Friday, August 29, 2008

Get Your Laughs. On Me.

The sun has started getting to me. How else would you explain the following incidents?

1. I went out with Renee' to get a smoothie after our massages. We walk into Dunkin Donuts and I'm adjusting my skirt which is just an easy-breezy summer pull-on number. It is not, however, reversible. I wish it were because when I felt the inside of the seams on the outside, I screamed and darted to the ladies' room. The funniest part was that she was unfazed.

2. Joel and I were watching Stephen and Paul play tennis. Joel took the role of ballboy. I took the role of single spectator on the park bench. Park bench was plastic, lightweight, and not bolted to the ground. A ball rolls close to me, just out of arm's reach. I am on one end of the bench. I lean to the left. Lean a little farther. Lean....tip...tip the bench up....fall off...hear bench land with a bang...lay there laughing...and seeing the guys laugh at me. Love/nothing.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Lovely, Lovely Birthday Indeed

Turning 43 wasn't so bad. In fact, my birthday this year was lovely. We are at Myrtle Beach. On the morning of the 26th, Paul agreed to take a walk on the beach with me. We talked about good stuff, holding hands, and I never once got the feeling he didn't want to be there. (Normally he doesn't enjoy walks because his stride is so much longer than mine and he's not a big talker.) This time I was the first to suggest we turn around and head back. Such a different scenario than last year when my hopes for birthday romance were dashed.

When we returned from our walk, I spread a blanket out on the beach and realized I had forgotten my Reader's Digest. He went all the way back to the condo for it, plus brought me bottled water and a towel. Then he went back for a workout while I soaked up the sun and listened to the surf while I read. The other kids were back at the condo, taking their good ole time getting up and around. Soon a family with a baby and a toddler sat near me under an umbrella. I must've been hormonal. After a few minutes of observing them and having flashbacks to when our children were that size, I had to blink away a few tears. They have no idea how fast time will pass, I thought, and thanked God that I had my whole family here and wondered if it would be the last family vacation.

Later that day, Renee' and I made appointments for a massage the next day. So I had something to look forward to.

That evening Paul took us to Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville for dinner. Our family got the best table in the house, on the patio overlooking the lake at Broadway at the Beach. The menu looked so good I couldn't decide what I wanted. I settled on
Tilapia with Jerk BBQ sauce, gumbo, and salad, plus a Jolly Mon smoothie (strawberry/banana). The best part was having my whole family around me. I thoroughly enjoy their company. Again, very different from last year when tensions abounded and I was miserable. The Lord has healed my marriage in the past several months, and the results have had tremendous trickle-down effects on the kids.

On the way home from dinner, we stopped at Wal-Mart. We went separate ways and they somehow managed to buy stuff for me secretly. I knew they were getting cards; I could hear them cracking up in the next aisle over from where I was.

Back at the condo, I took a leisurely bath and folded some laundry. (There's a laundromat here. If you know me, you know I love laundromats, so washing clothes is a fun thing.)

When I opened the door to the dinette area, surprise! Pink roses in a vase on the table. And Joel handed me a stack of birthday cards. He made me open his first, of course. It features a spotted dog with bulging eyes and a humongous grin. It says "Dude" (crossed out by Joel), I am so excited it's your birthday..." and under it he wrote "I'm proud of you, I'm so plesed" and inside, "I could poop." Yeh, that's my boy. The older kids bought a sentimental one for me, with undeserved, kind words. Paul also gave me a beautiful card.

I'm hoping there's a card at home from my parents. They were in Kansas tending some rental houses, and I didn't get a call from them. That was the only raindrop on my birthday parade, but the rest of the day was (literally and figuratively) very sunny indeed.

Thanks to all of you who wished me a happy day via comments or email. It was so sweet of you.

Oh, and yesterday Renee and I got those professional massages. For me I chose 40 minutes for my back and neck, and 20 minutes for reflexology (foot massage). Man, did that feel goooooooooooooood!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Blogging from the Beach: Day 1 in Review

Since I completely forgot to bring a journal, I'm going to blog my memories of this vacation. The details are more for me to look back on and remember.

Preparing for this one took more than the usual effort. First was getting the basement dejunked (see previous post). That took a lot of time, willpower, and gobs o' grace. Second was a to-do list of significant school-related things that had to be squeezed in before I could leave. Wow. Can I say I have more respect now than ever for school teachers? I had some idea of how much planning goes into teaching a class of all same-aged kids, but NO idea how much hands-on stuff is required. My personal to-do list included attending a teacher in-service about the writing curriculum (I just know Julie and I are gonna be partners in crime), helping Cindy organize the art closet by making sure all 384 colored markers work, giving my new art supplies list to Jennie (the secretary), sending my history and geography year plans to Lisa (the principal), discussing discipline and room decorations with Cheryl (my co-teacher), helping the two of them throw out old curriculum-- a familiar theme--and watching them set up a teacher folder for me on the computer. I felt so official.

Then I came home and decided which curriculum to bring to the beach to work on. Now I know how it feels to not be able to just "get away from it all," professionally. But I also know that, besides mothering, there's nothing I'd rather be doing than teaching. It's the most pleasurable work I can imagine. (Lisa gave me a sit-down talk before accepting my commitment to the job. She said, "I just don't want you to think it's all pie-in-the-sky." I joked, "So you'd rather give me the pie-in-the-face?")

As for choosing the place to vacation, it was easy: Myrtle Beach has become a favorite of ours. Much less crowded than Ocean City, not gay like Rehoboth, family friendly like Outer Banks but with more to do within a five-mile radius. In particular, we chose to come back here to Myrtle Beach Resort because of the great amenities: Paul and Sarah did the research and I made the call to the owner. A very talkative, good-natured, Southern guy who gave us quite a good deal on this 3rd-floor oceanfront condo. It's small (only two bedrooms) but it's just our nuclear family this time (no friends) so it's cozy. The view is incredible from both the living room and master bedroom.

-Left house at 7:40 Saturday morning. I tried to get out by 7:30, but had to run back in the house for something. -OCD-about-security Paul had to go back in and make sure everything was as tight as it was two minutes earlier.
-The delay put us smack behind stalemated traffic on 95. An accident that closed the highway for a half hour.
-But we were all in good spirits--including Paul who tends to get a bit agitated when things don't go according to (his) plan. He concluded that, had we left five minutes earlier, it could have been us in the accident.
-Weather was gorgeous all the way down. Slightly overcast, perfect driving weather.
-No arguments except whether I should have coffee to speed me up (my choice) or skip it so I don't slow them down (their choice). I chose half-caf.

Having settled in for a half hour, we got a call from the the condo owner who just wanted to make sure everything was fine. I assured him it was, thanks. It was nice to have a welcome basket on the counter: a big yellow sand bucket filled with toilet paper, dishwasher soap, kitchen towels, and other goodies. It was a little touch I'll have to remember when we own a condo someday. When people are paying hundreds of dollars for a week in your place, give them five bucks worth of necessities.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's My Twin's Birthday

Karen H is having a birthday today. We were born the same day, same year. She is the younger, funnier, smarter one of us.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Binders, Bondage, and Blessings

We're on vacation now, and I'm blogging from Myrtle Beach. More about that later on this ZMZ station.

I wanted to report on a major big feat our family accomplished as a team on August 15th and 16th, the weekend before we left on vacation. (Yes, we procrastinated all summer, but then we produced.) We worked together to dejunk the back of the basement, a project we'd been putting off for a long time. On Friday night, Paul pulled it all out and set it in the living area of the basement. Sarah bought big Sterilite bins with lids and reorganized Christmas stuff. She convinced me to get rid of the old Christmas stockings that I held dear by saying there was stuck-on chocolate in the bottom of them. I didn't check, but I needed to let go. They weren't in good shape and needed all sorts of creative fasteners to keep them from falling off the banister all Season long. Stephen and Ben carried trash, trash, and more trash to the garage en route to the dump. Joel did his part by steering clear of the mess.

Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but being the self-disclosing fool that I am, let me just blurt it out: I sorted through fifteen years of old homeschooling stuff. I whittled it all down to three thick binders. Fifteen years in eight hours. (Sometimes I amaze even myself. It's the only way I can compensate for my shame that I had 15 years of homeschool memorabilia to start with.) Throwing things out was easier than I thought. My rule of thumb: keep what shows their personality and creativity. That meant creative writing, cards, a few pictures they'd drawn, and some ribbons they'd earned. The rest got pitched.

Why did I have so much stuff? Two reasons: fear and sentimentality. In the early days of homeschooling, I had a paralyzing fear that the State of Maryland would someday "audit" us and I would need to "prove" we were keeping up. Fear is a horrible motivator. What was I thinking? I mean, what public school has ever made a parent show their kid's schoolwork at the end of a year? Fear of "someday" compelled me to keep stuff for the future. Sentimentality compelled me to keep stuff from the past. I can honestly say that God has released me from so much bondage. I am not afraid of tomorrow anymore; I am confident that God is my Defender and Provider. I don't need "stuff." I treasure much from the past, but I realize that no matter how much stuff I keep to remind myself of the "good ole days," I can't get those days back, nor would I trade them for the beauty of life as it is now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Majesty of God in the Sheriff's Department

Today I had to be fingerprinted for my job. I tried two days ago, but the line was too long and I had other things pressing. I didn't know what could take so long. Ink ten fingers one at a time and presto!

It doesn't work like that anymore. Forget the ink. Now the technology is more sophisticated, at least at our local precinct that can afford the $24,000 machine. You stand at arm's length from the scanner, the cop sprays water on your fingers, takes a print, and waits for the machine to tell him if it passed. They need scores of at least 93% to be acceptable. Otherwise they get a reading called "POOR MINUTIA."

The guy explained that since women's hands are softer than men's, they are harder to print. My prints were taking forever to be acceptable. and he explained that mine were the softest hands he had felt in a long time. That made me feel good, but I pitied the other lady waiting for her turn. He also said they're looking for two distinct parts: the swirl in the center of each print, and the deltas (pyramids to the edge of each of swirl).

"Your deltas are way off to the edge of your fingertips," he said, pointing to the sides of my nails.

"Sorry," I said. "Is there anything I can do to help that? " Of course we both knew the answer.

"Nope, not a thing. There's no problem with your hands, you just have very soft ones and the deltas are so far apart it's hard to get a clear reading. " I wanted to suggest he read my palms instead. Maybe there'd be easy-to-find deltas there. But I kept my smart mouth closed and tried not to giggle. "That's what makes you you," he added.

I got serious. "It's utterly fascinating, " I told him, "--a testimony to our creative God. No two fingerprints alike, " I said.

"Hey, that is so true," he said. "You can't tell me there's not an Intelligent Designer. I don't buy that crap about evolution. Six and a half billion people on the face of the earth, and not one set of fingerprints the same. No one can convince me that we came from apes or chipmunks."

"I agree," I said. "Even every chipmunk out there has unique fingerprints, too--in case you want to get into the chipmunk fingerprinting business someday."

What seemed like a major time-eater on my long to-do list before vacation ended up being a
wonderful setting for talking about the wonders of God. Six and a half billion times ten of them....and counting.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Figure it Out

I challenge you to be a Sherlock Holmes for a minute or two. I thought of the scenarios that have been playing out at our house and have wondered if our nosy neighbors have started to talk amongst themselves.

A week ago a woman in an unmarked car toured our home and took pictures of the outside. She had a clipboard.

Monday morning we put half a garage's worth of trash out by the curb.

Monday afternoon Steve and I loaded up another half of the garage into the van and returned two hours later.

Monday evening I waited outside for Paul to come home. I was semi-dressed up, told my flower-watering neighbor lady we were heading out to sit down with a lawyer.

That's all I'm saying. Can you guess what's going on here?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Let them Pull Triggers

A word of wisdom to moms of young boys: if you want them to enjoy pitching in with cleaning, give them triggers. Windex, Pledge, and Lysol all have them. Of course you have to be the judge of when they're old enough and wise enough to handle them, but trust me, it's a closer to age 4 than 40. I smiled with great contentment this week as Joel, age 6, used the "trigger" to spray floor cleaner while I mopped. He shined the windows in the kitchen and family room, and then noticed the glass end table needed to be "shot" also. Bravo, young son!

Raising Real Men, not "Ra" men

This post was prompted by a friend's. When my comment got too wordy, I decided to put the bulk of it over here on my site.

Usually I would link to an article I'm stirred by (whether positively or negatively) but I don't want to draw a feminist crowd unnecessarily. I believe the bulk of the blog my friend refers to is inspiring, entertaining, and gracious. But every now and then a post of theirs comes across too dogmatic for even an opinionated person like me. To their credit, they all have a great sense of humor and sometimes I believe their simplistic or dogmatic-sounding statements may be a case of humor not transferring well in cyberprint. Furthermore, the daughters who contribute to the blog are young moms, and have very young sons still in training. I have a feeling these women will train their sons in more domestic skills than they think. And I'm trusting that if their sons marry, each one will be equipped with the knowledge of how to cook more than Ramen noodles. (I hope so, anyway. Can you spell hypertension?)

I think the whole gist of the article gets sticky with the word "mission." A mission has a purpose, a plan, and a person or people to execute it successfully. (Sidebar: If you're a single guy living on your own, you are "a person"--i.e. solely responsible for your home or rented room) and you'd better have some domestic skills like how (and how often) to do dishes. "Weekly" is not the right answer). If you fail at that, you better darn well know the difference between Raid and a rifle. 'Cuz I'll tell you what, ain't a man alive that would attract a woman if his roommates were rats or rodents.

I believe it's the woman's primary "mission" to love her home and manage it. An essential part of good management is training the subordinates. Children are the subordinates. Her husband is not one of them. He can support her efforts or sabotage them by his own example. My man excels at the former. He has a gift for rallying the troops to work around here by modeling a good work ethic that doesn't stop when he comes home from his paid job.

Part 2:

My "homemaking" mission includes spending lots of time with my kids. And since 80% of our waking hours are spent in the kitchen, why not capitalize on it? I've always wanted them to be capable of living alone with practical skills, and then if God wills--get married and bless their wives in very practical ways someday, I considered it all part of my "mission". I would have done a great disservice if I'd said, "Now, boys, since you will pursue a different career someday, I won't show you how to vacuum a room, saute' onions, or iron a shirt because I am so positive you'll never have the gift of singleness."

I've taught all my kids to cook, and required they each make a meal twice a week from about the time they hit 6th grade. Once a week with me, once alone. We may have had Ramen noodle soup once in a while, but not for lack of skill. (I stopped the weekly cooking requirement when they went to high school outside the home, but I expect them to cook occasionally.) If I had had ALL boys, this weekly cooking rule still would have implemented.

I consider it part of my "homemaking" mission to train my children to make their own homes someday. That takes a lot of time and energy. I knew I couldn't work outside the home and still fulfill this training mission well with my three older children. I'm whooped by dinnertime, and (too often) grouchy. It's not ideal teaching (or learning) time. Kids don't just learn by watching, they must do. Frankly, I'm more than a bit nervous about working even part-time outside my home this coming school year, giving other people my best and my family the leftovers. It's especially challenging when, deep down, I know I enjoy teaching academics more than I enjoy training anyone in domestic arts.

I'm not saying I've done everything right. Far from it. I often battle a sense of failure as a "home missionary." I'm just saying that, by God's grace in the form of training by both a mom and dad committed to raising adults (not kids), my grown boys can--with equal ease-- handle chain saws and paring knives, motor oil and fabric softener. They are real men, not "Ra"men.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Q&A Wednesday: Meeting Someone from History

If you could spend 24 hours in the company of someone who has died (family member, friend, or person from history), who would it be and why?

Obviously the saints reading this would include Jesus Christ, but don't feel that if you say someone else, we think you value Him less. We shall one day behold Him face-to-face forever, not just for 24 hours. As our late friend Earnest (from CCC) used to shout, "Glo-ree! Glo-ree! Yes, Lawd, glo-ree!"

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

If you still read my blog...

would you leave a comment today? I miss hearing from many of you. Hope you're well and drinking from a saucer (because your cup runneth over).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Accusing Edwards, my Hero?

Imagine sitting down to dinner, saying grace, looking up, and hearing someone accuse your hero. My hubby Paul did that tonight.

He scoops up some chicken alfredo and says to us all, "Did you know that Jonathan Edwards had an affair?"

"What?! No way!" I gasp. "How'd they find that out posthumously?" I ask.

Stephen nearly chokes in disbelief.

"What are you talking about?" Paul asks.

"The Reformed preacher of long ago!"

"No! The politician."

"Oh, you mean Jon Edwards?"

"Yeh, he sometimes goes by Jonathan. He admitted to having an affair. What? You think they dug up some dirt on the Jonathan Edwards hundreds of years later?"

I'm still chuckling over that one.

How's this for a Field Trip Idea?

President McKinley will be the first one that my fifth and sixth graders will discuss in our US history (2oth c.) studies, if ever so briefly, when the school year opens.

Being the kind of teacher who loves re-enactments, role-playing, and field trips (with a chaperone:student ratio of one:one), I will pitch a plan to our school principal.

"Mrs. Gordon, did you know that President McKinley was from Ohio? Would it be all right if
we started the year with a field trip to his hometown, or roughly thereabouts? I mean, I've heard there are people we can stay with. Furthermore, I do believe one hospitable couple has a claim to fame as a descendant of President Wilson. Oh, and I'm sure I can find chaperones."

What say ye in the matter of Field Trip vs. Sanity?

Got a Big Hat for Mary?

So I'm gung-ho into planning my lessons for school. So many things I want to teach, so little time.

I was trying tonight to pull together a little art history to go along with art concepts and techniques. I found this wonderful idea:

Mary Cassatt was a 20th century American Impressionist painter who painted lots of mothers and children. Girls in dresses who flop unladylike in chairs at home after church--that's tellin' it like it is with a brush, huh? She spent most of her adult life in France.

This link, if you didn't click on, describes how the teacher plays dress-up and comes to class as Mary herself. Can you just see me waltzing into the classroom in a big hat and grey clothing, saying, "Bonjour, mes amis!"? I'm having a little too much fun thinking about it.

If you happen to have a big ole fancy hat to lend me for the occasion, let me know. I hope I can work this fun idea in somehow. Trouble is, we only get an hour a week for art. Ack! Limit our art time? But why?

Flashback Question

My daughter would like to know a few things from you ladies who are older than 19.

Care to answer her here?

Best Weekend in Months

And it didn't even include my birthday. (That's coming up on the 26th.)

This past weekend was nothing short of relaxing and fun.

Friday afternoon Sarah, Joel, and I went up to Sandy Cove for another Free Swim. We took the "converti," as Sarah calls the Saab. Top down, sun out, breeze blowing. Niiiiiice. Two Fridays ago Joel learned to swim the width of the shallow end there. This time he finally trusted me enough to say "let go" when I assured him he could back float. He floated for 30 seconds at a time and loved it. Our swim time was cut just a little short by rain, but it was okay. We were refreshed. I went to bed at 9:30 with a wonderful footrub and backrub from my little sweetie.
I said to him, "Joel, you know what the professionals do? They squeeze the arms from the shoulders down to the fingers." He kindly declined the work by saying, "Oh. I'm not a professional."

Saturday morning Sarah and I went down to Helping Up Mission (a men's homeless shelter) in Baltimore with a bunch of guys from church. Talk about a testerone fest. We were the only ladies from church and saw only two other female volunteers there. Yet we felt safe and comfortable; it was the peace of God . As soon as we got there, there put five of us on the food line, and three in the dining room. Sam who is a new (and Italian) member among us, served pasta with the typical heavy hand. Danielle's man, Josh, tied an apron on as easily as he straps on his guitar and swooped into action, dishing up spaghetti sauce like a regular Emeril Lagasse. I was the green bean lady. My vegetable offering was the most often refused item on the food line, but Craig said I handled rejection well. (I later swapped him to serve bread.) Eric C was Macaroni Salad Man. George and Bruce mingled with the men of the Mission in their typical outgoing-for-Christ fashion. Sarah stayed busy wiping tables and refilling drinks. The men were so clean and polite and grateful. I was really blessed to see God at work in the simplest of ways in the cafeteria and later in the game room (on our tour of the facility) where men are learning to socialize without alcohol and drugs, for the first time in a long time.

Stephen was home from The Clash by the time we got back. He was zonked out (mouth open, catching flies) on the sofa. He had reportedly gotten only about fours of sleep a night for the past week. He slept on that sofa from 11-5 Saturday. We woke him up for a family outing. First we grabbed dinner at Wegman's (colossal grocery store) then took in a free concert at River Valley Ranch. The band called Tenth Avenue North was playing. I like their music, but was more impressed with the lead singer's clear and passionate presentation of the gospel. When he used the phrase "kindergarten propitiation," I knew he was a sound brother! At the meet-and-greet session afterward, Paul told him how much he appreciated their theology, and said our own is a Reformed/Charismatic one. "That's pretty much how I'd define mine, " said Mike.

Sunday afternoon I had a good nap, then enjoyed an evening of steamed crabs at the house. It's a traditional way to celebrate Stephen's birthday. He had Eric and Andy over, and Ben brought Krista. Lots of joking around, mostly at my expense. (I mean, I guess I deserved it when I asked Krista what town Millersville College is in. She smiled and said, "Millersville," and my family cut loose on me.) In case Krista couldn't tell, Ben gets his brains from his dad. After crabs we played Cranium. That was a hoot, Sarah trying to figure out the term "chocolate mouse" from my sketch that looked more like Roger Rabbit. Good thing I didn't have to show a portfolio in order to get my school job.

Late last night I watched my favorite Olympic event. Yay for the American men's swim team! They took the gold in the 4x100 meter relay. Our own Michael Phelps from Baltimore has the wingspan of an albatross and the lungs of a dolphin. Only in my dreams can I swim that fast and that long!

So here's thanking God for a terrific weekend. I just loved it, the best I've had in months.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Of Pups and Presidents: Memories of Good Teachers

Part 2 of a two-part series.

Good Teachers:

My third grade teacher was Mrs. Grose. Another misnomer. She was anything but gross. She was warm and kind and gentle and beautiful and funny and understanding. She taught us how to tell time (back before I'd ever seen or heard of digital clocks). She read a chapter a day to us after recess, to help settle us down and let us hear good literature. Her reading was full of emotion. I remember hearing a scary scene from The Boxcar Children: who or what was that in the woods coming closer and closer to the boxcar, snapping twigs beneath their heavy footsteps? I remember the way Mrs. Grose read Old Yeller. When she got to the part where Travis has to shoot his beloved hunting dog because it had hydrophobia, Mrs. Grose turned around on her hard wooden chair, put her head down, and cried.

We heard all about the school antics of Mrs. Grose's identical twin daughters, Nellene and Marlene. The hilarious things those girls could get away with because teachers couldn't tell them apart!

Mrs. Grose and I have stayed in touch ever since I was in her third grade class. One of her twins grew up and married a very abusive man. The trauma he inflicted caused a long, slow, painful death from renal failure when Marlene was 39. Mrs. Grose (who insists I call her Vi, but I can't) has written me letters about her struggles to forgive her ex-son-in-law and to believe that God was good in the midst of the abuse. I have always kept her letters in a box of keepsakes and I love to visit her whenever I get to go back to Kansas.

My favorite teacher in junior high was Mr. Tom McKnight. He was just about the only cool teacher I had in Christian school. The rest were legalistic, narrow-minded, and humorless. I think he secretly liked our shinanigans. The class clown, Ben Jones, would use the word "sleazy," knowing it cracked up Mr. McKnight, who knew he probably shouldn't laugh at that. For example, "That Warren G Harding was such a sleazy little man," Ben Jones would say with an Elvis lip. We'd all laugh, including Mr. McKnight; he would turn to the chalkboard and pretend to be going on with business as usual, but you could see his shoulders shaking.

His fiancee was my cheerleading coach and I am almost positive she and he used to kiss in his room when no one was around. (Kissing was something that would get students suspended.) But Miss Gatto was in love with him and not above clandestine rendezvous with tall, blonde history teacher. I'd bet money on that. She was sweet, though, and let each of us cheerleaders take part in her wedding reception. They got married December 30th and I loved the bridesmaids' pretty white muffs they carried so much that I had my bridesmaids carry them on my December 28th wedding nine years later.

Mr. McKnight taught US History with such passion; so enamored of President Lincoln was he that he named his own son Abraham. He didn't apologize when people would ask, "Oh, after the Abraham in the Bible?" His son and my baby sister, Jill, were born just one day apart. His wife (my cheerleading coach) and my mom saw each other in the maternity ward. How cool (except for knowing the gross fact that my parents obviously still "did it").

In high school at C. Milton Wright, I had two great teachers, Mr. Smith and Mrs. Snyder. The former was my 11th grade journalism teacher and yearbook advisor. (Fun bit o' trivia: we now attend the same church, and his daughter, Sana, and my son, Stephen, just got their driver's licenses the same day a couple weeks ago!) Mr. Smith had such creative projects. I liked almost everything about the class except the assignment to be TV anchors. I remember hating to look into a lifeless camera, and read TV script as if to "viewers out there" without using fillers ("um," "uh, " or "and" to connect one thought after another after another). I declared on the spot that print journalism was the only medium for me. Mr. Smith also taught us how to interview people. Use open-ended questions. That lesson has stuck with me ever since. If you hold a conversation with Robert (whom I eventually learned to call by first name), you'll know that he is a master at drawing people out through the power of open-ended questions.

Mrs. Snyder was my 12th grade AP English teacher. Wisely she introduced Shakespeare to us through one of his comedies (Taming of the Shrew). She was such a good writing teacher that her class helped me test out of English 101 in college and go straight into a 200 level course. She also taught us literay analysis which I had to use ad nauseum for the next four years. Thankfully she made it relatively easy.

Friday, August 08, 2008

08.08.08 God Gave Us Gold and He's 17 Today

Dear Stephen,

While some young people are in Beijing this week striving for gold at the Olympics, I am at home thanking God for the gold He gave us they day you were born. I'm sad that you won't be here for your birthday (I really miss you), but I know your life is being greatly enriched at The Clash right now.

I'd love to list 17 ways your life blesses me, but your laptop battery might not hold up! are just four things I want to say to you today.

1. You have a great sense of humor. I love it. I love your laugh, your quick wit, your ability to recite entire Brian Regan routines. Your practical joking showed up before you were even born: you toyed with your due date, sending us to the hospital on July 31st, August 2nd, and August 6th, and each time the doctors sent me home (mad!). When you finally came out, you were male, not female as I had unscientifically predicted. We didn't have a boy's name picked out and had to pray about one.

2. You live up to your name. Whenever I would pray for a name for you in those first 48 hours, I got the sense that its meaning would have something to do with your head. Every time I patted your soft little crown with the single blonde curl at the nape, I was getting images of kings, princes, and headship. Finally, our then-pastor Chuck Jennings suggested the name Stephen--"it means 'crown'," he said-- I knew instantly it was meant for you. We chose your middle name, Josiah, after the boy king in Israel. Little did I know that you'd grow up to be the head of your class, graduating summa cum laude at age 16. You have led well in so many areas--serving at home, becoming a prayer group leader at school in your junior year (a nomination typically reserved for seniors), being chosen to give the Senior Address, and in countless other ways. To quote Pappaw, you're a "prince of a fellow."

3. You are such a gentleman. I love the way you hold the car door for me, carry groceries in from the car without being asked, use good table manners, and make eye contact with people who are speaking to you. Those trademarks don't go unnoticed by parents, peers, and your pipsqueak brother. You have made Joel LOVE to hold heavy doors for total strangers in public.

4. Your passion for God is immeasurable. I haven't seen anything like it in any young man for as long as I can remember. You worship on your drums. You read the Bible early in the morning and late at night. You wrote your senior thesis on theologian John Owen. Son, do you realize how uncommon, how uncharacteristic, how unique that is? (Bet you read that as "un-neek," didn't you? Gotcha!) The very fact that you'd spend more than half your graduation money to attend a worldview conference in the summer tells your dad and me just how committed you are to growing in holiness.

I love you so much. You are a treasure, from the top of your golden head to the soles of your basketball-playing feet. It's an honor, privilege, and humongous joy to be your mother. Happy birthday, Stephen. We'll take you out for a nice dinner when you get home, and let you tell us all about your incredible experience this week.

Happy birthday again. You won't hear me say "I'm proud of you" because you know Joel will scold me, "Don't say that, Mom. Being proud's a sin." Rather, now that it's a family joke, I'll say, "I'm pleased with you." Very much pleased. And so is your dad.


P.S. When I see you in this picture with a little girl in Mexico, it makes me imagine how much joy you'll have when you're a father. You have admitted to looking forward to that; I pray that someday (not too too soon, of course!) that our God fulfills this desire. I'll gladly take a bunch of little Stephens and Stephanies someday.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Of Pianos and Pee: Memories of Bad Teachers

This is the first of a two-part series. (I've written the second but doubt anyone will read it all at one sitting.)

Bad Teachers:

My kindergarten teacher was named Miss Heart. MisNomer is more like it because she didn't have one. She scolded me for sitting under the piano during music time. Little did she realize I felt safe there and loved pressing my ear to the body of the piano to hear its rich tones.

My first grade teacher, Miss Andersen, commited the cardinal sin of teaching: nicknaming kids.
One day she was passing back tests and said to this one boy named Hans, "Hands....and need to use your head more. " And to me she said, "ZoBo, I mean BoZo---" and I don't remember the rest. I just remember that I was already so sensitive about having an odd name, I hated her for making it worse.

My second grade teacher was named Mrs. Schmidt. She had grey hair and seemed 70 years old, but she was probably 45. I'll never forget the day she ignored me and ignored me and ignored me as I waved frantically for her permission to let me go to the bathroom. She was calling up kids to the front to get their graded tests. I went up for mine along with three or four other kids, stood there in my 1972 maxi skirt, and made a yellow puddle on the floor beside her desk. She never asked which kid peed in her room--and I never told.

How about you? Who were some of your bad teachers and why?
You need not name them if you don't want to. I did because they are probably so old they don't know how to use computers, have long forgotten me or my odd name, and I really don't care. I went by Marie in second grade anyway. (See first grade bad teacher paragraph for why.)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Announcing a New Direction

At long last my answer came yesterday.

I was hired by our church school to teach art, writing, grammar, and U.S. History.
Art will be for the 3rd/4th grade class as well as the 5th/6th grade class. As for the other subjects, I will be teaching only the 5th/6th grade class (a combined class, for those who don't know).

I've been so excited I can hardly sleep. My mind stays alert planning fun stuff. (I hope it's fun, anyway.) I want my classroom to be the most fun one in the whole building. No, actually, if it's as fun as Joel's first grade class, I'll be happy.

If I had the mental energy right now to tell the nifty details of how this all happened, I would. But for now I'll just say I feel privileged, humbled, excited, and a bit nervous all at once. It's such an answer to prayer.

I will also keep my feet in the homeschool world by teaching a writing class on Thursday to two high school girls. They really want to improve as writers, so they're self-motivated. They'll be coming to my house. The girls' mothers have been begging for a few years, but this is the first time it's worked out all the way around. Once again, an answer to prayer(s)!

Monday, August 04, 2008

In Faith for a New "Net"work

This morning I was reading in Luke where Jesus is standing by the lake one morning. Two fishing boats are docked. The fishermen are cleaning empty nets; they've caught nothing and they've been working all night. Jesus hops into Simon's boat and tells the men to cast their net into the water. "We've been fishing all night, Master, and haven't caught anything. " But he does as Jesus says. Immediately the net is so heavy it takes several men to haul in the catch, and then the boat nearly sinks under the weight. Simon's response is that of humility and worship. At once he bows before this Jesus, whose single sentence carried more power than the force of a professional Galilean fishing crew.

The story is familiar but it made me realize how I've been washing empty nets. Evangelistically I haven't been part of a "catch" in a very long time. The last time I laid out the gospel in clear terms was in Russia. That was over a year ago. The trouble is that I haven't really asked God lately for a "catch." An even deeper trouble is that I haven't cared enough to observe the lake or prepare nets or get into the boat. I've been hanging out with my fellow fishermen, most of whom seem themselves to be on vacation.

Sure, I've been complaining that "the church" wasn't doing enough. Sure, it's obvious that we're all more talk than action. But I am part of "the church" and "we" includes "me," and I can't blame anyone else for apathy while I'm just standin' there waitin' for a leg-up into someone else's boat.

In short I've lacked both compassion and will to ask Jesus if He'd take me fishing with Him.

That changed today. (After I repented--again--of selfishness.) Now I have faith. I feel God has opened my eyes on the water again and is about to hand me a net. It's exciting to be God's fishing partner. All you have to do is go along, let Him say the words, hold unto tight to the net, and then hope others are there to witness the miracle.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A Day with Old Friends

Paul and I had breakfast at Sal and Sandy's house this morning. How refreshing to rekindle this friendship. It's one of those relationships which, regardless how long it's been since your last conversation, you pick up where you left off. Paul loves Sal every bit as much as I love Sandy. What a treat to have a couple that's a great match for both of us. With Sal and Sandy we tend to jump into the deep end of biblical fellowship quite fast. I love that.

The funny thing was they were asking for our counsel on the whole dating and courtship thing. Why's that funny? Because they've been around that mulberry bush a few times,but we have just begun. We told them we're not about formulas or rules. Caution and care, yes, but each relationship is unique and we try to treat our adult children as adults. It's a whole lot easier than I thought it would be. Our kids talk freely with us. I love them. Can you tell? I don't say it enough, but I love them and I love the times we spend together. I realize it's fleeting.

Anyway, back to.....

Breakfast with dear friends. We talked about so much. Life. Death. Mental illness. The love of God. The church. Truth. Education.

We laughed. We cried. We agreed. We disagreed.

Three and a half hours seemed like fifteen minutes. We were also asked this question: What do you guys do for fun? And we were stumped. Paul has fun playing golf. I have fun shopping or drawing. (More relaxing than fun-fun.) Bottom line, we have fun independently but need more fun together.

So I said, "How about you guys? What do you do?" And they laughed. Not much fun. (For those who don't know, Sandy care for their 32 year old severely autistic son day in and day out. Her only outings are Saturday afternoon and evening with Sal while their older teens babysit Todd. He doesn't talk, has never said "Mom" and can't feed himself. He shares a bedroom with them. So if you're wondering why her fun is limited, that's it. I have not met a more selfless mother ever.)

If we were gonna plan fun ,it had to done on the spot. Let's plan some. We ruled out three weekends, So...that narrowed it down. In two weeks we will attend the Little Italy summer film festival. Every Friday night the cops cordain off certain streets, old guys play bocci ball, and when it's dark, they show a movie on the side of a building. We're gonna go to Amicci's or Sabatino's first, and maybe Vacarro's again. (We tried it once as part of Stephen's senior dinner, but were disappointed. But I'm not opposed to giving it a chance at redemption.)

If the Barrancos end up unable to go, we'll still go. We might invite another couple spontaneously or take our kids. We need some fun in our lives.
Isn't it great to have friends who ask pointed questions that perk up your spirits?

From breakfast with them to a surprise 50th birthday party for Gary Bull, we celebrated life today. Gary has known Paul since 1984. He recalled that Paul came by the house for dinner a few times a week till he met this girl named Zoanna. AFter that, Gary and Kim never saw him. That is, until one night at Putty Hill Skateland when Zoanna announced their engagement. Gary and Kim were such a magnetic part of our courtship (would you like to see pictures?) that we asked them to be in our wedding. Over the years our love for them has grown and grown.

Thank You, Father, for blessing us abundantly with precious friends.

Friday, August 01, 2008

L. A., We Have a Problem

Normally I don't let politics take a front seat on my blog. But one issue has caught my attention and nags at me.

It is this: the city of L.A. banning the building of new freestanding fast food joints for the next year. They are touting concern for Americans' health as the reason--as if this move is going to curb obesity, lower the rate of heart attacks, or turn junk food junkies into marathon maniacs.
Is it really the job of city government to sever our ties with burgers and fries?

No one can make people patronize a place. By the same token, anyone can boycott a business. But since when is it up to a city government to say "no more" to a non-violent, amoral move of capitalism?

The city of Baltimore went too far by banning cigarette smoking in bars. It was a law that "butted" in by increments. First, years ago, all restaurants had to have smoking and non-smoking areas. I liked that because I'm a non-smoker and don't like to smell cigarettes while I'm eating. But some smokers love lighting up at the end of a meal to make it complete. Who am I to say they shouldn't? Restaurant owners should have the say; it's up to them to figure out if they're making or losing money by which policies they enact.

But soon Balto's government got pushy and, before long, smoking was banned altogether in restaurants. If people wanted to smoke, they had to go outside; if they wanted to smoke and eat in one place, they headed to bars. Government then forced bar owners to spend thousands of dollars on sprinkler systems and other things to make their establishments safer for patrons. Finally, in one hot session of legislature, smoking in bars was completely "snuffed out" in Maryland.

Did it affect me personally? Of course not. I don't go to bars and I don't smoke. (Although, about once a year I get a hankering to buy a pack and smoke all the cigs in one sitting. I have yet to do it.) I simply don't do the bar scene or smoke because it's lifestyle decision.

What bothers me more than secondhand smoke is the toxic air politicians have circulated to drive business away for non-violent, amoral reason. I have seen firsthand the effects of a law "in the name of health" here in my home state of Maryland. What's next, banning new grocery stores because they sell Twinkies and Coke? Banning Christian bookstores because they push religion? Banning cars because people get killed in them? Ridiculous? Yes. So is the banning of fast food joints.

How about banning new porn shops? We all know porn destroys people and families. How about banning a new Target? After all, they sell Tylenol, and if you take too way much of it, you'll die.
I say ban Home Depots from being built. They sell chain saws. My husband's uncle accidentally cut his jugular and bled to death while trimming hedges.

Los Angeles, we have a problem. Banning the building of new fast food restaurants won't cure people of their love for fast food or their desire to get it. But if we don't stop you from cooking up
socialism, you're gonna get fatter and fatter on the lard of a lazy republic.

I say, let the people decide if and when and where they're going to eat, but don't attack capitalism. It's what America was built on. That and cheeseburgers. Even if I was an obsessive health nut, I would be against the fat nose of city government telling me I couldn't build a Burger King if had the wherewithal to do so.