Monday, August 31, 2009
1. My Facebook status on Saturday was this: "Summer, Summer, wherefore art thou, Summer?" It was chilly on Friday night when we went to the first high school football game of the season. It was chilly on Saturday when I ran around with my mom. It was chilly on Sunday when B and Abby ran in a 10K together. And chilly again last night as we went to an outdoor concert.
But the worst was this morning when I woke up, cranked up the computer and found that my weather button said it was 44 degrees! I have to say, I feel completely cheated out of summer--a season I look forward to all year. I'm trying not to be resentful, but come on! This is crazy!
2. As I mentioned, B and Abby ran in a 10K yesterday. B had run in races before, and so had Abby, but she had never run in a 10K before. All summer long, the two trained, sometimes separately, sometimes together, and I was amazed at their discipline. Even on days when I thought it wasn't going to happen, late into the evening Abby would hop on her bike and head to the gym to train. She had set a goal to finish the race in 1:05, and she was determined to meet that goal. B wanted to finish in about an hour.
Yesterday was, as I said, chilly, but clear and beautiful. A perfect day for a race. Kate, Maggie, and I were there to show our support and to record the finish for posterity. We were so happy when B came around the turn toward the finish line in just about an hour. But you can imagine our surprise and sheer delight when, about 30 seconds later, Abby's ponytail came bobbing down the final stretch. She finished the race about 1 minute after her dad and well under her goal! And, even more fun, she finished second in her age category, for which she received a medal.
I am still so proud of both of them!
3. Last night we went to see Carrie Underwood at Ravinia, which is a beautiful outdoor concert venue about an hour or so away from here. This was to be kind of a culmination of summer for our family, so when we ordered the tickets several months ago we didn't imagine that we'd be bundled up in blankets and fleece, teeth chattering through the entire evening. Still, it was a great concert and a really fun night for our family.
Now, I guess it's on to Fall.
4. The girls, my mom, and I went to see "Julie and Julia" on Saturday. I had seen it before and loved it--what's not to love in a movie about blogging and cooking?--but I wanted to see it again, and I have to say that I enjoyed it even more the second time around.
One of the things that impressed me the first time, but even moreso the second time, was the love that both of these women had for their husbands. It was so touching to see how happy both couples seemed--and not just because the wife cooked for her husband. No, it was more than that. It seemed like both husbands and wives were willing to sacrifice for their partner, and that each, in return, appreciated their spouse more for it. The movie portrayed a realistic view of marriages that worked. Not perfect marriages, but two people who were willing to participate fully in the give and take that is daily life.
Have you seen the movie? What are your thoughts?
5. I read a post last week that has stayed with me. I've thought about it so much, mulled it over and over, and wanted to share it with you. It's from one of my favorite blogs, Stuff Christians Like, and the post talks about how sometimes we Christians forget to be faithful in the little things, creating, in our minds, a "doesn't count list." Read it by clicking here and tell me what you think.
Whew! Now I feel like I can get on with my day. Hope you're warmer than I am!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Unless you start next week. Or even after Labor Day. In which case I don’t know whether to be happy for you or to cry for you. Let me know how you feel about that.
Anyway, earlier this week I read Melanie’s touching and hilarious post about her daughter going to first grade.
And then yesterday I got the sweetest picture of my nephew’s first day of first grade from my sister-in-law, Julie. I have to admit, it made me a little teary-eyed because he looks so grown up. And I know that from now on time will begin to spin faster and faster and faster until he’s in high school and things move at warp speed until he will be suddenly flung out the door and out into the world.
Not that I’m feeling any of that or anything. Ahem.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about those early days of putting my kids in school. How big my kids suddenly seemed. How innocent they were. How, as a parent, I felt like a new student as well as I learned to navigate the waters of “School” . . . just from a different perspective this time.
Oh, the mistakes I have made. Like the day of kindergarten orientation when I asked the kindergarten teacher if she used a phonics-based curriculum because I had heard about the horrors of whole language. And how the teacher looked at me blankly and said, “Ma’am, this is kindergarten. We don’t teach reading.”
Oh. . . . Yeah.
And how, when Kate was in first grade and I could still pick out her clothes in the morning, I sent her to Field Day in a dress. Hey, in my defense, I didn’t know what Field Day was, but she still won’t let me live that one down.
Like I said, I’ve made many a mistake in my day.
So I got to thinking about moms who are new to this school thing, and I thought of a few bits of advice. Take it for what it’s worth.
1. These years go fast; enjoy them. When “older” moms used to tell me this when my children were small, I used to roll my eyes and think Yeah, right. That’s easy for YOU to say. You're not living the hell that is my life right now. And I’d get kind of mad about that statement, to be honest. I wasn’t enjoying much of anything when my kids were younger, and I couldn’t get through the days fast enough.
Today, with two in high school and one in middle school, the days absolutely fly by.
But they didn’t always. When my girls were younger, all at home all day long, the days dragged for me. Don’t worry about that if that’s the stage you’re in. Things will change overnight once your child goes to first grade. Suddenly you’re bound by calendars and schedules and sports and recitals. And before you know it your child will be a senior in high school and time will be whizzing by and in less than a year they will be out your door forever.
Not that I’m experiencing any of that. Ahem.
2. Be your child’s advocate, but also support the teacher. Sure, there will be disagreements about stuff that happens in the classroom, but remember that the teacher is the authority (and, I might add, the expert in her field). If your child has a complaint about her teacher, check into it and be proactive, but also remind your child that you support the teacher too. It’s really important in the early years to teach your children, by example, that you respect their teacher’s authority and that you expect your child to respect authority too.
3. Get involved. Sign up to be a room parent. Volunteer with the PTA. Offer to assemble the school newsletter. Even if you don’t have a lot of time, try to do something.
There are so many good reasons to be involved in your child’s school, but here are just a couple of reasons I’ve been a very active parent, especially at the elementary school level. First, you get to know the teacher so much better if you serve in the classroom, plus you can keep an eye on what’s being taught. Those little “disputes” I talked about earlier probably won’t seem like such a big deal if you know what’s going on in the classroom.
Second, you also get to know other parents through serving at the school, and it’s always a good idea to know your child’s friends’ parents. It usually explains a lot. Enough said.
4. Pray for your kids and their teachers. I can think of no better way to support your child or her teacher than by taking time to pray for them. For many years I was involved with a group called Moms In Touch where we would meet for an hour each week to pray for our children, the school, the staff, and the teachers. You may be thinking, An hour? How on earth did you pray for a whole hour? Believe me, that hour flew by each week, and I still consider some of the women from that group some of my closest friends.
If you have a Moms in Touch group at your school, join it. If you don’t have one at your school, start one. And if you don’t have other moms to pray with, find just one and get on your knees. There is nothing—NOTHING—better you can do for your child.
And, you know, on those really bad mornings when Susie runs out the door in tears yelling that you're just about the worst mom in the entire world, you can throw up a prayer or two for yourself as well. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything . . .
5. Recognize that teachers have lives outside the classroom. You know how kids kind of freak out when they see their teacher in a public place like a library or in a restaurant? Maybe you even remember that happening when you were a kid. I think kids kind of imagine their teachers saying goodbye to them at the door at the end of the day, then going back to the classroom and unrolling a sleeping bag. Sometimes we just can’t imagine that teachers have anything to do other than sit at their desk thinking about school all day.
Believe me, they are thinking about other things. They may be worried about a loved one who’s sick or a wayward teenager. Heck, they may just be wondering what’s for dinner, just like you are. In the 10 years that we were at our elementary school, I knew teachers who dealt with the death of a child, rebellious teens, infertility, marital problems, and health issues.
Teachers have a life just like we do, and sometimes that life creeps into their thoughts while they are teaching our kids. Give them a little slack if they have an “off” day and certainly don’t expect them to be perfect.
We chose public school on purpose (I’d be happy to talk about that in another post if you’re interested), but when we did, we also knew that our level of involvement would have to be very high. From my experience, these are just a few simple things you can do to help your child—and you—have the most positive school experience possible.
What would you add to this list? What would you change? I’d love to hear your thoughts on school, teachers, kids.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Oh, the bloggy world. It is a treasure trove of helpful information and money-saving tips. Like the one I am about to pass along to you.
But first, a story. You're surprised, I know.
A couple of years ago, my sister, Jenn, called me. (Yes, she's called me since then. Just stay with me here.)
"Hey, Shell, what do you think about Southern Living lately?"
"You know," I replied, "They've changed it, and it's bugging me. My subscription is just about to come due, and I don't think I'm going to renew it."
"Me too!" my sister practically lept through the phone to agree with me. "I just let my subscription lapse."
We had both been Southern Living faithfuls for many, many years. We loved the recipes and the home decorating tips. We loved the beautiful photographs and stories about the South. I read each issue from cover to cover. Because, if you didn't know it already, I'm a Northern girl who longs to be Southern. I think it's all those years of reading Southern Living.
Lo and behold, we weren't the only ones feeling this way. Boo Mama had had it too--I read it on her blog. And on this post that she wrote about Southern Living, she got an amazing response from her readers who felt the same way.
I guess Jenn and I weren't the only ones.
Recently though, Boo Mama has dipped her toe back into the Southern Living springs and has come back unharmed. In fact, she says that, except for the binding which used to be stapled and is now glued, our old Southern Living is back. She's happy. And I totally trust her Southern judgement because she is a true Southern belle.
Well, thanks to the bloggy world, Robin, who heard it from Kristen, who heard it from Sophie, let me in on an amazing deal of the century. If you, like me, had given up on Southern Living, you can dip your toe back into the Southern Living springs for . . . get this . . . only $5. Yep. Five bucks.
Five bucks. Five bucks. Five bucks.
For an entire year of Southern Living.
I signed up. You might want to too. You can click right here to be directed to the Amazon link that will give you this deal. But hurry. Offer ends on Saturday.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
Well, we’re back from “vacation.” (Right now you’re supposed to picture me with both hands in the air, two fingers on each hand making the silly quotation sign.) But I wonder . . . was it really a vacation?
Travel? Definitely. (We’re talking almost 2,000 miles on our car.)
Rest? No way.
I’d have to say that over the past few years, our favorite family vacations have consisted of not much more than a pair of flip-flops, a towel, and a beach. We’ve spent many a peaceful, reflective hour on Kiawah Island in South Carolina where the toughest decision we make all day is what to have for dinner.
Not so last week. We were animals. Vacation animals we were. We ran around Washington D.C. like chickens with no heads, and we sweated like pigs. See? Animals.
But while we were sweating and clucking, one of my friends was lounging her week away on Kiawah. Resting. Relaxing. I sure hope she slept enough for both of us because on this “vacation” I didn’t get much sleep.
It could have had something to do with the full-size bed I had to share with B, which left me exactly 6 ½ inches of sleeping space when we normally share a king-size bed. But I don’t know. It could just have been that we went to bed late and got up early and kept going and going and going.
Oooh, I just thought of another animal analogy—the Energizer bunny. Yes. That was us last week. Little pink bunnies marching all over the nation’s capitol.
Anyway, we’re home now and so happy to be here. School starts in two days. My parents arrive today for a visit. And life is getting back to normal.
I’ll post a Travel Tuesday tomorrow about our vacation, but for now, I want to give you the good, the back, and the ugly about our, um, vacation.
The Good. I’d have to say that Williamsburg turned out to be a pleasant surprise for all of us. Who knew that you could have so much fun in a place where people put on “period costumes” (don’t even get me started on what our family thought THAT meant!) and act like colonists all day, never once breaking character? And who would have thought a town where every store, restaurant, and business name is preceded by the words “Colonial” or “Settlers” or “Village” would end up seeming charming to us? O.K., the “Colonial/Settler” thing got to be a joke with us, but a charming joke for sure.
Anyway, Williamsburg was fun and quaint and beautiful. I have a feeling we’ll be back someday.
The Bad. Imagine standing in line for 10 minutes, being herded into a movie theater to watch a 20 minute film you don’t want to see, then standing in another long line for 15 minutes. When your tour guide finally comes, he herds you, without a word, up an escalator and down a corridor. He takes a breath and begins: “WelcometotheCapitolbuildingmynameisTonyI’llbeyourtourguidetoday.” Slight pause. “We’restandingintheCapitolrotunda.Thepaintingsyouseeonthewallsbehindyou . . .” Two rooms, 15 minutes, and a dizzying lecture later we were back on the escalator to the Visitor’s Center, scratching our heads in disbelief. Could it really be over? Is that all we get to see?
The Capitol Tour was, without a doubt, the worst tour I’ve ever experienced. Don’t do it unless you’ve arranged a private tour with someone from your Congressman’s office. Just don’t.
The Ugly. My car right now. After 1,800 miles the windshield is covered with bugs and the inside smells like old socks. Later on today it will get a bath and will be as good as new. Oh yeah, it IS new.
All-in-all our vacation was great. Just being together was fun (well, except for those “low” moments, but I won’t mention those because I’m sure our family is the only family that snipes at each other about whose turn it is to sleep on the floor or who gets the last swig of Coke out of the one bottle we’re sharing. You know, the truly rare moments that nobody else has. Right?).
Be sure to come back tomorrow for more Wild family fun and my Travel Tuesday post.
In the meantime, leave me a comment telling me about your summer vacation. Where did you go? What was good? Bad? Ugly?
Friday, August 21, 2009
And now, on to the rerun of this post, originally published June 1, 2009
Since all two of you decided to vote on which story you'd like me to tell (I can see that my readers are an opinionated lot), here it is. I aim to please.
But first, I have to preface the story by saying that this is just a typical mother-of-teenage-daughters story. It's nothing too out of the ordinary for us because my big mouth regularly gets me in trouble with my kids.
Kind of like the day someone stole my parking place at the mall. Never one to let things go, I rolled down my window and yelled at the young lady in the snazzy sports car who stole the spot. "Hey, I was waiting for that spot!"
She just stared at me like "Yeah lady-in-a-mini-van, whatever."
So I added this great zinger, "I have an old lady in the car!"
Yes, it's true, that day I not only embarrassed my children, but I also embarrassed my mother.
Or another example from just this past weekend. While working in the front yard, I saw that the "kids" two doors down were gearing up for another of their famous parties. So I politely stopped the young man carrying a case of beer under his arm.
"Hi. I just wanted to make sure you know about the city ordinance that says that quiet hours start at 11:00."
"Uh, yeah. The owner does."
"Well, good. Just be sure to reminder her that QUIET HOURS START AT 11:00!"
Yeah lady-wearing-gardening-gloves. Whatever.
Then I heard him say to his buddy hiding behind the house next door, "Some lady wants us to know about quiet hours. Whatever."
Seriously, I should have earned a Ph.D. in embarrassment by now.
The girls think there's something I can actually do about my behavior. Just yesterday one of them said, "Mom, maybe if you knew how we felt, you'd try a little harder."
Like I can stop myself.
So those examples make my telling of the secret nickname story kind of tame. But here you go anyway. . . .
Kate has a friend in her class at school. I'll just call him Ernie Tiddlywinks to protect the innocent. Kate says he's a funny guy who makes her laugh all the time in English.
Abby also knows Ernie because he is the section leader for her section of the orchestra. Ernie also makes Abby laugh.
So Kate and Abby talk about Ernie sometimes at home and have given him the nickname "Uncle Tiddlywinks." Funny, huh? Not. But whatever.
I, being the embarrassing mother, just assumed that that's what everyone at school calls Ernie.
So last February, when I chaperoned that orchestra trip to the University of Illinois, I finally got to meet the infamous "Uncle Tiddlywinks." I figured out who he was, walked up to him and said, "Hi! Are you Ernie?"
"Uh, yes," he says, looking at me like the lady with two heads instead of the lady with the mini-van or the lady wearing gardening gloves.
You know, really, the strange look I get from people should be my first clue that something stupid is going to come flying out of my mouth any minute.
But, unaware of the who-are-you? look in his eyes, I press on.
"Uncle Tiddlywinks, right?!" I exclaim, as if I've hit the jackpot on coolness.
"What?" Confusion reigns in his eyes.
Abby, standing right next to me, suddenly has taken on a horrified expression.
"Uncle Tiddlywinks! You know, your nickname?" I desperately try to gain control of a situation that seems to be running in the opposite direction.
Abby grabs me by the arm, gives me the pleading "stop it, Mom" look, and says something like, "Oh, she's just kidding."
Too late, I realize that I have just totally messed up. I've done it again. I've embarrassed my daughter. Once we got away from Ernie, I asked Abby, "What just happened there?"
"Mom, he doesn't know we call him Uncle Tiddlywinks!" Gulp.
"Well, I didn't know that! Why didn't you tell me?!" I suddenly felt like being swallowed up by the cement floor I'm standing on wouldn't be such a bad idea.
Dear Ernie could not have been sweeter or more gracious about my sudden faux pas. He just laughed it off and we went on with our conversation. But the following week in class, he must have said something to Kate because she came home saying the same thing Abby had said. "Mom, why did you DO that?!"
I have no explanation.
Apparently all's well that ends well, though, because just a couple of weeks ago the girls told me that Ernie has asked both of them--just them, mind you, nobody else--if they would please just call him Uncle Tiddlywinks. He thinks it's cool.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
It's summer. Which means that I'm watching an inordinate amount of Food Network lately. I know, I shouldn't be, and the guilt is killing me, but I figure since my family benefits from some additional Food Network viewing, I shouldn't feel too guilty about it. Right?
Like tonight. Boy, did they benefit. See, I watched Tyler Florence make Shrimp Scampi the other day and I thought to myself, "Gee, that looks easy. And boy does my family love shrimp. I'm going to try that one!"
So tonight I tried it, and my family loved it. You should try it too because it really is so easy.
First, assemble your ingredients. (Normally I don't assemble ahead of time, but this recipe comes together so quickly you'll want to do this.)
Add shallots, garlic, and a pinch of red pepper flakes (unless you're Kate and you add several pinches because good golly nothing could be hot enough for that girl).
Now, I have to just stop here and say this is the one and only time I modified Tyler's recipe. He puts five . . . yes, FIVE . . . cloves of garlic in his recipe. I know, I know, it is shrimp scampi after all, but seriously . . . five?? I love my family, so I cut back on the garlic just a bit.
After a couple of minutes, add the shrimp and cook it for about three minutes until it's pink.
Remove the shrimp from the pan, but return the pan to the heat. Add some wine and lemon juice and bring that to a boil.
Add some more butter and olive oil (I told you it was good, right?!).
Return the shrimp to the pan and cook for another minute or so, just to let all that deliciousness come together.
Add to the linguini, sprinkle with parsley, and voila! Instant yummy supper!
And just because I had some leftover tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, and just because I happen to grow basil on my patio every summer, I threw together a nice caprese salad to go with it. Oh my it was good!
Tyler Florence's Shrimp Scampi with Linguini
1 pound linguini
4 T. butter
4 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large shallot, finely dices
5 (?) cloves garlic, sliced
pinch red pepper flakes, optional
20 large shrimp, about 1 pound, peeled and deveined, tail on
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C. dry white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 C. finely chopped parsley leaves
For the pasta, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. When it has come to the boil, add a couple of tablespoons of salt and the linguini. After the water returns to a boil, cook for about 6-8 minutes or until the pasta is not quite done. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 C. of water.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 2 T. butter in 2 T olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes until the shallots are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; add them to the pan and cook until they have turned pink, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan; set aside and keep warm. Add wine and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add 2 T. butter and 2 T. oil. When the butter has melted, return the shrimp to the pan along with the parsley and cooked pasta and reserved pasta water. Stir well and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over a bit more olive oil and serve immediately.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I had coffee with a friend two days ago. It was a delicious time of iced coffee and great conversation. We got caught up with each other's year since we hadn't seen much of one another during the past few months, difficult for both of us in different ways.
We got to talking about how people can let us down--spouses, children, friends--and my friend told me about a 90 year old woman in her church who, before my friend got married, sat her down and told her this: "Your spouse will let you down. He will never be able to fulfill all your needs, and that's as it should be."
Confused, my friend asked her why. Why wouldn't her spouse fulfill all of the hopes and dreams she had held for twenty-some-odd years? She had certainly been looking forward to nightly foot massages and deep conversations long past midnight.
"Because, my dear," the senior saint went on, "when people let us down it makes us realize that no human being can do what God can do for us. It just reminds us that only God can fulfill our need for closeness."
And that's as it should be.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
There are so many things in my life that could potentially make me feel like a loser. My tendency to drive a little too fast. My inability to get the laundry done in one day. Heck, I'm a parent of teenagers--the way I pour my cereal could qualify me for loser status on any given day.
And don’t even get me started on the many times I’ve embarrassed myself, usually because I have two body parts that should never be brought together—a foot and a mouth. Thankfully, now that I’m a parent to teenagers, I’m over embarrassing myself and have moved on to embarrassing them.
But I digress.
I’m usually pretty good at shaking off that down-on-me feeling, but there is one aspect of stay-at-home-motherhood that really gets to me that I have never admitted. Out loud, anyway.
Which is why I was so glad my friend put words to it last week as we sat down over coffee.
We had just arrived at our favorite little French coffeehouse, where the tables are tiny and close together and the coffee is strong and served in little china tea cups. (So not like us, but we like to pretend were “ladies” every now and then.)
“I’m feeling kind of lonely lately,” my friend started out our conversation.
I could have reached over the table and hugged her. Tightly. And it wasn’t because I was feeling sorry for her either. I was just so happy that I’m not the only one who feels this way.
“Really?” I asked. “Because I feel lonely a lot, but I’ve never told anyone.”
We got to talking about our “profession”—motherhood—and the feelings of loneliness that go along with it. It’s hard to think of a lonelier profession than motherhood, especially if you have young children. You spend hours on end at home, hardly ever encountering another human being except for the ones you are caring for. And they aren’t exactly fodder for interesting conversation.
But there's something else to this lonely feeling, and my friend confirmed it. It’s a feeling that everyone else is out there doing something and I’m missing out. Or that all of my friends are getting together and having fun behind my back (I think that’s called paranoia). Or that I’m not doing enough—if I were busier I wouldn’t be lonely. But I know that’s not true; even women who work outside the home feel lonely.
In my heart I know it’s none of these things. I’m probably not missing out on anything. My friends are loyal. I’m busy enough.
As we talked about the reasons for our loneliness, my friend and I realized that it’s a heart longing. A longing to connect—with friends, with our spouse, with God—that we can’t seem to meet. A longing that will never be met while we’re on earth.
So why don’t we women admit our feelings of loneliness?
My friend and I decided that to admit to someone that we’re lonely sounds desperate. Like saying “Will you be my friend?” like we did in kindergarten. And we decided that admitting we’re lonely is kind of like admitting we have leprosy—nobody wants to be around that.
I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot over the past week, and I’ve decided a couple of things. First, everyone is lonely every now and then. No matter what you do or what stage of life you’re in, everyone experiences these feelings. And realizing that should make me a lot less lonely.
But the other thing I’ve realized is that loneliness is false. When I’m going through a lonely phase, all I have to do is look around at all the people God has put in my life—my husband, my kids, my friends, my family—and realize that I may feel lonely sometimes, but I’m never alone.
Monday, August 17, 2009
We got a new car last week. Yes, even in “this economy” people are buying new cars.
Of course, the car I was driving was breaking down on a regular basis and didn’t have air conditioning and the tires were bald and in order for us to take the road trip we’re planning for later this summer we’d have to RENT a car to get there and there’s NO WAY I’d sell it to anybody I knew. But, hey, we could have made it work for another year or so.
Anyway, I just have to say that buying a car is one of those truly distasteful little “chores” that I honestly hate to do. Good thing we don’t do it very often. I mean, it’s stressful, expensive, and just a little bit tawdry what with all the paper-sliding-across-the-desk and “let-me-go-talk-to-my-manager” stuff that goes on. It’s just icky. In my opinion.
But it had to be done, so B and I headed for the car dealer a couple of weeks ago to take a test drive. Now, mind you, the work had already been done and the deal was just about sealed before we even set foot on the lot thanks to the internet and my husband. So when we arrived we met a salesman who handed us a key and off we went.
The car was fine. The salesman wasn’t. All he did was say, “Turn here” or complain about his other customers while texting someone from the back seat. Truthfully, he was kind of annoying. Not engaging. Just basically there for the ride.
B and I talked about our salesman, Joe, on the way home. About how he never showed us any features of the car. How he never really probed to see if we were interested in buying. How he never SOLD us the car.
We were kind of annoyed that he would get the commission for selling the car that we already knew we’d be buying.
So the day came last week for us to take delivery on our new car (that’s car dealer lingo—don’t you like it?). I took Kate with me because I just didn’t want to deal with Joe by myself. Plus, I like taking Kate with me—she’s a great conversationalist.
I had warned her about Joe as we were driving there. I told her that I found him to be kind of abrupt. Basically, I didn’t have very much nice to say about him.
Joe met us at the door and showed us our car with the newly installed roof rack. Then he led us inside to start with the paperwork. He quickly rambled on about the sale, the numbers, and the warranty. I didn’t hear much of what he said because he was talking so fast. He flipped through leaflets and brochures and handed them to me with such speed that I just piled them up and thought, “I’ll just have B look at them later.”
At one point Joe had to leave us to go check on something. I looked at Kate, rolled my eyes, and said, “See what I mean?”
She looked straight at me and said, “He hates his job.”
“What?” I said, kind of startled at her abruptness. “You think?”
“Yeah, Mom. I mean, wouldn’t you hate this job too? It’s obvious . . . he hates his job.”
“Maybe so,” I said, “but that doesn’t mean he has to be a jerk about it.”
“You’re right, but I bet if you got to know him he’s probably not so bad,” Kate said. “Give the guy a chance.”
So we agreed that if we had the chance, we’d try to get to know Joe a little better. When he finally came back he explained that it might be a little while because a customer ahead of us was buying two cars for his business. There must have been only one paperwork person because we had to wait while they processed those two cars first.
Finally, Joe asked if we had any questions about the car.
Um, yeah, like how does it work? What are the features I should know about? Anything cool I should know how to do?
We walked outside and looked at the car. Joe showed us where our I-pod plugged in, that was cool. And how the back windows roll down, also cool because my previous mini-van didn’t have that feature. Other stuff like that.
After that, we went back inside to wait.
And wait some more.
So, I dove into the deep end and asked, “So, Joe, how long have you worked here?”
And thus began a conversation that humbled me to my core. Because my daughter was sitting beside me proving to me what a jerk I had been.
Over the course of a mere 20 minutes we learned that Joe had worked at this dealership for four years, and that he’d been selling cars for two years. We learned that he grew up downstate and headed straight for the Marines after high school because his cousin, whom he idolized, had gone to the U.S. Naval Academy.
Unfortunately, during the first couple of years in the Marines, Joe was in a car accident that caused a broken leg in three places, had a Titanium rod placed in his leg, and also received a fake knee. Joe’s naval career had ended with that accident.
We then learned that Joe had dreams of becoming a lawyer, but that those dreams were temporarily on hold because the woman to whom he had been married and for whom he had put his education on hold so that she could get her Master’s degree had left him as soon as she finished school. Joe hadn’t even finished his Bachelor’s degree. He’d like to, though, and then go to law school. The selling cars thing was just helping him save some money so he could go back to school.
In that short time we also learned that Joe plays the cello—he’s been playing for 16 years. He’s going to play in the wedding of one of his buddies in September—Pachelbel Canon in D.
Joe also has a dog. A bulldog named Nimitz. We got to see pictures of the dog on his Blackberry.
So, you see, in just 20 short minutes (O.K., it was probably longer because we had to wait a LONG time for the paperwork guy) we got to know Joe. We learned that Joe probably does hate his job. That he’d for sure like to be anywhere but where he is right now, selling cars. We learned that Joe has a painful past and is carrying around a load of hurt but he’s trying his best to get it together.
When I was younger, my dad always told me that in order to win people over, you have to get them talking about themselves. Just by asking a few questions, you’ll get the other person talking about their life and they will think you are just about the best person EVER.
My dad also said that a successful conversation is one in which you never reveal anything about yourself, not because you want to keep things private, but because you got the other person talking about himself so much.
That’s kind of how it was with Joe. Sure, we told him a few things about us and our family. Kate told him about her finals last week and her college search process. But mostly, I think the conversation was a success because we got Joe to talk about himself. I would guess that most of the time his customers talk about themselves, seeing him as important as the paper on the wall.
As we drove away in our new car, Kate and I weren’t looking at the gadgets and gizmos sitting in front of us. Instead we drove away with a bit of heavy-heartedness for our new friend, Joe. We talked about his pain and how a life without Jesus is always messed up in some way.
I admitted to Kate that she was right about Joe. I should have given him a chance. I should have seen that there was a story behind his behavior.
But my selfish self got in the way again. That ugly part of me just wants to think the worst of people and not see them as broken, which most likely they are.
I am so glad that Kate took the time to teach me a different way of seeing people like Joe. My daughter, who is wise beyond her years, reminded me of something I should have already known—that people everywhere, no matter who they are, have a story that’s just waiting to be told.
Yes, I am a teller of stories. This blog proves that. But I hope that I will also be a better listener to other people’s stories. That will make me a better writer and a better person.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Anyway, congratulations to Tammy who used Google and her knowledge of my family to figure out where we're going next week. Tammy guessed The College of William and Mary, which is one place we're going and the answer to clue number 3. The other two clues should have pointed you to the other two places we're going.
So, here are the answers to my clues. . . .
Clue #1 - No gum chewing allowed. This should have pointed you to the cleanest public transportation system in the country--Washington D.C. Metro. I've ridden the Metro before, and I have to say, it's pretty nice compared to, say, the London Tube. There's even carpet on the floor of the trains! They couldn't keep it that nice unless they enforced strict rules of no eating, no drinking, and no gum chewing.
Clue #2 - Three on your head. This should have made you think of a tri-cornered hat which is the ever-popular fashion statement in Colonial Williamsburg, VA. We'll be going back in time to before our country was founded to see how they lived back then. None of us have ever been to Williamsburg before, but I've been assured by many friends that we will enjoy our day there. We're a little skeptical, so I'll let you know.
Clue #3 - 1693. This is the year that the College of William and Mary was founded. Yes, we were still under the rule of England at that time, so this place is OLD. In fact, it's the second oldest college in the country. Tammy used her great powers of observation to note that we have a child who is looking at colleges right now and W&M is near the top of her list.
This entire trip came out of a little power struggle between B and myself. (Who us? Really?) We both wanted to take Kate out to visit William and Mary, and neither of us would give in. Late last spring it kind of went down like this:
"I want to take her."
"No, I want to take her."
"No, I want to take her!"
"Why don't we all just go?"
And so, yet another great road trip was borne. Have I mentioned that our family loves road trips? I'll definitely have a Travel Tuesday post for you in a couple of weeks that should be lots of fun. With pictures, even! (I've been a little short on pictures around here lately.)
Next week I'll be featuring a few of my favorite posts from the past year. If you're new to my blog, you might enjoy a further peek into our wild life.
And Tammy, I may just bring back something fun for your little sweetie. Congratulations!
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Last year, as you may recall, we took an amazing trip to Switzerland and returned home on the day before school started. Like any good mother, I sent my children off to school on the first day with an amazing case of jet lag. That was so I could sleep off my own jet lag without any kids around to bother me.
This year's end-of-the-summer-because-isn't-that-when-everyone-goes-on-vacation trip will get us back a couple of days before school starts and will not involve jet lag. Car lag, maybe, but not jet lag. Just even writing that makes me so sad.
Anyway, I thought I'd give you a few clues as to where we're going (which is actually two places). I'll be "clue-ing in" throughout the day, so check back often.
And just to make it fun, the first person who guesses correctly (who isn't related to me or doesn't already know where we're going -- Jennifer, that's you) will get a nifty souvenier from our vacation.
Clue #1 - No gum chewing allowed.
Clue #2 - Three on your head.
Clue #3 - 1693
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The girls sat spellbound as their grandpa practically burst his buttons telling them about how hard their dad had worked all his life. He even took his first job—a paper route—at age 8. He has since held jobs as a butcher shop cleaner, a grocery bagger, a park district worker, and then into banking. We regaled stories from college when, during our senior year, B worked 40 hours a week while also taking a full load of classes.
He’s such a first-born.
Now, my in-laws have every reason to be proud of their son. My husband. B works hard. He’s always worked hard for everything he has. I’m proud of him too.
But as they talked, Abby and I caught glances between us and smiled. We’re both middle children and, according to all the “birth order” stuff that’s out there, we’re not quite as industrious as those first-borns ahead of us. We like to take things as they come, which makes us more flexible and easy-going. It also makes us more independent (which, I have to add, my darling Abby most certainly is, and I would guess my mother would say the same about me). But would we choose to work when we could play? Ah, probably not.
Eventually the conversation turned to my own first-born, Kate. We quickly realized that she has held jobs for a good portion of her life thus far. She babysits, she’s scooped ice cream, and now she shelves books in the library. All before her 18th birthday.
She’s such a first-born.
This trait in my daughter became even more glaring to me this afternoon. As I sat with my computer, she said, “Hey, Mom. Why don’t you sign me up for the ACT test in September while you’re sitting there?”
Huh? She’s already taken the ACT test, and she did very well. So I asked her, “Why are you taking it again? You did fine.”
But “fine” wasn’t good enough. She wanted to see if she could do better. The middle child in me could no more comprehend wanting to take that test a second time than I could imagine flying to the moon. Why on earth would she put herself through that to get one or two points higher?
I’m such a middle child.
So I registered her for the test. But during the registration process the student has to answer all kinds of questions, so, of course, I had to ask her the questions.
“How far away would you like to go for college?” Less than 10 miles. (Just kidding! That’s my personal bias coming out, but we did have a good laugh about that one.)
“What field of study would you like to take?” What else? Literature.
“What’s the highest level of academic degree you would like to achieve?” I wonder if she saw my jaw drop to the floor when she said, “I’d like to get a Ph.D.”
Such a first-born.
How about you? Where are you in the birth order? I'd love to hear your stories.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I’m pretty sure it’s what I said after I took the phone call last Wednesday night.
“That’s what I get for praying.”
All summer, as I prepared to go to the She Speaks conference, I had been praying for several things. That my publisher meetings would go well. That I would learn a lot. That I would be open to whatever God had in store for me. That I would be obedient to whatever He wanted me to do.
Little did I know that my prayer would take a very interesting turn. . . .
Last Wednesday night, as I was sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying a few minutes talking with B after dinner, the phone rang. It was a woman from our church who had just heard that I would be driving to camp the next morning to pick up Maggie. She told me that a dear missionary woman from our church desperately wanted to go to camp to see her two children who had been there for two weeks, just like Maggie. Did I have room in my car to drive this woman to camp and then to bring her two children home with us?
My heart sank like a rock. I told my friend from church that I’d think about it and call her back, and immediately my mind began to conjure up every possible objection I could think of.
I had planned to take Abby with me on the seven hour drive to camp and was really looking to the time alone with her. Seems like we don’t get much time alone these days. I also knew that I would be driving one of Maggie’s friends home and really wanted some time to talk to the girls about their time at camp.
I didn’t even know this woman. I knew who she was, and I also knew that she didn’t speak English well. This would be a struggle.
And where would she stay? Had she thought about that? I mean, really. How do you just decide on a whim that you’d like to go pick up your kids at camp without doing the necessary planning?
But I did a mental assessment of the seats in my car and realized that I had just enough seats left—three—to accommodate this woman and her children. And I also knew that our hotel room had two queen sized beds in it—Abby could sleep with me.
B and I talked it over for a few minutes. Well, I talked; he stared at me. Finally in utter frustration I cried, “Why are you staring at me?!” He just calmly replied that he knew I knew what to do.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to do it! I don’t want to have to force conversation for two days. I want time alone with my own children, not someone else’s. I don’t want to do this!” I think I may have even clenched my fists and stomped my foot.
And then I picked up the phone and told my friend I would do it.
Sometimes you just know you have to be the answer to someone else’s prayer, and this was one of those times for me. But I also knew that she was the answer to mine: “Whatever you want, Lord. I’ll do it.”
This is a test. This is only a test.
Yeah, I get it.
So last week I stretched myself yet again and drove a complete stranger seven hours up to camp to pick up our children. And I welcomed her into my hotel room for a night. And I picked up her two children (who happened to be delightful) and drove them home.
Sometime during our drive home I asked her how she had met her husband and she laughed, saying that it was a very long story. “Well, we’ve got nothing but time!” I told her as I pointed to the road and the six hours of driving in front of us. And so she began the most interesting tale of growing up in Ethiopia, attending dental school in Russia, meeting her husband through the mail (!), moving to Sweden with him, and finally landing in the United States. It is the most amazing tale of trusting God to lead and of being willing to be obedient to Him.
I was fascinated. The story teller in me just listened (carefully, as I had a bit of a hard time understanding everything she was saying to me) and tried to take in the magnitude of how God led this woman all over the world, literally. A couple of times I think I even had to remind myself to concentrate on the road because I was concentrating so hard on her story.
The time flew, and pretty soon we were pulling into her driveway. Her kids jumped out, happy to be home, and she and I hugged. I felt like I had made a new, special friend.
So what did I learn? I learned that obedience isn’t always easy, and sometimes it’s pretty darn hard, but that there is a blessing in knowing you’ve done the right thing. And I also think there’s a certain joy that God gives you when you’ve done what He asked. I know I got a real kick out of hearing her story.
That’s what I got for praying.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
But I have an explanation in several parts. You're surprised, I know.
First, just from sheer exhaustion from She Speaks, I took my time collecting my thoughts and put up two pretty informative and powerful posts if I do say so myself. And I intended to opine even further, but my week got away from me as some weeks do. Maybe this week I'll have more to share on the conference, but no guarantees. I think I've given you quite enough to chew on for now.
Second, remember how we take care of a home for missionaries? Remember how last summer I very nearly killed myself taking care of that home for missionaries? And how my friends came to my rescue? Well, the people who were living there this past year moved out last week--just as I was leaving for She Speaks. I didn't even think about the home while I was gone, and then suddenly on Monday I slapped myself in the forehead and said, "Oh my gosh, I have people coming soon!" So I spent a good portion of the week running around buying some new things for the house, arranging to have carpets cleaned, and meeting with the repair man.
Really, the furlough home isn't much of a hassle at all until you have to transition from one family to another. Or if your family happens to call you in the middle of a snowstorm to tell you that their carbon monoxide detector is going off and what should they do? Other than that it's smooth sailing.
Third, I got two of my chickadees back last weekend, but I still had one to go. Maggie was still at camp, and I thought it might be a good idea to go collect her this week. I'm sure those counselors didn't want to keep her there when all the other campers had gone, although she does tell a funny story, or so I've been told, so she might have provided some fun entertainment. So on Thursday I headed up to the Northwoods. Oh, it's so beautiful there. Every time I go up to camp I kick myself for not spending a few extra days putting my feet up on a dock next to a lake. And every year I say, "Maybe next year."
Maybe next year.
Anyway, this year's trip to the Northwoods was more eventful than usual. Don't you know I'll have a post about that coming up very soon. I promise.
Fourth, have I mentioned that missionary furlough home? My people arrive today and it's 95 degrees outside at 8 a.m. (not that that matters at all, but I thought I'd throw it in for dramatic effect). I'm pretty much done with the house, but I did spend a good amount of time there yesterday.
Fifth, "Julie and Julia" opened this weekend and I can't wait to see it so I think I'll do that tonight.
O.K., so are you caught up with my life now?
Exhaustion + missionary housing + collecting kiddos in WI + lifeingeneral = no blogging.
I do love you and will try to do better next week. Except that we will be getting ready for vacation and having my in-laws come for a night this week.
Life. It's a party, huh?
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
And every time I picked up a paper to be graded I thought to myself, “Just give this student something, even if it’s one thing, that will help her become a better writer.” I truly thought of the comments I wrote on students’ papers as teaching tools and an important part of my job.
Unfortunately, not all my students thought of my comments that way. I remember one guy in my class who got a pretty bad grade on one of his papers—I think it was a D. (Hey, I’m no pushover as a teacher, let me tell you.) So this student asked me if he could stay after class to talk about his grade and his paper. I spent 30 minutes after class with this student, walking him through his paper line by line, word by word, comma by comma, explaining what he had done wrong and what he could do to make his paper better.
When I had finished what I thought was a pretty thorough analysis of his paper, he looked at me and simply said, “So what if I just don’t agree with you?”
What?! Are you kidding me? I have just spent 30 minutes with you and you just don’t agree with me? I’ll be honest, I wanted to throttle the kid.
Talk about not being teachable.
But for every student like that I had ten who really wanted to learn how to improve. Those were the students who took advantage of my rewrite policy—they could rewrite any paper they wanted and I would take the higher grade of the two. Pretty lenient, I’d say. Sometimes students would get higher grades, sometimes not. It was those who really made the effort to make their writing better who improved and did well in my class.
Believe me, I know how difficult it is to get a paper back and to read, “Expand here” or “Frag” (ugh) or “Try this . . . .” I have seen students’ faces fall as they read my comments; students who had entered my classroom hopeful that day sometimes left defeated.
Did I like being the bearer of bad news? No. Would it have been easier to just give everyone an A and call it a day? Sure. But would that have made me a good teacher? Absolutely not.
Now, my students always had a chance to get even with me at the end of the semester when they filled out the dreaded evaluation form. I remember the first couple of semesters, getting those evaluations back and feeling crushed. Like I hadn’t done one thing right. I questioned my own intelligence, and I often wondered who I thought I was to actually think I could teach college students.
But after a while I came to realize that people have baggage. We all do. We bring to the table all of the junk from our morning or from our childhood or from our church. When receiving comments, we often forget to take them in the spirit the comments were intended; rather, we bring all our insecurities and our dislikes and our past failings and pile them into the reading of one simple sentence.
And when I realized that, reading evaluations became much easier. Sure, someone in the class might have wanted me to have devotions before every single class (probably because it took up five or ten minutes of teaching time!), but someone else might have preferred that I not try to impart anything spiritual to the act of writing. I suddenly realized that I am never going to please everyone. I only need to please the One who matters.
All of us who attended She Speaks this past weekend, myself included, brought baggage with us . . . and I don’t mean the kind with wheels. We all brought insecurities, deep hurts, past failings. And we also came with great expectations. Expectations of gaining new blog readers or of getting a speaking gig or maybe even of getting published.
What I learned this weekend was that sometimes our expectations and our baggage can collide in a big way, leaving us hurt, dejected, downcast.
Before I left for the weekend I knew this could be a problem for me so I prayed for a teachable spirit. Thankfully, God answered that prayer so that when my second publisher meeting didn’t go so well (AT ALL), it didn’t bother me. I just asked the editor some questions, learned a little something about their publishing house, and went on my merry way. Believe me, that would not have happened a few months ago. If I had not prayed about this, I know that my own tendency would have been to feel crushed, defeated, disheartened.
So what did I learn this weekend? I learned that, for me, my expectations need to be set low so that I don’t get disappointed (that’s baggage in case you didn’t recognize it). I also learned that I need to be careful with the people around me who might have bigger expectations than I do.
Mostly, I learned to pray for a teachable spirit. It made all the difference for me this weekend.
Monday, August 3, 2009
But I went, primarily out of obedience, and I was blessed. My spirit was revived and I left feeling absolutely peaceful about what had taken place.
This week I’m going to be writing about a few things I learned at She Speaks. Today’s lesson: A little kindness goes a long way.
Like I said, I knew NO ONE going into this weekend. Sure, I had met a couple of people through blogging, online, but that’s not the same as getting to know them in person. So when I got off the plane in Charlotte I took a deep breath and thought, “Well, here I go.”
I had to find a shuttle to get to the hotel, and as soon as I walked outside I saw a group of well-dressed women standing around talking and laughing. They could not have been sweeter as I introduced myself. I had a great time talking to Amy and Lisa (who doesn’t have a blog but hopefully will soon) in the shuttle on the way to the hotel.
As I was walking through the lobby to check into the hotel, I heard someone shout, “Shelly!! There you are!” I turned around and saw Jo-Lynne walking toward me with her arms out to give me a big hug. She had recognized me from my picture right here on ye old blog. Friends, I cannot tell you what that meant to me. First of all, I was scared, so to have someone reach out to me like that was a welcome relief. Second, Jo-Lynne is a rock star in the blogging world (I know this because she's listed in my Mom Agenda under "Mom Blogs") and I am the dung on a circus elephant’s toenail, so to have someone like her greet me so warmly was just like handing me a warm towel fresh out of the dryer and wrapping me up in it. Such a blessing.
Jo-Lynne and I chatted for a few minutes and she immediately invited me over to meet a couple of other bloggy rock stars: Tina (Antique Mommy—she’s over on my right sidebar) and Dawn. They were all heading out to lunch, so they invited me and my new friends from the shuttle to come along. Just like that I felt embraced and a part of things. It was just beautiful.
I have to tell you, that was not an isolated incident. Wherever I went I met people who were genuinely interested in me. Asking questions. Looking me in the eye. Commenting on my dress (can I tell you that I enjoyed that just a little?). Seriously, though, it is rare to find people who are genuinely interested in you and your success.
And then there’s Lysa. Dear, sweet Lysa. She’s not only a rock star, she’s a real person. I counted more than three times that she stopped and made a point to come over to me to see how I was doing. Me. Little old me. Now, I’ve met Lysa a few times, but to tell you the truth, we’ve never had an extended one-on-one time of conversation—she’s much too busy for that, and I don’t fault her for that at all. But she calls me her friend, and that means so much to me. She’s the real deal, that Lysa.
My weekend was bookended by kindness. Jo-Lynne provided the front bookend, and Leslie provided the back bookend. As I was leaving the hotel, dragging my suitcase behind me, I passed a woman in the hall and we exchanged glances. Suddenly she came over to me and said, “I feel like I have to meet you. I’ve seen you so many times this weekend, and I feel like I know you. Do we know each other?” Turns out we didn’t, but we had a couple of things in common. Like, she lived in Florida and I’m here in Illinois. You know, the usual stuff. (Just kidding!) No, Leslie has two daughters, just about the same ages as two of mine. She knew someone from Wheaton. But here’s the cool thing . . . that someone would take the time to say, “I think I’d like to meet you,” and then actually act on it.
As I write this post I’m deeply convicted. I attend a big church full of type-A women who can sometimes feel threatening to me. I feel like that circus elephant’s toenail dung so often as I walk through the hallways, wondering what I have to offer. But then I wonder . . . how many other women at my church feel like that too? And what can I do to foster an atmosphere of genuine warmth and good-cheer among ourselves, right where we are?
Before we left for She Speaks, we were encouraged to get rid of our sense of competition for the weekend. To just treat one another as beloved sisters and to encourage each other in our calling. That truly was the spirit of the weekend, and it felt rare to me. Special. And you know what? It works!
I hope that I can learn from that and transfer that feeling of encouragement to the women at my church. I would love for our huge Women’s Bible Study that meets on Wednesday mornings to be a place where women could open up, be real, be inviting, and NOT be competing. And I hope that can start with me.
"Where's the post?" That's you wondering where my She Speaks update is.
Well, wouldn't you know, there's a story here. The post is forthcoming. I actually wrote it this morning on my laptop. It's sitting downstairs on the kitchen table.
But, true to form, I did something stupid this weekend. I dropped my laptop in the airport. Kerplunk! Actually, it was perched in my bag on top of my suitcase and it fell off, so I didn't so much drop it as I wasn't attentive enough to it.
At any rate, my laptop seems mostly fine, but I can't get my wireless connection to work, so I'm on the kids' computer right now.
And between that little glitch and getting caught up with my daughters whom I haven't seen for over a week and my husband whom I missed and Amy who was out of town when I left, life's just a little busy right now.
All that to say that if you're here looking for a She Speaks post, PLEASE come back later today. I have to re-type the whole thing on this computer and it may take a while, but I hope to have it up later today.
Until then, I'm off to spend time with my friend and my girls. See you later!