Friday, December 31, 2010

Words, Words, Words for the New Year

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day." Edith Lovejoy Pierce

What do you want to write on the blank pages of your book in the coming year?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Things on Thursday: Furry Things

A Furry Lap Warmer:

My mother, who is always freezing in our house, got a nice warm puppy on her lap. We keep our house quite cold year-round in deference to George's nordic genes, so my southern mother is perpetually cold when she visits. Sorry, Mom.

Furry Friends:

Mom's dog Lolly has gotten along beautifully with the Furry Golden Sunshine. We weren't sure how it would go because Lolly is eight and an only dog while Daisy is seven months and a pretty socialized dog who expects everyone and every animal to love her excessively. No worries. Lolly and Daisy play tug together, eat happily out of the same bowl together, beg together, and, of course, sleep together.

But Daisy is a Princess who loves the entire universe with an enthusiasm unparalleled in mammalian history and therefore expects massive quantities of love back from everyone in it. She puts herself between Lolly and my mother, demanding pats from mom while Lolly looks on. Daisy always wants to know where Lolly is, to make sure she's not getting the love that should, rightfully, fall on the Princess.

Lolly's entire universe is my mother. She's a friendly dog, but her whole being is a compass needle pointing north to my mother. Fortunately, she's secure enough in Mom's love that she can share Mom without undo possessiveness.

It's been hysterical watching the two furry things work out a friendship. 

What things are interesting to you today?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Things I Learned in 2010

In no particular order, here are some things I learned (or relearned) in 2010.

One thing people can do after they lose a loved one is open their hearts to love someone new. Ask my mom, whose baby grandson was born six months after her own mother died, and ask our family, who welcomed Daisy into our home three weeks after Hoover died. The pain of loss doesn’t go away, and someone new doesn’t replace someone gone at all, but someone new helps the heart grow new love. And that’s a good thing.

When someone unsubscribes from one of my blogs, it’s nothing personal. At least, that's what I tell myself.

There are definitely more nice people in the world than mean people, though I admit some mean people can definitely screw it up for the rest of us. I’d started to doubt the general goodness of humanity while listening to regular news outlets and their sensational stories of greed, corruption, political bad boys, economic misery, and death and destruction. As an antidote to all the negativity, I made my home page on my computer. I started getting a daily dose of, well, happy news. Stories of goodness, mercy, compassion, and love are everywhere in this world…if you look and listen in the right places. Ignoring the bad in the world is rather stupid, but if you fill your mind and heart with only knowledge of the bad, you lose perspective, which is a terribly important thing to have.

Rescuing wildlife makes you feel good. Releasing that rescued wildlife back into the wild after it has recovered makes you feel giddy and causes you to erupt in giggle fits for days after.

The whole Word for the Year thing is not working for me. I’m sad about this because it’s such a wonderful idea. My word for 2010 was Write, and while I did write quite a lot here and on Simplicity, I didn’t work on my book or start freelancing, which were the goals of the word in the first place. Also, my autism blog is suffering sadly from neglect. Oddly, I look back over 2010 with joy and pleasure despite this failure because I did a lot that I’m proud of. I took care of two boys, a man, and two dogs. I blogged over 233 posts on Questioning my Intelligence and over 427 posts on Simplicity. I created hundreds of cards and pushed my creative self harder than ever before. I read dozens of books. I learned and laughed and lived and drank coffee and ate chocolate. I ironed George’s shirts, made his lunches, and was his Iron Sherpa at Ironman Wisconsin. I received countless little kindnesses…even from total strangers from the Land of Internet. I cooked several meals and coordinated meals for dozens of people in our church. I finished another year-long Bible study. I spoke in church and didn’t die from fear. I mourned one very good dog and welcomed another into our home. I helped release a wild animal back into nature where he belonged. I sent a lot of cards this year, including hundreds to the troops for their use, and hopefully, each card brightened its recipient’s day.

I once heard that to be happy, every day you need to do something for someone else, something for your mind, something for your body, something for your soul, something creative, and something you don’t want to do which needs to be done. After this year, I would add that you also need to look at everything that happens to you and everything you do through a prism of love. I used to think the best prayer ever was “This, too, shall pass.” It’s pretty useful, isn’t it? Now, however, I think the best prayer ever is “Lord, make me a blessing to someone today.” Maintaining this loving perspective on life twenty-four/seven is pretty much impossible (at least for me and probably for any other mostly normal human being), but it’s amazing how transformative it can be. At least, it makes ironing shirts much more pleasant, which can only be a good thing.

When you have an impulse to do something nice, don’t over-think it and wimp out. Just do it.

For the past 11 years, since I became a stay-at-home mother, I’d felt my life made very poor copy in our annual Christmas letter. The day-to-day of caring for two boys just isn’t that interesting; you can only say so much about diapers and potty training and gymnastics lessons and school. For the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve written that mundane life into this blog, making it funny (I hope) and universal, and showing just how meaningful and important it is. This year, my children reached ages that require less daily dependence on me, and so I branched out and started some new things, such as the Mark’s Finest Papers Design Team (for creative development) and Stephen Ministry training (for spiritual and interpersonal development). To varying degrees, both adventures have been life-changing in wonderful ways. Who knows what 2011 will hold, but it’s bound to be interesting!

Next week, I'll post a new Word of the Year. I think. At least I'll give all of you who have more success with your words a chance to share your word and commit to it for 2011. Have a very safe and happy new year's celebration!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gratitude Journal #72

Today, I am grateful for Christmas and everything associated with it this year (including a giant standing rib roast, a giant new television, and a light blue fleece shirt that feels like a cozy hug from my sister), for my mother who is visiting, and for hope, peace, joy, and love.

Today, I am grateful for you. You're reading this. And I hope you'll share what you are grateful for in the comments because this is a season that feeds on gratitude. The more you hear it, read it, and see it, the more you feel it.

So, grow the world's grateful heart today and tell me what are you grateful for.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Words, Words, Words for Christmas

"To us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Things on Thursday: A Skeleton

Yes, I know it's two days until Christmas, a holiday notorious for its lack of skeletons, but this fence-wire skeleton we saw at COSI in Columbus, Ohio, today left me speechless, not only for its scale (100 feet long) but for its magnificent artistic beauty.

This is just the hand...I had to take giant steps back just to get all of it in the frame. The artist is Tim Rietenbach, and what a fabulous vision of our skeletal framework he has.

If you're ever in Columbus, definitely stop by COSI and check out this amazing work. In fact all the exhibits we saw today were fabulous.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Monday, Nick showed me his letter to Santa. It included, among other things, a request for Santa to say hello to Mrs. Claus, detailed directions to our house (continent, country, state, county, town, neighborhood, street and number), and candy canes for Santa and Mrs. Claus.

A sweet bribe never hurt, eh?

Nick used his best handwriting, which is a big deal for Mr. Chicken Scratch. He left the letter with our Elf on the Shelf, Chris, so he could hand-deliver it to Santa that night. It seemed safer to him than taking his chances with the United States Postal Service.

Tuesday morning, I slept in, something I almost never do and which left me more disoriented than usual. I staggered downstairs and started making coffee. That’s when Nick assaulted me with the following question:

“Mom, is Santa real?”

WHAT?!?! Hello, I haven’t even had my coffee yet—it’s not even made, for heaven’s sake—and you’re springing this on me. Totally not fair.

I tried every circumlocution my tired brain could muster, including the decisive “Santa doesn’t bring presents to children who don’t believe in him!” Nick would not be deterred.

“Mom, is there a man in a red suit who delivers toys to children in a reindeer-driven sleigh? I have to know the TRUTH!”

So I told him.

And he cried. He threw his arms around me and cried.

I cried, too.

Then, he got mad. “I wish I’d known YEARS ago,” he wailed.

Honestly, his response caught me totally by surprise. You see, I never had an epiphany about Santa. I just gradually realized that Mom was Santa. My sister and I kept up the illusion of believing for years because it made Mom happy. We even gave her a picture of the two of us as teenagers sitting on Santa’s lap at the mall. I’ve heard of families rejecting Santa and raising their children without him, but I’d always thought those families were a bit Scrooge-ish. It never occurred to me (or George, for that matter) to think we’d been lied to.

When I asked Nick if he was angry at me, he said, “No! I’m angry at whoever wrote ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. He lied to kids. That’s just wrong!”

At this point, I explained very clearly that Santa symbolizes the spirit of Christmas and God’s gift of His Son, and that spirit is very much present and alive and real every time someone gives a gift. Children have a hard time understanding what the gift of Baby Jesus really means (a lot of adults grapple with this, too), and that difficult concept is made understandable to children through the story of Santa and his gifts. I also explained that St. Nicholas was a real man who lived in the 4th century and was known for giving presents. That man died, but his spirit lives on in the myth of Santa Claus.

Nick liked this explanation but was still angry, and when I asked why, he said, “Everyone at school was saying he’s not real, and I said he was.”

This made sense to me. He’s been defending Santa against the unbelievers, and now he felt a bit childish and silly…a hard feeling for a kid who wants desperately to be grown up.

So I suggested, “All you have to say when someone says Santa isn’t real is that the spirit of Santa most certainly is real. That is true and anyone who doesn’t believe it is really sad and you should feel sorry for them.”

I was taken aback by how quickly Nick accepted my explanation. He’s now at an age when he can understand symbolic thought, and this both excites me and makes me sad. As an English literature junky, I live and breath symbolic thinking. As a mother, I want my children’s innocent acceptance of this delightful story to continue forever.

At lunch, Nick sat at the table, smiling. He then, out of the blue, declared, “I’m so HAPPY!”

Whew. Christmas isn’t ruined.

But from now on, when a child assaults me before I’ve had my coffee, I’m playing for time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Weekly Giggle #25

You know, some websites are reliable sources of giggles, and Lowering the Bar is one of them. Today's post, How the Great Kansas City Meerkat Caper Unraveled, had me and George in stitches.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Gratitude Journal #71

Today, I am grateful for snow. Looks like we might have have a white Christmas. Someone else in our house is happy about this possibility as well:

Today, I am grateful for Puffs Plus with Vicks. Very grateful.

Today, I am grateful for the book Everything Christmas.

Today, I am grateful for Christmas cards. I'm almost finished with ours and will get them in the mail this afternoon.

What are you grateful for today?

Advent Devotional 3: Gratitude for Giving and Receiving

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 118:1

Have you seen that ill-conceived Buick advertisement in which a man whose wife has just given him a not-Buick car for Christmas looks longingly at a Buick as it drives by? The ad’s emphasis on longing after status, of placing that longing ahead of a genuine act of generosity, disturbs me greatly. Have we become a nation of ungrateful wretches who weigh the value of gifts not by the intent and sentiment behind them but by the dollar amount or status they represent?

Two Sundays ago, the Dayton Daily News had a headline on the Life section that disturbed me as much as the Buick ad: “The 10 Most Tired Gifts This Season…and What to Give Instead.” The author lists such gifts as coffee mugs, picture frames, neckties, fruitcakes, and wallets as bad ideas for gifts.

The article says more about a particular perspective on giving than on what constitutes a tired gift. In a culture of excess, old-fashioned gifts are “tired,” and newer, glitzier, more expensive gifts are what is valued. The article, for instance, suggests giving an electronic photo frame instead of a regular picture frame. Regular frames might run $10-$30 and up. Sure, you can pick a cheap electronic one up for $30 or so, but the reviews on those are universally bad. To get a good one, you need to spend at least $120, but the best ones are over $200.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem quite a reasonable substitute for those of us who haven’t won the lottery.

The author also has it in for giving candles. She writes,

“Women especially are plagued by decorative or scented candle gifts. It’s basically a go-to present when you don’t have much time, thought or money to put into a gift. And that’s what it says to the recipient. Plus, no one actually needs a candle since the invention of electricity.”

I consider candles a luxury item precisely because they are not needed. I love how they can add a decorative element of the evocative scents of the season (and counter the smell of cooked onions and garlic). I love the flickering light of candles. When they are burning, I want to make a cup of tea and find a good book and relax. And when Hurricane Ike hit Ohio, I was especially grateful for them as we did without electricity for days on end.

Candles make me feel warm and happy inside. When I receive a candle as a gift, I am grateful for that warmth and happiness, and when I give candles as gifts, I’m trying to give that warm and happy feeling. I sure hope the people who have received them from me knew that.

Gift giving provokes a lot of opinions on what constitutes a good or bad gift, and the multitude of opinions adds to the stress of choosing gifts. Teachers, for instance, often get tired of receiving apple-themed gifts, and frankly, I can see their point. But what do you get for someone whom you only know in a professional capacity? How personal can it be?

How personal were the gifts given to Jesus by the three wise men? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are certainly expensive, and definitely gifts of status and wealth. But then, the wise men were kings, giving gifts to the King of Kings. In a book titled Everything Christmas, I found the following story:

“A Sunday School teacher was telling her class of fourth-graders the Christmas story of three Wise Men bringing gifts to the Baby Jesus. A little girl who had recently become the big sister of a brand-new brother said: ‘Well, I guess gold and all that stuff are all right, but I’ll bet Mary really wished somebody had brought some diapers.”

And therein lies our dilemma. Do we buy practical gifts, luxury gifts, fun gifts, useful gifts? What does each person on our list prefer? How can we know? What exactly is the point of Christmas gift giving? Is it to let people know we love them and are thinking of them? Or is to see how much money we can spend? To stress out finding the perfect gifts for our 100 closest family and friends? To go into debt? To look good and impress others? To revitalize the economy? To make other people feel obligated to give us gifts?

And what is our attitude as we receive gifts? Are we filled with gratitude that someone thought of us at all? Or do we judge the gifts and weigh them against the gifts we didn’t get? Do we wonder if we spent more on someone than he or she spent on us? Do we wish the person had given us something else? Do we immediately make plans to exchange it for something we really want? Do we get wrapped up in our culture of excess and status and forget what Christmas is all about?

When God gave us Jesus, He gave us the greatest gift ever given: The Son of God given for our salvation and to teach us how to love. I can’t compete with that sort of gift. Can you?

But we can use that gift as a model for our own gift giving and receiving. Let everything go, all the fretting and worrying and waffling over gifts. Focus only on expressing your love and accepting the love given by others. Give gifts with a spirit of love and gratitude, and receive gifts in the same spirit.

Even that fruitcake from Aunt Matilda, because like God’s steadfast love, it will endure forever, which makes it a pretty cool gift, if you think about it that way.

What gift have you been given for which you are particularly grateful? What gift have you given that particulaly showed love to the recipient?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Words, Words, Words about Giving

"If we have the opportunity to be generous with our hearts, ourselves, we have no idea of the depth and breadth of love's reach." Margaret Cho

"It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving." Mother Teresa

This week's advent devotional--about gratitude for gifts--is in the works but may not be posted until Monday or Tuesday. I've been hit by a nasty cold virus and am falling a bit behind. I hope everyone reading this stays healthy and cough-free through the holidays.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Things on Thursday: Catching Up

Things on Thursday has been neglected lately, so today I'm sharing three things with you.

First up, a note Jack wrote after we sent him to his room for making annoying car noises. Regular readers know that Jack's autistic stimming takes the form of repeated movie lines and car and train noises. There's been a LOT of stimming in the past few months, and when it gets particularly perseverative, George and I try to send him to his room, where he can stim to his heart's content. Still, this note made us feel about two inches tall.

Please note that my son used the apostrophe correctly. We'll let the missing o slide this time.

Next, a picture of a typical corner of our dish towels, courtesy of Daisy. She's tall enough to get most anything off the kitchen counter, and when she knows we can't see her, she puts her paws on the counter and pulls off whatever soft thing she finds...towels, gloves, and such. Whoever said dogs don't know the difference between good and evil never owned one.

Finally, the thing herself.

She leads a rough life, don't you think?  Remember when she was this size?

Yeah, she couldn't reach the towels then.

Ahhh, the good ol' days!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is It Wrong to Dope Slap the Man in Brown?

Last week, the Big Brown Truck stopped in front of my house. It had two Men in Brown, something we only see in December. I went outside before they had exited the truck because


One Man in Brown--not our usual--was approaching the house with the handheld tracking computer. The usual Man in Brown was in the truck retrieving a box when he yelled out, "Make sure the signer is over 21!"

My first thought was WoooHoooo!!!! Wine!!!!!

Then, the new Man in Brown yells back, "Yeah, she's definitely over 21!"

Good feeling gone. Definitely gone.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gratitude Journal #70

Today, I am grateful for the golden glow of Christmas trees...

and for ornaments...both vintage and new...

and angels that speak to George's Scandinavian heritage...

and my southern heritage...

living in harmony on one tree. Peace on earth, goodwill to all.

Of course, the Scandinavians and Southern States have never exactly been at odds, so peace between them isn't a stretch. But you know what I mean.

Today, I am grateful for snow days. (If I say this aloud often enough, I might start believing it.)

Today, I am grateful for this:

Maybe I'm the last person in America to get a smart phone, but I doubt it. The sales person at Best Buy didn't even blink when I confessed I've never even sent a text message.  I also know that I never would have paid the $500 price tag for this phone, but since it was free with a reasonably priced data plan, well, what the heck. And it's red. And it slides open to reveal a keyboard. Oh how I love the keyboard. It's so...familiar, comforting, old-fashioned, small, cute.

Snow days are perfect days for learning new technology. See, I knew I'd find an upside to snow days.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

O' Christmas Tree

We went to a tree farm today and chopped down our Christmas tree, a tradition that pre-dates our children. This year, Daisy joined us. The horses pulling the hayride really freaked her out so much she couldn't even bark loudly. She just sort of woofed in awe.

Jack didn't wear his Santa hat because he didn't want to lose it, and George knew he would be lying in the mud to cut down the tree. Nick and I, however, wanted to wear Christmas on our heads. We were not the only ones, either.

We found our tree, which is a lovely blue spruce. I left the chopping to the manly man and his assistant.

Jack sang Christmas carols with an occasional Blue's Clues song thrown in for a little variety while his brother hauled the tree to the service area, where very nice teenage boys cleaned up the bottom, shook out loose needles, and wrapped the tree into a tidy package. 

The tree farm also has a couple of reindeer. Now I know it's Christmas.

We came home before the great midwest storm hit. For us, it's supposed to start with rain (already happening), followed by ice, then snow, wind, and general winter mayhem. I'm not leaving my house for weeks.

Neither is Daisy, who was completely worn out after a day of woofing at giant quadrupeds.

Be safe, folks. Wherever you are.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Thomas More

"The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest." Thomas More

As you do an ordinary task this weekend, think about how important it is. What would happen if it went undone? How does that awareness change how you feel about doing it?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Particular Challenges of Being an Idiot

Last week, I was paying bills and balancing the checkbook and making sure receipts were recorded in the check register. Yes, I still pay bills the old fashioned way, keeping all the relevant materials in a folder near my's a symptom of idiocy as well as loyalty to a bank that doesn't have online banking. Well, not loyalty. Laziness. It would be a huge pain in the butt to change banks at this point.

Anyway, overcome with an AR/OC tendency to be hyper-organized, I decided to separate all the receipts for Christmas stuff into their own envelope. I even labeled the envelope "Christmas Receipts" because the idea of just separating them out wasn't AR/OC enough. After I wrote the label, however, I realized that Nick might see it and snoop through it, so I put the envelope someplace safe, out of sight.

Monday evening, when I was bagging up some items to return to Target, I thought, "Now, where did I stash that envelope?"

Y'all know where this is going because chances are good that you have been there yourself.

It turns out that our brains are actually really bad at remembering where we hide stuff. Squirrels might remember the locations of thousands of nuts hidden away for winter, but humans...well, let's just say our memories for hiding places are not the best. Consider the case of a man named Tom who hid $4,000 worth of gold coins in a dried-out paint can. Years later, when a friend came over to help him do some painting, he and the friend tossed all the old cans of paint in a dumpster. Months later, it popped into Tom's head that the gold coins had been in one of those cans.

Tom's story is included in a wonderful book titled Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Above Average. If you want to understand why you commit idiotic mistakes, read this book. It's entertaining, informative, well-written, and extremely comforting while you're reading it. It will not, however, help you learn to avoid these mistakes because we're hardwired for them. When I realized I'd lost the Christmas receipts envelope, this book was the first thing that popped into my head. At least I hadn't thrown away $4,000 worth of gold coins.

That didn't, however, make me feel any better as I fretted over the location of the envelope. And boy did I fret. I must have asked the universe twenty times, "Where the heck is that envelope?" I asked it so often even George pitched in to help me find it. As is so often the case, I was doing the dishes when suddenly, the location of the envelope popped out of nowhere into my frontal lobe. I shed my rubber gloves and opened the folder I keep bill stuff in. There it was.

God, bless me. I am an idiot.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent Devotional 2: Gratitude for an Anachronism

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 118:1

While reading the Modern Manners column in December’s Real Simple magazine, I encountered this paragraph by Michelle Slatalla:

“Here we are, a nation of people throwing out our old fax machines and canceling landline phones. And yet we cling to the anachronistic tradition of sending holiday cards.”

Anachronistic? Really?

Lots of people think so. And the arguments they muster against sending greeting cards are both impressive and persuasive.

“Who has time to send cards? It’s just one more thing to do and I have too much to do already!”

“It’s easier and cheaper to send an email. Or maybe I’ll just tweet my greetings this year.”

“Greeting cards are a waste of paper. Think of the trees we’d save if we did away with them.”

“Most of my friends don’t send them so why should I?”

“It’s all a scam by the greeting card industry.”

“It’s so boring!”

In addition to complaints about sending cards, there are the complaints receiving them.

“Why are Sally’s Christmas letters so full of bragging? You’d think her kids farted rainbows.”

“Why does Uncle Joe bother? His cards are always cheap and tacky.”

“Jane always tries to one-up us with her ostentatious cards. She’s such a show-off!”

“Oh, great. Cousin Ethel sent us a Christmas card. Now we have to send her one. Will she just give it up?”

“So-and-so just uploads her address book to Snapfish and clicks a button to send her cards. It’s so impersonal!”

Finally, there’s the relieved celebration involved when someone fails to send a card and you feel perfectly justified in striking them from next year’s list.

I confess that I am seriously guilty of a number of these negative thoughts about Christmas cards, though in the last eight years, since I started making my own cards, I’ve shed most (perhaps not all) of them. Of course, there are a whole host of complaints about receiving handmade cards, too. Some recipients equate handmade with cheap (so absolutely NOT true). Most handmade cards are smaller than store-bought, and small is also equated with cheap (again, so absolutely NOT true).

Plenty of paper crafters who make cards also hear comments like “You must have a lot of time on your hands!” As you can imagine, they often strike such insensitive people from their handmade card lists and just send them a token—and cheap—store-bought card or nothing at all.

Why waste the handmade effort on someone who doesn’t appreciate it?

The custom of sending greeting cards is pretty old: thousands of years old, in fact. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians exchanged slips of paper and papyrus greetings in demonstrations of goodwill and friendship. In Europe, as early as 1400, when paper was becoming widely available, handmade and woodblock-printed cards were exchanged among the rich and literate. Efficient and inexpensive printing technology developed in the Victorian period allowed greeting cards to become affordable and widely available.

In our high-tech, fast-paced culture, we’re quick to shed the old-fashioned ways of doing things in favor of high-tech, fast-paced ways. What’s the point of keeping a tradition that’s quaint and wasteful and expensive and time-consuming and will just end up not being appreciated anyway?

Gabriel J. Adams offers the best argument possible in favor of greeting cards in general. “Greeting cards have evolved from an item used only by the rich to an everyday tradition. Whether you want to communicate with far-off relatives, or just let your sweetie know how much you love them—greeting cards make a great (and inexpensive) way to brighten up someone's day!”

Sounds like an advertisement for Hallmark, doesn’t it? Yet it’s absolutely right. How happy are you when you see a greeting card in the mail, amidst bills and marketing pieces? Is that happiness an anachronism? Someone thought about you, took time to pick (or make) a card for you, signed it, addressed it, put a stamp on it, and mailed it. When you look at them this way, greeting cards are a tangible representation that someone loves you and cares about you. With our families and friends scattered all over the globe, taking time—making time—to show goodwill to our loved ones is especially important.

Most of the arguments against Christmas cards share a common flaw: they are self-centered and ungrateful. We’re inconvenienced, made poorer, or feel slighted or obligated or harassed or bored. We concentrate on what we get out of sending them and decide it’s not enough to justify the expense. We don’t get good value for our dollar.

Perhaps it might be better to think about the whole Christmas card issue a bit differently.

Even if the ancient Egyptians were sending their papyrus slips at the time, greeting cards are not mentioned in the Bible, but the Christmas story in Luke does provide good justification for them. Poor shepherds got the good news of Jesus' birth first.

And, lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord….” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

After the shepherds visited Jesus, they left and told others the good news of great joy. They shared their joy, spread it around. They weren’t wondering what they would get out of it. They weren’t expecting anything in return for their good news. They weren’t keeping a list of whom they told and who made them joyful in return. They just shared the good will that had been shared with them.

They were thankful and felt compelled to pass it on.

If we, as Christians, are filled with the good will and gratitude of Christmas, we will be more like the shepherds. We will share the good news of great joy without reservation. We know that God is love, that He sent Jesus to give us a new commandment, more important than any other: to love one another. One way to love is to stay connected, to reach out and touch someone far away or close to home, and to say, simply, "Merry Christmas."

How we do this is irrelevant. The phone, e-cards, e-mails, tweets, and Facebook posts certainly get the job done, as does a cheerful "Merry Christmas!" shouted out in person. I'm certainly grateful for all my Merry Christmases, however they come. But for me, anachronistic greeting cards, with their long tradition and the gift of time spent sending them, will always stand out as a tangible and meaningful expression of that love.

How do you plan to share your Merry Christmases this year with gratitude and good will? Please share in the comments! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gratitude Journal #69

Today, I am grateful for Shrimp and Grits made with really good grits that take an hour to cook. George invented his own recipe, which included andouille sausage, tasso ham, and shrimp...a jambalaya of sorts in grit form. Mmmmm.

Today, I am grateful for peace in my heart.

Today, I am grateful the cone is gone from our lives. Daisy has been a bit, shall we say, vengeful since the cone went away, chewing up some socks and a glove and other miscellaneous items left within her exceedingly large reach. But it's wonderful to have her sleeping in our room again, in her smaller crate, and not to be banged up by the dang cone every time she gets enthusiastic, which, because she is a golden retriever, is pretty much any time she's not asleep.

Today, I am grateful for the chaos of a photo shoot with two boys and a puppy. Let's name these photos, shall we?

First, Fight the Power.

Second, Random Eyes, Cheesy Grins, and I'm Going to Bite Your Knee...Because It Is There.

Third, Oh, Soft Doggie on My Lap!

Fourth, Please Don't Strangle Me.

Fifth, Nostril Shot. Of course.

Sixth, As Good as It Gets. I just wish Daisy didn't look so stern and had eyes on me instead of George. It's an unfortunate side-effect of her droopy lips that she looks pained when she absolutely isn't. Perhaps there's some bassett snuck into her very blue-blood golden breeding.

This photo shoot was to celebrate New Pajama Night. Every year, I buy new PJs for the boys and never know when to present them. The day after Thanksgiving seems too early; Christmas Eve seems too late. This year, I had the bright idea of settling on St. Nicholas' Day...the birthday of Santa Claus, which I mistakenly thought was December 5. It's really celebrated December 6, but I figure it was already the 6th in Europe when I gave the PJs to the kids, so that's good enough.

And yes, the pajamas are gray and black. Whoever designs boys' jammies for Target is an idiot. Nothing festive (army green and skulls on Christmas pajamas? What the heck?). These were the least offensive, and I'm grateful there are no skulls on them.

Today, I am grateful for sleeping puppies, who are very easy to photograph.

Today, I am grateful for pretty snow that doesn't get in the way of getting around. Thank you, flurries.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Words, Words, Words, for December

"At Christmas I no more desire a rose
Than wish a snow in May’s new-fangled mirth;
But like of each thing that in season grows."
William Shakespeare

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Boston Cream Pie

George, at the dinner table: "Boston Cream Pie. Not a pie. A cake. Discuss."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Cone of Shame

Oh. The cone of shame. It's humiliating. It's annoying. It's funny...if you're not the one wearing it.

Here is Daisy in her downstairs crate, languishing in despair. You see, Daisy cannot participate in our ritual of Snuggle-Bunnies with the children as we tuck them into bed each night (long story), so we have to put the chew monster poor puppy in her crate while we go upstairs. After George and I came back downstairs one night, I opened the door to her crate and she didn't move. She just lay there, long enough for me to get my camera and take her picture. Oh, WOE IS DAISY! Don't you feel sorry for her?

How about this picture? Those poor beautiful floppy ears get caught in the cone and twisted. You might think her demon eyes are the result of the flash, but in fact, the cone has turned her into a demon. By all rights, I should be dead. She shot daggers at me from those eyes after I put the cone back on her head and put her in her crate the other day. 

Daggers, people. Ouch.

Cones can turn even Furry Golden Sunshine into Gloom and Doom. She has one joy, and that is head scratches. She cannot scratch her head herself (though she repeatedly tries, bless her furry heart), and if you are kind enough to stick your hand in the cone, she will rotate her head completely upside down to maximize the effectiveness of the scratching. Here she is with her inverted head on George's lap.

Fun ribbon I tied the cone with, isn't it? It has purple flowers on it...the closest I could get to daisies in my extensive ribbon stash.

We are going to order a soft cone (unavailable in our area) for the next time Daisy needs one. As it is, she gets the stitches out tomorrow, which is Thursday, because everything happens on Thursday. Have you ever noticed this little quirk of time or is it just true for our family? Seriously. Everything important happens on Thursdays. Nick was three when he made this observation, and now it's my favorite day of the week. I should write an essay about Thursdays. But for now, let me close with a picture of what Daisy will look like tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.

I'll bet you're smiling right now. You're welcome.

Advent Devotional: Thankful for Family

"O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever." Psalm 118:1

For this year’s Advent devotionals, I want to focus on gratitude and the Christmas story. For Week 1, let’s take a look at gratitude for family.

Luke tells the Christmas story from Mary’s point of view. When an angel visits Mary and tells of her blessing, he also tells her that her barren relative Elizabeth is six months pregnant. Two miraculous pregnancies at once in one family! What a cause for celebration!

Except that, while Elizabeth’s pregnancy is a late-come answer to long prayers in a long marriage, Mary’s pregnancy is fraught with social peril. Mary is a virgin, betrothed to Joseph, and is expected to stay a virgin until he brings her into his house. The angel only appears to Mary, not her whole community, and the disgrace of a pregnancy for Mary at this time might have ended her life, especially if Joseph chooses to make her disgrace public, as is his right.

Mary is in a very precarious situation, and she knows it. So she leaves home and goes “with haste” to visit Elizabeth, whose unborn son John will prepare the way for Jesus’ adult ministry. Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting is one of my favorite scenes in the Bible.

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’”

The Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth in so she knows exactly what is going on. She accepts and welcomes Mary with an outpouring of love and joy. What a safe haven this must have been for Mary, whose great trust in God put her in such a dangerous position within her culture.

The Book of Matthew opens with Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham, setting the Christmas story firmly into a family context and into the lineage of kings. This list, however, is a bit cold and scholarly, and Matthew immediately jumps into Joseph’s point of view, making the story more personal. Joseph is engaged to Mary, and now she’s pregnant. How embarrassing! Being a kind man, he doesn’t want to disgrace her so he plans to put her aside quietly.

Enter an angel. In a dream, the angel tells Joseph to take Mary because she hasn’t disgraced anyone; the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and he needs an earthly father. Joseph has been chosen to be this father, and he accepts the truth of the dream and becomes a family.

This is what family love is all about: acceptance, welcome, blessing, support, dependability, faith. Sometimes, our earthly families fall short in this, at times spectacularly short. That’s when our own capacity to love and forgive is tested. And sometimes, we fall short in love and forgiveness as well.

But often, our earthly families are sources of unending support and love, a direct channeling of the steadfast love of God. We have a parent or aunt or uncle or grandparent or cousin or sibling or child to whom we can flee “in haste” in times of trouble.

And they leap for joy at our coming.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gratitude Journal #68

In this season of abundance and excess, let us be abundantly and excessively grateful!

Today, I am grateful for Sprite Zero, which has helped settle my tummy for the past week but most especially yesterday, when I had to leave church suddenly right after the collection. Best of all, I don't like the flavor of Sprite enough to get hooked on it.
Today, I'm grateful for being off Coca-Cola for 27 months. And George said I couldn't give up the Coke. I showed him!

Today, I am grateful for all the turkeys who unwittingly gave their lives for millions of families across the United States last week to enjoy a traditional feast.

Today, I am grateful that Jack tasted turkey. He ate a green-pea-size piece and almost threw up, but he ate it! And there was much rejoicing in the land! When asked if he wanted more, he said, "No, thank you." My boy has manners, even if he thinks we're trying to kill him with poisoned food.

Today, I am grateful for this song, which I heard for the first time in church yesterday. Have a hanky ready.

Today, I am grateful for the December issue of Real Simple magazine. I'm not even a third of the way through it and have dog-earred about ten pages, including one with this quotation:

"Chocolate is no ordinary food. It is not something you can take or leave, something you like only moderately. You don't like chocolate. You don't even love chocolate. Chocolate is something you have an affair with." Geneen Roth

That's what I'm sayin'!

And speaking of chocolate, I am grateful that Coffees of Hawaii is having a 30% off everything sale for cyber-Monday. I ordered a 5-pound bag of THIS coffee for a special holiday treat. It is "[a]n impressively sweet, cocoa- and dark-chocolate toned coffee with a silky mouthfeel and gentle acidity...a hint of the chocolate-cocoa note persists pleasantly in the finish." In this case, the advertising copy is spot-on. If you miss this sale, definitely sign up for their emails. If you have the money, the coffee is worth every penny it costs regularly. We can't afford to drink it all the time, however, so I relish the occasional treat.

Today, I am grateful for Advent, this time of expectation and joy. If you're the praying kind, please remember to pray for those who aren't feeling that joy this year, who are mourning the loss of loved ones, who are struggling with addiction and mental health issues, who are sick and suffering, who are out of work.

Today, I am grateful for the Salvation Army bell-ringer at my local Kroger. That man is quite the breath of warm air on a cold, cold day. He glows with holiday spirit, cajoles smiles out of the scroogiest Scrooges, and blesses strangers passing by with enthusiastic attention. When I go to the store and he's not on duty, I feel let down, like I'm missing my blessing for the day. I'm going to put a Christmas card in my purse and give it to him next time I see him.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thinking about the Football

Reading the morning paper, I found an article about President Obama's split lip. Ouch. My lip hurts just thinking about an elbow hitting it so hard it splits.

Thinking about presidential pain, I posed a question to George: "Who has control of the football when the president is on painkillers?"

The football, for those who may not know, is the nickname for the briefcase that the president uses to authorize nuclear launch.

George replied, "Good question. You know, Nixon got drunk at the White House all the time. Who had control of the football then?"

That makes me feel loads better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Robert Caspar Lintner

"Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day." Robert Caspar Lintner

As I've read around in the current trove of books on happiness research, one theme that pops up again and again is how happiness is tied to gratitude and thankfulness. People who focus on their blessings and feel grateful for them are happier than people who focus on what they can't have, don't have, or might have in the future.

It took quasi-scientific research to figure this out?

Let's take Lintner's wise insight as a challenge. What are you already doing or could you start doing to keep more of the Thanksgiving spirit of gratitude throughout the year?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Things on Thursday: Pumpkin

Last night, we watched a show busting myths about Thanksgiving. The narrator said that Thanksgiving is a holiday that brings together two key American characteristics: excess and sentiment. So true!

Today's thing for Thursday is pumpkin.

Happy Thanksgiving!


I am thankful for...

air, and my ability to breathe it in and out so easily.

water, which makes up most of me and you and the earth in general, and flows clean out of my faucets.

food, which I will eat too much of today, and of which too many people on this earth have not enough.

clothes, to keep me warm and and comfortable, and to keep others from seeing all of me.

my home, which is very comfortable.

my family, who are loved by me and who love me.

my friends, who are loved by me and who love me.

my church family, which is such a blessing to me.

my blog readers, who are the best.

my community, which has all I need and an awful lot of what I want.

my country, which lets me say what I want, worship as I wish, and live free of harassment and fear.

our planet, which is beautiful beyond imagining and deserves more respect than she gets.

the stars, which shine with far-away light and remind me how small I am.

God, from whom all blessings flow.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On My Mind

The energy to write a coherent essay this week is just not there for me, but I've actually had a lot on my mind lately. So don't expect anything in this post to relate to a single topic. Frankly, I'm all over the place right now. And it feels pretty good, actually.

Considering Christmas
Every year, I am annoyed that stores put up Christmas displays as soon as Halloween is over. This year, I saw plenty of displays before Halloween was over. Target, I'm talking about you. I think this gradual stretching out of the Christmas season is a sign of our increasing focus on stuff, the getting and spending. The focus during the Christmas season should be on love: for Christians, the love of God who sent his Son who inspires us to share His love with the world; for people of other faiths or no faith at all, love in a more general sense of generosity, kindness, goodwill.

That's what all the Christmas songs are about, isn't it?

So many homes are already lit up, with trees blinking in living room windows. People say it takes so much effort to decorate, they want to enjoy it longer. But when decorations are left up too long, you don't see them anymore. They just don't stay special. By the time Christmas arrives, where's the magic? The specialness of this amazing miracle that occurred 2,000 years ago? All the decorations have been out so long they're gathering dust.

Bah, humbug.

Plus, Thanksgiving gets lost in the commercial shuffle. I've very deliberately been thinking about how thankful I am this year, thankful for people, places, and things that make my life rich and interesting and fun. This has lead me to consider writing devotionals about thankfulness instead of Advent this year. Have you seen the annoying Buick commercial of the man whose wife gives him a car for Christmas and as he's sitting behind the wheel for the first time, a Buick drives by. It's obvious he really wanted the Buick and is disappointed in the CAR HIS WIFE GAVE HIM FOR CHRISTMAS!

I'm never buying a Buick.

For me, the Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving. I do NOT shop on Black Friday. I start to decorate my house for Christmas. I put out everything but the tree. We cut down a tree every year at a tree farm, and we don't want needles to dry out too quickly, so we wait to get the tree up until about two weeks before Christmas.

All the decorations come down New Year's Day, making our Christmas celebration last a little better than a month, one-twelfth of year. That's long enough to make it worthwhile and keep it special, don't you think?

Considering this Blog
Yesterday, I scrolled down and saw this.

30,000 hits. Wow. I'm blown away that so many people have been reading Questioning. That figure doesn't count the people who read it in email.

Questioning is just about me and my life. It's astonishing to me that so many of you like it. Thank you for your support and encouragement. I'm thankful for you. Each and every one of you.

But I know you really come here for Daisy.

Considering Mental Illness
Did you catch the Randy and Evi Quaid Act about a month ago? I was going to link to an article about their recent troubles, but I decided not to because it sort of reinforces my point that mental illness has become entertainment. Carrie Fisher's latest book capitalizes on her mental illness, as does Portia De Rossi's book. I'm happy Fisher and De Rossi can use writing to work through stuff, and since they authored the books, they controlled how much or how little they shared, and they profit from their self-exposure. The Quaids, however, were being paraded on morning talk shows as entertainment. The chatter on the Internet reinforced this, with most commentary I saw mocking them and cracking jokes about their mental problems.

It reminds me of my friend Karen H. She hated the movie Forrest Gump, and I asked her why. She'd seen it with some of her brothers who laughed at Forrest rather than for Forrest. It left a bad taste in her mouth to have seen Forrest's mental retardation as mocked entertainment rather than sympathetic portrayal of a powerfully engaging character.

It's all in the perspective, I suppose.

Celebrity alcholism, drug use, and mental problems confuse me. Oh the one hand, I think keeping these topics out in the open and talked about is a good thing. Sweeping stuff like that under the rug is never helpful. On the other hand, the discussion can cross the line into either exploitation, as in the Quaid case, or celebrating the problems themselves. I remember watching an interview with Richard Dreyfuss that gave the impression that he was proud of his problems. This may or may not be true, but that the interview provoked those thoughts disturbed me. Celebrities live under a microscope, and the rest of us assume they ask for it and the benefits of massive money and ego make up for it, but I wonder.

Considering Blown Light Bulbs
Many months ago, the bulbs in our bathroom overhead fixture blew out. This wasn't an emergency because we have 8 clear round bulbs over our vanity, so the bathroom still had light. After the overhead bulbs had been out for a while, George sarcastically asked if we were ever going to replace them, meaning when was I going to replace them. He said this just to get a rise out of me, and I knew it, but I'll be damned if I was going to change those bulbs anytime soon after that.

So, more months passed, days got shorter, and about a month ago, I finally replaced the bulbs. I did NOT like the extra light. It bothered me. Enormously. But I figured George would appreciate it.

I was wrong. He completely agreed with me that the bathroom was now painfully bright in the morning.

Isn't it amazing how accustomed we can get to the lack of a good thing, so much so that we resent its renewed presence in our lives? Our brains really are very strange places.

Of course, now, we're used to the bright light. It seems normal. The way things ought to be. When they blow again, we'll be annoyed. Until we get used to them being blown. Then we will replace them and resent the bright light all over again.

If there's a lesson in this, I can't find it. But it does vaguely relate back to getting used to Christmas decorations if they are left up too long.

And with that, I say Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers and Happy Thursday to everyone else. Make it a day of gratitude and thankfulness. And food.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Drooping Daisy

Yesterday, Daisy had surgery to remove her girl parts. This was required by her breeder and desired by us. At the same time, the vet inserted a microchip in case she gets lost.

Some dogs--sensible dogs--will leave their surgical wounds alone. Daisy, as we have irrefutably established, is not sensible. She wants desperately to lick her wound and would no doubt chew out her stitches, thus creating a risk for infection, bleeding, and expensive vet bills.

Thus, she wears the Cone of Shame.

She stood for about ten minutes in the above position, not moving an inch, just drooping with sadness and humiliation. It's pitiful. Tragic.

And then she looked up. And I said, "Come in, Tokyo!"  Because I am heartless and cruel.

When she got no sympathy from us, she dropped her head again and slowly tried to back out of the satellite dish. When she hit the front door with her butt, she drooped there for a while.

She got her revenge last night. Her sleeping crate in our bedroom is too small to accommodate the cone, so she slept in her giant wire crate in the dining room. Since George was still sick, I slept downstairs with Daisy. She kept waking me up by banging the cone against the wire sides of the crate and sliding it around the plastic floor. She was doing it on purpose. I just know it.

Ten days. Ten LONG days, folks.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gratitude Journal #67

My gratitude overfloweth.

Today, I am grateful for this boy, who turned eleven last week. As of today, I'm exactly four times his age. I'm also grateful for my birthday buddy, Aunt Linda, who says I'm the best birthday present my mom ever gave her. Isn't she sweet?!?! 'Tis the season of birthdays in our family, which makes me grateful for my mom who suffered so much 44 years ago today. Sorry about the whole butt-first thing, Mom.

Today, I am grateful for this boy, who cried this morning because he couldn't wear sandals to school.

Today, I am grateful for this pair. Both are having bad days today: Daisy is being spayed, and George has a tummy bug. At least George knows what's wrong with him. Just imagine how Daisy will feel after her little nap this morning. "Wow, I feel funky...." (Name the movie.)

She weighs 41 pounds now.

Today, I am thankful for my close encounter with this gorgeous animal. On Saturday at the Columbus Zoo, she and I made eye contact about eight inches apart. Through nice, thick glass, of course. But I could read her mind. "My, you look tasty," she was thinking. "Be grateful for the glass, human."

Today, I am grateful for glass.

Today, I am grateful for a close encounter with this big boy. His name is Bruce. Or maybe Buck. Whatever his name, he is big. Massive. You don't realize how big these brown bears are until all that separates you is a five-inch thick layer of acrylic and you look in his mouth, just seven inches from your head, and realize that, indeed, he could eat your head like a grape. Like a grape, man.

Today, I am grateful for this little monkey family. The babies are orange, and this one is snuggled into a nap hug. Check out mommy's hand on baby's back. We share a lot of DNA with these critters.

Today, I am grateful for this wild and vicious golden retriever. If you're not careful, she'll jump on you and lick you to death. You don't believe me? If you ever meet her, you'll be praying for glass.   

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Random Acts of Culture

Not only am I posting maniac with seven posts this week, but I'm also really behind the times. This event happened on October 30, which means I'm three weeks behind in the news. But if I missed it, perhaps some of you did, too, in which case, I'll just say in advance, "You're very welcome."

Because you're going to thank me. I know it.

Many, many thanks to my friend Lally, who sent me a link to this blog post about Handel's Hallelujah Chorus being performed at Macy's in Philadelphia, much to the surprise of many shoppers there. Check out that's, well, it's beyond words.

I'm fascinated by the Knight Arts Random Acts of Culture Project. What amazing proof of the beauty and creativity and just plain awesomeness of life. If any of you has participated in it or knows more about it, please share in the comments!

Words, Words, Words about What I Can Do

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." Anne Frank

"Being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful." Author Unknown

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do." Edward Everett Hale

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." Robert F. Kennedy

This time of year brings out lots of opportunities to do something to make even one person's life a little better. If you're looking for something to do right now, in this moment, to make someone's life a little better, to do something useful to someone else, please consider visiting Do One Nice Thing. Whether you find something useful to do there or in some other place, pick a way to start improving the world right now and just do it.

Let's all be part of the ripple effect.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Things on Thursday: Harry Potter

Harry Potter. It's an obsession really.

And George is taking me to see the new movie for my birthday. Isn't he just the best?

Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

Weekly Giggle #24

For Nick's birthday, I baked a perfect cheesecake. After Nick, George, and I inhaled our pieces, George and I had the following conversation.

Me: When it comes to baking, I rock.

George: What about bread?

Me: Baking with sugar. I rock at baking cakes and pies and bars.

George: True. But why don’t you bake cookies?

Me: My cookies never seem to turn out how I want. Except my Angel Balls [a.k.a. wedding cookies]. Those rock.

I don’t consider those cookies.

Me: Why not?

George: They’re spherical.

Who knew?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Food TV

George and I watch very little television. We watched much more before we had children, but over the years, network television in particular has somewhat faded from our lives. NatGeo, Discovery, Animal Planet, History Channel, and PBS tend to be our default channels. I love me some Antiques Roadshow. We did watch LOST…okay, I admit we were addicted to it. But nothing has come up to replace it in the “freaky smoke-monster drama” category, so our new favorite television show is the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef.

Oh, how we love this show.

The Iron Chef America series pits two chefs—a challenger and one of the six Iron Chefs—against each other. The two chefs have one hour to create five different dishes using a secret ingredient, such as avocados, corn, almonds, or sea urchins. A panel of judges decides whether the challenger or Iron Chef reigns supreme in Kitchen Stadium.

The Next Iron Chef is an elimination show that pits a bunch of professional chefs against each other to, well, decide who will be the next Iron Chef. In general, elimination-tournament shows don’t interest me. Furthermore, I despise shows where nastiness masquerades as entertainment. I’d rather see everyone play nicely and NO ONE be sent home.

But that’s just me and certainly would not make for good television.

So why does The Next Iron Chef appeal to me so deeply? First, it’s about food. I love food. Good food nourishes body and soul. Who doesn’t love food?

Second, chefs are trained to make great food quickly. Taking top-notch chefs and putting them in odd situations (on a beach cooking on a grill, at a State Fair cooking only with ingredients they can find in the booths for gyros and funnel cakes and corn dogs) leads to some fascinating food.

Third, I am in awe of the chefs’ creativity. Three Sundays ago, the competitors in The Next Iron Chef had to make four dishes in 90 minutes: one dish from each of the four regions of the United States (north, south, east, and west). This meant they had to decide what to cook, find the ingredients, adapt if the ingredients were taken by another chef, cook, and plate four dishes. One of the chefs rarely cooks American cuisine, so he was particularly challenged.

Great chefs all have bad days, which is at the heart of what The Next Iron Chef is really about: who has the fewest bad days.

This season, there aren’t any truly annoying chefs. Last season, there were two jerks whose downfalls caused me great happiness. One was a liar (admitted it himself to the world on television), and the other was just arrogant and played mean. This season, I pretty much like them all and have been sad every week. Chef Tsai is a bit snotty, and Chef Canora is a bit of a whiner, so I'd prefer one of the other chefs to win.

But it’s not up to me. I watch helplessly as chefs I really admire get sent home, like two Sundays ago when Chef Caswell had a mediocre day. I like him a lot. He’s cute, which doesn’t hurt, but really, he just seems like a nice guy, the sort of dude George and I would like to have to dinner. It was just so sad.

Next Sunday is the final challenge. Chef Tsai was sent home last Sunday, but sadly, so was Chef Tio. I liked her fresh and gutsy attitude. The final two Iron Chef candidates are Chef Forgione (my favorite) and Chef Canora (the whiner). I can’t wait to see how the final challenge plays out.

George likes to enact his own Iron Chef challenges on the weekends. I take on the roll of the Chairman on Iron Chef America and create artificial constraints (only use what we have in the pantry or make something with a secret ingredient such as sweet potato or a Boston butt). George makes stuff up and almost always scores a hit. It’s a great way for him to exercise his creative itch to cook without taking on the brutal lifestyle of a professional chef. I also think it’s kind of cool that an odd-ball television show can influence and enhance a real-life hobby.

That’s television programming I can get into.

What shows grab your imagination? Why? Has a show ever influenced something you’ve done in real life?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gratitude Journal #66

Today, I am grateful for my own personal Iron Chef. Homemade meatballs, guacamole and steak tacos, pizza...yum.

Today, I am grateful for this boy, who we hope will use his powers for good and not evil when he grows up.

Today, I am grateful for this boy, who makes us laugh every day.

Today, I am grateful for the unseasonably warm weather on Saturday that gave us a perfect afternoon to hike.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Golden Daisy

On a family walk last week, we enjoyed gorgeous golden evening light. George got some amazing pictures....

Daisy is almost 6 months old. She's losing that puppy look, but her brain is still very much a puppy brain.

Golden retrievers have puppy brains for most of their life span. Even as old dogs, when their bodies are definitely not able to meet the demands of their brains, they still have happy puppy spirits.

We love that puppy spirit, and it's positively glowing from Daisy Doolittle.