Monday, June 29, 2009

Asking Yourself the Hard Questions

I believe that in order to truly be whole, we need to know ourselves. Of course, we know what our favorite color is, what we like to do…all of the usual things. But do you know WHY? Have you asked yourself the hard questions, and heard the answer clearly?

It’s so easy to lie to yourself. We do it all of the time, to justify our actions, or to eliminate pain. It’s a great defense against the barrage of messages that bombard us every day, chipping away at our psyche, making us question our beliefs.

But is it healthy? I’m going to say no, as a general rule.

Even our most mundane tendencies can usually be explained, and the explanation might just be as mundane as the idea itself. But what of the times that it is not? When the tendency is something that hurts us, or hurts our loved ones around us? That is when it becomes necessary to question our motives and discover what makes us tick, so to speak.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But don’t kid yourself, we are very good liars, especially when it is to ourselves! We WANT to believe the inaccuracies that protect us from making changes that may be painful to address.

Here’s a simple example: Seat belts. There are laws to ensure that we wear our seat belts, whether we like them or not. This practice may or may not save lives, depending on whom you ask, but our responses are more important. Do you readily agree to this, because it is a law? Or do you chafe against the idea that someone is telling you what to do? Do you avoid wearing your seat belt just to prove that you CAN? Even though you believe that it will save your life?

It gets more complicated.

I have a real pet peeve about people falling asleep on the couch, watching TV. It used to make me crazy! I would get so irritated at people, and I had quite a few friends who made a regular habit of it.

But why did it irk me so?

It came down to the fact that I am a schedule girl, a deliberate girl, and one that sees everything as a procedure. I simply cannot “fall asleep”, because there are things that must be done before one goes to sleep. Put on pajamas, brush your teeth, turn off the lights…that sort of thing. To simply drift off in front of the TV set implies that you have no regard for these duties. Or that you are too lazy to do so.

Is that true? Of course not! Everyone has different priorities and ways of doing things, and that does not mean that one is right and another wrong. Once I came to terms with this, I am much more tolerant of drifters. Which is the way that it should be, of course.

I had a real eye opener once when I was talking with a cousin that is much more laid back in her approach to parenting. At the time, I was a stickler for bath, teeth brushed, pajamas, put the babies to bed routine. I would pack to go visit my family, and it took many suitcases just for me and the two boys. She, on the other hand, arrived at home with a couple of suitcases and six children in tow. I was amazed that she could travel so lightly, so we were discussing how she did it.

She never carried her own hair appliances, as she would borrow her sisters’ when she arrived. And she only packed a few changes of clothes for each of her children. What it came down to is that she would allow her children to wear the same clothes, both day and night, for a couple of days. I was shocked. That was just….WRONG! Children need clean pajamas! Children need clean clothes! There was impropriety here! She simply shrugged it off, laughing that it really didn’t matter to her.

I thought about it for a few days after our talk. I simply could not bring myself to allow my children to sleep in their clothing…even if I planned to bathe them and put on clean clothes in the morning! (Dirty clothes in bed??? OH MY GOSH!)

She emailed me a few days later, laughing. She had pondered this thought, also, and as hard as she tried….she simply could not force herself to worry about her kids wearing clean clothes at every moment.

Part of this is simply our personality types. I am a germophobe, she doesn’t believe that they exist. I am a neat freak; she is more concerned about activities than whether or not her house could pass a white glove test. We could not change our basic “spots” if we tried.

But I’ve also learned that sometimes, her way works. Tuxedo Boy was my GQ kid. He insisted on changing his clothes if they got the least bit wet or dirty, and now I’m not sure if I trained him that way, or he trained me. Musician changed all of that. Musician was a dirt magnet. I could not keep that child clean to save my soul. I eventually gave up, and allowed him to wear dirty clothes…not just for more than half an hour, but sometimes even to BED! (I heard that collective gasp out there!)

And then you begin to dig deeper. I once lit into a friend of mine for getting new glasses that I hated. I even told him that! I hate your new glasses! Can you believe it?? It wasn’t until later that night that I really asked myself what the deal was, and I was disappointed in myself.

It wasn’t the glasses that I disliked. I’d had a bad day, and it seemed like everything was changing. I was trying to deal with new policies at work, new challenges, and new concerns with my family. The changing glasses were simply one more drop in that bucket that I simply could not take. I felt like things would never be comfortable – the SAME – again.

I apologized first thing the next morning, admitting my very immature and RUDE behavior.

Thankfully, however, I was able to find out exactly why it bothered me so much, and address it like an adult. (too bad I wasn’t adult enough to act appropriately from the start!)

I’ve since learned to ask myself quickly…and respond just as quickly. It solves problems much more easily, when you know what the problem really is, as opposed to the smoke screens that we throw up in front of ourselves as protection.

I’m happy to say that when I went to lunch recently and discovered that my favorite restaurant had changed the Friday special, I was able to recover. Even though it made me feel insecure and out of control, I talked myself out of it, and ordered the next best thing.

There are great advantages to having a deep and ongoing conversation with yourself! Someday, I hope to understand why I have such an aversion to butterfly graphics…

Hmmm. We’ll save that for another day.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Learning waits for Maturation

When I was in college, I had a psychology professor that made a real impact on me. I remember almost every word that he said in class, I still quote him frequently. Interesting how someone can make such an impression on you. His name was Dr. Alvin Price, and he was smart, funny, and very well grounded. He wrote the book “101 Alternatives to Spanking”, and is a great inspiration to my own parenting methods.

I LOVED his class.

One of the first things that we did was to take a survey so that he could get a feel for who was in the class. There were many questions, but I only remember one. I really deliberated on this one. I wanted to make sure that I gave exactly what I meant, just in case I was ever held to my answer.

If there were only one food in heaven, what would you want it to be?

I choose potatoes. Maybe an odd choice, but I love potatoes! You can cook them in so many different ways, and they are nutritious and delicious. I’d say, the perfect food to eat forever. I had a roommate at the time that made killer hashbrowns from scratch, and that was probably on my mind, also.

So when he gets all of the surveys and goes through them, he notes that of the class of 250, the number one answer to this question was….potatoes! There were about 32 of us that answered Potatoes, and all but one of us was from Idaho. Um. That would be me.

He also talked about keeping his father’s mind working in his old age. Dr. Price had subscribed to a controversial magazine…anonymously…for his father. Then he would show up to visit on the day the magazine arrived, and he would argue with his dad. He was sure that this was what kept his father sentient.

He thought that it was sinful to laugh in the car. Something that he learned from his father, who did not allow giggling when they traveled.

He told a hilarious story about his daughters and coming of age. One of the younger ones noticed that her sister was growing hair in unusual places, and commented on it when they were bathing one day. The older sister immediately decided that they were too old to be showering together! The little one would torment her by singing, “Hairy, hairy!”

A family council was called, and the fuzzy sister insisted that they make it a family rule that no one could sing “Hairy hairy”.

The next week, the little sister would hum the tune without saying the words.

A family council was called. Fuzzy suggested that perhaps it be enacted that no one could even HUM “Hairy hairy”.

Little sister was not deterred. She would simply make the facial expressions and raise her eyebrows as if she were singing…or humming…”Hairy hairy”.

What came next? Of course, a family council was called! It then became illegal to even PRETEND to HUM “Hairy hairy”.

My boys love this story, which has been repeated throughout the years. Even my mother will hum “Hairy hairy” once in awhile and giggle.

I also learned a great deal about psychology, of course. The most notable thing that Dr. Price taught was that psychology could be used to explain away religion, if you really wanted to. And then he proceeded to show us how psychology was an extension of religion, and how to keep your faith while studying the subject. He was amazing.

But what I’ve been thinking about recently is that he taught us that learning waits for maturation. For instance, a child will not learn to read, to be pottie trained, etc, until they are mature enough physically to do so. You can try to push it, teach them around the clock…but they will not learn until it is time.

(incidentally, he said that a child is mature enough to read when they can reach over their head and grab the top of the opposite ear. Tux learned to read at 3.5, which I was not expecting. I forgot to test the arm theory! Musician refused to try to learn to read…he’s hilarious…and again, I forgot. My one last chance is Todd, and he gets his arm stretched over his head frequently!)

The reason that this is bouncing around my head is that all of a sudden, things are falling into place for me. So fast, in fact, that it makes me nervous. Or it would make me nervous, if I didn’t have that still small voice that is telling me, “I just had to wait until you were ready.”

I have worked towards my goals for some time now, and made such very little progress. Enough to keep me alive, keeping me working towards them, but that is it. It is only when I made a breakthrough inside that the outside world began to take notice.

I’m enjoying every minute of the now. I love how I feel, and the doors that are opening for me. I want to slow down the world so that I can savor every second. I know that the euphoria won’t last, but I’m hoping that the confidence will remain.

It makes me wonder if all of this would have happened sooner, if I had healed sooner? Did I hold myself back? And then I realize that the timing was perfect. Everything went as it was supposed to. You cannot rush these things, they take time.

You have to be ready for the learning!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The View from Here

I’ll tell you what is wrong with the geography in our area. It’s flat. You cannot see anything from here, except…HERE.

I’m a mountain girl at heart, even though I’ve literally grown up at the beach. There is something about being able to see something above you, to gauge your progress by comparing it to something that is bigger…higher… than yourself. I pine for a good valley, to be able to see the mountains all around me, and know that they will be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

Here, I see trees. Above that, nothing. Even the mountains that we can see from here are so far away that they are merely adornments to the distant horizon. You can travel, and yet, see no change in the scenery. The same can be said of many locations. Southern Idaho comes to mind, where you seem to stand still for hundreds of miles.

That’s what I’m talking about. Standing still, making no progress. The actual view is symbolic of the culture of a small town. It’s comfortable. It’s home. And in many respects, idyllic. However, it limits the view somewhat. Our young people see here…and only here. They do not have a vision of the world outside, because they seldom see it from here.

I was honored to have chaperoned a number of groups of small town children to Space Camp a few years ago. What an incredible experience for them, and for me! The one thing that struck me about the program is that it opened so many avenues for our children. They were able to see and learn about so many varied occupations, as NASA has a vast array of needs. Even if they were not particularly interested in space, itself, they saw a larger world out there.

It’s critical to their development to know that they can do anything. They need to see beyond the local economy, and into the realm of possibility. I believe that a good education in a large university is imperative, but it’s difficult to accomplish that in today’s economy. They need to have that vision long before they submit their college applications, so that they will have a strong enough drive to achieve that they can escape the gravitational pull of their own small town.
It was difficult, when I left to go to school. Living in a small town is wonderful. You know everyone, and they know you. You become comfortable with those around you, and a little anxious about new situations. You just rarely have to experience them! But I’m grateful for that experience.

I think that the key lies in the ability to give them wings, while providing deep, sturdy roots. To push them out of the nest, so to speak. To provide that inspiration to fly. If they do, and then return, they’ll be wiser, stronger, and in a position to CHOOSE to stay in the small town. They will not be there simply by default.

Don’t get me wrong, the vistas from our shores are exquisite. The cool sea breeze, the soft sand between your toes. There are plenty of folks who yearn for this, and yet, I take it for granted.

I think that it’s easy to get caught with this manner of thinking as an adult, too. We see only the day to day aspects of our lives, and we forget that there is a big wide world out there. There are things to see, things to do, and most of all…things to LEARN. We have to go to find it, because it won’t come to us. And we can’t see it from here.

I have a theory as to why I am so enamored of the mountains, but in this instance, it is vision and aspiration that I see in them. They tower above us, regal, unmoving. They urge us to scale them, to reach upward and arrive at some peak in triumph. They give us hope that someday, we can be higher – better than we are today.

And I want to climb!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hubby Rocks!

I bet that y’all thought that I’d forgotten about Father’s Day. Not so! I was just thinking about what I want to say, so it was awhile in coming.

First of all, I have to say that the moment that I found my husband the sexiest was when we watched the video of Tux’s birth. Seeing him getting dressed up to enter the surgical room, with that glow on his face – priceless! As we watched him exiting the room, carrying Tux…he said to me, “Now watch me float down the hall!” He did. He was so proud of his son! Then came a clip that I hadn’t seen before. We were home, and I had fallen asleep on the couch. Bedraggled, still puffy, and with no makeup, I was out like a light. He filmed me sleeping, then, on the tape, whispered, “Love you, baby.” Be still my heart.

He still gives me goosebumps when he is good to our children. I still remember him whispering into Musician’s cradle, “I know that I don’t spend as much time with you as I do your brother, but we will. I love you!”

And when he watches Todd dancing about and says, “I love that baby so much.”

They say that the best thing that a father can do for his children is to love their mother, but I would counter that the one thing that he could do to please his wife is to adore their children. It’s all connected.

I love the picture above, taken on Fourth of July a year or two ago. Seeing the silhouettes of Tux and his dad laughing together warms my heart. I absolutely love to see them spending time together, enjoying one another, and laughing together. (As long as it’s not at me!)

He is one of the new breed of fathers, who are completely involved with their children. I love that! Today’s Dads change diapers, tote the kids around, play with them, and never “babysit”, because they don’t consider spending time with their own children a chore. Hubby was an equal caregiver when Tux was tiny, because I worked days and he worked nights. (Great for Tux, not so good for us!) By the time Musician came along, he worked days with me, but still contributed to the care of both children.

When Musician was born, we knew that I was going to have a C-Section, so Hubby just planned to cook for a few weeks. When it turned out that Musician was a bona fide mama’s boy, those weeks stretched out to nine months! It was so much easier for him to cook, he said, than to try to comfort the baby while I cooked.

After I started cooking again, I would prepare dinner on four nights a week, and Hubby would cover the other three. The one cooking also cleaned, so that on the nights that you were off kitchen duty, you were free and clear to do your own thing. It was a beautiful arrangement, and one that many friends were jealous of. (Get your own Hubby!)

There have also been many times that I was travelling for work and Hubby was left with the kids. Which is not so bad, except that he kept having odd situations arise in my absence. Our animals died. The cat went into heat and the kids wanted to know what was going on…they asked strange questions of him at the dinner table…(Musician asked him one night what an “O” was…he explained it plainly and smartly, but then called me and told me to GET HOME!)…and he handled it all with ease.

So much ease, in fact, that when I ran into complications with Todd, he was ready and able to handle the load. The weekend that I was transferred to the University Hospital three hours away, he had one of the busiest weekends of the year at work. The next five weeks, he would spend his week working and making sure that Tux and Musician had all that they needed in their lives, and then spend the weekend with me and Todd at the hospital. The driving back and forth was brutal, and left him little time for himself.

All during this, he was trying to make things easier on me. He would take care of little details that I just couldn’t bear to deal with…just managing health care for the baby and I was all that I could handle. There were so many times that he would ask me what we needed to do about something and I would give him that blank stare, completely overwhelmed by the information that I was being bombarded with. He would just take care of things, and I was so relieved. I couldn’t have done it without him.

In addition to the stress and strain of maintaining a home and family, tending to a recovering new mother and premature baby, his grandmother was gravely ill. He tried to stop and visit on his way back and forth from the Hospital, which added to his load. I have no idea how he survived all of that. His grandmother died the day that we got to bring Todd home. A bittersweet day for him.

We learned at that time that we were a team. We could handle anything, as long as we handled it together. We try to pick up where the other one lets off, and make up the difference. After 21 ½ years of marriage, we are more solid than ever. I adore him, and I love the life that we have together. I couldn‘t be more pleased with the children that he has given me, and how we have raised them. We have weathered so many storms together that I cannot even think of facing another without him.

It has been so with our latest struggle: my unemployment. Not only has it been hard to deal with my depression, the financial struggles, and the adjustment to being the sole breadwinner…but he has also had to deal with health issues of his own that he has bravely battled without complaint.

After all of these months, he has never expressed anger or disappointment in me. We have not taken it out on each other when things got tough. I think that is pretty darn remarkable.

And HE is pretty darn remarkable. Definitely a keeper!

Happy Father’s Day, my sweet!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stop Worrying about the Sequins!

Some years back, Mom and I were working on costumes for our local Junior Miss Program. Budgets were tight, but we wanted to make a splash, so it always required some creative costuming, and this year was one of our better ones. The girls would be wearing black leggings and black t-shirts, over which different layers were added to make two very different costumes for the production number and then for Fitness.

The production number was to Debbie Gibson’s “Electric Youth”, and it was going to be stunning! To really make it glitzy, we went for sequin-embellished tops. In order to accommodate our budget we did this by gluing sequins on to mesh netting, which would be worn over their black t-shirts. A good swath…or rather, starburst…of glue was laid down, and then we used tweezers to lay out fuchsia sequins. It was tedious, but we only had about 10 of them to do, and we could laugh and visit while we made them.

Mom, however, was getting frustrated. She would lay out her sequins, and then when they dried, she would find some that fell off. She’d lay it out again, put on more glue, and put down the sequins. And of course, more would fall off when she picked it up the next time. I was finishing three to her one.

I kept trying to explain to her that individual sequins didn’t matter, it was the overall effect that we were going for. Having been in charge of costumes for years, I had learned that you didn’t have to make it picture perfect up close, so long as the end product was pleasing on stage. (Honestly, I used Saran Wrap as big wide bow belts one year!)

Still, she muttered and puttered until I finally got irritated.

“Stop worrying about the sequins, woman!” I reminded her. “Do you really think that the audience is going to notice a few dropped sequins from off of the stage?”

In truth, you couldn’t even tell that there were any sequins missing if you stood back a foot or two. You could be missing 25 or 30 sequins, for that matter, but the effect was still the same as if we had spent days sewing on each tiny little glittery speck. There was an acceptable level of loss, given the circumstances. It was a costume. It was meant to last five minutes on stage, and it didn’t have to be perfect.

She was not convinced, at first, but agreed to stop focusing on each sequin. We finally completed the tops and were ready for the big night.

Some days later, we were talking about another issue that had come up in our lives, and she had an epiphany. The ‘sequin rule’ applied in that instance, too! She had been worrying so much about a singular subject that she neglected to step back and look at the big picture. In the grand scheme of things, the problem was minor – a few dropped sequins. It didn’t ruin the pattern of her life, however, and therefore…she needed to just stop worrying about the small stuff.

From that day forth, she catches herself as she gets caught in one of those situations, and she’ll laugh and say, “I’m worrying about the sequins again, aren’t I?”

How many times have we focused on one little sequin, while losing sight of the glorious masterpiece that we are creating in our lives? Have we spent too much time on little details that will be lost in the long run? Kept ourselves from progressing because we were trying to put back every little thing that fell out of place, when it really didn’t affect our eternal salvation? What more could we achieve if we could look at our work, be satisfied with what we have accomplished, and then move on to bigger and better things? Do we really need to control everything so tightly that we cannot lift our heads to enjoy the complete work?

Tonight, I was talking with a friend about the injustices that some endure here on earth. She was trying to understand WHY. The only thing that I could say was that sometimes, we have to go through trials to learn something, or to grow in some way. But I also believe that sometimes, we suffer in order to help another to learn something. When you look at it that way, it makes these things easier to bear. If, in the end, we have helped another along the path, then our own tiny bit of suffering – for that is what it is in the eternal scheme of things – is worth it. We will have lost a single sequin, for the sake of a grand production.

Our costumes were dazzling, by the way, and the production was perfect. The tops were cast aside, never to be worn again, and not a single person commented on any missing sequins. Life is good.

We are the weirdest herd I've ever seen

Sid from “Ice Age”: 'I don’t know about you guys, but we are the weirdest herd I have ever seen.'

We have, undoubtedly, the weirdest herd on our block. While our neighbors go out walking their cute little shih tzu puppies, we walk our big galoot of a dog. Followed by Todd, who ambles after her, followed by the cats.

No kidding. The cats think that they are part of the parade, although they try to be aloof. They keep a safe distance away, lest anyone think that they are trying to be ‘with’ us.

Cars slow down when they approach our little procession, unsure of how to drive through. One cat will sit in the middle of the road and stare, while the other one takes a dive to the side of the road that the dog, baby, and I are NOT on…all I can do is shrug and smile!

Sparta, the youngest cat, will even follow us when we take a walk around the big block. He always keeps his distance, with this “Oh! Are you taking a walk right now, too? What a coincidence!” look on his face.

When the family is in the back yard, the animals are never far away. We throw the ball for Lady, and Sparta has to run alongside her, batting at her as she runs. When she tires and goes to lay in the shade, he lies in wait for Boo, the older cat. (Who, incidentally, is not amused by his kittenish behavior!) It will be peaceful and relaxing, suddenly shattered by the sound of a catfight breaking out as Sparta attacks Boo.

I used to work from home, and it was me, Toddy as a baby, and the ‘herd’. While Todd slept in his carseat, I worked at the computer…with Lady at my feet and the cats sleeping across the desk or looking out the window. If I went to the bathroom, everyone had to come with me…which can be a bit disconcerting if you are working on something important in there! More than once, I told them, “In some cultures, this is considered a PRIVATE room!”

I can’t cook in the kitchen without supervision, and Lady’s favorite spot to lay is on the rug in front of the sink. Not really convenient for me! She claims it so often that Todd calls it “Lady’s bed”.

When they are not following us around, the cats are often found at either side of the driveway, just waiting for someone to come home, like fluffy gargoyles amid the shrubs. One day, I pulled in and was listening to a discussion on the radio. I sat in the car to hear the end of the conversation, and apparently, this was unacceptable to Boo. She perched herself on the windshield and stared in at me, trying to figure out why in the world I was not getting out of the car. Sparta just climbs in as soon as the door is opened, to inspect the interior of the car. We suspect that someday, we’ll get a call from someone who inadvertently took him home!

We have our little routines. I usually get up about 7AM, in time to see the big boys off to school. The animals know that is when they get their daily ration of wet food – a major event in our house. If I’m not up by 7:30 or so, they lay outside my bedroom door and listen for signs of life. If they hear me move around…or an alarm go off…there is whining, meowing, scratching, and then a THUMP as Lady tries to head-butt the door open.

If they don’t hear me in a reasonable period of time, Lady bumps open Todd’s door (which has a hair-trigger latch), and they invade his room. Lady makes enough noise opening the door, followed by Sparta kneading Todd with his claws – and the subsequent screaming by Todd – that wakes me up as I hear it over the baby monitor. And I get up. Mission accomplished!

They have us trained well, I must say. The cats demand food at irregular intervals, which leaves Tux screaming, “But I JUST fed you!” When I remind him for the hundredth time today that his cats are hungry. Lady loves this, because she’s a glutton and hovers over the cats, encouraging them to eat sparingly so that there is something left for her to eat. (Not that she doesn’t get her own food, she’s well fed, I assure you!) If you don’t feed Sparta at his insistence, he will simply tear into a bag of cat food and feed himself. And the dog, who follows behind him and stuffs her head into the bag.

We actually got Sparta for Todd, when he was a baby. Boo is not a cuddly kitty, especially with children. She very rarely graces Tux or me with her lovin’, but we are not to love her unless she initiates it. So Hubby decided that we needed a sweet kitty for Toddy to grow up with.

He didn’t take into account the fact that Sparta is a wild cat mix, with ocelot in his blood. He was the sweetest little face, fluffy ball of fur that you ever saw. And then he would scratch you.

We worried about Lady or Todd hurting him, he was so tiny. We were always yelling, “Lady, no kitty!” Until we realized that he was actively seeking her out and tearing into her nose. Then we started to yell, “Sparta! No doggy!” Toddy would grab two handfuls of kitty, mindless of what parts he was grabbing. We needn’t have worried; Sparta inflicted at least as much injury on Todd as Todd did to him.

Two years later, they are best of buds. One of their games at Christmas time involved Sparta crawling up the Christmas tree and peeking out from among the branches. He would bat at Todd (or anyone else) who ventured near the tree.

“Mom!” Sparta is in the tree laughing at me!” Toddy told me.

“How do you know that he’s laughing at you?” I asked.

Todd looked at me like I was stupid. “His mouf is open!”

All clear the way when the herd goes by—for your own protection and sanity!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Angels or Demons?

I got to see “Angels and Demons” tonight at the theater, something that I’ve been looking forward to. Dan Brown’s novels have always intrigued me for many reasons…not the least of which is the historical context in which he has placed the Robert Langdon stories. I love to hear the rich history that he weaves in and about his fictional characters and their stories. It’s just important to note that there are additions of fiction, and you need to wade through what is actual fact and what is Dan’s imagination.

Some have had a difficult time discerning between the two, and found the books offensive. I do a little research and educate myself on which is which, and then I can completely enjoy the novel without worrying about whether or not he ‘got it right’.

Many things came to mind as I watched the movie, which is beautiful and set in Rome and Vatican City. (although I understand that they had to build a scale model of St Peter’s Square, as they were not allowed to film there) Since I’m unlikely to visit there any time soon, it allowed me to see this area and learn some of it’s rich historical significance. I am a complete sucker for anything OLD, and particularly if there are good stories to accompany said old. Add incredible architecture and breathtaking art, and I’m hooked.

I loved reading the books, which of course go into much more detail. It then sends me to the internet to research the places and things that he describes. It is always hard for me to believe there are so many places and people that seem to exist without my having any knowledge of them. Is that egocentric, or what?!

I also realized, both reading the book and watching the movie, that there are people in this world whose intelligence is awe-inspiring…symbologists, historians, hadron collider scientists…and I am not one of those people! Whenever you feel yourself getting a bit big in your britches, lay your knowledge end to end with one of these geniuses, and it will bring you right back down to earth!

The overall theme of the movie is science versus religion, which I always find an interesting discussion. It is a recurring theme in many novels, including John Case’s The Genesis Code, another book that I have read more than once. (I guess I think that if I keep reading them, eventually, some of that knowledge will sink into my puny head!)

The argument goes something like this: Does science explain away God, or does God override science? To me, the answer is clear. God IS science, and science is God! There’s a line in the movie that is something to the effect that there are things that science cannot explain, and that is where faith comes in. I believe that the two go hand in hand, and that someday, we’ll understand how they coexist.

With Evolution versus Creationism, for instance, each has evidence to support their theory, which suggests to me that science is just too new to truly understand the big picture. We keep trying, but we don’t have it all figured out yet. For me, it is enough to know that we are created in the image of God…that He somehow made us and put us here on this earth…and that is all that I need to know. The specifics will come later.

When I was in college, I had a psychology professor that pointed out that you could explain away religion with psychology. I believe that the reason that religion so perfectly uses psychology is because God himself is ‘familiar’ with how our minds work. Don’t you think?

There are ethical concerns, to be sure, when science challenges religion. This is addressed in passing during the movie. Stem cell research, cloning, and anti-matter are good examples. How far can man go to challenge the powers that God has, and can we recreate what He has done? Are we ethically bound by any moral obligations, or should we forge ahead in any technology?

I also loved the concept put forth by one of the cardinals, who says, “Religion is flawed because man is flawed.” It is of the utmost importance that we understand that religion is often PEOPLE, not God. People make mistakes, and they have their own agendas to support. We can’t confuse the people with the Gospel, which is perfect. We cannot let someone’s behaviors, beliefs, or propaganda to deter us from the things that we know to be true…and the only way to know those things is to study and pray about what you are learning. Only then will we be able to discern what is human flaw, and what is God. Our relationship to Him is very, very personal!

The book has a piece in which the Camerlengo suddenly has an epiphany, seeming to be from God. The onlookers are amazed that perhaps God does still speak to His children. I was utterly fascinated by the concept. I have answers to my prayers nearly every day…I cannot imagine not knowing that He can still speak to us! I thought of how sad it is that many feel that He is now silent.

And finally, once you have seen the movie or read the book, you have to ask yourself…who are the angels, and who are the demons? There are injustices on all sides, and there are atrocities committed for good reasons. When does something good become evil because of our motives, and when does something evil become good because of our motives? Hmmm…ponder that one!

What I know for myself is that if I am right with God, then I am right. As long as I align my will to His, and follow the paths that He wants me to follow, then nothing else matters. In the end, it will all be for good, because He will not lead me astray.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My one good poem

Things are crazy right now, and I haven't had a moment to write this weekend! So I'll leave you with a poem that I wrote when I was a teenager. Prophetic, of sorts, as it describes my life as a adult, and the process of losing your humanity when others disappoint and abandon you.

"A Paper Heart of Deepest Red
Fell upon the floor...
...and bled

It's sides were ragged, ripped and torn
It's center sagging, sad and worn
And then that little paper heart
began to shred and fall apart
No one saw it's final show
No one saw it's lifeline go... laid upon the cold, stone floor
for hours, days, or maybe more
'til someone came and swept it away.

That's why I have no heart today"

The reason that I recite it now is that I'm no longer that little paper heart. I'm not even shredded or ragged. I've found that you can actually CHOOSE to let go, and to move on. I have a heart...and though there are those in my past that will never be allowed to touch it again, I am open to new relationships. I'm not even angry anymore, because it just doesn't matter. I don't have to be the product of what has been dealt to me, and I don't have to take it out on the people that I meet, just because I've been hurt before.

Sure, my heart was swept up and thrown away, but I've found a new one!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What Photoshop means to me...

I was born a photographer, you could say, as my mother was always snapping pics and passed that on to me. I’ve always had a camera, usually had it near, and made many attempts to create something that was stunning. My cameras were all low end until I started taking pictures of my children and was disappointed with the quality. I invested in a ‘decent’ Olympus, which gave way to a digital version when they were still fairly new.

My cousin E exposed me to a whole new world of photography about five years ago.

I had mentioned that I wanted to buy a decent camera, and he helped me pick one out. I ended up with a Canon Powershot S1 IS. It was a definite upgrade from my Olympus, which was an early point and shoot digital that had very limited functions.

I was thrilled with the Canon, which fell into their “prosumer” line, meaning that it was a step above P&S, but not quite an SLR. It did so much more than the little Olympus, and took some excellent pictures. In fact, I loved it so much that when it died after 4 years and nearly 11,000 pictures, I replaced it with a newer version of the same camera…an S5.

E also introduced me to Photoshop Elements, and I think that it has had a bigger impact on my life than even the camera! I had photo editing software before…something that came with another piece of software, most likely. It did some fun things like transform my photo into a cartoon, but it was very poor quality once I saved it. PSE changed all of that. I could resize a picture, crop it, make any other change…and come out with a BETTER picture than I had started with. I was amazed!

I once told E that PSE could save a bad photo. Well, he had never taken a bad photo, so he shook his head and told me that PSE could make a good photo great. I stand by my original assessment, but I do concur with his, also!

He taught me how to crop an image, adjust the levels, and sharpen. For months, that’s all that I did. Then started playing with filters, layers, dodge, burn…it was like a playground for mommies! It could take a photo that missed the mark and make it liveable…a good thing for any scrapbooker.

When I lost my job, I wanted to make sure that I was using my time for good things. I worked on my photo editing, and found that there is a big wide world out there with tutorials just for the asking! I learned some amazing things. I’ll try to share what I’ve learned as we go along.

When my first Canon died at Christmas, I knew that I could not afford to replace it with an SLR. The one that I was eyeing was about $1500, and that was out of our price range. I told myself that I’d never know how to use it, anyway, as I was still learning about photography. I knew that it would be another couple of years before I was ready for a bigger, better camera.

Sadly, I have had a long period of unemployment, and lots of time to practice my skills! I’m feeling really comfortable with my camera and I’m finding things that I WISH that I could do, things that I can’t do with my Canon. So that schedule has been accelerated, but in the opposite direction as our income! I’m just gonna have to make do!

So I’ve had a lot of fun learning more about Photoshop and practicing various techniques, and I couldn’t live without it! I have the program open at least once a day, usually much more.

Photoshop means…

…that I can fix out of focus photos by using creative filters…a must know for any mother of a toddler

…that I can adjust overexposed or underexposed pictures, bad lighting , and too much lighting, which is a godsend for those of us who are photographing moving bodies.

…I can crop my photos to show just the view that I want, even if I don’t get it perfectly through the viewfinder.

…I can make posters or large size prints, knowing that the quality will not be compromised.

…I can make collages and digi scrap.

…I can remove distracting elements that may be in the frame.

…I can adjust the background to place more focus on my subject

…I can add in a pretty sky where there was a cloud cover – absolutely a miracle for our area!

…I can add creative and artistic touches, from coloring effects to filters

…I can remove the background altogher, and put my subjects someplace else! The Musician was so happy to be 13 that he announced, “I’m a teenager! The world revolves around ME!” I took a photo of him and put him in the center of the universe. It was the coolest 13 year old portrait ever!

Because I am a mother who wants to chronicle her children’s lives, Photoshop also means that I can take pictures without worrying about…

…Toddy’s beautiful blue eyes no longer shining red…I can fix that

…Chocolate on his face, I can fix that, too!

…boogers (although I still try)

With the older boys, I don’t have to be so picky about what they are wearing, which makes photo shoots and candid shots a breeze! I don’t have to worry about…

…Wearing a t-shirt with a logo that doesn’t fit my theme -- just remove it!

…Wearing the wrong colors. I once took a pic of the three boys in various colored t’s, then changed the colors to fit my Christmas Cards.

…rumpled hair

…funny faces in a group shot. I just take lots of shots, then cut and paste the best face of each person onto one composite photo. Brilliant!

And because I am not 20, and my face shows both the ravages of time and three bouts with Bell’s Palsy, I can edit photos of myself to soften wrinkles, even up my smile, even straighten my teeth, if necessary. If all else fails, I can just remove myself from the picture completely.

Photoshop means that even a schlep like me can present some pretty decent pictures!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Losing a Child

My thoughts keep turning back to the Borovec twins, the headstone that we found at the graveyard cleanup project, and discussed in "When Pigs Fly". My sweet cousin found their death records, and we discovered that they died of “gastroenteritis”, a digestive issue of some sort.

How sad to think that they were unable to help them; this is something that with today’s technology and knowledge, they could certainly manage in any hospital. In 1917, it was another story. I know from my readings about the Flu Epidemic that doctors were not very well trained at that time, and had very limited resources anyway. Not much was really known about the body and it’s systems, and those who knew were generally not doctors. Did you know that back then, you didn’t have to graduate from any medical school, or even prove your competence? Truly a scary time to be sick!

It is apparent that it was either environmental or contagious, as both twins were affected. Was it something that they ate that caused gastric distress? Food practices also being suspect at the time, it may be that they ate something that they simply could not deal with as tiny boys, only three years old. (The age of TODDler!) Their parents may have eaten the same thing, and not been affected at all. Or was it a bug?

I of course think of their mother, who likely cared for them and watched them go, five days apart. To lose first one, and then, still grieving that loss, to lose the second. I cannot even imagine her pain.

Being a mother is the most important thing in my life, and I am dreading the day that my children move out…I can’t stand the thought of losing them in any other way. When I found out that we would be having Todd, it was a total surprise. An unplanned pregnancy. (considered as an ‘unwanted pregnancy’ by government agencies who track this sort of thing, but I assure you that unwanted and unplanned are two entirely different things!)

At 7.5 weeks, I began to hemorrhage. This carried on for days, and my doctor had no explanation. He told me that if I was miscarrying, there was nothing that he could do to save my baby. I remember sitting in his office, sobbing to his nurse. I was already committed to and loved this child more than anything. I couldn’t imagine losing him, even though he was something that we had not planned for.

Thankfully, it turned out to be a case of Placenta Previa, easily overcome and everything was fine. When he was delivered at 33.5 weeks, we worried again about losing him, but were spared any further concern, as he was healthy and hearty.

Being in NICU made you realize how very blessed you were. Babies all around us were struggling, having heart issues, breathing issues, and there was always the threat of losing one of them. I saw a note on the cart that they use to take baby photos with, indicating that if the staff was taking ‘bereavement photos’, to be sure to get the parent’s permission, signed. It reminded me that not all of the babies that I saw each day would go home. Even with today’s medicine, we still lose babies. Life is fragile.

My cousin lost a little baby, born too soon. He was so early that there was really nothing that they could do to help him. In years past, they called it a miscarriage, and treated it as such. At 17 weeks gestation, however, he was fully formed and beautiful. They were fortunate to have delivered in a hospital that allowed them to hold him, to love him, and to celebrate his very, very short life. They buried him in a ceremony sponsored by the hospital, and he has a tiny grave and everything. He lived. He deserves to be remembered. My cousin still misses him, even though she knows that she will see him again. She keeps his memory alive with her remaining children, and looks forward to the day that she will hold him forever.

It really doesn’t matter at what point you lose your child…you just shouldn’t have to deal with that.

I had an ancestor that delivered some 15 children, and only about 5 of them lived beyond the age of 10. Times were much harder, and accidents were frequent with the type of lives that they lead. To bury one child would devastate me. I suppose you would have to become somewhat hardened against the loss, having buried 10.

When Tux was a little boy, I had to take him to the oral surgeon to have some teeth removed. They allowed me to hold him as they gave him the sedative, as he was highly agitated. Whatever they gave him began to work almost immediately, as his little eyes glazed over and began to twitch a bit. Then he just relaxed in my arms and closed his eyes.

I burst into tears.

Not only was this hard for me to see, but a young boy in our ward had recently died, and I know his mother well. She had stayed with his body until they came to remove the organs that he would be donating, then held him as they took him off of life support and let him return home to his Heavenly Father.

All of this came back to me as I held Tux, knowing that in a short period of time, he would awaken and I would have him to hold. This Sister had to hold her son, knowing that he was leaving her. Through my tears, I tried to explain this to the surgeon, who was rethinking the wisdom of allowing a mother to see her child sedated.

We just don’t know how lucky we are, to have healthy children. It’s something to remind ourselves of every day, so that we don’t take our time with them for granted. Tonight, I am giving my boys an extra hug and kiss. Maybe two, one for each of the Borovec twins.

Don't get your panties in a wad...

When I was a teenager, one of my cousins wrote back to me about not having written sooner…”Don’t get your panties in a wad, I’m working on it!” It cracked me up.

Tonight, I heard one better. “Don’t get your knickers in a knot; It solves nothing and makes you walk funny.”

Of course, as a teenager, I was just tickled that a Mormon relative of mine was talking about panties, to begin with, and that was enough to make me giggle all day. I could picture it, quite literally, and the idea of my panties in a wad made me right uncomfortable, I must say.

I have a broader perspective now, as time, experience and AGE seem to do to us. I know that not only is it uncomfortable to have bunchy panties, but that no one seems to know your suffering except for you. I mean, truly, think of the last time that you wore bad underwear. Drove you crazy all day long, and no one noticed, right? Except for the little dances that you did to try to get it to lay correctly, and the sidesteps into private places so that you could pull it where it needed to be?

The term “panties in a wad” or “knickers in a knot” refers to being upset or mad about something…and it’s the same scenario. Often, we feel the discomfort of being upset, but everyone else is oblivious. So who are we hurting, besides ourselves? NO ONE.

Too many times, we let ourselves get worked up over things that really don’t matter in the big picture, or are so far out of our control that we need to just accept it and move on. Today’s example is the video of President Obama swatting a fly. I cannot believe all of the airtime that it has gotten, with folks who are amazed at his cat-like reflexes, or the ones who are all up in arms because he killed a fly. It was a FLY, folks, and people swat them all of the time. Nothing amazing happened here, nothing tragic happened here. Let’s save our outrage for something really important.

I once had a friend that was upset with her father for remarrying. She didn’t like the new stepmother, and even if she had, she simply did not want to accept the situation. I kept telling her that she needed to let it go, and just learn to get along. Not for the stepmother’s sake, who really couldn’t care less about what my friend thought. But because in the long run, the only one that it hurt was my friend. She was alienated from her father, and disappointed all of the time with their relationship.

I know this first hand, as well. I apparently don’t practice what I preach! I was walking around, carrying anger and resentment as if it belonged to me. The folks that deserved it didn’t even KNOW…and wouldn’t care even if they did…so it was only making me miserable. The day that I decided that I just didn’t care anymore was like buying brand new undergarments. They were no longer constrictive or ill fitting, and I was able to walk upright for the first time in months. I feel so much better, having thrown out those nasty panties.

Which leads to another great saying, “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it.” Also some great advice.

BTW, Toddler decided that he was a comedian tonight, so he tells me, “Mom, do you want me to tell you a joke?”

When I said yes, he says, “Okay, I’ll say ‘broarkejbasdfahjkhpatriotadjjhblkjtrz’ and then you laugh.” He gets into a stand up comedian kind of pose, and then says, “broarkejbasdfahjkhpatriotadjjhblkjtrz” and stares at me.

Kid needs a laugh track.

Giggle like a School Girl

Last night, we were watching a TV show while the baby (who is now three, so has become a TODDler!) was playing games on PBS kids. I have no idea what he found so funny, but he was belly laughing…I love that uninhibited belly laugh that little children are so free with! It’s such a beautiful melodic sound, something that I could listen to all day!

The first time that Tux giggled like that was when he was about four months old. We were at my parents’ house, and Mom was playing with him while I rolled around the floor in agony from a migraine. All of a sudden, there is this beautiful laugh! It went a long ways towards healing that headache.

There is nothing better than a good giggle. Every day, I find things that are terribly funny – apparently only to me – that make me giggle to myself. The other day, I was commenting on Tux’s brand new diploma, and how beautiful it is. At the same time, I realized that 26 years after graduation (yes, it’s been THAT long), I don’t even remember where my diploma is! Or what it looks like. It sent me into a fit of giggles that left the rest of the family staring at me with fear in their eyes, as if whatever ailment I had contracted might possibly be contagious.

Then there’s the dreaming. I dream constantly, all night, every night. The merciful nights are ones where the dreams are so vague that I don’t even try to recall them, but most times, I am constantly trying to piece together bits and pieces that float around in my head. I am afraid to really analyze them, as they seem to come out of left field sometimes and may indicate a deeper mental illness than previously thought! The night before last, I dreamed about a baby named Boing. That was good for giggles throughout the day, every time I thought of it.

And while I shouldn’t admit it, I had a dream a few years ago that still makes me laugh. It was just after I read the book “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, and it left me feeling a great sorrow for Harry, who endured such torment at the hands of Delores Umbridge and the rest of the wizarding world. So in my dream, I showed him my … well… my bare chest.

Admit it, you are laughing!

I still snicker about it, although I’m not sure if it’s embarrassment or humor. Upon awakening, I felt the need to share this information with others…for what reason, I am still unclear. I even posted it on our family website for everyone else to enjoy. I guess my thought was that if I shared it, it was not a shameful thing?! But who, in their right mind, shows such a thing to an underage wizard, for heaven’s sake??! (I did find out later that this probably was a manifestation of my concern for the boy, as that body part is also indicative of mothering, nurturing. Goodness, was I relieved to hear THAT!)

One of the best giggles that I have ever had was at the hand of Lori’s butt, so to speak, as discussed in my “Happy Trees” post. I laughed so hard that I couldn’t speak for quite some time, and in fact, had trouble walking. I literally laughed so hard that I could spare no extra energy for my legs, and I’d fall down laughing every time someone asked me what had happened. It took a good 20 minutes before I was able to tell the story with any degree of intelligibility.

I am particularly giggly when I am around my brother, with whom I share a great love of laughing. We see each other so seldom that when we do, it’s a mandatory all night giggle fest. We stay up into the wee hours (yes, leaving our children to our spouses, as we cannot possibly break in the conversation long enough to put them to bed properly), talking over old stories and sharing new ones. All for the sake of that belly laugh, tears in your eyes experience.

One of the funniest things that I have ever seen was Bro imitating his daughter, who was a bit of a drama queen at the time. Watching him squeal and spasm on the floor, throwing a fit about a popcicle, was the highlight of the trip. And it’s even funnier when you realize that in this, she takes after her father. What a fit thrower he was in his day! And now it drives him crazy…isn’t that hilarious!?

We laughed for days at his wife, who could not get the hang of the local vernacular in regards to the term “town”. When we go to the center of our little down, we call it “UPTOWN”. When we go to the nearest larger city, we call it “IN TOWN”. She kept trying to convince us that we had it all wrong, and it should be the opposite, but we could only giggle.

Then there was the time that we were playing Christmas Trivia, and Bro was staging the question, “What little tramp died on Christmas Eve in blah blah blah…” I knew this one! I used to love/hate the story of the Little Matchbook Girl, who died outside the window of a lovely home on Christmas Eve. I screamed out the answer, and was surprised to see the look of incredulity on my brother’s face.

His face turned four shades of purple, and he burst out laughing. “Are you saying that the little matchbook girl was a prostitute??” he countered.

Who knew that Charlie Chaplin was called the Little Tramp and died on Christmas Eve?! Or that a tramp is not just someone who lives in boxes outside, but rather, one who shares oneself freely with others?

There is nothing in this world that can cure what ails you like a good laugh. Not only do we love a good laugh, but humor is a defense mechanism, a stress reliever, a tension breaker, and a cure all. I couldn’t live without laughing…although there have been times in my life when I’ve found it hard to find humor in life. Thank heavens that those days have passed. Let’s hear it for a good old fashioned hysterical laughing fit!

The following pictures were taken during the photo shoot to scrapbook my SIL’s lack of discernment regarding UP and IN town, and are the best cure for a doldrum day that I’ve found. I dare ya…stare into his ‘giggling like a school girl’ eyes and tell me that you don’t laugh!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sometimes, the answer is NO

This picture breaks my heart…it was taken at the exact moment that Tux realized that he would never compete at the state level in wrestling. He had wrestled throughout junior high and high school, worked hard, pushed himself…but it was not to be. It was something that I knew that he wanted very much, and at this moment, it had become out of the question.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. He knew more about wrestling than many of his contemporaries, as my dad has been a wrestling coach for nearly 30 years and often works with the boys. It was all there, and yet, success seemed to be elusive for him.

His freshman year was particularly difficult, as he had a coach that only believed in winning. He pushed the kids until they nearly broke, lavishing praise on the ones that won, and ignoring those that did not. I thought that he might give it up at one point, and I was devastated to think that a coach could make it so hard on them.

He got all of the bad breaks…state champion competing in his weight class, difficult brackets, it just seemed that he could never catch a break. Year after year, we prayed that he would find his niche and excel.

He didn’t go without success, as he placed in many tournaments, as high as second place. That was an incredible tournament! He had struggled all that year (his junior year), and was frustrated and down on himself. He was upset that we were even attending this tournament, which was for much larger schools and a tough tournament for a small school like ours. He kicked some butt, though, and when he won the match that put him in the finals, I nearly deafened everyone in the building. No one was near me, so I just screamed. I was so happy for him!

He finished out that year with more medals, although he didn’t get past the regional level. We thought that perhaps his senior year would be the one.

We were wrong. His senior year was as difficult as ever, as he faced opponents that were just that much better than him, or caught the lucky breaks. He wrestled against kids that wrestle year round in Freestyle Tournaments. It was never an easy path for him, but he kept going.

We learned valuable lessons along the way. Sometimes, the answer is matter how much we want something, no matter how much we pray, no matter how hard we work...we are unable to achieve the thing that we are striving for. It hurts, it’s confusing, and it both discourages and frustrates us beyond comprehension.

If it were up to me, he would have been State Champion. I felt that he deserved it! He had worked SOOOO hard, and he wanted it so much.

We kept telling him that there were plenty of other wrestlers that were having the same issues. Not everyone competes at State…not everyone realizes their dreams along the way. But even though we can tell ourselves that we have it better than can it make us hurt less to know that someone else hurts more???

We think that we know what we need. We feel like it is something that we simply cannot live without. But we can...and we will. The Lord has a much larger view, and He knows what is best for us now, and what is best for us in the long run. That is why sometimes, He says NO.

I’m sure that it hurts Him as much as it hurts us, especially when it is something like this. I know that it hurts me as much as it hurt Tux, because I am his mother and I love him and want everything for him. I know how hard he had tried and how much he sacrificed, and I would move heaven and earth to give him a State Medal. UNLESS...I knew that this would not be the best for him in the long run...and so, I have to trust that Heavenly Father is taking care of things, and that He has our best interests at heart. I can trust Him in this. But I still would like to understand WHY some day!

I am incredibly proud of him for all that he accomplished. In wrestling, as well as in life. He persevered even when it wasn’t easy; a most admirable trait in anyone. He didn’t quit, He didn’t turn on his teammates or coaches, he never wavered in your dedication to wrestling.
THIS is what he will take away – not the accolades or medals. In the long run, this is much more valuable.

As heartbreaking as this moment was, it was also a victory of sorts. He proved that no matter what happened, He was the man. He wouldn’t give up. He wouldn’t back down from the challenge, and he proved that he was stronger than anything that was thrown at him.

He’ll always be a hero in my eyes!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What's so great about blogging?

So, it’s all the rage and everyone is doing it. But what’s so great about blogging?

That all depends on the reason for your blog, I suppose. I have friends and family members who blog as an ongoing family letter, akin to the Christmas Letter. These are fabulous for sharing with those that you don’t get to see often, and in today’s mobile society – a must to keep up with families that are strewn across the country. And even better, they have pictures and video, and allow the reader to respond quickly and join in discussions of posts. The added benefit is that it is a family history online, viewable by many. Some sites even allow you to have your blog printed and bound at the end of the year, which creates an archival quality memoir. All around win, I say.

There are also bloggers who wish to spread a message – political bloggers, for instance. They hope to capture an audience that will be influenced by their words. They generally have a specific topic or topics that they cover.

Some bloggers do so for their customers. One of my favorites is a photographer that did family pictures for my cousin and her family on Oahu. I checked out her blog to see their pictures, and LOVED it. Of course, she blogs about her photo shoots, which are always fascinating to me as a wanna-be photographer. But she also makes personal comments about things, and is very likeable. You can see her at Natalie Norton Photo

I see the application of this as I watch another cousin begin her landscaping business. She is always noting little things about certain flowers or plants for us…interesting little tidbits that just make me smile. For instance, did you know that pansies are a hearty flower? Then why do we call weak people pansies? It makes no sense! I love her little observations and her photography, and I think that a blog would serve her well to show off what she knows, her personality, and some of her jobs for potential customers. I’m considering my own business, and I’m still trying to figure out a fun blog for this purpose. It is a way of sharing your area of expertise and interesting others.

Probably the most influential blog that I have read is one by Rozanne Paxman of Scrap Girls. I originally began receiving the Scrap Girls newsletter because they always have digital scrapbooking freebies, and I’m cheap. I love the freebies to beef up my digital stash. I became addicted to the newsletter, however, because of the “muses” that Ro writes. She is a writer that has something to say on a variety of subjects, and usually with some sort of life lesson. Of course, this ties in with her business of selling digital scrapbooking supplies, as it inspires us to scrapbook things that we might not have thought of. Her blog is a continuation of that, in which she not only inspires, but offers solutions to organization and a variety of other topics.

It is this format that I chose for my blog. I want to write. I need to write. I love to write, and years of raising children and writing only technical manuals has taken it’s toll on my ability. I believe that we are given gifts to use for the good of the many, and if we do not use them, we lose them. I love to be able to write to touch others, and help them to ‘think outside the box’, if you will.

I try to pick a subject every day and write an essay. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it makes me think all of the time. I am constantly trying on new subjects for size, running them through the old meat grinder to see if they look good. I compose sentences and paragraphs in my mind all day, selecting those that seem to strike a chord, rejecting ones that fall flat.

What is really remarkable is that it forces me to think differently. I see the big picture in everything. How does this really affect my life? What is the lesson here? How can I use this to reach out to others? My greatest goal would be for RESONANCE. I would be thrilled to know that something that I said or observed made you stop and think…perhaps even reevaluate your views, your goals, your place in life. To see the big picture and not obsess about details, but embrace the glory that this life has to offer.

Ultimately, I would like to say something profound. It hasn’t happened yet, but if I write enough…I’m bound to hit something!

On a professional level, it retrains my mind to write. Because I have one day to conceive, compose, and post my thoughts, I don’t have time to produce endless drafts. I have to think on the fly. I have to pull it all together-- introduction, explanation, and wrap up—in a brief amount of time. Every day, it gets easier.

On a personal level, it reminds me that I DO have something to offer. You’ve read that I was recently paralyzed by my lack of self-esteem. I began the blog anonymously, quietly, so that I could see if it would work for me. As I’ve opened up and invited other readers to my blog, I have gotten some excellent feedback that has been so good for me! I have a ‘readership’ of sorts, as I see that each day, I get about 20 readers. Some days more, some less, but it’s somewhat steady. That means that some of you are coming BACK again, after reading my blog. You have no idea how much that means to me. It restores my faith in the fact that each of us has something to offer, and that I am not a complete failure and social pariah as I thought.

I know, I know, that’s dramatic. Unfortunately, that was my shattered mind. I cannot believe how far I have come…how far I had fallen. I am in constant gratitude for my return to health.

And as I noted when I began this blog, my hope is that my experience might touch someone else. I scoured the internet when my premature baby was born, looking for stories of others who had experienced this. I devoured every word, learning as I read. It helped me to understand my own feelings and struggles, and to realize that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

I welcome your comments and love to hear your thoughts on any subject that I discuss. I invite you to share your own stories…whether you do so on my blog or in your own journals. If just one of you is inspired to write, to try something new, or gains perspective, then I have been successful.

And I gotta tell you, success is a beautiful thing!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Digital Photo Organization

I take a lot of pictures, sometimes as many as a hundred in a normal day, more if it’s a big event. Digital photography is so freeing, because it allows us to snap that shutter as many times as we want without fearing astronomical processing fees. I only print the ones that I intend to scrapbook. It does create a logistical problem, however, as I attempt to control the chaos that ensues. I’ve developed a system over the years that works really well for me, and I’d like to share it. It is especially helpful this year as I am doing a 365 project, which means that I’m taking even more photos than ever.

I am somewhat sporadic about transferring the pictures from my camera to the computer. Sometimes I will take them off immediately, other times, I wait until the end of the week. I never wait more than a week because it would be far too overwhelming! My camera card will hold so many photos that if I filled it, it would be impossible to deal with. I’m also anxious to see if they look as good on the computer as they do on the little screen (and sadly, some are not!). I use Windows XP, so just be aware that some of the details may be different if you are using another software platform, but the general idea will work.

My file structure is quite simple. I have an [Images] folder, under which all photos will be filed.

When I move photos off of my camera, I move them directly into a folder named [Sorting]. I then immediately rename them by event or topic.

1. Click on the last image in a series, then hold your shift key and click on the first image in the series.
2. Right click on that first file and then select Rename. I name them something that relates to the content, such as Graduation, GY Cache Party, Backyard Antics, Florals, Sunrise, etc. After the name of the series, add the following: “(1)”. Make sure that you do not remove the “.jpg” at the end of the file name; your computer needs this information so that it knows how to deal with that file.
3. Press [enter] when you are done. The computer will then rename each subsequent image Name (2), Name (3), etc. This ensures that all like items are kept together, and in chronological order! (important for event photography) I don’t rename them one by one…first, because it takes too dang long!, but also because I want them to stay together on my computer. I want all of the Graduation photos to be in one big group, rather than spread out throughout my folder. If I named one of them “Hat Throw” and another one “Tassel changing”, they would be filed alphanumerically in H and T, respectively. In between, I might have “Last Day of School” or “Memorial Day BBQ”, and that just bugs me.

At this point, I go through them one by one in the Windows Image Browser, rotating them as necessary, and jotting down numbers of the ones that I will be using so that I can edit them. I delete any absolutely bad photos at this time, but I must say that this rarely happens. I keep even unfocused or otherwise inadequate photos, because they may have captured a moment.

When I’ve completed that, I highlight the ones that I want to edit by holding the [Ctrl] key and then clicking on them. I either right click and select to open it with Photoshop Elements, or I open Photoshop Elements and then drag them into it. You can use any editing software that you choose, but I use Photoshop because it gives me the most professional results.

Once the images are opened, I begin to edit them. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, other than sizing. (that gives me something to talk about in another post!) When I have made any edits that I wish, I choose “Save as” option, then rename the file. I always leave the name and number, then add the following after:

E if I have edited it in any way (contrast, saturation, etc)
C if I have cropped it to true 4x6 or other printable size
A if I have done something artistic to it, like a filter or glow.
S if I have made it a small file for viewing on the web.

Here’s an example. I have pictures from Graduation, and I am saving Graduation (13).jpg as Graduation (13).jpg as Graduation (13) ec.jpg. That way, I know that it is a 4x6 format, edited, and ready for printing. I also wanted to vignette this photo, enhancing the focus on my subject. I made those edits, then save the photo as Graduation (13) eca.jpg. This artistic version is the one that I want to post on websites such as MyFamily, Facebook, Myspace, or my blog. I then resize the image to about 600 pixels on the longest side, then save as Graduation (13) ecas.jpg. I would now have 4 versions of the same photo on my computer, but that’s okay. It is easier to reference them later.

If I get interrupted and I cannot finish my edits, I always save the file in PSD format, instead of JPG. Every time you save a JPG, it loses quality, and you also lose the ability to edit layers, because they will be flattened.

I never NEVER overwrite the original file. I want to be able to go back and start from scratch if necessary, if I am unhappy with edits. Because I work on both a desktop and laptop, I have found that photos edited on my laptop are too saturated or too sharp, and I like to be able to start again. This is why I use the “save as” option always.

Now I can start categorizing the photos by usage. I have additional folders that I use for this purpose, so that nothing gets lost in the shuffle. You will note that I copy the files, rather than moving them, at this point.

I copy the small web-viewable files into a folder called [to be posted], so that I know what has been uploaded and what has not. Once I have uploaded them to wherever they are going to be posted, I delete them from this folder.

I copy the edited and cropped files into a folder called [Print] if I am going to print them in any format. These are usually the ones that I intend to scrapbook, so we’ll come back to them later.

I copy any photos that will be used for the week’s 365 pages into a [365] folder, so that they are easily found when I have a moment to scrapbook them. I’ve been doing this digitally, rather than with conventional scrapbooking, so they don’t need to be printed. Otherwise, I’d copy them into the Print folder.

I then copy any files that are going to be used in any other way…for instance, if I am sharing them with someone else, I’ll copy them into a folder to be burned to CD or copied onto a flash drive.

Once I have disseminated the copies, then I MOVE all everything out of the [Sorting] folder to it’s final archiving area. I have folders for each month of the year, named [2009.1], [2009.2], etc. This naming convention, again, keeps things in chronological order. I may have subfolders inside this monthly folder such as photos of collections or events. You can have a weekly folder, if you would like, numbered by week, but monthly works well for me. I used to keep them by season, but it was too many photos in one place and I could never find anything.

Now, back to the scrapbooking photos in the [Print] folder. I go through these to decide how I am going to scrapbook them, and if they need to be resized. I can make changes to these files, because I know that my originals and the edited versions are safe in the monthly folder. So I may crop them to 2x2, for example, and include 6 of them on one 4x6 file. I usually have a sketch, of sorts, that I will be working with, so that I know how big I want the photos.

Once they are ready to print, I move the file into a [Ready] folder. Then I upload them to my favorite printer and order the prints. I personally use Wal-Mart, because I’m cheap, but I’ve also been very happy with Shutterfly.

Once I have uploaded my photos to be printed, I can then delete them from the Ready folder, and everything is where it should be!

I use Carbonite, a backup program that immediately begins to back my files up to the internet. There are many companies that do this, but Carbonite came well-recommended and is really cost effective.

Once I have enough to fill a DVD, I will burn the image files on to DVD for safekeeping. It used to take me a year to fill a DVD, then six months…now I am filling a DVD every two months! I make two copies of this DVD. One stays at my desk for reference and the other is kept offsite. You may choose to keep a copy at someone else’s house, or at your office. I keep mine with my 72 hour kit, so that I have a full backup of my photos should we ever have to evacuate. (peninsula prone to tsunami damage, remember?)

I hope that this helps you to develop your own system for dealing with your precious photos! I’d love to hear if you come up with something that works for you! (there is NO wrong way, as long as you are not just deleting the files after you print them..the digital equivalent of throwing away negatives!)

Friday, June 12, 2009


The rain begins to fall, at first gently, seductively…then harder, and faster. You know that you need to seek shelter, but the change is gradual, and you keep telling yourself that when it gets worse, you will run inside.

Worse comes incrementally, until you are plunged into a world of grey, eyes half closed against the deluge. Streams of water run down your face, tears that have formed long before touching your skin. It is overwhelming and you find that your own tears never come. You are washed away by the strength of the storm, gasping against the flow, until you are sure that you can stand no more against the drenching rain. You turn your face to the skies, wishing, hoping that the saturation will come quickly.

This is what depression feels like.

But the drops that stay behind…crystal clear, perfectly formed…it is through these that you begin to see the patterns. It is through these that you find the most intricate and interesting parts of yourself being magnified, glorified. It is through these that you see the glory of the skies above, the sheltering trees that surround you, the light that permeates all that is.

THIS is Clarity.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Web of Family

I have THE greatest family. I know that we all think that we have the best, but I can prove it. You all have wonderful families, but mine rocks like you would not believe.

To begin with, I’m very close to my immediate family. I spend time with my parents nearly every day, and am so thankful for their influence in my children’s lives. I talk with my brother, who lives in another area of the country, very often. I keep up on what his children are doing, and he keeps up on mine. We never miss a holiday , and in fact, he used to call my children at the MINUTE that they were born on their birthday. (Luckily, all have been born during daylight hours)

But the larger picture, my extended family, that’s where it gets really amazing. I know my cousins – and their wives – as well as most people know their own siblings. We have a secure family website where we are able to share pictures and news, chat, and keep current contact information. There are a group of about 10-12 of us that regularly log on (some of us multiple times per day…you know who you are!) to see what everyone is up to. We live in all corners of the country, and rarely are together all at one time, but that doesn’t matter.

Last fall, I took a trip to see my Grandmother, shortly after I was laid off of work. A family of cousins were getting together at the Cheesecake Factory for lunch, to celebrate one of the sisters’ birthdays, and they invited us to join them. What was so remarkable about this lunch is there was no uncomfortable chit chat, you know, “So, where is it that you live? How old are your kids these days? Do you still scrapbook?” We know the answers to all of those questions! We just jumped in to conversation as if we had lived next door all of these years.

I had to remind myself that even though I see their children frequently, and know their accomplishments, quirks, and activities, they do not necessarily know me. I was so excited to see a little guy that is particularly hilarious. I wanted to just squish him and kiss him. It was odd to think that I knew him so well, and yet, he wasn’t sure who I was! I had to back off until he got used to me. Our older children are well informed, however, and my kids can name all six of the second cousins that live in the South, even though they have only seen them once or twice…and that was when they were little. It is always so fun to hear what our children say when they see pictures of their extended family, and to know that they understand and appreciate the whole stinking lot of them! Recently, some of the teenage cousins are joining Facebook, and it is so much fun to be able to communicate with them. It is almost unheard of to know your parents cousins, much less have a relationship with them.

When I was in the hospital on bedrest, hoping that my baby would be developed well enough when it was time to deliver him, they were my lifeline. I would post updates on the website, and I got words of encouragement and love. They prayed for me. They called, they talked to me on Instant Messenger. One of my cousins was in medical school at the time, and his wife assured me that my doctors were doing everything right, according to her doctor spouse. We have attorneys in the family, who advise on legal matters. We have a veterinarian who offers his expertise. We have photographers who have pushed the rest of us to up our game. We share recommendations on products and services, and those who have been through something before are always ready to talk you through it. No matter what you need advice on, encouragement for, or need to vent about, there is someone to help.

“Prayers, please!” is a common topic on our news board. We have become incredibly comfortable with one another, enough to share our fears and ask for help. That is powerful. Just feeling comfortable enough to admit that our lives are not perfect, and that we do indeed need the assistance of others is an empowering concept. It opens us up to feel the great love and concern that others have for us. And our prayers have been heard, and answered. Hospitalizations, threats of financial issues, health concerns, parenting struggles, it all is posted and ALWAYS treated with respect and support.

We have suffered loss and shared in the experience. We have all yearned for the return of a soldier cousin serving in Iraq. We have cried for the loss of a precious baby, born too soon. The night that a cousin’s husband was killed in a motorcycle accident, we all came to our website to console one another and find comfort. Within hours, we had arranged to provide a bouquet from the cousin group at the funeral, and we had posted expressions of our support, encouragement, and love. We have listened as one or another has struggled, and suffered with them. We don’t turn our backs when the going gets whiny! I’ve tested that one, to be sure, with my whining this past few months, but they have always – ALWAYS – been supportive.

We have celebrated for one another. We anxiously await pictures after any big event in someone’s life…the return of our soldier, a new baby, a graduation. We have cheered for first time home buyers, and are proud of the accomplishments of our collective children. After the baby was born, I used my laptop and camera to upload pictures of him, only seconds out of the womb, within 3 hours of his birth.

We have inside jokes, we laugh at things that no one else would understand. We support our grandmother, who lost my grandpa several years ago. We post news about her, pictures if someone visits, and we remind one another to keep in touch with her. We share family history.

We reach out…we go the extra mile. One cousin photoshopped my head on Demi Moore’s pregnant body on the cover of a magazine when I was expecting the baby. When one cousin was unable to get mascara that she liked when they lived in a remote area, we made sure that she got it. Every day, I see these amazing, incredible people doing more and more to strengthen our family and each other.

Tonight, I received an email from a cousin that is as interested in family history as I am. She had taken the names from some of the headstones that I had written about, and tried to find answers for me. She found an obituary of one, and the death record of the twins that I had wondered about. It appears that they died of gastroenteritis...a tummy bug of some sort. Finding answers to my wonderings, and helping me to tie up the loose ends on my uplifting experience.

See? I have the best family in the world!