Friday, August 31, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Your Mission

Found this on Pinterest and loved it.

Today, I'm going to clean a little, organize a little, grocery shop, stamp, and breathe. I'm going to call some families in our church to see if they need meals and if necessary arrange for those meals. I'm going to read and listen to the birds outside my window and pray and love my life.

Because it is good.

How can you--today--get busy loving your life so there's no room for hate, regret, or fear?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Kaua'i: A new way of looking at things

When I first decided to start this blog, I wanted the title to contain the word perspective. You see, I think perspective--how we look at our lives and the lives of others--is vitally important. Unfortunately, every title I wrote in my head that contained the word sounded pretentious and preachy.

Definitely not the vibe I was going for.

But most of my posts are about perspective in some way, so imagine my delight when I recently found this quotation from Henry Miller: "If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things."

This summer, my sense of arriving and departing was magnified by our trip to Kaua'i, but two books I read before and during the trip significantly enhanced that sense of everything being eternally anchored.

A few weeks before we left for Kaua'i, I read A Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. Jacobs' first book, The Know-It-All, entertainingly documented his year of reading the Encyclopedia Britannica, and for his second year-long adventure, he took on the Bible. Jacobs is a non-observant Jew/agnostic who decided to experiment with living the Bible's laws as literally as he could.

At the end of that year, he writes:

"As with most biblical journeys, my year has taken me on detours I could never have predicted. I didn't expect to herd sheep in Israel. Or fondle a pigeon egg. Or find solace in prayer. Or hear Amish jokes from the Amish. I didn't expect to confront just how absurdly flawed I am. I didn't expect to discover such strangeness in the Bible. And I didn't expect to, as the Psalmist says, take refuge in the Bible and rejoice in it."

Jacobs didn't become a conservative (or even merely observant) Jew nor did he convert to fundamentalist Christianity as a result of his year-long travels in the Bible. He remained anchored in his secular world view, but his perspective changed and felt enriched by the journey nevertheless.

Near the end of his year, he was dancing at a bat mitzvah with his young son Jasper, who was starting to fuss. He describes the moment:

"I feel something happen. I feel something envelope me and then envelop Jasper. And then I feel it keep going.... I'd had some close calls all year. There was that hypnotic trance while watching the serpent-handling preacher. But I've never fully let myself go, always hovering a few feet above the ground like a hot-air balloon still stuck to its tether.

"So at this suburban Jersey country club, my son's hands locked around my neck, his head pressed against my shoulder, I chose to accept this feeling and ride it to the end. To surrender. If I had to label it, I'd say the feeling is part love, part gratefulness, part connectedness, part joy. And that joy was like joy concentrate.... My altered state only lasted all of ten seconds. Maybe less. And then it faded away. But not totally. There's still some background radiation--which I hope to God stays there for weeks, months."

I've felt that love/gratefulness/connectedness/joy concentrate Jacobs describes and have written about it myself. That altered perception of life, which I describe as sinking into the spirit, happens when we surrender to the moment, and surrender means we open ourselves to the fullness of life.

It's a hard feeling to describe, but Jacobs does a nice job of it. I'm struck by how similar our word choices were, despite our different perspectives. With the thoughts of Jacobs' experience fresh in memory, I sank into the spirit several times on Kaua'i. Beaches and gardens do that to me. These moments came on so intensely, so powerfully, and so fleetingly.

Putting yourself in a new place and surrendering to it is a great way to encourage these moments. You can't force them, but you can encourage them, rig conditions to be highly favorable to that sinking feeling: staring into an exotic blossom while simultaneously smelling it and the damp earth and hard, warm tree trunks, and hearing the water flowing in a stream and the birds and bugs making their noises and a soft sussurus people talking a little further up the trail and of your own breath, and feeling the dirt sink slightly under your feet, and giving thanks to the Creator of it all, being aware of His presence, and knowing with absolute certainty that it--all of it--is good.

I felt the connection to everything.



And I can still feel the background radiation of it all, as Jacobs puts it, the memory of sand between my toes and sunrise on an endless ocean and plumeria blossoms around my neck. Joy concentrate.

Putting yourself deliberately in a strange new place to grow yourself and to expand your perspective is by no means a new idea. It's been around at least since St. Augustine's time. He wrote, famously, "The world is a book, and those who don't travel read only a page." Last year, I listened to Diane Rehm interview David McCullough after the publication of his book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.

Now, I love McCullough's voice (Ken Burns' Civil War documentary wouldn't have been the same without him), but I was absolutely smitten by his enthusiasm for the experience of Americans in Paris during the 1800s. I started his book shortly before leaving for Kaua'i, and found it engrossing and oddly appropriate for my tropical adventure.

Plus, it was delightful how clearly McCullough narrated the book to me in my own head. Better than a book on tape, that was.

There's just something wonderful about the random and diverse mix of people who were in Paris in the 1800s. New ideas flourished in that mix, and gave rise to changes in the way things had been done for centuries. Women broke into the male-dominated world of medicine, artists discovered new techniques and styles, writers found material, statesmen learned leadership and the power of ethical decisions.

Creativity flourishes in a bit of chaos, and Paris provided that. It also gave novelty, craftsmanship, connections, and influence to Americans who blossomed and grew in that creative bath.

Spending a week in Kaua'i on vacation isn't quite the same thing as spending years in Paris, but in the aftermath of the trip, I find myself overwhelmed and needing time to process the experience in much the same way those Americans in Paris did.

Immediately upon my return, I hit my craft room with a vengeance. I didn't make any cards picturing surf boards or plumeria, but I did make this greeting card, which utilizes cheese cloth from the grocery store.

Yeah, I was walking through Kroger, saw a display of cheese cloth, and thought, "DANG! I could use that on a card."


It's not the sort of thought that pops into my brain regularly. I'd seen cheese cloth at the store for years, had bought it for George's cheese-making experiments, and never once thought to use it on a craft project. Did it strike me then because my travels opened up my mind to new ideas for old things? I've no idea.

But quickly following this creative flourish, I experienced complete creative block. And ever since, my creativity--even in my writing--has moved on in fits and starts, moments of incandescent thrill and moments of...confusion? ...loss? ...drifting? It has arrived and left again and again, much more erratically than before.

Seems the anchor of my creativity is shifting around a bit on a sandy ocean floor.

Who knows what will happen next?

I sure don't.

But that's okay. Totally okay. The new way of looking that things I experienced in Hawai'i isn't fully focused and perhaps never will be. But it's there, right in front of me like that sea turtle at 'Anini Beach, a beautiful gift I can't control and don't want to.

I just want to surrender to it.

What oddly appropriate books have you read at a particularly meaningful time in your life? How did they weave themselves into your thoughts and change or enhance your perspective?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Gratitude Journal #152

Today, I am grateful for an experimental husband who actually invented a deliciously light meal on Saturday and then made six different pizzas last night. I'm also grateful he liked the beet and goat chesse pizza enough that Nick and I didn't need to eat it.

Today, I am grateful that my baby turned ten years old.

Jack made himself known four days before his scheduled c-section delivery. I still remember George driving me to the hospital at one in the morning, dodging a herd of cows on the road. I remember how he found a vending machine with a big Coca Cola because he had had only six hours sleep in the previous 48 hours. I remember how the doctor tried to stop my contractions with some drug that made me shake like a leaf and made it really hard for the spinal block man to do his job. I remember hearing Jack cry, seeing the doctor hold him up and thinking, "Ohmygosh I'm so glad this was a c-section...he's HUGE!" I remember being really annoyed in the recovery room as I tried to wiggle my toes and George got all the fun watching Jack's first bath. I remember cuddling baby Jack in my room (finally!) and thinking, "He's not so big after all."

But ten-year-olds no longer fit in the crook of your arm.

Today, I am grateful for Patti M., my friend who turned me on to A Holy Experience, the blog by Ann Voskamp. I have started reading Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts. It's amazing. The gratitude movement is huge, and there are lots of books available on living gratefully. This one is special.

Today, I am grateful to the ads on Facebook, which directed me to Active Happiness, a website dedicated to the pursuit of happiness. Lots of good stuff there.

Today, I am grateful for a return to the routine of school, for volunteer opportunities that landed in my lap, and for teachers who truly care about my children.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Words, Words, Words about History

"You don't hate history, you hate the way it was taught to you in high school. Stephen Ambrose

Yesterday, our sons returned to school. Our elder son started junior high school. I'm not sure how that happened. When did he grow fuzz on his upper lip and sprout up almost as tall as I? Soon, he'll be shaving and looking down at me when I yell at him for whining about walking the dog. Soon after that, my only leverage will be to take his car away.

No. No way will that boy drive at 16. I still vividly remember having to rescue him from impossible positions on the monkey bars.

Our younger son started fourth grade. Today, the second day of school, he turned ten.

Double digits.

Time passes. Boys grow. My hair turns gray. George loses his.

But I still remember what it was like to start school. My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Alexander, a kind woman who had to punish me for reading a library book when I was supposed to be reading a North Carolina history textbook. My seventh-grade English teacher Mrs. Goodes had no problem with my reading The Hobbit, but my seventh-grade social studies teacher Mrs. Waggoner seemed oblivious to how easily her students memorized the Preamble to the Constitution. We all thought we were putting something over on her while we sang the song from Schoolhouse Rock under our breaths during the test.

"We the People [of the United States], in Order to form a more perfect Union...."

As I see only in retrospect, Mrs. Waggoner knew exactly what she was doing.

I didn't hate history, but some of the textbooks made for painful reading. I distinctly remember the eighth-grade text on World History because it was the first textbook that made me slap my own face just to focus on the tedious words about the Hittites and Hammurabi's law code and mummification.

What sort of academic publishing hell produces a textbook that makes mummification boring?

Nick is easily bored in school, but so far, he enjoys history. I pray his enthusiasm carries him through mind-numbing textbooks and the occasional poor teacher.

Jack's main interest in history lies in history's Important People. Ask him about Alexander Graham Bell, and he'll say, "He's dead. I wish I could meet him. He taught the deaf how to speak and invented the telephone." Other than Important People, however, history is lost on Jack.

Whether it's our personal history (the memories of babies wrapped up like burritos and all those first days of school or heroic rescues from playground equipment) or our corporate history (the memories of human greatness and weirdness and evil), history is important because it teaches us where we've been, allows us to contextualize where we are, and gives us a springboard to do better in and have hope for the future.

Just as long as the future doesn't involve motorized vehicles and teenage boys.

What memories do you have of studying history in school?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Who Am I Kidding?

When I saw this on Pinterest, I yelled, "YES!"


Daisy the dopey golden retriever gave me a funny look and then went back to gnawing the yellow fuzz off her tennis ball.

Sometimes, life fools me into believing that I have something figured out. It feels so good to have something figured out. I stand tall, and my smile beams my confidence and pride for the world to see.

I am woman. Hear me roar, people!

And then, of course, my carefully constructed answer falls apart, leaving me with the feeling that life must be some sort of cosmic joke designed to convince us of our complete idiocy. In fact, I would argue that if we live long enough, we'll learn that almost everything we think we know at this moment is, almost certainly, wrong.

Yet we have to answer questions all the time, don't we? Some are easy. Jack recently asked me, "What does impressive mean?"

Score one for the word nerd. I nailed it.

Other questions, however, stump me. For instance, should George and I spend over $2,000 having our yard hydroseeded? Should we put wire mesh on our gutters or the fancy leaf guards that cost five times what the mesh costs? What window treatments should I put up in our bedroom? Family room? Breakfast room? Dining room? Should I use my fuel points all at one time or just part now, and part later? The pump gives me the choice, but how am I supposed to know what's best?

In fact, how am I qualified to make any of these decisions? My degree is in literature, not home improvement, interior design, or economics. Why doesn't life ask us what Chaucer means when he writes, "Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages" or why there is a pear tree in The Merchant's Tale? Life hasn't yet asked me to explain iambic pentameter and compare/contrast its use by John Milton and Alexander Pope.

I could nail those answers. Oh, yes. I could nail them.

But those are not the types of questions life throws at us. Last week, my firstborn threw me a doozy:  "Is hell real?" You'll never guess the first thing to pop into my head.

"Oh, hell."

I don't like the idea of hell. I really don't like the idea of faith generated from fear. I don't believe God wants us motivated by a desire to avoid punishment. He keeps repeating, over and over again in case we didn't hear Him the first five dozen or so times, "Fear not." He wants us motivated by the overwhelming love we feel from Him to share that love with the world.

But does this mean I believe in universal salvation and thus that there is no hell?

Beats the hell out of me. I don't know what I believe about hell. What I do know is that my belief--or lack thereof--doesn't matter. The fact that I'm wrestling with the question like Jacob wrestled God in the wilderness means I'm on the right track. At least, I sure hope so.

Some of you may be yelling at your computer, "OF COURSE hell exists, Susan! The Bible says so!" Others may be yelling, "OF COURSE hell doesn't exist, Susan! God loves everyone!" Still others may be yelling, "OF COURSE hell doesn't exist because God was invented to guilt people into behaving nicely."

But I'm going to politely return to gnawing the fuzz off my tennis ball and leave you to gnaw the fuzz off yours because we just have to figure out some things for ourselves.

In the meantime, peace be with you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Gratitude Journal #151

Today, I am grateful for community, for friends, for easy companionship.


Today, I am grateful for a world so full of wonder and beauty that I will never be bored.


Today, I am grateful for education.


Today, I am grateful for love.


And yes, I spent too much time on Pinterest last week. Why do you ask?

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Sometimes and Everything


When have you been able to achieve this level of faith that everything will work out for the best? What time in your life did you let go of all the thinking and just breathe? What places in your life right now make you think too much, obsess unhealthily? How can you change that?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy News Comes Through

I've mentioned before that the homepage on my computer is Happy News. This way, first thing every morning, I read an article or two about people doing good things...returning lost money, rescuing dogs, raising awareness of social needs, and so forth.

Much better than starting a day with angry political rhetoric or disaster-mongering, fear-inducing stories, wouldn't you say?

Today's lead story on Happy News is about a high school student named Jack Hishmeh who crossed a line when he walked into the special needs classroom at his school last fall. He didn't like seeing the students in that classroom--with obvious disabilities like cerebral palsy and Down syndrom--so isolated from the rest of the school, so he stepped over the line that divided them.

Next thing you know, he had friends joining him across that imaginary line.

Next thing you know, he rearranged his classes to make time to be a formal peer mentor and get those students out of their classroom and into the lunch room with all the other students. He showed that the line didn't mean a thing.

Next thing you know, he was hoofing it to area businesses asking for donations and help to spruce up the classroom, which was in an appalling state.

Next thing you know, he is the change he wants to see in the world.

Our school district here in Ohio does a lovely job with inclusion. Our Jack, who has autism, has been in an inclusion environment from the beginning at the developmental preschool. I forget how unusual that is, how many school districts warehouse students with special needs away from the main student body because it's easier, cheaper, more convenient to lock them away.

God bless Jack Hishmeh for crossing that line and bringing those students into the larger school community.

Doesn't news like that restore your faith in the goodness of humanity?

Thank you, Jack Hishmeh.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gratitude Journal #150

Today, I am grateful for 150 weeks of gratitude.

Today, I am grateful for dental floss.

Today, I am grateful that the flowers from last week's gratitude post are still pretty.

Today, I am grateful there are only 9 days, 17 hours, 14 minutes until school starts.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Date and a Dog

A Date

 A week ago Friday, George and I went on a date. We'd planned to eat at the Wine Loft and then go watch Ted, at the Green, an open-air shopping mall. Neither of us was terribly excited about Ted, but we wanted to laugh and it was the best choice available. Dinner was perfect.

George got the movie time wrong, so it had already started when we arrived at the theater. We didn't mind at all because a band called The Fries was playing at the Green, and we listened to awesome music from the '60s, '70s, and 80's instead. Black Water, A Hard Day's Night, Surfin' USA...oh, yeah.

We had so much fun, George made a couple of CDs off iTunes of the playlist and similar songs to commemorate the night.

I love it when a weak plan falls apart!

A Dog

Daisy is going through a lot right now, bless her furry little heart.

First, we took her to a pond to swim for the first time. She started into the water enthusiastically after a thrown tennis ball, but as soon as her feet sank into a bit of mud, she froze and freaked. "What!?!?" She flat refused to go deeper. 

And then Jack freaked out because no one was willing to retrieve the ball and we had to leave it as a present for a real retriever.

What sort of defective golden retriever do we have? Bad knees and no water sense!

Anyway, George took her back to a bit cleaner water the following day and made her swim. He carried her into the water and put her down. Nick took pictures and got some good ones!

Here she is trying to climb up George.

George trying to encourage her

"Why are you doing this to me?!?!"

"Water's for drinking, not swimming."

"I can do it, but I'm not happy about it."

"Still not happy, people."

You're a good girl, Daisy!

"Dude, I'm tryin' not to die. Don't care about the ball."

The Flying Lip

So she can swim, even it if isn't yet her favorite activity. George will keep working with her until she can, you know, retrieve something from the water.

Swimming's not the only new activity she's being trained to do. We finally had an invisible fence installed and have begun the "correction" phase of training, also know as "shock therapy."

Oh, lordy. I never thought I would do this to a dog.

I shocked myself with the collar to know how much it hurt (she was whining so pitifully!), and it's really not bad. So all of you out there thinking (like I thought) how mean it's not.

But she doesn't like it (which is good) and today we actually let her out off leash. She didn't go anywhere near the fence, and she let George and the boys walk off the driveway without trying to follow.

Good girl!

Poor Daisy is going through a lot right now. Send her some cyber-hugs. She needs them.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Religion

I watched a news report today about the opening of a mosque in Tennessee and the hate being spewed at Muslims who just want a place to worship in a country founded on freedom of religion.

Wouldn't it be nice if we all spent more time loving and less time hating? Wouldn't it be nice if all religions prayed nicely with each other?

Kindness, compassion, servanthood, unconditional love, mercy, grace. That's what Christ taught His followers to share with the world.

Let's pass those things on.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Questioning a Mood

Have you ever awoken in a kind of haze of sleepy distraction, wandering through your morning routine half-aware of your environment and vaguely thankful that the coffee pot didn't move during the night? Have you ever found yourself, an hour later, returning to self-awareness only to find that you're in a mood?

Not a good one.

One of those moods.

Where do these dark and stormy moods come from? Could it be that the dark and stormy night planted its seed into your brain? Or is the seed nurtured along by the lingering grey, rumbling clouds visible outside every window in your house? Could it be the two o'clock wake-up by a tween who was in a mood of his own? Could it go back even further to your bedtime routine and the frustration of realizing that your Nook battery had been drained by too many games of Angry Birds Rio played not by you but by your youngest who snuck the Nook during the day when you weren't looking?

Angry bird, indeed.

Perhaps I'm looking for explanations in the wrong places. Perhaps the mood arises not from my environment but from inside me. Perhaps it has to do with hormones, brain chemistry, pesky little molecules and electrical impulses screwing with my head. Perhaps we are all simply victims, innocent automatons fulfilling our genetic programming, which includes a detailed sub-routine that gives us the mere illusion that we have free will and can control our moods.

Whether the mood springs from environment or chemical soup, I find it unacceptable in myself and almost as soon as I became aware of it, I began brainstorming ways of shaking it. (Sub-routine of illusion be damned.) Being generally happy is addictive, and when happiness eludes me, I chase after it with determination.

1. Pray. In these moods, I find it helpful to be grateful, and thanking God for this wonderful life can push away those grey clouds in my brain. List your blessings in gratitude to the Creator. It helps.

2. Seek out a temporary pleasure. The idea is to jump-start a better mood by distracting myself from the bad one. It's best to keep these temporary pleasures innocent and non-fat. Guilt is a grey-mood generator of insidious power. I checked out a couple of funny blogs and websites this morning. Seeing a giant cake of the space shuttle that looked like a p*nis helped. Not sure what that says about me, actually, but whatever works.

3. Reframe the situation. In the old days, this was called "looking for the silver lining" but metaphorical language doesn't sound professional enough for psychologists, so now it's "reframe the situation."

I was lazy last night and didn't water our yard, even though it really needed it. During the night, we experienced a rather alarming storm which, when it woke me, made me worry about the recycling bin I'd put out last night. Was the trash blowing all over the road and our yard? Would I have to start my day picking it up. Grrrr.

This morning, however, I sought to reframe that negative thought by reminding myself that the storm took care of watering the yard far more effectively than our tripod sprinkler could have done...and at no cost to us. That storm and the others hovering off to our west are blessings to our parched earth and our water bill. Bring them on!

4. Exercise. Our bodies were made to move, not to sit at a computer typing. After I drop Jack at summer school this morning, I will hop onto the rowing machine and get the endorphins flowing. They have the power to kick the bad chemicals' asses.

Body, mind, and soul. We are all three of these at once, and bringing all three out of a bad mood takes conscious, deliberate, and determined effort. As long as our brain chemistry isn't truly messed up by serious mental illness, we can change our mood in a number of different ways: doing something kind to help another person, reading the Bible or other inspiring books or blogs, getting a job finished (even if it's just cleaning the crumbs out of the toaster or picking up trash from a storm), watching something funny on television, listening to and singing along with happy music, petting a dog or cat, meditating on some blessing or happy thought...the possibilities are endless.

What do you do to kick a bad mood's ass?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Weekly Giggle: The To-Do List

Best. To. Do. List. EVER!


My favorite is number 6, but 9 is a close runner-up, but that just reveals my geeky love of science fiction and Kafka. Do you have any fun ones to add?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gratitude Journal #149

This is my second post for today. Please scroll down to read the first post.

Today, I am grateful for dictionaries.

Today, I am grateful for teachers and principals and therapists and coaches and school secretaries and librarians and everyone in the building helping our children learn and grow.

Today, I am grateful for invisible fences and Daisy's ability to pick up on the training necessary for the invisible fence to work.

Today, I am grateful for a friend's visit yesterday...and for the colorful flowers she brought that brighten up my breakfast nook so fabulously.

Today, I am grateful for laughter and thinking cats.


What are you grateful for today?

Words, Words, Words about Dictionary Illustrations

Today, I am grateful to a reader named Susan for taking time to send me a poem by Sarah Jane, a lover of words and a poet of note.

Here's the poem, which appears on her blog HERE and won the GoodReads Poetry contest for August.

Dictionary Illustrations
Searching for a word I set off
browsing the dictionary illustrations,
pages flush with fish

and obscure instruments and myriad
breeds of duck, which, colorless,
end up looking much the same.

These artists don’t dawdle
amongst the obvious; they illuminate
the oriel window; they trace

the lobate foot of the grebe.
The reindeer appears tame and boxy
on paper, gigantic antlers bearing

the weight of reincarnation.
On page 1291, drawings disambiguate
the difference between paly

and paly-bendy, two patterns of heraldry:
think roadblock versus barbershop, TV
off-air image versus LSD.

They don’t do verbs in dictionary pictures,
so for zip here’s an inch-wide depiction
of two men intent on fencing.

In one two-page arrangement,
the seahorse floats peacefully beyond
the reach of the scythe. Pen-and-ink

sketches break the columns up
like little windows opening
from one side of the brain

to the other. Tiptoe through, and pay
attention to the shapes of leaves,
which can be hard to describe.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Words, Words, Words from John Burroughs


Things on Thursd..., uh, well, Friday

Things on Friday just doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?

Anyway, this morning, thanks to my friend Francie, I stumbled across the most delightful thing imaginable...completely harmless sarcasm!

You simply must go read the reviews for the Victorio Kitchen Products 517B Banana Slicer. Read them all, especially the review by "Lundy Love" who has 27 trained monkeys to do his/her evil bidding.

People having fun on the internet. That's what I'm talkin' about.