Sunday, February 28, 2010

Doing It Right the First Time

I had a first-ever sleepover with only Ridley on Friday night. It's rare to interact with her sans her brother. And very interesting to view her in this light, where she becomes more mature, more decisive, more self-assured. (IMHO. Her parents may disagree with me.)

When we first arrived at my house, she went directly to the piano and began playing, by ear, some Hanon exercises and a Chopin Etude. Really! Has this child inherited my ear? I tried to keep my excitement under wraps as I listened and encouraged. Piano was followed by a leisurely bubble bath and much singing of the song, "This Old Man." To my shock and joy, she's finally developed the ability to match pitches with me, first time, every time. Amazing musical development! After bath, she crawled into my bed and read to me, then plodded back to her little bed in the guest room, where she tucked herself in and went right to sleep.

Who is this adult in a six-year-old body?

Seeing her grow up so beautifully takes me back to my childhood, where—again, from my perspective—I was taught that I was dumb, ugly and incompetent.

I am so grateful for Tyler and Jaci, who are such fabulous parents. I am forever indebted to them for giving me space in their children's lives. As I watch their children—my grandchildren—grow up, I can relearn what it's like to be a kid, to be a loved and cherished and appropriately disciplined kid.

Hindsight is 20/20, after all.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Going ... Gone

Way back in 1984 I was a fairly new resident of Washington D.C., and a brand-new singer with a symphonic chorus known as the Oratorio Society of Washington (OSW) (now The Washington Chorus). Anxious to support my new organization, I attended their annual fund-raising auction, held in the gymnasium of a local college.

I bought two items and had to stand in line for over half-an-hour to check out. Volunteer cashiers were digging through recipe-card boxes of 3"x5" index cards and writing up invoices by hand. Payment was restricted to cash and check.

At the time, I was a student in computer science at American University, and was specializing in database theory. I stood back, looked at the process, and said, "There's got to be a better way."

The next week, I met with that year's auction chair and my long history in non-profit auction management began.

I spent much of the ensuing year meeting with OSW auction personnel, analyzing the process and writing a PC-based database management system.

For the next sixteen years, at least six months of each year were spent refining the system and preparing for the spring auction by entering data, printing all supporting documentation, working the night of the auction to enter all sales and generate invoices, and then debriefing a week or so later to determine what could be improved in future years.

The result of this sixteen years of activity is that I understand charity auctions inside and out. I understand the variables that go into determining how to minimize effort and maximize returns.

I have been given the opportunity to exercise my knowledge and expertise in preparing for next weekend's first annual auction hosted by The City Choir of Washington. I have been having a ball dredging up information from portions of my brain that have been ignored for a few years. My excitement has grown with each e-mail and conversation shared with my friend Kathryn. I thrill at the ability to share my knowledge with another organization.

I told Kathryn today I wish there was a way we could take our combined knowledge and turn our auction management skills into a business. Oh, what fun it would be to be able to do something I love for a living!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mental Floss

Almost since day one of this blog, people have been asking why I blog. The blog's first title is long forgotten (Crewsin' Arizona? Or was that the heading on my website home page?), but the subtitle was "So Many Men, So Little Time." I began the blog when I was cycling through a lot of short-term relationships, and dealing with the frustrations and heartaches of dating-over-50.

About 16 months after I started the blog, its focus totally changed as my son and daughter-in-law decided to move back to Youngstown, and I was forced to deal with the loss of my family. For many months in Tucson, I had babysat two or three nights a week, and hosted the grandbabes for a sleepover at least once a month. When my four-year engagement was broken, my family was my lifeline. Our Sunday night family dinners became the perfect way to end the weekend and start the new week.

Their move was devastating to me, and my sadness consumed me. Writing about it constituted, for me, therapy without the therapist. The exercise of forming my thoughts into pixelated words helped me learn how to live without them, until we all agreed that my best life (and, I hope, theirs) was for me to be nearby and continue my support role in their life.

The blog's focus then changed, along with its name. I asked readers for input, and from all the suggestions, chose "Amazing Adventures: Tales from a Mid-Life Renaissance." Friends had long been encouraging me to write about my life—about the adoption and the music and the marriages and the circuitous path. In leaving Tucson, I had, once again, started over from scratch with my life, taking on a new and foreign geography, leaving behind friendships developed over the previous seven years. Changing, at age 57.5, everything.

The blog gave me continuity. Tucson friends who loved and missed me read my writing every day to keep me in their lives. New friends and acquaintances began reading, to get to know me better. And post topics would swirl through my head daily. Documenting them enabled me to bring peace to my busy brain, reeling from all the upheaval.

When I go back to the early posts in 2006 and contrast them to recent posts, I am thrilled with how much my writing has improved. My facility with words is freer now, with the search for the perfect word being both challenging and rewarding, a most enjoyable game. I have grown as a writer, through the simple act of writing.

But the timing is also interesting. I find that when I write late at night, I'm too tired to craft clever sentences. But when I write upon arrival at the office, after forming the entire post in my head while driving, the act of writing tends to jumpstart my creativity for the rest of the day. The technical words I write, following after the creativity session, flow more freely and feel less pedantic, less tedious and routine.

I've often encouraged people who like to write to begin a blog. It's not a matter of what you have to give to the cyberworld. It's not about how many readers you'll have. It's about how you'll grow, how your thoughts will develop, how your brain will activate more completely for listening to all the words flying around inside your head.

And, for me, it's also kinda nice that my friends know me better, despite the pace of our lives and the difficulty of making time for each other. Many long e-mail conversations begin just out of someone reading something that was irresistible to them. For me, my work in this venue is rewarding.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What Is Love?

I have to admit I've been partaking of trash television. I've been watching The Bachelor. And then listening to Christine and Molly on Broadminded (Sirius/XM) trash the women the next day.

These are all women—well, really, they're just girls, many of them in their early twenties—whom you love to hate. Or at least dislike intensely. They all whine and catfight like little girls. Jake must be thinking with his Johnson if he's drawn to any of these women. (Actually, Ali was my favorite. Until she started the sobbing and whining about having to leave to go back to her job. And Michelle was my most behated. I'm hoping the outcome next week is that he chooses none of them. Especially not spoiled brat, fake boobs Vienna! But I digress. (Shades eyes with hand in embarrassment over her trash TV revelation.))

Here I am, pushing 60, having professed love to at least five men in my life. I listen to these girls, and to Jake. "I'm falling in love," each of the women proclaims. And Jake states he's in love with three women. I listen to them and think they don't have a clue about love. (And why does it always have to be "falling"? Can't it just be, without having to lose its balance and fall?)

But do I have any greater clue?

What tells you you're in love? What white light inside your eyelids makes you unable to hold those three syllables inside any longer? Is a 25-year-old's declaration any more or less believable than a 60-year-old's? Is each love the same? Different? Is it made real by your belief in your own declaration? Is it more believable three months into the relationship? A year? Is it made more believable by your partner's desire to hear it?

I remember saying it to husband number one and then, ten years later, telling him "I don't think I ever meant it." Was I simply trying to hurt him for all the pain I perceived through the years?

Does just verbalizing "I love you" make it real? Irrevocable?

I offer a snippet of Wordsworth from "{Risking Everything}: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation", edited by Roger Housden. This is from Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of settings suns

Is love simply that which impels us? And the desire to verbalize that love simply as natural as the act of breathing? And as necessary?

I've been ignoring, for sixty years, the fact that my birthmother laid in the hospital for six days and held me and [probably] cooed to me and [probably] stroked my hair and marveled at my long fingers. And gave me my bottles. Her breasts were swollen and aching. Her bottom was sore. She knew she would walk out of that hospital with empty arms. And yet she laid there and held me, saying a long goodbye, saying a long "I love you."

I've lived my life paralyzed by the threat of rejection, when maybe all along I misinterpreted the unspoken statement.

Is love, at its most basic, just staying. Staying and holding and supporting and caring. Walking with one to life, as my birthmother did with me, or to death, as I did with John. Or through life, as so many long-married couples do, day in and day out. Or away from fear and angst and into peace, as the Jazzman frequently does with and for me.

Is that love, by implicit definition?

I am disturbed by the joy, and long to remain in this state of being disturbed. Disturb me some more, dear man, dear friend.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's My Mind I Miss the Most

Hi. My name is Jan, and I'm post-menopausal.

I thank the pharmaceutical gods for the little patch I change twice a week that gives me a shred of memory. I'm reminded of the charitable work I did in Tucson, playing the piano weekly for an Alzheimer's respite program. These sweet little old men and women loved to hear me play tunes from the 30s and 40s and old show tunes. Those tunes spoke to an area of their brains that still worked. One sweet little lady would call out, "Play 'Tea for Two'." I'd play it, then play something else. And she'd call out again, "Play 'Tea for Two'." It would have been humorous if it wasn't such a painful illustration of the ravages of Alzheimer's.

I'm traveling Thursday evening to Asheville to visit my 96yo mother. My brothers and sister-in-law and I split the task of visiting, one of us going every six weeks. This gives Mother something to look forward to, something to brag about to the ladies she eats with daily. She lives to eat and sleep, so I make sure to have audiobooks for the trip and knitting projects for the visit.

(Let me insert here that this woman's mind is pretty darned sharp for someone who will be 97 in May. Her children are grateful to the powers-that-be for her mental acuity!)

I have an subscription, but my long daily commute has caused me to use up all my annual credits. Rather than spend real money on more books, I'm going to look back at the library of books I've bought over the past four years and choose a couple to listen to again. This is not a problem, as my estrogen-starved brain can't remember the details of half the books I've "read" anyway!

I really do love long drives as a great opportunity to feast on words, whether that's catching up on NPR podcasts or drawing inspiration from creative authors.

What's your favorite recent read?

(I loved the title of the image I pulled for this post: sparsely populated skull!)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Works Well With Direction

I'm a hard worker. Really, I am. When I got custody of my younger son at age 14, I worked a full-time and two part-time jobs while in law school to provide for him adequately and appropriately. Ten years earlier, when first separated from his father, I worked full time for one of the United States senators from Florida. Four evenings a week I would play for Happy Hour at a hotel overlooking Lake Eola in Orlando. Three nights a week, I would play in a trio with a female vocalist and bass player in a restaurant on Park Avenue in Winter Park. I know how to work hard.

<Sidebar On>
On Sunday, Boston was doing some tasks for me to earn a new Legos toy. At one point, his mind was on the box of toys he was supposed to be moving rather than on shredding the papers he had been assigned. I said to him, "Are you working hard or hardly working?" He just cracked up at that question. He repeated it several times as he continued laughing. I didn't tell him the question was older than I am.
<Sidebar Off>

But to work hard at a task, I must first be able to understand the task. If a task is in front of me and I am not sure what to do with or about it, I am overwhelmed with indecision. I mentioned last week that the Jazzman had told me my organization gene was defective. And he's right! It's not an insult; it's a fact!

The family who sold me my house did me both a favor and a disservice by leaving so many things in the house. Their maiden aunt had fallen and needed to go into a nursing home. The nephews who were tasked with selling the house were in their 50s and 60s with their own established houses. They had no use for her belongings. So they just left them.

This was good for me in one aspect: I had gotten rid of most of my furniture before leaving Tucson, rather than placing it in storage for an indeterminate period of time. So with the articles left in the house, I suddenly had beds and sofas and chairs and pots and pans. True, the furniture was cat-scratched, and the pots and pans were old and of lesser quality than I was used to owning. But the presence of these articles saved me from having to run right out and buy furniture and pots and pans (among other things).

But all the screws and window hardware and old this and dated that strewn across the various shelves in the basement? I had no idea what to do with it all. I'm not a handyperson; I grew up with a maid to make my bed, for God's sake. I was born and bred to hire things done. No, I'm not proud of the fact, but it is a fact. So to look at this detritus and know what to do with it? Darlings, it ain't happening!

The other day, the Jazzman looked at one of my built-in cupboards in the second floor hallway and said, "You could put those blankets in a plastic tub and store them in the attic." Well, a statement like that was similar to opening the windows of heaven and having God say, "Hey, Lady, wake up." I woke up. I spent Saturday morning and much of Saturday afternoon emptying, cleaning, and reorganizing the two cupboards. (Okay, so you can probably drop the "re".) I found empty plastic storage containers, and much of the second floor clutter that's been immobilizing me is now stored in the attic. When the Jazzman arrived to take me to dinner with friends, the first thing he did was open the cupboards and give me a big "Attagirl".

On Sunday morning, we babysat for a few hours so Tyler and Jaci could have brunch with friends. I was sitting in the living room as Boston and Ridley were playing the piano and coloring and pestering the kitten. I realized I hadn't seen the Jazzman in a while, but wasn't sure where he had gone. A few minutes later I heard the vacuum cleaner running in the basement. He had gone into the furnace room, emptied all the detritus (that's French for "crap") off the shelves, and washed them. When I went looking for him, he called me into the furnace room to show me his handiwork. Shocked; amazed; humbled; honored; …. I may be a wordsmith by trade, but this boy frequently leaves me devoid of words.

I can honestly say that I've never met a man quite like him. Especially a single man of our age. I've met plenty of single men in our age group but, for the majority of them, their get-up-and-go got up and went a long time ago.

I tell him daily that I'm a very lucky woman.

And to put an earlier issue to rest, I did see his living quarters on Saturday night after dinner, and I have nothing to worry about. This boy is way neater and more organized than I. So long as he doesn't give me a hard time about the cleaning woman I employ bi-weekly, we're in safe territory!

Friday, February 19, 2010

You Talkin' 'Bout Me?

Yesterday's post talked about my morning hawk sighting. He must have sensed I was talking about him. This morning, as I turned onto the 711 entrance ramp, I glanced up at the end of the ramp, and there he was. The temperature was about 30 degrees, and he must have decided that wasn't too cold for his little feet.

He made my morning!

Hawk Sighting

(Shot through my windshield, hence the blue. No, the sky was not that incredible blue hue!)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cold Feet

Good Morning, HawkOne of the things I love most about my morning commute is turning from Gypsy onto 711 and seeing a hawk sitting on the lightpole just before the ramp merges with the highway. On rare occasions, two hawks will be sharing the lightpole.

I see him three or four days a week, every week, spring through fall. (I don't know that it's a him. I don't even know what variety of hawk he is. I'm just using the male gender for brevity.) Very occasionally in the winter, he'll be sitting there, waiting for me. I got to thinking about where he goes when the metal lightpole is too cold for his little feet. (Okay: Claws. Talons. Whatever.) Does he migrate? I don't think so—I still see him and his compatriots sitting in trees, searching the white fields for their breakfast.

Does he abandon the lightpole merely because of the cold? (Well, not merely. I'd abandon it, too, if I had my bare feet/claws/talons sitting on icy metal. I've been tempted to abandon NE Ohio lately after days and days of unending snow.)

These are all questions for which I have no answers. But everyone I know is counting the number of days until spring. For me, spring will bring a melting of all this snow, the popping through the ground of daffodils, and a return of my guardian hawk.

Please don't read into the first paragraph that I like my commute. I hate my commute. Hate. With a passion. But, in a neverending attempt to be positive, that forced hour-or-more in the car every morning and evening does let me listen to podcasts or audiobooks, and lets me commune with the hawks.

And lest you thought, from the title of this post, that I was going to tell you I'm getting cold feet about my new relationship, you're out o' luck. Way out o' luck. My feet are very warm.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Getting to Know Him

When meeting someone online, on one of the various dating sites, I have found that a false sense of knowledge and intimacy develops very quickly. You read his profile and, because your profile is straightforward and brutally honest, you assume his is also. He reads your profile, and writes a note intended to grab you on various revelations you've made in your profile. (I will not even discuss, here, the number of disgustingly poorly-written e-mails or profiles I've received or read. How can grown men—all of them with high school diplomas and many of them with college degrees—not take more care in their words, their spelling, their grammar? It's truly astonishing.)

Each e-mail leads you to believe you know him a little better. The e-mails lead to phone calls, where you get to know even more about him. You're attracted to his voice. Or not. You find him comfortable and easy to talk to. Or not. And each little step on the road to a potential friendship or possible romance gives you a little more of a sense of knowing.

Then you meet him and the development process continues. And you rarely stop to think, "What don't I know?"

I dated a man at the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006 who lived a couple hundred miles away from me. We e-mailed, then talked on the phone. Soon we were talking on the phone the first thing every morning and the last thing every night. After a couple of months, we met in an equidistant location. All went well. He made me laugh. I made him smile. Maybe I would have a sweetheart in my life again. I never thought to ask, "What is your home like? Do you know how to dust and clean? How frequently do you mow your lawn? Do you have a washer and dryer?" The practical questions were abandoned in favor of the interest and history questions.

After a few more weeks, I drove on a Friday afternoon to his home town to spend the weekend with him there. I walked into his living room, overnight bag in hand, and my jaw dropped. If I had been a smarter person, I would have turned around, walked out the door, and driven right back to Tucson.

There was dust on every surface. Lots of dust. There were cobwebs hanging in every corner, as if the room was decorated for a Hallowe'en party. There was a litter box in the living room, and a cat food dish in the dining room. His cat had died a year earlier. There was so much furniture in the living room, I found it difficult to move through the room. As I write this story now, I can still feel the horror I felt in surveying his space.

But, woman that I am, I thought, "this can be fixed." At the three-month point, we parted ways. It was not to be fixed. (Nor could his long, bushy eyebrows, which he stated he planned to comb back over his head to combat his Male Pattern Baldness.)

So with that background, and not having seen the quarters that the Jazzman calls home, I occasionally wonder what I will find in his space. Is he a neatnik or a slob? Is he organized or out-of-control? Can it be fixed or not, and does it even matter?

I will confess that I am not a neatnik. When I arrive home from my long commute, I don't have any interest in tending to the house. I try to keep the kitchen and my bathroom decent. I try to keep the house in a manner that I wouldn't be embarrassed if a friend were to come to the door. The mail enters the house and perches someplace, to be retrieved a few days later. I thank the Powers that Be for my friend/cleaning lady who keeps me from being condemned by the health department. The only thing I'm adamant about is cleaning the litter boxes, as I have two cats with the stinkiest poop since cats became domesticated.

By all indications, the Jazzman is nothing like me in his housekeeping habits. He moves dishes to the kitchen after dinner. He wipes the floor after tracking snow into the kitchen. He actually told me the other day that my organization gene was defective. I simply nodded, acknowledging the truth of that statement. In trading typical male/female roles, he seems to realize that I can be fixed. I need a little encouragement and a little insight, and I can shape up. I want to shape up! (When one lives by herself for years on end, she tends to lose track of any need to shape up.)

So I think I don't need to fear another repeat of the El Paso experience. I think I can just concentrate on getting my act together, rather than worrying about his act.

I've found a good man—a very good man—and I need to just thank my lucky stars! And pick up my shoes from the floor.


Or: But I'm so good at worrying!

I was in the delivery room when Boston was born. He and I bonded hard and fast. For the first two years of his life, I didn't work and was able to spend lots of time with him—at Gymboree classes, riding around together, or just hanging out at my house. He knew I was all his.

I had dates in Tucson, but there was only one man that Boston remembers—the Gardener. And they only saw each other a couple of times, so it was not a bonding experience or a strong memory.

I've been apprehensive, since going topsy-turvy for the Jazzman, about how Boston was going to take to sharing me with another man. I've been careful with my every word, and slow to introduce this new variable.

I needn't have worried. I mentioned earlier that Boston pulled me aside on Sunday and said how much he liked the Jazzman.

Last night I made waffles at my house for the kids. After dinner, Ridley went into the living room to play the piano. Boston, who was still sitting at the table, looked over at me and again said how much he likes the Jazzman and how much fun he is.

These children are so open and loving; I guess I needn't have worried.

Kudos to their parents for raising such warm and loving children.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Belated Valentine's Day

HeartsAnyone who knows me well knows that I'm still reeling from the shock of selling my two Tucson houses at below-market prices. I work hard at keeping things together, and have no one to blame but myself for choices made at different points in my life.

That said, this poem captured my sense of humor, and I wanted to share it with you for Valentine's Day—which was, by the way, the most enjoyable Valentine's Day I have experienced in many years.

The poem is printed in {Risking Everything}: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation, edited by Roger Housden. I learned of this compilation from my sewing and creativity mentors, Diane Ericson and Marcy Tilton.


I Take Master Card
(Charge Your Love to Me)

Nikki Giovanni

I've heard all the stories
'bout how you don't deserve me
'cause I'm so strong and beautiful and wonderful and you could
never live up to what you know I should have but I just want to let you know:

I take Master Card

You can love me as much as your heart can stand
then put the rest on
account and pay the interest
each month until we get this settled

You see we modern women do comprehend
that we deserve a whole lot more
than what is normally being offered but we are trying
to get aligned with the modern world

So baby you can love me all
you like 'cause you're pre-approved
and you don't have to sign on
the bottom line

Charge it up
'til we just can't take no more
it's the modern way

I take Master Card
to see your Visa
and I deal with a Discovery but I don't want any American
Express 'cause like the Pointer Sisters say: I need a slow hand.

—from Nikki Giovanni's Love Poems. Copyright 1968, 1997 by Nikki Giovanni

Oh, since I'm so enjoying having romance in my life again, let me give you one more:

The Greatest Love
Anna Swir

She is sixty. She lives
the greatest love of her life.

She walks arm-in-arm with her dear one,
her hair streams in the wind.
Her dear one says:
"You have hair like pearls."

Her children say:
"Old fool."

—Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan
from Talking to My Body. Copyright 1996 by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Flirtations and Bondings

HeartsA couple of weeks ago, when les bebes were with me, the Jazzman texted me and I laughed out loud at his clever and witty words. Boston asked what the text was, and I just told him the Jazzman was flirting with me. "Flirt" was a new word to Boston, and he asked me what it meant. I tried to explain, in my best post-menopausal can't-remember-words-anymore fashion, and he immediately internalized the word.

On this past Friday night, I again had the babes, and took them to Panera for our evening meal. As we were walking in, my phone pinged, I glanced at the text message, and again laughed out loud. Boston asked, "Is that from the Jazzman? Is he flirting with you?"

I loved several aspects of that exchange. I loved that, after years of being a Glummy Grandma, my babes are hearing me laugh. On a regular basis! I loved that he is learning about flirting and learning it can be fun and joy-inducing. I loved that he's associating my phone pings and laughter with the Jazzman.

On Sunday afternoon, the Jazzman and I took the babes for a few hours so their parents could have a Valentine's Day date. As we got out of the car to go into my house, the Jazzman began scooping up snowballs from the banks on either side of my sidewalk and tossing them at the babes. They screamed and squealed, and reciprocated with snowballs of their own. (Yes, I got hit, too.)

Later in the afternoon, when Boston and I were alone in the basement, he looked at me and said, "The Jazzman is so much fun."

A couple of hours later, when we slid into the booth at Denny's for our dinner, Boston patted the bench next to him, looked up at the Jazzman, and said, "Can you sit here?" Later on, the Jazzman was looking on his phone for something and Boston scooted over next to him, resting his head on the Jazzman's shoulder to watch the screen.

I'm deriving a great deal of pleasure from how comfortable all these parties are with each other.

Life is good!

Valentine's Day was, after many, many years, not a sad and lonely Hallmark holiday.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The New Lingo of the Young

New BedroomThe Jazzman and I talk about possibilities, and we knew that step one was slowly and methodically, without any rejection being involved, moving les bebes's venue for sleepovers from my bedroom to the guest room. I had broached that subject with them a couple of times ("Wouldn't you like to …") with no expression of interest on their part. They've been sleeping with Grandma for years. Old habits die hard.

Last night's plan was for Ridley to have her own sleepover with me, and Boston to have a night at home alone with his parents. I was thinking it might be easier to convince her to move across the hall by herself, and had started introducing that opportunity. As we were leaving Barnes & Noble after picking up a couple of books for the Oakland to donate to First Book, he suddenly decided he wanted to have the normal sleepover with me. We began talking about the guest room and how much fun it might be to have their own room and not have to sleep with Grandma. Lo and behold, they agreed. It sounded like fun.

When we got home, Ridley and I dismantled her little twin bed and moved it into the guest room. (That girl loves to work!) As I haven't procured the box spring for Boston's bed yet, I put the new mattress for him on the floor and made it up with random sheets. He declared where he wanted it placed in the bedroom, and pretty soon they were both snuggled down in their beds and we were doing our ritualistic "What was the best part of your day?".

<Sidebar On>
When Scott and Tyler were little, I always wanted them to go to sleep remembering good things rather than bad things. My theory was that if they went to sleep thinking happy thoughts, they'd wake up thinking happy thoughts. As soon as they could talk and understand my question, I began asking them every night what the best part of their day way. This practice has continued with the grandchildren. It's actually my favorite part of the day!
<Sidebar Off>

I turned out the light, went back to my bedroom, and heard them talking for twenty minutes until Ridley repeatedly begged, "Please be quiet so I can go to sleep." I went back in to admonish Boston to respect her wishes, and pretty soon all was quiet.

This morning I was sitting [alone] in my bed, sharing a couple of Good Morning texts with the Jazzman, when Boston came padding in and hopped up in bed with me. He took over my phone and was navigating to Amazon when another text came in from Jazzman. I took the phone back to text Jazzman that I was no longer in control of the phone, when Boston said, "Type 'JSYK Boston has the phone'." I questioned, "JSYK?" Boston explained, "Just so you know." (I wanted to laugh uproariously, but stifled my delight at his preciousness.) I started typing "JSYK", but the iPhone corrected it to "Jsyk". Boston, watching over my shoulder, said, "No. Put it in all capitals. And put a period at the end so he'll know that it stands for something."

Now he's sitting next to me, adding things to his Amazon wish list, singing the theme to Star Wars.

My grandchildren are a constant source of joy and delight to me. Whatever language they speak.

(And now his song has changed to "The Pink Panther." Quite a repertoire he has!)

(By the way, the photo above? Ridley is asleep in that bed, in her best helicopter fashion.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love After Sixty

My heart is filled to overflowing this week for a good man, a dear friend, who has found the love to last for the rest of his life.

Long-time readers of this blog have read my accounts of The Traveler and our escapades over the years. We first met online in early- to mid-2006. We became pixel-pals; he became a follower of my blog. When one of that year's three-month relationships ceased, we decided to try dating. After a couple of dates, we realized we would be really good friends, but not sweethearts.

You could never have a truer, more loyal friend than this man. This is a man who deserves to have someone to love. He's a motivated employee, a fair supervisor, a loving and supportive dad, a patriot, a true and ethical citizen. A Good Man.

A year ago he went with two women friends to a Friday night mix-and-mingle at a restaurant on the north side of Tucson. Seated across the restaurant was an age-appropriate woman who caught his eye. When he saw the opportunity to do so, he walked over to her table, sat down across from her, and said, "Hi. I'm [The Traveler], and I think you're very cute." Or something similar—I'm sure I'm not remembering his tale exactly right.

On February 10 of 2009, he took her to his favorite Tucson restaurant, Les Rendezvous, and slowly began wooing her and falling in love with her. Through the year, I would get morning-drive-time calls from him with the latest updates on their developing relationship. A month ago he called to tell me he had bought a ring. I was elated.

On February 10 of 2010, he took her back to Les Rendezvous and asked her to marry him. And smart girl that she is, she said yes.

How wonderful for so deserving a couple to have found each other, at our age, when most of our life has passed.

How wonderful to save the best for last.

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is Judy, telling everyone in Les Rendezvous, "Look. I'm engaged!"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We Bumped!

IBM Mag Card SelectricI love technology. Since my first Fortran programming class at Florida Technological University in 1969, and continuing when I learned to "drive" a mag card typewriter to get my first temp job at IBM (hmmm, most of you will have to go into the IBM Archives to learn what I'm talking about), I've been infatuated with all things technological.

All right, I'll admit that there are times I can't figure out exactly how to make some of these gadgets work. My eight-year-old grandson had to prod me to use the voice feature of the Google iPhone app. But he's been able to point-and-click since he was two, so maybe he's not a very good example to use. I complained to my younger son once, about six years ago, that I couldn't hear on my phone, and he had to show me where the speaker was so I could position it over my ear.

So—given the fact that an hour into my first date with the Jazzman, he admitted he has an iPhone—maybe this relationship was Meant To Be. (Remember the scene from "Sleepless in Seattle" when the kids are sitting in the audio chair, using acronyms like MFEO for Made For Each Other? Love that scene!). At the end of the date, when he wanted to give me his e-mail address and phone number, I opened up a new Contact record and handed him my iPhone. No more worrying about being able to read someone's handwriting. Put it in pixels!

Last week we Bumped for the first time. We each downloaded the Bump application, I selected a photo he wanted me to transfer from my phone to his, then we each gripped our phones and bumped our knuckles together.

Voila! My pic was in his photo album.

Sexy, Baby. In the truest high-tech sense of the word!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Eggshell Skull Rule

Eggshell SkullYou know how there are principles you learn in classes or workshops that stay with you forever? The eggshell skull rule is one of those principles. I learned about it in torts class in my first year of law school. I've thought about it a million times in the ensuing 20+ years.

In my post a couple of days ago, I mentioned that Monday was a challenging day for me. The incident that occurred at the end of the day was totally unrelated to the incident that started the day off in a downward spiral. And the person involved in the closing incident had no way of knowing I had just endured a completely hellish day.

All day yesterday I was pondering and analyzing and assessing the events of the previous day, trying to figure out how I could push the dark cloud away, how I could retrieve the sunny disposition I had during the preceding weekend, one of the best I've experienced in many years. And I was thinking about how I take everything so seriously and so personally.

When I was interim manager of the word processing center at a large law firm in D.C., I tried to instill in the women who worked in the center a sense of putting themselves in the other person's shoes. So that lawyer yelled at you. So that paralegal gave you a dirty look. Yes, it felt bad. Yes, it was rude and uncalled-for. But you don't know what's going on in that person's life. You don't know if her dog bit her as she walked out the door this morning, or if his wife told him last night that she wanted a divorce.

The law firm time period was when I was living out in the Northern Virginia countryside, with a stepson who had threatened to shoot me, and whose father saw no need to take any action as a result. Each night as I went to sleep, I wondered if I would wake up in the morning. Stressful? Yep.

I didn't share that information with any coworkers and, while I absolutely loved that job and the people in the law firm, I imagine in retrospect that my living situation affected my performance in the office. I had to steel myself to be slow to annoyance and anger. I had to cross my arms and hum a happy tune to avoid dissolving into tears. I had to find the peace in the workplace I loved. (Oh, yeah, and get the hell out of that abusive household!)

Assume the worst about everyone who crosses your path? I don't think I'm saying assume the worst. I think I'm urging compassion.

The core principle of the "eggshell skull rule" is that you take [the victim, the other party, the complainant] as you find him.

So I'm saying if you have a misunderstanding with someone whom you know to be overly sensitive, you might reach out and reassure the person that all is well. Not everyone knows misunderstandings blow over. Some people still expect a misunderstanding to change the world view. Some Little Adoptees (she ducks her head as she types), at age way-too-old-for-such-broken-mindsets, still expect to be given away again for the slightest infraction.

Those of us who have spent many years in therapy are trying, every day in every way, to get better. To turn into adults. And a kind word from you might be the only fuel the sensitive person needs for today to be a better day, a growing day, a healing day.

Maybe by the time I'm 80 I'll have grown up.

I can only hope!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Finding a Happy Place

Have you ever had a day that was just bad, that just stacked mishap upon misunderstanding, where you just wanted a whole handful of mulligans? Today was that day for me.

I came to the end of the day and received an e-mail from a wise friend who knew what my day had been like and sought to lift me back up from under all the misunderstandings. The e-mail encouraged me to go to a place that gives me joy.

I started walking backwards through the cobwebs of my mind, and landed on 1976 Walt Disney World and a singer-dancer troupe called "The Kids of the Kingdom." My then-husband, the father of my children, stage-managed this group, and my sons heard and watched them perform over and over again.

My daddy had a weekend house where he would go at noon on Saturdays after hospital rounds. This house was on Lake Mabel, a mile from the Disney employees' entrance. Daddy would spend the remainder of his weekend fishing and puttering around the house, enjoying the solitude of the country.

In the late spring of 1976, Daddy had a problem with his heart. He had slipped a blood clot from his earlier bypass surgery. The doctors thought it was a stroke, and advised Daddy to restrict his activities. His weekend trips out to the lake cottage were curtailed, and someone had to step up to take care of the cottage.

Our little family—FOMC, my two sons, and I—would pack an overnight bag and head out to the cottage. While their daddy was at work a mile away at Walt Disney World, my boys and I would have our leisurely weekend. After their naps, I would put them in the wagon, hop onto the lawn tractor, and mow the two-acre yard.

Florida summers can be brutal, and riding that tractor around in the heat and humidity every Saturday afternoon gave me excruciating migraines. But I could imagine my daddy walking alongside me, telling me what a good daughter I was. That practice of getting past the headaches by imagining Daddy with me became a habit, and continues with me to this day.

But the magic began after the lawn mowing was over. The boys and I would play in the yard, turning on the sprinklers, splashing in the shallow water at the edge of the lake, or tossing a ball around.

Scott would notice the sprinklers, which stood about three feet tall, spaced across the lawn. To him, at age three, they looked just like the microphone stands he had seen on stage after stage at Walt Disney World.

So they became his stage. He would walk up to a sprinkler and launch into the Kids of the Kingdom's "Lady America" routine. He would sing every song, and do his three-year-old version of the choreography. "Lady America, I love you 'cause you're mine." Step, shuffle, step-ball-change.

Anytime I need a place of peace, a place that brings me joy—a happy place—I can look through my mind's eye and see that little tyke singing and dancing with the skill and verve of the Kids of the Kingdom.

That memory makes my heart smile, and brightens the darkest day.

What's your happy place?

Monday, February 08, 2010

Party Prattle

I'm receiving communications from friends wanting to know how Saturday night's dinner with friends went, after I wrote about it on Friday. I have only good to report.

The biggest challenge of the evening was getting the car out of the driveway. I spent over two hours shoveling my driveway on Saturday morning after we received around 12-16" inches of snow. My daughter-in-law's blog post will give you great visuals. The picture above shows my driveway as I'm about 20 minutes from completion. As I was near the end, my big brawny neighbor came across the street and brute-forced the final several cubic feet to the side. Two days later, I still feel aches in every muscle. This Florida girl has never been exposed to snow like this!

By Saturday evening when we left for the party, my street had still not been plowed. We backed out into the street, then had to spin our wheels and rock the car for several minutes to get going forward. Once we were out on the main road, the rest of the trip was fine.

We had dinner at a Johnny's, a local restaurant know for good, quality Italian food. There were about fourteen of us around a long table. Most were Ward Bakery Building tenants affiliated with Artists of the Mahoning Commons. Most knew my daughter-in-law, Jaci, who has studio space in Ward Bakery. This is a group who routinely meet for dinner on Friday nights. They know each other well, know the ins and outs of each other's lives. I was the only stranger at the table, but was made to feel completely included. I sat next to the new fiber friend I made a couple of weeks ago, and across from a woman who is a potter and musician. Knowing that, you can appreciate that the conversation was easy.

After tripping over my tongue a couple of times right after we arrived, I settled down and my nervousness diminished. The evening was very enjoyable: good food, good discussions, and good [new] friends.

On Sunday I took the Jazzman with me to my son and daughter-in-law's for their monthly pot luck dinner. He was, in return, thrown into a situation where he knew very few people, and he handled himself with great skill.

With every passing day, in every way, I am more and more comfortable with this fine man who has dropped into my life.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Measure of a Man

Tomorrow night the Jazzman and I are going to a birthday party for a woman whom I've met once, at the summer Farmer's Market a year-and-a-half ago. The net keeps getting tighter and tighter around us—the honoree knows my younger son from his college days, and she and her husband are good friends with the Jazzman.

I'm normally very anxious about going to parties where I fear I will know next to no-one, but I'm not sensing that same anxiety building for tomorrow night. The couple I met a week ago should be there, and that woman and I have a mutual admiration and respect over all things fiber; it will be fun to see her again and get to know her better.

The anticipation of this event has caused me to page backwards in my memory over the men I've dated in the past twelve years, and to examine their social networks. The Lemonade Tycoon was friends with one couple, and during the four or five months we dated, we socialized with them once. Mr. Match only knew his work colleagues, and had very little positive to say about them. His greatest skill was complaining about his job. The Flipper had one friend—a CPA who started lighting up his joints at noon every day, poured his first drink around 4:00 p.m., and was out of his mind by 7:00 p.m. Socialize with him? No thanks. EEFFH enjoyed socializing with the philosophy faculty at the university, and I found them rude and socially unacceptable. The Gardener had only women friends. Hmmm.

None of these men had a regular network of man friends with whom they spent time, who would call them or text them, who would tease and tell good-old-boy tall tales with them. Who had their backs.

My sense of this very large network of friends I keep hearing about is that they are true and loyal to each other and genuinely enjoy each other's company. Dr. Phil talks about people having a soft place to fall. In contrast, I think these men are a strong brick wall around each other—protection and support. Even before having met them, I feel completely accepted by them.

I imagine they have noticed an attitudinal change in the Jazzman—a good change—and that they endorse that goodness and impute it to me.

Or maybe they're just the sort of Youngstown friends that my son and daughter-in-law were willing to leave everything in Arizona for, to return to a support network they had found nowhere but here.

The measure of a man? I think you can measure him by the people who want to spend time with him.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Communication and Necessities

The issue of mementoes of past marriages keeps circulating in my brain. The Jazzman and I talked briefly about it after my post a couple of days ago. He is remarkably communicative—unusual in men I've dated or married—and one word he said jumped out at me.


That one word spawned all sorts of thought branches. If I have strong and wonderful memories of my good marriage, which I do, and that good husband has been gone for almost twelve years and someone new and wonderful has entered my life, then how many mementos, how many pictures of long-dead good guys, do I need to keep around? And where?

My brother and sister-in-law have a round mahogany table beside the bed in the guestroom of their beautiful home in Tampa. The table is probably 36" or 40" across. It holds a table lamp and twenty or thirty framed photos. What a wonderful, inobtrusive way to display memories. The pictures are not in your face, but they're there if you want to touch them, hold them, or talk to them.

(Yes, I talk to my long-dead husband. No, I don't think he hears me! And no, he absolutely doesn't answer me!!)

As I was pondering this issue (and as I ponder, awestruck, this new relationship and wonder where it's going), I was reminded of my third husband, who was a widower. Even while he was preparing to propose to me, he was ordering his late wife's marble headstone and having his name and birthdate carved on it. They had been married 18 or so years. We were 43 and 47 when we married. There was a chance we would be married for forty years—and yet he still would have chosen to be buried next to her.

Part of me says it's just a hole in the ground and has no significance. But another part of me—probably the Little Adoptee—perceives that choice as a rejection.

Please, will somebody just give me an injection of LightenUp?!

So I think I'm getting closer to getting matching frames for the favorite photos from previous lives—Scott and Tyler as teenagers; JR and me sailing; JR and me at our wedding; JR in his tux; my friend Risa and me at the Rodin Museum in Paris; …—and making a space to group them.

My life is good. My life is finally, after twelve years and a helluva lot of depression and sadness, Good. I don't need to keep dozens of photos of the past prominently displayed, because I finally have a future!

What a very nice turn of events!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Perspective of the Young

The Jazzman and I had dinner with my granddarlings on Saturday night. Ridley, a hypercreative child who is always drawing or dancing or making music (okay, just 'always moving') was excited to have a new man to flirt with and wrap around her finger. You could just see it in her eyes.

Trying to give her a point of reference to help her identify with him, I mentioned a cousin of the Jazzman's whom Ridley knew from her "Music Man" performance last summer, and from her holiday "Nutcracker" performances. I asked, "Do you remember NH?", naming the charming college-age ballerina. Ridley quickly responded, "Oh, yes. She's a fashion designer." Not "we've danced together" or "she's learning to be a fashion designer" or "she wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up." Just "She's a fashion designer."

First, I can guarantee you that, at age six-and-a-half, I had never even heard the term "fashion designer." (And my mother frequently made my dresses, so I knew sewing machines and started sewing at 13.) Although my daddy had his M.D., I'm not even sure that I had heard of college at that age.

Second, Ridley's ears must be constantly open to what goes on around her. She doesn't exactly hang out with this young woman. Ridley's six. NH is in college. To what conversation was she a witness that made such an impact on her that she would immediately respond to my question with, "Oh yes. She's a fashion designer."

Finally, how wonderful of the very young to have such confidence in those who are older. Not "she wants to be" or "she's studying" or "maybe someday . . .". Just "she is . . .".

May we all live up to the confidence of the young!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

On Transitioning

joiningAnyone who has read this blog for the almost-four years of its existence, or who has known me over the past fourteen years, knows how important the relationship with my late husband, JR, was. That marriage (#4 for me, #3 for him) was the marriage we both had been seeking all our lives. When we met, I was 37 and he was 49. When we married, we were 45 and 57. When he died, he had just turned 60 and I had just turned 48. Loving him and caring for him through his battle with prostate cancer was definitional in my life. I have said many times that I feel blessed to have been able to walk with him to his death.

JR was larger than life, filled with joie de vivre, and possessed of no enemies. His love was causal in much of who I am today.

During my four-year relationship that began a year-and-a-half after his death, I did not have mementos of him around our home. I had asked once if I could put one picture up in a bookcase and was denied. So I took a cupboard in the walk-in closet and that became almost a shrine to JR. His framed pictures were there, along with the bottle of champagne the guests signed at our wedding and the thick notebook I kept during his illness. When I became sad, when my fiancé behaved badly toward me, I would go into the closet and open the cupboard and talk to my memories of JR, thanking him yet again for loving me so exquisitely.

In the 6+ years following the dissolution of the four-year engagement, I have had dozens of dates and a handful of relationships that lasted no more than three months. JR's photos in my space were never an issue, as no man ever began making me want to convert my space to our space.

Suddenly, now, like a quiet fog, the Jazzman has moved into my life. I'm having to learn all over again how to live as part of a couple, how to move the facets of my life around to make space for this man whom I enjoy as none since JR's death.

On our third date, the Jazzman and I sat at my dining table with our dinner. He glanced over at the buffet where there was a photo of JR in his tux and enormous smile. He didn't ask who that was. No words were exchanged. But I noticed his noticing, and realized that—if this relationship continued as it had begun—I was going to have to rethink my space.

How much is too much and what spaces should be sacred?

I have since moved the tuxedo photo to a high shelf in my library. But on my dresser is the photo from our Chesapeake Bay sailing trip on our birthday in 1997, one year before his death. (His birthday was June 20th and mine is the 22nd. We always celebrated on the 21st.) I adore that photo. It was one of the last good weekends in his life. A week later the cancer in his bones took away his ability to play golf, which was his religion. His life and his attitude towards life changed drastically with that loss.

In my family room is the third picture, taken at our wedding. It's a candid shot that fully displays the deep affection and mutual respect between us. It's tucked away on a table. I don't look at it often, but when I do, I am filled with joy.

If I'm filled with joy by the new affection and respect in my life, is it proper to put away all the images of that earlier life, to let go, to begin transitioning to the new life? (Is "proper" the wrong term? Is my proper, Southern Belle persona worried about propriety and things that don't need worrying about?)

I guess it's all about comfort. If I want the Jazzman to spend time in my space, if I want my space to become our space, then I need to rearrange the elements of that space to make it most comfortable, most welcoming to him. And I need to do this without denying or eradicating anything that is me, that is who I am.

You see, these are the things you don't think about when you're getting your first divorce at 30 or so. You don't think about how much harder each successive coupling will be. You don't think about how you will become accustomed to a single life, and yet miss a coupled life, and struggle to balance that dichotomy.

So I look around me, examine my life, and slowly, carefully, try to figure out how to transition from me to us.

And I do it with elation.

A Sacrifice of Horns

Doesn't that sound like a collective noun? A colony of ants; a covey of quail; a murder of crows; a sacrifice of horns.

Still riding on a high after Sunday evening's Cleveland Orchestra Joint Choruses concert, today I'm thinking about music and musicians, and the sacrifices we make to create the music that is so important to us.

During one of the holiday concerts in December, I was heading down the Severance Hall backstage stairs at intermission and heard a horn player on his cell phone, telling his children goodnight. I thought of the sacrifice these musicians make for the privilege of performing with this incredible symphony orchestra. That horn player probably has many other skills. He probably could have gotten a 9-to-5 job as an accountant or a computer programmer or a manager in some business, but he chose to pursue his passion. He chose to feel joy each time he picks up the instrument of his vocation.

Cleveland Orchestra Chorus conductor Robert Porco, in his remarks to the audience on Sunday evening, stated that the COC is one of the few all-volunteer symphonic choruses in the nation. I did not know that fact. I know that Chicago has a paid core in their chorus, and Tucson, with which I sang for five years, follows that model. I thought that model was the anomaly, not the rule.

When you sit in the audience listening to the beautiful music emanating from the chorus, you don't think about the sacrifices those singers make.

We give our time: We give three hours every Monday night for rehearsal. At the beginning of the season, we give from four to seven hours on several Sundays to quickly get up to speed on the season's repertoire. During concert weeks, we give three to four hours on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for rehearsals with the conductor and the orchestra at Severance Hall, and then on Thursday, Friday and Saturday or Sunday afternoon, we give four hours for warm-up and performance. And we practice on our own outside of rehearsals; all Cleveland Orchestra Chorus members are expected to know all the music for each series before the first rehearsal.

But beyond just the hours for rehearsal and performance, we give commuting time, gas money, and wear and tear on our vehicles*. Many, if not most, of us work full-time jobs in addition to our music-making.

On Mondays, I leave home at 7:00 a.m. to drive to Akron for work. After work I drive to Beachwood for rehearsal. At 10:00 p.m. I leave Beachwood and drive home, arriving at 11:30 p.m. On weekend performance days, I drive 75 miles from my home, an hour-and-a-half, to reach Severance Hall. I always allow at least an extra half hour in case there are problems on the roads. That's an extra 4+ hours added onto the time I listed above. For example, last Sunday I left home at 11:00 a.m., and returned home at 9:30 p.m. During the December snows, I rented a hotel room several nights rather than risk not being able to get home, or not being able to get back to Severance for the next day's matinee.

Many have young children at home and must depend on others to help shoulder those responsibilities so they can follow their passion.

But I, for one, wouldn't trade it for anything. I auditioned two years in a row to get into this chorus. I was out of my mind with nerves for the first audition, and sang the worst I had ever sung in my life. But I wanted in so badly that, a year later, I walked into the audition room and sang for Maestro Porco a second time. And I'm lucky that he could hear through my nerves to recognize that I would be an asset to his stellar organization.

My teacher, Nadia Boulanger, was quoted as having said, "Do not take up music unless you would rather die than not do so." For me and many of the musicians who have become my friends through the years, and those who sit before me on the stage at Severance Hall, I can't imagine living without making music.

(*Yes, the Federal Government gives us a little help. We can deduct our mileage, tolls, and gas on our Schedule A. But the mileage allowance is $0.14, not the $0.55 allowed for business travel.)