Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Seven Secrets to Surviving Storms

On Saturday, we attended a wedding in the St. Thomas Chapel at Villanova University.

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on Philadelphia, guests left their umbrellas at the door. Happily, they also checked the soggy weather in the vestibule, because the multi-colored bouquets and white marble interior brightened even the darkest day.  
By the time my friend, mother-of-the-groom, was escorted down the aisle by her eldest son, the weather was forgotten.
Majestic strains of the pipe organ filled the chapel, and the solemn ceremony proceeded unabated.

As I watched the giving of vows and exchange of rings, my mind wandered to the storms of life every couple must weather.  When you stand at the altar so full of optimism, you have no idea what life might blow your way.  My husband and I have weathered our share of storms together--the loss of a baby, the stress of a surgeon's schedule, the strain of living in a fourth-world country, the challenge of meeting our children's educational needs, the trauma of watching young adults figure out their own values... Undoubtedly, there are more squalls ahead.

In reality, life isn't easy. There are, however, some things spouses can do to smooth the passage.  As I listened to the homily, I came up with some tips to help young marrieds experience more sunshine and less thunder.

First, bury your expectations. Early in marriage, if my husband mentioned he might be home early and something came up at work, I was more disappointed than if I had not anticipated his homecoming. Furthermore, just because my father--who worked for the Federal government--always came home for supper, did not mean my husband--who is a physician--would follow that pattern.

Since my expectations made me miserable, I decided to kill my "ought-to-bes".  Instead, I reasoned, other wives have absent husbands, too. Military spouses are deployed. Coaches travel to recruit players and coach away games. Truck drivers make long hauls. Salesmen earn rewards from hotels and airlines, because they register so many rooms and log so many miles. So, why should I complain when my husband is at the hospital?

The same advice to kill expectations applies to husbands.  Do you expect your wife to cook and keep house like your mother?  If so, then it is time for a reality check.  Your wife won't cook like your mother.  She may be a better cook; then again, she may not cook at all.  Furthermore, she won't keep house like your mother, either. She may be less fastidious or more so; but she isn't your mother.  So, bury your assumptions of how things are going to be. You both will be happier!

My second piece of advice follows logically: With your expectations six-feet-under, avoid criticizing your spouse. After all, who says your way is right or better?
Think about it.  Do you want to be around someone who critiques you?  Of course not. We avoid negativity like the plague. Guess what?  So does your spouse. Consequently, if you are going to grouse or nitpick, think twice. Then do to your partner what you would want him/her to do to you--overlook the "fault".  The apostle James says it best, "Mercy triumphs over judgment."

The third recommendation I'd make for a happy marriage would be to avoid badgering. 
You may have a to-do list as long as your arm and a schedule you think should be kept, but ask yourself, "Would I cheerfully comply, if the demands were reversed?" A good rule of thumb, is to ask in moderation and be sure you are sharing the load.  Horses, if driven too hard, balk. Besides only a narcissists demand that the world revolve around them.  Remember, "Smoke, rain, and a demanding mate will make a spouse run out-of-doors."

Tip number four is positive; instead of criticizing and badgering, compliment.

Even children intuitively know that kind words are better motivators than harsh tones.  This was illustrated one evening in front of a house guest.  The host, a pastor, lost his temper with the family dog, cuffed him, and booted him outside.

The young son, observing, was visibly upset.  He waited until the father had left the room, then retrieved the poor pup remarking to the visitor, "Doesn't he know that Buster would do anything for him, if he'd just talk nicely to him?"

It isn't just Buster who responds best to belly-rubs and treats.  My fifth tip is to be generous with treats, or to put it another way, meet your spouse's needs.

Every human being has needs, and it is the job of the spouse to meet those needs. According to Abraham Maslow, we  all need to drink, to eat, to sleep, to feel protected, to have sex, and to feel affirmed. It follows then that a man should bring his wife coffee. Likewise,  a women should serve her husband iced tea. Taking it a step further, sometimes a husband should cook or take his wife out to eat, and at other times, the wife should prepare a favorite meal or buy a "homemade" pie. Both have the responsibility of meeting other other's need. Similarly, men should give their wives listening-time and just-holding-time, while wives should give their husbands sex. Why? Because needs must be met. And, a good marriage is based on the formula:  each for the other.

Tip six is equally important to a congenial marriage:  Spend in moderation.  More couples divorce over money than anything else.  As a consequence, my advice when dealing with money is moderation. Either spouse can err either by burning through money
 or by holding it too tightly.

With disciplined spending and kind words and actions, marriages can be strong.  However, the hurricane-force winds of life will still blow.  Those stormy times are when the last and most important key to a storm-proof marriage is necessary: Hang on to the Lord together. He is what keeps a home from coming apart when the fierce winds blow.  Listen to Steve and MaryJean Green as they affirm this truth in their original song, Household of Faith.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer of the Stay-cation

A memorable vacation is not measured by where you go, but by who you are with.  Back in January and February when we normally would have been renting a house for summer vacation, our children's schedules were tentative.  As a consequence, we planned a home-bound holiday.

To insure the days together would be fun, we researched age-appropriate activities--catering to the  one-year-old, two-year-old, and three-year-old.

It all began by renting a van to pick up our daughter in Bethesda (Her husband joined us later.) and our other daughter's family who flew in from the midwest to the Baltimore-Washington Airport. We ate lunch at our favorite haunt on Federal Hill.
Regi's American Bistro, 1002 Light Street, Baltimore, MD
Then, the men took Will to the National Aquarium located on the Baltimore harbor.
Meanwhile, the ladies toured Patrick Sutton's interior design studio which is just a stone's throw from the aquarium.
Later that evening, our son and family arrived from Virginia.
The next day, although temperatures topped 100 degrees, the preschoolers' excitement for Dutch Wonderland wasn't dampened.

The plume ride provided a bit of relief from the sun.

Two honeys in a honey bee.
Three-year-olds like driving heavy equipment.
Two-year-olds do too.
One-year-olds, the same.

After that sauna the next day, we purchased seats in the Strasburg Railroad pullman car which is air conditioned!

We made time for a visit with the great grandparents.

Of course, Gigi had a present-a-day for each child to open.
"Boys may like balls, but girls like Madeline," Caroline said as she opened her present.  :)
To minimize the number of times I had to set the table for eleven people, we had a meal prepared by a Haitian lady with whom Bill works.  Another day, we ordered sandwiches-to-go from Isaacs just down the road from the railroad. And, on Sunday, we ate brunch at the Cork and Cap Restaurant.

My conclusion after the stay-cation experiment:  A trip to a far-away place is exciting, but a few days at home with the family is priceless.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Best Never Rest

Yesterday, I read a sports story about the new Philadelphia Philly phenom, Hunter Pence.  Since his acquisition in late July, the team has a 12-3 record.  But, what stood out in the Pence profile was his attitude toward baseball beginning in his junior year in high school when he decided to make it his priority.

"When I woke up in the morning, I was going to do everything I could possibly do to get better.  When I went to bed at night, same thing.  Throughout the day, I was going to find a way to be the best I could."

An ever onward-and-upward attitude also produces the best home designer. How can I prove it?  Well, if you were house shopping which home would you choose to visit?  The one in the real estate ads with the Williamsburg blue carpet, the hunter green walls, and the ubiquitous brown leather Lazy-boy recliner or the one with warm but neutral walls, vessel sinks, and granite countertops?

Although our youngest daughter and her husband did a lot when they moved into their home, they have not settled for status quo.  Rachel has not stopped making forward progress room by room, and Curt has continued to improve the landscaping.

About four years ago, when they were getting ready to occupy their home, they were given some family antiques and hand-me-downs.  The antiques are keepers, but some of my cast-offs needed to be updated. This lamp is an example, showing decades of wear on the cracked wooden base and yellowed shade.
Replacing the traditionally-shaped lamp with a gold-gilded contemporary lamp took the vignette from wilted to perky.
We also found another angular lamp to replace a predictable lamp in her hearth room. (She moved the wooden lamp to the basement game room.)
Mixing traditional furnishings with contemporary accessories updates a home.  Even modern pillows contribute to a current vibe.

Then bringing in a hint of grey as relief from all the brown, also makes the space seem less passe. 
 These changes are small, but add up to a fresh look.

What is more, the updates didn't break the bank.  We discovered the gilded lamp at an antique market. A trip to a lamp repair shop for a black shade and base gave a high-end look to a bargain.  The little square lamp was a discontinued sale at Crate and Barrel. Three pillows and the throw came from Target; while the last two pillows were purchased at West Elm.

However, before you adopt "the best never rest" slogan as your own, a word of caution is in order. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors can be destructive.  In fact, psychiatrists prescribe medicine for the disorder!

Staying current must be balanced with contentment.  Always needing the latest fashion, technological gadget, or home accessory can destroy a budget and a marriage.  One must ask oneself, "What soul-hole drives me to obsessive behavior? Who am I trying to please?  Why can't I be content?"

Inner contentment comes with the certainty of God's love.  If you are sure the Lord accepts you for who you are, you don't have to keep up with someone else or try to be perfect. Only God is perfect, and although he wants us to live to please him, he doesn't want us to be driven to try harder or strive more ardently to gain his favor.  After all, his love was guaranteed, when we were the opposite of perfect!  We are commanded to press onward and upward looking unto Jesus, but remembering that all is grace!  


Friday, August 12, 2011

My Life for Yours

The birthday I just celebrated was a fresh reminder of the truism: Love is my-life-for-yours. My husband, family, and friends illustrated their love by sacrificing for me. It made me want to do the same, to give my life for them and others.

Nowhere is the self-sacrificial definition of love more obvious than in marriage. On Saturday, my husband gave of himself to surprise me for my birthday. 

Let me tell you the story.  Earlier in the spring, we had seen a chandelier I admired.  Our daughter loved it, too, and ordered one for her new home. I assumed I would get to enjoy it at her house.  Little did I know my husband had tucked the information in the back of his mind.  Collaborating with our daughter, he ordered one for us, too. Then, he had it delivered to a friend's home and arranged for another friend to hang it while we were out for a birthday dinner.  
Imagine my surprise when he led me into the dining room singing, "Happy birthday" and pointing upward.  I was shocked!  How did he pull that off?  The more I thought about it, the more touched I was. What self-sacrifice! We didn't "need" the chandelier, but Bill knew that slowly updating our home is something I wanted to do.  Thoughtfully, he gave of himself to please me, and it makes me feel so loved!  

Another expression of self-sacrifice came from our three-year-old granddaughter. According to our son, Caroline spent over an hour coloring a special picture for me.  "She really worked on it.  She wanted it to be perfect for you."  When the drawing arrived by Fedex, I placed it in a prominent place. Each time I pass it, her sweet voice rings in my ears, "Happy birthday, Gigi." Seeing her efforts makes me feel loved.
Then in my living room is another expression of self-sacrifice.  Three porcelain blossoms now sit on a walnut box. They were sent by my daughters who are each on an early-marriage budget.  The delicate flowers are a generous display of their love.
In a guest space fresh, monogramed towels and wash cloths are laid out ready for use.  They are a gift from my mother.
My father-in-law and mother-in-law sent a beautiful card with kind sentiments and a check.  Their generosity on a fixed income speaks of their love.

Finally, three china birds now chirp at me from my kitchen window.  They were a birthday present from a friend. Often this friend and I have walked and prayed for our children, reminding each other to "look at the birds...they do not sow, or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren't you (or your children) more valuable than they?" What a sweet reminder of Matthew 6:26. In choosing these cute little fellows, my friend thoughtfully gave of herself to encourage me.
When we spend ourselves for someone else, we are demonstrating love.  Didn't Christ live and die to illustrate love?  "This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:16).
This week when I make an extra special dinner for my husband, send a surprise to my granddaughter, bless one of my children, call a parent, or have a friend for tea I am living the truth:  Love is: my-life-for-yours.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Endearing Quirks

What I love about homes built over half century ago are the quirky details.  An unusual door, an atypical doorbell, detailed woodwork all combine to give an older home a uniqueness not found in McMansion construction.  Such whimsical details return stone-cottage visitors to a by-gone era.

From the street, the 1930's cottage testifies to the attention to detail given in those days. Before you get up the front walk, you notice the weighted gate.  What a charming welcome.
Looking up at the home, you see snow guards adding definition to the slate roof. The metal perches keep snow from sliding off the stone surface, but are rarely used on recently built homes. The front door is also unique in that only the upper half of the front door has divided lights.  Nowadays, front doors are either solid wood or entirely divided glass.  
Once up to the front door visitors twist the doorbell key rather than push a button, and the bell is located in the center of the door rather than on the doorframe.

From the inside, the bell displays scrolled details.
The entryway reveals more one-of-a-kind features.  Curled wood cutouts detail the sides of the stairs.
A half Dutch-door in the front hall leading downstairs is especially unusual.
In the dining room, a built in dish cupboard takes advantage of under-the-stair space.
At the top of the stairs are additional vintage details on the landing.  For example, a slanted linen closet door follows the roofline.  
Just outside the bathroom, the original builder created a tiny trap door which allows a plumber access to the tub and shower pipes.
Built in drawers are tucked under the dormers in the upstairs bedrooms.
 Then, I love the radiator covers which are each unique.

Taking note of the quirks in this old cottage made me think of each person's individuality. Aren't you glad the Creator has continued to make each person special? He obviously agrees that personalized quirks are as endearing in people as they are in homes.