Friday, September 28, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Anger and Grief and Forgiveness

Please scroll down for today's first post.

I had wanted to post something cheerful today, seeing as I've been sick for a month now and need to cheer myself up, especially since George is showing signs of the same sickness. But then three things happened this morning that I couldn't ignore, things that came together in my head so perfectly I had--just had-- to pass them on.

If they speak to you, please let me know. I always wonder if these things are coincidences or divine prompting. I'm not eaten by anger and grief myself at this time, but I know what it feels like. Oh, yes, I do.

First, an email from my aunt. She's contemplating the subject of forgiveness and quoted the following lyrics from Don Henley's "The Heart of the Matter":

"I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter
Because the flesh will get weak
And the ashes will scatter
So I'm thinkin' about forgiveness

Second, a StoryCorps piece by Charlie Morris I heard on NPR's Morning Edition. Please listen to Charlie tell the story. His voice is amazing, and his story is powerful. If Charlie can forgive, can't we all?

Third, the following picture posted by Active Happiness on Facebook this morning:

See what I mean? Three things so closely linked and yet so disparate as 21st century song lyrics, a 20th century hate crime, and an ancient Roman writer dovetailed perfectly on a drippy Friday morning.

I had to share because the coincidence has to mean something to someone. Grief and anger can be normal and healthy, unavoidable parts of life. But when we hold onto them, nurse them, feed them, refuse to forgive and let go, the only people we hurt are ourselves.

The only people we hurt are ourselves.

Do any of these words about forgiveness and grief and anger dovetail with your life? Is there someone you need to forgive? A brother or sister? A parent? A friend? An enemy? A neighbor? God? Is there someone who needs to forgive you?

Context for a Dove

Last weekend, George found a dove in our yard hopping around on the ground, apparently injured and unable to fly. It probably flew into a window and had its brain addled.

The dove now lives in a box in our garage, where George put it to keep it safe while it recovers. The dove is alert, eating, and drinking. It's starting to fly again, but not well. I spoke to wildlife rescue Thursday and was told to give it another day to recover, then set it free.

If you've read Questioning for a while, you might remember that George rescued a barred owl on the side of the road in Caesar Creek State Park. We took him to the Glen Helen Raptor Center, where he was named Caesar. With excellent care at the Raptor Center, Caesar recovered, and the Center allowed George to release him back into the wild where he'd come from. (For the full story, read here and here.)

Owls are raptors, and while barred owls are not endangered, something about raptors in general captures our imagination and respect. Our national bird is the bald eagle, and rescue organizations for various species of raptors attract a lot of media attention.

Doves don't exactly inspire the same level of attention. First of all, they are everywhere. No one over the age of three gets excited when they see a dove. "Oh, look! A DOVE!" Yeah, that doesn't sound as good as "Oh, look! A Cooper's hawk! A peregrine falcon! A bald eagle! A snowy owl!"

Also, dove season brings out hunters in droves. Apparently, dove stew is rather tasty. While I helped prepare it as a teen when my dad had a good day hunting, I never ate it because of my adolescent-girl squeamishness.

These days, I'd try dove stew. I've eaten quail breast wrapped in bacon, and while one could argue that wrapping pretty much anything in bacon makes it amazing, I enjoyed the quail. Heck, I've eaten wild elk, deer, duck, bison, and even bear. (All are tasty except the bear. I only recommend eating bear if you're quite literally starving to death.)

So I shouldn't have been surprised by the responses George got when he posted on an internet forum asking for advice on caring for an injured dove. Rescuing doves, apparently, isn't high on some people's agendas. It's easier to ignore them or feed them to hawks or neighborhood cats than put effort and resources into rescuing them.

These people who are indifferent to the plight of injured doves point out that it's just the Circle of Life. Predators feed on the weak and injured. Watch the National Geographic specials where lions isolate the injured wildebeest that can't keep up. Nature is red in tooth and claw, and an injured animal doesn't stand a chance. Its death gives life to animals higher up the food chain.

That's just the way it is.

But how do you respond when a helpless animal is on the ground in front of you? Do you let the Circle of Life run its course (or aid it along by tossing the injured animal over your fence), or do you do what you can with what you have to help the creature have a fighting chance?

With Caesar, our hope from the beginning was that he would be returned to the wild. Young owls don't have a great chance at survival in the wild, but they live as God Caesar, however, didn't stand a chance against the truck that hit him. The Glen Helen Raptor Center gave him the opportunity to return to the wild with a fighting chance.

I should note that when George posted on the same forum with the owl story, he got nothing but kudos.

We're humans. We evolved to be social creatures, to feel sympathy and compassion for each other, to help each other, to care for the sick and injured among us. For many of us, that compassion doesn't stop at our own species. We know that the Circle of Life is real and that we omnivores are a part of it, but we also know that in our own small way, we can work to make it at least a tiny bit more fair when the opportunity arises.

Life is complicated and inconsistent. In different contexts, we find ourselves eating bacon-wrapped quail breasts and also rescuing injured doves. I'm okay with that.

I'm also happy to have married a man who feels the same.

Have you ever rescued an injured animal? Have you ever left one to the Circle of Life? How do you feel about favoritism in animal rescue...owls more important than doves, monk seals more important than, say, banana slugs?  

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Things I Will Never Do

Pinterest is full of such fun stuff, and beautiful stuff, and weird stuff. But some stuff I find there leaves me puzzled and wondering, "Who actually does this stuff?" Now, admittedly, some of these things might be fun, whimsical, or perhaps even useful in some way, but they are still things I will never do.

1. Chalk my hair. I won't color it either, so why waste time putting color on that will come off when I shower?

2. Make my own laundry detergent/dish soap/soap/window cleaner/fabric softener/shaving lotion/whatever. I prefer to spend less time cleaning, not more time just getting ready to do it. Besides, I've already stripped my cleaning routine to the barest minimum of supplies, and shaving lotion for us girls is entirely unnecessary if you use Dove soap.

3. Melt crayons to make drippy art. Some of the melted-crayon artworks on Pinterest are interesting, but so much can go wrong in the execution of this crafty project.

And for me, it will go wrong. Because I am Susan, the Anti-Martha.

4. Put glitter on my fingernails. Glitter never stays where you put it. Never. No good can come of putting it on my nails. I also won't do those fancy manicures there are so many pictures of. Lots of work, doesn't last. I won't bother...even though I appreciate and admire the fingers of those who do bother.

5. Make anything with a chevron design. All those pointy things hurt my eyes.

6. Spray-paint furniture. This makes me kinda sad. Some of the makeovers of old, dated, ugly furniture on Pinterest are absolutely miraculous, and I would love to have some of that furniture in my house. But painting furniture is one of those things that makes me say, "Yeah, uh, no. Just no." Because I'd be paintin' in the garage, and bugs would be landin' in my paint.

Dragonfly in enamel.


7. Fold my sheet sets into tidy little bundles that look like store displays on a linen closet shelf. I settle for putting each awkwardly-folded bedsheet set inside one rather lumpy pillowcase and tossing the wads into a storage bin. Works just fine. Life it too short to spend time folding sheets.

Unless, of course, it makes you happy.

8. Create a light fixture out of plastic spoons. Because no matter how cool it looks in the photos, I'll always know it's just plastic spoons.

9. Lose weight using the perfect weight loss tip from Pinterest. Generally, all I have to do to lose weight is eat less and move more. It's really quite simple.

10. Get a tattoo. I don't judge those who do, but I like my skin clean and simple and unembellished. Besides, I know that whatever I like right now, ten years from now will leave me scratching my head wondering what I was thinking.

Now, in ten years, we can see how many of these I violated. It's a very dangerous thing to say, "I will never do that."

Because you just never know.

Have you ever done anything you said you would never do? I bought a Nook. Well, more accurately, George bought me a Nook. But I asked for it. Oh, yes. I asked for it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gratitude Journal #155

Today, I am grateful to be back blogging.

Today, I am grateful for George, who has held down the fort for almost a month and been such a sweetheart about my being sick. He's cooked, mowed, assembled a trampoline, rescued an injured dove, taken care of the kids, and taken care of me. You rock, honey!

Today, I am grateful for golden retrievers who find sunbeams.

Today, I am grateful for trampolines. I can hear George and the boys jumping through the open windows. Joy and laughter. And bouncing.

Today, I am grateful for fresh air and open windows and cool breezes and the beginning of The Change of Seasons. Oh, how I love fall!

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Hello, everyone. I've been sick and finally made it to the doctor today, but apparently a sinus infection has laid me low. Some nice drugs and rest and I should be good as new soon.

Until then, perhaps you'd like to revisit an earlier post from September 18, 2008...four years ago. Hard to believe this blog's been going that long! But given the harsh weather on the east coast today, perhaps my advice will serve someone well. That's assuming they have the power to read it, of course.

And I hope everyone is safe and well.

Ike Strikes...Ohio?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Entropy and Procrastination

"This isn't a home. It's a swirling vortex of entropy!" Dr. Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory

I love Sheldon. He snuck into his neighbor's apartment in the middle of the night to straighten and organize because her swirling vortex of entropy bothered him so much that he couldn't sleep.

I wish Sheldon would come to my house in the middle of the night and organize. Oh how I wish it.

Most of my house is...tolerable. I mean, there are some flat surfaces graced with nothing more than a bit of dust, which sparkles prettily in the early morning or late afternoon sun. The floors are largely picked up, with only the occasional bit of detritus to get in the way of a vacuum cleaner.

That's of course assuming the vacuum cleaner is sentient and will plug itself in and start up and go without human intercession because it's not been run in over a week and we have a golden retriever for heaven's sake!

But the house isn't too bad...except for the two unfinished areas of the basement. The swirling vortex of entropy has rendered these two areas impassable. I'd like to get my fall decorations out, but alas! They are in the very back of this area:

What you can't see is that the room is L-shaped, so there's even more chaos off to the right...scary, stacked chaos that just wants to avalanche onto some innocent victim's head.

Instead of tackling this area, I'm photographing it to share with you. Isn't that a useful waste of time? Let's make it even more useful by playing with the photo in Picasa to see what effects we can give it. Perhaps we can even make the mess disappear!

I'll bet we can waste several minutes in that pointless activity.

Let's start with Neon:

Isn't that cool? It could be the set of a sci-fi thriller if you just add a neon-outlined alien grabbing a torch lamp to whack you!

Perhaps not.

Or what about HDR-ish?

Yikes! All those hard edges make it look even more threatening!

Let's try Heat Map:

That's better. It could be an abstract painting done with day-glo paints, but  the reds seem a little off-putting.

Surely Picasa can do better than this?

Let's try Posterize:

We're getting there! Definitely doesn't look like much work anymore. But let's try one last trick, just to make sure....


That's it!!! Picasa has pixelated the problem away!

Who needs fall decorations anyway?

Where is your swirling vortex of entropy? What can you do to put off the moment of having to deal with it? Get creative, people! It's almost the weekend!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven Years Ago

Eleven years ago today, my mom called to ask if we were watching the news.

Eleven years ago today, we turned on the television and saw smoke pouring out of a building.

Eleven years ago today, we watched as another plane hit another building.

Eleven years ago today, we watched people jump.

Eleven years ago today, we stared in stunned disbelieve and unspeakable horror as first one tower and then another collapsed from lofty heights to improbable thinness.

Eleven years ago today, we saw the first amateur video of a third plane hitting the Pentagon.

Eleven years ago today, we saw wreckage of a fourth plane strewn across a field in Pennsylvania, evidence of heroic intervention, though we did not know it yet.

Eleven years ago today, George was on leave, but he put on his flight suit and went to work at Ellsworth Air Force Base anyway because he wanted to do something, even though there was nothing he could do.

Eleven years ago today, I was glad one of us could do something--anything--other than stare at the television and cry.

Eleven years ago today, our hearts broke and lives changed forever.

Eleven years ago.

Today, we still remember the grief, and we give thanks for the heroes.






Monday, September 10, 2012


Have you ever noticed that context is everything when it comes to words? One word might mean different things in different contexts. Pithy sayings, which I adore, are rarely ever applicable in every circumstance. Honesty, for instance, is the best policy unless a wife asks her husband, "Does this skirt make my butt look fat?"

There's really only one right answer to that question.

I realized recently that I accept this variability of context without really thinking about it, and blame my training as a literary critic. Literary critics study lots of different perspectives on the meaning of literary texts. These perspectives come with fancy labels (New Historicism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, New Criticism...) and dense jargon (dissonance, chiasmus, exegesis, hemistich...), but the main idea behind literary criticism is that finding meaning in literature is all about perspective. How you read and what you look for determine what the poem or novel or short story means.

In other words, Hamlet doesn't mean one thing. It means lots of different things, depending on how you look at it. And the more ways you look at it, the more meanings you find.

Dr. Nancy West, a grad-school professor of mine, shared a simile that makes sense of this. A piece of literature is like a gemstone. Each literary theory cuts one facet in the gemstone. The more facets a gemstone has, the more light it reflects, the more beautiful it is, the more meaning it has.

So if you haven't read Hamlet since you were 16 and you pick it up 30 years later, your experience will be different because your perspective on life has changed. For instance, you might have been frustrated with Hamlet for not killing his uncle outright when you were 16, but at 46, you might pity Hamlet for his position between a rock and a hard place because you've been in that position yourself. Broadening your perspective enriches the meaning of the play.

I enjoy sharing pithy little sayings with George when surfing Pinterest, but as often as not, he doesn't see the same humor or truth in the statements. His brain immediately searches for holes in the argument of the saying, exceptions, times when it doesn't apply, while my brain is enjoying the saying for all the times it does apply.

I'm pretty sure there's a book that explains our different perspectives on pithy little sayings, maybe with mention of Venus versus Mars, gatherers versus hunters, double-X versus that pesky Y chromosome.

I don't expect universal truth from words. In fact, I pretty much expect words to be ambivalent, multivalent, contextual...and fun to gather because of it. This explains why I'm a writer and not, say, a United States Air Force aviator, like George was.

Can you imagine the mess I would make of orders issued in the heat of an air war? The terse and tense environment of a B-1 cockpit crew tasked with putting bombs on targets should never, ever be entrusted to someone like me. The same goes for brain surgery and engineering.

Do you want me to design an ambivalent bridge?

Good grief, no!

Within my abilities, I'm strong, smart, and capable, and the same goes for George. We are just two very differently cut gemstones, don't you think? Life (or God, depending on your beliefs) has cut different facets in each of us, has given us sparkle and shine, and in the process has cut away the most flawed and weakest parts. What's left behind is good and meaningful, and in a very real sense, we balance each other.

Expectation, however, is the heart of disappointment. When we expect someone else to be what we want them to be and not who they are, who life or God has made them, we're being unfair. We try to cut their facets ourselves, and then we are disappointed because they aren't doing things the way we want them to, because they think differently from the way we want them to think.

Love can save us from disappointment. Love is the light we shine on others that helps them sparkle, the light that others shine on us. We're are not here to cut facets in others, like a literary critic hacking into Hamlet. We're not here to shape people for our convenience, but rather to respect them and to help them be the best person they can be.

Parents of children with disabilities know this. We see the sparkle when the rest of the world sees flaws. But that's because we see the context, too, the setting in which that gem sparkles. We see our children from multiple perspectives, not just from the single perspective a stranger might apply when watching a toddler pitch a fit at the grocery store.

Context changes over time, with time, with each new facet, with the changing directions of light reflected.

We all have a context.

These musings take me to a funny place this morning. You see, I'm signing George up for another Ironman Wisconsin today. He can't do the online registration because he's at work. That particular facet for endurance sport has never been cut into my gemstone and frankly it doesn't make any sense whatsoever to me, but each time George does an Ironman race, he's happier, healthier, more himself.

I want to shine my light on that. So I'll stalk the online registration page today.

For him.

And I'll carry his bike pump on race day and cheer him on and be proud of him.

Because I love it when he sparkles, even if the sparkle comes from sweat crystalized on his triathlon suit.

How are you shining light on loved ones? Are you considering their context, the greater purpose of their lives that gives them their sense of meaning and joy? Are you trying to cut them into a shape you find pleasing, convenient, easy?

Gratitude Journal #154

Today, I am grateful for the enthusiastic welcome of my new blog, Transforming Common Days.

Today, I am grateful for fresh mown grass I did not have to mow and good food to eat that I did not have to cook. Today, I am grateful for George, who did these things.

Today, I am grateful for cooler weather and the promise of favorite season!

Today, I am grateful for patience.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

An Announcement

I have an announcement to make!

I've started a new blog, called  Transforming Common Days. Click on the title to go to the main page, or go to the About tab to find out the motivation behind it.

Don't worry. This blog will continue, business as usual. But I sure hope you'll join me over there and begin transforming your own common days.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Nothing Much at All

Every Friday, when I sit down to write Words, Words, Words, I debate the merits of posting something deep and meaningful, or something flip and funny. I usually make the choice while drinking coffee and poking around on the World Wide Web.

Because that's why the World Wide Web was invented: so people could poke around and find random stuff.

Yes, of course.

It's been a weird week inside my brain, far more productive than last week, but still the sort of mommy-ADHD week that leaves me feeling vaguely set adrift and wondering where the time went. At least I have a to-do list with lots of items checked as DONE to show for myself.

Last week, I didn't have that.

For instance, yesterday I deposited a refund check from our escrow account that I am absolutely certain is a mistake. When you tell me you need so much for taxes placed in escrow at closing, and nine months later tell me there is too much in escrow and send me a giant check, I am going to freak out. That's not my money, is it? It was earmarked for taxes, right? Were your calculations so horrifyingly off in December that that you can send me a giant check in September? Are you that incompetent? Those taxes are going to come due eventually, right? And so I deposited that giant check in an unused account, and in a year or three, if it hasn't been sent to the government, we might do something fun with it.

But it's not going to be there. I just know it.

That's the sort of thing I've dealt with this week. Oh, and I ordered a trampoline because, really, our lives have not included enough emergency room visits.

Fortunately, this afternoon, several friends will stop by my house for coffee and something sweet to eat. It's a group of delightfully mis-matched mommies that has met for three years now, when we could, to chat about everything and nothing. The international cast of characters includes a smart Canadian mommy (she of the alternative soul) whose daughter has autism, an artistic Japanese mommy (she of the Buddhist soul) married to a Canadian and here for another year because her house hasn't sold, a homeschooling mommy (she of the gentle, Godly soul), a former hairdresser mommy (she of the laughing soul), a Chemistry-professor mommy (she who brought us all together in the first place).

I hope a new soul joins us today. I've been trying to bring her in for three years. Maybe today will be the day.

My house will be mostly clean, so some doors will be shut to hide mess and chaos and clutter. I'm good with this. I do hope I can mop my wood floors this morning, though. They need it.

But if I only sweep them, that will be enough.

And so in preparation for the laughter of the afternoon (because the Laughing Soul makes our bellies and cheeks hurt with her stories), here are some funny words that spoke to me this week.

These and other funny and serious thoughts can be found on my Pinterest board titled Yes, Of Course.

What silliness or seriousness has you saying yes, of course today?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Things on Thursday: Cool Bugs

I know a few of you were upset when I killed the spider in my car, and I want to make it perfectly clear that as long as nature doesn't enter my enclosures (home, car), I'm perfectly happy to live and let live.

You see, I was once bitten by a spider while I slept. Between my eyebrows. It was deeply disturbing to see myself in the mirror that morning, with one eye lid swollen up and sort of tingling.

So disturbing I actually passed out and came to with my face smooshed into the carpet of my bedroom and George standing over me all concerned. The ER staff decided it had to have been a spider bite.

That spider was in my bed. On my pillow. Crawling on me in my sleep.


And I wasn't happy today when I carried a bag of water softener salt into my basement and walked face-first through a spider web.

Not happy at all.

BUT, bugs who kindly stay outside and whose mandibles are not made for biting humans or stinging them or injecting venom by any means into my sleeping eye lid...those bugs are completely cool.

To my utter delight, this big leaf bug visited our front porch one morning last week.

Approx. Length: 3 inches

How amazing nature is! Notice the veining of its wing. Utterly perfect camouflage. I saw a tiny leaf bug--less than an inch long--on the outside of a window I was washing yesterday. Perhaps it was related to this big bug. Both stayed perfectly still while I watched.

Survival of the stillest.

And then, this morning, this devout little fellow was praying on the window beside our front door.

Approx. Length: 2.5 inches

Here's a shot from inside the house showing the classic "praying" stance.

Praying mantises have always fascinated me, and I've encountered them almost everywhere we've lived. I've seen babies that were just over an inch and monsters that had to be five inches or more.

And no, if one of these cool, non-threatening bugs were to enter my house or car, I wouldn't squash them like a, well, bug. I'd carry them outside and set them free.

Just like I do with ladybugs, who are such very good aphid eaters.

What is the coolest bug you've ever seen in the wild? Please share!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Gratitude Journal #153

Today, I am ever so grateful for rain...good, soaking, steady rain. Our drought has been terrible in this part of Ohio, just about 70 miles from areas that have had major flooding this year. Sometimes, Mother Nature makes no sense, but today, we're getting rain, and I'm so grateful for it!

Today, I am grateful for George's grandmother's 101st birthday and this fabulous picture my father-in-law, Roger, sent us.

Roger, Barb, Barb's cousin Monica, and the birthday girl herself

Today, I am grateful for school and the return of routine...or as close to routine as we get around here.

Today, I am grateful for home comforts, the first falling leaves, and the imminent approach of my favorite season of the year.


What are you grateful for today?