Tuesday, December 16, 2008

merry christmas!

merry christmas!

christmas arrives too fast, and is over way too soon – but christmas is our favorite time of year! when our kids were little, we gave a lot of thought to developing our own family traditions. now that our children have kids of their own, it is fun to see them establish their own traditions.

we wanted to share some photos from our christmas season so far – hope your christmas is very, very merry.

last year the whole family went to disneyland in december. i had never seen the park decorated for the holidays. it was so much fun, we went again this year. the start of another tradition?

while we were there we saw mickey and minnie. wyatt was beside himself - he just HAD to get close to minnie! it was really cute - we were at the back of the line, but the crowd could hear this little tyke begging to see minnie, and they parted to let him up front. he was SO happy!

ec's favorite ride is the pooh ride at pooh corner. and his favorite girl is his cousin kate. life just doesn't get much better than this.

the little guys get soooo tired toward the end of the day.

another tradition we started awhile back is making a gingerbread house every year. it started as a way for my niece and i to spend some time together at christmas. she wanted to try and make one. it's a lot of work and usually takes us a couple weekends.

this year's edition isn't finished - but we'll show you the finished product when it's done.

because our family is so large, we draw names for gift giving. this year, someone suggested that we write a poem about the person who's name we drew. we'll share our poems with them when we open our presents. hmmm, should be interesting.

so what are your family traditions? would love to hear some of the special things that your family does to celebrate the holidays.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

november = character building month

a funny thing happened on my way to the call in san diego.

we had an appointment the night i left, and i didn’t get out of town until after 8 o’clock. driving alone, and knowing i had a long road ahead of me, i decided to pick up the pace a bit. i was clipping along close to 80 mph when I passed one c.h.p. and then 100 yards down the freeway –another one. seconds later the lights were flashing behind me. i made my way to the exit, but as i did the cop blared at me over his loud speaker “turn right at the first street”. at that i was upset and flustered. i followed his instructions but was thinking too much about the price of a speeding ticket and not enough about my driving. i turned right in front of an oncoming car. the driver swerved, horn blaring. "great"' i told myself, "not only are you getting a speeding ticket, but you pulled that one right in front of the policeman. brilliant."

i pulled over and rolled down my window. while opening the glove box to retrieve my registration, the officer approached the car and shined his flashlight in my face. sarcastically he remarked, “yeah. turning right means looking for ongoing traffic first.” i guess i earned that one. next he asked me, “ma’am have you been drinking?” and gave me a drunk driving test. me! i’m the one who always follows the speed limit - plays by the rules. my family likes to accuse me of driving like an old lady. sweet. “ma’am, will you take off your glasses? now follow my finger with your eyes – don’t move your head” (oh that’s perfect. i’m legally blind without my glasses, and i’m supposed to follow his finger, in the dark. what finger? i can’t even see it.) with everything in me, i struggled to follow what i thought was his finger moving back and forth in the shadows. i was probably cross-eyed. i passed, but the process was humbling to say the least. actually, the officer took pity on me. he gave me a stern warning and never wrote the ticket. but there’s one for the record books. my kids loved that the police thought i was drunk.

sadly that was just the beginning of the month. as the month progressed we managed to mess up the blogspot, and before we could re-post and fix our ills, our computer had a massive meltdown. i mean massive. we lost everything – nothing salvaged. after soaking hundreds of dollars into computer repair, both of our cars started acting up and needed fixing(more cha-ching, cha-ching). then our digital camera died (which accounts for the boring lack of pictures in this blog - sorry, we are working to correct that) . . . problems at the office . . . problems, problems, problems. what the heck? is there nothing working right? nothing going my way? you know what i’m talking about. we’ve all had those weeks . . . months . . sometimes years. it can become . . . well, laughable. almost like some cosmic joke and you somehow are the butt of it. you half expect ashton kutcher or allen funt to pop out from behind a camera – ha! just kidding. it was all a prank. until you realize that this . . . is your life.

in the middle of all of this . . . stuff . . . unexpectedly, one of our children ended up in the hospital. for awhile it was scary. really scary. but immediately that event put everything back in perspective. i didn’t care anymore about money issues, or work issues or computers. broken things meant nothing. all of our concern was for our loved one. suddenly it was about where do i stand with God, and Lord are You listening cause here i am and we need You now in a big way. are You there? and will You come here?

(this is a picture of the northern lights over yellow knife, canada. i know, kinda random, but panoramas like this remind me of how small i am in the whole big picture -and how big God is. it's a good thing.)

so what does this have to do with marriage? only this. life can be hard. and none of us will ever be perfect – not in this life anyway. stuff happens. gunther and i have decided that november has been “character building month”. does that mean i embrace trouble with both hands? hardly. when trouble comes do i always handle it well? no. it often gets messy. but i keep trying. mother teresa used to say “God doesn't require us to succeed; He only requires that you try”.

our lives are not perfect but we still have a lot to be thankful for - imperfections and all. i want to be constantly aware, not of what i don’t have, but of what i do have, however much or little there is.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

best in shell 2008

a couple of years ago, my wife brought home a chihuahua puppy. for a guy who’s always had sled dogs, having a chihuahua in the house was an adjustment. forgive me, i have never been a small dog lover. they yap. they shiver. they’re soooo annoying. the breed offends my masculinity. do you recall seeing a team of chihuahuas pulling a sled? or picture this – the hunter with his .358 winchester in one hand, his foot resting on the bear he just snagged, and his faithful . . . uh, chihuahua, at his side?

i’m not sure when it happened, but jasmine (that is the dog’s name) got to me. first of all she’s chocolate, plus she rarely shivers, and she really doesn’t yap much. don’t know enough about the breed to know if she’s an exception – but i’ll admit it, she grew on me. don’t tell my wife. i tell her that i hate her dog.

for the last five years, our friend clayton connolly has facilitated a neighborhood dog show: best in shell. the show has gotten great reviews and we had heard that it was a lot of fun. even better, every year clayton donates the proceeds to a worthy cause. in the interest of community support, vickey decided that she wanted to enter jasmine in this year’s show.

this is another entrant in the small dog class:

like a true small dog owner, vickey dressed jasmine in a black ruffled flamenco dress (complete with a pink rose at the “neckline”) and off we went. it was a beautiful day at shell beach. we were pleasantly surprised to see a large turnout. clayton is a competent and engaging m.c. and the day got off to a great start.

then, suddenly, vickey got sick. i mean sick. the i-can’t-move-or-i-will-lose-my-lunch kind of sick. as jasmine’s cue approached i was faced with a decision. my wife had entered jasmine to support the local cause and to show off her dog. would i step in and make it happen, or let my wife be disappointed? if i stepped in, i would need to lead the dog around the circle in front of all those people. still hoping for an escape, every minute or so i checked with vickey – “feeling better yet?” i tried the “it’s your dog” approach, but it became clear that my fears would soon be realized. i would have to parade the small ruffled prissy around the judging rink, and do it with sincerity - without excuses or disclaimers. i didn’t want to embarrass my wife, so for a few minutes, i would have to act the part of the proud owner of a chihuahua.

i did it. jasmine performed perfectly. she pranced around the circle as if she owned the show. and i smiled and led her in her 30 seconds of fame. knowing how mortified i was, my wife snickered and took pictures so that the moment would be captured for future use. and jasmine won! not really, but it would’ve made a great story. actually the real punch line is this: vickey, still green with nausea, whispered her gratitude. it meant a lot to her, and i knew it. that’s why i did it. “i did it because I love you”, i told her as I returned to my seat. she smiled. “i know”, was all she answered.

it’s not always the big things that matter. it’s the small things that count the most. sacrifice is the measure of health in a relationship. nothing says i love you louder than placing the wishes of your loved one before your own. i’m no great saint – i just love my wife. and i want her to know it.

but i still tell her i hate her dog.

Monday, November 17, 2008

rules for fair fighting

(this post was accidentally deleted from september’s posts. due to popular demand, we are re-posting it now.)

i love baseball. i played for years. my son loves baseball. he played all through school. my wife loves baseball too. after watching hundred of practices and games, vickey developed a love of the game. i was born and raised in the bay area, so the giants are my team. for my birthday, my kids purchased tickets to a game so that all of us could go together. most of the tribe went to petco park in san diego to watch the giants face the padres.

it was a perfect summer evening, at a beautiful baseball park with my family. the best part? our team won.

because vickey and i understand the game, and the strategies of baseball, we appreciated the contest, even though there were no hits for the majority of the innings. seated behind us was a group of people visiting from another country. for them, the game was boring. because baseball is the great american pastime, I think they had hoped to enrich their visit by “doing the american thing”. they did not understand the rules of the battle. they didn’t benefit from the game.

over the years, vickey and i have developed our own rules for the conflicts in our relationship. one difference of course being that we don’t fight recreationally. it’s not our favorite pastime, nor is it something we enjoy. but conflict can be a healthy thing in any relationship. if we approach our disagreements with some good rules, and the right attitude, we can both win at the end. the result will be a greater intimacy, and the confidence that we will be able to successfully face other struggles in the future.

we call these our rules for fair fighting – and we have agreed together to follow them in the heat of the battle. we share them with you in the hopes that they will give you some “rules for the game:”

1. make it a goal to express irritations and annoyances in a positive, loving manner, rather than holding your mate in the negative or being negative in general.

2. start out by saying “I have a problem with . . . “ rather than “you did such and such”.

3. stay on the issue. you will not fix all of your problems, past and present, in this one discussion – so address only the issue at hand.

4. attempt to control the emotional level and the intensity of the quarrel. no hitting or throwing (this one may seem like a no-brainer, but it can happen – so just don’t).

5. no name calling. resorting to insult is hurtful and counterproductive. you want to face the problem together, not face off against each other.

6. the “d” word is off limits – threatening, or even joking about divorce is not an option.

7. no walking away. you can’t resolve the issue together, if you’re not, well . . . together. if you have to take a 10 minute breather to calm down, then agree to reconvene in a specified time to address the problem (we suggest 15 minutes max). stick to your agreement.

8. words like “never, “always”, “everyone”, “nothing” are not used.

9. no interrupting. let your partner finish his or her thought before speaking. concentrate on listening to what the other is saying rather than formulating your answer.

10. don’t bring up past failures.

11. be quick to ask for forgiveness when needed. admit wrongdoing quickly.

12. extend forgiveness.

13. don’t go to bed mad. before turning out the lights reaffirm each other, even if you haven’t fully resolved the issue. remind each other how much you love each other, and that you are committed to the other for life.

remember – you’re both on the same team.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

fight or flight

a friend of mine was shopping in a department store recently. she was waiting to be helped, standing behind a mother with her young children. the department store employee watched this customer as she struggled with trying to keep her youngsters in line, placing her selections on the counter, kids being loud, fussy, sick of shopping – picture it? making small talk and trying to set the shopper at ease, the clerk asked the woman the ages of her children, and was she married. yes, she was married.

“how long have you been married?” the clerk asked her.

“ten years”, the woman responded.

the clerk stopped and looked at the customer with wonder.

“TEN YEARS? wow!” (apparently a ten year track record was beyond the scope of this gal’s experience or observation). “that’s amazing. ten years? how do you do it? i mean, what’s your secret? what words of advice would you offer in order to have a successful marriage?”

the customer stopped for a moment and caught the young girl’s gaze. for a few long seconds she just stared at her – as if the answer was too obvious to deserve a response. realizing the girl’s honest need to know, she answered simply –

“you STAY.”

psychologists have identified the fight or flight syndrome. it’s the way our body deals with the day-to-day stresses we face. most of us major on either one side or the other.

here's one of my little secrets: i’m the “flight-er”. when things get rough – everything in me wants to bail. which is kinda weird because i have a healthy, fulfilling relationship with my husband. most of the time, i not only love him, i actually like him. yet I STILL have to resist the urge of flight when under pressure. seriously – there are moments under stress when it crosses my mind “i’m outta here” - “i SO don’t need this”.

our culture has honed the flight syndrome very well. society, the media, has bombarded us - if something doesn’t work out – pursue your dreams elsewhere. everywhere we look we are force-fed that we’re number one. don’t put up with what you don’t have to. do what feels good (if that’s true then I’m sunk – working through conflict SO doesn’t feel good). the message is that running away from trouble will somehow make it go away. blah blah blah blah blah.

try this instead. STAY. see what inconceivably wonderful benefits come from working through things together. stick with each other. get help if you need it. talk. encourage each other. tell him (or her) again that you love him.

this picture kinda reminds me of the STAY. these are my two youngest grandsons. both are in that “me” stage of toddlerhood. in spite of the fact that they both believe they are the center of the universe, somehow, miraculously, they managed to stay on the piano bench together. the result was a freeze frame of sweetness. in their own way, they made some beautiful music together.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

time to speak up

we have so many freedoms living in the u.s. of a. we’re not perfect as a nation – but if you who have done any travelling outside the country, you know that there are a lot of benefits to living in “the land of the free”.

part of keeping our freedom, has to do with using it. ok, ok – not trying to get too preachy here – but here it comes: have you registered to vote? if you are registered – do you exercise the right to vote by actually voting?

on november 4, we have an opportunity to choose to use our vote to make decisions about our political representatives as well as to voice our opinions about a number of other issues.

one issue here in california is of particular importance - and that is proposition 8. if you have been watching the news, you know that the california supreme court recently chose to legalize marriage between people of the same gender.

that issue has once again been placed on the ballot (ballot measure proposition 8), and we have the chance, no, the responsibility, to cast our vote on that matter. this may sound all very clich̩ Рbut until and unless the right is taken away, we do still have the right to vote according to our beliefs and opinions.

at the most foundational level, we, at married for keeps, believe that marriage was originally designed as the union between a man and a woman. going all the way back to the book of genesis in the Bible, where the story begins – God created adam, and then because adam was alone (and that was not a good thing), God created eve – and the two of them were literally designed to live together as man and wife.

we’re not going to fully get into it here, perhaps another blog, but we live in a world where absolutes are unpopular, and those who adhere to them are considered intolerant. we have a number of friends who live a same-sex lifestyle, and we love each one of them dearly. yet there are a multitude of evidences that the union between people of the same sex just wasn’t a part of the original blueprint.

we believe the preservation of the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman is key to the preservation of the american home, and the nation. how californians cast their votes regarding proposition 8 will determine the future of american society.

on saturday, november 1st, at qualcomm stadium in san diego, there is a gathering for the purpose of fasting and praying regarding this key issue. consider this your invitation to join. there is no cost to register, but registration is mandatory. go to The Call for more information and to register.

one last reminder: october 20th is the last day to register to vote in the november 4th election. if you haven’t yet registered, please do so now.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

friends are like scotch tape

do you have a good friend? you know, the kind where even if you don’t talk for awhile, you’re able to pick up where you left off?

when we were first married, there was a group of us – young married couples – all in the same boat. just learning how to be married, starting our families. most of us were struggling financially.

this shot is some of us in the early 80's. (we will be shot for posting this.)

fast forward another 20+ years.

recently, i got to thinking about it, and decided that seeing each other “occasionally” was no longer good enough. so i sent out invitations to the girls and asked if we could make a point of getting together four times a year. doesn’t sound like much, but some years we don’t see each other at all. we set the date for our first “girl-together”. that night we laughed, we cried, we told stories, and we shared our troubles.

we laughingly call ourselves “the magnolias” – after the movie “steel magnolias”. we are all really very different, yet deeply devoted to each other.

we were surprised when our kids complained because they weren’t included. our husbands wanted to know when they could join us. our families remembered all the years past - all the events – the intimate history we share. they wanted to reconnect too.

we decided to have a “family reunion”. our friends jeff and cindy volunteered their house; they rented a bounce house for the kids, fired up the Q, and the families came. our totals: 7 couples. 23 kids. 14 grandchildren. most of our children are grown now with families of their own. there were “kids” there I didn’t recognize. the whole lot of them world changers. among us there are business owners, nurses, engineers, teachers, musicians, pastors. . . the list goes on and on - people of influence in so many arenas of life – strong men and women of conviction who are using their gifts and skills to affect the globe for good.

then it hit me. i am convinced that these precious people are a good part of the reason why we are still married, and why our kids are at least, fairly normal (note to my children: one of the reasons you are all so wonderful is that you don’t fit the mold). as we reminisced, i let my mind wander – re-capturing memories – some good, some painful. times when there was cause for great celebration, and times when the world was ending. the common thread was that we were there for
each other. we listened. we prayed. we encouraged. we laughed. like scotch tape we stuck by each other. we told each other when we needed the telling. we risked. we loved. we challenged. we discovered together how to love our husbands, love our wives, and we shared what we learned with each other. we helped each other raise our children.

we talk about the importance of friendships, but we live our lives as if we are the only ones that really matter. a hearty THANK YOU to the courageous, risk-taking, faithful, cutting edge men and women in our lives – our dearest friends. you have loved us and encouraged us in this race, and because you did, we are still racing. : )

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

how to build a rock solid marriage foundation (or at least pour some of the concrete)

mayhem, clutter, noise, laughter, squeals, pandemonium, chaos . . . a description of our family get-togethers. we call it blessed bedlam – and we love it. recently we spent our vacation with the entire family – on a houseboat – seventeen, yep, that’s 17 of us. you can read more about that at cameron's blog or morgan's blog. it was a trip we dreamed about for years, and we made memories to last a lifetime.

after ten days of communal living i went through withdrawals when everyone returned to their own homes. i admit it, i have a chronic case of motherhood. thankfully, the majority of the tribe lives within a 30 mile radius. our son, his wife, and our youngest grandchild however, live about 4 hours away. this last weekend i made the trek to get another grandbaby fix.

we had a great time together - morgan thought it would be fun to explore a petting zoo near their home. it was a huge hit with ethan! he rode his first pony, tried eating goat poop and rabbit food, patted the sheep (at least 50 times), and explored a play house in the goat yard.

LOVED the baby bunnies. had to pat every one he could get his hands on.

chubby baby hands – pat, pat, pat. toddle away for 5 seconds. toddle back.
pat, pat, pat.
squeal. jibber jabber baby talk at them.
pat, pat, pat.
i’m sure those animals have seen it all –
the sheep, especially, just sat there while he “petted” them.

we love having a growing family. we love the time we can spend with our children, or our grandchildren. however, as parents, we can get so involved in our children’s lives, it is easy to spend all of our energies on the kids, and have only the leftovers for our mates.

when we first got married, we decided that we would practice “dating” regularly. sounded like a good plan at the time. the true test came after baby no. 1. we made all the arrangements for our evening (which in itself was no small feat! – let’s face it – just arranging a babysitter can be a mountain to climb). as the time for our departure neared, sarah was being fussy and i felt like i should stay at home, you know, and “be a good Mom”. gunther’s response stuck with me, and actually became a guideline for our years with young children. his answer to my dilemma sounded something like “i know the baby needs you, but our relationship is the foundation of this home. our kids will do well, if you and i are doing well. if we don’t take time for each other, then someday, when our children are grown and gone, you and I will look at each other and won’t have anything in common. we started as just you and me, and when that day comes, it’ll be just you and me again.” i realized then, that our children would be the most secure in an environment where mommy and daddy’s relationship was strong and loving. so . . . we dated.

it wasn’t always easy to break away from the children on date nights. truth be told it could be flat out rough. sometimes one of us would argue that we couldn’t afford to date that week. to which the other would respond, “we can’t afford not to”. when we were broke – it forced us to find creative ways to get away together and have fun.

now that we’re the only ones at home, we still date. we still need romance, and fun, and new adventures together. it helps to keep the “us” alive.

think of it this way, every time you date, you’re strengthening your foundation.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

marriage for lifers

let's face it. marriage is hard. we will celebrate our 33rd anniversary this next january. i (vickey) tell gunther "you were the best decision i ever made". at the same time, marriage is the hardest thing i have ever done. the payoffs are amazing, but so is the work involved.

we see couples fall by the wayside all the time. young ones, old ones - newlyweds, oldlyweds. literally it scares the hell out of us. so we have made a decision. we will do all we can to be married for life - just as we promised on day one. but we also want to do all we can to help others stay married for life.

that's what this blog is all about. along the way, we've learned a few things. and we will share what we've learned. we'll also be honest about the places where we still fall short. the good, the bad, and the ugly of living a life together. not just existing under the same roof - but doing it well - and staying in love in the process.

we welcome your feedback, your questions, your stories. let's root each other on and make a good thing even better.

enjoying the journey - gunther and vickey