Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gratitude Journal #55

Today, I am grateful for IronmanLive online because it let me watch Keith Grimes cross the finish at Ironman Louisville yesterday. Keith and his wife Mary went with us to Ironman Wisconsin last year, where unfortunately, Keith did not finish due to an unfortunate incident with a salt tablet. (Long story.) Well, Keith, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

Today, I am grateful for yesterday's beautiful church service and the fact that I sat next to my friend Angela, who moved back to Ohio this summer after being away for over 18 months. She would never say a word about my joyful noise (aka dreadful singing). She's an awesome friend!

Today, I am grateful for Salvation Army, which will gladly take my carload of stuff out of my life forever and give it to people who need it. I sure don't.

Today, I am grateful for my boys' teachers. I have never felt so excited about a school year for them!

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Words, Words, Words about Happiness

"Happiness... it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort."
Vincent Van Gogh

What joy of achievement or thrill of creative effort have you felt today? If the answer is none, go forth and fix that!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Little of This and a Little of That

Honestly, how much can be packed into three days of our lives? It's crazy here, I tell ya!

On Monday, we took Jack to the Newport Aquarium for his birthday, as we do every year. When I asked him what his favorite part was, he said, "The Nemo fish." So here are the Nemo fish:

And here is the happy birthday boy:

Jack's birthday was all about Thomas the Tank Engine. Literally. The cake, the decorations, the presents were ALL Thomas. What a happy kid he was!

Jack won't build Thomas tracks for himself, so Nick took over our library (which we have blocked off from Daisy, who would no doubt enjoy chewing the wooden tracks to pieces) and built a huge Island of Sodor for Jack that included his new Tidmouth Sheds and Coal Hopper. What a good big brother!

Tuesday, Jack's official birthday, was also the first day of school. Jack was very excited and happy to climb on the bus.

Today, however, he woke up late, lost part of his morning routine as a result, and pitched a fit about going to school. As we stood on the front porch waiting for the bus, he said, "I'm very frustrated with you, Mommy." As the bus pulled up, he stomped away, glanced back at me, and made an ugly face. "Jack, that's not nice," I said. In a lightning-quick change of mood, he stopped, turned, and said, "Mommy, I'm sorry I made an angry face at you. I love you." All smiles, he headed down the drive to the bus.

Nick is a rather jaded fifth grader who would rather pick up dog poo than admit that school is the least little bit fun. This makes getting the annual first-day-of-school picture rather challenging:

Daisy is now big enough to stand on her back legs and put her whole head on the kitchen table. I snapped this picture Monday night when she was sniffing at the Greek lasagne George made. Her new height served her well last night when she sneaked two pieces of bacon off George's BLT and started to swallow them whole before I pulled them out of her mouth. We've started buying bacon by the slice so we can limit how indulgent we are with it, so there were no extra slices to replace those two puppy-contaminated ones. George, who once shared a Tootsie Pop with Hoover, said he'd eat them anyway.

And he did. Bacon is bacon, folks.

My plan to celebrate the first day of school with a morning spent at Barnes & Noble cafe was derailed by Jack's plan. On Monday night, he told me, "Mommy, I have a plan. Listen. Tomorrow after school, I will go to my room and you will decorate the table with Thomas and put out my cake. Then, you will call me down and yell, 'Surprise!' Okay, does that sound like a plan?"

Unfortunately, I didn't have stuff to decorate the table for his birthday. In all the craziness of the last week, I forgot all about it. Plus, he made it clear that his life would be incomplete without "Spencer, the fastest engine on the Island of Sodor." So I spent my day making Jack's plan come true.

Wednesday, I made my plan come true...sort of.

I made it to Barnes & Noble by 9:30, and prepared my table for a celebratory breakfast and some uninterrupted blogging. Breakfast was tasty, and I was filled with a good feeling of sugary, caffeinated satisfaction. The computer, however, started acting up after about ten minutes, moving slowly. Suddenly, the screen went totally blank, then came back after about ten seconds totally distorted, with everything enlarged and pixellated. Then, the screen went black again and came back normal.

Good feeling gone. AIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!!! Was I being hacked? Had I been infected with a virus? WHAT WAS WRONG!!!!

I clicked to shut down the computer and up pops the screen that says something like DO NOT TURN OFF YOUR COMPUTER...configuring Windows udates 1 of 16.

Good lord. Sixteen Windows updates. I sat there staring at the screen for about ten minutes, waiting. Just waiting. It was a relief to know that the shenanigans were the result of an overabundance of windows updates, but OH MY GOSH! I closed the system, packed up, and headed to Michael's, where I consoled myself with a few supplies for upcoming Halloween craft projects.

Maybe I'll get to blog at the bookstore NEXT week.

Yesterday afternoon, I had to take Daisy to the vet for shots and a check up. She checked out healthy, and the vet, who doctored Hoover, told her she had some big paws to fill. Daisy enjoyed her visit to the vet, made friends with everyone and every dog there, and we went home. Later, when George returned from his post-work run, he noticed that Daisy's face was swollen. She looked like a sharpei and was scratching at her head. Poor little pup!

I called the vet, who asked me to bring her immediately. Apparently, she had a reaction to part of the vaccine. The vet gave her a shot and me some prednisone to give her at home. George took this picture when we got back home. Her whole face looked so distorted and puffy.

By bedtime, she looked one hundred percent better. This morning, she and Jack sat on the steps looking so cute I had to snap a picture.

Finally, last night, George made the decision to do Ironman Wisconsin on September 12. With the troubles he had in training earlier this summer gone, he decided to go for it. Mom's coming to watch the boys and Miss Daisy. If you live near Madison and want to meet for coffee at the Starbuck's near the Capitol Building, shoot me an email.

Hopefully nothing crazy will happen to get in the way of THAT plan.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gratitude Journal #54

Today, I am grateful that eight years ago today, my in-laws had arrived six days before my scheduled C-section. Little did I know that that night, I would go into labor and have an emergency C-section at three the next morning. Thank goodness my in-laws were there to take care of Nick so we could go to the hospital and bring this boy into the world:

Today, I am grateful for Jack.

Today, I am grateful to George for taking today off from work so we can take Jack to his favorite place on earth, the Newport Aquarium. He wants to go every year on his birthday. He calls it the Blue Fish Museum.

Today, I am grateful that tomorrow is the first day of school. OH. MY. GOD. I'm so grateful for that.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Here's a Daisy fix for your weekend enjoyment.

She's channeling Hoover and has now started prewashing the dishes. George is worried she'll cut her tongue, but Hoover never did. We handwash all our sharps anyway.

Hazelnut creme coffee dripped onto her head from the top shelf. Now she smells like Starbuck's and makes me want a mocha.

Happy weekend to you all.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Bill Bryson

In 2003, Broadway Books published A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. George and I like the book so much that we own it in hardcover and on CD, and I listened to the CDs again on my drive to and from Maryland. Here are the introductory paragraphs of the's Words, Words, Words:

Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn't easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.

To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally underappreciated state known as existence.

Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle. Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don't actually care about you--indeed, don't even know that you are there. They don't even know that they are there....

Bryson's book about nearly everything shows how we're not that much better than our ignorant atoms. He demonstates how little we really know about what we think we know, and how many times we've been wrong before. A Short History of Nearly Everything is as much an essay against scientific hubris as it is a celebration of just how lucky we are to exist at all and a challenge to do better than we have done at making the world a better place. I highly recommend it.

Things on Thursday: Lime Bath Mat

I am fully aware that today is Friday. I'm just late. And thank heaven not in that way, if you know what I mean.

Which reminds me...I had a dream last night that we received a package from the UPS man containing two live babies and a live cobra. George, who in my dreams is always supremely unreasonable, wanted to keep the babies, while I wanted to call social services, which for some reason HE thought was unreasonable. He was also in denial that the snake with its hood in proud display (with a red heart on the back...what was that freakish detail all about?) was, in fact, a cobra.

I was far more upset that he wanted to keep the babies than that the cobra had wandered off in my house. In fact, I woke up before the cobra with a heart on its hood could even be an issue.

If that's not proof of a benevolent God, you're being too picky.

Anyway, Daisy has decided that the lime green bath mats in our powder room are worthy opponents, so here's my thing on Thursday. Please note the acceptable chew toys in the background.

A brief digression on lime green bath mats, because I'm feeling chatty today. When we first moved into our house, I decorated the powder room in soothing shades of sage green. After a few years, the sage green made me want to cry from sheer boredom, so I made some happy orange art to hang on the wall and found some orange baskets and an orange bucket for trash at Hobby Lobby for 70% off.

Thus began the epic quest for an orange and white curtain and orange bath mats, which involved checking Target, Walmart, and JC Penney every change of season for about two years. Which pretty much explains why I'm not an interior decorator.

Have you any idea how hard it is to find orange bath mats that are REALLY orange and not canteloupe or pumpkin? My mom finally suggested I go with lime green, which is surprisingly easy to find at your local Target in both bath mats and curtains.

Now my powder room makes me happy every time I walk in.

Unless the bath mat is missing. Then I go in search of Daisy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tears and Fears

Last week, I received a call from a woman on our church’s stewardship committee. She asked if I would give a presentation on the Loaves and Fishes ministry to the congregation. I assumed I would talk about the ministry in general, so my main anxiety initially was that I haven’t spoken in public in a while. Lack of practice makes this harder for me, but it’s church, for Heaven’s sake. Literally. I can handle a little stage fright in that setting.

So I agreed, but then she explained that the presentation should focus on how the ministry touches people.

My first thought was not very spiritual. It was this: “How in the heck will I get through this without crying in front of everyone?”

You see, I’m one of those people. You know: the people who cry at Hallmark commercials. It’s a rare church service that doesn’t see me digging in my purse for Kleenex. Anything can set me off: a hymn, an urgent prayer request, the prayers in my own head, children singing, the sermon, the benediction. Once, the prayer before the offering got me going. Church is a veritable mine field of opportunities for weepy embarrassment.

And now I have to stand up and tell how the Loaves and Fishes ministry touches people, both those who serve in it and those who are served by it.

Good grief. I’m just typing the topic and need a tissue.

I come by my weepiness honestly. My grandmother was a weeper. One day, I walked into her house, yelling hello. No response. Oddly, the door to the living room was closed. That door was never closed. In fact, not long after this, my grandfather took down the door because it just got in everyone’s way. That day, however, the bothersome door was closed. I went to it and listened. Nothing. I knocked and heard a muffled come in.

What I found on the other side of the door alarmed me. My grandmother and cousin Kathy sat on the sofa, hugging one another, sobbing.

“What’s wrong?” I cried.

They couldn’t speak. They just pointed at the television. Little House on the Prairie. It took a few seconds for me to realize it was the episode in which Laura’s dog dies.

I sat down and sobbed with them.

Flash forward half a decade or so. My sister is living in New York City, and both my mother and I are visiting. Lisa scores tickets to Les Miserables, and as Fantine is dying, mom and I blow our noses quietly into our tissues. Lisa leans over to Mom and says, “I can’t take you two anywhere.”

See. It’s not my fault. It’s genetic. And by the way, since Lisa had babies, she cries, too. Or at least tears up. So there.

But I do have it bad. I cry at weddings, even when I don’t know the happy couple and even when I do know them and suspect they will soon be divorced. I cry reading books. The Bridges of Madison County made me lock myself in my office in the English Department at Wichita State. I had to blow my nose in my gym towel because the box of tissues was empty. If someone had knocked, I would not have answered. All those jaded English grad students and professors would have mocked my vulnerability to the manipulative prose of a sentimental novel.

When reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I cried when Dobby died, very quietly because George was sleeping the night before competing in Ironman Lake Placid. But it was no surprise that I cried for the loyal house elf. I’d cried when the owl Hedwig died in Chapter 2, too.

As for the Loaves and Fishes ministry, I pray before taking a meal into a newly bereaved widow or a family facing the death of a child. I pray that I won’t break down in front of them, that I will provide nourishment to their bodies and comfort to their hearts rather than add to their suffering. Mostly, the prayers work and I hold off the tears until I’m safely alone in my car. Once, however, just talking on the phone to a mother whose baby was dying of leukemia, I broke down and she comforted me.

That was so wrong on so many levels I don't even know where to begin. How do you ever make up for adding to someone's burden like that?

In the ordinary course of life, however, I’ve made my peace with tears and take my husband’s mockery as I cry at movies and, occasionally, commercials, with good grace. But gently dabbing tears from my face while sitting in the comfort of my home or in a church pew is one thing. Tearing up while standing in front of the congregation with all eyes on me is quite another.

Oh, Lord. Help me not to make a fool of myself. Amen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gratitude Journal #53

Today I am grateful that this 4 pound, 11 ounce preemie baby...

is now this 18 pound, 6 ounce baby...

Today, I am grateful for a beautiful Friday at the beach with my family. We went to Chesapeake Bay and hunted shark teeth and other fossils.

The cliff gave us shade all afternoon, which was absolutely delightful. Here are Lisa, Mom, and Baby Grady enjoying the shade.

Lisa took photos of everyone, including me. You won't be seeing the ones of me. Ever.

Baby Grady wasn't sure about the water, and when a wave hit him, he decided it wasn't for him.

Jack, on the other hand, started talking about going to the beach three months ago when I first told him we were visiting his cousins in August. I told Lisa that now that Jack had been to the beach, he would want to go home to Ohio. As soon as we returned to Lisa's house on Friday, he said, "Mommy, can we go home now?"

Rory, my niece, only left the water to make sand castles for the whole three hours we were there. She and Jack are the water children in this family.

Nick and Mac are the collectors who were more interested in finding shark teeth and other interesting fossils. Mac's big find of the day was a tiny, inch-long, perfectly intact, serrated manta ray barb.

Today, I am grateful for family.

What are you grateful for?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Words, Words, Words about Family

"You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them." Desmond Tutu

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." Jane Howard

"And thank you for a house full of people I love. Amen." Terri Guillemets

These quotations apply to the week in June that we spent with George's side of the family. They also apply to the time I'm spending right now with my mom, sister, brother-in-law, niece, and two nephews. That's right. I'm in Grady-land! Pictures will be coming your way soon.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Daisy Update

Life has been coming up Daisy lately. On the whole, our miracle puppy has worked magic in the family. George laughs more now, the boys have actually picked up poop in the yard twice now, and I have a furry friend whose favorite place is at my feet when I'm on the computer. That is, when she's not killing her squeaky gingerbread man. Oh how she loves to kill the squeaky gingerbread man.

I'm going to take my bookbinding awl and kill the squeaky gingerbread man myself soon.

Daisy still isn't sure what sort of animal she is. We've not heard the hyena/wolf/chicken sounds in a while, but there must also be a bit of reptile in her to explain the behavior we've labelled the Snake Strike. Wow, she's fast. When she's worked up playing or even just sitting peacefully in a lap, she will strike her companion in the nose with her nose in a lightning-fast attack that leaves the victim saying, "What the...?!?!"

Then there's the Daisy Cow. She eats grass. Turns out lots of pups eat grass and a quick Google search turned up the helpful fact that no one knows why they do this. Well, one hypothesis (the grossest and therefore most likely to be true where dogs are concerned) is that it's an enacting of the instinct to eat the stomach of herbivore prey first. The expensive food we're feeding her should meet all her dietary needs, but she likes eating grass. Thankfully, she's not thrown any up, but give her time and a lapse in our vigilance to keep her from swallowing her cud, and it will happen.

On the carpet.

She is also Stealth Puppy, a canine version of the B-2 bomber. This is new to me and George because neither of our other pups was stealthy. Both flopped around quite noisily (especially the Hoove, who did nothing quietly his entire life). This meant we always knew where Shemya and Hoover were and what they were doing. Daisy, on the other hand, is delicate, careful, Ninja-like. She moves from point A to point B soundlessly and quickly. You'll see her one second, look away, quickly glance back...and she's gone. As in SHE'S GONE AND OH MY GOSH WHAT IS SHE DOING!?!?!?! Panic grips us because, when she gets to point B, she does one of three things: she either poops, pees, or chews carpet.

Actually, the housebreaking is progressing normally. Stealth Puppy generally goes to the back door and sits when she needs to go out. But she's very quiet and doesn't wait long. If we miss our chance BECAUSE WE DIDN'T HEAR HER, she loses patience and heads for carpet. Needless to say, she keeps us on our toes and is training us quite well to make her the center of our universe.

I mentioned in a previous post that Daisy's breeder said she "wouldn't be unsensible" like our Hoover. Nevertheless, we've seen signs of unsensible behavior, which is sort of a relief because I don't particularly want a personality-less Stepford puppy. She is completely enamoured of the chew toy attached to her butt--how convenient! I love the look of surprise when she sees her tail move. "Oh! What is this? I must kill it! Arrrrggghhhh! [shake, shake, shake] Oww. Why does that hurt?"

She also does the Wild Thing, running madly around the yard or house until her back end gets going faster than her front end and she flips. The expression on her face when this happens is priceless. "How in the heck did THAT happen?" she seems to wonder. Then she takes off again.

She also eats rocks. You know, I just can't do anything with that little nugget of information. It's out there all by itself as an unsensible thing to do without any hyperbole from me.

On the up side, she actually does one thing all good dogs should do: the Happy Dance. This is the whole-body-wagging wriggle performed upon seeing her people after even a brief absence. Dave Barry described it as "unadulterated dog joy upon sighting the master."

We call it love.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gratitude Journal #52

Today, I am grateful for cheese grits. And ham. And homemade biscuits. That's what George fixed for dinner last night. Don't you wish you'd been here?

Today, I am grateful for the fun of hobbies. George was losing the fun of his and found it again this weekend.

Today, I am grateful for wagging puppy tails.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Words, Words, Words from George Raihala

"She's epically cute. She's eleven dimensions of cute. It takes string theory to explain her cuteness." George Raihala

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Things on Thursday: Holiday Card Box

This is the second post for today. Please scroll down to read this week's essay.

My mother gave me this holiday card box many years ago.

It hangs right inside my front door. I don't empty the cards until we receive our first holiday card of the season. At that time, I go through all the previous year's cards to refresh my memory. Our family and friends are scattered all over the world. Many we haven't seen or talked to outside Facebook in more than a decade. Our main contact with them is through Christmas cards and letters.

That's how I see pictures of babies I knew who are now graduating from high school.

That's how I know that friends have had babies, job changes, breast implants, and vasectomies.

That's how I learned that my dear friend Karen H. in Wichita has cancer of the appendix. I hated that letter but was grateful for it, nevertheless.

There is a world of lives--triumphs, tragedies, celebrations, bragging, sharing--in that simple, beautiful box. It represents how connected we are to people we see and people we don't see, people we knew and cherished and never want to lose from our lives completely.

Sometimes we do lose touch. Sometimes the letters stop coming, and then I suspect divorce. Sometimes people just move, addresses get lost.

I wonder what happened to those friends.

How do you stay in touch with friends and family far away? What helps you feel connected to them still?

Working with Your Gifts

Emil Zola once wrote, “The art is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work.”

Zola’s words apply to life as well as art. Lately, I’ve been questioning what it means for people to embrace the art of life, to do the work with their gifts. Years ago, when I was beginning my faith journey at our current church, I had to call another member to invite her to join a committee. What I got in answer was an earful of dissatisfaction with the church, the pastor, and the lay leadership. When I asked the woman what other committees she was on and what else she did in the church, she replied with rhetorical circumlocutions that made it clear she did not do anything to make the church a better place. She was just showing up and then felt angry that church wasn’t what she wanted it to be.

That sort of passiveness doesn’t really make sense, yet we all fall victim to it at some point in our lives. We sit around holding onto our gift, waiting for someone else to do the work for us. We act as if the gift alone was precious and others ought to appreciate it without our having to lift a finger.

I once had a highly gifted friend whose graduate school advisors told him to write a dissertation on a topic that didn’t interest him but was in vogue at the time. My friend's response to this advice left me quite speechless. “Susan,” he said, “if those professors could just crawl in my head and see how brilliant I am, they wouldn’t ask me to write a dissertation in the first place.”

I had students with similar attitudes in my freshman composition classes. They blamed me for their own failure to make the grades they felt they deserved. One student, who was clearly gifted with language and wanted to be a writer, had no discipline to her writing and told me the rules I taught made her feel constrained. “I’m an excellent free-writer,” she said.

I replied, “Everyone is an excellent free-writer because the only audience for free-writing is you. When you have to communicate what’s going on in your head to someone else with written words, you have to shape your words to convey your meaning to your audience, not just to please yourself.” She said, “I don’t want to do that. I want to be free to express myself my own way.” From her perspective, the world owed it to her to interpret what she meant; she had no obligation to help anyone else understand her at all.

Sounds like a recipe for loneliness to me.

Now, let’s be clear that I’m not singling these two people out for scorn at all. I’m well aware when you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you. And like I said above, EVERYONE does this some time, in some way, and mostly, we’re totally blind to our own guilt. I’m so blind the only example I can think of from my own life is pretty benign in the grand scheme, but we can all very safely assume I’ve been just as arrogant as my friend and my student at some point—or many points—in my own life. And chances are, you have been, too.

During my first two years of college, I took 20th Century American Poetry and 20th Century British Poetry. I hated both classes. You see, my high-school education was rooted in classics through the Romantic Poets, with very little American poetry at all. I took both classes in college very passively, waiting for the professors to enlighten me as to the meaning of these weird (to me) poems that were not nearly as fun as Keats’ "Ode to a Nightingale" or Milton’s Paradise Lost or Homer’s Odyssey. I scorned the poetry and blamed the professors because they didn’t teach me anything. It was their fault.

See, I told you my example was benign. Or banal. Take your pick.

Anyway, by the time I got to graduate school, I’d figured out something about education—and life in general. You get out of it what you put into it. I’d put next to nothing into those two modern poetry classes in college, and now graduate school provided me with a second chance to learn—actively learn—about the poetry of William Carlos Williams, Siegfried Sassoon, Elizabeth Bishop, and Robert Lowell.

I took a poetry genre class with a mediocre professor, worked my butt off, learned a lot, but still didn’t have a good idea what these modern poets were trying to say.

I had one last chance: my comprehensive exam in poetry. At Wichita State, to get an MA in English, a student has to take three comprehensive exams: one on a genre, one on a literary period, and one on a major author. A student’s thesis determines what the content of each exam would be. My thesis was on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, so my genre was poetry, my period was the Middle Ages, and my major author was, of course, Chaucer.

The mediocre professor wrote my poetry comp. Together, we had to agree on a book list that would be the basis for the exam. When he asked what I wanted to read, I confessed my utter ignorance and confusion with 20th century poetry and asked if he could recommend books to help me overcome it.

You should have seen how his face lit up. The books he recommended were horribly out of date by critical standards of the mid-1990s (this professor distrusted any criticism written after 1970), but they served me well. I now enjoy reading modern poetry because I put a lot into that exam and used the professor’s strengths in his outdated critical approach to outgrow my own intellectual weaknesses.

Two obvious lessons came out of this. First, standing on the sidelines waiting for someone else to enlighten me did not work; I had to let go of prejudice, get down and dirty, and work hard with a wide-open mind. You get more out of an experience if you put more into it, and sometimes it takes a lot more work than you thought it would. Generally, it's worth it in the end.

Second, confessing ignorance and asking for help are necessary to growth, not signs of weakness. I’d always thought Socrates was right when he said, “The more I know, the more I know that I know nothing.” After this, I knew he was right.

But there is a third lesson, tangential to these two, which is even more important. We’re all connected in life, and how we feel about that deeply influences how much we can grow together in community with others. My poetic enlightenment made me a much better teacher, for instance, better able to communicate my enthusiasm for literature in general with bored World Literature students. Also, my mediocre graduate professor doesn’t look so mediocre after all, does he?

In our church life, work life, and social life, the same lessons apply. When we jump in and give, really give, of our time and talents to others, amazing things can happen. We stop judging and start living. We feel connected and happy. One lovely example of this is my in-laws’ volunteering for Meals on Wheels. They don’t just deliver meals; they deliver a kind word and a smile, and they say they get more out of it than the people who get the food.

My mother, a dental hygienist, gave so much to her patients that when she retired, some of them cried, a few felt hurt and got mad at her for abandoning them, and many gave her gifts of gratitude and affection. Technically, all she did was clean their teeth, often hurting them in the process. But she did it with skill and kindness and caring, and her patients noticed.

Right now, I'm trying to decide whether or not to train as a Stephen Minister. It's a tough decision because on the one hand, the training will equip me to help other people in very direct ways, but I have doubts about my gifts for that sort of ministry. It might also take time away from writing. How do I choose where my gifts are needed most? Which gifts need more attention at this point in my life? Seems like a situation for lots of prayer and a few key conversations with people who know more than I to give me guidance.

How do you connect and grow in your life? Do you look for opportunities to grow? Are you doing the work that goes with your gifts? Where could you do better?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Door-to-Door Waffles, Anyone?

My son desperately wants a new rapid-fire Nerf gun. He was, however, four dollars short of the needed cash to purchase one.

This kid always has an idea. "Mom, guess what? I'm going to make money selling Cherry Delight! You remember the recipe I invented?"

Before I continue, allow me to share his recipe for Cherry Delight.

Nick's Cherry Delight

cherry pie filling
powdered sugar

Mom makes waffles using the recipe on the Bisquick box. Nick pops the top on the cherry pie filling, spoons some on each waffle, sprinkles each with powdered sugar.

That's Cherry Delight.

My response to his plan was annoyingly socratic.

Me: How are you going to get the waffles and cherry pie filling?

Nick: You're going to get them for me.

Me: Are you going to pay me for the ingredients?

Nick: That wouldn't work! I wouldn't make much money that way!

Me: Who will buy your waffles?

Nick: The neighbors.

Me: How will they know you have waffles to sell?

Nick: I will take them to their door.

Me: How will you keep them warm? How will you deliver them? Are you going to use paper plates? Who will pay for the paper plates?

Nick: [crickets]

Then I explained that, logistical difficulties aside, most people wouldn't want to buy cold, sickeningly sweet waffles from a door-to-door salesman trying to make money for a Nerf gun. Plus, we don't allow our children to go door-to-door anyway.

Me: I have another idea. Why don't we make the chocolate dumplings Ms. Debra made? They are easy, make a bunch, and you can easily sell them from a stand at the four-way stop by the pool.

Nick: Sure! I can sell them for a dollar a piece!

Me: Um. No. A quarter a piece would be better.

Nick: How 'bout 50 cents?

Me: A quarter.

He did make the chocolate dumplings but charged 50 cents each. He also tried selling at our pool first, but of course, as we had told him, no one takes money to a neighborhood pool that has no vending machines or snack bar. Finally, he admitted that the four-way stop would be best. He spent three hours in the hot, hot sun trying to sell chocolate dumplings (devil's food cake mix and one can of pumpkin...they're healthy and taste good, too!).

After an hour of no takers, he called me on the cell phone I loaned him, and told me things were not going well.

Nick: I thought I'd change the sign. [Smart kid!]

Me: What does it look like now?

Nick: It says, "50 cent chocolate."

Me: What did you write it with?

Nick: Blue marker.

Me: Can drivers read it? Are the letters really big and dark?

Nick: [pause] No.

Me: Make your letters bigger and darker and add the word dumplings to it. People may just think you're selling chocolate bars, which might not sound appealing at 9 in the morning.

Nick: Great idea, Mom! How do you spell dumplings?

I told him, and he went back to work.

One kind man took pity and bought two, which resulted in a jubilant phone call to update me on his victory. After that bit of success, the market dried up. After several hours, Nick's friend Jacob offered him $3, and Nick gave him the entire box.

He had earned his money by the sweat of his brow and the generosity of a friend, so I took him to Target, only to find two empty shelves where the gun he wanted should have been.

He took it like a man and said we can check back another day.

I'm proud of my boy and hope he eventually gets what he wants. But I hope his career takes a different path.

Perhaps contract negotiations.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Gratitude Journal #51

Today, I am grateful for George's good workouts this weekend. They muddy the waters as far as whether or not he will do Ironman Wisconsin in September, but at least he got some good workouts in.

Today, I am grateful for booda bones and tennis balls. They keep puppies occupied.

Today, I am grateful for the breaks I get when Daisy looks like this.

Today, I am grateful for mochas, which are the only things keeping me alive at the moment due to puppy-induced sleep deprivation.

Today, I am grateful for my blog readers and how kind they are.

What are you grateful for today?