Friday, April 30, 2010

Words, Words, Words from J.K. Rowling

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."

--Professor Dumbledore to Harry in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stupid Dreams

The May 2010 issue of National Geographic includes an article by D.T. Max titled “The Secrets of Sleep.” Max quotes William Dement, a sleep researcher who co-discovered REM sleep: “As far as I know, the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.”

Dement’s syntax is a little confusing, but I find it very interesting that after decades of research, no one has a clue why we sleep. Furthermore, no one knows why we dream or if our dreams mean anything, either. The dream debate has raged between two camps: those who believe that dreams have meaning and those who believe that dreams are the meaningless result of random firing synapses.

I read Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung at least two decades ago and vaguely remember Jung’s archetypal discussions of dreams. At the time, Jung’s dream theories appealed to me simply because they read like literary theory, and it can be a lot of fun applying them to literature.

My own dreams, however, never made much sense, even when analyzed under the archetypal microscope, except in the broadest, most general terms. What I can remember of my dreams seems pretty badly composed, with disjointed narratives, surrealistic events, and characters merging and changing into different people. My dreams, in fact, seem like products of some sort of freaky acid trip rather than significant tapping into a meaningful collective unconscious.

Take, for example, my frequent nightmares about snakes. Freud might say that the snake is a phallic image that represents my repressed sexuality. I never much liked Freud. Jung might say my fear of snakes slithers into my dreams because of some deeper collective fear of snakes hearkening back to our ancestors on the African savannah who got KILLED by mambas and cobras and vipers.

I mean, this isn’t exactly an irrational fear, and I did almost run over a rattlesnake while riding a bike when we lived in Georgia. I was six years old, and it was totally traumatic for a little drama queen, but not as traumatic as my little sister’s experience, at the age of three or four, coming between a rattlesnake and its hole. Lisa was rescued by the telephone repair man and our dog Cindy Lou.

South Georgia has lots of rattlesnakes. I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.

No offense to Georgia, of course.

Whether this early experience started it or not, my phobia of snakes has stayed deeply entrenched. At age 21, I screamed like a little girl and hyperventilated when I stepped out my mother’s door one day and scared the hell out of a six-inch-long garter snake. George assures me it was just six inches, but in my mind that sucker was a yard long. Well, 18 inches, at least. My heart starts racing just remembering that green, legless…ewwwww! Get it away! I still struggle just looking at snakes behind glass at the zoo, and when the zoo staff bring them out for the public to touch, I stay clear by at least 20 feet.

So, we’ve established that I have a phobia of snakes, but what does that have to do with the activity of snakes in my dreams? Well, other than the fact that they are generally about to KILL me, not much. My freaky nightmares about snakes are rarely realistic. You see, snakes in my dreams are consciously searching for me to KILL me, like Mafia hit men I’ve offended in some way, which gives far too much credit to tiny little snake brains which are, in fact, far more interesting in killing mice so they can eat them. Also, my dream snakes do wacky things like bite their tails, make their bodies rigid like hula hoops, and roll down slopes after me with intent to KILL me when they catch me.

Marlon Perkins never reported this sort of snake behavior on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, did he?

Of course not.

The problem, at least as I see it, is that dreams can be interpreted so many different ways, using so many different theoretical approaches (Freud, Jung, even Northrop Frye and Karl Marx if you wanted to get really silly). Of course, Jung would have something to say about my dream snakes turning into hula hoops…circles being highly symbolic shapes after all. But who cares? What my dreams about snakes tell me is that I’m terrified of snakes. As if I didn’t already know that.

Last week, I sifted through some memorabilia that had belonged to my grandmother, including newspaper clippings of my sister Lisa’s ballet career. Two nights after this little trip down memory lane, I had a very weird dream.

It was present day, and I was a 43-year-old housewife who never had a ballet lesson in her life. Someone, who remained invisible and nameless in the dream, ordered me to dance the role of Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. (Lisa was a beautiful and elegant Sugar Plum Fairy, by the way.) In the dream, I HAD to do this, but all the rest of the dancers hated me for it because they knew I would ruin the performance. Mom and Lisa encouraged me and told me that I could do this and would be great, and I kept telling them they were crazy. I couldn’t find my make-up, either, which caused all sorts of additional anxiety, because, you know, putting on make-up makes you a better dancer.


It was such a relief to wake up after what felt like hours of agony and realize that I did not have to dance in The Nutcracker. This dream clearly fits into a category of recurring dreams about performance anxiety, which many people have, often with the fun twist of being suddenly naked in front of a large group. I also occasionally dream about needing to teach a class but being unable to find the right classroom. At least I always have my clothes on.

Another category of recurring dreams is the natural disaster dream, such as being in a tornado, tsunami, or earthquake. I have natural disaster dreams repeatedly during times when I’m stressed out waiting for a life-changing event over which I have no control, such as when George was about to get orders for us to move or when he flew off to war. As soon as the orders came through or the deployment ended, the dreams stopped. It doesn’t take a Jungian psychoanalyst to figure out what these dreams mean.

It’s partly this recurring nature of dreams that tempts us to create systems of meaning for them. Our brains are hardwired to see patterns and connect them to some bigger picture, an evolutionary trick that created jobs for literary critics and psychoanalysts, by the way.

Psychoanalyzing dreams beyond the fairly obvious, however, is a dangerous business, especially since science hasn’t yet explained what dreams are, where they come from, or why we dream. I’m eagerly awaiting further research to answer these questions because sometimes—just sometimes—our dreams seem to make sense and seem to be sending a clear message from our unconscious…collective or otherwise…that we feel compelled to listen to or act on.

But if there is a message in my dream about a potato growing out of my knee, I don’t want to know it. Ignorance is bliss.

Your turn...please share a weird dream, meaningful or otherwise, with the rest of us. Come on, you know you have an entertaining one!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jack and Hoover

Jack loves Hoover. He loves Hoover's ears and how soft they are. When we first told Jack that Hoover was dying, Jack knew what that meant because he's asked us repeatedly about Shemya, our first dog. My mother painted a beautiful portrait of Shemya and we have pictures of Shemya scattered all over the house, so even though she died before Jack was born, he knows of her. He knows that she died of a heart attack when she was old, that she's not with us anymore, and that she is in heaven. He also knows that Great-Grandma Ann died when she was old and is in heaven, too.

When we told him that Hoover was old and dying, he went into denial. "We are NOT saying good-bye to Hoover!"

A few days after we broke the news, Jack played his guitar and sang, very matter-of-factly:

"I don’t want you to die. Please don’t do it. Please don’t diiiiiieeeee!"

One morning last week, Jack saw Hoover lying on the ottoman and asked, "Is Hoover dead yet?" When I said no, he said, "Okay." He then went to Hoover and rubbed his ear. I wonder if he's afraid of touching Hoover once he's dead, but because of his autism, Jack can't answer questions like that. It's extremely unusual to get a good answer to any question that isn't completely concrete and specific. "What do you want to eat?" "Do you want to ride your bike?" These are questions Jack can answer.

"What are you thinking about Hoover's dying?" That's hard for us to know beause if Jack answers at all, he'll usually say, "I love you, Mommy" or "I don't want to talk about that now." How much beyond the literal does he understand? That's been harder to discern.

Saturday night, as we went upstairs to go to bed, Jack paused at my mom's portrait of Shemya. He kissed two of his fingers and placed them on the glass over Shemya's mouth and said, "Don't worry, Shemya. He'll be with you soon."

It seems to me now that Jack understands enough, probably more than the rest of us do. I just wish the understanding made it easier to say good-bye to our furry friend.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Gratitude Journal #39

Today, I am grateful for another weekend with Hoover, who gave us all a huge laugh when he scared himself with his own fart. Dogs are sooooo funny.

Today, I am grateful for George's cooking big, which means I will not have to cook all week...just reheat our choice of two amazing dishes. I'm also grateful for Nick, who, after tasting George's first foray into fresh artichoke appetizers, asked, "Am I allowed to not like this?" Yes, son. You are.

Today, I am grateful that the severe weather forecast for our area did not materialize. Our prayers are with those in the deep south who lost loved ones and homes and businesses in the tornado Saturday. I am constantly amazed at the resilience of human beings who experience such devastation and immediately set to work helping clean and rebuild lives. In one church that was destroyed, church members found a hymnal in the rubble. It was open to "Till the Storm Passes By."

Speaking of hymns, today, I am grateful for yesterday's hymn, which I can't remember singing before. It was written by Natalie Sleeth and published in 1986.

Hymn of Promise

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Weekly Giggle #15

Just as I decide I'm too old to wear message t-shirts, I find this:

Mental Floss T-Shirts

My favorites?

Hyperbole is the best thing ever. [Note: this is the new tagline for QmI!]

Ambiguity: What happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness

I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous.

I'm an English Major. You do the math.

I avoid cliches like the plague.

Which ones are YOUR favorites?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Abraham Joshua Heschel

"When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people." Abraham Joshua Heschel

Wednesday, a friend showed up for our weekly coffee group with her massage chair and gave me and two other women surprise massages. What an amazingly kind person!

Please share a kindness done to you recently.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Things I Love: Honey Vanilla Chamomile Tea

Since last week's Stuff and Things post, I've been thinking a lot about things I love, personal things as well as stuff anyone can buy, and decided this might be a fun weekly post for Thursdays.

Things. Thursday.

Alliteration is fun!

Yes, I am a geek.

I also am a fan of herbal tea. Especially this one.

A friend introduced me to Celestial Seasonings Honey Vanilla Chamomile tea a few weeks ago. It is gloriously yummy. And no, I am not being compensated to say this, nor did Celestial Seasonings send me any tea for free. Usually, I prefer Bigelow herbal tea to Celestial Seasonings anyway. I just really like this one.

And isn't the bookshelf mug adorable? Bought it at Barnes and Noble.

Of course.

I really should start charging for these endorsements, don't you think?

Anyway, what's a thing you love to drink? Herbal tea? Green tea? Earl Gray, hot? Coffee? Whiskey, neat?

Please share!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Yoga Pants and Fashion Statements

My initial topic for this week was politics and how disgusted I am with the ugly rhetoric that has been slung around lately, but what I really want to write about is pants. Specifically, should a 43-year-old woman who’s only slightly overweight be seen in public wearing yoga pants?

Politicians have nothing to say on pants. They are happy to be noncommittal on issues like pants because whatever they say will be attacked by some special interest group and cost votes. No, politicians are NOT courageous enough to provide leadership on pants, though most, I’m sure, are in favor of them in general.

The extremes of fashion blunders are easy to identify and laugh at...just check out the People of Walmart blog. PoW showcases extreme examples of what NOT to wear.

But when does a man or woman’s attire just barely cross the thin line between tastefully comfortable and vaguely unfortunate? I need leadership because I fear I am walking the line and might, just might have crossed it.

My yoga pants cover my lower half quite nicely, and they fit well. Like Baby Bear’s bed, they are just right. But they are also yoga pants, just a tiny step up the wardrobe ladder from sweat pants. I’ve worn them in public a few times but wondered if I looked absurd with my graying hair and slightly droopy jaw-line. I want to age gracefully, and I suspect that yoga pants might be an unfortunate choice for a woman of a certain age.

Am I of a certain age?

No. Just no. Please, God. No.

I’ve rarely thought about clothing style since high school, but Susan Gardner’s blog Friday Playdate, one of my favorites, got me thinking about my wardrobe and feeling, well, inadequate. Susan is much more stylish than I and writes extensively on fashion. I admire her opinions because they are so realistic and moderate. She’s a mom of two boys and has lots of education as well as a wonderful sense of perspective and humor. In fact, I would suspect she and I were twins separated at birth except she is adorably stylish in her short-short hair, is not an ounce overweight, and confidently uses cool accessories that look frumpy on me.

In Susan’s opinion, if a woman buys high-quality yoga pants that keep their shape (no saggy knees or butt) and that fit perfectly, she should feel okay about making a quick trip to Kroger while wearing them. I was also relieved to learn that my pairing of yoga pants with a fitted casual shirt and sneakers met with Susan’s approval.

Unfortunately, my yoga pants came from Target—and thus are not the best quality—and do get a bit stretched at the knee after a while, which is why since I’ve read her article, I haven’t worn them out of my yard.

Yesterday (April 20, 2010), Susan posted a few pictures of her recent wardrobe choices. She makes it look so easy to, in her words, “make a statement.” After showing her adorable pictures, she throws out this request:

“Your turn: what’s your statement piece? And do you save it for a special occasion, or bust it out on a random Tuesday?”

What’s my statement piece? I’d never once thought of any piece in my wardrobe as a statement piece. As I reflected on this, I realized that for winter, my lavender coat certainly makes a statement that fills me with pride and joy when I step out my door wearing it any ol’ day of the week. Any day can be lavender coat day! My sister gave it to me because she never wore it. If not for her gift, I would still be wearing an extremely frumpy, dark gray fleece car coat all winter. My winter statement was made because my little sister made it first. How sad is that?

The only statement my spring/summer wardrobe makes is “this woman never sacrifices comfort for fashion and owns a scary amount of cotton knit.” Right now I have a strong desire to run right out and spend some money on new clothes so my wardrobe can make a more stylish, grown-up statement.

Unfortunately, our bank account took a huge hit on tax day (ouch, ouch, ouch) and now is a deeply unfortunate time to repair my unfortunate wardrobe. I can’t even afford a pair of high-quality yoga pants. Until the bank account recovers, I’ll have to make do with what I have and try to look as inconspicuous as possible.

Time for me to throw out my own request to you. Please share with me and the entire internet what you do to feel good about what you wear. I need all the help I can get.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

When Snuggle-Bunnies Goes Bad

George and I lay on the boys' bed last night for Snuggle-Bunnies (our nightly ritual of tucking the boys in and spending what is supposed to be a little quiet time with them). During Snuggle-Bunnies, George and Jack often play a variation on "Got Your Nose!" with Jack stealing various facial parts off George. Last night, it went too far.

Jack: Got your butt!

George, Nick, Me: GROSS!!

Jack (cackling gleefully): I got your BUTT!

George: My butt just farted in your hand.

Jack: GROSS!!

Nick (laughing): "My butt just farted in your hand!" That's so funny! Say it again, Dad!

George: My butt just farted in your hand.

Just wanted you to know I'm running away from home. The testosterone in my house has carried butt/fart humor too far.... I need some estrogen.

Anyone know a good convent that will take a Methodist?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Gratitude Journal #39

I love having botanical gardens close. Our own yard will not be featured in Better Homes and Gardens anytime soon, and so we visit botanical gardens to see and photograph flowers. At our area arboretum Saturday, we walked among blooming trees and bushes and a field of tulips dancing in a crisp breeze and bright sunlight. Of course, there were no daisies yet, but there were of my favorite flowers.

Today, I am grateful for time spent in the flowers.

Today, I am grateful for another weekend with Hoover at a nearby park, where he was loved on by lots of kids. One girl even gave him enthusiastic butt scratches and earned herself a kiss!

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Fannie R. Buchanan

The Surprise

This morning, plain as plain could be,
A little birdie called to me
"Come out! Come out! Come out and see!"

A butterfly all bright and gay
Went flitting on to show the way,
"Just follow me," it seemed to say.

And all around I heard the bees
Whispering something to the breeze.
I thought they whispered, "Apple trees."

And then I shouted with delight!
Someone had been there in the night
And turned the trees all pink and white!

From Book Trails: For Baby Feet
copyright 1928
Shepard and Lawrence, Inc.
Child Development, Inc.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Weekly Giggle #15

George was teaching Jack to ride his bike, and suddenly Jack put his feet down and stopped. George asked what the problem was.

Jack: There's a bee up there.

George: Just ride past him really fast. He'll never even know you're there.

Jack: You have GOT to be KIDDING me.

You can't get anything past my son, especially where bees are concerned. And yes, he rode his bike without training wheels. We're so proud!

Stuff and Things

Have you ever felt like you were drowning in a sea of your own stuff? I read years ago that an archeologist tried to inventory the average American home, just as archeologists had meticulously inventoried the contents of the Great Pyramids and King Tut’s tomb. The intrepid archeologist of a modern homo sapiens habitation quickly gave up because the average American home has too much stuff.

If our house gets buried in a freak sandstorm and is excavated two thousand years from now by an intrepid archeologist, I hope he or she has lots of enthusiastic graduate students to help catalog all the stuff. It might take a while.

Two things lead me to believe that our house has more stuff than the average American home. First, I’ve always been an overachiever. Second, George has a gene for hoarding that came to him via both his maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, both of whom saw collecting stuff as essential to life.

Since George and I married almost 24 years ago, I’ve been an unpaid Inventory Manager, reorganizing an ever-increasing quantity of stuff in a fruitless attempt to fight entropy. Entropy is the force of nature that moves matter from a state of high order and energy to a state of low order and energy. It takes a bunch of energy to fight entropy and restore order.

I’ve been pouring my energy into organizing our inventory for 24 years in a monotonous cycle of chaos-order-chaos that makes me feel like Sisyphus. No matter how much time I spend organizing, the contents of our house always slide back down the hill into the pit of chaos.

For the last six months or so, I’ve neglected to organize very much, and now the house is so chaotic I simply can’t stand it anymore. I am going crazy and cleaning out and organizing and throwing out and making multiple runs to Salvation Army to shed stuff. My muscles are sore, and I am crabby.

Much of my crabbiness comes from the realization that the rest of my life will be more of the same. It will never get any better.

How have I, a woman whose general attitude toward life positively reeks of optimism and sunshine, lost hope? It’s complicated. Last week at Barnes and Noble, as I stood in line for my mocha, I saw this:

It called to me. It said, “Susan, I am yours and you are mine and we should be together for all eternity.” I was helpless under its persuasive call, and given that my sister-in-law gave me a gift card for just such splurges, I don’t even have any guilt about spending money on it.

What makes this coffee cup particularly obnoxious, however, is that I have two shelves of coffee cups in my cupboard. I ask you, how many coffee cups does a family of four need?

Answer: fewer than we have.

Another component of my despair was realizing that the stuff in the following picture is precious to me:

Here are old shaving mugs and a razor used by my grandfather and great-grandfather. At least the coffee cup is useful, but the razor should only be used by someone who is suicidal. That blade is scary-looking, isn’t it? And no one uses shaving mugs anymore. George squirts his shaving foam into his hand like everyone else does these days.

I brought the mugs and razor to live with me after my grandmother’s funeral almost a year ago, along with a bunch of other knick-knacks I did not need such as a kitchen canister set, a green cut-glass candy dish, a Marjolein Bastin jar, and a small bust of my grandmother’s hero, Abraham Lincoln. We have lots of other stuff from my family and George’s family hanging around as well. Plus, George is currently campaigning to make space in our mess for the wall-mounted moose antlers from a moose his grandfather shot, oh, a hundred years ago. They will coordinate with the stuffed duck his grandfather shot, oh, a hundred years ago that currently resides on top of George's bookshelves in our library.

The past keeps jumping into our house, just like coffee mugs. And it’s not just small stuff (although the moose antlers aren’t small). Two weeks ago I retrieved a bedroom set and grandfather clock from the old homesteads in Charlotte. Here’s the clock, which was built by my grandfather.

Isn’t it beautiful? Its colonial styling doesn’t match a single blessed room in my house, but really, that’s perfectly in keeping with any blessed room in my house. Our d├ęcor is best described as Early Modern Attic. The word eclectic is a bit too high-brow for us. What we have is a mismatched jumble of stuff. Big stuff like furniture. Little stuff like memorabilia, statues, a baby gargoyle, photographs, pillows, baskets, toys, and books…lots and lots of books. Everywhere.

Really, no one would notice the moose antlers.

As I despair of ever finishing cleaning and organizing all this stuff, I’m reminded of the quotation I put on the sidebar of this blog: “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” I’m looking for a mess, and by golly, I’m seeing one.

So what sort of logical, optimistic, puppies-farting-rainbows perspective can I pull out of my present situation? If you’ve been reading Questioning for a while, you know I’m all about finding the silver lining. Since this problem isn’t going away, how can I look at it differently so I don’t die of despair and frustration?

First, I must recognize that not all stuff is created equal. Some of the things in our house are just that: things. They don’t have any sentimental value or practical worth to anyone under our roof, and these things need to go away. Salvation Army is a good place for many of them, at least the ones that don’t belong at the dump.

Those things that do have meaning or are at least useful deserve to stay and be loved. Who cares if Nick has a Victorian bed and dresser, Colonial desk, and Mission bookshelf in his room? Each piece is useful and necessary, and three of the four have the weight of family history behind them. Who cares if my fireplace mantle contains a couple of Willow Tree figurines, an Inukshuk from British Columbia, four family portraits, and a piece of North Carolina pottery? Each item means something to us.

Second, instead of seeing all this meaningful and useful stuff as an albatross around my neck, perhaps I should look at it as the treasure it is. I don’t get annoyed when I have to organize my craft supplies (we can analyze the twisted psychology of that another time), so why get annoyed when organizing my kitchen cabinets or the knick-knacks on my bookshelves? Instead of an inventory specialist, I think I’ll call myself a curator of a lived-in museum. That certainly puts a pleasant spin on the situation, don't you think?

Finally, next time a pretty coffee cup calls seductively to me, I probably need to shut my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, and sing LA LA LA at the top of my voice. People might stare and move away from me, but if it keeps me from buying more stuff we don’t need, it’ll be worth it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gratitude Journal #38

Today, I am grateful for pansies. Pansies and daisies are my favorite flowers (what does this say about me, I wonder), and not only am I seeing pansies all over the place, Jon Katz has been photographing them and posting a Daily Pansy post on his Bedlam Farm Blog. This morning's pansies are stunning.

Today, I am grateful for Saturday's long walk with Hoover. While he did great on the walk and was so happy to be out, it took him an entire day to recover from it, so it's likely to have been his last long walk. He's still hanging in there and seems none the worse for the wear. The tumor is growing, though.

Today, I am grateful for this spring-inspired coffee cup, from which I am drinking my mocha.

Today, I am grateful that Matt (George's 18-year-old nephew) is okay after being in a car wreck last week. He went to his prom this weekend and looked great.

Today, I am still grateful for a lovely church service yesterday and tomorrow's resumption of our Bible study class, which took a two-week break. I feel so refreshed and ready to study.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Pioneer Woman

Pioneer Woman's blog is full of amazing stuff: recipes, photographs of ranch life, words of wisdom, silliness, laughter. Recently, she described her experience with her youngest son in the NICU six years ago and wrote:

"...I was frustrated by my complete lack of knowledge and perspective."

This one sentence sent shivers up my spine and stuck with me as a succinct statement of a gigantic, universal truth. Six years ago, Pioneer Woman didn't have knowledge and perspective to deal with a stressful situation. In retrospect, she sees that clearly. At the time, however, she was winging it and not handling it well until someone--a stranger--smiled at her. That smile didn't make the stress go away, but it changed how she could handle it. Then, in the midst of her own bad situation, she paid that smile forward.

This morning, I watched my elder son pitch a mighty tantrum. I'm sure you know the part of your brain that remains calm and cool and rational, and watches stressful situations as they happen and says unhelpful things like "hmmm" and "well, isn't that interesting?" As Nick pitched his mighty tantrum, that part of my brain remembered this line from Pioneer Woman.

Nick was frustrated by his complete lack of knowledge and perspective.

Aren't we all? How often do we lose control because we don't know enough to see the big picture and how all the little stuff fits together? How often do we create our own problems with ill-timed tantrums over...nothing? Nothing at all.

So I'm curious. What do you do to gain knowledge and perspective? When I'm not in the moment, I pray, read, try to anticipate, and make contingency plans. In the moment, I take deep breaths and pray and try to keep my mouth shut as much as possible. And in the moment, I fail. Often.

It makes me want to hire that man who smiled at Pioneer Woman for myself. But even more, it makes me want to be the man who smiled, who helped someone get a little perspective. How can I be that person for my son, who at ten has precious little knowledge and perspective, and mighty big frustration?

Your turn.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's Just a Matter of Time

I have mentioned before how thermally incompatible George and I are, but recently, it’s come to my attention that we are also temporally incompatible on several levels.

Consider our mutual interest in history. I love all things medieval and can talk intelligently about the effect of longbows on military tactics in the 14th century, the monastic revivals of the 10th and 12th centuries, the Norse invasions of the dark ages and the resulting linguistic oddities in English place names, as well as the impact of the bubonic plague on medieval sermons. But don’t ask me much about American history because I haven’t touched that subject since 10th grade when I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

George, on the other hand, knows a scary amount of both American and world history covering the past 200 years. He is appalled at my level of ignorance on the more recent past and wonders how I have the mental capacity to stand upright and, you know, walk around without assistance. He has always accused me of being the intellectual snob. I don’t think so. Hmmph.

Anyway, our temporal incompatibility extends beyond history to daily time-keeping. It’s really all the military’s fault. You see, George’s training as an aviator in the United States Air Force deeply inculcated the idea that you live and die (quite literally) by Zulu time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time. George was a weapon systems officer on bombers, so it was his responsibility to tell the pilots where to go, how fast to get there, when to turn, and so forth. It was also his job to drop bombs on target. On time. No exceptions. If he screwed up the timing, the bombs could kill the wrong people.

I seriously don’t know how he handled that responsibility, but I do know that before he went to war, he had nightmares about killing civilians or our own troops with an ill-timed bomb. His nightmares didn't come true, though, because he’d learned his lessons about being on time and on target very well.

For USAF aviators, if you’re not in your seat five minutes early for mission planning, you don’t fly. The rest of the crew will find someone else who wants to fly. George can not turn off this programming even though he no longer flies. He and I are always early to everything, including parties. This freaked out some friends who had said we could come a little early to a dinner party at their new house in another town. Thanks to George, we showed up two hours early because he didn’t want us to be late and we might get lost on the way.

Our hosts were incredibly gracious (the husband was also a navigator, so I’m sure they understood), but the whole experience was so embarrassing. We tried to made up for our egregious earliness by pitching in to help get ready for the other guests…who showed up fashionably late.

George retired over two years ago, but he’s still obsessed with the right time. When we spring forward or fall back, he’s the first to climb on the step ladder to reset our kitchen clock. I’m certain he checks his computer and cell phone clocks to make sure they self-adjust properly. The clocks he never looks at (our bathroom, the stove, the microwave) can stay wrong, but not the clock in his car. It’s definitely set to the correct time all the time.

Months ago, my car needed a new battery. It’s a VW Passat station wagon and I love it, but those silly German engineers designed the innards so that changing the battery takes an hour and can only be done by someone who knows what he/she is doing, which isn’t me. The service station’s parts supplier sent the wrong battery, so they installed it and told me to come back in four days, when they would replace that battery with the correct one.

Do these sorts of things happen to you? Am I the only one?

Anyway, knowing that they would replace the battery, I didn’t bother fixing the dashboard clock since I’d just have to do it all over again in four days. During the wait for my new battery, I had to take George’s GTI for an oil change, so he drove my car. Sure enough, the next day, I noticed the clock in my car was correct. George couldn’t even drive my car for a single day until he’d fixed the clock setting.

Oh, by the way, I did reset the clock in my car for daylight savings time—yesterday.

When I had Nick, I entered the time warp I call Baby Time. I totally lost control of time and was forced to go with the flow and not watch the clock much at all. If the baby wanted to play at 2:00 in the morning, I had very little choice in the matter. Knowing the precise time somehow made the whole thing more painful. Now that both my babies are big boys, time isn’t so warped, but I’ve sort of lost my ability to worry about time. Can you imagine how frustrating this is for George? Poor man.

George is an amateur chef, and I’m often enlisted to help with the more basic preparation, like cleaning green onions and making rice or pasta or mashed potatoes. When I was growing up, my mother never timed her pasta; she went on appearance and taste and whether or not the spaghetti stuck to the wall when she threw it. George’s mom, on the other hand, timed her pasta. After almost 24 years as husband and wife, George still expects me to set a timer for pasta, and he is shocked every time to see that I have not.

Last Saturday night, we had burgers and fries for dinner. George fretted over the timing of the fries I had popped in the oven.

“How much longer on the fries?”

“Twenty-five minutes.”

“Okay, I’ll put the burgers on when the fries have fifteen minutes to go.”

Some time later, he asked, “How much longer on the fries?”

I glanced at the kitchen clock. “About 15 minutes.”

“That can’t be right! I asked you seven minutes ago, and you said, ‘25 minutes.’ It should be 18 minutes until the fries are ready!”

“If you knew, why did you ask?”

When we sat down at the table and started dressing our burgers, I looked around and said, “Oh, no!” I’d forgotten about the fries, ran across the kitchen, and got them out of the oven. They were fine.

The very next night, George asked how long it would take to make the mashed potatoes so he would know when to put the leg of lamb on the grill.

“About 35 minutes,” I replied.

“Is that 35 minutes from putting the water on to boil, or 35 minutes once the potatoes are boiling?”

Long pause. “Um, maybe 40 minutes from putting the water on to boil.”

“Are you sure?”

I wanted to say, “No. No, I’m not sure, and what the heck difference does it make because if everything comes out close, who CARES!?!? It’s not a matter of national security!” Instead, I said, “Pretty sure.”

Then HE screwed up the timing. He put the water for the potatoes on the stove and told me, “Your water is on.” I finished preparing the potatoes, and dropped them in the water. Ten minutes later, I noticed the pot still wasn’t boiling. George had set the burner to low, not high. When I pointed this out to him, he panicked. The lamb was already on the grill, but you’ll never guess what happened.

The meal came together just at the right time and everything was scrumptious. It’s a good thing I was wrong in my estimate of the time for the potatoes.

I’m thinking that somewhere between the two extremes George and I represent on the time-obsession spectrum, there is a reasonable, moderate place where time is everyone’s friend and we can all get along. Neither George nor I are moving toward that moderate place. It was made worse recently by the fact that I lost my favorite watch—a daintily pretty silver-and-gold Bulova I’ve had for about 15 years. Now, the only watch I have is a horridly uncomfortable and bulky sports watch I bought for eight bucks at Target. Needless to say, I’ve been doing without.

Eventually, I will drive George completely insane or, at the very least, burn something in the kitchen.

It’s just a matter of time.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Weekly Giggle #15

Since some of you receive my blog via your work email, I’m not titling this post as it deserves, but in our heads, let’s call it Every Sperm is Sacred. I’ve never laughed as hard at Monty Python as I did Sunday night at my dinner table.

George decided to have a tootsie pop out of the kids’ Easter baskets. The Easter Bunny—who is diabolically wicked and pagan to boot and I love him anyway—brought egg-shaped tootsie pops this year because he knows tootsie pops are one of the few candies Jack will eat. George unwrapped his grape-flavored pop and immediately saw the same thing I did, at the same time. He held it up and announced:

“This tootsie pop isn’t egg-shaped. It’s sperm-shaped.”

Don't you agree?

Now, I think we can state pretty definitively that there wasn’t a woman on the committee that named the iPad (still, its name isn’t keeping me, or George for that matter, from wanting one), but seriously, who thought the idea of sperm-shaped suckers was a good one? Anyone who’s been through fifth-grade sex education class KNOWS that shape and has giggled at cartoon images of it swimming upstream. I’m willing to bet there’s not a human over eleven years old who can eat one of these suckers with a straight face, either.

It gets funnier.

As we were giggling over the sucker’s shape, Nick walked up and asked, “What’s a sperm?”

Which resulted in helplessly juvenile giggling from the over-40 crowd in the house.

“No, seriously. What’s a sperm? I want to know what’s so funny.”

Oh, help me, Rhonda! I had a bite of peep in my mouth. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t swallow, and as the marshmallow dissolved, I felt like I’d either drown or throw up, which, in that moment, was hilariously funny and made me laugh harder.

I was completely incapable of speech, so George answered, through involuntary snorts and giggles, “I’ll tell you when I finish eating it. I can’t talk about it and eat this thing at the same time.” Then he made his sucker swim through the air.

Who knew laughing could hurt so much?

Once we got ourselves under control, we explained about sperm and egg cells and googled pictures of sperm so Nick would understand. Fortunately, he didn’t ask where sperm come from, so we were spared that much detail, but Oh. My. Gosh.

Sperm-shaped suckers. What will they think of next?

P.S. It is posts like this that keep me from putting “content-appropriate advertising” on this blog. Can you just imagine the sorts of ads that might pop up beside this? *shudder*


Monday, April 5, 2010

Gratitude Journal #39

Today, I am grateful for so much, and have pictures to prove it!

*I am grateful for Friday's trip to the ice cream parlor with Hoover. He got a cup of vanilla and ate it in record time. Can dogs get brain freeze?

*I am grateful for this picture, taken at the ice cream parlor, of Jack being silly, with a fun candid of George in the background. Doesn't George remind you of Steve Carell in the poster for
The 40 Year Old Virgin? Sorry, George. I couldn't resist.

*I am grateful for the beautiful weather that allowed us to check another item off Hoover's Bucket List. Nick was so happy to take his dog to the water and see him do what he was born to do.

Hoover retrieved the bumper like a pro for about five retrieves, but he got out of the water slowly on the last retrieve so we decided he was done. He, on the other hand, wanted to keep going. The heart is young, the body not so much.

The tumor is noticeably bigger, but otherwise he doesn't seem too different. I'm so grateful that he can still have this much fun, and I'm also grateful we stopped him when we did because he had a little trouble getting up the stairs last night.

*I am grateful for a glorious Easter Day filled with worship and music and celebration of the Resurrection. "Up from the grave he arose!" What a great hymn!

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Luke 24:1-12 NIV

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.' " Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Words, Words, Words for Easter

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun's eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened Paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail, the resurrection day, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save. Alleluia!

But the pains that He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation have procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He's King, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing. Alleluia!

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!

Charles Wesley

Happy Easter, everyone!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Internet Fun

When I wrote this essay about my many blank books, I was pleased that several people confessed to this irrational obsession I share with Jimmy Buffett. Well, today, I learned that there is AN ENTIRE BLOG dedicated to notebooks. Who knew?!?

I foresee new purchases of blank books in my future but not until after we pay taxes and recover from the resulting recession in our household. Sigh.

Excuses, Excuses

A combination of children on spring break, moldy antique furniture, complete household chaos, and a scattered brain have kept me from writing this week's essay. Next week will be better. I hope.

I hope you all are doing well and enjoying unseasonably warm and sunny weather during this Holy Week.