Author Archives: Gretchen E K Engel

She Blinded Me With Science

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Or in this case, he. Two weeks ago, my son won a first place ribbon at the school science fair and advanced to regionals. I’m not sure who was happier. My son or his parental units.
As I was helping my son put together the poster board and write the report, I finally figured out a way to describe what I do for a living. I do science fair projects for various corporate and government clients. We collect data (environmental samples), put the data in tables, graphs and maps, and write reports.
Friday was the regional competition and my son didn’t score very high. That too is like my job. There were specific criteria and he didn’t meet it. When you propose work each potential client wants something different. Sometimes you’re a fit, and sometimes you’re not. It doesn’t always mean you did a bad job. Sometimes it’s about meeting a client’s needs, personal preference, and the element of subjectivity in the concrete world of science.
It’s also like the subjective world of writing. The scales tip more to subjectivity, but there are rules and guidelines. In contests, I’ve gotten high and low scores for the same entry.
Like the MC told the kids at the regional science fair, they all did well but there were winners and losers. Just like in real life. So whether it’s a science fair, a contract, or writing contest, you’ll win some and lose some. But that’s only one event. It doesn’t define you as a winner or a loser.

Another Brick in the Wall

Last week I went on a short-term missions trip. And when I say short-term, I mean four hours. I was there to support a couple of sibling missionaries. They’re young and I’m not sure their faith is at the point where they should even be in the mission field. OK, they’re technically not serving as missionaries but “students” as teaching God is forbidden in this small city-state. It was a difficult decision but education really wasn’t an option in their homeland. The independent city-state where the older of the two started his education was excellent and God was worshiped, not forbidden, but after much prayer, their parents decided to send these young believers to the godless mission field. Their entire community has been putting money into a scholarship of sorts for citizens of this godless city-state. The parents didn’t need to raise support so it made sense for them to go to there as students.

Let me tell you about serving in this mission field albeit my experience is limited and (dare I admit it, my heart wasn’t exactly thinking mission trip when I went). The best time to do short-term trips to this city-state is during their holidays. My first visit was during a holiday where the residents dress in elaborate costumes and enjoy sweet treats. It’s a holiday that is somewhat controversial in Christendom but in the proper perspective, enjoyed by others. My first glimpse into their world was watching a parade of them, most in costumes. Throughout the day, the citizens smiled and laughed and ate way too much candy. It ended with a carnival. I moderated one of their games. Oh the delight on their faces when he or she won a big prize. To some, the small stuffed toy was the highlight of their day, their week, maybe a highlight of their year.

My second visit, they celebrated another holiday. It’s much like the one we celebrate in Christendom. In fact, the origin is based around the birth of our Savior, but that’s a small facet. Most involves this fat guy, harnessed wild game, and a miniature version of elves that look nothing like the steam punk ones of my stories. Except for the pointed ears. The citizens sang songs, some of which shocked me because they mentioned the Savior. Most were about the fat guy. And one was about the furlough all residents would go on. See, the citizens don’t live in the city-state but are either employees or students. The city-state actually shuts down during various parts of the year.

Now my last trip was to work a different kind of fair. One to sell books. This trip wasn’t as happy as the first two. I wasn’t there to give out toys or enjoy their culture. I was there to take money from those who could afford books, pens, and erasers and turn away those who couldn’t. Some were students whose family had the money but chose not to give extra to their child, remember the citizens are mostly minors. Others were turned away because there was no extra money. They are sent to the city-state because it’s the only place they have to go. Some of these minors come from lands where the only meals they get are when they’re in the city-state. The only time they’re warm enough, full enough, given any attention. There’s no money for books or erasers when they don’t get the eleven meals their homeland is supposed to provide. For all of its shortcomings, this godless realm is in reality a much better place than their homeland. Yes, in theory, the homeland has the means to provide the basics. But we know how governments, no matter how big or small, waste money and mistreat its residents.

In fact, this city-state is only one of many under the umbrella of a larger government. Many of these city-states are well-run (this one is) but a lot of them are wastelands that frustrate the millions who pour money into them. They make those of us who are forced to pay for them want to do everything in our power to pull money away from them. Keep out the missionaries. Pray they go away or some sort of coup will fix what’s broken.

I sit here today thinking yes, but a coup will never happen. I had a similar thought 25 or so years ago about the land behind the Iron Curtain. I was happily wrong. So maybe if the big government gets its act together, these city-states will be reformed. Maybe even have their religious freedom restored. But even if not, I must do what I can. Pray for those missionaries, I mean students and those government leaders (there are some although they’re mostly forced into hiding) who believe as I do, and serve on mission trips when time allows.

See, when I was younger my circumstances were similar to these two missionaries. I served as a student in a series of these city-states for 17 years. Unfortunately although I was a believer most of my student years, I never really thought of myself as a missionary until my last few years and even then not wholeheartedly.  Like these two, I was fortunate to be assigned to a series of excellent city-states. In fact, the leader of the first city-state I attended as a student (he’s now retired) is a devout believer who attends church with my family back in my hometown.

Voices Carry

Yes, another song about domestic violence and another post about fiction that deals with this sad but real problem. A few months back I mentioned Rajdeep Paulus’s Swimming Through Clouds in my post Luka. If you haven’t snapped up this book, you are missing a fantastic story. And Rajdeep’s sequel Seeing Through Stones is even better. I almost deducted a star from my 5-star review of Swimming Through Clouds because there were dangling threads. But my reader-sense tingled and I knew there had to be a sequel. Glad I have that super-power, because both Swimming and Seeing are 5-star reads.

Without giving away anything for those who haven’t read Swimming Through Clouds, Seeing Through Stones picks up where the story left off. Well, not exactly. Chapter 1 adds a new POV character, Talia’s brother, Jesse. So minimal background. Talia and Jesse are the children of Gerald Vanderbilt. For those of my generation who saw Mommy Dearest and cringe at “no more wire coat hangers”, this generation will say “no more hot tea”.  Talia and Jesse’s father make Joan Crawford look like supermom.

In Swimming, Talia gains an ally through a sticky note friendship with classmate Lagan. Life looks promising for Talia but what about her brother Jesse? In Seeing Through Stones, Rajdeep binds those loose ends with the skill of a master seamstress. While I’m sad this is only a two-book story, the ending is so satisfying that any more would be too many beads on the perfect dress.

I’ll ask it again, do you prefer escapist stories or those that cover gritty topics or a little of both?

Looking Good Carlene

I think this Phil Vassar song about the class valedictorian becoming a fashion model is every nerdy girl’s dream. The title is a bit of a stretch for this blog post but tied with last week’s post One about my struggles being the lonely girl in school it fits with this too.

This week some of us are reviewing Cynthia Toney’s Bird Face (Excerpt) from the perspective of a character we relate to.

Bird Face is a novel about Wendy, an awkward girl who’s not quite blossomed while her best friend has. She’s being raised by a single mom and struggles with finding her place in school since her best friend is being courted by the popular boys and girls. Not to mention being pestered by John Monster, the class bully and dealing with sticky notes from a mysterious author. But not is all it seems. Jennifer’s life isn’t perfect. The leader of the popular girls is hiding a secret, and John has his own monsters to fight. This novel deals with tough issues like eating disorders, divorce, alcoholism, and teen suicide with a great big dose of humor. This story had me at the first hilarious chapter to the end.

Lisa Godfrees gave this blog a nod when wrote about her dystopian junior high days.

Cynthia is one of my critique partners and founding member of The Scriblerians. She and TJ Akers pulled me in right away so I met Wendy and her best friend Jennifer in the beginning. From then on, Jennifer was the girl I identified with. On the surface, Jennifer is a girl to be envied even by her best friend Wendy. She comes from an affluent two parent home. She’s a talented dancer who is pretty and attracts the attention of the popular boys and girls. Jennifer wins the leading role in the spring program. She goes away for the summer and meets new friends.

Jennifer is kind of an idealized version of me. I was the good student from the middle-class, two-parent home. Unlike Jennifer, I can’t sing or dance. But I was the lead in the school plays and at various phases in my life (not middle school or high school), turned the heads of boys, and had friends in the “popular” crowd. Like Jennifer, not was all as it appears. Without giving too much away, Jennifer stars opposite a cute boy and even seems to gain his attention. It’s not Jennifer who gets the boy. Story of my adolescence. Here’s how it typically went for me: I liked a boy. He found out. He ended up liking one of my friends.

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Little Abner, my only experience in a musical (as a member of the chorus). I had leading roles in I Remember Mama and The Curious Savage

While I was spared the trauma of glasses and braces, it didn’t mean I entered my teenage years all cute. For my middle school debut, I looked like boy with a bad haircut and worse fashion sense.

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Notice my awesome Velcro shoes that would have been stylish — If I were an 80 year old man

By the time I started high school my haircut and clothes improved. I might have turned heads and even had a few dates, but it didn’t gain me a boyfriend or a place at the popular table. Most days, I felt as if I were fighting for a spot in my own crowd.

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By freshman year, I pretty much outgrew my awkwardness or at least had somewhat mastered the curling iron.

If you’ve read Bird Face, which character is most like you? If you haven’t, what were you like in high school?

One

That’s the official title of the Three Dog Night song fitting for the single people on Valentine’s Day. While I’m not single and haven’t been for two decades, I understand deeply the pain of being alone.

From about age thirteen (i.e. seventh grade and my first crush) through twenty-one, Valentine’s Day was the sick reminder that I was alone. Invisible. Unwanted. In middle school we had Valograms that girls sent boys. Boys sent girls. Friends sent friends. My score was 0. I didn’t a single one from a friend, a boyfriend, or even an enemy. Same with the carnations that student council sold in high school. During that time, pairs of heart necklaces with “Best Friends” were popular. Each friend got half. I hung out in a group of nine girls. Nine isn’t an even number.

Every year I begged Mom to let me stay home on February 14. Yeah. That flew exactly never. So I dressed in black, came home and either read or took a nap and dreamed of a hero of my own creation then spent rest of the evening in my room crying or reading or sulking. One year I dumped all of the clothes out of my drawers and closet. To say I hated Valentine’s Day was a serious understatement. It was a day of complete pink and red misery.

The bitterness of my adolescence didn’t completely go away but rather morphed into a sort of jaded philosophy on the dreaded day. I rather celebrate with my husband on days special to us or for no reason at all. This year we are going out (tomorrow night), but it’s more because my in-laws are in town so we have a sitter for date night. I would be just as happy if it were February 22 as February 15.

My adolescent angst wasn’t wasted. Somewhere along the way I realized I didn’t need a single BFF but rather a tight cadre of friends. And those girls, the nine, – we’re all still friends. As for boys, I grew up. Flirted (a lot). Dated (some). And fell in love with the boy who God chose for me. And today, the highlight of my day wasn’t a box of chocolates or a dozen roses but parent-teacher conferences for two bright and beautiful God-loving children.

As for Valentine’s Day, my husband and I are saying “I Love You” in our own unique way. I’ve been out of town for two days. So he’s treating me by bringing home dinner from our favorite fresh Mex place. I’m treating him with shrimp saag I brought back from my trip. And the whole family is gets Munchkins. Because Dunkin Donuts is a big treat for this small town family.

How do you show love to the ones you love?

Centerfold (But not an Engineer)

The first brand-new car I bought was a 2002 VW Cabrio. I don't expect it to be my last VW.

The first brand-new car I bought was a 2002 VW Cabrio. I don’t expect it to be my last VW.

80s songs, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Volkswagen. All things I love involving some combination of angels, wings, and engineers. OK, I only picked the song, so I could get a provocative title.

While others are yammering on about racism by those who didn’t love the Coca-Cola ad, I’m tackling sexism with a tongue cramped from its position in my cheek.

Here’s the deal, Volkswagen is sexist. I just re-watched the best ad from the Super Bowl for confirmation. Yup, not a single winged engineer was female. In fact, most were gray-haired men with wire-rimmed glasses. Sociology lesson from Germany: a woman can run the strongest economy in Europe, but don’t let her touch one of our finely crafted automobiles.

Am I upset? Are you kidding me? I love both the engineer geeky male stereotype and breaking it. In fact, I was so excited that my profession got a nod, it wasn’t until I was on Facebook commenting on the ads and deciding on today’s blog post that I even recalled the lack of female engineers in the ad.

As far as the Coca-Cola commercial, I thought it was the typical multicultural pandering effort I expect from conglomerates and PBS kids’ shows. My reaction was meh. Rounding out my favorites were Radio Shack (see comment about the 80s above), Budweiser saluting the soldiers, and Intuit/Goldie Blox. Give a girl some Goldie Blox and the next thing you know, she’s building finely crafted automobiles.

Safety Dance

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New nail polish and 60 degree weather. I couldn’t resist. It’s hard to see from the picture but these shoes are about 4-inch high wooden wedges similar to geta.

I’m your classic overly cautious first born, but there’s a time of year when I’m even more of a safety freak. It’s fall and winter. That is, it’s the period where an injury could sideline me for ski season. I love to downhill ski. So during this time of year, I carefully climb up and down ladders, step stools, etc. Extra crucial since this is also when Christmas decorations go up and down. My biggest fear is breaking-tearing-spraining something and putting an end to my season.

Skiing is my favorite sport and something we did as a family. I was fortunate to have a youth pastor who liked to ski. He made sure we had at least annual trips to various Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin ski hills. Some of my best youth group memories revolve around skiing.

When my husband and I were dating, one of my criteria was that he learn to ski. Fortunately, his first job was in the mountains, and he spent several weekends on the slopes.

Now that we live near a small ski resort, it’s one of our favorite date nights. In fact, that’s where we were on Saturday. I prefer day skiing but night skiing is cheaper. We’re teaching the kids too. Our nine-year-old can tackle most green runs and our five-year-old will have her second season this year. Last year we taught her using a hula hoop.

I admit to throwing a little caution to the wind recently. I love shoes, especially boots. So when temperatures hit 60F here in the mountains, I couldn’t resist showing off my new nail polish in my favorite dressy sandals. And I snagged a cute pair of hand-me-down boots that I have been dying to wear. Fortunately, no GEKEs were harmed while wearing the footwear.

My cute new-to-me beige boots

My cute new-to-me beige boots

Now I’m praying for snow and waiting for the next time I can hit the slopes.

What sport did your family do when you were growing up? Now that you’re an adult, do you still participate? Have you passed on the love to your spouse and/or children?

New Year’s Day

Can’t go wrong with a little U2 to start of 2014. So I’ve set some goals for this year. Not resolutions but goals. I’m working toward being a better me. I’ve set goals in nearly every facet of my life. Ones to make me a better wife, mother, engineer, writer.

About 6 months ago, I decided to food journal and lost a few pounds (about 5) and gained them back. Curses to the South and it’s deep-fried yumminess. On top of the extra holiday food from Thanksgiving through New Year’s we drove through the Southland on our way home from vacation. One simply does not travel through North Carolina without eating BBQ or Louisiana without eating fried oysters. Although I consumed mine in Mississippi. Close enough. Anyway, this normally consumer of healthful fare enjoyed one too many things dipped in batter and only one run in 16 days.

Oh right, I neglected to mention the same girl who has a “Running Sucks” pin on her Pinterest fitness board took up running somewhere around Thanksgiving. I went from 0 to 5K in about 3 weeks. A few weeks earlier, God blessed me with a workout partner through a “random” (yeah right) Facebook post. We’ve been going strong for a couple of months now. And just last week, I got an invite to join a fitness team with a bunch of fellow teleworkers. Sweet! I’m working on becoming a leaner, meaner me. And loving it. Who knew?

Another blessing last year was a mentor through my church. My mentor is a perfect match for me.

In October, I went to a work conference.

In November I did NaNoWriMo.

The highlight of my year was going to the ACFW Conference in September and meeting all but one of my fellow Scriblerians. We even picked up a new member. When I thanked my husband for spending the money and time for me to go, I asked what I could do to thank him. He told me. It’s G-rated, I promise!

This is where you scratch your head. So what does this have to do with goals?

Well, all of these aspects of my life have quantifible goals. I have set goals and have accountability partners. There’s the request my husband gave me that ensures we spend a certain amount of time together. I have similar goals for time with my kids.
There are my fitness goals. Did I mention the teleworker team is for a competition in various categories like number of steps? I also have my fitness partner. I can’t let her down by not showing up.

There’s the work conference that inspired me to set professional goals. Ones I control.

I have writing goals for writing, editing, and social media.

My mentor from church gives me inspiration to spend time in God’s word whether or not I share with her my struggles and/or triumphs. Also, I chose to be in a Bible study so I’ll have homework for daily study.

Check back with me in December to see how I did. Judging by the way I use my Fitbit, I’m wired to meet and beat goals. But also have days and weeks where, I don’t do so well. The good thing is, I can mentally reset and go forth and do better. And that fried oyster weight better go away!

Same Old Lang Syne

Yes, there’s a soft spot in my heart for 70s and 80s folk music, so it’s no surprise that I’d reference Dan Fogelberg. My first post of the new year seemed like a good time. As a recap of my year in reading, I set a goal to read or listen to 100 books. I didn’t make my goal but with 88 titles under my belt, I hardly feel like a failure especially considering I tackled Atlas Shrugged, War and Peace, and The Count of Monte Cristo (all on audio book). There was a lot of dystopian (Divergent and Maze Runner series) as well as Jill Williamson’s Captives, young adult (Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game) as well as The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, Swimming Through Clouds. I’m looking forward to reading the books high on my list for 2013 that for various reasons I didn’t read. Kerry Neitz’s Amish Vampires in Space and Melanie Dickerson’s Captive Maiden are two that come to mind. There are others that debuting including the sequel to Captives, Outcasts. My critique partner, Karen DeBlieck, interviewed Jill Williamson on our critique group’s website, The Scriblerians. Outcasts debuts tomorrow (or likely today, since I was late posting), January 7, 2014.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

I love Christmas presents. Giving. Receiving. Shopping. Wrapping.

One of my fondest Christmas memories was my annual trip to the mall with Dad. I saved my allowance to buy my parents and sister Christmas gifts. We usually ended up at Osco to buy Mom a bottle of Cachet cologne. Don’t judge. It was the early 80s.

I used to make presents for my grandparents. Painted sun catchers, salt dough ornaments, and later counted cross-stitch towels. I’m pretty sure Grandpa’s nativity scene still has a lopsided, multicolored clay star sculpted by moi, circa 1979.

My love language is gifts and truly it’s the thought that counts. Over the years I’ve gotten big presents – a bicycle, opal ring, tennis racquet, SLR camera, and iPod Touch.

But it’s the sentimental ones that make me the happiest. The study Bible my parents gave me when I was in college. Last year for my birthday, Dad compiled hundreds of pictures of the first 40 years of my life, made a Ken Burns effect slideshow and burned them onto two DVDs.

My maternal grandmother gave me her mustard seed necklace. It was the one item of hers I wanted because it reminded me how she showed Jesus to others and to me. My paternal grandmother gave me an egg separator that was a promotional item from the store where my grandfather worked. It was a utensil I didn’t have, Grandma didn’t need, and tied me to the the grandparent I lost in my teens. These are two of my most-prized possessions.

One year, my husband gave me pearls for our anniversary. It was an extravagant gift but that he conspired with a co-worker to get them was what made them even more precious.

And this year we did Christmas with my in-laws early. Twice they nearly brought me to tears with their gifts. My son wanted a floor pillow like his cousin had. When my mother-in-law found out it wasn’t available, she made one.

My son's super-soft custom made floor pillow

My son’s super-soft custom made floor pillow

The other item was one of my gifts. One that spoke her love more than words. She made a binder (lime green, of course) and printed out my blog posts. Not only this one but The Scriblerians and Samie Sisters where I also blog. For her to take the time and honor my writing is better than any material gift. Although, I’m beyond happy with those gifts too.

My blog binder

My blog binder – The cover is my avatar for The Scriblerians

As we approach Christmas and reflect on the gift God gave us, His Son, think about gifts you can give of yourself to others. A random act of kindness to a stranger. Taking the time to sit down and watch Christmas shows with your family. Include your kids in your Christmas baking. Go caroling. Volunteer. Part with an item of special significance to someone.

Baking with a 5-year-old isn't efficient or tidy but it's totally worth it.

Baking with a 5-year-old isn’t efficient or tidy but it’s totally worth it.

What is one of the most meaningful gifts you have received?

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