Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to Get Any Girl to Like You (No, Really!)

for the young men

Since yesterday's post gave such phenomenal advice to the female half of my readership, it only seems fair that today the guys get their own thick slice of wisdom pie. So listen up, men. I'm about to drop some knowledge. 

How to Get Any Girl to Like You (No, Really!)

DO:

1. Be a fictional character. It doesn't matter if she's high-society or the girl-next-door. If she's female, chances are very high that there's been, at one time or another, a fictional man who has made her pulse skitter. Fictional men have it all: they are generally intelligent, good-looking, and romantic; plus, as an added bonus, fictional men are always available when the ladies need them. Just pop in a DVD or pick up a book and there they are, just ready and waiting to thrill. If a lady finds herself in the doldrums on a Saturday night because one of you poor chuckleheads didn't ask her out, to whom will she turn? Bruce Wayne, Sir Percy Blakeney, Han Solo, Mr. Thornton, James Bond, or Edward Rochester -- whatever her choice, her fictional man will not only be available, but he also offers complete emotional safety, since he will never inflict any manner of emotional damage on her directly. It's obvious, men. The fictional character1 always gets the girl.

2. Set yourself an important, long-term goal while claiming that you're not going to date any girls until you accomplish it. Murphy's Law of Relationships states that if you're accepted into a prestigious medical school for a taxing eight-year program, and you have sworn up and down (to yourself, your friends, and your family) that you are not going to date anybody until you've completed it, you will meet an absolutely astonishingly-attractive girl on the first day. If you attempt to hold fast to your commitment and ignore her, she will severely tax your fortitude by asking you out. 

3. Be attracted to her best friend. This is the complement of yesterday's admonition to girls.  C'est la vie.

DON'T:

1. Bathe in cologne. I honestly don't understand why men are still doing this. Remember, men. You want her to be drawn closer to figure out what that amazing scent is, not to lean back because her lungs are about to clog. To be honest (and I know that I speak for more than one lady here) one of the best things that you can smell like is soap. Just as men love the smell of food, women love the smell of cleanliness. So listen up, men. Use fabric softener. Keep dryer sheets in your pockets. Gargle with Fabuloso! Just before you leave the house, rub down your entire outfit with a bar of Irish Spring. However you choose to accomplish this, working actively to smell clean (which is different from the lesser, passive accomplishment of not stinking) will put you light years ahead of the rest of the pack.

2. Tell her that you think she is your soul mate the very first time you meet her. It may sound romantic as a line in a movie, but in real life, it's creepy. 

3. Give up. I have to be honest: I've just added this one at the end because it sounds good. If you're scanning the bold-print titles, this is the what you would want to see at the end of a list like this. However, it's not entirely true. There are, in fact, some situations in which it is appropriate for you to give up. For example, if the female in question has filed a restraining order against you. Or if she has taken to hiding in deep, dark caves at the far corners of the earth. Or if she's turned you down multiple times. (If my dad followed that last bit of advice, however, he never would have started dating my mom, who turned him down multiple times when they first met.2  So you just never know.)

______________________
1. Preferably charming, well-dressed ones from the Regency Era.
2. Not entirely sure about how my parents feel about my sharing this publicly on the interwebs. I guess I'm about to find out.

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Get a Guy to Like You


for the young ladies

Based on my vast experience in both accidentally attracting and repelling men, I've compiled this partial list of some of the many things that you can do in order to get guys to like you. If you're worried that you're not capable of attracting men, fear no longer. Apply my patented techniques, and you will soon be up to your elbows in suitors. (Or, depending on how tall you are, up to your shoulders.)

And gentlemen, never fear. Your turn is coming.

How to Get a Guy to Like You:

DO:

1. Be uninterested. There seems to be a Murphy's Law of Relationships in play in which the amount of interest a young lady will have in a man will be directly inverse to the interest he has in her. Because of this mysterious dynamic, one sure-fire technique you can use to attract a guy is not to be interested in him.

And I'm not talking about an assumed disinterest here: somehow the Murphy's Law of Relationships is able to differentiate between pretended disinterest and actual non-interest. It knows. Therefore, if you are uninterested to the point of being mildly repulsed by him, so much the better! In that case, he will most likely be willing to pursue you to the ends of the earth.

...where you have fled into the darkest corner of the deepest, most-remote cave that you can find.

In order to hide from him.

2. Smell Like Food. Have you ever wondered at the lasting popularity of women's vanilla-scented lotions and perfumes? I haven't. At least, not since high school, when I wore the lotion myself. Working elbow-to-elbow as I was at the time with a bunch of teenage boys in the back kitchen of a popular quick-serve restaurant chain, I learned very quickly that wearing my vanilla lotion would lead to awkward moments such as one of the boys leaning in for a huge sniff before closing his eyes, smiling, and saying (a bit mistily), "...you always smell like cookies."

Think of how excited your dad/brothers/husband/boyfriend is when he comes home to the smell of a delicious dinner wafting through the house. That's how excited he could be every time he smells/sees you coming!  The truth is that men just love the smell of food.

So grab a slice of pizza, ladies, and smear it on your neck. Roll around in a large vat of oatmeal. Toss out your potpourri sachets and stick Kraft cheese slices into your dresser drawers instead. Keep garlic knots in your purse for emergencies.

Whatever you need to do.

3. Try to get him to date your best friend. I'm not sure why, but this one generally holds true. Something to do with the Murphy's Law of Relationships, I'd imagine.

DON'T:

1. Try to turn yourself into a clone of him so that he will notice how much the two of you have in common. You like coffee? ME TOO! And impressionist art? ME TOO! And folk music? ME TOO! I'm going to start drinking coffee while looking at impressionist art and listening to folk music and do it all sitting right here in a really obvious place where you can see me until you notice that we like all the same things -- YAY!

The truth is that he's either going to notice you or he's not. If you have a lot in common, it should be apparent to him from the outset or become apparent to him naturally. Going out of your way to overemphasize how much the two of you have in common (or, even worse, trying to manufacture it by turning yourself into his clone) is just plain silly.

Besides, don't you want him to notice you because you're... I don't know... different?

I mean good-different. Not bad-different. Although if you're bad-different, he'll be likely to notice that rather quickly.

2. Try to set him up with your best friend. (See #3 above.)

3. Be afraid to laugh at yourself. People are going to laugh at you anyway, so why not join in on the fun? I've been told that the number of women who are able to take a joke and truly laugh at themselves is a very small number indeed. Don't be afraid to show that you are one of them.

So what if you fall down on your face in full view of the guy you like? Come up with a grin!

Unless you've broken your teeth, of course.

4. Let militant feminism trap you.  For goodness' sake, ladies, if he asks if you want help with something, say yes.

Don't fancy carrying something heavy out to your car? Ask the males in the room if any of them feel like putting their muscles to good use. They will eat it up.

Royally messed something up? Laugh it off and ask for a man's help --  he loves being the one to fix things and solve problems, so it's two birds with one stone.

If you're wearing vanilla lotion at the time, three birds with two stones.

But who's counting?

Monday, March 19, 2012

How to Survive a Short-term Mission Trip


If you've grown up in Christian circles, chances are very high that you've gone on (or led) at least one mission trip. I've done my share of both. Whether your trip is short or long, with a big group or a small group, foreign or domestic, there are a few key issues which every group member should consider beforehand.

How to Survive a Short-term Mission Trip:

1. Take earplugs. And I'm not just recommending earplugs because most mission trips involve teenagers (see below). I'm recommending this because the vast majority of mission trips involve third-world-country sleeping conditions. Such sleeping arrangements are not only often physically uncomfortable, but also involve a nightly barrage of sounds which include (but are not limited to) barking dogs, gunshots, backfiring cars, voodoo parades, teammates talking in their sleep, pairs of insomniac roosters having frantic crowing contests, teammates falling out of bed, torrential downpours on a tin roof, teammates snoring, the drone of kamikaze mosquitoes hovering an inch from your face the entire night, teammates coughing, the generator sounding like a helecopter just outside the window, teammates scratching their mosquito bites incessantly, teammates' alarm clocks/beeping watches, charismatic church services in foreign languages being conducted across the wall from the compound where you are staying, teammates firing up the buzz saw at 6:00a.m. in order to take advantage of first light, etc. You can see that a good pair of earplugs could be worth their weight in gold. (Though I don't actually recommend gold earplugs. Especially if you're going to a developing country. Because gold earplugs are just ostentatious.) 

2. If possible, join a team of mixed genders/ages. Each strata of humanity has something unique to bring to the team.

GENDERS:

  • Men: Sure, they may have a few harebrained notions, such as thinking that using the power drill to put screws into the wall on which your pillow is resting is a good idea at 6:30am because then you'll have somewhere to hang your towel "whenever you wake up." They might show up to dinner with sawdust plastered to the sweat on their faces and smelling like something left overnight in the bottom of a drainage ditch. But when the chips are on the table (and by that, I mean when the giant spiders lurk in the bathroom and the rats chew their way through the luggage), it's nice to have a few Y chromosomes lurking around.
  • Women: Okay. I know, all right? If it's a work team, it's sometimes hard to find enough appropriate tasks for the women to do. I would know: I once spent two days flattening out bent nails and sorting them according to size. (Fun times.) Most women aren't exactly handy with raising a roof or hand-mixing and pouring cement. But I know from personal experience that when you come down with a fever of 102 and other uncomfortable symptoms which cause you to wonder if it might just not be a better idea to lay out your mattress on the floor of the bathroom for the rest of the trip, then the knowledge that there are no other women on the team is enough to make you feel as if the end of all things has come. The last time I was ill on a mission trip, there were no other women on the team. One of the men held his hand to my forehead and said, "Yeah. Okay.... so.... I can't tell what this means." (Super times.) Had another woman been along, I would have already been given a cool drink, had my own personal fan brought in to blow directly on me, and some soothing comments whispered into my ear. (In this man's defense, when my fever didn't break after two days, he did load me into the back of a flatbed truck and have me driven out to the beach so that I could "have a swim and cool down." But that's another story.)
AGES:
  • Children: They are the ultimate entertainment, ice-breaking conversation points, and smoothers of cultural tensions. Take a few little cuties along whenever possible.
  • Teenagers: Sure, they're sort of a mess, and 95% of the time their laughter may be inappropriately loud, and they tend to talk rather a lot. And then there's the whole issue of staying focused. But when they're on point, they'll work harder and on less sleep than any other beings in the universe. Put a few teens on your team, and your project will be completed in record time with plenty of friendships being forged along the way. Teenagers on mission trips are rare and beautiful creatures. 
  • Adults: Yes, they may spend up to 50% of their pre-lunch conversations discussing every noise that they heard during the night and all of the various other reasons that they feel tired. It's true that the closer to the end of the trip they are the more grumpy and frazzled they may tend to appear. The fact remains, however, that without this group, the vast majority of mission trips would never get off the ground. These are the people who keep the gang together in the airport, ensure that toilet paper has been packed, organize the meal cleanups, hold on to the cash, pack medical supplies, and worry about what time everyone needs a wake-up call. To every adult who's ever gone on a mission trip: bless you.
  • Senior Citizens: or, as we like to call them on our trips, Senior Saints. You may think that this group might not be up for much hard work or many midnight popcorn sessions, but you would be wrong. Geriatric mission trippers are a surprising bunch. They work hard, don't complain, and (best of all) if the teenagers can stop talking long enough, the Senior Saints can tell stories like nobody's business. 
3. Don't forget your Bible. Forgetting your Bible is not only very embarrassing because it makes you feel unspiritual, but it is also a genuinely bad idea. Due to jet lag and/or the aforementioned third-world-country-noise issue, waking up in time to pair your devotions with the sunrise is rarely a struggle while you're on a mission trip. Don't miss out. 

Coming Soon: How to Survive the Toilets of the World.



Thursday, March 8, 2012

Radio Silent

Walking to Work

I'll be in Haiti with a team from my church from March 10-16. My purpose for going on the trip is three-fold: to visit with friends, to lead a three-day teacher-training seminar, and to shepherd a teenage friend through her first overseas service trip. Others in our group will be helping to establish a sewing/seamstress training center, making wooden blocks for a local kindergarten, leading a pastoral care seminar, and doing some basic construction. We all plan to participate in eating some really awesome food.

We appreciate your prayers and look forward to blessings in store.

In a few weeks, keep your eyes peeled for the projected post "How to Survive a Missions Trip."

Cheers!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How to Jump Off Things (and Not Die!)

for Marie

Since I have a huge project to be completed by Thursday, it only makes sense that I am suddenly inspired to sit down and write a blog post instead.1

Before I tell you how to Jump Off Things (and Not Die!), it is important to explain to you why we Jump Off Things in the first place.

A few years ago, my sister Beef and I drove up to visit our newly-married sister in Georgia. For her, this was not just a few years ago: it was also a few children ago. Footloose and fancy free, we traipsed around her new hometown, doing all of the local sight-seeing to be had. Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves wandering around the site of an abandoned sugar mill.

Our older sister hopped up on a stump and said, "Hey! Take a picture of me jumping off this stump!" which is about as exciting as it gets in her part of Georgia.

"Hey! Take a picture of me jumping off this stump!"

It had begun.

Innocent

Everywhere we went after that, we took pictures of ourselves Jumping Off Things. Lots of people have pictures of themselves standing in front of national landmarks and stunning views. Not many have pictures of themselves Jumping Off (or in front of) them.  As we jumped, our style, skill, and technique improved.

Leap!

Stonehenge Jump!

Over the Edge


Coronado Ballerina Jump


Carleton Hill


Grandest Jump


Best ever

We not only Jumped when we were together, but we also converted others to our ways.

Cirque du Soliel

Toyota!

Lucy & Beef beach jump

What a Wonderful World

Go go gadget arm!

All of that to say that in June of 2007, Beef and I had flown to Baltimore to visit a friend of mine, whom we easily convinced to Jump with us. In those innocent days, before I had made all of my mistakes, the idea that there were rules pertaining to Jumping had not yet occurred to me. As a result, I limped away from Fort McHenry in Baltimore, MD, with injured ribs, a broken toe, many bruises, and (the worst pain of all) an excessively damaged dignity.2 But more on that later.

First, I give you the three basic steps to Jumping Off Things (Without Dying!):

Rule One: Wear footwear appropriate to the occasion.  Only if you are jumping in grassy field, on the beach, or in an otherwise soft, sandy area (such as a children's playground) is it appropriate to Jump barefoot or in flip-flops.  For jumping off things such as statues, rocky cliffs, or historic forts in Maryland, flip-flops are definitely not appropriate.  At best, broken toes and mangled toenails will ensue. At worst, it will be the Fort McHenry Debacle of 2007 all over again.

Rule Two: Pair yourself with someone who is wiser than you are.  That way, when you have a ridiculous brain wave that has you saying, "Hey! I have a great idea! I'll lie down on the ground under this tree, and you jump out of the tree so that it looks as if you're flying over me!" or "If you hop from rock to rock, it will look as if you're hovering right above the Grand Canyon... as long as you don't slip when you land,"3 that person will say ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Rule Three: If at the thirty-first or thirty-second time you don't succeed, give up before your hurt yourself. Although it's true that sometimes with jumpshots many takes are needed, there comes a point at which to keep trying might cause you to do yourself an injury.

And now, because you have been so patient, I will tell you exactly what transpired at Fort McHenry in 2007.


The Location: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine; Baltimore, Maryland.  (Yes, that is the actual name. Shrine. I know.)

The Attempt: To run through a former cell block of the fort, leap over a shallow set of stone steps, and launch myself high enough into the air so that I would appear in the photo against a backdrop of clear blue sky and billowing American flag. Beef was lying on the ground taking the shot directly upward, so as to catch me, the flag, and the sky at the proper angle. In blatant violation of Rule Two, she had not only agreed to this brain wave, but had also already successfully completed this maneuver.

The Fallout: After an embarrassing number of unsuccessful attempts at the shot, I was ready to give up; however,  to Beef and my other friend, my jumps were all "too lame" to give me the proper height.  Knowing my penchant for injuries due to poor motor skills, I wasn't exactly keen on higher or faster jumps; however, they convinced me to take one final leap.  Throwing caution to the wind (and violating Rule Three), I decided to give it all I had: to infinity and beyond! I took a long running start through the cell block and flung myself up and out over the stone steps.  Yes!  A successfully high jump!  And then...  I landed awkwardly with my left foot half out of my flip-flop (Rule One), stumbled forward, tripped on a ledge, fell headlong over a low stone wall, and crashed landed on the cobblestone walkway beneath the wall.

The Injuries: Two scabby palms, scraped and bruised right elbow, badly bruised right hip, bruised right knee, bruises and cuts on right shin, brush-burns on the toes of both feet, and one gloriously purpled and broken big toe. Pain in ribs when lifting, coughing, breathing deeply, etc. for months.

The Best Part of the Story: Who should come around the corner just in time to view my fabulous crash landing but an entire tour group of exchange students visiting from Spain, one of whom was heard to shout "That lady fell down!" in Spanish mid-way through my flight.

Although not fool-proof, the three rules of How to Jump Off Things (and Not Die!) are offered with my warmest wishes for your safety and my sincerest desire that you joyfully (and safely!) embrace your inner jumper at the next possible convenience.

Finally, I offer a link to my public Flickr set of our Jumping pictures: good, bad, and in between right here.
__________________________
3. See the fabulous and frightening Death in Grand Canyon by Ghiglieri and Myers

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to Prepare for a Visit to China

for Jael



In 2004, I spent a year living in China. Before leaving the States, I prepared for the experience by learning about twenty words in Mandarin, practicing basic chopstickery, and reading approximately a dozen books about China: its culture, its people, its history.  Don't get me wrong: this three-pronged approach stood me in good stead. For about the first week. The longer I stayed in the country, the more items I added to my mental list of Things Nobody Told Me About Ahead of Time.

How to Prepare for a Visit to China:

1. Pack light. The Chinese typically re-wear the same outfit multiple days on end before changing to another one. So if you're only planning a short visit, know that only three or four outfits will suffice. Toward the end of my time in Asia, I took a two-week jaunt from Shanghai to Hong Kong to Thailand and back just toting a Jansport backpack.

Travel Buddies

2. Abandon the notion of personal space. It doesn't exist in China.  With a population of 1.3 billion, there just isn't room for it.

Just another day on Nanjing Lu

There aren't so much lines as there are scrums. People don't go one-to-a-step on escalators. The elevator isn't full until the bell rings and people have to get off before it will operate.  That's the baseline.

People

Not only the population density but also the culture of the people precludes any right you may feel that you have to personal space.  As a foreigner who both looks and smells unique, you will lose track of the number of times that you will be smelled, patted, or otherwise touched while on public transit (besides all of the pushing, shoving, and elbowing that takes place merely as a matter of course). None of this is offensive or threatening in any way. It's just something you will get used to.

3. Give up the notion that you will understand anything that is going on. And I'm not just talking about the signs, which in themselves are delightful.

Eats Shoots & Leaves moment

Steps are dang - erous

100_1932

Boast Beef

I'm talking about seeing people riding the bus downtown in flannel pajamas at four o'clock in the afternoon. Someone following you down the street shouting abuse at you for no apparent reason. A mother holding her toddler over the trash can at McDonald's so that the baby can poop directly into it.

I'm talking about the doubtful English-translations menus, on which you might see such tasty options as "beer fish with fungus and pee sauce" or "big bowl noodle pig bowel." (A hint about ordering in Chinese restaurants: it's better not to know what you're eating. Trust me. It won't matter what it's made of: it will be delicious.)

And then there are the inherent paradoxes in the culture, something I gave up trying to figure out. For example, no one has ever been able to explain to me how the Chinese can both be so indirect and that they feel it's rude and hurtful to refuse an invitation to dinner (meaning that it's more polite to accept and then just not show up) but at the same time be, on occasion, so cuttingly direct that it beggars belief. For example, it's not considered rude to say "You know, you're very ugly," to a classmate, or to ask (as I was asked many times), "Why don't you get married? Does nobody ever ask you?"

I'm also talking about traffic patterns which actually defy description. Rules of the road are optional, cars park in the bus lanes, taxis go up on the sidewalks, drivers beep more than they accelerate, and motorcycles and bicycles go everywhere, carrying up to four people.  Pedestrians assume that if they don't bother to look both ways, they will have the right of way... and drivers respect this unwritten rule.  China is that kind of place.

4. Leave your nose at home and have an extra set of lungs on hand.  Combine China's pollution issues with the 1.3 billion people living in close proximity to one another, and you have a recipe for a fairly fragrant brew. Concerning pollution, most of the Westerners whom I knew in China exhibited upper respiratory issues within a few weeks of moving over. I myself was plagued with a hacking cough for the first six weeks of my stay.

A friend of mine went so far as to suspect that the pollution was tearing apart the mucus membranes of her nose. When we would come back from a day spent downtown, she would have another friend of ours check the insides of her nostrils with a flashlight to see if they had begun to exhibit signs of decay. China just does that sort of thing to people.

Which brings me to my next point.

5. Know that staying for long periods of time in China will do unexpected things to your psyche. As evidence, I offer the following snapshots, all taken past the mid-way point of my year.

My hat

Lucy smokes a really huge cigarette

My other hat

Office hour

During the first half of the year, all of my photos are snapshots of me smiling happily while sightseeing with friends and students. The second half of the year is a mostly-inexplicable mishmash of confusing images. My journal is no better. Most of the entries revolve around my obsessive cravings for Western food, a remarkably cogent chronicle of our attempts to lob pieces of fruit into a nearby open sewer from our sixth-floor window, and a particularly rambling entry detailing the concern that, having duct-taped the windows shut in order to keep some of the heat inside of our (non-insulated, cement block) building, we were all going to die in a fire started by one of these really dangerous electric water bottles that we plugged in nightly and  stuffed into our beds.

Ah, China. What adventure you brought to my life.

6. Accentuate the positive. This is just a good life rule. Being in China might seem ridiculously confusing and marginally frustrating at times, but for every difficulty, there were many boons.

For one, being a foreigner in China sometimes feels like being a celebrity.


Also, if you take the time to make friends, you will find the Chinese to be warm, caring, and hospitable. (Except the ones that will occasionally follow you down the street shouting abuse at you for no apparent reason.)

Four students

After a year in China, I came home speaking more Mandarin than when I'd left, practicing some amazing chopstickery, and reading even more books in an attempt to understand just what made the country tick. I'm still trying.


For further study, I recommend works by Peter Hessler, J. Maarten Troost, and Paul Theroux.