Sunday, December 15, 2013

Inspiration: Romance in Black and White

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

e.e. cummings

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A cold and broken hallelujah

It's mid-December.
I find myself, after a few weeks of denial, in the throws of the winter blues.

I can't decide which is worse--the beginning of the winter blues, when the unthinkably long winter stretches before you in all of its grayness, or the long February days towards the end, when you've woken up and gone back to bed over and over again in the same grayness for so long you can't imagine life any other way.

I keep almost doing drastic things, as a way of coping.
Like cutting all my hair off. Or canceling class for the rest of the semester. Or throwing away most of my clothes.

I can't think straight during winter.

The things I actually do to cope are (so far) less drastic.
Staying up until 2 or 3 am on a regular basis.
Reorganizing my makeup.
Swearing way more often than usual.
A few weeks ago, I read an entire novel in one sitting. And then did it again with a different novel the next day.

I kept looking for pictures of winter to post with this blog.
But none of them felt accurate--they were all glittering snow in the sunshine, or mystical fog in the forest, or serene blue skies.
Because no one actually wants to photograph the day-to-day dirty snow drudgery that winter is most of the time.

I'm far from the darkest place I've ever been, but my winter blues are no less real for that.
This is not the great black dog that has visited me in the past.
But it's a medium-sized gray dog, large enough to demand my attention.

As I write this, a little voice in my head keeps whispering, "Be positive. Be positive. Be positive."
But in the words of this blogger, "Trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back."

But the bizarre truth is that sometimes, if the depression is small enough--if it's a small, manageable kind of perpetual sadness--it kind of does work.
Punching yourself can make your arms grow back.
I know it sounds insane, but I've done it before.
So I'm trying to do that.
I've got a handful of beautiful things that make it easier to get up in the frozen mornings. Rehearsal with Danielle and Kieffer and Jerry and Emily--the chance to create beautiful and important art.* A smile from my husband. The possibility of baking more things.

And occasionally, you get little gifts that can sustain you for days on end.
Beautiful dances that are full of truth and art and honesty.
Funny and life-affirming movies.
Lovely songs.
Weekend nights at Jack In The Box that are filled with un-repeatable hilarity.
Long talks with good people.
Visits to best friends in Salt Lake City.
And I'm grateful for those things.

And set against the background of gray and snow and night and cold, I think they shimmer with more loveliness to me than they would on their own. So I suppose that while the gray gathers outside, I'll just keep trying to hold those sustaining things up to the light and let them shimmer.

* Theatre is the insanity that keeps me sane. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Documentaries You Have to Go to Netflix to Find

Most of the time I get my documentary fix on youtube. But during the periods of my life when I've had access to Netflix, I've found some incredible documentaries that I couldn't always find elsewhere. If you've got a Netflix account, add a few of these titles. (Some may be available to stream, some you may need to get the DVD.)

The Meaning of Food
Chef Marcus Samuelsson discusses the cultural role food plays all over the world. From India to Samoa, there are rituals involving food and eating. Meals can be used to honor or insult each other, to other groups of people, or create a community. Lots of great interviews and insights.

The Wonder of It All
So so so so good. America's moon landing was a huge event in both science and politics, but this is a look at the more human experience of it. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Edgar Mitchell, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt all share their experiences in interviews and archive footage. One of the things they said was that there was SO MUCH research to do that they hardly had time to take in the fact that they were ON THE MOON. Surprisingly moving documentary.

Herb and Dorothy
I liked this one so much that I bought it. It tells the story of a couple from New York...he was a postal clerk, she was a librarian. On their middle class income, they slowly built one of the largest and most important collections of modern art in America. They had 2 rules for their purchases: it had to be affordable, and it had to fit in their modest one-bedroom apartment. After decades of collecting, they owned thousands of works by minimalist, modern painters and sculptors, and their collection has since been donated to museums throughout the United States. Herb and Dorothy Vogel redefined what it means to be an art collector.

American Experience: Earth Days
Awesome look at the series of events that led to the first National Earth Day celebration, and the people who pioneered the "green movement." From Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring," to the first oil crises in the 60's and 70's, this is an awesome look at what led to the first Earth Day, and what still needs to be done to make our existence on this planet sustainable.

I call this documentary "designers porn," because it's full of great design and inspiring artists. An interesting look at the balance that must be found between aesthetics and functionality. Most people don't really think about how a thing is designed unless it has some major flaw--at least I don't. I look at objects differently now. Did you know the first "hand-friendly" potato peeler was created by someone putting a bicycle handle on a regular peeler? Cool, huh?

Another bit of "designers porn," this documentary focuses on typeface design. As I've been learning graphic design, I've fallen more and more in love with typeface design and font websites. This documentary is interesting because it talks about how typeface reflects the aesthetics of a time period.

Nature: Koko
The gorilla who speaks sign language and loves kittens! This documentary threw me for a loop when I first saw it...I was totally overwhelmed by the humanity of an animal and it confused my sense of order for a while. But I've since been introduced to a lot of insights that have helped me figure things out, and I still think this is a fantastic documentary.

So awesome. During the sixties, there was a huge movement to get out of the cities and into nature, and communal living was a big part of that. This documentary follows the people of one particular commune (that's still a commune today), the challenges and benefits of communal living, and how things changed over the years. Warning: Lots of nudity. None of it is explicitly sexual, but it's full frontal male and female nudity. 

Powerful, terrifying, heart-breaking, and IMPORTANT. This tells the story of Jim Jones and the "People's Temple," the cult that ended with cyanide-laced Kool-Aid in the jungles of Guyana. That horrific event had few survivors, but those that did manage to escape Jones' grasp give detailed interviews and share their experiences. A voice of warning and a tribute to tragedy.

Sound and Fury
Iconic documentary about the controversy of cochlear implants. There are lots of members of the deaf community who feel that cochlear implants destroy their community, while others (both within and without the deaf community) who see cochlear implants as a miracle you'd be crazy to pass up. It's a very personal story, focusing on one family and their decision about whether or not to give their young daughter an implant.

New York in the Fifties
New York was in the 1950s what Paris was in the 1920s...this center of art and poetry and literature and performance and ideas. From the beat poets to Andy Warhol, it all started in New York. The entire revolution of the 1960s and 70s truly started in New York in the 1950s.

Girl 27
A disturbing and important story of a girl who was raped at an MGM party in the 1930s and refused to stay silent about it. Sexual abuse was far more common in Hollywood, especially in the 1930s, than anyone wants to admit. The courage of "Girl 27" and her David-and-Goliath story is a powerful one. 

I went through this strange phase of about a week when I was really fascinated with Papua New Guinea...I still kind of am. But it's hard to find good documentaries about it because so few people have visited the isolated tribes that live there. I loved this documentary because it felt so genuine. (You know, parts where the camera crew is dodging arrows.) But it was also respectful. And I was made so aware of the incredible wealth I live in, even under the poverty line, compared to people who live hand to mouth. 

Art of the Steal
This documentary INFURIATED me. A man named Dr. Albert Barnes created an impressive collection of post-impressionist paintings (including dozens of Renoirs, Cezannes, Matisses, and Picassos) with the express purpose of making them available to the public and to art students as a free resource. He specified that the collection should always be used this way in his will, but when he died in 1951, all hell broke loose.  

Ever heard of the 1990 Boston art heist? Yeah, I hadn't either. But somehow, thieves broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and made off with 13 MASTERPIECES, including a Rembrandt and Vermeer's famous "The Concert." The Gardner will stated that nothing could be removed or changed about the gallery, so for years the frames simply remained empty. Are the paintings ever found? You'll have to watch to find out.

The Imposter
A totally alarming and completely fascinating true story. In 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his hometown in San Antonio, Texas. When "he" was found in Spain three years later, he had an accent and looked completely different. Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old Frenchman, managed to convince the family that he was their son. When he was finally found out,  he added even more mystery to the disappearance of Nicholas all those years before. 

It Might Get Loud
Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White all get together and talk about music and guitars and then play each other's songs? So awesome. I learned things about music and creativity from this documentary that I still reference to this day. 

Did you know there's an annual Miss Gay America competition? I have a special place in my heart for drag queens. Maybe I was one in another life or something, but this movie was a great celebration of drag shows and drag queens, but also a great look at what it's like to be gay in America today.

Miss Representation
A great documentary about the glaring absence of women in leadership positions and the boxes we constantly put women and girls in, whether it be regarding their appearance or their gender role or what it is they're "supposed" to do. Great interviews with everyone from Gloria Steinem to Katie Couric.

Small Town Gay Bar
You know, things are getting better for the LGBT community in a lot of ways. But we've still got a long ways to go. This documentary focuses on two or three gay bars located in the Deep South. It's not easy growing up gay in the heart of Bible Belt Mississippi, so gay bars provide a community and a haven for those who are otherwise stuck in the closet. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From NaNoWriMo to Pearl Jam to Salt Lake City

Goal #8 for this 28th year of life = DONE.

I was inspired by videos like this one, and decided to make one of my own. It's amazing how quickly a month can go by when you see it this way.

The other challenge is this. How do you know what the defining moment of a day was until that day is over? How do you know which moments are the important ones to capture? As I was putting this video together, there are big important things that are shown--NaNoWriMo, the Pearl Jam concert, Ruthie's smiles. But there are other things that are glaringly absent--long talks with Carrie, "Next to Normal" at UVU, Thanksgiving dinner, Santa Cruz with my grandparents. Part of that is logistics, but the other part is simply not being sure when to film things.

Behold, the month of November, in 3-second clips.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Current favorite thing

Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan have been friends for over forty years, and it's the most life-affirming, adorable friendship ever. They originally met in the Royal Shakespeare Company back in the 1970s, but their friendship has truly been cemented in their golden years. I see pictures of them and pretend that they're both my grandpa.

Right now, they're both in New York, reprising their roles as Gogo and Didi in "Waiting for Godot."* See?

But they're BFF's offstage too. For example, they spent Thanksgiving together:

And they recently posted a whole series of pictures of themselves on Twitter**, using the hashtag #gogodididonyc.*** See, look:

Both of these men are admirable on their own (especially Patrick Stewart--how I adore Patrick Stewart), but together? Unstoppable.

* If I have any really rich friends/family/readers wondering what to get me for Christmas, a trip to NYC to see these two would be perfect. 
** I recently started a Twitter account. Mostly so I can follow famous people that I admire. If you're interested in following me, I'm @lizannetweets
*** And if you want to know true happiness, follow Patrick Stewart on Twitter. It's delightful. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013


As of around 1 pm today, I have officially completed NaNoWriMo. I now have a 50,058 word draft of a young adult novel. I sat and grinned at my computer for roughly fifteen minutes when I finished.

And then I celebrated by re-doing the ole blog. Big change, but I felt it was time.

Now I'm going to read and do laundry and unpack and watch movies and write lesson plans eat leftover rolls and clementines for dinner while I read Rainbow Rowell's "Eleanor and Park" all the way through in one sitting.

Catch ya later.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

From deep inside the rabbit hole*

NaNoWriMo is halfway over. And at almost 30,000 words, I am miraculously on track. I keep telling Jacob that I feel like I have the most fragile grip on this entire project...that I'm holding onto it by my fingernails. I never really get a better handle on it, but somehow it still hasn't slipped out of my hands.

But as I told my sister a week or so ago, my novel is, somehow, almost inexplicably, going pretty well. I've got the skeleton of a plot mapped out, but the plot I have mapped out only equals a book about 30,000 words long, so I keep on having to add scenes along the way to stretch it out. So for every day that I'm writing a scene I have on my outline, there are at least two days where I sit down and think, "Okay. What else should happen?" And then I google "Things to do between Portland and Seattle" because my characters are on a road trip between Portland and Seattle. Then I find something interesting, and say, "Hey, maybe they can stop in this small town and meet the parents of a girl who was killed by Ted Bundy in the 1970's." And as I start to write it, I'm like, "Rubbish. This is rubbish. This will probably be cut from the final draft." But then I write it, and I sit back and think, "You know, that actually IS relevant to the plot and the theme and the development of the characters. Cool." And I've made the word count for one more day.

Also, that Ted Bundy bit is totally true and really does happen in my book. I was going to go to a dress rehearsal of Jacob's show on the same day I wrote that scene, but I'd spent all day researching Ted Bundy, so in the end I was too scared to walk to campus by myself in the dark and ended up staying home and watching like, twenty vlogbrothers videos instead. (Did you know Ted Bundy kidnapped a girl from BYU's campus?)

On Tuesday, my characters arrived in Seattle, and I was stumped as to how I would occupy them for another few thousand words until the climax. And just to occupy word count, I had my characters make a list of things they wanted to do in Seattle. Then I sat back and realized that I had just mapped out the rest of the novel before the climax, which I then celebrated.

And then I realized that I hadn't really mapped out the rest of the novel...just the settings for the rest of the novel.

The truth is this. I wrote most of this blog entry the week before the 15th, in anticipation of publishing once it was true. But there have been days this week when it has taken me roughly five hours to pound out another 1,667 words. I have settings but still not sufficient action. And some days, I feel so stuck that I spend twenty minutes browsing the internet for every one minute I spend writing.

You could tell me to just close the internet, but A) I'm writing my novel on Google Drive, and B) I'd find some other way to distract myself. 

But at the end of every day, even during weekend visits to Utah and during busy days of teaching, I've found a way to write another 1,667 words. This is do-able. And I am, somehow, doing it. 

All you fellow Wrimos out there, keep on keeping on.

* I am, at this point, not so far down the rabbit hole that I can't quite see things entirely clearly, how Valerie says she gets when deep into writing projects. So I guess that technically, by definition, I'm not really in the rabbit hole at all. More like in the trenches. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ready, set...


Here goes nothin'. I'll be back in 30 days, with a 50,000 word draft of a young adult novel. If I don't call you back, or don't respond to something on facebook, or don't blog, or appear in public looking frazzled, I apologize. It's because I'll be joining a few thousand other fools* in the folly of writing a novel in a month.

And at the end of that month, I'll have a draft of this young adult novel, tentatively called "Driving Through Constellations":
It's been four months since Claire's mom died in a car accident. Her dad walks around in a fog, and her little brother hasn't been sleeping, and Claire's been going on long drives by herself, staring at the stars. But when her best friend Alice gets dumped, she drags Claire along on a road trip of healing. Can Claire heal her heart in one cross country trip? Or are the spaces between her and the people she loves too vast?

We'll see how much it transforms by the end. :)

For those readers who are sharing in this journey, here's what I've been reading to myself, over and over. This is why I'm doing this.

"Knowing there are thousands of others out there trying to do the same, who are using this ridiculous deadline as cattle-prod and shame deterrent, means goddammit, you better do it now because you know how to write, and you have fingers, and you have this one life, and during this one life, you should put your words down, and make your voice heard, and then let others hear your voice. And the only way any of that’s going to happen is if you actually do it. People can’t read the thoughts in your head. They can only read the thoughts you put down, carefully and with great love, on the page. So you have to do it, goddammit. You have to do it, and you can step back and be happy. You can step back and relax. You can step back and feel something like pride." -- Dave Eggers, NaNoWriMo pep talk, 2010

* The world is full of zanies and fools, who don't believe in sensible rules and won't believe what sensible people say... and because these daft and dewey-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes, impossible things are happening every day!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Hiatus for NaNoWriMo

The blog has been a little on the quiet side lately. I've been getting ready to open "Dancing at Lughnasa," and any free time I have has been spent watching Ancient Aliens or hanging out with family.

But the blog will probably be pretty quiet for the next month or so, because most of my writing energies will be put into NaNoWriMo! NaNoWriMo stands for "National Novel Writing Month." Every November, thousands of people commit to writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. It's a sort of seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing...the idea is that most of the people who say they want to write a novel never actually do. NaNoWriMo is the chance to just sit down and pound out that novel. Even if it's rubbish. Because you can take 50,000 words of rubbish and turn it into a novel, and it's easier to do that than make a novel out of nothing. 50,000 words isn't too long...about the length of "The Great Gatsby" or "As I Lay Dying."

My Kirby memoir was a NaNoWriMo project, even though I didn't make it to 50,000 words, nor did I make the deadline. But it never would have gotten done at all if it weren't for NaNoWriMo.

So, for the month of November, I will be writing approximately 1700 words per day. At the end of it, I'll have a rough draft of a young adult novel, tentatively called, "Driving Through Constellations." You can keep track of my progress here.

Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Be my writing buddy! I go by "lizanator" in the NaNoWriMo world.

Happy November!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Beginner's Guide to Going Green, Part 2: Big Ideas To Keep In Mind

Welcome to "A Beginner's Guide to Going Green," a 2-part blog series about living more sustainably, no matter where you live or what your budget is!

BEFORE I START, A CAVEAT: So, a lot of people disagree that our planet is in crisis. I'm not really interested in debating that here. I've done a lot of research and have come to my conclusions based on careful studying of the issues and prayerful thought. If you're not interested in changing your lifestyle or disagree with those who want to change theirs, I invite you to read something in another corner of the internet. I'm continually researching global warming and environmentalism, and I invite you to do that research on your own as well.

Okay, now that's out of the way.

Look, something you can pin to Pinterest! If you're into that sort of thing.

So let's say you want to live greener. You want to live more sustainably. You want to exercise better stewardship over the earth. But then you start to think about all the changes you would need to make and get totally overwhelmed.

Don't worry. That's common.

The thing is that we're so used to our high standard of living that we assume our lives will have to change DRASTICALLY in order to save the earth. But those drastic changes don't have to happen all at once, and even if you only make one or two small, non-drastic changes, that helps!

In Part 1: 15 Easy Ways to Save the Planet, I gave you a few concrete tips on how to live more sustainably. If you're already doing those things and want to do MORE, or if you're confused about the reasoning behind some of those tips, here are a few big ideas that govern green living...the "why" behind the "what." Knowing these things will help you make greener decisions.

I'm kind of giving the "reader's digest" version of all of these concepts, so feel free to do some of your own research if you'd like. These are the basics. (A warning: you'll probably find a lot of controversy surrounding a lot of these ideas. Of course you're welcome to make your own conclusions.) 

Greenhouse Gas
So the earth is surrounded by an atmosphere that protects it from the hazards of space...things like meteors and certain wavelengths of UV light. The atmosphere is made up of a handful of gases, and some of them are what we call "greenhouse gases." These gases let energy from the sun IN, but don't let them back OUT. Normally, this is a good's what keeps our planet warm and makes life possible. But when there's a LOT of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, it traps more heat, warming up our planet. The earth naturally goes through periods of being colder or warmer, but when it happens too fast, it can get pretty hairy. Right now, there's a LOT of greenhouse gas...way more than there should be. All that gas is trapping a lot of heat on the earth right now, which melts ice caps, affects weather patterns, raises sea levels, and disrupts every ecosystem on the planet.

Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels come from decomposing organisms from thousands of years ago, and include oil, natural gas, petroleum and coal. They're bad for the environment for two reasons: first, the process of mining them takes a big toll on the environment, destroying biodiversity and leaking chemicals into the ground. Second, their use releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. See above. But fossil fuels don't just give us gasoline...we use fossil fuels for EVERYTHING. They're often burned to give us electricity and to create plastics.

Travel Footprint
Buying stuff that was grown or made far away takes a big toll on the environment, because of all the fuel used to get it to wherever you are. This is one of the big things to keep in mind when you're shopping, especially for food. (You may find some organic, wholesome, all-natural jam at the grocery store, but the grapes came from France and you live in Idaho. In that case, it's probably better for the earth to just buy the non-organic local jam.)

Organic Products 
Organic products are grown and processed without the use of irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, genetically modified organisms, or hormones. (Now you're thinking. " food was processed with SEWAGE SLUDGE?!) The USDA has pretty strict standards when it comes to what they certify, and their organic program's mission is to preserve biodiversity and protect resources, so most of the time, organic is a good way to go. But be careful...if it doesn't have the USDA seal, it wasn't certified through the government and might not be TRULY organic. Look for this on things you buy:

Humane Treatment
This applies mostly to food and cosmetics. When it comes to food, chickens, cows and pigs often live in cramped quarters, without room to move, and a lot of them die from their living conditions. Look for phrases like "cage-free" and "free-range" on your eggs, chicken, beef, and pork. When it comes to cosmetics, look for labels indicating no animal testing. Sadly, animal testing is STILL going on in the United States for more than just medicine. Giving animals good living conditions does a couple of things for the earth...number one, it's just good stewardship. Number two, large industrial farms with poor living conditions release a ton of carbon dioxide and methane, just from processing.

"Dirty" Companies
There are a handful of what I call "dirty companies" out there...companies that have bad reputations for environmentalism. Some of them include Tyson, Monsanto, and the Koch Brothers (who own LOTS of other companies). Learning about "dirty companies" takes a LOT of research, and you have your own standards of what you will and will not stand for.

Fair Trade
This one is sometimes not as much about environmentalism as it is about stewardship. It's also something to keep in mind as you're shopping. There are a handful of products that are in such high demand and make so much money that they're often manufactured in third world countries in dangerous conditions (child labor, long hours, bad pay, etc). Sugar and cocao (chocolate) are two big culprits. "Fair Trade" labels indicate that the product was manufactured without those bad conditions.

I guess I shouldn't say "chemicals," because technically, chemicals are in EVERYTHING. But there are a lot of harsh chemicals that can be easily avoided. Cleaning supplies often contain lots of harsh chemicals that get into the groundwater, rivers and streams, destroying biodiversity and disrupting ecosystems. Most of the time, you can find "green" cleaning supplies at any store, or just use household alternatives like baking soda and vinegar. When using chemicals like paints, solvents, and anything that goes in a car, be sure to dispose of them properly. Just throwing them into a dumpster can release them into the wild. Take them to your local garbage disposal instead.

Whew! That's a lot to take in, I know. This list of things can feel a little overwhelming, more than the list in part one. If you're feeling overwhelmed, you can try to incorporate one item at a time into your shopping habits. For example, for one month, you'll focus on buying organic. Another month, you'll focus on buying local. After a while, you'll find a balance of what works for you and your family. If you'd like to incorporate all of these ideas at once, here's a handy checklist for your shopping!

Sometimes when you research "going green" and environmentalism, you can start to feel a little hopeless. Things are looking pretty rough for our planet right now, and it's easy to feel like the things you're doing aren't making a difference. But think of this. If EVERYONE did just a little, it can make a HUGE difference. And there are lots of people out there trying to live a little more sustainably. You aren't building the Colosseum single-handedly. There are lots of people carrying bricks, and the more people who carry bricks, the more we can get done. So spread the word! Be the change you want to see in the world. Research. Find the truth and form your opinions. Decide what you can do and do it! It sounds cheesy, but together, we really can make a difference.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Going Green, Part 1: 15 Easy Ways to Save the Planet

Welcome to "A Beginner's Guide to Going Green," a 2-part blog series about living more sustainably, no matter where you live or what your budget is!

BEFORE I START, A CAVEAT: So, a lot of people disagree that our planet is in crisis. I'm not really interested in debating that here. I've done a lot of research and have come to my conclusions based on careful studying of the issues and prayerful thought. If you're not interested in changing your lifestyle or disagree with those who want to change theirs, I invite you to read something in another corner of the internet. I'm continually researching global warming and environmentalism, and I invite you to do that research on your own as well.

Okay, now that's out of the way.

Look, something you can pin to Pinterest! If you're into that sort of thing.

So let's say you want to live greener. You want to live more sustainably. You want to exercise better stewardship over the earth. But then you start to think about all the changes you would need to make and get totally overwhelmed.

Don't worry. That's common.

The thing is that we're so used to our high standard of living that we assume our lives will have to change DRASTICALLY in order to save the earth. But those drastic changes don't have to happen all at once, and even if you only make one or two small, non-drastic changes, that helps!

My husband and I have been slowly trying to make our lives more sustainable and earth-friendly over the last year or so, and it's a journey that will continue for a few years yet. Each of these changes in our lifestyle are minor, but over time, they can make a big difference. Many of these changes aren't necessarily COMPLETELY sustainable, just a lot MORE sustainable. You gotta start somewhere. And a lot of these tips will save you money as well!

I'd recommend doing these things one month at a time if you're feeling overwhelmed. You don't have to make all these changes at once. You can say, "For the month of April, we'll implement idea #2." Then the next month, add idea #6. Etc.

IDEA #1 - Phase out the use of plastic bags.
Plastic is made with fossil fuels, and it takes decades for a plastic bag to biodegrade. We actually don't know how long it takes them to biodegrade because the first ones ever used are still in landfills. Invest in some canvas bags for groceries. A lot of grocery stores sell them for around $1 apiece, and offer small discounts when you use them. It's harder to phase out plastic bags when it comes to taking out the trash, but consider using a bag multiple times (just empty it into the bin) or investing in recycled or biodegradable bags.

IDEA #2 - Phase out the use of disposable plastic water bottles.
Not only will this save you TONS of money, you're keeping more plastic out of the landfills! The making of plastic products releases a lot of greenhouse gases as well. Why pay $1.89 for something you can get for almost free? Invest in an at-home water filter (either for the faucet or a pitcher for the fridge) and buy a more permanent water bottle.

IDEA #3 - Cut back on red meat
The farming, slaughtering, packaging and distribution of beef is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas release in the United States. By choosing a salad or fries or chicken nuggets instead of that burger, you're lowering demand for beef. As demand lowers, less will be produced. AAAAnd you'll be healthier! You can also consider cutting meat out altogether.

IDEA #4 - Unplug things when you're not using them
Many appliances use electricity even when they're not turned on, so unplugging them will save some electricity (and some money on your power bill). Electricity is commonly generated by burning fossil fuels, so you're lowering carbon emissions by using less electricity.

IDEA #5 - Turn off lights
Open curtains to let natural light in whenever you can. At night, only use lights in the room you're in. This will save you even more electricity.

IDEA #6 - Recycle
If your area has a recycling program, start using it! If you're not sure where to put your recycling bins in your house, remember that unlike regular garbage, plastic and paper doesn't smell, so you can put recycling bins on your front porch, in a coat closet, or anywhere else. You can also use two smaller garbage cans instead of one big one. (There's some debate about the value of recycling...the process of recycling releases some greenhouse gases and other chemicals. But from my research, buying new things is even WORSE.)

IDEA #7 - Buy things second-hand
The production of "new things" is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. They have to be built using machines that use electricity (burning fossil fuels), then transported (using fossil fuels). Consider shopping at thrift stores, swap meets, and on craigslist for things you need. Re-using things keeps them out of landfills, and it keeps the demand for "new things" low. Try organizing a swap meet in your neighborhood for appliances and clothing.

IDEA #8 - Eat locally and seasonally
When food has to be transported long distances--especially fruits and vegetables--they have to be picked earlier, treated with chemicals, and then trucked thousands of miles using fossil fuels. Consider buying fruits and vegetables at a local Farmer's Market, and cutting back on fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter. If you really want to get domestic, you could can and preserve fresh fruits and vegetables in the summer to enjoy them all year long.

IDEA #9 - Eat organically
The jury's still out on exactly HOW good eating organically really is for the earth, since organic food often has to travel long distances, using fossil fuels. BUT organic farmers grow their food without the use of pesticides, which is really good for the earth. Pesticides are not only pretty bad for people, but they kill a lot of bugs that the local ecosystem needs. A healthy earth depends on biodiversity, and eating organically helps preserve that biodiversity.

IDEA #10 - Walk, bike, carpool, or use public transportation
This is especially easier when the weather gets nice, but it is possible year-round in many areas. Cutting back on personal car-driving cuts back on the emissions going into the atmosphere.

IDEA #11 - Buy energy-efficient appliances/vehicles
If you're, like, a real grown up who has to buy appliances and stuff, and if you need new ones, consider purchasing some that are energy-efficient. It will use less electricity, saving you money and reducing the use of fossil fuels. If you're buying a new car, research which vehicles have the lowest emissions, or purchase a hybrid or electric vehicle.

IDEA #12 - Use old jars instead of tupperware/plastic wrap/ziploc bags to store food. 
A glass peanut butter jar does just as well storing food as a plastic tupperware container does. You're re-using something, so you're keeping the production of "new stuff" low, and you're avoiding plastic, and you're saving money!

IDEA #13 - Replace lightbulbs in your home with CFLs.
"CFL" stands for "compact fluorescent lamp." CFLs do the same job as regular lightbulbs, but they use way less energy and last lots longer. Be careful when you're throwing them away, though...they do contain small amounts of mercury, so they need to be taken to a recycling facility or the local trash company.

IDEA #14 - Compost or start a wormery
I'm still doing my own research on this, but food scraps, yard waste, and some paper products can be biodegraded on your own property, then reused as fertilizer. If you have a backyard, you can start a compost pile. If you're in an apartment, you can start a "wormery," an indoor compost box with a few worms to speed up the process and keep things from getting smelly. Check if your local library has a book on composting or building a wormery.

IDEA #15 - Organize a co-op or neighborhood garden
A co-op is a great way to save a little money and take your food sources into your own hands. The basic idea is that you get together with a few other families and share the cost, labor, and benefits of a garden or raising chickens or cows. If you live out in the country, this may be a little easier. But apartment dwellers can also ask the property manager if an area can be set aside for a garden. You can even go to your local city council and ask if there's a patch of ground that can be used. Take turns weeding and watering, and when the time is right, share in the harvest.

Happy green living! 

Tune in next time for Part 2: Big Ideas to Keep In Mind. I'll list a few of the basic concepts behind green living that can help you make more sustainable consumer decisions.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The report and a new list.

A few years ago, my BFF Carrie started doing this thing..."25 Things to Do While 25," etc. I stole her idea and have really liked it, so I'm continuing. We've both had to cut the list a little short as we've gotten older, since life would get more and more overwhelmingly full as the years went on, but I still like the idea. So I'm continuing it! But first, a report on this last year!

SEPTEMBER 8, 2013: 7 done, 2 in progress, 6 incomplete

1. Do an street art installation of some kind. Rules: Must be impermanent! No damage to property allowed.
I'm gonna count this. Not exactly a "street art installation," but it was fun and whimsical and public. And no damage to property. 

2. Self-publish a book of poetry and sell it (online, local stores, etc.).
DONE! Officially available for purchase as of January 26th. You can buy your copy here

3. Complete the T-shirt quilt project that's been languishing in various closets for over ten years.
It's still languishing. 

4. Become a certified secondary school teacher and receive my Bachelor's degree.
DONE! Although I still haven't actually seen a physical Bachelor's degree, so it doesn't feel real. I have my teacher's certification though. 

5. Eliminate red meat from my diet (uuggghhh...I love it so much! I don't even eat that much! Oh, this is going to be hard.)
Ha ha ha!

6. Eliminate the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags (shopping = reusable canvas, trash = biodegradable).
Do you have any idea HOW HARD it is to find biodegradable trash bags? 

7. Learn to juggle. (Shout-out to Carrie Chapman!)
In progress? I can kinda do it, but not consistently. 

8. Travel to a place I've never been before, and be cool about it. (Sometimes I suck at traveling...I get stressed out. I want to live life more stress-free anyway!)
DONE! I'm gonna say our Mediterranean trip was a success...I was relaxed and cool about things the whole time, even when our trip back home took 27 hours. 

9. Do yoga outdoors.
DONE! At the last 10:30 pm on September 7th, I ran into my inlaws' front yard and did a few brief poses. 

10. Build a bookcase. A sturdy one. One that shall stand for many years. But also be affordable and easily rearranged and transported.
In progress, but will need to be put on hold for a little while. Possibly a few years. Materials for this are expensive, and we need to pay off some debts first. So our books will just sit on the floor, driving me crazy, for a while. 

11. Go on a hike. (I didn't hike AT ALL this past year! How silly!)
DONE! I lived in West Yellowstone all summer, after all. My parents and I hiked the Riverside Trail in August. 

12. Attend a Parson Redheads show.
Nope. But I do get to see Brette in a week at our 10-year high school reunion! 

13. Do the temple work for at least 5 family names.
Nope. But I'm slowly making progress on genealogy. 

14. Complete reading the entire Book of Mormon with Jacob.
DONE! Finished on December 30th! We started reading roughly a year ago--right before we moved into our new place, our home teacher challenged us to read the entire Book of Mormon over the next year, and we're pleased to say we've done it.

15. Go on a spontaneous road trip.
Nope. Partly because the best time to do this is the summer, and we couldn't exactly leave the Playmill. 

(I have a bucket list, too. Wanna see it? Click here.)

Not too bad. I think 15 things is a little much, so we're cutting it down a little. And I'm totally stealing Carrie's number of things. It was kind of hard to come up with 8 things, just because Jacob and I aren't really sure what the next year holds for us, but here are the goals! A lot of them are financial, but more on that later, I think.

1. Get $1000 in savings. 
A lot of money management programs recommend getting money into savings before you try to pay off debts. It seems counter-intuitive, but this savings fund is for emergencies, and there will ALWAYS be emergencies. This way, when you begin to pay off debts in earnest, you won't be financially "interrupted" by needing to pay for a new pair of glasses, or fixing the car or something. (Not that we have a car...)

2. Pay off all credit card debt. 
We've got a few thousand in credit card debt right now, which isn't too bad, but we'd love to be credit-card debt-free by September 8, 2014.

3. Pay off five student loans completely. 
I've got like, 14 of them, some larger than others. I was going to specify an amount, but I like the idea of just paying five student loans off. Bam. Gone.

4. Go an entire month without paying for eating out once. 
Eating out is one of my biggest weaknesses, and I'd like to slow down. And if I want to pay off debt, I'll have to. Notice, however, I just said without "paying" for eating out. If someone else wants to take me out to eat, that doesn't count. Really, we won't be able to afford eating out at all, but sometimes you get weak, and having this goal will be fun motivation.

5. Recover a chair. 
Or make a chair cover. They're kind of the same thing, but one involves fewer staple guns.

6. Face a fear. 
This is a hard one to measure, and I have a few in mind, but it's something I want to do. I originally wanted to "overcome a fear," but that's a lot of pressure to put on yourself within just a year, and how do you know when you've actually "overcome" it? So I'll just face one down this year, and if I also "overcome" it, more power to me.

7. Do a paid voiceover, television, or film gig. 
The time has come, people. I've done plenty of live theatre, and it's time to expand my horizons a bit more.

8. Do a "photo-a-day" or "video-a-day" project to document one month of my life. 
Maybe it's a little self-centered, but it's always seemed like a cool project. So I'll do it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Final Three Weeks...the last Playmill Highlights.

It’s been hard for me to write this entry. Partly because there’s a LOT to write—a lot can happen in three weeks. But also because I’ve got some kind of psychological block. You could probably just call it writer’s block, but I think writing this entry also has something to do with closure, and I just haven’t been ready for that yet. But the best cure for writer’s block is to just write, so maybe the best cure for not being ready for closure is to just close it.

So, here they are. The Playmill highlights of the last three weeks.

Week 17 was a week in which we learned to just go with the flow. By some cruel trick of the universe, we lost both of our technicians within the same week, so Katie Ludlow joined the Playmill family at the last minute as our cover technician. I became the sound tech for “Beauty” nights, since “Beauty” is complicated enough to need a separate light and sound tech. We had a…rocky few shows as we were learning. We truly learned what Stacey was talking about when she said that the tech booth is a horcrux and that it makes people cry. There were never really any HUGE mistakes, except one epic sound fail, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

The biggest crisis was that the first Saturday Luke and Joe were gone, we finished a show of “Beauty” and during the lunch break discovered that the “Seven Brides” lighting disk wasn’t loading. So we…didn’t have lighting cues for the show that was starting in oh, ten minutes. So, Katie ran “Seven Brides” off of the “Beauty” cues, which meant it was basically lights up, black out, and Stacey filled in as the sound tech, even though she hadn’t run tech for four years. Oh, and Roger and Jake were both gone. So that was crazy. But they ROCKED it, and Heavenly Father helped us through, and it was one hell of a Saturday. Joe drove all the way from Boise and reprogrammed everything on Sunday, then drove all the way back to teach school again on Monday.

The hardest thing about rocky tech stuff at the end of the season was that we had all gotten so USED to the rhythm of everything…the timing of each blackout, the volume of each song. When it was the tiniest bit different—one second earlier or one second later—it felt like a huge deal to the cast. In reality, the shows were really FINE, but it threw everyone into such a panic that the week felt rockier than it actually was. Katie rocked it, I think I might have rocked it, except for that one epic sound fail.

It was EPIC.

So, in the classic number “Gaston,” we had a choreographed face punch in the middle of the big dance break. It had a fun little sound effect that was a visual cue—you hit “GO” on the cue right when Squire wound up to punch Mason. All was well, Squire wound up to punch Mason, I hit “GO.” But instead of playing the face punch, SFX (the sound program) started playing the NEXT SONG. If you know SFX, you know that it means that both “Gaston” AND the next song were playing AT THE SAME TIME. It sounded chaotic and awful, so in my panic, I did what I was taught to do in sound design class…stop ALL the cues. In my memory, this moment happens with a mighty “shutting down” sound effect…the lights even flicker in my mental playback. In reality, it was even more awkward…everything just stopped. And I had NO IDEA where in the music to go to pick up again. I sort of tried to find a place to pick up, but it was hopeless. Stacey happened to be up in the booth, and if she hadn’t been there to talk me through, I don’t know what I would have done. She told me to just let the cast move past it and pick up as soon as we could. The poor cast just sort of stood onstage for a moment before kind of starting to wander off. Roger came on and began his scene about the beast having Belle locked in a tower, which normally has underscoring, but didn’t because I had just stopped all the cues in a panic. They did the whole scene and then Squire normally starts the Gaston Reprise (“Lafou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking…”). Squire looked up at me with this look of panicked hope, and I just gestured to him to keep going, since I assumed that the Gaston Reprise was part of the underscoring cue. (Which, ha ha, it wasn’t, so I totally could have played it.) Squire and Jacob sort of awkwardly spoke their lyrics, before allowing it to descend into improvisation:

Squire: Lafou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking…
Jacob: That’s a dangerous pastime…
Squire: I know. But that whacky old man that’s Belle’s father...he’s out of his mind.

Then they do a whispering bit before launching into a full out reprise of “Gaston,” which there was no way they could speak through. They did the whispering bit, and Squire started saying something like, “We should put her father in the asylum…and I have just the man to do it…” then looked to Jacob to add to it. He saw this look in Jacob’s eyes and thought, “Yes! He’s got an idea! He’ll solve it!” and when Jacob opened his mouth, he said, “Yes. But first…” And between Stacey, Katie, and I, we all decided it was time for a black out, so the lights dimmed just as Jacob was saying, “We have to go…into the other room…”

That’s one for the books.

Also, during Week 17, Misha (Frumah-Sarah) fell during the “Dream” in Fiddler. It was bound to happen at least once during the summer. During the “Dream,” she’s sitting on Mason’s shoulders, who somehow does a great job of walking around under this huge dress on a nearly dark stage. At the end of the dream, Misha says, “Here’s my wedding present, if she marries Lazar Wooooooooollfffff!” and on the “Woolf,” she’s pulled up through the ceiling by Boyd and Jerry, Mason ducks down and exits and we all run offstage and it’s AWESOME. Misha’s exit upward is assisted by a few of us onstage who are gathered around her, pushing her feet up. Well, this one night, through a combination of factors, she just didn’t make it into the ceiling. Dave couldn’t find her foot in the huge tattered wedding dress, she wasn’t in the usual place onstage, there was something weird in the timing. So when she said, “if she marries Lazar Wooooooooollfffff!” instead of disappearing into the ceiling, she disappeared sideways and backwards into the crowd of us onstage. I like the think we handled it pretty well, most of us staying onstage to try to mask Misha as she attempted to get offstage. (Except for Jacob, who panicked and just ran off.) The problem was that Mason was still sort of under her, and she was wearing about 20 feet of tattered wedding gown, and it was really dark onstage, and she kept trying to crawl off, but we all kept stepping on the wedding gown in our attempts to hide her. Everyone made it off okay eventually, but it was an awkward few seconds.

So that was Week 17. The lesson learned was to be flexible enough to just go with whatever happens, and to trust that Heavenly Father will help you through.

Weeks 18 and 19 were far less dramatic, which was a nice change. Second to last Sunday, we went to Virginia City as a cast, which included wandering town, window shopping, the traditional candy store splurge, and the ghost walk. Now, later, one of my most vivid memories of that day is actually just the drive out to Virginia City. I rode with Squire, Jerry, Tanner, and my husband, and there was a big storm going on kind of around us, and we were listening to 90’s music. Just one of those moments that stand out in memory. Nevada City’s living history museum was closing right when we got there, but the kind people allowed us to come in and explore anyway, which was awesome. We also enacted a scandalous story of old timey saloon happenings (with Stacey's original captions, because they're awesome).

The lovers meet in secret.

His wife enters in a jealous rage. 

A brawl begins. 

The married couple reunites. 

The sheriff comes to check the saloon out. 

He arrests the wife for murder. 

Everyone fights again. 

The End. 

(Someone needs to take all this and make a fun, old-timey silent film out of it, with subtitle cards and everything. Maybe I will someday.)

In past years, the cast hasn’t done the ghost walk, but it’s one of my FAVORITE things, so I made phone calls to make sure it was happening and that we could go. Our tour guide couldn’t make it at the last minute, so the manager offered to either refund us or take us herself, even though she hadn’t done a ghost tour in twelve years. We decided to just go for it, and I remembered that I actually have a love-hate relationship with ghost walks. Because they’re fun and interesting and totally really actually scare me. But I’m the one who was all gung-ho about insisting on the ghost-walk, so I couldn’t let anyone know I was actually SCARED, so I just kept asking where my husband was and obsessively gripping his hand the whole time.

The last two weeks were also filled with family—Dad and Mary and Isha came to visit, along with Melissa and Kyle, and then later, Mom came! (Dad and Mary and Co. actually came during Tech Hell Week 17, but whatever.) We also went home to Rexburg for one Sunday for the baby blessing of little Benjamin! It was a beautiful day at Jacob’s parents’ new house, which is a lovely house, enchanted by the spirits of L.M. Montgomery and J.M. Barrie and Laura Ingalls Wilder, full of trees and wild lawns and gables. And our sweet nephew Benjamin was big enough to get out of the hospital! Go Ben!

There were a handful of other good “Fiddler” moments, too. Like the one night when everyone’s headscarf came off during the wedding dance. (Bad Jews.) And the night that Crusty inexplicably panicked and forgot a line. We’d been doing the show for THREE MONTHS, and for some reason, he became incredibly uncertain what his line was. It was supposed to go:

Me: A pot.
Trudy: A pan.
Crusty: A broom.
Jerry: A hat.

But about halfway through the word “broom,” Crusty panicked and just stopped talking. He said, “Br—” The confusion of it made Jerry’s next line a question.

Me: A pot.
Trudy: A pan.
Crusty: A br--
Jerry: A hat?

The fun part about being tech for “Beauty” was that once we knew what we were doing, it meant we kind of got to watch the shows and anything crazy that happened onstage. (Even though Katie and I did two entire shows half-asleep once. We called it our “La la la putting on my lipstick” night, and every single cue we barely made on time because we were just orbiting other planets.)

Anyway, favorite moments include when Mason’s “fellow candlestick” hat came off during “Be Our Guest,” and instead of putting it back on and continuing, he just walked offstage, leaving Max and Tanner to their own devices. They both kneeled in preparation for Mason’s usual cartwheels before realizing he wasn’t there and doing ten extra Russian kicks to make up for it.

There was also a great moment in “Beauty” when Cogsworth’s pendulum fell off his clock costume. He couldn’t pick it up in his big clock costume, so he looked to Dave (Lumiere) and said, “Will you pick that up for me, please?” Dave looked at him for a moment, with his candle-covered hands in the air and said, “Look at me.” The two of them looked over at Heidi, who was dressed as a teapot, and they all realized that because of their costumes, NONE of them could pick up the pendulum. Eventually, Dave Walker entered and at some point in the scene picked up the pendulum, admonishing in his beast growl, “Keep your dangly bits attached!”

There were two moments of “feedback farting” in “Beauty” that are worth recording. The way the theatre is set up, there’s one or two areas onstage where you have to be careful of body mic feedback. Normally, I got pretty good at being aware of it and avoiding it, but twice it got the better of me. The first time, Dave Walker’s mic set the speakers off, and after an obnoxious feedback “waaaaaahhhh” from the speakers, he covered for it by waving his hand in front of his nose and saying, “Scuse me.” It sent everyone, audience and actors alike, into hysterics. Dave M’s next line, “What were we thinking? We will never be human again” was adapted into “With manners like that, we will never be human again,” and I think it took Hannah a solid five minutes to stop laughing. The second time it happened, it was Cogsworth’s mic, and Crusty did the same cover, with an added comment about the scent being “slightly pine-y, what with the wood and all.”

Closing night of each of the shows was emotional, although we did have a crazy dance party before closing night of “Fiddler.” Katie played the track for “Tradition,” and we did our own improv’d version, complete with Cam playing Tevye, who was actually just Bill Cosby. This cast has been told so many times to stop ad-libbing that it sort of just exploded out of our systems. We each played the different roles, did one another’s lines and dances, and experienced something between hysteria and catharsis. “Anatevka” that night was hopeless, though…during both the 6 and 8:30 shows, at least half of us were sobbing, myself included.

During our final Saturday, as we ate between shows, we passed out yearbooks and Playmill rings, reminisced about the summer, and made nominations for the Braying Jackass Award. I don’t know when the Braying Jackass Award started, but it’s been a tradition at the Playmill for at least thirty years. One person gets the award for doing something stupid or irresponsible or generally jackass-y. Boyd won for “Disney On Ice,” which is what we call the night that he sprayed the stage with silicone before “Beauty and the Beast” for some reason that made sense at the time, but just ended up making everyone slip and slide and fall during the entire show.

Another fun thing about closing the shows was that Squire shaved his beard! It had become a pretty mighty beard by the end of the summer, so it was quite the event when he shaved it. It started out as Squire, Stacey, me and Mason in the boys’ bathroom, but as word spread, the crowd grew as more and more of the beard came off. It kind of came off in stages, and at one point someone pointed out that Squire looked like Jean Valjean. He started singing, “Do You Hear the People Sing,” and slowly the crowd in the bathroom started joining in, until it was real-life Les Mis in there. When he got down to a mustache and soul-patch, he put it to a vote, and the majority said to keep it, so he kept it. All night, I kept doing double takes, wondering who the guy helping with flats was.

There are a hundred, thousand, million other images I’ll carry with me from this summer, but I think the one I want to close with is this one. During the finale of “Beauty and the Beast,” everyone comes onstage and stands together as they sing. Katie and I were already crying sometime around the beast’s transformation, so we kept having to wipe tears away to see the stage well enough to hit our cues. As everyone walked on during the final 8:30 show, half of the cast was crying, and as they were singing, they slowly joined hands, until the whole cast was standing hand in hand, crying and singing…this big cast family that was sharing the stage for the last time after a beautiful beautiful summer.