Category Archives: Grandparents

The Feng Shui of Family Photos

“The realtor has told me to put away any personal photographs,” said Mom the other day.  “Is that right?” I just knew she was going to ask me that.  She’s been asking me a lot of things lately since she just put her house on the market this week– something she’s never had to do before.  At least, not by herself.  But Dad’s been gone for almost nine of the 50+ years she’s been in that house, and the kids all live far away, so it’s been a nerve-wracking and scary process for her.  She phones often.  While I’m no expert, I (and Andy) did sell a house less than six years ago (and shopped for a new one) and last fall, we helped his parents navigate a little bit of their move to “senior living”…

I’m sure my realtor friends would disagree, but I answered her question with a resounding, “NO.”

“Don’t take down any photographs unless you really want to,” I said.  “I think it’s wrong that they always tell people to do that.”  I mean, have a heart, realtors. Home sellers are often already going through an emotional upheaval in giving up such a big part of their life—why make it worse by asking them to put away small, cherished mementos? While realtors may have some kind of data or “realty science” that tells them they need to make a house as generic as possible in order to sell it, I challenge that science.  Because whenever I’m in a house, whether it’s visiting friends or relatives, passing through on a charity “Tour of Homes”, or looking at one to buy, I think the personal photographs that may be on the walls and shelves are just as interesting, if not more, than any granite countertop, walk-in closet, or “hand-scraped hardwood floor”.  And whenever friends or family are visiting our house, I’ve noticed they are drawn to the few photographs we have on display.    

My theory for years has been that personal photographs give a house a certain “spirit”, a certain air of happiness and positive attitude.  They make a house a “home”.  And after doing a little research, I discovered I’m not alone with those thoughts.

Feng Shui practitioner Ken Lauher says on his website that photographs, especially when people are shown happy and smiling, “are a great way to increase the positive chi in your living space and bring your environment into alignment with your true self and your goals.”  Beliefnet Editor Laurie Sue Brockway is quoted in a blog post at beliefnet saying that “images of loved ones and real people add a touch of warmth to a home” and recommends using certain types of photos to enhance certain spaces, such as photos of children to bring good energy to your “creative area”, photos of loved ones and ancestors to help “heal and connect us to the power of our lineage” in the family area, and placing “couple photos”, like a wedding photo, in your bedroom.

Some Native American tribes and several other cultures have believed, ever since the camera was invented, that “photography steals the soul” and because of this belief, they refuse to be photographed.  Well, I don’t think it exactly steals the soul, but good photography can certainly share it.

I just know that I smile and I feel good when I see, within a frame or tacked to a corkboard, images of people acting silly while on vacation, or happily holding children and grandchildren, or posing for a family reunion portrait…I even like to see the sweet progression of those awkward smiling posed school photos.  Surely a family’s photos help a realtor sell a house, creating an atmosphere that stays with the buyer and softly whispers in their ear, “Nice people lived in this house.  Nice people raised a family in this house.  Nice people had good times in this house and took care of this house.  And doesn’t this house seem even nicer because of that?”

True, decorating magazines will tell you that too many personal photographs in a home can look tacky or cluttered, like when they’re piled on a piano or fireplace mantel.  But the more houses I visit where they break that “rule”, the more I disagree with that one, too.  For example, one of my siblings has a gorgeously decorated, uncluttered home, worthy of any Elle Decor or Southern Living cover, yet what’s one of its focal points? The refrigerator, which is covered in small clear plastic “fridge frames” with beautiful photos of family and friends.  Fun to look at, and a great “conversation piece”.  One cannot help but smile when looking it over, and I’m so glad it’s kept “fresh” with new photos.  Definitely adds to the “positive energy” of the house!

I realized recently that I’ve gotten way too lax in my own home when it comes to photos.  No, I’m not talking about scrapbooking again—I’m still several years behind with that.  I’m talking about doing something, anything, with new photos once I create them.  Back in the 35mm film days, I took every roll of finished film to the drugstore to get developed, and an hour or a couple days later, everyone in the immediate family would see each one.  We’d send some to relatives, put some in frames, put some in a photo album…  But for the last decade that I’ve had a digital camera, with a memory card that can store hundreds of images, “if I have the time” I unload the photos to my computer, and then “if I have the time” (and enough ink, and photo paper), I print some with my own printer.  Meanwhile the photos keep piling up in the camera and on the computer, and no one gets to see them.  And a whole lot of picture frames sit empty, inside a cabinet.

Before I catch up in my scrapbooks, I’ve decided to make an effort to get more photos “out and up”.  No, I’m not going to cover my fridge with them (Andy would have a cow) and I just cleared piles of sheet music off the piano so I don’t really want to cover up all that newly clean space with photo frames. But our upstairs walls have pretty much been bare since we moved here, so… I’ve been having fun (and some huge laughs) going through my stored photos, deciding what to print, dusting off my unused digital photo frame (who knew it could be so cool?) and buying mats for those lonely old frames in the cabinet.  It’s time to fill up those walls.

My belief is that as the kids, Andy, and I pass the photos on our way to our rooms each night, we will glance at them and feel good, maybe even smile, maybe even have sweeter dreams.  And when we head out in the morning, we’ll see them and smile again, and maybe start our days a little happier because of it.  And when friends and family see them, they’ll smile, too.

Continuously Contagious

One of my mother-in-law’s favorite sayings is “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” In other words, “Choose your friends carefully” (although she also uses that phrase literally in enforcing the “no animals on beds” rule at her house…J).  Now it appears there is scientific research to back her up, as well as every wise parent and grandparent who’s given similar advice to their kids.


You may have heard of the researchers, James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis, or at least their work. They’ve been in the news this week, as their latest research proves the concept of “pay it forward”– in studying a large group of people, they found that good deeds really are contagious, and spread to hundreds of people.  In the March 8 news story, it also mentioned the pair’s previous work in studying groups and the influence of close friends, so I Googled it to learn more.  Seems these two were in the news last fall, even on Oprah, with their book Connections: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. Their past studies showed that starting or stopping the habits of overeating and smoking was highly influenced by close friends and co-workers (especially those of the same sex) and that it was a “domino effect”.  If someone loses weight, that person positively influences her close friends to lose weight, and some do, and then their close friends lose weight, etc., etc.  If you work among a bunch of smokers, you’re much more likely to smoke, and then so will some of your friends. 


I couldn’t help but think of our former teen neighbor who once abhorred smoking but embraced it wholeheartedly once she became friends with a bunch of smokers.  I also thought of what these studies’ results meant to other youth behaviors, such as drinking and drug use…the results would probably be the same. 


Yes, there are people who defy the influence of others, kids who hang out with “unsavory” friends but don’t look or act like them, and these researchers aren’t saying it’s impossible, but what they’ve shown is that group influence really is “contagious”, and their statistics back them up. 


Fowler and Christakis have also done some fascinating research with happiness.  According to their 20-year study that ended in 2003, happiness is contagious.  “Surround Yourself With Positive People and Your Life Will Be Good” isn’t just a silly phrase inside a fortune cookie.  They’ve scientifically proven that if you’re happy, others around you are more likely to be happy and pass it on, and the lives eventually influenced are numerous.  This chain reaction effect is also true with bad moods, but luckily to a slightly lesser extent.


Parents can utilize Fowler and Christakis’ body of work in many ways.  Not only does it encourage us in advising our kids on friend selection, it’s a wake-up call to staying savvy (not helicopter) to who those friends are (for starters, get a Facebook page, parents!!!) It also underlines the importance of parental decisions when making choices about schools, activities, and other groups to which our kids belong. 


And, it’s also information that can help our kids.  I once asked my Girl Scout troop, at the time composed of 15 ten-year-olds, if they felt they had any power in their daily lives (we were studying leadership and community service, and we started out by learning about the “Power of One”.)  Not one girl said yes.  “No way!” said some of them, shaking their heads.  I explained to them how helping their parents make breakfast or doing good on a test was personal power, but I’m not sure they all “got” it.  I thought about showing them the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, but figured all the “building and loan stuff” would stump them…and I forgot about the movie “Pay It Forward”…but the Connected studies could have helped get the point across.  Kind of like a science fair experiment.  Because all of the people studied by Fowler and Christakis were not adults—kids and teens were involved, too.  Hidden among the formal, published “Conclusions” of their work is the unwritten notion that kids and teens are not as insignificant as they may think, and that their habits, their deeds, and their moods really do influence their friends and the people around them, plus a  whole lot more.  

Grandmother Rocks!

The relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law can be a weird one, can’t it? Right from the start, there’s some sort of alpha female thing going on.  In one corner, the woman who’s been in a guy’s life the longest, and in the other, the one who plans to be Numero Uno even longer, and many times when the two women get together, it’s like oil and water.  A cousin of Andy’s knew she was in for trouble when her mother-in-law stood up at her wedding reception and gave a toast, looking at her and saying something like, “You may be married to him, but don’t ever forget he’s MY son, and every weekend he’s going to be at MY house, mowing MY lawn.”  Even though my husband set the record straight by giving a toast at our wedding rehearsal dinner proclaiming he loved me more than anyone else in the whole world, I still thought I was in for trouble.  My mother-in-law, Martha, is a “bold Southern gal”, as I like to think, not afraid to wearing bold, bright clothes and not averse to speaking her mind, which could sometimes rub a new bride wrong.  I remember when she visited our first home for the first time, she remarked that an Elvis clock didn’t belong in the living room and that we had too many things magneted to our refrigerator. (I think I almost bit through my tongue that night, trying to hold back!)  And I remember she wasn’t too excited about the practice of breastfeeding.  (“My kids didn’t do it and they turned out fine!” she’d say.) But with age comes experience– I’ve mellowed, she’s mellowed, but most importantly, I’ve learned to embrace and even celebrate her boldness. She wouldn’t be Martha without it.  And everyone likes her– my hairdresser likes her, parents of our kids’ friends like her…well, you will, too.  Check out this photograph taken last month.  Cousin Ted turned 11 in August, and got an electric guitar for his birthday.  Emmie took her acoustic guitar to his house and stayed all night. Here’s what happened when Grandmother Martha visited them — look how well she color coordinates with Ted’s Fender Stratocaster! (Les Paul, the inventor of the electric guitar, had to have been smiling somewhere.  He died on that very day.)

Not bad for a woman in her 80’s, huh?