Friday, July 29, 2011

Words, Words, Words of a Serendipitous Nature

One of my favorite places to surf on the web is The Quotations Page, which contains thousands of quotations of all sorts, plus a fabulously serendipitous Random Quotes function (link located in the sidebar of the home page link above). You just never know what you'll find on Random Quotes, and you can keep clicking for new ones. Here's what I found this morning:

"There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don't know." --Ambrose Bierce

 "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible." --Bertrand Russell

"If you're hurting, you need to help somebody else ease their hurt. If you're in pain, help somebody else's pain." --Oprah Winfrey

"Providence has hidden a charm in difficult undertakings which is appreciated only by those who dare to grapple with them." --Anne-Sophie Swetchine

"Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things." --Robert Louis Stevenson

Lots of good thoughts. I challenge you to do your own Random Quotes search. Find a quotation that speaks to you in this moment (silly, serious, profound, light-hearted...whatever floats your boat right now), and share it in the comments here. See what serendipitous words you can find and share with the rest of us!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Things on Thursday: Daisy Dolittle

Daisy is healing from her surgery. Recovery is slow, and we had to increase her dose of sedative to keep her calm. Even sedated, she cannot fully contain the bouncy exuberance of her golden retriever genetic programming.

"Mom, do you need me to Heimlich you?"

"Oh, Mom, you found just the spot behind my ear. Scratch harder!"

"Nick, you know you want to share your ice cream with me. Look into my eyes...."

"These little pills make me feel so funky."

Daisy says, "Make it an awesome matter what!"

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gratitude Journal #97

Today, I am grateful for physical therapists. They don't promise quick fixes, but they can put you on the path to fitness and health if you do what they say to do.

Today, I am grateful (and also a little sad) for the final installment of the Harry Potter movie series. We saw it yesterday, and on the whole, I found it satisfying as a movie adaptation of a complex book can be. Can't wait to see it again!

Today, I am grateful for all who are providing support and comfort to the surviviors of and the families of those killed in the Oslo attacks. What a horrible, senseless tragedy, born of hate and fear and madness.

Today, I am grateful for the infinity of God's grace and love.

Today, I am grateful for my uncle Darius, who celebrated his birthday late last week. Love you, Coach!

Today, I am grateful for all my readers and am so very happy to award the Barnes and Noble Gift Certificate to random commenter #30, Karen McAlpine, who wrote,

It is Thursday, so I will go back to yesterday. I decided to re-read all the Sue Grafton mysteries this summer. I started on A and am now on P. So, the amazing part is this: if you have read any of these mysteries, you that the author strings you along for awhile and then bam! the good part. Well, last night I got to the bam! good part. I finally had to set the book down and turn out the light. Nice way to go to sleep. And, I did not feel like working (accounting) I didn't. Just made one fun card and did some blogging. And, I managed to stay cool. I also watched the butterflies dance around my flowers. They come and visit each afternoon. Happy blog-aversary!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Karen, please send me an email at susanraihala at woh dot rr dot com, and I'll send you your gift card ASAP.

Many thanks to all of you who shared how you made a day ridiculously amazing. It was so uplifting and fun to read your responses. What a blessing it is when people share life's positive news!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Epiphany #642

If it's taking me a year to read a book, I probably shouldn't be reading it.

Case in point: The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber. I started this book in June of last year while we were on vacation in Minnesota and am currently on page 178 of 466. I've read dozens of books since last June, but why oh why can't I finish this one? Because it's good. Gruber writes very well, and his style is interesting and masterful. The pace and plotting work rather elegantly, and even if the whole "lost Shakespeare play" theme has been done before, Gruber adds interesting twists that make for entertaining fiction.

So why don't I like this novel enough to finish it? I'll tell you. The characters deeply, profoundly annoy the hell out of me. I'm serious about this. I want to like characters, want to feel for them, dream for them, pull for them. They can be conflicted, flawed, and make mistakes (even large ones), and I'll forgive them easily if they are, at some level, trying for something better. I adore Leopold Bloom, for instance, who's a pathetic loser in the grand tradition of tragedy. He tries.

I need a character...just one, a novel who doesn't, at the very least, make me want to dope-slap him or her. Is that asking too much? It's certainly asking too much of novelists like Thomas Hardy and Ernest Hemingway. They have excellent things to say about the human condition, our fallen state, the hopelessness of pursuit of happiness, the cruelty and cynicism and stupidity of life. These are important things to write about, but without giving reference (solid, balanced reference) to their opposites...grace, mercy, joy, kindness, and compassion...a novel ends up sounding like the evening news.

I don't watch the evening news anymore.

I've only read a third of Mr. Gruber's skillfully written book, yet I'd be happy if the main characters contracted Ebola and bled to death from their eyeballs. (Okay, I exaggerate, but not much.) Not one is nice or good or even trying just a tiny bit to be nice or good. They are complex, carefully developed, and fully believable, but they are motivated by selfishness, lust, greed, or stupidity. I. Just. Don't. Care.

That's why I'm not finishing The Book of Air and Shadows. My sincere apologies to Mr. Gruber, who has written a smart, interesting, and masterful novel that I, sadly, cannot enjoy.

Instead, I'm rereading the delightful book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. If you want to read a book that makes you smile and want to be friends with the characters, pick up a copy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Questioning!

Three years ago today, I posted this essay and started a blog to write my way out of an existential crisis. Given that I'm still firmly in an existential crisis, my original optimism might seem rather silly.

Perhaps silly is a reasonable thing to be.

Three years ago, I asked the following questions:

Where am I?
Technically, I suppose I'm in Ohio, a landlocked state. Metaphorically speaking, however, life sucked me right back out to sea from that shore of early motherhood. Buckaroo Banzai nailed an essential truth: "No matter where you go, there you are." I still have no idea where I am, but I'm here. The water is warm, the waves are rather relaxing at the moment, and the sharks are circling at a distance. I have learned that optimism and faith are extremely good shark repellants, but you just never know when they are going to get closer.

Photo from Pinterest

Who am I?
According to Albus Dumbledore, "It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." If he's right (I strongly suspect he is), we're not easy to define because we make choices right up to the moment of death. We're evolving always, so the answer keeps changing. Life is our very own novel where plot happens and we muddle through as best we can. (So yes, Karen, we will never feel like grown-ups. "Damn," you say? "Double damn," say I.)

Where did all this grey hair come from?
Who cares?

Why do I not have a single stylish outfit in my closet?
I have one now. Just one. The great closet purge helped.

Can I possibly participate in an intelligent conversation on a subject other than toilet training, the mysteries of getting a child to eat vegetables, or how much is too much for extracurricular activities?
Yes. You have no idea how relieved I am about this.

Is Susan Raihala still inside this person named Mommy?
Yes. She's just as confused as ever but rather happy nevertheless.

Part of what makes me so happy is you: your kind support, encouragement, words of wisdom. It seems that whenever I start to feel a bit discouraged or low, one of you sends me an email or leaves a comment that lifts me up. You have no idea the difference your words make, and I hope my words do the same for you.

Time to ice my elbow. Regularly scheduled programming will resume on Monday. In the meantime,

Photo from Pinterest

I plan to.

And of course we need to have a give-away to celebrate three years of questioning. For your chance to win a $25 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble, please answer this question in the comments: What did you do to make today ridiculously amazing? You can't say, "Nothing." If you haven't made the day ridiculously amazing, get your butt moving and just do it, and then share.

Rules: Comments will close on Sunday, July 24, 2011, at midnight eastern time and the winner will be announced on Monday. Only one comment per person. If you read Questioning in email, click on the post title to go to the blog and leave your comment there. You may need to click the Post Comment button several times for your comment to take. The winner will be chosen at random. If I don't hear from the winner within three days of announcing her/his name, I will choose another winner. And so on, and so on, and so on.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Things on Thursday and a Forced Blogging Vacation

Today's Thing on Thursday is this unimpressive little apparatus:

It doesn't look nearly so sexy on my arm, I assure you, but it's there, nevertheless. When the man at the hospital's brace shop pulled this out and put it on my arm, I thought he was kidding. Seriously? This is supposed to help the tendonitis in my elbow?

Lo and behold, it does. For the first time in five months, I awoke this morning able to straighten my arm without whimpering.

Turns out that what I'm doing right now...typing on a laptop and using a mouse...can give a person golfer's elbow, especially when that person also spends late nights rubber stamping and cutting paper. Who knew? Anyway, as evidenced by the length of this post, I'm too electronically chatty for my own good. I don't think I can possibly go cold turkey on the blogging, but I'll try for the next week. You can rest assured I will be back.

It'll take more than a little tendonitis to shut me up for long.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

And Again She Dwells on the Happiness Project...

Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project fascinates me. First of all, it proves that I'm not least one other human on this planet thinks about happiness obsessively and feels compelled to share her thoughts with the world, and given the popularity of the Happiness Project, lots of other people obsess about it, too. Fortunately, Gretchen is even more obsessive than I am so she provides amazing research and resources in her book and on her blog to promote the idea of happiness as a worthy pursuit.

One theme in her book that resonated with me was her resolve to Be Gretchen. She decided to pursue interests that truly represented her...not the interests she felt she should have. A recent post on her blog explores this idea as she processes her new-found, extremely obsessive interest in smell.

At various times in my life, I've pursued knowledge because I thought I ought to, not because I truly was passionate about it. A perfect example of this was my desire to major in science. Despite the fact that I was reading at age three and never went anywhere without a book, I felt like I should be interested in science because a woman scientist told me that women were discouraged from pursuing the sciences. The surest way to get me to do something is to tell me I can't do it, and I felt outraged that women were under-represented in the sciences because men thought they couldn't do science. Hmmph. I could fix that.

Fortunately, my intellectual hubris encouraged me to take organic chemistry my first semester at Duke University...where half the freshman class declares pre-med as their major. Pride goeth before the fall. Courses like organic chemistry serve as "weeder" courses, designed to weed out those who are not really prepared for medical school, and thus are made to be extremely difficult. Most students wait until junior or senior year to take organic chemistry, but there I was, a 17-year-old freshman, in way over my head.

When I flunked an exam, I was forced to admit that my drive to be a chemist didn't play to my strengths. A very kind aunt pointed out that the world would not end if I quit running down a path destined to kick my ass.  In short, she gave me permission to be myself instead of someone I thought I wanted to be. Instead, I changed majors to a subject that welcomed me with poetry and metaphor and litotes and all things medieval.

I included litotes in the list because it's hopelessly obscure and highlights how weird and wonderful my interests least to me. Litotes, the deliberate use of understatement, appears often and interestingly in Anglo-Saxon literature (think Beowulf), but one of my favorite examples comes from Samuel Johnson: "To write is, indeed, no unpleasing employment."


I've already written, not unpleasingly, about my passion for medieval literature, but my pursuit of that obscure branch of literary brilliance never dampened my love for all sorts of reading, from the highest levels of artistic merit (think Joyce's Ulysses) to the least (think People Magazine).

Grandma always had Reader's Digest in her house; I grew up reading it. So when I got a call from the Special Olympics last year to subscribe to Reader's Digest, I did. George is baffled by this. "I just can't imagine you enjoying Reader's Digest." He remembers only too well my years as an intellectual snob. I've gotten over that and am back enjoying a much broader range of reading, including Reader's Digest. So what if Reader's Digest is not PMLA or Medium Aevum or South Atlantic Quarterly. None of my readings in those peer-reviewed scholarly journals ever made me laugh or tugged at my heartstrings like jokes and stories in Reader's Digest do.

While immersed in the academic world, I didn't read Reader's Digest because I was too busy reading Medium Aevum and the works of Dante and Chaucer. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day. I was writing scholarly essays, participating in scholarly conferences, and teaching college classes. Life eventually took me out of university, and after a while, I realized that the artificial narrowing of interest I experienced in graduate school no longer applied.

Life moves on. My passion for medieval literature stays with me, but it's not all-consuming anymore. While part of me is a little sad about that, the majority of my synapses are quite thrilled to pursue new interests. Science still fascinates me, and that has come in handy while trying to deal with the whole autism thing. Children's literature delights me as much as Chaucer and Shakespeare ever could, and Mental Floss introduces me to subjects I didn't even know existed.

The world is no small place, and it's positively bursting with amazing, fascinating, miraculous stuff. Why would we ever think that any part of it would be unworthy of our attention? Why would we suppress our natural interests and inclinations because somehow they seem a little weird or not sophisticated/smart/popular/cool enough?

Why do we try to be who we think we want to be instead of who we are?

This wonderful quotation popped up recently on Pinterest, and it speaks directly to this theme.

Screw the critics--especially the ones that live in our own heads. Pursue what you love, what interests you, regardless of what others might think. Doing so can increase your happiness.

Be you, and see what happens.

Please share your thoughts in the comments. Is there any passion in your life that you pursue despite others thinking you're weird? Is there a passion you would spend more time on if you weren't afraid it would make you look odd to others?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gratitude Journal #96

Today, I am grateful for coffee. Specifically, Coffees of Hawaii Malulani Estate. I so totally needed it this morning.

Today, I am grateful for boys jumping in the pool and for dads who jump in with them.

Today, I am grateful that George safely completed the Caesar Creek Olympic-Distance Triathlon yesterday.

Today, I am grateful for own and other people's. Even though thoughts keep me up late at night, even though they distract me from sometimes necessary tasks, even though they shake me up a bit, they are never, ever boring.

Today, I am grateful for the book The Help. It gave me lots of thoughts.

Today, I am grateful for learning something new about words, courtesy of blog reader iriseyes. She pointed out that complaisant and complacent mean slightly different things, and I used the wrong one on my post Friday. Complaisant means eager to please, agreeable. Complacent means self-satisfied, pleased. I never knew. Now I do.

What a happy thought!

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Words, Words, Words about Criticism

“When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.” --Anonymous

“Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize.” --Elizabeth Harrison

The controversy surrounding mommy-blogger Heather Armstrong's recent charity trip to Bangladesh didn't surprise me. Heather went to Bangladesh to learn firsthand why maternal mortality rates for women in poor countries are so high and to promote awareness of the problem to those people who might be able to help. She was invited by the charity Every Mother Counts, founded by former model Christy Turlington, and Heather paid her own way.

I've heard all sorts of criticism aimed at both celebrities like Heather and average Janes and Joes who are working to do something good in the world. People snort derisively at Christians who give up their vacations to go on mission trips, celebrities who stand up for a charity du jour, and politicians who stump for a cause. There's always an ulterior motive, the critics say. Christians are just trying to buy their way into heaven with good works, celebrities travel to poor countries to poke sticks at the poor people just for the publicity, and politicians...well, we all know what they really want.

Healthy criticism and careful review of finances at charities are essential to keep charity scams to a minimum, but why in the world are people driven to condemn other people who are actually making a difference--or at least trying--on the front lines of some of the world's most horrifying problems?

I don't get it.

Certainly some people exploit the suffering of others for their own benefit, but it's hard to see how in the world Heather's activity benefits her personally in any nefarious way. And while it's nice to do good unheralded and unpraised, if everyone did their charitable activity in secret, lots less of it would get done. Promoting a need is necessary, and celebrities--whether bloggers or actors or billionaires--are ideally suited to raise awareness and the money that can make a difference.

We need to be very careful not to become the people who sit complaisantly complaining that other's motives are bad while we do nothing at all to make the world a better place, in whatever way we are called to do so. The problem of maternal mortality rates is huge and complex and won't be fixed quickly or easily or because Heather went to Bangladesh and had a bunch of bad hair days. She knows she can't solve the problem but she can make people more aware of it. She's doing what she can out of a sincere concern for women who die needlessly doing what nature intended us to do.

And I applaud her for it.

How can you lift up and encourage others who are trying to lift up the world in their own small way?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fitting in and Group Think: Family

The story of fitting in begins with family, and my family set me up for both belonging and not belonging in some very useful ways.

My mother’s family, though quirky and unique as all families are, always felt like home to me. My grandparents set the tone for the group as far as I was concerned, although I caught glimpses of the source of their attitude every time we gathered with extended family. Grandma and Papa loved being surrounded by their family, and the power of their love drew all of us together over food and games and celebration at every opportunity.

My life took me places that my grandparents never went. I remember Papa telling me that if public school was good enough for him, it should be good enough for me. But he never said another word about my private education again. He celebrated my graduation from Charlotte Latin School proudly and helped host a pound party for me when I moved into my first apartment at Duke. (For those who don’t know, at a pound party, people give the new house-keeper a pound of this and a pound of that to fill the pantry and cleaning closet with staples.)

After I earned my master’s degree, Grandma told me she couldn’t talk to me or write letters anymore because I knew too much. When I pointed out that I knew a whole lot about a very narrow subject 99.9 percent of the planet didn’t care a fig about and promised that I would never, ever take a red pen to any letter she sent me because I just loved seeing her handwriting so much, she said, “Well, in that case….” And she wrote.

Love and acceptance are powerful forces to unite a family, or, for that matter, any group of people. My mother’s family modeled love and acceptance for me in powerful ways, but my father’s family operated on quite a different dynamic, one that demonstrated the negative forces of judgment and amputation in a group, and took every bit of the fun out of dysfunctional.

Again, from my perspective, it was my grandparents who set the tone. Details are unnecessary, but the first time I remember meeting my grandmother (I was around ten or eleven), my first thought was, “Do not ever trust this woman. She will hurt you.” And she eventually did try. My grandfather was a benign, gentle man, a poet, and far too weak to stand up to my grandmother and rein in the worst of her meanness. He loved her, if his poems are any indication, but she came to him horrifyingly damaged by her father’s abuse and neglect.

This is what the Old Testament means by the sins of the parents being visited on succeeding generations. It takes generations to heal this level of damage, generations for enough love and acceptance to grow over bald patches of ground repeatedly scraped bare by hate and judgment.

Healing does happen, though.


Considering my bipolar family situation, it’s little wonder that I’ve dealt pretty well with belonging and not belonging as an adult. Sometimes, as with my membership in Alpha Phi Omega, belonging felt wonderful and easy. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, belonging never happened. I can’t say that not belonging is pleasant, but at least I never took it personally. And that’s the subject for next week’s essay.

Please share an example of belonging from your own childhood, a time when you felt safe and secure and loved and a part of something bigger than yourself. How has that positive sense of belonging carried into your adult life?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Sad Anniversary

Today is the one-year anniversary of Hoover's passing. It would have been his 14th birthday if the osteosarcoma hadn't won. We will always miss you, our first Furry Golden Sunshine.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Gratitude Journal #95

Today, I am grateful that 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence so very long ago, so grateful they stood resolute and courageous. Definitely something to celebrate with fireworks, don't you think?

Today, I am grateful for sunshine, furry side up.

Please note that Nick coined the phrase "furry side up" to describe Daisy as she lies on her shaved side so that, other than the cone, she looks normal. 

Today, I am grateful for a day spent hiking through nature's wonders right here in Ohio. Friday, we took the boys to the Hocking Hills. Pictures can't do the awesomeness justice, but George certainly got some good ones.

Old Man's Cave

King of the Cave

Moss-Covered Bridge


Devil's Bathtub

Rock House


And I'll close this gratitude journal with a picture of the most amazing miracles of nature I know.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Grateful for Freedom

Yesterday, The Gratitude Campaign posted a request on Facebook asking people to share the aspect of freedom for which they are most grateful. Surprisingly, one popped immediately to my mind--usually I have too many favorites of things like this for any one to stand out. I mean, how in the world do you prioritize the rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom to be as stupid as you want as long as you don't hurt anybody?

Then, this morning, I was over at Lowering the Bar and saw this shocking bit of succinct reporting:

"Blogger: restaurant's food was "too salty." Owner: You have slandered me. Judge: Go to jail for 30 days and pay this man $7,000. Blogger: I regret living in Taiwan."

Yeah. I don't regret having been born in the United States, where there's no danger of being sent to jail because you complained about poorly prepared food.
I thought it would be fun to have my readers share whatever most-cherished freedoms pop into their minds. You don't have to be an American to enjoy wonderful freedoms, either, though I suspect if you share on this post, it's unlikely you live in Taiwan.

Here's what I wrote on FB yesterday on the Gratitude Campaign page.

"Freedom of movement. I drove to Maryland and back to Ohio without once having to show papers, stop at a checkpoint, show ID. I saw military vehicles and police along the way and felt pride and comfort in their presence, not a bit of fear or anxiety."

Your turn! Unlike on FB, however, here you aren't limited to a few lines. Write an essay if you're moved to do so. I'll read it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Words, Words, Words about Nature

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous." --Aristotle

Today, we're out to find something marvelous in nature. What of nature's marvels have you enjoyed lately?