Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Back in some other post, I promised you a glimpse into one of our “typical days” at online public school. I didn’t realize at that time how hard that promise would be to fulfill! The truth is that what constitutes a “typical day” for us varies widely and depends on many variables, but I’ll do the best I can.

My typical day starts between 6:00 and 6:30 am when I get up to help my 10 year old get ready for her carpool. She attends the “brick and mortar” Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Akron. She needs to be out the door between 6:45 and 7:00 am. If my online public school kid Emily were attending Stow public school, her day would start then, too, so she could catch the bus at 7:20. But since there is no bus to catch, Emily usually doesn’t get up until 8:30 or 9:00 am!

She comes down in her pajamas, plops down on her end of the couch, checks her email, Google calendar, and the Tween Tribune for news, then gets right to work on school using the personal netbook she received for Christmas in 2010. On days when she has an online class, she’ll put her headset on and log in to attend – usually still in her pajamas. Sometimes I’ll hear her talking as she verbally answers a question the teacher has posed; sometimes I’ll see her typing – either to her teacher or to one of her friends. (They can’t usually chat online in class during the class, but they sometimes use Google Chat to get around that restriction!) When there is no online class, she usually checks the lesson online but gets right to work with her “old-fashioned” textbook and workbook.

Only about 30% to 50% of Emily’s school work is done at the computer. The rest is traditional textbook reading, taking notes, comprehension questions, practice math problems, hands-on science labs or art projects, and the same kind of work kids at “brick and mortar” schools bring home to do as homework. If she has a question about anything, I am usually available for consultation. If I happen to be running errands, doing carpool, or meeting a friend for breakfast, she will put that subject aside and work on something else until I get back.

After each subject, Emily puts her written work in the middle of the couch and lets me know it’s ready to be assessed. Sometimes she has typed out a paper using Google Docs, so she’ll share the document with me via email. After I check the work and provide feedback, there is usually an online assessment in the curriculum which she cannot take until I log into the assessment screen with my personal name and password. When she has completed a block of work, she records the time she spent on that subject in a small notebook she keeps on the end table, writing down start and end times.

Assessments are frequent and often short – usually at the end of every lesson in the unit and often only 5 questions long. There are mid- and end-unit assessments which are longer, more like traditional brick and mortar tests. The curriculum also has an end-of-unit review lesson built in. OHVA requires students to achieve at least 80% on every assessment to consider it passed. With a 5 question assessment, this means that she can miss one question which is supposed to ensure mastery of the material. HOWEVER – we agreed as a family at the beginning of the school year to a minimum acceptable score of 90%. In cases where it’s a 5 question assessment, she must get them ALL right. Often this happens on the first time; sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, she and I review the material together and talk about what was missed and why. Sometimes she will re-assess right away and sometimes she will do some more reading or practicing to master the skill before assessing later that day or the next.

After an hour or 90 minutes of work, she’ll take a stretch break, have some breakfast, brush her teeth, comb her hair, and maybe get dressed. If no one is coming over and we aren’t going anywhere, she might stay in her pajamas all day! Then it’s back to work for another hour or so. Some days she has art instruction for her school curriculum. On those days, our artist neighbor comes over for an hour and they go together the basement to work on a hands’ on project. She will take her computer down so they can reference the online lesson material while they work.

Usually after art, it’s time for lunch. She makes her own lunch – usually leftovers from dinner the night before. After lunch, she might get back to school work or she might practice piano while the house is quiet. Sometimes we have an outing, like a hike or a bowling get-together with school friends. It depends on the day and what we’ve scheduled!

On a typical day at home, Emily will usually spend several more hours with the curriculum at some point in the afternoon or evening. Two days a week she has additional independent art sessions where she works on her oil painting in the afternoon. Again, our artist neighbor and her art teacher comes to our house and they head to the basement for two hours to work at the easel. I am in and out of the basement as needed doing laundry, or just peeking in to see how things are going. One day a week she has piano lessons in the afternoon.  In the fall she was in a horseback riding class; during winter, there was weekly skiing; and in the spring she took ice-skating lessons. She also enjoyed monthly bowling outings with her friends. (We are required by state law to participate in an average of one to two hours a week of organized physical activity to fulfill our physical education requirements.)

Interestingly, Emily’s school work schedule is not too “out of the box”. Because her sister and dad are home on the weekends, those days are allocated mostly to fun family time, play dates with friends, family field trips, or simply to relaxation. Although she will often work on school in the evenings during the week when her sister is doing homework, this time is often spent to make up for time taken for something fun during the day like a field trip or physical activity.

At some point every evening, I sit down to look over the afternoon’s work, then she and I sit down and go over what was accomplished during the day and what she plans to work on the following day. The last thing I do each day is record her attendance into the online system based on the notes she herself took through-out the day. Although the OLS (online learning system) has some pretty good tracking and charting capability, we still maintain our own dynamic Google Spreadsheet where we track all sorts of stats on lesson completion, hours worked, percentage of progression through the curriculum, etc…. I love the sense that we are working as a team and that I am intimately in touch with what she’s learning, struggling to master, or interested in knowing more about. The focus is DEFINITELY on the learning and the standards are high – yet she seems to love those aspects of her education most of the time.

Did you notice what is NOT part of her typical day? She watches no television in an average week and rarely spends time on the telephone. When she relaxes, she plays computer games or Wii games, goes outside, chats online with friends, does art, reads a book for fun, or plays with the dog. She has time to help with household chores sometimes when I need a hand unloading groceries, making dinner, or cleaning up. This is one area where online school definitely trumps brick & mortar school – education and learning is an integrated part of everyday life instead of something that happens just “at school.”

And THAT is the “typical” day in the life of this online public school student!

Owning It

“I could never, EVER home-school.”

“I don’t home-school; I school at home.”

“I’m not the teacher, I’m the learning coach.”

I am embarrassed to admit that all of those statements have come out of my mouth in the past 12 months. They are also untrue.

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One of the aspects of online public school that reinforced by folks associated with it is the need to NOT refer to it as “home-schooling.” Because you see, the state of Ohio will pay for online public school, but NOT for home-schooling. I was totally cool with that because *I* could never home-school. I was not “that kind” of parent. I am NOT a teacher and among my entire family of formally trained educators, I am certainly no expert on education.

Early on in our online public school experiment, Zac Chase (a teacher formerly employed at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy) insisted that I was, in fact, my child’s teacher. He suggested – almost insisted – that I own that particular role. I resisted – vehemently at times, arm outstretched and hand up – but no more.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I AM a teacher! (There – I said it! Whew!) The state might not recognize me as one professionally, but that doesn’t negate my role. More importantly, it doesn’t even mean I am inexperienced or bad at what I do. In the same way, being certified by the state to teach doesn’t mean someone is experienced or good at that profession.

What is a teacher? We all know the stereotype: a matronly woman with a bun and a prim skirt, glasses perched on her nose, lecturing with little emotion to bored students. Sadly, we’ve probably all experienced some version of that hell less-than-optimal learning situation. But by-God if the state says that woman is certified, then she must be a teacher, right?

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Think of the best teacher you’ve ever had.

I hope you’ve had many. I know I have. Among them Mr. Leigh and Mr. Shumaker jump to mind (probably because they’ve both passed away in the last year). What made them true teachers in every sense, these men who were state certified in their respective areas of expertise?

First, they had a true passion for their subjects. Mr. Leigh truly LOVED math! Most sane high school kids do NOT love math, but we all took notice and were even fascinated by his obsession with it. Mr. Leigh could get worked up about the importance of a decimal point or the beauty of an algebraic equation to such a degree that we students would laugh at him. Mr. Shumaker, on the other hand, LOVED English. He was so passionate that he would jump up on top of a desk to make a point – literally. No matter your feelings on English, you did not – could not – fall asleep in Harvey’s class.

These exemplary teachers also cared about their students as people. They cared so much that they refused to accept failure. They pushed us, as individuals, further than we could even imagine being pushed – and they knew we could do it even when we doubted it ourselves. They respected us as the young adults we weren’t but yearned to be, looked with skeptical eye – oh, that arched eyebrow – on our immature excuses for not working to our potential, and gave us the grades we earned instead of the grades we wanted.

This leads to the third characteristics the best teachers shared: we were afraid of them and sometimes, yes, we even hated them. Oh yes, we did. I hated both those teachers with a passion when I had them. They made me struggle. They made me cry in frustration over homework, papers. They made me wish I were anywhere but in their classes at times. When I emerged bruised, battered, and better I didn’t realize the extent of their gifts to me. That revelation would take years to manifest.

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My daughter’s composition “teacher” at the online public school we are trying this year went half of this school year without ever seeing one example of her writing. “How,” my husband asked, “can she possibly assess Emily’s ability without ever ONCE seeing how she actually writes?” When we raised the question at the parent-teacher conference, we were invited to submit writing samples via email each week. Emily was excited – someone new to give her feedback on her work! But the comments took at least a week to come back and they were paltry. “Good job.” “Nice work.” In the whole batch there was only one single constructive comment. One.

Meanwhile, I would insist on writing, revising, re-writing, and re-revising. *My* teacher comments were more along the lines of “can you use stronger verb choices to paint a more descriptive picture here?” and “Can you employ more words of emotion to connect your audience to what you were FEELING in this personal narrative?” Emily enjoyed the compliments from her OHVA teacher, but even she quickly saw that they weren’t going to improve her writing like my constructive criticisms were.

I love the challenge of writing, even though I don’t do it professionally. I have a passion for grammar, word choice, and sometimes (thanks to Mr. Shumaker) the avoidance of passive verbs. My daughter writes better than most 7th graders, but that doesn’t mean she has no progress to make in her writing. I care enough to push her to excel and some days, she HATES it! I don’t know if she’ll look back on me as a good teacher, but I do hope that someday she’ll be grateful that I don’t let her slack. I have too much respect for her abilities to let that happen.

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This past Monday, I was working hard to get some good-weather-dependent work done outside and in our sunroom. When Emily had a question about genetics, I inwardly groaned. That had NOT been my best subject in high school biology. Instead of really digging into the material, I told her – for the first time all year – to just go call her teacher. (OHVA is a public online school, so she actually has four state certified teachers who do online synchronous classes and are available for questions). Later that afternoon, we got an email saying that genetics was an 8th grade topic, so Emily should come to the science tutoring session the following evening where there would be an 8th grade teacher who could help her. What? If it’s in the 7th grade science course, which we are required by law to complete at 90%, shouldn’t the 7th grade science teacher be able to help? And aren’t 7th grade science teachers certified by the state to teach either 7th or 8th grade science?

I was still too lazy to reacquaint myself with Mr. Mandel and his peas, so we BOTH attended the session, which ended up being a synchronous one-on-one. The 8th grade science teacher admitted pretty quickly that she was not familiar with the specific lesson we were doing. (Um…ok.) In reading through some text on the screen which we could all see, she read the word “dominant” as “dormant.” I raised an eyebrow, but figured it was an honest mistake…until she did it again. I may be rusty on my biology, but even *I* know that dormant has to do with seeds and dominant with genetic traits.

In the end, Emily’s question was really one of mathematics and experimentation procedure more than genetics. Participating in the help session did nothing for Emily, but did force *me* to sit down and work out just where Emily’s problem was and how I could help her understand the material. Isn’t that one of the roles of a teacher? Just who WAS the teacher in this scenario – and in the composition scenario above?

*  *  *  *  *  *

It seems appropriate that this year, Mothers’ Day comes at the end of Teacher Appreciation week. Save for the obligatory public hat-tip today, I’m not likely to get any recognition outside my family for either role. Nonetheless, each role was carefully and deliberately chosen. I own them both and hope I can live up to the bar set in both cases by those who came before me.

Where has this school year gone?! I had intended to blog more regularly and faithfully about our journey this year with online public school through Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA), but you know what “they” say about good intentions!

Let me briefly catch you up to where we are at this point, with 5 weeks left in our school year, from my last blog post in (blush) October. Early in October, Emily took OHVA’s Scantron assessment. This was an adaptive assessment, meaning the subsequent questions change depending on how you answer earlier ones. The questions get progressively harder and the kids are not SUPPOSED to know how to answer all the questions. In this way, the software can determine at what grade level you are actually working. Emily’s language arts score came back literally off the charts, placing her at a high 12th grade level in language arts – which shocked even me.

By mid-December, Emily was still EXTREMELY motivated for school – to the point where she didn’t want to stop for Christmas break! By break (which I did force her to take), she had spent an average of over 6 hours per school day in the actual curriculum – of her own free will. She was BLAZING through her language arts curriculum. In fact, she completed her year’s worth of vocabulary and much of her grammar mechanics and usage curriculum. We discovered that she could do a week’s worth of vocabulary in about an hour! Because she is so advanced in this area, it was a relief to her not to be slowed down by other kids or by the system. The freedom she felt to move at her own pace was a breath of fresh air for her.

Coming back from break in January was hard; Emily couldn’t seem to regain her motivation. We had some bumps in our schooling-at-home road (which I will detail in another blog post). But we kept at it and by the end of March, Emily had completed 100% of her 7th grade pre-algebra curriculum and 100% of her literature, composition, grammar, and vocabulary curriculum. This made her eligible to receive and start working on the 8th grade curriculum right away after spring break and positioned her to be able to take both algebra and LAC (literary analysis and composition) this coming fall on the high school platform for high school credit.

The state of Ohio requires completion of a minimum of 920 instructional hours and 90% of the curriculum in each academic subject by the end of the school year (June 8th) to have completed the grade. Some subjects, like music and art, must only be completed to 30%, but that won’t be an issue for us. Any core academic subject not completed to 90% can still be worked on over the summer, but the hours cannot be counted toward the state minimum of 920 which must be achieved by June 8th. As of today, Emily is 96% done with Spanish I, 91% done with Art, 78% of the way through science and 70% of the way through history. She also continues to work on physical education hours (bowling, ice skating lessons, swimming), music hours (private piano lessons), and 8th grade algebra and LAC (which she is not required to complete). She has accumulated 1045 hours over 167 days, averaging 6.3 hours of educational time per school day.

In hindsight, moving to OHVA was absolutely the best choice we could have made this school year. It was not all sunshine and roses by any means, so stay tuned for a future blog post about the pros and cons of our experience. But if I could go back and do it all again, I would not only come back to OHVA again, but I would have made the move in 5th grade.

Emily has decided to remain in OHVA for another school year. She is undecided about what she will do for high school. Her choices are to stay with OHVA, to apply through open enrollment to Firestone High School in Akron (which has both an International Baccalaureate program AND a fantastic – and quite competitive – visual arts program that results in a special notation on one’s diploma upon completion), or to attend her home district Stow-Munroe Falls High School. Since she will be on the high school platform in OHVA this fall, which we have heard is far different from the elementary platform, she will be positioned to make a very educated decision about staying with OHVA. Whichever direction she decides to go, I know that the experience this year has changed her life (excuse me for borrowing from the musical ‘Wicked’ here) for good.

Stupid Facebook Memes

So, I got yet another “invitation” for those stupid breast cancer awareness memes on Facebook:

It’s that time of year again…support of Breast Cancer Awareness!! So we all remember last year’s game of writing your bra color as your status? Or the way we like to have our handbag handy? Last year, so many people took part that it made national news and the constant updating of status reminded everyone why we’re doing this and helped raise …awareness!! Do NOT tell any males what the statuses mean…keep them guessing!! And please copy and paste (in a message) this to all your female friends! It’s time to confuse the men again (not that it’s really that hard to do ;]) The idea is to choose the month you were born and the day you were born. Pass this on to the GIRLS ONLY and lets see how far it reaches around. The last one about the bra went around all over the world. Your status should say: “I am going to________________for___________ months.” The day you were born should be for how many months you are going. January–Mexico February– London March–Miami April—Dominican Republic May–France June– St Petersburg July–Austria August–Germany September–New York October – Amsterdam November – Las Vegas December – Alaska

I do not play these breast cancer awareness “games.” My husband is a partner in my life, and is one of the many reasons I work hard to keep myself healthy. I don’t need to keep him – or any man – in the dark about breast cancer and the importance of screening. These are the same men who could get breast cancer themselves or may be supporting wives, mothers, daughters who do.

These “games” do nothing. Has even one person gone and gotten a mammogram as a result of being “tricked” by a Facebook status message? All these games do is make people feel stupid when they find out the real meaning of what you’ve posted. I think this woman says it better than I can and if you’ve not read her blog post on the topic, you should! (In fact, she’s become something of a counter-meme herself as a result of her post!).

Instead, I will post the DATE OF MY LAST MAMMOGRAM: October 7, 2011. If you are a woman who has entered the age of mammograms, I encourage you to simply post the date of your last mammogram on Facebook instead of playing those stupid “games.” THAT is the most effective reminder to other women – and men – that you can provide.

And the Winner Is…!

I had no idea it would be so fun to run a 5 year blogiversary contest!  To be honest, I thought more people would enter, but those of you who did participate did so with a gusto that brought a smile to my face many times over.

So to recap, for those of you too lazy to click back and read: in 2011, all my blog posts had one deliberate thing in common. Everyone had 5 days to email me and tell me exactly how I deliberately tied all my 2011 blog posts together. Those who answered correctly via email were entered into a random drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! Anyone who could also tell me which post did not strictly conform to the pattern got a bonus entry into the drawing.

As each entry came in, I listed the person’s name and the date/time of the email in a Google spreadsheet (I am making the switch as much as possible to free and open source software with this new laptop). Participants got listed twice if they provided a correct answer to the bonus question (and in Kellie’s case, that came in the form of a later email!) As soon as the deadline arrived, I used the True Random Number Generator at Random.org to select the winner.

Before I show you the results, I’d like to share some of the comments that made me smile:

Kellie and I went to college together, lived in the same dorm, and have reconnected thanks to Facebook. She was the first to answer:

Debbie, I think that the answer to your blog contest is that all of the blog posts use song or movie titles as their titles.  The one I see that doesn’t strictly conform (I think) is the one for “One Week,” which is perhaps a modification of “One Day,” the movie and book. Of course, there may be a deeper hidden answer to this question; if I’m completely off base, let me know.  Congrats on reaching five years with your blog!

Ah, a deeper hidden meaning – she knows me better than I thought! I was tickled that she nailed the fact that all my posts were song titles. However, “One Week” is in fact a song title, albeit not a sing I really KNEW. It was harder than I thought to make every post a song title!

Rebecca was next to answer. She and I both attend Trinity Lutheran church and I didn’t even know she read my blog! But again, we are connected via Facebook, too, and I’m guessing that’s where she saw my post about the contest.

Kellie, however, was clearly still pondering her answer, because I received this email later:

Debbie, I’d like to amend my entry — I suspect the nonconforming blog title is actually “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her,” which is actually “Wherever.”  I realized that last night while thinking about Simon and Garfunkel, thanks to your blog contest.

Doh! That was an unintended mistake on my part! Kudos, Kellie – and you earned yourself an extra contest entry for that astute observation!

Lyn was the next one to jump in. She and I met through a mutual acquaintance, who happens to be her husband Stephen!

All of the titles of your blog posts are song titles.  I had to look some up.  J For the bonus entry: Let’s Get Physical is the title, not Let’s Get (a) Physical  PS.  Can you confirm the email address is right.  The post has dschinker dot gmail dot com and I’m guess you meant @ gmail.

Oops! Thanks for finding that mistake, Lyn. The (a) was meant to indicate a deliberate twisting of the title, so technically no bonus entry for you, but I gave you one anyway, for catching my typo.

The last person to enter was Lyn’s husband Stephen, who was my first serious boyfriend way back in high school. Stephen earned top marks for thoroughness (which will surprise no one who knows him!):

All of your titles in 2011 were song titles, with the following anomalies, from the major to the minor:
1. Ch-ch-ch-choices (1/4) — this alludes to David Bowie’s Changes, but is not, in fact, the title of the song. There is, however, a song from a Catholic children’s music publisher called “Choices” that includes “Ch-ch-ch-choices” in the lyrics.  http://www.allelu.com/activities-resources/song-lyrics.html
2. Back to the Future is the only instrumental.
3. Let’s Get (a) Physical — obviously, the word “a” is an insertion. This post, by the way, was the one that tipped me off to the pattern, all the way back in January. Two song titles in two days were unusual for you. Let It Snow cinched it.  (BTW, this was because I was confused on the lyrics to the Bowie song!)
4. “End of the Innocence?” — the actual song title is “The End of the Innocence”.
As for “didn’t strictly conform to the pattern”, I would have to say Ch-ch-ch-choices doesn’t conform if the pattern is titles, and Back to the Future is the one that doesn’t conform is the pattern is songs.

The title “Ch-ch-ch-choices” was actually made BEFORE I decided to title ALL my blog post entries for songs, so that one was the anomaly I actually had in mind. And I must point out that my biggest blog supporter, dear husband John (who was excluded from this contest and was none too happy about it, either!) did tell me today that the title of THAT song is actually “Physical.” Now you know – and so do I!

Well, I shall keep you in suspense no longer. Here is the screen print from the random number generator:

As you can see, the winner is:

REBECCA! Congratulations!

But as a special surprise, I am sending a $5 Amazon certificate to Kellie, Lyn, and Stephen as well, just for participating. (Don’t you wish you would have entered now?! Pppppttthhhh!)

I truly appreciate everyone who reads my blog, and by extension hears my voice. I appreciate the opportunity to think and write – especially for an authentic audience – and to talk things through with you, my readers, be you friends or strangers. Happy birthday, Midnight Musings, and here’s to 5 more years!

Happy Birthday!

I’d like to wish my blog, Midnight Musings, a very happy 5th birthday! Five is auspicious – this digital child of mine is a whole hand old now and frankly no one is more surprised at its staying power than I!  I’d like to sincerely thank my husband John Schinker for encouraging me to give this blogging thing a try way back in January of 2007. I never imagined so many people would read my words or care about what I had to say. So I’d also like to thank YOU, my readers, for breathing life into this site by reading, sharing, and commenting. I am truly flattered and honored by your attention.

Now that I’m a mother, I find curiously amusing the tradition of giving presents to the child on the day when the child did nothing and the mother did all the work. Really, its our MOTHERS who deserve presents on our birthdays! Since the only present my blog really wants is more posts and more readers, I decided long ago to give you, my readers, a gift for my blog’s birthday, but you do have to work for it just a little bit.

So here’s the deal: in 2011, all my blog posts had one deliberate thing in common. You have 5 days (until midnight my time on Sunday, January 8th) to email me at dschinker at gmail dot com and tell me exactly how I deliberately tied all my 2011 blog posts together. Anyone who answers correctly VIA EMAIL (no spoilers in the comments please – I will just delete them!) will be entered into a random drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card! You get a bonus entry into the drawing if you also tell me which post did not strictly conform to the pattern. I believe I have only 5 faithful readers, and John is exempt from winning, so your chances are pretty darn good!

Hey, you can even get your friends into the deal by telling them about this contest. Even if they aren’t a regular blog reader of mine, all my 2011 posts are there for perusal. I don’t do ads, giveaways, or product endorsements on my blog (okay, there was one a long time ago – but it was sincere!), so you know this is no gimmick to drive up readership or anything. *bats eyelashes innocently* (Hey – didn’t I tell you that the MOM deserves a present on the child’s birthday, too?)

While you are waiting for the answer and contest results to be announced here on this post in the comments on Monday, January 9th, you can check out the 2011 annual report for this blog that the WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared. Don’t those fireworks kinda look like candles? (-:

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Whole New World

Seventeen years ago today was one of the very best of my entire life so far. Seventeen years ago today, October 22, 1994, I declared before God and family the commitment I’d already made in my heart on New Year’s Eve 1992. Seventeen years ago today, I married my very best friend.

When he asked me to be his wife, it was unplanned and completely from the heart. When I said yes, it was a rare triumph of heart over head for me. I clearly and distinctly remember my brain processing the question and thinking, “What?! Not time! Too soon! Not planned! What if…?!” and my heart interrupting with just one word, the only word, the right word which, when spoken, instantly shocked and silenced my head: YES. It hung in the air and left both our heads and hearts alike breathless and wondering what had just happened, what had just been said, what had just been agreed. Yet we both knew it was right and forever. We kept it secret for 10 months from all but our single best friends. It had been sudden, yet 2 years and 9.5 months in the making. And even the f0llowing fall when he made it socially official with the traditional ring, some were shocked, surprised, and thinking it was too soon. But we knew, he and I, and we couldn’t wait!

We wrote our own vows because it just seemed right to do that. Sadly, the envelope with the original vows written in our own hand was lost in the whirlwind of the day. Years later, I listened closely, over and over again, to the wedding video and painstakingly transcribed those vows into our wedding album so we’d be able to read them and remember them always. They are as true today as they were then. I’m still working on fulfilling mine in the way he deserves, even though I fall short in so many ways. He has fulfilled his and continues to make them true every day.

Our wedding day was AWESOME! We thought about so many details to make the day meaningful for us and fun for our guests. We planned and planned – together – and it went off with only few smalls glitches, like a dropped and broken unity candle (apparently NOT some kind of bad omen). My only real regret that day was the damn fake flowers in hideously unnatural rainbow hues, but hey – everyone needs something to go wrong so there’s a good wedding horror story to tell in later years.

Although it was expensive and I had to fight to make it happen, I am so very glad we have professional video from the entire day, from getting ready with my bridesmaids at home to getting to the church to taking pictures to the reception. Although the videography seems amateurish now with transitional effects that make me cringe, I still watch it every year. I cry at the sight of people in attendance who are no longer with us, I laugh at the me I used to be, and I giggle at the sheer silliness. I never imagined watching it with my own kids, but I do and they love it as much as I do. Mostly, I love the LOVE and fun of it all. And I still dearly love that man he was and is now.

Some people think marriage doesn’t matter, that it’s at best an unnecessary social formality and at worse a misogynistic patriarchal artifact. But words DO have power; traditions DO have meaning; public declarations of commitment in front of those we love, toward whom we feel a sense of respect and admiration and responsibility, creates a new kind of bond and cements the foundation that under-girds a very vibrant and ever-changing relationship.

We’re not exchanging gifts today. Some years we do and some years we don’t. For our 15 year anniversary we went on a cruise to the Bahamas that he reluctantly agreed to on our 14th anniversary. I told him that it was such an amazingly fun trip that it could even count for this year’s anniversary (pretty good return on investment, getting credit for 4 anniversaries from a single three day cruise, donchya think?). But really, what gift could ever compare to the one he gave me 14 years ago: the gift of his heart, soul, and love?

When he went to Africa for 6 weeks in 2009, I knew I’d miss him, but I never EVER expected it to be as hard as it was to live without his physical presence every day. We’d not been apart for more than a week before he left and I told him afterward that never again would we be apart that long. He’s just too much a part of my very self, more than I ever realized, for me to feel whole for long without him.

Three days ago, I read about a couple who was married for 72 years. She was 90 and he was 94 and sadly, they were together in a car with him driving when he pulled out in front of another car at an intersection and were hit. They were rushed to the hospital and put in the ICU together, basically non-responsive, but yet holding hands. They died an hour apart – to the minute – still holding hands. Their children said that’s how their parents would have wanted to die – together – because one wouldn’t have wanted to live without the other. I completely understand.

So happy 17th wedding anniversary to my best friend, my soul-mate, my sweetie, my children’s father, my lover, my husband, my delight. To John. Here’s to a lifetime more memories together because after 17 years, we are just getting started!

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