In Defense of Private School Education

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“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

We are all shaped by our experiences. That’s nothing new in the handbook of life. You kind of get a sense of that even at a young age and usually don’t even know it until you’re older. On your first day of school, you sit down and have lunch with the other kindergartners and find out that not every kid in the world eats peanut butter and jelly for lunch – but you have almost every day for most of your life so far. Some kids can’t even eat peanut butter (gasp.) When you get a little older in elementary school, you find out that not everyone has brothers and sisters, or even a father and mother. Wait…not everyone has a dog?!

So you get a little older and you’re in middle school. You start to learn more about the world, and decide for yourself what it is you believe in. Then you find out that some people don’t believe the same things you do. You’re thirteen years old, in the school band, have braces, and come home to a family every night. There are other thirteen year olds who go home to fighting parents, who skip school regularly, who don’t believe in anything. They might go to your school, they might live in your neighborhood, they might ride your bus. They’re in their own worlds, worlds that collide in public.

Some people might call this a “bubble.” Actually, a lot of people would call this a bubble. A bubble might be called the sheltered, exclusive environment that you are raised in with its own unique set of characteristics that differentiate it from the rest of the world. That’s a narrow definition. You won’t find it in Merriam Webster, but kids these days know what’s up. But I still think that definition is too narrow.

You grow up in a bubble, essentially. Your home is a bubble, wherever your home is. When you go to school, you enter into your school bubble. You also might have a church bubble, or a camp bubble, or friendship/relationship bubble. Exclusive bubbles.

People like to throw this term around in higher ed, though, more often than not. The College Bubble. Just imagine Stephen King’s dome but it’s around your college, and everything that goes on inside it is exclusive to your college. If you think about it, your life is a series of bubbles that you traverse through as you transition from one place to another.

There’s also the “Christian bubble.” The impenetrable Jericho-style barrier between being in the world and of the world. At least, that’s how some people see it. The fine line between legalistic, conservative “mama-raised-me-right” living and “the outside world” of secular community and sin.

Others see it as a membrane, where select individuals can travel in and out, but there’s still always outliers. In my opinion, it’s neither of these extremes, but we’ll get to that later.

Then why is being in a “bubble” a bad thing?

The title of this post involves school, so I might as well focus on school – private school, in particular. First things first: I honestly don’t care how you feel about private school. I want you to hear me out. I have my own biases about private school, and you might have some that are different than mine. That’s fine. But hear me out, and then maybe we can find some common ground. People like to think they’re radically different from one another, but really, we’re fundamentally the same, and sometimes go our entire lives without realizing that.

I grew up in private school. If you’re thinking white, suburban, Christian, and sheltered, you’re absolutely right. That was my upbringing. I don’t know why those words have gotten bad connotations. I didn’t feel suffocated. My suburban upbringing wasn’t just a glossy, gilded exterior with a nightmare underneath. Of course we had our troubles, but it wasn’t American BeautyIt was pretty happy and normal, “happy” and “normal” being relative terms, here. I can’t believe I’m even trying to defend myself here, because I can hear some of you through the screen saying, “Audrey, my upbringing was a living hell so you have no right to this and that and the other thing. You don’t know what life is actually like.”

I don’t know what your life is like, that’s true. Nobody does. I don’t pretend to know. But hear me out.

I am the product of private Christian schooling. And it was great. I was exposed to Christianity at a young age and was blessed enough to accept Jesus into my heart while in my single digits. I have two hardworking parents who made a lot of sacrifices for me and my brother to go to Christian school, and I am never going to take that for granted. They both forged their own faiths for themselves, having both grown up in relatively turbulent and godless homes. They wanted better for their children, and they gave it to us.

Therein lies my first point. I think some people go off about private school without taking into account the sacrifices made on their behalf. “But kids should be able to decide for themselves!” some may say. Okay, then sit down with your four year old and ask her if she wants to go to Christian school or public school. She probably doesn’t even know what those words mean yet.

My parents worked hard to make sure my brother and I got a Christian education (which is a lot of money, if you didn’t know that already.) Looking back, I feel horrible about the times I’d come home from school complaining. I was complaining to my parents after they’d had a long day getting the paycheck that funded my education. They never mentioned it or used it to guilt me, but looking back, I realize it now and it hurts to know that I did that.

Also, do you know how much Christian school educators get paid? Not much. Not much at all. But they show up every day because they believe in it. All teachers do.

I don’t want to sound like I think I’m better because I went to private school. I’m not. But I’m not less, either. My opinion isn’t any less valid because of my upbringing, because I went to a school that believed in something that’s radically different than what the rest of the world believes.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation with some of my college friends who also went to private school. It seemed as though they didn’t have anything good to say about them. It seems like no one has anything good to say about private school these days, given recent events and the concerns regarding the current administration. I won’t get political here, but I don’t think either of these things discredit private schooling.

“I’m not going to raise my kids as Christians,” one of my friends said. “I’m going to let them decide for themselves.”

“I don’t think private school gives kids enough opportunity,” another one said, “like with the arts and stuff like that. And it doesn’t give them enough opportunity to talk to people who are different than they are.”

“There’s really no difference between public school and private school. Kids are just as bad in private school.”

“I just think it’s a bubble.”

Allow me to assert the radical notion that if we are Christians, it is our obligation to raise our children as Christian. I’m not saying you’re a bad parent if you send your kids to public school (I’m not a parent at all so there are a lot of things I don’t understand.)

I’m just asking you to give private school a chance. Work through the biases you might have about it, try to understand where those biases come from. Was it one private school kid you knew a long time ago? Was it one headline you saw in the news? Was it one bad experience you had at your own private school?

I understand that private school is a privilege that not all people can afford. But if you think about it, education is priceless, no matter where you get it from. That might be kind of a canned phrase, but it’s true. It’s a privilege to live in the US and get an education here. We should never lose sight of that. It just so happens that the government pays for some school more than others, because the people who formed this country a long time ago thought that was a good idea. And it was, and it is.

If you went to a private school and hated it, I’m sorry. But that doesn’t mean that private school is fundamentally bad or not worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that private school is a “bubble,” at least not anymore than a public school or a church or a home is. It’s not a crutch, it’s not a handicap. It’s a school.

All education is worth it, and I would encourage you to see private school and public school as two sides of the same coin, not two unequal coins.

Whatever education you’ve had or are getting, don’t take it for granted.

That’s all I got for now, kids.

How to Be a Healthy-ish College Student

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Getting acquainted with healthy food isn’t always easy. I took this apple out for coffee and he was less than grateful. What a jerk.

Confession time: I’m not a health freak. I drink more coffee than I should, keep a bowl of candy in my apartment at all times, and have to peel myself off the couch to go to the gym sometimes (I tell myself that walking to class is enough.) I did more jogging in high school than I do now, mostly because of time. I would classify myself as healthy-ish. I take care of myself, but I could do better.

People will tell you there’s a “secret” to health – weirdly-named fruits, whole grains that taste like sand, juicing everything in sight – but there’s really not. Different things work for different people – especially college students. One day you’re sleeping in until noon and only eating three pizza rolls during the course of the day, the next you’re up at 7am and don’t crash into bed until after 10. How the heck are you supposed to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle when all you have at your disposal is 15-by-15 dorm room and a feeding trough known as the cafeteria?

Allow me to provide you with some “life hacks” (a term the kids are using these days to refer to little shortcuts you can take to make life easier) to become a healthy-ish college student, or a healthy-ish-er college students if you’re already halfway there.

1. Vitamins. If you don’t already, take a daily multivitamin. “NO.” some people might say. “Multivitamins are NO substitute for getting your required five-a-day.” The problem is, some college kids don’t get the chance to get their five-a-day. If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough fruits and veggies, get yourself a cheap bottle of vitamins – I stick to store-brand. They’re super helpful if you’re vitamin-D deficient (which can cause fatigue and overall gloominess, especially in winter), need calcium (keep dem bones strong in between slugs of coffee), or need a boost of iron (iron deficiency can also cause fatigue, which might be why you need that extra nap at 2pm…in the middle of class…)

2. Cut the creamer. I like splashing cream in my coffee as much as the next person, but it’s really not great for you. I’m not going to get on a soapbox and tell you you’re an awful person for putting some extra tastiness in your morning brew, but I would recommend cutting down to maybe a few times per week. Then, use the money you save not buying creamer to buy some tasty high-quality coffee, which I promise you, won’t need anything but itself. (It’s scientifically proven that you can lose 1 pound a year if you cut creamer from your diet. Trust me. I googled it.)

3. Pack a snack. If you have a busy day ahead of you, make sure your backpack is stocked up on snacks. It’s easy to forget to eat during a crazy schedule, and once you get to dinner you’ll realize you’re starving – which might cause you to overeat. Usually I just keep a granola bar in my backpack, but you can pack anything from crackers to a can of nuts (or a Snickers bar. I won’t judge you. That crap has protein too. And riboflavin, which I guess is a good thing?) Don’t starve yourself – eat if you’re hungry, preferably something high in protein (read: Snickers bar.)

4. Eat fruit and veg, but don’t force a bad relationship. I don’t like apples. They’re sticky and messy to eat and noisy if I eat them in class. Bananas are okay, but they go brown to fast for me to eat them. Oranges are also messy – you basically have to murder them if you want them. Guess what fruits my cafeteria serves? Apples, bananas, and oranges. There’s fruit by the yogurt bar, but it’s from cans so it looks and smells weird. Not a fan. So I don’t force myself to like this stuff and dread the next time I have to eat one. Instead, I buy fruit that I like (I know, I know, money is a thing, but produce tends to be pretty decently priced.) I love pineapple and pomegranate seeds. I become a grumpy suburban mom when I can’t find pomegranate seeds at the store, because they’re amazing and very healthy. So if you can set aside a little bit in your budget to buy fresh fruit and veggies that you like, it’s definitely a wise investment.

5. Invest in a quality water bottle. Sure, your summer camp Nalgene is great, but if you’re not very disciplined in your water-drinking (like me, Mrs. Coffee over here), it might not be a good fit for you. I don’t like water bottles with a screw off top, because it’s too much of a hassle (I’m so high-maintenance.) I don’t like plastic bottles either because eventually the water inside will emulate that taste.

6. Count calories (ish). Now, when you think “count your calories!” you immediately think “lose weight!” right? WRONG. Sometimes you should count your calories to make sure you are eating enough. Your life is busy right now, and it’s easy to forget to feed yourself (and feed yourself good food, not just two saltine crackers and a juice box in the morning.) There are literally a gajillion different calorie counter apps for your phone, some of which will sync with a health app. I use MyNetDiary because it’s the easiest for me (and it’s also free and you don’t have to sign up, and it has choices for whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain weight.)

7. Cardio isn’t always the answer. Cardio is great for you and all, it gets you all sweaty and burning calories and keeps the ticker in tip-top shape, but sometimes it’s easy to go to the gym and just do cardio. At this point in your life, it’s also important to work your muscle groups as well (in a healthy way…I’m not telling you to go bench 200lbs right this minute.) Even if it’s just some lightweight bicep curls or leg presses, working your muscles helps keep your bones healthy and boosts your metabolism, which is on your side in your twenties. Ladies, always pay special attention to your core strength, not just to get tight abs, but for an overall healthier body, and to reduce the risk of injury or back problems. PS, if you’re in college, you probably have free access to your school gym or weight room. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT BEFORE CAPITALISM MAKES YOU PAY FOR HEALTH.

8. Self care. This is a very millennial way of saying REST. If you need to slow down, slow down. Take time to listen to what your body is telling you. If you’re exhausted, rest. (Skip a class if you need to but don’t make it a habit. I’m just saying what your mom would say.) Stay hydrated as much as you can between sips of coffee. Try to fit at least one fruit or veggie in your meals each day and go from there, then treat yourself to some chocolate or a dessert. In your twenties, your body is still on your side. Your metabolism and overall health are working with you. As you start to get older, the tables will turn. So take advantage of this time in your life while you can.

I hope this short article helps you develop or improve your healthy(ish) habits. I’m not some yoga-master quinoa-crunching health guru, but I just want to share with you that being healthy(ish) can be easy(ish) even in college. You don’t have to drink a green smoothie that tastes like lawn clippings in order to be healthy. It starts with knowing your body and it goes from there.

Stay in school, kids. Drink your milk, whether it’s cow or almond (or flax milk? I guess that’s a thing now.) Eat a vegetable. Don’t do drugs. That’s all I got for ya.

Falling in Love With Marriage.

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A week and a half ago, I came across this on my Facebook newsfeed. I almost thought about sharing it after only reading the title – “You don’t have to get married to be happy.” I thought, “Yes! I’ve written almost the same thing in other blog posts of mine! Christians understand that marriage isn’t a varsity sport that every Christian has to reach in order to achieve the pinnacle of the Christian life!”

A few days ago, I decided to actually read the article. (Confession time: I often only read the titles of things and the first few sentences…I mean, who has time to sit down and read a full Atlantic article? Those things are like novellas.) I read it, and I was still satisfied. This guy was very honest and real about the Christian single life. Nothing I haven’t heard before. You can’t rely on a spouse to fulfill you because that’s impossible for humans to do. Heartbreak happens as a result. A song from the great band Jimmy Eat World says, “If I don’t lean on you, I fall.” Well, sometimes, you lean too much and you both fall over. Which is why you need to lean on the Rock. (Not Dwayne. You know Who I’m talking about. I’m just using a lot of Christian-ese.)

 

The gentleman who wrote the article is now married, so he’s seeing it from the other side. And he did a great job outlining our human yearnings and our absolute need for the love of Christ. But…haven’t we heard all this before?

That’s what some people in the comments section of that post were saying. I scrolled through the comments for a bit to see if there were any that stuck out (if it were not from a Christian website, I probably would have found some more colorful ones). None really did specifically, but a lot of them said something very similar, which I already mentioned.

Haven’t we heard this before?

It can seem like kind of a cop-out for the people who have waited years for a spouse to come into their lives.

“Oh, you just need to love Jesus more first. You can’t rely on someone else to do that for you.”

“Marriage isn’t really that great. Jesus is better!”

“Just pray about it!”

And the unmarried person, who might have that deep longing for companionship, will say, “Yeah, but…” And that’s totally okay. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my parents once, sobbing inconsolably, and just saying between tears, “I’m lonely.” That’s okay. God created Eve for a reason. Because it’s not good for man to be alone.

I decided to gauge the reactions of some of my friends as well. I talked to a couple who didn’t read the article in full, but understood the gist of it. One of my friends is vehemently single, and the other is in a relationship with my roommate, so you can imagine their opinions might differ.

“If you’re an unhappy person, getting married won’t change that. It can enhance your happiness, but it can’t change it.” That’s how my single friend put it. “I think Christians treat singleness as a plan B.”

My roommate’s boyfriend had something very interesting to say about it. “If you’re losing trust in God because you’re obsessed with finding a partner, and you start making deals with God, you have much deeper problems,” he said. “You just have to say, ‘okay, I don’t know why you’ve put this desire in my heart, but help me deal with it.”

As human beings, we have a fundamental need for companionship. I’m an introvert, but I yearn for the companionship of my friends. If I come home and none of my roommates are there, I get a sinking feeling that only goes away when I hear a key turning in the door. Since we were created, we were innately programmed to want people in our lives. 

If you’ve ever watched The Twilight Zone, the premiere episode features a man who wakes up in a deserted town. There’s literally no one there. He walks into a drugstore, he steps inside a phone booth to call someone – nothing. In the course of the twenty-minute episode, he goes all but crazy. (Then the twist happens, which I won’t tell you about in case you want to watch it.) That man had everything he needed: food, clothes, a car, everything – but no people. And that drove him nuts.

People need people. And that’s okay. And marriage is one of the ways we manifest our need for companionship (there’s also the whole “be fruitful and increase” thing, but your parents can talk to you about that one.) Marriage isn’t just any relationship. You’re not just roommates who will separate once the lease is up. You’re not just best friends who meet up for coffee every Saturday afternoon. You’ve made the vow to spend every day with each other for the rest of your life, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, through bankruptcy and stomach flu and love handles and hospital bills.

I think the writer of that post got it right – marriage isn’t the ultimate fulfillment, and many Christians have decided to devote their life to Christ instead of marrying (there’s this guy named Paul who did that a long time ago.) And that takes a lot of discipline in a world that’s saturated with love and romance. People might look sideways at you if you take a vow of singleness (and celibacy, in this day and age), but it’s possible to be happy without a lifelong partner.

But I want to address something that the writer didn’t quite address in his post, and that’s idealization. Are we just more in love with the idea of marrying than with the actual person? If you’ve ever read or seen the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder (if you went to American high school you probably did) one of the characters notes that people like to “make sure the knot is tied in a mighty public way.” And holy crap is that an understatement. People spend thousands of dollars and sometimes more for one day of their life to be “perfect,” sometimes not taking into account that there’s still fifty more years or so to go with the person they’re sharing it with.

Seeing all of those beautiful “fairytale” moments (they’re called weddings, in case I wasn’t clear) can make you kind of…want it, right? I’m not gonna lie, I would love a beautiful, romantic wedding. I cannot confirm or deny that I have pinned (multiple) wedding dresses and themes on Pinterest, without having any idea of when this special day is going to be. Raise your hand if you played wedding when you were little. Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Stock photos don’t help, either. This is what I found when I typed “love” into a stock photo search:

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Look at how happy and comfortable they are in that very awkward position!

And this is what I found when I searched “single” at the same site:

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I can hear your heart breaking through the screen.

Love and marriage is an ideal. It’s been instilled in us from a number of sources: tradition, stock photos, 80s slow-jam love ballads – but wherever the source, it’s undeniably there. And the main problem is we think it’s going to be perfect. We think it will be exactly what Johnny Cash said it was, “This morning, with her, drinking coffee.” How does your heart not melt when you hear that, how can you not yearn for that picture he’s painted? Of course it’s good, but it’s not like that every single day. And if we go into marriage thinking it will be perfect, that’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?

I think a lot of single people (including me) make out what we think marriage will be for us. And usually, we’re not right. It’s like what happens any other time you picture how something is going to play out – it usually doesn’t happen exactly the way you hoped. At sophomore homecoming, I was absolutely certain I would spend the evening slow dancing with my crush. Instead, I didn’t even see my crush at all, and stood in a hot room full of grinding adolescents for two hours wondering what the heck to do. Way less than perfect. Marriage is a little bit more serious than teenage musings, but you get my point.

And remember that it’s just as easy to idealize people as it is to idealize marriage. And if you end up marrying that person, it can lead you down a very messy road.

“Audrey, you’re being just like that guy. This isn’t anything we haven’t heard yet.” You might be thinking this. And maybe you’re right. Marriage is a topic that Christians like to mull over often. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be singles groups at church that were basically free eHarmony sessions.

But maybe what I’m trying to say is, marriage isn’t easy, but neither is being single. Especially a single Christian who really isn’t sure if marriage is in the cards for them, no matter how many people tell them it is or it should be. Single Christians go to Christian colleges where it seems like everyone gets married after their sophomore year. Single Christians get pelted with advice on finding a good Christian man or woman. Single Christians have to deal with the tension and occasional social awkwardness of being a virgin at twenty-five, or even older. Or the guilt of being a single Christian and not being a virgin. Sometimes all of those urges together make us desperate. We’ll all but throw ourselves to the next Christian guy or girl who comes our way, because everyone is saying it’s the right thing to do. Because you need to put “happily married” on your Christian resume, or else your faith stands for nothing.

So I guess I want you to leave you with this, if you’re a single Christian and feel guilty for wanting someone: don’t feel guilty. If you have a yearning for a spouse, that is a beautiful yearning. It’s a fundamentally human yearning. Don’t think that just because you want a partner, it means that you don’t want God enough.

But I would encourage you to let God in on your yearnings. Don’t hide them from Him. “God, I want a husband.” “God, I want a wife.” “I want to know intimacy with another human being.” “I want to live my life with a companion.” These prayers are 100% valid, even if they seem strange. God wants in on your yearnings. If you let Him in now, He’ll guide you in the future.

I’ll also leave you with this, which is probably something you already know, and quite possibly a thought you’re afraid of: I can’t promise you that God will answer that prayer the way you want him to. My prayer for you is that God gives you the strength to accept that answer.

Because the choice to be content with being alone is one of the bravest things you’ll ever do.

When You Go to College in Your Hometown.

“You’re living far away from home; and you’ve traded everything for a stone.”

– “Everything for a Stone,” The Belle Brigade

Before I get into the actual topic of this post, I’ll begin by saying I wasn’t planning on going to college near my hometown. I’ve talked in previous posts about how my college plans changed rapidly (see post Growing in Struggle.) I ended up at a small university in a decent-sized metropolitan area near where I grew up. I was born and raised in a very small town with a lot of cows and cornfields. Drive twenty minutes one direction and you’re in the city. Drive twenty minutes the other direction and you’re in the middle of nowhere. The area is a very odd, somewhat jarring hybrid of country, suburban, and metropolitan settings. It’s equal parts quaint and cultural, rural juxtaposed with urban.

My hometown is about a half hour from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan – if you’ve never been there, GR is like a very small Chicago. A very, very (very very) small Chicago. My friend described it as a “Holiday Inn Express” for hipsters – it’s neither East Coast nor West Coast, but there are definitely strong hipster vibes in the city (everywhere you turn there’s a farmer’s market – one of the benefits of a metro area surrounded by fields.) My college is located on the “north end” of town, and I was raised on the “south end.” If you’ve lived in a metropolitan area, you’ll understand when I say that “north-enders” and “south-enders” are very different. Same overarching culture, but different subculture.

Like I said before, I didn’t plan on going to school in my hometown. I only applied to two colleges because I basically had my mind made up – but then, in true teenage fashion, my mind was changed, and very quickly. As a result, I ended up at this small, private, liberal arts university on the north end of Grand Rapids.

It was fairly convenient – I know not everyone grows up in a college town or even a town that has any college at all, which means they have to move away if they want to pursue higher ed. The other college I was considering was two hours away and a true college town (the college was literally the town. Other than that, there were Amish people and a Burger King.)

“So Audrey,” you might (or might not) ask, “What has your experience been like, going to school in your hometown?”

Well, Nameless Imaginary Inquisitor, it has been wonderful. I have loved going to a university that is so close to a large metropolitan area where there’s lots to see and do. And it’s been great being close to home (I mean, free laundry and food, am I right?!)

“But Audrey,” you continue, “don’t you feel like you’ve missed out by staying close to home? Aren’t you sheltered now? Isn’t it just the same as it was when you were growing up? Are you ever going to have the courage to move away?”

Whoa, now, don’t get ahead of yourself, Imaginary Inquisitor. I’m not saying that going to school locally is the best idea for everyone, or that it’s perfect, but I am saying that it’s certainly not a bad thing. And here’s why:

You’re staying close to your roots. College is going to hit all of your ideals, beliefs, and opinions right between the eyes, no matter where you go. Whether it’s your professor or your roommate, someone is going to disagree with you and possibly shake up some of your predispositions. Sometimes, these things are hard to grapple with. When you’re far from home and where you grew up, you may feel lost, maybe somewhat marooned, like you’re on a ship without a captain. When my beliefs were somewhat shaken in college, my roots helped me shape my own opinion of what was being taught to me in college – I wasn’t allowing myself to be directly spoon-fed information without first approaching it with opinions of other people whom I trusted. Having roots close to you can help with that.

You know the area. It’s easy to feel isolated in college because you don’t know anything about the city it’s in. In the case of that college-town school I was talking about, there literally wasn’t anything in the area except farmland. And at a remote college like that, most students are also from out of town so they know as much as you do. Going to a local school I had the benefit of knowing some things about not only Grand Rapids but the surrounding communities. I also found myself learning more about the area than I’d ever known before (like the dearth of coffee shops GR has to offer.) I got more connected with my church, explored new areas, and made connections in the city that I had been totally unaware of up to that point. It’s kind of nice to go into college with some background knowledge of not only the school, but its city.

You’ll have a new perspective. Although you’re in the same place, you’ll see it through different eyes. With college comes freedom to be independent and think for yourself in more ways than you ever have. I learned more about my city in college than I ever did growing up near it. I explored more towns in the outlying area than I ever had before as well. In the fall, I explored uptown with my roommates, which was a place I wasn’t too familiar with. I auditioned for shows at the community theatre. I volunteered at an inner city school. Sometimes the best opportunities are right under your nose for eighteen years and you never realize it because you’re too busy grinding through the American school system (not bitter.)

All of this to say – if you’re searching for colleges right now, don’t rule out the ones that are twenty minutes down the road. It doesn’t mean you have to live with your parents (unless you want to – I mean, free food. And your pets.) People might hardcore judge you, but that’s okay. They just don’t understand, because they were taught their whole lives that they have to go far away for college. Or they didn’t have the amazing privilege of growing up in an awesome spot like you did.

So don’t take your hometown for granted. You might just realize that it’s where you really belong.

Ordering Coffee: A Field Guide

I know the look. If you work at any kind of fast-food – or coffee, in this case – establishment that requires someone to stand at a counter in front of you, you’ve seen this look too. That glazed-over, slightly confused look as they stare just slightly above your head. Maybe they squint as they do so. Maybe one single syllable will drift out of their partially-opened lips, “ummmmm, ahhhhh…”

We’ve all been there. We look at a menu and it might as well be in Greek. Or Italian, if you’re at a coffee shop. What the heck is miel and why is it in my coffee? Is it ex-presso or ess-presso? Why do they give me a funny look when I say “medium” instead of “grande?”

As someone who’s been on the other side of that counter, looking back at you and watching you have an existential crisis that is choosing what kind of specialty latte you want, I want to help. I don’t even know if this little field guide will help at all, but maybe it’ll make things less scary the next time you walk into a Starbucks or – even scarier – a local, privately-owned shop run by a free-range hipster named Alix who has a tattoo of a hemp leaf on his neck. So let’s jump into it, shall we?

Vocabulary: The first thing you should know is what kind of hip lingo you should use when you walk into a coffee shop. First, I’ll tell you words to avoid:

  • Frappucino: DON’T. JUST. DON’T. Frappucinos were invented by Starbucks to siphon money from an unsuspecting public when it’s just a glorified slushie. If you’re at Starbucks, go ahead. Order a frappucino. But EVERYWHERE ELSE, ask if you could get your drink frozen or blended. They’ll know exactly what you want.
  • Caramel macchiato: Freaking Starbucks ruins everything for people. If you order a caramel macchiato anywhere else, your barista will look at you like you just shot their grandmother. If you want the same experience as a caramel macchiato (which tastes like sadness, if I can be honest here) just ask for an unstirred caramel latte (that’s exactly what Starbucks’ caramel macchiato is.) A traditional espresso macchiato is a tiny cup of espresso with a dollop of milk foam. And that’s what you’ll get when you order a macchiato at any establishment that’s not Starbucks or a chain that’s fallen prey to the dreaded Starbucks Lingo.
  • French vanilla: This is basically just redundant. French vanilla isn’t really a thing – it’s just a fancy way French people make ice cream (trust me, I googled it.) It’s also a weird powder that they put in those gas station machines so you can get a little cup of disappointment when you stop to fill up your tank. Just say “vanilla.”
  • Venti: Yes, this is basically a list of Starbucks terms that you should never use anywhere else. Venti only exists at Starbucks, and Starbucks has conditioned us to speak their language. Thanks, capitalism. (Just say “large” everywhere else.)

The Basics. So you want a cup of coffee. That’s why you’re here, at this metaphorical coffee shop. Unless you’re over 60, you probably don’t go to coffee shops just for a cup of black coffee, unless you’re a hipster who’s into those weird glass contraptions that take five times longer to brew than a normal percolator but apparently bring out different “notes” in the coffee. (Hipsters like the term “woodsy” and “nutty.” Most other people just taste “coffee” because we don’t have a “sophisticated palate.” Apparently palates can be “sophisticated” – like did they go to Harvard or something? What am I missing here?)

First, it might be pertinent to talk about what kinds of drinks are available for your enjoyment – because after awhile, all those Italian names start to sound the same, which makes perfect fodder for old people complaining about younger generations (“those darn kids sipping their mochachino macchiatto grumble grumble.”) So I present to you a very short dictionary of coffee terms and beverages:

  • Espresso: [ess-PRESS-oh] It’s a tiny cup of coffee (if you want to get fancy, it’s a demi-tasse, which is French for “teeny tiny cup that makes your hands look gigantic, even if you’re the president” (exact translation)) It may be small, but don’t be fooled – espresso is one tough cookie. If you’re not a fan of strong coffee, don’t order straight espresso or extra shots of it in your drink. Most of the fancy drinks on the menu will involve espresso. If you’re not a coffee fan, you can probably order any of these without espresso – just ask for a “steamer.” However, in most coffee shops, you can get your espresso served in a fancy way, like an espresso macchiato (see above) or an espresso con panna (that’s espresso topped with whipped cream, and yes, it’s delicious.)
  • Latte: [LAH-tay] The oldest coffee trick in the book – pull some fresh shots of espresso and pour some warm, frothy milk over top. Add flavor if desired. Typical lattes come with two shots of espresso, but you can specify how many you want (single, double, triple…I’d probably stop at three. Like I said, espresso packs a punch.)
  • Cappuccino: [cap-uh-CHEEN-oh] Lattes and cappuccinos are not created equally. Gas stations may have fooled you into believing a cappuccino is a cup of overly-sweet disappointment – it’s not. A cappucino is like a latte, but fluffier. When you pick up a cappuccino, it will almost feel like you’re holding an empty cup, because all of that frothy milk has been turned into foam – there’s a deep “cap” of it on top of your espresso. You can order it “dry,” which means you want all foam and no frothy milk. Order a cappuccino and you’ll be instantly classy.
  • Americano: [ah-mair-ick-KAHN-oh] Europeans think we’re weak and can’t handle espresso – therefore, they named a drink after us. An Americano is espresso that’s been diluted in hot water. No milk is involved unless you decide to add cream. If you like a good swift kick in the pants and the mouth, then Americanos are for you.
  • Mocha: [MOE-ka] Think of this as a grown-up hot chocolate. It’s a latte with extra fun – dark chocolate. Basically perfection in a cup. Usually it comes with whipped cream. If you’re a decent human being, you’ll keep it that way.
  • Red eye (also called shot in the dark): A cup of black coffee with a shot of espresso (or two or three, depending on your level of exhaustion.) Not for the weak. Pack a defibrillator.
  • Cafe con miel: A latte with honey and cinnamon to sweeten it. If Jesus were a drink, he would be this one.
  • Cold brew: Different than iced coffee. No espresso is involved. This kind of coffee is brewed cold over 12ish hours, bringing out a different taste than hot-brewed coffee. Iced coffee is usually just hot-brewed coffee that’s been poured over ice.

Your head might be spinning right now. “Audrey, there’s so many options and I don’t know what I want! I’m standing, helpless in front of a counter facing this stranger who is probably judging me! You’ve just made this more confusing!”

Unfortunately, I can’t help you here. Coffee people, especially baristas, have gotten a bad reputation of being overly judgy. And…that reputation kind of hits home. So I’ll just give you some advice depending on what kind of coffee shop you’re at.

  • A chain coffee shop (ie, Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for you West-coasters, or Dunkin Donuts for every American who drives long distances): Don’t worry! They’re not judging you. They deal with coffee laymen most of the time. Just order with confidence, exchange a joke or a little small talk with the cashier, and give them a nice tip. These people are on your side, and they appreciate you and your business. Their jobs are hard enough as it is, and they deal with difficult people all day, so a chipper and good-intentioned customer like you will brighten their day.
  • A local, privately-owned coffee shop (ie something with a weird name like the Brown Crepe or Ground Up Ideas…wait…): Sorry, but these people are probably hardcore judging you. They journeyed to the deep caverns of the Himalayas in order to learn how to master the perfect pour over. They wake up at 3:30am every morning to milk a cow in order to make your latte later. They personally grind the espresso beans between their teeth to give it a more natural flavor. Of course they’re judging you when you order a caramel macchiato. And they’re definitely going to spell your name wrong on the tiny ceramic cup, because they have names like Leif and Alt-Z.

I hope this brief field guide helped you, or maybe I deeply offended some of you. If you have any further questions about coffee and how it can be served, drop a line in the comments and I’ll address it when I write an entire book based on this post (just kidding, never gonna happen.)

No matter who is standing behind the counter facing you, waiting for you to “just order already,” remember that it’s okay to ask questions. I’ve given you a brief skeleton of the kind of things you’ll encounter at a cafe, but chances are you’ll come nose-to-nose with something I didn’t outline here. Ask questions boldly. The worst thing the barista can do is answer you with a slight note of disdain in their voice.

In the meantime, friends, may your drinks always be caffeinated and your milk frothy. That’s kind of an awkward sign-off, but I’m going to leave it at that. 1237519_10204006906851497_6422427241302713823_n

 

Don’t Feel Bad for Being Booksmart.

Don’t Feel Bad for Being Booksmart.

It is the cry of all products of the American school system, after sitting through seven hours worth of coursework followed by the after-dinner ritual of checking off assignments until who-knows-what hour of the night (or morning.) High schoolers, liberal arts college students, human beings who have ever had to sit in a biology class – all of them collectively throw down their Bic or their Ticonderoga and wail:

“When will I ever use this????”

We’ve all been there. I’ve been there. After getting an algebra question wrong for the umpteenth time in seventh grade, I threw my calculator across the room, breaking my bedroom lamp in the process (though she be but little, she is fierce.) Watching the clock strike midnight as I was barely halfway through AP government homework. Dissecting a very sad-looking fetal pig in human biology my sophomore year of college, wondering, why does a communications major have to learn about the inner workings of a farm animal? 

The answer is simple and not so simple at the same time. The American school system is flawed. We all know that by now. Some kids learn faster than others, some love every single class and graudate with a 4.0 while others scrape by because they don’t see the point. Everyone is tested based on the same things. Every year, high school juniors sit down in a big room and melt their brains over a Scantron sheet to see if they can regurgitate enough information to get into a good college with good scholarship. (And they say daytime television is mind-numbing?!)

So yeah, there’s problems. In school you learn that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but you don’t learn how to change the oil in your car. You learn long division (?!) but not how to file your taxes. You figure out what equals but you never really figure out why you need to know that (see what I did there?)

But don’t worry. It’s not useless. You didn’t waste your childhood sitting in a desk, I promise you.

The pursuit of knowledge is a noble thing, even if you don’t know exactly why or how you will use it. You may think your schooling has been impractical or mundane, but there was something else at work in the midst of that. School wasn’t designed to teach you how to do taxes or how to fix a car. That’s not the point.

You learned about cells so you can understand that your body is freaking awesome and you should take care of it by drinking water, eating reasonably healthy, and going easy on yourself when you’re sick.

You learned English and read novels so you could write a solid, descriptive resume or cover letter, free of grammatical errors. You read those novels to understand other worldviews, other places in time, the way the language you’re writing has changed an evolved.

You learned history because – well, it’s history and it’s important. I don’t need to explain myself on that one.

You learned adding, subtracting, long division, and algebra so you can calculate your tax deductions, your gross income, and your adjusted gross income on your taxes.

My point is this: the purpose of school is to teach you how to learn and understand. Take grades and all that out of it. And if it’s not teaching you how to learn and understand, it should. 

So don’t feel bad if you like school. That means you like learning. You like understanding things, even if it’s outside of what your main interests are. I’m not a huge fan of math. However, I do like the simple pleasure of seeing an algebra problem methodically solved by eliminating bits and pieces until you get the answer. Chemistry was never my strong suit, but it taught me how to get permanent marker out of various materials because of the chemical compounds at work.

You might be more booksmart instead of street smart. And that’s okay. Don’t let people make you feel bad for not knowing about car insurance or taxes. If you’ve got anything between your ears, you know that there’s more to life than taxes, interest rates, oil changes, and dividends. There’s mitochondria and Charles Dickens and algebra and Thoreau and JFK.

Albert Einstein (a shining example of a genius who rose above adversity) once said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” The end-all and be-all of our lives isn’t to know how to cook a full-course meal or file taxes correctly or change a tire. Our end-all, be-all is to be humans who thirst to learn more, to discover. Discoveries build bridges. They help us understand why some people are booksmart and other people are street smart. They help us understand that mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, that it’s possible to solve for y, that we need history or else we’ll repeat the mistakes of the past, that we need each other in order to understand. If we don’t seek to understand these things, we’ll be no better than an unfiled tax form.

 

The World’s Biggest Problem

I’m not going to say what you think I’m going to say.

Our problem isn’t our insatiable appetite for technology, that alienates us from true relationships – but it’s related to that. It isn’t our rabid political divisiveness – but that’s part of it. It’s not one particular person or cause. It’s not one absolute Thing that I can point to directly, but it is something I can prove beyond reasonable doubt.

Log on to Facebook. Right now. That’s your homework assignment. Go to the search bar and type in the name of a news site you follow, whether it be a traditional site (like CNN or Fox News) or more peripheral (like Fusion or Buzzfeed.) Choose a story that’s been recently published and read the comments. You’ll find lots of different opinions there, ranging from empirical to somewhat idiotic. And usually a lot of name-calling. It might get painful after awhie, depending on what news story you’re looking under.

What’s the goal of these comments? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment or resolve after reading through the entire thread? Absolutely not. In fact, you might feel a disdain for the human race after reading what people can come up with to bring down people they barely know.

They’re trying to get their opinion out there, but refusing to listen. It’s something you and I do too. It’s just easier to do now because of technology. It’s easy to shoot arrows at a straw man than a real one – and there’s a lot of straw men on the Internet. Eventually, it all turns into noise, and people stop paying attention.

Our greatest problem is that every person wants so badly to be heard that they forget to listen.

But it’s not only the Internet, friends. An Australian pastor spoke at my church shortly after the American election. The focus of his message was apologetics, something he feels strongly about since being converted as a teenager. He told us about how he was out with a non-Christian before a speaking engagement and found himself arguing with the non-Christian. He left the table feeling like he’d definitely won the argument and shown the other man his place –

But he felt no sense of accomplishment. Because “winning” isn’t the point.

He’d won the argument, but not the person. In fact, he might have turned that guy off to Christianity altogether. “Man, if they’re all like that pompous, self-righteous guy, I want nothing to do with that.”

This doesn’t just apply to Christianity or religion. Take a look:

“If all Republicans are woman-hating white guys, I’ll never listen to them. I want nothing to do with that. I hate them all.”

“If all Democrats are lying despots, they have nothing good to say. I want nothing to do with them. I hate them all.”

“All pro-lifers have no idea what womens’ rights even means. They’re all evil. I want nothing to do with them. I hate them all.”

“Conservatives all hate gay people. I don’t want anything to do with them. They’re all racist bigots. I hate them all.”

Just a few examples of the straw men we make for ourselves to feel better about our own beliefs.

If you think I’m pointing fingers, I am. I’m being blunt with you because most people are too afraid to be blunt these days. You could spend all day on the Facebook comments trying to win arguments. You won’t, even if you feel like you have. And worse than that, you won’t win the person either. You’re going to make them angrier. If you can’t win the person, you’re not going to win anything.

Hatred, name-calling, or questioning someone’s intelligence isn’t going to make them – or anyone else – listen to you. You’ll be heard, but you won’t be listened to. And you’ll cause deep wounds that breed more hatred. More retaliation.

In this life, you’ll come across people who disagree with you – vehemently. People who think they are right and will make sure everyone knows it. They will beg to be heard – “I have a voice too! Let me talk! Let me talk!” They’ll squelch anyone else who wants to add input – you’ve probably seen this before. (You might have done it before. I know I have. Most people have once or twice…or a lot.)

When this happens, it’s important to extend grace, not to try to talk over them, or insult them. That feeds their fire and gives them more arrows for their straw man. If you do, the cycle continues, and everyone starts shouting again, and progress screeches to a halt.

It’s okay to want to be heard. It’s okay to have a voice and to speak an opinion, even if it’s unpopular.

It’s not okay to step on other people or their views in order to do that. I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, Christian, atheist. It is not okay. 

I have a challenge for you: The next time you’re sitting with someone – be it a friend, colleague, acquaintance, it really doesn’t matter – I want you to listen to them. Actually listen. The minute you start formulating a response in your head before they’re done, stop yourself, and keep listening. Actually hear what they’re trying to tell you. Then respond. That’s one step toward both listening and being heard – two birds with one stone.

And if you use both of them together, you’ll create something we all desperately need right now: Understanding.