Our Culture Is Awesome

It was never my grandparents who griped the most about our modern culture. For me it was my aged college professors. They were always the most crotchety about how we young twenty-somethings had a “tough road ahead of us,” and how “our country’s resources were drying up for my generation.” In fairness, this is kind of true. But, when has it not been true? Change is freaking scary. Nobody’s kids will grow up the same way their parents did. It doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water. There are incredible things in our world. Here are four of my favorites:

1. Entertainment is getting better

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Mad Men

This statement might seem out of place during a time when when movie reboots, trilogies, and the highest forms of bloated cinema are being fed to us like corn to a bunch of cattle. (A little foreshadowing for you . . . stay with me.) The Lone Ranger anyone? No? The good stuff has just changed forms. Shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and even Game of Thrones are where we’re experiencing deep, meaningful stories. Netflix series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are holding the bar high for original internet content. House of Cards received a remarkable nine Emmy nods for its debut season. My conversations of late have changed from “seen any good movies lately?” to “what show are you watching?” I love a good movie in a dark, plush theater, but until the industry starts stepping up and being boldly creative again, and willing to take risks, I’m content to sit on my cushy couch and hang out with Don Draper and Walter White over a glass of chardonnay.

2. There is a shifting of power

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twitter

There are a few industries that have undergone drastic changes that I absolutely love. News is received via Twitter or maybe the twice daily news site visit. Brick and mortar retailers are increasingly forced to compete with the convenience and prices of online shopping. The music industry has loosened its tendrils on our music and has been forced to compete with self publishing, producing, and tiny distributors gaining success. I’m a consumer that loves choices. Making choices is part of what it means to be human; to be autonomous. Also… who doesn’t like to root for the underdog?

3. There are more food choices

photo via.
photo via.

I love the new food culture and food/health awareness that has sprung up in our country. I feel like I see a new documentary about changing our food system every time I browse Netflix. It’s something I talk about at social gatherings, and it’s a frequent topic of conversation in my house. I’ve lived in two big cities over the last few years and I have always had a plethora of healthy, alternative choices and countless farmer’s markets to shop at. When in Boston I even shopped at an indoor market during the winter months so even cold weather wasn’t an excuse! Even my Proctor-and-Gamble-laden grocery store sells competitively-priced grass-fed beef (there it is . . . full circle). Our food system is far from perfect, but people are moving, changing, and talking about it. The conversation is going and I anticipate this affecting our legislation over the next few years.

4. There is a lot of “free”

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FREE: The Future of a Radical Price

I just spent an ungodly amount of time playing Candy Crush today; more than I care to admit. I just downloaded it . . . for free. Last week I listened to a fabulous free audio book (ironically about this same subject) called Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. If you own a Kindle you can digitally “check out” books for free like a library. Comedians and musicians utilize (or at least often allow) their material to be hosted on YouTube. We live in a culture of giving things away and it’s awesome. People have been realizing that money isn’t the only form of capital you can earn and spend. For the savvy consumer, this is a huge win.

I too often look at our culture with extreme pessimism, but today I am choosing to look at it as an active participant in its changes. I marvel at the world around us and the opportunities I’m being afforded now. I was a 90’s kid, but I am sure glad we’re not still in that era! (Except for maybe the economy . . . that would be nice.)

What do you appreciate about our culture?

Posted in Culture & Media, Current Events, Food & Drink, History | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Letter to My Freshman

Sophie

So, my first born started high school this week. This. Is. Happening. We have been pretty optimistic about the whole thing, partly because school has been an overwhelmingly good experience thus far, and also because I had a positive high school experience myself. But being a teenager today is not what it was when I was a freshman. The world she is bravely facing is more complex, competitive, and far more sexualized, to name a few things that keep me awake at night.

There are many things I would like to say to her as she launches into this mini-society that seems to be capable of separating flesh from bone. Some of these things I have already said, others I am awaiting the right moment to say, and still others she is not yet ready to hear. But I have decided to practice on you! I feel you can handle it. We’ve known each other for some time now!

Sophie’s List:

1. The “Social Triangle” phenomenon. It seems real. It feels real. For all intents and purposes, within the walls of your school community, it is real. Kinda. It’s only real if you buy into it. If you choose to believe that some kids are accessible and others are not. If you choose to believe that others hold more power or less power than you do or that some are more or less deserving of your time and attention. None of that is true. Regardless of clothing, or car type, or academic or athletic performance, you each have only one voice, capable of great blessing or terrible harm. You will have to choose each day whether you will buy into this social hierarchy fantasy game. Some days you will probably buy in, and others you won’t. Growing up is hard enough without allowing others to manipulate you into believing that popularity or celebrity status is anything of value. It’s not. It’s a made-up system to randomly, and without true merit, categorize people into groups that ultimately serve only to make some feel better about themselves and others feel worse about themselves.

2. Relationships are a giant distraction. Crushes are part of life right now. Enjoy the thrill of being lab partners with that cute junior boy. Swoon as necessary! Wonder what having a real boyfriend will be like. Look forward to being in love someday. But right now, you are not in the game of long-term relationships. The period between being asked out and being broken up with can be lightening fast. Truly, the whole thing can go down before your next chapter test. Then you find yourself nursing disappointment, confusion, and embarrassment while trying to keep up with homework, sports, church, chores, studying, and friends. You feel things deeply my sweet, and these kinda broken-hearted/unmet expectations/what is wrong with me? feelings are some of the deepest. It’s not worth the cost to your heart, and to your permanent academic record. Boys aren’t worth that right now. But one day, a MAN will be.

3. You won’t tell me everything. Oh, you say you will, and I appreciate it, but this weird thing is gonna happen where you start to think of your friends as your confidantes rather than your parents. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s a perfectly normal part of growing up. You will start to feel like they are the ones who really understand and accept you, and you will confide in them and trust them like never before. This is why it is so important that you choose your friends wisely, Sweets. Without realizing it, you will give them great power and influence in your life, and what they think will become incredibly important to you. It doesn’t mean that we won’t be close. You will always be free to tell us anything at all, and we will always be on your team.

4. You’re gonna screw up. I predict this with 100% accuracy! It will not shock me, so don’t worry about that. Here’s the thing though . . . it doesn’t have to be the long-term consequence, future-altering blowout that you see so often in movies. In fact, for most kids, even those nowhere near as smart and committed as you, there won’t be an arrest, a pregnancy, or a drug habit. There will, however, be curfews missed, tests cheated on, beers sipped, and parents lied to. These are errors in judgment that teenagers make, and while it generally comes back to bite them, it doesn’t cost them their health, their home, or their educational future. These are bumps in the road of growing up. So, while I assure you that you will make some mistakes, I fully expect them to be of the small, garden-variety type. You will either confess or be caught, and we will deal with it accordingly. Life will go on.

5. Some stuff you just have to get through. One of the hardest parts of being your age is that most everything feels permanent. It is a real challenge to see beyond the next bend in the road, and since you are fairly new to traveling this life, you don’t have much history to remind you that this, too, shall pass. Even when your emotions are screaming otherwise, that will pass, too. You will have a few teachers that you really don’t like, and that you are convinced hate you as well. You will have someone you thought was your friend stop speaking to you and seemingly disappear without explanation. At some point, you will be humiliated or rejected. This, too, shall pass. So just get through the class, get through finicky girl drama, get through that epic fall in front of the varsity football players. The feelings are real, but they don’t stay. Breathe.

I love you and am excited for your future!

xoxo,

Mom

(Photo property of Stephanie Brubaker)

Posted in Family, Parenting, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

So You Want to See the World . . .

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photo via.

I love to travel. I absolutely love it. I love the excitement of packing up my things to go see and experience a new surrounding. Growing up, I was blessed to be able to travel often with my family. By the time I was nine I had been to Europe, Africa, and Asia. I have been to the Hawaiian Islands maybe twenty or so times, and all over Mexico and North America. Traveling with your parents, though, you never really consider the cost of airfare, decent accommodations, car rentals, dining, taxes, tips, etc. You blissfully and ignorantly enjoy the vacation experience. When I married my high school sweet heart at the ripe old age of twenty, I had this assumption that we would continue to travel the world at the same rate I always had. Needless to say I was in for a rude awakening in just how expensive it was to do that.

The first couple of years we were married, we accumulated a considerable amount of credit card debt in attempts to keep up with our love for travelling. We got sucked into the timeshare presentations, airline credit card offers, bonus miles this and Hilton points that. We both knew we weren’t honoring God by consistently charging our vacations without being able to pay them off relatively quickly. So about three years ago, we wised up and did away with any and all credit cards we had. We decided that if traveling the world and experiencing other cultures was something so important to us, we needed to save the cash for it, as well as work to find the best traveling deals that we could. After scouring the Internet and spending months searching websites, I was able to distinguish between the sites that consistently offered the best deals, and the ones that came up short. I figured out the cheapest days and months to travel, and the most expensive. I will gladly unpack my findings with you because who doesn’t love a good deal? BUT, please remember that these are just principles — not absolutes or guarantees.

The first one (and I’m sure many know this, but it’s always a good place to start): the absolute cheapest days to travel will always be mid-week. Airfare will be cheaper, hotels will undoubtedly be cheaper, AND you’ll have a better selection of rooms and potential complimentary room upgrades. If you are looking to book a vacation or quick getaway, always shoot to leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday if you want the better rates.

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A photo I took on the Napali Coast in Hawaii

Now, the month that I’ve found typically offers the best rates out of the entire year tends to be March. That’s not to say you can’t get great deals year round, but the truly incredible, jaw dropping ones usually hover around March. You’ll be chancing it with the weather but while most places in North America and Europe are still cold, they are not brutally cold. Last year — and I’ll never forget this deal because it was just so good — I was checking my go-to travel site for any upcoming specials. It was currently February and I wanted to escape our cold drizzle that we had going on. I began to type in random dates for March to see what they had available. Here is what my random plug in days gave me: an unbelievable Hawaiian vacation for two people. The package included roundtrip airfare out of Northern California to Kauai, a five-night stay at the Marriott, a rental car and all taxes for . . . $900. That’s not $900 per person; it was $900 total.

Sold. Booked that day. I don’t even think I consulted the grandparents first; I just prayed they would somehow be available to watch our kids. This is not the first awesome deal we’ve scored in March. Rates are typically cut in half this month. Keep March open as a potential travel month.

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bookit.com

Next, let’s discuss some of the best travel sites for good deals. Now, that particular Hawaii trip was booked through bookit.com. Compared with other travel sites, they have always proven to offer the most competitive rates. You will also always get a better deal when you bundle a vacation package together, as opposed to purchasing everything separately.

Travelzoo.com is another one of my favorites. Every week, on a Wednesday morning, I get an email of their top twenty deals locally, nationally, and around the world. I like it because Travelzoo does a lot of the legwork for you. They search the sites, hotels, airlines, and other companies, highlight the ones that are the best deals that particular week, and then hand them over to you. All you have to do is sign up by giving your email address and you can plan on no more than one email a week from them.

If a plane ticket is all you need, cheapoair.com is the way to go. There are many sites out there, but I like simple. I don’t particularly like eleven different tabs popping up (really, who does?), all attempting to check different sources. I need simple facts, numbers, all on one page, that way I am able to make quicker decisions. Cheapoair.com offers this.

I have many, MANY more tips on how to travel the world on a tight budget . . . I am just getting started! Stay tuned for more thoughts, planning guides, reviews, and all things travel!

Posted in Culture & Media, Travel | 2 Comments

New Friendships and a Divine Appointment

two cups of coffee
photo via.

Last Monday was one of the most refreshing days I’ve had in months. I met with two beautiful, godly women, over coffee. They both attend the church I go to, but our friendships are new. You wouldn’t know it though. There was this connection I can’t describe. A sense that we were there in the exact moment we all needed to be, and it felt like we’d known each other for years. In fact, throughout our conversation, we realized how sweet the timing of Jesus can be, when we all shared how we had been specifically praying for friendships like this. People we can be completely real with, and share our raw experiences and situations with. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been needing that. I walked away from our ninety minute date feeling so thankful and blessed. It was a “good for my soul” appointment.

It made me realize how often we as mommies put our needs aside because we have other responsibilities and things calling our attention. Other things to tackle, chores, kids to take care of and pour into, the list goes on. We say things like, “I’ll get to that later,” “I’ll invest in friendships when I have more time,” “I feel guilty taking time for myself,” or, “I don’t have time to take ninety minutes for a coffee date; who are you kidding?” Let me say this: I am just coming out of a chunk of time in  my life where, because I was so caught up in my daily “requirements” or things I felt I “had” to do, I was yearning for these precious moments with women that truly care for me, and can look me in the eyes and say, “Brittany, how are you doing? You seem a little off; is everything okay? Can I pray for you?” I went too long without making my time with other women one of my priorities. It’s vital for us to have that. To have true, meaningful friendships, where people pour into you, and you pour into them. That level of transparency and care from people you want surrounding you.

Now, I’m not suggesting you can carve out ninety minutes once per week to take a friend to coffee, or do something else along those lines. What I am encouraging you to do is gather one or two women you trust and talk. Just TALK. Share what life is like right now for each of you. What you may need some prayer for. Your recent achievements, and your current areas for growth. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. I promise you will gain so much from it. And yes, if you can’t get away on your own for a little while, then make time with other women over a play date. Let your kids play safely near you and — this is the hard part — talk about something other than your kids when you have them in the other room and have that time with other mommies.

Every day last week I thanked God for that very special coffee date. Not only were those women an answer to my prayers, but I felt completely met by my Heavenly Father, as He showed me He was listening. He knew what my heart needed. What I needed was to step away from the daily grind that — let’s face it — can get tiring and discouraging. I’ll be the first to admit it. I needed to take that small chunk for myself.

Before we were mommies, we were just us. Women. We have identities outside of being our child(ren)’s mothers, too. We have separate personalities, desires, interests, etc., and we need to remember that it’s okay to make a little time for ourselves. It’s okay to leave our children in the care of someone we trust and get away for a little while. It’s okay to have conversations that aren’t always centered around our kids. Now take a deep breath.

So as you begin your week, think about what you can do in your moments, although they may be brief, that you have to yourself. I encourage you to use those moments wisely. Get refreshed and healthy in your head and in your heart. I know I need that. Do you?

This article was originally published on Brittany’s personal blog last month. 

Posted in Being a Woman, Relationships | Leave a comment

Are You STILL Afraid of the Dark?

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photo via.

Remember that strange “creep-me-out” fad in the late ’90s when we had the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine, and that book of scary stories with that ugly skull on the cover? And there was that TV show, Are You Afraid of the Dark? To be honest, I don’t remember anything about them, but I do remember one thing: I WAS afraid of the dark. Not in the “there’s a monster under my bed!” kind of fear. My fear was not that irrational. No, I believed in ghosts. And then after watching a re-run airing old crusty footage of UFO sightings, those ghosts became aliens. Now I was afraid to look outside my window at night. I was afraid of the unexplained sounds that tinkered in the living room. I was afraid of the planes that flew outside my window. Those planes looked weird. I kept my glasses on at night because I knew I would be too afraid to reach for them later when I was woken up by the alien sitting in my closet.

And that was only a couple years ago . . .

Okay no, I just lied. I was a little girl when those things kept me awake at night. The truth is I’m not going to talk about childhood fears. I’m going to talk about the days when I was an adult and still afraid of the dark. This time was different though. My fear began in my dreams. There was the dream where I could not wake up no matter how much I tried, and the dream where someone was sitting inside my room only a few feet away, and the one when I was sleeping next to my mother and a sinister, Voldemort look-alike was about to attack. Sometimes I would manage to make a sound, and my parents would hear me in the other room and check on me (during the days I was still living with them). A couple of times I woke up standing next to my bed. Every time I woke up my heart was racing and the fear stayed with me as I woke up in the dark. There was this sense of panic I couldn’t shake.

So I thought about it. I’ve spoken to others who have experienced the same thing, my father being one of them. We are grownups, but once we enter our dreams, we become vulnerable and our sense of reality gives way to the imaginary, and we become afraid of the “dark.” We spend eight hours every day living an imaginary life with fantastical elements, scary, beautiful, dark or light, and impossible. In a dream, anything can happen, and the feeling of helplessness can be just as real as if we were awake. So how do we change those feelings that give us acid reflux and cause us to hyperventilate? Well, we could start by cutting down on those trips to Panda Express. Hhhhmm . . . Chinese American food.

In case you are a diehard Chinese food eater, or if you’re like me and refuse to give up eating sugar (another nightmare causing agent), you can do what I’ve learned. Fight back. It’s simple: punch the air like you have superpowers. Or if you like to pray, pray while you are punching the devil in the face. No really — punch the air. Prayer emboldens the mind, punching or doing some sort of physical movement adds energy to your body because the truth is, our mind is still working in our dreams, but our bodies are lying still, lifeless and useless. Bring security to yourself when you’re lying in bed and have just woken up from a dream. Kick that pillow in the face, punch that ceiling in the eye. Get your body moving and remind yourself you’re not helpless, trapped in a dream. After doing this I began fighting back not just after I woke up, but during my dream state as well. I was not helpless anymore. I was empowered and confident. I was a ninja. At least for eight hours. I have not woken up in a panic for about two years now since I started punching that bad dream in the face.

I’ve actually learned to use this technique with many things—bad thoughts that enter my head, insecure feelings, sickness, annoying people (Ha! Just kidding). Sometimes when I sense that my thoughts have become victim-like (e.g. I’m not cool, I’m never going to amount to much . . . etc.), I like kicking a branch. Some may prefer cleaning that glass window vigorously, running a mile, or taking that trash to the curb (metaphor intended). Or you could do what I did when I was a little girl shaking in my room. You could sing “Jesus Loves Me”. That totally worked by the way. I haven’t seen any aliens since.

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