Where Logic Meets Love

Another Moment of Married Life

Sunday, February 27, 2011

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Another Moment of Married Life | Faith Permeating Life
Last night at church (Mike works on Sundays so we go to Saturday night Mass), Mike and I got the giggles.

For the benefit of non-Catholics, a brief explanation: About two-thirds of the way into Mass, we sing a song generally referred to as the "Holy, Holy" (or Sanctus) and then kneel for the rest of the Liturgy of the Eucharist until standing for the Lord's Prayer.

Well, we were nearing the end of the "Holy, Holy," when Mike nudged me. I looked over, puzzled, and saw he was halfway through lowering the kneeler. It was poised to land on my foot, so I quickly moved my foot and he finished setting it down.

We sang the last few lines and then the rest of the congregation lowered their kneelers and we all kneeled down. I whispered to him, jokingly, "Were you trying to beat everyone else?"

He laughed and said, "I didn't want to crush your toes!"

I looked at him, puzzled, and then said, "Then... why didn't you just wait until I was ready?"

He then realized how ridiculous his statement -- and his action -- were and busted up in silent laughter, which set me off. For the rest of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we had to avoid eye contact, and every time I could hear him quietly snorting I would start giggling again. It was terrible and hilarious all at the same time.

I think we were already in kind of a silly mood because it's the weekend for the "Annual Catholic Appeal," where we had to listen to a recording by our archbishop and then we all got forms and little golf pencils and the priest read directions for filling out the form in a way that reminded both Mike and me of taking standardized tests. Essentially we're asked to make a pledge of money to the archdiocese that can be paid throughout the next year. I've mentioned before that I have no problem contributing to our church because they provide a service for us -- Mass -- and because I believe in the importance of tithing in general.

But Mike and I agreed that we didn't want to contribute to the archdiocese, particularly as our archbishop (Cardinal George) was until recently president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has made some really stupid statements about gay people and gay marriage. So we listened to this whole spiel about where to put our credit card number, and Mike joked about how we should say we're paying our $0 in installments, and we were just in a pretty silly mood to begin with.

It's days like these that I love being married to my best friend.

The Lives of Nameless People

Thursday, February 24, 2011

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The Lives of Nameless People | Faith Permeating Life
For Christmas, I received iLife '11, a big upgrade for me from the iLife '08 that was on my Mac when I got it. This meant that I finally got the fun of the "Faces" and "Places" features in iPhoto, which allow you to tag who's in your pictures (as on Facebook) and where pictures are taken, and then you can find all pictures of a certain person or taken in a certain place.

These kind of projects are my downfall because of my need for completeness. And unlike the project mentioned in the previous post, in which I went through thousands of songs in my iTunes and corrected all the information in each profile, tagging faces can quickly start to mess with your head.

First of all, iPhoto will recognize faces regardless of whether they're actually the main focus of the picture, and sometimes will mistakenly tag inanimate objects as faces as well. This means you have to go through and delete the tags you don't want. It's one thing to say, no, this tire or this piece of wallpaper is not a face. But then you say -- well, OK, that is a face, but it was just our waiter that night, or just the people standing behind us in line. And so it forces you to acknowledge that that is a person who has a name and a life and -- yes -- a face, but to you, they mean nothing. I started wondering how many other people's pictures I'd ended up in who didn't know me and would have just x-ed my face out as an unimportant bystander. A nameless, meaningless person.

Then the lines become fuzzier. There are the people whose names you knew at one point, but can't remember. There's a whole group of girls I spent months with in college planning a gay pride T-shirt distribution, and I have all these pictures from the distribution day, and I can't remember a single one of their names. Is it important that I label them? I don't have any contact with them now, but I worked so closely with them for so long that I don't feel right lumping them in with the nameless people I never met who show up in photos of crowds. Yet how much effort do I really want to make tracking down their names? Why does it matter?

And what about that girl that went on all the campus ministry retreats with us? What's-her-face, something starting with an A? She was friends with a handful of our friends, so she's kind of important, right? She keeps showing up in these pictures, so it's not like we can pretend she's not there... And so she gets left as a nameless tagged face. Ditto to that guy that our friend dated for forever, who came to everything, but whose name neither of us can remember. And so on.

Then there's the people you don't know at all -- but you know their names. Mike's been a groomsman quite a few times at this point, so there's plenty of pictures of him and some girl or another that we don't know, walking down the aisle. All it takes is pulling out the wedding program, and well, now I've got all their names right here, so why not label his childhood friend's bride's third bridesmaid, and that cute flower girl, and the bride's grandmother? It can start to get kind of absurd -- when am I ever going to be looking for pictures of her grandmother? -- but again, why delete the face tag when I can properly label the person?

It starts raising all sorts of questions. Who is important in your life? Why? If someone was important, and now isn't, is it important to remember them? How can we know so many people for so long without knowing much about them? Why do we keep pictures? When will we ever want to know who's in the pictures, or look for pictures of a particular person? Who do we now know who won't be important 10 years from now?

I think it's similar to what a lot of people go through with Facebook and deciding whether you want to friend someone or remain Facebook friends with them, particularly if you don't interact any more with them via Facebook than you did before. In that case it's a little different because it's a mutual thing. But it definitely makes you think about the relationships we have in life and how much they change over time. I'm of the belief that it's not important to try to hold onto friendships forever -- sometimes people bless you with their friendship for a certain period of your life, and then you move into a different stage of life where your relationship needs are different. But I still think it's important to remember people who played a big role in your life at some point. Or even a small role, if just to avoid looking at pictures 10 year from now and going, "Oh... what the heck was her name?"

The Art of Quitting

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

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The Art of Quitting | Faith Permeating Life
All my life, I've been a champion quitter.

It's very important to me that I don't spend time on things that aren't important to me, and so in my 25 years I've quit a lot of things, big and small.
  • I quit gymnastics when I was 7 because they wanted me to do no-handed cartwheels off the balance beam before I'd mastered a regular cartwheel.
  • I quit piano lessons when I started middle school because I hated them.
  • Ditto to voice lessons a year later.
  • I quit the community choir when I stopped enjoying it, re-joined a year later when I thought I wanted to be a choir teacher, and quit again when it turned out the new director was a horrible bully.
  • I was dead-set on being a photo major and swore up and down I wouldn't change my mind like every other college student -- then quit after two weeks of art class (a prereq) in which I failed to do abstract art "properly."
  • I quit my scholars program in college when I realized it was sucking up insane amounts of my time and I was getting nothing out of it. (Literally -- I didn't even get a scholarship from it because I already had a full-tuition scholarship. And I was in another scholars program anyway.)

I haven't regretted a single one of these decisions.

Don't think I quit everything I start. I completed both a bachelor's and a master's in five years, for goodness' sakes, finished a master's thesis that comprised three complete studies, and even enjoyed a year as a graduate teaching assistant when I knew nothing about teaching going into it. I've also completed far too many insane personal projects, like going through all 4,544 songs in my iTunes and ensuring they had the correct composer, release year, and album artwork. Because I'm weird like that.

In any case, I have no qualms about my most recent decision, to drop out of my editing certificate program after one class. (It takes five classes to complete it.) There are a lot of reasons, but the main one is that my entire reason for getting certified is no longer valid. Going in, I thought I wanted to expand my freelance work to publishing houses rather than just authors trying to get published, but I realized after going through this class that I don't want to do that. I like working with authors. I like that I'm not going to be the last pair of eyes on a piece of work, that I can see it through several drafts if they're willing to pay for it, and that I can be a little rough on them when they really suck because, hey, you want to get this thing published, right?

There are other reasons, not all of which I need to get into, but another big one is that while the program does offer both 8-week evening classes and 3-day seminars, I didn't realize that most of the classes, including the mandatory ones I need to complete the program, are only offered as Thursday-Friday-Saturday seminars, meaning I'd be eating up most of my vacation time at work in the next year just taking the classes. And it's not worth my time and money when I might not ending using the certificate for much of anything anyway.

Because I do successfully accomplish so many things, I don't feel bad when I realize I need to cut something out. Maybe it's because I recently finished Spousonomics and I'm thinking about cost-benefit analyses, or maybe it's because a consultant grilled my coworkers and me today about why each and every one of our department goals is important and valuable, but I'm willing to be honest that this isn't doing enough for me and quit before I have too many sunk costs (more economics!) and feel obligated to finish it out.

What do you think? When has quitting been valuable to you and when are you glad you stuck with something?

Excuse Me, Your Sole Method of Communication is Broken...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

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Excuse Me, Your Sole Method of Communication is Broken... | Faith Permeating Life
Sometimes, the facelessness of corporations and organizations in America, and their ability to be even more so through the Internet, really makes me angry.

Here's a brief example, and I'm kicking myself for not remembering which company this was or which e-mail address I used, but I don't even think I had a problem with the company, I think I just wanted to let them know that some part of their website wasn't working. Since they had no contact information listed, I used their "Contact Us" form to write up a note telling them the problem. I then received an error message saying, sorry, this form wasn't working, please copy/paste my message into an e-mail and send it to such-and-such e-mail address. So, dutifully, I did just that. I then got an automated response back from the e-mail address saying it didn't accept incoming mail, and to please go to their website and use the "Contact Us" form to contact them.

The thing that kills me about this is that 1) I was trying to help them in the first place and 2) now they have no way of knowing that both their form and the e-mail address are not accepting comments, because I have no way of contacting them to tell them.

I also had a huge headache with PayPal in which they limited my account for no apparent reason and requested I upload my driver's license to verify my address, which I did immediately, and then it sat for a month and a half waiting for someone to check it against my account. The thing that pissed me off there was that I kept getting e-mails telling me my account was limited and to please log in and see what I needed to do to resolve it. I found some contact form on their website that I used to explain the problem and never got a response. I finally tracked down a phone number for them (not an easy task), spent a good long time on hold, and then talked to someone who took less than 30 seconds to look at my driver's license, remove the hold on my account, and apologize for the delay.

My more recent frustration came from Equifax, the credit reporting agency. I got my free credit report from them recently, but only by using my maiden name -- they had my married name listed under "Other names" but had my maiden name as my current name. Obviously, it should be the other way around. So I hunted around their site and found that I had to file a "dispute" in order to get it fixed. So I did just that and filed a dispute explaining that the names were reversed. Given that the Society Security office has my correct name on file, I didn't think it should be that difficult to verify, and I could send them whatever backup documentation they requested.

I received an e-mail in an alarmingly short amount of time -- maybe a day later -- saying my dispute had been resolved and I could log in using the confirmation number in the e-mail to view the result of the dispute. I went to the link provided, and rather than just being able to put in the confirmation number, I had to give them my name, my address, my Society Security Number, the whole nine yards.

I tried it with both my married and maiden names and got the same result both times: A page explaining how to interpret the dispute resolution results, and then a big message saying, "You have no pending disputes at this time." No record of any dispute I'd submitted anywhere. I looked all over the site and found nothing except information about how to submit another dispute.

I decided to give it a couple of days and try again -- maybe their site was having problems. I then started getting e-mails once or twice a week reminding me that I had dispute results to review. Every time I logged in, it was the same story. I finally said, screw it, I'll wait a year until I order another credit report and then see if it got fixed.

Well, today I got a "final reminder" (actually two) that my results were going to expire in three days. The kicker was, there was a greeting on the e-mail this time, and it was greeting me with my maiden name. This was not good. The format of the e-mail had also changed, and when I clicked "view the results of your dispute online," the website format had changed as well. Good, I thought, maybe they fixed it.

When I clicked "Check Status," a new window opened up and sat for a long time before finally giving me a "temporary error." I waited a while and tried again, with the same result.

I went hunting for a phone number, but Equifax told me I had to have an "Equifax membership" even to access their contact information. Thanks to Google, I was eventually able to find the phone number elsewhere, with information saying they were available seven days a week, 8am to 3pm Eastern Time. Just missed them. Damnit. I decided to try anyway.

I was actually put through to someone, a nice lady with a strong accent who asked for my confirmation number. I patiently read her the ten-digit number, to which she replied, "I can't do anything with a confirmation number. You have to talk to the dispute center and give them your confirmation number. I can't transfer you there because they're only open Monday through Friday 9am to 6pm."

Holy freaking crap. Why is this so difficult? I swear, getting anything resolved anywhere requires me to make calls during my lunch hour at work, which means I either have to spend the first half hour eating and then hope I'm on hold for less than half an hour, or call first and hope I have enough time to eat when it's all done.

I've got all the luck, don't I?

It's about the Experience: A Post that Will Probably Be Uninteresting to Those Not Planning Weddings

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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It's about the Experience: A Post that Will Probably Be Uninteresting to Those Not Planning Weddings | Faith Permeating Life
I have a lot of friends entrenched in wedding planning at the moment. I've talked a bit about our wedding planning process before (heck, I started this blog when I was just a few months away from getting married), but I feel compelled to spend some time talking about what worked well for us. Because it did go well -- exceptionally well. In fact, practically every time we see friends or family we haven't seen for a while, they tell us, "Your wedding was the best wedding I've ever been to!" (Embarrassingly enough, this usually happens at someone else's wedding reception, but since as often as not it's the bride or groom telling us, I guess it's OK!)

Our philosophy during the whole process was a balance between what we wanted the experience to be and what we thought would make the best experience for our guests. And that did not include what other people thought a wedding "should" be or include. So, for example, we did not have favors or a bouquet/garter toss, and I don't think anybody missed either one, even though people who inquired during the planning process ("What kind of favors are you having?" "Did you order a toss bouquet?") were surprised/shocked by our decision. It's amazing how much other people get invested in what other people's weddings should or shouldn't be like. The fact that we made our decisions together helped us have a united front -- I think people feel more of a right to weigh in if they know there's disagreement between the bride and groom.

We also chose to go back to our apartment for our wedding night, and took our honeymoon two weeks after the wedding, both of which made people think we were weird -- but it didn't affect them, so it didn't really matter. We were both pretty laid-back about a lot of things where it didn't seem to matter too much, like what the ring bearer's pillow looked like, whereas I'm sure other people get obsessed with every little detail.

We tried to focus on the things we thought would have the biggest effect on the experience of the day. We tried to be realistic about what was actually going to affect the experience for ourselves or our guests, and what really didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. We chose not to order special toasting glasses because -- who cares? If you do, great. We didn't. And nobody else did, either, when the reception was in full swing. Also, I had a floor-length wedding dress, so I wore velcro biker sandals. Best decision ever. Nobody I talked to afterwards had a clue.

In terms of guest experience, we really tried to think through what the experience would be like for our guests. We had a Catholic wedding, and I knew there would be non-Catholic people there, so in addition to making up a booklet that had the songs everyone would be singing, I added in where people would be sitting/standing/kneeling and what the congregation responses were so people could follow along and join in as much as they wanted to. We also had "stations" for dinner (Mexican station, pasta station, sushi station, etc.), which was something our reception place offered, and that seemed to make a huge difference to people. I've been to weddings where everyone is served the same thing and there's no vegetarian option or there's something a lot of people don't like (like a salad covered in blue cheese -- Mike's favorite, but yuck!). We had the dance floor in the center of the room and cut the cake in the middle of the dance floor right after we entered, so everyone could see us and already had their cameras out. I've been to many weddings where the cake is over to the side against the wall, so when they go to cut it almost nobody can see the cake, let alone take a picture of them cutting it (which is apparently important to people... not so much to me).

We didn't want to do something like a dollar dance, which always seems to end up awkward, and I was really not keen on people banging on their glasses all night to make us kiss, so I stole an idea from my cousin's wedding and we got a "Cruise Fund" jar from a garage sale. People had to donate a dollar if they wanted to make us kiss. Given that Mike and I waited until our wedding day for our first kiss, we had a lot of takers on this one.

Because neither of us really drink but we knew a lot of our friends and family members expected alcohol, we ended up compromising by having an open-bar cocktail hour prior to the reception, then closing the bar and just having a champagne toast and wine with dinner. Those who were bound and determined to get drunk helped themselves to lots of wine, but for the most part we didn't have people getting sloppy or embarrassing and that kept everything light and fun. I did find out later that several members of the bridal party loaded up with two drinks a piece right before the bar closed (to tide them over, I guess), then realized they had to make an entrance for introductions about two minutes later and pounded down the drinks! In retrospect, I probably wouldn't have told everyone ahead of time that the bar would close after an hour, haha.

Despite being laid-back in terms of decision-making, I'm still an organization freak, and I made up a master schedule for the day of the rehearsal and the day of the wedding. Basically it listed any time anyone or anything needed to be somewhere. That information, along with a list of all our vendors and their phone numbers, went to our parents and my matron of honor, and then I broke it down with just the information the florist needed, the reception hall, the photographer, etc. That turned out to be immensely helpful because we had a strict deadline for when everything had to be out of the church after the wedding, since there was a Saturday evening Mass, and it turned out the florist was planning to come after Mass started to pick up the flowers! The way I look at it, you're not being overbearing if you're providing a reasonable amount of information to the people involved in the wedding (that doesn't involve demanding unreasonable things of them).

Speaking of demands, I tried to be as un-demanding as possible of my attendants. I picked a color and gave the girls a choice of three dresses (which ending up being two because David's Bridal pulled one of the designs -- another good reason to have options). I asked them to have silver shoes, any style, (which, in retrospect, was not the best color to pick because that can be hard to find) and to let me know if they'd have heels over three inches so I could take that into consideration when doing the pairing with the guys. And they all looked great together. I sent out an e-mail with two versions of the instructions: a short one for those who just wanted to know where and when to show up both days, and a detailed one for those who are anal like me and want to know everything: "After the wedding, please pick up bubbles and form a line outside the church so everyone else knows where to stand. After Mike and I come out, we'll all get in the limos and drive around the church to encourage people to leave. Then we'll be taking pictures in the church, then driving to this park for more pictures, then driving to the reception hall..."

Because we had a large bridal party (8 on each side) and our photographer was going to give us the rights to the pictures, I requested that no one but the bridal party come to pictures. I know from friends' experiences that it can be crazy when the photographer's trying to arrange shots and you've got your aunts and your groomsmen's girlfriends and everyone else going, "Wait, I didn't get that shot!" "Can we get one with so-and-so?" Again -- it was about the experience. And it worked out really well: everyone in the bridal party kept coming up with creative ideas for group shots, and we had a lot of fun. The week after the wedding we picked out over a thousand of our photographer's shots from the whole day and uploaded them to Snapfish for our friends and family to see and order what they wanted.

Despite all of this planning, a lot of the credit goes to our amazing priest for having a wonderful wedding, and our out-of-this-world DJ for running a fabulous reception. And above all, to our friends and family for being so damn excited to see us get married. When the dance floor opened up, literally about 90% of our guests immediately ran to dance. Our DJ said he'd never seen anything like it. I don't know if you can tell from the picture at the top, but the dance floor was packed, and stayed that way for most of the night. I think that was a big reason everyone had so much fun. One of the benefits to dating for almost five years before getting married is that we'd both had to chance to meet almost all of each other's friends and family members, so nearly everyone there knew both of us.

To everyone planning a wedding, best of luck! My advice is just to think about what you want that day to be like for you, and what you want it to be like for your guests. Traditions and expectations will fit in or fall to the wayside in accordance.

Reflections on Things I Ought to Do More Often

Thursday, February 10, 2011

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Reflections on Things I Ought to Do More Often | Faith Permeating Life
One of my favorite blogs, Spousonomics, had a post a while ago called, "10 Things I Don't Always Feel Like Doing, but I Never Regret Having Done."

This started me thinking about my own list, and how it ties into my happiness project. Gretchen talks about how there are four different aspects to improving happiness -- you can increase things that make you feel good, decrease things that make you feel bad, find ways to help you feel "right," or create an atmosphere of growth in your life.

Given my personality type (compulsive rule-follower), it's not surprising that most of my resolutions have to do with feeling right -- as in, getting rid of the nagging voice saying that I should be flossing/exercising/whatever. Maybe happiness isn't the right word, but it puts me more at peace with myself.

In any case, I came up with my own list, which, not being a fan of absolute statements, I am calling "10 Things I Don't Always Feel Like Doing, but I Rarely Regret Having Done."
  1. Going to church
  2. Cleaning the kitchen counters
  3. Flossing
  4. Being super-friendly
  5. Getting out of bed when my alarm goes off
  6. Exercising
  7. Getting up to refill my water bottle
  8. Editing*
  9. Playing outside
  10. Picking up the apartment before bed

*This is an interesting one. Despite this being my part-time job, when I get a new editing project, I procrastinate terribly. And yet, when I actually start editing, it's one of my favorite things to do and it's hard to stop and take a break. I'm not sure if the difficulty starting is because I know how much time I'll spend on it once I get started, or the paralysis of perfectionism, knowing that this is one of my really valued skills.

One final thought: In order to decrease "feeling bad," I should probably work on another list: "10 Things I Often Feeling Like Doing, but Usually Regret Having Done"!

What do you think? What would be on your lists, and which is easier to tackle?

Why I'm Stressed at Work -- the Strange Truth

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

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Why I'm Stressed at Work -- the Strange Truth | Faith Permeating Life
Today I made an interesting discovery.

I've mentioned previously that I sometimes get unnecessarily anxious at work about getting everything done. This is where several of my happiness commandments came from. It's never really made sense to me because I almost never have trouble getting through my work in plenty of time (last Friday being a notable exception -- but that's another story).

I can tell when I'm feeling anxious because all of my muscles below my sternum through my abs tense up. When I notice it, I can force myself to relax them and take a deep breath. Except -- today I couldn't. Why? I was too cold. My muscles were tensed, I realized, not because I was anxious but because I was freezing.

I had previously "identified the problem" of being cold at work, and I've taken steps like wearing tights and long undershirts, drinking tea, and wearing convertible mittens/fingerless gloves. But some days it's just not enough. Our floor is unbelievably cold. People tell me they've been complaining for four years to Building Services and the problem has never been adequately resolved. We're just supposed to live with it.

It seems that the cold has led to this inappropriate level of stress and anxiety I feel at work. If you've read anything about psychology and the body, you know that being forced to contract certain muscles -- e.g., smiling or frowning muscles -- can actually make you feel happy or sad (also known as the "facial feedback hypothesis"). In this case, involuntarily tensing my muscles is causing me to feel anxious.

I joked with Mike about buying an electric blanket for work. (We're not supposed to have space heaters because of the energy draw, but electric blankets aren't explicitly forbidden, presumably because they don't expect anyone to actually bring one to work.) But honestly, I just might. What's the alternative? Quitting my job, or threatening to quit, because I'm too cold? Suffering in silence? Putting in yet another facilities request to get half a day's relief?

I'm pretty sure they make heated Snuggie knock-offs, but I don't know if I'm willing to sacrifice my dignity quite that much. I think I'll settle for a good old lap blanket.

New & Improved Sex Ed -- Yes, with Condoms

Sunday, February 6, 2011

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New & Improved Sex Ed -- Yes, with Condoms | Faith Permeating Life
If you haven't already read about how to raise ignorant children who fear sex, go check it out.

I wanted to delve a little deeper into what I think good (and bad) sex education looks like.

First of all, it starts at home with honestly answering your kids' questions. Most 5-year-olds are not going to ask you for a step-by-step explanation of how they came to be. As I read once, a kid who asks, "Where did I come from?" may be looking for the answer "Seattle, Washington" more often than they mean "from my womb." It means teaching your kids the proper names for the parts of their bodies and not treating certain parts as embarrassing or dirty. Their whole body is holy and beautiful. It doesn't mean they have to run around naked everywhere -- there are rules about wearing clothes just like there are rules about saying "Please" and not making loud comments about other people. That's how things are done in this country, but it doesn't mean that kids have to be taught that their bodies are shameful.

I first had sex ed in school in 5th grade because that was right before most kids hit puberty. I think nowadays it may have to be a little younger than that, what with kids maturing faster. But for goodness' sake, if you are trying to prepare kids for puberty, give them some practical tips. The only thing I remember them doing was showing where a tampon went, on a big plastic model of the female anatomy, and then putting it in a glass of water to show us how it absorbs fluid. The first time I ever put a tampon in, I didn't know you had to pull the second cardboard applicator out of your body. And so I left it there. And it hurt. I also didn't know how to properly dispose of a menstrual pad. My mom, embarrassed, had to explain it to me after I did it wrong. And I never even heard of a menstrual cup (which I use now and love) until I was in college.

Teaching about menstruation doesn't necessarily mean you have to teach about intercourse at the same time, but at that age I think kids can handle the basic facts. For us, they bused us to a special center (because sex is so secretive it can't be taught by normal teachers) where they had two life-sized plastic figures, male and female, built into the wall on either side of a chalkboard or screen or something. I still remember the speaker pointing to show how semen came down the man's penis, and then walking to the other side of the board to point to it traveling up the woman's vagina into her uterus. No mention of how it got there -- did he squirt it across the room at her? Seriously, even at the "special sex center" they didn't tell us how intercourse actually happened. I only knew because my mom gave me a book on it. Leaving out so much just kind of adds an air of mystery and intrigue to the whole thing. In my opinion, you're better off teaching it like it's no big deal, it's just how you make a baby, so why do it unless you want to make a baby?

In the comments of this post someone suggested teaching NFP in 8th grade, and I think that's brilliant. I started charting several years before Mike and I got married so I could learn the process before I needed to actually put it into practice. It amazes me how so many women have no idea what their bodies are doing, especially once they go on birth control. NFP, or the Fertility Awareness Method, is an easy way to gain an understanding -- for both guys and girls -- of how women's bodies go through period of fertility and infertility. It also encourages conversation around sexual activity (rather than just doing it) and places a responsibility on both partners to understand where a woman is at in her cycle. And it makes conception a natural result of intercourse during a fertile phase rather than this crapshoot of whether or not your artificial contraception will work. And for those who, no matter what, are not going to wait for marriage to have sex, then at least they would either pick an infertile phase in which to have sex, or would understand that they were taking a risk of pregnancy regardless of artificial contraception.

Do I think artificial contraception should be taught? Yes, but I think it should be taught realistically, with discussions of pros and cons, of the effectiveness and of what the Pill does to your body. In other words, I think that all sexual decisions -- whether to be abstinent, to practice NFP, or to have sex with artificial protection -- should be informed decisions, with an understanding of how your body works and of how your decisions may affect your body. And without embarrassment or shame about how God made you.

(On a sidenote, as much as I think high schoolers should have an accurate knowledge of both sexes' body parts, some guys might not handle seeing a plastic dismembered penis so well, so maybe you should stick to using bananas. My 7th grade health teacher used Wiffle balls to represent testicles because the previous models had been a little too realistic-looking for some guys.)

Now, how we can get middle schoolers to stop having oral sex and spreading STDs around... I have no idea. I really don't think the scare technique of showing pictures of STDs does much good because people always believe things like that won't happen to them. I think maybe having an adult who got an STD as a teenager and is still dealing with it might be a more effective scare tactic -- put a face and a story to it -- but I'm not sure how many people you'd have eager to be those guest speakers. Unfortunately I think this kind of thing is just like smoking and drinking -- if your peer group does it, it's normalized, and so far we haven't discovered a really effective way to stop kids from smoking or drinking, either. Any thoughts?

How to Raise Ignorant Children who Fear Sex

Thursday, February 3, 2011

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How to Raise Ignorant Children who Fear Sex | Faith Permeating Life
If you've been around this blog for a while, you know that I have no problem with contraceptives. I don't personally use them and I love NFP, but I recognize that it's not for everyone and I'm not going to judge anyone for their own personal practices. I also don't believe in abstinence-only education, despite personally being abstinent until marriage. Given some comments on a previous post, I wanted to explain more clearly my thoughts on sex ed.

My mom leads a women's Bible study at her church and a while ago told me about a conversation she had a fellow Bible-studier. This woman was horrified, and believed her daughter was scarred for life, because this high-school-age daughter had been forced to watch someone put a condom on a banana in health class.

Let's break this down.

Perhaps she was horrified that her daughter had had to not only lay eyes on a contraceptive, but actually see how to properly use it. This made me wonder: What would happen should her obedient Catholic daughter marry an obedient Catholic man who went on a medical mission trip and accidentally contracted HIV when giving or drawing blood? Should they just never have sex ever again? Even the Pope has said that condoms are permissible for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. So let's presume she would want her daughter to continue having a healthy marriage but to try to avoid getting HIV, and thus she may use condoms.

Well, if you're going to use a condom, you ought to know how to use it properly. I once heard a statistic (from a presentation promoting abstinence-only education, ironically enough) from a study that found that in monogamous partnerships in which one partner has AIDS, only about 30% use condoms correctly. (If anyone can find a link backing this up, I'd be grateful.) So given that it's not completely impossible her daughter would actually have to use a condom someday, it shouldn't be horrifying for her to have seen one and had its proper use demonstrated.

Maybe the part that was horrifying was that she was asked to imagine an actual male penis!

OK, here is the thing that bugs me. Yes, we have such a thing as modesty. But it's cultural. It's just like how we place special emphasis on certain words as "bad" words that are completely meaningless in other languages. And in America we place so much focus around certain parts of the human body that it's kind of ridiculous and actually unhealthy. A girl is going to have a much easier time taking care of herself if she understands the difference between her urethra and her vulva and why she shouldn't wipe back to front than if she only ever hears whispers about "your private parts" and "down there." And maybe men wouldn't be so obsessed with their penises if they were treated just like any other part of their body, like their elbow or their nose. (OK, OK, maybe not.)

Basically, I see nothing wrong with a girl -- especially high-school age -- having a working knowledge of the male anatomy. For one thing, it reduces the "fascination of the forbidden" that could lead to earlier sexual experimentation. Or on the flip side, it reduces the fear of the unknown that causes some virgins to freak out about their wedding night.

There are books devoted to helping married women get over their sexual repression because they've been told their whole lives that sex is this dirty, dangerous thing, and now that they're married, they're unable to enjoy sex. This breaks my heart. Sex is something holy, and so many Christians talk about it as something unholy.

So what would sexual education look like, if I could design it? That is a topic for another post...

Update: Here's my take on sex ed!

The Happiness Project: February Is Framework Month

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

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It's February 1 and time for a Happiness Project check-in!

January was devoted to Health. I gave up on the Neti Pot pretty quickly -- too much misery for too little payoff. It's good for when I'm sick, but I don't want to do it otherwise. Everything else -- taking my vitamins, flossing, and exercising -- I did consistently. I wouldn't say that doing those things, in and of themselves, made me happy, but I learned that with a little accountability (my resolutions chart) I can get myself to do things that I would otherwise talk myself out of. And that is definitely something to be happy about.

These steps, along with the commandments "Prioritize right" and "Do it before it's too late," have actually had a surprisingly substantial effect on my life already. I'm able to push myself a little harder and take care of things when I first think about them. If I'm tempted to put something off, I force myself to dive in and do it immediately so it's out of the way. It's like Mike said to me the other night when I said it stressed me out to wake up to dirty dishes -- he said he wasn't stressed out about it if he didn't do the dishes, but when he did do them, he felt more relaxed. And I know what he means. I think there are a lot of small things throughout my day that don't conscious stress me out, but by not allowing them to build up I keep myself in a much more relaxed and peaceful state of mind.

February is intended for setting my framework for the year. (I thought about making it January, but I wanted some more tangible steps to make the first month.) I originally called it "Expectations" but that wasn't exactly right. In line with the commandment "There is time," I want to be more aware of the moment and where I am in the grand scheme of life.

One of my goals is that every day I write down something I'm looking forward to in the next day, week, month, and year. This is for a few reasons. I hope to always have something that gets me up in the morning, even if it's something small. (For me, a day where I get to play with SPSS all day is one I'm excited about.) I want to remind myself that good things are coming down the road. And I want my subconscious to have a way to compare where I am to where I'm going to be to keep me moving toward my goals.

Going along with this last point, I am also going to "do my homework" once a week. This is a concept that comes from Scott Smith at Motivation to Move, and I've mentioned before that I listen to his Daily Boost podcast. Every Monday he asks if you've done your homework -- taken a few minutes over the weekend to sit down with a pen and paper and ask, "How's my life going?" So I want to do that once a week, to check in with myself and make sure everything I'm doing in my life is consistent with where I want to be going.

Also, in keeping with the commandment "Count your blessings," I'm going to start a gratitude journal and jot down something I'm grateful for every day. This is to give myself the framework and the reminder that I have many blessings in my life. I already have the habit of thanking God for things throughout the day, but I'm hoping by putting myself in a grateful state of mind I will be able to focus on the good even when things are going badly.

That ought to be enough to keep me busy for the month! With luck, these will become habit (as my Health resolutions are starting to) by the time I move into March.

How about you? What do you do to be mindful of the moment and how it fits into the scheme of life?
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