Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Man of Substance

Saying goodbye to my dad was one tough challenge I had never wanted to experience...a dark hole of loss and a deep farewell. How could I let go of someone I loved so greatly, admired so completely and connected with so deeply? When I was debating a possible job change, he was the one who taught me that nothing is forever...don't be afraid of trying something new just because you may not like it. He was a role model of living with courage, dignity and faith while dealing with the harsh realities that life can send your way. This man was more than just a dad, he had become a major presence in my adult life. For so many years our family had lived with the fallout of his alcoholism, so when he began to live a life of sobriety, it was a joy getting to know the new person that continued to emerge!

When he was newly sober, I had lived in constant fear of Dad returning to what had become his common pattern over the years, a life revolving around alcohol. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of him being exposed to alcohol and not giving into his temptation to have just one drink. But as he steadily worked the AA program, he gradually evolved into a man who was comfortable in his own skin. Once I asked how he could go with Mom to parties where alcohol was being served, and he calmly responded, "I just explain that I am allergic to alcohol." I was thrown by the sheer simplicity of his reply, yet this sense of simplicity surrounded his days as he began to grow and change before our eyes. You need to understand that during this time it felt as though I was being introduced to the dad I had never met! Gone were the days of closed drapes that would prevent neighbors seeing him stumbling or falling as he maneuvered his way through the house...gone were the days of trying to help by sharing Mom's unbelievable stress of raising five children while trying everything humanly possible to control her husband's drinking...gone were the days of my brothers, sisters and me having to finally accept and live with the ugly reality that we also had no control over Dad's drinking yet we often had to witness the sometimes scary consequences of that drinking. Looking back, I think we had lived so many years feeling incomplete, that when the sense of unity and togetherness arrived, we each in our own quiet way rejoiced! We were whole again! Having a sober dad felt as though the windows of our life had been swung open and the fresh air of newness was in abundance! It was a new day in our family and we all celebrated this rebirth. Now do you more fully understand the depth of the love we share?

My dad had been an ever-present support on my journey with melanoma...so many follow-up "procedures" to wade through, with not one of them being a pleasant experience. He was not only physically present during these visits, but he was also emotionally supportive. I remember on one these visits, Dad appeared in the hall outside the Procedure Room where I was being prepped for yet another particularly icky surgery that was needed to remove all the affected tissue beneath a mole. The procedure would be long, involved and quite painful. "I'm looking for my daughter's room." I immediately recognized his voice, but that was all I heard before he calmly poked his head into the room and said, "Are you doing okay honey? Would you like me to stay in here with you?" His voice of strength and loving concern was all I needed to feel safe and better equipped to handle the next hours. How could I possibly let go of this man?

Of course I knew he had been dealing with a gradual weakening over the late spring months, but I was in denial about the possible seriousness of his condition until hearing the diagnosis of lung cancer. Even then my sister and I convinced ourselves that post-surgery he would need some extra TLC to help him fully recover, and we were more than willing to provide whatever was necessary to help in this healing. We were not yet willing or able to let go of this man we loved so completely. I know my heart was not prepared for this deep good-bye, so swallowing the bitter pill of this reality was more than I could initially handle. Jessica took a week away from her new job to spend time with the grandpa that had shared his house and heart in the early years of her life...such a close bond...such a heartfelt farewell.

One August morning Dad's doctor called us into the dreaded Conference Room. Gathering in this room was a certain sign that some serious news was about to be given, and this time was no different. He explained that there was no more they could do to help Dad...they had done everything in their power to heal him, and now it was up to us to formulate a new plan for his future care. I remember words like "nursing home" and "home health care" fill the air, before the final words of "possible months of painful lingering ahead"...who would ever want to hear those words, yet here they were hanging in the room around us! It didn't take Mom long before announcing, "I still believe in a miracle." Our miracle arrived the next afternoon when Dad died of a heart attack. No long months of suffering! Safe Home Dad!!

Friday, November 27, 2009

What a Year!

The year Jessica graduated from college was a year filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, all wrapped up in a twelve month span. At the beginning of that year Jim and I began searching for a new house, a task that delighted me with the endless possibilities. Our first house had been easy to pick out and purchase since it was my first home purchase and I entered into that process without any specific ideas of my wants and needs. Now fourteen years later, I entered the same process with a very detailed list along with a bundle of anticipatory delight and energy. Do you remember the picture of Jim with his gigantic tomato plants? Well, that may give you a sense of where he would have chosen to live...in the country. There I was with my city girl attitude and my city girl tastes, and what's a city girl to do when she's married to a vegetable growing wanna be farmer? Right again...compromise.

After many weeks of unsuccessful house searching, we found a half acre lot where we could get all of our wants and needs met by having a house built for us. Everything was going so smoothly, even getting our house sold without even listing it. We were riding on a natural high, choosing a builder and a house plan while also making plans to attend Jessica's graduation. It was during this time that my dad's health began to slowly fade, and although he didn't talk about it much, he finally admitted that he was not even feeling strong enough to make the trip to D.C. One thing I knew was that there were very few things that would keep Dad away from Jessica's graduation, so in the back of my mind I wondered if he was downplaying the seriousness of the weakness. He continued to assure us that he was beginning to feel a bit stronger.

Jessica's graduation was an adventure. Jim drove our car out so that he could bring Jessica and all of her belongings back home. Mary had never flown, so she and I flew out to the festivities. She entertained everyone around her with stories about her niece graduating, her dad who had to stay home, her mom who was riding out in a van with her other sister, her excitement about flying for the first time, and the delicious chocolate chip cookies that were served...boundless, pure enthusiasm! After landing, we picked up our bags and headed to the CUA campus, but not before Mary loudly proclaimed to anyone within earshot that the weather was way too cold for her comfort. Yes, the weather was more than unseasonably cold for the end of May, but the rest of us just accepted this fact, added another layer, and moved on with our celebration...not Mary! To this very day, when asked about Jessica's graduation, she will eventually find a spot in the discussion to bring up the cold weather.

Watching Jessica graduate from college was an emotional experience. I felt a deep joy as she received her diploma, witnessing first hand the incredible woman she was becoming. It marked the time I was seeing her as a true adult, a young woman capable of going out into the world, well prepared to continue her journey. Within a couple of weeks she was set to begin her dream job of driving the weinermobile for one year. After training, she was heading to the east coast all set to begin the adventure of a lifetime, totally unaware of what was about to turn the highest of highs into the lowest of lows.

Monday, November 23, 2009

51 Photo Gallery #3

Here I am back again with another assortment of family pictures. It has been a wonderfully rewarding experience to go through the hundreds of photos that we have collected over the years. So many memories! We have such a large collection of pictures because Jim always travels to family events with his camera, and now I'm thankful for having them because they help breathe life into my story. I also like sharing photos because they help to give you a more complete glimpse into the everyday experiences that have enriched my days. So sit back and enjoy another trip down memory lane. But before we get started I have another little question for my family to consider...who is the visitor in the above group picture? If you need a clue, call Steve in Florida because I'm pretty sure he'll be the first one with the answer.


In our family it wouldn't be Christmas without the obligatory photo of the five kids with Mom and Dad. Isn't it fun to see the changes that occur throughout the years in physical traits, hair styles, and fashion sense or nonsense?


You can most likely tell how much I enjoy having plants in my house, and in our first home we had wonderful natural sunlight. I was able to have a wide variety of greenery and I took real advantage of the favorable conditions. Tyler and Muffles are my furry companions...what joy they brought to our lives! Muffles, the little one, was forever the hunter, but it was gentle Tyler who got nipped on his butt by a red-winged blackbird who thought he may have been invading her flying space.


Whenever we had family get-togethers I would also keep my camera ready to capture the cousins spending quality time. Do you like the country look going on in my house...who knew you could decorate your walls with cookie cutters?

Jessica teases me about looking like I'm talking whenever I have a picture taken. This is a perfect example...It seems that I'm mid-sentence in this photo. Oops! I'll have to work on a natural smile...


Another example of our Christmas wonderland. One year we secretly tape recorded all of us opening our presents and then later in the day we gathered to listen to all the conversations going on around the living room. How much silly fun can one family have together?


At times Mom would ask certain individuals to help prepare the meal...what a fine job Steve and Greg did on their contribution, and they seem proud of the finished product too.


My brothers and sisters each received a framed picture of Mom and Dad from their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. Being married to the photographer made gift giving easy that year.


Cousins stopping long enough for me to catch a quick picture. When you're cousins, age differences don't really matter...the important thing is to just enjoy each other.



Often our family clan would get together for Easter when Mom and Dad had returned from their annual winter getaway in Florida. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters and in-laws...who could ask for anything more? And don't forget the pets...


Each summer our entire family would rent three of these huge cabins in Northern Wisconsin. Two of them shared one roof and were connected by a door, so there were lots of go-betweens. Each cabin had two bedrooms, one enormous loft with several beds, living room, bathroom, and one kitchen. The following pictures are just a thumbnail sketch of our time together.


Mom and Dad relaxing on one of the beautiful sofas. We certainly didn't need fancy furniture to make us happy and content. Relax and talk...ahhhhh


One of our famous sayings has been, "Move your meat, lose your seat." Well, here's Mary being creative when Jim tried to take over the sofa after she moved her "meat".


We tried many different poses whenever a few of the cousins were together. We wouldn't need to include everyone, just the ones who happened to be together at the moment.


A quick pic before these three raced to the water. Vacations are the best!



No, Kathie is not really sleeping, but she's fair game for these two sly tricksters. Everybody knows their favorite vacation song is, "Take me out to the...underwear." Believe me when I tell you it sounds best when sung in the shower!!
Okay, I think this is the best photo op! Thanks to Mother Nature...you couldn't create such a perfect set-up.

An afternoon hike with two of my favorite people. I love the way Mary is hooking her arm through mine...such gentle affection.


Vote for the most creative silly face. Be sure to look closely or you may miss some of the more subtle details...like turning your eyelids inside out. Looking at that particular picture reminds me that he is now the father of two young sons. He has so much talent to pass on to the new generation.


Mary likes to read the daily sports page, scoping out her favorite teams and players. She was so engrossed that she didn't realize I was taking her picture...now that's concentration! Note the country decorating going on behind her.


I think Jessica and I are blessed with sharing a relaxed relationship. We view the world through the same set of values...I treasure the time we spend together...she is easy to love!


I'm in mid-sentence again, but this time I'm probably singing the praises of Jessica because this was the night she was welcomed into National Honor Society, an honor that was well deserved.


Isn't this the silliest picture?? Jessica and I were having one of our nightly chats when all of a sudden our space was invaded by dogs, dogs, dogs. We always took Mom and Dad's dog while they were in Florida, so each winter Muffles and Tyler would happily welcome Willy into the fold. I hope you've already figured out that Jessica is totally pretending to be asleep...how could she possibly sleep while being part of a love sandwich?

It's easy to see that I had little trouble snuggling with Muffles while taking a wee bit of a rest. The chair I'm sleeping in was conducive to napping because it was so comfy and cozy, and the ottoman gave yummy support to my tired feet.


I don't know who looked more comfortable...Muffles or Jim. It's evident how easily Muffles was
able to conform to whatever space was available at the time.


Its always been easy to enjoy and appreciate Jim's silly side which he exhibits on a regular basis. His sense of humor and easy going attitude were two of the traits that appealed to me as soon as we met, and thirty three years later I continue to value them.


Here Jessica and I are at the Main Street Motel in Fish Creek. Door County holds a special place in my heart and the two of us would travel there as often as possible through the years. My parents were the ones who introduced me to the beauty of the area, and now I joke that it's part of my DNA.


Jessica offered to snow blow the driveway and sidewalk on a very windy day after a snowfall. She was completely covered with snow because Jim had set the discharge chute to blow into the wind and this was the outcome. I hope I had a cup of hot chocolate waiting for her.


When Jessica had her senior class picture taken, we used the opportunity to have a formal family photo session. We actually looked so formal and serious, probably due to the fact that it was our first family trip to a studio so everything felt a bit stiff, prim and proper...conventional as well as meticulously posed, and very far from natural. But I do need to admit that I liked the final product, so maybe prim and proper isn't so bad after all.


Jim had his first venture into growing tomatoes in the '80s and he was immediately hooked by the whole experience. He even built his own little lighted hothouse in our basement so he could plant the seeds in winter! Then in August he would can his own tomatoes!! I was beyond impressed by his over-the-top enthusiasm, and I absolutely loved eating the fruits of his labor. This is a picture I took of him in his tomato garden. Yes, those are actual plants that are way beyond his 6'3" height. I think secretly he would be extremely happy living on a farm and growing his own produce. Hey, maybe I could live in a condo in Door County and he could live on a farm...compromising can be tricky.


Our dogs wanted to show their loyal support for Jessica's choice of Catholic University.


I liked the way Jim set up this picture of Jessica and me standing in the Lincoln Memorial. It is the perfect way to capture us on our day of sightseeing in Washington because it shows the Washington Monument and the nation's capitol in the background. I remember it being hard to focus on the beauty of the city when I knew that within hours Jim and I would be heading back to Madison without Jessica in the backseat of our car...bittersweet memories.


I don't want to leave you with the impression that Jim was the only gardener in our family. Here is my specialty...flowers, flowers, flowers. I had four different flower gardens when we lived in this house and it provided me with my first experience of planning, digging, planting, tending and enjoying the beautiful boquets of homegrown flowers. I found it relaxing to dig in the earth for hours and hours. It was like a form of meditation for me and I thoroughly entered into the whole experience.



My dad and I shared a love of gardens. He had the most beautiful rose bushes that he loving tended for years, and although I was always a bit intimidated by the fragility of roses, I did inherit his interest in developing a garden filled with multiple colors, shapes and sizes throughout the growing season. We would go on hunting expeditions to our favorite nurseries, carefully picking and choosing just the right plants to add to our gardens. In this picture we are standing in front of Mom and Dad's condo in the spot he had chosen to use for his new garden...in fact this spot was one of the big selling points when he and my mom were looking at this condo.


We couldn't afford to fly Jessica home for Thanksgiving break, but she was able to come home for Christmas!! What a joy-filled time we had together...so much fun that it was difficult to have her leave again. In this picture I caught her as she was taking time to read and relax.


When Jessica returned home after her freshman year, we had the whole family meet her at the airport as a surprise. Her cousins even made big Welcome Home posters, and that's what you see her holding in the above photo. It was great to have her back for an entire summer!


Remember how I mentioned how Jim and I had more time to spend together? Well, here is one of the best times we had when we went exploring a back country road. We were bown away by the hidden beauty of this spot. Who knew you could find such a peaceful lake tucked far away from the crowds? We were glad Jim brought his tripod along so that he could set up the camera to take this little slice of heaven.


Yikes! I just realized that I'm wearing another skirt in this picture! It is really true that finding me in a skirt/dress is a rarity. I do remember liking that skirt because it was suede/leather and it made me feel quite special to be wearing such a fancy outfit.

On the University of Wisconsin campus there is this wonderful statue of Lincoln located at the top of Bascom Hill. We were walking past it and Jim thought it would be amusing to have his photo taken with Lincoln...and he was certainly correct! Doesn't it make you smile too?


Presenting the three sisters. If asked to describe love, I would simply show this photo. Life gave me this enormous gift...sisters. I know, I know, those who have been in my life forever can probably remember a time when I didn't always share a close, loving bond with my older sister, like the time she threw my clothes out of our upstairs bedroom window because I didn't put them away quickly enough, or the time she drew a line down the middle of our bed to indicate the exact area that belonged to her and the exact area that belonged to me. But all of those moments only added to the rich fabric of our relationship. If you happen to see my sister, you may want to ask her to share the story of mashed potatoes when I was a child...

We had just had breakfast at The Pancake House and since I had my camera, I felt it was a good opportunity to capture some of my favorite people...fair warning to those who are around me when I have my camera in hand.

Here are the cousins for one final shot. So you want to learn the secret behind this photo? All I can tell you is that after celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of my parents, one of the cousins went home to change before meeting back at the condo. Little did she know that we would be taking lots and lots of family photos, so she arrived wearing a pair of shorts...nice shorts, but still shorts. Jim, using one of his creative photograhy solutions, decided to place her in the back of any and all photos whenever possible. That way it would be really difficult to tell that she had changed out of her dressier clothes. And now, all these years later, the truth comes out...right Cindy?



I wanted to include this photo because I really, really like it...love abounds!

Having fun on a day of shopping with Jessica. We passed this stately lion and I just felt the need to have my picture taken with him. See, there's another reason you should always travel with a camera...you just never know when a photographic lion is going to appear.

Here is one proud dad. Jessica received a scholarship from Oscar Mayer and this was taken on the day the scholarship was awarded. I think Jim's smile says it all!



I thought it would be appropriate to end this Photo Gallery with our in-house photographer posing as a professional photographer.

















































Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Wise Man's Advice

I felt the person who could give me solid advice about the problems I was having with Jim's drinking was my dad. He had been a recovering alcoholic following the principles of AA for many years, and over those years he had successfully given counsel to many people. One thing I absolutely admired about my dad was the fact that he could listen with an open heart and only give advice when asked...extremely patient, wise and honest. I talked with Dad about my concerns and was pleased when he agreed to meet with both of us to openly discuss our thoughts and feelings about alcohol. The mere fact that Jim and I would be willing to enter into such a personal discussion in front of my dad tells you how safe we felt in his presence.

After giving Jim a chance to talk about his drinking habits and why or why not he thought these habits were a problem, Dad asked me to share why the drinking was a problem for me and the effect I felt it was having on our relationship. He gave both of us an ample opportunity to explain our feelings, and by the end we agreed he had a full understanding of why we were turning to him for help. In response, Dad shared his belief that if a person's drinking was causing a problem to anyone in that person's life, then that person's drinking was a problem. He went on to explain that most people thought that in order to be considered a person with a drinking problem you had to be an out-of-control drinker who had missed work, gotten fired, or experienced blackouts due to drinking, but he knew otherwise based on his own experiences with alcoholism. I was quite surprised by this profound wisdom delivered in such a simple package. After having time to process it for a few minutes, it made total sense...the essence of our situation presented in a straightforward and unpretentious manner. My dad, a man of few words, each of which he chose and constructed with exact precision. Does this give you insight into my dad and why we were comfortable and safe in approaching him for advice?

As we left our meeting, Jim and I were in agreement with the message that had been delivered to us that night. On the recommendation of Dad, we used this newly received idea/meaning as a foundation for our communication...and what discussions we had throughout the following days! That one session was the catalyst for a significant shift in our marriage.

Monday, November 9, 2009

One Tough Decision

When Jim and I first met, I was aware that in social situations he would often drink more than I liked, but I knew that being the child of an alcoholic made me acutely aware of the drinking habits of people in my life. This sensitivity was something that I didn't choose to verbalize very often since I understood it was simply an issue that was rooted in my past experiences with my dad. It was an issue,though, that didn't disappear when my dad began his work with AA, on his path toward becoming a recovering alcoholic. Each time Jim would over-indulge I would get a huge knot in my stomach along with a fear that someday down the road he would lose his ability to control his alcohol consumption and eventually turn into an alcoholic. The mere thought of that future would make the hair on the back of my neck quiver.

It's hard for me to admit the ways I tried to control his drinking over the early years of our relationship, but I think it's important to be open and honest so that you can begin to realize the deep fear and eventual anger I felt toward this third party in our marriage. I remember feeling that I never wanted to go through what our family had experienced over the years of living with a practicing alcoholic. I needed to do everything in my power to prevent this from happening! I know now how ridiculously desperate that sounds, but that is exactly how desperate I was feeling during that time!

Jim was a wedding photographer when we met, so this meant that he would regularly work at a wedding on the weekends. Every wedding has a reception, and almost every reception has some type of alcohol...you can probably tell where I'm heading with this, right? That's correct...after the photographs were finished and all the obligations had been met, Jim would often be invited to stay for the end of the reception festivities, and usually that would include drinking. Oh yea, I believed that if I went to the weddings with him, then I would be able to control his alcohol intake. How silly was that? Sad but true. (Yes, Thom, that's how I ended up in your wedding photographs about ten years before even meeting you.) There were many weddings that I didn't attend with Jim, and on one of those occasions Jim called, inviting me to come and listen to the great band at the reception. Of course I went because then I could control, control, control...but by the time I appeared, Jim was already beyond any control I could offer. I arrived to see him dancing with one of the bridesmaids. I wish there was a word that could begin to describe how I sick I felt as I stood there in the darkened room, because using the words hurt and angry only describe the tip of my emotional response. Would I have had the same emotional response if he had not been drinking? I truly didn't know the answer to that question, but I gradually began to understand that his drinking was concerning me to the point of causing a problem in our relationship. I don't want to give the impression that he drank all the time because that is not true, but each time he did over-indulge, I had the same fear-based response. Eventually when Jessica was in college and Jim and I spent more time going to social events together, I knew that I had a decision to make. I either had to seek a solution for dealing with this third party in our marriage or I had to find a way of living with that reality...without letting it consume me and our relationship.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed...

I learned firsthand the painful reality behind the term empty nest. I felt the intense emptiness for weeks after Jessica's departure, especially each day when getting home from school and not finding her there to talk...listen...and decompress from our day. Also after getting ready for bed we would often share a quieter time during which we would talk about anything and everything that was on our minds...these were especially treasured moments for me. There were many tears shed throughout those weeks because my sense of loss was profound. With the major changes in my role as a mother, I found I had more unscheduled time for myself, although it took me several weeks to be truly ready and open to the realities of what this change could mean, and how this time of transition and adjustment could offer me a variety of choices. There were all types of potential opportunities for me to ponder and the only stipulation was my degree of willingness to be open. Here was my chance to consider only those experiences that appealed to me. I remember thinking these endless possibilities must be the upside of the empty nest phenomenon...and I smiled.

I enrolled in a calligraphy class which quickly engaged my creative juices, I joined a Bible study group that Suzanne offered which fed my spiritual hunger, and I began to meditate which gave my overly active mind a chance to experience a new-found quiet. All in all I was experiencing life in a fresh, expansive way that tasted quite remarkable. Did I continue to miss Jessica's daily presence in my life? Absolutely! But I was gradually able to move toward a place of acceptance of this new and different phase in my life and thereby become open to the growth and change it offered me.

During this time I knew there was an area of my life due for a tune-up...our marriage. Since Jim and I then had the time, maybe we could both focus some of that time and energy on our relationship because merely sharing a physical space does not a marriage make. So many people described Jim as a "great guy" and that description was absolutely true. He was a good guy through and through, and I loved him dearly, but something that concerned me was the lack of quality time we spent together. We often chose to spend our free time in totally different ways, but it became my hope that we would find some mutually satisfying activities that we could enjoy doing together. To be fair, I must admit that this lack of quality togetherness bothered me much more that it bothered Jim. He felt we were spending quality time if we sat in the same room and watched an evening of TV together...me, not so much. I was hungry for something more, but I didn't know exactly what that meant or how to achieve it. As Jessica was growing up it seemed as though the time Jim and I spent with each other was usually for family-centered activities rather than just the two of us spending time as a couple. I had never been aware of this fact during that time, but believe me, it became clearly evident after Jessica went off to college! There was nothing like lots of available free time staring me in the face, and not being able to find a suitable way to spend time together, so we'd settle on going out for dinner...if only we could agree on a restaurant. Are you getting a sense of my struggle? Hindsight is wonderful because I am able to sit here over twenty years later and smile at our crude but terribly sincere attempts we both encountered along the way of discovering togetherness...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stress Relief...Oh My!

Have you ever been so tired that everything around you seemed funny? Well, that's exactly how Jim and I were feeling by the time we made it to Chicago. Emotionally drained and totally sleep deprived would be an accurate description of us in the early hours of that Sunday morning as we pulled into the gas station. Yes, the laughing started when we exited our car and froze our bums while attempting to fill the gas tank, but that was only the beginning of what turned into an uncontrollable scene that played out in the frigid air of the aptly named Windy City. No matter what we tried to say, we were not able to restrain our laughter...merely looking at each other sent us into a powerless mass of giggles. At one point Jim commented that the gas station attendant was going to think we were having trouble keeping our behavior under control because we were on drugs. Well, those words of warning certainly fell on deaf ears, while encouraging our creativity to run wild as we began constructing possible headlines for our local newspaper...First Grade School Teacher Arrested With Husband in Chicago on Possible Drug Abuse Charges! Just the thought of that headline did anything but rein in my hysterics. In fact, not only was I not laughing in a normal manner, but I was doubled over, letting out a snort that sounded a lot like a pig...oh my!

After making it safely back into our car, I had to admit that all the unleashed outpouring of silliness was exactly what I needed in order to shake off the emotional upheaval of the previous twenty-four hours. I felt like a dog who just had been given a bath and needed to shake free all the annoying leftover water dripping off its back. I was no longer burdened by the emotional release that had taken place within the confines of our car for the last fifteen hours.

When we finally made it home, we slept for the rest of the day. There was no way I could spend my first day of school exhausted, so sleep was a necessity. It felt strange that we didn't need to ask Jessica to turn down her music to help give us the quiet we needed. Instead, our house already seemed too quiet. Is that how our "empty nest" was going to sound without the activity and energy of a teenager? It was most definitely a time of transition in our marriage, and I wanted us to take this transition slowly, hoping that going slowly may take away some of the "sting" of loss and replace it with new possibilities for us to explore. Yikes! Jim and I having more one-on-one time together...oh my!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

After the Goodbye

The whirlwind trip of bringing Jessica to college had finally come to a poignant climax. With my school beginning on Monday I felt we should leave DC no later than Saturday night, even though I sincerely wanted to stay as long as possible before having to face the dreaded goodbye. When it came time for us to leave, the three of us headed down to our car for the initial phase of farewells. Jessica and I shared raw emotions of love and gratitude toward each other, while flavoring it with heartfelt tears and fond memories, so many memories over so many years together. This was quickly followed by an embrace hinting at the understanding that it would be several months before we would again share the same air...a hug that I wished could go on indefinitely, but since we all knew it was time for us to go, we shared on final group hug. In the meantime, through all of this emotional outpouring, Jim was able to remain calm, so at least one of us was capable of driving back to Wisconsin. I watched and waved as Jessica became a mere dot in the background of the CUA campus, and by that time I had quite simply melted into a puddle of seemingly endless sobs.

As we left Washington and throughout many of the seventeen hours traveling back home I continued sobbing, surprising even myself with the depth of sadness and loss that I felt. I needed to understand that there were two simple realities forming the foundation for my sense of loss and grief. First, my "little girl" and I were on the threshold of entering into a brand new phase of our relationship, a strangely different and totally unknown connection in which we would both participate as adults and secondly, from that day forward whenever Jessica would be at our home she would be a visitor. While watching my daughter as she had become that tiny dot, she had turned back to her dorm, entering it as a young adult who was independently living on her own in the great big world. I had comprehended this transition back in Madison as I had spent the previous year mentally preparing for her leaving, but living through the realism of this transition was especially more difficult for my heart to accept. This was a bitter pill of reality for me to swallow...indeed.

I was useless in the shared driving department because it seemed as though each time I would begin feeling peacefully calm, the tranquility would be abruptly interrupted by a flash of remembrance that would begin the flow of tears. There would be no advanced warning, simply heartrending sadness that had no boundaries. I don't think Jim had much fun on that trip home until we came to a truck stop in the Chicago area. You see, when we left Washington it was around eighty degrees so we were dressed for that weather. We had no clue that the Midwest was experiencing a sudden drop in temperature, down around forty degrees! Can you imagine our surprise when we exited the car to fill the tank with gas? We felt as though we were dressed for Florida and ended up in Alaska. With our lack of sleep along with all the emotions swirling around inside our car for the last fifteen hours, we both needed some comic relief, and this frigid weather provided the perfect humorous material. I thought Jim looked funny as he filled the gas tank because his whole body was shivering from standing outside in this ridiculous weather, and he was laughing at how equally silly I looked in my summer outfit... and that's how it all started.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Difficult Goodbye

The year of preparation definitely helped me get ready to set Jessica on the road to adulthood, but it didn't offer any ways to make this initial break achievable or even possible. If only my heart could absorb this growth and change that was about to occur. I never gave up...I kept processing this until the day we packed up our car and headed off to Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. What a trip! We left at night, trying to avoid as much traffic as possible, and since this was in the time before GPS, we faithfully followed our trusty little map from AAA. The best thing I can say about our trip out to Washington was that it was uneventful...until it was time to actually drive in DC traffic. Oh my, nothing could have prepared us for the speed, disregard for rules of the road, and total chaos that is known as driving in Washington. I arrived at our country's capital feeling a bit like a fish out of water. I felt like such a Midwesterner! I truly wasn't accustomed to being surrounded by people moving at such a fast pace, but I was most definitely intrigued by the city. It had a wide diversity of nationalities as well as all that is entailed in being our nation's capital...so much to see and do and our time in this bustling city was so limited.

We stopped at a MacDonald's on the way to Jessica's dorm, and we were greeted as we got out of our car by a police officer who was wearing a bullet-proof vest and acting as an escort for people like us who were "new" to the neighborhood. He suggested that next time we may want to choose a different location for getting a meal. Now there's something I had never seen in Madison! Is this giving you an idea of why I felt like a fish out of water? Soon after that, we had to wait for a very l-o-n-g time in the hot sun for another police officer to arrive because we witnessed a car accident...remember the crazy driving I mentioned?

After finally getting Jessica settled into her new home, we became typical tourists as we went out for an entire day of sightseeing, taking in all the major highlights found throughout the city. We even went to the top of the Washington Monument where Jessica was able to point out the CUA campus far off in the distance. This was all a fun distraction, but in the corners of my mind I was keenly aware of the real reason for being in DC...we were there to transport our daughter to college, release this mature young lady from childhood, and set her free to continue her grown-up journey to adulthood. Those were some heavy duty responsibilities which would challenge me more than I could have ever imagined!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Patience

When I returned to Madison I felt like I had a hangover. It was an emotional hangover filled with a heightened sense of excitement, disbelief and awe that remained with me for several days, making it a bit of a challenge to keep my mind focused. It was as though I understood that I had received an invitation to change, and I was wanting to set this change in motion immediately, even though I knew that realistically I was in no position to drop my daily commitments, pack my suitcase and head out to California. But in my heart I knew that I had met the woman who could be my respected, safe and treasured mentor...Francis, and that alone was intoxicating. Hey, maybe that's why I felt like I returned with a hangover.

During this period of waiting, I would smile as I recited my version of the prayer for gaining patience...Dear God, please grant me patience and I want it now! That sums up how I was feeling about needing to wait, save money and find the time in order to go on a week retreat with Francis. I also needed to accept that the timing wasn't wonderful since Jessica was looking into colleges, which meant that we would have four years of financial commitments. Paying college tuition could certainly affect my ability to put money aside in a retreat fund, but I was focused on saving money, no matter how small each contribution may be.

Jessica was in her senior year in high school, which was an interesting time for our family. She was very involved in student council and this commitment kept her busy and happy with all that she was able to accomplish. I was involved in preparing myself for her departure from home to college. The two of us had been a solidly connected duo for so many years and the thought of her leaving Madison for an indefinite period was beyond my comprehension. It literally took me the entire year to gradually process that this was a natural time for her to venture out on her own, as well as the natural time for me to willingly open my arms and send her off on her journey as an adult. Intellectually I understood this to be true, good and healthy, but in my heart I was sad and full of my own natural uncertainty about how my life would look and feel when she was far away in Washington D.C. I had difficulty envisioning my daily routine for the next year, a routine that would not include our time spent together at the end of each day sharing the highs and lows of our day. It was our nightly ritual, and one I treasured. So many other holes...so many questions. Who would be able to go clothes shopping with me and share an honest opinion? Who would go to Door County with me and enjoy doing all the things that we both considered fun? Who would sit and talk with me about everything and nothing at the same time?

I learned that growth and change can be quite painful, even knowing that this was the best time for us to naturally separate didn't lesson the degree of loss and pain.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Life-Changing Encounter

The first little tear was easy to catch with a quick swish of my tongue, but the ones that quickly followed were a bit more difficult to sweep away because they flowed steadily as I sketched the image. Needless to say, I had no problem getting in touch with the emotions from the picture that had come, once the distractions of my mind were put to rest. Fear had no place in this experience! All the earlier clutter of thoughts, fears and judgements dissipated as soon as I was able to focus on the healing music and the gentle invitation that Francis dripped into my heart. All else fell away, except for the pesky tears that arrived in such abundance that I then had to involve the sleeve of my shirt to help capture them. At one point I did become aware of the reality of sobbing in front of the large number of bodies that surrounded me, but after taking a quick peek at them, I understood that they too had their own images to welcome.

I was carefully drawing the distinct image of the yellow cab that had carried my little body to the hospital to meet Dr. Reese. I saw me looking up at the highest skyscraper I had ever seen. I remember trying to capture the deep impotence I was feeling during that cab ride, but I quickly let go of trying to control the look of the image, and instead I was connecting with every emotion I remember experiencing at that time. With the arrival of each emotion came more tears, and I mean more tears. Both sleeves of my shirt were soaked and my nose was then actively participating in the release of my previously imprisoned emotions that had remained all these years in the darkened corners of my memories. I hope you are able to appreciate the image of me drawing an image of me while all sorts of bodily fluids are escaping my body, and I only had my tongue, hands and sleeves to keep these fluids in check.

Francis had again asked us to jot down any words that arrived during our sketching. Oh my, how surprised I was with the flood of words that appeared along with the continuing flood of tears. Overwhelming, the unknown, fear, why me?, alone, so-o small, God?, where am I going?, scary new area, and cancer? were the thoughts and feelings that blanketed the image. With all the physical and emotional release that surrounded me, I look back and think about what had actually kept me seated in my chair. Why hadn't I simply melted into a puddle of tears with a side order of exhaustion?

By the end of that retreat I knew four things for sure...I knew I was grateful for receiving the opportunity to attend the retreat with Suzanne, I knew I needed to save my pennies so that I could make reservations to go on a week-long retreat in California with Francis, I knew that I had been gifted with a loving, safe, spiritually grounded woman who could help me on my journey of growth and change, and I knew that my life would never be the same after those three days with Francis. Thank You God!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Honesty Prevails

Saturday morning went by so quickly because Francis had the ability to draw me into each part of the discussions. I was often quite shy when I found myself surrounded by a large group of people I didn't know, and yet here I was with well over fifty participants that I had never met, feeling safe and welcomed. After lunch Francis introduced to us the plan for using the paper and art tools. She began by asking us to get comfortable as she played some beautifully calming music while gently giving us the instructions. As we began, I felt so relaxed and opened, a good place for honesty to thrive.

Francis invited each of us to think back to the innocence of our early youth and get a mental picture that embodied that time. She asked us to sketch the image and while drawing, write down words that described our memory of this time. I quickly began attempting to illustrate the tricycle that I had dearly loved as a child. I had a smile on my face and in my heart as I remembered the freedom I felt while riding up and down our street. It was the first mode of travel other than walking or riding in a car that I experienced and it had offered me pure joy and excitement, and these were the words I wrote around my beautiful trike...joy, freedom, pleasure, fun, excitement, friends and nothing can stop me. Did I forget to mention the set of extraordinarily fancy streamers that fluttered in the wind as I flew down the block as fast as my little feet could pedal? Those blue streamers were like the proverbial cherry on the hot fudge sundae! I felt so sassy and free...what fond memories. If only the exercise had ended on that delicious note.

While I was sitting in the lightness of my memory, Francis asked that each of us then shift our thoughts to the time in our childhood when our innocence was lost. Well, that took me about a nano second to identify, and I bet it didn't take you much longer to remember back to my busy travel schedule taking me back and forth to New York. I may seem casual as I mention it now, but as I sat at the retreat, listening to the directions, I felt almost sick to my stomach. Then I remembered that not one person at the retreat knew anything about my childhood days, so it might be possible for me to fade into the blandness of the walls and slip out at the end of the afternoon without being noticed. I quickly determined that I could mentally drop a veil over the depth of my feelings, like the invisibility cloak of Harry Potter, casually drawing a sketch with little or no emotional attachment...proving once again that old habits are indeed hard to break. However, this honesty was not about to be ignored or silenced!

With the gentle music playing, Francis invited each of us to breathe deeply and wait patiently for the image to emerge. Her next suggestion challenged me immediately because it seemed as though it had been crafted especially and exclusively for me. I almost believed that she may have been privy to my mental dialogue involving the possibility of a clock. She instructed us to trust the image that appeared, not judging it or changing it...merely sitting quietly with it while noticing the details.

I closed my eyes while trying to be open, calm and ready for a picture or impression to appear. I was immediately aware of the most accurate image. My initial fear encouraged me to quickly open my eyes, causing this specific image to disappear...but then I was reminded of the concept of trust. Was I ready for this degree of trust?? How could I ever remain in this room with all these people surrounding me while I would be attempting to sketch and get in touch with the feelings that this image evoked? I instinctively knew that now was the time to honor and trust the truth of this image, but how could I accomplish this? Picking up the markers and pencil, I noticed a heaviness seep into my heart as I felt the first gentle tear slide down my cheek.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A New Direction

As Suzanne and I became friends and spent more time together, I realized that she was like a breath of fresh air. She brought an energy to my life that I welcomed, even though it was not always comfortable for me because she challenged me to be honest with my thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions, and by now you know how difficult that could be for me. Her enthusiasm for life was contagious and she consistently invited me to think outside the box...quite new and refreshing after my years of trying to avoid fear while earnestly striving to create safety and security around me at all times. Being the pastoral minister at our church meant that I also had the opportunity to participate in discussion groups and study groups that she offered to all the parishioners. My active involvement in these classes allowed me to take a closer look at my personal history with God and how I had formed the perceptions I held. I was also aware that the relationship I was building with God was also growing and changing. What an active time in my spiritual, personal and emotional growth.

In early spring Suzanne asked if I would be interested in attending a weekend retreat in Milwaukee with her. She explained that her spiritual teacher came from California two times a year to lead retreats. I didn't need to give it too much thought before telling her that I would definitely want to attend. That illustrates the level of trust I had developed in Suzanne. In the past I would have been more cautious and reluctant about being open to an experience that was new or different, but at this point I was intrigued with the possibilities that the retreat may provide for my spiritual development. Absolutely nothing could have adequately prepared me for the life-giving explosion that awaited me on that glorious weekend!!!

Greeting participants at the door was Francis, Suzanne's spiritual teacher and the retreat leader. I was wide-eyed with wonder as I first met Francis because I didn't understand the concept of spiritual teacher, and I was beyond curious to meet the woman that made Suzanne glow each time she would speak about her. My first impression was filled with adjectives: gentle, calm, safe, happy, peaceful, and inviting. Who wouldn't love that? I was attracted to her energy and I couldn't wait for the retreat to begin. Francis opened the retreat with a quietly enthusiastic welcome that even made this newcomer feel at ease. At one point she asked that each person bring plain paper and colored pencils, markers, paints or chalks for Saturday. I was intrigued even though I was far from being an artist. Maybe it was because I already felt a level of trust with Francis, but for whatever reason, I was not concerned or worried about the activity we would be assigned the next day. What I did know was that Suzanne and I needed to do a bit of shopping for Saturday, and we did not leave the event until 9:00 that night. Where would we be able to locate a store that late where we could buy our little art supplies? Don't ever underestimate two women focused on a mission.

Yes, we arrived the next morning with art tools in our hands. I also came with a sense of uncertainty mixed with anticipation for the upcoming activity. I was on the verge of being presented with one of the most treasured gifts of my life, and I wasn't even aware of it!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Walking Through a Fear

Preparing for the actual public talk I was to be giving, I mentally returned to my time in college when I was required to take a course that caused me great fear and anxiety. It was a speech class, so I should not have been shocked by the sheer number of presentations we were required to give throughout the semester. My struggle centered around the public aspect of giving a talk. I think I can best sum up my experience by sharing a true story from that class. When we were each assigned to present a persuasive speech, I happened to be the first one chosen to begin. Keeping in mind that I had to convince my peers to agree with my point of view, I took a full breath and boldly stepped up to the podium. The truth is I wanted to appear bold and in charge, when in reality my knees were so weak that I could have tripped over that full breath that I had taken. I attempted to have my voice drip with confidence because I believed a tone of self-assurance would certainly assist me in persuading the listeners to agree with my strong convictions.

About halfway through my speech I noticed a few strands of hair that had fallen across my forehead into the upper corner of my eye, and for some unknown reason I felt the immediate need to brush those pesky little annoyances away. Much to my astonishment, I saw this wobbling, fear-enhanced, out of control hunk of flesh (aka my hand) come sweeping into my view, as it ineptly attempted to clear those wisps away. So many thoughts flooded into my mind as to how to best handle this very obvious show of fear...forge ahead and ignore was the solution that came through loud and clear. That was the one shot I had to keep my mind focused, with whatever level of confidence I could exude after that "bump" in the road had challenged my composure to its core.

I smile as I tell you that after all the silliness, I received an A for the speech and an A for the class. Wonders never cease, it's true. Maybe to me what seemed like a show of obvious fear, was not as obvious to those listening. This memory was held onto quite tightly as I began my journey to a new and different podium and audience. The team of adults who would be sharing their stories throughout the retreat met several times in the evening to practice presenting in front of real people. For me, that experience felt as unappealing as walking on a bed of hot coals. Since it was mandatory, I practiced along with everyone, though I don't have any memory of the feedback I received. I just had this deep belief that each of these steps led me closer to my final goal of surviving the event.

The retreat was a powerfully significant time for the students and adults. I felt a vibration of growth and a deepening connection with my faith flow throughout the weekend, and I was able to enter into the fullness of the experience until Sunday morning. Since we were all sleeping with our groups in the classrooms around the school, a good night of sleep was a far stretch of our imagination. But I awoke that morning extra early with a knot the size of my fist in my stomach. I knew it was fear rearing its ugly head, and it took every ounce of self-awareness to keep it from taking control of my body.

I took a walk around the school to calm myself and I ended up in the quiet of the chapel which was located at the far end of the building. I stayed there throughout the time for breakfast . The peace and stillness welcomed me in and I simply sat and breathed in the sense of total wellness surrounding me, until it was time for me to return to the group and give my presentation. That environment in the chapel was a gift I will never forget. On that early Sunday morning I learned an essential key to living ...some of our most beautiful presents don't come wrapped in the distraction of shiny paper with big bows.

You've already figured out the ending to this piece of my journey, haven't you? More important than my survival of the speech was the deep understanding that I can touch into the stillness that is always available.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Breaking a Pattern

The act of courage that I anticipated was unfamiliar to each fiber of my being, but I knew my only choice was to accept this invitation to grow and change. On my tree of life I wanted to be a vibrant component, rather than a withering portion of the whole. Is it possible to be alive with possibilities and consumed by fear at the same moment? I certainly hope so, because that is exactly how I felt as I headed off on this new adventure.

Remember me? I'm the one who had created my own version of Pandora's Box for the explicit reason of avoidance. Rather than confront an uncomfortable conversation, occurrence, or feeling, I would simply make a deposit into the box and move forward in my life, or so I thought. I realized much later that I wasn't truly moving forward. How could I have been moving forward when in truth, I was stuck in a pattern of boldly familiar avoidance? It was finally time to free myself from that old established fear, and break the evasion pattern! As a classroom teacher, I was accustomed to formulating a lesson plan, but when I tried to create a plan to accomplish this goal, I had no idea where to begin. Too bad that Nike had not yet invented their now famous slogan, "Just Do It," because I could certainly have gained wisdom from that advice. In fact, after experimenting with a variety of unsuccessful attempts using other ideas, this was exactly what I discovered...just do it, inch by inch, step by step. Such a simple concept with many convoluted predecessors. The power of those three words was almost lost on me due to the sheer simplicity of its message.

I spent days crafting a my talk, speech, presentation or whatever you want to call it. All I know for sure is that I had never put so much time and energy into writing. Throughout my college years I would certainly put quality effort into the assigned papers, but those were education centered, not personal accounts of a relationship. It felt as though the more I wrote, the deeper I connected to my years spent with Jon, giving me new insight into our time together. It gave me a more profound understanding as to why our relationship had little chance of survival unless I had been willing to deny my core value system. Reflecting back all these years later, I was grateful for having the courage to face this task because it allowed me a much needed clarity concerning the demise of our marriage. Now if only I could get a stand-in to present my
material to the high school students. Since that was not an option, I wanted to create a daily mantra that would keep me focused on a positive message. Eventually I chose, " I know I can do this, I know I can do this..."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Facing a Fear

Ever so gradually my life became more lighthearted, which meant the scary overcast shadow that had been a daily visitor no longer arrived at the dawn of each day. I was able to slowly begin to focus on living instead of merely surviving, as simple pleasures returned along with some unexpected carefree moments. A new level of gratitude also entered my existence due to a richer depth of appreciation I faced now that I was able to understand the precious experience that a joy-filled life provides. I was then able to view my life as a prized gift to be valued, treasure and loved. I was honored to greet the improved version of myself...what an unusual but beautiful moment! I wasn't yet aware that my improved self was about to be put to the test, and soon.

Do you recall the kitchen duty I had very willingly volunteered to perform? Well that safe plan blew into many tiny pieces on the day I received a letter from Suzanne offering me an opportunity to give one of the speeches at the retreat. What?! What?! Me give a talk in front of a group of high school students? She should have known me well enough by then to understand that there would be absolutely no possibility of me accepting her invitation! The letter asked if I would write and present to the group my story of the effect of love vs. infatuation in my own personal relationship. After the initial shock subsided and my heartbeat returned to normal, the first coherent thought was that I would immediately need to call Suzanne and gently explain to her that I was not prepared to openly share the experience of my private relationship, marriage and divorce from Jon, and definitely not in front of Jessica and her peers. I was sure she would understand my reluctance and put me back on kitchen duty where I would feel safe and secure.

It didn't take me long into my conversation with Suzanne to realize that my negative response to her request was not going to be an easy sell...for every apprehension I shared, she had a reasonable argument for me to reconsider. My unconvincing facade of inadequacy was quickly falling to pieces under my close scrutiny of the courageous trust that Suzanne presented for me to process and consider. I was left with an unmistakable truth that I finally had to confess to myself. It was challenging for me to own this fact, much less declare it out loud, even though I was only admitting this reality to myself. The only obstacle in my way was fear, fear, fear...that nasty, ugly shadow that I had done almost anything to avoid, yet there it was, staring me in the face. I knew there was only one way for me to handle this, I needed to face the fear and walk through it with dignity and courage! How does a truly frightened person accomplish this feat? I think I was about to find out!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Brighter Shades of Possibilities

Having walked with depression as a daily companion, I became tired of trying to put my one foot in front of the other. I became tired of forcibly choosing to bring my body someplace so that my mind would follow. I became tired of viewing my days through a lens of varying shades of gray. I wanted to wake up one morning and find the cloudy haze of depression lifted, but that day just never seemed to arrive. Exhaustion, sadness and pain were not my choice of escorts, but they each remained so long...it felt as though I was just about to lose the last flicker of hope that this depression would ever loosen its grip. My doctor and therapist had both explained that it would take time for the medication and therapy to work together before I would notice an improvement, but the reality of rising each morning with another day of struggle ahead of me was beginning to make me wonder if there was any more "fight" left in me. Then one day without any warning I felt my first sense of lightness as I awoke without the thick sense of dread that for months had greeted me as I opened my eyes. It was this small momentary taste of natural energy that had been missing for so long, a taste that invigorated every cell of my body with HOPE. It may have been a slight taste, but it was enough to feed that flicker and keep it alive long enough to endure the slow steps toward regaining the colors back into my days.

All the hours of carefully opening and examining the rancid contents of Pandora's Box with my trusted therapist was beginning to help me understand the profound price I had paid for my avoidance of facing conflicts and my fear of sharing honest emotions. I was deeply into the process of clearing the air surrounding me by identifying and working through the years and years of dead stagnant energy, unfulfilled dreams and insincerity that had kept the exterior of many relationships superficially connected. I was well aware that in order to continue making positive steps forward I would need to step into an authentic world of communication, a world where I would most definitely be an awkward novice. I was open to walking through this new form of communicating because it felt like this would be my way to rediscover the brighter shades of possibilities.

What happened next was serendipitous. Don't you love when life gifts you with someone or something totally unexpected and yet deeply needed? It all happened so innocently. You see, it was time for Jessica to be confirmed, so it was natural that I would I attend the first meeting with all the students and their parents. Each family was given a questionnaire asking what type of volunteering opportunities parents would be willing to participate in throughout the year. I quickly signed up to help during the weekend retreat that would take place later in the year. I offered to help prepare the food, serve the meals, clean-up and assorted other kitchen duties throughout the entire weekend. It felt like that would be a safe yet useful way for me to help. Suzanne was the pastoral minister in charge of running this retreat experience each year for the teenagers. I had met her briefly during church related events and I was immediately drawn to her positive energy and authentic interactions with the adults and students. She was a role model for how I would love to be able to communicate with the people in my life. Not only that, but she was bright, funny, creative and very loving. Yes, she was the gift that was delivered to me at exactly the right time and place for where I was on my journey. I gave many prayers of sincere gratitude for her arrival, but little did I know that she was also going to offer me invitations to grow and change in ways that both excited me and scared the shit out of me!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Photo Gallery #2

Sit back and enjoy another addition of photos. I had to look through boxes and boxes of old family pictures in order to assemble this assortment, and I ended up organizing and sorting as I went through the process. It took me weeks to accomplish this task, or I should say partially accomplish this task, as Jim informed me yesterday that there are still a few more boxes...


Jessica is only four months old, and we're out on an early spring day soaking up the fresh air and abundance of nature. How do you like my long hair? Remember, these were in my hippy days of making candles in our basement to sell on the UW Library Mall. Jessica would come with us and we'd throw out some blankets on the ground in the mall and sell our homemade candles. Looking back, I wonder what made me comfortable with living day to day with little sense of the responsibility involved in being a parent and a lack of focus on future income potential. Maybe that's the definition of hippy.




Who needed fancy toys when you could play with your mom's hair? Our needs may have been quite simple, but we did share an abundance of love.





Good-bye to my hippy days and hello to the more responsible side of my life. I got this new haircut a short time after my divorce from Jon...it just felt like the logical time to manifest outwardly the changes that were occurring inwardly.



This picture brings a big smile to my face because it captures the glowing essence of Jessica's true personality...open, honest, alive with wonder and curiosity as she confidently shares her thoughts, feelings, questions and beliefs.


Can you see how the camera was able to capture the intensity and deep interest in the story I was reading to her? She has always been a voracious reader and learner...and so easy to love.




Kindergarten in Chanhassen, Minnesota. This was the year Jessica questioned me about getting back together with Jon. We have certainly shared a rich history of love, growth and trust.


Another family photo that makes me giggle because Kathie and I have so much extra fabric in our pant legs, probably enough to make a new pair of pants for Mary. It must have been tricky to walk and not trip...oh, the price of fashion.


Our wedding day! I was nervous, but Jim was so calm that he and his best man stopped to get a quarter pounder on the way to church. I love that not much flusters him.




This school picture shows the mole that was malignant. Look closely on the side of my neck...I think it looks harmless. The picture was taken about three months before my surgery.



We were on our yearly family vacation when Jim took this picture. I had recently stopped wearing turtlenecks, so I wasn't sure about having a photo taken, but Jim can be persistent. I think I was still trying to talk him out of it when I heard the click of the camera. What was I so worried about?



This was taken in front of our Christmas tree the year Jim demonstrated how to put the tree lights deep into the branches. That's all I needed to hear...the following year I doubled the size of our tree and had to buy hundreds of new lights. I slowly became a true tree nut! I was out to show that bigger is always better, only I didn't know when to stop. I will definitely discuss this in a future chapter, but know that I am cured of my insatiable need to please and impress people.



Jim secretly saved money from each of our monthly paychecks for a belated honeymoon to Hawaii. He started talking about us going to Hawaii for two weeks and I said it would be hard for us to afford such an extravagant adventure, and with that he pulled out a savings book with more than enough for the trip. I was thrilled with such an unexpected surprise!




Jessica and I have always shared a profound bond. I think all of our years together as a two person family helped solidify our deeply rooted love.



Wow! We looked so young and innocent. Jim and I packed food, beverages and the grill so we could head out on a Sunday afternoon excursion in my new Jeep. Can you see it in the parking lot in the background? That was one fine car. The top lifted off (not a one person job) and miraculously I would be in my very own convertible. Jessica and I have fond memories of the day I was doing a bit of showing off while heading down Cottage Grove Road in my spiffy new convertible, when I was suddenly pulled over by one of Madison's finest. Oops! Luckily I was only going a few miles over the speed limit, so I only received a warning. No more showing off for me.



Mom and I are sitting at a favorite outdoor restaurant during my life-giving trip to Florida. It's obvious that I was heeding my dad's wisdom...bring your body and your mind will follow. Also, knowing Mom and Dad, I'm almost certain that we were partaking in the Early Bird Special.



Do you remember the joy-filled family Christmas mornings I wrote about? Well, here one is in all its chaos, mess and love. You can't see me, but I was sitting next to my brother-in-law, Greg, about two feet away from Jessica and out of the shot. Those of you who know our family will notice that there is indeed an interloper in our midst...maybe because he/she wanted to bask in the obvious love we shared. Who is able to spot and name our uninvited guest? A little aside to my friend Susie...does the bookcase in the background look at all familiar?

Jim was always a willing participant whenever I had to set up my classroom. He would take care of the heavy boxes as well as the high reaching decorating jobs. His friendly attitude and total willingness were above and beyond the call of duty as a husband, and for that I was grateful. He understood how important it was for me to create a welcoming environment for the students, so he'd roll up his sleeves and get busy. Thanks Bud.



Here's a little known fact about me...I do not like wearing skirts or dresses. Therefore, when you see me dressed in one of them, you should immediately know it's for a special occasion. Jessica saw this picture and wondered why her bangs took up over half of the top of her head, and I wondered why we look so stiff, serious and formal. Maybe it's because I never feel comfortable being all dressed up.



We gathered for the fiftieth anniversary of my parents, and that's the special occasion for which I wore a skirt. We celebrated for the entire weekend...love, love, love was omnipresent. I truly treasure the love I share with my brothers and sisters, and the foundation of our connection was grounded in the relationship my parents modeled for us.




It's always fun to see a picture of the five of us because time goes by so quickly, with each of us looking different with our hairstyles and fashion choices...the changes make me smile. Do you notice how our dogs are an integral part of our life? These are Tyler and Muffles, our very first dogs who brought unconditional love to our lives for many years...such a gift.




Here's our whole family. Jim, being the official photographer, would casually arrange all of us, set the timer on the camera, and then quickly jump into the shot. Do you notice that this is the same living room from the photo taken many years earlier when I was quite young? Look, no more yellow rose-filled wallpaper.


Having my school picture taken each year was a bit of a challenge because photographers never let me look straight ahead...I always thought back to what Dr. Reese had told me years earlier. Then I would smile and hope for the best. This photo definitely makes me look like a friendly looking teacher, which I like, but what's with those gigantic glasses?



Mary has consistently been a major presence in our family, and she loves the dogs we've had throughout the years. Whenever the camera come out she requests a picture, so we oblige. This is a photo filled with love and joy, even though she looks quite serious...she believes it's best to stand at attention when she knows the flash will be going off.



This was a great year because it would be the first time I would be able to "loop" with my class, which meant I would be with the same students for first and then second grade.


Would you trust your child with this silly looking teacher? This picture was taken when we were allowed to have a Halloween parade and party in our school. Now it's more politically correct in our school district to not celebrate this holiday in school, but back in the day, we sure had fun. My fellow teacher and friend, Judy, went through the drive-up at MacDonald's with me in our matching witch costumes during our lunch break. Needless to say, we had fun ordering with our best witchy voices and watching the reactions...cheap thrills.


I never wanted to take myself too seriously in the classroom, so I always tried to find a place to have a bit of fun.