Thursday, March 31, 2011

Things on Thursday: A Spring Daisy

It has been a while since I posted Daisy pictures. So here you go...feel free to wallow in the furry golden cuteness.

Daisy on the Hooverman. That's what we dubbed the ottoman when Hoover staked his claim on it as soon as we brought it into the house. Daisy has claimed it as well, but we'll call this the Hooverman in our boy's memory. Daisy will have to pick another piece of furniture for her namesake.

That blue cylinder has lasted eight months and is still entirely intact, though the tennis ball that came with it is long gone. Whatever that blue material is, it's nigh indestructible.  

Occasionally, toys are annoying, as when this Frisbee got stuck on her head. It's impossible to get a good shot when the dog is frantic. Someone really needed to man up and rescue the dog, but everyone was laughing at her so I had to stop shooting and take the dang thing off her head. (BTW, the copyright on that photo should say Susan, but I'm too lazy to go in and change it now.)

Finally, Nick took this picture. Awwwwww.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Socrates, Jon Katz, and Jimmy Buffett in One Short Post

Socrates said, "The more I know, the more I know that I know nothing." He had this figured out thousands of years ago, but each person needs to learn it anew for him- or herself. Jimmy Buffett put it this way, "Answers are the easy part. Questions raise the doubt." Or, in another song, Don Chu Know:

We're just recycled history machines
Cavemen in faded blue jeans
It's the unanswered question in each one of us
Don chu know
Don chu know
Don chu know

The more we learn the less we know
What you keep is what you can't let go
Take it fast or take it slow
Just one way for you to go
Don chu know

No, we don't know know. This morning, I read a post on the Bedlham Farm blog that got me thinking about Socrates and Jimmy. You can find it here: Looking for God. People with Answers.

What don't you know?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Getting on Schedule

While I embrace certain aspects of our technological age (computers, the Internet, smart phones), other aspects leave me feeling distinctly annoyed.

Take electronic organizers.

Please. I don't want them in my life anymore.

For years, I happily used a mid-size DayPlanner that worked just great. After I had children, however, it seemed a bit cumbersome and weighed down the diaper bag, so I abandoned it except as an address book.

Mothers of infants and small children do not need DayPlanners. They only serve to remind the mothers of how out-of-control their lives are. Some mornings, it takes three hours just to get yourself and the kids dressed, fed, and out the door, what with the diaper blow-outs, spit-ups, tantrums, and loads of unexpected laundry to be started.

Five or six years ago, George gave me a Palm Pilot. He had noticed how cumbersome my DayPlanner was as an address book, so he thought a Palm would be handy. I welcomed the chance to get organized again since my baby wasn't a baby anymore. Perhaps my life could move back to its previously organized state.

At first, I thought I merely resisted change from a written planner to an electronic one, since I'm pretty much a Luddite at heart. Like Daisy encountering her first truck parked on the side of the road, I approached my Palm Pilot cautiously and woofed my unease at its tiny alien presence in my purse. Unlike Daisy, who now no longer balks at strange cars parked on our walking route, my Palm never felt natural as a scheduler.

It worked--and still works--great as an address book, though.

Then, I tried Windows' Email Scheduler, thinking I would check it every morning when I turned on my computer. Instead, I got annoyed when it popped up stuff that I had to click to dismiss. Clicking to get the calendar out of my way when I hadn't done the stuff on it seemed pointless and unhelpful. My computer doesn't go with me through the day, and being reminded about something in the morning still gave me ample opportunity to forget it.

And forget it I did. Since I started trying to get organized again, I have become convinced that childbirth sucked all the organization skills out of my brain, and with the start of perimenopause, that lack of organization got worse. The same woman who used to juggle dozens of projects at a time and even finished ahead of schedule on many of them suddenly couldn't remember her weekly volunteer schedule at the school library.

I had to do something to get control, and if a Palm and Windows couldn't help, perhaps a cell phone would. George and I bought smart phones in December, and the phone seemed a more sensible location for an organizer since I carry it with me most of the time and can reference it whenever I feel like it. I approached this organizer with optimism and enthusiasm.

Instead, I once again grew annoyed at having to dismiss stuff that I remembered, and despite the fact that the phone is with me most of the time, I simply couldn't remember to check it regularly throughout the day. Surely there is an app that works better than the one already on the phone--for instance, one that plays the theme from Rocky fifteen minutes before each scheduled appointment.  But it feels like a gigantic waste of time to go looking for such an app when I already resent the phone as an organizer.

Every year, I buy an old-fashioned weekly planner at Barnes and Noble in early January. This planner sits with a pen by my bed, and each night I write down things that I want to remember about that day...funny stuff the boys say, milestone events, things I am grateful for. At the end of the year, I put the planner with all the memorabilia that I have collected for the year to scrapbook. It's a huge asset for scrapbook journaling because I can look up the exact date that we went to the Columbus Zoo or that Jack tasted a pancake without throwing up.

Problem is, I haven't done much scrapbooking in the past three years. In fact, I've done none, which means that I've slacked on filling those planners for the last year. This year's has very little written in it so far...which made me realize that it would be a perfect organizer.

That is, until my husband shared his organizational method with me, which is even better than my weekly planner and allows me to leave the weekly planner by my bed, thus sustaining the illusion that I'll get back to scrapbooking. Eventually.

Let me pause to share how surprised I was by his enthusiasm for helping me organize myself. You see, this is a man who's main organizational method seems to be "cover every flat surface you can find with your stuff so you can see everything and simultaneously drive your spouse insane." Remember this post

George saw me putting information in the weekly planner and said, with enthusiasm, "Let me show you what I do!" He pulled out a monthly planner that has nice, big squares for each day of a month, as well as a bunch of blank lined pages following the calendar for notes, lists, and such. It's brilliant. A month at a glance. One place to keep a running to-do list. I embraced the simplicity of his method immediately.

He took me to Office Max yesterday to purchase one. My only complaint is that the only really good monthly planners--the ones without a bunch of superfluous and distracting stuff--are gray and boring. I've already stamped the cover of mine to make it a little less institutional looking. Stamping on plastic is a challenge, but at least George won't mistake his planner for mine.

I'm optimistic that this will work, that I will regain at least a modicum of control and not let so much slip through the cracks of my life. Time will tell if this method of organization will help me feel less scattered-brained and forgetful. I'll keep you posted.

Now it's your turn. What method do you use (if any!) to stay organized and on schedule?

Gratitude Journal #83

Today, I am grateful for antibiotics. Jack's foot is healing well because of this little miracle of modern medicine. I'd hate to think what would have happened if this accident had occurred in, say, 1809.

Today, I am grateful that George starts his new job. So many people are without jobs right now, and what a blessing it is for him to be employed.

Today, I am grateful for finding the lid to the dijon mustard...we wondered if Daisy had eaten it. I had already rescued a wine cork and dish towel from her naughty mouth earlier in the evening.

Today, I am grateful for joyful hearts and hands. They are assaulted by the media and the general aura of negativity every single day, yet they never give up.

Today, I am grateful for spring break.

What are YOU grateful for today?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Words, Words, Words from Jane E. Brody

"Turn your midlife crisis to your own advantage by making it a time for renewal of your body and mind, rather than stand by helplessly and watch them decline." Jane E. Brody

What an apt sentiment for this time in my life...or for pretty much any time in anyone's life. Where are you now in your life's journey and what are you doing to make it a time of renewal and strengthening, rather than helplessness?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This Week's Essay

...has been overtaken by the following events:

1) Tuesday evening, Jack stepped on a heavy-guage wire that went all the way through his sandal and a little way into his foot. This required spending many hours yesterday at the base hospital with Doogie Houser, Resident MD. It also required my being one of four adults required to hold Jack down so he could get a tetanus shot. He wasn't the only one who cried.

2) Daisy ate a dish cloth. This required taking her to the vet so she could spend the whole day throwing up shredded pieces of cotton while Jack was getting x-rays and having to ride in a wheelchair and screaming "NO, NO, NO!!!" while receiving a shot. I'm just grateful I was with Jack and not Daisy as no bodily fluids were involved with Jack.

3) Post-traumatic stress. 

As soon as I have recovered, I'll finish up my delightful little essay on how to organize a schedule in the face of perimenopause and mid-life mental breakdown. In the meantime, please enjoy the following photo of a dog who is dumber than the rocks she eats.

Things on Thursday: Reading Glasses

My life has been immeasurably changed for the better by these.

I do not care that I look like an old lady when they are perched on my nose. I do not care that I'm on a quest to find the perfect leash for them so I can keep them on my person. I do not care that George laughed at me when I bought them.

They are miraculous. Brilliant. A help to me in times of trouble.

Oh frabjous day!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gratitude Journal #82

Today, I am grateful for my friend Karen D, who was also my instructor for Stephen Ministry. Karen makes teaching look effortless (I know it is not) and inspired me, taught me, encouraged me, and handed me tissues through 50 hours of training. I'm just so grateful to be blessed with her friendship!

Karen blessing me.
Today, I am grateful for my partner in learning and new friend, Barbara G, a woman of deep faith, great humor, and ready smile. God knew what He was doing when he threw us together into Karen's class.

Barabara and I

Today, I am grateful for the end of the beginning of Stephen Ministry training. From here on out, it's on-the-job training!

Today, I am grateful for my husband. For so many reasons, he's spectacular.

Today, I am grateful for a taste of spring. Mother Nature, no doubt, still has winter weather to throw at us, but that's okay. I've tasted spring, and it is good.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Words, Words, Words from Sendai

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the negative images and very real tragedy in Japan, I invite you to consider these words, written by someone in Sendai, on March 14.

"...the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day,...and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there.... People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no."

Simply Tim's Blog Spot published the letter in its entirety, and I encourage you to click HERE and read it.

A friend of mine asked yesterday why such tragedies happen. I don't know. What I do know is that destructive geologic events have happened since Earth's earliest history, and that the violence and upheaval created conditions that allowed life to develop in the first place. Out of that crazy, chaotic soup, God brought forth life. We are tied inexplicably and inextricably to a nature that is both beautiful and violent.

How we respond to that violence is, for me, far more important than why it happens. It is our response to both beauty and tragedy that allows the force I call God to work...or not.

Whatever you want to call that force, it is at work in the midst of tragedy and deep sadness in Japan. As the anonymous author of the letter from Sendai says, "It is warm, friendly, and beautiful."

It is.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Things on Thursday: Loyalty

The tragedy in Japan is enormous, overwhelming, and so deeply sad. With all the horrifying images coming out of Japan, the growing numbers of casualties, and the scary impact of the earthquake on the nuclear reactors, it's helpful to realize that there are stories of rescue and recovery, miracles of kindness and compassion amidst the tragedy.

This story touched my heart and I wanted to share it as our Thing for Thursday. Definitely click on the Show More to get the full story of what happens to these two dogs, and please watch all the way to the end.

Many thanks to my friend Carrie for sharing this on her FB status.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Weekly Giggle #28

If you love babies and their funny faces and their funny laughs, click here and watch the video. You will smile.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Do We Get to a Happy Place?

I’ve shared my happy-place birth story before, but it bears repeating here given my recent thoughts on happy places.

When George and I took childbirth class, our teacher was a German woman with a very deep, heavily accented voice. At one point, she ordered us to "exp-herience da relax-A-tion." Her voice was so not relaxing that George and I started to giggle. She suggested we find our happy place and meditate on it during labor. My happy place was a North Carolina beach, with steady, peaceful waves lapping the sand and pelicans flying and a Scot in full Highland dress playing his bagpipes to the rising sun.

I actually experienced this very scene on an early morning beach walk years before, and it was so incredibly peaceful. Well, and sort of weird with the kilted Highlander, but then, the best blessings in life often are a little weird.

Ahhhh, relaxation.

Fast forward to labor. It hurt so much that I could not find my happy place. Every time I closed my eyes to conjure that Scot by the waves, the only image my brain could pull up was of the Pacific coast, specifically some cliffs we'd visited near San Francisco in 1988. In my mind I went back to that overcast and gloomy day, with waves crashing violently against the cliffs and, oddly enough, a German voice-over shouting "Exp-herience da relax-A-tion!"

This was not my East Coast happy place at all. I could not get to my happy place because my giant watermelon-size uterus was teaching me a whole new definition of pain. I begged for the epidural man, who quickly came and took all the hyperventilating pain away. I loved him and would have married him if I weren't already having someone else's baby. God bless the epidural man.

And that is how I flunked natural childbirth. Whatever.

Still, the idea of a happy place intrigues me. What exactly is a happy place? Is it a literal place or can it be something more metaphorical? Do we need a happy place to be, well, happy?

Real places are important formative influences in our lives, and I’ve lived in a lot of different places. Since age five, I’ve lived in Tifton, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Durham, North Carolina; Sacramento, California; Oscoda, Michigan; Abilene, Texas; Wichita, Kansas; Columbus, Georgia; Boise, Idaho; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Springboro, Ohio.

That’s eleven towns in nine states over thirty-nine years. Not all of these were happy places for me. Oscoda and Abilene stand out as the duds on the list. Oscoda was cold, tiny, isolated, and unfriendly. The nearest mall, pathetic as it was, lay over an hour away in Alpena. The Dairy Queen and movie theater closed for the winter, and the Read-More Bookstore leaned heavily on westerns, romance, and used paperbacks. As an added bonus of misery, we lived in military base housing that would have been condemned by HUD as unsuitable for homeless people.

Then there was the whole Southern-girl-stuck-in-the-Great-White-North thing. Once, in two-degree weather, I shoveled two feet of snow off our driveway and sidewalk, as per military regulations. At that same moment, George was in Key West sailing on warm, blue water and getting sunburned because his B-52 broke down there and he was stuck for two weeks waiting on a replacement part.

Life is not fair. Not fair at all.

Abilene had its own special set of icky characteristic. Primarily, it smelled like cow poop due to the huge feed lots in the area. I didn’t have a car for the six months we were there and so spent an unhealthy amount of time in our appallingly nasty apartment. I couldn’t walk on the carpet in white socks, and the sofa George rented for our six-month stay was patched with duct tape.

On the upside, however, Abilene had a decent mall and some of the best beef and Mexican restaurants in the country. The movie theaters were open year-round, and it had a Hastings bookstore (not a Barnes and Noble, but after the Read-More, I wasn’t inclined to be picky). Most importantly, Abilene was warm, so I had a chance to thaw out after almost three years in Oscoda. In fact, in comparison to Oscoda, Abilene was paradise.

That’s when I decided icky was very, very relative.

Of all the places we lived, Boise was our favorite. Nestled in the foothills of the Rockies, Boise was beautiful in a sage brush and cactus sort of way. We hiked and skied in the hills, and partied downtown. Boise is a largish city, the state capitol, with major medical centers, a university, plenty of movie theaters (including an indy theater that served beer and wine), and lots of fabulous shopping.

But what made Boise my happy place were the people. As always, we had the military, which often made making friends easy, and many of the folks who were stationed there were people we’d known for years. But Boise had the best civilian setting of my whole time as a military spouse.

My friends Liz and Deena and Cheryl and Randy and almost everyone I worked with at Micron made me happy to be alive. My job wasn’t all that exciting (proofreading computer memory chip specifications for weeks on end is boring), but I loved the people. I worked hard cultivating relationships, too. Every week, I asked people out to lunch, organized a monthly birthday lunch for our department, took in baked goods and left them out for anyone who wanted them.

Shared food and celebration are excellent ways to build friendships.

By living in so many different places, I learned that happy places are not really about place. Oscoda was a pit, but I lived there during a tough time in my life. I was coming out of a serious depression and not sure who I was or even wanted to be, but I knew that I was not a good little officer’s wife. We didn’t have children, so most of the other military wives had little to say to me. Those few who did become my friends (hi, Carrie and Sharon!) were people who also didn’t comfortably fit the tidy mold of officer's wife. Putting a young woman in the midst of self-discovery and recovery in a small town with extremely limited resources wasn’t healthy. Or happy.

Over the years, however, I learned that almost any place can be wonderful depending on what can give to it. One of my favorite songs is You Get What You Give by The New Radicals.* (I first remember hearing it in the animated movie Surf’s Up, but it’s a 1990s song. I’m really slow….) The line that stands out every time I hear it is the line that gives the song its title:

“Can’t forget we only get what we give.”

I didn’t have much to give to Oscoda. I was too raw and confused. Boise, however, came at a time when I could give and did give a lot to life. Now, our time in Ohio is similarly fruitful for me. I’m giving a lot, and getting even more in return.

I’m in my happy place. Again. Who knows where I’ll be five, ten, twenty years from now. But if I keep my head on straight and my heart open and giving, I bet it’ll be yet another happy place.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your happy place…real or imaginary? Are you there? How do you deal with longing for a happy place when you can’t go there? Is there a figurative epidural man to help you through that longing?

*You can hear the song on YouTube HERE.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gratitude Journal #82

Today, I am grateful for useful people who help others directly in times of crisis. I am grateful for everyone in Japan and around the world mobilizing life-saving rescue and medical efforts where they are needed, and providing food, clothing, and temporary shelter to those men, women, and children devastated by the earthquake and its aftermath. I am grateful to everyday people who give money to help others in crisis.

Today, I am grateful for prayer.

Today, I am grateful for The Quiet, which played a private concert at my house on Saturday when George took the boys to the zoo and left me at home to rest. I am grateful for George and his love and care this weekend for his once-again sick wife.

Today, I am grateful for Daisy, who should have been named Prozac for her effect on our family following Hoover's death. This weekend, George asked what life would be like without a dog, and I said, "It would be less furry." He thought I meant that less fur would be good, but I explained that a house without fur is just a house. A house with fur is a happy home. Our house has LOTS of fur.

Oh, and I am grateful that the furry freak is none the worse for having swallowed a rock last week.

Today, I am grateful for a 2.5-hour phone conversation I had on Friday with a kindred spirit in the world of autism. It was so invigorating and positive. Thanks, Nancy!

Today, I pray that my sister's family and my mother feel well soon. It sure seems like everyone is sick right now. I am grateful it's been nothing more serious than bronchitis and ear infections, responding well to treatment.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, March 11, 2011

More for Japan

My Lenten promise was to do more. Given the tragic situation in the Pacific, I see a clear opportunity to do more. More prayer and compassion for those affected by this earthquake and its aftermath. More aid.

Will you join me in doing more? Please.

If you're looking for someplace to donate, try one of these:

United Methodist Committee on Relief

Red Cross

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

More in Lent

Years ago, when I still gave up something for Lent, I resented this time of year. Giving something up seemed to me such a pointless exercise. It didn't make me contemplate Jesus' sacrifice; if anything, it made me concentrate even more on myself and what I wanted and could not have. After I allowed myself to opt out of the whole giving-something-up thing, I appreciated the season more, prayed more, felt more connected to and respectful of the message of Lent.

Today, Ash Wednesday caught me by surprise. The lateness of Lent this year, combined with being sick the last two Sundays and missing church, made me forget all about it. At the grocery store this afternoon, a friend from church asked if I was going to the service tonight. I said no, that we never go to the Wednesday meeting. She said that she only asked because it was Ash Wednesday.

I felt stupid. What kind of almost-commissioned Stephen Minister loses track of such an important day?

Then, a few hours later, I received an email from my aunt. She wrote,

"Wendy, my former priest, gave us a Lenten challenge a couple of years back. She suggested that rather than going on a diet, or giving something up, that we add something positive to our lives in gratitude for Jesus' sacrifice. Add 5 more minutes in prayer. Add an hour volunteering somewhere every week in Lent. Add 5 minutes to the time you spend with your kids at bedtime and talk about what Jesus did for us. Add a compliment to a conversation." 

I'd heard this idea before, but today it struck me forcibly as something I should actually do. It felt right and good. So I'm totally in for more in Lent. For me, it will be more time in daily Bible study and more cards sent to friends and family so they know I'm thinking of them.

Would you care to join me in doing more in Lent? Perhaps you already do this. Even if you feel a spiritual lift from giving something up for Lent, perhaps you'd like to add something positive to your life as well. Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Daisy ate a rock this morning.

Really, Daisy? REALLY?

We fed her a piece of whole wheat bread and will keep an eye on her until this passes. Please say a little prayer for her.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Splurging on Fine Wine...Is It Worth the Cost?

Once again, I've been struck by how, well, snobbish oenophiles can be. George read an article from a foodie magazine in which a guest's $40 bottle of wine was dismissed as barely acceptable for cooking. The host seemed to feel that if you pay less than $100 for a bottle of wine, you're clearly a Neanderthal.


In another article, a host substituted cheap wine in an expensive bottle, and all but one of her wine-snob guests praised the wine. Most were extremely put out by her trick, probably because it hurts to have your dellusions of oenophile grandeur dashed by a sub-par zinfandel.

In the Raihala household, we routinely drink wines in the $10-$15 price range and consider a cooking wine either a) something we paid $6 or $7 for, or b) what's left of a bottle that's been open for a little too long. Sunday, George made a delightfully flavorful Bolognese sauce with the remainder of a $10 bottle of Mark West pinot noir that we opened a few weeks ago. When we splurge on wine for a special occasion, we might pay $20, and if it's a really special occasion, $30.

Clearly, we are Neanderthals.

Given that several scientific studies concluded most people can't tell the difference between expensive and inexpensive wine in blind taste tests, I wondered if we were wasting our money with these splurges, so I decided to engage in a little quasi-scientific experiment of my own.

I bought these two wines at Kroger (which proves we have no taste at all). The Burgess cost $22, and the Cline cost $13. George only knew they were two different labels when I asked him to taste and tell me which he thought was the more expensive and which he liked better.

He tried the Burgess first. "Very dry," he said. "Not much fruit. It's good."

Then he tried the Cline. "Fruitier. I like this one better."

I of course knew which I was drinking. As far as taste, I agreed with George's feelings about the Burgess being drier and less fruity, but I liked them both about the same. I definitely didn't like the Burgess $9 more than the Cline.

One study sample hardly yields results that are useful for universal application, so the only real take-away from my experiment is that George and I are Neanderthals who are going to save some money and enjoy our $10-$15 bottles of wine on extra-special occasions.

If you, too, are a Neanderthal, give Cline wines a try. Pretty much all Cline varietals are very drinkable, affordable, and easy to find. And maybe if someone at Cline reads this, they'll send me a case or two. Hello, Cline? Is anyone listening?

Now it's your turn. Share your favorite wineries in the comments!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gratitude Journal #81

Today, I am grateful for prayer and my prayer partners scattered all over the world.

Today, I am grateful for growth, change, and nurture.

Today, I am grateful for sunshine, laughter, and a warm puppy.

Sun Flower

The Nibbler

Now it is your turn. What are you grateful for today?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Words, Words, Words from Martha Washington

"I've learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances." Martha Washington

I found this nugget on the Happy News website today, and to an extent, I agree with Martha. How people react to circumstances does vary according to their dispositions. For instance, patient people weather the storms of life much more calmly than impatient people. Cheerful people might get knocked down by circumstances, but they will rebound much more quickly and work their way through the bad times more easily than morose people.

It reminds me of a study I read a few years ago. The researchers looked at college yearbook photos to see if smiles (or lack thereof) in the photos predicted future happiness. Decades after the photos were taken, people with smiley yearbook photos were much more likely to report higher levels of happiness than the people who had not smiled for their photo.

Geneticists tell us our disposition is programmed into our genes. Self-help gurus tell us we can think our way to a happier disposition. I suspect that, as usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

What do you think?