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 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 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 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 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 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, 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 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 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 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 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 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.