Thursday, June 30, 2011

Things on Thursday: Stress Reduction

Years ago, I owned a sound machine that played rainforest, ocean, thunderstorm, and other nature sounds. It was wonderful, and then it broke. So sad. It had been rather expensive, so I didn't replace it.

Monday, my children were driving me crazy. The bickering! The whining! It. Would. Not. Stop.

At Target, when the whining and begging reached a fevered pitch, I pushed the cart past the shelves loaded with foot massage and spa machines and saw this little beauty. Prices have plummeted on these since I bought my first one, and I grabbed the box like my life depended on it.

This machine is WAY cheaper than babysitters or therapy or a straight jacket. Just a few minutes listening to it while sitting in a room behind a closed door gave me the strength to face the bickering and deal with it like a grow-up instead of like a snarling rabid dog. Isn't it amazing what pleasant sounds can do to our brains?

What are your favorite, most effective stress relievers?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Weekly Giggle: Kudzu Jesus

This week's essay is proving problematic. I hope to have it finished before the 4th. In the meantime, I simply must share my new favorite quotation:

"You can't spray Jesus with Roundup."

This gem of a quotation by Kent Hardison of North Carolina appears in an article reporting how Hardison found an image of the crucified Jesus in kudzu growing on a telephone pole.

Now, for those of you fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with kudzu, it's a pernicious vine that grows all over the southern United States, engulfing everything in its path. Most folks down south do their best to kill it, but it just keeps coming back. Hardison finds this symbolism appropriate. "It doesn't matter what you do, it is going to be around," he said. "Ain't that a lot like Jesus?"

Amen, Brother Hardison. Amen.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gratitude Journal #94

Today, I am grateful for our friend Derek's Ironman Coeur d'Alene finish last night. Derek, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!! Congratulations!!

Today, I am grateful for a safe and relaxing weekend, for mown grass and the man who mowed it, for good food and the man who prepared it, for children who didn't bicker all weekend.

Today, I am grateful for rechargers. These plugs and wires multiply exponentially in gadgety homes, but they keep my camera and cell phone and computers going. One day, at least in my wildest fantasies, there will be one universal recharger for all gadgets, and then I will be even more grateful.

Today, I am grateful for the parable of the Good Samaritan. Its lesson is so very beautiful...and so very hard.

Today, I am grateful the pain patch wore off Daisy's side because it was really irritating her. Unfortunately, it seems to have been doing some good, so I'm calling the vet this morning to get some more medicine for the drooping Daisy. I am grateful for vets and the medicines that give comfort to our furry friends.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Few More Words This Week

I just found this gem of a quotation on Jon Katz's blog. He recently participated in an animal rescue of Simon, an abused and neglected donkey. Simon is thriving on Jon's Bedlam Farm, but Jon has felt the impact of Simon more than Simon has felt the impact of Jon. Jon writes,

"Life is strange, life is curious. Had anyone told me I would be adopting a donkey on a farm in 2011, I would just have shaken my head. If you are open to it, life will find you. If you do not live a life in fear, your light will shine on the most surprising places."

Yesterday, I asked about going with the flow of life rather than against it, but today's question looks forward. In Stephen Ministry right now, we're studying our spiritual gifts, figuring them out and exploring ways to let God's gracious gifts to us shine through us to help others. Jon's comment about fear really spoke to me personally, as my fear is getting in the way of letting my light shine...and has for years. Do you have a gift that you are holding back on because of fear? What can you do about it?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Words, Words, Words about Life

"Life continues to happen. Move with it, not against it." Anon

As a recovering control freak and perfectionist, these words speak directly to the heart of me. Has there been a time when life was happening to you and this saying proved true..or not? Certainly there are times when one has to move against life's injustice and oppression, but I think this saying is pointing at those hardships we often have limited or no control over (illness, marriages crumbling due mainly to one partner's choice, our children's development, etc.). Please share your feelings on this.

And have a life-filled weekend!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Things on Thursday: A Black Daisy

Daisy is now home from her surgery, with a quarter of her fur shaved (was that necessary?) and looking both pathetic and in pain, despite painkillers and a sedative.

Daisy on Drugs

"Why can't I scratch my head?!?!"

Oh how sad! The patch on her side delivers a painkiller, and the sutures are inside the wound. She has surgical glue on the wound, and she had two K laser treatments to reduce post-op pain. I feel we've done everything possible to comfort her, but it still just tears at my heart.

The vet couldn't believe how wiggly and squealy she was when he brought her into the room with me and the boys. We both made soothing, calming sounds, and laid hands on her to settle her, but it was a good five minutes before she calmed down. He looked at me and said, in a somewhat awed voice, "And this is with sedation!" His wife bred Daisy, but apparently, the level of love bursting from our furry golden sunshine isn't exactly typical for the line.

The black cone of shame arrived, conveniently enough, in the mail today. It's much softer than the old, rigid plastic cone, which saves our shins from bruising. It is not, however, any less humiliating.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fitting In and Group Think, Part 1

My recent readings on happiness repeatedly emphasize our human need to be part of a social group. We are social animals who need the healthy company of other humans from birth. Babies denied human touch, for instance, develop abnormally, while babies who receive plenty of touch grow more active brains. Much of childhood involves learning how to interact with others: first with our family, then with larger groups like church or school or athletic teams.

The best advice I received when I headed off to college was to join a group. Any group would do; it just had to be a collection of people with a common interest and sense of community within the larger community of the university. My high school class numbered in the seventies; my freshman class at Duke numbered over 1,100. That’s a big change, and finding a group helped me feel a sense of belonging.

My group was Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity founded by an Eagle Scout who felt that once he went to college, opportunities to continue his commitment to service had thinned considerably. The fraternity went  co-ed in the 1970s, but all members are called brothers, regardless of gender. Its motto is "Be a Leader. Be a Friend. Be of Service." I pledged first semester freshman year, and it was one of the smartest things I did at Duke.

Pledging APO was radically different from pledging a traditional Greek fraternity or sorority because APO isn’t exclusive. If you do everything required of a pledge, you are in. No one sits in judgment of how well you fit with the group, and you can't be rejected because your nose is too big or your mommy wasn't a sister or you don't drink.

APO’s purpose is to serve the fraternity, university, community, and country with volunteer activities; all willing hands are welcome. Pledges make a paddle and get it signed by the brothers, interview the brothers to learn about them and bond with them, attend meetings, and participate in a certain number of hours of service. That's it.

And yes, while I pledged, I was kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken blindfolded to an undisclosed location. Nothing scary or hurtful or humiliating happened, though. We just laughed a lot and had fun.

In my years as a brother, our chapter only denied one pledge membership…and we encouraged him to re-pledge. For reasons that I don’t recall, he hadn’t attended many meetings, hadn’t interviewed more than a few brothers, and hadn’t met the hours of service required. Most of us didn’t know him at all. It took several hours of debate for us to decide his fate, and most of the brothers felt horrible about the need to deny his membership.

Isn’t that a pretty cool group to be a part of? Even then, I was all about inclusion.

Anyway, I made friends in classes, but my APO brothers were my family-away-from-home, a great comfort and support and encouragement for me through a rough time in my life. Together, we helped Girl Scouts sell cookies, threw parties for underprivileged children in the Durham community, winterized battered women’s shelters, painted public housing, tutored in the Durham city schools, and raised money for important causes.

We also laughed—a lot. One day, a brother named Wilder and I went through boxes in the APO office and found an old award plaque for, of all things, potato chip sales. We decided to award the extremely pointless plaque to a random brother for a random reason each meeting. Whoever received it one week would then make up a reason to present it to someone else the next.

Wilder, a fellow English major, presented me with the plaque after giving a gripping analysis of its phallic imagery. He noted that since I was married and thus the only APO brother who could legally have sex in the state of North Carolina, I deserved such a richly symbolic plaque.

The following week, I cleverly analyzed the plaque for Christ symbols and awarded it to our resident Christ-figure: the only brother with a beard.

These are the sorts of trivial, stupid activities that encourage esprit de corps. We need silliness and fun in our social lives, don’t we?

I wrote here that we get what we give in life, and that is certainly true of our membership in groups. I gave APO a lot and got more in return. Just having the pin didn’t mean anything; what mattered was day-to-day participation. I encouraged my fellow brothers, and they encouraged me.

Ever since my time in APO, I’ve recognized my need to be part of a group, part of something bigger and better than myself, one person among many with a common purpose. Over the next few weeks, I will ruminate about groups and belonging, as well as what it feels like to be excluded and marginalized. This week, however, I’d appreciate your sharing which groups—other than family—have contributed to your happiness. Did your group have any silly ritual or inside joke that helped to bond them?

For me, right now, church provides the best social groups, especially in a long-term Bible study and Stephen Ministry. Our Bible study has a running joke about how we never finish all the topics for discussion each week. For Stephen Ministry, the jokes are often about boxes of tissues and how much we need them each week; we're a bunch of sappy weepers.

Now it’s your turn! Please do share!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gratitude Journal #94

Today, I am grateful for a wonderful evening Saturday night with my husband of twenty-five years. We had a romantic dinner at the Wine Loft (five courses, five wines, fabulous!), bookish browsing at Books and Company, and laugh-out-loud fun watching Bridesmaids. I love you, man!

Today, I am grateful for abundant, silly noises made by golden retrievers who are baffled by their reflections in windows at night. When I closed the curtains, Daisy was soooo much happier.

Today, I am grateful for veterinary surgeons who fix defective knees. Daisy will have her first surgery tomorrow.

Today, I am grateful for a number of pictures George took of the silly golden, but most especially, this one.


Today, I am grateful for father figures in my life, most specifically for my uncle Darius and my father-in-law Roger. And I'm grateful that the father of my children is also awesome.

Today, I am grateful for repair people who can fix things, replace things (specifically, today, water softeners and pressure regulator valves), and generally know how to be far more useful in life than I will ever be.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Words, Words, Words from Nick

"I want a work-free job." Nicholas Raihala

Honestly, I've never been afraid of work or seen it as an inherently negative thing...except housework, which no sanitary person can avoid. It seems rather pointless and unhelpful to whine about housework (though don't we all from time to time?) precisely because it's unavoidable. My attitude is to just do it when I have to as quickly and well as possible so I can move onto something more fun.

I have had jobs where I hated the work, and jobs (mostly teaching) where I loved the work so much that it didn't necessarily feel like work. Have you ever had a job you considered to be work-free because it was so much fun? Please share!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Peek into the Past

While visiting my mother last week, I went through some wonderful memorabilia from my grandparents, including a pamphlet from my grandfather's time with the Royal Canadian Air Force, a flight log of his time in the China-Burma-India theater of World War II, and an article from the Shelby Daily Star newspaper, reprinted in the early 1980s but originally published in the 1930s.

The article contains three different bits of local news. First, a story about my grandfather D.L. Willis, who was the first person in Cleveland County to own an airplane. Of course, there was no airport at the time, so Papa had to use a field near Cherryville after the Byers field was planted in cotton. Oh, the challenges of early aviation!

The third story is about a trans-Atlantic trip by Harry Cohen and his wife to visit their native Great Britain and includes a lot of name-dropping of famous people with whom the Cohens (or their relatives) had passing encounters. The best story in the article, however, is buried in the middle. I'll transcribe it for your entertainment.

While Willis set his sights on the wild blue yonder, 17-year-old C.J. Deaton aimed at getting home to quiet, unglamorous Mooresboro again.

C.J. went star-gazing in Hollywood while friends and relatives thought he was dead.

In early 1935, C.J.--his imagination fed by the silver screen's wonders--ran away from home. He hopped freight trains and hitchhiked all the way to California. 

Back in Mooresboro, C.J.'s parents received news from Texas about the death of a boy who resembled their son.

C.J. nosed around Hollywood and saw how pictures were made. He watched James Cagney make a gangster film. 

"It was all a big fake," C.J. said as he explained his great discovery to The Star. "That part where Jimmy is thrown out of an automobile--shucks, they just used dummies for that."

His dreams shattered, C.J. went to a Los Angeles relief agency which steered him homeward. 

As C.J. worked happily in a Mooresboro cotton patch, he offered some advice to potential runaways. "Don't do it," he said. "And if you must, stay away from California. There's too many other bums out there."

C.J., wherever in this world or the next you are right now, thank you for your charming adventure. You're swell!

Which leads me to ask a question: what "great discovery" have you experienced that made you say "shucks"? What discovery caused you to lose a bit of innocence? For four-year-old me, it was learning that little people do not live in traffic lights. It was so much nicer and more comforting to believe that actual, very small people were taking care of traffic and keeping everyone safe.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Happy Anniversary, George

Twenty-five years ago today, George and I were married at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Twenty-five years.


George had hair. I weighed 109 pounds. He was 21, and I was 19. I felt nervous and happy and all warm and fuzzy inside.

Neither of us can remember much about the wedding. When we watch the video, it's like we're watching actors in a movie. Who are those people?

We had no idea what we were doing.

We still have no idea what we are doing.

But we're doing it together.

Which still makes me feel nervous and happy and all warm and fuzzy inside.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Little Vacation

Questioning my Intelligence will be back with new content next week (Wednesday).

Until then, here's an encore of one of my favorite essays I've posted here. I recently had a conversation with a mommy whose new baby #2 is challenging all her preconceptions about parenting, and she's experiencing the same baffled, "what-the-heck-is-happening-to-me?" feelings I had after Jack was born. Pride goeth before the fall. I've got none left, and I imagine her baby #2 will suck her down into the trenches with the rest of us muddling-through, prideless mothers. Welcome to the club, my friend. Welcome to the club.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Gratitude Journal #93

Today, I am grateful George successfully--and safely--completed another olympic-distance triathlon.

Today, I am grateful for Pastor Suzanne's sermon on mercy or merit. It helped me understand a lot of what I've been thinking about in the past few years.

Today, I am grateful for a dog that sits like a frog.

"Why are you laughing at me?"

...which also makes me grateful for laughter.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Weekly Giggle #30

Y'all are gonna get sick of my linking to Lowering the Bar, but seriously, today's post is hysterically funny. The Pentagon and CIA, both lacking in the humor department, could learn A LOT from MI6 about fighting terrorism.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Words, Words, Words about Rest

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time." John Lubbock

What sort of rest are you planning for this summer?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Things on Thursday: The Gentle Leader

A while back, a kind reader recommended the Gentle Leader as a means of dealing with Daisy's pulling on leash. The pinch collar had worked beautifully with Hoover, but Daisy wasn't responding to it at all. Finally, I took my kind reader's advice, and what smashingly good advice it was! The Gentle Leader works beautifully! Daisy doesn't pull at all, and walks are so much more pleasant. At least for me.

Daisy, on the other hand, has a different opinion of the Gentle Leader.

Why Are You Doing This to Me?

I cannot tell if she is merely sad or both sad and furious about the strap over her nose. I think I see daggers shooting from her eyes, but she's such a sweet pup that daggers seem impossible for her. She keeps trying to rub the strap off by running the side of her muzzle through the grass. Obviously, this only serves to keep the strap in place.

She's not sensible, but she's my dog. And she will get used to the Gentle Leader. Eventually.

I had planned on having Daisy be the guest blogger this week, but George pointed out that Hoover's guest spot occurred just weeks before his diagnosis with cancer. This coincidence has both of us a bit spooked about giving Daisy a voice on the blog, especially since her ACL/luxating patella surgery is on June 21. That's just the right leg. The left can't be done for three months after that. 

In the meantime, please enjoy these two pictures taken by George recently. My picture above is a more accurate representation of her true color, but you seriously can't beat natural evening sunlight for photographing golden retrievers. She really is furry golden sunshine!

Don't Hate Me because I'm Beautiful

Should I Be Worried?