Monday, January 11, 2016

Unintended Consequences: Dog Hair

Years ago, when I started my minimalist wardrobe project, my plan included black pants, skirts, and jackets, which coordinate simply and perfectly with colorful shirts or sweaters. But the sad truth is this:

Source Unknown
My black fleece jacket, which I basically wear all winter even inside because our house is freezing, currently looks like this:

That's right. I had a cuddle with Daisy the Golden Retriever this evening, so the jacket is particularly hairy, but in truth, the picture pretty much captures the norm.

You try not cuddling a Golden who thinks she's a lap dog. You're not really given a choice. Besides, cuddling a Golden lowers your blood pressure and reduces stress.

It's science, people!

When I go to church on Sundays, people--mostly older ladies--pick fur off my clothes. It used to be embarrassing, but now, well, I've basically given up.

I choose to make a virtue of necessity and view the fur as a necessary accessory, but when the elbows wear a bit more on this jacket, I think I'll replace it with charcoal gray.

That might help hide the fur.

Or not.


Just keepin' it real.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Like the Fool I Will Always Be

Earlier this year, I had a dream in which I floated on a dark and infinite ocean. Impossibly huge waves lifted me and occasionally curled over my head, but I felt oddly at peace, calm, not worried about drowning at all, even when utterly submerged and tumbling in the water. As I drifted under the water, the thought drifted through my mind that sharks or other monsters might be in the water with me, ready to attack out of the darkness, just like the monster that lived under my bed when I was a child. But the thought of these leviathans caused no distress as I floated. I didn't fight or fear.

I floated and trusted.

Unlike most of my dreams, which disappear in the first fizzy minutes of consciousness each day, this one stuck with me, and the images of water, waves, and floating pop into my head almost daily, especially in the past two months.

I've body-surfed through 2015. The year's final months held a lot of grief and sadness and unwanted change, and also held great friendships, wonderful support, boundless love, and amazing grace unmerited. My response to all the negative things has largely been to meditate on staying afloat in an ocean storm.

"Don't fight the waves, Susan. Just ride them in a spirit of trust and gratitude for all the positive things."

Then, today, I read this quotation from Roald Dahl.

Superficially, Dahl's words and my dream have very little in common, unless you care to interpret merely floating as being lukewarm, which I do not. Floating generates far too much peace to be in any way bad. Instead, I think these two thoughts complement one another; they are, in a sense, different sides of the coin of life.

On the obverse of the coin, much of what happens in life is outside our control. Friends unfriend us, crises crop up, loved ones die. We can't stop these things from happening, as much as we might want to, and so floating through them, processing them, accepting them, trusting that things all work out in the end...this makes sense.

On the reverse of the coin, we have control over some things, like how we choose to use our gifts, how we choose to treat others, how we respond to the blessings that pour onto our lives like honey from the hive. We can choose to open ourselves enthusiastically to the good in life and throw our energy into multiplying that good stuff, spreading it around in a world starved for peace, love, and grace. This also makes sense.

If you're wrestling with resolutions this year, perhaps my dream or Roald Dahl's words or both together might help.

Do you need peace? Are you fighting the waves, tilting at windmills, running on a treadmill, exhausting yourself? How might you find peace this year and learn to float, trusting that life is what it is? Pursue peace.

Have you lost enthusiasm, become cynical or jaded or simply lost? How are you throwing energy into negative things, which will drain you, instead of throwing energy into positive things, which will fill you up? Be an enthusiast.

Instead of resolving to lose weight or eat more vegetables, I resolve to float in faith and enthuse with energy. I suspect that being an enthusiast leads to peace, and that in finding peace I will also have lots of energy to hug and love my passions. I also suspect that at times I will fail spectacularly at both resolutions, but even baby steps forward in both will be wonderful.

Care to join me?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

More Christ

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

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

How do you like it?

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

Elf on the Shelf anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never. Enough.

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


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sharing the Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote Bill and Opus, 2016!!!!

We could do a lot worse.

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

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ghost Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George believed me. 

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

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

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

There was no one there. 

No. one. 

George was already downtown with our friends.

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

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

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

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

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

And those are ghost stories a person can live with.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Tiny Problems

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

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

I'm okay with that.


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

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

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

Where do you go to make your problems tiny?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Let's Be Reasonable

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

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

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

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

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

And I love it.

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

Ohio winters are cold.

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

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

I'm totally down with that.

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

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

It's glorious and easy.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Having what's reasonable is.

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

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

Sounds reasonable to me.

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