Monday, August 17, 2015

Flexible Flyer

Flexible Flyer was the name of a sled I once had.  It came to mind as I gave a new-to-homeschooling mom my standard advice: "Be flexible."  Flexibility is the beauty of homeschooling.  Someone else asked me about homeschooling yesterday--when we start and finish--and I said, "Everyone is different."  How nice is that?  Whatever works, and that can change as needed.

Rigidity is probably the worst thing for our homeschool.  I've even seen "unschoolers" who can become rigid in their unschooling.  In my mind, it is more "free" to be able to impose structure, when necessary, than to be so dedicated to being "radical" that you can't do something different.  Any ideology can become paralyzing, if you let it.

I don't homeschool to fit within a group or philosophy.  I do it for many reasons, but mainly because I love being with my kids, meeting them where they're at, and going from there.  I'll admit there are times when it's hard--when we disagree.  Then I have to decide if we are going in the wrong direction or not.  I have tossed out many lesson plans and curricula over the years.  We have also had our "buckle down" times, feeling greatly accomplished when we get through it.  It is truly a "one day at a time" thing.

And while we're on 12-step slogans, let's not forget this one: ego = "edging God out."  If I am not careful it is extremely easy to do this.  Homeschooling, like anything else in life, is a situation where God is present.  There are wonderful moments when a new bird comes into the yard, or we discover something unexpectedly.  Sometimes things just fall into place and we get sidetracked, learning all the lyrics to the "Erie Canal" song.  That is the "flying" part in my Flexible Flyer analogy. That is homeschooling at its best.  But it won't happen if I don't let it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

What I've been up to lately

We were at my mother-in-law's briefly this weekend.  She had a lot of old photos out, as she often does.  As I skimmed through a pile of familiar faces, I ran across a couple not-so-familiar.  It was Ron and me when we were very young, in our early twenties.  At first I almost didn't recognize us. 

I had never before seen this photo of the two of us.  We had bright eyes, whitish teeth, red lips, dark hair.  We looked happy.  Seeing those young, fresh, colorful versions of us really took me aback.  It has been a long thirty years since then.

It pricked my conscience, seeing Ron so full of life, and looking quite handsome.  Lately he has been pretty sapped.  We both have.  Like the couple in that picture, we still have the deep-down desire sometimes to do something crazy.  But our latest attempt hasn't panned out. And unlike the young us, we feel that we are running out of time.

Marriage is ironic because you join your life with someone you want to spend most of your time with.  Then you both go off in your separate directions and spend most of your time apart, because of work.  I wrote about this a long time ago, saying how I wished that Ron and I could work together.

Well, recently we decided to try something different.  We thought maybe we could be houseparents for needy children.  We even thought maybe God wanted us to do that.  We could do it as a family.  We could serve God and serve others and work together.  It seemed like a wonderful idea.

So we visited some children's homes.  We filled out applications, went on interviews, traveled to four states, met a lot of good people, and saw a whole new world.  We really wanted to do it.  But it turned out the only place we wanted to go, we could not.  And that was extremely hard. 

So now I'm thinking about Ron and me, and how I can be a better wife and mother, serve God and serve others, and do the best I can here.  But we still have to slog through this disappointment.  And I don't like feeling this way.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fish Boil

In our last house, we lived next door to a big funny man in his sixties, Hal Gunderson, and his sweet wife, Jane.  They were of Swedish descent, like many people who lived in the town of Geneva.  I might have guessed by their appearance, but the real reason I knew was that they had a "Parking for Swedes Only" sign next to their driveway.

Hal had a scruffy looking patchy old dog named Lady who would straggle along after him most of the time.  Whenever you'd run into the two of them outside Hal would shout, "Say hello, Lady!"  And I would think he was telling me to say hi to his dog.  I finally figured out he was trying to get his dog to let out a tired bark.  Once in a while she did.

Mr. Gunderson and his wife had a few traditions they liked to keep.  They would have all their grown children and grandchildren over each Saturday morning and Hal would make pancakes.  That was nice.  Also, he and Jane and sometimes another couple would every so often drive up to somewhere in Wisconsin for a fish boil.  Hal described the event to us at least a couple of times--with images of a giant outdoor cauldron boiling over and how delicious it was. 

To me, a "fish boil" just didn't sound that appealing.  Especially since in my stepmom's family there were Floridians, fishermen, who lived in the Keys.  We had been down there a few times when I was a teen and had pigged out many times on fresh deep-fried grouper, along with corn fritters and syrup.  Now that was living!

Several years ago we moved away from our house in Geneva and the Gundersons, though they came out here once to see us.  They were good neighbors.  I have never forgotten them, and I guess I never forgot about that fish boil either.   Hal had described the process in detail, and one day I decided to try it.  I went online and found the basic instructions.  Though we did it on a small scale indoors, it worked well.  It really was, as Hal had said, delicious.

I will say, if you are going to cook fish in your house, it is going to smell bad.  I don't care how you do it.  It is extremely weird to me that it can smell bad cooking but then taste really good.  But, it does.  (Unless it is just bad fish and I do not know about that as we only get good fish.)

So when Hal had described the fish boil, it didn't sound good, and when I cooked it, it didn't smell good, and really, boiled fish--all white, with white-ish potatoes and onions doesn't even look good.  But then you eat it, and it tastes good. So, things aren't always what they seem; but sometimes they are (like if you have bad fish).

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bonnie, part two

In part one, I described when Bonnie moved into my neighborhood in Wilmette two doors down from my house.  She was my age, I think we were in second grade.  It's funny I don't remember feeling that little.  Bonnie had an older sister, the instantly popular and cool Robin, and a little brother--also blond, David.  These three became my salvation from predatory bullies as I no longer had to walk the long seven blocks to and from school alone.

Bonnie was a regular kind of kid.  She had thick, shoulder-length, very blond hair, brown eyes, nice smooth skin, and a space between her front teeth.  She smiled a lot and laughed all the time.  She was medium height, medium weight.  Her family had moved from Connecticut.  She dressed pretty much like I did in those days--plaid jumpers, stretchy shorts--70's stuff. 

Her dad worked for Trane, and he had trains in their wood-paneled basement.  Her mom was pretty, elegant, and gracious--she had luxurious long wavy brown hair that she wound up in various hairdos, wore nice ladylike clothes and a bit of makeup.  She had a slight pleasant accent and a very loving and motherly demeanor.  She taught piano, played tennis, and kept the refrigerator stocked with carrots and celery sticks for the kids to munch on.  She called Bonnie her "bunny" because she liked carrots so much.  I couldn't believe Bonnie fell for that.

Bonnie quickly became my constant companion.  We spent most of our time at her house.  She and Robin had the whole third floor of the house for their bedroom--sort of a finished attic apartment with bright orange-flowered wallpaper.  It was very cool.  Robin was rarely home and I can remember spending hours up there playing records on Bonnie's portable phonograph, talking about TV shows like Gilligan's Island, Here Come the Brides, The Brady Bunch, and The Partridge Family.

We would also play board games like Monopoly and Parcheesi, sometimes in her family's carpeted den.  That was only if Schultz, the not-so-cuddly German Shepherd, was outside. We had a favorite activity we played in Bonnie's room called "Sounds of the Studio."  She had a small cassette player with a microphone and we would try to come up with sound effects to record.  Not being all that creative we inevitably ended up with mostly flushing the toilet.  We would listen to the latest 45's and albums of our favorites--Bobby Sherman and of course The Partridge Family. 

We would save our money and buy records for a couple of dollars, which could be found--oddly--at the Jewel in the Plaza del Lago, a short two blocks from home.  Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine were also available at the Jewel for I think about fifty cents.  Once, we rode our bikes all the way into town to Lyman's Drugstore to get some special magazine that was not available at Jewel.  That grand adventure was Bonnie's idea--in fact, most of our adventures were.

I had become somewhat introverted due to the torment I had endured at the hands of my peers that first solo year and a half in Wilmette, but Bonnie was not shy.  She quickly had me into the home of the people who lived between us--the Leisches, an elderly couple I knew nothing about.  That is until Bonnie dragged me over there, and next thing I knew we were in Mr. Leisch's basement studio, where he fired ceramic owls and other such oddities.  We also played cards in the Leisches' kitchen with Johnnie, their maid.  At other times we merely spied on the Leisches from Bonnie's house with binoculars she had procured.  That turned out to be not very interesting.  

One day, Bonnie and I went out to lunch.  There was a Howard Johnson's by the Plaza del Lago, and we walked over there by ourselves and had a sit-down restaurant meal just like a couple of grown-ups.  I remember I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, and I think we left ten cents for a tip.

We would ride our bikes around the neighborhood and I would often try to ditch Bonnie.  I don't know why but I was just kind of a jerk sometimes.  Once when I was trying to lose her I came around the corner too fast and ran full speed right into a telephone pole. 

Another rotten thing I did to Bonnie was when I bet her five cents that I had Partridge Family paper dolls.  As soon as she accepted the bet I went home, cut out pictures of Partridge Family stars from my magazines, glued them on cardboard and made homemade "paper dolls."  Bonnie's mom was not too happy about it when she found out, and there was no betting allowed after that.

The thing is, Bonnie never got mad at me.  I would play stupid tricks on her, and she just didn't care.  She was always as nice and mild mannered and sweet as pie.  She was always there for me.  She never said a mean thing to or about anyone--ever.  I am so thankful to have had such a lovely friend. Some years ago we lost touch, though I have tried to find her.  All these years later Bonnie still holds a big place in my heart, and I will always hold her in highest esteem.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

10 Ways to Help a Marriage

Everybody's doing it--telling others how to do this or that.  Since I have now been married 30 years, I figure it's my turn to offer my experience, realizing the risk:  I will probably get in a big fight with Ron before the proverbial ink is dry... This list is not exhaustive, just the 10 that came to mind first.  Some of these I'm good at, some not so much, but I know they are all important. 

Ron and I have a good marriage, though we do fight... some might even call us "the Bickersons" at times... However, we do love each other deeply, are best friends, and are each other's greatest supporters.  I think the most important reason we stay together and grow as a couple is that we take our marriage vows seriously.  Now, I don't exactly remember exactly what those vows were, but basically I was promising to be married to Ron forever--no matter what--til death do us part.  Even if I didn't know it then, and sometimes over the years have been exasperated to the point of doubt...deep down in my heart I know that we are one.  Ron would say pretty much the same thing.  When there's no "out" you just have to keep trying.

These are not in order of importance.  So here goes...

1.  Don't let the sun go down on your anger.  This one comes straight out of the Bible--Ephesians 4:26, but long before I knew where it came from I had heard this saying and recognized it as true.  I really cannot rest when there's trouble between anyone and me, but especially Ron.  I am in turmoil; there is no peace.  As difficult as it is to swallow my pride and make up sometimes, it's at least easier than trying to sleep filled with fury and bad feelings.  Thanks to this God-given discomfort, though we may not always come to a perfect peace, in general it keeps accounts short between us.

2.  Never part without saying, "Goodbye," and if possible, "I love you."  I am kind of neurotic about some things but once in a while it has a good effect.  Like, whenever I am parting with someone I love, I think to myself that I may never see this person again.  We don't do perfectly with this one, as Ron often leaves in the morning while I am asleep.  But I have to admit it makes me sad whenever I awake and discover he's gone.  We are never promised another moment with someone in this life.  It is always sad to me to say goodbye, but it is also precious to be able to do so--to have someone you hold in your heart so much that you yearn to be with them again.

3.  Be as transparent as possible.  I must confess that this one is also easy for me.  For one, I am female.  Also I spent some time in a support group that taught openness as a key to survival.  I am most likely too open.  But in marriage I think it would be deadly to have secrets from each other--in most cases.  Ron doesn't know every tiny detail about my life, and there is a lot I don't know about him.  Some things would be hurtful for us to know about each other.  For instance, Ron doesn't tell me if he finds some other woman attractive.  He's not going to act on it, and if he were to tell me it would crush me, and might even be more painful for him (picture me wielding a cast-iron frying pan).  Okay, so I am extremely jealous.  But at least I'm not trying to hide it!

4. Pray for each other. 
I cannot overstate the importance of this one.  God has shown me time and again how important it is for me to pray for Ron.  I can't think of any other instance where my prayers are so clearly and consistently answered.  If you are a Christian and you are married, pray for your spouse! And pray for your relationship, and for help in fulfilling your role in the marriage--continually.

5. Show respect for your spouse. 
Okay, here's where it gets hard for me.  It's not that I don't respect Ron, I do.  I probably have more respect for him than anyone else on the planet.  The problem is, I don't always show it.  I get all puffed up and act like a total jerk.  It's really no reflection on him, but it hurts him just the same, and causes more destruction to the marriage than anything else I can think of.

Once, in line at the grocery store, there was a woman in front of me disparaging her husband (who was standing right there) to the cashier.  She was speaking about him like he was a stupid child. It was horrifying.  Though I haven't done that exact thing, I have done other things eerily similar enough to be ashamed of.  It is helpful to remember and appreciate Ron's good qualities and to readily show that admiration publicly. 

6.  Try to be quiet.  As a segue between this point and the last, Philippians 2:3 comes to mind:  "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves."  There is, according to King Solomon, "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;"  the trick being, for me, the first part.  I think the main thing to avoid is criticism, and that is not easy.  I definitely need God's help on this one.  Which brings us back to prayer. 

7.  Show affection.  Now, I am not trying to be gross here.  I am not a fan of too much public display.  But a little warmth, like a touch on the hand, goes a long way.  Especially in private.  After years of being together, it's nice every so often to remind one another that we do still like each other.

8. After God, put your spouse first.  That means before other family, friends, work, even kids.  This may seem obvious, but it's one of those things that can be slightly tricky.  Kind of like how not having any other gods can be tricky.  When someone is first, that means first always.  Even when you feel lousy, or when you really want something, or when you disagree.   It helps to simplify life, and really, would I want any other kind of marriage?

9. Be united in financial matters.  I have heard that money is a big cause of marital problems, and I believe it.  I was going to call this one, "Don't spend money in secret," but that actually goes under #3 as a part of transparency.  Ron and I started out our married life without any money. In fact we were in debt (a little bit of debt).  That was really good for us. It was so helpful for us to work through that, to pay off our debt, to take responsibility for our finances as a couple at a young age.

We quickly learned to abhor interest payments, and decided as a couple that we would rather have only the things that we could afford.  And it was even fun--a challenge seeing how cheaply we could live, getting through Christmas with only what was in the change jug... We were happy, and we enjoyed a great freedom in not being tied to "things," because we had nothing.  It has become a bit more difficult as we have acquired some wealth, but basically this one is easy for us.  Neither of us makes large money decisions without the other.

10. Compromise.  I know, overused word--practically has no meaning anymore.  But with two very different people united in marriage as one, it's absolutely necessary.  As close as we are in our feelings on most things, there are areas where Ron and I hugely disagree about things.  Usually these things have to do with the kids.  He thinks I'm overprotective and I think he's a maniac.  This is one of the areas where we might get into a fight, but eventually we come into some kind of agreement.

I think we are getting better at this.  It takes so much energy to argue, and having raised two kids already we know that you don't actually have that much control anyway... so we seem to resolve things more quickly.  Other areas of division can include family activities, what to do with free time, and extended family.   Ron has learned over the years that although my initial response to most things is, "NO," given time and a bit of space it generally morphs into a probable, "okay," and an occasional, "YES."  A woman's prerogative and all that...

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bonnie, part one

Well, I haven't written a good blog post in a while, so why start now?  I just miss writing.  The problem is, most of the things I think about anymore, I forget.  Except the annoying things, and the ones unsuitable for publication.  It's too bad, because it seems once I write a thing down, it is gone from my head.  Poof.  The thought no longer swirls around up there.  So great.  Now my good memories are gone but the bad ones are still there.

It might be a good thing if we all had an anonymous blog where we could write down every horrific thing that floats around in our brains.  Never to trouble us again, it could go off into outer space where no one would ever see it.  And then maybe those thoughts would be gone.

Well now wait, I do have some childhood stories left... Oh lots of bad ones, but here's a good one I've thought of lately--my old friend Bonnie. Bonnie was not my first, or last best friend.  But like other friends I have had, she was much more wonderful than I could ever deserve.

We lived in a big old house in Wilmette.  I have lived many places, and I have to say that rich kids can be the most psycho.  Sorry if that offends anyone.  Anyway, I lived there from part of kindergarten through third grade.  My first couple of years or so there were spent trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to avoid being bullied.  I had many different strategies for this and the whole thing is really another story.

The happy ending to that would be when one day a moving truck appeared, two doors down from my house.  Not beaten down to the point of complete hermitage yet, I made my way over there to see what was up.  To my delight a friendly, tall, curly-headed blond girl appeared.  She was very nice to me, and it was a cold cup of water in that neighborhood.  Unfortunately she, Robin--although truly an angel of light brought into our midst-- was about to pass me off to her younger sister.  Alas, Robin was a year older than me; and we all who have been in public school know what that means--can't be friends.

Reluctantly I eyed Bonnie, who looked much more my speed.  She was blond also, but not curly, very regular.  She did not greet me with the grace and poise of her older sister.  She was just a normal seemingly kind of dorky kid like me.  I was not thrilled, but resigned to the fact that this was to be my new friend (after begging Robin a little bit).

I will have to tell you more about Bonnie next time.  She really deserves a whole post.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

It's the Little Things

One of my all-time favorite movies is It's a Wonderful Life.  It is one of those movies that comes together so well--the writing, directing, acting, filming, sets...that it becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  There are many reasons to like this film, with its lovable characters, great story, and message of hope.  But it also contains a small detail that sums up a big part of the concept for me.  It is that knob on top of the stair post.

Upon their marriage, George and Mary Bailey adopt a big old abandoned house in great disrepair.  Initially George doesn't see the potential in it, but Mary describes it as romantic. She works hard over the years fixing it up while raising a bunch of kids, as George is busy under the stress of his job. 

For some reason, they never get around to fixing the finial on the newel post at the base of the staircase.  I can imagine, as a homeowner, how this could easily happen.  There are always so many projects that some never get done.  Or, it could be like my son's bedposts.  Three of the four finials always come off, and no matter what we try to do to fix them it never works.

Anyhow, whenever George is going up the stairs he inevitably grasps the knob only to have it come off in his hand.  Then he has to go back and replace it.  This is profound to me because it is just how life really is.  There is always some little annoying thing (or many, really) to encounter every day, over and over again.

Poor George, in desperate straits and at the end of his rope in the story, just about loses his mind with rage when that knob comes off.  I know the feeling well, as many times in maniacal frustration I have taken out my fury on inanimate objects.   Not that I have ever been in the situation he was in.  It took a lot to push George to that point.

And yet he does get there, to where he wishes he'd never been born.  Until through "divine" intervention George comes to his senses, kind of a twist on A Christmas Carol...

As George sees the world through new eyes suddenly everything is different, although his predicament has not changed.  It is before he is rescued that George runs through the town abounding with joy and thanksgiving, yelling "Merry Christmas!" to everyone including his nemesis. 

As George bursts into his home looking for his family, he runs up the stairs--inadvertently grabbing the knob--he turns, holding it tightly, he lifts it up and kisses it! 

Of course, every moment of every day cannot be like the high point of a movie.  There will always be annoyances and problems, and I won't usually feel like embracing them.  But how I do respond reveals my heart.  And it has much less to do with the circumstances than I like to admit.