Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gratitude Journal #237

Today, I am grateful for all who have served our country and especially grateful to those who gave their lives for its freedom.

Today, I am grateful for massages.

Today, I am grateful for Maya Angelou, for her incredible voice, for her indelible words, for her unquenchable spirit.

"I'm convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they're stones that don't matter. As long as you're breathing, it's never too late to do some good." --Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou will continue to do some good even now that she's gone through her words. I'm so grateful for that.

Today, I am grateful for those who act with courage and honor and for those who speak out in kindness and love.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Carl Sagan and Magic

Magic has a bad reputation among literalists...those people who struggle with metaphorical or symbolic meanings. Think of Harry Potter book burnings and the completely-missing-the-point anti-Christian scientific rants that equate all religious thinking with voodoo. Magic, in these extreme cases, is demonized as either satanic or total make-believe.

But magic has lots of meanings. What do people mean when they refer to magic? Are they talking about spells and potions or about amazement and wonder? I'm far too scientific and far too Christian to buy into spells and potions and abracadabras, but amazement and wonder...I relish and happily encourage that sort of magic.

Over the next few months, let's explore what magic means and how we can cultivate it for good in our attitude and perspective on life.

I want to start that exploration with a quotation from Carl Sagan, a man of science and reason, who saw just how much magic humans can perform with funny dark squiggles on paper.


A book is proof that humans are capable of performing magic.

Yep. I love me some of that magic!

How have you experienced the magic of books? What books seem to have a mysterious hold on your imagination and life? How do the books you've read shape you and influence you? What are you reading right now? Do you feel the magic of "binding together people who never knew each other" as you read?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gratitude Journal #236

Today, I am grateful for coffee (again).

Today, I am grateful for spring rain and green lawns and the man and boy in my life who mow.

Today, I am grateful for Christ, who strengthens me.

Today, I am grateful for email.

What are you grateful for today?

Monday, May 19, 2014

How to Read Blogs Other Than in Email...This Is Important!

If you read Questioning my Intelligence and/or my other blogs via Google Friend Connect or a blog reader (such as Feedly or Bloglovin) or you simply favorite it in your browser, please disregard the rest of this post. You're good.

If you read blogs via FeedBurner email subscription, please read what I have to say...EVEN IF YOU HAVE HAD NO INTERRUPTION IN SERVICE!!!!

That's right. I'm yelling at you. Sorry about that.

The recent changes implemented by a number of large email providers have negatively impacted many blog readers who use FeedBurner email subscription services. There is little hobby bloggers like myself can do to fix this.

If you read this or other blogs via email, this Feedburner problem is likely to grow. Those of you currently receiving Feedburner emails may eventually stop receiving them if the protocol (or something similar) in use by yahoo and gmail gets picked up by other email providers. Also, it may very well be that Google bought Feedburner with the intention of letting it die, just like it let Google Reader die, in an effort to drive market to its Google Friend Connect and Google+.

So, if you are looking for alternatives to receiving blog posts via email, here are a few ideas.

1. If you read fewer than 15 or so blogs, consider creating a favorites folder in your browser and check each blog every morning for new posts. This won't take too much time with just a few blogs, and you'll find that going to the actual website (rather than just seeing posts in emails) can be rather fun.

2. If you read more than 15 blogs, consider signing up for a FREE blog reader account. There are several different ones available, but I like the simplicity of Bloglovin. It's easy and you only need to sign in to one website each day to find all the new content on each and every blog you want to read. Saves lots of time and clicking. (I get nothing for my endorsement of Bloglovin, by the way. I use it and like it.)

3. No matter how many blogs you read, consider a Google Friend Connect account. (That's right. Bow down to the almighty Google. Resistance is futile.) It's easy...well, sort of. Eventually, I figured it out. Currently, there are 61 people following Questioning via Google Friend Connect. Thanks, y'all! If they can figure it out, the rest of us can, too. The advantage here, as with Bloglovin, is that you only see new content and don't waste your time clicking to the blog when nothing new has been added. I like that.

4. If you're looking for an easy access just to my blogs, the One-Layer Simplicity Challenge, and the OLS team's stamping blogs, I created a single website with links to all of them: Work-Around List. If you favorite this blog in your web browser, you'll have ready access to all those blogs.

5. If you are on Facebook, I plan on starting both Questioning my Intelligence and Simplicity by LateBlossom Facebook pages soon, on which I will post links to new content. Little slow getting on the social media bandwagon, but there you have it.

If any of my readers have other ideas, please post them in the comments. Also, if you have questions, please post them in the comments rather than emailing me. It will be far easier for me to address questions publicly than one at a time privately.

If you are totally lost, don't worry. You're in good company. Just know that if you are reading this in email, you might one day stop receiving it. It won't mean I stopped writing, just that Feedburner and your email service are no longer compatible.


Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Word for May-June-July-August

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” W. B. Yeats

There it was, early May, and I had yet to choose a word.

The trees leaf out, and birds build their nests and sing their songs and peck their holes, and lilacs and hyacinths blast their scents, and blackberries explode in our mouths.

Yesterday, I found a petunia hybrid called Superbells Dreamsicle for my back porch, and I stumbled upon Yeats' observation again, and I thought, "I found my word for the entire summer."


I just finished re-reading the Harry Potter series and came out of that immersive experience with eyes refreshed to the world--our real world where the mail is delivered by humans in funny-looking trucks that snarl traffic and our real world in which my son's glasses need to be repaired at the optometrist's office. Owl post and wands are all well and good in books, but we muggles must make do as best we can, which, if we open our eyes, is really quite nicely.

The world is full of magic things.

Superbells Dreamsicle, for instance. And goldfinches. And the pages of books. And 11-year-old boys singing "Don't Go Breaking my Heart." And neck rubs. And a perfect bite of ribeye steak. And starlight and moonlight and sunlight dancing with dust.

These magic things are only magic because we go beyond simply seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, hearing them...we notice them in a new way, a careful way, attentively. When we become accustomed to something, we stop noticing it so much, stop seeing how special and wonderful and unique and amazing it is.

The clay pot on my desk has been there for years now, holding my pens and scissors usefully...and beautifully. Someone's hands made it. On a wheel. Of North Carolina clay. The potter signed it illegibly on the bottom. Mud, water, pigment, whatever chemicals go into glaze, and some serious heat combined under a skilled hand to make that bit of magic usefulness on my desk.

I recently recorded a video for our church's sermon series called Living Stones. In it, I told a story of a time when Jack was five and undergoing intensive therapy and treatment for autism. In many ways, I felt like we were ruining his childhood with all that hard work, but one day, one of his preschool teachers asked him, "What is the best thing about being Jack?" He answered, "Love." That's when I knew that despite all we were putting Jack through, he still understood the most important lesson of all: he was loved, deeply and completely, forever and always. His answer was, for me, the best sort of magic possible, a balm to keep pressing on.

One of my fellow Stephen Ministers told me that the video made him think about how so many parents are dissatisfied with their children's report cards or athletic performance, but really, we should see our children--disabled or otherwise--as blessings for who they are, not for what they have or haven't achieved. I think he has a very good point.

When our children are fresh and newborn, we stare at them in awe and wonder. When they are pimply, sassy teenagers, back-talking and entitled and flip, they don't seem quite so magical. How have our senses grown so dull?

I think a few months of summer to sharpen our senses might be an excellent idea. Care to join me?

How are you surrounded by magic? What can you do to sharpen your senses, to notice the magic all around you? Can you connect your sharpening senses to your sense of gratitude, and grow in gratefulness for all the blessings you already possess on the tip of your tongue or finger, the edge of sound, the periphery of your vision, that faint whiff of wonderful scent?

How can you make 2014 the Year of the Magical Summer?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Gratitude Journal #235

Today, I am grateful for my mother, Dianne, who put up with me, and for her mom, Ann, who put up with Dianne, and Ann's stepmother, Ethel, who put up with Ann. Ann's mom died when Anne and her six siblings were young, and Ethel stepped in and raised them as her own, showering her love on three generations. Her example led Ann to shower love on her own children and grandchildren and eventually great grandchildren, as Dianne showers her children and grandchildren today. I am grateful for my mother's capacity to love.

Today, I am grateful for my husband, who has decided that birthday presents are grand, but the added years are not. So he's stopping at last year's number, but keep the presents coming. Happy birthday to my honey bunny, big-green-egg master, crazy triathlete, honorable bread winner, comic relief, iron chef, and partner for life. You're continuing to kick butt at forty mumble-mumble, and I love you. Happy birthday!

What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Gratitude Journal #234

Today, I am grateful to be back here on Questioning after a brief absence.

Today, I am grateful to welcome my husband home after a brief absence.

Today, I am grateful to welcome warm weather back after a long absence. I'm also grateful that Daisy's "snow nose" is turning black again. Did you know dogs get "snow nose"? Neither did I. Turns out that exposure to cold can turn dogs' black noses pinkish. Weird, eh?

Today, I am grateful for cycles of all sorts that happen in our lives.

Today, I am grateful my house is relatively clean.

Today, I am grateful for being pushed out of my comfort zone.

Today, I am grateful for this thought:

 What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

On White Whales and How the Math Doesn't Add up in English

I recently posted about the importance of the cultural conversations taking place in English classrooms across America, and how those conversations stretch back to the oral literature of ancient times and will stretch forward as well, unless the Common Core and other "revolutionary" curriculum changes ditch the classics in favor of informational texts and Newman's Own salad dressing bottles.

I'm happy to report, however, that as of this morning, the cultural conversation is alive and well, at least on NPR in my Mazda CX-9 this morning.

As an NPR junkie, I listen to Morning Edition as I drive children to school, and this morning, a reporter referred to a South American drug lord as law enforcement's white whale.

No explanation. No clarification. Just...dude's a white whale.

I know this isn't exactly an obscure cultural reference, and perhaps it's overly optimistic of me to be thrilled by this, but follow my though process for a moment.

I knew exactly what the reporter meant by white whale...even though I've never read Moby Dick.

Those of us who are decidedly well read know a great deal more than we've actually read. In the process of reading, we form indirect relationships with texts we haven't experienced directly ourselves. We learn their stories, their characters, their plots...without cracking their spines.

There are lots of reasons for this. Movies, television, and other visual arts play their part, and obviously teachers summarize classics for us as part of that cultural conversation. Even if you never read Ulysses, you probably heard about it in a unit on the novel or saw it at the top of lists of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

If you never read Moby Dick, you might have bumped casually into that white whale as I did, in 10th-grade English in background lectures on the 19th-century American novel and in a social studies unit on economics and whaling. I also recently listened to a fascinating and highly detailed piece on NPR about an illustrated, comic-book version of the novel.

We might get to know these partial acquaintances better one day. For instance, I read Lolita several years after learning the story of Humbert Humbert. On the other hand, we might not ever bother reading some of's too short, and I know enough to get by with for now. If I need to know more, I know where to find it. I currently have no plans to tackle Moby Dick, Titus Andronicus, Grapes of Wrath, or Absalom, Absalom! on this side of paradise.

But that's okay.

Because I've already read so much, so widely, so deeply, so enthusiastically and intelligently and happily, the sum total of my knowledge of literature exceeds (perhaps greatly!) the sum total of works I've read. The math doesn't add up.

Isn't that a wonderful thought?