"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for October, 2014

Ghost Stories

It was a dark and stormy night…

I have a confession to make. I love ghost stories. My favorites are ones where there is a ghost that’s hanging around either re-enacting a person’s existence before he or she died or where a loved one appears to a family member. Usually it’s either to say hello or because they have a message for the living. Now do I believe that ghosts are real? I’m not sure. There’s a part of me that really wants to believe in ghosts—but I am a Missourian, and we are the Show Me State. So until I see one with my own eyes, I will remain optimistically skeptic. Side note: I really don’t ever want to see one myself; I just like hearing about other people’s encounters. I’m a big chicken.

A few weeks ago my friend, Kristin and I went to a talk at the Library by The Paranormal Task Force. Jeremy, the speaker, was a great mix of humor and storyteller. And while he was enthusiastic about his subject, he also was also realistic about all the things out there that are not ghosts. In fact, what I liked most about this group was that they didn’t think every single thing they saw, felt or heard was paranormal on their investigations. He shared some great photos with us, and explained away things that could be mistaken for ghouls on some of the ones that at first glance seemed paranormal. What was left was some images that were hard to find an explanation for that gave me goosebumps. You can see some of these pictures on the group’s website at www.paranormaltaskforce.com.

Now I know that some people think a belief in ghosts somehow contradicts being a Christian, but I don’t agree. I think that if you’re seeking out interaction with departed souls, you are opening up doors to something that is less than holy. An Ouija Board comes to mind. But to me, acknowledging an existence of ghosts only collaborates the idea that humans have souls and there’s something more to life than just our physical bodies. How many times have you heard about people who, on their death beds, see or call out to people who have been dead for years? I don’t find this frightening at all, and I hope when it’s my time that someone who loved me in life might be there to bring me “into the light”.

The stories that intrigue me most are ones that I’ve heard from people I know personally, because they don’t have anything to gain by sharing them. In general, the stories are not dramatic; in contrast, they are fairly simple. A woman I grew up going to church with told me about the house she lived in with her family. Strange things would happen that they always wrote off—like lights being on in the house when they would return home when they knew that they’d turned them off before they left. After her kids grew up and moved out of the house, they got to talking about an older woman in one of the rocking chairs. They’d all seen her as kids, but no one had said anything because each thought it had just been their imagination. It wasn’t until years later they discovered they had all experienced seeing the same woman.

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books and watched a lot of television shows featuring “true” hauntings and ghosts. I’m pretty skeptic of most, but there are a few that really make me wonder. Who doesn’t love getting creeped out by a spooky tale on Halloween? (Feel free to share with me!) Although I may have outgrown Trick or Treating, I hope I never outgrow a good, scary ghost story—as long as I can sleep with a nightlight!

 

Happy Halloween!

Mom on Retainer

 

My cousin, Kim, asked me when, as a Mom, I knew when I didn’t have to be on retainer anymore. Knowing her like I do, (she and I share the same brain wavelength) I understood exactly what she meant without her having to explain. When you’re raising a family, especially as a Mom who doesn’t work outside the home, it’s hard to know when you’re “allowed” to let out some slack when it comes to managing the family’s comings and goings.

For me, it felt like when I wasn’t doing something for my kids like their laundry, picking up after them, or cooking their meals, I was being lazy. After all, I was a stay at home Mom, what else was I supposed to do—it was my full-time job. What I learned, though, was that by always doing those types of things for my kids after they got older, I was enabling them to not be able to be independent little people. As my kids grew into teenagers, I quickly came to realize the error of my ways. I’m a slow learner, but I gave up a little control, suffered from a little bit of guilt, and started expecting more from them. They delivered—well, sort of…although none of them have become laundry-guru-bathroom-scrubbing-neat-freaks. Apologies in advance to their future roommates and spouses.

Kim’s way ahead of the game on me on that one—she’s a fantastic Mom who has always given her boys ownership of their responsibilities. For Kim, the matter wasn’t letting go of the duties of household chores, it’s more of the plain, old being there for the family on standby. You know how it is. There’s always somewhere the kids need to be taken, children’s activities to be involved in and the general duty to leave the schedule open in order to accommodate the rest of the family’s needs. When you’re the Mom on Retainer, the expectation is that you are there to plan everything for the family, so naturally your individual pursuits get put on the back burner. It’s a season in every young family’s life, sometimes more extreme than others, but the question becomes: At what point is Mom not on retainer anymore?

As parents, we knowingly and lovingly make some sacrifices of “me” time for our kids, but on the other hand, kids need to learn that their desires do not rule the household. Parents can’t wait until their children grow up to have lives of their own. Young people having plenty of interests isn’t a bad thing, but if it’s at the cost of a parent living in stagnant waters without the ability to grow as a person, there’s a problem. Everybody knows if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy! I also think a person has to consider where these expectations come from.

One could argue that this is self-imposed—another example of extreme people-pleasing. The funny thing is, often there is a fine line between wanting to please everyone by doing the “dirty work” (being a martyr Mom) and the need to feel in control. When I relinquish control to my husband by saying something is his responsibility, I have to do so fully. I can’t gently prod or offer up my suggestion on how I would do something myself if I’m supposed to be letting it go. If he doesn’t handle something exactly how I would, I have to allow that to happen. Which brings up what else is at work: fear.

But what I personally found when I stepped back was that the world did not end. There were mix-ups and scheduling conflicts. I couldn’t volunteer to chaperone all the field trips or plan classroom parties. But life went on, and new expectations for what and when I was available gradually adjusted. In the process, we all grew just a little bit more independent.

In truth, Moms are always on retainer. The Retainer Fee just covers less as the kids get older and need us less. Don’t we drop everything when it really does matter? We do so not because we are obligated by a Mom Code Contract, but because there’s something much more binding us to our children—unconditional love. And that’s one thing that has no expiration date.

Is It Empty…or Just Blank?

Blank checks. Blank stares. Blank slates. Blank computer screens.

Depending on your perspective, blank can represent the fresh possibility of unchartered territory or the frustration of having no direction or understanding.

Our family’s calendar this weekend, although not completely blank, does have some open time slots. A Saturday morning free from scheduled obligations provides for me a reprieve from the usual hustle and bustle of our household. As much as I love the things we do, sometimes I just want to stay home and catch up on laundry. Not many people’s picture of bliss, I know, but there’s something very therapeutic about having the luxury of getting those everyday tasks caught up all at once.

Yet, while these blank spaces on the calendar represent precious freedom to me, I realize that to others they represent something else entirely. I remember when I worked at a retirement home that the residents didn’t always look forward to the weekends for that very reason. During the week, we had classes and events full of social interaction most of the day, every day, but the on the weekends there would only be a few scheduled activities. For some of these folks living alone in their apartments, two days without something on the schedule brought up an unpleasant feeling of loneliness or worse—meaninglessness. These chunks of open time, are they blank or just empty? Apart from perspective, they are neutral.

Two of my favorite things are a brand-new, pretty notebook and a smooth gel pen. When they’re new, they’re blank—but they’re not empty. I just haven’t put anything in them yet. Because in writing, the empty kind of blank can be terrifying. The dreaded writer’s block for me always makes me question if every ounce of my creative juices has begun drying out. Confession: I have pretty, blank notebooks with cute gel pens fastened to them that are…well, empty. There’s a weird part of me that thinks that if something’s written in a gorgeous little notebook, it has to have some sort of worthiness to it. I know, I know, I should think of those notebooks as a stomping ground for my ideas, not museum paper. But if I only jot down one or two ideas, that spanking new blank notebook becomes a half-finished one—at least in my head. And completing or revamping a half-finished anything is a whole other blog post!

The difference in perspective between blank or empty can sometimes be boiled down to one word—fear. If I fear that marring a notebook with trivial or unfinished thoughts will forever curse its pages, I’ve already lost the battle. My attitude makes a huge difference as to what can be viewed as a challenge versus a burden. (Not that controlling your attitude is easy, but it is possible and a great place to start.)

How about you? Do you have a blank in your life that you’ve been seeing as an empty? Could the artist’s canvass before you be disguised as that stagnant, barren place holding you back? It’s definitely something to think about—whether it be time, notebooks or even that white wall in the dining room.

 

Life Car Re-Set

My life rarely keeps to a calendar for following any of the seasons. On January 1, it still feels a lot like December 31st. And the day I turned forty played out much like many of those when I was thirty-nine (except for the surprise party Darrell had for me). Of course, there are those beginnings, like the school year or a new routine, that creep into a sort of normalcy on the calendar. But an individual’s personal season of growth—that indistinct period when you can look back in hindsight and say without a doubt that it was during that time when a slow, gradual change took hold of you—seems to come in no set timeframe. Often when I view those instances they seem like a time when God picked my car off the Life game board and re-set it into a new path.

The reason I believe it’s a new direction from God is because I realize (normally well after the fact) that the occasions when I’ve grown the most personally are times when I was not burdened with self-doubt. It’s when I decide to roll the dice to see what happens and just trust that things are going to be okay. It is always okay, you know. Sometimes it’s a “new normal” or there are rough patches, but somehow I always muddle through. Please note that I’m not advocating not thinking through the consequences of your choices and pulling out all your savings to buy lottery tickets! What I am advocating is that sometimes to move forward you have to take a step out of your comfort zone. And sometimes you have to rely on your gut feelings.

How I once got a job is a great example. I quit my previous job before I’d actually gotten a new one—a huge deal for me. After all, I’m a stability freak and what if no one hired me right away? But I knew it was what I had to do, because if I’d stayed where I was, I was going to be stuck there like the story about putting a frog in hot water. If someone puts a frog into a pot of very hot water, the frog will jump out of the pot.  But, if one puts the frog into a pot of cool water, and then heats it up very, very slowly, the frog will not jump out – it will allow itself to be boiled. Because the temperature is increasing so slowly, there is no ‘trigger’ to signal the danger in the frog, so the frog takes no action to avoid it. I was gradually allowing my dissatisfaction to become an acceptable way of living. So I took a step out in faith, and finally turned in my resignation letter that I’d been carrying around in my purse for almost two months. Believe it or not, I received a phone call with a job offer as I was pulling out of the parking lot on my last day of work at my old job.

In my experience, it’s usually a convergence of events that trigger a period of growth, so I have a hard time pinpointing which domino fell first. And somehow I just know that a change is right around the corner. Life goes on in a similar way day after day, and all of a sudden it feels different somehow—I start expectantly waiting for something to happen. The other reason why I know it comes from God is because I’m not anxious about what’s in store, I’m excited and I draw closer to Him with a mindset of peace. The future looks a little brighter and it feels like I’m turning in the right direction. The Life car re-set.

And I do have a lot of exciting things going on in my life right now—finding a new church, taking a financial class with my husband, making more concrete writing plans, supporting Tyler in his college decisions, finishing training for the two fall half-marathons—all these things are in the forefront of my daily life at the moment. I’m choosing to savor this time; it’s not a time of unrestful upheaval, but one of contemplated contentedness. Yet, when it starts getting a little too warm for me, I’m ready to jump. Time to get out of the hot water and into my little Life car.

One Down, One to Go

Left to right, me in my gorgeous headband, Dave and Tina

Left to right, me in my gorgeous headband, Dave and Tina

 

Two weeks ago, I ran the Cowbell Half Marathon in St. Charles with my friend, Tina. I felt great after the race, but I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that my time was almost ten minutes longer than my time from last year at the Cowbell. I have to say it was a very enjoyable race—the weather was awesome and this old body of mine didn’t have any tremendous aches or pains for days afterwards. I met Tina’s co-worker, Dave, and the three of us really had some great conversation on our run. I know serious runners would NEVER talk like that during a race, but if I kept my mouth shut that long I’d burst. While a lot of my running friends enjoy the solitude of a good, long run, one of my favorite parts of running is being with other people. In fact, at one point I started a story with, “You don’t have to listen if you don’t want to, but I have to tell you this story so I am distracted for a mile or two.” And I wonder why my time doesn’t improve!

This Sunday is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. I’ve not done a Rock ‘n’ Roll race before, so I am really excited about running it. Today and tomorrow I’ll be hydrating and getting psyched up to run the streets of downtown St. Louis in what is supposed to be great running weather. It’s my last long race for a while, so I’m putting a lot of stock in this being an awesome event. There are bands every few miles to help me with my Runner’s Attention Deficit Disorder and I’ll be running with my training partner, Amy. I’m hoping to have my best time at this race, but if not, I know that at least I’ll have a good talk therapy session. In my case, slow and steady doesn’t actually win the race—but it finishes it happy, anyway!

Pink Safety Glasses and 3D Printers

This past fall I’ve become involved with my daughters’ FIRST FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) Robotics team. For the past three years, it was Emily and Darrell’s “thing” and I didn’t really do much more than hound my husband to make sure he read his emails from the coach. This year, the woman who had been the coach/Girl Scout liaison in the past was planning to move out of state, so I agreed to be the person to help coordinate our team, the Nuclear Unicorn Girl Assemblers (NUGAs for short). If you’ve read my posts about coaching running or leading Girl Scout troops, you may begin to see a pattern in my acceptance to lead things that I have no experience in. Robotics is no exception. Thank goodness that we have involved parents (including my husband), who know the ins and outs of building and programming robots. I jokingly say that I can fire off a pretty good email now and then.

Let me tell you about these girls—in a word, “awesome”. They are all Girl Scouts from five different troops in 7th – 11th grades. NUGA has girls from public, private and homeschool environments – 10 girls in all. What I enjoy most about these girls, besides admiring just how very smart they are, is that they are just fun people to be around. We spend Sunday evenings hammering out details of how our robot would best complete its assigned challenge. Each year there’s a different game field the robots compete on, with a different challenge. You can see it in action at FIRST’s website at http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/ftc, but to put it simply, the robot basically needs to be able to put two different sized whiffle balls into “beakers” (clear tubes on rollers). There are three separate, timed parts to the run in the competition—Autonomous, Driver and End Game, and teams earn points in each of these segments. As a team, part of the design process is coming up with a strategy to earn the most points during the judge competitions. The girls have to learn how to design, wire and logically plan to efficiently create programs and designs that would benefit our strategy in the competition.

What’s really interesting to see with these girls is how they all have special, individual talents that they contribute to our team. While they all share and work on design ideas, some of the girls work on building the robot using Tetrix. Others program in LabView by National Instruments and download it into our Lego Mindstorm Brick to control the robot. The team has to maintain an Engineering Notebook (another part of the Challenge), and build relationships with other teams. Especially because we are sponsored by Girl Scouts, we participate in a lot of outreach efforts by mentoring younger teams and getting girls excited about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The girls have a blog they post to—www.NUGAteam.tumblr.com to share what they’ve been doing. Not all of it is relevant to the robot and the challenge, but they seem to enjoy having a forum to post their interviews with one another.

Sunday night we worked on writing a 300-word essay to submit to win a 3D Printer from EKOCYCLE, who is giving away 1,600 3D printers to FIRST teams this year. The girls had a lot of good things to include and I was impressed with their ability to articulate what they needed for their robot that they thought the 3D printer could help them make.

The NUGAs, who just four years ago were mostly strangers, have become friends. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles we face on Sunday evenings is getting the girls to focus on the task at hand instead of socializing with one another. But slowly our plan is coming together. We hope to be participating in a newly formed practice league in our area soon and getting our robot out on the field to see him in action.

If you are ever asked to help out with a robotics team, I’d advise you to accept, even if, like me, you haven’t a clue as to how to program a robot. There are a ton of resources available, and the FIRST league is definitely first-class in gracious professionalism, a core value it promotes. Robotics is much more than just kids building and programming a robot. When you see these kids in action, you get the feeling there’s a lot of hope out there with kids like these building the future.

Writing: An Expensive Hobby? Thought That Was Just Running…

I have a knack for finding seemingly cheap hobbies and making them expensive.  Let’s take running for example…a pair of shoes and some water and you’re off to conquer the road, right?  At least that’s what I thought when I first got started.  I mean, I already had work-out clothes.  So just add running shoes…oh, and a Garmin would be nice.  Cotton is rotten when it comes to socks, so I’ll need some good moisture wicking ones.  Oh, and Gu or Chomps are needed to sustain me during my long runs.  And let’s not go into how much race fees are—I actually have “Race Fees” as one of my budget categories in the family budget.

I like to think that I’m not the only one whose hobbies expand like that.  Darrell is always so sweet about indulging my hobbies.  For years I was an enthusiastic scrapbooker—not even a remotely cheap hobby.  Over the years, I’ve purchased enough paper, rubber stamps and embellishments to chronicle albums for ten families.  I still have all my supplies in the basement, along with several years of pictures that need to be put in albums.  What I don’t have is the time (or enthusiasm) to do it right now.  And so it sits, there in the corner of the basement, awaiting a time when I make it a priority again.  I’d like to think that I will someday—I just hope that I’ll be able to remember who the people are in the photographs!

Writing, another hobby that’s cheap on the surface, has also cost more over the years than one would think it could.  I’ve taken several online writing courses, bought many books about writing and now I’m gearing up to register and attend my first writing conference.  The RT Book Lovers Convention (www.rtconvention.com) is scheduled for next spring in Dallas, Texas, and my cousin, Kim and I have been planning out how we’ll be attending.  There’s a lot to take into consideration when attending—namely if I’ll attend as a blogger, reader or aspiring author (they all cost the same—a lot).  They did not have an “all of the above”, so I’ll have to decide exactly what I am.  I like to think of myself as all three, but here lately, the aspiring author in me seems to be buried deep within.  Very deep.

I started this blog as a writing outlet, and it’s been just that.  What I like most about blogging is the interaction with people—it’s almost an “instant gratification” type of thing for me.  Thanks to Facebook, I can see who “likes” my posts and read comments about them right after I write them.  There’s a certain accountability factor as well—I need to post regularly to remind people that the Lighthearted Dragonfly is still flying.   On the other hand, when I’m working on other writing, it just sits there on the computer, where no one views it but me.  I start ideas and re-work and sometimes delete them.  I stall on them. To be honest, I’m not productive with the types of writing that an “aspiring author” would have under their belt to take to a convention.  I can’t bring ten half-finished stories that I haven’t figured out how to resolve.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I started calculating the cost of attending the convention and decided to write a post about it that the image of the scrapbooks in the basement popped into my subconscious.  As someone who writes for fun, it’s one of my biggest concerns—that I’ll never finish the one story that might have someday made it to the publisher.  Instead of boxes of pictures and papers there will be loads of files with names like “Adelaide—the Misfit Psychic”.  I can’t let that happen.  Adelaide is way to cool for that.

When someone is invested financially in something, they’re more likely to hold it to a higher standard.  Take the typical teenager and their car.  Hand over a car to them, and chances are it won’t be valued as much as the car they had to save and work for themselves.  The same is true of hobbies.   I look at it this way.  Investing in a hobby—your time and your money—returns to you in a lot of ways that aren’t always tangible. My little running hobby helps me maintain my weight, developed friendships and boosts my mood.  Scrapbooking, although incomplete, documents so many family memories—again, priceless.  And then there’s writing.  I may never make a dime from the hours I’ve poured myself into pages.  But money making from it has never been my sole motivator (it’d be a great by-product!)  So I’ll go to this convention and indulge myself a little.  I’ll be surrounded by other people who love books and words and storytelling.  And hopefully come out a little more knowledgeable.  And who knows?  This little “aspiring author”, poking her head out of her shell might just join the race against the hare.

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