Monday, December 31, 2012

Gratitude Journal #168

Today, I am grateful for 2012. It was a good year for us, and we're ending it far more settled and comfortable than we began it.

Today, I am grateful for snow. We got snow the day after Christmas, and it's still here, with more forecast in the next few days. The boys are over the moon, and our lawn looks amazing.

Today, I am grateful for birdseed. We have enjoyed so many birds visiting the feeder outside our front door, and I adore their little footprints in the snow.

Today, I am grateful for my mother's visit, for the time we spent together, for the laughter and conversation and love. Thanks, Mom, for coming.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas decorations, which we had so few of during last year's move. They'll be put away in the coming week, but isn't that what makes them so special? They only stay for about month every year. Of course, Jack would be happier if our Elf on the Shelf stayed around all year, but I know better.

What are you grateful for today, the last day of 2012?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Transitions: Word of the Year

The end of another year.

Lots of people--and the media--are reflecting on 2012...the good, the bad, the ugly. For those of us who engage in the Word of the Year (also known as Ali Edwards' One Little Word project), it's a time to evaluate how we did with our word for 2012.

Please refrain from grading your performance. We are not in school. There is no report coming to mom and dad in the mail. We're living, and life is messy. Some of us chose the perfect word for the year, and others chose a word that didn't fit the unpredictable events of a whole year. Hindsight is 20/20; foresight is often entirely blind.

If you chose well, celebrate and ride that high into the new year. If you chose a word that simply didn't fit your experience of 2012, don't worry about it.

Be happy you're here to choose again.

My word for 2012 was Gratitude. I chose it because it was easy and appropriate, and it suited where I was in that moment of my life. I was already full of gratitude and wanted to explore more deeply the meaning and benefits of being grateful. I tried several concrete, creative things to increase my gratitude, and most of them fell apart in the busyiness of life.

But you know what? My gratitude increased anyway. I'm happier today, more grateful for today, than I was a year ago. I feel gratitude multiple times every single day without even trying hard, without conscious thought.

No way can I put a grade to the increase or measure my progress in percentages or scores. As Jimmy Buffett says, "I don't want that much control in my life." I'm living life gratefully. And it's good.

Gratitude will move forward in 2013, but I definitely want a new word for focus. I'm feeling restless, as I often do this time of year. Last year was an exception simply because we moved in the week between Christmas and New Year. Nothing like moving house to distract you from restlessness and make you want nothing more than to settle down.

Now that things are back to my weird sort of normal, I reflexively contemplate where I have been, where I am, and where I want to be. What do I want to do next? Are things good the way they are? Do I need a change? What do I need to shake up to keep from stagnating, being bored, or--worse--being boring?

Perhaps you remember the post that started this blog over four years ago?

And that's why this year's word for me will be Intentional. So much of life's busyness puts us into autopilot mode, and that's how I've felt for the last year. We do stuff without thinking about why. Why am I surfing Pinterest for hours on end? Why am I forgetting to check my daily planner every morning? Why do I feel buried under chaos? Why am I not writing as much as I used to write? Why am I going through motions and not noticing details? Why am I not exercising like I should or eating like I should? Why do I have hobbies? Why is papercrafting not as much fun as it used to be?

I want to spend 2013 exploring what it means to be intentional in life. I'm already pretty intentional in many areas, and those areas give me great joy and happiness. As with last year's word, I have some ideas for concrete and creative activities to increase my intentional living. These will likely flop, and that's okay. As with Gratitude, Intentional doesn't have a finish line I must cross in 12 months. It can't be scored or graded.

I'm just grateful for the opportunity to explore intentional living.

What word will you explore in 2013? Please share your transition from 2012 to 2013 in the comments. You never know when something you write helps another person as the year ends and another begins.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Snow Fun and Date Night

We got snow. For some of you, this might not seem like a big deal, but for us in Ohio, it's huge. Last winter, we had no snow beyond a light dusting. Kids and dog were horribly disappointed, although George and I were somewhat relieved given that our new driveway is about eight times larger than our old one and we didn't have a snowblower yet.

I bought a snowblower three months ago, so we were prepared for the three-to-four inches we got...and for the three inches we might get tonight.


From the garage...don't think anyone's going to shoot hoops today.
Sledding and snowballs are on the agenda.

"I can fly! Well, almost."

"Eat the snow. Kill the snow. I am the snow's ALPHA!"

"Let's make snow angels! Spin!"

"My angel looks more like a pinwheel."

"Who you lookin' at?"

Snowball in the Face

Contemplating revenge

George asked Jack what he was going to do with
that chunk of snow. He replied,
"I'm going to throw it at Nick!"
And he did.

All snow pictures by George.

Thanks to my mother who stayed with the boys, George and I were able to go out on a date. We ate dinner at the Pasha Grill and took pictures of each other with out iPhones and posted them to Facebook, just like the dorks we are.

We saw Lincoln after dinner, and it was wonderful.

What are you doing this holiday week?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Prayer

This prayer by John van de Laar was used in the Christmas Eve candlelight service at First United Methodist Church in Springboro as a responsive reading. I felt its truth and comfort so strongly, I wanted to share it here.

It may seem naive in a world of grief,
to choose to live in joy;
It may seem foolish in a world where solemnity is power,
to sing and dance to a different tune;
It may seem cruel, in a world of injustice
to speak of light and celebration;
But you have come, Jesus,
to bring joy into our grief, light into our darkness, singing into our mourning;
and it is an act of healing and proclamation to believe and embrace the joy you offer.
Joy to the world! The Lord has come!

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Retraction and A Few Random Items...


Reader Betsy, who lives in Aurora, Colorado, told me how comforting it was to see the bins and bins of letters and cards from all over sending comfort to the town after their shooting incident. Since I had suggested that cards could become a burden to Newtown, Betsy's perspective adds another dimension to the idea of sending cards. Even if Newtown gets so many that some have to be destroyed, what a comfort to those postal workers to know that their town is so supported.

Random Items

1. Coffee is good. With enough of it, I might get the rest of my Christmas cards sent today.

2. Thunderstorms in December are weird.

3. Snow in December is nice, especially when I don't have to go anywhere.

4. Wait. I have to go to the grocery store today. Darn.

5. At school yesterday, some kid told Nick the world was going to end today. Nick replied that it most certainly would not. So the kid told Nick that when they met in Heaven, he'd tell Nick, "I told you so." Whatever, dude. Nick told me he's going to call the kid tomorrow and say, "I told you so." At moments like this, I feel like an awesome mommy just because my kid isn't the one telling people the world will end because the Mayans said so.


7. I love Christmas. The world can't end before Christmas. That's just wrong.

8. It's also wrong to run off the road, take out someone's mailbox, and keep on going, yet someone did just that to our mailbox on Tuesday. I left the house to take Jack to school, and 40 minutes later, found my mailbox in the middle of my driveway and deep, muddy tire tracks running past the post the mailbox used to be attached to. Our box is made of heavy metal, and it did some serious damage to someone's car. What really stinks is it probably was a neighbor, according to the police officer. If I ran off the road and took out anyone's mailbox--much less a neighbor's--I'd leave a note at the very least.

9. The police officer who came to fill out the incident report is the same officer who pulled me over a month or so ago and didn't give me a ticket despite the fact he had every right to do so. I maintain he was completely distracted from my traffic violation by Daisy's incredibly lady-like behavior in the front seat...she sat through the whole thing without barking or trying to get at the officer and love him to death, which is what I expected her to do. On Tuesday, the officer didn't say anything about the earlier incident, and I just hope memory of the stupid driver and her extremely well-behaved golden retriever isn't jogged by seeing the sad victim of mailbox murder and her extremely rude golden retriever that sniffed his privates.

10. And on that note, Happy Friday before Christmas! Reach out and show some love today, tomorrow, and every day after that. The world needs more love.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Helping Newtown

This spot from NBC news is heartwarming and has golden retrievers.

I know a lot of attention is being paid to Newtown right now (which is, probably, not a good thing), but I think the lesson of Newtown is that it's really any town, every town, your town.

For most of us, direct opportunity to help those in Newtown is limited. Sending mail, for instance, results in an avalanche of cards and letters...which must be read by screeners and security before being passed on. After some past tragedies, an avalanche of letters and cards has been destroyed for fear one person would send something hateful or contaminated, and personnel simply couldn't keep up. Operation Write Home, which screens letters to the troops, sent out an email suggesting that people not send cards and letters because it creates a burden in an already burdened place.

Monetary donations are appropriate for funeral expenses and for charities with feet-on-the-ground outreach within in the community. ABC News has a list on its website of places to donate. But be careful and stick with well-known, established charities...tragedies like this bring out quite a lot of scammers.

I think there are two more important things most of us can do to help those in Newtown.

1. Pray. Prayers are never a burden to anyone!

2. Support outreach in your own community. Preventing events like what happened last Friday is almost impossible, but strengthening your own community with your time, talents, and gifts makes sense not just in the short term but long term as well. In other words, let this tragedy change how you behave in your own community. If you're just living in your community, look for ways to connect within it. Reach out, smile, donate locally, pay attention to needs. Why not even try a random act of kindness?

As wonderful as golden retriever therapy dogs are--and they are wonderful--they leave town. The people of Newtown will be forever changed by this loss. Will we let it change us, too, in ways that forge positive connections in our own communities?

I hope so.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gratitude Journal #167

Today, I am grateful for God, our Light in dark places.

Today, I am grateful for healing, an uneven and sometimes slow process.

Today, I am grateful for children and for those who serve them with love and protection and help in times of distress. Today in particular, I am grateful for our police department, who will be present at our schools today to help the children feel safe.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas, for its celebration and giving, its joy and peace, its newborn child lying in a manger.

Today, I am grateful that my mother is coming to visit this week. I need my mom.

Today, I am grateful for preparation, for work, for time spent in service to others.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Finding Joy

Events of Friday challenge my heart as I sit to write this week's Advent devotional. The third week in Advent focuses on joy, yet every time my mind goes back to Friday's horror, tears fall. Looking for joy seems indecent and disrespectful.

The best I could do on Friday was to look for love, find some way to respond in love.

Joy? That's so much harder to find when you're crying out in grief.

In church today, after lighting a candle of remembrance for those killed in Newtown, our pastor preached a sermon that helped me find a little balance, a little light in the darkness. Not a lot, but a little.

And isn't that how healing works? A little at a time as our hearts and heads process tragedy, whether that tragedy is public or private. We get a little better, then get worse, then get better, and repeat in a process of two steps forward, one step back.

We have to trust the process of healing.

The Bible shows us story after story of people's wickedness and God's ability to turn that wickedness to good. The ultimate story to follow that pattern is Jesus' death on the cross. God turned that horror into eternal salvation for all who want it.

I am grateful for that.

If we can trust that God is with us, is with those families who lost loved ones and those families whose loved ones survived, is with all the first responders and investigators and coroners and psychologists, we can move forward--slowly, perhaps glacially, and with occasional steps backward--in hope and love and gratitude.


All plentiful evidence to the contrary, there is so much to be grateful for right now, but mostly I'm grateful for God's light that shines in all dark places. He calls us to be His light in the world, to share it in those dark places whenever we can.

On Christmas Eve, many of us will light candles in church and sing Silent Night. If  you're not in church, you might take an opportunity to light a candle privately, in gratitude for God's goodness. As we heal, let's allow that symbolic act to lift us to the joy that comes from knowing that God takes all things...a small and humble baby born lowly, or a horrible tragedy perpetrated by evil...and turns them to His great good.

Joy comes from gratitude, from knowing that we get to be a part of that great good. God invites us to be a part of it.

Light your candle.

Share its light.

You'll find joy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

There Is Good

Do we cry out in despair, asking the unanswerable why?


If I feel that despair, safe at home with my children and husband, I cannot imagine how forty parents in Newtown feel tonight.

But do we stop with despair?

Can we resolve to help with thoughts, prayers, gifts, kindness? Can we reach out in community to those who are hurting, far away and close at home? Can we pay attention to the ones who are in pain, quiet and angry? Can we pay attention to each other each and every day?

In the midst of tragedy, there is Good.

There is Good in how we serve each other with love.

Great Good.

All of our hearts have broken with the families of twenty little children and their teachers, with an entire community devastated by evil.

Respond in love.

There is Good in that.

There is God in that.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gratitude Journal #166

Today, I am grateful for worship, for the warmth of church, the joy and love of sanctuary.

Today, I am grateful for useful people, such as roadside assistance mechanics and police officers.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas tree farms, where you can chop down trees that are too big for your house.

Today, I am grateful for boys who still believe and Santas who get it just right.

Today, I am grateful for boxes and boxes of tree decorations and a family who wants to help trim the monstrosity.

I cut at least 8" off the top so it would fit. No room
for the angel this year!

Jack was thrilled to stand on a step stool for the first time.

See how big that thing is?

The air is thin up here...

You're never too old to trim a tree!

Today, I am grateful for a tree that isn't exactly a designer tree. It's a little crooked; the ornaments are a random collection of beautiful works of art, mass-produced baubles, one-of-a-kind kid creations, and totally tacky; the star is a piece of yellow construction paper with gold glitter and a pink pipe-cleaner loop on top; the ornaments are bunched up at Jack height on one side of the tree.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

What are you grateful for today?

Note: Tree-trimming photos courtesy of George and his D90.

Weekly Giggle

At Big Tree Plantation (a Christmas tree farm we visit every year), the kids and I retrieved the car and drove around to pick George up. He stuck out his thumb like a hitchhiker, and I stopped to let him in the car.

Me: I don't normally pick up hitchhikers but you're kinda cute. Get in.

George: Awww, thanks! You're cute, too.

Nick: Would you stop talking like that?

George: What? Do you think you just fell out of the sky? That's how you got to be in the world.

Nick: Just stop.

Later that same day, George and I got flirty again while decorating the tree.

Nick: Would you wait to do that sort of thing until I'm in bed?

George: Oh, we do, Nick. We DO.

Nick: Arrrrrgh!

Teenagers are so easy to tease it's like shooting fish in a barrel, but less messy and much funnier.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Where's the Love?

This is my second Advent post of 2012, for this coming Sunday of Love.

Jesus Christ is all about the love, and he calls his disciples and followers to be all about the love, too. At the Last Supper, he announced a new commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you." That's a pretty high bar, seeing as Jesus loves perfectly and unconditionally, with mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Sometimes, though, we Christians forget to love.

In fairness, all people of all faiths or no faith at all can forget to love, but I think it's particularly hypocritical of us Christians to lose sight of love and to speak or act in hate, contempt, judgment, self-righteousness. The Bible tells us over and over and over and over and over to love God and love our neighbor, love the little children, love the homeless, love sinners, tax collectors, thieves, oppressors, the unlovable.

Love is hard, so we cheat to make it easier. We save our love only for those who are like us, who deserve it, who earn it, who make us happy, who are cute or rich or entertaining. Everyone else we exclude from the circle of our love. It's just too hard, takes too much effort.

"Love one another as I have loved you."

Love one another as God loves you, as God loves all of us, with mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

Because we have different names for God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it's sometimes easy to forget that they are one and the same, three aspects of one Being. The Son is God made flesh, to dwell among us, Emmanuel, a self-limiting of the infinite Divine.

God's incarnation means that He truly understands our suffering, understands what sacrifice is, what humility is, what it means to be born, grow, live, love, and die.

He did it.


Why under heaven would an infinite God limit Himself to a tiny baby, born at tax time, in a stable?

To show us where the love is.

Where's the love?

Pretty much everywhere.  God is love. He's not a miser, nor does He want us to hold back, hoard, or be miserly with Him. And that means we are not alone...not ever alone. God is with us every time we love someone, whether they love us back or not. God is there in every smile, every handshake, every hug, every wave. He's there in every donation to charity, every healing act, every seemingly random kind deed, every gift given.

But He is also there in the dark stables of our lives, the cold corners where we feel unloved and unlovable, when there isn't space for us in the inn. The shepherds--the lowest of the low--knelt down and felt that love beside the manger. And they rejoiced, went forth, and shared it with others.

Love God and love your neighbor.

"Love one another as I have loved you."

Let's do it.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Gratitude Journal #165

Today, I am grateful for yesterday's rain.

Today, I am grateful for the first Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Hope, and a wonderful worship service.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas movies. We watched The Santa Clause last night. Cute!

Today, I am grateful for clean laundry.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Have you ever lost hope?

I have. For a time in my life, I lost hope. Life felt like a big black hole--a black hole in empty space--of pain. I lived, floating alone, in the event horizon of that black hole, being torn apart, atom by atom, as light disappeared into nothingness around me.

At least, that's how I imagined it in the depths of despair in my black hole in space.

When I look back now on that time, it feels like that event horizon happened to someone else. Was that really Susan? This Susan, sitting here typing words of hope for Advent? This Susan who occasionally finds herself giggling for no good reason other than inexplicable joy?

Well, yes. That Susan was this Susan.

The past tense is important.


How did I find hope? I wish I could tell you. Oh how I wish I had the words to reach other hearts floating in their own black holes to pull them out! But I know what that event horizon is like, and it's so hard to hear anything over the noise of its chaos. That's why the quiet of death seems so appealing to severely depressed people.

Hope came back for me, though. The weirdness of mental illness faded slowly for me over a period of several years until one day, I had a strange and beautiful conversation with another woman who had experienced her own event horizon of depression.

We both had felt, during the long process of recovery, a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting the depression to return and suck us in again. But we had, in some mysterious way, moved beyond that negative anticipation to a more positive one, one in which we simply expected every day to hold something good, something light, something wonderful.

We got our hope back. And it was good.

But how it happened? Neither of us had a clue. It's a mystery.

But new hope is like a fragile new plant. It doesn't pay to examine its roots too closely. If you keep pulling up the plant to check the roots, you'll kill the plant. You have to trust the roots.

You have to trust the roots.

Hope isn't about knowing or understanding, logic or reason. Hope is about trust...trusting that whatever happens, you'll be okay. You're covered. You're going to get through it. Trust takes time to develop. It builds over years of experience. I was in a horrible, rootless place and got out of it by letting my roots grow into good soil and trusting them. My personal journey of growth would have been impossible without hope and faith in God, faith that He was the one who had me covered, that He could take all that was ugly and painful and turn it to good, that He would get me through it, that He had gotten me through by using others around me to show me the way.

It took time, but I trusted Him and the roots grew and the plant bore fruit. That Susan became this Susan.

Because she found Hope.

Christmas is the season of hope. Wherever you are in your personal journey, I hope that you will trust your Hope. It doesn't take much to start those roots growing, but it can take time for the plant to bear fruit. Whether your hope is the size of a mustard seed or the size of a mountain, cling to it. It leads to good things!

The Apostle Paul teaches us about the fruits of the spirit. The first three fruits Paul lists in Galatians are love, joy, and peace, in that order. After the first Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday of Hope, come Love, Joy, and Peace. Through December, I'll write about each. It's my hope that you will find comfort, inspiration, encouragement from these posts. It is my hope that you will, indeed, have a Merry Christmas. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Words, Words, Words to Make You Laugh

Ellen DeGeneres makes me laugh. When she hosted the Oscars and asked Steven Spielberg to take a picture of her and then asked him to redo it because it wasn't good enough, I just about threw up I laughed so hard.

Okay, maybe I'm easily entertained, but I like Ellen.

So when I stumbled upon this clip from Ellen's show on Pinterest, I watched. And now Gladys is my new favorite comedian. It's almost seven minutes of your life, but you won't regret it.

A word of warning: please don't drink anything while you watch because I almost spit coffee on my laptop. Just sayin'.

I'm now trying to figure out how to work the funniest line into my conversations so I can be funny, too.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Things on Thursday: An Artist

My friend Liz sent me a print by artist Rachel Parker. I already posted Nick's sketch of the print, and as promised, here's the link to the print and to Rachel's shop on Etsy.

Golden Retriever Dog Art Print

Rachel Parker's Etsy Shop

I haven't spent nearly as much time on Etsy as I wish I could, so I thought it would be fun for you to share your favorite Etsy artists' names (and links, if you wish) in the comments. All of us might discover some new art!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gratitude Journal #164

Today, I am grateful to be an even number again. Forty-six years feels good.

Today, I am grateful for this sketch made by Nick.

A beautiful print of a a golden retriever was what lay hidden in the beautiful package my friend Liz gave me. (I'll share the artist's name and Etsy site later.) It's such a wonderful work that Nick felt inspired to sketch it. He asked if he could make more copies and sell them to his friends. I said no, that would be stealing the artist's work, which would be wrong on many levels. But I told him that he could sketch Daisy from life or photographs and sell those because they would be his original works. Doesn't it stink when your mom is a member of the Plagiarism Police?

Today, I am grateful for the fun we had with George's sister Angela and her husband Mike. They made our Thanksgiving wonderful. Daisy has a new favorite person in Mike. As we were sitting in the library talking, she walked in and viciously attacked him for reasons only her furry little brain can know.


Yeah, vicious, isn't she? Daisy attacks involve lightning-strike kisses, head butting, and lots of wiggly, waggly fur, and they generally leave people with smiles on their faces. Only a Grinch or Scrooge wouldn't love a Daisy attack. As you can see, my brother-in-law is neither.

Today, I am grateful for peace. It's always a possibility, always there, waiting for us as individuals and collectively. We just have to embrace it, hold it, trust it. I'm learning it in the simple act of decorating for Christmas. No mad rush to "get it done" for me this year.

Slow and steady.

Careful and thoughtful.

Prayerful and patient.

That is the state of mind for peace.

I am grateful for peace.

What are you grateful for today? How can you find your own peace this holiday season? What is your path to peace?

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Happy Thanksgiving.

Gratitude has been my word for 2012, and today is the day that my entire country embraces the concept of gratitude in celebration of abundant food and family and friends and blessings.

Lord, thank you for the gifts we have received.

I woke early this morning and reveled in the silence and dark. Today is my birthday, and my first thought on waking was what a great year 45 had been, for an odd-numbered year, and how grateful I am to turn even again: 46.

Grateful to be getting older.

Older, but not wiser. Yesterday was not one of my finer days. Patience was in short supply. I yelled a bit. Snapped when it wasn't necessary. But when I showered yesterday afternoon, I let the water wash all the snippiness and frustration down the drain while I prayed a prayer of gratitude, gratitude for grace and mercy and forgiveness and cleansing water.

We need prayers of gratitude every single day, not just one day--no matter how special--a year.

In today's early-morning dark, I opened two gifts I received. The first, socks from my sister. Not just any socks, mind you, but fleece socks in a fun Nordic design. I opened them and put them on immediately. They fit perfectly, and since I am a dork who wears fleece socks and Birkenstocks all winter long, I giggled with glee as I wiggled my toes and slipped them into my 17-year-old Birks that are now my house shoes.

I am grateful for cozy toes.

The second box I opened was from my friend Liz. Out of the box came this gift.

I don't want to open it. The wrapping is simply too beautiful. Liz is that kind of person, the kind who does even gift wrapping with so much care and love that you know you'll salvage the pieces and be inspired to recycle them into something else beautiful.

I opened Liz's card, instead, and found a Thanksgiving card rather than a birthday card. Liz isn't my only friend to turn my birthday into Thanksgiving this year, and you have no idea how that gratifies my heart. Happy Birthday is a wonderful sentiment, warm and cheerful and full of love, but I am grateful for you...well, that is perfect.

Just perfect.

The quiet ends as other people wake and the sun peeks through the trees behind our house. But I want to pass on the gift to you before the day gets busy.

I am grateful for you. So very, very grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Heaven on a Plate

Since Nick and I have birthdays so close together, we decided to have one cake. A cheesecake. A cheesecake made with love by George. The best cheesecake I have ever put into my mouth.

Heaven on a Plate

If you would like the recipe, follow this link. The recipe is from Cook's Illustrated magazine. You'll have to sign up for a trial membership of the website or already be a member to view it, though.

It's worth it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gratitude Journal #163

Today, I am grateful for last week's Thanksgiving feast at Jack's school. Having attended school-sponsored Thanksgiving feasts before, my expectations were low (turkey loaf, anyone?) but Mrs. Kneeland's class put down a delicious spread with all the traditional dishes (including a real, juicy turkey and Jack's Famous Mac and Cheese) that knocked my culinary socks off. It was fabulous.

Today, I am grateful for the fourth-grade Christmas concert (even if it happened before Thanksgiving) and seeing the joy on Jack's face as he sang. I'm also grateful that he has taken to singing in the shower, which is totally characteristic of his sunny disposition.

Today, I am grateful to have a teenager in the house. A little scared, too, but grateful that my firstborn is growing into a fine young man. I am grateful that he chose to celebrated his birthday with a family dinner at PF Chang's and a day at the Columbus Zoo.

Today, I am grateful for my own Thanksgiving birthday and the fact I'll be turning an even number this year. I'm also grateful that I'll be celebrating with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. What a special treat!

Today, I am grateful for the week of the year most filled with gratitude in our fair country. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Please make it a special day of gratitude, and then carry that grateful heart with you throughout the coming year. God's grace and peace be with you.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Words, Words, Words for Us All

Given all the revelations of wrong-doing by public figures and secret service agents and CIA directors in the past few years, I think this particular Chinese proverb might have some good words of advice for anyone in public service...or, in fact, for anyone who is merely breathing in and out on a regular basis.

Can I hear an Amen?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Things on Thursday: Hell

My apologies to anyone who is offended by today's post. It's, well, vulgar and rude but oh so funny--at least to me in my current rather punchy mood--and probably not suitable for the workplace. You have been warned.

I've been thinking about hell lately. Not the afterlife Hell, immortalized in Dante's delightful Inferno, which is inhabited by sinners and consists of 12 levels of eternal torture, a frozen lake, and Satan with Judas in his mouth.

No, I've been thinking about rather more amusing, lower-case hell that is unique and relative to each and every one of us right here in this life.

There's an old military joke that (loosely paraphrased by me) goes something like this.

An Army soldier in a foxhole says, "This sucks."

An Army Ranger in a foxhole in the rain says, "This sucks. I love it."

A Special Ops soldier in a foxhole in the rain with lightning striking all around laughs and says, "I want it to suck MORE!"

An Air Force aviator in a hotel room, futilely pushing buttons on a broken television remote, says, "This really sucks!"

This joke is funny because it's true.

We all have a different definition of hell on earth. Some of us deal with hells that make Dante's look like it was written by Dr. Seuss. Serious physical or mental illness, tragic losses, war, famine, accidents, natural disasters...these real-life hells might make us wish we were in Dante's Hell instead. Swirling around in a tornado or floating in the River Phlegethon with murderers might seem a walk in the park by comparison.

Others of us are truly fortunate enough to deal with hells that are, quite frankly, funny. We might act like they are hellish situations, but, truth be told, we're just whiny spoiled brats.

Those are the hells I've been thinking about. The funny ones exaggerated by hyperbole that help us keep things in perspective.

Years ago, when Jack was three years old, we were going to the mall on an extremely windy day. The rest of the family had been watching Harry Potter movies, but I didn't think Jack had paid that much attention to them. When I opened the car door to transfer Jack from his car seat to the stroller, he proved just how much he had absorbed when a blast of cold air hit his face, and he said, in perfect imitation of Ron Weasley:

"Bloody hell!"

I did what every mother in the whole wide world would do at a teachable moment like that.

I laughed.

Like Carol Burnett.


And when I stopped laughing, I tried to convince him "we don't say that." But it was too late.

When Nick had the worst day of his life (I think he was nine years old), it was because he had to get a haircut. Worst. Day. Of. His. Life. He was in aitch-eee-double-toothpicks, I tell ya.

Have you ever watched the television show Dirty Jobs? Mike Rowe, the show's host, tackles the worst, dirtiest, nastiest, smelliest jobs that keep the rest of us comfortable, sanitary, and fed. On one show, he visited a farm (pigs or turkeys, take your pick as I can't remember), and as he and the owner walked into a building full of smelly animals, Mike exclaimed, "Oh, what fresh hell is this?"

The kids and I can relate. No fewer than four skunks have recently committed suicide on our route to school. Morning and afternoon, Jack, who is particularly sensitive to smells, complains that the skunks should be hibernating, not getting run over and ruining his day.

Blustery days and hair cuts, stinky animals and broken remotes. If only life never got any more hellish than that, it would be perfect.

But my ulterior motive for all of this talk about hell is merely to set up the funniest thing I've seen on Pinterest in weeks. You might say it's the best funny hell ever.

Scroll down...



wait for it...






Yep. Dante can keep his Inferno. I want one of these. It would make that "special" time of the month so much funnier, don't you think? It's certainly better than the Always "Have a Happy Period" campaign that turns menstruating women into justifiably homicidal maniacs.

Happy period my patootie.

I'd like to see the Special Ops dude deal with this particular hell. Tell me, girls, don't you think he'd be whining then?

Oh, bloody hell, YES!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gratitude Journal #162

Today, I am grateful for my comfortable home and am reminded that some people don't have homes at all.

Today, I am grateful for hot food and cold, clean water, and am reminded that some people don't have either.

Today, I am grateful for the veterans who have served my country. Some died in that service, some are elderly and walk around in baseball caps marking their service, and some are 18 years old and in harm's way as I type. I am grateful for their service. Boundlessly grateful. I am reminded that some people don't have others willing to die for their freedom.

Today, I am grateful for laughter and joy and love, and I am reminded that some people live without them.

Today, I am grateful to be able to do something to help some people.

What are you grateful for today? How can you turn that gratitude into action?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Democracy

"Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country." Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Have a wonderfully powerful weekend doing what you want (as long as it doesn't hurt someone else), going where you want without showing papers to get there, saying what you want, worshiping how and if you want, and ruling this land peacefully with liberty and justice for all.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012


When I was a child, my teachers taught me the glorious and grand history of democracy and how lucky I was to live in a country that gave me a voice (or would give me a voice when I was old enough). They taught me about government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Those teachers never once warned me of the hellish nightmare of living in a swing state: the incessant explosions of ringing phones delivering poisonous recorded messages, the bullet-like constant barrage of nasty television advertisements, the wreckage of campaign signs littering the side of the road.

Last night, George received a phone call that almost made me change my vote. It was so nasty and ugly and inflammatory that my blood pressure is still up this morning. I want to find the man who spoke to my husband and dope-slap him on the back of the head and make him read relevant passages of Emily Post out loud repeatedly until he will never again use language like that on the phone. Then, I'd like to find the candidates on whose behalf he spoke and line them up in chairs and wag my finger in their faces for an hour.

Then, perhaps, I'll feel better. Perhaps.

This figurative war zone of Ohio (and similar zones in Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin) finds peace at 7:30 this evening. Whatever the outcome, we, the people of Ohio, will no longer be under attack by politicians trying to wrestle our vote from us.


Throughout this ridiculous war, which has gone on far too long and cost far too much, I've thought about a woman I know who has never voted. She lives right here in Ohio and has lived here all her life. She was born here. She is a citizen of the United States of America.

And she has never voted, says she never will vote. It's pointless, she thinks. Her vote is just one, and meaningless. Besides, all the politicians are power-hungry, blood-sucking parasites and she sees no point in voting for any of them.

She has never voted, people, and she can. It's her right. Her responsibility. Her honor and privilege.

But she won't exercise her right. She won't.

My reaction to her attitude is as visceral as my reaction to that phone call last night. How can she abdicate her responsibility so carelessly? How can she disregard the lives given in the establishment and defense of this country's democracy and freedom? How can she take that blood shed on her behalf for granted? How can she walk away from the most amazing political system in the world, a system others are currently dying--quite literally dying--to enjoy?

I don't get it.

No human institution is perfect. Democracy isn't perfect. The United States government isn't perfect. The education system isn't perfect, nor is the health care system, immigration, the tax code, trade, the military, foreign policy, the court system, and so on. These systems never will be perfect, but the knowledge that every single one of those elected officials owes us for his or her power means something. It means something huge. It means the difference between blood-sucking parasites who annoy us and all-powerful dictators who turn us into mindless, voiceless victims.

My elementary school teachers were right: democracy is the best gig going, has been the best gig since Athens got it all started two-and-a-half thousand years ago. Consider the alternatives. Care to move to North Korea? The chaos of Syria? Vladimir Putin's Russia or any of the other countries that pay nominal homage to democracy yet are so rife with corruption and abuse that people can't speak or vote their conscience or even complain without risking their lives?

As annoying as our swing-state war zone is, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

If you are a citizen of the United States, Get. Out. And. Vote.

Please. I promise you. It means something. Something huge.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gratitude Journal #161

Today, I am grateful for George's photography skills.

These pictures are from a few weeks ago. The world looks much different now, with bare-naked trees. These pictures help me remember all the beautiful color that passes so fleetingly from our Ohio landscape.

Today, I am grateful for survival, for safety in times of trouble, for emergency crews and utilities workers who are still helping the victims of Sandy. I heard earlier today that 115 people have died, and while my heart aches for all their loved ones and friends, I am so very grateful that the number is so small a percentage of the total number of people who have been affected. When we think back on other disasters...Katrina, the tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia, the earthquakes in Haiti and very fortunate so many people are safe. There's still a long way to go to get them all warm and in their own homes, but the work is begun.

Today, I am grateful for November, for its birthdays and its holidays of Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, for the hunkering down before winter hits, for burning leaves and hot apple cider.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Real Winners


Have you ever taken an unfortunate situation and expected to make it work or make it better? How did you do that?

*I forgot to pin this! If you have pinned it, please post the link in the comments.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Our community had Beggar's Night last night, in nasty, cold, rainy weather. Tonight is more of the same weather, courtesy of Sandy, but no one is ringing our bell.

Peace, warmth, and safety be with all tonight.

And now for a Halloween giggle. Mom, this one is for you.


Paint that happy tree, Bob!

My best Halloween costume ever: I went to a costume party as a Black-Eyed Susan.

What was your best Halloween costume?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Gratitude Journal #160

Today, I am grateful for the left-over ribeye that we'll be eating on salads tonight.

Today, I am grateful for the hands that prepared the ribeye in the first place.

Today, I am grateful for the joy that comes from learning new ways to help others in their pain.

Today, I am grateful for the emergency response workers, energy crews, police, and charities that will respond in the coming days to the Frankenstorm.

Today, I am grateful for traveling mercies for a friend.

Today, I am grateful for breathing, in and out, in and out, in and out.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I remember in my youth learning that the Amish deliberately put an imperfection in every quilt to keep from the sin of pride. Only God is perfect, they reason, and we should always be aware of our fallen state, our flaws and imperfections, and be humble before the Creator.

This story about Amish quilts is probably a myth, but like many myths, the lesson it imparts is important and true. We are not perfect, cannot be perfect no matter how hard we try. In fact, the race for perfection doesn't end at a victorious finish line but in a wallowing mess of despair and perceived failure somewhere along the way.

I know this for a fact.

I ran that pointless race for years, and still occasionally find myself unexpectedly wearing my running shoes for no good reason, hand pressing on a side cramp, lungs gasping for air, wondering, "What happened? What brought me to this point. What brings me to this point again? And again? And again?"

These days it's mostly little things. Seeing the mess on my desk and thinking, "You're such a slob. How did it get this bad?" Looking at last night's dishes still waiting to be washed and thinking, "Loser. You should have washed these last night. You're lazy." Finding a to-do list from last week and realizing I still haven't done three-quarters of the items on it. Getting back from the grocery store and realizing I forgot the sourdough bread. Walking past a furry dust bunny on the hardwood floors for the tenth time and thinking no one else in the world walks past dust bunnies that big without doing something...and I'm doing nothing for the tenth time.

You're lazy, Susan.

You're forgetful, Susan.

You're a mess, Susan.

You're a failure, Susan.

I want people to drop by my house and see how together I am, how on top of things, how competent, how tidy. In my pride, I cringe at the thought of someone entering my house in its current state and seeing the truth. I'm not together, or on top of things, or competent, or tidy.

I'm a mess, and so is my house.

About ten years ago, when I was a newly hatched stay-at-home mom of two and wondering why I couldn't keep my house clean, a guest on Oprah commented that women often seek to control their environments at times when their emotional lives are wildly out of control. Then, when their emotional lives calm down, the habit of controlling the environment continues, but instead of being therapeutic, it becomes a perfectionist burden.

During my teens, my emotional life was wildly out of my control, and my bedroom was neat as a pin. That's when the habit formed. I couldn't make my dad love me the way I needed him to love me, I couldn't make perfect grades, I couldn't feel pretty enough or popular enough or smart enough, but by golly, I could keep control and order in that eleven-foot square bedroom.

That episode of Oprah changed my thinking, even if it didn't change my feelings. I realized that the emotional chaos of my teens was gone, over, done with. I realized that controlling a bedroom in which only I lived was not the same as controlling a 2,400-square-foot house with four toilets, three floors, and a 0.7-acre lot all while living with a husband who's visual (things must be out in plain sight), two little-boy whirlwinds of chaos, and a big, furry dog.

I knew I wasn't going to win that race for perfection.


Each house since has been a little bigger than the one before, holds even more stuff, has more windows to wash and floors to sweep and vacuum. That race seems even more pointless today than it was ten years ago.

But knowing you're not going to win and accepting it are two different things. Thus, the surprise of side cramps again and again and again.

Enter Ann Voskamp with an answer. What she has to say isn't new. It's all over the Bible I've been studying so deeply for so long. God's been telling His people this for millenia, primarily through the words of St. Paul. But Ann reminded me of it and systematized it in a way that my mildly obsessive personality can understand...and feel.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In other words, take off your running shoes of perfection and pride, and put on your sunglasses of humility because your blessings are as bright as the sun.

Gratitude is the antidote to perfectionism. When you look at the world through a heart striving for perfection, you'll always fail. When you look at the world with a heart full of gratitude, you'll feel joy. I'm grateful for my new, big house, for my furry dog who's scratching the wood floors and shedding on everything, for my husband who goes to work and cooks great meals and loves me flaws and all, for my children who need to be asked to do just one thing at a time (sometimes repeatedly) to get their chores finished. I'm grateful our lives are so full that messes happen. I'm grateful we have an abundance of food, clothing, and shelter.

We want for nothing. We are blessed with mess.

I am blessed with mess.

I am blessed with mess.

My new mantra.

But just as I do, Ann backslides. She needs her husband to ask "You just fallen sick with perfectionism again?" She needs to be reminded that, as she puts it, "[T]he state of my space doesn't reflect the state of my soul." She's like an addict who never loses that potential to fall off the wagon, who daily must face that perfectionist demon in the mirror, whose habit of controlling her environment isn't therapeutic, who's running a race that she can't win. She can't ever even finish it.

Hello, my name is Susan, and I'm a perfectionist. It's been twelve hours since I last unconsciously strapped on my running shoes. It's been eleven hours, fifty-nine minutes since I very consciously took them off and put on my sunglasses of gratitude.

Go, me!

How are you dealing with perfectionism in your life? Are you trying to be a perfect parent or spouse? A perfect house-keeper? A perfect professional? A perfect hobbyist? A perfect chef? How can you reframe your perfectionist outlook with an attitude of gratitude? What's your mantra?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Random Pampering and Entertainment

1. I had a massage this month...a full-body massage. Every time I have one, I swear that I will treat myself regularly to them because they are soooo wonderful. But a lady in church had to give me a coupon for a free massage to get me on the table. It's been six years since my last one. Six years. That's not regular. That's constipated.

I'm sorry to use that metaphor.

Anyway, it reminds me that I need to take care of myself, just like this post says, and not wait for nice ladies at church to take care of me.

2. At the library last weekend, I checked out The Big Year, a movie about birders competing to see who can see the most birds in a single year. As someone whose personality is prone to obsessive-compulsive behavior that baffles the people around me, I totally related to Steve Martin's and Jack Black's characters, but I sure hope I'm never like Owen Wilson's character, who is a powerful lesson in setting priorities. If you've not seen the movie, I highly recommend it. George is reading the book upon which the movie is based. I look forward to stealing his Nook when he's finished.

3. Speaking of Nooks, I've been reading a lot lately. Here's a quick look at what's on my Nook:

a. Two books of historical fiction by Elizabeth Chadwick about William Marshal, a 12th-century knight who epitomized chivalry and honor. The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion are both really good reads.

b. Fiona Buckley's Queen of Ambition let me down. I had started this series about a woman sleuth who serves Queen Elizabeth I years ago and remembered enjoying it. This is a newer novel, but the writing and plot seemed off to me. The newest book in the series is still priced high, and I'm trying to decide whether to read it or not when the price comes down.

c. Jasper Fforde makes me laugh with every book he publishes. He came out with a new Thursday Next book called The Woman Who Died a Lot. Oh, yeah. Thursday never gets old. If you're new to these books, let me say that they are completely funny, satiric, ironic, and deeply imbedded with enough literary references to make my English-major heart go pitter patter. I can't even begin to explain these books, but if you read a few chapters of The Eyre Affair, you'll get the idea and either love it or hate it. Don't go to Fforde's website, though. It'll just confuse you.

d. Fforde also started a series for young adult readers with a book called The Last Dragonslayer. Far less convoluted and complicated than the Thursday Next books, The Last Dragonslayer is delightful young adult fiction.

e. Speaking of young adult fiction, I got hooked on the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan before the abomination of a movie came out. (Well, the movie isn't really an abomination, but it largely disregards the books, which are infinitely better, so it feels like an abomination.) His latest, The Mark of Athena, was a wonderful new addition to the series. If you loved the Harry Potter books, you'll find a lot to appreciate in the Percy Jackson books. They aren't quite as good as Harry Potter, but they are worth reading, especially if you've ever had a fascination with Greek mythology.

f. Winter Heart is a novella by Margaret Frazer, who writes a mystery series set in the 15th century that centers on Dame Frevisse, a nun. Frazer captures the period beautifully and the mysteries are always good. Winter Heart left me wanting more than just a novella.

g. The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom meets expectations in the genre of Manipulative Emotional Parable. MEPs suit my mood at times, and I was definitely in the right mood for this short novel. The Time Keeper gives a wonderful message of the importance of not being a slave to time...a timely message for these over-scheduled times.

h. Laura Child's Skeleton Letters disappointed me. I've read this series about a scrapbook-store-owner who ends up sleuthing in New Orleans for years now, and generally appreciate these books for what they are...light and fluffy mind candy. But in this case, Childs seemed to simply go through the motions of plot and character.

i. All Roads Lead to Austen is a nonfiction work by literature professor Amy Elizabeth Smith who used her sabbatical year to travel in Central and South America setting up reading groups for Jane Austen. She wanted to see how Austen translated in the Latin American world. If you're an Austen fan, you'll probably enjoy her adventures.

j. Anne Perry's latest Inspector Monk book is called A Sunless Sea. Loved it, but ended it feeling very worried about Oliver Rathbone. Darn that Anne Perry.

k. A Burial at Sea by Charles Finch is another Victorian mystery, and I actually stayed up until about 2:00 AM to finish it.  Finch just keeps getting better and better.

And now I must admit that this wasn't a "quick look at what's on my Nook." You'll notice it's heavy on historical mystery series, which are fun for me. And I've escaped into reading the past few months as I've been not feeling top form.

What fun books have you read lately? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Operation Christmas Child

Many of you already know I deeply dislike the loss of Thanksgiving in the mad commercial rush from Halloween to Christmas, but one Christmas tradition that simply must be addressed before Thanksgiving is Operation Christmas Child.*

Operation Christmas Child is a great way to teach your children about how blessed they are and how they can be a joyful blessing to a child in another country. It can be so hard for kids to understand what it means to "share God's love" with others, but they totally understand the love of opening a box full of toys. When they can give that love to someone they don't know, someone living in poverty half a world away, sharing God's love becomes tangible for them.

This afternoon, I shared the video link on this page with my boys before we went shopping to fill their shoe boxes. Nick initially planned to buy for a 10-to-14-year-old boy, but decided to go younger when he found an adorably soft stuffed dog that we can barely squeeze into the box. Jack had a hard time understanding that a DVD wouldn't be appropriate (he does love his movies!), but he decided on matchbox cars, play-do, bouncy balls, colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, a pad of paper, and lots of candy.

And yes, we ALWAYS include a toothbrush and toothpaste in our boxes. My momma was a dental hygienist, after all.

During the holidays, I'm sure that like us, you have lots of opportunities to provide needed toys, coats, shoes, and other supplies for children in your local area. Operation Christmas Child, however, has to have the boxes early to get them where they need to be. National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child is November 12-19, so there's still plenty of time for you to participate. If your church isn't participating, you can find the nearest drop-off location HERE.

It's so tempting to think that you can't really make a difference. After all, the world is full of war and famine and poverty. One shoe box of toys isn't going save a life or end war or world hunger, nor will giving a coat to a child in our community take him out of poverty or ensure he has a hot dinner every night.

But if we all give a little, the difference we can make is enormous.

Mother Teresa said, "We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love." Jump into the holiday season by doing a small thing with great love...either through Samaritan's Purse, your church, a secular organization, or your local food pantry.

Show great love in small things, and you show God's love.

*For those of you not comfortable giving to explicitly religious organizations but who want to find a cool giving opportunity for the holidays or year-round, I highly recommend Heifer International. Though Heifer was founded on Christian principles, it evolved into a non-religious organization committed to ending hunger world-wide. I just love the good work they do!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gratitude Journal #159

Today I am grateful for this boy.

And these boys.

Today, I am grateful for apple fritters and coffee and dark mornings and robes and fleece socks and fireplaces, for hot food and happy smiles, for holy days and prayer-filled nights, for love and kindness and friendship.

Today, I am grateful for chocolates from friends.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Words, Words, Words about What

Well, I've been a chatty Kathy lately, eh? Trust me. I'm not going away, just regrouping and trying to get well. But for this week's Words, Words, Words, let's contemplate a question that, according to the Internet, Benjamin Franklin began each day asking himself.


How would the world change if we all answered this question positively each and every day? How would our individual lives change?

Words to think about.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gratitude Journal #158

Today, I am grateful for rainbows...full arches of color over a cloudy backdrop in violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. A rainbow arching over autumnal trees...amazing.

Today, I am grateful for people who can share their sorrows. Thoreau said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. That's a choice. When people can share their sorrow, when there is someone there to listen, sorrows lessen.

Today, I am grateful for mammograms. I'm having mine today. Have you scheduled yours as needed?

Today, I am grateful for rest.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Survival

Years before I had children, I had a neighbor with a very precocious four-year-old daughter who kept her on her toes. She needed a break, so we took her daughter to daycare and I drove her two hours away to the big city ( was big relative to the tiny town we lived in!), and we spent the day shopping, seeing a movie, and generally acting like teenage girls at the mall.

What struck me was the contrast between this woman's attitude in the morning and in the afternoon. She was so negative on the drive to Saginaw, all complaints about her daughter, motherhood, wifedom, the military. After treating herself to a day of fun and no worries or responsibility, all she could talk about on the way home was how excited she was to see her daughter, to make sure the dress she bought her fit, to hug her and hear about her day with the other children.

Spending some time caring for herself meant she was better able to care for her daughter. Isn't that true for all of us? If we take care of ourselves, we can take care of others so much better. That's why the airlines tell us to put our own oxygen masks on before helping our children. Each and every day, we need to take care of ourselves. It's a matter of survival.

Are you good at surviving and thriving, or do you avoid caring for yourself by always putting others first? What can you do this weekend to refresh yourself, care for yourself?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


When George and I decided to have children, we'd already been married for 12 years. In that time, I'd had ample opportunity to do practical research on the subject of childbirth and parenthood through observing and gathering data on lots of other people's experiences.

The only reasonable conclusion I could draw from that research was that my experience would NOT be like anyone else's experience. In fact, everyone's experience of childbirth and parenting seemed so unique and unpredictable that entering this particular aspect of life with a detailed plan seemed the height of silliness.

There's a saying in the United States Air Force: "Flexibility is the key to air power." You just never know what's going to happen when you fly, fight, and win, so you need to be prepared for anything. I liked that saying from the first time I heard it. Flexibility can, indeed, be a wonderful path to success in life, whether you define success as bombs on target or more generally as a happy, useful life.

I decided that flexibility was the key to happy pregnancy and delivery. The more I knew about all the different possibilities of what might happen, the better prepared I would be when something did happen. Preparing myself involved a lot of prenatal classes, birthing books, and conversations with friends and family.

Expectation is the mother of disappointment, so as I studied what might happen, I tried really hard not to develop any expections of what I wanted to happen. My plan, if you could call it that, was to go with the flow, keep myself as comfortable as possible (no brave "natural" childbirth for me!), and be happy with the end result...a baby in my arms.

When the time came to take my large, hard belly to the hospital so it could become a large, soft belly, however, I discovered I had in fact unconsciously acquired two expectations that were not met.

First, it was daylight. Nick was born with late afternoon sunshine pouring through the window. It was so weird. I had unconsciously expected to deliver at night. I was vaguely disappointed, which is silly, but there you have it.

Second, as soon as the doctor said he had to use forceps, I expected poor Nick would be bruised and battered. He was not. He was unbruised and undented. Perfect.

I wasn't disappointed by that at all, but I did learn that no matter how hard we try to avoid making assumptions about the future, no matter how steadfastly we resolve to have no expectations, we will fail.

That tiny little newborn quickly grew into a chubby-cheeked, roly-poly baby who sat on my lap where I could hold him upright. He blew spit bubbles and laughed and generally acted like he owned the world. An elderly gentleman observed him and said, "He looks like a political boss, fat and happy. Wouldn't that be great if he went into politics? What do you want him to be when he grows up?"

And there it was. What expectations do I have for my six-month-old when he is grown?

I hate this question. George and I just want to raise children who are happy, contributing citizens of society. George knew he wanted to fly in service to his country when he was very young, although he also wanted to be a trauma surgeon and architect. I wanted to be a marine biologist, school teacher, veterinarian, astronomer, chemist, doctor, and/or English professor. The closest I've come to any of those earlier goals is college English instructor, but the career path for mommy/blogger/papercrafter/volunteer/Stephen Minister wasn't on the list of majors at Duke University. 

What did our parents want for us? George's parents and my mother wanted their children to be happy, contributing members of society. My dad, on the other hand, wanted a whole lot more than "happy, contributing member of society." His expectations overwhelmed me and contributed to a severe depression in my teens, a time when I felt like a failure because I couldn't live up to his expectations.

I never, ever, EVER want my children to feel the weight of that sort of expectation. So when the elderly gentleman asked me what I wanted Nick to be when he grew up, I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and told a joke. 

"George and I just hope he's not a felon."

The gentleman was not amused and rather archly replied, "We have higher aspirations for our grand-daughter."

Seriously? Do we have to burden babies with "higher aspirations"? Do we need to start planning their political careers before they can even say super-PAC? Can't we just enjoy them and encourage them at each and every stage of growth until they figure out their futures for themselves? Are we going to be disappointed if they only become a general practitioner rather than a brain surgeon? What if they want to be an auto mechanic like my grandfather or a plumber like George's grandfather?

Oh, the horror!

God put each of us here for a purpose, and who are we parents to presume to know the mind of God?

I've noticed that most people who figure life out for themselves generally turn out pretty well. People burdened with unhealthy parental expectations are damaged, sometimes beyond repair. We lucky ones get the love and support we need to find ourselves eventually, but I know several people who have lived lives of quiet desperation in attempts to make their parents happy. They fail. Repeatedly.

Nick is now almost 13 years old, and I have no idea what he will be when he grows up. He says he wants to join the Army but is worried about the possibility of dying in the line of duty. He also talks about making video games or movies or maybe both. At one point, he wanted to be a stay-at-home dad, but then George listed all the stuff I do, and Nick decided that didn't sound like much fun. He hates school and pretty much everything to do with school...going to class, reading, math, reading, sitting and listening, reading, reading, reading. 

George reminded me recently that before we had children, I made a comment about not being able to imagine having a child who didn't love reading, yet here I am, the mother of a child who hates reading.

How silly of me to expect my child who likes to read!

I do, however, expect Nick will figure his future out for himself, just like George and I did. We will stand back, encourage him, and cheer him on.

If he goes into politics, we might even vote for him. But only as long as he doesn't blow spit bubbles and topple over in public and generally act as if he owns the world.

I expect we already have enough of those sorts of politicians.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gratitude Journal #157

Today, I am grateful for gatherings of friends around fires on crisp autumn evenings, for conversation and food and wine and roasted marshmallows.

Today, I am grateful for clean wood floors, a clean golden retriever, and clean kitchen cabinets.

Today, I am grateful for Daisy, who works the crowd, finds the person who least likes dogs, and tries to fill the hole in his heart by pouring unconditional, enthusiastic love and fur onto him.

Today, I am grateful for rest and a holiday with George while the boys are in school. A year ago on Columbus Day, George just had to show me a model home he loved and put us on the road to buying our new home. I'm grateful all that chaos is mostly over, grass is growing, some pictures are hanging on the walls, and I at least have plans for curtains.

One year.

So much has happened!

Today, we're going to hang out at Barnes and Noble...much less opportunity for life-changing upheavals and much more relaxing! I'm grateful for that.

Today, I am grateful for boys growing into men before my eyes, for sweet glasses of cold water prepared by my youngest just for me, and for my eldest, who is stepping up to the plate of responsibility.

Today, I am grateful for chrysanthemums and pumpkins and falling leaves.

What are you grateful for today?