Thursday, September 29, 2011

Questioning my Intelligence Is Not Responsible for Silliness

This morning, I printed off a coupon from Barnes & Noble for a free beverage at their wonderful café. How exciting to open my email so very early in the morning and see the title “Enjoy a free beverage at our café!” Isn’t that thoughtful of Barnes & Noble?

Of course, it’s really a buy one, get one free deal, so there’s something a tad misleading about the email title. No matter. BOGO simply means I need to share with a friend because no one wants to see what two mochas with whipped cream and caramel drizzle will do to me since one tends to leave me feeling just short of a manically perky, homicidal speed freak. Especially on an empty stomach.

My plan is to call Angela L. and invite her to meet me for a free mocha. Who knows? I may even splurge on a medium mocha this time. Angela and I can turn into a happily caffeinated team named Thelma and Louise.

I refuse to call a medium drink a grande, as Starbucks and Barnes & Noble Cafés do, because it’s not. The venti is the large, not the grande. And the tall, which I normally order, is really the small so I call it small. The barista inevitably repeats my order back to me: “That’s a tall mocha with skim milk, whipped cream, and caramel drizzle. Is that for here or to go?” It’s ridiculous. Call them what they are.

At least venti is Italian for 20, as in 20 ounces, which is just too much caffeine and sugar for a normal human to consume anyway. If they had had venti mochas back in the day, I’m sure Charles Manson could have used it as a defense.

How many people have ventied about the blatantly misleading marketing tricks employed by the most powerful drug coffee cartel ever? Perhaps it’s a cliché to do so, but I can’t help myself this morning.

I haven’t had enough good black Maululani coffee yet.

By the way, I’m composing this post in Microsoft Word, which is telling me that one of my sentences above needs to be corrected for grammar. I checked to see what Word advises. “That’s a tall mocha…” should be changed, according to the grammar wizards at Microsoft, to “That’s tall mocha….” Please, Microsoft, stop giving bad grammar advice. Just please.

Back to the Barnes & Noble coupon. My computer informed me that it needed to update my Adobe Acrobat program, so as I’m rather fond of reading Adobe files, I let it. As my computer restarted, I had nothing better to do than read the fine print on my Café coupon.

This isn’t as strange as you might think. You see, I used to write, edit, and proofread fine print, along with regular print and large print, or as Starbucks might say, tall print, grande print, and venti print. In one of my first proofreading jobs, at the prestigious literary journal South Atlantic Quarterly, I caught a major error in the fine print of the copyright page. The word would was missing its l. What sort of street cred can a literary journal have if it drops a letter and misspells would as woud?

I visited the SAQ office a few years later, and the staff were still talking about my brilliant save. Which goes to show that publishing folks have some really bizarre priorities.

Word is telling me that I misspelled woud and that the last sentence of my previous paragraph is a fragment. Duh. Sometimes we writers do things like that on purpose for rhetorical effect. This is why students who rely too much on MS Word for their style will never be successful bloggers. I pity them.

Am I venti-ing again? Sorry about that.

Back to Barnes & Noble’s fine print. Most of it reads as fairly standard disclaimers about the coupon not being redeemable for cash value, yadda, yadda, yadda. The last line, however, struck me as odd: “Barnes & Noble is not responsible for typographical or pictorial errors.”

Say what?

As the dedicated and conscientious publishing staff at South Atlantic Quarterly demonstrate, organizations and people that produce print material are, in fact, responsible for their typographical or pictorial errors, or at the very least, they should feel responsible. What kind of sloppy marketing department do they have at Barnes & Noble?

Given the clean, balanced layout and general grammatical correctness of the fine print on the coupon, I deduce that the desire to abstain from responsibility for typographical or pictorial errors must be the fault of the legal department.

That's right. Blame the lawyers.

I’m full of clichés this morning.

You’d never guess, but what I really want to talk about this morning is an article George found at Reuters with this extremely appealing headline:

"Coffee linked with lower depression risk in women."

I’m not sure why Reuters' style manual doesn’t call for initial caps throughout its headlines. I give them an A for consistency, though.

Reuters reports that researchers found a correlation between women who drink at least four cups of coffee a day and lower risk of depression. “The team focused specifically on coffee, but they had similar findings when they looked at overall caffeine consumption, including caffeinated soft drinks and chocolate. They found that women who were in the top fifth of caffeine consumption had a 20 percent lower risk of depression than women in the bottom fifth.”

Does Gretchen Reubin at The Happiness Project know about this? Probably.

If you are a chocolate-eating, coffee-drinking woman, you already know what it took countless research dollars for a bunch of MDs and PhDs to figure out. Caffeine (especially when combined with copious amounts of sugar) makes you happy.

Given this expert testimony from Harvard's School of Public Health, Charles Manson would never have walked free on a venti defense. Angela and I will not turn into Thelma and Louise if we drink a couple of medium mochas. No, we will turn into really hyper happy people who annoy other people to death with our over-flowing abundance of caffeinated joy.

The Reuters’ article goes on to say, “Animal studies have shown that caffeine protects against certain neurotoxins. And brain receptors that respond to caffeine are concentrated in the basal ganglia, an area that is important for both depression and Parkinson's disease. Ascherio [the lead researcher] said low-dose, chronic stimulation of these receptors may make them more efficient.”

Translation: your daily cups of coffee are really, really good for you.

Ascherio “stressed that the study does not prove that coffee lowers depression risk -- only that it might be protective against depression in some way. And many more studies will be needed to show whether coffee can be used to prevent depression….”

Dr. Ascherio, please sign me up for those studies.

Pretty please with caramel drizzle on top?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gratitude Journal #106

Today, I am grateful for thoughtful reader Susan, who referred me to miss minimalist's blog. While I don't aspire to be more than a moderate minimalist (living with a packrat or two lowers my minimalist expectations!), I find miss minimalist's approach refreshing.

Today, I am grateful for towels.

Today, I am grateful to be a stay-at-home mom because it's my job to stay at home with a sick little rescheduling worries.

Today, I am grateful for the Big Green Egg and for a husband who cooks on it.

Today, I am grateful for thunder storms and green grass and blue skies.

Today, I am grateful for big brothers who push little brothers around.

Today, I am grateful for sleeping puppies in rays of sunshine.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Words, Words, Words on Science and Religion

If you're reading this in email, please scroll down and read the related essay.

"Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish.... We need each other to be what we must be, what we are called to be." Pope John Paul II

"The heart has its reason, which the reason can not know." Blaise Pascal

"Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but both look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect." Freeman Dyson, Physicist

"All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom." Albert Einstein

"Decades spent in contact with science and its vehicles have directed my mind and senses to areas beyond their reach. I now see scientific accomplishments as a path, not an end; a path leading to and disappearing in mystery. Science, in fact, forms many paths branching from the trunk of human progress; and on every periphery they end in the miraculous. Following these paths far enough, one must eventually conclude that science itself is a miracle—like the awareness of man arising from and then disappearing in the apparent nothingness of space. Rather than nullifying religion and proving that 'God is dead,' science enhances spiritual values by revealing the magnitudes and minitudes—from cosmos to atom—through which man extends and of which he is composed." Charles A. Lindbergh

Please share your own thoughts on this subject. All I ask is that your comments, no matter your opinion, be respectful and kind. Thanks!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Humility and Awe

Recently, a discussion in my Bible study reminded me about the movie Contact, based on a novel by Carl Sagan. I saw the movie back in 1997, and vaguely recalled enjoying it because it celebrated scientific inquiry while not denigrating Christian beliefs...a rare combination but not unheard of these days.

In the movie, a Christian writer and theologian Palmer Joss (played by Matthew McConaughey) and a scientist named Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) balance each other and, in the end, support each other after finding they aren't so different after all. Both were presented by the film as having valid, respected points of view.

Of course, I couldn't leave it at that vague level of recall: I found a DVD of Contact at the library and watched it again last night.

I remembered the movie correctly, so I guess my mind isn't completely gone. Yet.

The overall message of the movie is that science, for all its elegance and logic and valuable skepticism, isn't omnipotent. There are limits to how far science can take you, just as there are limits to how far religion can take you. The movie's message, at least as I see it, proposes that we need both, and that religion and science need to respect each other.

If you've read Questioning for very long, you can imagine how appealing this message is to me.

Science is a perspective, a mode of inquiry, that seeks to answer what and how questions, to explain what the universe is and how it works. Science doesn't deal in why. Why is the realm of philosophy and religion...perspectives that seek to explain purpose and intent and to find meaning.

Our universe is enormous, complex, and also beautiful beyond words. At one point in the movie, when scientist Ellie Arroway is being transported to another world, she witnesses an amazing cosmic event and says, "No words to describe it. Poetry! They should have sent a poet. So beautiful.... I had no idea."

Humility and awe. These are the emotions with which we should approach our thinking about the universe, our place in it, and the role of God.

Too often, science has led to beliefs about what and how that are erroneous. A century ago, doctors thought radioactive tonics would benefit patients; then, they figured out radiation causes cancer that kills patients; then they figured out radiation, used properly, can benefit patients by killing cancer.

This hurts my brain. It shows how arrogant assumptions lead to damaging conclusions, and also how gray the world is. We can't look at radiation as good or evil...just as something harmful or useful depending on the circumstances and how we use it. Yet often we want black-and-white answers, easy answers, and we cling to them even when evidence starts to mount that they are wrong. When we don't get the easy answers, we often get crabby and cross and demand them.

The value of science is its ideal of objectivity, even if that ideal is rarely met. Consider brain plasticity. I remember very clearly being told when I was in elementary school that our brains are pretty much developed by age seven. People who believed in brain plasticity in the 1970s were considered fringe and freakishly in denial. Now, however, brain plasticity is largely accepted as fact. The question being explored these days is just how plastic is the brain?

Which begs a question: how right are our other scientific beliefs?

Not very, it seems.

We need to be humble and in awe of how complex life is...because we can always be wrong. As Adam Savage says on Mythbusters, "Failure is always an option." We learn from failure. We learn from new information. We learn from asking questions no one has asked before. We learn from looking at the same old things in different ways. We learn that the good answers, the best answers, are almost never the easy ones.

"The more I know, the more I know that I know nothing."

True that.

Too often, why questions are impossibly hard to answer. Where, after all, is the proof? And when proof is thin on the ground, we demand those black-and-white easy answers all the more. A friend of mine once complained that if God wanted us to believe in dinosaurs, He would have mentioned them in the Bible. Her complaint implies that God spoon-feeds us through His Word, but most anyone who has actively engaged in reading the Bible can tell you there's nothing easy or pat about it. It's hard work to make sense of it, and reading it is a journey of discovery, an adventure into the mind and heart of that which is ultimately incomprehensible and so beautiful that there are not words for it.

As Foster's character in Contact discovers, sometimes it takes a poet to find the words, and even then, the words are not enough to capture the enormity of the universe. We experience bits and pieces of that enormity, and we struggle to make sense of it.

Some of us seek God in science and the laws of nature, some seek God in religion, some seek God in secular morality and ethics, and some would rather not think about God at all. I've come to believe that reading the Bible--or any religious text, really--is not about finding a weapon with which we can beat nonbelievers over the head, and it's certainly not a treasure-trove of easy answers. It's a way of exploring the why for ourselves.

Ellie Arroway concludes her testimony with this speech, which sums up quite nicely the dilemma facing those who seek and find some glimpse of truth in their quest for why.

"I... had an experience... I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever... A vision... of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how... rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us are alone! I wish... I... could share that... I wish, that everyone, if only for one... moment, could feel... that awe, and humility, and hope. But... That continues to be my wish."

That's my wish, too.

Things on Thursday: A Work in Progress

Today's Thing on Thursday is my current work-in-progress: my Thankful Tree. I got the idea from a picture on Pinterest and have taken it in my own direction.

The base of my "tree" is a wire stand intended for Christmas ornaments that was purchased at Hobby Lobby last year. I hung handmade miniature books from it for Christmas, but last week I bought a second stand and intend to have two trees with handmade "thankful" ornaments on display over our fireplace until it's time to decorate for Christmas. Then, I'll hang the book ornaments again.

It's not finished yet, but you can certainly see where I'm going with this.

My crafty readers will appreciate how "outside my box" these pleated ornaments are.

Is there some home decor item you use to celebrate autumn? Do you decorate for Halloween or Thanksgiving? Both or neither?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Minimalist Closet Revisited

About a year ago, I came out of the closet with my clothes hoarding and began my version of the Minimalist Closet project. The past year has been very instructive.

1. I don't miss a thing I got rid of last year. Not. One. Thing. Epiphany! What other stuff is weighing down my life that could be comfortably ditched without a backward glance? Lots, I imagine, and winter will be a good time to go through the house with an eye for purging. Now, if I can just get George to go through his overflowing drawers and bins of clothes and closet....

2. As easy as losing all the unnecessary stuff has been, losing all the unnecessary weight is harder. My skinny-clothes storage bin is largely untouched.

3. I had to buy some essentials for summer this year, but as fashion trends still do not reflect my personal style, I stuck to super-cheap clothes from Target and JC Penney. Some of these items won't last through next summer, but hope springs eternal that next year's summer fashions will give me incentive to buy higher-quality, lasting pieces. It just doesn't make sense to spend lots of money on clothes I don't love.

4. When I pulled out my winter clothes this fall, the whole process of seasonal transfer took about five minutes, as opposed to the couple of hours it took in the past. When I realized I was finished, I did a fist-pump and said, "Yeah!" The dog gave me a funny look and wagged her tail. She has no idea why I'm happy, but she's smart enough to catch the vibe.

5. I never did get the jacket and skirt to the tailor for alterations. This says something unflattering about me, perhaps, but I'm not going to think about it. I'm just going to put it on my to-do list. Again.

6. This winter, my needs are few but serious. The nice black pants I wear to church all winter are going raggedy on the hem and baggy at the knee; they absolutely must be replaced. My existing fleece jacket has a broken zipper pull and is wearing out at the elbows, so I'm replacing it with a black one that will go with everything. Several key sweaters look dull and faded, and I still need another pair of winter shoes to replace my worn-out leather slides. All of the items I'm buying for winter are of high quality and will last many years. Next year, I expect not to buy anything new for winter at all. Yippy!!!!

7. I'm a woman on a mission who's choosing shopping the internet rather than the mall. Just thinking about going to the mall depresses me.

On the whole, the Minimalist Closet has made me very happy. I'm curious to know if any of you have embraced the Minimalist Closet philosophy yourselves, if you want to embrace it, or if you are happy with overflowing abundance. What are your musings on wardrobe and fashion? Please do share.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gratitude Journal #105

Today, I am grateful for our friend Harley's completion of the Air Force Marathon and so glad he could use Hotel Raihala for his trip.

Today, I am grateful for Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth.

Today, I am grateful for the obsessive satisfaction in organizing stuff.

Today, I am grateful for kind and helpful neighbors.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Words, Words, Words...Better Late Than Never

Yes, it's Saturday morning, and I'm finally getting to the Words, Words, Words post of the week. That's because the past two days have been abnormally full of cleaning. We have company in town for the United States Air Force Marathon. Harley is doing his fifth, or maybe sixth, marathon. He can't remember. George is training for his fourth marathon at the end of October, which will be his first marathon not preceeded by a 2.4 miles swim and 112 mile bike ride.

Crazy people. I'm surrounded by crazy people who think endurance sports are, like, fun.

I found a quotation that sums up what I imagine a marathon to feel like because no way am I crazy enough to run one.

"The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals." Hal Higdon, running writer and coach

The funniest aspect of this quotation is that every person who's run more than one marathon would agree with it...and they run another marathon anyway. These people really are crazy.

So why do I admire them so much? Because marathon embodies the admirable human qualities of self-discipline and endurance. And it's cool that we humans have organized sports in a way that you can earn finisher medals for your admirable human qualities.

Plenty of us have self-discipline and endurance in other areas of our lives. In education, the finisher medal is a diploma or degree. In careers, the finisher medal is retirement.

In other situations where self-discipline and endurance get us through, we don't get a finisher medal. We might cross an invisible finish line, staggering and bleeding from blisters and chafing, but no crowd cheers, and nice EMTs are not waiting to hook us up to an IV bag.

When we cheer the marathoners crossing the line, we're cheering that human spirit of self-discipline and endurance, the ability to set our minds on a goal and just do it, no matter how hard and crazy and big it is.
And that is something worth cheering for, don't you think?

What have self-discipline and endurance helped you accomplish in life?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Things on Thursday: Hair Style, or Lack Thereof

When I was little, I learned that hair matters. Other than memories of my dad demanding I never cut my hair, I remember watching my mom, aunt, and grandmother give each other home permanents...I can still smell that smell, in fact. I remember how my cousin Kathy wanted long hair but her mom, Linda, wouldn't let her grow it out. Kathy would take a single strand of yarn and drape it over her head to pretend she had long hair like mine. I remember harrassing my mother to stop dyeing her hair because the silver strands were so pretty and shiny.

Yeah, that last one came back to bite me in the butt years later when my own silver strands were so pretty and shiny.


Anyway, I used to have long, straight dark brown hair, which I put in hot rollers every blessed day of my teenage years. See?

The pretty lady in argyle is my aunt, the one who wouldn't let Kathy have long hair. I love her anyway. We share a birthday during the week of Thanksgiving, so our family photos of Thanksgiving always include a picture of the two of us cutting a cake. This particular celebration took place around 1980, in case you're too young to remember big tinted glasses and Dorothy Hamill haircuts. 

When cousin Kathy went to college, she grew her curly hair really long. When I went to college, I cut my straight hair very, very short. So short, in fact, that mom's patients would see my picture and would say, "My, what a handsome son you have!"

I eventually got tired of the gender confusion and grew it long again.

Then, when my dog Shemya died, I had it cut to medium length.

Then short again.

And there it stayed for the past 10 years, except for the failed attempt to grow it out a few years ago. It has changed texture as it's gone gray, and now, my head is full of stiff wires with a couple of weird flips that won't behave. On really bad hair days, it looks like this.

Jack took this picture a few weeks ago. He likes to pretend he wants to take pictures of me with my camera, but as soon as he snaps one, he pronounces it good and then takes lots of pictures of his own hands, feet, and face. We might get him a camera of his own for Christmas, and he can load a hard drive with photos of parts of himself. I will then be spared more pictures like the one above. Best Christmas present ever!

My recent obsession with Pinterest has made me want to do something about my hair. Lots of people pin pictures of gorgeous hair, celebrity hair, model hair. My hair cannot look like the hair in those pictures. Mine is middle-aged hair. Straight hair. Gray hair. Coarse, ill-behaved hair.

But that is hardly a reason for me to neglect it.

When I went to my stylist yesterday, I tried to tell her what I want to do, and she seemed skeptical. She knows hair well, and has cut mine for almost eight years. It will take a bit more growing out to get it where I want it (pictures to come in a few months!), but even she was surprised how much an improvement my new idea was. She told me my instincts were good, and that she needed to expand her own vision to be more creative in her work and encourage other clients to branch out.

I told her about Pinterest. She's eager to let that monkey climb on her back.

And hopefully, in a few months, I'll be able to put a picture of my new do on my Thankful Tree and feel like, at the very least, I've done my best for now.

We'll see.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Saying Something

My friend Carrie posted this link on her Facebook status. It's a very good article about attitudes toward people with disabilities, with a nice bit of karma thrown in that's quite satisfying in the end. I do wish people could feel comfortable speaking up immediately when they hear rudeness, though I don't blame the author for staying silent.

She Called Them "Retards"

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Valuable Waste of Time

Day in, day out, I accomplish a lot of stuff.

Blog stuff (my stamping blog happily consumes a lot of my time).

Family financial stuff (you try finding out how much you paid for Horizon Health Corp stock back in 1997).

Housewife stuff (I do clean, you know...more than I like to admit given the general chaos of my house).

Pet owner stuff (two vet appointments in one week at two different vets).

Volunteer stuff (meal ministry, Stephen ministry).

Bible study stuff (class most Tuesdays, lots of reading).

Mommy stuff (oy vey!).  

Good and important stuff. There's so much stuff, in fact, that some stuff (like housekeeping) falls short of my best work. Isn't it funny how we often admire people who excel at things we only wish we excelled at. I have a friend (Karen, you know who you are) whose house has been immaculate every time I've set foot in it...even when I once dropped by without calling. I wish my house were immaculate every time someone stopped by.

But it isn't because, as much as I wish it were, I simply don't keep it that way. I'm the only neat freak in a house of rampant hoarders and decided years ago that I would go insane keeping my house clean enough for me. So it's just clean enough.

What do I do that keeps me sane (or at least functioning) when I could be striving for a really clean house or for perfection in all the other stuff I do?

I waste time doing things that make me happy.

Which brings me to the point of this post: the website Pinterest makes me very happy.

Pinterest acts like a virtual idea board. People pin (upload) gorgeous photos of all sorts of stuff: nature scenes, interior decor, architecture, fashion, baby pictures, wedding announcements, artwork, signs, urban chic know, stuff. When users at Pinterest see photos they like, they can repin them to create their own unique idea boards.

It's all an enormous waste of time.

And I love it.

You have to love a place where you can find photos with quotations and sayings like these.

That last one is particularly true for me. So very true.

Anyway, it's easy to sink hours into scrolling through hundreds of pictures looking for quotations and sayings that make me happy. In fact, I'm happier wasting time on Pinterest looking for quotations than I am doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku, and reading murder mysteries combined.

I'm not sure what this says about me, exactly, but I have a pin that covers the situation:

I want this sign.

But I'm an English major at heart, and that means I can always invent an explanation when I need one. We English majors thrive on quotations that embody other people's cleverness. We mine for them like Snow White's seven dwarves mined for rubies and diamonds. We devour them like Grendel devoured King Hrothgar's men in Beowulf. We feel compelled to share them like Daisy feels compelled to share her glorious golden fur.

We're weird that way.

Of course, Pinterest isn't all quotations and sayings. It also contains visual beauty.

And humor. Lots of wonderful humor.

There are also lots of pictures of clever craft projects that I absolutely must make. Don't you think I need a Thankful Tree? Doesn't everyone need a Thankful Tree? I never would have thought up Thankful Trees on my own, but as soon as I saw this picture, I knew I needed to make one for myself. Because it's so me.

And these adorably simple gift bags...these, too, are so me. And I have that border punch. Oh yes I do!

And that, I think, is the appeal of Pinterest. You're bound to find stuff that is you: sayings that reflect your values and beliefs or tickle your funny bone, rooms that you want to live in, places you want to visit, projects you wish you'd thought of yourself, clothes you want to wear, food you want to eat, images that speak to your heart and soul and fill you with joy or peace or both.

And the fact that this stuff that is so you is presented in pretty pictures for your perusal in your pjs makes Pinterest just about perfect.

Whenever I think of Beowulf, I start getting all alliterative. Sorry.

You'll also find the occasional picture that helps you put your stuff--all the tedious, boring, important, interesting, daily stuff you have to do and want to do and dread doing--in perspective.

I can soooo live with that.

But I'd add the missing commas for clarity.

Note: Despite all appearances to the contrary, I have not been paid in any way to promote Pinterest. I'm just obsessed and hoping to infect others with my obsession so they, too, can waste time valuably.  

Gratitude Journal #104

Today, I am grateful to the families and friends of victims of the 9/11 attacks for allowing us as a nation to collectively share in their grief and remembrance. I hope they understand how much love and support they have from perfect strangers all around the world and that it brings them some bit of comfort.

Today, I am grateful for taking Daisy on a walk at the park...her first since March. Poor thing. Her next surgery is scheduled for the first week in October.

Today, I am grateful for Pastor Suzanne's sermon yesterday. She must have had me in mind when she wrote it. But then, it often seems that God speaks through others when we need it most. His timing is perfect; we just need to pay attention.

Today, I am grateful for friends who gather for coffee. Our coffee group finally resumes meeting this week after a long summer of kids. Can't wait to hear what the ladies have to say!

Today, I am grateful for my friend Nancy, who ate lunch with me on Friday so we could catch up on what's happening with our children on the autism spectrum and life in general.

Today, I am grateful for quality medical care. My father-in-law is back in the hospital as of last night. If you pray, please keep Roger in your prayers.

Today, I am grateful for fingertip band-aids.

Today, I am grateful for long phone calls with loved ones far away.

What are YOU grateful for today?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Words, Words, Words (and Pictures) from Jon Katz

Jon Katz, of Bedlam Farm blog, has written another book about animals called Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die. It will be released later this month, and in preparation for that, he started a FaceBook page where his readers could post pictures and memories of their own beloved pets who had gone ahead. (Search the book title on FB if you're interested.)

Of course, I posted a picture of Hoover on the FB page, a picture my sister took that captures his golden glow and alert expression so well.

Katz decided to make a video of some of the FB pictures, and that video is now on YouTube. I'm honored that Hoover's picture is part of the video (at 1:33). I particularly like how the narrative ends with encouragement to bring another pet into your life, when you are ready. Hoover sent us Daisy. I just know it.

Katz's words are today's words, words, words.

Going Home Video

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Things on Thursday: A Conversation

My expected Things on Thursday post has been pre-empted by a particularly important conversation I had with my son this morning as we walked to the bus stop.

Jack (very matter-of-fact): Yesterday, a boy was mean to me on the bus.

Me: Oh. Who was mean to you?

Jack: Ben.*

Me: The Ben at our bus stop?

Jack: Yes.

Me: What did he do?

Jack (still very matter-of-fact): He squished me so there was no room for me on the seat.

Me: Oh. What did you do?

Jack: I told the bus driver. She said she would talk to him.

Me: Jack, that was the right thing to do. I'm so proud of you.

Jack (thrilled): Thanks, Mom!

On the surface, this is a rather ordinary conversation between mom and son, but Jack has autism, which made the ease and simplicity of this exchange rather, well, shocking. He answered all my questions directly and clearly. He stayed on topic, without a single odd noise or movie line or memorized speech. He didn't flap his hand, make funny faces, or repeat himself either.

For those of you who've never tried to get information out of a child with autism, please believe me when I say that this conversation was a miracle.

As an added bonus, his response to the squishing was completely correct and appropriate given his age and the age of the squisher.

Now, if I could only get him to tell me one thing--just one blessed little thing--he did in school today....

*Name changed

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


September 11, 2001. George was on vacation, but he put on his flight suit and went into his squadron anyway. Because he had to do something. Because he couldn't just stay home and watch the horror.

I stayed home and watched the horror because I had no other choice. I remember vividly what that horror felt like.

I recently watched a video clip about the aftermath of floods in Vermont. The spirit of community and working together is very human and sadly beautiful. Nature dumps on us, and we keep going. It's messy and hard and for some people beyond tragic, but nevertheless we keep going.

Nature is impartial. The Vermont floods happened because Hurricane Irene just happened to run up the east coast. Ditto for New Orleans and Katrina. The earthquake in Japan happened because tectonic plates moved. Ditto for the quakes in Haiti and New Zealand, and Monday's quake in Sumatra.

The events of 9/11 were harder to process. On that day, it wasn't random Nature doing what Nature does. It was hate. And we all knew it. Not just Americans; the whole world knew. And while part of the world rejoiced at our loss, most people were horrified. And many of those people reached out in sympathy and compassion.

That kind of hate is hard to process. It's a collective hate...the hate of one culture for another. The kind of hate that sparks wars and leaves so many innocent victims in its wake. It led to hate in the form of threats on mosques in the United States. It led to Enduring Freedom and Navy Seals killing Osama Bin Laden. While I'm not exactly sad Bin Laden is dead, I don't understand why so many people took to the streets to celebrate. Justice is one thing. Glee in another human's violent death is something entirely different.

Eye for an eye. And we all end up blind.

I'd like to remember the horror because I don't want to forget. I don't want to forget footage of Father Judge's body being carried from the rubble. I don't want to forget how many firefighters and police officers lost their lives. I don't want to forget the footage of emergency medical staff waiting in vain for survivors to be pulled from the rubble. I don't want to forget how the passengers on Flight 93 took matters into their own hands and saved who knows how many people. I don't want to forget the service of those at the Pentagon. I don't want to forget the 3,000 people who died that day. I don't want to forget what happened afterwards. What happened in our hearts. What we did to heal.

I want to remember.

Real Simple Magazine published an article in which family and friends of victims share how they keep their memories alive. It's beautiful. People Magazine is featuring chilren of 9/11 on its cover. I haven't read it yet but probably will because I remember seeing very pregnant women and some women with babies on their laps on Good Morning, America, months after the horrible day.

I'd like to see what those belly bumps and swaddled infants are up to these days. Their innocent lives changed that day and yet they keep going.

It's tragic. And beautiful. Because we keep going. Because we remember.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Gratitude Journal #103

Today,  I am grateful for laborers--skilled and unskilled--who make my life easier. The garbage collection employees; the UPS man; the auto mechanics; the check-out clerks; the people on the other end of the line at the bank or insurance companies; the road repair workers; the spiritual laborers who pray and teach and lead in our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples and prisons and streets; electricians and plumbers and carpenters and others who make and keep our houses sound; the air traffic controllers and pilots and flight attendants and mechanics who help us fly around this big blue marble; the teachers who share their knowledge with people of all ages; writers who share their stories and words; government workers at all levels who deal with the frustration of bureaucracy daily; the men at Salvation Army who take donations and always give me a "Bless you and have a wonderful day!"

Today, I am grateful for time spent with family, even when the smaller family members complain "I don't WANT a book night!" and 'NOOOOO!!!!" when we tell them what we're doing.

Today, I am grateful for benadryl. Uh-huh.

Today, I am grateful for this Chinese proverb I saw on a friend's Facebook status: "Better do a good deed near home than go far away to burn incense." It fits perfectly with another friend's link on FB that puts very clearly into a tidy list my feelings about toxic religion: The Warning Signs of Toxic Religion.

Today, I am grateful for a community's response to tragedy when we lost a five-year-old boy in a horrible accident. May his family feel God's grace and comfort surround them at this time and always.

Today, I am grateful that friends and family and even strangers can talk to me in their troubles. What a blessing it is to listen, a labor of love that's hard sometimes and sometimes ever so easy. I am also grateful for those who listen to me. We're all connected, aren't we?

Today, I am grateful to be able to say to you, "Bless you and have a wonderful day!"

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Impromptu Photo Shoot

Daisy jumped up on the sofa next to George. This is what happened.

Awww, Dad. I love you so much.

Hmmm, I'm feelin' feisty.

I'm gonna nibble your nose!

Darn it, Dad! You're not fighting fair!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Words, Words, Words from Julia Sweeney

My father-in-law forwarded this link from Minnesota Public Radio to me yesterday, and I'm still chuckling this morning.

Julia Sweeney Sex Ed Monologue

Have a laughter-filled weekend!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Things on Thursday: Flight of the Conchords

In keeping with my random post yesterday (you didn't think I'd get over being random just because we turned the calendar, did you?), today's Things on Thursday takes us into the funny (occasionally vulgar, and always clueless and tasteless) world of Flight of the Conchords.

I first heard them when Terry Gross interviewed them on NPR, which shows how culturally clueless I am, and they just about caused me to wreck my VW Passat stationwagon on the way to my StampinUp demonstrator's house. Amazing how NPR can take you to places so stupid they are funny, but there you have it.

Here are links to the YouTube videos of my least-vulgar favorites. Still, you might want to watch while the little ones are not in the room, especially if you start clicking around for their other songs. Just sayin'.

Jenny ("Pardon?" "I remember there were some verbs.")

Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros (If I were to rap, I'd rap like Jemaine.)

Frodo, Don't Wear the Ring (Watch this only if you have read or watched The Lord of the Rings. If you've never read/watched it, you'll think I'm insane.)

I gotta get me some magical bling-bling.

Happy Thursday!