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Jun

I have a thing for old stairs. Don’t ask me why.

old stairs

These are old stairs. Please ignore the graffiti.

These particular stairs were kind of annoying, though. They were too shallow, and too wide. I think they were made that way so that horses could walk up them.

Really.

walking down old stairs

Some people walked down the old stairs like horses, but some decided it was easier to walk down the smooth slope on the side. Like this.

smooth slope

I confess that, until that moment, I had never considered the difficulties of riding a horse on stairs.

I did have a friend who adopted a greyhound who didn’t know how to go up stairs . . .

So the Perugians (is that what they’re called??) live in a city on a hill with stairs built for horses. Naturally, it could be difficult to navigate the city using modern transportation. I think that’s why we parked in a garage and walked all over.

car in Perugia

But the locals seem to be managing just fine. One more picture:

laundry

Can you imagine how annoying it would be if you dropped a sock, though? Or other things . . . how embarrassing!!

Jun

It’s too tempting.

Perugia

This is one of those times when I almost regret taking pictures. I think the pictures are supposed to bring back happy memories. They do bring happy memories, but they also bring discontent thoughts.

Really, who wouldn’t want to live in a walled city with a nifty tile roof, surrounded by green trees and a beautiful blue sky? Here’s a closer look in case you aren’t sure.

Perugia, closer

I think it looks amazing.

However, being a debater, I have to look at both sides. So, observation 1–lots of those old houses probably don’t have air conditioning. Observation 2–it’s hot there in the summer. Observation 3–look at the next picture.

Perugia, the crowded side

Observation 3–the houses are crowded, there’s graffiti, there’s lots of stairs, and I still don’t see a grocery store. That makes me feel a little bit better about not living in Perugia.

More about the stairs later.

Jun

When I was kid, we would go on long road trips to visit my grandparents. As we drove through different parts of the country, sometimes I would wonder, “what would it be like to live here?”

I always worried about those people who lived in the mountains, on curvy roads, surrounded by lots of trees and rocks. Miles and miles from the nearest grocery store. What happens when they run out of ice cream?

I’ve always said that my dream home is located on a country road, five minutes from a Wal-Mart.

So anyway, about landscapes. I grew up in lower Alabama, which is relatively flat, and has lots of trees. I didn’t think that we had lots of trees until I visited northern Illinois, where my husband grew up. They have not so many trees.

We had trees, but it was pretty flat, so you usually couldn’t see very far because the trees and buildings got in the way. I think that’s why I always wondered what it would be like to live on a mountain. Unfortunately, my phobia of living more than five minutes away from a grocery story always stunted my imagination on that subject.

Perugia landscape

This is the view from a high point in Perugia, Italy. I think I could get used to seeing this every day. It’s a great view, but there’s plenty of civilization. It’s not really in the mountains, but it’s got the highest hill in the immediate vicinity. Hence the great view.

Unfortunately, things are a bit crowded. And I don’t remember seeing any grocery stores. They probably look different in Perugia, so I didn’t recognize them.

Another Perugian Landscape

Still, isn’t that nice?

Jun

I like old places.

I’m going through some mission team photos tonight, and I came to this photo.

Old Street SignThis is a street sign from Perugia. Well, it’s sort of a street sign. The “street” was more like a passageway, and it was inside the citadel. Anyway, I think the sign is saying that this is the way to the plaza and a particular church.

I think it’s much nicer than our road signs.

This next picture encapsulates many of my pleasant memories from Italy.

corridorI loved walking down open corridors like this. The shade gave us a break from the heat, but we could look out as we walked along, and sometimes we could feel the breeze. And some of us might have wished that we were princesses gliding along in beautiful dresses, sipping iced tea and eating baci.

And then some of us might have remembered that 1) eating too many baci would make us fat and 2) our modern-day “normal” lives are much more comfortable than any princess’s life. Even princesses had to worry about intruders storming the castle. That’s what the citadel was for (protection, not for tourists).

I still wouldn’t mind having a corridor someday.

Dec

Trent at Simple Dollar writes about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately–distractions.

Facebook, Bejeweled, and Google Reader are all distractions for me. A few weeks ago, it got so bad that I downloaded LeechBlock. LeechBlock allows me to block things like Facebook for a set amount of time. The thing is, once I set LeechBlock, I hardly ever have to use it.  I won’t even try to go to the site, because I remember that I’ve blocked it.

So why can’t I just decide that I won’t go to Facebook until I’ve finished my work?

The problem is that I’m focusing on the unpleasant process instead of the exciting goal. We’ve been doing some work in our house recently, and so far, I love the results. The process, however, is less than thrilling. Sometimes I think, “I hate all this mess. I can’t stand it. This has to change, now!” I could just clean up the mess and put everything back where it belongs, but then I would not have improved the house. No, I have to be willing to deal with some uncomfortable things while we improve the house. Those things are worth it if I focus on how I’ll love my house when this is done.

With all of my work, I need to focus on reaching my goals instead of listening to how I feel at the moment.

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Oct

The unfortunate story of the balloon boy has me thinking about fiction, reality, and our consumption of the two. I say “unfortunate” because of the resources wasted on a boy who never really was missing. Of course there were the rescuers, but many others were glued to the television, watching and praying.

I pity the boy. What kind of dad makes his kids lie for publicity? What kind of dad pretends that his kid might have fallen to his death? Who puts that kind of pressure on a 6-year-old? No wonder the boy keeps vomiting.

I don’t think this story could have worked as fiction. I’m trying to imagine it in a movie or a book, and it just doesn’t have the same impact. There’s something gut-wrenching about thinking that an actual, adorable little boy might climbed into a balloon, only to have his extraordinary trip cut short by a tragic fall. It wouldn’t be the same in a movie, where you know that no actors were injured in the making of this scene.

So this story only worked because it was real, but then it wasn’t. And now, as much as we hate it, even the betrayal makes for a good story. The plot worked, in its own sick way. They got publicity.

So even though this story, as we originally heard it, was false, it still illustrates that idea that truth is stranger than fiction. It seems like I’ve experienced that a lot lately. I’ve met people with stories that I could never have summoned from the land of my creative genius. I read an essay about the Great Chicago Flood of 1992 that made me wonder where I was when this story hit the nightly news (thanks Freakonomics!). As I encounter allegedly true things that exhaust my imagination, these experiences make me think that I need to read more history.

Then the cynical part of me wonders if these true stories really are true. I remember that even history is up for debate when I hear about “facts” of history that may not be as factual as we thought. Some of the historians must have gotten confused and thought they were in creative writing class. Legends didn’t end in the Dark Ages either, and now, through e-mail, they travel faster.

Even though history and current events can give us plenty of true, interesting stories, apparently they aren’t enough. We like to embellish the truth. We want to create our own stories. If those created stories are going to work, they must be believable.

Today, sometimes it’s hard to divide the facts from the fiction. We don’t just have news and stories. We have spin, agendas, and “reality” tv. It’s complicated, but then, who ever dreamed up a good story without any complications?

Aug

Everywhere I turn, people are urging me to replace my old bulbs with the newer fluorescent bulbs. You know, the swirly ones that will supposedly save you lots of money on your electric bill.

If the new bulbs really do save lots of energy (read: money), that’s great. In fact, we use them in our house. But some places, they just don’t work. And sometimes, I just don’t want fluorescent bulbs, even if they do save money. Sometimes, I think that their light gives me a headache.

I’m fine with people using the fluorescent bulbs, but I am not ok with the government outlawing incandescents. It is not ok for the government to tell me what kind of light bulb I can use!

Today I was delighted to see this article by Howard Brandston, a lighting designer. He mentions that fluorescent bulbs do not always live up to the claims about them, and simply may not be best in every circumstance. He thinks that people will be dissatisfied with their lighting.

He’s right, at least as far as I’m concerned. I’m dissatisfied with fluorescent bulbs. They are fine for certain purposes, but I want to keep my options open.

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Aug

I thought that this Boundless article on the seven deadly sins was a good reminder that we must live the Christian life in the same way that we were saved–through faith in Christ’s power to save us.

When I heard that some people were so bothered by John Mackey’s article about healthcare that they were calling for a boycott of Whole Foods, I knew that the article must be interesting. When I read it, I was pleasantly surprised to recognize some of the ideas that we talked about when we debated the health care issue back in undergrad.

Finally, I have two fascinating articles from Newsweek, about how our handedness and language may shape our perceptions. I want to do more reading on this topic!

Jun

I meant to publish this a long time ago, and just found this in my drafts. So please don’t think that I have too much free time on mission team. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

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I’ve always been interested in persuasion, and I’m sure that colors my thinking. It’s hard for me to imagine someone crafting communication without having an agenda behind it. Sometimes that agenda is very simple and straightforward. For example: “I want a chocolate chip cookie.”

But what about authors of stories? Are they just trying to tell a good story, or are they making a point? I’m sure it’s possible for us to assume too much in either direction. Critics, I think, often read points in where they aren’t. But readers often ignore points that are practically leaping from the page.

For example (and the reason why I’m writing this post): Dan Brown’s books (Da Vinci Code, etc.). I’ve heard people say before that Dan Brown has an agenda. Now, here’s an NYTimes article about Brown’s agenda. The article says that Brown isn’t just selling books; “he’s selling a theology.”

Theology involves our beliefs about God and truth. Your theology is a pretty big deal. Now, if you want to adopt Dan Brown’s theology, that’s your business. But if you’re going to do it, wouldn’t you like to do it knowingly and voluntarily? But that’s not what happens with fiction. You start the book, and it’s a great story. So you enter into the story in your imagination. For the story to work, you have to think like Brown thinks. Then you finish the book, and you’ve just spent hours seeing the world through Brown’s eyes. It’s hard to shake the habit. You start thinking like Brown, maybe just a little bit, but you’ve changed. You just wanted to read a nice story, but that nice story affected your theology.

I haven’t read any of Brown’s books, but honestly, this post isn’t about persuading you to read or not read his books. I’m just suggesting that you know what you’re getting into. Dan Brown has a persuasive message, and lots of other authors do too. Don’t forget that, even when you want to read a good story. Ignore the author’s philosophy, and you might get more than you bargained for.

May

Leo at Zenhabits has a great article today called 6 Small Things You Can Do When You Lack Discipline. I like this article a lot because Leo articulates something I’ve been thinking for a while–that discipline is all about motivation.

I experienced this problem recently when I was trying to exercise. I got up early and did an exercise video 5-6 times per week. The video wasn’t my favorite, but I liked how I felt after I finished it–energized and ready for my day.

The problem was that I had to get up early to exercise, and it was dark outside when I got up. For 6 weeks I kept it up, but every morning was a battle. I hated getting out of bed in the dark, but it just wasn’t practical for me to exercise later in the day.

Eventually, I stopped. I was more motivated to sleep (while it was dark) than I was to exercise. When I get back from traveling this summer, I will have a different schedule. I should be able to get up a little bit later and exercise in the morning light. I’m hoping that this change will make it easier for me to stay motivated about exercising. We’ll see!

Right now, I’m looking for little ways to incorporate movement and exercise into my travel schedule this summer. There’s definitely motivation–our hosts feed us like every meal is our last one! My friend Amy is also interested in exercising, so I am hoping that we can encourage each other to move around and keep our metabolisms working.

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