Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekly Giggle #22

Yesterday afternoon, while our family walked Miss Daisy, Jack, our 8-year-old, was making the most annoying train and pokemon noises. He does this pretty much all the time (it's a behavior of autism to make repetitive noises), and while George and I are mostly good at tuning out these these meaningless sounds, sometimes it just gets to be too much, even outside. Such was the case yesterday, when George and I both told him to stop. His reply:

"I can't help it. It's just who I am!"

We know, honey. We know.

From another kid, this might seem like an excuse or back-talk, but not from Jack. In his case, he's pretty much stating a fact.

I would dearly love to know what movie he got this from (another symptom of autism is using movie lines, often quite appropriate to the situation, rather than spontaneous speech to communicate). Suspects include How to Train Your Dragon, which is a totally wonderful Dreamworks movie. We haven't had that one long enough for me to have it memorized myself.

Whatever the source, Jack's growing self-awareness and ability to communicate it are delightful!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Robert Louis Stevenson

"There is no duty we so underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world." Robert Louis Stevenson

Please share an anonymous benefit sowed on your behalf by someone who was happy. For me, I will never forget the clerk at a McDonald's drive-thru four years ago. I was having a boo-boo day, and her smile was so genuine, so aimed like a laser at me, that it totally changed my mood and lifted me up.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Things on Thursday: An Empty Space on my Fridge

The empty space on my fridge is where Jack's occupational therapy schedule belonged. Yesterday, he went through his OT re-evaluation and the therapist said, after four years of hard work, that he was done. D. O. N. E. Done. Praise God! He also wowwed his developmental pediatrician today with his progress in speech and social engagement.

That's Jack's torn-paper apple smiling at you. Beside it is Nick's perfect spelling test from last week. He finally studied for a spelling test. And that was the result. He's not seen that grade on a spelling test since the end of fourth grade. It's amazing what studying does for your grades, is it not?

The beauty queen (a gift from my friend Karen) has a sash that says, "Miss Weirdo" because that's how I've been feeling lately. I'm comfortable being Miss Weirdo (almost 44 years of it makes it a pretty comfortable thing), but scanning the other options, I think I need to change the sash for the one that says, "Miss Queen of the World."

'Cause that's how I feel today.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Clean Windows

“Housework, if it is done right, can kill you.” John Skow

Around the time I decided to stay home and raise my children, I bought a book called Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. It’s an impressively weighty tome, with 884 pages of tiny, law-school textbook type with shockingly few illustrations. The author, a lawyer (why doesn’t this surprise me?), certainly sets a high standard of cleanliness and order.

In chapter two, Cheryl lists her idea of daily chores:

-Put soiled clothes in hamper and hang up other clothes
-Clean sinks and tubs after use (including drains and traps)
-Check soap, toilet paper, other supplies in bathroom; change towels if necessary
-Prepare meals and clean up afterward
-Put out fresh kitchen towels and cleaning utensils [My note: what exactly are cleaning utensils?]
-Clean floors in high-use areas (kitchen, entryway) by sweeping, damp-mopping, or vacuuming
-Refill vaporizers and humidifiers (and clean if necessary)
-Neaten; put away newspapers, magazines, and similar items
-Do interim marketing when necessary
-Empty trash and garbage containers (evening)

While some of Cheryl's advice seems, to my mildly AR/OC personality, quite good, I have never, even in my wildest flights of obsession, lived up to this list, much less to her list of weekly chores, which includes, among other things, dusting light bulbs, washing out and sanitizing garbage cans, vacuuming lamp shades, and washing “all” combs and brushes.

This reminds me of Heather Armstrong’s blog and all the pictures she posts of her dogs on pristine hardwood floors. According to Heather, “People often write me and ask how I keep my wood floors so clean when I live with a child and a dog, and my answer is that I use a technique called Suffering from a Mental Illness.”

My own OCD isn’t clinically significant (thank Heaven!), and when I bought Home Comforts, I hoped it would help me streamline my housekeeping and make it more efficient so I wouldn’t have to spend so much time cleaning. Instead, just reading the first few chapters made me feel like a filthy, no-good, dirty rotten loser. I was already spending far too many hours in fruitless search for a clean house (baby, pack-rat husband, two dogs, four bathrooms…ohmygosh I was so incredibly doomed to fail!). So I quit reading Home Comforts to preserve my sanity. Honestly, if a person kept house at this level, he or she would spend most waking hours cleaning: who would want to do that?

Well, my grandmother, for one. She kept house at the level recommended by Home Comforts, so I know it’s possible. She had very few hobbies outside the domestic sphere, plus her house was maybe a smidge over one thousand square feet, with one bathroom…small enough to be manageable by one woman on a mission. When she finished all her ordinary household chores, she would invent things to do or carry ordinary tasks to extremes of obsession. For instance, I have vivid memories of her using a pair of tweezers to pick through the contents of her vacuum cleaner bags looking for anything useful that might accidentally have been sucked into it, like rubber bands or loose change.

Does anyone else do this routinely? I mean, I can see tweezering through the disgusting contents of a vacuum cleaner bag if, say, you suspect you sucked up your diamond engagement ring. But to do it in the off chance you’ll find a rubber band?


I could wax poetic about the Greatest Generation’s saving ways, their frugality, and their June Cleaver pearls-and-high-heels wardrobe for vacuuming. Those things are admirable (well, not the June Cleaver thing…that's just kinky), but these days, I’m happy if my toilets and kitchen are clean and I can still see my reflection in the bathroom mirror despite toothpaste spatter.

Is that too much information? Sorry about that.

Some household tasks inevitably fall to the bottom of the list, simply because they are so very easy to overlook or ignore. It’s hard to ignore dirty toilets (though I am quite capable of it) and positively dangerous to let your kitchen go. But it’s very easy to ignore the state of your windows. I simply don’t think about them very often, which means that, by the time I do notice, they are appallingly dirty.

Having Miss Daisy Doolittle in the house brought windows to my attention. You see, at puppy-nose height, our bay window and door window had become opaque with snot. Seeing that caused me to look higher and realize that all the windows were completely nasty. My grandmother is in heaven shaking her head in disgust at my lack of housekeeping finesse. She loved clean windows and kept hers sparkling.

Oh, relevant and funny tangent time! Jack asked if he could clean this sink the other night. I said sure because there was finely chopped mint and cilantro all over it that needed to be wiped out. After a few minutes, I checked on Jack’s work. “Jack, you need to clean the green stuff out of the sink, dude!” He replied, “Mommy, that’s gross! I’m cleaning the not gross parts. Aren’t I doing a good job?”

Back to windows. My children have washed the downstairs windows in the last few months, but their idea of washing has more to do with wasting as many paper towels and as much Windex as possible on the center of the glass. The fact that windows have sides and corners is completely lost on them. So last week, I cleaned every window in the house. Even the garage-door windows.

I LOVE IT!!!!! Oh how wonderful to see, really see, out the windows. I swear the house is brighter now. I break out in giggles of joy when I open the blinds in the morning. I vow never again to let my windows get so filmy and dirty!!!

But I will. You know I will. In the messy business of life, I will become distracted. I will choose to read novels, poke around on the Internet, blog, craft, help children with homework, scrub toilets and wipe kitchen counters, volunteer to shelve dusty books at the school library, take my mini-laptop to Barnes and Noble for the afternoon and sip mochas and eat scones and blog, and the windows will, once again, most certainly get nasty.

For now, however, I’ll revel in the sparkling clarity of my windows, and comfort myself with the following wisdom from Erma Bombeck: “My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?”


Monday, October 25, 2010

Gratitude Journal #63

Today, I am grateful for whoever first said, "A day without coffee is like...sleep."

Today, I am grateful for a man who enjoys chopping vegetables and baking bread.

Today, I am grateful that our school hosts Dads and Donuts every year. George took the boys to school that morning. As they loaded in the car, he placed the box of chocolate-glazed Krispy Creme donuts on the roof of his car while he loaded his backpack and coffee. Jack panicked. "Daddy, that isn't safe for the donuts!" (And yes, George took donuts because Jack is picky.)

Today, I am grateful for chocolate-glazed Krispy Creme donuts.

It seems my gratitude is focused on food today. Let's wing off in another direction.

Today, I am grateful that Jack likes his developmental pediatrician. "Dr. Z is the best doctor EVER!" When I asked Jack why he liked Dr. Z so much, he replied, "He lets me play with his light and tells me to open my mouth and say 'Ahhhh.'" He also doesn't give Jack shots.

Today, I am grateful for Dr. Z and all the other professionals who help kids with autism. What a blessing they are to these children!

Today, I am grateful for Legos. Nick is now obsessed with them, and frankly, that's a good thing for an almost-eleven-year-old boy to be obsessed with.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Guilty of Unsensibility

If you've been following Daisy's progress closely, you might remember that her breeder told us she wouldn't be "unsensible."

That woman lied.

Exhibit A

You can't tell Daisy anything. In people years, Daisy Doolittle is about three years old. Whoever said twos are terrible never had threes. Threes are WAY worse. And they have no sense at all.

First, we can't turn our backs on the table when it has food on it. She absolutely views any food on the table, unsupervised, as free for the taking, despite repeated commands of "OFF!" and "NO!" I left a stack of Pringles on the table Thursday and turned around to replace the canister on the counter. When I turned back, she had the whole stack in her mouth, crunching loudly. George is threatening to run a bead of hot sauce around the table to scare her off.

We have also repeatedly removed socks from Daisy's mouth and told her firmly no. She wants the socks and couldn't care less that we disapprove. The other day, I was interrupted from a task by the need to remove a formerly-clean sock from Daisy's mouth. I put the sock on the kitchen table and finished my task in the kitchen. When I turned around, Daisy was STANDING ON THE KITCHEN TABLE--ALL FOUR PAWS--WITH THE SOCK IN HER MOUTH!

Sadly, I didn't take a picture. Instead, I yelled at her and got her off the table. And took the sock out of her mouth. Again.

I replaced the sock with this raccoon.

Daisy loves the raccoon almost as much as she loves socks. She squeaks the squeakers in its head and paws (God, save me from the squeaking!). She throws the raccoon up in the air. She shakes it to death. She prances around with it in her mouth. Then she shakes it some more. Note the flopping of her ears in this picture. You have no idea how hard it is to get action shots of this dog.

So, Daisy is three in people years and acts just like a three-year-old human, except that she wants to kill the raccoon rather than pet it and love it and call it Stripey. She won't do what you tell her and does what she wants even though you repeatedly tell her not to.

Exhibit B

She responds insensibly to ordinary stimuli.
The other night, I had her on our bed while I read and she chewed a nyla-bone. Suddenly, she stood up and stared out the dark window. Then she growled. Then she barked. Because there was a strange golden retriever puppy looking in our second-story window at her!!

Two nights ago, she was on the bed, happily chewing a stuffed lamb that she loves almost as much as the raccoon which she loves almost as much as socks. Suddenly, she noticed that the rowing machine had MOVED! HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!?!? How dare it move from its proper place tucked under the windows! She growled. Then she barked. And she barked some more, while it sat on the floor, completely unintimidated by her display of puppy outrage.

Last night, she noticed George's long cycling tights hanging from a hook on the wall...where they have hung for months. She growled. Then she barked. Then she curled up next to me and kept throwing dirty looks a the tights, as if to say, "I've got my eye on you!"

She is, undeniably, guilty of unsensibility.

Of course, she's also guilty of being cute and cuddly and furry and funny. All it takes to distract her from anything is to start talking in a high-pitched silly voice: "Come here, Daisy Doodle! Come here! You are the cutest doggie in the world! Oh, how I love you!" A high-pitched voice immediately reduces Daisy to spasms of body-wagging dog joy.

In fact, I'm now convinced that it's evolutionarily advantageous for dogs to be unsensible. It makes us want to take care of them, shower them with love, and dote on them. Besides, all the unsensible moments are more than compensated for by moments like this:

It's a verdict we can live with.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Words, Words, Words about Seasons

"To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring."
George Santayana

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Things on Thursday: A Love Letter

Looking back through old family scrapbooks can be quite illuminating. You can uncover amazing treasures that give you a glimpse--just a glimpse--into the past.

My grandmother, Ann Willis, received a two-page letter dated October 12, 1943, when my mother was just over a year old, and signed by someone named Johnson.

The letter passed the Army censors. Johnson was a friend of Ann's husband, my grandfather, D.L. Willis.

Here's a photo of the letter, the second page of which is permanently glued into the scrapbook (woe is me!).

Here's a transcript of the letter:

Dear Anne,

I am writing you in order to release my mind of a thought that has been in my heart for some time.

It hurts me to write this, but the time has come when I can hardly stand it any longer. I am asking you while I am in a serious mood, something that has caused me many nights of restless sleep. It may be discouraging to you, but also interest you to know the pleasures of life depends on your ability to give me a truthful answer. Honey, I hate to say this but my heart has taken advantage of my thoughts and I am forced to beg you to give an answer that will send me to the well known seventh heaven or to the eternal depths of hell. In fact, my interest in this world and in the future depends on you.

Little did I know that such would ever cross my path in regards to you, and I know you will be kind enough to give me the answer that will make me very happy or miserable.

Promise me that you will consider the issue with an open mind and not let former loves or courtships influence you. Honey, from the bottom of your heart, I want to know the truth. Do you think Lil' Abner will ever marry Daisy Mae?


P.S. I saw D.L. the other day and he looked fine. He gave me your message about snatching both my hairs out. Too late, Annie, the rigors of war have beat you to both of them. How's that baby. I miss her slobbering on my blouse. Bye now, J

When George first perused this scrapbook, he read this letter with huge eyes and shocked expression...right up to the line about Lil' Abner. He said that, as he was reading it, he couldn't believe Grandma had put the letter in a scrapbook for all to see. Those of us who knew Grandma well expected some sort of punch-line, though. Nor are we surprised that she was threatening to pull out Johnson's remaining hair. Papa always teased her that she had yanked out all his hair, too.

I asked my Mom if she knew anything about Johnson. She said no. She believes there is a photo of him somewhere, but she's not sure. If there is, it's likely not labelled. Johnson is probably one of the nameless faces in the many war-era photos that my Grandmother put in albums. The Greatest Generation is becoming the Lost Generation. But this letter gives us a glimpse into that time. And that makes it a precious thing to hold.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loving Religious Freedom

Being a rather mainstream Protestant Christian (I'm a Methodist), I've not had a lot of exposure to other Christian practice. Methodists are very open (have you heard our motto "Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors"?). Our Communion, for example, is open to all who wish to be in right relation with God. You don't have to be a member of the Methodist church or any church. You don't have to be baptized or confirmed or confessed. All are welcome at God's table.

I love that.

I've attended Catholic Mass several times and deeply resented being excluded from Communion. I've rebelliously taken Communion in Protestant churches where I didn't, technically, qualify to do so, but for some reason, I just couldn't bring myself to break the rules in a Catholic church. Perhaps its all that study of the medieval Catholic church, the Inquisition and all. But I just couldn't bully my way to the sacrament.

When it comes to Mormons, I was pretty much an ignoramus. I worked with Mormons when I lived in Idaho, but they never talked about their faith at work, except to say that polygamy wasn't the norm anymore. In fact, they sort of resented that assumption about Mormonism, that they are all polygamists.

Our real estate agent had told us there were certain Boise communities we didn't want to live in because they were predominantly Mormon. He said that unless we converted, they would shun us. I had no idea if this was true or not. Like so many religious groups, I suspected that the Mormons were often misrepresented and misunderstood.

But we didn't take any chances, and moved into a house across the street from a retired Lutheran minister and his wife, and next door to Catholics.

But that location didn't teach me anything about the Mormons. I've not read any of the popular books about Mormons and polygamy. The whole concept of polygamy is distasteful to me, no matter how Old Testament it is, and the activities of radical fringe groups make me want to huddle on my fence in the middle. Also, what we hear in the mass media, sensationalist as it is, lacks a broader, sympathetic perspective and can't be relied upon as educational.

So when three Mormon missionaries came to my door two weeks ago and asked if they could pay a visit to share their faith, I said sure. Maybe it was wrong of me to think from the start that this would make excellent blog material, and lots of people thought I was crazy to have them come. (Thank you, Karen, for understanding!) Still, I was happy when the three missionaries arrived. I didn't expect to learn everything about Mormonism in an hour, but I did expect to get a little fuller picture of the whole thing.

We spent a wonderful hour together sharing our different perspectives, and I learned a lot that I thought I'd share with you. If any of my readers happen to be Mormon, please weigh in on any of these points in the comments.

1. I had thought that all Mormon churches were temples and that non-Mormons were not allowed in. This is NOT TRUE. There are Mormon temples that have very limited access to non-Mormons, but their churches are open to all. Their services are three hours long and have three parts: a communal time, Bible study grouped by age, and a third hour segregated by gender.

2. As a scrapbooker, I see lots of scrapbook pages in magazines by Mormons (who practically invented the industry). I was always struck by how sincere and family-centered these pages were. The emphasis on family is deeply appealing. But the strong dividing lines between the sexes, and the fact that power is officially held by men and not by women, disturbs my more feminist tendencies. For instance, men are expected to go on a mission at age 19. For women, it's voluntary and the age is 21.

3. Joseph Smith wrote 13 Articles of Faith which lay out some of the doctrinal elements of Mormonism which differ from mainstream Christianity. For me, there were several big standouts in these Articles. Mormons do not believe in the Trinity (a Three-in-One God), instead seeing the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as three distinct and separate entities. They also do not believe in Original Sin. They do believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and they believe in modern prophets (such as Joseph Smith) who carry on the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament.

4. My favorite of the articles is this: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may." One of the missionaries stated clearly and strongly that she was proud to live in a country that guaranteed religious freedom to everyone. This runs counter to the reports that Mormons shun those who will not convert. Of course, lots of Protestants and Catholics don't practice what they preach, either, but I found it surprising and refreshing that Smith felt strongly enough about this to include it in the Articles of Faith.

5. Methodism emphasizes Christ's teachings on love, and the three missionaries certainly talked a lot about Heavenly Father's love for us all, every one of us. That's a message I think all flavors of Christianity should strive to make our common ground.

I'm not a convert. The doctrinal differences (particular with regard to the Trinity) and exclusion of women from the official structures of power are barriers my conscience can't cross. Furthermore, the idea that the Bible is incomplete and that a bunch of gold tablets no one is allowed to see hold its continuation strikes me as, well, awkward. I believe that once God became incarnate, the need for modern prophets in the Old Testament sense of the word disappears.I have a hearty skepticism of anyone claiming prophetic status and immediately start looking for their ulterior motive.

But that's what I believe. Others believe differently and are entitled to do so. I am in total agreement with the missionaries in my deep and abiding gratitude to live in a country where I'm allowed to believe and practice my faith without prejudice, and where religious difference need not be cause for alarm.

I also hope we never stop talking about and defending religious freedom. Too many times, even in this country, people's freedom to worship as their conscience dictates (as long as that worship doesn't violate another's rights and freedoms) is challenged. Death threats are called in to mosques, legal actions are taken against businesses that put up Nativity scenes, books are burned.

I love and value my religious freedom. How can I not love it for others, too? So here's a big thank you to those three Mormon missionaries who shared their faith with me.  I hope we can agree to disagree and trust in God's love to handle the difference.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Craving White Space in a Carnival World

Over on my stamping blog, I talk a lot about something called white space. White space, which doesn’t have to be white at all, is simply the empty space in graphic designs and art. Think about GAP advertisements, the old ones where a single model, dressed in stylish clothing, was surrounded by white. Now, contrast that image with the latest flyer from Target, where white space is in short supply. It’s hard to focus on any particular deal in the Target ads because there are so many crammed on the page, and they all scream loudly at you and compete for your attention like game hawkers at a travelling carnival. “Step right up, folks!” You’re not quite sure what to look at first.

The GAP doesn’t make that mistake. Their ads are like a Zen garden with a single rock, surrounded by neat and tidy sand. You really notice the rock. Your eye can only really go to the rock. And the rock looks good.

Life needs more white space.

At least that is the argument of Leo Babauta, author of a blog called zenhabits. His post on white space hit home with me. Where is the white space in my life? Certainly I make plenty of room for white space on the cards and scrapbook pages I create. But what about the rest of my life? It seems messy and cluttered and crazy, with all sorts of pretty and colorful and (often) important things competing for my attention.

I crave white space. But since I have a brain that is hard to shut off, a broad range of interests and a hefty curiosity to explore those interests, two small children, one grown husband, a golden retriever puppy, and chronic insomnia, the metaphorical white space of my life gets quickly filled with stuff. Instead of being a nice, clean GAP advertisement, my life feels like a carnival of fast rides and relentless music and whirls of color and pattern and motion. It has LOTS of stuff in it, and I love most of that stuff.

And therein lies my conundrum.

After reading Babauta's article, I realized that a desire for white space motivates my desire to purge my home of junk. But the difficulty of such purging frustrates me at every turn. A lot of the junk in my house simply isn’t mine to purge. It’s George’s or the boys’ junk. While I can certainly exert some parental authority over the boys’ junk, George is unlikely to take kindly to my tossing his stuff, even if he’s not touched that stuff in twenty years. It’s his, and he’s very territorial. But then, so am I. If he ever entered my craft room with an eye to purge, I’d go nuclear on his butt.

So no matter how hard I work at it or how much time I spend organizing and cleaning, my house will NOT have enough white space. The only practical way to fix this incongruity between desire and reality is this: create pockets of white space in my house and life by making my own little Zen gardens of peace and simplicity.

Recently, I purged my clothes and wrote about it here. No longer are my drawers and closet full of mess. With more than enough storage space (I’m utilizing less than half the space in my drawers and less than a quarter of my hanging space), choosing clothes is an entirely pleasant experience now.

My make-up drawer needs another purge. I did this about two years ago, and what a pleasant way to start each morning! Since then, gradually, clutter has taken over again, and it’s time to re-instate a little white space. My car, my craft room, my silverware drawer, and my bedside table are all places where I can make room for white space.

This piecemeal approach to white space seems worthwhile to me: a happy compromise. If my whole life were a Zen garden, I would most definitely get bored and lonely and start craving the carnival. But with zones of white space where I can breathe and not feel crowded or confused, perhaps I’ll find a little balance throughout my day.

Babauta's article also talks about creating white space in schedules. We don’t have to schedule every minute of our lives. In fact, not leaving white space in our schedule is downright unhealthy. We all need time to relax and unwind, regroup and center ourselves. Even God took a break on the seventh day of creation. Yet so many people act like there’s something wrong with blanks in their schedule.

Adults have always engaged in the rat race of careers to varying degrees depending on the nature of their career, but when did parents start projecting their own rat-race schedule onto kids? Children run from activity to activity in a rush to gather “experiences” or “skills.” For some children, it’s a different activity each day of the week. Other children do one activity that requires all seven days of the week. When do they eat dinner or do their homework? How do they get the twelve hours of sleep kids need? When do they spend time with their immediate family? When do they have a chance to relax and simply be children?

I remember hours, days, weeks, months of my childhood spent mostly in the company of other children or by myself, being creative and using my imagination and laughing and playing and moving free of structure and close adult supervision. I also remember nightly sit-down meals with my family. These are memories I treasure. Somehow, I learned to play nicely on a team without ever being on a “team.”

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t do organized activities or sports, though I would like to see the organizers of sports for children recognize that they sometimes go overboard with training and schedules. I just think that kids deserve down time, some time daily to rest and to be creative in whatever way their spirit moves them, without grown-ups supervising and coaching and expecting a good performance from them.

They need some time to breathe.

Don’t we all need time to breathe?

White space doesn’t have to be alone space, either. Often, it’s just an opportunity to relax in good company, with no agenda or expectations. I sometimes try to make coffee dates with friends who cannot find an hour in their schedule for weeks or months on end. I know exactly how they feel. When I found myself last week thinking I’d beg off of a regular coffee group because I was just too busy, I slapped myself (metaphorically) and went anyway. I was glad I did. It was an hour of peace and laughter and fellowship that lightened my heart and, ironically, made me more productive the rest of the day.

Take an hour to sit and breathe, and get more done in less time the rest of the day. What a concept!

Ironically, we often need to schedule these times of white space in order to see them as important and valuable to our whole lives. We can’t wait to find white space in the busyness of the day. Schedule family meals, take five minutes to sit at your desk at work and breathe deeply, taste your food rather than gulping it down. White space is really just about focusing on something simple yet important in a relaxed and peaceful way.

If anything positive comes out of the recession, I hope it’s a renewed sense of balance between white space and the carnival of life. Many people can no longer afford to play all the carnival games and ride all the carnival rides, and even those who can still afford the full carnival experience seem to be re-evaluating what’s important in life. Perhaps slowing down and savoring the white space in our lives will help us regain some perspective.

How do you make white space in your life? Your children’s lives? Do you feel you get enough white space? Why or why not? What could you do (or not do) to claim a little white space?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gratitude Journal #62

Today, I am grateful for hay rides and pumpkin patches and apple fritters. I'm grateful for the three boys in my life and all the fun we have.

Today, I am grateful for this cute boy whose favorite color is blue and who picks out his pumpkin with a minimum of fuss. I'm also grateful for the boy in the background wearing the white t-shirt. Indecision may or may not be his problem.

Today, I am grateful for autumn harvest, for plenty, and for the abundance of blessings in our lives. (Please note: white-t-shirt boy picked out the biggest pumpkin. It weighed as much as the other three combined.)

Today, I am grateful for this golden retriever basking in a sunbeam and for the man who shot this amazing photo of Daisy Doolittle looking all grown up and dignified. She's not either of those things. In fact, she's just five months old today and quite shockingly unsensible. But it's cool to get a glimpse into the future.

Here is another picture, much more realistic, of her taken right before she threw up in the back seat of George's car. He was driving the family home after a fall hike in the woods.

"Dude! Drive nice or I'm gonna hurl! Uh-oh. Too late." Hard to believe both pictures are of the same dog, isn't it?

And why, when I write about Daisy, do unpleasant bodily fluids always come into the discussion?

Today, I'm grateful Daisy hurled in George's car and not mine.
What are YOU grateful for today?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Words, Words, Words from Goethe

"We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What are you doing to change, renew, rejuvenate yourself? For me, right now, it has to be the Stephen Ministry and also my creative pursuits. Please share your anti-hardening strategy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Directionally Challenged

For the record, I am most definitely directionally challenged. Over the years, I've been lost a number of times and am usually quite capable of getting myself unlost. Such occasions don't cause me distress at all, except when I somehow got lost in the Chicago projects.

That is a very long story.

Anyway, yesterday (Wednesday), I got a call from Camp Kern, a YMCA camp near Lebanon, Ohio. The entire fifth grade at Nick's school had been there since Monday hiking and petting snakes and learning about nature and getting dirty and dancing around campfires and sleeping in bunk beds. The students were scheduled to return to school early afternoon on Wednesday.

The phone call was from the nurse, who informed me that Nick was sick. I shall not give details, but the poor boy needed to be picked up and brought home.

In all the paperwork sent home about camp, there was a map showing very clear directions. I'd never been past the camp before, but George rides his bike around that area all the time and knows it well. I figured with this very clear map, I'd have no problem finding the camp and picking up my sick boy.

Oh, how wrong I was. You see, it's very, very wrong, when reading a map, to assume that the first interstate you come to is the RIGHT interstate. In fact, one should absolutely and without fail read the road signs and not mistake Highway 42 for Interstate 71. Especially when there is an immediate left just past Highway 42, as there is just past I-71 on the very clear map guiding you to your destination.

That immediate left (the wrong one, it turns out) forks into Wilmington Road and some other road whose name I forget. Anyway, I started by taking Wilmington Road because a big sign with a canoe on it pointed that way. But after driving about five miles, I crossed the the Little Miami River. The map clearly shows that Camp Kern is BEFORE the Little Miami, so I knew I'd gone too far. But as I backtracked, I couldn't find Camp Kern.

At that point, I suspected that I had taken the wrong fork, so I backtracked and took the other fork. After going over four miles, I realized that, indeed, I was hopelessly lost.

My first thought was that, undoubtedly, Camp Kern is listed as a point of interest on the Garmin GPS we bought for our trip to Minnesota in June. My second thought was that this realization was pretty useless to me because the Garmin was in my coat closet at home.

I realized that things had gone wrong back at the "left past I-71" and I needed to backtrack. I was, however, feeling the push of sick son was waiting for me. So rather than backtrack all the way, I pulled over and called George, not really expecting him to answer. But he did. What ensued was several minutes of debate as he searched Google maps and I told him I where I thought I'd gone wrong (without remembering helpful things like street names). I really wish I'd tape recorded this conversation for your entertainment because it was so clear that George and I were speaking completely different languages: he, the language of the former Air Force navigator, and I, the language of the directionally challenged.

Finally, I got to an intersection with street signs, and told him where, indeed and at that moment, I was.

He replied that it wasn't possible for me to be at the intersection of Emmon and whatever the name was.

Yet there I was, hopelessly lost yet still perfectly capable of reading street signs.

Then he asked me if I was heading west or south.


Sorry. You see, all I can do is guess on cardinal directions. The only time in my life when I felt comfortably oriented to the compass was the two year we lived in Wichita, Kansas. HELLO! That's a well-planned city on a grid. Unfortunately, I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Queens Road intersects Queens Road and unless you're in downtown, nothing is on a grid. Cardinal directions were simply no help in navigating in Charlotte, so I never really had much use for them.

George, on the other hand, spent too many years telling military pilots where to go and plotting targets for bombs. Directions HAD to be right, so his brain is hardwired to know where he is in space at all times. To him, asking which direction you're driving is a complete no-brainer. To me, the only answers come from wild guesses and trying to figure out where the sun is.

Do you see where I am going with this?

George had me turn left and found me on the map at the next intersection when he asked if there was an animal hospital on my right. YES! THERE WAS!!!! I fell instantly in love with Google Maps. At this point, he comforted me by saying, "Well, you're not as lost as you could be." He vectored me to the right road and I arrived at Camp Kern an hour and a half after leaving the house.

It took me and Nick less than a half-hour to get back home.

Nick had no problem finding his way to the sofa, where he curled up and watched movies with Daisy Doolittle.

Poor Nick suffered for my directional incompetence, but I'm happy to report that about three hours after I shot this photo, he was fully recovered and running around the house making pewwing noises while pretending to shoot mummies.

Don't ask. He's a boy.

Last night, George had to call up Google Maps and debrief the mission with me. He wanted to know where in the world I had been. We realized that Ennon Road has several names, not all of which were showing up on the scale map George had been using. He was really quite kind about it, though, and I suspect it's because the situation is similar to his comment about Daisy this weekend and how dogs make us feel "superior and loved at the same's a win-win situation." Well, he's directionally superior to me and loved by me. Win-win.

Yesterday's adventure taught me two things:

1. It is good for a directionally challenged individual to a) have a cell phone and b) be married to a former navigator. (Thanks, honey!)

2. It is even better for a directionally challenged person to take a Garmin navigation system with them whenever they go someplace for the first time so they don't get lost and look like a complete idiot to their loved ones and the world.

Care to share a time you got lost? How did you get unlost? Do you get upset when you're lost or are you, like me, rather accustomed to the situation?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gratitude Journal #61

Today, I am grateful George and I are Dog People. As George and I watched Daisy lying on her back trying to grab a nylabone she'd dropped behind her head, George said, "We have dogs because they allow us to feel superior and loved at the same time. It's a win-win situation."

Today, I am grateful my public-speaking engagement in church is over. Many thanks to all of you who gave me encouragement. The first service was rough, with shaky hands and a few choked-up moments. Second service went much better. In between services, a man thanked me for the presentation and said, "You know when you said you were getting goosebumps? Well, I was getting them, too." My goosebumps came when I was talking about the perfect timing of the Holy Spirit in the meal ministry's care of the Hammett family as they battled Lincoln's leukemia and after his death. For well over a year, the people of our church poured love onto that family in ways that still seem as miracles to me and deepened my faith not only in God but in mankind. So even if my delivery was awkward (and it was!), the message got through. And that's what's most important.

Today, I am grateful for the opportunity to be visited by three Mormon missionaries last Friday. A lot of people seem to think I was crazy for doing that, but it was a meaningful spiritual experience for me, and I hope for them as well. Whatever doctrinal differences we had (and they are considerable), three women showed me plenty of common ground on which to build respect and understanding. I'll write more about their visit later.

Today, I am grateful for perspective. It's wonderful to step back mentally from life and reassess priorities and get a more balanced perspective. That doesn't make the clutter and chaos of life go away, but it does allow me not to let clutter and chaos drain me of joy.

Today, I'm grateful that the Ironman World Championship brought so much joy to George. What an exciting race! You can bet there's another Ironman in his future.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Daisy McDoodle of the Clan McDoodle

It's been a while since I updated you on Daisy. George took some incredibly sweet pictures of Jack and Daisy. Jack loves to bury his face in her fur. He still misses Hoover and occasionally says so. But Daisy has won his boy's heart.

I can't pick a favorite of three. Can you?

Daisy has two brain cells. (Please insert your favorite blonde joke here.) There isn't a tie breaker. It's absolutely hysterical to watch her try to make up her mind about something. I will call her to come to me, and she'll think about it for the longest time with the most quizzical look on her face. Then, out of the blue, she'll lope toward me as if that was always her plan. Unfortunately, every time I try to get a photo of this quizzical face, she runs straight at the camera. I guess the camera is a big enough distraction that both brain cells can't help but focus on it.

Dogs can have ADD, apparently.

Daisy also spends a lot of her day lying on her back with a toy in her mouth. Slut.

I just let her collar out again. Our Furry Golden Sunshine Version 2.0 is getting so big! She is still lazy, though, and on walks she wants to stop every twenty feet for a break. If anyone is out in the neighborhood, she MUST say hello. "I just met you, and I LOVE you!" she seems to say. And she's a magnet to people. Strangers simply can't resist petting her. But then, neither can we.

Daisy has (for the most part) stopped chewing furniture and the carpet, largely because I've sprayed a gallon of bitter apple all over everything. She is (we hope) fully house-broken. Leash-training has been challenging. A standard choke-chain doesn't work, so we've graduated to the pinch collar, which is much more effective. I once did a charity walk and saw three golden retrievers with different families on the walk. All three goldens had pinch collars, which made me feel much better about using one on Hoover. Goldens are just too enthusiastic. Plus, even half-grown, Daisy Doodle is strong. On our last family walk, she jumped up on George from behind and almost knocked him down.

Daisy may have stopped eating carpet, but she's still eating grass, weeds, rocks, and bunny poo. This means we have to walk her in our fenced yard on a leash unless we want to face the consequences.

We do NOT want to face the consequences.

And yes, she still thinks she's a cat.

Yes, we allow her on the furniture (our dogs have always been part of the family), but we do not allow her on the back of the sofa. Right after I snapped this picture, I ordered her off. She gave me that quizzical blonde look, but as soon as I lifted my camera, she jumped down and ran to me.

I'll get that look captured in pixels one day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Weekly Giggle #21

Are you wondering where I've been? Well, I'm adjusting. Adjusting to a new schedule. Adjusting to chaos. Adjusting to the idea of being a Stephen Minister. Adjusting to a second wave of cold virus. Adjusting to having to give a talk in church on Sunday. Adjusting to being popular over on my Simplicity blog.

I've never been popular before. I was always the next-to-last person chosen for teams in physical education. People ignored me in the halls at school. Now, I have stamp companies emailing me asking if I want free stuff. Free stuff sounds good, doesn't it? But I've already got a lot of free stuff. I'm drowning in free stuff.

I'm adjusting to free stuff. Honestly, that's not a problem, per se. Just an adjustment.

So that's where I've been. Adjusting. Eventually, I will finish the essay I'm working on for you. It's titled "Craving White Space in a Carnival World." Well, that is the working title. It might change. And no, white space isn't some racist thing. It's a reference to empty space in graphic design. White space can be black or purple or fushia. It's just empty.

Anyway, while I'm adjusting, I thought you might enjoy this lovely post over on Cake Wrecks by Prince Hobubu. As someone who recently received a phishing email telling me that my credit card had been deleted from PayPal and I needed to re-enter the card information by clicking on a link conveniently provided in the email, I have to say Prince Hobubu's appeal made me laugh hysterically.

And no, I didn't click on the link and give these phishers my credit card information. But George and I did talk to Nick about internet safety and how bad people use the internet to steal from people. He was shocked. "Isn't that illegal?" he asked.

Yes, son. It is. But trust Cake Wrecks to make us laugh about it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gratitude Journal #60

Today, I am grateful for lazy rainy weekends, for World Card Making Day, for stamps and blog readers who send them to me.

Today, I am grateful for prayer.

Today, I am grateful for fleece blankets...lots of fleece blankets.

Today, I am grateful for Nick's midterm report card, which shows the results of his hard work in math in particular.

Today, I am grateful I didn't kill the furry thing at 2:48 this morning when she needed to go out in the butt-freezing cold and afterwards whined in her crate for five minutes for no reason whatsoever.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Great Moments in Parenting

At dinner tonight, a discussion of comedians took an interesting turn.

Nick: Well, Mike Myers is the sex guy. And you gotta respect him for that.

Me and George: WHAT!?!?!

Me: Nick, what makes you say that?

Nick: He shags everybody.

George: People who shag everybody don't deserve your respect or admiration.

I smiled and thought what a wonderful man I'd married. But then...

George: You might envy them, but you shouldn't respect them.

I'm running away. Anyone have a spare room?

Weekly Giggle #20

Once again, Lowering the Bar gives us something to laugh about.

Judge Hands out Condoms Hidden in Acorns

I, for one, am hoping the judge was drunk when he decided to act out his little joke. But perhaps I'm being ridiculously optimistic.