Monday, June 28, 2010

Gratitude Journal #46

Today, I am grateful for a fun-filled vacation with George's family in northern Minnesota, for laughter and togetherness, for kayaks and pontoon boats, for beautiful log cabins, for wonderful food and drink, for spending time and reconnecting with extended family, for safe travels for all.

Today, I am grateful for the kennel that kept Hoover while we were gone. April, the owner, knew full well that Hoover might need to be put to sleep while he was with her, but she willingly took on the risk to provide a safe, well-known, and loving place for our furry friend. We pick him up today, and I'm soooo grateful he's still with us.

Today, I am grateful for the many volunteers who have stepped up to make meals for the Hammett family. Little Lincoln Hammett lost his 18-month battle with leukemia on the 20th. While this family struggles with grief and loss I cannot understand, I am amazed at how large a community has surrounded them with prayer and support and encouragement. Lincoln brought people together in love and care for his family, and for that, I am grateful.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Words, Words, Words about Pleasure

The July 2010 issue of Real Simple magazine has an article by Paul Bloom about finding pleasure. He writes:

"Happiness is a prolonged state of being that is influenced by a variety of factors, ranging from a person's relationships to her religion to her genetic predispositions. Pleasure, on the other hand, is a purely instinctive reaction with a brief life span: 30 seconds to an hour or two, tops. And while happiness can be elusive at times, sources of pleasure are fairly easy to come by."

The giggly pleasure of listening to children laugh, the delicious pleasure of a mocha, and the pleasurable peace of watching a beautiful sunset over water spring to my mind as wonderful sources of pleasure.

What comes to your mind when you think of sources of pleasure in your life?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Could We Spare a Few?

Mother Teresa said, “We cannot all do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.”

Our celebrity-driven, consumer-oriented, highly-competitive culture doesn’t exactly value small things. Many individuals internalize this in unhealthy ways (raising my hand here). We justify the rat race in our own minds, but instead of being clever rats, we’re really just lemmings following the crowd over the cliff.

I’ve heard well-educated, smart, privileged people say, “The problems are so big, there’s nothing I can do.” I have heard people scorn Christians who went to New Orleans after Katrina to help with the clean-up, saying they were self-righteous, just doing it to get into heaven and not really concerned about those people.

That may indeed be true for some people, but who cares? They still got down and dirty helping people dig out from the mud and sewage and nastiness. I doubt the homeowners they helped care what their attitude was...they just appreciated that someone was helping them. The government sure wasn't.

People can come up with all sorts of excuses not to do big or small things. I don’t have time. It won’t make a difference anyway. The problem is too big. That’s life. Those lazy bums just need to get jobs. I don’t know those people. Someone else will help. I pay my taxes, and government programs do enough. I’ve got enough problems of my own.

One day, my sister and I were in my mother’s front yard cleaning out our cars in preparation for trips back to our own homes. An elderly man walking by saw all the car seats and baby paraphernalia in the yard and asked if he could speak to us. His daughter had a baby and they didn’t have money for diapers. Could we spare a few?

Could we spare a few? Yes. Yes, we could.

That day, I made a promise to God and myself that I would try to pay attention to small needs. I regularly get sucked back into my own rat race, so I need structure to keep me focused on seeing the need around me. That’s one reason I go to church. Many people see churches as places of greed, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness, and sadly, they are right. Our church isn’t a center of greed like the mega-churches can be, but I see hypocrisy and self-righteousness there all too frequently. I also see plenty of people who genuinely want to help others by doing small—and even big—things every day. It’s a small church committed to missions and outreach in our community, state, country, and world. Despite its small size, our church makes a big difference with love, despite a few hypocrites and nay-sayers.

If church isn’t your thing, the internet has lots of ways to do small things. My favorite is Do One Nice Thing, a site that started as a way to perk up Mondays and is committed to bringing opportunities of giving in small ways that make a difference all week long.

Operation Write Home is big in the stamping community as a way to send homemade cards to the troops so they have cards to send home to their family and friends during deployments. Another stamper read that I sent cards to the troops and emailed me about how she wanted to do the same but her relatives discouraged her, saying there were too many scams and the cards wouldn’t make it overseas. She wanted to know how I knew for sure that my cards were getting to the troops. I replied that no one ever knows for sure in charitable giving. It’s an act of faith. But if no one had that faith, no good—large or small—would ever get done. She thanked me and said she’d rather be a person with faith that she could do some good than a person of skepticism who did no good for anyone ever.

Sending a can of tennis balls to help underprivileged kids in Colorado or $10 to Haiti or a box of cards to the troops is a small thing. It won’t change lives or save the world. But it will make a small difference with great love. We can’t all be Mother Teresa, but we can all follow her lead in our own small ways.

What are your favorite ways of doing small things with great love for your family, your community, your nation, or our world?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gratitude Journal #45

Today, I am grateful for time spent with family relaxing and enjoying each other's company.

Today, I am grateful for sunscreen, cool breezes, and lakes.

Today, I am grateful for older cousins who play with younger cousins.

Today, I am grateful for a good night's sleep.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

To my father-in-law Roger and my uncle Darius, thank you for being fathers in my life. Happy Father's Day!

To George, father of our children, thank you for being an awesome dad and husband, too. Happy Father's Day!

To all men out there who love children, are there for them, support them, and go the distance, Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Things on Thursday: Priority Mail Box

Our Thing on Thursday this week is this medium flat rate priority mail box:

This box brought me my first supplies from Mark's Finest Papers, a company that has made 2010 a landmark year in my life by asking me to be on its Design Team.


For those reading Questioning who are not stampers, Design Teams are an important marketing tool for stamp companies. In exchange for free stuff (FREE STUFF, PEOPLE!), Design Team members make papercraft projects and publish those projects on their stamping blogs and other places on the internet.

I am so looking forward to my six months with Mark's Finest Papers, and this flat-rate box signals the beginning of that creative journey.

You can't see me bouncing in my seat, but trust me.

I am.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Gratitude Journal #45

Today, I am grateful for the man who helped me make this family. Twenty-four years ago today, we were married. Wow. It seems like forever ago and also the blink of an eye. There's something to be said for being stubborn and in love.

Today, I am grateful for the Bang-Bang Shrimp at Bonefish Grill. If you've never had them, I highly recommend you run right out and get some. Your life will be better for it.

Today, I am grateful for Hoover, whose limp is more pronounced but who is still begging for food with unparalleled enthusiasm.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Words, Words, Words about Silliness

"Silly is you in a natural state, and serious is something you have to do until you can get silly again." Mike Myers

"If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done." Ludwig Wittgenstein

Hoover has taught us a lot about silliness in the last thirteen years. He doesn't care who is watching when he wriggles in pure, unadulterated joy. In fact, he seems to appreciate the audience and invites us to throw ourselves onto the grass and wriggle, too.

Go forth this weekend and be silly. Hoover the Miracle Dog says it's the best medicine, and I believe him!

PS If you only read Questioning in emails or a reader, please click to the blog itself today and take a look at the fresh new layout. I encourage you to do this regularly because there's stuff on the sidebar that you miss if you only read the feed.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Things on Thursday: Index Cards

Omnipresent in my life, index cards are inexpensive, easy to stash in any drawer, and perfect for jotting down grocery lists, to do lists, or notes. Writing things down is essential for's too complicated and busy for me to keep everything in my head.

I also collect funny verification words on index cards. You know those words you have to type into blog comment pages, words like phoduc and repint and nonkines? Yeah, those words. Even nonsense words fascinate me, but I would never be able to remember the cool ones without writing them down.

Here's a shot of the inside of my bedside table, showing a stack of blank index cards and a necessary pen. Post-it tabs also come in handy for marking pages in books or magazines for future reference, too.

The next shot is the drawer under my laptop.

There are more cards in a drawer in my craft room, but I decided two pictures would be enough to make the point. And yes, it's weird but I never claimed to be normal.

So, tell me and the rest of the world how you handle lists and notes. I'm always looking for new note-making techniques to try!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Listening to Petula Clark sing Downtown the other day got me thinking about, oddly enough, downtowns. As Petula crooned about gentle Bossa novas, memories of my first trip to downtown Charlotte hovered vaguely in my mind. I was young, probably in third or fourth grade, and with my grandmother, I think. I only remember two things very, very clearly. We went to a department store, and it felt so empty. No other shoppers were around, and the staff seemed desperate to help us. So very different from the busy J. C. Penney at Park Road Shopping Center we normally visited.

The other thing I remember is how tall the buildings were. Oh, my goodness. The buildings loomed over me in an amazing way, not scary or threatening, but amazing. As I grew up, my awareness of the dangers of downtown increased with every night’s evening news, and Charlotte’s skyline grew more cluttered. The English major in me couldn’t help but joke about the giant phalluses being erected in my hometown. I could just picture all the good ol’ boys who ran Charlotte getting together in a room and comparing the lengths of their respective, um, edifices.

Of course, none of Charlotte’s skyscrapers can quite compete for phallic obviousness with the Wachovia Center in downtown Winston Salem. During a trip to North Carolina years after moving away, I rounded a curve on the interstate and there it was, in all its upright glory, and I almost had to pull off the road I laughed so hard. The Moravian founders of Winston Salem would not have approved.

Mothers, don’t let your daughters grow up to be English majors….

As George and I moved all over the country, courtesy of the United States Air Force, we saw lots of downtowns. My favorite downtown was Boise, Idaho. What a rockin’ fun place it was! We partied downtown nearly ever weekend, dancing to the retro-70s band Soul Purpose and eating salmon-and-pesto sandwiches at Bittercreek Brewery. I never once felt nervous or scared in Boise, and that might have had something to do with the fact that there was very little violent crime and there were no real skyscrapers in Boise. The capitol building was the tallest building I remember. And St. Luke’s hospital. Boise was a city that had its priorities straight: the foothills of the Rocky Mountains are the skyline’s focus, not man’s little artificial mountains. See?

After growing up in Charlotte, where murders were reported practically every night on the evening news, Boise’s non-violent lifestyle showed me what downtown could be like if sense ruled. The biggest local news story of our three-and-a-half years there was the killing of police officer Mark Stall in the line of duty. Officer Stall’s death marked the first time in over 100 years an officer had been killed in the line of duty. Most of Boise shut down for the memorial service, which was held in Boise State University’s football stadium. This is what happens when a moderate-size city hasn’t lost its innocence. I’d move back there in a heartbeat.

But perhaps gangs and drugs and guns and stupidity have moved into Boise, now, too.

Dayton’s downtown is a bit scary, as are the downtowns of most big cities. I much prefer the downtown of our little town, which consists of Main Street and boasts a museum that is staffed by volunteers, keeps irregular hours and schedules tours of historic downtown by appointment only. The town, founded by Quakers in the early 1800s, was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and Main Street still has many of the town’s original buildings. We actually have a few neon lights, too, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a little place that never closes or hear the rhythm of a gentle Bossa nova. There’s a yoga studio, a children’s art school, clothing shops, caf├ęs, an ice cream shop, antique stores, a dog groomer, a bakery, a florist. Pretty much what you would expect in a small Midwestern town.

And the only skyscrapers are small church steeples.

Definitely my kind of town.

Now it's your turn. Please share your memories of your favorite (or not so favorite) downtown.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mommy Dearest

I realize I haven't posted recently about what a mean parent I am. You see, I make my children do things like BRUSH THEIR TEETH or FLUSH THE TOILET or PUT THEIR DIRTY CLOTHES IN THE LAUNDRY BASKET! Oh, THE HORROR! Judging from the whining and complaining, I'd say I'm in the running for the Meanest Mommy Award. Call Child Protective Services immediately, because my children are the most abused boys ON THE PLANET!

Of course, it's a miracle I didn't get arrested yesterday because...

wait for it...


I made Nick get a HAIRCUT!

Really, I don't deserve to be a mother.

As you can tell from Monday's post, our beautiful boys needed haircuts. George, a former Air Force officer who shaves his head completely bald, gets twitchy when his offsprings' hair touches their ears or collars. He demands they get haircuts and leaves it to me to execute the order.

He's a coward.

Jack actually has no problem with haircuts. In fact, at the barber shop last year, he saw a man getting a crew cut and said, "I want my hair cut like that guy!"

Nick, on the other hand, begins wailing and gnashing his teeth immediately upon the mere suggestion of getting a haircut, begging to get out of it and generally pitching a fit. As you can imagine, it isn't any better on the drive to the barber shop. He sobs, kicks the seat, and hurts my ears with his cries of despair. Meanwhile, Jack helpfully asks, "What's the matter, Nick?"

Monday morning, I sprang our trip to the barber on Nick suddenly to minimize my suffering, if not his. I also announced my intention to take pictures. He was subdued on the drive, sniffling quietly rather than pitching a full-blown fit. I was surprised. At the barber shop, I took this picture. Jack was trying to cheer his brother up. Nick was having nothing to do with it, but he also wouldn't look particularly upset either.

When he climbed into the barber's chair, I told him to look sad. He said, "NO!" The barber told him to pose for the picture, and he said, "No, she's just going to put it on her blog!"

Can't put anything over on this kid.

The other kid, however, was having a wonderful time having his long locks shorn.

In the end, Jack was, of course, happy with his super short do. I have to get more creative to torture him, such as offering him a turkey cheese dog instead of a regular cheese dog...the turkey ones are a different color, and he's convinced I'm trying to POISON HIM. Ah, I love the sound of the screams.

Nick, however, wouldn't even let me take a picture of his do. That's quite a flinch he's developed, don't you think?

So there you go. I torture my firstborn with trips to the barber shop AND THEN BLOG ABOUT IT. When he's full grown, his therapist is going to have a wonderful time with this.

I will, however, sleep with an easy heart, knowing my son's hair is NO LONGER MY RESPONSIBILITY and that I had some fun with his histrionics.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Gratitude Journal #44

Today, I am grateful for another week of living with a furry miracle dog. Hoover had a great week last week, which is not bad for a dog who was supposed to be waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge over a month ago. He jumped so all four paws left the ground, a major accomplishment given how fat he's become. I dare you to say no to a begging golden retriever when you know he's dying of cancer. It's not possible.

Given his show of friskiness, we have started wondering if he's sneaking out for implants to simulate a tumor.

He went for a walk and out for ice cream last week. This time, we went to Coldstone Creamery rather than Graeter's because George is convinced Coldstone's ice cream is creamier. I think Graeter's is better. The boys don't cream is ice cream.

Photos by George Raihala.

We're not letting Jack get a cone again for while. Savoring a cone leads to massive stickiness. You're looking at bath night.

Shark-boy, on the other hand, eats like his daddy.

So does Miracle Dog, who bolted his ice cream so fast he threw it back up...along with his dinner of Iam's. I had to clean the mess up with tiny little napkins. Ewwww.

"Who, me?"

Yes, you.

I'm also grateful for George's successful and safe completion of the Deer Creek Olympic-distance Triathlon Sunday morning. He came in second in his age group!

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Salvador Dali Waves His Paintbrush over our Dinner Table

We had a most surreal dinner conversation tonight. I can only recount bits of it, but the overall effect is deeply disturbing in the annals of parenting.

It all started with Nick, who asked, "Do chickens mate?"

This question was apparently prompted by his thoughts about someone who had a baby without being married. If you’re confused, that’s okay. Neither George nor I have any idea what chickens mating has to do with babies born out of wedlock. This led to a discussion about adoption and George explaining the difference between biological parents and legal parents.

George: So, if you were adopted, who would be your real mother? The woman who gave birth to you but whom you had never met, or the woman who raised you and took care of you? Who would be your real mother?

Nick [Pause. Grin.]: Megan Fox.

I lost it, almost spewing a delightful Cline Zinfandel through my nose. When I got control of myself, I asked what made him say Megan Fox. He just grinned.

George: Is it because she’s indescribably hot?

Nick: Yeah. What dad said.

A bit later, after a discussion of boyfriends and girlfriends, Nick ended this deeply disturbing conversation with this little nugget: “I’m just glad there are two different genders.”

HE IS TEN!!!! Is he too young to read Oedipus Rex? I think that ancient Greek play would be useful at this point in his education.

We are in so much trouble.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Creator's High

"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." Joseph Chilton Pearce

When he was three, Nick asked a question: "Which way is right?" His innocent question goes beyond merely directional importance and strikes at the very heart of our choices in life, doesn't it? It certainly struck me and George that way.

Which way is right? I'm not sure how it got started, but early in my life, I dreaded the possibility that I might be wrong. This developed into a full-fledged phobia as I learned to define my worth as a human by my grades. If I made a 100 on a test, I was a good person. If I made a 99, I was careless, inadequate, hopelessly stupid. This thinking lead me, at the age of 16, to feel like a complete failure in life and to have thoughts that I'd be better off dead.

How ironic that in seeking to be right I was so terrifyingly wrong.

Why do we put ourselves through these sorts of judgments? Often, we're much harder on ourselves than we are on others. I never thought my friends who made 99s or 89s or 79s or 59s were stupid or bad. I loved them and thought only good of them. But for me, lurking always in the spidery recesses of my mind, was the thought that horrible things would happen if I weren't perfectly right.

There were lots of reasons for this, I suppose, but I'm more interested in solutions. How did I learn that being wrong wasn't the end of the world? How did I make peace with imperfection and lose my fear of it?

Well, aside from a helpful psychologist and some time spent being loved and loving, I cultivated my creativity. It all started with making a baby. I made this little person who coos and giggles and squirms and startles and sucks and cries and poops. That miracle lead me to quit work and stay home full time, one of the scariest and bravest things I think I've ever done.

Being a stay-at-home mom gave me time in my home, and thus made me think about how it was decorated, what was hanging on the walls, what would make it more appealing. It gave me a chance to try flower arranging (not for me), making curtains (also not for me), and papercrafts (definitely ME!). When I discovered papercrafts, I realized that my life-long obsession with office supplies, pens, and paper had a whole creative side that I'd never considered. The genie was out of the bottle, and I haven't looked back.

Still, it took time to get over my fear of being wrong. It's rather startling how persistent I was toward a goal I didn't know I had. I just wanted to make things I liked. I copied others' work, studied magazines and books, spent hours just making stuff. At some point, it stopped being work and started being joyful play. I stopped worrying so much about getting something right and let my creativity loose.

And that's when I understood why God created the universe: because it was good.

Since my epiphany, I'm more conscious of others' brave and creative endeavors and am in awe. George's creativity with food amazes me. I'm too afraid of ruining meat and have never been adventurous in the kitchen, yet he creates original works of art each weekend. My sister's creativity with photography also amazes me. My mom turns everything she touches to art. My mother-in-law makes art with fabric in quilting and applique. My friend Liz, a graphic design artist, was my original inspiration in papercrafts, and in trying to be like her, I found myself.

How do you get your creator's high? What do you do that fills you with that wonderful joy of not fearing to be wrong? Is it fashion? Home decorating? Gardening? Writing? Whittling? Music? Motherhood?

Put another way, what brave new thing would you do if you weren't afraid to be wrong?

Ominous Portents

The last day of school. Jack's bus will be here in 30 minutes. And it's storming, with window-rattling thunder and lightning flashes and rain, rain, rain pounding the windows. Hoover is panting with fear and following me like a shadow.

If we were in a Shakespearean play, this would not be good. Not good at all.

Thank goodness we're not in a Shakespearean play. Right?