Signs of Life Day Twenty-Seven

It was a crap-tastic day, the Mondayist Monday ever. I could be a real live Superwoman, what with all my super-powered self-restraint. I am amazingly restrained.

This evening I collapsed on the couch in the den with Chuck so we could swap our bad day stories. We both felt defeated, like Monday had played a cruel joke and pulled the rug from underneath our feet. The gray sky fit our blah moods.

Suddenly I remembered the date.

“Do you want to know something good?” I asked.

His eyebrows rose and he gave me a knowing side-eye.

“Today is the twenty-first anniversary of you asking me out and me saying yes.”

Chuck and I met at an after-school job we both had at a local deli. We’d hang out in the parking lot after hours, talking, laughing, and squeezing out every last minute we had together. We went to different high schools, so these lingering after-hour evenings were coveted. Our friendship had turned into a flirtation, but as much as he asked for more, I kept saying no. I was going away to college and didn’t want a complicated, long-distance relationship.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

After closing the deli on Tuesday, February 27, 1996, we drove to a basketball goal behind a nearby Lutheran church to hang out before the sun set. Something about this day felt different. I don’t remember what it was exactly, but it was… something. He knew it too, because tucked away in his truck was a single red rose.

Again, he asked if we could go out, and finally, I said, “Yes. Okay.”

Out came the rose, for I had been wooed.

It wouldn’t be the last time either. Two decades later, this singular memory was the shiniest part of our terrible, no-good day. Among the bad attitudes, the frustrating national news, and the constant uphill battle of larger struggles, this memory was the one good thing I needed to see and feel. 

I’ll take it.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Over the last week, and then again today while on a run, I sorted through 2016 and whittled down a collection of lessons I’ve learned in the last year. I’ve never been keen on setting resolutions, but in recent years I’ve worked hard to be mindful of my mistakes and efforted not to repeat them. I look critically at myself, at how I’ve behaved, at things I’ve said, and resolved, in a way, not to repeat them when they’ve not been helpful. I fail, of course, like we all do, but I endeavor to be better anyway.

2016 was a mostly good year for our family. Last night during dinner we went around naming the things we loved – from the boys turning 10 and 13, to Jeremy getting his first deer, to our anniversary trip to Key West and the unmatched experience at Lambeau Field. In 2016, I started teaching at the homeschool co-op, and I ran a relay race in April and got my 15th medal at a half marathon in December. I spent a long, pensive weekend at a monastery in July and had photo sessions in the double digits. Jeremy saved up his own money to buy an iPod, rode roller coasters with his brother at Hershey Park, and Jackson saw firsthand what it might be like to be a sports statistician.  Chuck has excelled in his job too, though I cannot disclose those details here. Just know that he continues to be amazing.

So yeah, 2016 was mostly very good. I am thankful, but I am also watchful. There are always areas in which to improve and grow. With that, here are 16 things I learned in 2016:

No. 1 Parenting evolves. We have a teenager in the house now. A baby teenager, but a teenager nonetheless. We are now in constant negotiations with Jeremy over what we allow, what we don’t, what will benefit him, what won’t. Chuck and I talk regularly about how things are changing with our oldest son, comparing how it was when we were 13, comparing how it is with other teenagers we know. We are doing our best, I am sure, but long gone are the days of nap times and lessons about sharing.

No. 2 But it also stays the same. Regardless of the boys’ age and stage, the Miller House Rules are the same as ever: Family first, be kind to everyone, work hard, do your best, tell the truth. Obey Mom and Dad, and remember that privileges are earned, not freely given. There is nothing you can do to lose our love, but you will probably never know the WiFi password.

No. 3 Faith evolves. It is good to have your faith challenged, even when the process is painful and seemingly unending. Read books that challenge your ideas and be in conversation with others who believe differently than you. I have never lost my faith, but it has evolved a dozen times. Each time I’m stretched and twisted, and even when I’ve recoiled, I settle into a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Christ.

No. 4 But God stays the same. It is humbling and reassuring to know that God sees me, hears me, knows me, and still loves me. If I know nothing else, then this must be enough.

No. 5 We are not promised time. Death is a curious, cruel thing, and when those we love pass on from this world, death seems to linger and take up space where it is not wanted. Several friends have lost parents, siblings, and children in the last few years, reminding me again and again that we are not promised a single moment beyond right now. When we live like we have endless time we deceive ourselves. Better to look at the truth of our mortality and make decisions accordingly. For example…

No. 6 Don’t waste time. Don’t waste time on bad television, bad company, and bad food. Read good books, and drink good coffee. Choose friendships that have reciprocal benefits and strive to keep those friendships thriving. Work hard and play harder. Take care of yourself. Take care of your kids. Take care of your spouse. Travel and exercise and get enough sleep. These things are time well spent.

No. 7 It’s okay to say no. The older I get, the more emboldened I feel to say no. Saying no means several things, such as “If I say yes, then I’m overcommitted and I can’t keep doing that anymore,” and “I don’t feel the way you do about this thing, so I need to say no,” and “This doesn’t align with my priorities, so I’m saying no.” Saying no doesn’t mean you’re a curmudgeon or that you’re selfish or that you think your time is more important than someone else’s. It just means you are careful with your time, that you don’t have endless talents and efforts to spread around thinly. Invest your whole self where you can, where you desire to, and say no to the rest. IT’S OKAY.

No. 8 My body is different now. For someone who’s struggled with body dysmorphia for more than 20 years, this is a hard truth to swallow. I still run, lift, stretch, and sweat, and I am thankful that I can still do these things, but my body is not what it was even five years ago. It is more important than ever that I’m careful, watchful. It is essential that I eat well, that I rest when my body begs for it, that I remain thankful for all of my abilities, even though I’m not as fast as I want to be, as skinny as I want to be, as strong as I want to be. Health is a multi-faceted thing, and today, I am healthy.

No. 9 Yoga is amazing. Once I finally committed to a regular yoga practice and was over the hump of it being “too hard,” I fell in love. I love yoga. I LOVE YOGA. I am thankful for the online resources that afford me a variety of practices so I never get bored. I am also glad that I finally bought a mat. Yoga on a mat is better than yoga on carpet. But yoga on carpet is better than no yoga at all. You heard it here first.

No. 10 I don’t want to give up on being published. There is much to say on this matter, but this isn’t the place. I am still writing. I am still working. The dream is a plan. I covet your support.

No. 11 I love teaching. This is one of the surprising realizations of 2016. When I submitted an idea to teach creative writing at our homeschool co-op, it was done with grandiose ideas and a tiny bit of confidence. Now, a full semester later, heading into the next semester with two classes instead of one, I am pleased as punch to say that I love teaching. It’s an unexpected treasure to discover you enjoy something.

No. 12 I do not value my skills as much as I should, and I’m primarily referencing photography. I am the queen of underpricing and overdelivering. Oh, how I wish I could set rates that reflect what I provide! If the money didn’t matter, I’d do it all for free. But the money does matter, so it’s something I need to fix. If any of these are actual resolutions, then this is one.

No. 13 Personal relationships are more important than politics. More surprising that Donald Trump’s presidential win was the splitting and fracturing of personal relationships in the brutal aftermath. While my family is still in tact, I know families and friendships that aren’t. It grieves me deeply, and while some may argue “principles over people,” I believe the greatest principle is to love one another. After all, when we are struggling, we don’t call Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. We call our people. So yeah, don’t break up with your people.

No. 14 My husband really loves me. If you know us in real life, then you are shaking your head. Silly girl, of course he loves you! This isn’t a realization I came to suddenly, nor did it only materialize this year. We have more than 20 years in the books, which means I’ve been on the receiving end of many gifts, gestures, and many more I love yous. Still, there’ve been a dozen times in 2016 alone where I saw my husband as more than a spouse. We really are friends. Best friends. We love being together. As introverts, we love our time alone, but when we’re ready for conversation, we often choose each other. We love to travel together, to daydream and make plans. I am immensely grateful.

No. 15 Teaching my boys to serve is worthwhile. Regular volunteer work is as important as school. Maybe more important. Do it, do it, do it.

No. 16 No matter what happens in 2017, life is good as long as we choose to find the good. We do well to remember that.

The disagreement we’ve been having for 16 years

Like many marriages, Chuck and I have had wonderful years together paired with those times when we’d like to kill one another and hide the body. We’ve been close, we’ve been distant, we’ve crawled down into the pit with one another to make it through a difficult season. We’ve seen several sides to this marriage thing and yet we’re still together by choice. Marriage, if I could describe it with just one word, is a decision.

We decide to overlook the things that annoy us.

We decide to put the other’s needs before our own.

We decide to put our marriage before the kids.

We decide to speak up when something is too important to let go.

Every day is fraught with decisions. Do I tell him I’m feeling hormonally nuts or do I let him figure it out on his own? Do I fold his laundry to be nice or just let that shit go because I have other stuff to do? Do I remind the boys that Daddy deserves the last piece of cake because he works so hard for us or do I let them split it? Or do I eat it myself? 

Every day. Decisions.

Almost 15 years

That is why I cannot wrap my brain around Chuck’s continued decision to walk in on me taking a shower. This decision, my friends, is the disagreement we’ve been having for 16 years, and it came to a head yesterday when he heard the water running and thought he’d pop into the bathroom.

Unfortunately I wasn’t in the shower just yet. I was close – fully naked, but not under water because I was doing a charcoal mask on my face while listening to a podcast.

One glance of that dark paste on my face was all it took. Chuck tore into laughter as I slammed the door and told him to bug off.

Sixteen years.

His argument: You’re my wife. You’re beautiful. I love you. It’s okay if I see you in the shower. I like to see you in the shower.

My argument: I don’t like to be seen in the shower. Nor do I like to be seen plucking, tweezing, shaving, facial-ing, coloring, or any other type of grooming. If I have to hang on to the very essence of my youth well into adulthood, THEN I’D LIKE SOME PRIVACY WHILST DOING IT.

His argument: But nudity.

My argument: But no.

Him: But.

Me: Nope.

And yet we continue.

For what it’s worth, there are a dozen other things we could be arguing about that carry far more weight than whether or not Chuck walks in on me shaving (or plucking or facial-ing or coloring or tweezing or battling my adult-onset acne with charcoal). Despite my frustration, I am pleased as punch that he still finds me attractive and weaves complicated plots to sneak a peek of me in the shower. Glory be. 

But I’m terrifically shy. I do not change clothes in front of my husband or anyone else. I have never given birth or breastfed (hey hey adoption!), so I never went through that time when you “lose all modesty” or whatever happens when women give birth. Precious few people have seen my bits. Part of it is body dysmorphia, but part of it is just shyness.

Once I was out of the shower and dressed (a finished product), I confronted my dearest love in his recliner. The closer I got, the more he tried to choke down his laughter. I sat down across from him and he was full-on snickering.

You have to stop.

But you’re my wife.

And so on, and so on. Yes, it was funny. Yes, I looked a fright with a charcoal face. Yes, I’m flattered that he loves me so.

But. 

If we are still fighting about this in another 16 years, then our marriage will be a success. It will mean that we still act like teenagers and still chase each other around the house. It will mean we still care about what the other person thinks. Our marriage will still be made up of all the little decisions we make each day, and Chuck will still choose to surprise me in the shower.

Hey, it could be worse. It could be that he doesn’t want to see me naked.

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Kid-Free Day in Downtown Philly

Our daily life and routine is unique, so date nights are rare, which is unfortunate because Chuck and I really enjoy dating each other. It’s one of our favorite hobbies.

With childcare secured (yay grandparents!), my husband and I were able to spend about nine hours (NINE HOURS) without the boys. We went to King of Prussia (Primark!) and then to downtown Philly to tool around in whatever we could find. No real agenda, but that’s pretty much how we roll on vacation.

Being so close to Independence Day, Philadelphia was properly decorated.

American flags in Philly

American flags in Chinatown

Steeple

Smoke stacks Malice and charity

Brick drawings

The most interesting area we saw was Elfreth’s Alley in Old City, the country’s oldest continually inhabited residential street. It’s been lovingly kept to standard.

Elfreths American flags on Elfreth Patriotic windows

Elfreths's Alley

The drizzle was annoying, but we missed any sort of downpour. That meant the streets weren’t packed with tourists and locals. We roamed around Old City until our feet hurt.

Looking at Camden Old City at night

Date night in Philly

Twenty years ago today

It was a brisk Tuesday in late-February, during the spring semester of my senior year, that 17-year-old Chuck drove 17-year-old me to a basketball court behind a church. We’d met one another about six months prior at an after-school job. We attended separate schools in seemingly separate worlds, but we had a ball together at The Daily Bagel – laughing, goofing around, and, eventually, flirting.

According to my terrifically embarrassing journal entries, I was smitten with this boy early on, but I was determined to stay unattached so I could go off to college in the fall without anyone holding me back.

Yet, this boy was persistent and we talked often about starting a relationship. The journal entries – again, so embarrassing – are lengthy sermons to myself about keeping things close but friendly. I had a whole life to live and it was going to start promptly after high school.

But then that Tuesday rolled around. February 27, 1996. It was shortly before sundown and we’d just left work for the night. Per usual, we didn’t want to say goodbye yet, so we played a few minutes of basketball and talked about relationship stuff again. This time, I didn’t argue or deflect or be that wishy-washy girl I’d been those last few weeks.

Instead, 17-year-old me told 17-year-old him that I was ready to be boyfriend and girlfriend, to which he responded, “Well then let’s do this right.”

He went to his truck and pulled out a rose. Dang it all. I was hooked.

We went back to that same basketball court the following year and took this photo:

February 1997

Forgive me for the cliché, but it applies: And the rest is history.

Throwback to 1997 when we were adults and ran off to Key West

God bless our parents and their incredible restraint to not wring our necks.

In the summer of 1997, just after Chuck graduated high school and I had finished my freshman year of college, we took a trip – by ourselves – to Key West. Because, you know, we were adults and could make adult decisions.

Eye roll.

It was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken as a couple. Truly. And no matter how much I cringe when I think of what our parents must have thought at the time, I remember having a fabulous time with my boyfriend, walking up and down Duval Street, watching the sideshow acts on Mallory Square, and touring Hemingway’s house for the second time. We ate at Sloppy Joe’s and watched the sunset at the Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.A.

This photo is one of my favorites of us: We rented a moped and looped the island without a care in the world. At some point during our ride, I whipped out my 35mm camera, held it at arm’s length, and snapped a picture – a selfie in a pre-selfie era. (The time stamp in the righthand corner is incorrect as I could not figure out how to change the date internally. It was indeed 1997, not 1994.)

TBT 1997 Key West

God help me if Jeremy or Jackson do what we did when they are 18. Remind me to hide this post when they hit puberty.

A love letter to my husband

Dearest,

You were already a long-suffering, understanding husband and now your wife wants to be fiction writer.

God bless you.

You’ve been supportive and encouraging, wise in your advice and patient in the process. So when you received my text message this morning saying I’d just gotten my sixth rejection, no doubt you felt my pain.

You know these rejections are little stabs in my hot air balloon and yet you continue to add fuel to my fire. You are my underpinning, my weight-bearing beam. You offer words of validation and warm embraces. And today, you offered doughnuts.

doughnuts

You knew that I’d want to eat my feelings this afternoon and you took the extra step to make sure I could. How funny, then, that I picked up cupcakes on my way home. How blissfully ironic that now we have both treats with which to medicate ourselves because six literary agents turned down my novel.

cupcakes

We are only at the beginning of this marathon, and I’m guaranteed more heartache. The good news is that sometimes I’ll self-medicate with a long run or maybe a good cry so we don’t have to worry about adult onset diabetes.

Regardless of my coping mechanism I hope we’ll always be in sync. Thank you for the doughnuts and for knowing what I needed today.

The Boston Creme Pie Cupcake is for you.

Pinterest for Anniversary No. 14

I could post old photos of us from the last 18 years of being together, 14 of which have been as a married couple, but I’ve done that a dozen times. Here’s last year from Vegas, here’s the year before that when we were camping. Here’s a photo that was taken about five months after we started dating in 1996.

Instead, I’ll share with you a few of my favorite things I’ve pinned to my husband-specific board on Pinterest. It’s a dumping ground for building furniture, Mad Men references, and homages to beards and tattoos. Occasionally, I post something sweet to remind myself (and him) that this journey we’re on is the best. Continue reading “Pinterest for Anniversary No. 14”

Sunshine Love

This weekend was perfect. The weather was sublime, I planted the garden, the boys went to the Orange and White game, and we lounged outside on the patio like we’ve been longing to do since October. It was absolute perfection.

Today is a different story weather-wise, but let’s focus on the good.

In the garden are sweet Georgia onions, rosemary, thyme, three types of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, buttercrunch lettuce, and strawberries. The strawberries and lettuce are experiments. We’ll see what happens.

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Continue reading “Sunshine Love”

Cheers to Year 12

Sixteen years ago, I met this man. We started dating pretty soon after. And about four years after that, we got engaged. We were married 12 years ago, and I’m still very content and pleased with all the times I said yes.

Happy Anniversary to my amazing man and partner in life. It’s been a fabulous collection of years. Cheers to dozens more.

Random Picture Day

In scrolling through previous photo uploads, I found a few that I meant to share and never did.

The first is one that Jeremy took of Chuck and me on my birthday. We finally have a child old enough to work the camera so we don’t have to do that extend-an-arm-and-snap-a-close-up thing anymore. Yay for older kids!

Next, we have a super cool webmaster living in the backyard.

Continue reading “Random Picture Day”