Go with the flow

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 78

remember
to be at your best
pattern yourself after water

nothing in all the world is softer or more powerful
nothing in all the world can substitute for it
nothing in all the world can stop it

in their hearts
everyone easily knows that
the soft and weak
will always overcome the hard and strong
but they find it difficult to live this way

the secret is to
move the bodymind like water

By Lao Tzu
Translation by John Bright-Fey

In my quest to understand what lasting happiness really means, this is a lesson I am trying to learn. Don’t fight obstacles. Don’t worry about obstacles. Don’t internalize conflicts brought about by obstacles. Just flow around any and all problems like water.

Easier said than done. This is a mindset I aspire to. Thus far, my aspirations are still very much a work-in-progress. I do believe that this is an important formula for inner peace, however, which is (when coupled with gratitude) the same thing as happiness. Don’t fight problems. Accept them, and peacefully flow around them. That is real power. That is real happiness.

Of course, if you are watery like me, and you aspire to keep flowing, sometimes you will encounter obstacles that have the whole path dammed up, and you will end up flooding the person or persons creating the obstacle with all of your watery depths. I guess that’s okay. Flooding over the dam is better than sitting still with it and stagnating.

Go with the flow, my people. Nothing can stop a spirit that flows on and on like a gentle stream.

Just do the right thing

I’m borrowing a life lesson from my Daddy tonight because I’m fresh out of my own: “When we do what’s right, the Lord blesses us.”

In another belief system, this might be called karma. What goes around comes around. Do right, and blessings come to you.

This is not to be confused with playing tit for tat with God. I think a lot of people are looking for the easy way out these days, and maybe they always have been. Everybody wants something for nothing. Everybody wants boundless profit from putting forth the minimal effort to just be a decent human being. This is not my Daddy’s idea of right.

In my family, we were taught to do the right thing no matter what. We were taught to do the right thing with no expectation of reward. We were taught to do the right thing even to the extent of personal risk and personal loss.

I’ve had my Daddy’s saying on my mind this week because one of my friends was talking about this characteristic in me the other day. She said to another friend, “Sharon is going to do what she thinks is right if it brings the whole world crashing down on her head. You can’t bribe her out of it, and you can’t threaten her out of it. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but if her value system is crossed, she is made of iron. It’s because she is a Gerald. They are all the same.”

I think this was a nice way of saying that I have a stubborn streak a mile wide. It’s also a good compliment to my parents who taught us that there is no ultimate reward for doing the wrong thing. Doing the wrong thing is separation from God. Doing the wrong thing is separation from peace of mind.

Doing the right thing, then, is an act of selfishness even when it does bring the world crashing down. It’s selfish because it’s about peace of mind. The expectation of blessings, though, is a little more humble where I come from than what you hear from the prosperity preachers who talk about how people can get rich off of connecting with God. Blessings, by my Daddy’s definition, are things like self-respect and peace of mind and a clean conscience. They are things like the joy of knowing you’ve been able to make a difference, the ability to appreciate what you already have, and the simple satisfaction of knowing you’ve done your best.

There is also the idea that if you do what’s right and you have faith your basic needs will be met. You don’t do the right thing to receive things, though. You do the right thing just because it is right. Blessings might result, but the real blessings are blessings of the spirit. Those are the ones that count. Those are the ones that mean happiness.

I’ve been writing out my own definitions of happiness this week, so add this one to the list. Happiness is freedom from inner conflict.

Do the right thing no matter what. Do the right thing to the best of your knowledge and ability. If you haven’t always done the right thing in the past, sitting around feeling bad about that won’t help nearly as much as resolving to do better from now on. Just put your work boots on and get busy doing right as best as you are able. If you think you’ve done the right thing, and then you learn differently, apologize, make amends, and do better next time. Do absolutely the best you know how. Don’t let anyone or any circumstance talk you into anything different.

If you put your flat level best into doing the right thing, you will be blessed with freedom from inner conflict, and that is what happiness means to me.

On listening to inner voices

I had a friend once who would say to me “time to change the channel” when I started talking too much about how I felt about one thing or another. I didn’t much care for this attitude at the time. If I was still talking, I still had something to say. I didn’t think that tuning out emotions would do anything to resolve them.

I still think we have to let ourselves feel what we feel. I never solved anything by getting into a fight with myself over it. That’s for sure. We have to let ourselves feel the bad along with the good. We have to even let ourselves break down to the point where we think we can’t take it anymore. That’s where we learn that we are stronger than we think, and we can take it, and we can get up and brush ourselves off and take steps to make sure that life as we know it improves for us.

Tuning out emotions means we don’t work through them. Not working through them means we let them fester under the surface. Letting them fester means we build up fears and resentments and risk aversions that we carry with us into future situations and future relationships. As I heard it described a few days ago: “We all have baggage. We can’t spend our whole lives running from the bellhop. Sooner or later he catches up.”

That said, there is such a thing as overdoing the emotional processing. I’ve always been a proponent of “it’s not worth doing if it’s not worth overdoing,” but when we’ve lived through experiences that have hurt us, there comes a point where we have to let it go and move on.

With this in mind, I’ve been reading a book this week called The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, and one big insight I gained from it is the advice to quit listening to myself so much. Singer says that if we had a friend who had given us as much bad advice as we’ve given to ourselves, we would have dropped that friend years ago. We would have labeled him or her as dangerous for us and probably even taken out a restraining order.

So often we are told to just stop and listen to our inner voices, but those inner voices are the same ones that tell us the answer to a stressful day at work is inhaling a whole box of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting. Those inner voices are the ones that tell us other people don’t like us or are mad at us or think we aren’t pretty or don’t want to be around us because we are boring. Those inner voices are the ones that tell us other people are mean and unforgivable and not worth having around. Those inner voices are the ones that tell us it’s okay to charge some new clothes on a credit card because the money will probably be there later. Those inner voices are the ones that tell us not to take a chance on a new opportunity because we probably wouldn’t be successful anyway. Those inner voices are not our friends. They are the craziest parts of us. They are our fears and neuroses. They are our emotional baggage. Baggage should never be allowed to control our decisions. We can’t trust our baggage, and we can’t trust the voices that it speaks to us through. Baggage lies.

I don’t know that it helps to change the channel on emotions while we are in the middle of feeling them, but it does help to find a way to turn off all of the extra stories the voices in our heads are telling us about those emotions. We need to experience our emotions in the present with only the present to account for them. We don’t need to filter them through every bad experience we’ve ever had and every wounded place inside that we are still carrying around. This is a lesson I learned from reading Pema Chodran who advises people to learn to sit still with emotions, to “stay present” for them, without “adding narratives” to them.

So someone said or did something that hurt my feelings today? I’m a sensitive person, and my feelings tend to get hurt from time to time. Okay, maybe that’s an understatement. I’m a highly sensitive person who has panic attacks and mood swings and a history of serious issues with depression. I get my feelings crushed on a regular basis, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being sensitive also makes me more self-aware, more empathetic, and more patient with others, and those are my superpowers.

It’s okay to be hurt. It’s okay to let myself experience the hurt. Letting myself feel hurt is better than beating myself up with a bunch of narratives about how it’s bad to be sensitive, and I must be a weak person for feeling this way, and I’ve ruined everything because I couldn’t control my feelings, and I must not be a good person if I didn’t see things from the other person’s point of view before I let my feelings get hurt. Letting myself feel hurt is better than reacting out of anger or spite or defensiveness. It’s better than turning those narratives around to say that the other person is just a jerk who doesn’t deserve the time of day from me should I ever see him or her on the street again.

Don’t change the channel on your feelings. Don’t force yourself to feel something you don’t feel. Don’t tell yourself you are bad for feeling what you do feel. But turn the volume down if you are able. If you suddenly realize that the problem is not that you are listening to your emotional channels but that you are running three radios and five TVs all at full volume and all at the same time, maybe you could start turning down the ones that aren’t helpful. Those would be the ones that look like this: guilt, blame, anger, despair, helplessness, shame, resentment, and recriminations. Hurt if you must, but don’t weigh the hurt down with things that will keep it holding you down any longer than necessary. Don’t turn hurt into a battle with yourself and others. These are battles no one wins.

Stay out of the emotional warzone if you are able. Move boldly forward. Live. Love. Laugh. Let go.

For a shy and sensitive girl like me, these have been some tough lessons to learn.

Happiness is remaining open to new experiences and new friendships and new ways of connecting with life itself. Happiness is confidence that I am the best person I know how to be doing the best job I know how to do no matter what anyone else thinks or says or does. Happiness is sitting still with myself, and all of my emotional complexity, without letting my inner critics take charge. Happiness is faith and hope and love. Happiness is regrouping and trying again if life doesn’t hand me what I am looking for the first few dozen times.

Happiness is putting a smile on my face and loving my life and my people and my animals and my surroundings and my opportunities even if I happen in the moment to also feel a little sad. Happiness is recognizing that no one other than me is in charge of my happiness, and nothing anyone else says or does or thinks is capable of robbing me of my friendship with myself.

I once put this in a poem:

The trick to happiness is to know you are right
without caring if anyone else agrees.
This is also the trick to being a jerk.

It’s certainly true that this can be the trick to being a jerk, but I’d like to add a new layer of insight to the concept now. The trick to happiness is trusting yourself to be as right as you are capable of being in any given circumstance and to roll with whatever happens as a result without getting caught up in self-doubt or guilt or shame or recriminations or wondering “what if” or “why” or “if only.”

Too bad that wouldn’t really fit in the poem.

The trick to happiness is to be who you are, do the best you are able, stay open to connections to people and experiences, and let God sort it out from there.

Listen to your emotions. Listen to your heart. Listen to your dreams. Listen to your hopes and desires. But don’t listen to your critics, especially not the ones that come from inside your own head.

And thus concludes my sermon for myself and others today.

Be happy and safe and at peace with yourselves, my friends. You are loved.

Happiness vs. Me

I’ve decided to start a new blog series called Happiness vs. Me. I feel like I’ve often made my own quest for happiness into a fight with myself, and that hardly ever works out well, but sometimes it’s all I’ve got. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for years, and I am in such a better place now, but I haven’t quite signed up as cheerleader for the positive thinking movement either. No matter where you are happiness is a work-in-progress. It’s a relationship with yourself that you have to keep showing up for and keep putting a little effort into and keep talking out when things aren’t going quite so smoothly. That’s my working theory today, at any rate.

Happiness isn’t something you can be bullied into by people who tell you it’s just in your attitude, and it isn’t something you can bully yourself into by beating your habits and expectations into submission. It isn’t a feeling you can hold onto all day every day. It isn’t something you’ve failed to achieve if something happens to make you sad or if someone says something to hurt your feelings, and you react on the inside like a three-year-old having a tantrum. It’s not about the internal tantrums or the bad hair days or the high anxiety days of functioning on less than optimal levels of sleep coupled with freaked out hormones.

Happiness is more about where your center is than anything else. It’s about what your emotional default setting is when the tantrums are over and the sleep is caught up and the hair is looking pretty good. If your default setting is relaxed and grateful and hopeful and confident, that’s happiness. If your default setting is anxious and lonely and overwhelmed, that’s depression.

I am so grateful to have reset my default after years of swimming in the murky waters that I want to write about it. The blog seems like as good a place as any.

My happiness tips for myself and others today:

1. Fake it till you make it. Put a smile on your face whether you mean it or not. Smiles have anti-depressant powers for yourself and others, and the world is a lot more accommodating toward smiling people than it is toward scowling people. If you smile, and you are open and friendly toward those around you as you go about your business, chances are you will have a lot more to feel happy about when the day is done.

2. Be grateful.Don’t spend so much time wishing for what you don’t have that you fail to appreciate what you do have. Take time to notice the beauty and the love and the abundance of opportunities around you. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal on my phone this year, and I really believe it has gone a long way toward helping me reset my emotional defaults.

3. If you are in a bad situation, and you can’t see any way to be happy in it, just get out. Change is hard, but staying stuck in place where you can’t be happy is harder. I know. I’ve been there. I had to find a new job and move to a new town to get out, and I thought that leaving everyone I loved would nearly kill me, but the move saved my life. It saved my sanity. It saved my health. It saved my spirits. It made me feel like I had permission to really come to life again.

4. Roll with the punches. No matter how determined you are to be happy, life is going to throw some punches at you. Don’t fight them. Don’t fight your feelings about them. Just roll with them. No one can dictate to you what you ought to feel when people and events disappoint you or discourage you. You don’t even get to dictate to yourself how you will feel. You just have to feel what you feel and deal with it. Experience your feelings. Acknowledge them. Respect them. Give them the room they need to process on through. Just don’t buy your feelings a wedding ring and ask them to move in with you on a long-term basis. Let them be what they are and pass on through. They have other places to go, and so do you.

And this concludes my sermon to myself and others today. Don’t worry, my friends. Be happy.

Don’t be a Dursley

This is my first entry for a new planned series called “Lessons from Harry Potter.” I’ve been thinking about this for several years, and it finally struck me that today might be the day to start. My plan is to slowly read my way through the series, and write blog posts about the life lessons I encounter along the way. Yes, I’ve read the books before. I’ve read the whole series probably five or six times, but I’ve never read it like this or written about it like this. Most of my re-readings of the books were done in anticipation of a new book coming out. I was always looking for clues so that I could form my own hypothesis about what might happen next. Later, after the last book came out, I was looking for clues that I missed. Either way, I usually read several books at once rather than slowing down and reading only a chapter at a time in order to give myself more time to ponder the individual moments. That’s what I want to do now. I want to read slowly and ponder.

I keep returning to Harry Potter because it has become comfort reading for me. I read it when I need to relieve stress. I read it when I need to feel better. I read it when I need to give my head and my emotions time to recover from whatever else is going on. One reason Harry Potter works for this is because I have read all of the books before. I don’t have to give the story my full attention in order to follow it and appreciate it. Another reason it works for this is that it is full of life lessons meant to help us reassess our lives and overcome our troubles. Like the advice to eat a little chocolate and think of your happiest moments if you feel soul-deep sorrow. Who doesn’t need to be reminded of that from time to time?

And so I begin with Book 1, Chapter 1. I see more than one life lesson in this chapter, but I’m going to start with the one that really jumps out at me.

Don’t be a Dursley.

Don’t care more about what you suspect other people think of you than you care about the people themselves. Don’t be afraid of being associated with people who are not the same as you. Don’t act like a jerk toward people you think are odd. If you fall into the trap of the Dursleys, the harder you try to avoid odd people, the more absurd you become.

The Dursleys aren’t the truly evil threats in the book. They don’t rival Voldemort. They don’t rival the death eaters. They don’t even rival Professor Umbridge. No one, not even Harry, is actually in danger from them. Still, they are among the first people we meet in the story, and we return to them every summer with Harry. They are introduced to us as mean and uncaring people. They are prejudiced and disapproving and standoffish toward people they should love. We don’t like the Dursleys, but we also feel sorry for them because their version of mean hurts them more than it hurts anyone else. They are ridiculous. They are pathetic. We see right through them.

They are here to remind us that not everyone mean is evil. Mean people deserve our compassion too. They are also here to remind us that people who are just mean rather than evil can’t really hurt us and aren’t worth worrying about.

But maybe mean people are good for a few laughs. They are ridiculous. Everyone is laughing at them.

Don’t be a Dursley.

Embrace the odd and the adventurous. Don’t worry about what people think of you. Care about people more than appearances. Treat everyone the same. You might as well. The harder you try to avoid people who are different, the weirder you become.

From R1b1a2a1a1b4 to DF21, or My brother’s DNA reveals he is human after all

I’ve been fascinated with genetic genealogy for a couple of years now. Mainly, I got fascinated when I discovered that not everyone with the last name Gerald living in this country believes my grandfather’s stories of our family immigrating from Ireland. I stumbled across information online where some distant cousins were speculating that the family may have come from France. We were at a genealogical brick wall with an ancestor that lived in South Carolina in the 1700s. Try as anyone and everyone might, we couldn’t overturn a paper trail going any farther back than that. I’m sure this is why varying theories started emerging. Family researchers needed something new to research and needed to keep exploring new theories to make sure nothing had been overlooked. I, however, just wanted to prove that my Grandpa was right, and I thought I could do it through DNA. Luckily enough, my brother is a willing test subject, and all three of my brothers have been financially supportive of the cause. We’ve learned a lot in two years.

Here’s both a recap and an update for anyone who is following this research in the family and anyone who is interested in doing their own family genetic genealogy project.

First, we had a Y-DNA test done through Family Tree DNA. A lot of places do all sorts of DNA testing, but if you want a test that will help solve genealogical mysteries related to your surname or your patrilineal background, you have to do a Y-DNA test. You also need to test for as many markers as you can afford. I suggest testing for at least 67 markers. As my brother put it, testing for 12 markers basically just tells you that you’re human, and testing for 37 markers might tell you that your ancestors came from Europe. If you want to get closer to yourself in time, you’re going to need more markers. Chances are, like us, you will also keep adding new tests to the original Y-DNA test in order to get more specific information. But this is where you start if you want to get into genetic genealogy. Have a Y-DNA test done on a male who is a direct descendant of the patrilineal line you are researching. Family Tree DNA is a great place to go for this. Lots of genetic researchers hang out there, and lots of family projects are already in progress there. If you are lucky, like us, you can also find people there who will help you make progress on understanding your own genetic history.

Step one for us was the 67 marker Y-DNA test. This did not reveal any recent family matches (though I believe it eventually will as more people are added to the databases), but it did show us a pattern of distant matches to people who claimed Irish ancestry. I found it curious and fascinating that none of these people shared our surname. I didn’t quite know what to think, but I later came to understand that we were looking at people who shared a common ancestor with us from as much as 1000 years ago. The Irish didn’t use surnames prior to the Norman Invasion, so our genetic cousins at that distance could have just about any name at all.

Step two was to add a Deep Clade test from Family Tree DNA to the mix. This tests SNP markers in the Y-DNA as opposed to the STR markers from our original report. The SNP tests place you within a system of genetic clans called haplogroups. Your haplogroup tells your very distant ancestry in terms of where your ancestors were thousands or even tens of thousands of years ago. If you are lucky, though, you can find out much more recent information from the SNP tests. Sometimes in more recent history there have been genetic clusters still all living in one area. What I hoped to find from the Deep Clade test was that we matched a sub-sub-sub-sub clade that clustered in a very particular area, such as a particular county in Ireland.

At first, I was disappointed. The initial Deep Clade test designated my brother’s Y-DNA as belonging to the haplogroup R1b1a2a1a1b4 (now shortened to R-L21). All of the tests run for deeper sub-clades of R-L21 came back negative. R-L21 does occur at higher frequencies in England and Ireland than in other places, but it also occurs throughout Western Europe. It is generally associated with Celtic ancestry, though, so I took that as a step toward verification of Irish ancestry. The combination of the haplogroup finding and the continued pattern of matches to distant relations with ties to Ireland seemed to me to be pretty good evidence that Grandpa knew what he was talking about.

I thought I was going to have to be satisfied with “pretty good” evidence until enough people had the tests done that we started getting closer matches or until I won the lottery and was able to travel to Ireland taking DNA samples from people sharing my surname.

A lot has happened in the world of DNA research in the past two years, though, and it turns out that new SNPs and new sub clades within haplogroups are being discovered all the time.

This brings us forward to the more recent development that my brother’s Y-DNA results have now been added to a research project for one of these more recently defined sub clades. I’ve ordered tests for more SNPs to help verify this classification, but for now we’ve moved forward from the more general grouping of R-L21 to a more specific group within R-L21 of DF21 and within DF21 to group K. Maybe if you are a genographic researcher, you will know what this means. I don’t actually know what it means, but I know what I’ve been told.

The person who contacted me about the research project says this is for a very particular genetic cluster with roots in Southern Ireland, specifically in the counties Laois, Offaly, and Tipperary. It is thought that the people who have these genetic markers share a common ancestor who lived in one of these counties possibly prior to the Norman Invasion.

That’s getting pretty specific, and it moves the likelihood up even higher that our genealogical brick wall did indeed come from Ireland.

I believe the next few years will continue to see rapid advances in what we can do with this kind of genetic information. For now, though, we’ve learned a couple of important things. Grandpa was likely telling the truth, and we will probably find a match to a specific family in Ireland before this is over. Plus, my brother is human after all. You never know when you start testing the DNA of brothers what they will turn out to be, but mine has the same DNA as the other 7 billion people on the planet.

In which Jane Austen did not have an MFA

This morning I’ve been pondering the fact that Jane Austen did not have an MFA, and before anyone starts arguing about the value of an MFA, please be assured that I don’t care whether you have an MFA. If you are an aspiring writer or even an established writer living today, I only care if you write a book I want to read. How you arrive at that book is your own issue. I am interested, though, in something I read in the Carol Shields biography of Jane Austen. Shields points out that it’s unlikely Jane Austen ever read a single essay about how to write a novel.

As someone who did get a degree in creative writing (not an MFA, but a PhD), I find this astonishing. Of course I understand the historical context, and of course we all know that in her time and place and situation, it would have been unusual for Jane Austen to have been given a reading list on how to write a novel. Still, who could fail to be astonished by what Jane Austen accomplished all on her own without an MFA, without a Wayne Booth book, without even so much as a room of her own?

Jane Austen shared a bedroom with her sister through her entire adult life. She did not have a place to go off on her own to write. She probably did most of her writing in the sitting room with all of her family around her. Since many novels these days are written in coffee shops, I suppose I can grasp this one. The family sitting room of her day could function like the coffee shop of our day with a variety of people all milling about but all basically doing their own thing. Jane Austen didn’t have a room of her own, but she did have a chair of her own, and for a determined spirit, that can be enough.

Let’s face it, the girl had drive. The writing mattered to her enough that she did it with or without the best of circumstances. In the end, this is the only way anyone becomes a writer. The writing matters to you or it doesn’t. You get it done or you don’t. The degree you have and the job you have and the home you have make no real difference to this one make-or-break factor.

But Jane Austen had something else that a lot of young writers today feel they need an MFA in order to acquire. She had a supportive literary community. Yes, MFA programs are super places to find supportive literary communities. No, you don’t have to pay for a degree in creative writing to find and/or create a supportive literary community today, but chances are you will have to put a little effort into surrounding yourself with people who want to talk about your writing. Jane Austen had this in her own family.

Carol Shields tells us that Jane Austen’s family was highly literary-minded as a group. They read. They wrote. They discussed what they read and wrote. A favorite family entertainment involved reading books out loud. We can imagine that the siblings would have competed to be the best readers and to make the books the most entertaining. We can also imagine that they talked about what they liked and didn’t like in each book. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, the family of a rector/schoolmaster would have had a limited number of new books coming into the home, so certain novels and other works must have been read repeatedly in these family literary evenings. The Austens must have known their favorite works of literature as well as these parson’s children would have known passages from the Bible. And when it came to sharing their own original scribblings, this family that had been discussing books together for the whole of their lives could probably be relied upon to voice honest opinions.

In short, they were conducting writing workshops at home long before anyone had a term for writing workshops. They were homeschooling a creative writing program.

Jane Austen’s genius shines through in her narrative style and structure. She did things no one had done before. She did things even the best writers of our day struggle to match. She did them without being told how, but that’s not to say she wasn’t taught how. She taught herself. The family that spent so much time reading books and talking about books taught her how.

If you want to learn how to write like Jane Austen, a good place to start would be to take her novels and read them out loud over and over and over to people who will talk back to you. If you are paying enough attention and if you have enough desire to learn from this experience, it will teach you everything you need to know.

It’s been a long time since I was in a creative writing program, which means it’s been a long time since I’ve known anyone who would sit still to be read to. Thus, I’m going to have to find another route for myself. Maybe it’s time to take my laptop to a coffee shop and sigh over my unfinished manuscript with all of the other would-be writers in town.

The paper cranes next door

Today’s photo: 13 Paper Cranes.

13 Paper Cranes

Today’s lesson: 3 is also a prime number.

My prompt today was “prime number.” Was my first thought 3? No, of course not. When I saw prime number, I thought 13. Was my first thought after 13 something simple like Cheerios or paperclips? Noooo. I saw prime number, and I thought 13 paper cranes. Not only did I think it, I dragged a step ladder into the yard and tied 13 actual paper cranes to a tree so that I could photograph them.

I am very disappointed in this photo. At first I didn’t know why I was so disappointed, but now I think I understand. I went to way too much effort for the result that I got. It’s an okay shot, but it’s not a great shot. It’s not a shot worth confirming to the neighbors that I really am the crazy lady next door.

I could have gotten just as nice a shot of 3 Cheerios. But then again, there’s at least some chance that more people will look at a shot of 13 paper cranes hanging in a tree and wonder what it means than would have stopped to wonder about 3 Cheerios in a bowl. Still, 3 is also a prime number. I could have gotten by with 3.

Sometimes less is more. Sometimes more is more. And sometimes you are the crazy lady next door no matter which way you turn.

Today’s Alice photos:

Take time to smell the centerpiece.

Take time to smell the centerpiece.

Alice is on the job.

Alice is on the job.

Alice has her own Facebook page. She would love a visit.

There’s no Jack Cat shot for today, but Simba the Lionheart did make an appearance in front of the camera.

What's for lunch?

Please remember that not every cat I photograph lives in my house. I might not remember that 3 is a prime number before I remember that 13 is a prime number, but I do only have 3 cats in my house. I’m not quite that crazy yet.

It’s all good

Today’s photo: Everything is beautiful in the right light.

Everything is beautiful in the right light

Today’s lesson: Everything is beautiful in the right light.

I think this lesson is self-explanatory. What you see here is a dried up weed from my yard. It should have been pulled a long time ago, but I’m no one’s contender for lawn of the month. I prefer to let things go natural. One person’s weed is another person’s photo op.

Today’s Alice photo: Alice invites you to spend some time with Miss Welty.

Alice invites you to spend some time with Miss Welty.

The photo prop today was “literature,” and this is what I did for it.

It turns out Jack Cat had a lot more adventures today than Alice did. He is waging war against my idea that I have indoor-only cats, and I’m not doing very well in this war.

First, Jack got out this morning, and while I was trying to get him back in, Old Man Mowgli who has never even wanted to go outside before went out the door to see what was going on.

Jack Cat's Bad Influence on Old Man Mowgli

I though I was going to be chasing two cats around the yard, but Old Man Mowgli only took a few steps out the door, sniffed of some rosemary, yelled at Jack, and went back inside. I never did catch Jack. Eventually he ran back inside when he thought of something he wanted to do.

Later, he got out again. Patricia of Next Door gave me a leash so I could let him play outside without worrying about him running off. This worked out great until he pulled his collar off and disappeared under some scrubby bushes. He was only about five feet away from me, but I couldn’t get to him. He was having the time of his life.

Jack Cat goes out on a leash.

It was no accident that the collar came off. He worked pretty hard to make that happen.

His biggest adventure was meeting the dogs from next door.

Jack Cat meets the neighbor dog.

See how his tail went poof. He freaked out, but he didn’t try to run away. Jack Cat is a brave boy.

Alice wanted to go on more adventures today, but she was too tired after all of Jack Cat’s shenanigans. Maybe tomorrow.

Just roll with it

Today’s photo: An arrangement.

An Arrangement

Today’s lesson: Most good things come from just rolling with the weird or the unexpected.

Arrangement was my photo prompt for today. I thought I wasn’t going to do it because the only thing I could think of was a flower arrangement, and I didn’t want to spend any money on flowers. Long after I’d decided to let it go and just post a cat picture, I started wondering what I had around the house that I could make a non-floral arrangement out of. Thus, part of my afternoon was spent gluing origami cranes to chop sticks and poking them into a coffee mug. This just happened because it was what I found to work with in my house. Most days that’s how these photo prompts work out.

And now for the really weird…Alice’s photo of the day. Alice is contemplating getting into the postcard business.

Alice considers getting into the postcard business.

This one came about because I said to my friend in the office today that I needed to think of something funky I could do with Alice today. She said, “The cemetery across the street is pretty funky.” Once she said that, all I could think about was how some recently told me that she wanted Pink Floyd’s “Wish you were here” played at her funeral. Add that to the fact that I’ve been trying to learn how to make things that look like posters and postcards in Photoshop, and you have Alice being a little strange today. I hope you’re aren’t easily offended because this the Alice adventure that has made me laugh the hardest so far. She might not be done being weird yet.

Last, but not necessarily least in my day, we have Jack Cat’s great escape documented. Jack Cat is my six-month-old indoor-only baby.

Jack Cat escapes

Jack Cat knows there are birds.

Jack Cat knows where the birds live.