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Archive for the ‘The Love Front’ Category

My husband and I dated for a few years before we got married, living in separate households and reveling in the excitement of coming together every weekend. We’d both been married before, and were now living as divorced single parents. I longed for the time when we could finally blend our households and things could become much simpler.

Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. Things were bumpy when we finally did move in together, mostly because blending a family is hard work. But the other hard part was learning how to work together as a team in every decision when both of us were so used to being independent.

Marriage only made this worse.

Our first year of marriage was really rough. I loved being married to Shawn, but I also recall the many fights we had, the loneliness I felt as I clung to stubbornness, the continued struggle of being two different families in one house, and the daily realizations over how different we were in so many areas.

Things finally did settle down, and our family has learned how to come together in many ways. We still have differences, as many families do, but mostly, we’ve learned which battles are worth fighting and which ones aren’t. I won’t pretend we’re perfect — we’re not. But the place we are now is paradise compared to the darkness we experienced in the beginning.

The biggest reason, I believe, things are much better is because Shawn and I have come together as a solid team through all of this. Every year I’m amazed at how much more I love him than the year before, and how there’s still so much we get to learn about each other. He’s my biggest champion, and I’m his. It makes me excited to see where our marriage will be by year 10, 20, 50 and beyond.

The other day I was thinking about the things that makes our marriage so wonderful, and the following things came to mind:

1. We compliment each other often. When I look in the mirror and am disappointed by what I see, he’s right there behind me to let me know how sexy I look. Just this morning I was bummed out about the number on my scale. He didn’t know this when he asked me to stop what I was doing and take a turn for him. “Damn, I’m a lucky man,” he told me. I know we’re supposed to love ourselves and all, but it sure is helpful when the man I love reminds me every day that he finds me sexy. It goes both ways, too. I think my husband grows more handsome and sexy every day, and I tell him so. It goes beyond looks, too. He’s my biggest cheerleader to the things that mean most to me, helping me to see the positive when I’m stuck in the negative. I tell him how proud I am of him, from the big things to the small. We both try really hard to notice what the other person is doing, and acknowledge those things with words of affirmations.

2. We respect each other’s seasons. Let’s just get right to the point: sometimes I’m not in the mood to have sexy time, especially at the end of my cycle. There’s a particular week when there is nothing he can do to awaken the sleeping dragon. What I love about my husband is that he understands this and is completely respectful about it. However, it would be completely selfish of me to let this mood control our sex life. There has to be a give and take when it comes to sex. Sometimes I fight through my “don’t touch me” feelings for his benefit. And vice versa, when I’m in the zone and he’s not, he’ll make sure I’m taken care of. The benefit? More times than not we’re in the same space, and I firmly believe it’s because we understand the give and take, and respect each other’s moods.

3. We spice things up. Right now, our lives involve a very busy household, teenagers, hectic jobs, and we just moved his mother into our home. All of that is a combination for passionless nights as we collapse into bed so we can do it all again the next day…even with everything I mentioned in #2. Luckily, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I won’t divulge our secrets here, but if things are feeling fairly routine between the sheets, perhaps it’s time to get a little creative. Is there something you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t because it feels a bit too naughty? Maybe it’s time you let down some of your guard. You might be surprised at what happens. 😉

4. We plan for uninterrupted time daily (even if it’s just 10 minutes). Our lives have only gotten busier since our earlier days. Two out of three of our blended kids are in college, plus I started college two years ago. We both have demanding jobs. Plus, we’re caretaking for his mother. Life is crazy busy. There are some days I only see him in the morning while I’m getting ready for work, and in the evening when we go to bed. Still, we make it a point to ask about the other person’s day, and then LISTEN, phones away, completely focused. This is one of my favorite things about our marriage, that we still have so much to share with each other every day, and this uninterrupted time becomes some of our best conversations.

5. We support each other as much as possible. Shawn is a gardener. I am not. But I love the outcome of his efforts when we have fresh tomatoes in the summer. Usually, he’s the one out there watering. But (when I remember) I’ll go out and water, too, simply so he doesn’t have to. I wanted a dog. Shawn did not. Guess what? We have a dog. And despite his repeated insistence that he never wanted a dog, he still takes the dog for walks regularly. We’re both writers, and we are each other’s first readers. We attend events that are important to the other person, even if they’re not our personal cup of tea. We only talk kindly about each other to others, never slamming the other person (how many times have you been uncomfortable around other couples who do the opposite?). We build each other up and cheer each other on. I can truly say Shawn is my best friend, and he says that about me, and it’s because we truly support each other.

6. We put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. One of the secrets to our happy marriage is our level of empathy. I’m not going to lie, we still have our fair share of fights. But these fights never last long. One of the reasons is because we have a high level of empathy for the other person, willing to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. This isn’t easy, admittedly. However, we both know each other’s true nature. When I’m mad at Shawn, I also know he’s not a bad person. I know his reasoning isn’t to be malicious, but because he has his own reasons for acting a certain way. I try to see what that reasoning is, and if there is something I should bend on. Shawn is the same way. Even more important, he knows how to say he’s sorry when he’s wrong, and has been a great model for me so that I can learn to do that, too. And man, is that hard!

7. We recognize each other’s strengths, and remind each other of them. I’m the worst when it comes to knowing what I’m good at. I’m really hard on myself. That’s why it means so much to me when Shawn stops everything and tells me all the things that are special about me. I need to hear this, because I forget. In the same way, I often tell Shawn what I admire about him: his confidence, his way with words, how he carries himself, how personable he is, how much people appreciate his wisdom.

8. We date each other. If I had my way, Shawn and I would go on a date at least once a week, if not more. However, we live in the real world, and that is rarely possible. We do make time for each other regularly, though. This could be a movies date, or time at a coffee shop, or even, and I’m not even joking, a Costco shopping trip. It’s mostly about the time together without anyone else so that we can talk and have fun together. It keeps our friendship alive in our marriage.

9. We are social together. There’s something so romantic about being with Shawn among a group of friends, from quiet dinners to group outings, laughing with friends and having him close to me as we experience the same thing. I always feel so proud of him when we’re out together, and we often come home feeling closer than ever before.

10. We’re social apart. We don’t have all the same friends or interests, and that’s completely okay. I love that Shawn has no issue whatsoever when I enjoy time with my girlfriends or some solitude time away from him and everyone else. Likewise, I don’t have a problem with him going to the ball game or the movies with his friends while I stay at home. We both enjoy a healthy amount of time away from each other and by ourselves, which makes our together time that much more special.

11. We work as a team. Earlier this year, Shawn’s mom moved in with us. This change in our household held all the promises of stress on our marriage, and yet, I’ve never felt closer to him. We have divided the duties, trying to avoid burnout. We are talking so much more about real feelings through this, being open and honest, even about the hard stuff. We give each other breaks. We build each other up. We do every single thing on this list. I can honestly say that his mother moving in has brought us so much closer, which, seriously, astounds me.

12. Our shared faith is at the center of our marriage. I recognize not every married couple is lucky enough to share the same faith. I feel fortunate that Shawn and I do. I’ve been in relationships where the faith is different, whether because someone didn’t have faith or we shared completely different faith altogether, and it was HARD. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it definitely takes work to be in a loving, committed marriage, and share vastly different ideas about God and what that means for humanity. So in that, I feel very fortunate that God is our partner in our marriage, that we both view God through loving eyes, we see our duty as to love all people, and we do all this together.

What works for you and your spouse in your marriage?

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I went out to lunch with a coworker today. She’s someone I have known for years, and have always thought she was just a wonderful person. As long as I’ve known her, she’s been bubbly and upbeat, cheering others on around her in their endeavors, and just an inspiration on how to be a decent person. But being a natural introvert, I’ve never been one to make the first move to get to know her better – or anyone at work, for that matter. I’ve always left it up to others to try and get to know me better because it’s just easier that way, you know? There’s less risk involved. Naturally that must mean I have tons of friends, right?

You’d think, huh.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t work that way. But regardless, this coworker and I connected recently and came to the mutual decision that we should really have lunch. We ended up having over an hour of fantastic conversation as we discussed everything from our kids to our faith, and everything in between. When we got back to our desks, she emailed me the kindest note. In it, she mentioned that while it might not seem like it, she’s actually a very shy person.

“I’m not one to socialize much,” she wrote, “but you make it very easy. Let’s do it again!”

When it’s hard to make friends, maybe we just need a reminder we’re not the only ones who are shy. Somewhere out there is another human being who is longing for a friend and not sure how to go about it. It’s not just us who are afraid to make the first move. Others are too. But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

This truth is currently being illustrated by my stepson, Frizz, as he agonizes how to ask out the girl he has liked for the better part of the school year. As a senior, he is closing in on the end of his high school years. He is also closing in on the last chance he has to even talk to the girl he likes – let alone ask her out on a date, and perhaps even ask her to be his girlfriend. But just making that first step is terrifying enough, let alone any of the steps that follow after that.

Not sure how to advise my stepson, I asked my daughter, DQ, how she has been asked out in the past. She shared her most recent experience with me. The boy got to know her by asking a lot of questions about her, keeping his attention focused on her. The attraction proved to be mutual, and both of them dropped hints about their interest in each other. And when this boy was able to see that DQ was into him, he asked her to be his girlfriend.

“I guess what Frizz should do is just really try to get to know this girl better, then get her number, and when the moment seems right, tell her how he feels and see if she feels the same way,” DQ advised. “If he does it right, he might even know that she likes him back when he gets to that point.”

Of course, she makes it sound so easy. And truthfully, if you put your nerves aside, it really is that easy. But for someone as shy as Frizz, as shy as my coworker, as shy as ME, taking that first step can feel like preparing to jump off a cliff.

But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

I guess this could be a lesson in anything. We never know what will happen unless we make that first move – whether it be making a new friend, expressing a feeling of adoration, publishing a book, taking a stand for yourself, risking it all…. If we live a life so full of caution that it keeps us from living life to the fullest, we can’t claim we know the bad that will happen. We also will never know the good that will happen.

Being social for an introvert might feel totally unnatural. But while painful at first, barreling through that shyness isn’t lethal. It might seem that way, but taking that first step won’t strike you down dead. The worst that can happen is that you might get turned down. Sucky, sure. But you’ll be able to move beyond it rather than getting stuck in the unknown. And the best that can happen? You’ll get exactly what you wanted in the first place. A new friend. That special someone who likes you just as much as you like her. Or a published book (only a few more weeks left until A Symphony of Cicadas is officially published).

We’ll never know until we’ve made the first move.

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This week has been blissfully free of children.  Blissful, I tell you.  We’ve hardly done anything special.  In fact, most of it has been spent on the couch watching TV, or sitting side by side as we read our separate books, or even just doing nothing with no noise whatsoever.  I think that’s our favorite.  No TV.  No videogames.  No bickering or demands, or miscellaneous messes to clean up.  Just the two of us in our house that is suddenly ridiculously easy to keep clean.  Even meals are wonderful, cooking for two with very little clean up.

It’s just plain blissful.

Camping next to the creek at our favorite place in the world.

Camping next to the creek at our favorite place in the world – complete with tarps in case of rain.

We started the week at our favorite little spa/camping spot in the world, braving the frosty weather in the hills to be able to soak in hot springs during the day and snuggle underneath a mountain of blankets at night.  It was the same place that Shawn proposed to me, and we hadn’t been there since we got married.  So it was a bit nostalgic to hike on the same trail we walked over a year before, pausing in the spot where he knelt on one knee pretending to tie his shoe, only to offer me a ring and a promise.  🙂

This camping trip was the perfect way to start our kidless week.  I was feeling a little down, having said goodbye to DQ the night before.  I had fought a few moments of tears, and I know I’m guilty of snipping at Shawn a couple of times for no good reason except he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  A trip into the hills and away from everything else helped to center the both of us, melting away the stress, negativity, and any lingering sadness so that when we drove back, we were actually ready.

New Years Eve was naturally kidless as well.  But rather than do anything special like go out in the freezing cold all dressed up to spend way too much money, we stayed home in our PJs and ate a delicious steak and potato dinner.  He drank his glass of non-alcoholic champagne.  I drank a delicious chocolate martini.  He was totally sober all night long.  I got a bit too tipsy off my one drink.  He slept like a baby all night long.  I threw up all night long.

Oops.

The rest of the week has been pretty tame.  We got to spend some kidless time with some good friends of ours.  We’ve resumed our normal working hours.  And we’ve enjoyed our home time totally unplugged from parenting.  It’s been a nice little break.

When I pick up the Taz on Saturday, I know it will be bittersweet.  It will be nice to have him back.  But his sister’s absence won’t go unnoticed.  It’s when life without DQ here will actually hit.  So to remedy that first day of transition, I am spoiling Taz with a trip to Six Flags – just the two of us – for a day of fun before we actually head home and go back to regular life in its altered state.

But in the meantime, I am really, really enjoying the empty nest state of things right now.

“I could get used to this,” I joked to Shawn.

“No you couldn’t,” he told me.  “You’d miss the kids if they actually moved out.”

Maybe so.  But this quiet week sure has been great.

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Table

“Your writing is so amazing,” Shawn told me, coming downstairs after spending an hour with the rough draft of my novel he’s been proofreading for the past several days. “I can see that you’ve taken some of the suggestions I’ve given you and grown as a writer.”

He meant it as a compliment. And I swear I heard it in there. But what I also heard was, “I’m glad I happened to come along and save you from a doomed life of writing badly. How would you have every survived if I weren’t here to hold you up?”

“I haven’t even read the revisions from the last novel,” I told him. Well, that was only partially true. Admittedly, this was at the same time I was revising a novel I wrote last year, reading over the notes he had made in the margin on parts that needed a little more help. While I hadn’t taken the time to pore over the suggestions he had left me, I had skimmed through it and appreciated the honest remarks he had left, both exclaiming over the parts he loved and suggesting places that needed a little more fleshing out. And now as I went through the physical act of revising, his notes gave me clear-cut clues on what a reader would be wondering as well.

But still, my pride wouldn’t let him take credit for all I had pored into it.

“What do you mean?” he asked. I could already feel the half-eaten foot in my mouth swelling to try and prevent me from speaking. But I only pushed it aside and continued.

“I mean, I’ve grown as a writer because of continued practice, not because you’ve taught me how to do it,” I said, trying to sound light but feeling backed into a corner.

“I’m not trying to take credit for your writing,” he told me. The smile on his face had long since disappeared, leaving behind a look of bewilderment at a reaction he hadn’t been expecting.

“I know, I’m sorry. It’s just, what if I were to say ‘Great job on selling search engine optimization at your new job. Thank goodness you have me to teach you all about the internet so you can do your job properly’.”

“I’m not saying that, though,” he stammered. “I’m trying to pay you a compliment! Maybe I should just stop reading your novel.”

“If you don’t want to read it, then don’t!” I yelled at him.

And just like that, things went from dumb to completely idiotic.

I didn’t know why I was reacting so strongly. Of course he wasn’t taking credit for my writing. I knew that deep down. But for some reason his statement was pecking at me, taking away from my accomplishment even when that wasn’t Shawn’s intention at all.

When we had cooled down some, we gave each other a wounded offering of apology. I’m not sure either of us meant it completely, both still smarting from the earlier argument. But it was the only way to move past the surface and dig deep into what was really going on.

“What is going on?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  But it was starting to come to me, a series of past hurdles I’d overcome that decided I wasn’t done running from them yet.

“I once dated a man who told me to my face that he had saved me from being a white trash nobody, how he had single-handedly raised my standard of living just by his presence alone,” I admitted to him, detailing how even then that statement hadn’t sat well with me, yet my meek little self had accepted it in the moment. I described how my ex-husband had also placed himself in this pedestal position – or rather, I had placed him there on my own. I had spent so many years building him up and letting him shine that I had forgotten to work on my own being. And somehow I was able to explain something I hadn’t even realized was haunting me, how important it was for me now to stand on my own two feet in recognition of my accomplishments.

“You’re organized and responsible,” I told him. It was in reference to a statement he had made earlier last week, stating that he must be rubbing off on me as I encouraged the kids to clean up their mess. “But I have some of those traits as well, and I had them before I even met you.” I was firm in my insistence of this, but we both could hear the question that lingered within it.

“Are you unsure of what you bring to the table in this marriage, how you help ME to be a better person?” he asked me. I paused, suddenly realizing I didn’t know the answer to this question, at least not in this moment. I had spent so much energy fighting against another pedestal that  I couldn’t think of any of the strengths I possessed that helped bring Shawn up.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I help you with patience, and how to parent a teenage daughter.” The answer was weak, I knew it.

Unfortunately time was not on our side. We were minutes away from needing to get in the car and drive to my parents’ house for dinner. We made peace with the conclusion of our discussion, deciding that even if the conversation wasn’t finished, we could still end it with a hug and a mutual unspoken agreement that it was over.

We spent a really good evening at my parents’ house, visiting with my family over dinner and dessert before saying goodbye and driving back home. On the way, Frizz turned on the radio and let it scan through the stations. Every time it landed on a song we knew, the kids and I would break into song and fill the car with mostly on-key versions, belting out the words we knew and stumbling over the ones we didn’t. Even Frizz joined in, the act of singing in the privacy of our car still cool in his 17-year-old mind.

Once home, I began to decorate the Christmas tree, a task we had been putting off for days. Little by little, everyone joined in, placing their favorite ornament on the tree as we remembered where each one came from. It was done in no time, slightly lopsided in the areas that were decorated more than others, but beautiful just the same.

DQ and I then set to filling out December’s activities on the dry erase calendar that hung on the wall. We took turns giggling as we noted the End of the World with a zombie apocalypse on December 21st, adorning it with pictures of hungry zombies that invaded the day’s space. We continued our giggles as I noted the San Francisco trip we were taking the very next day when we ultimately survived the day of doom. I finished up the calendar with various doodles depicting a month of activities in a colorful display.

Calendar1

 

 

Calendar2

Shawn leaned over me in my dedication to the calendar, kissing me lightly on the neck. “Do you know what you bring to this marriage, and to the family?” he asked me. “Fun.  You help me to be more fun, and you make things more fun in this family.  I never would do stuff like this.  But you do, and we all appreciate it.

The whole family was in the living room, enjoying a few last moments of silliness before bedtime.  The evening had been spent with mostly smiles.   The calendar had become a monthly point of anticipation as everyone wondered how I would decorate it at the turn of the month.

And I believed in what Shawn said.

I know I have improved in every facet of my life by the steps I have taken to get to where I am today. This is true in the quality of my life, just as it is true in the skills I possess in my writing. But these accomplishments didn’t just manifest entirely of their own accord. They were inspired partially by those that influenced me along the way. Each novel I have written in the past few years has proven to be better than the last, proof that practice makes perfect. But admittedly, this last novel improved leaps and bounds as I (ok, I admit it) took the suggestions Shawn had made and kept them in mind as I extended my description and prose. It’s ok to be inspired by others. In fact, it would be a lie to believe otherwise.

And it doesn’t make my accomplishments any less great than they are. 🙂

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This article will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, September 21.

In a few weeks I will be getting married to Mr. W. The last year of our engagement has passed rapidly, but the last few months have been a whirlwind as we’ve crossed things off our list of things to do before the big day. I’ve had to shut down my social calendar in favor of freeing up my time, and have learned the fine art of saying “no” to obligations that might take me away from all I need to do. It’s been a very busy season for both Mr. W and me!

One of our to-dos was to attend premarital counseling with our pastor before he performs our ceremony. During our final session, the pastor asked us a very pointed question.

“What do you two like to do together?”

Here we were, planning our wedding and a lifetime together, and I was totally stumped for an answer. Needless to say, I was pretty embarrassed. Eventually I was able to think of a few things we’d enjoyed over the years we’d been dating. But the truth was, in the last year we’d been so consumed with conserving money (weddings are expensive!) and utilizing free time to plan the celebration that we had forgotten to schedule in time to reconnect and build our relationship – just the two of us away from the kids and all wedding commitments.

Remember the beginning of your own relationship? If you’re like Mr. W and me, you spent the majority of your time with this other person, discovering new things about each other while finding out all the interests you shared together. You made time for each other, moving things aside to make your other half your highest priority. It’s probably safe to say that you focused on little else than each other in those early days.

Of course, relationships can’t continue in this red-hot, passionate, can’t-get-enough-of-each-other phase forever. There’s a career to tend to, friends you don’t want to lose, and interests you both have that are separate from each other.

And then there are kids who enter the picture and have this tendency to make everything about them. Am I right?

As life adds many chapters to your already busy life, it’s so easy to take your spouse for granted. After all, it’s not like you don’t see them every day. But, as my pastor reminded us in our counseling session, it’s just as important now to date your spouse as it was when everything was fresh and new. It helps to build that connection the two of you have, the one you started way back when you signed up for this life together. Getting to know each other again can even help to repair any of the broken steps you may have swept aside along the way.

However, money and time aren’t exactly falling out of thin air these days. So here are some inexpensive, no-excuses tips for enjoying some one-on-one time with your spouse.

Swap or share babysitting with a friend. One of the main reasons couples don’t go out after kids is the high cost of babysitting. Some date nights can cost an extra $40 on top of going out to dinner and a movie. But if you share a babysitter with another couple before heading out on a double date, the cost can be cut in half. Another option is for your friends to watch your children in exchange for babysitting their children on a different night out. Third option, and my all-time favorite standby is to package watching your kids to your own parents as some all-important bonding time with their grandkids. For added measure, point out they can undo all the ways you’ve screwed them up in your failed parenting skills.

Go on a cheap date. Going out doesn’t mean you have to spend tons of money to have a great time. Eat dinner at home before checking out what’s playing in the movie theaters. Enjoy a play at one of our local theaters. Consider a lunch time date when prices for food are usually a bit lower than they are at night. Even simply going out to coffee sans kids can be a great way to catch up. Free dates can include perusing the bookstore together or enjoying a hike in your favorite state park. And don’t underestimate the date that includes a little community service. Bagging groceries at the food bank or participating in a beach clean-up day is not only time well spent together, but doubles your warmed heart efforts as you do good for others.

Enjoy a night in. One of my favorite suggestions I’ve some across for dating while the kids are young is to date after they go to bed. Once they’re tucked in, enjoy a candlelit dinner with your sweetheart followed by a cozy evening of movies under a blanket on the couch. A tip for timing is to prepare most of the dinner ahead of time. Prep it to go in the oven while you’re tucking the kids in, or have it already cooked and ready to reheat once their heads hit the pillow. Share a glass of wine or your favorite sparkling cider over unhurried conversation. And before you start the movie and snuggle up, you may want to ensure they’re really asleep. After all, you never know what might happen during all this free time together (wink wink).

Most important – make sure your time together allows for communication. Uninterrupted talking time without kids and other concerns barging in can be rare. So take advantage of this prime time of conversation by turning off the cell phone in favor of talking, listening, and staying connected with your partner in crime.

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