Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

Movin', movin', movin'. Keep those boxes movin'. Rawhide!

Okay, that was lame, but I'm feeling lame. George and I tried to move the ping pong table from the garage to the basement. It did not go well, although feeling is returning to my left hand slowly. Who knew ping pong tables were so heavy? Not me. Anyway, we didn't even get half the table top through the front door before I cried uncle and we retreated to the garage. We will have to wait until the mud freezes, and we can go around back through the walk-out (rather than negotiate the stairwell inside), and we can get someone else to help George because I'm no help at all.

I hate to fail.

There was also an unfortunate incident in which a plastic laundry basket melted on the stove when a burner accidentally got turned on. A spatula gave its life to save the stovetop, and a little Barkeeper's Friend took care of the rest.

Otherwise, things are going well. Slowly, but well.

I expect postings to be very light for the next week. In the meantime, please contemplate this truth I read on Pinterest...

"You never know what you have...until you clean your room."

I would amend it to read, "...until you move." But no matter.

Happy New Year to you!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New House Haiku with Egregious Exclamation Points

Drove to house Tuesday.
Saw orange, dropped jaw, exclaimed, "Noooooo!!!!
This will not work. Fix it. Pleeeeease!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

As George said when I posted this picture on Facebook, it's worse in real life. Bright pumpkin orange stucco just finished Monday, and everyone's appalled...even the woman who picked the color...a woman who did a fine, understated, and conservative job with every other color choice for this house and is as shocked as the rest of us.

Can you imagine how the orange will pop when the sky is bright blue instead of snowy gray?


A friend asked if we were Tennessee fans. No. No, we're not. My blood runs Duke blue, George's runs Carolina blue, and we wouldn't put stucco in those colors on the exterior of this house, either.  The house needs some color, but I was thinking about painting the front door, eventually. Orange, however, wasn't a color I was considering.

The builder will fix this, which is why I snort laughter every time I see this picture. Laughter with a slightly hysterical edge, to be sure. But laughter, nevertheless.

We're still waiting to hear if we close today. There's been a holiday-related hold-up with the title paperwork, but our mortgage agent thinks it will get cleared up soon. Will keep you posted.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Gratitude Journal #118

Wow. I'm not even sure where to start today. Gratitude overflows in this, the last Gratitude Journal entry of 2011.

Today, I am grateful for the gift of Christmas. So grateful.

Today, I am grateful for family and friends, for the community in which I live, and for my country.

Today, I am grateful for my children and my husband.

Today, I am grateful for rest before chaos...the move begins tomorrow (Tuesday).

Today, I am grateful to look forward to another year, with all its promise and hope and uncertainty and adventure.

Today, I am grateful for you, the readers of my blog, for your support and encouragement, for your comments and emails. Thank you.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Haiku

Six thirty wake-up
Blessed by smell of strong coffee.
Hot, black Christmas cheer.

Squeals of sheer delight!
Santa came! Tidy tree scene
Devolves to chaos.

Santa gives dog a bone.
Dog growls at boy, gets lesson
In sharing her toys.

Half an hour it takes
To open presents. Best half
Hour of whole kid year.

Nick expected worst
Christmas ever. Got Legos.
Best Christmas ever.

Nick and George build the
Alien Conquest HQ.
So. Many. Pieces.

Jack expected best
Christmas ever. Got Kodak.
Best Christmas ever.

Snap-happy Jack takes
Pictures of hands, feet, phone, toys
Pillow, toilet, self.

Mom and Dad get Nook
Tablets. The end times approach.
Joy, joy, joy, joy, joy!

Charge Nook before use.
Three hours before playing.
Mimosas pass time.

Dog needs to be walked.
No one whines; Christmas spirit
Shines. A miracle.

Dog deposits mulch
On carpet. Nom, nom, nom, nom!
Mom vacuums. She’s Scrooge.

Rib roast makes house smell
Like expensive restaurant.
Thank you, God, for cows.

Thank you, God, for hope
And joy and celebration
And peace and kindness.

Even greater thanks
For giving your Son to teach
Us how love should be.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Literary Words, Words, Words about Peace and Love, and a Blessing

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
Star and angels gave the sign.
Christina Rossetti

God Bless Us, Every One!
Charles Dickens

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Things on Thursday: The Nativity

Sadly, in the year Christ was born, cameras and camcorders hadn't been invented, so we can only imagine what the Nativity was like. Going to modern-day Bethlehem doesn't help us get back to the inn and stable, either.

Consequently, we all have different images in our head of the event, based on what we learn in Sunday school, popular culture, and books. If you Google nativity images, an incredible variety of interpretations in a wide range of media pops up.

Stained glass provides a particularly appropriate medium for portraying the birth of Light in the world.

Historical accuracy rarely figures in images of the Nativity. We adapt the story to our times, our needs, our imaginations, our culture, as in this beautiful African Nativity.


Cute, cartoony representations speak to the child in us.

Renaissance portrayals of the Nativity often include anachronistic figures (wealthy patrons who commissioned the art piece often appear as wise men, the artists themselves might make a cameo as a shepherd, clothing is more suited to 16th-century royal courts than first-century Bethlehem, etc.) and symbolic or inaccurate images (a manger that looks like an empty tomb, as above).

Figurines are mass-produced or hand-crafted so families can have their own Nativity scenes over fireplaces, under trees, on tables in their homes.

Films depict the Nativity and play out the story for us in a medium we definitely understand. This image, from The Nativity Story, shows how human the event was.

Modern, clean depictions strip the event down to its barest elements. (This photo made 9-year-old Jack exclaim with joy, "That's baby Jesus!")

What is your favorite version of the Nativity scene? What do you value most in a Nativity depiction? 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Opposite of Stupid Human Tricks

Last week, I added a new board to my Pinterest account and titled it Stupid Human Tricks. This board stands out from my other boards, which have titles like Happy Photos, Cute Beyond Belief, Favorite Places and Spaces, Pure Inspiration, and Yes, Of Course. My first pin to Stupid Human Tricks was an x-ray of a woman's foot in a stiletto shoe. My apologies to those of you who like stilettos, but why would you torture your bones and ligaments to be four inches taller?

I don't get it. Never have, never will.

But this morning, I found an article on Happy News that made me think, "Well, isn't this the OPPOSITE of a stupid human trick?!?!!"

And yes, I do think in egregious exclamation points. Especially at this time of year.

Police Issue Gift Cards

Here's another Not-Stupid Human Trick:

Diamond Ring Dropped in Salvation Army Kettle

And another:

Anonymous Gift Keeps Water on for 17 Households

I have no idea what very-important-and-monumentally-stupid stuff is going on in the world right now, having not read or or even RoadRunner's news page, or even listened much to NPR lately. But I sure can tell you a lot of the not-stupid stuff.

And it's making me love the world.

Except for the stilettos. Those are just cruel.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gratitude Journal #117

Today, I am grateful for the response to my last blog post. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Today, I am grateful for tripods and camera timers and a husband who's not afraid to use them.

Check out the construction rubble in front of us. The front door was covered in scaffolding as they added the stucco and arch over the front porch. Hard to believe we'll have a final walk-thru on Wednesday and close a week later, but oh how exciting!!!!

Today, I am grateful for parties where interesting people come together over delicious food and enjoy each other's conversation. When the party takes place in a castle (well, the modern domestic equivalent of one), it's even more fun.

Today, I am grateful for packages and the delivery people who bring them to your door, especially the one who brought our wine basket the other day and was so concerned that I was of age to sign for it. Aren't you the sweetest thing?!?!

Today, I am grateful for Jesus, my Lord, and the sermon Pastor Suzanne preached yesterday on Jesus as Lord. I kind of forget that in this celebration of His birth as a little baby, you know.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Finding the Meaning of Life in Cell Biology and Literary Theory

What is the meaning of life?

That question scares me. It's big. It's beyond big. At this point in my life, I'm convinced we're not meant to answer it anyway. The irony is that I love answering questions about meaning. I'm an English major to my core. Life, however, isn't one of the Canterbury Tales or a Jane Austen novel or a poem by T.S. Eliot. It's not even a Shakespearean play, as painful as that is for me to admit. Reading the meaning in our lives isn't like reading a masterpiece of literature.

Or is it?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Judge Taylor says, "People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for." What we believe or don't believe about the meaning of life becomes the perspective from which we look and listen for the meaning of life, our life's literary theory, if you will. And it's important to have a good theory, or life gets really wonky.

I have a friend whose teenage son is questioning the existence of God. This young man has been a beacon of faith until now, and his loss of faith strikes a chord with me. When I was about his age, I lost my faith, too. My life had become so painful, so confusing, so emotionally chaotic that I simply couldn't believe there was a benevolent God anywhere. If God was as good as I'd been taught in Sunday school, how could I hurt so very much? Why didn't He help me? Why was I still alive? Screw you, God, and that donkey you rode in on.

Clearly I had a radical change of perspective at some point, and I remember the moment vividly.  I was an 18-year-old undergraduate sitting in Professor Mary Nijhout's cell biology class in the spring semester of 1985. Professor Nijhout was lecturing brilliantly on muscle contraction at the molecular level, drawing complex, multicolored diagrams on the chalk board in a lecture hall that seated several hundred students. As I contemplated the incredible elegance of actin and myocin filaments and the sheer number of chemical reactions taking place in my hand to copy Professor Nijhout's complex diagrams, I experienced a flash of awareness of the awesomeness of creation...and the unlikelihood of its having happened by accident. I said a brief prayer of apology to God for doubting and continued taking notes.

Rather a different experience from the apostle Paul's on the road to Damascus, but there it is.

My depression didn't lift immediately; chemical imbalances in the teenage brain don't resolve themselves overnight or in a flash of awareness in a Duke University lecture hall or on the psychologist's couch. I still didn't have an answer to the question of why I hurt so badly if God was an omniscient, omnipotent good guy. I still don't have that answer.

But with God on my side, I didn't feel quite so hopeless. I saw the presence of George and my mother and my sister in my life as life-lines from God, part of a larger story whose meaning was hidden from me. Their love pulled me back and gave me a new perspective on my own story. I started reading my life from the perspective of hope and faith, and eventually hope and faith won. I can't answer the bigger questions about the meaning of life or why bad things happen, but I think I have a bead on a more useful question: 

What are we supposed to do with our lives?

The answer, I think, is in the interaction of actin and myocin filaments. It's in helping each other do something, in pulling or pushing or connecting with other people along the way to achieve something more wonderful than we can do alone and ultimately more wonderful than we can ever understand. The answer is in our relationship to others in the world.

That young man's crisis of faith, his depression, and his teenage angst have turned him into a filament floating alone in a cell. I know exactly how that feels. He can't do much except try to figure out how to reconnect to something, and given the loving and caring people around him, I have faith that he'll reconnect eventually. 

Actin and myocin filaments were made to do a job, and they do that job well. What job were we made to do? What do we humans have that actin and myocin filaments don't? Consciousness. Self-awareness. The ability to think about and question creation, to feel pain and disappointment and doubt and love and joy and faith. The ability to connect with other humans in meaningful ways.

God doesn't give us meaning like a waiter handing us our entree on a silver platter. God gives us lives to create meaning through our actions and words. We always have a choice, whether we see it or not. We can choose to connect with something bigger and better than ourselves, and make our lives meaningful. We can choose to use our actions and words to help others. We can transform our suffering into compassion and understanding, find ways to reach out to others, to pull others toward comfort and light and joy.

Jesus' life set an example for us...a life of action and words lived out from the perspective of love and compassion and mercy and forgiveness. Ordinary people all over the world--Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, whatever--live His example every single day. Consider Aaron Alvin Sr (turning his life from drugs to helping others) and Master Sgt. Robert Allen (reaching out to his wife 7,000 miles away) and countless others who remain forever anonymous to us. None of them knows the answer to the question of the meaning of life.

They just live their lives with meaning.

This Christmas, consider how you are creating meaning in your own life. Perhaps your meaning is within the four walls of your home as you care for and raise children. Perhaps it's in your job. Perhaps it's in the pursuit of education. Perhaps it's in your volunteer work or your charitable giving or a simple phone call to a friend you haven't spoken to for months or that back rub you gave your wife as she washed dishes the other night. I encourage you to consider Christ's example, whether you believe Him to be the son of God or not, and celebrate your connection to hope and joy and love. Choose to mean something good.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Things on Thursday: Funky Furniture

Well, funky is a highly relative term, don't you think? For me and George, funky is anything that isn't boring and traditional, that steps outside what we generally think of as safe and typical. We definitely think of funky as good, though of course we know that funky can carry negative connotations as well. When applied to furniture, funky can look like this rather formal yet decidedly eclectic furniture set:

Can't wait to curl up in this chair with a good book!

This is the set we just bought for our new living room. It's funky in that it has six different fabrics plus leather, and a rather unusual profile and shape. Best of all, George and I both love it, though neither of us can articulate quite why. Except that it's different, and well-made, and extremely comfortable, and, well,  funky.

Very generally speaking, I prefer light colors (beachy blues, greens, whites, and sand) and furniture with very clean and simple lines (think Danish modern or a breezy, beachy style), although my tastes in home decor truly are wildly eclectic and flexible, from medieval tapestries to Tudor chairs to Georgian desks to Victorian sofas to Shaker simplicity. George is a dude, and therefore prefers dark, rich reds and greens with substantial Mission style furniture, leather, and/or rustic styles.

Our new house is rather traditional, and the interior just doesn't scream Danish modern to me. The dark cherry floors and tan walls and light fixtures are warm and cozy, not light and beachy. When we started looking for furniture, we had no idea what we wanted. Mostly we were gravitating toward traditional shapes and colors.

Until we saw the funky furniture, which we think will look great in this family room space.

Do you prefer traditional or ultra-modern or country ruffles or rustic mountain cabin or Danish modern or some other style for your home? Do you prefer matchy-matchy or eclectic pieces or pieces that tell your family's story? Would you have bought the wagon-wheel-chandeliered ballroom?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gratitude Journal #116

Today, I am grateful that Jack didn't break a bone or hit his head when he fell down the frosty deck stairs yesterday. Oh how grateful we are that he just has a bruised bottom and not broken bones or a concussion!

Today, I am grateful for the fridge we bought yesterday. We got a Samsung stainless steel, French door model with water and ice in the door (on sale at Best Buy!). We also narrowed our search for some new furniture.

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

Today, I am grateful George's nephew graduated from diesel engine school. Way to go, Matt!

Today, I am grateful for a few hours spent with a good friend on Friday.

Today, I am grateful for the third week in Advent, with its emphasis on joy. I definitely feel joyful!

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Words, Words, Words about Animals and People

"Many people believe they know what goes on in the head of an animal, but I believe I almost never do. I close my eyes, clear my head, and listen, and I hear sounds and feel emotions that are strange to me, and not describable. I love the mystical connection of animals and people. If I listen, only if I listen, and clear my head of the arrogant human idea that I know." Jon Katz

Katz usually has intelligent insights into the human-animal bond, and he captured my feelings exactly in this passage from his blog. George and I have always anthropomorphized our pets by carrying on ventriloquist conversations with them. One of us will pretend to speak for the dog, while the other talks to the dog. But we've always recognized the process of anthropomorphizing is just a guess, a projection of our imagination on a creature whose own thoughts remain largely alien and inaccessible to us.

Dogs eat poop. How in the world do you explain that?

For us, I think that alien-ness makes dogs more appealing. Well, not the poop-eating, of course. But they clearly need us and respond to us and enjoy being with us, without being able to understand us. How could Daisy understand television? She largely ignores it, perhaps because there is no smell, and we do know dogs relate to their world much more through smell than sight. But what does that mean, to have so many smell receptors that we would be able to distinguish a fish sandwich being eaten five miles away?

And if their smell receptors are so sensitive, how can they eat poop?

We see their reactions and attribute human feelings and thoughts to them, but George and I suspect that most of the time, they are thinking, "What?" Their brains are capable of fear, pleasure, and anger...primitive emotions regulated by primitive parts of their brains that largely resemble the primitive parts of our brains. Beyond that, our understanding of their responses becomes guesswork.

Still, we do manage to co-exist rather nicely, despite our big frontal lobes and their tiny ones. Dogs and people have evolved to be together, to need each other and to serve each other's needs. They tolerate us and our foibles and our neediness, without understanding us very well at all.

The least we can do is return the favor.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Things on Thursday: Christmas Decor

A couple weeks ago, I found this fab winter-lodge-themed Advent calendar at Target (on sale...yippy!) and had to get it. Santa will fill the cubby behind #25, but I filled the others with tootsie rolls. My boys are loving it!

Obviously, very few other decorations are out in my house this year, but of course my nativity scene, painted by my mother years ago, stands on the center of my mantle.

Another returning decoration is the Elf on the Shelf. Ours is named Chris. Jack loves tracking him down each morning as he finds new places to hang out, like when he hung upside down from the breakfast room light fixture or in a glass in the cupboard.

What new Christmas decoration have you added to your collection this year? What older piece holds special meaning for you?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Contemplating Hope in the Holidays

Our Stephen Ministry distributed Mustard Seed ornaments this weekend during all three services at our church.

The front of each card has a Christmas star with a mustard seed glued to the center:

The back looks like this:

Our purpose in making and giving these ornaments was to draw attention to those who quietly suffer through the holidays. Those who have lost loved ones, jobs, friends, marriages, homes, independence, or health often cannot summon even an ounce of joy or hope during the holidays. In fact, everyone else's happiness can make their sadness and pain worse.

That's where the mustard seed comes in.

Jesus teaches that the kingdom of God starts with a tiny mustard seed of faith. Our hope at times may be very small, like that mustard seed, but hand that seed over to God, and He will grow it. It won't become a big tree in the kingdom overnight; that takes time. But if you can trust Him, even just a little bit, your seed of faith will grow into a kingdom of hope.

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ, a tiny baby who grew into a man. His birth brought hope into the world, a hope of infinite power and promise. But when he was tiny, his family didn't have a room in the inn, was forced to flee from Herod, and lived in exile for a while to protect that tiny hope.

When our own hope is small, we can call to mind that tiny baby and know that hope in Christ isn't small at all. We don't have to pretend to be happy or feel guilty that our feelings aren't in tune with the season. We just have to think about that mustard seed and trust that God's got it covered.

Because He does.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gratitude Journal #115

Today, I am grateful for Christmas trees, lights, nativity scenes, and reindeer landing lights. Most of all, I'm grateful for the Reason for the Season: Jesus Christ.

Today, I am grateful for skilled labor and the amazing things people can do with their hands.

Today, I am grateful for this picture from Pinterest.

The maker of this fabulous project even used a semicolon properly, for which I am thankful.

Blessings to you all.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

House Update

We're closing on the new house December 28th and moving our personal belongings (not furniture, though) to the new house the next day. Our furniture will stay in the old house until it sells, but we're shopping for a few new pieces of furniture that we would have eventually bought anyway to get us through until we can get fully moved.

We're also shopping for a fridge. I think we've settled on a stainless steel model with freezer on bottom and double doors on top. Many thanks to all of you who shared your fridge experiences with us.

We have our first showing of the old house today, and hopefully it sells soon. If not, the builder of our new house will buy it...a sweet deal for us and one that made this whole move possible in the first place.

We visited the house yesterday to measure for area rugs, and the builder has done so much work to get it ready! It was exciting to see the door pulls on all the cabinets, the cooktop and wall ovens installed, the door hardware on the front and back doors, and the bottom, stone portion of the front porch column built.

At one point, Jack asked me to go with him to the back bedroom. He asked, "Is this going to be my room?" I replied that it would be, and his face lit up. "Thank you, mommy, for giving me a room with such a beautiful view!"

I guess he'll handle the change pretty well!

After fretting and hemming and hawwing over whether to get a real tree, I finally decided that it just wasn't practical. But because everyone in the family enjoys the experience of going to Big Tree Plantation, we're still going to take Daisy and go, donate a tree to the family of a deployed soldier, take a horse-drawn hay ride, visit Santa and a few of his reindeer, drink hot cider, and each buy an ornament to commemorate the year we moved into our new house.

Last year, when Daisy saw the horses, she didn't know what to make of them. Hopefully, this year, she is a bit braver and more mature. Not likely, though. She's still a big goofball.

The kids and I decorated our dinky little fake tree with pretty dark red and gold ornaments, most of George's grandmother's vintage glass ornaments, glass icicles, cotton boll angels, and our White House ornaments, given to us by military friends stationed in DC.

As several of you recommended, we put it on a box to elevate it a bit, and that helped so much! The tree looks so pretty and festive, but is totally impersonal as befits a staged house. All the personal ornaments--the handmade ones and ones that have been given to us and the ones we've collected as we've moved around the country-- are still packed away.

Love these handpainted ornaments I bought at KMart years ago.

Next year's tree will have nothing but our more personal ornaments on it, including--on top--the large construction-paper-and-glitter-star Jack made years ago in preschool. After all, we'll be in our very own new house and won't that be something to celebrate!

The rest of the Christmas decorations I have put up are understated but festive (mostly garland), and I decorated the mantle with our nativity set (handpainted by my mom) and two pinecone "trees" I bought at Target a few years ago. (Will share pictures later of them later). Hopefully, strangers wandering through our house will appreciate the decor and will want to buy our house.

May this, the second Sunday in Advent, prepare you for the spirit of Hope, Joy, and Love that is the reason for the season.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Weekly Giggle: Check These Out

I found this link on Dooce...Heather Armstrong's blog and it almost made me spit coffee onto my computer. You have been warned.

Carli Davidson Photography

You're welcome.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

Have you ever experienced stress so mind-blowingly busy that your higher cognitive functions shut down and all you want to do is curl up in a fetal position, suck your thumb, and occasionally wail "Mommy!" in pathos and defeat?

Yes. I'm melodramatic. Surprised? If so, you must be new here.

However much you want to curl up and wail, you're not allowed, and neither am I. This is one of the most unfair things about adulthood and wifehood and motherhood and service to humanity in the name of the Holy Spirit or whatever it is you choose to call your guilty conscience: too many other people are depending on you to help THEM not curl up and wail.

So what keeps you from having a complete mental breakdown when life points a hundred tennis ball throwing machines* at you and expects you keep your eyes on all the balls at once?

Prayer and awareness that God loves me certainly get me through most days upright and wail-free (or at least merely whiny), but I think God made people curious and this world entertaining for a reason. Guilty pleasures (at least, innocent ones) can give us the little freshing breaks throughout our hectic, stressful days, reset our perspective, and keep us going.

If you're not giving a bit of rein to your oxymoronic innocent guilty pleasures, one of three things is wrong.

First, you may have bought into the current cultural trend of believing that there's a prize for whoever is busiest. People, there is no prize, unless you count exhaustion as a prize, which I don't. Sometimes life gets busy, but we should stay alert for ways to slow it down, take breathers, rest. Learning to say no helps enormously.

Second, you may enjoy being a martyr. We all enjoy indulging in a bit of self-pity every now and then, wishing others would do for us like we do for them, but for some people martyrdom becomes an Olympic sport. Snap out of it! Remember that you can't help others put on their oxygen masks if you are passing out yourself.

Third, you may have a serious mental illness and need to see a licenced medical professional. I'm not joking here, not even one tiny little bit, because I've been there. When people can no longer muster the energy to do something just for fun, become so obsessed with work that they can't stop and smell the roses, or start having physical symptoms of stress (panic attacks, racing heartbeat, weight loss or gain, insomnia, etc.), professional medical help is absolutely critical.

For those of us with fairly normal brain chemistry (stop laughing, George), a little indulgence in guilty pleasures can keep us happy and coping with life's tennis ball throwing machines. Here are a few of my guilty pleasures from the past two crazy-stressful months.

1. The Big Bang Theory. Television has been giving us guilty pleasures since its invention in the late 1920s, though I imagine there really was not much worth watching in those really early days when not even the big three networks were around. Our family hardly ever watches network television in these days of National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, History Channel, and Light Jazz Music. Yes, we're geeks, so when a friend encouraged me to check out The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom about geeks, I started watching reruns on cable channels. After watching my first show, I enthusiastically informed George, who was out of town, that we needed to start watching it ALL THE TIME. He asked why. I told him a character named Sheldon went to a Halloween party dressed as the Doppler Effect. George's response: "That is so COOL!" Sheldon is our new favorite person in the whole wide world.

2. Pinterest. The Internet provides lifetimes of guilty pleasures, and at least indulging in a little Pinterest won't require you to go to confession and say a hundred Hail, Marys, as other websites might. Oh, and if you get your significant other indulging in Pinterest, as I have done, then it's a couple's activity. (Just don't let the kids on it as content isn't always appropriate for young eyes and you just never know what will pop up on the screen as you scroll down.)

3. Rereading novels I've read before. Picking up a well-loved novel and rereading my favorite parts is like visiting old friends. Very comforting.

4. Reading magazines. Since so many of my neural circuits are taken up with move-related details, my attention span is gnat-like. So magazines, which I've always loved, give me the quick fix of distraction I need.

5. Coffee. Until two months ago, I drank two cups every morning. I've now moved to three, but recognize that this guilty pleasure needs to be scaled back a bit. Coffee jitters are not a guilty pleasure. 

Guilty pleasures, like everything else in life, are only good in moderation. Too much indulgence in them keeps us from carrying out our responsibilities. But truly, we need a little guilty pleasure in our life.

What are your innocent guilty pleasures?

*Shouldn't tennis ball throwing machines have a cooler name, something less clunky and more marketable? And shouldn't tennis ball be hyphenated? I googled them to find out a cooler name and they don't appear to have one, though some brands have tried to get creative. My favorite was the LOB-STER. But no one would know what you were talking about unless, well, they played tennis. Which I don't. So why am I digressing like this? Guilty word-nerd pleasure, I suspect.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Of Mistletoe and Men: A Weekly Giggle

Last night, I did some Christmas decorating. Not much, just a little. The family is campaigning for a real tree, while I'm pretty certain that cleaning up an endless supply of evergreen needles would turn me into a grumpy old man named Ebenezer who walks around muttering bah, humbug all day.

We love the experience of going to the tree farm, riding a tractor trailer with bales of hay for seats, selecting and chopping down a tree, and hauling it to the nice people who shake and wrap it for transport. While they do that dirty work, we go visit THE BEST SANTA IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, get hot cocoa or cider, pay for our tree, watch a model train go round and round, and visit a few of Santa's reindeer. When we're finished, so are the nice people who shake and wrap trees, and who then tie our selection to the top of my car.

Who would not want this experience every December? In fact, I think I just talked myself into it.

Or not.

Oy, the needles!

Anyway, last night I hung a ball of artificial mistletoe over the kitchen entry from the back hall. My hope is that it adds some color to our otherwise colorless kitchen and draws attention to the fact that we have extra-tall cabinets to match our 9' ceiling.

Hanging the mistletoe had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I love kissing my husband under the mistletoe every bit as much as sipping cider while watching THE BEST SANTA IN THE WHOLE WORLD take my children on his knees and treat them like his bestest friends for life.

Nothing whatsoever.

So when George noticed the mistletoe after dinner and called me over to it, I dashed into his arms. I was expecting a chaste kiss in front of the kids, but no, my romantic hubby wanted a real kiss and came at me with clear expectation of that.

I squealed "ewwwww!" and turned away.

Our firstborn fell apart laughing. "You got owned," he told his father through his guffaws. I began giggling uncontrollably because my ewwww was completely misinterpreted, and that was just so gosh darn funny.

Poor George. You see, I had just eaten a Pepperidge Farm Orange Milano cookie. Bits of it were still floating around in my mouth, and all I could think was what an icky surprise awaited my dear husband when he French kissed me at that particular moment.

See. Ewwwwww!!!

I'm still chortling this morning because it brought back memories of another episode of uncontrollable laughter. Back in our Boise days, before Nick was born and when my boobs were still perky and my waist was still tiny and my butt was still firm and my hair was still dark brown, George and I went for our regular walk around the ball fields in our neighborhood. We were discussing men and women and infidelity, and I saw the perfect opportunity to fish for a compliment.

I said, "Well, I can't imagine any man other than you wanting me."

He replied, "Susan, men really aren't that picky."


After a brief, Arctic silence, he realized what he had said and started back-pedalling. "That's NOT what I meant! I'm sorry!" etcetera. While my first instinct was to milk the moment for what it was worth, I ended up dissolving into helpless giggles.

And that's why we've been married 25 years: because we can stop laughing.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gratitude Journal #114

Today, I am grateful that Daisy's last post-op check went very well. She's recovering superbly from her knee surgery, but when Dr. David came in to examine her, she wriggled enthusiastically, whined, and tried to burrow into his crotch. He looked at me and said, "Oh, yeah, now I remember. She's 'special.'" His wife bred Daisy, so it's all her fault.

Our "Special" Furry Girl Looking Slightly Demonic

Today, I am grateful for a full and exciting November:

Jack had his 3rd Grade Music Performance, which included audience-participation line dancing.

Happy to Teach Us the Dance

Big Bro, Not So Happy

Nick celebrated his birthday, with dinner at P.F. Chang's, Lego castle-building with his dad, and a day at the Columbus Zoo.

P.F. Chang's
Lego Castle Building

My 45th birthday came and went. I don't like odd numbers, but this one wasn't so bad, even if there was entirely too much cleaning going on. I am super grateful for friends and family who sent me cards and emails and phone messages and packages for my birthday. And I am grateful to my husband for grilling me the best ribeye steak I've eaten in years. YEARS, people.

Picture by Jack

Today, I am grateful that the house is fully ready to show. Now, we just need to keep it clean.

Today, I am grateful for the Thanksgiving break and for today's return to what passes for routine in our lives.

What are you grateful for today?

Thinking about Decor

To decorate or not to decorate? That is the question. My house is staged and ready to show. Everything is as perfect as I can make it...excessively clean and orderly. What buyer wouldn't jump at the chance to live here?

Problem is, the staged house is exceedingly difficult to live in and maintain. Exhausting, really. And now that I've got it where I want it, I question the rightness of holiday decorations.

Wait, wait!!!!

I think there's a pin on Pinterest to cover this very issue!!!!!!!!

Sadly, I pinned this because it's an ideal I can never hope to attain. Telling me not to think too much is like telling Daisy not to eat dish towels. Not. Gonna. Happen.

I didn't ask the staging folks about Christmas decorations, and I am scared of messing up their good work in cluttering the place with Christmas paraphernalia.

This situation feels oddly familiar. When we were selling our house in Rapid City, I used a very light touch with Christmas decor. That's when I bought my little 6.5' slim fake tree. Keeping up with needles from a real tree seemed deeply impractical under the circumstances, and our living/dining room already looked small, with low ceilings. That artificial tree was beautiful, though.

Unfortunately, our current house has really high ceilings (9' in the library and dining room, 18' in the family room). If I understand rightly what the staging folks said, a 6.5' tree will look silly. But no way in hades am I cleaning up after a real tree, nor will I spend hundreds of dollars on a bigger artificial tree.

Add to this the fact that unpacking Christmas decorations is a messy business, and time-consuming. As a result, I was feeling very Scrooge-ish when it comes to holiday decorating. Bah, humbug.

My thoughts, however, can't stay off the subject decorating the new house. What will I do with window treatments? How will we decorate the bathrooms? What sort of rugs do we need for the living and dining areas? Where will my great-grandparents' antique bedroom set go...Nick's room or the craft room? What art will I put on the walls?

The new house is a blank slate of possibilities. I can't wait!!

Since I simply must wait until someone buys this house, it's time to get to work decorating for Christmas, no matter how Scrooge-ish I feel about it. Here's my thinking on the subject which all stems from the belief summed up in another pin from Pinterest.

1. This time of year, people will expect Christmas decor. I don't want potential buyers thinking we're a house full of Scrooges.

2. Several things the staging company said seem to apply to Christmas decor as well. First, put interesting stuff in sight-lines to draw people into rooms. Second, highlight the main features of rooms...the mantel in the family room, the island in the kitchen, the bay window in the breakfast room, the reading nook in the master bath. Third, use color to draw the eye. Fourth, don't use accessories that are smaller than basketballs.

3. We can't put a fence around our tree like last year to protect it from Daisy, the Goat-in-Retriever-Fur. A fence would not only look stupid but would draw attention to the fact that we have a dog...not a great selling point. What to do about this problem? Hmmmm. Need to think about this some more but feel certain a gallon of bitter apply may solve this dilemma nicely.

4. This is my favorite time of year because it marks the celebration of the greatest gift ever given. The commercialism and excess rampant at this time of year detracts from the joy for me, but lights, evergreens, ornaments, ribbon, and nativity sets definitely enhance the joy. Since I want and need the joy, some sort of decorating is about to happen.

No matter what the staging company says.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Things I Do Not Understand

Why bad things always come in threes. George had his front bumper damaged by a flying tire tread on the interstate. My car required hundreds of dollars of repairs. WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT????

How children keep coming up with funny stuff all the time without even trying. For instance, Nick, who is twelve, was talking about a girl whom he likes. Jack, who is nine, asked, “Is she smokin’ hot?”

Why certain things in life are so stupidly complicated. I’m thinking of filing tax forms, buying and selling homes, choosing bread at the grocery store, sorting socks, and renewing Norton Antivirus in a household with multiple computers.

Quantum mechanics and string theory.

Why chocolate makes me feel good and fat at the same time.

How a person cannot like cheese. I mean, I get not liking fennel or blood sausage or star anise. But cheese?

Why on Halloween we hand out two giant bowls of candy and my children bring home two giant bowls of candy. At what point does this make sense?

Horror movies. And zombies.

Why every issue of National Geographic doesn’t contain an article on the Middle Ages. This month’s article on the Anglo Saxon treasure hoard found in a farmer’s field is wonderful and made me want to read Beowulf again.

Why I stay up extra late when George is out of town even though I KNOW I will deeply regret it the next morning at 6:00 AM when I have to wake up my son to get him on the bus.

Why my dog eats twist ties. And rocks.

Why any human being would possibly find a pair of bright red fake testicles to be an appropriate thing to hang from a truck’s trailer hitch. I saw a pair on a truck in the Walmart parking lot, and honestly, why?

How I can watch a movie about Anne Boleyn and be horrified when she gets decapitated at the end. Duh.

What, if anything, is going on in my dog’s head.

How my children can completely ignore me until I get on the phone or need to get something done, and once they have completely sabotaged my activity, they suddenly no longer need or want me at all.

Fart jokes.

Why my dog ate a bar of Dove soap and then spent the next day (Thanksgiving, ironically enough) barfing up pleasant-smelling barf.

Casual sex. (This one will get me some interesting hits on Google searches!)

What sorts of things do you not understand?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Weekly Giggle: Bulbs and Balls

First, a personal update about bulbs.

The for-sale sign went up yesterday. George finds this deeply weird, which strikes me as weird seeing that the whole move-to-a-new-house idea was his. But that sign signals for me a slow-down in the break-neck cleaning pace. I'm taking a few hours today to make something in my craft room.

Because I can.

Yesterday was my birthday. To celebrate, I attempted to change a blown bulb on our 19-foot ceiling with the 11-foot extendable bulb changer I purchased at Lowe's for the occasion. I climbed our step ladder, seated the attachment around the floodlight bulb, and started turning. To my horror, the entire light fixture came out of the ceiling.

"But it's my BIRTHDAY!!!" I wailed. "Things like this are NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN!!!!!!"

But they always do. To me.

Of course I couldn't detatch the bulb changer from the light without getting my own two little hands up to the ceiling, so I propped the bulb changer on a convenient window ledge, climbed down the step ladder, and dragged in the 18-foot extension ladder from the garage.

I believe we call this "bringing out the big guns."

I climbed the ladder very carefully and prayerfully ("Please, God, don't let me die on my birthday") and removed the bulb changer from the bulb. I dropped the whole dang thing to the floor, hoping it would break and I could revel in its demise, but sadly, it didn't so I'm going to try to return it to Lowe's today.

Then, I removed the dead bulb, carried it carefully and prayerfully down the ladder, got a new bulb, went back up the ladder, installed the working bulb, and seated the fixture back into the ceiling. I came carefully and prayerfully ("Thank you, God, for not letting me plunge to my death off this stupid ladder") down the ladder.

I held my breath as I turned on the light, but it worked.  It actually worked.

And now I feel like a hero. The Hero of the Bulbs.

Second, a link to a story about balls.

I've frequently linked to Lowering the Bar on the Weekly Giggle because, well, it's an hysterically funny blog. The most recent post is no exception. Enjoy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Stephen Ministry Information

I've had several requests for more information about Stephen Ministry, so here are some main points.

1. Stephen Ministry is a world-wide, confidential caring ministry based in St. Louis, MO. It is inter-denominational. Their website is HERE.

2. It offers extensive, extremely high-quality training to those who want to provide Christ-centered care for people who are hurting. Stephen Ministers receive 50 hours of training from Stephen Leaders within their congregation who have gone through intensive training themselves. Once commissioned, Stephen Ministers have ongoing training throughout their service in the form of twice-monthly continuing-education meetings. There is no online training, though online support is available to those who are already trained and commissioned.

Stephen Ministers are not counsellors, nor do they offer advice. They are trained to listen and support people during times of pain. When that pain becomes excessive and professional counseling or medical care is required, Stephen Ministers can only serve a person with the permission of a doctor, psychiatrist, or other professional counsellor who is caring for them. Stephen Ministry training covers ways to help those who are having trouble bearing the "ordinary" suffering of life, and we are not trained to serve those suffering addiction, those in prison, or those suffering serious mental illness.

3. Stephen Ministry is NOT a preaching ministry, nor do Stephen Ministers promote particular points of doctrine. Stephen Ministers do NOT bang people over the head with the Bible. Care receivers need not be Christians to receive Stephen Ministry care, and it is the care receivers who establish what level of discussion--if any--about the Bible and God and faith takes place in the caring relationship. Stephen Ministers, however, spend a great deal of time in private prayer and Bible study as they care for others. The care receiver may not feel a connection to Christ, but the Stephen Minister can't imagine caring without that strong faith that Christ is the healer.

4. Stephen Ministers are not trained and then cut loose to work on their own. Peer supervision gives them the support they need to care for others whose pain may at times feel overwhelming. During peer supervision, which takes place twice a month at the same meetings as continuing education, Stephen Ministers share non-identifying details of their care receivers' situations and ask for advice and help on how to provide the best care possible. If the peer supervision group sees areas of concern (say, the Stephen Minister is over-identifying with the care receiver), they will offer guidance and support to keep the Stephen Minister on track. Peer supervision also helps Stephen Ministers make referrals to professional services (social services, professional counselling, medical care, etc.) when needed.

5. Stephen Ministry is confidential, and this sometimes unfortunately makes Stephen Ministry feel like a secret society within congregations. Stephen Ministers do not discuss their care receivers outside of peer supervision, and even in peer supervision, names are not used and identifying details are not shared.

Care receivers, however, are free to discuss their Stephen Ministers as they wish. Some will introduce their Stephen Ministers to their friends; some will avoid their Stephen Ministers in public because their pain is deeply personal and they need that care to remain confidential. In some cases, care receivers share things with Stephen Ministers that they have never shared with anyone else. To do this, they need to trust their Stephen Ministers completely.

6. Going through Stephen Ministry training will change your life. It will help you help others who are in pain, and empower you with the confidence to lean on God as you touch others you encounter in daily life who are suffering unbearable pain. I recently had to call a friend whose adult daughter died in a horrible car accident. For the first time in making such a call, I felt God's guidance and no fear or anxiety that I would say the "wrong" thing. I felt only sorrow and compassion for this wonderful woman going through this horrible loss.

Stephen Ministry training got me to this point by giving me the tools to speak the truth in love, to listen with prayer and compassion, and to take my cues from the person suffering. When we are no longer self-conscious and worried about what to say or do (which throws our attention to ourselves and not others), we can truly listen and care for others. Christ is in charge, and we're just here to help Him show His love for His children, because as He told the disciples at the Last Supper, "I give unto you a new commandment, to love one another as I have loved you."

There are many ways to love as Jesus did. Stephen Ministry is just one calling among many. If you feel that call, I encourage you to answer it. If you need a Stephen Minister, please call your local churches to locate a Ministry in your area.

I'll be happy to answer questions about Stephen Ministry in the comments.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gratitude Journal #113

Today, I am grateful for the progress we made this weekend toward getting our house on the market.

Today, I am grateful for the United States Postal Service.

Today, I am grateful for the marketing design company that's coming tomorrow to offer up suggestions for furniture placement and simple improvements to (hopefully) make our house more appealing to buyers.

Today, I am grateful that Jack's ritalin is working so very well with no side effects.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Where Has My Mind Gone?

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry discovers Dumbledore's pensieve, a device that allows the headmaster to siphon off thoughts and look at them outside his brain. He tells Harry that it's useful when he has too many thoughts.

I want a pensieve.

My head is so crammed with thoughts that my memory circuits and gross motor coordination are suffering burnout. I remember, years ago, a virtual stranger telling me to be extra careful as I prepared our second house for sale. She said that stressed and busy people are so preoccupied with their thoughts they forget important things and get careless with their bodies. She recommended lists and staying centered in my body as I worked.

Before I started my Crazy Cleaning Witch frenzy on Monday, I reminded myself of this woman's sage advice and then promptly did the following:

1. I found the kids' Halloween cards in a box in the craft room. Forgot to give them on Halloween as planned.

2. I forgot an entire conversation about financials George claims we had. Suspect he had the conversation with his imaginary wife Bambi, who runs marathons, and has red hair without a lick of gray and large ta-tas. I hate her.

3. I forgot Jack had fed Daisy and thus committed the grievous mommy crime of entering a child's bedroom after he's supposed to be asleep. Remembered just as his eager and very awake face lit up that yes, he did indeed feed Daisy that afternoon.

4. I dropped a small bookshelf on my toe. No damage done, but as I had told myself "Don't drop this bookshelf on your toe" before I picked it up in the first place, I felt pretty stupid.

5. I have a bruise on my thigh. No idea where it came from.

6. I scraped a knuckle and cut a finger and didn't notice either until sticky blood caught my attention.

7. I decided to wait until Friday to move heavy stuff to the basement so George, who has Friday off, could help. Wait. That's actually sane and sensible.

This morning, George came downstairs and asked, "Do you remember telling me you sewed the button back on my brown pants?"

"Sure," I said.

He laughed. "Well, you didn't."

I clearly remember sewing that darn button on months ago. My brain is now telling me I've accomplished things I haven't in an effort to whittle the to do list down to something manageable, which is a clear indication that I need professional help. Pretty soon, when my house is ready to go on the market and I win my gold medal for "Best Staged House of 2011" Award, I'm going to find a psychiatrist and demand valium with a whiskey chaser and sleep for a week.

Maybe my mind will come back to me.

I think I'm going to need it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Cleaning Device Makes Woman Giggle with Glee

Wow, y'all have dirty minds.

Anyway, I used my carpet cleaner for the first time today, and I am giggling with glee. I feel the power of suction and the joy of pouring out nasty dirty water in a corner of my yard. Whoever said you can't buy happiness never bought a Bissell ProHeat 2x Multi Surface Pet Steam Cleaner.

This floor was gross. Now it's not. Sadly, the Bissell ProHeat didn't fix the small hole that Daisy nibbled into the carpet, so it's no miracle machine. But I'm very satisfied with the job it said it would do: easily steam clean carpet.

Truth in advertising should be applauded, don't you think? 

For tomorrow, I'm going to clean more carpet, tote more bins to the basement, generally give myself sore muscles, and deeply regret not asking Bissell to pay me for this endorsement.

Gratitude Journal #112: My Mantra for the Next Two Weeks

Today, I am grateful for this picture I pinned on Pinterest. It's the new wallpaper on my computer.


I have two questions for you.

1. Speaking of coffee...our last batch of Coffees of Hawaii Maululani Estate is disappearing in record time, and with all our expenses over the next few months (new fridge, anyone?), I need a, ahem, less expensive brew. Any recommendations for a good medium roast that won't break the bank?

2. Speaking of the new house, the dishwasher and microwave are stainless steel with black accents. We have to buy a refrigerator but are hesitant to buy stainless because we've heard such nightmares regarding keeping it clean. Black would look fine in the kitchen as all the accents (cabinet knobs and trim) and cooktop will be black. Any experience with either? Also, we're thinking freezer-on-bottom. We definitely don't want side-by-side, but we've never had a freezer on bottom. Can anyone tell us about pros and cons of that?

Thanks for your help!

Today, I am grateful for my awesome readers who are so encouraging in this new adventure. Your prayers are very appreciated!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Where Do I Start?

The past month has been unbelievably stressful for me. George decided that we needed to look into buying a new house. He had lots of very good reasons for this, but OH MY GOSH YOU WANT TO DO WHAT?!?!?!?!

You see, I truly hate making big financial decisions. Even worse, the thought of putting our current home on the market for sale--with all the back-breaking work of cleaning, purging, and staging a home--makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb.

I'm not exaggerating.

And then George took me here:

My Dream House: A Ranch with a Finished Walk-Out Basement

While the stress remains, I certainly was hit with a full-blown case of IWANTTHATNOW!

Let me show you a few of the highlights.

Three garage stalls, large concrete area for basketball

Back yard

Kitchen from breakfast room

View from breakfast room to family room and front door

View from dining room

Basement walk-out

Huge recreation pong table, here we come!

Basement wet bar

Breakfast nook

Garage with cute little boy

We signed a bunch of papers yesterday, and although the deal isn't completely done since we have to sell our house, we feel pretty good about this move. The new home is just about ten minutes from our current home and is in the same school district. I will have to transport Jack to keep him in the same elementary building for the next two school years, but that's fine with me.

I'm not sure how much I'll be able to post on my blogs until the sign is in the yard, which shouldn't take more than two weeks. Please pray for me as I am now fully into Cleaning Witch Mode to get our house ready to sell. Sometimes it's really useful being an*al-retentive, obsessive compulsive, and this is one of those times.

Perhaps I should ask you to pray for George and the kids. They'll be living with me!