Friday, October 30, 2015

Ghost Stories

For the most part, I'm a sensible, scientific Christian who loves Harry Potter but harbors no delusions that witches, ghosts, and magic wands are anything more than fascinating fiction.

But there have been a few times when strange things were afoot and made me wonder. 

When George was in navigator training, one of his good friends lost his fiance when she was hit by a truck while walking on a sidewalk. On the night before the funeral, he was alone in his bedroom, sobbing, when he felt someone take his hand. He felt a sense of peace and knew that she was okay and he would be okay. There was no one else in the room. 

The next morning, he shared the experience with his fiance's aunt, who immediately freaked out. Her sister, the deceased's mother, had just told her about having the exact same experience the night before. 

George and I made a pact that whichever of us dies first will come back and hold the still-living's hand for comfort.  

The only other unexplained experiences George and I have had all happened in our home in Boise, Idaho. Very shortly after we moved in, we were asleep, and I awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the sliding door in our bedroom. We didn't have curtains up yet, and with the neighborhood lights, I could see quite clearly that no one was there.  

When I told George about it the next morning, he claimed I dreamed it, but it didn't feel at all like that.  

Some nights later, with a light snow on the ground, we both awoke to knocking on the glass door. The snow was pristine, not a footprint in sight. 

George believed me. 

One Friday night, I taught a class at Boise State's weekend university program. George wanted to go out with friends, so he told me he might hitch a ride with them and meet me downtown at a bar when I got off work. If he couldn't get a ride, he'd be home waiting for me. 

I pulled into the garage next to George's car. Still not knowing whether he was home, I entered the house yelling, "Are you home?" Quite clearly from the guest room, I heard George reply, "I'm in here!" 

This surprised me, but I headed to the guest room.

There was no one there. 

No. one. 

George was already downtown with our friends.

Oddly, I didn't feel the least bit threatened or creeped out. The dogs, who were crated, acted as if all was normal. When I let them out, they weren't interested in the guest room or anything other than greeting me with the lunatic dance of unrestrained dog joy upon sighting the mistress (to paraphrase Dave Barry). 

Given our experience with the knocks on the glass door, George withheld judging my experience with his disembodied voice as a sign of impending mental breakdown. After all, when the final strangeness hit, we knew for sure it wasn't just me.

George was sitting on the bed and out of the corner of his eye saw a small brown puppy run across the bathroom toward the closet. It was definitely not one of our dogs. 

Perhaps our house was built over a giant reservoir of hallucinogenic gas that slowly leaked inside, causing auditory and visual disturbances for us both. I mean, if we were really crazy, don't you think our symptoms would have gotten worse over time? Right?

What I like about all of these stories is how the supernatural (or simply inexplicable) events were not at all scary or threatening. In fact, they were either benign or comforting.

And those are ghost stories a person can live with.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tiny Problems

In a discussion about when we pray, I shared that one of my most powerful times to pray is on Wednesday nights in winter when I take the trash to the curb. Our driveway is quite long, and as I gaze up at the black sky full of stars and planets and the occasional meteor, I find it impossible not to appreciate the greatness of God and my own tiny little place in His Creation. I must, must!, express gratitude for that.

So now the joke among my church friends is that garbage reminds Susan to pray.

I'm okay with that.


The ocean provides a similar effect. The steady beat of waves on a shore, the rhythm linked to space and the moon, the sense that you could never, ever control that massive entity teaming with life and energy and death...the ocean is, indeed, big enough and powerful enough to make us feel very, very small.

A regular check on our hubris grounds us and reminds us that those problems which distract our waking hours and disturb our sleep don't mean as much as we want them to mean. We need to let go of our self-importance and maintain some sense of perspective.

Perhaps praying while taking out the garbage isn't so strange after all.

Where do you go to make your problems tiny?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Let's Be Reasonable

During the recession, people who were looking for ways to cut their household budgets googled a new buzzword--minimalism--and stumbled upon a whole grassroots movement that, in its extreme form, is pretty wacky.

For example, an extreme minimalist's home might contain only 100 items...including dishes, furniture, books, electronics, clothing, and so forth. An extreme minimalist's wardrobe might consist of 15 articles of clothing...with a pair of socks or gloves counting as two items.

One-hundred possessions? Fifteen articles of clothing? The numbers seem rather arbitrary and controlling to me, but whatever works for people.

In our age of conspicuous consumption, minimalism has a certain counter-cultural appeal, especially during times of economic crisis. As I bumped into random references to minimalism, news articles on it, and whole blogs dedicated to it, I absorbed the message and wondered if I shouldn't dabble my toes in the shallow end of its pool.

In 2010, my dabbling began with a minimalist wardrobe that was first and foremost functional...not numerical. If you're interested in the conversation I had with my clothes during the Great Closet Purge of 2010, you can read about it HERE. A year later, I revisited the experience in THIS POST. On the whole, ever since 2011, my wardrobe philosophy has been "less is more," as in less money, less quantity, less fret, and more happiness.

And I love it.

Less Money
For over a decade now, my clothing purchases have skewed miserly. My minimalist dress-up clothes consist of a black skirt, black pants, and three dressy tops. These pieces make six different outfits to wear on Sundays three seasons of the year. In the winter, I wear sweaters with the black pants.

Ohio winters are cold.

For everyday wear, I stick to t-shirts or sweaters and jeans. Target t-shirts, purchased on sale for $5 each, for instance, last almost a season before losing all integrity as wearable garments. Sadly, though, I discovered that spending "big" money on t-shirts ($30 or more at Eddie Bauer or Lands End) doesn't yield a proportionally longer life. Comfortable jeans, regardless of price point, don't last long when you wear the same few pairs day in and day out.

Perhaps I should stop wearing t-shirts and jeans, and dress up a bit more, but honestly, I'm a stay-at-home mom, church volunteer, and blogger/crafter. Opportunities to dress up are thin on the ground in my world, and my wise sister always said, "Never sacrifice comfort for fashion."

I'm totally down with that.

Less Quantity
In the old days, my closet had eight or nine linear feet of hanging clothes crammed together so tightly that pulling out what I wanted to wear from the crush might result in a waterfall of random items unintentionally pulled off their hangars.

Now, the crush of clothes is history. You'd be hard pressed to spread my hanging clothes out enough to fill four linear feet. The beauty is that I wear every single item hanging there...regularly. Everything fits, everything coordinates to form whole outfits, and nothing useless or mismatched occupies space.

It's glorious and easy.

Less Fret
Easily coordinating outfits isn't the only advantage to keeping a minimalist closet. I only buy new clothes when the existing ones wear out or don't fit anymore, which simplifies shopping enormously. I stick to basics and don't bother perusing trendy, unusual pieces, which saves time and prevents buyer's remorse...a common affliction of my clothes-horse days.

For me, the minimalist wardrobe has been a complete success.

One area in which I didn't go minimalist at all was eating. Sadly, for the past ten years, my weight increased to the point where I simply had to buy bigger clothes. Several times. With each increase in size, I moved the still-nice, too-small clothes to the basement. In the past two months, however, I've lost ten pounds.

Who knows what happened while we were in Quebec to change my attitude toward food, but something clicked. A minimalist mindset took over. I'm not dieting, but I snack less and my portion sizes are considerably smaller (though still quite satisfying). Best of all, I no longer suffer the regular heartburn of the over-eater.

Each new pound gone means my too-tight clothes fit better. Soon, I'll need to pull out those smaller sizes stored in the basement, and the still-nice, too-big clothes will go to Salvation Army.


In our super-sized world, figuring out what's reasonable, whether for our closets or our dinner plates, can be tough. For most of us, the answer isn't in restricting our diet to 800 calories a day or 15 items in our closet. Being reasonable means listening to your body and not gorging, buying what you truly need and a perhaps a bit of what you want, and avoiding an intervention staged by reality television.

This definition of "being reasonable" aligns nicely with research on happiness. The happiest people have all of what they need to live (adequate food, clothing, shelter) and some of what they want. People who get everything they want or have so much that possessions become a burden experience less happiness. Having it all isn't a recipe for a good life.

Having what's reasonable is.

What's reasonable for one person, however, may not be reasonable at all for another. My wardrobe, so very reasonable for me, would hardly suit lawyers, professors, pastors, preschool teachers, retail workers, or talk-show hosts. On the other hand, some minimalists eschew owning books; they check books out at the library or buy an e-reader. I cannot go there. No sir. Not at all. I will always buy books...electronic or traditional. My need for lots of books is entirely reasonable for me.

What minimalism taught me is to be more balanced and intentional in acquiring stuff, and to be unrestrained in getting rid of things that don't serve a purpose or mean anything to me. My days of magpie shopping ("Oh, look! Something shiny and new!") are for the most part over, and I'm more cautious and less impulsive with purchases, not to mention more satisfied with what I have and happier overall.

Sounds reasonable to me.

What do you think about minimalist lifestyles? Have you experimented with minimalism in areas of your own life? How did the experiments go? Are you a committed minimalist? What motivates you? Please share!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Look What George Found

George found the most awesome bovine picture of all time.

You're welcome.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Gratitude Journal #272

Today, I am grateful for the season of pumpkin spice everything! It's not officially fall yet, and the temperatures here in southwest Ohio are definitely summery, but oh, my. The leaves are just starting to change, and my favorite season is almost here!


Today, I am grateful for bowling with my boys. Nick won both games. I at least beat George both games. Life is good.

Today, I am grateful for having two teenage boys in the house. This one just turned 13 and requested his usual birthday trip to the Newport Aquarium. We've gone to that aquarium for so many years the fish know us by name.

Today, I am grateful this young man stood up for me while we were bowling. I bowled a strike, and Nick groaned. Without skipping a beat, Jack rounded on him and demanded, "You be supportive, mister!"

Today, I am grateful for supportive friends and family.

Today, I am grateful for memory, because through it, we do not forget those precious lives lost years ago on September 11, 2001.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, September 4, 2015

No. No. No. Heck No.

This is terrifying. Why in the name of all that is good and right in the universe are ordinary people issued permits to own venomous snakes? Why? Why? Why?

Florida Wildlife officials look for escaped king cobra

As if the fact this person had a cobra wasn't scary enough, consider that he had another cobra escape years ago. That one was shot by a homeowner in his garage. And they issued the careless deadly reptile owner ANOTHER PERMIT because WHY? WHY? WHY?

This is seriously making me rethink my neutrality on the subject of gun control.

I'm curling up in the fetal position and sucking my thumb until this snake is found. Because you know that it is on its way to Ohio to kill me. Because it KNOWS.

I may or may not have ophidiophobia.

What a nightmare.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Build Others Up

A few months back, I read an article on divorce, and one of the clearest predictors of marital success is how the partners speak to each other. Couples who stay together use courtesy words (please and thank you) and say kind, supportive, positive things to each other often. In couples who divorce, one or both partners often speak rudely, hurtfully, or insultingly. Doomed couples go negative with their words and stay negative.

While this research applied to marriage, I believe it applies equally well to friendship. When someone starts tearing a friend down with words or using the "parent" voice with them, the friendship might be doomed.

Parent voice used between friends is insidious. While there are very rare instances when it might be justified, when one adult uses the parent voice on another adult, he or she is putting himself or herself above the other...scolding, judging, insulting, ordering, and humiliating. Parent voice does not invite response because complaining about it puts you in the position of a whining child. If you respond in anger, well, you're just two grown-ups acting like toddlers who need a nap. Trying to reason with parent voice doesn't work, either; it escalates the situation.

Parent voice, when used one adult to another, is an exercise of power that silences the victim.

Years ago when I worked in a corporation, my boss took a few sick days during a critical time in an important project. She wouldn't take calls, and told me and another employee to "handle it." Working with our boss's boss, we did handle it, and quite well. In fact, we had fun pulling the project together with upper management, a gentleman who was a true team player.

When our boss came back to work, she called the two of us into her office and asked what we'd done. We showed her, but instead of praising our efforts, she started tearing us down. She adopted a parent voice, gave us a condescending lecture on Advertising 101, and told us we'd made a mess she would have to clean up.

There was simply nothing we could say to her in response. It was awful, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. We also felt angry because we knew her criticisms weren't at all valid.

Later that day, she was removed from management, shunted sideways into a dead-end position. She hadn't realized that her own boss had taken such an active roll in helping us out...until it was too late.

So the moral of the story is this: don't ever use the parent voice on your boss. And it's not a good idea to use it on friends, either.

I know what it's like to be torn down by a friend, and it sucks. I also know what it's like to be built up by loving friends, and it's awesome. I want my friends to know the awesomeness of being built up, not the suckiness of being torn down.

Friendships end for all sorts of reasons, some of them quite natural and normal. People grow apart, grow at different paces, move away, move on. After spending 20 years married to the military, I became sadly accustomed to letting go of my civilian friends who didn't have time to continue reaching out to people who moved away.

Only very rarely have friends used unkind words with me, and even then, mostly the friends were just in a temporary bad mood. When they snap occasionally, my instinct is to either build them up or simply ignore the situation. I know I sometimes lose control of my better nature and lash out in frustration or hormones. Real friends understand and cover each other with grace and love.

Unfortunately, some people enter a state of perpetual negativity, pouring out parent voice and other meanness repeatedly on a friend, pushing that person further and further away over a period of time. Hurting people hurt...and they often hurt the people it's safest to hurt, those they trust to love them through anything. Perhaps it's an attempt (conscious or not) to force a confrontation to end the friendship. Perhaps the person is suffering from depression or other mental illness. Perhaps they simply want to move on and don't know how.  Whatever the reason, the friendship weakens and might even fall apart in a nasty friend divorce if the meanness continues unchecked.

As with marriage, friendship takes two people who are committed to each other working together and being kind. When one or both give up, there's not much that can be done. As long as there's hope, working on manners, offering kind words, and building each other up...well, who knows what sort of healing might happen? Grace and love do sometimes win.

And when they don't, let the lost friend go with as much good will as you can muster. Divorce can be messy, but it can also sometimes be a relief.

Have you ever used parent voice on a friend or had it used on you? Did your friendship survive the ugliness? Why or why not? What were reasons for friend divorces you had? Do you think you could have behaved differently for a different outcome, or was the friendship doomed? How can you, today, show a friend some small kindness to build them up?