Saturday, December 1, 2007

Two Worlds

On clear mornings I watch the sunrise over Mt. Wilson on my way to work. Sometimes the sight is a moment of glorious beauty, a last breath before I enter my classroom where Jesse Fuller draws stars on his warm-ups all period long, Paul Reese must ask me to repeat every set of instructions I give, Leo Doehring never has a pencil, and Jonathan Parenty thinks the squeak in his chair is a musical instrument. I love my students dearly. I love them even though they "drive me batty" as Becca Schoff says.

"No, you can't have a piece of candy for putting your name on your paper."

"Stop tapping your pencils."

"Look up here."

"I need your attention."

"Stop talking."

"Why are you over there? Your seat is over here."

"Give Alex his book back."

"Turn around."

"This IS a test!"

Except for the occasional Harley on Beverly, home is a stark contrast to my work in the classroom. On a good day I get home about 2 p.m., and I have the quiet afternoon to myself until 6:45ish when Philip get home. Cups of English Breakfast tea, Enya, a little dusting, a little snacking, a little reading and writing, a nap perhaps. I've learned how to grout and make a delicious tortilla soup, and I finally discovered how I can use my chicken bouillon. (I grabbed a jar of chicken bouillon off the Albertson's shelves the first time I went grocery shopping, thinking, "I've seen some of this in my mom's pantry. I think I need it.") It's been over a month since I cut my fingers on a kitchen knife or my head on a ceiling fan. Philip still calls me on my lunch breaks regardless of whether I pick it up, or I forget I have a cell phone on silent at the bottom of my purse.

I think Phil and I were cut from the same cloth. In our preparations for Christmas we've both given each other gifts early because we couldn't wait. Last night was no exception. He carried in a ripped bag from REI filled with rock climbing hand holds. Aside from the month surrounding our wedding we've visited the rock climbing gym weekly. So now he's bought some grips to put up on the wall, which separates my grandma's house from my parent's house. (I hope my grandma doesn't mind.) In our excitement, we strew the pieces across the living room floor and planned out a route using our black and kaki rug as our hypothetical wall.

I once did something similarly as a child. I drew a picture of a rock climbing pyramid and brought the idea to my dad, hoping he could help me build it in the backyard. That idea fizzled out, as have many others. I've decided to let my dulcimer go. I loved playing it. I still do, but in order to make room for the new activities in my life, I've resolved to say goodbye to the old ones.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

It Wasn't So Bad

The first rain in a very long time washed away the summer humidity and blew in crisp autumn air. The summer that seemed to last forever is over and now I look back on those days in nostalgia.

The stars were aligned on August eighteenth.

Several years ago my parents transplanted two grapevines on either size of a trellis in our backyard in hopes that they would grow up the bars and produce fruit over the brick walkway. For years the vines were fruitless, and my dad even talked about taking them out. Every summer they grew further, stretching their vibrant green leaves along the trellises, the white picket fence, and the brick pilasters, but no fruit. And then in early June of this year, clusters of green grapes appeared all along both vines. They would grow bigger and brighter until August eighteenth. One vine produced green grapes; the other, red.

The unsightly tubers of the Naked Lady flowers outside the kitchen bay window shed layers of brown skin all spring. "If that plant doesn't start blooming, I'm taking it out because it's so ugly," my mom said. The Naked Ladies were along the pathway that the wedding guests would take into the backyard. She peeled off the brown layers and chopped off a tuber or two, but left the final decision until a week prior to the wedding when the slender green stems stretched high, and the buds of soft pink flowers bloomed like a chorus of trumpets.

My mom and I planted the sunflowers in the garden according to their specified heights. We put the tallest ones (6 feet) in the back rows and the shortest ones (4 feet) in the front or in pots. We were doubtful whether the flowers would work out when my mom mixed up the seed packages. And the potted sunflowers looked awfully dwarfish and unhealthy. By mid July the garden-planted flowers—all of them—were well over seven feet tall and still growing. They gobbled up the water that my mom so often overfed them. They grew taller and taller as if in competition. And then in the beginning of August I climbed onto the jungle-gym, which sits beside the garden for snow peas to grow on, and spotted the first burgundy bloom right in the center of the garden. Day by day more and more colors appeared: golden, orange, brown, and red. They reached their peak the day before the wedding when my mom, Becca, and Gretchen cut them to make bouquets to line the center aisle. They gathered clusters of the flowers and still had dozens left to speckle the garden with color: a joyous backdrop to our ceremony.

The hottest week of summer, when the Whittier temperatures reached 106, came two weeks after the wedding. The vivid bridesmaid bouquets were a perfect contrast against the bridesmaid's black dresses and the groomsmen's khaki suits. The ceremony finished on time. The sorbets were a smashing success in the GHFC sun. The opportunity to donate towards missions brought in over four thousand dollars. We missed the hurricane in Hawaii by a week.

It was ideal. I have no regrets. I have no complaints. Martha Stewart would have been proud.

I'm not saying it was perfect. It wasn't perfect. My stomach was threatening to expel all the meals I hadn't eaten in the last 48 hours. No, it wasn't perfect, but if it had been, there would be no longing for heaven.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Who's Opinion?

I've never had so many people have an opinion about my life.

People were quietly interested when I was attending Biola, when I got my pilot's license, and when I was reading Plato. But now that I've entered a part of life that they're familiar with, they must have their say.

"Black dresses won't go with Kakhi suits."
"You look pasty with foundation on."
"When you want your husband to think you've been busy making dinner, sauté onions."
"I read this book before my honeymoon and it made sex much better."
"It's going to be too hot."
"You have to invite her to the wedding. She'll be so offended if you don't."
"Those vows exclude gender roles."
"People aren't going to want to donate towards missions. They want to give you a gift."

I've never considered myself someone who was ruled by other's opinions, but perhaps, just this once, I want to leave all the decisions to my hard working mother so she can receive the brunt of people's contrary opinions.

What's really interesting is when I have a rebuttal to their opinion: "No, I think I like having simple white plates at the reception," I say.

"Well, it's your wedding," they reply. "You can do it however you want." As if to say, "If you want to ruin your wedding, if you want to look like a dork and embarrass yourself by having ugly white plates, then it's your wedding. Your the one who will have to live with the consequences, not me, so do whatever you want."

That's helpful, especially because no, this isn't my wedding and no, I can't do whatever I want. If it were entirely my wedding, I would be eloping to Hawaii, but I have another half now who has more decency than I and who would like to celebrate our marriage with family and friends. And so we've come to this compromise: backyard wedding, church reception, Hawaii honeymoon.

Most things are a compromise now. And after Philip and I have come to a decision, a compromised decision that required plenty of talk and maybe some discouragement on both sides, the last thing we need is for Joe Smoe to tell us how we should further change things. AH! We just reached our decision and now we're to change it again. AH!

In twenty years I don't want to remember these days as a continuous wrestling with other people's opinions. I want to remember the joys and laughs. I want to remember watching the sunflowers growing in the backyard. I want to remember rock climbing with Philip. I want to remember the weekly dinners, wedding gifts, and cups of tea from Grandma Taylor on Tuesday evenings. I want to remember the alterations lady at David's Bridal leaving me half-naked in the hallway as she answered a 15 minute phone call. I want to remember encountering 6 skunks on the Friendly Hills Golf course when Philip and I took a stroll there after hours. I want to remember putting panthers, Indian necklaces, blue jays, and Russian teapot stamps onto our wedding invitations because the post office was out of heart stamps. I want to remember the seamstresses asking me if my wedding dress was for my quinceanera. I want to remember my and Steve Burns' (our photographer) shocked expressions as my gentle mother beat our dog Max after he ran across the street after another dog. I want to remember my dad and Philip trying to shoot squirrels in our backyard with the BB gun. I want to remember the overweight lady I helped after she fell at the entrance of the Whitwood Town Center, and who apologized for not wearing a good bra as she hopped on one leg to her car. I want to remember my father easing the pain of my departure by telling people, "I don't think of it as losing a daughter, but gaining a parking space."

These are the humorous and memorable things I want to fill my mind.

So what do I do with people's opinions? Beats me. I think I'll go... pray some more.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

Fred Taylor doesn't believe in Father's Day. He believes that children ought to live with a grateful attitude towards their father's everyday of the year. In his perspective, setting aside a day for children to be uncharacteristically appreciative of their fathers is bogus.

And so today, instead of showing special attention to our dad, our family went to Macaroni Grill to celebrate the 2 years Becca Schoff has lived with our family. Her teaching time at Whittier Christian Elementary School is coming to an end, and she will be leaving our home for Virginia this coming Thursday. In honor of her time with us, my dad, mom, brother (Jacob), sister (Jess), and myself braved the secular world in the dangerous company of ourselves.

Things were relatively normal, as normal as any conservative, argumentative, audacious family might be. My mom made a meal of an appetizer, and Jessica ordered nothing but blackberry ice tea as she spread her multicolored vocabulary flashcards across the table. Occassionally my dad or Jacob paused in their meals to help her memorize her words for her test tomorrow.

Our family ate peacefully, observing our foreign surroundings until we became comfortable enough to retreat back to our familiar methods of interaction. Jacob and I began doodling on the white craft paper drapped across our table. The restaurant provided the crayons. Everything he drew oddly enough resembled women's figures. When I grew tired of turning his figures into lamps and elephants and funny looking faces, Becca and I began to list Jacob's future wives. Wife #1 was the elephant woman, wife #2 was an oyster child, wife #3 was a mermaid, wife #4 was a horrific face, and wife #5 was a giant tadpole with lipstip, which in the end revolted against the stick figure-Jacob and ate him.

The crayons were perhaps the biggest hit, especially when my father's dinner was too cold for his liking. His request for a hotter meal evolved into several discussions with the waiter and a quick chat with the manager who had come to our table to apologize and ensure that my dad's "special day" hadn't been ruined by his room temperature meal. I picked up my crayon and drew a tornado as Becca finished drawing Jacob's sixth wife.

I cringe as I remember that we openly prayed before our meal. We ended up doggie-bagging over half of what we ordered. I can't imagine that our bill was very large—despite Jacob's calculation that each of his five lobster raviollis cost $3 each—nor that my dad's tip was ample generosity for a family of believers.

But as I like to say, at least it wasn't as bad as a concentration camp. No, in fact it could have been much worse. I once ate with a family who ordered five times as much and returned every third plate with a complaint about the quality. In the meantime the children found it commical to make more work for the poor waitress. One underage son flippantly asked, "When are you going to bring me my margarita?" The margarita came and the parents footed the bill.

Yes I have much to be thankful for: my dad most especially because he can't and won't complain when I give him his father's day card late.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Dinner Table 101

Last night the Taylor family had an exciting episode at the dinner table. Tensions rose; personalities clashed. Through my eyes the events ensued as follows:

Dear and hard working mother manages the BBQ in the stylish blue dress she put on to be presentable for her husband. Her children: Jacob (25), myself (23), and Jessica (18) trickle into the kitchen and one by one sit down.

My dad walks in last, blesses the food, and begins to serve up the buttery rice and brocolli dish as my mom continues to tend the BBQ outside. My dad's mind is elsewhere. It's evident because he continues serving me brocolli after I ask him twice if I could have more rice. I give up trying to voice myself and instead offer my plethora of brocolli to my brother. Jessica offers her plate up next, but in the serving process my dad's arm hits his tall glass of pink lemonade and spills the juice across the kitchen floor, which my sister recently mopped.

I rush to grab the dish towels and sponges while Jacob and Jessica sit at the table eating. My dad helps mop up the mess as Jess continues to hold up her plate, waiting to be served. Eventually she gives up and says with a surrendering sigh, "I think God's trying to teach me patience."

In the meantime my mom comes in and helps mop up the mess with my dad and I. "Can we get a different spoon to serve this rice," my dad says with a hint of exasperation in his voice. "See," he says as he pushes the spatula back and forth in the rice to show how easily the utensil slips in the rice pan. "That's what made me spill."

I believe my brother was making sly comments through this, but I don't remember what they were. My dad's mood was off set, and Jessica had given up trying to have a cheery attitude. Her shoulder's slumped and she stared at her empty plate.

The sticky mess was temporary fixed, but the kitchen would have to be mopped again—something my mother would do, not Jessica. We all attempted to eat again. After Jessica refused to accept a serving of rice and brocolli from my dad, he thrust the spatula into the pan and said, "Fine, get it yourself."

My mother presses her lips together and attempts to keep the peace. "Let's start this meal over again," she says in an almost annoyingly-happy voice. She speaks a short prayer, asking God that we will all have what she calls "get-along-ability."

The dinner was fairly normal after that. Jessica sulked through the rest of her meal as she made ridiculous comments about how fat she is. After she refused a slice of cornbread because "it's fattening," she turns to me and admires the yellow shirt I have on. My grandmother had bought her the same one in a shade of pink. "What size is that?" she asks.

"Jessica, comparing is a downward spiral," I said as I made a visual demonstration with my finger.

My brother took the opportunity to be very brother-like. With his knife, he stabbed my perfect cube of cornbread, smashing it into crumbling pieces on my plate. "Jacob!" I said, but I was thankful for the comic relief. As I push him away I wipe my nose feeling the poison pimple that had been forming there. "Ouch," I said.

Jessica seizes the opportunity for an overused stab of her own. "See, you touch your pimples. If you just left them alone, they'd go away."

My blood begins to boil. My sister can't get under my skin in very many subjects, but she can here.

"I bet my pimple here will go away before yours," she says as she points to a minuet speck by her eyebrows on her perfectly smooth face, "because I don't pick at mine."

"Jessica, don't compare; it's a downward spiral," I repeated to cool myself down before I tried saying anything really potent.

"I'm just saying that that's why you have so many pimples," she says.

"Good for you," I said. "I hope you're able to get through the next five years of your life without picking your pimples and so you can be my age and have a perfect skin." I can't say my intentions were pure. I kept thinking about that verse that talks about heaping hot coals on your neighbors head.

She fell silent.

Jacob tried to make another pass at my cornbread, and the conversation abandoned any more talk about pimples. Thank God.

I suppose this was just a mild meal.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Main Character

I want to be what God wants me to be. But before that, I must shuffle through a dozen romantic and heroic versions of myself and see God in my stead.

I must let another slay the dragon, another state the intelligent answers, another speak before hundreds, another wear the red dress, and another come in first place. I must be content to let these dreams go.

I must be content to live in the story where God is the hero.