Saturday, May 29, 2010

On Taking Vacations

I am not convinced that we need vacations, at least not the way we take them. We want a week of vacation whenever we can get it, and those in school tend to get three or more months of vacation for summer. As a college student, I'll be the first to admit that my brain needs a break now and then, but I must also mention that I get sick of lazing around as well. I need to work. People are built for work. But, people are not built for seven days a week of work.

One of the reasons we crave a week (or two or twelve) of vacation now and then is probably because we tend to work seven days a week. I don't mean truly working seven full days, of course. What we do is take five days for work, procrastinate or otherwise be inefficient through those five days, and make up for it with the two days we have for the weekend. It causes guilt, stress, extra work, and poorly done work due to rush jobs and lack of focus. I do it, other students do it, folks in the working world do it. We shouldn't.

I think instead we are made for six days of work and one day of rest. This makes sense, after all, in keeping with the Bible, but it also makes sense for anyone who gives it a proper try. What if you worked for six days, with effort and efficiency and focus instead of procrastination, so that every night you felt tired but satisfied with yourself as your head hit the pillow? And then, what if you took a real break on Sunday (or a different chosen day of the week), keeping the entire day for rest and worship and all that? That's the sort of cycle we are built to take, not an exhausting seven days of pseudo-working and pseudo-resting.

Give it a try for a few weeks. For six days, give your work everything you can. On the seventh day, read a book, go swimming, play outside, sleep extra, or anything else--but don't do any work at all. Don't touch it. Don't even read your e-mail. Let me know how it goes. We'd be more productive, and happier, with a schedule like this.

Don't get me wrong; I do appreciate the occasional long weekend or week of vacation, but they are best enjoyed very occasionally.

As for the three months of summer vacation, do I even need to mention eastern cultures who school year-round? But that's a discussion for another time (or another person...check out the chapter in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, entitled "Rice Paddies and Math Tests").

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Christ-Follower, or Christian?

I had another idea for today's blog in mind, but it looks like I'll be saving that for Saturday.

My friend Ben (you can find his blog here) posed this question on his Facebook: "Ever since the whole Emerging Church movement got rolling, I've noticed more and more people referring to themselves as "Christ-followers" instead of Christians. Also, I've noticed more and more people (primarily evangelical, or maybe neo-evangelical, in orientation) saying things like "It's not about religion, it's about relationship". I have my own thoughts on such ideas and phrases, but I wanted to know what you (my fellow Christians, Christ-followers, or whatever you want to call yourselves) think about such things. So...shoot!"

Today's blog will be my response, edited lightly to make better sense here (the original was in the context of Facebook conversation).

First of all, I must mention that there were responses before mine, most of which seem to indicate that the things which Ben mentioned are at best misguided and at worst wicked. I had had no such thoughts. Rather, it sounds to me that many of the people who choose to call themselves "Christ-followers" are not ashamed of Christ (which would make no sense), but ashamed of what Christians have become. The word "Christian" carries a connotation, for many people, that is very, very far from what the Word actually contains, and people who choose the different nomenclature want, perhaps, to give a fresh start to the Word and to the idea of the believer.

Currently, the term "Christian" takes on a connotation of either the holier-than-thou type, or the painfully naive type, with a good dose of hypocrite thrown it. Many people note their religion as "Christian" on Facebook, but don't live like a follower of Christ. People who choose to go by "Christ-follower" instead are likely trying to get away from this connotation and show that they are "different" from the stereotypical, hypocritical Christian, in that they really actually follow Christ.

As for religion versus relationship, it's the same thing. In our current society, "religion" has a connotation of naivety and superstition, or of arrogance. To put aside the idea of superstition (and all the rest), some say it's not "religion," not just a set of beliefs, but rather a "relationship" with Christ, something real and personal.

I think both issues are just folks trying to shake off the stereotypes about believers--at least as said stereotypes might pertain to themselves.

Those are my explanations.
I still use the word "Christian," but I fully understand why people want to differentiate. Many folks use the term to mean "I celebrate Christmas, I pray when I want something, and I think my father has a Bible somewhere." For the word "Christian" to be redeemed, instead of merely replaced, it would take more Christians living like the disciples we claim to be (yes, I, too, fail in this matter). Such a revolution would result in more than saving a word, of course--we'd be saving our society. Temporarily, at least.

[Thoughts on this? That's what the comments are for! Have at it!]

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Clean Cup, Move Down: How To Throw A Tea Party

I have talked previously about tea parties (of the tea, not tax, variety) and how fantastic they can be. A simple, friendly, delicious gathering that can be tailored for any season or occasion, it is a wonder that it hasn't become a huge trend yet.

In wondering this, I realized that perhaps people may want to throw tea parties, but think it is too large or too difficult a task, or simply have no idea how to approach it. Ergo, Rae's How-To-Party-Like-You're-Alice guide!

Tell Us A Story: Theme
If you're going to have a theme, decide on it right away, because everything else will be based upon it. Do you want it Wonderland-themed? Christmas-themed? Is it for a bridal shower or a birthday? Do you have a special desire for a Japanese tea, or something to celebrate spring? Everything you choose will be based on your theme--should you choose one. You don't have to; you can throw one as easily without a theme or rhyme or reason, and everyone will still have a lovely time.

The Best Butter: Eatables
What does one eat at a tea party? That is entirely up to you, but in general you want to keep a balance of things sweet and things savory, and all of them should be edible without utensils. Tea sandwiches, scones, tarts, and cookies are good options, though you can expand on that as you like. Homemade foods are the best, and recipes are available in myriad books and all over the Internet. If you have a theme, this is where you may begin to follow it, choosing cinnamon cookies for Christmas, pastel flower-shaped cookies for Spring, Victorian scones and tarts for a traditional high tea, and so forth. If you wish, you can end the party with Victorian-style ice cream sundaes, preferably in elegant dishes. If you prefer something less elegant, you may do that. You must only know the rules before you can break them. I do suggest putting a menu out, something with fancy script, so you don't get a lot of "What is this sandwich? What's in that cookie?" and so your table looks that much more high-class.

Take Some More Tea: Drinkables
The matter of tea is less obvious that you might think, and allows much room for creativity. Traditionally, you will have one or two pots of the same tea available, kept warm by a tea cozy. However, you may also allow each person to choose her own teabag, using the teapots for hot water. A good hostess should pour the water for each of her guests, at least for the first teabags. Presentation of a set of teabags is terribly important, and they may be fanned out in a shallow bowl or basket, or kept neatly in a tea box. If your party is during summer and perhaps outdoors, you may wish to avoid traditional hot tea altogether in favor of iced tea. This may make the entire affair much more casual, but it will surely be as enjoyable. Again, if you have a theme, consider it as you choose the tea: green tea for Japanese, Twining's Christmas flavor for the holiday season, and so on. Finally, as with the eatables, if you have many teas available I suggest having a fancy-script menu available for perusal.

Tea-Tray In The Sky: Teaware, Tablecloths, and Accessories
If you can match your teaware to your theme, do so. Use a tablecloth, preferably an elegant one, to protect your table, to hide ugly tables, and to force multiple tables to match if you are inviting many people. You will need at least one teapot, for tea or for hot water. You will want a sugar bowl (with sugar cubes, as sugar packets are rather too tacky) if any of your guests will want sweeter tea. A creamer will do to hold cream or milk. You will also want teacups (or glasses, though only if you're doing iced tea), and saucers. The saucers are necessary in case of spillage, and many guests place used teabags on them. The also look most lovely. You will want attractive plates or tiered trays to hold your edibles, and small- to medium-sized plates for the guests. Since you will likely need jam and butter for scones or other eatables, you will also need jam-knives and butter-knives, and perhaps a small plate or bowl to hold the butter. Many jam jars are attractive as-is, though you may wish to tie a ribbon around them. I don't suggest removing the jam from the jar, because it will make putting away the excess more difficult than necessary. For any necessary thing that you don't have, ask friends if you can borrow them (although I suggest only asking people that you intend to invite, or your mother).

There's Plenty of Room: Whom To Invite and How
The number of people you invite must be no more than the number of people you can comfortably sit. I suggest inviting females whom you think would enjoy tea, and preferably those who would get along reasonably with each other. Mailed invitations are ideal, but if this proves too difficult, a Facebook event invitation is entirely possible in our modern world. I do suggest making it a private, hidden event, for if someone sees the event who was not invited, she may be offended. In your invitation, be sure to specify the day, date, time, place, directions to the place, a way to RSVP, and some instruction for what to wear. My last party was merely a tea-themed tea party, and I only said to dress with tea in mind. One girl didn't own a dress and would not wear hair-bows, so I said, "Pirates drink tea, right? Dress as a pirate." Clothing specifications may be casual to formal and anything (truly, anything) in between. Lastly, if you have a theme, show it in the invitations.

Always Tea Time: When and Where To Hold It
If you can hold it at your home, that is ideal. Indoors is best for comfort, though if you choose to do it outdoors, make sure you have an indoor backup plan in case of rain. I must insist that you avoid outdoor tea parties when it is bitterly cold or ridiculously hot outside. Tea parties are best held in the mid-afternoon, though like all other tea rules, this may be broken according to your need. Just be sensible.

Very Curious: What To Do Afterwards
Wish your guests farewell, and then clean up the party. Gather borrowed items, clean them if necessary, and return them to their rightful owners. Post your photos on Facebook (you did take photos, didn't you?), tag your friends, and send me the public link in a comment...I want to see how this all turns out!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Calvin Crickball: Awesome Summer Game

Calvin Crickball (a.k.a. CCB)

On Sunday afternoon, I hung out with two of my friends, who wanted to do something cheap. I suggested stickball. They seemed somewhat reluctant, but we gave it a go, and now all of us think it's just about the awesomest thing ever. Of course, we had to modify the rules a bit since there were only three of us. Calvin Crickball is the result.

Name Origin:
+We made up the rules as we went along, like Calvinball.
+We hit a ball with a broom handle, like stickball.
+We ran to one base and back, which is apparently like cricket.

You Need:
+A tennis ball
+A broom handle or similarly-sized stick
+Chalk and/or objects for marking bases
+A decent amount of space outdoors, far enough away from windows
+At least three people

Rules for Three People:
+Create a home base, either with chalk or some object, and a pitcher's "mound" (standing place) some distance away.
+Create a base some distance behind the pitcher's place, with chalk or some object. We used a tree. The more visible it is, the better for all involved.
+One person will take the stick and stand at home base. This person is the sticker.
+One person will stand or crouch behind home base. This person is the catcher, and will catch or chase missed balls to return to the pitcher.
+One person will stand at the pitcher's place. This person is (obviously) the pitcher.
+You will want to determine a sticking rotation; that is, the order in which the three of you will stick. For instance, I sticked first, then Cameron, then Jerrica, and then we started with me again.
+The pitcher will throw the tennis ball to the sticker. Strike and ball count rules are the same as baseball: 3 strikes, 4 balls. The general "strike area" is also the same. If you hit the sticker, it counts as a ball. If you hit them very hard, it is still a ball, but they may also hit you with the stick later.
+The sticker will attempt to hit the tennis ball with the stick. If s/he hits a foul (basically the same as baseball), it counts as a strike (unless it would be the third strike, in which case it counts as nothing). If s/he hits the ball, s/he runs to the base, touches it, and then runs back to home.
+Once the sticker has hit the ball, the pitcher's aim is to obtain the ball and either get it to home base or touch the sticker with the ball. If either of these things occurs, the sticker is out.
+The pitcher and the catcher then switch places, so that both people have pitched to the sticker. Once both people have pitched to the sticker, the next person in the determined rotation sticks, and the other two people pitch and catch.
+The game ends when you get tired, or somebody gets angry and refuses to play.

Rules for More People:
+Same as for three people, except you can add fieldsmen and, if space allows, more bases to run.
+You may also want to find a different way to deal with pitching rotation, or maybe even create real teams.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Items Versus Experiences

I am an accumulator. I am a person who accumulates many things. Books, wearables, craft supplies, and toys (seriously - more dolls, stuffed animals, and figurines than is sane) all find their way into my possession on an absurdly frequent basis.

Well, not anymore they don't. I decided to put my foot down. I have a list of things I want to do in my life, you see, and most of the things on the list are purely experience - and rather expensive. Visit Sweden? Go shopping in London? Pet tigers at the Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua? I realized I can't keep spending money on stuff, things that will take up space and make it harder to afford to travel. Therefore, I adopted a New Point of View: stop buying stuff that is not necessary. "Necessary" means a pair of sneakers when I have none, not a pair of strappy black shoes because my other fancy shoes don't quite match the dress I want to wear. This way, I could save my money to spend on experiences, or to spend when I catch lunch with a friend, or to save for the future. Much better uses of my money, and my time and sanity (my brain blows a fuse every time I have to allocate space for more books or shoes).

Last weekend I went to a rummage sale, thinking I might find some unique charms to reuse in jewelry for my Etsy. Since I was armed with my New Point of View, I was sure I would buy nothing extraneous.

I came home with two Lord of the Rings books, four Anne McCaffrey books, and fifteen Isaac Asimov books.

It's a process.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Optimism

I am, for the most part, an optimist. I have heard many people say that the danger of being an optimist is that we must get disappointed all the time, for having such high hopes. That is a bit of a misconception. True optimists don't have the chance to be disappointed. Rather, when hopes are dashed, the true optimist moves immediately to the next hope, thinking perhaps something good will come from the situation as it stands, that something even better will come along, or that something else entirely will occur that will also be good. It takes quite a lot to leave an optimist in disappointment, because we almost always have hope for the events of the future.

For these reasons, if you converse with me thinking I should be disappointed with something, you'll hear a lot of "at least X is still true" or "but maybe X will happen" as I seek out the bright side and the possibilities. In some ways, I'm not sure I believe in inevitable failure--a thing I share in common with Captain Kirk (consider the Kobayashi Maru).

Unlike many optimists, however, I have my optimistic side peacefully coexisting with my bitterly jaded side, which is another issue entirely and involves a lot of, "well, I saw that coming."


On an unrelated note: I officially have an Etsy that is open for business, so check it out!


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Things My Mother Has Taught Me

Since Mother's Day is tomorrow, I'm doing a sort of Mother's Day special on advice from my mom. Most of it has been gleaned indirectly, from seeing how she does what she does.

(Edit 20.Jun.2010: The companion Father's Day blog can be found here.)

Some things my mother has taught me:
  • +Unplug your toaster after using it, or the next lightning storm will destroy it for sure.
  • +Use coupons, discount cards, and mad haggling skills to get things cheaper. Also, take advantage of rummage sales, thrift stores, garage sales, and friends who are getting rid of stuff.
  • +Take vacations.
  • +Make sure your tires aren't flat before you get in your car.
  • +Archie comics are the best comics.
  • +If something isn't perfect (including purchased items and food at restaurants), complain until they fix it or make it up to you. After all, you paid for it.
  • +It is perfectly okay to collect toys when you aren't a kid anymore.
  • +McDonald's is good. Burger King is evil.
  • +On hot days, don't go outside between 11 AM and 3 PM. Between 3 and 6ish is fine, but after that the mosquitoes come out and you have to go back inside.
  • +Cats are completely worth the trouble it takes to own them.
  • +Be nice to your mother, or your life will be much harder than it needs to be.
  • +Always check under your car for gators and rapists.
If you have any motherly advice of your own to add, share it in a comment!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Good Programming Practice

Henceforth, I intend to post an entry every Wednesday and Saturday. I expect you folks to hold me to it, should I forget or ignore this self-imposed obligation.

Without further ado, here is this entry!

I am by no means a professional programmer. I recently finished Computer Science I at my university, and I struggled through it. In my struggles, though, I learned two major things that help with good program design, and I would like to pass them on to other student programmers. I'm all for learning things on your own, but sometimes it's better to learn from other people's mistakes.

Quick note: my CS1 class used C, but these thoughts should be useful for any programming language that uses functions (or methods), including some scripting languages.

Thing Number 1: Block Diagrams

Block diagrams: use them. Before you start coding your project, look at what you have to do, come up with a design, and draw boxes and diamonds and arrows, with simple words and conditionals, visually representing what it is you intend to do. Basically, imagine a flow chart that does what your program will do. You'll figure out very quickly if the vague idea you thought would work actually makes sense, and it'll help you figure out where you are being inefficient (i.e. did you draw the same box in two places, and can you make that not happen?). When it comes time to actually code, you can follow your block diagram for what to code next and what connects to where. It'll also make it easier for you to figure out some of the functions you will need, which brings me to...

Thing Number 2: Functions

Functions: Use them, liberally. I used to be in the habit of making my main() entirely too long, stuffing as much code as possible into it, and not understanding why functions were really useful except in certain special circumstances. The way I coded made my work more difficult, as I tried to read my code and keep track of what I had done, and it made debugging far more ridiculous than it should have been. Now, whenever I have a chunk of code that does one definable thing, I make it into a function. Determine input (if necessary), test the output (or what was printed/changed if it is void). It makes testing/debugging easier, because you can test each function essentially independently of the rest of the program. When everything is in main(), it tends to get so wrapped up in the rest of what you've written that testing a particular section of code involves a lot of commenting things out, and is a pain in the ASCII. Functions also just make things more organized. "Gee, where's the chunk of code that handles checking out a customer?" Why, it's the the checkout() function that I wrote. "I need to initialize a few structs." It's only a few lines of code, but it's much neater to keep it all in an init() function.

Give it a whirl, little programmy folks, and if you have anything to add, clarify, or argue against, please feel free to comment!