Monday, December 31, 2007

Welcoming 2008

A new year is here giving us all new opportunities to evaluate our lives -- what we like and what we don't like about how we are living right now. While many of us consider making new resolutions on what we want to change in our lives, I hope we also consider what we want to keep the same.

My resolutions for this new year are much the same as last year's. I want to write a new book (or two or three). I want to do a better job at cleaning my house (or convincing my kids to clean it for me). I hope to do a better job of having family dinners every night instead of just a few nights a week. I also want to strive to keep my life balanced, giving enough time to my family while I pursue my personal interests.

Thankfully, the list of things I want to change in my life is far shorter than the list of things I want to keep the same. I love the fact that my family sets aside one night a week to spend together. My teenagers may complain about it as often as not, but it really makes a difference in how my children interact with one another.

I also hope to keep the lines of communication open between me, my husband and my children. I have been so fortunate to have a great family that I enjoy talking with. So far my older daughters have been good about sharing most things with me (often because they're afraid I'll find out anyway and they know I'll go easier on them if they are honest with me to begin with!)

Another thing I hope to maintain throughout the new year is my commitment to help others. Over the past few months I have rediscovered the incredible benefits from serving and the way that I benefit from my service to others far more than those I'm privileged to help.

So as I consider the new year beginning, I find myself planning to improve where I can, but mostly I'll feel truly blessed if I can have another year like the one we are leaving behind us.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Raising good citizens

Over the past several days I have gained a heightened awareness of what a great job my in-laws did at raising their children. My father-in-law, a well-educated man who loved to learn, passed away several years ago, but we are fortunate to still have my mother-in-law living within an hour's drive.

I was talking to one of my brother-in-laws on the phone, and we got on the topic of charity. His opinions so closely reflected those of my husband's and of mine that it gave me cause to stop and think how we all came to believe the way we do. His attitude was simple. If someone needs something and you can help, then you help. I'm convinced that he and his siblings learned this lesson first hand by watching their parents.

My father-in-law used to visit a friend in a nursing home every Sunday after church, usually taking several of his children with him. He did this for years simply because he couldn't imagine what it would be like to be stuck in a nursing home without someone to talk to. I doubt many of his friends were aware of this service, but his children certainly learned what it was to quietly serve another when it was needed. Ironically, when my father-in-law was in his final months of life, he lived in an assisted living facility and was visited by at least one family member every day right up until the day he died.

While my father-in-law was well-educated, my mother-in-law didn't attend college until her own children were all out of the house. I remember her telling me once of a class she took at the community college. The professor asked each student to share what their greatest accomplishment was so far in their lives. Many of the students were young professionals and the answers were understandably worldly. My mother-in-law's greatest accomplishment in her mind was that she had raised all five of her children to be good citizens. The professor was a bit surprised by her answer, but ultimately said, "I can't imagine a better accomplishment than that."

As many of us consider making new year's resolutions, I find myself hoping that I can simply duplicate my parents' and in-laws' raise my children to be caring, responsible citizens.

Monday, December 17, 2007


The holiday season is a time that everyone has so much to do, so many people to see. We are all busy shopping, decorating, socializing, and serving others. For me, this is also the time for teambuilding. As a high school swim coach, I begin my season as we are ushering in Thanksgiving and most of my meets are completed before Christmas.

This year I have been especially gifted with a great group of teenagers who are not only talented, but have great potential to be exceptional people. Their team cheers before the meet are deafening, they cheer each other on throughout the meet, and they generally seem to truly like each other. Beyond their energy is the fact that their collective talents have combined to make them unbeatable so far.

As I was preparing for last Friday's meet, I felt the pressure of being undefeated and going up against a formidable opponent. Several kids were fighting illness and I knew they weren't likely to perform as well as usual. My boys team is rather small, and I worried when the meet was about to begin and one of my swimmers informed me that he was too sick to swim. Another was already inactive for the night after having his wisdom teeth out the day before.

Thought I'm not usually one for inspirational speeches, I made a point of addressing my team before the meet. The main thing I told them is that we couldn't afford any mistakes and that they needed to watch out for each other. Sure enough, not even halfway through the meet, one of my swimmers made a critical error that cost us seven or eight points. He felt terrible, and I realized that I might be able to put him in another race to make up for the error.

I dug out the rulebook and found what I was looking for. I could probably get away with putting him in another race and gain some points, but I would also be breaking a rule. No one would know, except me and my team. Even though we might lose, I knew I couldn't do it. After all, my main priority has always been to help these teenagers make themselves better people, not just better swimmers. Showing them that it's okay to bend the rules to win is definitely not what I want them to learn. Instead I informed my swimmer that swimming an extra event was against the rules and that we would just have to overcome the mistake. Throughout the rest of the meet, we tried to focus on the fact that it wasn't a lost cause. If they all worked together, they could still win the meet.

Great swims followed. These boys were determined to keep this one mistake from costing them their undefeated season. Swimmers achieved personal bests, relays worked together beautifully to win tight races. At the end of the meet, we all knew that our girls team had won. The boys on the other hand were within five points of the other team, but we didn't know if we were on the winning side or the losing side. As I approached the score table, I was surprisingly calm that we might have lost the meet. The team had already forgiven the teammate that had erred and they had united in a way many coaches dream of. Even more importantly was the knowledge that no matter what the outcome, we had earned it honestly.

The final score, my team 144, the opponent 140. We won the meet that night, and we won in all the other things that truly matter.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

First snowfall

Last night the rumors were already flying that we might see our first snowfall in Virginia today. Kids were running through all of their crazy superstitions (like wearing their pajamas inside out and flushing ice cubes down the toilet) to encourage the winter weather. As always happens when snow is in the forecast, the grocery stores were packed. Heaven forbid someone run out of milk or toilet paper during the day that the snow might last!

My friends who live in areas in the country that get a lot of snow don't understand what an impact a few flakes can have here. Schools go in late or release early. If there is enough snow in the forecast, they cancel altogether. The snow had barely started accumulating on the sidewalks today when the decision was made to release school an hour early. Why does this happen in suburban Virginia when six inches of snow doesn't slow down the school busses in other parts of the country?

One main reason is the heavy volume of vehicles that use the roads here. Not only do we have a lot of cars on the road, many are driven by people who are not accustomed to winter weather. Also, we don't always have the preparation that is common in some northern states. Our school busses aren't equipped with snowtires or chains. Snowplows and other equipment needed to treat the roads is used only on the main thoroughfares because we simply don't get enough winter weather to justify maintaining a whole fleet of such vehicles.

So, while someone in Montana or Idaho or upstate New York may watch the snow fall and simply see wintery weather, here in Virginia it will continue to be a magical day of wintery scenery and time off from school.