I Have A Houseplant Named Napoleon

Everyone says my sister and I look alike. I always thought it was one of those things like where old people eventually grow to look like their dogs, but my sister says it’s just genetics. Whatever. Anyway, my sister and I not only look alike but we kind of act alike, too.

One of the strangest things I’ve picked up from my sister, who’s pretty strange to begin with (that’s a compliment, my sister is awesome) is naming things. My sister is obsessed with naming everything. I have no idea where this came from. Maybe she’s trying to be “ironic,” or maybe she just feels better about a world where even lowly inanimate objects can have forms of identification. I’m not sure.

Regardless, everything in our house has a name. Our fish are Benvolio and Cornelius, we have two houseplants named Napoleon and Genghis, and a lizard named Zeus. My sister’s guitar is Carlos, our cars are Terrell and Kermit, and my (now removed) gallbladder’s name is (was) Dolly.

Naming fish has always been the biggest deal. My sister likes Shakespearean names for fish, and so it’s required that we hunt the internet for the perfect name. This is small potatoes on the weirdness scale compared to taking my 15-year-old sister to Petco and having her look every betta fish in the face, loudly asking “Are you Mercutio?” until she finds the fish with the “friendliest face.” The looks on the faces of the people around us are my favorite part.

Even when I’m not around my sister, I find myself still naming things. On our camping trip, every fish I caught had to be named. I ate Templeton, Felipe, and Archibald II for lunch with no regrets.

It’s funny how we pick up things from our siblings, even silly things like feeling the need to name inanimate objects….and fish. What habits have you picked up from your siblings?

Xoxo, Taylor

The Meaninglessness of Dates

“I don’t wait for the calendar to figure out when I should live life.” – Gene Simmons

Dates have always been meaningless in my family.

Dad’s job has never been a typical 9 to 5, taking him out of town for a week or two at a time. The shifts are usually inflexible, which means that Dad has been at work for lots of birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries, and Thanksgivings.

A couple of times he’s been able to surprise us by getting a few days off and driving home in the middle of the night to make a holiday. This has led to humorous incidents, like the time Dad drove home Christmas Eve. Sister and I came running into Mom and Dad’s room to wake them up Christmas Day so we could open presents from Santa, and I was confused to see both Mom and Dad there. My first instinct was to say, “Dad, is that you?” which led Dad, equally confused, to ask “Well, who else would it be?” Needless to say, Mom wasn’t super impressed by my question. We all still laugh over it.

Most of the time, however, Dad’s gone for at least some of the holidays, and so we move around holidays to accommodate his schedule. Thanksgiving with Dad has rarely been on Thanksgiving, and we often end up having two Christmases, one with Dad and one with other family. This is how I’ve grown up, and it’s never bothered me one bit. Holidays have always been viewed as a time for being together and enjoying each other’s company, more so now that I’m studying away from home.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking about my family’s view toward holidays. Growing up in a family where holidays are less about a date and more about being together has led me to think of holidays as important occasions that are given a date merely for the sake of making sure we don’t forget about them. Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth as well as the gifts we have been given throughout the year, including each other. While traditionally celebrated on the 25th, the calendar need not dictate when we can celebrate these things. I can be thankful for the birth of Jesus any time of the year.

I’m thankful for having grown up in a family where holidays have taken on such a meaning. It’s allowed me to view them as more important and meaningful than certain rituals you do on a certain day. The calendar is arbitrary but the meanings of holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are important and valuable, and changing the date doesn’t discredit the time you get to spend with the people you love.

As we head into Valentine’s Day, I’ve seen how my view of holidays has impacted my view of this one. I won’t be celebrating with the person of my choice, so this is yet another holiday I’ll be moving until another time (the beginning of March, to be exact). I’ll be moving my anniversary up a couple of weeks too, and this isn’t the first time we’ve done some shifting of these holidays. But at the end of the day, it’s not the date that matters. What matters is how you choose to celebrate the meaningful things in life and who you choose to celebrate them with.

The “Bored Bag”

As children, my sister and I learned never to say the phrase, “Mom, I’m bored.” Why? Because being “bored” and complaining about being bored led Mom to pull out the “Bored Bag.” An ingenious invention in parenting, the Bored Bag hung menacingly in the pantry, and was full of slips of paper. If Mom pulled out the Bored Bag, it meant you had to draw a slip of paper and do whatever undesirable chore Mom had written inside. Needless to say, Sister and I quickly learned to entertain ourselves, as to never have to receive a boredom-killer from Mom’s “Bored Bag.”

While at the time I believed this was simply to keep us from complaining, and I think that was probably Mom’s intent (we had way too many toys to be “bored”), I think the dreaded Bored Bag served another purpose. We learned at an early age that we were responsible for our own entertainment. While Mom of course enjoyed spending time with us, our boredom – or conversely, our entertainment, – was something we had control over. We could choose to be happy doing nothing or to be “bored” doing nothing, and to put that in Mom’s hands was not only a little bothersome to her, but painful to us when we found ourselves scrubbing baseboards or sweeping floors.

I bring up the Bored Bag for the reason that I think I – and others – could still use the lesson, long after the Bored Bag has become obsolete.

Like our entertainment, It’s easy to outsource our happiness to those around us. It’s easy to put the burden of cheerfulness on our friends, family, or significant other. If I’m having a bad day, it seems almost automatic to go to a friend with my grievances, expecting to hear a word of encouragement or a funny story to cheer me up. And when she does, great. My mood has improved and life is good. But when she doesn’t, I almost feel gypped. “What the heck?” I think. “Why weren’t you super sun-shiney? Tell me I’m pretty! Remind me of how awesome I am! Do you REALLY expect me to cheer myself up?”

Yes, Taylor. It is your job to cheer yourself up. Oh, right. I’m an adult with responsibility over my own feelings.

It’s easy to forget that we each have our own things going on, our own sets of feelings, mishaps, joys, and thoughts. Some days, things match up. I’m sad, my friend is happy, and he’s able to bring me up. But other days, I’m sad, my friend is sad, my family is stressed, and none of us have the mental capacity to be smiles and sunshine for the other. And that is when I see the unfortunate reality that I myself am responsible for how I feel. It’s not my boyfriend’s job, not my family’s job, not my friends’ job to know when I’m upset and to throw everything aside and ask the right questions and make the right comments to quell my anger/sadness/other icky emotion.

When it comes down to it, we are all responsible for how we choose to interpret the events that happen in our lives and concurrently, the emotions that they give us. Even if it’s subconscious, making someone in our lives responsible for our emotions not only gives that person a heavy, unmanageable burden, but causes us disappointment and frustration when they don’t deliver. It also strains our relationships. It’s hard to keep the peace when you’re expecting them to deliver the world all day, every day, and they can’t possibly keep up.

So while I no longer require or receive the treatment of the “Bored Bag,” I think I could still use the “Sad Bag” or the “Angry Bag or the “Had a Bad Day Bag.” Those would be quite similar to the Bored Bag of old, except for all of the slips of paper would read the same: You’re responsible. And while this at first might seem as bad as scrubbing baseboards, I think it’s a message we all need to hear.

A Reflection on Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving: It’s a time for way too much pie and too little working out, for football and for family, and most importantly, for giving thanks. Heading toward this important (translation: food-related) holiday, I’ve been thinking about what it means to give thanks.

For many of us, I think giving thanks is a process of solitary reflection. Though these utterances of gratitude might be verbalized around the Thanksgiving dinner table, they might not make it much further than that.

I think that there is a lot of value in reflection upon our blessings. It makes us happier, more satisfied, and more willing to accept the negatives of life because we know that for every negative, there are so many more things that make life undeniably fulfilling.

 One challenge I issue to you for this Thanksgiving season (and beyond!) is to start writing in a gratitude journal daily. I recently started writing in a gratitude journal, and I’m amazed at how much I’ve begun to see the effects I just mentioned. Every day, I take time to reflect and write down five things that I am grateful for.

On particularly good days, I’ve had no problem coming up with five. Those days are in themselves something to be grateful for, but I’ve found a lot more value in those days that have been less pleasant. The days that I’ve sat down, thinking there was no way I could fill those five lines, have been an eye-opener. They’ve made me realize that there is always something to be grateful for. It depends on how willing you are to open your eyes and see it.

What is in front of us might be ominous and seemingly insurmountable, but what is in our periphery – friends, family, even the peace found in sitting down with a cup of tea for ten minutes and reading for pleasure – makes it possible for us to handle that which is trying.

 While I think that daily gratefulness is so important for our own well-being, I would like to issue you a second challenge for this Thanksgiving season: take your thanks-giving to those you’re giving thanks for!

Giving thanks in tangible ways directly to those people that we are thankful can be immeasurably powerful. In eighth grade, a teacher asked our class to write a letter to someone who we were thankful for, and we got extra credit if we actually gave it to the person. I wrote one to my Sunday school teacher, who was so very important in shaping my faith, and whose impact on my life is still real for me today, and sent it to him.

Not only did he tell me the letter had so much affected him that it reduced him to tears, but even years later he told me he still had the letter, and referred to it in times of self-doubt. Gratitude is powerful in action.

This personal expression of gratitude doesn’t just have to be for those close to us. I know around our Thanksgiving dinner table, we all mention how thankful we are for our troops. I know we aren’t the only family who feels that way, and I can’t imagine how powerful it would be if even 1% of Americans made that gratitude actionable. A letter to a soldier or a few hours spent volunteering in a veterans’ residence is a beautiful expression of thanks that can even be life-altering for the recipient.

(This gratitude in action does not just affect the recipient in profound ways. It also can permanently increase our happiness. Studies have shown that the “gratitude letter” exercise increases our happiness levels even months after we have delivered the letter. Making others happy by giving thanks for them making us happy makes us more happy. Can’t beat that!)

Whether you’re with friends or family (or both!), home or far away, I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving I’ll be at home, watching football, spending time with family, and thinking of valid excuses for living on pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. Oh, and giving thanks, of course!