The Best Things in Life

I don’t much care about fashion or gadgets (I just want to look like I fit somewhere in the current decade and have a device that works). I don’t much care about travel, beyond the occasional getaway. I don’t much care about the so-called social scene.

I’ve been married for 10 years and experimented in each of the above pursuits. I’ve found each of them to be at best, a disappointment; at worst, a trap. Clever distractions to divert attention away from what truly matters in life – faith and family.

Let’s face it: Fashion is not much more than a lovely racket. Cleverly arranged pieces that appeal to the eye and make one feel “I simply MUST have that!” And after you’ve worn your perfectly paired finery, you realize you’ve spent more than you should have – on something nonessential. And just give it a season – you will find that you rarely, if ever, use it again. (Unless, of course, you are the type to choose essential pieces in classic colors and styles. In that case, you may use those pieces season after season.) And the never-ending parade of smartphones, tablets, and other devices is clearly just another trap, if you MUST have the latest and greatest. There will always be a new one.

On to travel. Don’t get me wrong. This girl has heard (but never answered) the call of the Australian Outback, the siren song of Paris, the timeless calm of the English countryside. But simply put, these things cost money. Quite a bit of it. And after the headiness of the experience has faded, all you have left are some pricey souvenirs and way too many photos. And perhaps debt. I may be in the minority here, but that seems a very fleeting source of happiness for such a high price. I’d rather have something I can hold on to. Besides an overpriced miniature Eiffel Tower.

As for the social scene, if I have to impress someone with my experiences in the world of fashion and/or travel (or anything else, for that matter!) to be accepted into a particular circle, I don’t want to be a part of that circle anyway!

Realistically, the majority of our lives are not spent in any of the above pursuits (unless we actually work in an industry relating to any or all of them). The majority of our lives are spent in making a living and, well, living. Why can’t making the most of the life we are building be THE pursuit? Instead of the next outfit, trip, or party, why aren’t we focused on the people that make up our lives?

The best things in life are not free. They cost, not money, but time and effort. Any relationship will give only what you invest in it. Therefore, I’m not going to fritter away precious moments with those I love. I’m going to enjoy them and truly love them. I married my husband because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, not just my spare time. I’ve found my calling: it is being a dedicated wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend. The latest fashion will be whatever I can afford. The latest smartphone will be the one I get at a discount. The dream vacation will be the one I spend with my family – anywhere. My social life is full of beautiful people who know how to have fun – with children and pets, in a casual atmosphere, where there is no pressure to impress. Because in my world, my husband’s laugh, a sincere “thank you” from a family member, hugs and smiles from the children, my dog’s wagging tail – are the beautiful, intangible things of true value. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

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Random Thoughts, Quotes, and Pearls of Wisdom

• Good friends are truly priceless. Treasure them.

• The ability to walk at a vigorous pace for any space of time is something to be very grateful for.

• Take full ownership of your health. No one can take care of you better than yourself. (Except God.)

• There are few things as endearing as a fuzzy Greyhound snout in your face; chattering teeth telling you “I’m so happy you’re here! I love you!”

• Banana pancakes are special, not just because they taste good, but also because they represent slowing down to enjoy simple pleasures. (Just ask Jack Johnson.)

• There is nothing as precious as a child. If more adults put children’s best interests ahead of their own (truly, not spoiling them) the world would be a much better place.

• Fathers, be good to your daughters; daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers, be good to your daughters too. – John Mayer

• Animals are one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. They make us laugh, they show us beauty and nobility, they comfort us.

• The Lion King is full of important life lessons: the Circle of Life, the past can hurt but you learn from it, life’s not fair, leave your behind in your past (or something like that), and Hakuna Matata!

• Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else. – Judy Garland

• Family is family, regardless of the past, annoying habits, embarrassing behavior, or personality clashes. Love them, just don’t let their mistakes define you. And remember, you make mistakes too – don’t let that define you either; let it make you more understanding.

• Life’s like an hourglass glued to the table… So… Just breathe… – Anna Nalick

• Repeat this to yourself each day until you believe it:

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• Right now I’m looking at you and I can’t believe you don’t know you’re beautiful! – One Direction

• Last, but certainly not least:

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“Bored” of Education

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Our modern school system leaves much to be desired in terms of tangible results. I know teachers work very hard to instill the necessary lessons in our children today, and I appreciate the work they do. But whether it’s public, private or parochial school, somehow the children come away little improved and at times even worse for the wear. It is my belief that not only is the system flawed, but parents need to be more involved in the education of their children.

Being fortunate enough to be homeschooled for the majority of my school years, I had the unique opportunity to learn in ways that I enjoyed, and whether I liked it or not, my parents were directly involved in my education. My mother taught me that learning is not a frightening experience, but rather an enjoyable and empowering one. Reading is an ability to be honed and treasured. Each new polysyllabic word was a challenge to face confidently, not an undefeatable foe to hide from. Consequently, my face was in a book almost constantly, satisfying my voracious appetite for the written word. By age eight, I could read at a level surpassing that of a twelfth grade graduate. I do not mention this as a boast of my nascent reading ability; I mention it as a testament to what can be achieved with a hungry young mind when it is shaped and guided by prudent care, taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the individual child.

Conversely, I struggled with math. Not the basic arithmetic, but algebra and other higher branches of mathematics. Contumaciously, I argued that I would never need this knowledge, so why waste time learning it? That did not faze my mother, who simply stated that I would learn it or I would not graduate.

My opportunity to learn in this manner came to me through misfortune. My health was so delicate during my early years in public school that I spent two months of first grade in the hospital. Were it not for my mother bringing my schoolwork to me from my teacher and my fledgling commitment to finishing all of it, I would not have been passed to the next grade. But I had already acquired a love of learning from my mother, even before my homeschooling began.

My mother read to me from infancy and taught me to read and write by age four. My experience proves the truth of Emilie Buchwald’s words: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” From a very early age, I had learned that books were a portal to wonderful new worlds, and that learning was an experience to be sought after.

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After my hospital stay, I made the casual suggestion that “if I was going to be doing my schoolwork at home, why didn’t I just always do it at home?” That got my mother thinking. She did her research, wrote to the Board of Education, and got to work on a curriculum. That autumn, school was in session – at home.

My mother found hands-on methods to teach mathematics, reading lists that kept me several levels ahead, challenging spelling tests, and the like. My father, a history buff, made historical documentaries and movies required viewing, a move that cultivated in me a love for history and classic cinema as I grew older. Music appreciation also fell within my father’s scope of interests – an eclectic music lover and a fan of classical composers, he exposed my sister and I to the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner, and more.

With my experience of these agreeable lessons, I found it difficult to understand when my friends would complain about school, required reading, and homework. As children, we did not discuss the disparity of the methods used to teach us. We were too busy being children to ponder it deeply. But as an adult, conversing with my husband – he attended public school- about our respective experiences in learning, I find that my experience is a rare one. Others confirm this. Those that enjoy reading as adults seem to have found pleasure in reading not because of their schooling, but despite it. To many, learning is something to be feared and dreaded, a tedious, unrewarding process. What’s wrong with this picture?

It is my belief that a great part of the blame is connected with a system that uses punishment as a motivator. Rather than correlating learning with a rewards, learning is forced in an “or else” manner by the school systems and parents. Because schools follow a homogenous lesson plan, those that do not conform often fall through the cracks, at best earning disappointing grades, at worst failing; either way not enjoying the learning experience. Each human child is an individual, with strengths and weaknesses unique to that person. In the eyes of a school board, it would take too much time, effort and funding to tailor a lesson plan to each individual child. Therefore we end up with a culture where people are termed “educated” if they have a diploma, yet they cannot spell simple words or comfortably read and comprehend a piece of classic literature. Instead of fostering a love of learning that benefits the child and society, we push the child through the system to make room for next year’s class. This short-sighted approach to education has produced a generation of educated simpletons, many of whom can’t fill out a form properly if their life depended on it, and who read tabloids and Cliffs Notes in place of literature, dependent on calculators and spell-checker.

But the blame cannot be left solely at the feet of the Board of Education. Parents also must be involved, taking into account their child’s unique personality and helping them make the most of the education they receive at school, realizing that their support or lack thereof can make or break the academic future of the child. A particularly bright child may actually be bored at school, needing more intense intellectual stimulation, and acting out as a result of this frustration.

It’s never too late to learn. Embrace learning and teach your children to do the same. You will discover new worlds, filled with wonders beyond your imagination.

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Sally Homemaker

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That’s what a friend once disdainfully called me. We were both young and recently married at the time, and unlike myself, she was frustrated with her efforts at home cooking. I don’t think she realized that what was intended as a pseudo-insult was, to me, a compliment. I’m quite content to be labeled Sally (or Suzy) Homemaker. In fact, I’ve aspired to it.

From childhood, I dreamed of being a wife, and a good one. So I learned to cook, clean, do laundry, and various other housekeeping tasks. Once I was married to the man of my dreams, I was serving up creamy homemade mashed potatoes, chicken parmigiana, various other homemade dishes, and learning how to make and perfect homemade pasta sauce, while standing by my resolve to never make anything from a box except StoveTop stuffing. I had all the basic kitchen gadgets, which I needed for my exploits in home cookery. My husband has never complained. To the contrary, after dinner every evening, he says, “Thank you. Dinner was very good.” What a darling man.

I do have a job outside the home, which, unfortunately, is necessary. Because of this, some evenings we eat leftovers, and our home is at times not completely up to my standards of neatness and cleanliness, though never a horror of disarray. I always say that if we did not need my income, I’d be a happy housewife, our home would be spotless, and dinner would be hot on the table at 5:30pm sharp. Some women are horrified by this idea. “Give up your career?!? What would you do all day? I’d go crazy.” Well, maybe you would go crazy, but I’d be in my glory.

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The feminist movement, like many other human endeavors, started with benevolent intentions but has brought us to a sad state of affairs – we’ve simply exchanged old problems for new ones. The women of today have legal rights, can vote, own property, use birth control, and move to the top of the corporate ladder. But women working outside the home cannot raise their own children or spend as much time as they should with their families. They may find it necessary to hire outside help for housecleaning and childcare. Guilt sets in, because instead of healthy homecooked meals, they’re feeding their families take-out or Hamburger Helper because it is simply more convenient at the end of a long day. The babysitter knows the children better than the mother does. At a certain point, we went too far. Equal rights are one thing. Losing a quality family life and our identity as women is another.

When it comes down to it, have modern women truly achieved equal rights? Even when both spouses are working outside the home, often the woman is still expected – or expects herself – to be the primary caregiver for the children, as well as maintaining the rest of the housekeeping duties. Is that truly equal? I think not.

Then there are some who make the argument that because of the levels of education and career paths that are attainable for women today, a woman would be bored or wasting her time being “just a housewife.”

I’m sure the women who are fortunate enough to be in a position to choose the career of housewife would resent that deprecating term – “just a housewife.” I resent it. In our rapidly declining social structure, old-fashioned values are becoming a thing of the past, something to be repudiated in favor of new axioms. In this state of confusion, gender roles are beginning to reverse. More and more women are climbing the corporate ladder and men are becoming stay at home dads. Mom wears the pants, dad wears the apron. No wonder society is in a state of disorder!

Being a true housewife – not one of these dolts on a reality television show – requires skill, patience, and discipline. Keeping a home clean, organized and in good working order, cooking delectable nutritious meals, and raising clean, polite, educated, moral children constitute a full-time job. It is essential to the family’s well-being as a whole and is most definitely a métier that deserves appreciation, not belittling.

But unfortunately in today’s society, women seem to be hungry for corporate power, not for the time-honored position of wife, mother, and competent housekeeper. Search “June Cleaver” or “Donna Reed” on the Internet and you are sure to find plenty of disparaging remarks about both ideal housewives – the fictional TV character and the actress who portrayed a similar role.

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Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver

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Donna Reed in “The Donna Reed Show”

I still proudly aspire to be Sally Homemaker. I still cook and bake from scratch. I clean my own home without the help of a maid or cleaning service. I am an avid knitter and enjoy many other “housewifely” crafts. I derive immense satisfaction from these accomplishments, even if others consider them menial. The career of housewife would provide fulfilment and validation for me, had I the circumstances to choose it. If finances were not the current matter of concern, I could easily turn my back on my current occupation, despite being quite proficient at it. I take pride in my skills as a homemaker, and embrace my full potential in a vital traditional role. I salute the women who choose this role full-time, thereby preserving at least a semblance of abiding family values.

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A Woman Without a Child

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“A woman without a child is like a man without an arm.”

This line comes from the brilliant, but little known 1941 film, “The Great Lie.” But this perspective is far from outdated. For many reasons, not the least of these being normal human biological impulses, it is simply expected that if you are a normal woman, you are planning to have a child.

The pain of an empty womb is unique and often misunderstood, disregarded, or made light of. Be it the result of infertility, miscarriage, or a conscientious choice, the void that should be filled by her own child but that remains a barren landscape is a source of deep, enduring pain for the would-be mother. Every new baby born to friends or family renews the strength of the innate urge to carry her own infant. But cruel circumstances keep her from a natural and cherished desire.

In some instances, even a loving mother has brought her children into the world selfishly, longing to delight in the joys of motherhood without fully considering the child’s needs and future life prospects. Most children in the Western world are raised by someone other than their families. Nannies, daycare workers, teachers and aftercare providers raise and care for most children while their mothers go to work to pay for the childcare services. The fortunate children are cared for by grandparents or other relatives. Very few are actually fortunate enough to be reared, trained and cared for by their own mothers. Once maternity leave is over, cash flow must be maintained, especially now that Baby must be cared for. Sadly though, once Baby is old enough to voice his nascent opinion, what he wants most is for “Mommy and Daddy to have time for me,” and precious time has already been lost. What should have been cherished memories, experienced first-hand, are simply stories related by childcare providers of first words and steps.

There are few who make the conscientious choice not to have a child until circumstances are favorable to providing all the child truly needs: not just a home, food, clothing and education, but most importantly, the time with his parents, particularly the mother in early years. Time equals love to a child. You could provide luxurious living arrangements, designer clothing, expensive classes, and the like. But if you didn’t spend adequate time with the child, he would feel something was lacking, perhaps even feel unloved. Yet still, the time and money considerations are not all of the equation.

What if there are genetic considerations in addition to the financial considerations? Perhaps chances are high that your child could be born with a disability or a severe illness. How responsible and loving would it be to knowingly bring an innocent child into the world to suffer a serious illness? Even if testing could be done during pregnancy, what good would it do if the mother refused to abort an abnormal fetus? Why create a life just to snuff it out when it was shown to be unsound? Better to not create that life in the first place, and prevent needless suffering.

If after considering both financial and genetic factors, a woman decides that she cannot, in good conscience, provide adequately for a child, why should she then be a social outcast? Her decision is made out of love for the unborn, not yet conceived child; because she loves it so much that she would not have it suffer needlessly by bringing it into the world in a less than ideal situation. This decision brings her pain, due to her strong maternal urges and love of children. Yet other women, blessed with children of their own, (perhaps in ideal circumstances, perhaps not), may ridicule her, making insensitive remarks and even assuming that because she has no children of her own, she must dislike children and of course knows nothing about them.

Here is where the trial becomes yet more difficult. Having the opportunity to care for the children of relatives or friends may soften the affliction of not having her own child. Yet those friends or relatives, rather than showing support may instead treat her as if she is ignorant of the needs of children, or they may display the attitude of, “If she likes children so much, she should just have her own.” The empty womb becomes more and more painful, until the words ring true: “A woman without a child is like a man without an arm. A right arm.”

I suppose I shall have to learn how to use my left arm.

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