Saturday, November 28, 2009
What a beginning it is! My heart yearns all year for that celebration. Like John in Elizabeth’s womb, I jump for joy when I see it coming. No matter what difficulties or sorrows or challenges come at me during the year, I have Advent waiting for me at the end.
After my parents divorced when I was little, Advent still came, and I laughed and clapped my hands and sang in joy. The year my grandfather passed, Advent was especially hard, but it still came and comforted me. The year my husband went to war, Advent still came and brought me peace.
This year, I'm mourning my grandmother, and I know that Advent will bring me peace now just as it has before.
Isn’t it amazing what a little baby in a manger can do for us, if we let Him? Advent invites us to focus on our joy in Jesus. It invites us to prepare the way of the Lord, to bubble over with joy and share the good news with all we meet.
In Psalm 30, David sings to the Lord of a joy that prefigures Christmas joy: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.”
Let’s accept the invitation of Advent. Let’s turn our mourning and sackcloth to dancing and decorations. Let’s be like the angels and the shepherds and share the good news.
Joy to the World! The Lord has come!
Friday, November 27, 2009
If you know anything about autism, you know how unusual this invitation is. Many people with autism have difficulty coping with breaks in routine. Surprise visits to the classroom by strangers can throw off their routine and result in everything from simple loss of focus to screaming tantrums. Jack doesn't really have tantrums, but I don't know his classmates, several of whom are more severely affected than Jack and at least one of whom has violent meltdowns.
As I stood outside the TEACCH classroom door, I wondered if I should go in. I knew how disruptive my quick visit might be, but at the same time, how will children learn to cope with interruptions in routine if they never have any? As I stood, paralyzed with indecision, I watched the teacher, who was sitting at her table doing paperwork. A child I couldn't see hadn't washed his hands well, and she told him to do it again. He screamed something at her, and she calmly said, "I am turning your card for yelling." As she walked toward the door to turn his card, she saw me and smiled.
Jack had been working on the floor doing a puzzle (something he won't do at home), and as soon as he saw me, he yelled, "Mommy! You're here!" and ran into my arms. "I love you so much, Mommy!"
It was worth any disruption to hear that.
An older boy, perhaps ten or eleven, also ran up to me and stood just a little too close. "Is that your real hair color?" he blurted out.
His aide walked up to us and told him, "When you meet someone for the first time, put out our hand and say, 'I am Joe*. What is your name?'"
Joe put out his hand, and said, "I am Joe. What is your name?"
"My name is Mrs. Raihala. It's nice to meet you, Joe."
"Is that your real hair color?"
"Yes, Joe, it is. I don't think anyone would color her hair to look like this."
Joe walked away, having gotten the information he wanted. The aide, teacher, and I got a good laugh.
The teacher told me what a great day Jack had, how he had already finished all his work for the day, and how much fun he'd had that morning swimming at the YMCA special education program. Mommies love to hear stuff like this.
I gave Jack another hug and told him I would see him when he got off the bus. He said, "Okay, Mommy! I love you!" and went back to his puzzle without any fuss at all. His teacher and I made eye contact and smiled. What a great transition for him!
As I walked to my car, though, I thought about Joe's socially inappropriate (and refreshingly honest) question about my hair. Mine is grayer now than it was when my sister took my profile picture. I even wrote about my gray hair (Aging Gracefully) in February. My feelings haven't changed, but Joe's question reminded me what a rebel I am to leave my gray hair alone.
Our society tells women that aging is bad and that we must mask the effects of aging at all costs. We go under the knife or paralyze our faces to erase wrinkles, nip and tuck sagging flesh, and generally pretend that time isn't passing.
I've earned every gray hair on my head and every line of crow's feet around my eyes. I could pitch a violent tantrum at the inevitable effects of time, especially given my recent 43rd birthday. I could spend lots of money and time fighting the inevitable.
Instead, I'm opting out of society's expectations because it's cheaper and easier to have gray hair. Opting out is a theme in my life right now, something I plan on writing about in the next few months. How do we decide what to opt out of and what to embrace? How do our priorities get warped or shaped by society's expectations? When should we opt into society's expectations? After all, society tells us not to lie, cheat, steal, or kill, so it's not always wrong.
As with most good questions, I think there are lots of right answers. It all depends on your perspective, and everyone has a different perspective. I'd love to hear your comments about opting out. What societal expectations turn you into a rebel? When is it easier, more comfortable, and even more appropriate to accept what society tells you?
*Name changed for privacy
Thursday, November 26, 2009
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward
I want to express my gratitude and thank you for reading Questioning. I am incredibly grateful that you take time to stop by and share the journey with me.
Make it a wonderful day full of expressions of gratitude for family, friends, food, and fun!
Monday, November 23, 2009
--another birthday come and gone
--George's cheesecake, which makes Cheesecake Factory look like Sara Lee
--all my family and friends (both real life and online!)
--the special music at out church yesterday that felt like an unexpected birthday present
What are you grateful for today?
Sunday, November 22, 2009
1. "No wise man ever wished to be younger." Jonathan Swift [Nor wise woman either.]
2. "Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened." Cora Harvey Armstrong [You said it, Cora.]
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Here is a recent picture of little Grady, my new nephew who was born 7.5 weeks too early. He now weighs 5lbs, 12oz, and he's gaining about a half-pound a week. Obviously, he's doing very well. So is my sister.
Thank you all for your prayers and good wishes!
Photo by Lisa Dumont
I'm with you, Hubert. For more funny LOLDogs, go here. So many giggles this week!
Okay, I don' t know that the bloodhound above is named Hubert. I got the name from the HIGH-larious mockumentary Best in Show. See a clip of Hubert with his owner/handler Harlan Pepper (AKA Christopher Guest) here. It's almost as funny as Harlan talking about nuts. If you like that sort of thing. Sadly, I can't find the nut clip.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
How did this happen? My baby is ten.
Then, he fit on my forearms comfortably, a happily swaddled burrito.
Now, he barely fits on my lap and can’t stand clothes that are too tight. Or long-sleeved shirts. Or blue jeans. What boy doesn’t like blue jeans?
Then, he got chubby on breast milk.
Now, he eats salmon and shrimp and ratatouille and steak and salad and hot dogs. But not spaghetti in tomato sauce, hamburgers, or macaroni and cheese.
Then, he cooed and squeaked and babbled.
Now, he argues like a lawyer or a classically trained Greek orator: he’s a precocious Odysseus for the twenty-first century. He also makes endless pew-pew-pew sounds while pretending to be a Jedi knight or fighting evil transformers.
Then, he lay in my arms and was what he was…a baby, all soft and helpless and sweet.
Now, he stomps his feet because we won’t let him watch The Dark Knight yet and we edit violent parts out of The Lord of the Rings and we keep tight parental controls on his computer.
Then, he lay around wanting the Booby Lady, a fresh diaper, and sleep, and he got all three whenever he wanted them.
Now, he wants to be a grown-up, married to a woman who works hard and makes a lot of money so he can sit around playing computer games and watching television all day long. “I want my allowance, but I don’t want to have to DO anything for it!” he said to George last weekend when forced to clean up the dog food he had spilt on the garage floor.
Oh, my baby. You’re going to learn that lesson the hard way, aren’t you?
Growing up hurts. I remember. We start out as little babies having our every need met the second we start fussing. Gradually, our demands stop eliciting instant response. We have to wait, learn patience, learn disappointment, and start doing for ourselves. We have to do things we don’t want to do and (hopefully) figure out how to make them less annoying. We wail, “It’s not fair!”
From where I sit now, what’s not fair is that mommies who carry babies in their wombs have to make the world “not fair” so our babies can grow up. We have to make them do chores, go to bed, slow down growing up. We have to make them eat breakfast, dress reasonably, get hair cuts, and do their homework.
But sometimes, I want to put him on a carousel and let him go round and round with joy on his face, riding a giant fiberglass eagle and feeling like he’s soaring above the rest of the world.
Happy birthday, Nick. I love you.
Photo Acknowledgements: Nick on bike and on eagle by George Raihala. Newborn photo by hospital.
Monday, November 16, 2009
--Early birthday celebrations at the zoo for my little boy who is about to turn ten and who has a weird obsession with reptiles:
How did we get to double digits so fast?
--Hearing a cheetah meow just like a house cat
--Seeing a gorilla pick its nose and eat the boogers (totally disgusting, yes, but funny, too!)
--FINALLY seeing a red panda climbing a tree (instead of snoozing on a branch)
--Watching the delight on two little faces because this man created fire RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM!
What are you grateful for today?
Friday, November 13, 2009
Have I mentioned how much I love our school district? Well, I do.
Jack loves to swim, so I knew the swim therapy would be a big hit. At Jack’s parent-teacher conference this week, his aide Julie told me a great story about his first day in the program. When the students returned to class after swimming, they ate lunch in the classroom. That’s when the following conversation occurred:
Jack [to Julie]: Do you love peanut butter?
Julie: Well, yes, Jack. I do.
Jack: I love peanut butter. I love swimming. [leans back in his chair, puts hands on belly] This is the LIFE!
Yes, Jack, it is.
A common symptom of autism is repeating movie lines or scripts. I’m sure Jack heard “this is the life” in a movie or television show, but its meaning struck a chord in him that resonates every day. Other lines he repeats frequently are “Today is a new day” and “It’s a beautiful day” and “Mommy, I love you sooooo much!” (That last one isn’t a movie line, but it sure makes me happy.)
Most of the lines Jack repeats regularly are happy. He’s definitely the glass is MORE than half full person. He still thanks me for taking him to ride Thomas the Tank Engine in September, and every little joy of his day is greeted with enthusiastic delight. When he walked into the school’s book fair and saw me, he yelled, “Mommy, you’re HERE!!!!” Everyone in the library laughed as he threw his arms around me.
Jack’s attitude of gratitude infuses our lives, and he sets an example that can be hard to follow in today’s jaded world. He doesn’t know about the tragic shootings at Ft. Hood or the nasty anti-Muslim reaction it has provoked. He doesn’t know about crooked politicians and greedy mortgage companies and high unemployment. He doesn’t understand why George has to go to work instead of staying home with him when he’s sick.
This is the innocence of childhood, and I want to protect it and guard it against corruption and sadness and the ugliness of the world. I will fail in this, and really, I should fail. Ignoring all the tragedy and badness of the world doesn’t make for a good adult. If you ignore bad things, they continue and often get worse. Think of how many people ignored the smoke from the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Think of how many people living in democracies don’t bother to vote when people living in dictatorships would die for the chance. Think of the homeless person who takes refuge in a church and is shunned for his shabby, smelly clothes.
Yet every one of these examples has another side. The camps were liberated. Women in Iraq now cast their votes. At least one cold, smelly, homeless person was taken to lunch after church by Jim and Tam Thompson.
So many adults spend too much time focusing only on the bad, especially now when the media takes such delight in saturating us with news of economic disaster, war, corruption, horror, and celebrity train wrecks. It's so easy to get sucked into believing that the bad is all there is in the world. Then, we start repeating the bad movie lines until we see that our glass is not only half-empty but drained dry of all water.
I prefer Jack's view of things. Borrowing a page from his book, I actively seek out things that make me happy, whether it’s delighting in a ladybug that lands on my sleeve, or taking a bite of glorious wilted salad made by my husband, or casting a vote for health services in our county, or making a meal for a family who needs it, or reading a delightful book, or receiving a story via email about the lost being found.
November is a brown, drab month (at least in the northern hemisphere). It’s the month of my birthday, and it has always annoyed me that November usually has the ugliest picture in calendars. This November, I challenge you to find an attitude of gratitude in all the drab and depressing. Find your own ladybugs, help lift up someone who needs it, participate in changing something ugly in the world.
If you have children, one way to begin teaching them a positive approach to the wide world of good and bad is to get them involved in a Christmas charity project. You can fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, drop toys in the Toys for Tots boxes, or serve Thanksgiving dinner at a local shelter. Whatever you do, do it with your children, let them pick the gifts out, explain why it's not a good idea to send toys with batteries to children living in remote villages far from Target. Help them learn not to take their blessings for granted and to share them with others who are less fortunate.
This IS the life...the only one we get. Let us grown-ups embrace it, like Jack does, and spread our own attitude of gratitude.
George lives in an apartment and
His mother will not let
Him keep a dog or polliwog
Or rabbit for a pet.
So he has Radiator Lions.
(The parlor is a zoo.)
They love to fight but will not bite
Unless he tells them to.
And days when it is very cold
And he can't go outdoors
They glower and they lower and they
Crouch upon all fours.
And roar most awful roarings and
Gurgle loud and mad.
Up their noses water goeses--
That's what makes them bad.
But he loves Radiator Lions!
He's glad, although they're wild,
He hasn't dogs and polliwogs
Like any other child!
Some unfortunate adults are too grown-up and smart to understand the genius expressed in this poem, but for those of us who embrace imagination and perspective, this poem speaks volumes. I hope you have your own version of radiator lions to smooth the rough edges of life.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Many, many thanks for all the prayers and good wishes. It's still 18 days until his C-section was scheduled, and it's such a miracle that he's doing so amazingly well.
Since they moved, Lisa hasn't had internet service, so she's not sent me any new pictures. (All the early pictures were courtesy of her friend Denise.) As soon as I have pictures, I'll post them!
I'm home with a sick child. Hopefully I'll get this week's essay up later today. If not, it'll go up tomorrow, along with some more Words, Words, Words I've already picked out especially for the child in us all.
My sick younger son, in sharp contrast to his drama-llama big brother, is amazingly stoic--except when asked to drink his medicine (OMG, you don't even want to know the trauma of MEDICINE!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!). All the sick going around reminded me about this funny video from YouTube:
Poor little bunny. Indeed.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
May God richly bless all who have served, are serving, and will serve with honor as patriots for freedom here in the United States and around the world. Freedom isn't free, and those of us who spend our lives enjoying the fruits of patriots' labor are reminded today that we owe them an immeasurable debt of gratitude.
Thanks, George, for serving so honorably for twenty years.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
"I'm convinced that the only way out of this is by cancelling the show. Not cancelling the holiday, but giving up the show." Brene Brown, Ordinary Courage
Every Christmas for the last three years, I've experimented with giving up the show. Last year, shocking as it sounds, I didn't even bake cookies. Believe it or not, we had a great Christmas anyway. As we gear up for the holiday season this year, I'm making sure that we have time to do fun things, as a family, and focus on only those holiday traditions that help enhance the season and opting out of whatever makes it more stressful. For every holiday "thing" I do, I'm stopping and asking myself, "Is this necessary? Do we HAVE to do this? Who says so?"
Some things I'm simplifying:
1. Simplifying gift wrapping with plain white paper and fun ribbon and simply stamped avery address labels instead of gift tags (only Santa will use printed paper!).
2. Making/buying gifts to ship that fit in small priority mail boxes, which are already at home and ready to fill.
3. Putting money in a pocket of my purse for adding to every Salvation Army bucket I pass.
4. Limiting my outdoor decorating to a wreath on the front door.
5. Limiting my indoor decorating to a few special things (like the ceramic nativity set my mother made) and a tree.
Some things won't change:
1. Cards made by me and a Christmas letter written by George. (I spent way too much time this year making Christmas cards not to mail them, LOL!).
2. Going with the family to chop down a Christmas tree at a local Tree farm.
3. Making sugar plums with the kids to give as gifts to friends and neighbors.
4. Putting out all the Christmas books and reading them with the boys.
5. Welcoming Chris, our Elf on the Shelf, each morning as he returns from reporting to Santa at the North Pole.
6. Contributing to the Giving Tree and Shoebox ministry at our church.
Do you feel the urge to opt out of the show? What can you let go of or change to make Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you celebrate) more meaningful and peaceful, more centered and less commercial? I'd love to hear your ideas!
Thursday, November 5, 2009
"During his visit, the Colonel also posed for [a] picture beneath the UN logo inside the assembly chamber, the spot from which world leaders address representatives of member nations. Sadly, he did not take the opportunity to deliver any remarks himself. He can't possibly have made less sense than Muammar Qadhafi (also officially a colonel), who recently addressed the Assembly for 95 minutes in a speech so rambling and loony that the translator - his own personal interpreter - actually gave up. "I just can't take it any more," he said, and reportedly collapsed. If Colonel Qadhafi gets to address the UN, why can't Colonel Sanders?"
Why not, indeed! Please click on this link to read the full article, which has other giggles relating to grilled meat, amusing political denial, and ridiculous law suits. You'll also learn what Colonel Sanders, Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Billy Ray Cyrus all have in common.
The world is an ironically amusing place, isn't it?
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Scientific American is a good magazine, and as an added bonus, not once have I received an annoying phone call from a telemarketer named Bob trying to bully me into extending my subscription by a decade. I know just enough about the brain, genetics, biology, and the environment to muddle through Scientific American’s erudite articles on those topics and only feel a little stupid. At least I understand the gist of those articles, even if I can’t follow every detail. Physics, however, has never seemed so…unapproachable, opaque, and downright alien.
I enjoy reading about physics, and the physics articles in Discover were among my favorites. I’m proud to say that I read Stephen Hawkings’ book A Brief History of Time in 1990 and understood at least some of it. I felt competent to take on quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theories of relativity because there was no test at the end of the book. A few years later, I enjoyed Leon Lederman’s The God Particle, a surprisingly funny and accessible book written for non-physicists about the history of particle physics.
Scientific American, however, has shipwrecked my delusions of nerdy intelligence on the great barrier reef of complete confusion.
Please bear with me and consider this short, two-paragraph article titled ”Laser Beams That Curve,” written by Larry Greenmeier in the June 2009 Scientific American,:
“Two years ago physicists demonstrated that a laser beam traveling through the air can bend slightly if certain components are asymmetrical, forming what is called an Airy beam. Now researchers have shown that pulsed, high-intensity versions can leave curved trails of plasma. Shot out like a stack of pennies, each pulse, one centimeter wide and lasting 35 femtoseconds, passes through a glass plate that turns it into a triangular shape, in which an intense peak falls on one side of several weaker peaks. The brightest part heads in one direction, while the dimmer ones go the opposite way. (The momentum of the entire pulse remains straight, however.)
“Being extremely intense, the bright spots ionize the air behind them and leave a curved plasma stream in their wake. The self-bending beam, described in the April 10 Science, does not curve by more than the beam’s diameter, but that amount is enough to help physicists probe the structure of laser pulses.”
Greenmeier lost me at “Airy beam.” As a physics light-weight with an eye for word play, am I the only person to read this and think Fairy beam? Fairy beam makes just as much sense, plus it sounds more whimsical and fun.
Perhaps “whimsical” and “physics” simply don’t go together.
But let’s back up and ask a critical question for a physics light-weight: why is it important that “physicists probe the structure of laser pulses” in the first place? I’m willing to accept that it is important, but precisely why is not intuitively obvious. If you know the answer, please explain it in the comments in terms a reader of Discover magazine could understand.
Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize femtosecond as a word, nor does Bill Gates suggest alternate spellings. Far be it from word-loving me to rely on Bill’s wholly inadequate dictionary anyway. I checked my venerable Oxford English Dictionary, updated in 1971. (Yes, I have a copy of the OED in my home. I may only be a pretend science nerd, but I really am a word nerd.) Femtosecond is not included in that reliable tome, which leads me to suspect that a femtosecond is so short a span of time that English didn’t need a word for it until very recently, like maybe two years ago when curving laser beams suddenly became important.
For whatever reason.
With this in mind, I did a quick Google search and checked several different websites, all of which defined a femtosecond the same way, so by consensus, we may reasonably assume they are right. Remember, never, ever trust a single website for earth-shatteringly important information like this. Anyone can put anything on the World Wide Web. I should know.
According to Wikipedia (by far the most interesting definition I found),
“A femtosecond is the SI unit of time equal to 10-15 of a second. That is one quadrillionth, or one billionth of one millionth of a second. For context, a femtosecond is to a second, what a second is to about 420 million years. To give another example, one femtosecond compared to one second is like the diameter of a human hair relative to the distance between the earth and moon.”
Wow, that’s pretty fast! Notice how the analogies used in Wikipedia’s definition clarify the brevity of a femtosecond in terms even a pretend physics nerd can understand. I’m still, however, trying to figure out why Mr. Greenmeier used the metaphor of the laser pulses “shot out like a stack of pennies” to, at least theoretically, clarify his point. Who shoots pennies out in stacks? Why would they do that? What am I missing here?
The meat of the article—and I am just guessing—may be the following: “The brightest part [of the pulse] heads in one direction, while the dimmer ones go the opposite way. (The momentum of the entire pulse remains straight, however.)” What are we make of that parenthetical comment? Is it some sort of weird yin and yang of physics: different parts go in different directions, but the whole goes one way? My brain might be able to take that on faith simply because suspension of disbelief is highly developed in literature geeks, but then Greenmeier goes on to say that the plasma left in the wake of this beam is curved only by the diameter of the beam, which is still, according to Greenmeier, going straight.
Please tell me I am not the only human whose brain is hurting right now.
If you’re still reading, I thank you. Perhaps you understand why I’m on the fence about renewing Scientific American. Why would I pay for something that makes my brain hurt? Should I—perish the thought!—subscribe to Discover again, so I can get the science news I crave in an appropriately dumbed-down format? How can I return to Discover after sending them such a scathing email condemning them to the Eighth Circle of Telemarketing Hell for all eternity?
As I typed that last paragraph, a sudden inspiration struck me. I will subscribe to Discover again but will use George’s name. That’s it! If Bob the Telemarketer calls, I can simply say, “George isn’t here right now. Call back later.” Perhaps, just perhaps, if George tells Bob to take him off the call list, Bob will listen. But no matter what, Bob will be George’s problem, not mine.
I’m a genius!
Monday, November 2, 2009
Today, I am grateful that Halloween is OVER.
Today, I am grateful for friends, near and far, in real life and online.
What are you grateful for today?