Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

Our community had Beggar's Night last night, in nasty, cold, rainy weather. Tonight is more of the same weather, courtesy of Sandy, but no one is ringing our bell.

Peace, warmth, and safety be with all tonight.

And now for a Halloween giggle. Mom, this one is for you.


Paint that happy tree, Bob!

My best Halloween costume ever: I went to a costume party as a Black-Eyed Susan.

What was your best Halloween costume?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Gratitude Journal #160

Today, I am grateful for the left-over ribeye that we'll be eating on salads tonight.

Today, I am grateful for the hands that prepared the ribeye in the first place.

Today, I am grateful for the joy that comes from learning new ways to help others in their pain.

Today, I am grateful for the emergency response workers, energy crews, police, and charities that will respond in the coming days to the Frankenstorm.

Today, I am grateful for traveling mercies for a friend.

Today, I am grateful for breathing, in and out, in and out, in and out.

What are you grateful for today?

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I remember in my youth learning that the Amish deliberately put an imperfection in every quilt to keep from the sin of pride. Only God is perfect, they reason, and we should always be aware of our fallen state, our flaws and imperfections, and be humble before the Creator.

This story about Amish quilts is probably a myth, but like many myths, the lesson it imparts is important and true. We are not perfect, cannot be perfect no matter how hard we try. In fact, the race for perfection doesn't end at a victorious finish line but in a wallowing mess of despair and perceived failure somewhere along the way.

I know this for a fact.

I ran that pointless race for years, and still occasionally find myself unexpectedly wearing my running shoes for no good reason, hand pressing on a side cramp, lungs gasping for air, wondering, "What happened? What brought me to this point. What brings me to this point again? And again? And again?"

These days it's mostly little things. Seeing the mess on my desk and thinking, "You're such a slob. How did it get this bad?" Looking at last night's dishes still waiting to be washed and thinking, "Loser. You should have washed these last night. You're lazy." Finding a to-do list from last week and realizing I still haven't done three-quarters of the items on it. Getting back from the grocery store and realizing I forgot the sourdough bread. Walking past a furry dust bunny on the hardwood floors for the tenth time and thinking no one else in the world walks past dust bunnies that big without doing something...and I'm doing nothing for the tenth time.

You're lazy, Susan.

You're forgetful, Susan.

You're a mess, Susan.

You're a failure, Susan.

I want people to drop by my house and see how together I am, how on top of things, how competent, how tidy. In my pride, I cringe at the thought of someone entering my house in its current state and seeing the truth. I'm not together, or on top of things, or competent, or tidy.

I'm a mess, and so is my house.

About ten years ago, when I was a newly hatched stay-at-home mom of two and wondering why I couldn't keep my house clean, a guest on Oprah commented that women often seek to control their environments at times when their emotional lives are wildly out of control. Then, when their emotional lives calm down, the habit of controlling the environment continues, but instead of being therapeutic, it becomes a perfectionist burden.

During my teens, my emotional life was wildly out of my control, and my bedroom was neat as a pin. That's when the habit formed. I couldn't make my dad love me the way I needed him to love me, I couldn't make perfect grades, I couldn't feel pretty enough or popular enough or smart enough, but by golly, I could keep control and order in that eleven-foot square bedroom.

That episode of Oprah changed my thinking, even if it didn't change my feelings. I realized that the emotional chaos of my teens was gone, over, done with. I realized that controlling a bedroom in which only I lived was not the same as controlling a 2,400-square-foot house with four toilets, three floors, and a 0.7-acre lot all while living with a husband who's visual (things must be out in plain sight), two little-boy whirlwinds of chaos, and a big, furry dog.

I knew I wasn't going to win that race for perfection.


Each house since has been a little bigger than the one before, holds even more stuff, has more windows to wash and floors to sweep and vacuum. That race seems even more pointless today than it was ten years ago.

But knowing you're not going to win and accepting it are two different things. Thus, the surprise of side cramps again and again and again.

Enter Ann Voskamp with an answer. What she has to say isn't new. It's all over the Bible I've been studying so deeply for so long. God's been telling His people this for millenia, primarily through the words of St. Paul. But Ann reminded me of it and systematized it in a way that my mildly obsessive personality can understand...and feel.

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In other words, take off your running shoes of perfection and pride, and put on your sunglasses of humility because your blessings are as bright as the sun.

Gratitude is the antidote to perfectionism. When you look at the world through a heart striving for perfection, you'll always fail. When you look at the world with a heart full of gratitude, you'll feel joy. I'm grateful for my new, big house, for my furry dog who's scratching the wood floors and shedding on everything, for my husband who goes to work and cooks great meals and loves me flaws and all, for my children who need to be asked to do just one thing at a time (sometimes repeatedly) to get their chores finished. I'm grateful our lives are so full that messes happen. I'm grateful we have an abundance of food, clothing, and shelter.

We want for nothing. We are blessed with mess.

I am blessed with mess.

I am blessed with mess.

My new mantra.

But just as I do, Ann backslides. She needs her husband to ask "You just fallen sick with perfectionism again?" She needs to be reminded that, as she puts it, "[T]he state of my space doesn't reflect the state of my soul." She's like an addict who never loses that potential to fall off the wagon, who daily must face that perfectionist demon in the mirror, whose habit of controlling her environment isn't therapeutic, who's running a race that she can't win. She can't ever even finish it.

Hello, my name is Susan, and I'm a perfectionist. It's been twelve hours since I last unconsciously strapped on my running shoes. It's been eleven hours, fifty-nine minutes since I very consciously took them off and put on my sunglasses of gratitude.

Go, me!

How are you dealing with perfectionism in your life? Are you trying to be a perfect parent or spouse? A perfect house-keeper? A perfect professional? A perfect hobbyist? A perfect chef? How can you reframe your perfectionist outlook with an attitude of gratitude? What's your mantra?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Random Pampering and Entertainment

1. I had a massage this month...a full-body massage. Every time I have one, I swear that I will treat myself regularly to them because they are soooo wonderful. But a lady in church had to give me a coupon for a free massage to get me on the table. It's been six years since my last one. Six years. That's not regular. That's constipated.

I'm sorry to use that metaphor.

Anyway, it reminds me that I need to take care of myself, just like this post says, and not wait for nice ladies at church to take care of me.

2. At the library last weekend, I checked out The Big Year, a movie about birders competing to see who can see the most birds in a single year. As someone whose personality is prone to obsessive-compulsive behavior that baffles the people around me, I totally related to Steve Martin's and Jack Black's characters, but I sure hope I'm never like Owen Wilson's character, who is a powerful lesson in setting priorities. If you've not seen the movie, I highly recommend it. George is reading the book upon which the movie is based. I look forward to stealing his Nook when he's finished.

3. Speaking of Nooks, I've been reading a lot lately. Here's a quick look at what's on my Nook:

a. Two books of historical fiction by Elizabeth Chadwick about William Marshal, a 12th-century knight who epitomized chivalry and honor. The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion are both really good reads.

b. Fiona Buckley's Queen of Ambition let me down. I had started this series about a woman sleuth who serves Queen Elizabeth I years ago and remembered enjoying it. This is a newer novel, but the writing and plot seemed off to me. The newest book in the series is still priced high, and I'm trying to decide whether to read it or not when the price comes down.

c. Jasper Fforde makes me laugh with every book he publishes. He came out with a new Thursday Next book called The Woman Who Died a Lot. Oh, yeah. Thursday never gets old. If you're new to these books, let me say that they are completely funny, satiric, ironic, and deeply imbedded with enough literary references to make my English-major heart go pitter patter. I can't even begin to explain these books, but if you read a few chapters of The Eyre Affair, you'll get the idea and either love it or hate it. Don't go to Fforde's website, though. It'll just confuse you.

d. Fforde also started a series for young adult readers with a book called The Last Dragonslayer. Far less convoluted and complicated than the Thursday Next books, The Last Dragonslayer is delightful young adult fiction.

e. Speaking of young adult fiction, I got hooked on the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan before the abomination of a movie came out. (Well, the movie isn't really an abomination, but it largely disregards the books, which are infinitely better, so it feels like an abomination.) His latest, The Mark of Athena, was a wonderful new addition to the series. If you loved the Harry Potter books, you'll find a lot to appreciate in the Percy Jackson books. They aren't quite as good as Harry Potter, but they are worth reading, especially if you've ever had a fascination with Greek mythology.

f. Winter Heart is a novella by Margaret Frazer, who writes a mystery series set in the 15th century that centers on Dame Frevisse, a nun. Frazer captures the period beautifully and the mysteries are always good. Winter Heart left me wanting more than just a novella.

g. The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom meets expectations in the genre of Manipulative Emotional Parable. MEPs suit my mood at times, and I was definitely in the right mood for this short novel. The Time Keeper gives a wonderful message of the importance of not being a slave to time...a timely message for these over-scheduled times.

h. Laura Child's Skeleton Letters disappointed me. I've read this series about a scrapbook-store-owner who ends up sleuthing in New Orleans for years now, and generally appreciate these books for what they are...light and fluffy mind candy. But in this case, Childs seemed to simply go through the motions of plot and character.

i. All Roads Lead to Austen is a nonfiction work by literature professor Amy Elizabeth Smith who used her sabbatical year to travel in Central and South America setting up reading groups for Jane Austen. She wanted to see how Austen translated in the Latin American world. If you're an Austen fan, you'll probably enjoy her adventures.

j. Anne Perry's latest Inspector Monk book is called A Sunless Sea. Loved it, but ended it feeling very worried about Oliver Rathbone. Darn that Anne Perry.

k. A Burial at Sea by Charles Finch is another Victorian mystery, and I actually stayed up until about 2:00 AM to finish it.  Finch just keeps getting better and better.

And now I must admit that this wasn't a "quick look at what's on my Nook." You'll notice it's heavy on historical mystery series, which are fun for me. And I've escaped into reading the past few months as I've been not feeling top form.

What fun books have you read lately? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Operation Christmas Child

Many of you already know I deeply dislike the loss of Thanksgiving in the mad commercial rush from Halloween to Christmas, but one Christmas tradition that simply must be addressed before Thanksgiving is Operation Christmas Child.*

Operation Christmas Child is a great way to teach your children about how blessed they are and how they can be a joyful blessing to a child in another country. It can be so hard for kids to understand what it means to "share God's love" with others, but they totally understand the love of opening a box full of toys. When they can give that love to someone they don't know, someone living in poverty half a world away, sharing God's love becomes tangible for them.

This afternoon, I shared the video link on this page with my boys before we went shopping to fill their shoe boxes. Nick initially planned to buy for a 10-to-14-year-old boy, but decided to go younger when he found an adorably soft stuffed dog that we can barely squeeze into the box. Jack had a hard time understanding that a DVD wouldn't be appropriate (he does love his movies!), but he decided on matchbox cars, play-do, bouncy balls, colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, a pad of paper, and lots of candy.

And yes, we ALWAYS include a toothbrush and toothpaste in our boxes. My momma was a dental hygienist, after all.

During the holidays, I'm sure that like us, you have lots of opportunities to provide needed toys, coats, shoes, and other supplies for children in your local area. Operation Christmas Child, however, has to have the boxes early to get them where they need to be. National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child is November 12-19, so there's still plenty of time for you to participate. If your church isn't participating, you can find the nearest drop-off location HERE.

It's so tempting to think that you can't really make a difference. After all, the world is full of war and famine and poverty. One shoe box of toys isn't going save a life or end war or world hunger, nor will giving a coat to a child in our community take him out of poverty or ensure he has a hot dinner every night.

But if we all give a little, the difference we can make is enormous.

Mother Teresa said, "We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love." Jump into the holiday season by doing a small thing with great love...either through Samaritan's Purse, your church, a secular organization, or your local food pantry.

Show great love in small things, and you show God's love.

*For those of you not comfortable giving to explicitly religious organizations but who want to find a cool giving opportunity for the holidays or year-round, I highly recommend Heifer International. Though Heifer was founded on Christian principles, it evolved into a non-religious organization committed to ending hunger world-wide. I just love the good work they do!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gratitude Journal #159

Today I am grateful for this boy.

And these boys.

Today, I am grateful for apple fritters and coffee and dark mornings and robes and fleece socks and fireplaces, for hot food and happy smiles, for holy days and prayer-filled nights, for love and kindness and friendship.

Today, I am grateful for chocolates from friends.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Words, Words, Words about What

Well, I've been a chatty Kathy lately, eh? Trust me. I'm not going away, just regrouping and trying to get well. But for this week's Words, Words, Words, let's contemplate a question that, according to the Internet, Benjamin Franklin began each day asking himself.


How would the world change if we all answered this question positively each and every day? How would our individual lives change?

Words to think about.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gratitude Journal #158

Today, I am grateful for rainbows...full arches of color over a cloudy backdrop in violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. A rainbow arching over autumnal trees...amazing.

Today, I am grateful for people who can share their sorrows. Thoreau said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. That's a choice. When people can share their sorrow, when there is someone there to listen, sorrows lessen.

Today, I am grateful for mammograms. I'm having mine today. Have you scheduled yours as needed?

Today, I am grateful for rest.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Words, Words, Words about Survival

Years before I had children, I had a neighbor with a very precocious four-year-old daughter who kept her on her toes. She needed a break, so we took her daughter to daycare and I drove her two hours away to the big city ( was big relative to the tiny town we lived in!), and we spent the day shopping, seeing a movie, and generally acting like teenage girls at the mall.

What struck me was the contrast between this woman's attitude in the morning and in the afternoon. She was so negative on the drive to Saginaw, all complaints about her daughter, motherhood, wifedom, the military. After treating herself to a day of fun and no worries or responsibility, all she could talk about on the way home was how excited she was to see her daughter, to make sure the dress she bought her fit, to hug her and hear about her day with the other children.

Spending some time caring for herself meant she was better able to care for her daughter. Isn't that true for all of us? If we take care of ourselves, we can take care of others so much better. That's why the airlines tell us to put our own oxygen masks on before helping our children. Each and every day, we need to take care of ourselves. It's a matter of survival.

Are you good at surviving and thriving, or do you avoid caring for yourself by always putting others first? What can you do this weekend to refresh yourself, care for yourself?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


When George and I decided to have children, we'd already been married for 12 years. In that time, I'd had ample opportunity to do practical research on the subject of childbirth and parenthood through observing and gathering data on lots of other people's experiences.

The only reasonable conclusion I could draw from that research was that my experience would NOT be like anyone else's experience. In fact, everyone's experience of childbirth and parenting seemed so unique and unpredictable that entering this particular aspect of life with a detailed plan seemed the height of silliness.

There's a saying in the United States Air Force: "Flexibility is the key to air power." You just never know what's going to happen when you fly, fight, and win, so you need to be prepared for anything. I liked that saying from the first time I heard it. Flexibility can, indeed, be a wonderful path to success in life, whether you define success as bombs on target or more generally as a happy, useful life.

I decided that flexibility was the key to happy pregnancy and delivery. The more I knew about all the different possibilities of what might happen, the better prepared I would be when something did happen. Preparing myself involved a lot of prenatal classes, birthing books, and conversations with friends and family.

Expectation is the mother of disappointment, so as I studied what might happen, I tried really hard not to develop any expections of what I wanted to happen. My plan, if you could call it that, was to go with the flow, keep myself as comfortable as possible (no brave "natural" childbirth for me!), and be happy with the end result...a baby in my arms.

When the time came to take my large, hard belly to the hospital so it could become a large, soft belly, however, I discovered I had in fact unconsciously acquired two expectations that were not met.

First, it was daylight. Nick was born with late afternoon sunshine pouring through the window. It was so weird. I had unconsciously expected to deliver at night. I was vaguely disappointed, which is silly, but there you have it.

Second, as soon as the doctor said he had to use forceps, I expected poor Nick would be bruised and battered. He was not. He was unbruised and undented. Perfect.

I wasn't disappointed by that at all, but I did learn that no matter how hard we try to avoid making assumptions about the future, no matter how steadfastly we resolve to have no expectations, we will fail.

That tiny little newborn quickly grew into a chubby-cheeked, roly-poly baby who sat on my lap where I could hold him upright. He blew spit bubbles and laughed and generally acted like he owned the world. An elderly gentleman observed him and said, "He looks like a political boss, fat and happy. Wouldn't that be great if he went into politics? What do you want him to be when he grows up?"

And there it was. What expectations do I have for my six-month-old when he is grown?

I hate this question. George and I just want to raise children who are happy, contributing citizens of society. George knew he wanted to fly in service to his country when he was very young, although he also wanted to be a trauma surgeon and architect. I wanted to be a marine biologist, school teacher, veterinarian, astronomer, chemist, doctor, and/or English professor. The closest I've come to any of those earlier goals is college English instructor, but the career path for mommy/blogger/papercrafter/volunteer/Stephen Minister wasn't on the list of majors at Duke University. 

What did our parents want for us? George's parents and my mother wanted their children to be happy, contributing members of society. My dad, on the other hand, wanted a whole lot more than "happy, contributing member of society." His expectations overwhelmed me and contributed to a severe depression in my teens, a time when I felt like a failure because I couldn't live up to his expectations.

I never, ever, EVER want my children to feel the weight of that sort of expectation. So when the elderly gentleman asked me what I wanted Nick to be when he grew up, I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and told a joke. 

"George and I just hope he's not a felon."

The gentleman was not amused and rather archly replied, "We have higher aspirations for our grand-daughter."

Seriously? Do we have to burden babies with "higher aspirations"? Do we need to start planning their political careers before they can even say super-PAC? Can't we just enjoy them and encourage them at each and every stage of growth until they figure out their futures for themselves? Are we going to be disappointed if they only become a general practitioner rather than a brain surgeon? What if they want to be an auto mechanic like my grandfather or a plumber like George's grandfather?

Oh, the horror!

God put each of us here for a purpose, and who are we parents to presume to know the mind of God?

I've noticed that most people who figure life out for themselves generally turn out pretty well. People burdened with unhealthy parental expectations are damaged, sometimes beyond repair. We lucky ones get the love and support we need to find ourselves eventually, but I know several people who have lived lives of quiet desperation in attempts to make their parents happy. They fail. Repeatedly.

Nick is now almost 13 years old, and I have no idea what he will be when he grows up. He says he wants to join the Army but is worried about the possibility of dying in the line of duty. He also talks about making video games or movies or maybe both. At one point, he wanted to be a stay-at-home dad, but then George listed all the stuff I do, and Nick decided that didn't sound like much fun. He hates school and pretty much everything to do with school...going to class, reading, math, reading, sitting and listening, reading, reading, reading. 

George reminded me recently that before we had children, I made a comment about not being able to imagine having a child who didn't love reading, yet here I am, the mother of a child who hates reading.

How silly of me to expect my child who likes to read!

I do, however, expect Nick will figure his future out for himself, just like George and I did. We will stand back, encourage him, and cheer him on.

If he goes into politics, we might even vote for him. But only as long as he doesn't blow spit bubbles and topple over in public and generally act as if he owns the world.

I expect we already have enough of those sorts of politicians.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gratitude Journal #157

Today, I am grateful for gatherings of friends around fires on crisp autumn evenings, for conversation and food and wine and roasted marshmallows.

Today, I am grateful for clean wood floors, a clean golden retriever, and clean kitchen cabinets.

Today, I am grateful for Daisy, who works the crowd, finds the person who least likes dogs, and tries to fill the hole in his heart by pouring unconditional, enthusiastic love and fur onto him.

Today, I am grateful for rest and a holiday with George while the boys are in school. A year ago on Columbus Day, George just had to show me a model home he loved and put us on the road to buying our new home. I'm grateful all that chaos is mostly over, grass is growing, some pictures are hanging on the walls, and I at least have plans for curtains.

One year.

So much has happened!

Today, we're going to hang out at Barnes and Noble...much less opportunity for life-changing upheavals and much more relaxing! I'm grateful for that.

Today, I am grateful for boys growing into men before my eyes, for sweet glasses of cold water prepared by my youngest just for me, and for my eldest, who is stepping up to the plate of responsibility.

Today, I am grateful for chrysanthemums and pumpkins and falling leaves.

What are you grateful for today?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Gratitude Journal #156

Today, I am grateful for a beautiful fall weekend. The leaves around our home are starting to change, and sitting on the deck watching them move in the breeze and flutter to the ground while goldfinches and blue jays flitted about was such a blessing!

Today, I am grateful for steak tacos and guacamole, and grilled turkey and roasted spicy sweet potatoes, and the man who prepared them.

Today, I am grateful for healing. I have my energy levels back and the headaches are mostly tolerable now. Five weeks is a long time to be sick.

Today, I am grateful for another healing. Our dove flew away, apparently fully recovered.

Today, I am grateful for a new week. May it be normal and ordinary in every good way!

What are you grateful for today?