Sunday, December 28, 2014

I'm on VACATION! :-)

I'm sorry to disappoint my readers today, but I don't have a real blog post to share. I'm enjoying my two-week break from school and can't find the motivation to write. I am, however, thinking of several topics for future posts:

1.  helicopter parents
2.  anxiety
3.  racial unrest -- past and present
4.  One thing I swore I'd never do as a parent

I'd appreciate any feedback you have on any of these topics, especially number 4. 

Another reason I'm not writing a real post this week is because I'm totally involved in a novel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer. 

One reviewer said, "I'm not sure I will read a better novel this year than Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. Enthrallingly told, beautifully written and so emotionally plangent that some passages bring tears. It is completely unsentimental -- no mean trick when you consider that Doerr's two protagonists are children who have been engulfed in the horror of World War II."

So far, and I'm only half finished with the book, I think I agree with the reviewer's statement. It's one of my favorites this year. 

I'm going to enjoy the next seven days off work and try to have a fantastic post for you next week. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Buy or Rent: Did I Make the Wrong Choice?

When I became an adult, I bought into the American Dream: marriage, career, kids, home, security, etc. I knew that if I worked hard, I could have it all.

Owning a home was a big part of that dream. It meant stability, putting down roots, an investment for retirement. I wonder sometimes if I was a sucker who bought into a dream that originated with a real-estate agent.

I have been a homeowner since 1981 when my then husband and I bought a single-wide mobile home. We lived in it for a year until we could save money to buy a starter house. I lived in that house for the next 25 years, remodeling, adding bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the normal maintenence. During that 25 years, the value of the house increased from $35,000 in 1981 to $230,000 in 2005. That's when I sold it and bought the house I live in now. 

I loved my new house. It was perfect -- huge stone fireplace, vaulted ceiling, loft, 2 beds/1 bath upstairs for the kids, walk-in attic, garage, master bed/bath downstairs and pool all on 3/4 acre. I made a few changes -- replacing the fence, painting inside, new carpet upstairs -- but the house didn't require much changing. That was 10 years ago.

This week, the week before Christmas, the furnace broke and we found out that the septic system has to be replaced. In the last year, we have replaced the roof and all rotted wood, repaired the broken driveway, and painted the outside. During the wood-rot removal, the workers discovered the header over the fireplace was rotted completely which could have caused the roof to collapse. That necessary repair was not cheap.

This year, we are looking at a new pool liner and concrete decking repair, new kitchen countertops since the present ones are 40 years old, and numerous other expenses that go along with owning an aging home.

I bought this house in 2005 at the height of the housing bubble. In 2008, I saw the value of my house drop 25%. In all likelihood, I’ll not live to see my house return to its original value.

Would renting be a better option? The older I get, the more I think yes. Advantages and disadvantages exist with both choices:

My daughter is a senior in college and lives with two roommates in a resort-style apartment for $550 each per month. She lives in a 3 bedroom/3 bath really nice, secure apartment with granite countertops and modern furniture. The many amenities included are pool, gym, tanning bed, computer lab, free printing, coffee bar, and lots of entertainment. Most college housing today is like this.

If I had lived in something like this when I was in college instead of the cheapest housing I could find, I'm not sure I would ever have wanted to buy a house. Why would I want to work and save to own a house that I have to maintain when I could call the landlord to fix the broken furnace or to put in a new septic system?

People talk of the American Dream being dead. I see how goals have changed because of the economy and the decline of the joys of owning your own piece of land and home, so maybe it is changing somewhat. I don't believe it will die completely.

I still love my house, but I am tired of the upkeep that homeownership brings. I'm reminded of that 1980s movie The Money Pit starring Tom Hanks.  All of you homeowners will get a good laugh about his experiences while all of the renters will sit back and feel smart and smug. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Finding Joy Amid a Stressful Holiday Season

We make Christmas such a stressful time. First, we have to do the shopping for just the right gift, only to then worry that the person will not like it. Next is all of the decorating that doesn't get done in one day but becomes an ongoing process throughout the month of December. At my house, decorating gets put off until almost too late to do it. Finally, there is all the extra "stuff" in the house that makes the place feel so cluttered. Often during this time of year, I have to stop myself from becoming the Grinch and find joy in events that don't happen at other times of the year.

Christmas cards – Wow! This exchanging of cards has certainly changed over the years. It used to be that people sent simple cards reminding us of the reason for the season, the joy of the holiday time or the anticipation of Santa Claus. These were prettily/gaudily decorated with some winter scene, glowing angels or Santa and his elves.

Now people send the funniest and/or cutest cards that really show the personality of their family. I have two friends with twins (Is there some kind of mathematical problem here? Friends2 x twins2?) whose Christmas cards truly show the joy and trouble of raising two or more kids. These cards bring a big smile to my face each year. I actually save these cards and enjoy comparing them from year to year.

Children's programs – Honestly, I should be done with children’s Christmas programs at my age. However, my son with Down syndrome attends a performing arts program for adults with disabilities, and they have a Christmas performance each year. This year, the clients actually wrote a musical that showed how talented they are. The show included Christmas songs and lively dances as well as excellent acting. These people are serious about their craft, and I’m always amazed at what they can do.

I also attended the performance of the Capital Children’s Choir, a musical program offered by FSU to children in kindergarten through ninth grades who want learn about music. My granddaughter is a member and has been rehearsing for the past ten weeks. This program is one of the best kept secrets in town. For only $30 a year, a child learns to read music and to sing songs in other languages from FSU music students and their college professor, Dr. Suzanne Byrnes.

Silly jokes – We have an Elf on the Shelf in our house. This year, Twinkle has left some pretty funny jokes for Cloee (and me) to enjoy.

If athletes get athlete’s foot, what do elves get? Mistle-toes

What’s a parent’s favorite Christmas carol? Silent Night

How many elves does it take to change a light bulb? Ten – one to fix the bulb and nine to stand on each other’s shoulders so he can reach the bulb.

And my personal favorite:

What did one snowman say to the other snowman? Do you smell carrots?

Parties – I don’t go to many parties during this season; however, my work friends usually get together at someone’s house and enjoy lots of laughs, good food and catching up. We always invite the retired teachers, and I love hearing about how they are doing in their new lives. One friend inspired me when she said, “Next year, we can ride together to party.”

Finishing the semester – I know I’ll miss a lot of my job next year, but this year I’m having fun counting down the days. After giving the semester exam in my dual-enrolled English classes, I started cleaning out file drawers, throwing out countless copies of grammar exercises that I won’t use again and passing on my units/lesson plans to teacher friends. We teachers are packrats, collecting anything that we may one day use to impart knowledge to today’s youth. Some of my units date back to my first year teaching and are printed using a mimeograph copier. I plan to have everything cleaned out of my classroom by June 1 so that on my official last day, June 3, I can walk out of school with only my car keys in hand. (Who is tired of hearing about my upcoming retirement? I only mention it in almost every post!)

I hope each of you has a wonderful holiday with as little stress as possible. Go out and find some fun activities that only happen this time of year.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"See, I Can Do This Without You!"

“One day, when you have children, you’ll understand how what you said makes me feel. I love you.”

“I’m not having kids. I love you, too.”

So went the text exchange between me and my daughter yesterday. She’s now three months past her 21st birthday and is finding her voice. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to hear this voice, but I remember being that age and trying out my new wings of adulthood.

It’s hard to be caught in this semi-state of adulthood, searching for autonomy but still yearning for the past life to stay the same. You live on your own, enjoying all of the freedom, but when you come home and realize that home and the people in it have moved on, it’s hard to accept.

I remember when I was that age. I now realize that I wasn’t always the easiest person to be around. Do you hear that, Mom? I’m admitting that I was wrong most of the time. However, I would never have admitted to that then. I knew what was best for me, and no one could tell me differently.

I watch the kids I teach as they make the milestones of turning 16 and getting the freedom to drive, of being 18 and becoming legal, and of being 21 and getting all of adulthood thrown into their lap.

Last week, one female student turned 18 and boasted about now being legal. I wonder how her life is going to change. She can go into a bar now, but she can’t drink alcohol in it. She can buy lottery tickets, but with no job, I doubt she will spend her allowance on games of chance. Her big transition is mainly in her mind. She considers herself “grown” and doesn’t have to listen to her parents anymore. She could move out if she wanted, but she’s stuck, at least for another seven months until she graduates from high school. Even then, she probably won’t have enough money to move out.

She is an emerging adult who is caught with all the rules of her parents and of high school. Her voice inside may tell her that she doesn’t have to do all of this, that she’s endured these rules long enough. She’s legal now and can tell everyone to kiss off.

I’ve seen students do that, too. They get to within four months of graduation and quit coming to school. They are just so sick of being tied to those rules, and they have all of this freedom now. It’s so much more fun to work that minimum wage job and get a paycheck than to have to endure hours/months of sitting in that same old classroom with presumably no paycheck. Instant gratification feels so good.

All of these young adults have so many decisions to make – college, military, jobs, grad school – and for the most part, they have to make them on their own. On one hand, they are scared of making the wrong decision, but at the same time, they are using that grown-up voice to say, “See, I can do this without you.”

As a parent, a grandparent, a teacher and a fully grown-up adult, I find it hard to watch them make decisions that I know are mistakes. I can encourage, motivate and try to redirect their paths, but I can also stand back to see what they decide. After all, it’s their choice.

I’m sad that I won’t have any more grandchildren, not only because my daughter’s children would be a beautiful extension of her, but also because I could say the words I heard my mother say today, “You are getting paid back for all of the grief you caused me.”