewers out there),  can refuse to let bad take over. And here's how:

I can ask for help when I need it, which sometimes is often. Help is badness' kryptonite. The two can not exist for long in the same situation. I want to help you all, too, when the occasion arises. 

 I can try to be a little kinder than I have been, and those of you who know me well know that I am rather, shall we say, honest, in my opinions. You'd also  know that this will be tricky for me because kindness is a lot more difficult for me than sarcasm, but I'll give it a whirl. 

I can think before I act, and I can contribute only prepossessing works of all kinds to you all. (Or at least not careless works.)

Finally, I can remember to tell you how much I appreciate and love you. Without you, badness would surely take over and creep its way into my soul. Thank you, lovely people, for the supporting, joke-making, ice cream-getting, hug-giving, whine-listening, and checking-inning you do so often for me. 

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Our powers combined = badness getting its tush drop-kicked to...well, I don't know. I can't specify a place because I don't want to wish bad on anyone. But the point is, bad's gonna lose. We win. Game over. 

Thanks for reading. Speak up, dive in, sparkle on.  You rock. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sparlke On!

This morning I ran across this video via Twitter and I had to post it. Whenever something that is only 3 minutes long almost brings me to tears I feel like it's time to share.

When this poster first started popping up around the internet, I really loved it. First of all, the typography is perfect, and that little crown is so Sparlke, Sparkle. It's hard to go wrong with a clean, simple graphic on top of a single bold color. No need to complicate things all the time. However, as it became overused and cliche, I got a little bit tired. Maybe there was a little hipster sitting on my shoulder saying, "Ugh, everyone likes that print? DON'T LIKE IT ANYMORE." At any rate, it really fell off my radar of images that I enjoyed because I really didn't think it meant much of anything.

But this video rekindled my love for the print. I didn't know it was originally a motivational wartime poster. I just figured it was some witty graphic designer who really hit the jackpot. Sometimes I think we tend to glamorize World War II by concentrating on the home front efforts (victory gardens = cute!), the great graphics of propaganda posters and of course, the fashion. (Because what would the WWII era be if it didn't include those A-line dresses made out of fantastic prints?) But it was still a war, and it was still horrifying, and it was very much a crisis that I don't think we can understand. The thing about this story that really resonates with me is that someone out there in history thought the best thing they could say was the simplest: Keep calm and carry on.

What can you do when the world is falling apart? Not a whole lot, sometimes. But we don't have to add to the chaos by freaking out and throwing in the towel. By now, I'm sure there are a ton of people (girls, mostly) who have gone through a breakup and seen that poster and thought "Yes. Tacking this up in my bedroom will be a daily reminder that I can survive this." And I don't want to trivialize things like breakups or any other personal problem, because I don't want to be a hypocrite. As someone conveniently said to me this morning, "You might be having a big crisis, or you might be having a small crisis, but it's still a crisis." Whatever thing is making you anxious or sad or tired may not seem legitimate to everyone, but if it's legitimate to you, then it means something. And in those moments, I think this poster is great advice. What can you do? You can start by taking control of yourself. Take a breath and do your day.

Whether your crisis is an international crisis or a 10-minute "I'm gonna be late!" crisis, it's usually best to keep calm and carry on. And if you really want to be an overachiever, you will Keep Calm and Sparkle On.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Things that are Surprising.

Here are some things that surprised me today:

1. I found an open wireless internet connection while sitting on the West Couch in my Grandparents' living room. I felt like this sort of occasion warranted a blog post. Also, I feel like I should never move. Until my battery dies, of course. Then I will be forced to risk it all and venture toward an outlet.

2. I just looked down at my finger and saw that I was bleeding! Not a lot, mind you, but don't you find those sorts of things to be odd? I never even felt anything! My skin must really be able to tolerate a lot of pain. (But don't test me, I cry easy.)

That's all! These are not really life insights, but I can't be revelatory all the time. Every once in a great while, I'm just an ordinary gal who finds non-password-protected wireless connections and nicks her finger. Who knew!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Passionize Your Life!

So, does anyone know the phone number or email address to the US Patent Office? Because I've got a really great idea for a new word. Or maybe I just have to tweet at Webster's Dictionary (surely they're on Twitter, right?) Either way, I'm claiming rights to my new addition to the lexicon: Passionize! It's not a word already, and I know that because, well, I just do, and also there is a little red dotted line under it as I type this. Ergo, I have invented it! It came to me a couple nights ago as I was falling asleep and I thought, "I gotta get that on the blog." Then I proceeded to have a dream about a being on a bus driving through the mountains and flipping upside down. Clearly, my subconscious isn't on board yet.

But my regular conscious is, and here's why. How many times have you heard a depressing statistic about our generation and how hard it is to find a job? Or how many of us are still living with/dependent on our parents? Or, even worse, how we're little whiners because we refuse to work at McDonald's? Yeah, we've seen this recession spun in every single angle possible. And it all either ends up looking gloomy for us for the next decade, or we end up being criticized because we've been taught to have high goals and get upset when we can't reach them. But what we haven't heard about yet is that while this is all going on, we can still passionize our lives.

I'm definitely not going to sit here and preach about only settling for your dream job, because frankly, that's just not realistic for most of us. But believe it or not, your job is not your life. Neither is your relationship (or lack thereof.) Neither are your hobbies, the social media you're addicted to, or the shenanigans you get up to on the weekends. None of these things in and of itself is going to fulfill you and complete you. They're all part of a whole life you've got. And when you feel gloomy about the next ten years of interning because that's the best thing you can find (or any of those other life components), you've got to passionize something.

I guess I should explain: Passionize = Passion + Energy. They're sort of the same thing, but not exactly. I don't really want to get annoying and just talk semantics here, but the whole idea is that whatever you put your energy into should make you feel passionate. And whatever makes you feel passionate should fill you with energy. I know I spend so much of my day doing things that I'm not passionate about and that drain me of all the energy I have. I'm not even doing hard work! Like, if I were lifting bricks all day and carrying them for miles, I'd have a legitimate reason to be tired at the end of the day. Instead, I have a pretty decent part-time administrative position, I teach a class, take a class, etc. None of these things is physically draining, and yet I've found that I'm always so tired. I need to passionize my life! Or a little part of it, at least. I need to find something that makes me excited, that I look forward to, that I feel strongly (passionately!) about.

I'm not sure what that thing is yet. I just invented this word two days ago, so it might take me a while to brainstorm. But I hope that if you're feeling like I do, you can find some way to passionize your life too. I think it's imperative that we do. How else are we going to survive 10 years of working our way out of a recession? Yeah, we've got to do things we might not want to do, but let's balance that out with doing something that we love to do. I think we could all end up being happier. And happy people tend to be nicer to each other, and nicer people don't take advantage of one another... see where I'm going/wildly extrapolating?

Bottom line, whether you want to use my word or not (and you certainly may), figure out what makes you tick, and get after it. And if all else fails, maybe we can make "Passionize" the next new Snapple drink. Sparlke, sparkle on!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012!? How did that happen??

Remember when the Millenium happened? Yeah, well, I hate to burst your bubble but that was over a DECADE ago! To all of you who feel like time has started going much faster than normal - I agree. It's a little freakish, honestly. It's already been 2 years (almost) since I graduated college and nearly a QUARTER OF A CENTURY SINCE I WAS BORN! Where does the time go? Seriously, though. Where does it go? Another dimension? Here's looking at you, Stephen Hawking.

Anyhow. It's about halfway through January so it's about time I do my 2011 summary, as if any of you actually care about what happened during 2011. But if you do, or you're bored, read on...

January: You know, this was so long ago, I don't even remember anything that happened. I'm guessing I was cold.

February: I started hanging out with some new Concordia natives, and let me just tell you, it was one of the best things that happened to me during 2011. These people are hilarious and supportive and they let me invade their group of friends and settle in as if I had been there for a long time. Basically, I'm eternally grateful that they didn't judge me for being an outsider and accepted me even when I'm sure I scared them with my frightening personality.

March: Girls' reunion in Chicago! At least I think this happened in March. It was awesome to get back together with gals from Valpo and shop and talk and eat and drink and do everything that you do when you're with your best friends. Plus it numbed that not-in-college-anymore pain for a couple of days.

April: Hmm... let's see. April. I got nothing, to be honest.

May: Finally! A month I can remember! My 23rd birthday occurred during this blessed month. At work, we got started on the biggest project I've been involved in so far - three giant mosaic sculptures for a prayer garden. Not that I was so much a part of the fabrication, but it pretty much consumed my entire summer in one way or another.

June: Now June I DO remember. Probably because it was the most hectic month of 2011. I entertained my innermost hippie and spent four days covered in dirt at Bonnaroo (best. week. ever.) And then, because apparently I really love driving in a car, I drove back from Tennessee to Nebraska and hopped back in the car on the same day to drive to California. If you're considering driving from Tennessee to Nebraska to California in a 48 hour stretch, here's my advice: Don't. Just buck up the cash and fly. Or at least realize that if you try to do this in 48 hours, you will inevitably end up hating everyone around you regardless of whether you know them or not. At any rate, the CA trip went well (work-related, so there's only so much fun you can have) and June closed out with a rather exhausted Abby.

July: The month of weddings! Three to go to, two for which I sang. I really love weddings and these were no exception. Weddings are the perfect excuse for catching up with old friends, drinking to your heart's content and, of course, dancing. I just love to dance, even though I know I probably look like a moron.

August: Well, August was kind of a bummer as I started to say goodbye to all the new people I had met in the winter. I guess I can't blame them for getting real jobs in the real world that are not in Seward. But it was still sad and life in Nebraska started feeling a lot quieter again.

September/October/November: I'm bunching these together for several reasons. A) They sort of blurred together for me. B) I basically did the same thing the entire fall: work, coach volleyball, take an art history class at UNL, think about applying to grad school, entertain myself by watching reality TV on Friday nights. C) I'm sorta hungry and I want to wrap this up quickly.

December: And we're already at the end of the year! Whew! How did that happen? Maybe because I combined three months into one! Magic. Anyhow, the first half of December was marked by my frantic (yet ultimately successful!) attempt to submit my grad school apps and write my art history research paper while still working and getting a little Christmas shopping done. The second half of the month was much more lovely, with the return of those dear to me lost to the tundra of North Dakota and the merriment of family and Christmas cheer. And finally, the year 2011 ended on a high note, as I spent New Years with my best friend in the world and co-blogger, Deva (along with a few notable others).

So all in all, not much to complain about. Certainly 2011 was far superior to 2010. I'm hoping 2012 is even better, and I have a little inkling that it just might be. So cheers to your 2012. May it be exciting, happy, and full of sparlke, sparkle.