Thursday, December 24, 2015

More Christ

Have you ever noticed how we human beings complicate things? We seem to be infected, as a species, with a More Virus. If a little is good, more is better. This disease shows up all through history. Consider Anglo-Saxon law codes. (Yes, I'm going all weird and medieval on you this Christmas. It's been a while; please humor me.) The earliest codes written by the conquering Anglo-Saxon kings were short, simple affairs of a dozen laws, each stated bluntly in a sentence or two, but over the centuries, these codes grew in length and complexity, eventually developing into the incredibly complex English law of the late middle ages.

We do it with law, we do it with our closets, we do it with our lives. More. More. More.

How do you like it?

When it comes to More at Christmas, there's a point of diminishing return. How many traditions can you carry on--reasonably--before they become a burden rather than a blessing?

Elf on the Shelf anyone?

Since we traveled this year for Christmas, I knew keeping focus would be tough. We had more to consider...packing, traveling for uncertain weather (do we really need heavy coats and gloves?), arranging for a neighbor to keep an eye on the house, putting Daisy in a kennel.... The usual chaos, plus More.

I'm proud of myself for keeping a level head through all of this More, and I've actually had lots of fun and very little stress.

Part of the credit goes to the Travellers' Christmas Eve service we attended on December 13. What a great idea! People who enjoy the candlelight service but would be away for Christmas could enjoy the full Christmas Eve experience a few weeks early. We sang all the hymns, heard the scripture, and received a lovely sermon from our pastor of adult discipleship.

That service grounded me so much. But it occurred to me that my grounding required More work from our church staff. It's a reminder of just how hard pastors work during the most stressful season of the year. Thankfully, not all More is subject to diminishing returns. More service to God, more celebration of the birth of our Savior, more focus on the real reason for the season blesses everyone.

More shopping, more spending, more debt, more baking, more decorating...not so much a blessing. Enough is enough.

More light, more life, more peace, more love, more hope, more joy, more Christ. There's never enough.

Never. Enough.

I wish you More Christ this Christmas, and just enough of all the rest.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sharing the Light

In times of hateful rhetoric and social-media viciousness, it's important to find sources of light and love and hope and humanity. When all we hear is the negative, our perspective becomes so warped by fear and anger. Finding balance in the Information Age can be such a challenge, so here are three very, very different sources of light I've used lately to offset all the darkness.

Humans of New York: Reading this Facebook page -- and the community's comments -- almost always lifts me up and reminds me how much goodness there is in the world. Ordinarily, Humans of New York (HONY) focuses on random people in New York City, telling mini-stories about them. The stories may be funny, sad, poignant, moving, hard, uncomfortable, tragic, provoking, warm...the full range of human experience. Recently, the page has featured stories of refugee families who are heading to the United States after truly horrific experiences in war-torn areas of the Middle East. Read the comments on those stories. You'll be reminded just how generous and amazing Americans are.

Most recently, the page highlighted the story of Aya, a refugee whose family was rejected by the US for resettlement. In all the political rhetoric, it's easy to forget that these are real human beings with real needs. Humans of New York reminds us that when we know others' stories, we are moved to love and compassion. As long as others remain "other" and somehow less than human, it's easy to hate. When you hear their stories, you are reminded that we are all so very, very human.

Daily Good: This site offers up well-written articles on subjects as diverse as outer space, forgiveness, and neuroscience. Most articles concentrate on living a "good" life, with emphasis on wellness, mindfulness, gratitude, compassion, and faith. Here's a blurb from their About Us page:

Often times, watching the nightly news and reading mainstream newspapers it's hard to remember the presence of good in the world. And yet it is constantly around us. The world is full of everyday heroes and true stories of transformation. They have helped sustain life down the ages in a multitude of ways, small, simple and profound. DailyGood aims to shine a light on these stories and in doing so to change the nature of our conversations. If it can spread a few smiles along the way it's purpose is served.

I forgive them the incorrect apostrophe and missing Oxford comma because the content is so positive, so uplifting, so encouraging.

Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County 2015: For friends of Opus, Milo, Cutter John, and dandelion fields, what a delight that Berkeley Breathed decided to bring the strip back on Facebook this year. Here, social commentary and laugh-out-loud humor meet in a delightful revival that's arguably better than the original strip.

Vote Bill and Opus, 2016!!!!

We could do a lot worse.

How do you turn on the light these days? I spend a lot of time with my church community, which is a huge help, but sadly not everyone has a church that lifts and enlightens. Please share your sources of light in the comments!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ghost Stories

For the most part, I'm a sensible, scientific Christian who loves Harry Potter but harbors no delusions that witches, ghosts, and magic wands are anything more than fascinating fiction.

But there have been a few times when strange things were afoot and made me wonder. 

When George was in navigator training, one of his good friends lost his fiance when she was hit by a truck while walking on a sidewalk. On the night before the funeral, he was alone in his bedroom, sobbing, when he felt someone take his hand. He felt a sense of peace and knew that she was okay and he would be okay. There was no one else in the room. 

The next morning, he shared the experience with his fiance's aunt, who immediately freaked out. Her sister, the deceased's mother, had just told her about having the exact same experience the night before. 

George and I made a pact that whichever of us dies first will come back and hold the still-living's hand for comfort.  

The only other unexplained experiences George and I have had all happened in our home in Boise, Idaho. Very shortly after we moved in, we were asleep, and I awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the sliding door in our bedroom. We didn't have curtains up yet, and with the neighborhood lights, I could see quite clearly that no one was there.  

When I told George about it the next morning, he claimed I dreamed it, but it didn't feel at all like that.  

Some nights later, with a light snow on the ground, we both awoke to knocking on the glass door. The snow was pristine, not a footprint in sight. 

George believed me. 

One Friday night, I taught a class at Boise State's weekend university program. George wanted to go out with friends, so he told me he might hitch a ride with them and meet me downtown at a bar when I got off work. If he couldn't get a ride, he'd be home waiting for me. 

I pulled into the garage next to George's car. Still not knowing whether he was home, I entered the house yelling, "Are you home?" Quite clearly from the guest room, I heard George reply, "I'm in here!" 

This surprised me, but I headed to the guest room.

There was no one there. 

No. one. 

George was already downtown with our friends.

Oddly, I didn't feel the least bit threatened or creeped out. The dogs, who were crated, acted as if all was normal. When I let them out, they weren't interested in the guest room or anything other than greeting me with the lunatic dance of unrestrained dog joy upon sighting the mistress (to paraphrase Dave Barry). 

Given our experience with the knocks on the glass door, George withheld judging my experience with his disembodied voice as a sign of impending mental breakdown. After all, when the final strangeness hit, we knew for sure it wasn't just me.

George was sitting on the bed and out of the corner of his eye saw a small brown puppy run across the bathroom toward the closet. It was definitely not one of our dogs. 

Perhaps our house was built over a giant reservoir of hallucinogenic gas that slowly leaked inside, causing auditory and visual disturbances for us both. I mean, if we were really crazy, don't you think our symptoms would have gotten worse over time? Right?

What I like about all of these stories is how the supernatural (or simply inexplicable) events were not at all scary or threatening. In fact, they were either benign or comforting.

And those are ghost stories a person can live with.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tiny Problems

In a discussion about when we pray, I shared that one of my most powerful times to pray is on Wednesday nights in winter when I take the trash to the curb. Our driveway is quite long, and as I gaze up at the black sky full of stars and planets and the occasional meteor, I find it impossible not to appreciate the greatness of God and my own tiny little place in His Creation. I must, must!, express gratitude for that.

So now the joke among my church friends is that garbage reminds Susan to pray.

I'm okay with that.


The ocean provides a similar effect. The steady beat of waves on a shore, the rhythm linked to space and the moon, the sense that you could never, ever control that massive entity teaming with life and energy and death...the ocean is, indeed, big enough and powerful enough to make us feel very, very small.

A regular check on our hubris grounds us and reminds us that those problems which distract our waking hours and disturb our sleep don't mean as much as we want them to mean. We need to let go of our self-importance and maintain some sense of perspective.

Perhaps praying while taking out the garbage isn't so strange after all.

Where do you go to make your problems tiny?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Let's Be Reasonable

During the recession, people who were looking for ways to cut their household budgets googled a new buzzword--minimalism--and stumbled upon a whole grassroots movement that, in its extreme form, is pretty wacky.

For example, an extreme minimalist's home might contain only 100 items...including dishes, furniture, books, electronics, clothing, and so forth. An extreme minimalist's wardrobe might consist of 15 articles of clothing...with a pair of socks or gloves counting as two items.

One-hundred possessions? Fifteen articles of clothing? The numbers seem rather arbitrary and controlling to me, but whatever works for people.

In our age of conspicuous consumption, minimalism has a certain counter-cultural appeal, especially during times of economic crisis. As I bumped into random references to minimalism, news articles on it, and whole blogs dedicated to it, I absorbed the message and wondered if I shouldn't dabble my toes in the shallow end of its pool.

In 2010, my dabbling began with a minimalist wardrobe that was first and foremost functional...not numerical. If you're interested in the conversation I had with my clothes during the Great Closet Purge of 2010, you can read about it HERE. A year later, I revisited the experience in THIS POST. On the whole, ever since 2011, my wardrobe philosophy has been "less is more," as in less money, less quantity, less fret, and more happiness.

And I love it.

Less Money
For over a decade now, my clothing purchases have skewed miserly. My minimalist dress-up clothes consist of a black skirt, black pants, and three dressy tops. These pieces make six different outfits to wear on Sundays three seasons of the year. In the winter, I wear sweaters with the black pants.

Ohio winters are cold.

For everyday wear, I stick to t-shirts or sweaters and jeans. Target t-shirts, purchased on sale for $5 each, for instance, last almost a season before losing all integrity as wearable garments. Sadly, though, I discovered that spending "big" money on t-shirts ($30 or more at Eddie Bauer or Lands End) doesn't yield a proportionally longer life. Comfortable jeans, regardless of price point, don't last long when you wear the same few pairs day in and day out.

Perhaps I should stop wearing t-shirts and jeans, and dress up a bit more, but honestly, I'm a stay-at-home mom, church volunteer, and blogger/crafter. Opportunities to dress up are thin on the ground in my world, and my wise sister always said, "Never sacrifice comfort for fashion."

I'm totally down with that.

Less Quantity
In the old days, my closet had eight or nine linear feet of hanging clothes crammed together so tightly that pulling out what I wanted to wear from the crush might result in a waterfall of random items unintentionally pulled off their hangars.

Now, the crush of clothes is history. You'd be hard pressed to spread my hanging clothes out enough to fill four linear feet. The beauty is that I wear every single item hanging there...regularly. Everything fits, everything coordinates to form whole outfits, and nothing useless or mismatched occupies space.

It's glorious and easy.

Less Fret
Easily coordinating outfits isn't the only advantage to keeping a minimalist closet. I only buy new clothes when the existing ones wear out or don't fit anymore, which simplifies shopping enormously. I stick to basics and don't bother perusing trendy, unusual pieces, which saves time and prevents buyer's remorse...a common affliction of my clothes-horse days.

For me, the minimalist wardrobe has been a complete success.

One area in which I didn't go minimalist at all was eating. Sadly, for the past ten years, my weight increased to the point where I simply had to buy bigger clothes. Several times. With each increase in size, I moved the still-nice, too-small clothes to the basement. In the past two months, however, I've lost ten pounds.

Who knows what happened while we were in Quebec to change my attitude toward food, but something clicked. A minimalist mindset took over. I'm not dieting, but I snack less and my portion sizes are considerably smaller (though still quite satisfying). Best of all, I no longer suffer the regular heartburn of the over-eater.

Each new pound gone means my too-tight clothes fit better. Soon, I'll need to pull out those smaller sizes stored in the basement, and the still-nice, too-big clothes will go to Salvation Army.


In our super-sized world, figuring out what's reasonable, whether for our closets or our dinner plates, can be tough. For most of us, the answer isn't in restricting our diet to 800 calories a day or 15 items in our closet. Being reasonable means listening to your body and not gorging, buying what you truly need and a perhaps a bit of what you want, and avoiding an intervention staged by reality television.

This definition of "being reasonable" aligns nicely with research on happiness. The happiest people have all of what they need to live (adequate food, clothing, shelter) and some of what they want. People who get everything they want or have so much that possessions become a burden experience less happiness. Having it all isn't a recipe for a good life.

Having what's reasonable is.

What's reasonable for one person, however, may not be reasonable at all for another. My wardrobe, so very reasonable for me, would hardly suit lawyers, professors, pastors, preschool teachers, retail workers, or talk-show hosts. On the other hand, some minimalists eschew owning books; they check books out at the library or buy an e-reader. I cannot go there. No sir. Not at all. I will always buy books...electronic or traditional. My need for lots of books is entirely reasonable for me.

What minimalism taught me is to be more balanced and intentional in acquiring stuff, and to be unrestrained in getting rid of things that don't serve a purpose or mean anything to me. My days of magpie shopping ("Oh, look! Something shiny and new!") are for the most part over, and I'm more cautious and less impulsive with purchases, not to mention more satisfied with what I have and happier overall.

Sounds reasonable to me.

What do you think about minimalist lifestyles? Have you experimented with minimalism in areas of your own life? How did the experiments go? Are you a committed minimalist? What motivates you? Please share!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Gratitude Journal #272

Today, I am grateful for the season of pumpkin spice everything! It's not officially fall yet, and the temperatures here in southwest Ohio are definitely summery, but oh, my. The leaves are just starting to change, and my favorite season is almost here!


Today, I am grateful for bowling with my boys. Nick won both games. I at least beat George both games. Life is good.

Today, I am grateful for having two teenage boys in the house. This one just turned 13 and requested his usual birthday trip to the Newport Aquarium. We've gone to that aquarium for so many years the fish know us by name.

Today, I am grateful this young man stood up for me while we were bowling. I bowled a strike, and Nick groaned. Without skipping a beat, Jack rounded on him and demanded, "You be supportive, mister!"

Today, I am grateful for supportive friends and family.

Today, I am grateful for memory, because through it, we do not forget those precious lives lost years ago on September 11, 2001.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, September 4, 2015

No. No. No. Heck No.

This is terrifying. Why in the name of all that is good and right in the universe are ordinary people issued permits to own venomous snakes? Why? Why? Why?

Florida Wildlife officials look for escaped king cobra

As if the fact this person had a cobra wasn't scary enough, consider that he had another cobra escape years ago. That one was shot by a homeowner in his garage. And they issued the careless deadly reptile owner ANOTHER PERMIT because WHY? WHY? WHY?

This is seriously making me rethink my neutrality on the subject of gun control.

I'm curling up in the fetal position and sucking my thumb until this snake is found. Because you know that it is on its way to Ohio to kill me. Because it KNOWS.

I may or may not have ophidiophobia.

What a nightmare.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Build Others Up

A few months back, I read an article on divorce, and one of the clearest predictors of marital success is how the partners speak to each other. Couples who stay together use courtesy words (please and thank you) and say kind, supportive, positive things to each other often. In couples who divorce, one or both partners often speak rudely, hurtfully, or insultingly. Doomed couples go negative with their words and stay negative.

While this research applied to marriage, I believe it applies equally well to friendship. When someone starts tearing a friend down with words or using the "parent" voice with them, the friendship might be doomed.

Parent voice used between friends is insidious. While there are very rare instances when it might be justified, when one adult uses the parent voice on another adult, he or she is putting himself or herself above the other...scolding, judging, insulting, ordering, and humiliating. Parent voice does not invite response because complaining about it puts you in the position of a whining child. If you respond in anger, well, you're just two grown-ups acting like toddlers who need a nap. Trying to reason with parent voice doesn't work, either; it escalates the situation.

Parent voice, when used one adult to another, is an exercise of power that silences the victim.

Years ago when I worked in a corporation, my boss took a few sick days during a critical time in an important project. She wouldn't take calls, and told me and another employee to "handle it." Working with our boss's boss, we did handle it, and quite well. In fact, we had fun pulling the project together with upper management, a gentleman who was a true team player.

When our boss came back to work, she called the two of us into her office and asked what we'd done. We showed her, but instead of praising our efforts, she started tearing us down. She adopted a parent voice, gave us a condescending lecture on Advertising 101, and told us we'd made a mess she would have to clean up.

There was simply nothing we could say to her in response. It was awful, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. We also felt angry because we knew her criticisms weren't at all valid.

Later that day, she was removed from management, shunted sideways into a dead-end position. She hadn't realized that her own boss had taken such an active roll in helping us out...until it was too late.

So the moral of the story is this: don't ever use the parent voice on your boss. And it's not a good idea to use it on friends, either.

I know what it's like to be torn down by a friend, and it sucks. I also know what it's like to be built up by loving friends, and it's awesome. I want my friends to know the awesomeness of being built up, not the suckiness of being torn down.

Friendships end for all sorts of reasons, some of them quite natural and normal. People grow apart, grow at different paces, move away, move on. After spending 20 years married to the military, I became sadly accustomed to letting go of my civilian friends who didn't have time to continue reaching out to people who moved away.

Only very rarely have friends used unkind words with me, and even then, mostly the friends were just in a temporary bad mood. When they snap occasionally, my instinct is to either build them up or simply ignore the situation. I know I sometimes lose control of my better nature and lash out in frustration or hormones. Real friends understand and cover each other with grace and love.

Unfortunately, some people enter a state of perpetual negativity, pouring out parent voice and other meanness repeatedly on a friend, pushing that person further and further away over a period of time. Hurting people hurt...and they often hurt the people it's safest to hurt, those they trust to love them through anything. Perhaps it's an attempt (conscious or not) to force a confrontation to end the friendship. Perhaps the person is suffering from depression or other mental illness. Perhaps they simply want to move on and don't know how.  Whatever the reason, the friendship weakens and might even fall apart in a nasty friend divorce if the meanness continues unchecked.

As with marriage, friendship takes two people who are committed to each other working together and being kind. When one or both give up, there's not much that can be done. As long as there's hope, working on manners, offering kind words, and building each other up...well, who knows what sort of healing might happen? Grace and love do sometimes win.

And when they don't, let the lost friend go with as much good will as you can muster. Divorce can be messy, but it can also sometimes be a relief.

Have you ever used parent voice on a friend or had it used on you? Did your friendship survive the ugliness? Why or why not? What were reasons for friend divorces you had? Do you think you could have behaved differently for a different outcome, or was the friendship doomed? How can you, today, show a friend some small kindness to build them up?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ironman Recap

We've had a busy week driving home and getting started with a new school year. It's been a bit crazy (for instance, I got rear-ended while stopped at a red light Friday...oy vey!), but I want to recap the Ironman experience before I forget all the details.

First of all, Mont Tremblant knows how to put on an Ironman. Let this be a hint for Madison, Wisconsin, and other Ironman need to open the weekend with a live rock concert and fireworks. Mont Tremblant did. And it was amazing.

Second, the people of Mont Tremblant truly understand customer service. We were so impressed. Yes, it's a resort village and must have good customer service to keep drawing the crowds, but almost everyone we interacted with, from housekeeping in the hotel to servers at restaurants to the falconer who took us on a hike, was warm, kind, helpful, and friendly. This speaks well not only of the workers but of their management. Thank you, Mont Tremblant and Canada, for making our trip so pleasant!

Third, almost everyone in Mont Tremblant spoke English, even though French is the official language. What a gift to a whole province that most of its people are bilingual! Culturally and practically, this makes Quebec accessible and fun to visit for we mono-lingual Americans. After a while, we started making up a patois of French and English phrases just for fun, but I really, truly wish I spoke French now.

Fourth, we thoroughly enjoyed spending this time with George's sister, Angela, and her husband, Mike. Spending time with them is easy and relaxing and comfortable. They clearly love Nick and Jack, and they understand and appreciate Jack's quirks. How I wish we all lived closer together. Every time I make toast du mort*, I'll think of them and giggle!

Fifth, people who do Ironman races are both crazy and amazing. Athletes included a pair of identical twins, several married couples, a blind woman, a 74-year-old man, several people with lower-body paralysis (imagine doing an entire 140.6 miles using only your arms for propulsion!), a woman who had lost over 100 pounds, and the list goes on. We watched athletes cross the finish missing swaths of skin to road rash from bike wrecks, and a guy with his arm in a sling finished the race. I'm still trying to figure out how he did the swim.

[To see a 12-minute, professional video of the race, click HERE.]

Sixth, Ironman events offer extreme displays of sportsmanship. Racers help each other along the way with words of encouragement, a spare salt tablet, a CO2 cartridges to fill flat tires. Many people who finish earlier in the day come back near midnight to cheer on the last people to cross the line. We stayed up and witnessed an amazing sight. Mike Reilly, known as the Voice of Ironman, called out the final finisher's name and said, "You are an Ironman!" as he'd done for every other finisher that day.

Then, Reilly got word that another runner was just a few minutes out, and even though it was past the deadline for officially finishing, Reilly asked everyone wait for that athlete. A group of about twenty spectators joined the athlete for his last quarter mile and ran him across the finish line while Mike shouted words of encouragement. Mike congratulated him and got the entire crowd to shout, "You are an Ironman!"

So what if it wasn't an official finish? That man went 140.6 miles in one day, swim-bike-run. Of course he's an Ironman. And Mike Reilly was as enthusiastic and excited for him as he'd been for the first place winner of the whole race.

That's what Ironman is about: gutting it out and doing your best. Out of nine attempts at Ironman races, George didn't finish three. But he always came back and tried again. As crazy as all these athletes are, I've got nothing but respect for them, taking on such a huge challenge, pushing themselves as hard as they can.

At the T2 area, while retrieving George's bike, I saw an athlete in a wheelchair roll into the tent. He knew he'd not made the cut-off and wouldn't be allowed to start the run, but he was surrounded by people cheering him on. Now, I imagine his disappointment was acute in the moment, but seriously? All of us watching were inspired. How can we gripe about our petty challenges when this man, using just his arms for propulsion, just tried to do something most able-bodied individuals can't do?

He'll be back. And he'll finish. I just know it.

George's finish was 18 minutes faster than last year's finish in Madison, Wisconsin, at 13:57. He set a personal record for the swim...1:11, four minutes faster than ever before. Not bad for a 50-year-old, eh?

He's already talking about signing up to do Wisconsin again next year, possibly with several of his crazy friends. And I'll be there to cheer him on, carry his bike pump, and retrieve his sticky, sweaty bike. I'll gladly be his Iron Sherpa...again.

George Raihala, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!


Sunday, August 16, 2015

He Finished!

I'm wiped out, and George is starving, so this will be quick.

George finished in 13:57 after a painful marathon. He was unsteady on his feet but sensible (sort of), has showered, and now wants to eat. He told his sister that if he tries to register for Ironman Wisconsin next year, she has permission to taze him.

Typical post-race negativity. By next weekend, he'll think an IM next year is a great idea. IMs are like childbirth, I think, although I never had amnesia myself...I remember every pain my children put me through. But I did it twice. Voluntarily.

Ironman Mont Tremblant is George's sixth Ironman.

Nine tries.

Six finishes.

That's a special kind of crazy.

We're off to feed the beast. He's limping, but we're going.

I'll wrap up our Ironman weekend when we get home. Thanks for all the support and encouragement and prayers today!

For Narnia!!!

Another video, this time of the start of George's second lap of the marathon.

For Narnia!

George seemed in good spirits but says his knee is bothering him. He's steadily increased his pace on each of the run splits, though, so YAY!!!!

Mike had a trip to the medical tent following his bike and will not start the run. He's going to be fine, but muscle cramps ended his race this year.

T2 Video

If you want to see a video of George's transition from bike to run, a.k.a. T2, check out this link. He looks so much better than last year, and he's hauling the mail!

T2 Video

Tri to Understand

This is the second race-day post. Scroll down for the first race-day post!

Years ago in Madison, I saw a woman wearing a shirt that said, "Just Tri-ing to Understand." After attending my seventh start of an Ironman race, I feel like I'm starting to get it.


Just a bit.

It seems to make more sense at the finish line, though.

George gets body markings, including
his age (50) on his calf. This way, racers
know when people older than they are
pass them. ;-)

Nick and Angela, Iron Sherpas

The lake in early morning. 

Milling around before the start.

His nose is healing nicely from its
impact with the dock.

Mike, number 2007, looking happy!

Suited up with his Sherpa carrying the bike pump.
So glad I didn't have to carry that thing this year.
Thanks for the help, Nick!

Mike suited up and ready to swim. Sherpa Ang has his backpack.
She's earning her Sherpa gift!

The start was accompanied by fireworks and a canon blast, but the crowds made it impossible for us to see any of the waves leave the beach. We Sherpas went back to the hotel, picked up Jack, and ate a quick breakfast before moseying down to T1, where we saw both guys running from the lake to their bike gear.

Both were VERY happy with their swim times. George may have PRed his swim at 1:11, and Mike significantly improved his time over last year with a 1:33 swim!

It's fascinating to watch athletes in T1. Some have huge smiles on their faces, and others look for all the world like they're thinking, "Thank God I didn't drown!!!" or perhaps, "OMG, I have 138.2 miles left to go!!!!"

Most triathletes have favorite and least favorite events...the three sports are just so very different. George and Mike generally enjoy the swim. George says he zens out. They both prefer the bike (unless they get muscle cramps or bonk, in which case each has claimed to want to give their bike to anyone who will take it, or possibly throw it under a bus so they never have to ride it again).

The run is the weakest event for both guys, so the key is to keep their legs fresh enough to make the 26.2-mile. It's tempting to rage on the bike, thinking you're making up for a slow run, but that never works. All three times George didn't finish, he stopped half-way through the run with horrible cramps and dehydration. We don't want that happening today!

And now we wait. The bike splits are weird lengths. The first is 7km, and both men are over that mat with good times, but the second bike split is 73.5km, which means we won't get an update for quite a while.

In the meantime, we're relaxing. I should be back around 4:00-5:00 with a bike update and hopefully some pictures from the start of their marathons! If you want to track them for the eight different bike splits, go to Ironman Mont Tremblant Athlete Tracker and use 1965 for George and 2007 for Mike.

Ironman Begins

Ironman race day began at 4:00 AM after a night of very little sleep. We'll head off in about ten minutes to meet Ang and Mike and saunter down to the swim start...hopefully with a strong cup of coffee in hand.

Various weather reports are calling for a high of 80, 82, 86, and 88. Wow. That's quite a range. If you're the praying type, please pray for lower temps for all the racers. One-hundred-forty-point-six miles are brutal enough without adding heat to the mix.

George's race number is 1965, and Mike's is 2007. You can follow them at the Athlete Tracker on the Ironman website. Live coverage starts at 6:00 AM here, and finish coverage starts around 3:00 on the same page. That's roughly when George will be starting the marathon and a bit before the winner of the whole race will cross the finish line.

Race safe, men and women of Ironman Mont Tremblant 2015!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Trusty Steed and Pre-Race Preparations

George's favorite event of triathlon is definitely the bike. While I refer to his bike as his Precious (because it is), he prefers the term Trusty Steed.

He has an entire stable of steeds at home of all different kinds. You probably know that mountain bikes and racing bikes are different, but did you know that triathlon bikes and road-racing bikes (like those used in the Tour de France) are completely different? Yeah, well, I used to be blissfully ignorant of that fact, too, but don't you dare confuse the two around a triathlete.

Tri bikes like George's Specialized Shiv have different geometry than road bikes. I have no idea what the difference is, mind you. I just know there is one.

The blue band on George's wrist identifies him as a race participant.
It gets him into the transition areas and bike area, where I am
not allowed to go.

George spent a chunk of this morning readying his Trusty Steed for the tires, fresh lube, and race number stickers added. This afternoon, he took his bike to the bike corral, where it will stay overnight with about 2,500 other bikes. When the bike area is full, there will be millions of dollars worth of bikes there. Needless to say, security is important here.

On race day, after all the racers have gone through T2 and are sweatily running the marathon, I will be able to pick up George's bike because I have a little slip of paper that says I can. (Some races also require picture ID so only the authorized person named by the athlete before the race picks it up.) Otherwise, the racer must retrieve his/her own bike. Volunteers make sure the race number on the bike matches the race number on the rider.

That's the advantage of having an IronMate or IronSherpa to help on race day. We schlep a bunch of stuff around.

The photo can't do justice to the sheer size of this area or the number
of bikes it will house.

T1 is the transition area for swim to bike, and T2 is the transition from bike to run. Here at Mont Tremblant, I'm pretty sure these areas are in giant tents. Both areas are full of bags with race numbers on them, organized in numerical order to help everyone find what they need during the race. Everything a racer needs for the bike ride will be at T1, and everything he or she will need for the run will be at T2. All this gets organized and dropped off the day before the race.

Consider that there are roughly 2,500 racers; you can imagine what a logistical challenge all this gear represents. Yet Ironman has it down to a science, and there are hundreds of volunteers making sure it all gets done correctly.

On race day, if you track athletes online or using a free phone app, you will follow them as their electronic racing chip crosses various mats around the course. You'll see when they leave the water and enter T1, how long they stay in T1, a variety of bike split times, when they finish the bike and enter T2, and various splits for the marathon.

This tracking makes it pretty easy to estimate when your racer will be in one of the transition areas (and thus close enough to hear you cheering them on) and when they will finish the whole long as the technology works properly. Sometimes, there are delays in posting various times, but generally it's a pretty slick system.

George's Trusty Steed is racked and ready to roll. His feet are up and he's in sloth mode.

Until tomorrow morning, when his swim wave starts around 6:50 AM.

Then, he's stay in constant motion for 140.6 miles.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's updates!

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Weekend of Ironman Mont Tremblant Begins!

After spending a relaxing and fun week at a chalet near Mont Tremblant with George's sister Angela and her husband Mike, we've decamped to Mont Tremblant proper for the race on Sunday.

Before I share about the race, I'd like to give a shout-out to the excellent customer service at Mont Tremblant Activities Center.  We scheduled an amazing Apprentice Falconry adventure through them, and it's by far been the most remarkable experience of our trip to Quebec.

George, Nick, and I went on a private, guided hike through the woods with professional falconer Lucy and a Harris hawk named Phoenix. We learned so much about falconry, bird anatomy, and hunting habits, but best of all, we each were able to have Phoenix land on our gloved hand repeatedly throughout the hike.

Lucy and Phoenix

To be up-close and personal with a bird of prey--one trained and habituated to human contact*--was an experience I can't even begin to describe. So I'll share a link to the best video of the outing so you can see some of the awesomeness.

Phoenix flying over the bridge

And Now...Ironman

A little background for those unfamiliar with Ironman races.... Ironman was started on Oahu in the late '70s out of an argument over which athletes were most fit: swimmers, bikers, or runners. This debate quickly morphed into a race combining all three events over long distances; whoever could do all three the best would be called the Ironman. Now, there are Ironman races all over the world, but the annual world championship race is still held in Hawaii, where it all began.

An Ironman race begins with a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride followed by a 26.2 mile run, for a total of 140.6 miles. To finish, an athlete must complete all three events in under 17 hours.

Yes. It's crazy.

This year will be George's ninth attempt at an Ironman. He's completed five, with his best time in 2009 of 12:35 at Ironman Wisconsin. Mike, George's brother-in-law, finished his first Ironman in 2013. Both are here in Mont Tremblant to race again.

Yes. They are crazy.

Registration opens on the Thursday before the Sunday race, so yesterday, George and Mike registered. Of course, they had signed up and paid to reserve their spots in August 2014, just after last year's race at Mont Tremblant finished. There are thousands of people pre-registered for each Ironman race.

Yes. That's a lot of crazy people.

Today, we checked out the race site, walked to the swim start, and took in the Birds of Prey show at the top of the mountain. (We highly recommend it if you are ever at Mont Tremblant.) Tomorrow, George and Mike will spend the bulk of their day in their hotel rooms with their feet up, resting in what George calls "sloth mode." Angela, Nick, Jack, and I will wander the charming streets of Mont Tremblant shopping, sipping coffee and/or wine, and generally entertaining ourselves.

Don't worry. The boys won't be sipping wine. Jack only drinks apple juice from boxes, and Nick prefers Shirley Temples.

Sunday will begin very early for all of us, as Angela and I start our duties as race-day Iron Sherpas. We get to carry stuff (like morning clothes and bike pumps), to cheer our racers on during transitions between events (about the only time we get a chance to see them), and to schlep their nasty, sticky bikes (covered in 112 miles of sweat and sports drinks) back to the hotel rooms before the guys finish the marathon.

It's the only time we are allowed to touch the bikes. George's bike is his Precious. You might think I'm kidding, but I'm (almost) not.

For those of you who are interested, I'll be posting updates leading up to and all during the race, including links to the Athlete Tracker (where you can track individual athletes during the race and see how they are doing) and the live feed from the finish line. Through the live feed, you will be able to watch George and Mike as they cross the finish line and hear Mike Reilly, the official Ironman North America announcer, yell out their names.

Because that's what it's all about. Hearing Mike Reilly shout your name.

And yes. Every single bit of this is spectacularly crazy.

But aren't all the best people just a little crazy?

Yes, they are.

*You might remember when we rescued the injured barred owl. It clicked menacingly every time we got too close and was clearly a wild creature. Phoenix, the Harris hawk we handled, was far more social and accommodating!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I'm Sorry, Quebec

George's dreams of Ironman glory have taken us to Mont Tremblant, Quebec, this year. On our first trip to Canada nine years ago, we went to Poets Cove resort on Pender Island, British Columbia. There, we enjoyed time on the water kayaking, whale watching, counting bald eagles, and being tailed by curious seals. We ate delicious food, had excellent service, road water taxis to various islands, and generally made ourselves at home.

We fell in love with Canada and felt like we could belong in Canada quite easily and happily, if only because as a nation they've embraced their dollar coin and call it the loonie. How delightful! In my lifetime, Americans never have accepted dollar coins, though I suspect it's because the dollars always have serious things on them like Sacagawea, eagles, or war-hero presidents.

Loons are ever so much more adorable.

When I told several Canadian friends that our return to their fair country would take us to Quebec, one shot back, "That's not Canada."

How right she was! I've felt quite wrong-footed since we arrived five days ago and feel the need to apologize to Quebec for my ignorance and awkwardness and general lack of cajones.

I'm sorry. I don't know the French word for cajones. Which leads to my first observation, which is painfully obvious, but oh so important:

Everyone in Quebec speaks French. This means all the signs are in French, the television shows are in French, and food labels are in French. French advertisements show up on my computer. I do not speak French, and for some weird reason, I now feel guilty about this gap in my education.

The guilt may come from my acute awareness that almost everyone we've encountered speaks not just French, but English as well, and generally very good English. Workers at McDonald's are bilingual. Bravo, Quebec's education system! The U.S. education system needs to step up. Seriously.

Out of pity, Quebec ought to print signs for us non-French speakers to wear around our necks, identifying us as easily-confused bumpkins. I know a few basic phrases in French...oui, merci, merci beaucoup, grazie, prego, de nadadonde esta el bano...wait, I think I'm getting confused.

Anyway, I want to say oui or merci, but every time I do, someone responds with a stream of French that leaves me feeling embarrassed and guilty, as if I've misrepresented myself. I now stick to English yes, thanks, thanks very much because those words signal my complete ignorance and cause the other person to respond in lovely accented English. Whew.

What makes me feel even guiltier is that the people of Quebec really don't try to make you feel bad for not speaking French. I'm the one who's awkward about it, not them. They have been nothing but pleasant and accommodating.

I'm sorry, Quebec, that I don't speak French. Merci, y'all, for being so nice about it.

My second observation about Quebec is also painfully obvious: it's on the metric system. How big, really, is the 1.5kg chicken I bought? My pharmacist sister-in-law knew the conversion factor, but I didn't. I found myself moving quite slowly through the grocery store trying to do math in my head (never an easy thing) and reading labels in a language I don't understand.

I'm sorry, Quebec, that I slow down your people in the grocery store, especially when it's a busy Friday evening and all your people want to do is grab dinner and go home.

My third painfully obvious observation: driving in Quebec is different from driving in the United States. Of course, the signs are in French and speed limit signs are in kilometers, but I notice no connection between the signs and how fast people actually drive. In the U.S. the "real" speed limit is generally about five or ten miles-per-hour over what's posted (except in California, where it's more like 15-20 over), but in Quebec, I've been passed on winding, hilly two-lane country roads while doing at least ten kilometers over the limit.  Being passed would be fine, except some people are passing on curves with double-yellow lines. Maybe a double-yellow line means something different in Quebec than in the U.S., but this is kinda scary and I don't want to be responsible for lives lost.

I'm sorry, Quebec, that I don't drive faster and your people get so frustrated with me they must risk their lives to get around me.

My final observation about Quebec is that people here are braver and stronger than we Americans. We went hiking in Parc National du Mont-Tremblant on what was supposed to be a facile climb. In U.S. national parks, easy means small children and old people wielding canes can navigate the trail without dying. Clearly, in Quebec, facile means something completely different. We were huffing and puffing up steep grades and decided that our mothers could never, ever do even a facile hike in Quebec. They have bad knees, and those down-hill grades are a bear.

Also, the descriptions of your hikes in the cool Parc National phone app scare me a little. Consider this one:

A sporty and vertiginous route and an activity that is part hike, part climb. You will safely climb along a rock face on Mont de la Vache Noire. Along the way, between points requiring some effort, you will have a chance to appreciate the singular hilly landscapes and the aerial view of the bends in Riviere du Diable at the bottom of the valley....

Difficulty: Easy
Length: 425 meters
Duration: 3 hours

Now, I know enough of the metric system to know that 425 meters is just about a quarter of a mile, which is to say not far. Any 425-meter hike that requires three hours to cover is CLEARLY NOT EASY by U.S. standards. The adjectives sporty and vertiginous do not inspire confidence in the facile label either. We Americans must be a bunch of pansies.

To be fair, the day after the Parc National hike, we braved the facile hikes at Domaine du St. Bernard and found them not only extremely easy but pleasantly fragrant and springy under foot. Perhaps this is because the park used to be run by Christian brothers as a training and recreational site, and clearly the brothers were gentle souls who appreciated contemplative, peaceful walks over sporty, vertiginous climbs.

Given two such radically different translations of facile, we suspect there is no government oversight for labeling trails in Quebec as facile or tres difficile, and such labels are as meaningless as the speed limits signs. 

I'm sorry, Quebec, that I don't have the cajones for hiking demonstrated by your young children and old people with canes. Vertiginous isn't an option for me these days.

In conclusion, I'm sorry I'm a bumbling American tourist, Quebec. You deserve better. Your people are charming and helpful, your country is beautiful, and your food delicious. So thank you for graciously hosting us.

Even if you're not really Canada.

Keep an eye out  updates on the Ironman race as it happens on Sunday. I will, as in past years for IM Moo, post links to track George and his brother-in-law Mike as they idiotically bravely tackle the 140.6-mile (that's 226.3km) course of Ironman Mont Tremblant.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

"Who Am I?": A Challenge

Who am I?

What a self-involved question!

But shouldn't we all ask it periodically, just to make sure we're not winging off in the wrong direction? We don't want to get so far away from our true selves that we can't find our way back, after all. While trying to find ourselves, we often get lost.

My friend Barbara, in her seventies, handles life so smoothly that I want to be her when I grow up. She really knows who she is, and it gives her both confidence and humility. She takes chances, pursues dreams, relishes people and activity and learning, and treats others as she wants to be treated. She has moral courage to stand up for others or herself, and she knows when to quit and when to try harder, doing both with grace and good humor. She can lead and she can follow, and she understands the right time for each.

Barbara claims she didn't come out of the womb this way..."old age" has taught her a few things. I wonder if she's just being nice, giving me hope. She also sees good in me and tells me so, which reminds me of the saying pat the back and the head swells. Can I trust my ready acceptance of her praise and encouragement? Not on your life. But I certainly want to be that person she describes as me. Yes, I do.

My hairdresser once confessed that she had been intimidated by me at first. "You're so much smarter than I am. But you're so nice I realized that was just my own hang-ups getting in the way and had nothing to do with you." I'm intimidating? Seriously? This does not jive with the self-portrait I've painted. Not one bit. I don't want people to feel intimidated by me. Ever.

Recently, another friend attributed a characteristic to me that left me scratching my head and wondering if she knew me at all. Of course, her comment (which wasn't exactly complimentary) then got me thinking that what other people see in us and what we see in ourselves often bear little resemblance to each other...and both perspectives might be spectacularly right or wrong.

My head is starting to hurt.

Who am I?

One thing I know, deep in my bones: I'm not entirely who I used to be. Most importantly, I'm not depressed, and that used to be a serious problem. Not being depressed means I'm not nearly as uptight or worried or self-conscious as I used to be. I am far more comfortable in my own skin and my own brain. I don't try so hard to get others to like me (though I still like to be liked, of course). I don't have to make others think I'm right because, in fact, I'm often wrong. And that's okay with me these days.

Back when I was depressed, I thought being wrong was pure Greek Tragedy, with its own Chorus singing YOU FAILED over and over again while I sacrificed myself on the altar of perfectionism. If that sounds like you, perhaps my experience will give you hope because time (or professional help) has benefitted me just as my friend claims age has benefitted her.

But still, who am I?

In this day and age of testing everything, perhaps we should turn to personality tests to answer these serious questions. Recently, I took the quickie online version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and came up ENFJ, meaning my characteristics include extraversion, intuition, feeling, and judgment. Apparently only 2 percent of people fit this profile, which explains why sometimes I feel like I am, indeed, alone on an island, freakishly different. The test did help me feel like some recent decisions I've made at least make sense.

The ENFJ description largely fits me (or at least the "me" I want to be), although I would quibble with some details. For instance, according to another test, I'm actually more of an ambivert, incorporating characteristics of both extraverts and introverts, which feels much more accurate to me but isn't a choice on the Myers-Briggs.

Still, who am I?

Who are you?

Why are we here?

I. Have. No. Idea.

And that is okay. Taking personality tests and listening to what others think only get us so far in answering the question...and are not entirely reliable anyway. Prayer is good, if you're the praying type, and so is meditation. Sitting in silence, listening, slows us down and helps us take stock.

Unfortunately, we lie to ourselves pretty easily, don't we? Psychologists studying self-image find all kinds of ways we fool ourselves into thinking we're nicer, smarter, more generous than we really are. Even sociopaths think of themselves as perfectly lovely people. Geneticists say much of our personality is outside our control, a product of genetic programming, while other specialists say that environment controls our destiny. Don't you love "experts"? They lend such clarity to the issues.

Or not. 

When finding an answer to a question leads us into a rabbit warren of confusion, it's usually best to simply ask a different question. "Who am I?" is so self-involved and isolating, and it implies the answer is a single thing, finite and describable and static, like a trilobite in an Ordovician fossil bed or a butterfly pinned in a shadow box. But can we--should we--limit ourselves that way? Isn't it perhaps more accurate to say we are works-in-progress, doing and learning and growing and responding to life as best we can from our first feeble twitches in utero until our last breath?

Happiness research says that the harder you try to find happiness, the less happy you will be. Happiness is a side-effect--a very pleasant one--of doing good things and connecting with others in constructive, positive, and fulfilling ways. Finding ourselves might be much the same thing, a side-effect of living life in our own unique, special way...a way no one else can live it.

Now we're onto something. Life's dynamic, ever changing, and so are we. Let's make what we do and learn and how we grow and respond to life a reflection of our true self...the best self we want to see. Let's not get stuck but, like my friend Barbara, stay open and curious and thoughtful about the possibilities, looking for ways we can serve others to leave the world a better place than we entered it.

That seems a much better way to find ourselves than taking a test, don't you think?

For me, finding myself means sharing the love of Christ with the world, especially on transforming common days and through Stephen Ministry. It means taking care of my family, advocating for my children, and helping others whenever the opportunity arises. It means staying interested in lots of different subjects and reading lots of different books and trying to express my creativity through writing and paper crafts. It means being consciously grateful for life and all the good in it. It means praying for people, standing by them in the tough times, and loving them even when maybe they aren't acting very loveable.

Wow, that makes me sound pretty awesome! The honest truth, however, is that I fail at all those things regularly, pick myself back up, and keep trying. My failures have taught me to be as grace-filled and merciful toward others as I possibly can be, and I fail at that more often than I would like, too. If being my best is hard and confusing for me, with the many resources and privileges of my life, how much harder must it be for those with fewer resources or harder challenges?  

We are all in this together. I'll close by sharing advice from St Paul, who wrote, "So encourage and build each other up...." (1 Thess. 5:11). Barbara builds me up, and I hope I do the same for her. A simple act of encouragement to our fellow humans might help us see more clearly who we are and might help others figure out who they are. We can't figure out who we are by focusing on a self-involved question like "Who am I?" but by connecting with others in positive, unique ways, we might gain a little clarity.

Another friend, Linda, recently decided to volunteer at a local nursing home. She'd been a patient there twice in the past year or so, and she felt such a connection to the other patients that she wants to do something, anything really, to brighten their days. Not everyone feels comfortable with the sick (which is why so many people in nursing homes are lonely), but Linda does, and she's acting on that unique part of herself that grew out of her unique experience. What a great way to discover who you are!

Here's your challenge to answer your own "who am I?": Look around your life and ask yourself who has a need that you can uniquely meet. Perhaps it's as simple as sending a sick friend a handmade card or taking them flowers you grew in your garden or a loaf of banana bread you baked yourself. Perhaps it's teaching the new person at work how to operate the Keurig or modeling patience when waiting in line with surly folks. Maybe it's something bigger, like choosing a career of service (health care, ministry, teaching, the military, etc.) or volunteering at hospice or a children's hospital or a nursing home.  Maybe connecting with others requires you to learn something new or take a risk. Be open.

And see what happens. You just might find a bit of yourself along the way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Gratitude Journal #271

Today, I am grateful for the return of Bloom County. Berkeley Breathed just made all our lives a bit happier with Opus, Milo, Cutter John, and the rest of the gang in our Facebook feeds every morning.

Today I am grateful for my beautiful sister...for so very many reasons.

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why I Won't Read the "New" Book by Harper Lee

Lots of people are excited by today's release of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. From the beginning of the media hype, however, a small but strong sense of unease rested somewhere between my bibliophile's heart and my critic's head.

As a trained literary critic, I've read plenty of books because I had to read them. Most were classics, and my critic's mind often adored them. Gravity's Rainbow, Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, great books. A few classics didn't excite me, even though I could appreciate why they were classics and why reading them was good for my mind. (Yes, everything by Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Hardy...I'm talking about you.)

As a shameless bibliophile who's been reading all sorts of books--great, merely good, downright bad, popular, pure fluff, genre fiction, chick lit--since she was three, I find certain books simply speak to me in ways that run too deep for words, and some characters influence my thought and feelings in some primal place in my soul.

As you might imagine, the split personalities of my reading self get into arguments all the time. My brain is a very strange place.

To Kill a Mockingbird knocked me flat. I read it for the first time about ten years ago when I realized that this classic had flown under my reading radar, and I felt shame that all I knew about it had been gleaned from short, random snippets of the movie caught on cable. As a Southerner, as a compassionate human being, as a devoted lover of language, I fell hopelessly in love with Atticus Finch and Harper Lee. At a time when hate ruled hearts, just five years after Rosa Parks sat on that bus in Montgomery and three years before the church bombing in Birmingham, a white Southern writer sent Atticus Finch out into the world, a man who did the right thing even though it wasn't popular or comfortable or even safe.

Atticus gave me hope that we could figure this out, a hope I still cling to today in the wake of the murders of nine human beings in a church in Charleston. A hope we all need to cling to.

Stories shape us in almost magical ways, and they talk to one another. To Kill a Mockingbird converses in my mind with all the books I've read by African Americans about race. Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, and Harper Lee are allies in making art to show hate and evil for what they are and break them, to heal a culture hurt by them.

Many writerly voices, united in an inter-textual conversation on life and the human condition, shaping thoughts and feelings...that is what reading literature is (or should be) all about.

When I listened to Maureen Corrigan's review of Go Set a Watchman yesterday on NPR, I realized that the magic would never survive, the inter-textual conversation in my head would shift forever, if I read about an Atticus who's lost his way. I'm so grateful to Corrigan for doing her job as critic and expressing so eloquently why I shouldn't read a book.

I choose hope. I choose the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Long live that Atticus Finch. Long live hope.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Gratitude Journal #270

Today, I am grateful for those brave men who, 71 years ago today, landed on beaches in France. May we never forget their sacrifice, bravery, and determination. 

Today, I am grateful that it's summer break. We need it.

Today, I am grateful my son got his learner's permit. At least, I'm trying to be grateful and not scared silly.

Today, I am grateful that Jack performed in his school talent show and earned a standing ovation from his classmates and cheers from all 500 sixth graders!

Today, I am grateful for this wonderful pin from Pinterest...because it makes me feel so much better about myself since I've been a reading machine lately. The dust bunnies are organizing.


What are you grateful for today?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Gratitude Journal #269

Today, I am grateful for all the men and women who gave everything they had in service to our great country.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, May 16, 2015


“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Lao Tzu

As winter has changed to summer, I have watched with delight as a bleak, brown, skeletal landscape transforms with pastel blushes of pink, purple, and blue into a dense, lush green. Animals have cover to protect their babies, birds build nests, eggs break open, and the whole cycle of life plays out in front of us.

It's been a lovely spring. So much beautiful change.

I've never been able to relate to mothers who want to freeze their children at a certain age, who sob in despair when putting their kindergarteners on the bus for the first time, who regret their adolescent's need for deodorant. I look forward to each new phase and milestone...because sometimes it takes us so long to get there.

Such is the life of a parent whose child has developmental delays. We want that next developmental step forward like a heroin addict wants another hit. We want to see those changes as evidence that all the therapies and schools and interventions are working because so much of our selves and our resources gets poured into each tiny step.

Children on the autism spectrum, however, resist change.

That must be the single biggest understatement I've typed on this blog in seven years. Consider this one example of dozens I could rattle off without effort. When Jack outgrew his favorite robe a few years back, he refused to accept a new one with tears and anger and fear that the old robe would go away, to the dump, or to someone else who wouldn't be Jack. After pushing as hard as seemed reasonable, I put the new robe in the top of his closet, where it sat for almost two years as he continued to wear the old one. Eventually, he accepted that the old robe simply wouldn't fit anymore and pulled out the no-longer-new one.

Wasn't I smart to buy too big a robe in expectation that it would fit when he finally accepted it? Mommies learn these sorts of tricks after a few years of shoes worn despite holes, coats worn with inches of arm showing, shorts worn until they are tight past decency. I sometimes wonder what teachers must think of me, but I am not bothered by their judgment. I don't have time to be bothered. Jack's resistance to changes in his wardrobe has turned me into a special ops warrior mommy, smuggling ill-fitting or worn clothing out of Jack's room when he's at school and rushing the reusable garments to Salvation Army that very day. Bags lying around or boxes in the back of my car might be inspected...with predictable results.

After years of adjusting to changes made as gently as possible, Jack is slowly improving and adopting new articles of clothing or shoes with, well, not ease, exactly, but at least not with panic attacks.

Some ignorant people don't understand why parents of children with autism don't make their kids do what needs to be done. Clearly, they've never seen an autistic tantrum. These aren't your typical, willful toddler tantrums...autistic tantrums are motivated by fear. Studies show the fight-or-flight response in people with autism is triggered easily by sudden changes or any other stimulus they perceive as a threat. Their bodies flood with adrenalin just like an impala's body involuntarily reacts to a lion chasing it.

You can't spank that sort of fear out of someone.

Jack trusts me...most of the time. He trusts me because I don't force him too far out of his comfort zone very often, because I didn't rip the too-small robe off of him and throw it away in front of him, because I didn't react to his tantrum at the eye doctor by smacking his butt and grabbing his arm and making him look in the green-flashy machine that he said hurt his eyes.

I choose my battles carefully. For the most part, I've learned how to push and when to pull back. I pay attention to Jack's tone and response to the idea of change. I let him work through his feelings in his own time. Do I get impatient and frustrated? Sure. Do I screw up and snap and yell? Yep. But most of the time, I focus on creating an environment that will help Jack overcome his delays in positive, nurturing ways.

It's exhausting.

On Palm Sunday, as we headed to church, Jack announced, "Mom, I'm too old for Ms. Kim's class. I need to move up." You see, Ms. Kim runs the K-4 Sunday school class. I'd been trying for two years to convince Jack he needed to move up to the 5th-6th grade class. At the end of 6th grade, he finally made up his mind.

I said, "I'll talk to Ms. Kim and ask which room you need to go to."

He said, "No, I'll do it."

And he did. He even waited patiently while Kim finished a conversation with another adult...which, if you have 12-year-old with or without autism, you know is a miracle itself.

That night, I asked Jack what he'd learned in Sunday School, and he immediately answered, "Some Jews gave Jesus away to be crucified." Let's savor this answer for a moment. It means Jack actually listened. His typical rote reply to my question--for years--has been "Jesus was born in Bethlehem." Yes, he learned that in Sunday school...when he was five. Now that he decided he was too old for the K-4 class, he appears to have also decided to listen. Yay!

When your child has developmental delays, the smallest changes signaling progress are embraced, cheered, celebrated. You learn to ignore the standardized test scores that measure how your child stands up against a million others, because that's just meaningless and depressing. Instead, you focus on the progress itself, and you find that there's a lot of joy in accepting the reality of it.

Moms who want their children to stay young don't know what they are asking for.

Lao Tzu says we should let changes come naturally, and Jack has taught me the truth in that. Change won't be rushed, and it won't be slowed. We can't control it. It

It's been such a lovely spring. So many beautiful changes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Difference Between Fantasy and Reality

The Fantasy:
What I Would Love to Make

The Reality:
What I Have the Patience, Skill, and Will to Make

This is why my sister, Lisa, calls me the Anti-Martha. It started shortly after my firstborn arrived, and Martha Stewart sent me an utterly ridiculous Baby magazine, the cover of which featured a first-birthday cake made with fondant and surrounded by little, hand-made party favors. At the time, I was doing great to get a shower every day while washing a gazillion loads of poopy-pukey laundry and spending 45 hours per day breast feeding. I ranted to my still-pregnant sister that my son would get such a cake only if Martha sent her hoard of assistants to make it for him. Lisa dubbed me the Anti-Martha.


Just keepin' it real here on Questioning.

And happy birthday to my honey. You rock!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Gratitude Journal #268

Today, I am more grateful than I can say for George, Nick, and Jack, who made my Mother's Day the best ever.

Today, I am grateful to the mother who gave birth to me those many years ago. I was breech, and she had a most unpleasant time delivering me. That's when gratitude starts! I can't say she had an easier time during my teens, either. I am also grateful for my mother-in-law who raised my husband so well that he does most of the cooking. Thanks, Barb!

Today, I am grateful for flowers, including the lilac and rose bushes George planted for me Saturday and the pansies we saw outside a restaurant Saturday night. I didn't take a picture, but they were purple like these!


What are you grateful for today?