Joy to the World

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I like to think of life as a journey. I understand that sounds super cliché and cheesy, but it’s true. One of the (admittedly more annoying) aspects of my character is that I try to be optimistic and find good in everything.

I remember once when I was a kid on a hayride at night with a group of friends. Someone pointed out a black, boarded up house and began to tell a story about how he had heard that it was haunted.

I frowned at this suggestion, worried that the owners and/or the actual house might be hurt over those allegations. I decided to try to find a way to redeem the situation. “I don’t think it’s haunted,” I defended it stoutly.

“Really? Then how come the old lady that lived there hasn’t been seen coming in or going out in 25 years?” he challenged.

I remember scrambling for an answer. “Maybe she hasn’t been seen because she just…died in the house a few years ago…or something.”

I believe his response to my proposition was something along the lines of, “That’s what would make it haunted, doofus.”

It was annoying to people when I was seven. It’s still annoying to them 15 years later.

Now, I am not an Amy Adams from Enchanted type of person; I do complain. Things irritate me. I get crabby, especially and inexplicably on Thursdays. I just don’t really like to dwell on negative aspects of my life because I have too many things to be thankful for.

I guess the world has enough negative aspects that already fight to try to steal my joy without me allowing them to by dwelling on what I’m not happy about. This does not mean I stick my head in the sand or ignore features that are wrong or need changing. Life is beautiful, but it is also difficult, and we, especially as Christians, should be fighting against the injustice, pain, and poverty that is so prevalent not only in our society, but also in the world as a whole. Sometimes, however, there comes a point in life where we need to stop complaining about things that need to be changed and just be the change ourselves.

What would happen if, instead of focusing on what displeased us, we focused on our blessings?

I’ll change the Patrick Dempseys of the world yet.

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Musings of a First Grader

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In the fall of my first grade career, I was subjected to the cruel and unusual form of punishment commonly known as private school. I excelled in reading and writing, and my parents were advised to put me in first grade early. At 5 years old, I found myself strapped into the plushy seat of our brown van on the ride to school. Even the homey cinnamon smell of the van and my new Beauty and the Beast lunchbox and thermos were no comfort. My ugly red and blue plaid uniform itched. This was definitely the worst day of my life.

Despite my silent prayer, “Please, God! Make another flood like Noah’s to wash away the school!” the building was still there when we arrived. Although we had been going to church there for most of my life, I stared up at the familiar structure as though I’d never seen it before. It now appeared foreboding and disapproving. My sister yanked the sliding door open, yelled, “Bye, Mom!” and took off at a run. I understood. No self-respecting fifth grader would be caught dead dragging along a lowly first grader. I slid my clammy hand into my Mom’s hand and continued at a much slower pace.

It was mid-September; the day was gray and cloudy, and a chilly breeze sent dying leaves skittering across the sidewalk like skeletons. I pushed open the heavy metal doors as if they guarded the entrance to a dungeon. The hallway bustled and hummed with students. Shoes squeaked on the floor, giving me goosebumps. The fluorescent lights bounced off the gray floor and colorless walls, making the hallway seem endless. This is the end, I thought, clomping down the hallway in my ugly dress shoes, part of the offending uniform. I’m a terrible person for asking God to flood the school, and my punishment is that I have to walk this hall for the rest of my life in these disgusting shoes. By the time we reached my new classroom, I believe I would have preferred that fate. Everywhere was chaos. Kids were piling things into their lockers, chattering to their friends, and not a single other child had their mom with them. I was mortified. My previous lifeline now caused me to be labeled with the worst insult to a 1st grader: Kindergarten baby.

“I’m fine,” I tried to say, wishing my lips would stop quivering. I was, after all, 5-years-old, and way too grown up to cry. Mom blew me a kiss, temporarily lifting my spirits, but as soon as I turned away, my soul sank back into my heavy shoes.

My backpack would not fit into the locker with my prized coat. Red and puffy, the cuffs and hood were trimmed with silky black fur. I had always pretended to be Anastasia when I wore it, and had felt bad for girls who didn’t have Russian princess coats. Now it betrayed me. No matter how hard I pushed, I could not close the door. The kid next to me gave me a look of pure disgust before shutting his locker effortlessly and walking away, laughing. I made a face at his back and probably would have called him a weenie (almost as insulting as “kindergarten baby”) but then the bell rang, stopping my heart. I gave the locker a last hard kick before leaving it hanging half open and dashing into class.

Not even the smell of erasers and pencil shavings soothed me. I looked for an empty seat, and two friends from church waved me over. The kid who had mocked my predicament at the lockers slid into the last chair at our cube-like table, but I ignored him and surveyed the teacher. She had brown hair piled on her head in a way that reminded me of my aunt’s shih Tzu, and her face was white and fleshy—like a pierogi, I decided as she slid a piece of paper in front of each of us.

“Complete the assignment,” she sang out, “and then we’ll go to the library.”

I looked down, thrilled to be going to my favorite place. On the worksheet, there was a hippo whose massive midsection held long lines of letters, the first of which read XKQARLCATPOF. I had never seen a word search before. I blinked.

“Just circle all the words. Isn’t this fun? A game for homework!” she trilled. I quirked an eyebrow at that description. I liked games, and I liked reading, as long as they were real words and not nonsense. I shrugged and circled the entire first line, but she said briskly, “That’s not right,” before moving on.

I looked at my paper in surprise, contemplating what I’d done wrong. Maybe the words went up and down, not sideways. Anything was possible in this ridiculous game. I started to circle them vertically when a tap on the shoulder from Locker Boy interrupted me.

“You circled them wrong!” he hissed.

I frowned, hurt. My circles were even and flawless. What was the problem?

“How do you do it, then?” I whispered back, only to receive a curled up lip and a disbelieving, “You’ve never seen a word search before?”

I glared back at him and tossed my curls over my shoulder. Boys were a waste of time. In my desperation to understand the assignment, I’d forgotten that.

My haughtiness vanished as everyone began packing their papers into their backpack and I was left behind with a substitute while they traipsed to the library. I was astounded. I was denied library for not correctly circling these non-words. What next? I’d probably get fired from first grade. Tears stung my eyes, blurring the hippo, which now had the beginnings of a hole in his stomach from the erasing he’d had to endure. A light perfume scent wafted towards me, and I blinked to clear my vision. The substitute teacher was crouched next to my desk.

I sighed loudly before she could say anything. “You’re just gonna tell me to circle the words,” I said as a lone tear slipped down my cheek. “And I’ll tell you, I know how to read and this—” I jabbed a finger at the first line, not even attempting to sound out XKQARLCATPOF, “is not a real word.”

She bit back a smile. “There’s a little word hidden inside that mess,” she said. “It’s like a treasure hunt. Can you find it?”

I studied the paper and felt the answer dawn in my mind. Cat was in the middle of that line! All the other little words jumped out at me, and I zipped through the assignment in time to get to lunch. I found my friends and sat down, but suddenly, Locker Boy came over and tugged on my friend’s braid, singing her name. He has a crush on her, I realized, torn between disappointment over her low standards and disgust at the thought of how many cooties were probably crawling all over him.

She surprised me by immediately slapping his hand away and scowling, “Stop it! I told you, I don’t want to sit with you. Go away.”

I watched him slink away and turned back to my friend, pleased.

She rolled her eyes. “Ignore him,” she said firmly. “He thinks he’s so cool, but he’s nothing but a weenie. Christine says he’s cute but I think that’s gross.”

We shared a smile and I pulled out my Belle thermos, clinking it against hers. First grade might be terrible, but at least I wasn’t alone in my suffering.

Funny in Farsi: A Book Review

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I have always had a heart for for people who are marginalized, mistreated, and abused. My own writing frequently reflects this. I also love reading about different cultures and religions. These are a few of of the (many) reasons I appreciate Firoozeh Dumas and her book Funny in Farsi.

 

Funny in Farsi

Funny in Farsi

 

Firoozeh Dumas’s memoir Funny in Farsi is enjoyable to read for multiple reasons. She is able to convey her frustrations and the unfair treatment she received as a new immigrant to the United States while using humor, without seeming bitter or hostile. She is very balanced in her storytelling, particularly when she is careful to include and show empathy for other cultures that are frequently marginalized, particularly the Mexican community, which she lived near growing up. Dumas also has a very open minded attitude, which shines through when she is telling stories of her slightly eccentric, but very loving and supportive family.

Dumas expresses the racial profiling and stereotyping, as well as just pure ignorance, that she had to face in America growing up when she tells her stories, particularly in the essays “Bernice” and “The F Word.”  In “Bernice,” she talks about people not knowing what country she was even from, as well as how her French husband is admired while she faces hostility when Americans were taken hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran. She is able to express her thoughts on the subject gracefully and tactfully, without racially profiling the Americans, but still able to clearly convey her position. She uses humor in “The F Word” in the way she writes the barrage of questions that she would frequently receive about her name. Her choice of writing the questions in a run-on sentence was a very effective way of showing how she would be ambushed. She is brutally honest and transparent, however, in expressing the vulnerability she felt when going by both an American name and her Iranian name. She is very skilled at expressing honesty through comedy.

Perhaps one of Dumas’s most touching essay is “I-raynians Need Not Apply.” Although her characteristically dry humor is still present, it has more of a sad tone that some of her other essays. In it, she expresses the struggle her family endures when they first move to America a few weeks before the American hostage situation in Tehran. Her father loses his job and struggles to find one again until the hostages are released. She uses her normal comic wit when relaying her father’s disgust towards her view of politics, but the most striking feature of this essay is the way it ends. All of Dumas’s other compositions end with an amusing quip or humorous quote from her family; “I-raynians Need Not Apply,” ends on a serious note as Dumas quotes her father’s view on how tragic it is for people to hate.

In “The Wedding,” Dumas portrays her family realistically; they are very involved, slightly controlling, and want to run her entire wedding. An interesting thing to note, however, is that even though she describes her family with a mixture of love and exasperation, her relatives are by far the more preferable choice when compared to those of her husband. Her mother-in-law refuses to accept both Dumas and her family, simply because they are Iranian. The traditional Muslim ceremony she had with her family members seems more meaningful and heartwarming than the ceremony she has with his family in a church. Dumas is very careful, however, not to bash her husband’s side of the family, even though they did not approve of her marrying their son and made no secret of that fact.

In all of her essays comprising the book as a whole, Dumas is very open and honest but avoids being bitter. This a mark of a talented writer, and perhaps her greatest strength.

DIY Jewelry Holder

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As farewell gifts for my professors, some friends and I got together and drew on mugs with Sharpies to say goodbye. We wrote a quote about teaching on one side and a personal quote from them on the other.

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(The lighting cuts out the ink. I promise those words are “the” and to.”)

It was a fun project, especially considering the fact that I haven’t been able to indulge in my crafty side for quite some time, as I was busy finishing up my undergrad work and applying to grad school. It does have a downside, however.

Now I think I’m Martha Stewart.

It was thus when I needed a new way to store my earrings, I turned up my nose at plain old jewelry boxes and even cute ones on Etsy and the like, which promised unique offerings for anywhere from $25-$40.

I stared at one that was particularly appealing (and pricy) and thought to myself, “Pshh, I can make that.” So I did!

Armed with several tips from Pinterest, I set out.

I may be Martha Stewart Jr. now, but a professional blogger I am not. I don’t have pictures of the step by step process, only in the beginning and the final product…which I guess are the most important parts, yes?

I bought a cheap frame from the Dollar Store that was purple and hideous and painted it with black paint that I had already purchased a few weeks ago for making horns when I played Maleficent in my school’s Disney play.

 

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I was also simultaneously organizing my other craft stuff (thus the Sharpies and craft basket) and reading (thus the book!)

Once the paint on the frame dried, I took the lace curtain that I had bought at Salvation Army for half off and cut it up. I left a lot of extra fabric around the frame so that I could pull the lace taut and it wouldn’t sag in the middle. (This took a few extra hands; thanks, Mom and Dad!)

Once the two of them had the lace pulled tightly around the frame, I took the Stapler and went to town around the back of the frame. I was worried that it wouldn’t hold, but since it was a cheapy little thing from the Dollar Store, the regular staples went right through and held tightly!

Annnnnnnd the final project….. *drum roll*

 

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Ta-da! Honestly, the longest part was waiting for the paint to dry and then going through the actual process of hanging the earrings! I estimated that the entire project cost me about $2, a fraction of what Etsy or Target wanted. My only regret is that I underestimated how much jewelry I own; I need a bigger frame!

DIY is definitely my new addiction; I’ll be posting more! Stay tuned!