Friday, May 31, 2013

Words, Words, Words about Support

When I found this on Pinterest, I immediately pinned it. It reminds me that expressing my distaste or disdain for certain things could be construed as judgment on others who like those things.


George and I are very different people. He's into triathlon, which sounds rather good for you until you start talking about distances. The Ironman race is pretty insane from most people's perspective (140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running in under 17 hours). It doesn't make sense to me, but at no point have I stood in George's way or discouraged him from pursuing Ironman glory.

In fact, I carry his bike pump on race day and am proud to retrieve his tired bones from either the medical tent or the finish line. I encourage him to train when he feels guilty for the time it takes, save money for him to buy new equipment, and listen to his debates over which wheel set or running shoe to buy.

Triathlon makes him happy. Very happy. It's his thing. It doesn't have to make sense to me. It makes sense to him. And that is enough. I certainly have my share of unusual interests that are harmful to nobody, although I usually spare George the long debates over whether or not I should buy a die cut machine and the excruciating details of why I hate the novel Pope Joan. His eyes glaze over. It's enough to know that he will support my decisions no matter what, if only because he really wants a new wet suit next year.

It takes courage and enthusiasm to stick to interests outside the norm...courage and enthusiasm that should be celebrated. I love this quotation from Simon Pegg, who plays a pitch-perfect Mr. Scott in the two most recent Star Trek movies.


It also takes courage to allow others the freedom to express their inner geek, whatever the source of their geekiness.

What interests do you have that have been mocked or ridiculed by loved ones? How did you deal with it? Have you ever given up something because you felt silly or because someone else didn't like you doing it? Do you have the courage and enthusiasm to do what makes you happy and celebrate your inner geek? Who supports you in your interests? How can you be supportive of others?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

End Times

Today is an end time. The 2012-2013 school year ends in our district. I no longer have 4th and 7th graders. I have 5th and 8th graders.

This summer, George needs to teach the 8th grader to shave. That's a beginning time.

People dislike change in general, but end times and beginning times happen all the time. Things stop. Other things start. When I read the final period on the Harry Potter series, I felt a sense of loss. It took weeks to settle on new reading material. This often happens to me. How can I move on when I'm still imaginatively inhabiting a book that is over? But there's always another book to read, to breathe in, to inhabit. I'll find a new one...and pretty quickly, too.

We just don't want things to end. A lot of moms lament the natural aging process of their children. They want their babies to stay babies, their toddlers to stay toddlers, their preschoolers to stay preschoolers, their grade-schoolers to stay grade-schoolers.

But no one in their right mind wants their teenagers to stay teenagers. Nature helps us out by that point, don't you think? 

I loved school and everything about it (even homework because I was weird), but I loved the end of school, too. Summer break, is, after all, the kid equivalent of a Hawaiian vacation. Plus, I got grades for the year, the measure of my performance and proof positive that I was smart enough.

Smart enough for what? That's a question I never really asked.

Right now, I'm smart enough to know that in three months I will celebrate the end time of summer and beginning time of another school year with an enthusiasm that will likely reduce me to tears of joy and relief when I sip my morning coffee in a quiet house after three months of nonstop noise.

But today's end time/beginning time is pretty joyful, too. Well, except for the pink eye, but we can't have everything we want, can we? For almost three months, I don't have to drive Jack to and from school. I don't have to pack lunches for three people every night...just for one. I don't have to check homework. I don't have to remember a whacky volunteer schedule.

Instead, my boys and I will putter. The boys will both have some summer work to do to earn their screen time, and I'll have to stay on them to get the work done before the play. We'll go to the library and museums and pools and playgrounds and movies. We'll take the dog for walks, bake cookies, and eat ice cream. We'll go on a serious road trip in July. We'll watch birds at the feeder and fireflies lighting up the night. We'll hang out with friends and shop for school and in August we'll wonder where our summer went.

It'll be the end times again. Or beginning times, depending on your glass-half-full/empty orientation. And they will be good times.

Are you looking forward to summer? How do you cope with ends and beginnings? Do you resist or relent?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Gratitude Journal #189

Today, I am grateful to all who have given their all in service to the United States of America. This Memorial Day, please remember those who have died in service. Our family particularly remembers George's great uncle George Paloranta, who died fighting in the Philippines in World War II. Also, please remember that while we often count war dead, every year a number of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines die in training accidents. What these men and women do is not only dangerous during's dangerous in training. Paratroopers chutes don't open, guns misfire, planes crash. Let us remember all who made the ultimate sacrifice for our flag.

Today, I am grateful for freedom, for faith, and for family that honors service.

Today, I am grateful for friends who are kind.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I've Got a Dream...

Did you see the movie Tangled? If not, please go watch this video of its song "I've Got a Dream" and come back.

And now you're back. Cute, eh?

Everyone's got a dream, sometimes even several dreams at once. We might even have contradictory dreams. For example, my in-laws dreamed of living in the desert, and they dreamed of a dust-free and tumbleweed-free life. They got the beautiful Colorado desert, dust, and tumbleweeds. I dreamed of living in a perfectly clean house, and I dreamed of having a husband, children, and a furry dog. I got wonderful husband, children, a furry dog, and more mess than I know what to do with.

Alas, not all our dreams come true.

Our dreams tend to change over time, and once we fulfill a dream or determine that a dream isn't do-able or our dream gets crushed by life in some tragic way, we need to replace it with another dream.

Sometimes, our dreams are, as the song says, grotesquely optimistic, and at other times, our dreams are incredibly low-achieving. Right now, I dream to be free of whatever virus has taken over my upper respiratory system. All I have to do is let my immune system do its thing and try to be patient, and that dream will come true.

Whenever you share your dreams with others, you're bound to get a response. Frequently, it's not a response you want. For instance, people avoid me because they don't want to get this crud themselves. I don't want to be Typhoid Mary, but here I am, world. Walk away. Walk away quickly!

People have also denied there's any reason for my dream because, according to them, I'm not sick at all. Jack asked me to cut up some watermelon for him a few days ago, and when I said I but didn't feel like wielding a knife, he told me, "You feel fine, Mom. You can do it!"

My dream has also provoked a lot of advice...chamomile tea bags for my eyes, vitamin C for my cold, honey for my sore throat, wine for my whine, and so forth. I like this advice. Especially the wine and the chamomile tea bags.

So yesterday, I sat in my car waiting to pick Jack up at school, listening to NPR between coughing spells. Someone mentioned advice for graduates, and the guest said something very unpoetic: graduates should find something they like doing and work really hard at it.

Find something you like doing and work really hard at it.

I like that.

At certain points in my life, I've had a great deal of focus. When I was in school, for instance, I dreamed of good grades and advanced degrees. I liked school, worked hard at it, and did really well. It was all very satisfying.

At other times in my life, like right now, I've sort of lost my focus. In fact, there are about twenty different dreams I want to work on all at once, and it's sort of overwhelming. I need to follow George's example and get some focus.

Among his many interests, George likes triathlon, and this year he's tackling his seventh Ironman race. Lucky number seven! In the build-up to that race, he's doing shorter ones: sprint and Olympic distance. He'll work hard to put in the miles swimming, biking, and running so on race day he can fulfill his dream: to finish the 2013 IM Moo race and come home with a medal and a t-shirt.

I like writing, and I actually write a lot of things: this blog, two other blogs, notes to my kids' teachers, emails, and such. I enjoy all this writing very much, but it feels like I'm doing a bunch of sprint and Olympic distance writing. Like George and his pursuit of Ironman, I'm feeling the need to kick up the writing dream a notch.

This year I'm tackling my first book. For those of you who read my stamping blog, this is good news as many of you have harassed me for years to do just this. My house might will get messier, but by golly, I've got a dream!

What's your dream? What would you like to accomplish in 2013? Don't worry if your dream is small(if you just had a baby, perhaps it might be the dream to shower daily!) or grotesquely optimistic (to create peace in the Middle East). Please share!!!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gratitude Journal #188

Today, I am grateful the red-bellied woodpeckers are back. Our nesting pair has been hard at work all weekend making its nest, pecking out a bigger hole, spitting the shavings out of the hole, and generally getting ready. What fun to see them hard at work!

Today, I am grateful for the goldfinches that visit our feeder, looking so brilliant in their summer plumage.

Today, I am grateful to have my voice back, even if it is uncharacteristically deep and hoarse.

Today, I am grateful for my husband's talent at barbecue.

Today, I am grateful for Nick's comments as he tries to figure out life. He recently tried to explain his short attention span: "I like lots of things." George and I both told him that is a wonderful way to live. I immediately thought of this quotation:


I decided not to tell Nick this. I hope his life turns out a little happier than Van Gogh's did!

Today, I am grateful for bird song, breezes, and blossoms.

Today, I am grateful for this reminder:


What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Things on Thursday: Still Life of My Parents' Desk

Having easy-to-use technology means you never know who uses your device and for what nefarious purpose. New apps magically appear on my iPhone and Nook...apps I would never download, such as Marvel Comics and Subway Surf.

Boys and my toys.

So I was not surprised to download pictures from my camera yesterday and find a photo essay (of sorts) snapped by my younger son, who has been home sick for three days. He's not been very sick...just sick enough with a head cold and pink eye not to go to school.

It's always interesting to see what Jack considers photo-worthy. Over the years, we have collected several hundred digital photos of Jack's hands and feet. He also likes taking pictures of rocks, the dog, shows on television, and furniture.

His photography style is unique. He likes shooting from odd angles, moving around in space and aiming his lens at any ordinary thing, finding sometimes brilliant new ways of looking at something entirely mundane.

One of his photos from this week captures a moment in the life of my desk and my husband's desk. This one shot of our messy desks says a lot. Which is sort of scary for some reason.

Still Life of My Parents' Desks
1. Two computers. Our desks face each other, and every night, we sit at them and do the important work of surfing Pinterest and sharing funny pictures with each other. The screen you see belongs to my brand new computer George bought when my old one crashed. I'm lovin' that new computer. It's fast.

2. My beautiful Mother's Day pop-up card from George. It's different from his hand-made Mother's Day cards, which have occasionally featured a stamp of a B-1 bomber. I delivered two payloads of bouncing baby boy, and George well remembers how both of them were dropped when he was sleep-deprived from flying that bomber. I love those handmade cards because he makes them.

But I also love the water lilies and dragonflies of the pop-up card a whole lot. And the glitter. Ohmygosh, it has glitter! George bought the card at the Dayton Art Institute, where his team from work went for a day of enrichment and fun. George isn't exactly the type of person who uses the words art institute and fun in the same sentence (unless there's a not thrown in). But he actually really enjoyed the day spent looking at art, which goes to show the value of breaking out of your comfort zone every now and then...although I think it unlikely I'll get him to the Dayton Ballet's next performance. Nevertheless, he enjoyed his day at the Art Institute and bought me a cool card. Thanks, honey!

3. Two phones. Yes, we're still hunting wooly mammoths and using a land-line phone, which should be in the cradle in another room, but there it is on my desk. The iPhone in its purple case will win the phone war hands down simply because it's the coolest gadget I've ever had in my formerly Luddite hands. Eventually, we will get rid of the land line. Very eventually. Two-timing is easy, but breaking up is hard to do.

4. A single K-Swiss running shoe, size 9.5. George is the Imelda Marcos of triathletes, at one point hoarding owning 36 pairs of running shoes. That's down to about 12 pairs now. He couldn't get rid of the old ones ("They make great grass-mowing shoes!") so he had me cull the collection a few years ago.

When you have a man who never puts his shoes away and a golden retriever who must! retrieve! when! excited!, then you end up with random single shoes spread all through the house. Daisy brought this one to us when George came home from work, and she moaned and whined and wiggled her joy until he took the shoe out of her mouth and placed it on the desk.

Because, of course, that is where it belongs.

5. A copy of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. That's the paperback I use to prop my computer. When the computer is flat on the desk, I hit the touchpad constantly and unpredictable things happen that make me say bad words. I looked into buying a tilt-board for the computer but can't bring myself to pay for what a fat paperback does for free.

6. My ergonomic mouse pad. I just glanced at it. It's filthy, which means that I have really dirty wrists. It does NOT mean I spend too much time at my computer.

7. My camera cable. I use that a lot to download pictures of cards for my stamping blog and pictures Jack has taken of his feet.

See what I mean?

8. A pile of papers on George's desk that have been there for about six weeks. I know this because the pile coincides with his new job, which started on April 1.  

9. A box of Kleenex and a notebook. Pretty self-explanatory.

So, what is on your desk? Are there any stories in the detritus of your workspace? Do tell!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Gratitude Journal #187

Today, I am grateful for my mother and George's mother and all the mothers who care about their children, love them, and teach them how to love.

Today, I am grateful for my husband, who did a triathlon on his birthday and smoked a bunch of guys on the bike (13 out of 80 on the bike, 22 overall!). I am grateful for this good start to his triathlon season, for his finding good running shoes that are easy on his knees, and for his new bike that makes him fast and happy!

Today, I am grateful for my children. Jack is home sick today, and I am grateful that he just has a head cold and cough and nothing serious.

Today, I am grateful for Judy and Linda, both of whom offered to get Jack another Nebraska pencil. Our nephew Eli has it covered although it remains to be seen if Jack will accept the replacement!

Today, I am grateful for Great Horned Owls in general and the two who visited our trees early Sunday morning in particular. Listening to their slow, low Morse-code conversation was such a blessing in the dark. To hear a recording that's close to what I heard (my owls were very mellow!), click here, scroll down a bit to Great Horned Owl, and click Listen.

photo copyright Ashley Hockenberry

Today, I am grateful no one died in the New Orleans shooting yesterday. May all the wounded recover fully both physically and emotionally from such an awful experience.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

This Is Motherhood

I wrote the following last night at Barnes and Noble after a lovely dinner at Bonefish to celebrate George's birthday.

This is motherhood. I'm waiting on hold, clearly forgotten. Someone will notice the blinking light on the line eventually. I called the restaurant we just left to see if Jack's prized possession, his woobie, his precious, his University of Nebraska pencil, fell under our table.

The minutes tick by. I should just hang up now, right? But I can't. Autism does this to us. If the pencil is truly gone, Jack's world will stop spinning. The tears. Oh, God, the tears and screams.

Right now he's a ten-year-old wandering through children's books muttering about a pencil. He allows himself hope that Mom will find it. Mom will solve his problem. She's got his back.

No, I don't. I secretly hate that pencil, which has been lost so many times and found by me or other adults (my sister searched the longest, after I'd given up that time). My sister-in-law gave Jack two pencils, but for some reason known only to Jack (something to do with the eraser), that back-up pencil will not do. He must have the one that is lost.

There might be a biblical reference in here somewhere, but I've got no patience with that right now. This isn't a sheep. It's a pencil. An unsharpened pencil. Jack self-stimulates with it, calming himself by waving it. He can't do this at school, only at home. But he brought the pencil tonight because he didn't want to go to the restaurant. Restaurants are crowded and noisy and unsettling for him. The pencil calms him.

Until he loses it.

That pencil stands as a symbol of Jack's disorder to me, but it is precious to him. He is precious to me. So I sit on hold minute after minute, pouring out words that won't stop the tears (his or mine) and decide to convert this experience into something I can share.

Somewhere out there someone else whose child with autism just lost his special bottle cap or rubber band or random rock will breathe deep and think, "Thank you, Jesus. I am not alone."

No, honey. You are not alone. And neither am I. It just feels that way.

Welcome to motherhood. Not the soft-focus promise of the religious right and motherhood books, or the happy faces we put on for public consumption. This is the real deal.

Some days are like this. Some days simply suck. Others blow with the storm of tragedy. And others will blow your mind with miracle after miracle.

This is a week of tied shoes (miracle!) and lost pencils (tragedy!). Peaks and valleys and no map in sight to navigate your way as you and your child are pulled along by forces neither one of you understands. It's cliché, but there's no instruction book for dealing with the tragedies or the miracles. You do your best and cling to faith that God's got your back.

The restaurant staff couldn't find the pencil. Jack handled the news fairly well in the car but fell apart as soon as he was safe in his room. Usually, he takes a little comforting and then wants to be alone. Last night, I started to leave his room, and he clung to me, screeching, "Don't go! Don't go! I'm hopeless!"

Such a silly thing to get so upset over, don't you think? Yet how many times do we all feel that tragedy of loss over something silly? How important are things, really, in the grand scheme of life.

Pretty darn important, sometimes.

Today, after church, I will go to Bonefish to search parking lot. I'll either be Jack's hero or his storm anchor in the tragic winds of life.

This is motherhood. And thank you, Jesus, we are not alone.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bad Grammar Cauldron Bubbleth Over

I love Pinterest, and I love reading quotations there.

Except when there are egregious typos or grammar errors.

Then I wince.

Oh, how it hurts to see flagrantly bad grammar used amidst such pretty ideas and pictures. The pin I shared yesterday has a missing comma, but the impact is minimized by a convenient line break and graphic elements. I could overlook that error relatively easily.

I am not nearly as persnickety as I used to be, and I never feel offended by grammar errors in blog comments or Internet forums...casual writing will have errors, and pesky errors creep into the best formal writing on occasion. I sometimes make errors on purpose for rhetorical effect, but I certainly make unintentional errors, too. We're all sinners, and forgiveness usually comes easily for me.

But not always.

Consider this offender:

I'm sorry, but I just can't let this go. Let's itemize the errors here from a purist's perspective.

1. No beginning quotation mark. There's a quotation mark at the end, but not one at the beginning. Both or neither, please.

2. Comma error. Generally, do not use a comma before because. It's a subordinating conjunction, not a coordinating conjunction connecting two independent clauses.

3. Pronoun error. Most properly, he/she should apply only to humans, but I've always felt that was rude to animals. I like anthropomorphosis and give the world permission to anthropomorphize to its heart's content. If you're going to make the bird a girl by using her, however, you may not change to its in the same sentence. Her/her or its/its would be correct. Her/it's is most definitely not.

4. Its/It's usage error. It's is a contraction of it is. Its is a possessive pronoun. You wouldn't type her's, would you? I know this is confusing because apostrophe s usually indicates possession, but pronouns violate that rule. Remember that we're writing English. It often does not make sense unless you spend a few semesters studying linguistics, and even then, it does not make much sense.

5. Preposition choice. Perhaps this is nit-picking, but usually we trust in something. We do not trust on something.

"A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking because her trust is not in the branch but in her own wings. Always believe in yourself."

That's so much better.

I feel better.

I hope you do, too.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Words, Words, Words about What's Missing

Source on Pinterest

I love this quotation. So much of our bitterness and anger comes when the world and other people don't deliver what we think we need. We yearn for kindness, for connection, for warmth...and we save it up until we receive it. But it withers and grows old and dies in us.

All of our goodness and love grows only when we give it away freely and generously, without expectation of return. And then, miraculously, it comes back to us multiplied. 

I know a couple who wanted but could not have children. Instead of getting bitter and resentful, they decided to do volunteer work with children. If they couldn't love children of their own, they would channel that love into other people's children. How generous and good that decision was! And also, no doubt, hard and courageous.

What do you feel is missing in your life? How can you be that for the world?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Yay! May Is Mental Health Awareness Month!!!

This is my second post for today. Please scroll down to read today's essay.

Y'all who've been reading for a while know I experienced an episode (okay, years) of severe depression in my teens and early 20's. Y'all also know I got the help I needed to get out of that black hole and, praise the Lord, have not been dragged back into it.

I had the weirdest conversation a few weeks ago. An electrician and construction supervisor were in my house doing warranty work, and we struck up a conversation. Both men freely admitted to having suffered anxiety disorders. One was still on medication for it, and the other said he would go back on meds in a second if his symptoms returned. Their comfort in discussing their problems openly warmed the cockles of my heart.

BUT, too many people still believe that mental health problems are a choice. No. They. Are. Not. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, autism, schizophrenia, ADHD, et. al. do NOT choose to be ill. Nor are they weak.

They need help. Professional help.

If you want to learn more about Mental Health Awareness month, please click HERE.

If you want to read Heather Armstrong's words about it, please click HERE. The many comments on her blog post will show you that you are not alone, whether you suffer from mental illness or have a loved one who suffers.

If you are suffering, GET HELP. Please. Just get help.

The Intentional Online Life

My laptop died a few weeks ago. There was a dreaded black screen...not even the dreaded blue screen, but pitch-black nothingness resonating with the horrific death rattle of the CD-ROM drive.

I stared at it like a golden retriever contemplating an empty food dish.

"I has a sad."

Then, a very tiny voice deep inside me said, "Yay!"

I wasn't glad that the laptop died because replacing it was expensive and awkward. But that little burst of joyous fireworks came with the knowledge that some of the information on that old laptop was gone with absolutely no effort from me.

I've written plenty about feeling weighed down by too much stuff in real life, but my online life gets weighed down, too.

For instance, my old email program automatically added contacts when I replied to an email. That meant when I answered Jane Doe's question about how I adhered the glitter to my holiday thank-you card, Jane Doe magically appeared in my contact list. Jane Doe got her answer and never contacted me again. I forgot about Jane Doe, moved on with my life just like she did, but there she was, in my contact list, every time I wanted to send an email to my real-life friend Janet.

Multiply Jane Doe by about 385, and you get the clutter in my contact list.

Then there were the 9,642 emails in my inbox. Trying to stay on top of emails when thirty or forty a day come in is tough. It requires discipline and determination and ohmygosh they are like bunny rabbits humping and multiplying independently and exponentially and what is a girl to do?!?!?

First-world problems strike again.

At least if I were in the world of Once Upon a Time, I could cook these rabbits with potatoes and have the pleasure of grossing out Gollum. But no, these multiplying rabbits sat in my inbox and mocked me with their bold-type unread status.

Of course I'm exaggerating for effect. The fact that my thighs rub together bothers me a lot more than email proliferation. But the loss of all those emails didn't send me into a state of cyber-despair.

No, cyber-despair came at the loss of maybe 200 or so wonderful emails, funny emails, supportive emails, emails containing funny videos of my niece and nephews, emails that I'd saved to special folders but not to my external hard drive.

That loss hurt.

But why?

Haven't those emails served their purpose? Their authors, my readers, took time to share their comments with me, and I read them and was so very grateful. Yet how often did I actually re-read those emails? Weren't they simply there, like the dozens of storage boxes in my basement taking up so much space? Only these emails were 0's and 1's on a hard drive that crashed spectacularly in an instant.

Truth be told, other than the videos of family, saving those emails was mostly about ego. Isn't my online life important? Don't my readers care about me? Am I not useful and kind and helpful? Sure I am! The proof is in the emails!

Not really.

Our online lives can be enormously enriching and useful, but the proof of that doesn't exist on our hard drives. The proof exists in the human response, in the relationships, in the questions asked and answered and life moving on, in acts of kindness (even if they are merely words of encouragement encoded in html).

What we do for others means something. Yet what we do disappears into the past, fries on a hard drive, fades without proof of existence.

Technology lies to us, saying that all these 0's and 1's are important in and of themselves, real and tangible things, and we need them, just like we need screens, touchscreens, iPhones and e-readers to decode them.

No. We need people. We need connections with people, not screens. At times, screens can connect us with people life never would have connected us with otherwise, and this is good and important. The widow mourning in British Columbia whom I pray for would I have learned about her if not for her touching email response to a blog post of mine? The rubber-stamping Starbucks barista who lives in Arizona and whose emails always and without fail make me smile big smiles. The woman who got picked on as a child and is now over it...I think I helped her just a tiny little bit. 

Those people are real, and so are the connections. But before screens, they would never have crossed my path, nor I theirs. We now have so many people we can touch.

So many people.

Where's the limit? What can one person do? How much should one person do? When does our focus on all those people on the internet--real, important, beautiful people--start getting in the way of paying attention to the people--real, important, beautiful people--in our own homes and workplaces and communities?

Screens connect us, but they also disconnect us, sometimes from what is most important in it well, with love and kindness and goodwill. A friend recently stopped blogging, and one reason she gave was that she needs to live her life, which has changed and is continuing to change. She might come back to blogging later, or she might not. The point is, she's living a good life, trying to find balance.

Perhaps what we need is to live with intention, to be aware of what we're doing and what we need to do every minute of the day. How often do I get sucked into Pinterest, lose track of time, and realize that hours have passed...hours in which I could have been doing something more important or even more fun?

My mother, on the other hand, recently got sucked into YouTube. She discovered a number of incredibly educational art videos and spent an entire day learning at her computer. She never does this. She ordinarily spends little time at a screen, but that day wasn't time wasted. It was good time, learning time, motivating time that got her excited about painting.

Screens are not all bad.

But how sad it is to see so many children interacting with screens instead of each other. My worst moment during a recent visit to my sister's house was when I walked into the family room to see my nephews, son, and niece staring fixedly at screens in their hands. My other son was in the living room watching a movie. No one was talking.

In contrast, my favorite moment of the trip was outside in my sister's back yard. All five cousins were running around playing, just like my cousins, sister, and I did as children. They blew bubbles, threw a baseball, played badminton, climbed the play set, yelled and screamed and laughed and made all sorts of noise that would get them shushed inside. Heck, my son and one nephew even helped clean up the yard without complaining.

There were no screens in the back yard other than the ones on the adults' digital cameras as we tried to freeze those beautiful moments for years to come.

Screens can be good, or they can be bad. It's what we do with them that makes them so. And we have to figure this out because, for good or bad, screens are here to stay.

It's ironic that I've sat at a screen typing this post. I remember the good ol' days of pen and paper, manual typewriters, electric typewriters. I love writing. Deep in my bones. Love. I want to do this, share my thoughts with the world, hoping my words are useful and entertaining to someone else.

The internet is better for this than pen and paper were. I love that the internet allows me to connect with an audience in real ways. I don't have to bother with a publisher or agent. My words are direct to you. When I get emails telling me my words touched someone, made them laugh or think or both, I want to write more. Those emails motivate me, so no wonder I let them pile up in my inbox!

And when there's a hand-made card in my mailbox, as there was today, well, that puts me into spasms of joy and gratitude.

My official word for 2013 is Intentional. Being intentional with screens means using them for a good purpose. I use my screen time to share on my blogs in ways that connect with you. 

What I do on my blogs is a small thing in your life. You could stop reading at any time, move on, live your own intentional life without any further thought of me or my blog or my words. I would go on living. You would go on living. It would all be good.

But for now, you're here and I'm here and we're together here.  I appreciate that. I'm having fun and hope you are, too.

How do you use your screen time intentionally? Do you limit your activities in deliberate ways? Do you feel like you have a good balance or are screens taking over your life?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gratitude Journal #186

Today, I am grateful for your feedback on replacements for Google Reader. I'm going to check out Bloglovin before doing anything.

Today, I am grateful for my new computer. As expected, all the weirdness of Windows 8 is fading with experience, and now I'm mostly adjusted to the difference. What I really love is the speed of this computer and its lovely screen. Thank you again, George, for picking it out for me!

Today, I am grateful for rain, for birds at the feeder, and grass growing.

Today, I am grateful for my mom and mother-in-law in this week leading to Mother's Day, and for my sister, nephew, husband, and crazy golden retriever...all of whom have birthdays this month!

Today, I am grateful for moments of quiet.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Turkish Barbarity, or Gettin' All Feminist in Church

Several months ago, I was asked to participate in a series of educational presentations at church about our denomination (United Methodist). I jumped at the chance to learn more about women in leadership. It's shocking how ignorant I was of the details of my denomination on this subject in particular, seeing as I'm a Christian who's also a fan of feminism who giggled with glee when our church was assigned a female pastor.

Below is the speech I read in church today. Even if you're not a Christian, or a Methodist, I hope you see in it the value of persistence and determination for the progress of women everywhere.  
When we want to look at the history of women in leadership in the Methodist church, we might as well start with its founder, John Wesley. In his sermon On Visiting the Sick, Wesley writes:

“Indeed it has long passed for a maxim with many, that ‘women are only to be seen, not heard.’ And accordingly many of them are brought up in such a manner as if they were only designed for agreeable playthings! But is this doing honour to the sex or is it a real kindness to them? No; it is the deepest unkindness; it is horrid cruelty; it is mere Turkish barbarity. And I know not how any woman of sense and spirit can submit to it.”

We might well ask how Wesley came to see women as having “sense and spirit” in a time when few men thought that possible, and I think we may give primary credit to his mother for this.

Susanna Wesley, often called the Mother of the Methodist Church, set an example to John and his siblings of the power of women’s witness for God. Susanna’s Sunday evening Bible studies filled her house to overflowing and were more popular than the Sunday morning services at their Anglican Church. When the Anglican minister learned this, he tried to get Susanna to stop. She refused.

Imagine the impact on the young John Wesley of watching his mother’s powerful witness to so many people. While Wesley certainly never promoted the idea of women’s ordination—he was a staunch 18th century Anglican—he vigorously protested women’s exclusion from Christian service and from Methodist meetings when some of his early followers pushed for it. He also commissioned a number of women to preach, even a 16-year-old named Mary Fletcher, whose parents did not approve of their daughter speaking in public.

Following John Wesley’s death, the Methodist movement splintered into different groups, and in most of them, the official participation of women lost the little ground it held. By the 1840s, the situation was fairly grim for most woman who felt God’s call to lead. But due to a number of very strong and persistent women, and the passage of about 150 years, the situation would eventually change.  

Phoebe Palmer was an evangelist and writer in the mid-1800s. She ran the first Methodist prayer meeting attended by both men and women…and not just any men attended. Her meetings attracted Methodist bishops, theologians, seminary professors, and ministers, all of whom wanted to hear her ideas on John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection. Through her prayer meetings and speaking engagements and the many books she wrote, Phoebe Palmer exerted enormous influence in the 19th century Methodist church.

Two other women represented official firsts within the Methodist tradition around the same time as Phoebe Palmer.

Helenor M. Davison was ordained deacon by the Methodist Protestant Church in 1866. She is considered to be the first woman ordained in the Methodist tradition.

Ten years after that, in 1876, against tremendous odds, Anna Oliver earned her Bachelor of Divinity degree from Boston University School of Theology. Oliver was never allowed to achieve her goal of full ordination in Methodist ministry, although she did serve as a preacher in New York and New Jersey.

Gradually, more and more women pushed for official recognition in seminaries and pulpits. I will single out just a few.

Georgia Harkness became the first woman professor in an American seminary. She felt called to do graduate work in theology, but Boston University, the same school that graduated Anna Oliver in 1876 with a Bachelor’s degree, refused Georgia admission to their graduate Divinity program in the 1920s. Not to be deterred, Harkness earned a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion in the university’s Department of Religion instead. For the next 15 years, she taught philosophy and religion at a women’s college, but took every opportunity for continuing education at a number of divinity schools, including Harvard and Yale, but always as a “special” non-degree student.   

Eventually, the very persistent Professor Harkness was accepted as a full professor at Garrett Biblical Institute, a post-baccalaureate Methodist seminary dedicated to preparing students for ordained ministry. She continued to teach at that level at several different seminaries until her retirement in 1960.

On May 4, 1956, four years before Professor Harkness retired, the General Conference of the Methodist Church approved full clergy rights for women. I love how this was done because it was so simple: years of debate were summed up in a single sentence added to the Book of Discipline that reads: “All foregoing paragraphs, chapters and sections of Part III [of the Book of Discipline] shall apply to women as well as to men.”

Maud Jensen was the first woman to be granted full clergy rights after this decision by the Central Pennsylvania Conference. She was not present for her appointment, however. She was in Korea.

In last week's service, before we read the Korean Affirmation of Faith, Pastor Suzanne told us that the Methodist church in Korea is very strong. Well, Maud Jensen is part of the reason for that strength today. She spent forty years in Korea as a missionary, helping lay that foundation for today’s vibrant Methodist church in that country.

Another woman, Grace Huck, received full clergy rights in 1958. At a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination, Reverend Huck told a story from her first appointment. When the district superintendent told the congregation he was appointing a woman, one man in the congregation pounded his fist on the pew and shouted, “There will be no skirts in this pulpit while I'm alive.” Yet after Reverend Huck arrived and began her work, this same man became one of her staunchest supporters and allies in that church.

In 1974, 1 in 100 students in Methodist seminaries in America was a woman. Just one percent. In 2006, that number was 1 in 2. Fifty percent. From one to fifty percent in just 34 years.

Imagine how Anna Oliver and Georgia Harkness would feel about that.

It wasn’t until 1980 that the first woman was ordained as a Methodist bishop. According to the most current statistics I could find, in 2008 there were 14 women serving as bishops in the United States and 36 men.  Elsewhere in the world, only two other women serve as United Methodist bishops…in Mozambique and in Germany.

This issue of women’s ordination and full clergy rights is still extremely controversial, though less so in the Methodist Church than in some other denominations. Last week, Will [the youth pastor] spoke about the Wesleyan quadrilateral and its emphasis on using Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to discover our faith. The experiences of Mary Fletcher, Phoebe Palmer, Anna Oliver, Maud Jensen, and so many other women speak to all four points in the quadrilateral. The debate isn’t over, but it is moving forward.

Let us, however, go back to that passage from John Wesley’s sermon On Visiting the Sick that we started with. He concludes, 

“Let all you [women] that have it in your power assert the right which the God of nature has given you. Yield not to that vile bondage [of being seen and not heard] any longer. You, as well as men, are rational creatures. You, like them, were made in the image of God; you are equally candidates for immortality; you too are called of 'do good unto all men.' Be 'not disobedient to the heavenly calling.'"

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Questions about Google+ and Reader and What Passes for Advice around Here--Edited

Edited to add links to Feedly and Old Reader. See below.

Y'all, I've been writing up a storm and feel so strange to have so little posted on this here particular blog o' mine. That will (hopefully) be changing soon with more regular posting, and a big post is coming up on Sunday. If you're looking for something to read now and you're interested in devotional writing, click over to Transforming Common Days, where I am doing a weekly post on Proverbs.

For today on Questioning, however, I have two questions for you, and few comments.

1. What's up with Google+? I think I have an account but have no idea what to do with it. Anyone have any helpful tips, like is it worth my time? Anyone using it? If so, what can you do on it?

2. Google Reader is GOING AWAY. Folks, this is devastating for me and for at least 120 of you who read this blog in Google Reader. (Isn't it freaky that I know that? I think so.) Have any of you figured out what you're going to do? If so, please share in the comments here if you want to help others out.

I have a bunch of blogs I read in Google Reader. I've tried migrating to Feedly and the The Old Reader, and haven't been successful transferring my feeds. VERY frustrating and a waste of two hours of my life I will never get back.

The Old Reader looks better to me than Feedly, so I'm going to manually move my feeds over there the hard way.

Several of you have asked what I recommend for my readers. If you have just a few feeds in your reader, it might be easier to subscribe to them via email. Most bloggers have that option in their sidebar. Just remember that you will have to respond to a verification email that sometimes gets shunted to your junk mail folder.

If, like me, you have lots of blogs in your reader (I have about 80), I recommend migrating to The Old Reader, just because it's free and similar to Google Reader, so the learning curve will be faster. (Hopefully the "easy" transfer of your subscriptions works for you!) I've also considered opening a special email account and subscribing under that account. That way, the blogs will all be together and not cluttering up my inbox.

If you're pretty savvy, however, you might want to investigate other services that have mobile apps and such. Feedly has received good reviews on the sites I've looked at, but there are others as well. A quick google search of Google Reader alternatives will be useful if you want more options.

What do you think?

3. No question, but if you want to see a cool video of killer whales, check out this link: Killer Whales